Monday, 8 April 2013

Ten Interesting AAA Line-Ups That Were Or Nearly Were (News, Views and Music Issue 188)



Somewhere, out there, in a parallel universe, our website must look quite different. Line-ups take a while to settle in almost all bands and few groups ever go their whole lives through without someone leaving at some point. Sometimes these line-ups happened so close to the point of break-through – often after a series of recordings – that leaves the listener hungry for more about what a band might have sounded like with alternate people in the band. Sometimes one AAA member might have found themselves in another band entirely had it not been for a twist in fate. Sometimes a planned line-up change is cancelled at the last minute because of events beyond the band’s control. Or sometimes musicians who go on to find fame in the future started out their careers playing for one of the AAA bands. Anyway here’s a look at the 10 most interesting AAA line-ups that could have been (or were temporarily) in chronological order:

Pete Best in ‘The Beatles’ (left in 1962)

The most famous near-member of any band, fans forget that Pete Best was a Beatle for pretty much half as long as Ringo ever was. He wasn’t an original member (the Beatles really struggled to find drummers - full kits were expensive and few teenagers could afford them in 1950s Liverpool), but he was around for almost all of the ‘bonding’ events that drew the band so close together (Hamburg, Cavern) and to boot his mother Mona was a huge supporter of the band – back when the Cavern Club was still a jazz club the Beatles found their most secure bookings were at Mona’s ‘Casbah’ joint run from the cellar in her family home. Pete was a fine drummer too, whatever anyone says, and while his playing on the band’s early songs is primitive compared to the music the Beatles go on to make (could he ever have played the drum parts on ‘Rain’ ‘She Said She Said’ or ‘A Day In The Life’?) and much mocked by modern day scholars, two things must be remembered. None of the bootlegs or Anthology recordings that feature Best’s playing were ‘professional’ and poor Pete can’t have known that they were the only tapes his reputation would rest on after four years with the group. Also, we don’t know what he’d have gone to become had he become a ‘recording’ Beatle – Ringo’s early recordings such as ‘Love Me Do’ are equally ropey and primitive. Legend has it that George Martin told the band their drummer was no good and should be sacked – actually Brian Epstein asked him if he was concerned by anything and he talked about having a session drummer standing by (a usual practice back then when drummers were rare; Mick Avory doesn’t play on the first few Kinks recordings either) – certainly George had no more love for Ringo’s playing than his predecessor, demoting him to tambourine while Andy White played drums on his preferred version of ‘Love Me Do’. Certainly Pete’s playing on his own records (as ‘The Pete Best Combo’) are much much better than his work with The Beatles which has come to light and the few lucky audience members who saw the band play in Hamburg almost all agree that he was better drummer. Perhaps the real truth was the rumour that did the rounds of Liverpool in 1962 when news of Pete’s sacking came out: Pete received more fanmail than John, Paul and George and they were simply jealous of his smouldering looks (a lack of a Beatles haircut probably didn’t help matters either – but then Ringo had a grey streak in his hair and a beard when he was asked to join the band in September – not a traditional moptop look for another seven years!)

Mick Avory in the Rolling Stones (left in 1962)

Mick Avory and Charlie Watts have a great deal in common. Naturally powerful, raw drummers with interests in jazz and an ability to learn new styles quickly, they were the two leading teenage drummers around London and both played in a great number of bands before settling down. Whilst you can never picture Watts in the Kinks (something of a musical snob, it took him a long time to suffer the Stones’ R and B covers without a sneer – and the self-confessed talented amateurs The Kinks, who cancelled almost as many gigs as they played in the mid 60s, wouldn’t have suffered the Davies’ sibling rivalry for a second), but Avory could have fitted into the Stones well, and in fact did for a couple of months. Despite the fact that The Kinks sold almost as many records and were very nearly as popular as the Stones Avory mentioned in several interviews his regret at being turned down for the full time job (especially as Charlie started off with a higher salary than the others, Brian Jones having to ‘bribe’ him to leave his other jobs to work for them full time). His style wouldn’t have changed the band’s R and B covers much (the first Kinks album and the first two Stones are more or less interchangeable) but would have made for an interesting mid-60s. Avory is at his best for me on Ray Davies’ most unique and quirky songs, providing the power that turns albums like ‘Village Green’ and ‘Arthur’ from cute but distanced slices of social observation into exciting and enthralling works of art. With Avory on board the Stones’ much-maligned psychedelia period might have been better still, with songs like ‘We Love You’ and ‘2000 Light Years From Home’ tailor made for his wild-but-finessed playing. Incidentally, it’s worth remarking too how badly The Who wanted Charlie for their band and Pete Townshend’s work with Watts on his and Ronnie Lane’s ‘Rough Mix’ album is amongst the drummer’s best work. Had the much-discussed ‘World War III’ between Mick and Keef turned from a cold war into a hot one in the late 70s then I’m convinced Charlie would have joined The Who after Keith Moon’s death, giving the band a much jazzier sound well suited to Pete’s songs of the period like ‘Eminence Front’.

Don Rathbone in The Hollies (left in 1963)

Don Rathbone was the ‘Pete Best’ of The Hollies but with two major exceptions. The first is that he actually did play on some recordings with the band (the first two singles ‘Ain’t That Just Like Me’ and ‘Searchin’ and respective B-sides) The second is that he left of his own accord to take up a role in management (music was a hobby for him not a career and he felt probably more hurt than he should have been after sniffy reviews in some music papers), leaving the way clear for Bobby Elliot. Bobby’s explosive playing on ‘Stay’ signalled a change in the band’s fortunes and style, much harder than before and with a rhythm section up to the standard of the harmonies and he’s still with the group now 50 years later, so it’s clearly a decision that paid off! I do feel sorry for Rathbone though – he’d been original member back when the un-named Hollies was his and Eric Haydock’s band, without even the singers, and his departure led to Eric’s position in the band becoming shaky too (the bassist is ‘fired’ in 1965, though not everyone in the band recalls the story of his dismissal the same way) and before the Hollies became The Dolphins with singers (Elliott, guitarist Tony Hicks and second bassist Bernie Calvert were all members of ‘Manchester’s second best group’). I really like Rathbone’s playing which is much subtler than Elliot’s fizz and fire but is perfectly respectable and has a real laidback jazz swing on ‘Searchin’ that’s unique to the period. The Hollies were arguably the most eclectic band of the 1960s, veering from Merseybeat to ballads to heavy rock to R and B to blues to novelty pop to music hall to big band to psychedelia to folk within the course of just five years and I do wonder how Rathbone would have adapted to the changes in his sound. However the four recordings we do have are all evidence of a talent that would have made for quieter but still thoughtful band sound.

Glenn Campbell in The Beach Boys (filled in for a tour in 1964-65)

Back before Glenn Campbell was the ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ he was the tall Beach Boy at the back of the stage that nobody knew. Quite why the Beach Boys turned to Glenn when they needed a bassist in a hurry after Brian Wilson’s first mini-breakdown in late 1964 is a mystery: he was fellow recording act on Capitol records however and was at the risk of being dropped by his label after three year of semi-hits and near misses. The Beach Boys already had their tour booked when Brian had his nervous spell on board an aeroplane too so probably didn’t ask too many questions. Amazingly one of the late 60s’ most recognisable voices went largely silent during his time on tour, playing the part of a musician rather than a singer and he looked plain wrong wearing the band’s trademark stripy shirts (he’s a good five years older than the rest of the band and much burlier, something that mattered a lot back in 1964!) Thankfully his kind help got the Beach Boys through a bad time in their history and the good fortune paid off on him: while his first post-Beach Boy single ‘Guess I’m Dumb’ (written and produced by Brian directly as a ‘thankyou’) wasn’t a big hit, the follow-ups were. During the 1967 re-writing of who was ‘cool’ and who wasn’t, some historian looked at the post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys and decided that a ‘barbershop quartet’ in stripy shirts couldn’t possibly have given birth to a talent so ‘cool’ and the fact was all but air brushed out of musical history (nowdays its probably the other way around, with no offence to Glenn!) Campbell always made it clear his hiring was temporary before he went back to his solo career, but had he wanted to become a Beach Boy (the same way his successor Bruce Johnstone did) chances are the band would have gone for an orchestral feel in their music much earlier and added a bit more of a country-rock lilt that only really came into play on their 70s recordings. Sadly Cmapbell never did play on any actual Beach Boys records and susprisingly no bootleg recordings of this tour seems to have come to light, so we’ll never truly know how his style might have meshed with the rest of the band, although we do at least know that he looks mighty daft in a stripy shirt.

Justin Hayward in The Animals (nearly happened in 1966)

The Moody Blues’ fortunes could have been very different in 1966 when they were looking for a replacement for departing singer and guitarist Denny Laine had they not made what seems like a very minor decision. Horrified at the thought of holding band auditions themselves, instead they asked their good friend Eric Burdon if he had any applicants left over from his re-modelling of ‘The New Animals’. Burdon had been anxious to break away from his group’s old R and B and very English sound for the blissful peace-laden songs of California and psychedelia but hadn’t got round to explaining what he wanted in his requests for auditions and so every English guitarist with a love of R and B applied. Eric recognised Hayward as a talent (memories are a bit shaky but it’s thought Hayward sent a tape of his work in – probably the two folky-ish demos from 1965 that are doing the rounds on youtube) and put his application to one side, before deciding his sound wasn’t really what he was looking for. Had The Moodies looked for a new member themselves I’m almost certain they’d have gone for a more guttural R and B style singer like Denny Laine had been and so might have missed out on their future leading light. As for Justin, had he been a ‘New Animal’ he’d no doubt have become quickly frustrated: although a mighty fine guitarist with a powerful, unique sound, improvisation has never been his forte as it soon became in the under-rated second Animals line-up and he might well have found himself frustrated as Eric wasn’t interested in his band writing songs but in eccentric covers of period pop pieces stretched out to breaking length.

Tim Rooney in The Monkees (nearly happened in 1967)

The American Draft Board seemed to have an ulterior motive to do everything it could to destroy rock and roll in the 1960s (which seems daft to me – nothing is more likely to put you off serving your country than taking away your idols). Not content with taking Elvis away, the draft board made serious overtures to Davy Jones in 1967 – yes Davy was a British citizen but because he’d worked in the USA for some years before even joining the Monkees he was as eligible as anyone else. Remember The Monkees were at their peak in 1967 and even outsold the Beatles that year, so his loss would have been colossal to the programme. TV producers Rafelson and Schneider were concerned enough to have a replacement standing by and, perhaps looking for media coverage, plumped for actor Mickey Rooney’s son Timothy – a neat idea for a paper who were obsessed by the Monkees being the ‘new’ form of silent/early talky comedies. As it happens Rooney never got the chance and indeed never seemed to go on to do anything in the world of show-business – Davy lodged an appeal on the grounds that he was directly responsible for the welfare of his disabled father back in Manchester – but the scare was real and there were a couple of months there when a different line-up of The Monkees looked to be on the cards. Interestingly the TV episode in production at the time was ‘The Success Story’ in which Davy is meant to leave for England at the end with his grandfather before the ‘help’ of Micky, Mike and Peter helps persuade Jones Senior that Davy really does have good friends looking after him. I do wonder if the producers were worried enough to include an alternate ending where Davy does go back home after all and his predecessor joins in the next episode?

John Entwistle and Keith Moon in Led Zeppelin (nearly happened in 1968)

Despite lasting longer than almost all the AAA 60s bands, The Who were forever on the brink of breaking up. The closest schism came in late 1967 or early 1968 (no one is too sure) when Roger Daltrey started ‘attacking’ Entwistle and Moon for their escalating drug use (afraid of damaging his throat, Roger never was much of a one for drugs, although then neither was Pete Townshend). Things came to a head when Roger, unwisely, brought matters to a head by throwing Keith’s drugs down a toilet and went angrily to his managers – perhaps not realising that Kit Lambert was a prodigious drug taker himself and didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Keith and John were incensed and seriously talked about having him kicked out of the band until Daltrey agreed to change his character and ‘Peaceful Perce’ – for a time they also talked about leaving to join a new band. It’s a fact not often mentioned by Led Zep fans that their band name came from a word game in which Keith Moon told Jimmy Page and Robert Plant that ‘any band with you two in it is going to go down like a led zeppelin’. Moon was close to both guitarist and singer and very seriously considering leaving The Who to form the new band. Entwistle, Moon’s best friend, would almost certainly have gone too as he was getting fed up with the direction of the band, although interestingly no one seems to have asked Townshend. This new line up of led zeppelin, before John Bonham and John Paul Jones joined, would have twice as powerful and far rockier, although you sense that Jimmy Page’s very lead-guitar centred songs wouldn’t have worked with Entwistle’s in-your-face bass quite as well (Pete knew John’s style well having met him at high school and always left ‘space’ for his sound, nervous as he was about his own playing). Personally I never liked Led Zeppelin much – their songs sound spectacular but don’t have the depth and ‘messages’ of even The Who at their worst and I can well see both Keith and John getting ‘frustrated’ before spending too long with the band.

Nils Lofgren in The Rolling Stones (nearly happened in 1976)

Nils was a huge Stones fan. One of his best known songs is ‘Keith Don’t Go’, a song written in 1975 after Keith Richards seemed to be in big trouble, seemingly inevitably headed for either prison or an early grave (amazingly he’d defeated both to date despite several close shaves with each). However it was Mick Taylor he was all set to replace in 1976, when the band needed a new member and were keen to find someone with experience of touring, crowds, adulation and/or drugs (poor Mick was a vegetarian tee-totaller 19 year old star when he joined the band and didn’t take to their life of excess well, even if his performances made the four Stones records he played on four of the very best in their career). Nils knew the Stones vaguely and would have been a great fit: as athletic and bouncy as Mick Jagger but with the ‘chops’ to please Keith Richards, he was probably one of the few people who could have managed the job. Some of his songs were very similar to the Stones too: Nils’ darker songs from his ‘Grin’ years and especially his ‘Cry Tough’ album would have fitted into their setlist like a glove and indeed Nils even recorded a version of the Stones’ ‘Happy’ that’s a good indicator for how well he would have slotted into their sound. Unfortunately they decided Nils was ‘too American’ and that they were an ‘English’ band so plumped for the inferior Ronnie Wood instead. Their music never quite recovered, despite a fantastic honeymoon with the punkish ‘Some Girls’ in 1978; Nils would have been a much better fit, although no doubt he’d have suffered with the age old Stones problem of writing credits (Mick and Keef allegedly taking credit for everything, no matter who contributed to a song).

Roger McGuinn in The Travelling Wilburys (nearly happened in 1990)

When Roy Orbison died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1988 shortly after their debut LP, his fellow Wilburys had already spent a bit of time thinking about making a successor. Needing a new singer-guitarist who wouldn’t get in the way of their sound, they threw a few names around but only one of them came close to being ‘hired’. McGuinn, who’d been a solo act for some 17 years at this point, hadn’t released an album in ages and seemed an obvious choice. Three out of four of the Wilburys knew him well: Dylan, of course, had given McGuinn his breakthrough when The Byrds covered ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ for their first legendary single and had struck up a long-term love-hate relationship with the guitarist that was at a high in 1990; George Harrison had first learnt about Ravi Shankar from McGuinn and fellow Byrd David Crosby in 1965 after seeing an Indian musician play one on the set of ‘Help!’ and Tom Petty and McGuinn had worked with each other a few times (Petty’s guitar work is all over Roger’s solo album ‘Back From Rio’ which the Byrd was working on at the time he might have been asked to join). Only Jeff Lynne had never worked with McGuinn, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that their guitar sounds are amazingly similar. An extra incentive came from the fact that Roger was, like them, a guitarist before he was a singer and could fill in the ‘fifth songwriter’ gap in the band left by Orbison’s death. In the end the band decided that life would be simpler if they merely carried on as a quartet and so the call to McGuinn was never made. Had the line-up change taken place you can bet there’d be a lot more Rickenbacker guitar work on the album and even more of a move back to the ‘50s sound’ of the first album, given Roger’s love for the period (The Byrds’ ‘Tiffany Queen’ – as discussed in this week’s review – is a dead ringer for the tracks on the first Wilbury album).

Bruce Hornsby in The Grateful Dead (filled in for a tour 1990-92)

Bruce Hornsby might not be the most famous or most recognisable keyboard player in pop and rock circles, but to modern jazz audiences his playing is about as good as it gets. Having a jazz player in a rock and roll band isn’t always a bonus, but the Dead have always been rock’s closest thing to a jazz troupe, regularly changing setlists and improvising songs into new areas each and every night and his work on the band’s 1990 tour worked surprisingly well. Hornsby was something of a last minute decision for the band and only filled in time before their more regular keyboard player Bruce Welnick became a Deadhead, but his live recordings with the band are some of the band’s most celebrated shows and certainly did the band a great favour, allowing them to continue without a pause from the sad death of Brent Mydland in late 1989. Hornsby wasn’t that well known when he joined the band – he’d been releasing albums since 1985 but only gained his first big taste of success the very year he joined the band, winning a grammy for his album ‘A Night On The Town’. Uniquely, he also played accordion on stage with the band, which is something none of the band’s other four keyboardists did. Two of his songs ‘Slander On The Mountain’ and ‘Valley Road’ were sung by the band onstage and appear in a handful of their retrospective live re-issue series ‘Dick’s Picks’. Although Hornsby left the band in 1992, three years before the death of Jerry Garcia, he still occasionally plays his interpretation of Dead songs in his solo concerts and has a small but loyal following of Deadheads who see his tours as the closest they can get to the ‘long strange trip’ they used to enjoy with the parent band (Hornsby says that such fans are among the most ‘musically adventurous’ of his many followers). Had Hornsby continued with the Dead fulltime (or had the Dead released their planned last studio album before Garcia’s demise) it might well have been the most psychedelic Dead record since the 60s, full of counterpuntal free-form keyboard runs and might well have approached the heights of the Garcia-Godchaux improvisations of the early 70s.

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