Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares observations, insights, and updates relating to South Florida's musical environs. This week, Lee's weirder encounters...
In the world of music journalism, an otherwise run-of-the mill meeting with a rock star can suddenly become awkward. Take these scenarios as examples...
Those old enough to remember the group Savoy Brown will likely think of them as a terrific British blues band, while recalling classic albums like Blue Matter, Street Corner Talking, Raw Sienna, or Looking In. Newcomers may even latch on to the group's new current release, Goin' to the Delta, a fine example of a reborn band getting back to basics. Or they might have memories of the band's mainstay, guitarist Kim Simmonds, a man whose blonde, wiry good looks belied his dedication to hard-edged blues.
When I think of Savoy Brown, what comes to mind for me is a first-hand encounter, nothing unusual considering the fact that I interviewed a number of classic bands back in the day, either while attending the University of Miami or immediately thereafter in my fledgling career as a journalist. Rarely was an interview less than memorable, but some, like my chat with Kim Simmonds, stood out for an entirely different reason.
See also: Jimi Hendrix, Miami Pop Festival, and Hear My Train A Comin'
Simmonds was staying at a luxurious Miami Beach hotel, possibly the Deauville or the Fontainebleau, although I don't recall precisely which it was. Regardless, it's safe to say he and the band were afforded luxury accommodations.
So at the scheduled hour of the interview, I found myself knocking on the door of his suite, announcing my arrival. When a voice with a British accent bid me to enter, I was naturally quite surprised to find him in bed with a beautiful blonde by his side. It was obvious to me that they were not dressed for the occasion, or for that matter, dressed at all.
Nevertheless, I did my best to appear nonplussed and duly sat at the end of the bed and conducted the interview as was expected. I don't remember much of what I said, but the image of the couple, lying there, smiling, and happily chatting away from under the covers still remains with me to this day.
(By the way, my bedside interview skills were put to use again several years later when I got my first record company promotion job with ABC Records. I was summoned to the home of my friend and predecessor, and he did my orientation and debriefing while he was in bed with his wife!)
Catching Kim in bed was nothing compared to the uncomfortable interview I attempted with Dr. John prior to a concert on the UM patio. At the time, Dr. John was in his Night Tripper mode and reportedly suffering from a drug habit. I couldn't address those rumors, but it was clear enough during the interview that he wasn't entirely focused on my questions. He was intimidating enough, seemingly larger than life, heavily made up and cloaked in flowing robes and a large headdress perched atop his massive head. Suffice it to say, he was a scary sight. I gamely tried to relay my questions, but it seemed the good doctor clearly wasn't interested, and the blank look he gave me made that conclusion absolutely obvious. Consequently, after three or four attempts to convey my questions, he turned away, pointed towards his road manager and told me in his thick New Orleans drawl, "Why don't you ask that fellow over there. He can answer all your questions."
As a result, my interview with Dr. John came courtesy of a substitute interviewee. The first and last time that ever happened...
I learned early on that it's important to check your sources and then question them as to ulterior motives. In 1971, prior to a trip to London, I was given an address for Rod Stewart. It came through a long trail of references - my friend knew a friend who had a sister who had a boyfriend who knew a woman who had been his photographer. Naturally, I didn't know anyone in this information chain other than my buddy, but being a young guy who was an ardent fan of Rod's, I eagerly accepted the information and determined that I'd ay Roddy a visit. The address turned out to be his mother's, but when I showed up at her door out of the blue, she couldn't have been kinder. She invited me in and gave me her son's actual address ,and then called ahead to let him know I'd be coming over the following morning.
After a little bit of shyness and awkwardness on my part - after all, what could be weirder than inviting yourself over to the home of your favorite rock star - he proved very gracious, and we hung out for a bit chatting and listening to some of his favorite records in his den. Afterwards, his girlfriend ushered us into the kitchen where she served us breakfast.
"Oh, you must be 'Crow,'" I chimed in, dropping the nickname that I was told she had been given.
Rod and his girlfriend looked at me with a mixture of surprise and consternation. Clearly I had touched a nerve. "Crow?" he asked.
"Yes, I was told that was her nickname."
At this point, I knew the conversation was going south very quickly. Rod was obviously upset. "They never did like her," he replied, glancing her way. "They were always so jealous and resentful. That's just like them, coming up with a nasty name like that."
So here's the lesson to be learned from that encounter. When someone shares a remark with you about someone you don't know, learn to discern whether it's a complement or a critique. Or else be well aware of the procedure that allows your foot to be extracted gracefully from your mouth.
Talk about difficult! I canflash back once again to my days at the UM when the band Focus was scheduled to perform on the patio. If you don't remember that band, don't be dismayed. Although they made several albums, this Dutch outfit scored only one big hit in the States, courtesy of an instrumental offering called "Hocus Pocus," a combination of relentless rock riffing and some off-the-wall yodeling and improvising. Still, it was an unlikely hit at the time so I arranged for an interview.
There was only one problem, however. None of the guys spoke English. As a result, we sat opposite each other, smiling, nodding and attempting to communicate, although when it came to the latter, we failed completely. I walked out with a notebook that was as blank as it was when I first arrived.
Who knew I'd need an interpreter?
Sometimes things can go so well, and then you accidentally misspeak or bring up a sore subject... causing the good vibe to dissipate without warning.
That was the situation in 2006 when I accompanied a news crew from CBS4 to meet Paul McCartney at American Airlines Arena for an interview prior to kicking off a new U.S. tour. Everything was going smashingly well; we had gotten to watch a full hour and a half sound check, been the beneficiaries of an amazing interview and even had the chance for some small talk after taking a few photos. What could be better? Of course, I couldn't resist asking for an autograph. Unfortunately, I had nothing for Macca to sign, other than a newspaper article about a new endorsement deal he was about to enter into. That would work, I figured. Unfortunately, when I gave him the paper to sign, he recoiled with a look of disgust. I had failed to take note of the headline which read. "McCartney Sells Out."
Not exactly a flattering banner for an otherwise interesting story.
Paul read it carefully, and while the story didn't seem to bother him, the headline clearly annoyed him. Nevertheless, he obliged me by signing it and then quickly left for his next interview.
And I thought we had created such a bond...