“Ferry’s artsiness expressed itself so much as style over substance that style itself became substantive,” wrote John Rockwell. “As the ultimate self professed lounge lizard, he managed to take pop-rock’s hoariest conventions (the love song, even actual oldies on his solo albums) and coat them with witty intimations of unspeakable decadence.”
Bryan Ferry was born the son of a miner on September 26, 1945, in County Durham, England. He worked as a teacher and sang in various bands (the Banshees and Gas Board) before forming Roxy Music in 1970. The group was described as “a driving rock band as well as an aesthetically pleasing manifestation of one man’s neuroses,” by Paul Gambaccini. During their first year, members included Graham Simpson—bass, Dexter Lloyd—drums, Andy MacKay—sax, Brian Eno—keyboards, and David O’List—guitar. By 1971 Paul Thompson and Phil Manzanera had taken over on drums and guitar, respectively. Their first album, entitled Roxy Music, was produced by King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield and was released in 1972. The LP was a major success in the United Kingdom, yielding a fairly big hit, “Virginia Plain”. The album, wrote Robert Christgau, “celebrates the kind of artifice that could come to seem as unhealthy as the sheen on a piece of rotten meat.”
With the assistance of Eno on synthesizer, Ferry’s vocals and lyrics laid the foundation for a whole school of music known as art-rock (or, as Robert Duncan calls it, chromium-romanticism). This trend towards slick sophistication, as opposed to the traditional raw rebelliousness of rock up to that point, would produce groups as talented as King Crimson and Flock of Seagulls.
Roxy’s second album, For Your Pleasure, was the only other on which Eno played. The personalities of Ferry and Eno clashed, unfortunately, but on songs like “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” their association is downright eerie. Nevertheless, Eno would move on to carve out his own unique slot in the techno end of pop music. As his replacement, Ferry brought in multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson, an addition that would add more of a rock edge to their next two LPs, Stranded and Country Life (which did manage to crack the American Top 40).
“My musical image in America has been confused, whereas the visual aspect of my work has been quickly defined,” Ferry told Rolling Stone, “and I think this lack of one total image hurt Roxy.” Disappointment from the band’s lack of success in the States led Ferry (Manzanera and MacKay, also) to pursue a solo career in 1974. “I think Roxy was too European to go over big in America,” said Phil Manzanera. “We weren’t raunchy enough.”
Born September 26, 1945, in Durham, England; son of a miner.
Began singing in various bands, including the Banshees and Gas Board, while working as a teacher; founder and lead singer with rock band Roxy Music, beginning 1970; also solo performer, beginning 1974.
Addresses: Agent —E.G. Management Co. Ltd., 63-A Kings Rd. London SW3 4NT, England.
On Ferry’s first solo effort, These Foolish Things, his interpretation of classics from “It’s My Party” to “Sympathy For The Devil” was quite similar in style to David Bowie’s Pinups LP a year earlier. Especially noteworthy is the reworking of Dylan’s “Hard Rain.” Robert Christgau wrote, “By transforming Dylan at his most messianic into gripping high camp complete with sound effects, Ferry both undercuts the inflated idealism of the original and reaffirms its essential power.” The same year, Ferry would also record Another Time, Another Place. While it contains some originals, it too was based on covers with only one real gem in the lot. “The In Crowd.”
In 1975 Ferry reassembled Roxy Music for the LP Siren and another shot at the American market. “I think of it in terms of pride in my work,” Ferry told Rolling Stone.”I want to make it here because, after all, rock & roll started here.” Ironically, his breakthrough came with a disco song, “Love Is the Drug.” Ferry apparently ignored, or was ignorant of, the hatred between followers of rock and those of disco, stating only that “big disco records have better chances to spread.”
At the time he was right, but his 1977 solo album, In Your Mind, failed in its aim to cash in once again on a disco audience that soon vanished. “What Bryan Ferry sees is a more commercial way to bring a most unconventional pop perspective to a wider audience,” wrote John Milward. “If In Your Mind doesn’t sport the twin-edged blade of prime Roxy Music, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bleed.” After a while the label rock or disco didn’t matter anyway. The key elements of each were borrowed by the other, and eventually drum machines were as prevalent in rock as distorted guitars were in disco. In the previous year, Ferry recorded Let’s Stick Together, which consisted of flip sides to his singles and reworks of Roxy tunes. Slick L.A. session musicians provided a natural background for Ferry’s smoky vocals on his fifth solo album, The Bride Stripped Bare.
Ferry had put Roxy on hold after their live 1976 LP, Viva! (a showcase for Paul Thompson’s drumming). He has continued alternating between solo albums after regrouping the band in 1979. Probably the finest example of a Ferry/Roxy collaboration yet is the LP Flesh and Blood. But, with many of the same musicians appearing on both solo and group albums, it’s hard to separate the two. “Ferry, both in and out of Roxy Music, is one of the rank weirdos of rock & roll,” wrote Robert Duncan. “In other words, a prize. And, though some choose not to notice, the man’s accomplishments are enduring.”
These Foolish Things, Atlantic, 1974.
Another Time, Another Place, Atlantic, 1974.
Let’s Stick Together, Atlantic, 1976.
In Your Mind, Atlantic, 1977.
The Bride Stripped Bare, Atlantic, 1978.
Boys And Girls, Warner Bros., 1985.
Bete Noire, Reprise, 1987.
With Roxy Music
Roxy Music, Atco, 1972.
For Your Pleasure, Atco, 1973.
Stranded, Atco, 1974.
Country Life, Atco, 1974.
Siren, Atco, 1975.
Viva! Roxy Music, Atco, 1976.
Manifesto, Atco, 1979.
Flesh and Blood.
Avalon, Warner Bros. 1982.
Christgau, Robert, Christgau’s Record Guide, Ticknor & Fields, 1981.
Logan, Nick, and Bob Woffinden, compilers, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Harmony, 1977.
Miller, Jim, editor, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, 1976.
Rock Revolution, Popular Library, 1976.
Rolling Stone, Decmeber 18, 1975; January 1, 1976; March 11, 1976; September 9, 1976; November 18, 1976; June 2, 1977; August 11, 1977; January 11, 1979; April 5, 1979; May 31, 1979.