Rockpile

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Rockpile

Rockpile , principals of pub rock. MEMBERSHIP : Dave Edmunds, gtr., kybd., voc. (b. Cardiff, Wales, April 15, 1944); Nick Lowe, bs., voc. (b. Woolbridge, Suffolk, England, March 25, 1949); Billy Bremner, gtr., voc. (b. Scotland, 1947); Terry Williams, drm. (b. Hollywood, Calif., June 6, 1947).

First working together in Brinsley Schwarz, one of the best-known London pub-rock bands of the mid-1970s, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe were two of the most important British producers of the late 1970s and 1980s. With both favoring the sound of music from the 1950s and early 1960s (in stark contrast to the vapid, overproduced progressive-rock and pop bands then so popular), Edmunds and Lowe formed Rockpile in 1977 for recordings and tours under each of their names before recording a sole album in 1980 as Rockpile. Dave Edmunds enjoyed considerable success on his own, particularly in the early 1980s, but he largely withdrew from touring in 1987. Nick Lowe persevered with less acclaim, receiving a modicum of recognition in Little Village (with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner) in 1992).

Dave Edmunds played in Welsh bands in the 1960s and formed the trio Love Sculpture in 1967. The group scored a smash British hit with a frantic instrumental version of Khatchaturian’s “Sabre Dance” in late 1968. After the group disbanded in 1969, Edmunds returned to rural Wales to build his own recording studio, Rockfield, where he developed and refined his talent for re-creating the sound and feel of music from the 1950s and 1960s—from sparse rockabilly and country to elaborate Phil Spector–styled epics. He performed all vocal and instrumental duties for his smash 1971 British and American hit, a remake of Smiley Lewis’s 1955 R&B hit “I Hear You Knocking.” He recorded his debut album, Rockpile, in 1972 and achieved smash British hits with remakes of the Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You” and the Chordettes’ “Born to Be with You” in 1973. He also produced albums by Shakin’ Stevens and Ducks Deluxe in the early 1970s and appeared in the 1974 David Essex film Stardust, writing several songs for the soundtrack.

Nick Lowe formed his first band, Sound 4 Plus 1, with guitarist Brinsley Schwarz at age 14, and later helped form Kippington Lodge with Schwarz in 1965. By late 1969 the group had evolved into Brinsley Schwarz, with Schwarz, Lowe, keyboardist Bob Andrews, and drummer Bill Rankin. Signed to British Liberty /United Artists (with early releases on Capitol in the United States), Brinsley Schwarz debuted at the Fillmore East, but their credibility was immediately brought into question when a planeload of British journalists were flown to N.Y. to witness the event.

The group adopted an unobtrusive stance on the London pub and club circuit and developed a modest following as principals of so-called pub rock. Following their first two albums, the group added second guitarist Ian Gomm for Silver Pistol, generally regarded as their most consistent work. After Nervous on the Road, which included Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” Dave Edmunds produced their final British-only album New Favourites, but the group broke up in early 1975. Brinsley Schwarz and Bill Rankin joined the pub-rock band Ducks Deluxe in their final days, and Schwarz and Bob Andrews later manned the Rumour, Graham Parker’s backup band through 1980. The Rumour issued two albums of their own in the late 1970s, while Ian Gomm pursued a solo career that produced a major hit with “Hold On” in 1979.

Nick Lowe began hanging around Stiff Records, a small independent label based in London, and assisted Dave Edmunds in the recording of Subtle as a Flying Mallet, issued on RCA Records in late 1975. Lowe produced Graham Parker and the Rumour’s first and third albums, Howlin Wind and Stick to Me, while Edmunds produced the Flamin’ Groovies’ Shake Some Action. In 1977 Lowe and Edmunds formed the ad hoc group Rockpile with guitarist-vocalist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams to accompany their solo recordings and tours. As one of the few signings to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label, Edmunds recorded Get It with the group, augmented by Bob Andrews. The album featured Lowe’s “I Knew the Bride,” Edmunds and Lowe’s “Here Comes the Weekend,” Edmunds’s country-style “Worn Out Shoes, Brand New Pockets,” and Graham Parker’s “Back to School Days.” During 1977 Lowe produced the Damned’s debut British album and Elvis Costello’s stunning debut, My Aim Is True. Lowe and Edmunds took part in the first tour of Stiff artists before Lowe left the label to become an independent producer.

In 1978 both Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe were busy with a variety of projects. Lowe recorded his solo debut, Pure Pop for Now People (titled Jesus of Cool in Great Britain), which included his own “Marie Provost,” “Heart of the City,” and “So It Goes” as well as the collaborative “(I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass,” a smash British hit. Edmunds recorded Tracks on Wax 4, which contained “Trouble Boys,” Lowe’s “Television,” Lowe and Edmunds’s “What Looks Best on You,” and Lowe and Rockpile’s “Never Been in Love.” During the same year Edmunds produced the Flamin’ Groovies’ Now and Lowe produced Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model and Armed Forces, which included a potent version of Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”

In 1979 Lowe produced the Pretenders’ first single, “Stop Your Sobbing,” and recorded Labour of Lust, his best-selling album. It included “Switchboard Susan,” his own “Cracking Up,” and the major pop hit “Cruel to Be Kind,” written by Lowe and Ian Gomm. Lowe married Carlene Carter in August and later produced her albums Musical Shapes and Blue Nun. In the meantime, Edmunds recorded Repeat When Necessary, which featured Hank DeVito’s “Sweet Little Lisa” and “Queen of Hearts,” Graham Parker’s “Crawling from the Wreckage,” and Elvis Costello’s “Girls Talk,” a minor hit.

In 1980 Rockpile finally recorded an album under their own name, Seconds of Pleasure. It was dominated by songs written by Lowe, such as “Play That Fast Thing (One More Time),” “Pet You and Hold You,” and “When I Write the Book,” and yielded a moderate hit with “Teacher Teacher.” Rockpile subsequently dissolved, and Terry Williams played with Dire Straits from 1983 to 1987. Dave Edmunds recorded Twangin’, which yielded a minor hit with John Fogerty’s “Almost Saturday Night”; he also produced the Stray Cats hits “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cut Strut” as well as their albums The Stray Cats and Rant and Rave. In the meantime, Nick Lowe recorded Nick the Knife and The Abominable Showman and produced Paul Carrack’s Suburban Voodoo, the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ T-Bird Rhythm, and one side of John Hiatt’s Riding with the King.

Dave Edmunds switched to Columbia Records for D.E. 7th, which featured “Me and the Boys” (by Terry Adams of NRBQ), Bruce Springsteen’s “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come),” and the country-style “Warmed Over Kisses (Left Over Love).” He later recorded Information under producer Jeff Lynne and scored a moderate hit with Lynne’s “Slipping Away.” During the mid-1980s Edmunds produced the Everly Brothers’ two comeback albums, EB ’84 and Born Yesterday, as well as the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Tuff Enuff and k. d. lang’s debut Angel with a Lariat. Nick Lowe assembled his Cowboy Outfit with Paul Carrack and Martin Belmont for two albums. Their eponymous debut included Lowe’s “Half a Boy and Half a Man,” whereas The Rose of England included John Hiatt’s “She Don’t Love Nobody,” Elvis Costello’s “Indoor Fireworks,” and a minor-hit version of “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll).”

In 1987 Dave Edmunds toured in support of the live set I Hear You Rockin’, often regarded as his finest later album. It reprised his most popular recordings yet failed to sell in significant quantities. He subsequently withdrew from touring, although he served as concert-master for the two-month 1990 tour by Graham Parker and Dion, whose comeback album Yo Frankie he produced; he also played with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band in 1992. Edmunds recorded Closer to the Flame, which featured Al Anderson’s “Never Take the Place of You” and John Hiatt and Anderson’s “I Got Your Number,” for Capitol in 1990.

In 1987 Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner backed John Hiatt for the recording of Hiatt’s breakthrough album Bring the Family. Dave Edmunds produced Nick Lowe’s 1990 Warner Bros, album Party of One. In 1992 Lowe rejoined Hiatt, Cooder, and Keltner in the short-lived supergroup Little Village. In 1994 Lowe released The Impossible Bird, a collection of country-style songs that won critical praise though few sales; it was followed by a live album.

Discography

LOVE SCULPTURE : Blues Helping (1970); Forms and Feelings (1970). BRINSLEY SCHWARZ : Brinsley Schwarz (1970); Despite It All (1971); Silver Pistol (1972); Nervous on the Road (1972); Brinsley Schwarz (1978); Brinsley Schwarz (1995). THE RUMOUR : Max (1977); Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs, and Krauts (1979). LANGOMM : Gomm with the Wind (1979); What a Blow (1980). ROCKPILE : Seconds of Pleasure (1980). DAVE EDMUNDS : R. (1972); Subtle as a Flying Mallet (1975); Get It (1977); Tracks on Wax 4 (1978); Repeat When Necessary (1979); Twangin’ (1981); Best (1981); D.E. 7th (1982); Information (1983); Riff Raff (1984); I Hear You Rockin’ (1987); Closer to the Flame (1990); Anthology (1968–1990) (1993). NICK LOWE : Pure Pop for Now People (1978); Labour of Lust (1979); Nick the Knife (1982); The Abominable Showman (1983); Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (1984); The Rose of England (1985); Basher: The Best of Nick Lowe (1989); Sixteen All-Time Lowes (1986); Party of One (1990); The Impossible Bird (1994); Nick Lowe and the Impossible Birds: Live! on the Battlefield (1995). LITTLE VILLAGE : Little Village (1992).

—Brock Helander

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Rockpile

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