The cover of ‘The Beginning,’ courtesy of JimmyPage.com
One of the limbs of Osiris could turn up in your mailbox soon. On April 30, Jimmy Page will release the first recording he ever produced, at the age of 16: the 1961 demo of Chris Farlowe & the Thunderbirds, whom he judged “the best band in the south.”
It’s a document of London rock and roll as it existed before the Rolling Stones or the Yardbirds, and you can’t miss the qualities that would have recommended the group to teenage Jimmy Page: the voodoo rhythm section, the shit-hot guitarist, fronted by a conjuror, playing hard, spellbinding blues with restraint, dynamics, control. It’s essentially live; the only studio trickery I can make out, other than Page’s anachronistic decision to record the sounds the drummer was making, is a touch of reverb. As on Elvis’s Sun sessions, the musicians are surrounded by emptiness, as if they are recording in outer space, or Chicago.
Last week, Chris Farlowe graciously spoke to us about the album and the beginning of his career in music. Embedded at the bottom of this post is the premiere of “Let the Good Times Roll,” selected for Dangerous Minds by Jimmy Page.
Why has this taken so long to come out?
That’s a good point. I suppose because Jimmy has been so involved with the beginning of Led Zeppelin, of course, and whatever tours they had to do, and whatever recordings, and whatever they had to do, I suppose it just got bypassed. And it was only about a year ago, I was working with Van Morrison, and someone said, “Van’s got a private party tomorrow night for one of his records, are you coming?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ll come along, that’s fine.” So I walked in, and then Van said, “Your mate’s here.” I said, “Who?” He said, “Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page is over here.” I said, “Oh, great.”
So I walked over to Jim, and we said hello and greetings to each other and all that lark, and then I said to Jim, “Jim, what are we gonna do about that bleedin’ acetate that we had done 56 years ago?” And he said, “You’re right, we’ve gotta do something about it, because it’s an important record.” And I said, “Right, let’s do it.”
And then he got his act together and he did it!
Was this something you’d had a copy of all these years?
Yeah. I’ve got an acetate copy, Jim has an acetate copy as well, of course. But I couldn’t do nothing, because we were part owners of it, 50/50, so I had to get permission to do it from him if I wanted to do it on my own—but then again, Jim wouldn’t allow that anyway, because he wants to be involved with it, because he produced it when he was 16 years old.
And people say to me, “How come he was only 16 and he produced this album?” And I say, the man is a genius, I think, because he had the instinct and the foresight to realize that we were a great band, and I’m a good singer. He said, this guy deserves to be put down on record, and it took a 16-year-old boy to do that for me! Which is strange. I don’t think it’s happened ever since, really.
Was he still playing in skiffle bands when you met?
Yeah. I had a band—well, the Thunderbirds, of course, which you hear on that record—and we used to tour, do all the local clubs and the pubs and all that sort of stuff. And we did a place in Epsom called Ebbisham Hall, and Epsom is where Jimmy comes from. So, all of a sudden, look at the side of the stage, and there’s this young dude standing there, listening to my band. And when we come off, he said, “Hello, my name’s Jimmy Page, and I think your band’s fantastic. I like your guitarist, he’s really cool.”
I said, “Yeah, he’s good, isn’t he?” He said, “Cor, dear, he’s so smart, all in black like that—he’s really got a good image.” And he influenced Jimmy Page, you know, my early guitar player did.
Is that Bobby Taylor?
Yeah, Bobby Taylor, who now lives in Los Angeles, funny enough. He left my band and became a TV actor and a film actor, and now he’s got an acting school in LA.
So anyway, Jimmy said, “I love your guitarist,” and he’d keep turning up at gigs, and that’s why he got involved with the band, I suppose.
Was this the first lineup of the Thunderbirds?
Yes, first lineup ever. We had a double bass in the very first lineup, which was the same group of guys; when we were doing, like, rockabilly we had a double bass. And all of a sudden, we thought, Well, rockabilly ain’t gonna really last, you know? Rock and roll’s coming in, so I think we’d better go over to a normal bass guitar instead of a double bass. So the double bass player bought a normal bass, and that was it, really.
Who were your contemporaries? This was before the Rolling Stones had even formed.
Yeah, this was a year before the Beatles ever recorded a record, this was made. I was very lucky. I had a mother who was a pianist, and she used to play the piano in the pubs and the clubs during the war, in London, to all the soldiers. And I used to sit down beside her—four or five-year-old boy at the end of the war—and my mother would teach me Doris Day songs. “Secret Love.” I loved Doris Day, I thought she was fantastic, you know. I still love Doris Day. My very first influence was Doris Day, which is amazing, really.
And then, of course, rock and roll came in, and that was it, then. I went to see the film Blackboard Jungle with Glenn Ford and Vic Morrow as a young kid, and we weren’t allowed in, because it was an X certificate, an adult film. So I slipped in with my father’s overcoat and his hat, to make me look like I was 18 years old. [Laughter]
And, like, that still didn’t work, because when I walked in, the guy on the door would say, “Oi, how old are you?”
“You don’t look 18.”
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