ROBERT JOHNSON, EL GUITARRISTA CON UN TALENTO DE LOS MIL DIABLOS… O QUIZÁ DE UNO SOLO

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Publicado en Revista Madhouse el 16 de agosto de 2017

“FUI HASTA LA ENCRUCIJADA Y CAÍ DE RODILLAS, LE PEDÍ PIEDAD AL SEÑOR, POR FAVOR, SALVA AL POBRE BOB” (“CROSS ROAD BLUES”, 1936)

La mitología cristiana se ha ocupado largamente de esta leyenda. Pudimos contemplarla a través de los relatos más disparatados, en libros, cuentos y películas. La historia del hombre que pacta con el diablo es uno de los relatos más recurrentes que han aparecido a lo largo de las efemérides y, casualidad o no, muy asiduamente ha estado relacionada con la música. Dos siglos atrás, la gente solía creer que el violinista italiano Nicolo Paganini tenía poderes demoníacos. Y ni hablar de los cientos de leyendas urbanas. Pero ningún relato faustiano ha perdurado tanto en el imaginario popular como el del músico de blues Robert Johnson. Según reza la leyenda, un principiante Johnson tomó su guitarra y se dirigió a la intersección de las carreteras 49 y 61 de la ciudad de Clarksdale, estado de Mississippi, donde el diablo le devolvió su instrumento a cambio de su alma… Tras haberlo dado por muerto por quienes lo conocían, Johnson, que hasta aquel momento había pasado por la escena musical sin pena ni gloria, reapareció al tiempo demostrando una técnica y maestría formidables a la hora de ejecutar el blues… a 79 años del día de su fallecimiento (curiosamente, el mismo día de la muerte de Elvis Presley), recordamos a esta figura y al supuestamente tenebroso origen de su incomparable talento.

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La encrucijada del diablo tiene su monumento guitarrístico

Así, los rumores sobre la historia del bluesman que logró conjurar riffs pentatónicos y sonidos de guitarra slide, acompañados por un ronco tono vocal soberbio, se extendieron por todo el estado sureño. Aquellos que lo habían escuchado tocar antes del insigne episodio también sabían lo que se rumoreaba sobre el hombre que había hecho un pacto con Satán para terminar dominando el género en el cual ahora descollaba con una excelencia sublime, creando su leyenda individual y asimismo liberándolo de su propio infierno, los de los sofocantes campos de algodón del crudo sur estadounidense donde se ganaba el pan de cada día. Sin embargo, los historiadores no la han pasado nada bien a la hora de rastrear los auténticos detalles sobre su vida. Supuestamente, Robert Leroy Johnson había nacido en Hazlehurst, estado de Mississippi, un 8 de mayo de 1911, producto de un affaire extramarital entre su madre (que previamente había sido abandonada por su esposo) y un campesino local. A los dieciséis años, Johnson ya se encontraba trabajando en los campos de algodón y, para evitar terminar siendo asociado con acusaciones infundadas -era muy común que un negro pobre termine siendo utilizado como chivo expiatorio- se paseaba por la vida tras haber adoptado una serie de alias, como el de Robert Spenser o el de Robert Sax. Los historiadores indican que Johnson se casó al menos en dos oportunidades, y fue durante su segundo matrimonio, en 1931, que comenzó con el blues. Originalmente tocaba armónica, para luego pasarse a la guitarra, el instrumento que terminó convirtiéndolo no sólo en un auténtico innovador del género en cuestión, sino también en el padre original del rock and roll moderno.

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Johnson, en algún momento de gloria de su fugaz carrera

GUITARRAS, CAMINOS Y HUESOS DE GATO NEGRO. Hasta entonces Johnson era un simple aprendiz con delirios de estrella, por lo que los músicos de blues más experimentados de aquellos años como Charlie Patton, Willie Brown o Son House, terminaban aceptando de mala gana que se suba al escenario para tocar junto a ellos. Todo esto hasta que llegó el día en que el novato Johnson desapareció por seis meses; en este lapso, solamente munido de su guitarra y un hueso de gato negro, esperó en la histórica intersección de caminos (sitio que tradicionalmente era utilizado para darle sepultura a todos aquellos que no eran considerados dignos de ser enterrados en un cementerio), para acabar vendiéndole su alma al diablo. Al retornar, su indiscutible talento para tocar la guitarra terminó impresionando a los bluesmen más expertos, lo que significó el verdadero comienzo de la leyenda. ¿De qué otra manera Johnson pudo haber logrado semejante maestría al ejecutar su instrumento? Según el folklore africano, una deidad conocida con el nombre de Esú, el guardián histórico de las encrucijadas, era la figura encargada de obrar de intermediaria entre los dioses y el hombre. Habiendo sido los misioneros cristianos quienes impartieron las enseñanzas de la cristiandad a las tribus africanas, muchos de los dioses paganos terminaron siendo asociados con el concepto del diablo, por lo que una encrucijada representaba el punto geográfico por excelencia en el cual un hombre podía encontrarse con Satán. Lo que explica por qué la brujería, o cualquier tópico relativo a un probable acercamiento al maligno, se hayan mantenido prominentes en muchas de las letras de blues a través de los tiempos.

4EL DIABLO SABE POR DIABLO… PERO MÁS SABE POR BLUESMAN. Curiosamente, el relato original del pacto de Johnson se vio modificado según la “visión” que tuvo el músico de blues Henry Goodman, que no trastabilló a la hora de sugerir su propia versión de lo ocurrido aquella fría noche: “Robert Johnson había estado tocando en Yazoo City y en Beulah, intentando retornar a Helena, y en plena carretera se topó con un camino vecino a un dique. Llevaba la guitarra sobre su hombro. Era una noche fresca de octubre, y la luna llena iluminaba el cielo oscuro. Johnson no lograba dejar de recordar a Son House cuando éste le decía ‘Bajá la guitarra, muchacho, estás enloqueciendo a la gente’. Como siempre, Johnson estaba buscando mujeres y whisky. Había árboles muy altos por todo el lugar, el camino era oscuro y solitario. Un perro loco y envenenado aullaba y gemía desde una zanja al costado. Johnson sentía escalofríos por todo el cuerpo, mientras se iba acercando a una encrucijada al sur de Rosedale. Robert Johnson, sintiéndose mal y solo, conocía a gente que vivía en Gunnison. Allí podía conseguir whisky, y mucho más. Un hombre que estaba sentado sobre un tronco al costado de la carretera va y le dice ‘Llegaste tarde, Robert Johnson’. Johnson cae sobre sus rodillas y le contesta ‘Tal vez no’. El hombre, muy alto, con el pecho del tamaño de un barril y negro como los ojos cerrados de Johnson, se pone de pie y se acerca al medio del cruce de caminos en el que Johnson se arrodillaba, y le dice ‘De pie, Robert Johnson. ¿Querés tirar esa guitarra en la zanja con ese perro sin pelo y volver a Robinsonville y tocar la armónica con Willie Brown y Son y seguir siendo uno más del montón, o querés tocarla como nunca nadie lo hizo? ¿Con un sonido que nadie jamás escuchó? ¿Querés ser el rey del blues del Delta y tener todo el whisky y las mujeres que quieras?’ ‘Eso es mucho whisky y mujeres, Hombre-Diablo’, le contestó Johnson. ‘Te conozco, Robert Johnson’, le replicó el hombre. Johnson sintió que la luz de la luna caía sobre su cabeza y la parte trasera de su cuello, mientras la luna parecía crecer más y más, cada vez más brillante. La sentía como si fuera el calor del mediodía, y el aullido y gemido del perro en la zanja le penetraban el alma, subiéndole por sus pies y las puntas de los dedos a lo largo de sus piernas y brazos, hasta terminar en ese espacio vacío detrás del esternón, haciendo que se sacuda y se estremezca, como si fuera paralítico.

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El cruce de las rutas 49 y 161 hoy, donde Johnson acordó su supuesto pacto con el diablo. Ahí, donde está el árbol y el monumento con guitarras.

Robert Johnson dice ‘Ese perro se volvió loco’. El hombre se ríe. ‘Ese sabueso es mío. No está loco, tiene el Blues. Tengo su alma en mi mano’. El perro esboza un gemido bajo y sentimental, un aullido jamás escuchado, rítmico, y gruñidos, chillidos y ladridos sincopados, convulsionando a Johnson, y haciendo que las cuerdas de su guitarra vibren y zumben un sonido triste y oscuro, acordes y notas, poseyendo a Robert Johnson, dominándolo, haciendo que se pierda dentro de sí mismo, dando vueltas, levantándolo por los aires. Robert Johnson enfoca su mirada hacia la zanja y ve que los ojos del perro reflejan la luz de la luna brillante, fulgurantes, con un brillo violeta penetrante, y Robert Johnson sabe lo que está pasando, y siente que está mirando los ojos de un Perro del Infierno, y le tiembla todo el cuerpo. El hombre dice ‘El perro no está en venta, Robert Johnson, pero el sonido puede ser tuyo. Es el sonido del Blues del Delta’ ‘Tengo que tener ese sonido, Hombre-Diablo. Ese sonido es para mí. ¿Dónde tengo que firmar?’ El hombre le contesta, ‘No tenés ningún lápiz, Robert Johnson. Tu palabra es suficiente. Todo lo que tenés que hacer es seguir caminando en dirección al norte. ¡Pero mejor preparate! Hay consecuencias’¿Preparado para qué, Hombre-Diablo?’ ‘¿Sabés dónde estás, Robert Johnson? Estás parado en el medio de una encrucijada de caminos. A la medianoche, esa luna llena caerá directamente sobre tu cabeza. Un paso más, y estarás en Rosedale. Si vas por este camino hacia el este, volverás a la carretera 61 en Cleveland, o podés retornar y volver a Beulah, o dirigirte hacia el oeste, sentarte en el dique y mirar el río. Pero si seguís en la dirección que habías tomado, vas a llegar a Rosedale a la medianoche, bajo la luna llena de octubre, y vas a tener el Blues como nadie lo tuvo en este mundo. Mi mano izquierda envolverá tu alma por siempre, y tu música poseerá a todos los que la escuchen. Eso es lo que va a suceder. Eso es para lo que tenés que estar preparado. Tu alma me pertenecerá. Esta no es una encrucijada cualquiera. No por nada la marqué con una equis, y te estuve esperando’… Robert Johnson movió su cabeza, con la cuenca de sus ojos mirando hacia la luz cegadora de la luna, que para entonces ya había llenado la oscurísima noche del Delta, perforando su ojo derecho como si fuera una descarga de relámpagos al filo de la medianoche. Miró al inmenso hombre directamente a los ojos y le dijo, ‘¡Atrás, Hombre-Diablo, estoy yendo a Rosedale. ¡Soy el Blues!’ El hombre se hizo a un lado y le dijo, ‘Seguí adelante, Robert Johnson. Sos el Rey del Blues del Delta. Volvé a tu hogar en Rosedale. Y cuando llegues a la ciudad, buscá un plato de tamales calientes, vas a necesitar tener algo en tu estómago’

EL SECRETO DE MI ÉXITO. Eventualmente, gracias a su nuevo nivel de excelencia musical, Johnson logró cumplir cada uno de sus sueños, más precisamente los de sumergirse de lleno en el mundo del whisky, las apuestas, y las mujeres fáciles. Una vez que logró notoriedad como guitarrista de primera línea, viajó por todo el sur de los Estados Unidos, desbordando de público todos y cada uno de los lugares en los que se presentaba. Su inusual apariencia, mientras tanto, basada en la suposición que indicaba que tenía un “ojo malo” (en verdad, una catarata que se había formado sobre el cristalino), logró que se le agregue más combustible a su de por sí muy incendiaria apariencia, por lo que el público creía que una mirada de Johnson era todo lo necesario para mandar a uno al infierno.robertjohnson-album Johnson también acostumbraba a tocar de espaldas a la audiencia, lo que era interpretado como señal de que siempre tenía algo que ocultar. Pero en verdad lo que Johnson buscaba reservarse eran los yeites que le permitían tocar la guitarra tan magistralmente, y que no quería que nadie le robe.

6Así, el Rey del Blues del Delta grabó sólo 29 canciones, las cuales llegaron a sumar un total de 41 pistas (incluyendo las tomas alternativas), todas ellas registradas entre 1936 y 1937 -editadas por entonces en once discos de pasta individuales de 78 revoluciones- tarea por la que cobró la por entonces no tan moderada suma de cien dólares, plasmando así un legado único que más tarde lo consagraría como uno de las principales influencias de los artistas de blues y rock más reputados (sus canciones fueron versionadas por discípulos de la talla de Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Elmore James o Cream, entre otros) y que no verían la luz en conjunto hasta 1991, cuando la compañía Columbia editó “The Complete Recordings”, un álbum doble conteniendo todo lo que Johnson alguna vez registró, y que le valió la certificación de Mejor Álbum Histórico.

ANTES QUE EL DIABLO SEPA QUE ESTÁS MUERTO. Las circunstancias que rodearon a su muerte sólo lograron reforzar la leyenda y, lejos de la versión que indicaba, obviamente, que el diablo se había llevado su alma, los biógrafos coincidieron en señalar que fue apuñalado o, como se creyó más popularmente, que recibió un tiro certero de manos de una novia celosa, o bien del esposo de una de su tantas amantes. O tal vez envenenado con estricnina.

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Uno de los tantos lugares en el sur de EE.UU. donde -se dice, se cree, se supone- puede estar enterrado el cuerpo de Robert Johnson.

Otras interpretaciones de los hechos citan la posibilidad de haber sufrido una sífilis alocada que lo tuvo angustiado durante tres años, hasta que terminó cayendo de rodillas y, aullando y ladrando como un perro agonizante, exhaló por última vez el 16 de agosto de 1938, a los 27 años de edad… Su tumba más recordada -en rigor una de las tres existentes, lo que acabó aportando aún más pimienta a la leyenda- puede ser visitada en el cementerio de la iglesia Misionaria Bautista Mount Zion, situada cerca de la carretera 7 de Morgan City, en su Mississippi natal, y no tan lejos del lugar donde, mito o verdad, y con tan sólo ellos dos como únicos testigos, Robert Johnson negoció con el mismísimo diablo.

 

 

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WITH ALAN CLAYTON OF THE DIRTY STRANGERS: “I WRITE BETTER WITH MY BACK AGAINST THE WALL”

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Original article (in Spanish) published in Revista Madhouse on August 13, 2017

And on the eight day God created The Dirty Strangers. Or something. Because the story of one of the most particular London cult bands of the last three-odd decades actually had to do with earthlier facts. No eighth day of creation, then. God has never taken up the work again, he just had to settle for seven days to do what he could do. Instead came Alan Clayton, singer, guitarist and, most of it all, main man behind the songs of the Shepherd´s Bush band, one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the British capital city.

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The Dirty Strangers in the ’80s: Ray King, Dirty Alan Clayton, Mark Harrison, Scotty Mulvey, Paul Fox

Like in a theater programme, to get to know about the days and the times of the Dirtys suggests a brief description of the cast. The first name on the list is irrevocably (again) Clayton, the band´s heart and soul, or as clearly described in the group´s website: “The band were on a mission: carrying a torch for rootsy rock’n’roll as invented by Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry but laced with a little bit of Otis Redding soul and a side order of punk attitude” Oh yes. The original cast that spawned the early days of the Dirty Strangers’ biography continues with Jim Callaghan, most remembered as the Rolling Stones’ touring security chief  for at least 30 years, currently retired, who Clayton used to work for when he still hadn´t picked up the music path. Next is former boxer Joe Seabrook, Alan´s close friend, who also did Security for Callaghan before becoming Keith Richards’ (yes, that Keith Richards) personal bodyguard, till he passed away in 2000. There´s also Stash Klossowski De Rola (better known as Prince Stash), an aristocratic dandy all the way from the London ‘60s bohemian scene, one of Brian Jones’ closest mates, whom he was busted with on a historic drug raid in 1967. Last but not least is the very Keith Richards himself (yes, that Keith once again) as prime eventual catalyst, who thanks to all the aforementioned characters ended up being not only the band´s unofficial godfather, but also a very close friend of, of course, Alan Clayton’s. One thing lead to another and, 30 years and four albums later (“The Dirty Strangers”, “West 12 To Wittering (Another West Side Story)”, “Crime And A Woman”, and “Diamonds”, a compilation), the nowadays four-member group (Clayton on vocals and guitar, Scott Mulvey on piano, Cliff Wright on bass and drummer Danny Fury) prepare to record a new album early next year. As they’ve been doing since their early days, in the meantime they´ll keep doing the odd club circuit in England, with 3 gigs in Spain by late September (in Barcelona, Zaragoza and Reus) recently added.

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A promo poster of the Dirtys’ self-titled first album, with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood as guests

NO SLEEP TILL HAMMERSMITH
REVISTA MADHOUSE visited Clayton´s place last November to interview him and go over the band´s history. In order to get to Dirty Alan´s headquarters (which backyard includes an intimate and tiny personal recording studio) one needs to reach the Hammersmith and Fulham Borough, in West London, not far from the legendary Wormwood Scrubs prison, which involved a truly funny question after asking a local lady about the right directions in order to get there by mentioning the traditional jail (“Oh, your friend lives there?”) Along with Alan was bandmate Danny Fury (once drummer of the Lords of the New Church, among other great bands he was in), whom we´ll soon feature an exclusive interview with too. So here´s a smooth (and sometimes also wild) ride about the lives and times of the Dirty Strangers in the very own words of its creator, a rock’n’roll task that took him longer than, rather more than, seven days.

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Clayton, Wright and Mulvey, on a recent show

The Dirtys were born in the mid-80’s but what before that, I mean, personally, as a musician?Alan: The band formed in ’78. I mean, I started playing guitar I suppose in ’76, something about that I used to write songs and poetry. Because most of the people think that when I met Keith, that’s where the band started. And the reason why I met Keith is because we were very successful. The Lords of the New Church were a big band, and the Dirtys had their own scene playing the Marquee. Your career moves very fast when you´re young.  And about three years before I met Keith, I met him in ’81, we had already headlined the Marquee.

So what´s the story behind you getting to meet Keith? How did that really happen?
Alan: I was the Jack of all trades, and one of my jobs was, like, Security. Joe Seabrook was one of my best mates, I knew Joe before he met Keith. My first day with Keith was in Big Joe´s pub.

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The Verulam Arms, Joe Seabrook´s former pub in Warford

Joe had a pub?
Alan: Yeah, in Watford, called The Verulam Arms.

Watford? That’s Elton John’s hometown, isn’t it? That’s close to where I’m staying now, in Hemel Hempstead.
Alan: Right, very close. In fact Joe had a place in Hemel Hempstead as well.

So Joe was doing Security at the time.
Alan: Yeah, he had a pub, and he was doing Security, and we became good friends. He was the Stranglers’ bodyguard, Big Country’s bodyguard…

Then how did you meet Jim Callaghan?
Alan: Jim and Paddy was the one I worked for, it was a firm called Call A Hand.  So I worked for Paddy and Jim, and Joe came to work for Paddy and Jim as well. Because of Joe’s immense stature and presence, he became a bodyguard as well.

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Keith Richards and Alan in the early ’80s: friendship and guitars

He was a boxer, wasn’t he?Alan: Yeah, he was.

So you were doing Security on your own.
Alan: Yeah, working for Jimmy, for Jimmy Callaghan.

And then I guess you met Keith through Joe…
Alan: Yeah. And because I had this musical connection with Joe, when Joe started working for Keith, he wanted Keith to hear our music, ’cause he knew Keith would like it. Carlton Towers in Knightsbridge. He took me out to meet Keith. And it was funny because he brought me into his bedroom. I arrived at the hotel 11 in the evening, so I was working during the day.  And I said “when are we going to see him?”, and Joe said, “he doesn’t get up until 2 in the morning”. Fuck it! I’d been at work all day!

How did you feel about that at the time? Were you somehow excited? I guess you’ve always liked Keith as a guitar player…
Alan: Of course I was excited! I had other people I preferred but I liked the stuff he likes, Otis Redding, Motown…The Stones were always a band I liked, but I liked The Who more, as they were always more of a London band for me. So that’s how I met him. I remember I went into his bedroom in the Carlton Towers, and Joe said “this is Alan, he plays in a band that sounds like the Stones used to sound” And Keith said “look forward to that, it’s been a while” And two days later he’d say to me “I’m off to Paris now”, and I said “oh I’d never been to Paris”, so he sent his chauffeur around asked me to take a guitar and swordstick and said “come and stay with me in Paris”. And I’d only known him for 2 days, you know.

Just like that.
Alan: His chauffeur turned up in Keith’s Bentley. Picked me up and drove to Paris. His dad Bert was still living in Dartford, where Keith came from, so on our way to Dover, he picks up Bert. So that’s me and Bert in the Bentley, we went to Paris.

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Keith and Alan in recent times: friendship and sofas

The three of you.
Alan: Well, Keith was flying there. Just me, Bert and the chauffeur.

That must have been a great ride!
Alan: Oh it was good!

Great story, and great way to start as well!
Alan: But I’d already been in the studio with Ronnie (Wood). We’d done “Baby” and “Here She Comes”, and “Easy To Please”.

And that’s on your first album.
Alan: Yeah, right. And then “Thrill Of A Thrill” So I’d already been recording with Ronnie, and Keith helped set up shows in Paris. We still never had a record deal, and it was only a couple of years later when Mick (Jagger) was doing his solo album, and all sort of fell into place.

And all because of Joe, right?
Alan: Yeah yeah. Joe was a major part of my career, because the first live shows we’ve ever done was in his pub. But before that I was working for Jimmy Callaghan doing Security. I worked at the Stones’ concerts Earl’s Court in ’76. I had lots of strange jobs from Jimmy. I used to clear out brothels. That’s a house with prostitutes.

Where was that?
Alan: In Soho. And then I used to work for Jimmy, and clear out those brothels.

Yes, Jim used to be very nice with me in the USA in ’94 while I followed the tour, very helpful.
Alan: He’s a lovely man. It was through Joe that I met Keith, but Jimmy was my first friend.

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The Ruts. Paul Fox is holding a beer can.

STRANGERS IN AMERICA
Alan, I want to ask you about Paul Fox, who was formerly with the Ruts, but he was an early member of the Dirty Strangers, in the first line-up, wasn´t he?
Alan: Not in the first line-up of the band, but in the first one who went to America. And he also played on the first album, but it was Alistair Simmons, who also played in the Lords of the New Church. He wrote “Baby”, “Running Slow”…There are still songs I’m doing that I wrote with him. And when Alistair left the Dirty Strangers, he joined the Lords of the New Church. Lovely and fantastic bloke, but couldn’t keep it together all the time, you know. As for Paul Fox, it was funny, because when Malcolm Owen, the singer…You know about The Ruts, don’t you?

A little bit…
Alan: The Ruts were gonna tour with The Who, but Malcolm was a junkie, and he fuckin’ had to cancel a tour with The Who. It was a real unfortunate ending for him. When I used to work doing Security, I’d seen The Ruts and I thought “I could be a singer in this band” They came from West London as well, so there was a bit of a connection there. And 3 or 4 years later I’m in the back of this cinema in Kensal Rise in London, trying to get a gig in this old cinema, it’s not there anymore. And Paul Fox was there and he said “you really remind me of my old singer” And I said “you know what, when your singer died, I was gonna fuckin’ apply for the job” And then he said “I wish you had”, ‘cause after Malcolm died, The Ruts went in a complete different direction. And I got to know him. He had got on stage with us for a couple of gigs. He was a new friend I had found I really liked. And two weeks before we were gonna tour America Alistair fucked up. We had just got a manager and this tour would cost him a lot of money. And Alistair was always on that edge of being brilliant or fuckin’ terrible. The last gig for the Hells Angels, you know.  He was so out of it he couldn’t play his guitar. And my manager said “I’m not paying the money to take him to America” All the temptations he would be offered over there…

Huty21393 021

Oh yeah: More Dirtys, early days

So he wasn’t part of it.
Alan: No. it was a big decision. He was my best friend. We sacked him two weeks before they toured America. It was one of our goals. So I rang Paul Fox up and asked him to do the tour. And then he joined the band.

How was that American tour?
Alan: We only toured the East Coast. It wasn’t actually a tour, it lasted for seven days or something.

All small venues?
Alan: Well, we played the Cat Club in New York, which is a big one. And places around New York, you know. Boston, etc.

So that was the first time the Dirtys played there.
Alan: Yeah. We didn’t have a record deal then either.

And that was before you met Ronnie.
Alan: No, I’d met Ronnie! A couple of years before.

Ok you had already recorded the songs, but you didn’t have a record deal yet.
Alan: Yeah. We recorded with Ronnie, and then we recorded with Keith. Mick had bought his solo album out. That’s how Keith had the time.

9..

And then one day the Dirtys met Ronnie Wood…

The album was produced by Prince Stash, but how did he get into the scene?
Alan: You know, Stash got busted with Brian Jones. When Keith came to the studio to record with us, Stash was with him. If you see that photograph…There´s a photo with all of us in the studio with Keith and Stash. And afterwards Stash said “who is bringing the record out?” So he formed Thrill Records after “Thrill of a Thrill”, the first song on the album. So he formed the label and dedicated a year of his life. I mean, it got released worldwide, and it done well. It all seemed so easy at the time, but now you say “fuck I would love to have that now”, you know. And he put money into it, he was great. I have some great stories about him. Do you remember Pinnacle, the distribution company for independent record companies. When you went down there you had 20 minutes to state your case, 45 minutes later Stash is still telling them what a fantastic album it was…

So everything just clicked.
Alan: It did, but when we were in America it all started to go wrong. What happened was that in Britain we sold a lot of albums, and when Stash took it to America they used Keith’s name as an advertisement. Keith played with us before he did his first solo album. And when he started his first solo album, which was a big deal at the time, it was in his contract that he wasn’t on any other albums, and Jane Rose (Keith´s manager) always said “when Keith records with friends, it’s best to let the people find out about Keith playing on it otherwise it could go wrong”. So in America Stash added a sticker on the cover of the album saying “The Dirty Strangers featuring Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood” And Keith was just about to release his solo album exclusive, and so our album got banned in America. And I understand why it wasn’t smart how they advertised it in America. So everyone just fucking used his name as if it was an advertising tool.

10..Was it Stash the one who came up with the idea of putting on the sticker on the album?
Alan: Oh yeah, that must have been Stash, yeah. Keith played on that as a friend.

Changing the subject now…A few years ago you worked with John Sinclair, who used to manage the MC5, and also an activist.
Alan: Not just the manager, he was the inspiration, he was a lot more to it.

That´s right, in fact he was one of the founders of the White Panther Party. But hen again, you worked with him in his “Beatnik Youth album in 2012. I saw that video on YouTube that…
Alan:
Oh but that’s different to “Beatnik Youth” Well, you know, John Sinclair and the MC5. I didn’t come across him, really. My knowledge of MC5 came from Brian James. And I got a phone call from George Butler, the drummer before Danny in the band, and he went “I got a friend of mine, Tim, from Brighton, who would like to do recording with John Sinclair. Can we do some recording in the studio” And I said “yeah, of course” So John Sinclair came over. I found out about him, I was intrigued about him…And he came over and, like when I met Keith, it was almost the same, I instantly bonded with John. I thought “another kindred spirit!”

11..

John Sinclair, a legend in b&w

Yeah, he came a long way.
Alan: Yeah, he’s been around. And at the time of “West 12 to Wittering”, Youth produced some of it. You know “She’s a Real Boticelli”, the single…

Oh I love that song! That’s one of my favourites.
Alan: If you asked me how I wrote that…Youth produced the single, A Youth mix. You know Youth, he produced The Verve. He was the bass player in Killing Joke. He’s fine when producing. He’d done The Verve, he’s got a band with Paul McCartney. He’s a really great bloke. Told him that I had met John Sinclair, and he produced “Lock and Key”, and he said “why don’t we do an album?” So we wrote an album.
Danny: That’s cool.
Alan: Yeah. It’s waiting to come out as well. Fuck it, it’s a fantastic album! The sort of music I’ve never really been involved into, ‘cause Youth comes from different areas. We’ve known each other for a long time. And John Sinclair, that was it. ‘Cause John was going around Europe playing, he lives in Amsterdam now, and he’d be picking up these generic bar bands that would be in a bar, and they would just played blues, and he’d do his bit of poetry over it. What me and Youth wanted to do was taking it to song level, so he had an album with actual songs, not just generic blues with beat of poetry. So we used his beat poetry as the verses, and we got choruses. So he turned them into songs.

Would you say you were part of the London punk scene, or was it general rock’n’roll?
Alan:
No, I came after with the Dirty Strangers. When Punk was going, I loved Punk, it was fuckin’ great, ‘cause it took me from being a bloke that only got to play in his bedroom to someone that believed that could form a band. And I really did. And I could always write songs. I could always write poetry and stuff like that, so I loved the punk scene. At the time in 1976, I was 22, and all the punks were pretending to be 16, 17…All the punks like Mick Jones, Tony James, they were my age. 22 or 23. So even when I wasn’t in a band, I knew Mick Jones before he was in The Clash, because I used to work in Shepherd’s Bush’s Hammersmith College of Art’s building, and he was an art student there. His first gig supporting The Kursaal Flyers at the Roundhouse. So I felt connected to the Punk scene because I knew Mick. It was a heavily West London-influenced scene, so I was right in the middle of it anyway. And they were all my age. And about that time I was doing Security at all the concerts, so I’d see all the bands. And I’d say it definitely inspired me to form a rock’n’roll band. All the punk bands I liked were really rock’n’roll bands with a new energy.

You always seemed to me to be deep into ‘50s and ‘60s stuff.
Alan:
Oh I just love rock’n’roll, you know.  What I love more than anything? Seeing women dance when we’re playing…

12..WITTERING HEIGHTS
I’d like to talk a bit about the “West 12 to Wittering” album. Once again, we know that Keith played piano there, and he actually plays in a several songs. So does Ronnie Wood. Plus it’s not only my favourite Dirtys’ album, but one of the few albums that I’m always playing at home ever since I got it. That’s how much I love it.
Alan:
Thank you, thank you very much.

And just a few days ago I was walking down the streets here in London playing it on my iPod, and it’s an album that gives you that perfect London atmosphere…
Alan:
Of course, it’s about London, definitely.

I mean, you don’t play Madonna when you’re walking down in London.
Alan: Hahaha! Yeah, the Dirty Strangers is a good choice. And the story about it is, I’d just done the ‘A Bigger Bang’ tour with the Stones, and the Dirty Strangers hadn’t been going for about 8 years.  I’ve done the ‘A Bigger Bang’ tour for about 2 and a half years, and while I was away I wrote a lot of songs, and when I came back I decided I wanted to get the band back together, but at the time it was only me, John Proctor, and George Butler, just a 3-piece, and we were called Monkey Seed.

You changed the name of the band?
Alan: No. What happened was, the Dirty Strangers were sort of dissolved, we never split up. We’d hadn’t played for too long, not earning any money and, you know people get demotivated. So when I decided to get the band back together, I wanted it to be a fresh start. So I wanted a new name. I wasn’t gonna do any Dirty Strangers songs, only new songs. But I wrote all the Dirty Strangers’ songs anyway. So I went to Ian Grant, which just got Track Records, and I said to him, “I’ve got this album of songs. Do you fancy signing me to Track Records?” He said ye. He likes the stuff I’m doing.  And he said “why are you changing the name?” I said “well, because I want a fresh start” And he said “Alan you’re 50-odd” (laughs) “You’re not twenty anymore!” And he was right! He said “listen, you’ve got all this reputation as the Dirty Strangers, basically you are  the Dirty Strangers. Why would you change the name? It never gone wrong for the Dirty Strangers” So he said, “I advise you to call the band the Dirty Strangers”. And I went “all right” Sometimes you’re happy for people to tell you this stuff, ‘cause you don’t realize it sometimes. You think, “yeah I have a new band, I’m gonna call it this, I’m not gonna do The Dirty Strangers” So we got that together, I told Keith, and he said “do you want me to play guitar on it?”, and I went “no, I’m playing guitar on this one” And I said “can you play piano on it?” And he went “yeah, fuckin’ of course!”, you know. And that’s why it’s called “West 12 to Wittering”, because he lives in Wittering, and I took my recording gear from here (W12), and we set up camp.

13..

Alan Clayton, ex-bass player John Proctor and drummer Danny Fury

Where did you record it?
Alan: In Redlands. His stuff, the piano, was recorded in Redlands.

So you stayed with him at the time there?
Alan: Oh, I stayed with him lots of different times.

It’s beautiful in there, isn’t it?
Alan: Yeah, lovely. So much so, if I moved from London, that’s a part of the world I’m gonna move to.

Small world, two days ago I saw Ian Hunter in Shepherd’s Bush and, as I left, I met this couple who live there.
Alan: Ian Hunter? Did he play Shepherd’s Bush?

Oh yeah. Just 3 days ago. He never played in South America, and he’s not likely to play soon, so I couldn’t miss it. With Graham Parker as support act.
Alan: Oh I love Graham Parker!
Danny: Do they advertise it these days?
Alan: It’s like if it’s sold out, there’s no advertising.

I’m sorry, now I’m starting to feel guilty!
Alan: I didn’t know that he was playing some time.
Danny: If you go to the websites, usually they’re there.
Alan: Usually there would be an ad in the Evening Standard, or in Time-Out.
Danny: In the past it used to be Melody maker, you found all the gigs in there.
Alan: Time-Out for me. Growing up in a band, was the place where they put all the gigs in, and now it’s selected gigs.

DIRTY, STRANGE AND CONCEPTUAL
What about “Crime and a Woman”, the new album? I know it’s a concept album.
Alan:  It’s a story that goes from start to the end, if you want it to be a story. If you want it to be a collection of rock’n’roll songs, it’s a collection of rock’n’roll songs. But there is a story within it probably for my own benefit, more than anybody else’s. It’s a story that goes for it.14..

Yes, you told me it’s an album you wanted to do in a more personal way, after I asked you why Keith isn’t in the album, and you said you wanted it to be “your” album.
Alan: Yeah yeah. Because the thing is, it is great having Keith as one of your best mates, but the downside is once you play your own stuff, whenever anyone comes to see you some are disappointed I’m always getting this continuous question, “Would Keith be playing with you?” or “Would he be turning up?” I understand why more people say that, but it’s not his band. It’s my band that he happens to play in now and then, it is  the Dirty Strangers. And this one, I wanted it to be representative of us live, what we’ve recorded.

Well, I still love the album a lot.
Alan: I love it as well, because it sounds great. “Keith, can you come and play on this?” And he’s great, but he’s not playing live with us.

You’re always writing on your own, you’re the only one that writes the songs for the Dirtys, isn´t it?
Alan: And now I’ve been playing with Danny for a little while. Danny writes songs, and sure he’ll contribute down the line.

But basically all the songs on the new album are yours.
Alan: Yeah, but there’s a couple like “Running Slow” and “Are You Satisfied”, which was co-written with Alistair… He’s been dead for 10 years. He was a good mate of mine. And “One Good Reason” was co-written by Tam Nightingale. And Scotty co-wrote “Short and Sweet” But really, it was my album.

What inspires you to writes songs? Is it everyday life?
Alan: Definitely, everyday life. If I have a lull in my life, like a lot of people I write better with my back against the wall. When I’m comfortable, when everything’s alright, I find it very hard to write songs, ‘cause my life is at peace. Don’t you find that Danny, if there is turmoil in your life, then  you write better songs?
Danny: Yeah!

Then there wouldn’t be any blues players.
Alan: Yeah, exactly.  It’s the hard time that make you dig in and dig deep.

And I believe it’s the same with writers.
Alan: Yeah. Well how many tortured writers and comedians we know? People that are manic depressive, they put this beautiful work out.
Danny: They focus on their inner turmoil.

Somehow you’re exorcising your problems, you know what I mean. It’s therapy.
Alan: That’s definitely right. If I have something strong my mind, I’ll definitely write a song about it.

15..

The Dirty Strangers today. From L-R: Danny Fury, Alan Clayton, Cliff Wright and Scott Mulvey

Out of the lyrics, you don’t find bands like the Dirty Strangers around these days. I mean, all that bluesy lowdown rock’n’roll with a punky edge….And now Danny’s welcome, so that means some fresh new blood.
Alan: Yeah, right!

MAYBE IT´S BECAUSE I´M A LONDONER
What’s your take on the current London music scene?
Alan: You know, can I be honest to you? I don’t give a fuck about the music scene, I only care about the Dirty Strangers. When you’re in a rock and roll band, you can’t care about anybody else. Really, because you fuckin’ love rock’n’roll. Don’t you think that’s right, Danny?
Danny: Yeah, you´re sort of caught up in your own thing, you know. But if I can maybe answer that thing, I’ve got a little different impression anyway, as I’m still a little bit interested in what’s going on. You put new stuff in the context of old so, in a way, if you want to release it to the world, you work. That’s what my interest comes from. It’s actually, like Alan said, it’s a limited customer, you know. But I think there’s a lack of personalities, a lack of true expression, everybody seems to copy something that’s already been done before.

Well, that’s because they’re only after the money.
Alan: Yeah yeah.
Danny: Either it’s music you just make for money, but there’s not much that really reaches and touches, you know what I mean, a genuine expression of a personality.
Alan: Also, I’m still discovering music from the ‘50s, you know how I mean, there is such a body of music out there.
Danny: So much music out there…
Alan: I’d like to know if there’s still music going on, with youngsters. It’s not for me to comment what 15 year olds like, ‘cause I’m not 15 years old, right? But at my own age I know what I do, I play rock’n’roll.  I see many bands compromise, but we never compromise, we just play what we play. During my career I have been really trendy, then forgotten, then trendy again. You just do what you do.

Yes, it’s just like you said, it’s always about going back to the past, there’s so much in there.
Alan:  I listen to the radio a lot, so I don’t shut myself from the outside world. But there’s still people writing great songs. With rock and roll I am very protective, you’ve got bands who toy with rock and roll.
16..As it was just a word…
Alan: Yeah, and I live my life for it. I know I’ve done it for a long time.

So, if I may ask, what do you do for a living out of the Dirty Strangers?
Alan: I’m Danny’s butler! (laughs heavily)

You know, I was just curious…
Alan: He’s from Switzerland. He has loads of money.

You know, people from Switzerland, they’re the rich ones…
Alan:
Of course they are! (laughs) They’re employing us all.
Danny: I have to change his name to James or something… (laughs)

18.. BOB & MARLEY & ALAN & JOHNNY
Alan, there’s a funny story involving you and Bob Marley I’d really like you to tell me about.
Alan:  Of course I’ll do! When I was working for Jimmy Callaghan, in the late ‘70s, and we were working at Crystal Palace’s Bowl, which was an outdoor concert in South London. And at the time the backstage area didn’t have dressing rooms, it was big tents. And it was my job to look after Bob Marley’s tent. Big Joe was there. And what happened, back then, security wasn’t like it is now. The backstage area had low fences all the way round, not a lot of security, so every Jamaican seemed to think it was their right to meet Bob Marley.  So they were jumping over the fence, trying to get in his tent, and I was the only one stopping them.

He was the big thing.
Alan: Of course he was, the big thing for Jamaicans. It was the spiritual man for them, and everything. And the people that were trying getting into his tent didn’t like the fact I might be in the way to stop them, as that was my job, and what happened was there was always commotion going on. And someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “come in”, pulled me into Bob Marley’s tent. Bob Marley’s sitting on an amp playing guitar, and he rolled this big spliff. And all the time Bob Marley was just playing guitar they got me stoned to calm me down. I was 20 or 25 minutes in there. And then they sent me outside, ‘cause I had calmed down.

Come on, 20 minutes with Bob Marley, that’s a great story!
Alan: Yeah!

Were you into Jamaican music at the time?
Alan: You know, when I was young, my first music was ska. Johnny, my dad, was a teddy boy, so he loved rock and roll. He’s a singer, you know, I’ve done an album with him.

Yeah, I’ve read about that.
Alan:
And Keith’s playing on it, and Bobby Keys. That’s my dad’s album, Johnny Clayton.

Was it released? Or is a personal recording?
Alan:
No it’s not, but it’s gonna be released. Brian James, Keith Richards, Bobby Keys, Jim Jones (of the Jim Jones Revue) and Tyla, all playing with my dad.

19..All studio sessions?
Alan:
Yeah.  But this record, “Crime and a Woman”, we finished recording it at a place called The Convent who ran out of money but had already pressed the CD. Cargo distributed them, which we sell from the Facebook site, from the shop site. That’s the next release, my Dad’s album. The John Sinclair one was already out on another label, and the Dirty Strangers are about to record another album. But before that we’re gonna re-release the first one with all new stuff, outtakes… I think that my dad’s album is gonna be released at the same time of that. There’s only great people on that.


Yeah, great line-up! Can’t wait for that. So are there any new songs, or is it all cover versions?
Alan:
  No, all Dean Martin songs, and Frank Sinatra. So the band is Mallet on drums, Dave Tregunna, he’s bass player on it, Scott Mulvey of the Dirtys is playing piano, and I’m playing acoustic on it, and then we’ve got guest guitarists and a guest saxophone player as well.

Are the Dirtys going to play in other countries, or you’re more London-based?
Alan:
Oh listen, we wanna play everywhere! We have played in Europe. We’re at a new stage with Danny now. We really needed someone to be a bit more at ground level managing us, and Paul my son is doing all that.

He’s very enthusiastic.
Alan: Yes he is, he is his father’s son. So yeah, we want to play everywhere.

As a musician, is there anybody in special you would have liked to play or record with?
Danny:
He really wanted to play with me.
Alan: My dreams are true now, my dreams have come true! I tell you, if it wasn’t Danny (laughs) it would be someone like Otis Redding, he’s my favourite singer of all time. Yes, my favourite singer, end of story.

Oh you’re a soul man.
Alan: Yeah, but my daddy was a teddy boy, so I’d come out this weird mixture.

It’s all the same, it’s all great music, whether it’s soul, rock’n’roll, rhythm and blues. And then all those black guys!
Alan: They can’t speak like me, but I can speak like them! Hahaha!
Danny: They feel it from the heart, I mean, they’ve got that feel. And Alan’s got such a great voice on top of that.
Alan: Thank you! We should stop on a high now… (laughs)

20..y

The article´s author along  Clayton and Fury: The Dirty Three

Just like you said, it’s mostly about going back to the past, that’s when the greatest music was done. Just yesterday I was playing my all-time favourite live album, ‘Jerry Lee Lewis at the Star Club’ in 1964, which is like the wildest album ever. Now that’s real heavy metal. Someone even referred to it saying “it’s not an album, it’s a crime scene”
Alan:  Yeah! I’ll tell you a funny story that Ronnie told me, when he was on tour with Jerry Lee, he’d done a tour with him.  They were both walking through the hotel lobby, and this woman came up and she threw her arms around Jerry Lee, and she went “Jerry Lee, you smell lovely, what you got on?” And he said “I’ve got a hard-on, honey. I didn’t know you could smell it from there!”
Danny:
That’s awesome!
Alan: That’s a great one, isn’t it?

I love those stories! Any other stories you want to tell me?
Alan:
Do you want to know how “She’s a Real Boticelli” got written?

21..I’d love to. So when somebody’s a real Boticelli?
Alan: Well, I’ll tell you what it was, right? I was down at Redlands, and me and Keith were in the kitchen, cooking. I was peeling potatoes and Keith is preparing the meat. In England when you grow up there’s a set of books called “Just William” And the character is a boy about 13, lives in the country, he’s got parents and he’s got a sister, and he’s always having adventures. And everybody who’s English would know about these books. I’m sure every country’s got its own books, but it’s a boy, and he’s in a gang called The Outlaws who have a rival gang. There are all these strange characters who pass through his village. Musicians, tramps, fairground people…And they’re written by a woman. And all my life I was growing up thinking it was a bloke, and it’s a woman, Richmal Compton. So this woman has written all these fantastic boy’s adventures from the perspective of a boy. So we found out that me and Keith liked them, we found out a mutual love when we were growing up. And when the Stones’ office found out our love for the books they sent the books in CD form, so we used to listen to them while we were cooking. And one of them starts “she’s a real Boticelli!”, and actually someone says she’s got a real bottle of cherry, and we misunderstood that, right? I looked to Keith and he said “that’s a fuckin’ Chuck Berry title, isn’t it?” So it’s all from when we were cooking, from his CD, from his book. So we just nicked the first line out, and wrote the whole song “She’s a Real Boticelli”

Great story, and also coming from Redlands, just like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and the gardener story. Oh you know that…
Alan:
Right!

All right, you know we could be talking for hours, but I think it´s time to leave, you’ve got to do a show, so let´s go there! Thanks so much!
Danny: Let´s go!
Alan: Oh thanks so much to you! And don´t forget your bag!

www.dirtystrangers.com
https://www.facebook.com/thedirtystrangers

 

CONCIERTOS: FLAVIO CASANOVA CELEBRÓ SU ETERNA AMISTAD CON EL ROCK EN HIPÓLITO BAR

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FLAVIO CASANOVA BIG BANG, HIPÓLITO BAR – 20/7/2017

“¿Saben qué hora es…? ¡Es la hora del rock and roll!” Como un general de tropa dando la orden para atacar el campo enemigo, el grito de guerra de Flavio Casanova para dar comienzo al show de su nuevo trío en la noche del jueves pasado cumplió con todas y cada una de las expectativas que podían esperarse.

13La arenga podría haber resultado a cualquier hora, pero fueron las 22 en punto del casi extinguido Día Del Amigo cuando la Big Bang -que forma con Flavio en aullante guitarra y primera voz , D-Rex en contrabajo salvaje y coros y Gero Sarmiento en batería ingobernable-, tras anunciar “vamos a hacer principalmente clásicos de los 40 y los 50”, puso a sacudir el escenario del Hipólito Bar del viejo Centro porteño, y todos los que estuvieron allí presentes.
Fueron 60 minutos al palo en los que Flavio, líder eterno de la escena del rockabilly local desde que su banda original Casanovas llegó para introducir el estilo en la multicolor escena del rock local de mediados de los 80, demostró una vez más lo que siempre le salió mejor hacer: rock salvaje y directo, sin aditivos ni rodeos, un shot directo a los huesos de manos de algunas de las mejores canciones del género. Así las cosas, no hizo falta mucho esfuerzo.

14La canción que abrió la velada, “Rock Billy Boogie” (el hit de 1957 de Johnny Burnette, más tarde popularizado por Robert Gordon) marcó el camino para todo lo que vendría después, ni más ni menos que un tributo dorado a las grandes figuras del más visceral de los formatos del rock conocidos por la humanidad, y que continuó con “One Hand Loose” (de Charlie Feathers) o con el doblete de Carl Perkins de “Boppin’ The Blues” y “Matchbox”. Por eso el resto de las tonadas elegidas para el repertorio, esas que tan bien le sientan a la figura del comandante de la banda (nunca mejor dicho, con sus dos metros de vibrante estructura ósea y excelente labor en guitarra), o al ataque de contrabajo y batería que lo acompañaron, una receta a la cual no le faltó, ni tampoco le sobró, ninguno de sus ingredientes básicos.
De menciones a Warren Smith (“Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache”, “Ubangi Stop”), al megaclásico de Eddie Cochran “Summertime Blues”, a Dale Hawkins (con “Little Pig”) o a Gene Vincent (“Blue Jean Bop”), hasta una gran versión de “Jeepster” de T.Rex, sin dejar de incluir (¡claro!) los temas más insignes de su primera banda con “Enciende Un Cigarrillo Y Mira La Pelea” y “Modelo Del ‘56”, que gloriosamente cerró la velada. Mención aparte para el Hipólito Bar, un subsuelo de clima íntimo y gran porte, de esos lugares que uno pensaba que ya habían dejado de existir en la ciudad, y que fue el marco perfecto para una noche eléctrica de auténtico retro… No sólo hubo rock and roll, ese género que se creó para nunca envejecer, sino que además lo hubo de en serio. Y por muchas noches más así, entonces.