Monthly Archives: June 2006

A Staple Singer

A Staple Singer

The Gospel according to Mavis.

June 29, 2006
Sounds like I’m hearing myself three different ways,” complained Mavis Staples to the audience, gasping for breath before adding with a smile, “Guess I should have made it to soundcheck.” Staples ushered in Birmingham’s Juneteenth celebration at the Alys Stephens Center on Saturday, June 3 with her family’s trademark blend of the gospel and the secular. That the stout, 66-year-old Staples should gasp for breath after each song only added to the drama. Gospel testifying is her strong point, which leaves plenty of time for improvisation. She performed only a half dozen songs during the evening, but with a hot-shot trio of guitar, bass, and drums—along with sister Yvonne on backing vocals—it didn’t really matter. Mavis told the small crowd how her father, Pops Staples, gathered his four children around him one night to teach them “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Pops’ real name was Roebuck. Mavis swore that he had a brother named Sears. When she sang “Respect Yourself,” she told the audience that a record producer recently called her “old school,” to which Mavis added, “Like I don’t know that . . . I used to be a Beyonce . . . If Beyonce keeps on living, she’ll be a Mavis!” She told the band’s drummer to “bring it down, Brian,” then warned, “If he wants to get paid, he better bring it down.” During “Respect Yourself,’ Mavis threw in an Aretha Franklin reference by singing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” but stopped with a snicker, “I ain’t gonna mess with Aretha . . . But I’ll pick on that little ol’ Beyonce.”

In a telephone conversation two days before her performance, “Respect Yourself” came up.

Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers from the 1973 concert film Wattstax. (click for larger version)



“Mack Rice wrote that. Luther Ingram’s name is on there. Luther said, ‘Man, we black people need to start respecting ourselves.’ That was the most Luther did on the song . . . Mack said, ‘I’m gonna write a song,’ but he gave Luther Ingram half of it for that title . . . Mack did some good stuff with Wilson Pickett. He wrote ‘Mustang Sally.’”

The unforgettable line “Take the sheet off your face, it’s a brand new day” from “Respect Yourself” prompted memories of traveling in the South during segregation. Racial showdowns were a way of life. Mavis remembered a white service station owner who accused the Staples family of stealing gasoline, prompting Pops to use his fists. “Oh yeah, we had our time. Actually we went to jail in West Memphis, Arkansas,” recalled Mavis from her Chicago home. “We beat up a white man. Well, (laughs) actually Pops beat him up. [The gas station attendant] ran into his office to get a gun. We knew what he was going to get . . . Well, the guy was just nasty. And when my father went in to get the receipt, I saw him shake his finger in Pops’ face. He said something about me because I was driving. I asked him to wash the windshield, and he wanted his money. I had driven from Jackson, Mississippi, to Memphis. All these bugs were on the windshield. He went on and washed the windshield . . . I asked him for a receipt and he said, ‘If you want a receipt you come over to the office.’


A record producer recently called her “old school,” to which Mavis added, “ Like I don’t know that . . . I used to be a Beyonce . . . If Beyonce keeps on living, she’ll be a Mavis!”

“So Pops told me to pull over and he went in to get the receipt. And [the attendant] said something about me and shook his finger in Pops’s face. Next thing I know, Pops had walloped him. He beat him up real good and got in the car. And Daddy got the receipt, and actually that receipt is what saved us. Because when [the attendant] called the police, he told them that we didn’t pay for our gas and we robbed him. So the police caught up with me, had us standing out on the highway with shotguns on us and dogs barking. Oh, it was spooky. But the best part of it is I’ve never been so glad to see a police station. They took us to jail. The chief asked Pops what happened. The chief told them, ‘Get them handcuffs off them people.’ He said, ‘These young bucks always trying to keep this mess going. We’re trying to clean up down here.’ They found our money in the trunk and he asked Pops, ‘Well, this is what we’re looking for. This is the money you took from the service station.’ And Daddy said, ‘No, we sang for that money tonight.’ And he said, ‘Well, I got to hear what kind of singing you do to make this kind of money.’ And the money did look like [we] had robbed somebody because the people in Jackson, Mississippi, had it in a cigar box (laughs).”

At the Alys Stephens Center, Mavis led the band into “The Weight,” calling out: “Levon Helm . . . Robbie Robertson . . . Danko . . . and dear Garth.” She asked the small audience if they’d seen The Last Waltz. When few responded, she admonished, “I knew y’all hadn’t seen it.” The Staples had been featured in the film, as they had pioneered the introduction of gospel to rock ‘n’ roll audiences. During the interview, she remembered the varied shows they played. “Our sound was so unique that the people would call us to sing. And we were singing strictly gospel. But they called us for folk festivals, bluegrass festivals, blues festivals, and jazz festivals. . . . We toured with people like The Who, The Bee Gees, Jimi Hendrix. They really liked the Staple Singers’ sound. And a lot of those white guys have recorded some of our songs.”

One of those “white guys” who no doubt influenced the Staples more than any other was Bob Dylan. “Bobby would be on most of those folk festivals. So we would run into each other a lot, quite a bit,” said Mavis. She and Dylan shared a Grammy nomination in 2003 for their duet “Gotta Change My Way of Livin.’” Mavis said the two had known each other for a long time. “We met Dylan when he and I were teenagers. And when we met him—someone introduced us to him—and he said ‘Well, I know the Staple Singers, I’ve heard the Staple Singers since I was 12 years old.’ And Pops said, ‘Well, where you hear us at?’ He said he heard us on that station that comes out of Nashville, WLAC, I think it was. And he even quoted some lyrics from one of our songs, ‘Sit Down Servant.’ And he described Pops’ voice, he’d say, ‘Pops, you have a really smooth, silky voice, and Mavis has a gravelly, heavy voice.’ And then we heard Dylan sing that day. We were on the same concert, a folk festival. And Pops asked us, ‘Listen do you hear what that kid is saying? We can sing that, that’s a message song. That’s a positive song.’ And it was ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’ And we recorded it.”

Mavis can still scream like a barely constrained Wilson Pickett as she remembered Pickett’s unpredictable manner: “Oh, Lord, yeah! Wilson Pickett was just as crazy as he could be. He was crazy, but he was beautiful. All the guys would respect us, they wouldn’t curse around us. Nothin’ like that. Oh yeah, Pickett had a temper. Pickett would shoot at different ones. He shot his brother in the limousine. Pickett kept saying, ‘I’m gonna shoot you, man.’ And his brother kept saying, ‘Aw man, put the gun down, put the gun down.’ And all of a sudden Pickett shot him right through the shoulder. Pickett was in the backseat and his brother was in the front seat with the limo driver . . . We were sitting in the Howard Theater watching the show, and all of a sudden you saw Eddie Levert with the O’Jays run across the stage. And the emcee was up there talking, and all of a sudden here comes Pickett behind him with a gun. People were laughing. Somebody caught Pickett and took the gun away from him. Yeah, he was crazy.” &



The Listening Booth

The Staple Singers went from post-World War II straight gospel to soulful folk music in the 1960s to “message” music in the 1970s. Blessed with a distinctive, irresistible rhythm that secular music once claimed as its own, the Staples’ unique gospel style, stamped with patriarch Pop Staples’ wicked, tremolo-marinated blues guitar, offered up black spirituals to a white audience primed for temptation.

Stax Records signed the Staples to their roster in 1968, and “message” music was born. Message music was essentially a spiritual message told in secular language. Songs such as “Long Walk to D.C.” and a cover of Sly Stone’s “Everyday People” were recorded in Memphis with Booker T. and the MGs’ guitarist Steve Cropper producing. The family ventured south to record with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section on the hits “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” at the insistence of Stax musical director Al Bell. Lead vocalist Mavis Staples praised the Muscle Shoals musicians in the liner notes of The Staple Singers: Stax Profiles: “The Muscle Shoals guys were a rhythm section that a singer would just die for . . . They were bad back then! [At Stax] Booker T. and the MGs would mostly put the tracks down before we’d be in the there. [At Muscle Shoals] we would all be in the studio together. We were feeding off of each other. That made a difference.”


The Staple Singers



The band’s pre-stax Gospel era (1953-1967), which still managed to feature plenty of electric guitar and hip-shaking rhythms, is best represented on Columbia’s Freedom Highway collection. Like artists such as John Lee Hooker, multiple recordings of many of the Staples’ most famous songs exist, some far better than others. Freedom Highway is the source for definitive versions of many classics such as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Wade in the Water”—in addition to lesser-known gems as “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?” and a cover of Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.”

One Giant Leap


June 15, 2006

First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

By James R. Hansen

Simon and Schuster, 784 pages, $30

For 35 years, astronaut Neil Armstrong shunned those seeking his thoughts about his adventures as the first man on the moon. While other astronauts wrote of their own harrowing moments in space exploration, Armstrong kept his story to himself, as if he could put the genie back into the bottle and elude history. One of only 30 astronauts chosen to fulfill President Kennedy’s pledge to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, Armstrong saw his role as more practical than iconic. He’s been quoted as saying that he hopes to be remembered as the first engineer on the moon, not the first “spaceman.”

(click for larger version)

Auburn University professor and former NASA historian James R. Hansen convinced Armstrong to tell his story in First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. Hansen’s attention to technical aspects—and his knack for making them accessible even to novices—reportedly convinced Armstrong to cooperate. Despite the inclusion of launch trajectories and a jumble of acronyms, Hansen tells a compelling, and often riveting, story that reads like Jules Verne recounting the history of NASA’s lunar reach.

When JFK initiated the moon-flight project, NASA had three different methods under serious consideration. The first was called “Direct Ascent,” an improbable plan which required that a rocket called the Nova, approximately the size of the Empire State Building, be launched to the moon. The remaining rocket stage that would be in lunar orbit before touching down would be as tall as the Washington Monument. If the sheer size of the spacecraft were not cumbersome enough, another problem was how to get the crew down to the surface of the moon from such heights. Direct Ascent was quickly dismissed.

Dr. Wernher von Braun advocated a second procedure called Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR). Astronauts would be launched in a rocket separately from the main missile. The spaceships would dock while orbiting Earth and then proceed to the moon. Being much smaller than the Nova, the EOR rocket made return launch more feasible. EOR also included construction of a space station for future lunar missions.



Deployment of the U.S. flag by Armstrong and Aldrin was caught by a sixteen-millimeter film camera in the lunar module. (click for larger version)



To the surprise of many, NASA chose a third option: Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR). Critics said it was too risky for rendezvous to occur in lunar orbit 240,000 miles away from Earth. A rescue would be impossible in the event of an accident. Hansen sums up the cold reality of such a disaster and how it affected the decision-making process: “The specter of dead astronauts sailing around the moon haunted those who were responsible for the Apollo program and made objective evaluation of its merits unusually difficult.” However, LOR required less fuel, and the necessary craft weighed half that of an EOR rocket. Besides, LOR was the only method that could meet JFK’s dream before 1970. “LOR saves two years and two billion dollars,” Armstrong wryly observed.

Armstrong’s close calls are legendary. During the Korean War, he lost eight feet from his wing when his jet clipped the ground on a mission. Armstrong climbed immediately back to 14,000 feet and bailed out. He wrestled control of Gemini VIII as the spaceship was tumbling and spinning in space. When Armstrong manually took control of the lunar module the Eagle upon descent to the moon and steered the craft to a less treacherous landing area with only seconds of fuel remaining, Buck Rogers had indeed become a reality. Armstrong’s unassuming, calm demeanor amazed his peers. Astronaut Alan Bean never forgot his first encounter with that nonchalance after one of Armstrong’s brushes with death. Armstrong was flying the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV), a high-risk, wingless contraption that used thruster rockets to propel the craft and was flown at a minimum altitude of 500 feet to ensure proper training procedures. The LLTV began to sway, slowly turning at an angle, out of control.

Hansen writes: “A ground controller radioed Neil to bail out. He activated the ejection seat with only a fractional second of margin. Neil’s parachute opened just before he hit the ground. He wasn’t hurt, but the LLTV was demolished in a fireball.”



Professor Armstrong teaching engineering at the University of Cincinnati in 1974. (click for larger version)



Armstrong immediately returned to the office that he shared with Bean after the mishap. Bean had overheard others discussing the incident, though Armstrong had failed to mention it. “I go back in the office,” Bean explains. “Neil looked up, and I said, ‘I just heard the funniest story!’ Neil said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I heard you bailed out of the LLTV an hour ago.’ He thought a second and said, ‘Yeah, I did.’ I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I lost control and had to bail out of the darn thing.’”

Amazingly, NASA never lost an astronaut in orbit in the pre-space shuttle years. First Man recounts the tragedy of the Apollo 1 launch-pad fire, which killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White. Oddly enough, White lived next door to Armstrong and had helped Neil save his house from a blaze only a year earlier. The Apollo 1 disaster forced NASA to rethink the Apollo space capsule at the insistence of the astronaut corps. The fiery explosion that killed Grissom and the others occurred during a routine ground test in a pure oxygen environment. A spark ignited the cabin instantly. NASA learned from the setback, and from then on, all ground-testing was done in an environment that was 60 percent oxygen and 40 percent nitrogen.

A disconcerting aspect of First Man is Buzz Aldrin’s drama and bitterness in his lobbying to be the first man to step onto the moon. Armstrong reveals for the first time that he had the option of replacing Aldrin as pilot with Jim Lovell, but Armstrong felt that Lovell deserved to command his own Apollo mission (Apollo 13). He stuck with Aldrin, though a soap opera soon developed. Aldrin’s argument had been that the commander always stayed with the spacecraft while the pilot performed spacewalks. Veteran astronaut Gene Cernan recalls:

Buzz had worked himself into a frenzy” about who would step onto the moon first. He came flapping into my office at the Manned Spacecraft Center one day like an angry stork, laden with charts and graphs and statistics, arguing what he considered to be obvious—that he, the lunar module pilot, and not Neil, should be the first down the ladder on Apollo 11 . . . How Neil put up with such nonsense for so long before ordering Buzz to stop making a fool of himself is beyond me.”



Armstrong says he didn’t give much thought to who would be first out of the lunar module. Flight Director Chris Kraft shed some light: “Look, we just knew damn well that the first guy on the moon was going to be a Lindbergh . . . It should be Neil Armstrong . . . Neil is Neil. Calm, quiet, and absolute confidence. We all knew he was the Lindbergh type. He had no ego.” Thus, NASA changed the normal procedure that the commander always stayed with the spacecraft. “[Neil] was the commander, and perhaps it should always have been the commander’s assignment to go first onto the moon,” said Kraft.

For his part, Armstrong took everything in stride without a hint of romanticism. Searching for a quote that would reveal Armstrong’s true thoughts, historian Douglas Brinkley once asked Neil, “As the day clock was ticking for takeoff, would you every night, or most nights, just go out quietly and look at the moon? I mean, did it become something like “‘my goodness?’” To which Neil responded, “No, I never did that.” &

Weight of the Wind

Weight of the Wind

One man’s experience floating more than half a mile above the earth in a “paper” airplane.

June 01, 2006

After climbing out of a dilapidated Oldsmobile ’98 Regency, sailplane pilot Tim Lockert surveys the sky for white cumulus clouds. “You know how to tell a glider pilot?” he asks. “They’re the ones with sunburned Adam’s apples.” The Regency is the official glider tow car. The car’s roof has been sawed off, the trunk lid is missing, and the words “Sylacauga Soaring Society” are painted in black on the green door. The front passenger seat has been realigned to face the rear. The battered Oldsmobile, referred to as The Rocket, is used to tow 700-pound gliders to a grass field that parallels the runway at Sylacauga Municipal Airport. The Sylacauga Soaring Society has been in existence for two years, and as many as a half-dozen members gather each weekend to be launched skyward aboard glider planes towed by cropdusters.

At 2,800 feet, the gliders are cut loose to sail like hawks in search of winds that provide enough lift to transport them as far as 60 miles east to Clanton. Sylacauga is an Indian word for “buzzards roost,” a term somewhat explained as the pilots scrutinize the sky for buzzards gliding in circles. This indicates an ideal spot for sailplanes to snag highly coveted thermal wind lifts. “Buzzards are lazy birds,” explains Lockert. “Where they glide is always a good spot.”

I swallow in fear when I first stand next to the tiny sailplane. On the ground, the silver glider leans at an angle, supported by the tip of one wing. The plane is only 10 inches off the ground. It’s a very sexy, sleek aircraft, though intimidating. The pilot’s compartment is smaller than the width of a canoe but flanked by a 55-foot wingspan. “I’m not trying to get friendly with you,” jokes Paul Golden as he connects a harness strapped across my crotch and shoulders. “How tight do you want it? We got two ways to fasten you in: open casket or closed casket.” With those words of reassurance, he lowers the plexiglass canopy.


“How tight do you want it? We got two ways to fasten you in: open casket or closed casket.” (click for larger version)

The Pawnee single-engine cropduster, to which the glider is tethered for takeoff, cranks to life while we sit silent except for vocal checks from pilot Lockert, seated behind me. “It’s nothing but a ski rope,” laughs Lockert as the yellow rope stretches taut, and we roll across the grass field at 40 mph balanced on a single 10-inch-diameter wheel under the center of the glider. Suddenly we’re airborne, and I really don’t want to be. My stomach tightens. At 100 feet, I start feeling queasy. My hands sweat profusely as I search for anything to hold onto.

There’s nothing to grip, so I venture from pressing on the inner walls of the cockpit to scribbling often unintelligible notes on a pad. One panicky note reads, “Hope I die on impact if we fall from the sky.” Carnival rides terrify me. I’m prone to panic attacks when strapped in, and the panic escalates once everything starts moving. This glider ride is a roller coaster without rails, and I want off immediately.

The sailplane, still attached to the cropduster, bobs in the wind. “You always worry about the tow rope breaking,” warns Lockert. And if it does break? “Say your prayers,” he laughs. “I don’t want to have to think at that point. Just react. If we’re at 200 feet and the rope snaps, I turn around.” Otherwise, he scouts for a place to land pretty quickly. “Straight ahead, straight ahead, straight ahead,” repeats Lockert, until he says, “Turn around.” He explains, “Even though I’ve been doing this for 25 years, whenever I launch, I verbally repeat, ‘Straight ahead.’ Then I say, ‘Turn around.’ The point is that I’m calling out to myself that in the event the tow rope breaks, I’m just going to go straight ahead and land it. And what you don’t want to do when the tow rope breaks is think. You want to react immediately. So it’s really part of the training to learn that every time you take off, call out: ‘Straight ahead, straight ahead, straight ahead.’ If the rope breaks you’ll know immediately what to do
. . . Once you get to 200 feet, you’re going to turn around, and you’ll just land right where you took off.”

At 2,800 feet, I’m a nervous wreck as I anticipate the inevitable loss of power. Suddenly, the glider jolts slightly. With a loud snapping noise, the tow rope disengages from the glider and flaps like a useless kite tail still attached to the disappearing cropduster. It’s a weird feeling. We’re on our own, yet the 900-pound aluminum plane (a single-seater plane weighs 700 pounds) with no engine immediately climbs to 3,200 feet. I am essentially floating more than half a mile above the earth in a paper airplane with a rudder. All that can be heard is the rushing of the wind around me.

When I ask Lockert to define “pitch,” he laughs and demonstrates it instead. “That’s the one that puts your heart in your throat.” The pilot applies pitch with a wicked cackle, and the plane dips and increases speed. My insides float for brief seconds somewhere above my head. “What pitch does, is it’s going to cause the nose of the airplane to point down or point up,” he says. “Because of the way the airfoil is shaped, if I point the nose of the airplane down, I’m going to go faster. If I point the nose up, I go slower.” The plane reaches speeds of 70 mph. “When you’re in control, the pitch is not as startling ‘cause you know what’s coming,” says Lockert.


Sylacauga Soaring Society president Tim Lockert straps himself into an LP-15 sailplane. (click for larger version)



He points to various ground landmarks of particular interest to a glider pilot. “When you’re down low, you don’t need to be looking for the clouds, you need to be looking at the sources for the hot air that is going to make a cloud. And typically that’s an area that is dry and dark, wherever the sun heats up the earth. Gliding is essentially solar-powered flight. The Wal-Mart parking lot is a great bet. Home Depot over there. The marble quarry is a good spot. Particularly in our area of the country you’ll find these areas of forests that have been harvested. What’s left has died, so it becomes this dark brown covering over the ground. So when the sun hits that, boy, it has great opportunity to heat the air. So cleared areas of forests are just great [for thermal lift].”

Unfortunately, excessive winds result in too much turbulence for an ideal flight afternoon, and we are aloft for only half an hour. “It’s a wrestling match out here today,” Lockert says. Turbulence prevents us from picking up good thermals. Lockert believes that under proper conditions, he could glide from Sylacauga to the Gulf Coast. The current gliding record is a flight from Chattanooga to Pennsylvania and back, continuing over the Smoky Mountains to a landing in South Carolina. The pilot used the Smoky Mountains as a thermal source, particularly in the afternoon when the sun heated the mountain range.

The small size of the plane immediately returns to mind as we approach the ground. “I’m going to put it in that grass strip down there,” says Lockert as we quickly approach earth at what seems a steep angle. I can’t stop thinking about how small the wheels are. Convinced that we’re doomed to crash nose-first into the earth, I brace myself for impact. Instead, the sailplane touches down with surprising ease at 40 mph, rolling to a stop in less than the length of a football field. I later watch Lockert take off and land the single-seat glider. Standing a couple of hundred feet away when he returns, I marvel at the graceful combination of physics and machinery. The sailplane is a mere 10 inches off the ground when its wheels touch down.

The Sylacauga Soaring Society currently offers a monthly membership for $99, including ground instruction and a half-hour flight. Call 205-807-0666 or visit for more information.

Herman’s Hermits

Herman’s Hermits

Singer Peter Noone speaks his mind as he brings new Hermits to City Stages.

June 01, 2006


In a midday telephone conversation, Peter Noone’s dense British accent reminds one of Mick Jagger. The two artists have several things in common, admits Noone, the 58-year-old former lead singer of 1960s sensation Herman’s Hermits. Along with a striking resemblance to one another during their youthful pop star days, they also share disdain for infamous ABKCO Records president Allen Klein. Noone and Jagger each battled their former business partner in court for allegedly ripping off their respective bands.

Noone has had a storybook career. As a child, he co-starred in a British soap opera called “Coronation Street” before becoming a pop idol at age 17 when Herman’s Hermits made Carole King’s “I’m Into Something Good” a hit in 1964. Producer Mickie Most, who oversaw the careers of The Animals, Donovan, and Lulu, made Herman’s Hermits his most successful act. Over the next decade they piled up 20 hits, including a pair of chart-toppers in “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” and “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.”

After leaving the Hermits, Noone went on to Broadway and television. The band has been wrongly dismissed as a lightweight pop act among heavier British Invasion bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Yardbirds. Though they did not write much of their own material, Herman’s Hermits pioneered the pop music rage that Big Star is credited with launching in the 1970s. To these ears (as a 12-year-old) Herman’s Hermits were better than The Beatles and the Stones.

Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits. (click for larger version)


Black & White: I was just listening to Herman’s Hermits Retrospective that ABKCO put out in 2004.

Peter Noone: Pretty good, isn’t it? People don’t realize how good we were. But what can you do?

B&W: Was it frustrating to the band?

Noone: No, not really. At the time, we didn’t realize what was going on, basically, because we were on the run all the time. In retrospect, it was a good band. People sometimes, forget that.

B&W: Whenever the history of the British Invasion is discussed, Herman’s Hermits are wrongly dismissed as lightweights.

Noone: The main problem is ABKCO doesn’t put out [proper] material. There’s like 300 songs, and every 10 years they put out another retrospective. They’ve kind of done it with everything they’ve got. I would say Sam Cooke would be one of the top five performers in American musical history but he’s neglected totally. Do you agree? What they do is, first of all they don’t pay anybody any royalties. So what they do is they just shuffle things out every 10 years. So they basically destroyed Herman’s Hermits. We just couldn’t survive, and the guys in the Hermits needed money. One of the reasons that it all fell apart is because we weren’t putting records out in America. We had big hits in England right through 1971, ’72. I think all Herman’s Hermits best records were never released in the United States. It was very strange.

B&W: Whose fault was that? Was Mickie Most to blame?

Noone: It was really Allen Klein’s fault. That’s the end of it. I was ready to leave the band anyway. I was the spoiled brat. I didn’t need people telling me what I should be doing. There were things I wanted to do. I was like an adult now, ya know?

B&W: The Stones always said that though Allen Klein ripped them off, he did turn the band into a global act. What’s your relationship with Klein? Does he pay any royalties?

Noone: That’s in litigation now. It just goes on and on and on and on. I don’t have any relationship with him. The only person who speaks to him is my lawyer. That’s got very little to do with the new operation. The new operation is just trying to make people realize how good Herman’s Hermits are. I remember coming to Birmingham to do the Shower of Stars [in the 1960s].

B&W: How long did the original Hermits stay together?

Noone: We went to 10 years in that original version. A long time, you know, for a band.

B&W: Was there any resentment from the band that studio musicians played on the records instead of the band?

Noone: At the beginning it was O.K. But it got worse and worse because I was the spoiled brat. And I forgot to tell them when there was a session. I’d make the record with Mickie, and it would be in the store, and I’d say [to the other Hermits], “Well what are you worried about? You’re going to get paid.” Because musicians don’t really do it to get paid. I hurt people’s feelings because I was just a kid. I had no experience dealing with men. I knew how to deal with teenage girls (laughs).

B&W: Did your experience as a child performer give you any insight or an advantage over others in the pop music business?

Noone: I think it just turned me into more of an independent person. I was very independent. I traveled alone, and I made my own decisions . . . We never traveled together. I would go, and they would go, and sometimes we’d all arrive at the same time. For example, when Herman’s Hermits first went on tour, for some members of the band it was the first time they’d ever been out of the United Kingdom, whereas I’d been everywhere in the world already with my family. My family was a business family and we traveled. Some of the Hermits had never been anywhere; their parents took them to the seaside. I was very well educated for my age, educated in becoming independent. And it’s vital in a rock ’n’ roll band because somebody has to be decisive. If it becomes a democracy, it lasts for about a week . . . I’ve never been a fan of that kind of democracy. Especially, if there’s five people with a vote because they’d always vote against the lead singer.

B&W: Who played the guitar solo on “Henry the VIII?” That’s one of the best guitar solos I’ve ever heard.

Noone: Derek Leckenby. It was [Keith] Hopwood on “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.”

B&W: “Mrs. Brown” was a different style for what was on the radio then, with the banjo intro.

Noone: It was from our live show. We always did songs that none of the other bands would do. Now every band in those days played the same songs, sort of like now. So we avoided all the songs that The Beatles and the Escorts and all the local bands did. And “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” was very odd. It sort of went with the band. We were called Herman’s Hermits. It wasn’t a typical rock ’n’ roll band name.

B&W: Herman’s Hermits were somewhat unique in that you sang with a British accent. Was that a conscious effort?

Noone: Yes. Nobody had ever done it before. I wondered why everybody was singing in an American accent. So I went and sang with a British accent. I just thought it was kind of amusing. We had big stars in England when we grew up like Lonnie Donnigan, who we thought was an American. Even when he spoke English he had a bit of an American accent.

B&W: Did you know Graham Gouldman in Manchester? He was an incredible songwriter [Gouldman was a premier British songwriter who wrote “Listen People” for the Hermits, as well as songs for other bands. He later was the talent of the 1970s band 10 CC.]

Noone: Yeah, very well. He was like family to me. He was the greatest. What he did was brilliant stuff. He really wrote for his own band, which was the Mockingbirds. They didn’t really jump. . . We got first look at everything. We did “Bus Stop” first, and “For Your Love” and all those songs. If you listen to Herman’s Hermits’ version of “Bus Stop,” it wasn’t a great performance. So it went to the Hollies and they did a great performance of it. “For Your Love,” we did it, but The Yardbirds did it better. Ours was like an album track, and theirs was a single.

B&W: “For Your Love” was on Herman’s Hermits On Tour, the second record I ever owned. I would sit and stare at that cover. [It featured the band grinning while flying in an illustration of a hot air balloon.]

Noone: On our balloon there! [laughs] The great thing about that is that MGM was so cheap, the first album and the second album had the same picture. They put us in a balloon for the second album. Just painted a balloon on there.

B&W: The song “Museum” was certainly a departure for Herman’s Hermits, stylewise.

Noone: It was actually a Donovan record, and he didn’t like it. So it was always Mickie’s thing . . . like Donovan didn’t like “Mellow Yellow,” so I said, “I’ll do it!” and then [Donovan] decided he did like it. So Mickie tried it again with “Museum.” So I used Donovan’s track and his musicians, and my version was better than his. So mine came out. It wasn’t a hit.

B&W: Did you meet Carole King soon after recording her song “I’m Into Something Good?”

Noone: No, I met her later, actually. And I still see her. I was always a big fan of hers. I know her now. When I was about 14, I had that record she’d made, “It Might as Well Rain Until September.”

B&W: Barry Whitwam [the original Hermits drummer] has a version of Herman’s Hermits that tours.

Noone: He’s supposed to call it “Herman’s Hermits starring Barry Whitwam.” And I call mine “Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone.” But he always forgets to put Barry Whitwam on his. And I never forget to put Peter Noone, because I think it’s important.

B&W: Last time you were in Birmingham you played a shopping center at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Are you still keeping such ungodly hours?

Noone: That was a weird one. But it worked out good; we enjoyed it. It was not the real band, though, it was just me on my own . . . I had no idea, [it was in a shopping center when booked] but I have really good friends in Birmingham, so I really do enjoy going there. My friend’s a doctor—a heart surgeon—and they’re almost family. Almost my relatives. We spend every Christmas together. It’s like I got my family in Alabama!

B&W: You’re one of us.

Noone: [Sarcastically] Yeah, right. I can say [affected Southern drawl], “How y’all doin”?

B&W: Did anyone ever tell you that you resemble a handsome Mick Jagger?

Noone: Yeah, a lot of people think that. From those days, there’s this wonderful bit where they’re doing a story about The Rolling Stones and they go, “Read more about the Stones on page whatever,” and they used a picture of me and not Mick Jagger. He didn’t like it. [As he promised during the interview, Noone later sent the photo and brief news clipping. He was confused. It was actually a newspaper clipping that continued a Hermits story with Jagger’s photo mistakenly inserted in place of Noone’s.] There’s lots of stories in those Rolling Stones books how people would ask [Jagger] for my autograph. He’d sign his name and they’d say, “Oh, I thought you were Herman!”

B&W: When was the last time you saw Jagger?

Noone: Well, I see the other guys more often than him. I kinda go more in the music circles than the show business circles. So I see Charlie a lot, and I saw Bill in London. I don’t really go to those sort of fancy restaurants that Mick goes to.

B&W: How about Keith Richards falling out of a coconut tree recently?

Noone: Pretty good! He thought it was a cocaine-nut tree! &