Chris Spedding – Joyland’s Burning!

By Jeb Wright

Chris Spedding may not be a household name but this guitarist hangs around the who’s who of rock and roll.  Several of his famous friends have even given him a helping hand on his latest solo effort, titled Joyland.

Arthur Brown welcomes him to his crazy world with lead vocals on “Now You See It,” while Sex Pistols Glen Matlock joins him for “Café Racer” and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music fame adds vocals to “Gun Shaft City.”  Other guests include Andy Mackey, Steve Parsons and Andy Fraser. 

Spedding is a man of few words, but the ones he chooses have an impact, much in the same way his music is much bigger than it sounds at first listen.  This guy mixes jazz, rock, pop and kinda-sorta punk with ease.  Read on to discover the making of Joyland and learn about some of his sessions with guys named McCartney, John, Daltrey and Nilsson!

Jeb:  Joyland is awesome.  My ears have been waiting for something new and fresh to listen to.  Thank you, Chris.

Chris:  You are most welcome. It seems to be getting a good reception.

Jeb: You have turned 70 years old.  Now, last time I checked that is not an age most artists break through with their best solo album ever!  Tell me about the inspiration.

Chris:  Well, the idea for using guest artists came from the record company, Cleopatra. My writing was always a bit constrained by my limited vocal range, ha-ha! So asking other vocalists to sing my songs is a good way to go, and makes for a more interesting sounding album. I’d not thought of it before.

Jeb:  I am going to jump in and discuss these songs.  “Joyland” has that intro by Deadwood’s Ian McChane.  How did it happen? 

Chris:  I’d had the music to it buzzing around in my head for a while–not knowing what to do with it. Then Steve Parsons came up with some words for it and I knew we had something–something with the sort of mood that was to define the album. I’d known Ian for a while–he was the obvious choice for it. Everything came together very quickly once Ian was on board.

Jeb:  Next up is one of the best on the album.  “Now You See It” not only starts off with a rockin’ riff, it has the LORD GOD OF HELLFIRE Arthur Brown on vocals.  Again, how do you know him?  How did this happen?  What are his secrets?  Ha-ha!

Chris:  Arthur’s vocal on this really brought the song to life. The riff was OK. The lyric was OK, but my guide vocal was so-so. We gave it to Arthur and something magical happened. I don’t think we ran the song more than twice in the studio. He nailed it straight away. It was wonderful to work with him.

Jeb:  Sex Pistol Glen Matlock joins you for an instrumental. 

Chris:  Glen is a total pro. I chose this tune for him to play on and he liked it. I knew he would!

Jeb: Roxy Music was such a classy band.  You must have done well, or Bryan Ferry would NOT have done this! Do you remember his reaction to “Gun Shaft City”?

Chris:  I don’t know what Bryan’s reaction to the song was, but the fact that he did it is good enough for me. I’ve worked with him and with Roxy on and off over the years and there has developed a great deal of mutual respect between us for each other’s work.

Jeb:  “Heisenberg” has such a unique feel to it. 

Chris:  It has a wide-open-spaces feel to it. Like a modern Western. It feels like it’s somewhere like Arizona, or is it New Mexico, where I believe some of the desert scenes in Breaking Bad were shot, so I borrowed the name Heisenberg from that. It’s the clandestine alias for Breaking Bad’s main character, Walter White.

Jeb: Alright man, you are a crafty fucker!  “Pied Piper” is so fresh and cool and Andy is so cool.  What a cool remake; a rock song with an oboe on it.

Chris:  It’s a cover of a sixties hit by Crispian St Peters. Andy MacKay has been playing rock oboe since Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” in 1970, so he was an obvious choice for this song. A great sax solo from him, too. The original song sounded very cheery, but I thought it had a creepy side to it, so that’s why I chose it.

Jeb:  Andy Fraser is a famous guy.  You have had a long relationship with him.  Talk about what he brought to the song “Shock Treatment.”

Chris:  I had this song lying around for a while, too. Again, once we had the format of asking musicians to guest on the album, Andy’s bass style was perfect for this song. I’m so glad he agreed to do it. I’ve been an admirer of his musicianship since he was in Free, and the work we have done together has been very special for me. I only wish we’d done more together over the years.

Jeb: “Message for Stella” is a nice piece of guitar work.  Nothing is hard to play, but the vibe is kind of ‘early Who’… It really sets a mood.  Steve Parsons has a nice vibe as well.

Chris:  Yes this is Steve’s song. He does a great job on it.

Jeb: “Boom Shakka Boom.”  That’s all I am saying about this one!  I will let you tell me about it.

Chris:  Another song of Steve’s, but with me singing. This track went down real easy.

Jeb:  Okay, what is the goal with this album?  Are you going to tour?  What’s the scoop?

Chris: I like to play live with just bass and drums, so not all my songs suit this lineup. Not much from Joyland would work as a power trio. The album was done as an album, not as a vehicle to tour with. So I’ll go out and tour if people want to see me, but the material will be drawn from my repertoire going way back.

Jeb:  Honestly, were you surprised at your creative burst on this album?

Chris:  I had a lot of help from Steve Parsons, who was my writing collaborator and co-producer. He was invaluable as someone to bounce ideas off and to encourage me. I’m ready to start another album now!

Jeb: You are a jazz guy and rock guy, but you’re kinda sorta -at least in attitude- kinda a punk guy… explain this psychotic musical personality you posses…

Chris:  That’s your job!

Jeb:  I heard you were the first producer for the Sex Pistols.

Chris:  I met them via Vivienne Westwood who made my clothes in the mid-70s. Chrissie Hynde took me to my first Pistols show around 1976 and I liked them. People seemed afraid of them, but I thought if they had a good demo, they’d get a record deal. So I took them into the studio and the three-song demo we recorded got them a deal with EMI. They were very easy to work with – we did the whole thing in five hours and they were very professional.

Jeb:  Harry Nilsson's breakthrough album, Nilsson Schmilsson was recorded and you were there, and you played on it.  Harry is one of a kind.  I have heard he liked a drink or two…

Chris:  It was all work in the studio with Harry; a lot of concentration. I’m sure he went out partying, but not with me, or any of the other musicians in the studio– that wasn’t the relationship I had with him.

Jeb:  In the USA I never really heard Sharks.  What did I miss?

Chris: We did a tour of USA supporting Mountain in 1973. Sharks were a good band live. Leslie West liked us and used to come onstage and jam with us when we opened for Mountain. We broke up shortly after the American tour.

Jeb:  I have heard you have played live on TV in a Wombat suit.  Was it the drugs?

Chris:  Wombles, not Wombat. The records were big with young kids, so we kept quiet about the drugs.

Jeb: I heard you played with Elton John.  What tracks were you on, and what is he like to work with?

Chris:  I was on Madman Across the Water. I remember very little of the session except that it was a large orchestra with Paul Buckmaster conducting. Elton is a great writer and musician.

Jeb:  Same question for Roger Daltrey.

Chris:  I can’t remember the name of the album I did with Roger. We had fun doing it, though.

Jeb:  Same question for the late and great Jack Bruce.

Chris:  I played on Songs For a Tailor and Harmony Row. Jack is such a great musician and I learned a great deal from him.

Jeb:  And you played with Linda McCartney and her husband… what the heck is his name… oh well, the guy that Kanye West discovered.  I wanna cool story on this!

Chris: I worked on a movie with Paul–Give My Regards to Broad Street. The best bits never made it onto film. We jammed on old rock classics between takes which was most enjoyable–a side of Paul that is rarely seen–or it wasn’t back then, which was the mid-1980s. He has since recorded an album of rock classics.

Jeb:  Back to Joyland.  Give me the story behind the name.

Chris:  The words to the “Joyland” track are an ironic reference to a dystopic world: “You can never go home…” It was a dark, disturbing image which seemed to fit the album.

Jeb:  Are you an artist who can be satisfied with a complete album of work? 

Chris:  No, never satisfied. I always think it can be done better, but I’ve learned you have to leave things alone and move on to the next thing.

Jeb:  Last one:  I think Andy Summers of The Police must be a fan of your playing and I think you like Pete Townsend.  Thoughts?

Chris: They are a couple of great guitar players. Sure, I think we all listen to each other and take little bits from each other.