A Tale of Two Singers
The list of great British blues belters of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s is an impressive one indeed… Rod Stewart, Steve Marriott, Mick Jagger, Paul Rodgers, Joe Cocker, Roger Daltrey, Jack Bruce, Ian Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne and Van Morrison (Irish) to name a few... Each one a legend who not only set the bar impossibly high from a performance standpoint, but also helped to create the archetype of the Rock n Roll frontman… Head back, chest out, mane of wild hair flowing down, eyes squinting and red in the face as they stand at the lip of the stage and lift the mic stand to hit one of the high notes… These were mythological creatures, the likes of which this world may never see again. It boggles the mind when one considers just how many great musicians came up in post war Britain. They weaned themselves on American music, then sold it back to us with glorious bombast and reckless abandon.
To me, there are two such giants who stand apart from the rest. Two men whose lives are strangely and permanently entwined in the mists of Albion… Terry Reid and Robert Plant.
None, with the exception of maybe Marriott, could reach those notes and nobody did it with more swagger and commitment than these two fellows. Yet, one is a household name and the other lingers in near obscurity, with a small, but ravenous cult following.
So, what happened? How did two monstrously talented young friends with equally glorious voices end up in such completely different circumstances?
What follows is a tale of fate, of shifting sands, of highs, lows and the rigors and pitfalls inherent in the world of Rock n Roll… In other words, pure MAGICK!
In London in the early ‘60’s, something was percolating. Blues and Jazz purists like Alexis Korner, Graham Bond, Cyril Davies and John Mayall were at the epicenter of a new movement which became the fertile ground from which a global phenomenon would spring. These men were the at the vanguard and through the ranks of their respective bands and around their scene came future members of The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Fleetwood Mac, Humble Pie, Free, Jethro Tull, The Faces, Cream, Mahavishnu Orchestra and, indeed, Led Zeppelin. All this was happening before those four moptops came down from Liverpool to set the world on fire.
Flash forward a few years to 1966 and in to this musical cauldron drops a sixteen year old Terry Reid. So explosive is this young man’s voice, with an unearthly range, grit and unmatched melodic control that it immediately catches the ear of London’s Rock royalty, notably Keith Richards, Graham Nash and Eric Clapton. Also on the Terry train is producer Mickie Most (The Animals, Donovan, Herman’s Hermits) who quickly signed him to an iron-clad management/production contract. A recording contract with Columbia came soon afterward.
The albums that followed, ‘Bang Bang, You’re Terry Reid’ in 1968 ‘Terry Reid’ in 1969, failed to live up to commercial expectations, though they were solid showcases for the young singer’s chops. Despite this hiccup, America beckoned, with major tours supporting The Rolling Stones and Cream, as well as high profile festival gigs on the horizon.
It’s now 1968 and in to the picture arrives the Wizard, Jimmy Page, who is in the process of assembling his dream band from the ashes of The Yardbirds, which would ultimately become Led Zeppelin. Jimmy and Terry were familiar. Page had been part of the cadre of session aces (which also included bassist/keyboardist/arranger John Paul Jones) hired to play on all of Mickie Most’s productions. Reid had also done shows supporting The Yardbirds, whose lead guitar duties Page had inherited from Jeff Beck in back in 1966. They were colleagues and Terry would have been an obvious choice for Page’s new outfit. But, as fate would have it, Terry’s prospects just seemed too damned good. Hip producer, record deal, tours… on paper it all looked grand. The singer could not turn his back on those prospects in order to join the Magician’s untried troupe.
He instead suggested that Page should check out a young phenom from the midlands named Robert Plant, which he did, and needless to say, Jimmy was impressed. Plant brought in Bonham and the rest was written in the stars. The history of Plant and Zeppelin is so well-worn that I doubt I can add anything meaningful at this point.
Not so with Terry Reid. Most, the hitmaker, clashed with Reid the artist over the direction of Terry’s recorded work, prompting the producer to put the freeze on Terry, preventing him from recording or releasing any material for the next few years. During which time, Plant’s rise was meteoric as he became The Golden God and one of the ‘70’s biggest male sex symbols. Terry was resigned to road work, which yielded some legendary performances which can now be found via the wonders of the youtubes.
In 1971, Terry’s skies again brightened as he had settled his legal squabbles with Most and been signed by the great Ahmet Ertegun to his Atlantic records, home of, you guessed it, Led Zeppelin, among many other of the era’s greatest artists. The album that followed, ‘River’ is the beginning of Terry stretching in to new territory as a singer/songwriter. It’s all very jammy, loose and experimental, but the man was reaching for something new. Produced by the great Tom Dowd, this album could’ve been the one… But it wasn’t.
So, what happened? The album comes out and, though reviewed favorably, it flops commercially. His drummer Alan White then splits to join Yes and multi-instrumentalist David Lindley left for greener pastures with Jackson Browne.
Adrift, Reid finds his way to the sunny hills of Southern California, where spends his time jamming on the LA scene and writing tunes. Writing AMAZING tunes, which his buddy Graham Nash helps him shape up in to Terry’s greatest work, ‘Seed of Memory.’ Released in 1976, it quickly disappeared. Another victim of the Terry Reid curse, as no sooner did the album drop, than the label, ABC Records, goes bankrupt. And, poof, ‘Seed of Memory’ is just that… a distant recollection.
A couple more albums, ‘Rogues Waves’ and ‘The Driver’ are released more than a decade apart to little fanfare and Terry is forced to effectively retire his solo career and focus on session work to pay the bills. Thus, becoming in many people’s minds little more than a footnote in the Led Zeppelin saga.
That’s what he was to me, until I first heard his music as part of the soundtrack to Rob Zombie’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects.’ Zombie had chosen three songs from ‘Seed of Memory’ to feature prominently in the film, which I saw early one morning after a gig, whilst blazing on acid. (Side note: if you are going to watch a splatter flick on LSD, choose wisely. Which, luckily, I had done...) I became a die-hard Terry Reid fan from that day forward. I was so blown away by those songs and his vocals, that I was hooked and had to absorb all that I could. I was even lucky enough to see him perform at BB King’s in NYC a few years ago. He was excellent.
Fortunately, there have been reissues of most of his albums as well as a supplemental release of the ‘River’ sessions called ‘The Other Side of the River.’
And, while Terry was finding his way across rocky terrain, Robert was flying high, until a horrific car accident in 1975 threatened to leave him permanently disabled and the untimely deaths of his son, Karac, in 1977 and his best friend, John Bonham, in 1980 brought the airship down in flames.
For all their hardships, who’s to say which road was the harder. After those horrible losses, Robert Plant has moved from success to success, always following his inner voice and Terry Reid has become a legend in his own right, albeit one who has to occasionally pawn a guitar to keep a roof over his head.
Terry Reid and Robert Plant. Two immortals whose legends shall forever mingle in Rock N Roll mythology.
Cheers, gents! Thank you for all the gifts you both have given.