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The Magic Highway

 

The stories behind the songs! Jeff Christie provides recollections about the tracks that Christie recorded. Other information has been culled from various magazine articles, and Vic chimes in with a comment or two. Some of the comments have been expanded upon on other pages of this site.


Jeff ChristieYellow River : Our very first single and our very first hit. What else can I say?
     It was inspired by a 1960s Hank Janson cowboy novel, the title of which escapes me, but the colour was yellow. To a young boy fascinated by Americana, the West, Native Americans, and the civil war, the evocative imagery of this lodged itself into my mind’s computer for later usage.  
Also an inspiration was Jim Webb's Galveston, recorded by Glenn Campbell in 1968/9 that I just loved, and wished that I could have written. So I guess Yellow River became my Galveston!
   The song came about one day when I was having breakfast and decided to write a song. I thought that the title Yellow River would go well and in 10 minutes I had the number completed. I never thought it was a great song, but there it was.
   As is well-known, the song was picked on by The Tremeloes when they were listening to my demo tapes. The cassette player overshot the track I really wanted them to hear —Tomorrow Night, which was in the style of the melodramatic Italian pop ballads that the group were covering at the time.

Gotta Be Free : It's a very simple song with a light country feel about it. The acoustic guitar gives it a nice, very live sound.

I've Got A Feeling:
(Jeff):
Vic thinks it's a bit of a joke. The original song wasn't like this, but we altered it somewhat. It may sound like a send-up, but it isn't. Vic asked to handle the lead vocals on this one.
(Vic)
: It's as bent as the North Circular road.

New York City:
(Vic): This is it, folks, a Vic Elmes song! I got the riff first and then wrote the song around it. Mike Blakley did the lyrics and asked me to come up with the melody.
(Jeff): The track turned out well and was worthy of inclusion on the first album.

Inside Looking Out
: This is one of my favourites. It chugs along nicely and I think Johnny Cash could have covered this well. It was mooted as a follow-up single to Yellow River.

Put Your Money Down: This was our tribute to Chuck Berry, for I think most groups have been influenced by him at one time or another. This rocker was also considered as our second single.

Down The Mississippi Line: This is an improved version and slightly faster take of the B side to Yellow River. The original was done in a rush in a 4-track demo studio because we wanted to get the single out, and included some wrong lyrics.

promoSan Bernadino: I was going through a phase of songwriting when I opened the Daily Express and read about a prison riot in San Bernardino and the title somehow stuck. Long John Baldry loved the song so much he wanted to record it as a single. But when Yellow River proved such a big hit and a follow-up was needed, San Bernadino was the natural choice and he missed out.
  The name of the city is actually San Bernardino.  I don't know how the extra 'r' was omitted from the spelling of the title on the record label originally, but once CBS (Sony) had pressed so many records, they would not entertain destroying them and then re-label with the correct spelling.

Country Boy: Another of my favourites. More or less a basic rhythm track which could have made a nice single.

Johnny One Time: This is about a guy on the run and it's done in my country rock bag.

Coming Home Tonight: There's a little Latin-American piano feel to this one. Some nice harmonies .. in fact this was also considered a single.

Here I Am: This was the flip of our second disc and another raw chunk of rock complete with the whole echo bit.

Until The Dawn: This is in complete contrast to everything on the first album. It would suit Roy Orbison, and as a matter of fact, he once tried to reach me. He phoned my home in Leeds when he was appearing at Batley. In later years, I would write a song, All The Love, specially for him.

Magic Highway:
(Vic): The basic premise of Magic Highway is that power means nothing. All along the trip through history and time, we see all the powerful men, leaders and kings, etc, with all their fame and wealth, and they all ended up the same way: dead.
(Jeff): A lot of time and imagination was spent into the arrangement of Magic Highway, what with the harpsichord arpeggios, and dischord effects from joining up minor seventh chords with majors and ninths. It was a big departure from what everyone expected, and we all had to grow. Everyone performs well on this track.

Man of Many Faces: I remember writing it in Cornwall Gardens, South Kensington, where Paul and I lived from 1970 to 1973 with various other Leeds lads and two Southerners. This is a dark little heavy number that got lots of approval from the heavies but not the poppers.
   I also remember doing the promo film with a bad flu and not being able to be there in the last sessions. As a result they filled it up with Paul and Vic goofing around as everyone did in those days. I always hated the fact that every time promo films were made they always had to ape the Hard Day’s Night goofing-around-template. I fought a losing campaign with CBS to try some of my own ideas that wouldn’t need to portray us all as idiots having fun, fun, fun 24/7!
   The actual recording was done in the Bond Street Studios, as were the other songs from the second album. This was the first Christie single Paul played on.

Picture Painter: This song was my tribute to The Creation's Painter Man, after working with them at a University gig in the 60s. It's great that a fan spotted this recently.

Martian King: Peace on Mars. The best part of the second album for us as musicians was that it allowed us to stretch, even if CBS wanted more songs in the style of Yellow River.

For All Mankind: Peace on Earth. A special song for me. Originally conceived with the Black Dyke Mills Band playing on the track. Alas CBS wouldn’t pay session fees for a whole band. For All Mankind could have been more lavishly arranged; I spent a lot of time with producer Martin Clarke on it. It's a song which I think has dated and I would very much like to redo it if I have the opportunity.

peacenikPeace Lovin' Man: I really was a peacenik in those days — still am I guess, though some things are worth fighting for, and freedom has a price. This is a tight punchy track with controlled aggression, and a passionate anti-war lyric. A three-piece has to be dynamic and I hope this was achieved on these recordings. There were very few overdubs on the whole second album, and therefore we were able to reproduce these songs accurately live. I tried to keep this challenge in mind whilst writing the songs for this album.

My Baby's Gone: The best part for me is the extended instrumental middle section, which allows the tension to build, although this track has always disappointed me. The fact that the song is structurally a bit weak doesn’t help! Heavy, and sometimes dirge-like, it can be oppressive, but I hope some people liked it.

I Believe In You: Morning Dew was a much loved Tim Rose song that I used to play in the Outer Limits, and featured that fast wrist rhythm guitar effect that I wrote in to the arrangement for this. It started life as an open letter to Nixon about Vietnam that morphed into a fantasy conversation with Nixon in the White House. Absurd and pompous as that may sound, I was very seriously always thinking how I could find a way to give peace a chance in whatever capacity and to whoever would listen.

If Only: I remember writing this in the flat at Cornwell Gardens. Melancholy, and plaintive, with a beautiful melody, it was a yearning to break out of tight schedules and fly away from the grey London sky to some sun-soaked paradise and be with someone special.

Everything's Gonna Be Alright/Freewheelin' Man: These two songs were written at around the same time, probably not too far apart.
    Coming up with more commercial songs must have been suggested after the heavy second album, and possibly that's the reason for writing the songs, but I also felt that Everything .. in particular was a catchy, hooky song with a good country, pop rock feel. It was about containing depression and self-doubt, and how to keep it at bay .. "keep the sunshine in your mind" was something a Danish girlfriend used to say when the black dog was on my back - Viking wisdom!

Iron Horse: Iron Horse was recorded at CBS’ Bond Street Studios. Vic played the lead guitar parts and I played bass and acoustic guitars and piano, Paul played drums. I liked this song a lot. I have a very clear memory of writing it whilst staying in a beautiful hotel in Villajoyosa, Spain.
   
Iron Horse was the name the Plains Indians gave to the locomotive trains that crossed the American Prairies westward from the east bringing settlers, commerce, engineers, etc. It helped speed up the tragic endgame for the Native Americans through disease, destruction, and double cross. I wanted to try and convey the menace and the thunderous sound of the train in the rolling guitar chords at the beginning of the song as well as lyrically trying a little to see it through red man’s eyes.
first week on chart    The song charged into the top 50 and was expected to be a massive hit, top 20 or 10. But there was evidence of chart rigging which forced the song out.

Fools Gold: This was written in 1972. I conceived the arrangement to include an electric sitar as I loved the sound — just like wah wah and voice box, like in (the Eagles song) Rocky Mountain Way — and wanted to fit them in to my songs somehow. I used sitar in Fool's Gold, and wah wah pedal in Pleasure and Pain. I never used voicebox effect as I didn't have a song that would fit that effect at the time.

Every Now and Then/California Sunshine/Born To Lose: I had many other songs suitable for B sides, but it was around this time that manager Brian Longley felt it would be a generous gesture on my part to let Vic and Lem to contribute to the flipsides.

The Dealer: I loved the song when it was played to me and felt I could put my stamp on it, and hopefully I did the song justice. I never met the writer Bob Ruzicka but hope he liked my arrangement.
    This was the first session with Triumvirate, which comprised of three producers: John Millar and two others, Rob Edwards and Roger Hand. They had some good ideas and I just used Roger Flavell on bass, as I was auditioning for a drummer and first lead guitar at the time of these sessions and did most of the overdubs myself with the exception of a guitarist whose name I can’t remember, who came in for the lead solos, and was very effective. All vocal effects were by Rob, Roger (Triumvirate) and me. I’m not sure if Roger Flavell assisted on any vox.
    The only flaw in this session was the session drummer’s early/hesitant kick drum beat on the final beat of the triplet in some of the drum breaks. I can’t believe I missed that, although one of my beefs was not being involved in the mixes. They wanted total control over the sessions and allowed me no space for quality control. This mistake was not so evident on mono mixes, but stereo made it more noticeable. The fact that they allowed that to go through showed some sloppiness on their part, although they did a good job and I would have liked to continue the association albeit as long as I regained some of the control that I conceded.
favourable review    But The Dealer stands out as one of the better productions of the Christie recordings for me. It received very favourable reviews.

Pleasure and Pain: I remember the session at CBS, and using a wah wah pedal on electric piano or organ instead of guitar and being pleased with the result; can’t remember much more except Paul Fenton was on the session, can’t remember if there was anyone else. It was coming to the end of our contract with CBS and this may well have been amongst those final sessions. Another philosophical song?

Alabama: Apart from the silly film promos we had to do for all these songs, these Triumvirate sessions had a really good chemistry. I think this was the final session of the three tracks and by this time it was really cooking.
    This track spawned a blistering performance all round and seemed to incorporate all the factors needed for a hit, including good melody and lyrics, nice guitar work, tight playing, good vocals, and a great arrangement, all wrapped up in a great production that just exploded out of the radio. A pity it sank without a trace, assis es la vida.

I’m Alive: The last of Triumvirate’s packet of three. I was, and still am, very happy with this: songwise, arrangement, playing and production. All three tracks were recorded at Air London in Regent Street. The studio vibe really suited me and I enjoyed myself immensely doing these sessions.

Latin America

Guantanamera: Leonardo Schultz, our South American promoter, suggested us doing this at stadium gigs on the frequent tours there. The song is an anthem in South America and the crowds would go wild when we did it, so when it was suggested to record it, it seemed a good idea. This is the only recording with the Capability Brown guys, and it’s good.
    There was a guy called Ken who was chef at The Damn Yankee Restaurant in Leeds who loved this version, and never ceased to heap praise on it whenever I went to eat there. The owner was a personal friend who said it reminded Ken of his work experience in Yucatan with a wry grin.
    The back-up vocals were a lot of fun and everyone played and sang well. The solid arrangement borrows from La Bamba, it was produced by Steve Elson and kicks hell out of the plaintive folk song. Apologies to Pete Seeger and co.

Navajo: Steve Elson producing again, Caravan’s John Perry on bass, but I don’t remember who was on drums. The rest is all Steve and me on overdubs, building up the track. I liked the lyric a lot, it was good poetry, and the melody fitted perfectly. Singing someone else’s song is a challenge when you’re the main writer. I was pleased with my vocals, and hope we did it justice.
    The bells in the background are an effect I was trying to get on my guitar with a slapback echo over a double tracked guitar part, plus harmonics, also double tracked.

Most Wanted Man: Steve producing again. He was a very talented musician and is a friend to this day. He worked in Starlight Artists under Peter Walsh, who was an agent and manager of the Tremeloes in 1970. It’s where I met Brian, and for a while Christie were based in that stable.
    Steve actually auditioned as a guitar player unsuccessfully at the time Christie was changing to a four-piece. He increased his profile at the office and eventually came to Mexico with us on the last tour as our minder. He honed his playing and production skills and would become a worthwhile asset to any band, and to this day is touring the corporate world with a great Rolling Stones tribute band.
    I wrote the part "runnin' scared with a gun in my hand", as I felt the song needed a bridge. This was the last single and effectively it was all down to me, as Christie had disbanded. Great drums from a young, future Who drummer in Simon Phillips, and Perry was probably on bass.

Rockin’ Suzanna: Steve Elson again producing, I think. Recorded at RG Jones studio in Wimbledon. The only memory I have of this track is double tracking the guitar riff sequence throughout the song, which was quite tricky. This was a leftover from "old" Christie days, with Vic handling lead guitar. The vocal slotted right into my guitar riff quite nicely I thought. All in all a fun, rockin’ little track.