Chris Rea – Drive Time

The title of the Northern slidemaster’s new album is Road Songs For Lovers but don’t be fooled, there is real bite in with the romance and glad-to-be-alive moments.

Rea is one of music’s survivors and I have been glad of his advice when in my own dark times. The love of music and of communicating through music still beams out of the genial songwriter when we meet up once again in London to trade records and chat…

Supplied By Phill Savidge PR

JLTT: First question, as ever, must be – how are you matey?

 

CR: (Sighs) Not very good. I had a stroke this time last year ..which they say is part of not having a pancreas for fifteen years. I knew it was going to happen. We always knew there would be complications..down the line, y’know. So I had a stroke and my balance is dreadful. It’s slowly coming back, but only slowly. So, that’s been my year.

 

You’d changed your diet when we first met after your major ops and you were off on The Blues Adventure, let’s call it..does this situation affect you travelwise?

 

When I’m sitting down, I’m fine. I wouldn’t know I’d had a stroke. If I stand up…I have to be really careful. (Rea hands me a double-vinyl edition of the new record – PS)

 

Well here I am looking at this lovely, lovely vinyl record set ..and I think it’s beautiful. It’s got the mark of Rea all over it. What inspired this design? What do you think of it?

 

Well you know I’ve been painting my album sleeves for ages – you came down to the gallery for the Blue Guitars era ones. And when I had the stroke, I can’t paint any more …so! (laughs) that’s my first sticky collage effort!

 

Whew! That IS The Blues

 

I actually got into collages..cos you don’t have to be able to draw! I always knew that painting was going to be catch-up, for me..it’s like wanting to be Miles Davis. First of all you have to do twenty years practice..and I’m too old. So my daughters, they’re all very good artists. And I’m good at surreal stuff especially guitar motifs and related. So this is my first collage and I love it because ..y’see I would have spent billions of hours doing the image of me, so I cut out that photo of me..and stuck it on!

 

It has freshness vibe about it..almost like you want to put these segments together..but that gives some movement, in it.

Yes, it could have been called Motels And Blue Sky

 

(At this point I remember that I have brought along for Chris some promo items on a Klaus Voorman artwork event I had briefly attended before it was overrun by very rich buyers of prints and any chance of a word with the great artist evaporated. One way to make a lowly guitarist feel invisible!)

 

People like you and me are (like paupers) …I’ve learned to live with it. I feel happier now. I’m not Sting, I’m not going to get on the front page of Culture.

 

But neither is Ry Cooder..

 

He’s great though!

 

Or Taj Mahal. Who you and I owe a lot to. Because of that syncopated, fragmented style of blues..he and Little Feat gave that to us. On the new record, I have listened to the stream..you can probably guess my favourite song on this..the band has got the Ahwai brothers who you and Mick Taylor like to work with. What they bring to the party is what?

 

Well Robert brings his fantastic unique guitar feel..and I tell him every day but he never listens and he is a classic example of what we’re just talking about. Robert Ahwai is as good a guitar player as anyone you have ever heard. Really. He has got his own feel, but he’s not a showman and so a lot of people don’t know about him! But I do and he IS fantastic.

 

I think he has a lot in common with Grant Green..on Blue Note

 

Yeah…not showbiz y’see..a craftsman.

 

No ‘Look at me! I can play the guitar! Admire me!’

 

He’s forgotten more about scales than most people ever learn

 

If he brought a foot-on-monitor vibe to your studio it would screw all these recordings

 

AND! the other brother James is one of my great discoveries. I don’t know how many others knew but he is a magical bass player. So tight. And it’s not often that an older geezer meets a young geezer who knows what you do and likes the kind of music we’re all trying to do. In a funny way although he’s young he’s got a head on him like a 65-year-old and understanding the music I’m trying to do, at my age. His bass playing is very Jamerson, Willie Weeks..

 

Yes, ask what’s a good live record and you’ll get the same answer from Ronnie Wood and me – Donny Hathaway Live on Atlantic, with Weeks, Dupree… 

 

 

Absolutely ..eveything cooks

 

And what is it? Total communication between the band members

 

My favourite one for that is Stuff At Montreux 1976

 

Eric Gale, Cornell Dupree…

 

Yeah ! I’ve watched it so many times and I burst into tears..when it first came out I was such a fan than when it came out Claude Nobs ( late Festival boss – PS) rang up and asked if I’d do the sleeve notes! He didn’t know anybody more keen on this act than I was! They’d been diverted from Chicago, cos of rainstorms or something, so they had to go to New York. From there to London. Then they had to wait to get to Geneva. And then they had to drive across to Montreux. Walked in the auditorium an hour and ten minutes late. Eric Gales hadn’t put his strings on his guitar! He was doing that when they did the first number. So they have started the show but as you said with Hathaway it was six men, one brain! They knew when to change, when to solo. And it just made me cry, cos of the feel of it. In a funny way it ruined my life because from then on on, that’s what I wanted. And that’s why I never got on with the record companies, why they kicked me out. Because I wanted that band, or people like that..not fancy production, I didn’t want to know about overdubbing and I fought and fought for that. In fact Pete Waterman got sacked from the record company, for trying to get me that band ! We had Willie Weeks, Stix Hooper and Joe Sample. My record company said No.

 

I saw them backing BB King

 

Well, There you go. We’re speaking the same language, here

 

Once you find yourself walking through that door Less Is More, having soaked up say Little Feat, Bill Withers and that Andy Fraser thing where you leave out notes, to make things swing..you need to be at a certain level of class to even contemplate that because it might go against you wish to play out. The eager-to-impress approach to playing ruins most records that come through my door, there’s too much going on ALL the time

 

Oh there’s no doubt about that, perfectly right.

 

Let’s do the songs – Happy On The Road, lovey accordion so it’s a gentle swamp/Cajun ambience about it

 

Exactly. Lowell George slide guitar

 

It’s almost a laid-back Los Lobos

 

(Brightly) I’ll have that. Thank you.

 

Nothing Left Behind – there’s a great pedal steel sound on there

 

That’s me, using the little finger for the volume swells here and there (A brief discussion on that technique vs. Slow Engine ensues – PS) I did try a volume pedal, Pete but for some reason I can’t get on with it.

A very reflective song, I like the piano on that

 

(Animated) Neil Drinkwater is great!

 

The only person who plays like that is Max Middleton

 

Woo ! you’ve hit a vein there..I was just waiting for a thunderbolt! Max Middleton..I’ll tell Neil..that will go down very well

 

I can only ever tell you what I’m hearing..now, Road Songs For Lovers, reminded me of Marc Cohen the Silver Thunderbird man. It’s that relaxing thing..what I would call gentle strength

 

It’s me and my wife when we were eighteen. And we used to go fo an island off Spain. Cos it was cheap and it was quiet. No disco’s, nothing like that and we’d hire a little budget car and there’s a certain moment in the afternoon, when the sunburnt feet are on the dashboard, y’know  Romantic, in a nutshell. And it’s a kind of blues song in as much as you’d like to go back to that moment again.

 

Sort of connects with that one of yours I used to do On The Beach. Where it’s not quite what it seems.

 

Oh yes, I remember. Do you still play it with…?

 

With The Healer, John Lee Hooker blended in, yeah

 

On to Money..a very elegaic sound, it’s not a Mardi Gras/gumbo thing..it sounds filmic, steady funk.

 

Gil Evans influenced that

 

Accountants rule the world and you and I aren’t going to change it..was it Wilde? They know the price of everything and the value of nothing

 

I’ve got a Gil Evans DVD. And it’s great, like young kids say to me ‘What new stuff do you like?’ and I always say, if you love music whatever you hear is new. So I can hear something that’s fifty years old. It’s new to me ! I don’t need to listen to Radio One to hear stuff that I haven’t heard before. I heard a guy three weeks ago and I wrote to Richard Williams about him. And said tell me about this fella. It’s a guy called Leon Pellegrino. He was playing this baritone sax as if he was Jimi Hendrix!

Richard knew about him, to me he’s brand new.

 

Two Lost Souls, it has this fine clipped beat to it. Story of a female. True story?

 

They’re all imaginary..they’re people in a car as the thread, if you like.

 

Novelettas about people

 

It does happen.. and we shouldn’t judge people in a story like this

 

I love the brush drumming on Rock My Soul..’sitting in a gridlock’

 

Martin Ditcham! I couldn’t do stuff like that without Martin. The way Martin plays brushes is unique, to him. He’s fantastic

 

The only guy near to this that I recall was Chris Karan who played drums for The Dudley Moore Trio. Dripping colour out of the wash

 

Energy, as well ! No bang, bang. The impact is from an alternative route, makes the song

 

Moving On, it’s got the congas, some string patch stuff. I like the Curtis Mayfield vibe of this.

 

That’s exactly what I was after! Thank you

 

I admit, that’s my favourite track here

 

And doesn’t he play bass well on it?

 

Heatbeat bass. When I got SuperFly I played Pusher Man thirty times!

 

I wanted that driving underlay thing. To put the guitar on top

 

The Road Ahead, maybe this is the closest moment to Lowell George, that loping slide sound. That’s a lovely track. Are you going to do that live?

 

Yeah. I think we just have to, don’t you?

 

Last Train, uses that jazzy cymbal wash. Is that a flageolet or Irish pipe playing in the background?

 

No, it’s a little old Roland Juno. I always used to use a Juno on the old songs, y’see. When Davey Spillane couldn’t get to a session. The sound is unique to the Juno. They’re worth a lot of money, if you can find one, that is.

 

Hang on mate – when did you last catch a train?

 

(Laughs) Well that’s the only one I’m really pleased with, but nobody gets what I’m pleased about ! It’s about life being SO bad that you’re prepared to jump on a train , cos it’s the last one. You don’t even know where it’s going. Cos most songs have the last train home. This one ain’t going home. But life is so bad…

 

I’ve written ‘lonesome sound’ but I didn’t realise it was an escape song

 

(Challenging) What would make a man jump on the last train? Not knowing where it was going?

 

Desperation. Like a refugee situation

 

Abolutely! I see that there’s something he is really scared of.

 

Angel Of Love – I expected J J Cale to start singing!

 

It’s a jukebox song. The players bring that home, I just said what I needed to to each of them and that’s what results

 

There’s a lovely tremelo sound on Breaking Point. It sounds like film music.

 

Yes it’s meant to convey that as well. Definitely. I’d like to have done all that. That’s what my ambition was. The first interview I ever did, tender age of twenty six I did say I intended to do film music. The voice came along and f***ed up everything.

 

No! It’s part of you

 

It did..no-one talks about my film music or my guitar playing

 

I do!

 

(Laughs) I know, that’s different! They all talk about His Voice.

 

Your voice made people fall in love with you, listen to your words

 

(Sighs) I accept that

 

Beautiful, excellent sax on this one. I could hear Louis Armstrong singing this number

 

(Ponders) I know what you mean. I’ll let you into a secret. It’s actually about a dog. A one-eyed dog. The mutt of the litter. And I fell in love with him. Post-stroke, I needed something to get me to walk. I didn’t want to, I just wanted to stay in bed. This little thing would come to the bedroom and pretty much order me on to my feet.

 

That’s the greater need of another. The dog wants exercise, you can facilitate it.

 

Cos she wants to run round outside and smell things and live! It really helped me, motivated me. For the song, it’s how we all find beauty in things. That other people might not. It’s my daughter’s dog

 

What gear did you use? The ‘Pinky’ Strat?

 

Yep..the Maranello..that’s about it. It’s getting less and less, for what I’m up to

 

It doesn’t sound like a guitar player’s record as such

 

No, it isn’t

 

It sounds like someone blues-influenced with a set of songs to deliver

 

I think that’s dead right.  I think that’s why these (label) people wanted it. And I was happy to let them have it. No skin off my nose . Now everyone can hear it, that wants to.

Pete Sargeant



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Chris Rea

(Thanks Chris and Phill Savidge at Phill Savidge PR)

All Photos Supplied by Phill Savidge PR

You can watch the official lyric video for ‘Happy On The Road’ in this article.

Chris Rea’s new album ‘Road Songs For Lovers’ is out now on BMG. It is available as a double gatefold vinyl LP and as a CD featuring a 12-page booklet.

For more information visit his official website here: http://bit.ly/2ppHDuq

Chris Rea