Terry Reid passed on Led Zeppelin to follow his own path
Terry Reid passed on the opportunity to become the front man of Led Zeppelin—instead introducing Robert Plant to Jimmy Page. His choice to carry on as a solo act never paid off with the heights of fame and fortune of his musical pals, yet he recorded two soulful folk-rock masterpieces and has become known as an artist’s artist, championed by many of the greats as the genuine article.
In 1968, Aretha Franklin was famously quoted as saying, “There are only three things happening in England: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Terry Reid.” It is also well documented that when Terry Reid was asked to join both the New Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, he passed. Instead, he recommended Robert Plant to Jimmy Page and went on tour opening for Cream and the Rolling Stones. He then recorded two albums for Epic Records: 1968’s Bang, Bang You’re Terry Reid and the 1969 self-titled follow-up, both with producer Mickie Most (who had worked with Donovan, the Yardbirds, and the Animals).
Originally published as “The Natural” in Wax Poetics Issue 59. Additional commentary by James Gadson and David Lindley.
Terry went on to sing at both Mick Jagger’s wedding to Bianca in St. Tropez and alongside Lester Chambers at Eric Burdon’s wedding. He hung out with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and other Laurel Canyon luminaries. He brought blistering, soulful sets to the Atlanta Pop Festival, the first Glastonbury Fayre, and the Isle of Wight. “I had out-of-body experiences playing with Terry at the Isle of Wight,” says bandmate and guitarist, lap steel player, and violinist David Lindley. “We got so we could play inside each other’s heads.” After a brief recording hiatus, Reid then made two masterpieces: 1973’s River (Atlantic) with Yes producer Eddie Offord and Atlantic genius Tom Dowd, and 1976’s Seed of Memory (ABC-Dunhill) with his longtime friend and cohort Graham Nash and cream-of-the-crop session players. “I have known Terry since he was fourteen years old,” Nash tells me. “He has always been a great musician, and it was an absolute pleasure to have been asked to produce the Seed of Memory album with him—it is still one of my favorite records.”
Over the years, many notable musicians have played in Terry’s band or on record, from John Entwistle (the Who), Mick Taylor (the Stones), Alan White (Yes), organ guru Brian Auger, percussion legend Willie Bobo, and funky drummer James Gadson, who played on Seed of Memory. “We recorded the bass and drums first,” Gadson recalls. “Terry was sayin’, ‘We gotta get this funky and right. Make sure this shit is in the pocket.’ We learned it right there in the studio, ran through the song a couple of times, then recorded. The only thing I regret is I never got to meet Graham Nash.”
Terry is just one of those magnetic people, and others are drawn—musically and personally—to his generous spirit, easy manner, and effortless singing. While never becoming as famous as those he rubbed elbows with, he’s truly a musician’s musician.
Terry’s songs have been covered by everyone from Crosby, Stills & Nash and Marianne Faithfull to the Raconteurs and Rumer. His guitar playing and harmony singing have been heard on LPs by Jackson Browne, Don Henley, and Bonnie Raitt. When Josh Davis aka DJ Shadow needed “a male voice that was seasoned and capable of pure beauty” for his song “Listen” on 2012’s Reconstructed: Best Of, he searched out Terry Reid. “Terry was upbeat, enthusiastic, charmingly self-conscious,” Shadow says, “and, I think, enthused that someone of my generation found value in his unique artistry.”
Yes, Terry could have fronted Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, but his legacy is so much more than that. “What if ?” doesn’t seem to have ever crossed his mind. So when I sat down with him over a bottle of cabernet, we talked about the many things he has done, not about the things he might have done, because the man is still doing it today. Terry Reid has lived a life that most would dream of and, along the way, has garnered the respect of his peers and made many enduring friendships.
A friend in Austin gave me Seed of Memory, which was produced by Graham Nash. You are quoted in Record Collector as saying Graham Nash is “my idol, my mentor.” Can you talk about how your friendship with Graham came about and memories of making this record?
Terry Reid: I was fourteen [when] I was introduced, and it seemed I had known this fellow all my life. I was in a local group where I lived, in Cambridge, [England], called the Red Beats, for lack of a [better name], and we got this gig backing up the Hollies. They were one of my favorite groups. I couldn’t believe it.
Then things go on a bit further, and I was with Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers who started touring a bit, like with the Stones in ’65. I’m going around London one day, and who do I run into but Graham again: “Hey Tex!” you know? So we start hanging out together a lot, ’cause he’s real easy to get on with, and then we start writing some songs together.
So then a few years later when he came to the States, he was rehearsing with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young up in Sag Harbor, Long Island. I get a car and go up there, thinking it’s like a five-person band; but when I arrive, there’s this whole entourage of people—you know, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell. They’re rehearsing all those songs we all know now, like “Marrakesh Express” and “Judy Blue Eyes,” and the harmonies are unbelievable. I remember they were in the bathroom working out harmonies a cappella with Joni and everyone doing “Blackbird.” It was like six- or seven-part harmony, like some kind of Gregorian choir or something.
On your first post–Mickie Most LP, River, you used drummer Conrad Isidore.
Yeah, I’d known him in London, as well as his younger brother, [Reg,] who’s a hell of a drummer. [Conrad] played with Stephen Stills. He’s from Trinidad, and I’d know him forever. I saw him a few years ago when we were playing in L.A. at a club called the Joint. We were there every Monday, and people would come by I hadn’t seen in years. It turned into kind of a thing.
I heard about this. Robert Plant and Keith Richards sat in, right?
Oh yeah, Keith comes rollin’ up: “So, what songs are we gonna do?” “I dunno, whaddaya fancy?” I say. As soon as he gets up, boy, it’s take no prisoners, ’cause we had Daryl Johnson on bass and Steve Jordan on drums jump on too, and suddenly the train left the station! We went into “Street Fighting Man,” and the hair on my arms and on the back on my neck just stood up.
Wow. Am I right that you were on the ’69 Stones tour that ended with the ill-fated Altamont free concert?
I was, but I didn’t go to Altamont. We were in Boston, and Keith goes, “Terry, you coming with us to San Francisco?” We’d done forty-eight cities in a row, and everybody is absolutely naggered. I mean, between partying and God knows what else. We’d fly out every night to the next city, so, basically, you’d arrive, party, get up in the daytime, do sound check, do the gig, and then fly out again. After forty-eight shows, it got a little thick. You had to stop everything for a minute and say, “Where we going?” We’d get the itinerary and be like, “Wait, what city were we in last night?” [laughs]
So what did you come away with from your days touring with the Rolling Stones? Did they make an impact on you personally and musically?
Oh, hell yeah. See, I left school at fifteen. I’d tell all my mates, and they wouldn’t believe me. I’d say, “I’m goin’ on tour with the Rolling Stones,” and they’d say, “Get out of here!” Nobody would believe me until they saw the riot on TV, everybody running for their lives. Then it started to click, you know?
What are your main memories of those shows opening for the Stones?
Oh man, pandemonium! Never heard a thing. [laughs]
It was just you opening for the Stones or more of a revue-type thing?
No, no, no. These were the days when you got value for your money. Me and Peter Jay [billed as Peter Jay and the New Jaywalkers] started the show [at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966]—a little R&B band with horns, great, lots of fun. Then the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, [and then] Jimmy Thomas [played]. Everyone was insanely good. Then the Yardbirds were on with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Somebody’d say, “Solo!” and they both were on forward. [laughs] Me and Jeff still joke about that. Then, just when you thought, “Ah, I’m worn out,” [you’d hear,] “Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!” They just don’t do shows like that anymore. It was very important to the Stones to do shows with all different kinds of people. I mean, they’re R&B based, so they’d just get all their heroes on.
There was still a lot of shit going on in the South then, and I hadn’t been in the United States yet, so it hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought that [racism] had sort of gone away, but it was in full flight—Montgomery, Alabama, and all that. People were not happy seeing me, not at all.
[In spite of that,] it was great being with the Rolling Stones—their name precedes them. They just roll over everything. They always took care of me. I was really young and they knew it. By the time I did the ’69 tour with them, we were good friends; they’d watch over me…Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman especially—they really care about people. Keith and Mick do too, they do. The Stones all care about the people they work with.
Chuck Berry though, Keith would always say, “Don’t lend him your amp, Terry! Chuck is gonna ask to borrow your amp, watch. He took mine. Don’t lend yours to him!” So you know, next show, Chuck comes up to me, and it’s Chuck Berry, you know? It’s very hard to say no to him, ’cause he’s Chuck Berry. He’s being really nice: “Anything I can do for you, man. Let me know.” So I say, “Oh, all right” [and let him borrow my amp]. Next gig I get to, I’m like, “Where’s my Twin?” And I realized the fucker took it. Chuck Berry stole my Twin Reverb! Keith came in and gave me all sorts of shit: “I told you! Have you got your guitar?” [laughs] Keith went and got me another Twin though.
So is this when you first met Mick Taylor? I know he’s played with you a bunch over the last twenty years or so.
No, no. I knew him from John Mayall, a long time before. He was living at my house in L.A. for a while, ’cause he’s my mate. We get on like peas and carrots. He’s the sweetest guy. He’s having a ball back in the Stones.
Moving forward to making Seed of Memory. It was recorded two places in California, right?
Well, yeah, one was Graham’s studio in his house, up in Buena Vista Heights [in San Francisco]. We started in this studio right off of Argyle and [Yucca called Sound Labs in Hollywood, Los Angeles]. It was this little studio run by Armin Steiner who, I’m pretty sure, was responsible for setting up Studer machines in America. They had Studer power amps in this beautiful studio, which was more of like a testing ground than a real big studio like Ocean Way or something. It was comfortable though and really well done.
James Gadson: I remember recording [Seed of Memory] in ’76, because I just bought me a green ʼ76 Seville from Lou Ellis Cadillac. Some player must have had it; it was beautiful.
Terry: I had left Atlantic and was writing and staying up in the mountains on Deer Creek [Road in Malibu] on this big ranch, which is where I met Garth Hudson [who was the keyboardist for the Band]. I wrote all these songs up there and thought, “Now what am I gonna do?” I said, “I know, I’ll call up Graham and see what he thinks.” I could always call Graham and ask his opinion. He might say, “It’s a load of rubbish, start again” or whatever. But he said, “Come over and play me the songs.” So I did—and he loved them. He went, “Tex, you wrote all these? You wanna make a record?” And I went, “Let me think about it—absolutely!” [laughs] So Graham hooked me up with ABC-Dunhill Records and put the whole thing together, ’cause it was [Nash’s business manager] Jerry Rubinstein. Next thing I know, voilà, we did a contract with them. And Graham says, “All right, we start in two weeks time!” I said, “Well, what about musicians?” and Graham says, “No problem, who do you want?” So I got Lee Miles [bassist from Ike and Tina] and James Gadson, who I still talk to and who is the man. I mean, God almighty!
James Gadson: Lee [Miles] and I had played together here in L.A. Heʼs a native of Kansas City like me. He was the first bass player I met when I got to L.A. We met through Gabriel Flemings [trumpet player in Watts 103rd Street Band] who would always say, “Little Lee is a great bass player.”
Terry: In addition to Lee and James, I had Soko Richardson [drummer for Ike and Tina], who I stand in awe of. Soko we lost, he passed away a few years ago, but, you know, here we are still talking about him. Half of my jokes are from him. [laughs] He was brilliant. He was with Albert Collins as well, you know? He played with Little Richard as well. And John Mayall for a bit too. He’s your quintessential, unorthodox, Louisiana drummer. He’s from New Iberia—you know the Tabasco sauce?
[Soko] was Creole, so he thought in all those different terms—how we got rock and roll. We all came from the way he thinks. [laughs]
David Lindley: Soko went on the road with us dressed like a sultan, a big turban with a star. He was a big dude—the Jesse Takamiyama of the drums.
While Gadson and Richardson are listed as drummers on Seed, there is no percussionist listed on the LP, but there is percussion. Who played the parts?
Doesn’t it say Milt Holland on there? That’s who did all the percussion. He fascinated me. I mean, what a gentleman. “Anything else? You want more of anything?” he’d say. He had a box of tricks, some things I’d never seen in my life before. “Oh, you gotta hear this, let’s try this!” He was there all day, and he couldn’t do enough. He has a doctorate in rhythm.
When I first got the LP, I was looking at the credits and was blown away by the cast of players. I mean, everyone from Ben Keith, who played with Neil Young, David Lindley, and Al Perkins from Flying Burrito Brothers to Fred Wesley, Clifford Solomon of Ray Charles and Johnny Otis, and trumpeter Blue Mitchell.
Yeah! Fred Wesley! He had his trombone with electrical tape wrapped around it. [laughs] “That’s how I get my tone,” he would say. Graham is the one who got all those guys in there, but of course, most of those guys knew each other already. Graham knows everybody. Graham was the one who talked Bill Withers into playing piano on his songs.
David Lindley: While in Terryʼs band, I was really learning how to play lap steel. I remember I was listening to a lot of Sugarcane Harris and Freddie Roulette when I played with Terry and was super inspired.
Seed of Memory came out in ’76. How did you track this LP? Rhythm section first?
Most of it was drums and bass first, and I’d play acoustic. I’d use two Auratones out of phase on two music stands so it don’t bleed onto the microphone, that old trick. I learned a lot on this album, and still to this day, one of the best engineers that ever was born is Al Schmidt.
James Gadson: Yes, we recorded the bass and drums first. Terry was sayinʼ, “We gotta get this funky and right. Make sure this shit is in the pocket.” We learned it right there in the studio, ran through the song a couple of times, then recorded. The only thing I regret [about that session] is I never got to meet Graham Nash.
Terry: It’s better to have people that know each other, and Lee [Miles] and James [Gadson] knew each other well. Everybody’s capable of playing music, but it’s that thing of whether they’re capable of mentally getting on the same track of what you’re there to do. You know, you can do it twenty different ways, but which is the way that’s right for what you’re doing? It’s a real trick to not overplay.
You guys had the studio to yourselves?
No, during the day, [producer] Tommy LiPuma was there with George Benson. Early one day, I was walking down the hall and looked in the studio, and there’s this row of guitars, and I just about broke into tears. You would have done the same. I was like, “Who the hell’s in here?” All of a sudden, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I turn around, and it’s George, you know? He goes, “You’re Terry, right? Come on in here. Have you ever played one of these?” He’s got an original [Gibson] L-5, no pickup, in pristine condition. “You gotta play it.” So I get up, take my jacket off, took my belt off.
Don’t want to scratch it!
Oh yeah, you know. Dan, it was the loudest guitar I think I’ve ever played in my life: 1938 to 1940 or so, I think, the original one. Then he’s like, “Now try this one,” like a little kid, you know. A real guitar nut, and his playing is just like butter. Then Graham comes walking in and goes, “Oh, you’re here!” And I was like, “Let’s go get a drink or something before we start, okay!?” [laughs]
I read that you were friendly with Gilberto Gil?
He stayed with me at the country house up in Cambridgeshire [England]. He loved it up there. It’s funny how we met. I obviously had his records and knew all about him, [Antonio] Carlos Jobim, and João Gilberto.
And Luiz Bonfá?
Oh yeah, that’s my idol. That’s [who cowrote the soundtrack to] Black Orpheus, my favorite album in the whole world. You just said the magic word.
Well, the way I met Gil is I went to my attorney’s office, Bernard Sheridan, who’s a high-court barrister at the Old Bailey in London, wigs and all. So, I had an appointment with him, and he takes his wig off and puts it on a stand and sits down. He says, “Before we get to this contract, I have a question, a bit of a political problem. I need your advice.” He says, “You know all the musicians, Terry. It’s come to my attention that this gentleman from Brazil needs some help—do you know Gilberto Gil?” I says, “Yes, that’s my whole thing!” He goes, “Really?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve got records of his, you wanna hear?” He says, “Yeah, we’ll get to that, but you know, Brazil, it’s a bit of a police state.” And Gil’s grown his hair long, and he’s like richer than the Beatles down there; he’s the big thing, right? “Anyway,” Bernard says, “they came into his hotel room where his kids and wife were and threw him down on the floor at gunpoint and told him he has twenty-four hours to get out of [Brazil]. Now it doesn’t seem like he’s really done anything, and he seems like a nice guy, but country after country has turned him down for political asylum. I feel a bit bad for him. Tell me a bit more about him.” I said, “You must have heard ‘Girl from Ipanema’? Well, his second cousin is João Gilberto who made that famous recording.” He goes, “Oh! That’s my wife’s favorite song. We’ve got to give him political asylum or my wife will never talk to me again!”
Next thing I know, there’s Bernard on the cover of the Guardian, and he’s flown Gilberto and his whole family to England. Didn’t hear anything about it for a while until I was out doing the Isle of Wight Festival. I’m onstage looking out at the audience, and there are, like, 360,000 people, a sea of people. So I’m looking out as I play, and there’s this guy with big hair and he’s smiling, beaming, and I keep coming back to him. Everybody’s happy, but he caught my eye. So I get offstage and I’m hanging out, and all of a sudden through the mud comes this guy. He comes running towards me speaking in [Portuguese]. I’m like, “Huh?” He grabs me with a tear in his eye and says, “I Gilberto Gil.” I’m like, “Cha, I’ve been lookin’ at you for the last half hour!” I couldn’t believe it. We spent the next few days together, and he barely spoke a word of English. His favorite word was “di-o-bolical,” but he wasn’t clear on what it meant. He’d say, “Oh, look, that’s di-o-bolical.” I was like, “No Gil, that’s not what it means!” Within a year, he spoke fluent English.
So he started coming up to my house. He’d get on the train from King’s Cross [in London], come up to Huntingdon, get a cab, and come over to my house. On his own. Well, first it was on his own, then it was with Caetano [Veloso], who’s now the biggest star in Brazil, and a guy called Julio who played cuica with car horns on it. Then he brought some of his family up; the ladies were cooking in the kitchen. All this farofa and beans and bananas and chicken, all this stuff, unbelievable. So I’d end up with ten people in this little attached four-hundred-year-old cottage in the middle of this little village in the countryside, and I’ve got these raving Brazilians all doing Black Orpheus in the front room. Congas and all this, and people are going by my house on their bicycles going [acts surprised]—I mean, they know me, but they’re wondering what’s going on. [laughs]
David Lindley: [Back then] my capacity for alcohol shot way up. Me and [bassist] Chris Stewart used to go to the Ferry Boat Inn and see how many draft Guinness and Bulmers’ Woodpecker Ciders we could hold. After six pints, weʼd get back to Terryʼs house with one eye closed.
Terry: Anyway, it just grew and grew, and then one day, it’s pouring rain and I open the door, and there’s this Brazilian guy standing there. I’m like, “Another one!” I say, “Yep, can I help ya?” And he says, “I’m Carlos.” I say, “Oh, hi, Carlos.” It’s pouring rain, but the fire is dimming, so I say, “Hey Carlos, before you take off your shoes, would you mind going to grab a few logs for the fire?” So he graciously goes and comes back with two logs, and I’m like, “No, no, get an armful!” So he says, “Okay, okay,” and goes back for more, hands them to me. I put them on the fire, and he takes his boots off and comes in.
We’re all sitting around, Lindley and all of us, “Cup of tea?” right? And Gil says, “You know Carlos, right, Terry? You love all his music; you’re always playing his songs!” So I’m like, “Carlos?” That’s a pretty common name, I didn’t know. The man says, “Oh, really, I am humbled,” and I’m like, “Carlos?” And he says, “Yes, Carlos Jobim.”
You could have knocked me over. I had to walk into the kitchen and take a few breaths. “Sorry about the wood, Carlos!” He says, “Oh no, do we need more?” I say, “No, don’t move—just play us a song.” He sat all night for the two days we were there, him and Caetano; they were very good friends.
Luiz Bonfá was the mentor of Carlos Jobim. He worked on [Black Orpheus] with him. Bonfá told me he was only seventeen when he did that. Watching these two play their D diminished chords, I’m going, “Here we go again! I’m quittin’.”
Dan Ubick is a guitarist living in Southern California.
He would like to thank Steve Tounsand, Devin Morrison, Ben Malament, Cree and Buddha Miller, Brad Stewart, Chris Goldsmith, Eric Lynn, Kelly Constantine and Terry Reid, James Gadson, Graham Nash, Josh Davis, and David Lindley for their time and tales.
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