Guitar player, singer, songwriter
Although he has performed as a sideman for dozens of top rock and pop acts, guitarist Chris Spedding is far more than a rock-and-roll footnote. A list of his accomplishments and session contributions would fill a book and, in fact, Chris Spedding: Reluctant Guitar Hero by Kimberley J. Bright was published in 2006. A short recap of his career includes his stint as front man for the highly underrated British rock group Sharks with former Free bassist Andy Fraser and future Talking Heads sideman Michael "Busta" Jones. Spedding also produced the demonstration tapes that earned the Sex Pistols their record contract; produced and played with British punk band the Vibrators; produced the Cramps; was a member of Roy Harper's backing band Trigger; and performed session guitar work with the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Dusty Springfield, Harry Nilsson, Gilbert O'Sullivan and Bryan Ferry. He also toured as a gun-for-hire with Roxy Music, the Pretenders, and John Cale, in addition to releasing a string of albums and one bona fide British hit single, "Motorbikin'."
Found Music at a Young Age
Spedding was born during World War II, the result of an extramarital tryst between a married secretary, Edith Robinson, and an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, Cedric "John" Gordon White. Named Peter Robinson, his name was changed to Christopher John Spedding upon his adoption three months later by Muriel and Jack Spedding. The Speddings placed a high premium on classical music—Jack taught music after retiring from a job as a bank officer, and Muriel sang in Bach choirs. Spedding was given a violin and lessons when he was nine, but he had already developed a passion for skiffle, traditional jazz, and early rock-and-roll. He attempted to build a guitar from a mail order kit before his parents consented to purchase a guitar for him. He persisted in his musical development, and by 1959 he had formed the Vulcans. After leaving school he worked at a music shop, where he also became adept at transcribing music for other artists. He supplemented his income as a guitarist in a country band, Bill Jordan and the Country Boys. Spedding's love of rock gave way to an obsession with jazz, leading him to form a jazz club with vibraphonist Frank Ricotti. He also played jazz with the Graham Collier Rehearsal Band and the Nat Temple Band. As a member of the latter group, Spedding was charged with adapting pop hits of the day for palais (dancehall) audiences.
Spedding was tapped by poet and lyricist Pete Brown for a foray into rock-jazz territory. Prior to forming Pete Brown & His Battered Ornaments, Brown was an established British Beat poet who had garnered acclaim for his lyrics for the rock power trio Cream. The Battered Ornaments released A Meal You Can Shake Hands with in the Dark in 1969. The album featured Brown struggling to find a voice for his obscure and slightly psychedelic lyrics, backed by highly competent instrumentalists. The group opened for the Rolling Stones at their Hyde Park concert to introduce new guitarist Mick Taylor, with other British music darlings of the day, Alexis Korner and King Crimson. The Ornaments later jettisoned Brown from the lineup, erasing his vocals from the follow-up album Mantle-Piece, and relied on Spedding to sing as well as play guitar. During this period Spedding also embarked on a highly lucrative side career as a session guitarist. His first such gig was supporting former Cream bassist, singer, and songwriter Jack Bruce on his first solo album, Songs for a Tailor.
Spedding joined the jazz-rock fusion group Nucleus for two albums in the early 1970s, affording him the opportunity to travel to the United States to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival. He continued to play with Nucleus while also touring with Jack Bruce, and continued as a studio guitarist for such top pop acts of the era as Gilbert O'Sullivan, Harry Nilsson, Lesley Duncan, and Elton John. He also managed to record several solo albums, including Backwood Progression, an album that revealed his ongoing fascination with the music of Bob Dylan. The record contained mostly acoustic ballads and softer rock stylings.
By the end of 1971 Bruce abandoned his solo career to form West, Bruce and Laing. Spedding had been increasingly frustrated playing the complicated guitar licks demanded by Bruce, and set about forming a rock band with former Free bassist Andy Fraser, who had co-written the group's biggest single, "All Right Now." Spedding and Fraser enlisted drummer Marty Simon and a little-known vocalist, Steve Parsons, who recorded under his nickname "Mr. Snips," to form Sharks. The quartet released their debut album, First Water, in 1973 to critical acclaim. The album contained a heady mix of rock-blues in the same vein as Free, Bad Company, and Mott the Hoople. Highlights included the sonically textured leadoff track "World Park Junkies," and "Snakes and Swallowtails," a song with echoes of Mississippi Delta blues. Fraser departed after First Water and was replaced by American bass player Busta Jones on the group's follow-up Jab It in Yore Eye. The group toured the United States as an opening act for the reformed group Mountain. Homesickness, however, overcame Spedding and he opted to return to England rather than continue to capitalize on the band's growing success. After their return to England, the group set about recording a third album with the Who's bass player John Entwistle as producer. Tensions in the band, however, prevented completion of the project. Mr. Snips and Spedding fired Simon, who in turn convinced Jones that the duo was preparing to fire him, too. Jones then returned to the United States, and the Sharks' era was finished, but the pair of albums the group released stands alongside the best of the British blues-pop-rock hybrid music of the era. In the early 1990s an anonymous fan paid Mr. Snips and Spedding to record another album as Sharks. Like a Black Van Parked on a Dark Curve was recorded with former Elvis Costello sideman Pete Thomas on drums, Jackie Badger (Mr. Snips's wife) on bass, and Simon Etchell on keyboards. The result prompted All Music Guide critic Dave Thompson to write: "Recorded in 1993, the album was not ultimately released until 1998, but the wait was worthwhile. … The original band's edgy blues-rock take on glam is updated with surprising ferocity. Spedding is in devastating form throughout. … A triumphant return."
The demise of Sharks in 1974 sent Spedding back to the studio to recoup his financial losses incurred as a member of the ill-fated band. He provided his patented guitar licks to a virtual Who's Who of British performers of the mid-1970s. One gig that he missed, however, was an opportunity to audition as Mick Taylor's replacement in the Rolling Stones. "The British music press made up a short list of guitarists that they thought should replace Mick," Spedding told a writer from Michigan's Royal Oak Daily Tribune. "My name was on the list, but it was six months before Mick Jagger gave me a call for an audition. I had already committed to a tour with Roy Harper and Trigger, so I had to decline." As a member of Trigger, Spedding and Yes/Genesis/King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford supported Roy Harper on what many have considered to be the musician's masterpiece, HQ, also released as When an Old Cricketeer Leaves the Crease in the United Kingdom. He also recorded and toured with former Velvet Underground mastermind John Cale, notably appearing on the Slow Dazzle album.
In 1976 Spedding teamed with producer Mickie Most on another solo project. The album, Chris Spedding, featured the hit singles "Motorbikin'" and "Guitar Jamboree," the latter a wickedly fun pastiche of rock guitar that included brief tributes to such legends as Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, and Jimi Hendrix. Despite the best efforts of Most and Spedding, the pair were unable to match the commercial success of Chris Spedding on subsequent collaborations. Spedding employed producer Chris Thomas for his immediate follow-up effort, Hurt, which was released in 1977. Hurt featured Mr. Snips performing vocals on the song "Ain't Superstitious." Other standout tracks that became Spedding concert staples included "Get Outta My Pagoda" and "Silver Bullet."
For the Record …
Born Peter Robinson on June 17, 1944, in Stavely, England; son of Edith Werner Robinson (a secretary) and Cedric "John" Gordon White (a Royal Australian Air Force officer); adopted by Muriel Fanny Toundrow and Jack (a bank manager) Spedding; married Jodie Beach (divorced).
Guitarist with Vulcans, mid-1960s; formed Battered Ornaments with lyricist and singer Pete Brown, 1968; recorded first solo album, Songs without Words, 1970; formed Sharks with Andy Fraser, Steve Parsons (Mr. Snips), and Marty Simon, 1972; released self-titled solo effort and hit single "Motorbikin'," 1977; teamed with rockabilly singer Robert Gordon, 1978; released solo album, Click Clack, 2005.
Addresses: Website—Chris Spedding Official Website: http://www.chrisspedding.com E-mail—[email protected]
Before Spedding shipped himself off to New York City for a prolonged stay that lasted through the better part of the 1980s, he became an advocate of the British punk movement. He befriended musician Chrissie Hynde and offered her financial support prior to her success as the front person for the Pretenders, and produced the Sex Pistols' demonstration tapes. For years, rumors circulated that Spedding played guitar on the Sex Pistols' sessions, which were eventually released in the 1990s. He told Contemporary Musi-cians, however, that the rumors were untrue: "Why would I pick up a guitar when Steve Jones was a perfectly capable player?" Spedding also joined forces with the Vibrators, producing their debut album and performing on the hit single "Pogo Dancing." The punk music purveyor also had a highly publicized career as a Womble, the Mike Batt-produced television children's show starring a group of furry creatures who pick up trash in London parks. Batt also used Spedding as a guitarist on the studio sessions for his best-selling War of the Worlds musical project.
In the late 1970s Spedding emigrated to the United States, eventually earning dual citizenship. In addition to continuing his career as a New York City session man, he joined rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon's band when former guitarist Link Wray resumed his solo career. The duo recorded several albums together and toured extensively before going their separate ways in the early 1980s. Spedding also formed the Necessaries with Ernie Brooks in 1980. He left the band before it recorded its first album, but not before touring with them as a support act for the Pretenders. Spedding later recorded the songs he wrote for the group on his solo album I'm Not Like Everybody Else. He contributed guitar to Paul McCartney's Give My Regards to Broad Street album in 1983, as well as projects by Nina Hagen, the Who's Roger Daltrey, and a Hal Wilner-produced tribute to the songs of Kurt Weill that found Spedding supporting Marianne Faithful and Tom Waits.
For the remainder of the 1980s Spedding supported Roy Harper, John Cale, Johnny Hallyday, Dick Rivers, Jerry Harrison, Tom Waits, and Robert Gordon on tours and recordings. In 1990 he formed a band with Henry Spinetti on drums and Keith Lentin on bass. The trio recorded Spedding's next solo outing, Café Days, which contained many fine songs, although some critics and historians found Spedding's vocals to be somewhat marred, ostensibly due to years of cocaine abuse. In 1994 he relocated to Los Angeles in order to distance himself from the drugs he was continuously exposed to in New York City. Later in the decade he moved back to England, where he recorded a series of albums revealing his growing affinity for American blues music. By 2001 his legendary reputation had earned him a spot in the touring lineup for the reformed Roxy Music. A world tour ensued, and Roxy lead singer Bryan Ferry subsequently used Spedding as his guitarist on a solo tour. In 2005 Spedding released Click Clack, an album of originals and covers.
In 2006 Spedding re-teamed with Robert Gordon for a tour of Europe. The pair also recorded an album celebrating Elvis Presley. Made in Nashville with Presley's vocal backing group the Jordanaires, It's Now or Never was scheduled to release in August of 2007 to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Presley's death. The duo also embarked on a limited tour of Europe and North America, employing the Detroit rhythm section of Todd Glass on drums and Phil "Greasy" Carlisi on bass. "Working with Chris is always exciting and important," Gordon told a writer for The Royal Oak Daily Tribune. "He has the ability to make the music more dynamic and more powerful. It's great to record and tour with him again."
With Battered Ornaments
A Meal You Can Shake Hands with in the Dark, Harvest, 1969.
Mantle-Piece, Harvest, 1969.
Pete Brown & His Battered Ornaments: A Meal You Can Shake Hands with in the Dark/The Battered Ornaments: Mantle-Piece (CD double reissue), BMG, 2000.
With Jack Bruce
Songs for a Tailor, Atco, 1969.
Harmony Row, Atco, 1971.
Elastic Rock, Vertigo, 1970.
We'll Talk about It Later, Vertigo, 1970.
First Water, MCA, 1973.
Jab It in Yore Eye, MCA, 1974.
First Water/Jab It in Yore Eye (CD double reissue), Mau Mau, 1996.
Like a Black Van Parked on a Dark Curve, Angel Air, 1998.
Songs without Words, Harvest, 1970.
Backwoods Progression, Harvest, 1971.
The Only Lick I Know, Harvest, 1972.
Chris Spedding, Rak, 1976.
Hurt, Rak, 1977.
Guitar Graffiti, Rak, 1979.
Friday the 13th, M.I.L. Multimedia, 1981.
I'm Not Like Everybody Else, Rak, 1981.
Ready! Spedding! Go!, EMI, 1984.
Enemy Within, New Rose, 1986.
Café Days, Mobile Fidelity, 1990.
Gesundheit: Live in Bremen, Geede, 2000.
One Step Ahead of the Blues, Music Avenue, 2002.
Guitar Jamboree, Music Avenue, 2005.
Click Clack, SPV, 2005.
Café Days Revisited, Paradise Media Partners, 2005.
With the Wombles
Wombling Songs, CBS, 1973.
Keep on Wombling, CBS, 1974.
Remember You're a Womble, Columbia, 1974.
Super Wombling, CBS, 1975.
Wombling Stories, BBC, 1976.
Wombling Free, CBS, 1978.
With Roy Harper
HQ, Resurgent, 1975.
With Robert Gordon
Rock Billy Boogie, RCA, 1979.
Bad Boy, RCA, 1980.
Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die, RCA, 1982.
Live at Lone Star, New Rose, 1989.
Robert Gordon Is Red Hot, Bear Family, 1989.
Greetings from New York City, New Rose, 1991.
It's Now or Never, Rykodisc, 2007.
Bright, Kimberly J., Chris Spedding: Reluctant Guitar Hero, iUniverse, 2006.
Melody Maker, October 2, 1976.
Royal Oak Daily Tribune (Michigan), January 12, 2007.
Sounds, September 20, 1975; April 17, 1976; October 1, 1977.
All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com, (Jan. 18, 2007).
Guitar Graffiti: Chris Spedding Official Website,http://www.chrisspedding.com, (Jan. 18, 2007).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from telephone interviews conducted with Chris Spedding and Robert Gordon, January 5, 2007.
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