Monday, 26 May 2014

Ten Controversial AAA Sackings (News, Views and Music 246)





The chemistry of a successful band is a complicated thing. A group will quite often change direction or style, individuals find they don't share the same vision as everyone else or sometimes they simply get a better deal working on their own. This week we've cobbled together a top ten of the more controversial band splits and the 'sackings' that often came without warning, asking whether it was really such a good idea after all...

                                     1) Pete Best (The Beatles, 1962)

The most famous of these is of course the sacking of poor Pete Best. He joined the group soon after they changed their name from 'The Quarrymen' in 1960, when the band had no permanent drummer and were getting by as three guitarists and a bass player. Best actually had more to lose than the rest of the group - he's the Beatle who actually did get really good qualifications from school - and was helping his mother run the popular Liverpool venue The Casbah Club. Pete was by all accounts a very popular member of the band and was in fact the early romantic pin-up of the group who deemed him 'moody and magnificent', with a powerful drumming style created through the need to 'fill' the Hamburg halls with as much noise as possible to drag in passing punters (although dismissive of Pete in later years, it was Paul McCartney who encouraged him to play quite so loudly). The sacking when it came in August1962 was a surprise to everyone and rather naughtily the other Beatles got their new manager Brian Epstein to do it, even though he himself seems to have been happy with Pete's playing. Certainly Pete was popular with the fans (one of whom gave George a black eye for 'supporting Ringo') and Pete himself had no idea it was coming (he thought he'd been called into Brian's office for a chat about some upcoming gigs). So why did Pete have to go so suddenly, something even the Beatles' documentary series 'Anthology' never addresses head on? Legend has it George Martin wasn't happy with the drum sound on the Beatle's first sessions in June 1962 (later released on 'Anthology One'). While far from Pete's finest hour (the drums are a little uneven on this first version of 'Love Me Do') all of the Beatles sound as nervous as you'd expect for such a make-or-break session and none of them do themselves justice. George Martin has also denied telling them to actively sack Pete - it was common policy to bring in a  session drummer for studio work and he was equally unsure about using Ringo (who plays only tambourine on the finished album version).

Add in the fact that pete's drumming on the few other odds and ends that exist is genuinely exciting and superior to Ringo in the early days (the Tony Sheridan recordings, 'Some Other Guy' live at the Cavern Club, the very earliest BBC sessions), wilder and more exciting than Ringo's work (and more like Pete's musical cousin Chris Curtis' work in the Searchers). The Beatles may already have been looking at a more polished sound and seen Ringo as more 'adaptable' - but if that's true then they got that wrong too as Pete's work in 1964 and 1965 as leader of 'The Pete Best Combo' shows he could have kept up with the band, through to the 'Rubber Soul' era at least. Perhaps the biggest musical problem was the simple problem EMI had recording such a 'heavy' drum sound and mixing the rest of the band around it; certainly the best drumming work of Pete around tends to be either recorded simply or done live. Then again perhaps it wasn't music but personality: Best doesn't have the humour of Ringo, didn't share in the Beatle fun and games and didn't take to having his hair cut into the famous 'Beatles wig'. But if so that seems an awfully harsh reason for sacking someone - The Who never got along with each other and they still lasted 17 years! The surprise revelation in the 1990s that Pete Best's mother Mona had been having an affair with close band friend Neil Aspinall and given birth to Pete's half-brother Roag in July 1962 may hint closer to the truth (you can imagine the Beatles being forced into choosing sides between their roadie and driver on the one hand and their drummer on the other), but - ever placid - Pete doesn't seem to have had any problems with Neil either, even after he was kicked out of the band. In an interesting note one of the many jobs Pete had after leaving the Beatles was working as a job centre advisor in Liverpool, working with the recently redundant where he could look them in the eye and say 'I know how you feel - I lost out on a pretty good job too!' It's hard to say that a record-breaking group beloved by millions made the wrong decision and certain parts of the Beatle story might not have worked so well with Pete in the band (the press conferences wouldn't have been half as much fun, we'd never have had 'Octopuses' Garden' - make of that what you will - and 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Help!' would have been very, very different). But on a purely musical level the Beatles made the 'wrong' decision: I'd have had Pete Best in the band over Ringo any day!

2) David Marks (The Beach Boys, 1963)

Equally unlucky was Dave Marks, the 15-year-old neighbour of the Wilson family, who'd helped the band out of a huge pickle when they decided they needed a rhythm guitarist to really fly on stage (Dave had been learning guitar alongside Carl from neighbour John Maus, later one of the Walker Brothers). Long dismissed by fans as less important to the band somehow, I'm pleased to see there's been a slight revising of history that marks out Marks as a pretty nifty guitarist and key to the band's early surf sound (he leaves the band partway through third Lp 'Surfer Girl'). The reasons for his dismissal are many: being the only member of the band not part of the Wilson-Love 'family' meant Dave could be cheeky to manager and dad Murray Wilson and get away with it, which didn't go down well with the short-tempered parent; he was seen as a 'bad influence' egging on Dennis Wilson into being ever more reckless and the band's management reportedly had to cover up many parental suits for both youngsters; others said that success went to Dave's head, that he was that much younger and less mature than the others and he wasn't as into the music as they were (it is true that Dave is the only member of The Beach Boys' many members who never sang with the band). Matters came to a head one night when Marks made some comment about the band's less than forthcoming finances and Murray threatened to kick him out the band - the usual kind of band argument that seemed to happen every week, but this time Marks never backed down and found himself kicked out the band (Al Jardine, an old school friend of Brian's becoming his replacement by the end of 1963 and the pair even overlapped for a few awkward weeks). A cruel reward for helping the band out when they needed it most and, really, what else did the band think would happen? (Marks was on tour for months at an end, sometimes, between the ages of 15-17 without the parental/uncle figure the rest of the band had with them in Murray). Yes Dave was no angel, but compared to Dennis he was easy to control - and his playing up as a 16-year-old millionaire is easy to understand. Personally we wouldn't have sacked Dave - we'd have got him a chaperone/mate-who-wasn't-Dennis to keep an eye on his spending, booked some extra rehearsal time and given him a bit more stage time instead. Admittedly Al Jardine is a pretty fine replacement (who could sing with the band as well as play) so perhaps a six -piece Beach Boys would have been best for everyone? Read Dave's fascinating autobiography 'The Lost Beach Boy' for more!

3) Tony Jackson (The Searchers, 1964)

Talking about cruel, Tony seems to have been dropped from the band which he helped co-found for no other reason than that the most distinctive and recognisable vocal sound of 1963/early 1964 was holding back the band's chances of success in late 1964/1965 when that sound began to become a bit dated. Jackson wasn't just a member of the Searchers: he was the lead vocalist on all the band's early hits ('Sweets for my Sweet' 'Sugar and Spice') as well as the bassist and the one who got the most on-screen time whenever the Searchers were on television; he also had easily the most recognisable voice in the band right up until 'Needles and Pins' the first record he didn't sing lead on. Commercially that makes some kind of cruel sense - buying the Searchers an extra couple of years when Merseybeat was no longer all the rage, but honestly - his sacking the equivalent of sacking John Lennon because fans don't want to hear 'Twist and Shout' anymore and Tony's swift fall from grace is colossal (after taking lead on three quarters of second album 'Sugar and Spice' he gets a grand total of one co-vocal on third album 'It's The Searchers'). A rock and roller at heart, it may be that Tony wasn't just unsuitable to the 'new' folkier sound of 1965 - he didn't like playing it either and never felt he really fitted into a band who even by early 1960s standards were clearly not the best of friends (only one of the four - John McNally - is still with the band today). Thankfully Tony continued recording with backing band The Vibrations and a lot of their mid-1960s singles show how unwise the Searchers were to throw him out: although such a distinctive part of the 1963 music scene Tony slotted into the 1966 scene quite nicely too and even started writing his own songs every bit the equal of the bandmates he'd left behind. Overall, then, another missed opportunity: personally I'd have done everything in my power to keep Tony in the band, even if I did give more vocals over to the other band members.

4) Eric Haydock (The Hollies, 1966)

Officially Eric - technically the only founding member of The Hollies still in the group by the time they had their first top ten record 'Stay' - was asked to leave the Hollies because he was 'unreliable'. Finding out the truth of the matter is difficult - there's never been a biography of The Hollies, which is shocking, and most of the band won't talk - but it looks as if the truth was that Eric was suffering from nervous exhaustion after years of touring and missed two recording sessions (for 'Bus Stop' and Peter Sellers-duet/film soundtrack 'After The Fox') in 1966 due to illness. The rest of the band weren't amused and decided to axe him from the group - despite the fact that Eric had doctor's letters to prove he was ill (Graham Nash's less than kind response at the time was that 'we're all tired and the bass player does the least work in a group anyway'). A revealing attempted interview for the BBC in 1965 suggests another problem, Brian Matthews falteringly attempting to speak to a silent Eric before Nash grumpily adds ' it took me three years of being in the group before he said 'hello!') After the problems with Pete Best, it seems being quiet is the ultimate sin in 1960s pop (although George Harrison and John Entwistle seem to have both been popular in their groups). The sad fact of all this was that Eric had just found his 'sound' with the heavier feel of 1965 and his last Hollies single was 'I Can't Let Go', the best evidence yet of what a great player Eric was. The band bring in Bernie Calvert as his replacement - the third member of The Hollies borrowed from another Manchester group 'The Dolphins' after Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliott - who is contacted by his old friends while working in a factory in Runcorn; unsure what to do he contacts his advisor who thankfully was a huge Hollies fan and told him to take up the job, with the promise of his old one back if it didn't work out! Bernie is an under-rated player who leaves under similarly sad circumstances in 1980 (when new producer Mike Batt replaces him for a recording session), more melodic than Eric and perhaps more fitting to the band's melodic 1970s material. The band really should have stood by Eric, however: his powerful sound was a key part to the band's success and could have taken The Hollies in an even heavier direction across 1965-66 that made have seen them get more success still. 

5) David Crosby (The Byrds, 1968)

By his own admission, David Crosby is a troublemaker. If there's a problem he'll make hell about it - and if there isn't he'll create one to get a bit of friction going, at least in his younger days. He should have joined The Kinks, The Who or the Airplane and he'd have been right at home. Unfortunately the rest of The Byrds were silent and brooding, bordering on uncommunicative and Crosby's fiery persona simply ruffled too many feathers amongst the rest of the band. In a way it's amazing he lasted as long with The Byrds as he did - matters coming to a headafter what must have been a difficult concert at Monterey for the rest of the band, Crosby dominating the band, making controversial raps about the assassination of JFK and condoning drug use and playing a second set with close friends Buffalo Springfield, leaving him no time to rehearse with his 'proper' band. From Crosby's point of view, though, this was 'his' crowd, open to new ideas, eager to experiment and where audiences didn't care who you played with because the music was all that mattered; the other Byrds were part of history - he was trying to make them relevant. The end came when Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman drove out to Crosby's house in early 1968 during sessions for fifth Byrds album 'The Notorious Byrd Brothers', telling him 'we don't need you anymore'. Unfortunately it wasn'ty true: a good half of that album features Crosby's half-recorded songs polished off by the others (much to his understandable annoyance) and the appearance of a horse on the cover picture where Crosby's head should be (a 'coincidence' says them - 'sabotage' says Croz). The Byrds clearly needed all the help they could get after Gene Clark left the band without a respected songwriter and for all the drama it caused Crosby's harmonic blend was exactly what the Byrds had to have. However the question really is whether Crosby should have been a Byrd in the first place with four quiet and brooding personalities - would life have been better for him as part of another more combative group, like the Buffalo Springfield instead? 

6) Brian Jones (Rolling Stones, 1969)

The big question for fans is whether Brian Jones would still be here (or at least have lived longer) had he not been sacked from the Stones in 1969? (A question which depends on whether you see his death in a swimming pool in July that year as suicide, an accident or murder). For me the question is whether they should perhaps have tried to get rid of Brian sooner and whether keeping him as a fully equal member of a band who couldn't play because of Brian's disintegration was a cruel mirage that he was still capable. Jones had been suffering from at least 1966, the drugs bringing out all his worst qualities and he clearly needed help had anyone been aware or able to give it to him. However, Jones was occasionally capable of such beautiful creations right up to the end (his sleepy slide guitar part on 'No Expectations' from 'Beggar's Banquet' is the best performance on the whole record) and indeed seemed to be about to make a fantastic comeback when he died, which rather muddles the matter. Certainly the Stones did things as well and as sensitively as they could, driving to his house personally to see him and tell him he was out of the group while offering money and any support they could give. Brian seems to have taken his sacking well and seemed anxious to prove himself capable of being a Stone again - exactly what the others wanted. This sacking is a grey area but had I had the choice I'd have got Brian working for the Stones 'Brian Wilson' style with free range in the studio, whilst the rest of the band went on tour, though goodness knows that probably wouldn't have worked either... 

7) Danny Whitten (Crazy Horse, 1970)

The story goes that Neil Young's closest of close companions slipped into drug addiction so quickly that even his friends didn't see it coming till it was too late. Neil was eager to work with Crazy Horse on his 1970 album 'After The Goldrush' after their success on 1969's 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' and the rest of the band do appear on some tracks - but there isn't much of Danny, who was in too drug-addled a state to work. Neil responded by giving him some money and sending him home until he'd 'cleaned up' - but known to everyone the Danny of 1970 was only just hanging onto life and far removed from the inspired, creative workaholic of 1969 and instead Danny used his plane money to score the drugs that killed him. Neil still sounds guilty when asked about the subject and still mourns his best friend (1975's 'Tonight's The Night' is effectively a musical wake in his honour) and Neil as much any fan has wondered over and over what might have happened if Danny had kept his job and stayed in the group. There is no easy solution to this one, but Neil found the closest solution he could when he brought a new kid called Nils Lofgren in as Danny's replacement (albeit putting him onto piano, an instrument he couldn't play back then!) Effectively Danny's replacement on the first 'Crazy Horse' album, Nils was the best thing that could have happened to Whitten - a caring 'younger brother' figure who took the pressure of delivering off Danny without getting in the way. Alas even this wasn't enough in the end though; the music world still misses Danny Whitten terribly. 

8) David Knopfler (Dire Straits, 1981)

If you and your brother share a love of music...for God's sake don't start a band with them! That seems to be the AAA way of things due to the sibling rivalry in both The Kinks and Oasis thirty years apart. I'm sure both Ray Davies and Noel Gallagher would have loved nothing more than to sack their younger brother - but quite rightly the public would never have stood for it. Sadly for David Knopfler his brother Mark held all the cards - he wrote the songs, sang all the vocals and played lead guitar while David was stuck playing rhythm. With a room full of people who bow down to you you can always depend on your brother to tell you the truth you don't what to hear - and by most accounts that's what happened during the early sessions for Dire Straits album number three 'Makin' Movies'. Poor David was caught in the middle - though at the same time he seems to have quite liked speaking up and proving his brother wrong at times! Clearly one of them had to go - and it wasn't going to be Mark. It's a shame the two never patched things up because the highlight of the early Dire Straits LPs are the guitar interplay between the brothers, clearly born of some psychic link that comes from both players knowing each other really well - too well, given the way they couldn't work together anymore and pushed each other's buttons. Personally I'd have done anything in my power to keep them in the same band - encouraging David to write songs too (his solo albums, while patchy, have some great songs on them) while persuading him to let his brother get on with it as much as possible! 

9) Rick Wright (Pink Floyd, 1983)

Roger Waters is many things - a lyrical genius, an intelligent yet erudite writer and with a head of ideas few others can match. However he also has a 'darker side' that loves getting its own way at any cost and not caring how miserable life gets for anyone else. Rick Wright is his opposite: shy, retiring and quite happy to get on with his job without coming up with millions of ideas. They should never have been in the same band - which was less of a problem when they were both in the shadow of Syd Barrett but becomes increasingly awkward as Roger gets more ideas and Rick gets less. By the 1980s Pink Floyd are a Roger Waters band with a tiny bit of input from the others and Rick had retreated as much as possible, causing ever more fury to erupt from his bandmate who liked nothing more than a good argument. Roger goes to the extent of sacking Rick, even though they're both technically equal partners and are both founding members (Rick had as much right to sack Roger on paper). Even Roger admits now that he went too far (leaving Nick Mason, for one, assuming that he'd be pushed not long after) but blood within Pink Floyd was so bad during 'The Wall' in particular that someone inevitably had to go; the wonder was that Rick was still compliant enough to tour the stage show before leaving, despite thinking that they'd be his last shows with the band. Frankly this is all very very wrong - Roger may be the brain of the band, but Rick was the heart and his distinctive keyboard sound and gorgeous harmonies have at least as much to do with Pink Floyd as Roger's intelligence and words. The band should have given him more to do - and kept Roger away from him while he was doing it. 

10) Tony McCarroll (Oasis, 1994)

Did Oasis sack Tony McCarroll because 'that's what The Beatles did to Pete Best'? Was his drumming really replaced by session musicians for most of their records? Was he in fact sacked because the hard Mancunians didn't like the idea of someone with curly hair in their band? Or did Tony not buy into the 'myth' that Noel Gallagher was a God and dared to speak back to him once or twice? The jury's still out and even balancing what the Gallaghers have said in interviews against what McCarroll says in his illuminative book 'Oasis: The Truth'. The trigger point seems to have been 'advance money' that was meant to be spent on instruments: already out of pocket for his set of drums, McCarroll expected to receive money to pay him back - which mysteriously got spent on guitars instead. The charge of session musicians seems to be a false trail too: 'Definitely Maybe' features only a couple of Noel's overdubs here and there and the part on 'Slide Away' Noel 'thought' had been provided by a session musician and claimed to have liked turns out to have been a trick played on him by an engineer and was really by McCarroll after all. However reading between the lines in Tony's excellent book he seems to have been on borrowed time from the minute he joined the group - that Noel was very open about wanting someone 'better' - it was just that Oasis weren't in the position to get anyone better until they'd made it with their first album. Alan White, McCarroll's replacement, is certainly better and more suitable for what Noel had in mind for his music - but the drumming across 'Definitely Maybe' is pretty darn good too for the most part: certainly it's not bad enough to get the sack! Unforgivably, Noel told Tony he was sacked after the release of single 'Some Might Say' not face to face but by leaving a telephone message on his mum's answering machine - the band choosing his parent's house to make quite sure he wasn't in to argue back! Deeply unfair in my book, although you wonder how McCarroll ever joined the band at all as he never felt comfortable in it. As a footnote, with McCarroll still in the band there's a good chance Guigsy and Bonehead would have stayed with Oasis too, maintaining the classy original Oasis sound that they never found again, however individually better the replacement players might be. 

And that's that for another week. Be sure to join us for more news, views and music next week!

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