The Average White
When AWB broke up I decided to concentrate on songwriting for a while and moved to L.A. - I was thoroughly sick of touring and playing live at this time. It was very strange however as it was the first time since my schooldays that I had not been in a band. At this time I had a couple of songs on the George Benson album 'In Your Eyes' - one which I wrote with Arif called 'Love Will Come Again' (he also produced the album) and 'Never Too Far To Fall' written with Ned. Over the next few years I wrote a lot - 'If Your Heart Isn't In It' was a hit for Atlantic Starr; a couple of songs written with Sharon Robinson, 'Cross My Heart' and 'I Got Your Number' were covered by Diana Ross and The Temptations respectively.
I also worked quite a bit with Frank Musker during this time and we wrote something called 'Soweto' for Chaka - but Arif didn't go for it and we wound up co-producing it for Geoffry Osbourne. A short time after that I got a call from an old pal, David Sanborn asking me to do a song on his upcoming live album and we decided on Al Green's 'Love and Happiness' which is now part of my current show. I had been saving some of the stuff I was writing, so when Steve Ferrone and I decided to do what became 'Easy Pieces' there was no lack of material - 'Tuggin' at my Heartstrings', 'Separate Shores', and my best collaboration with Jon Lind, 'Trust One Another'. I think they'll all resurface soon.
THE PAUL McCARTNEY YEARS
The 'Easy Pieces Project' as good as it was, was doomed by record company politics and budget problems. Steve was working with Eric Clapton and around this time I got a call from Paul McCartney's manager Richard Ogden saying 'Paul's making an album, putting a band together and going on tour' and 'did I want to come over and check it out'. I certainly did, having cut my musical teeth on the Beatles repetoire, I jumped at the chance of working with someone who had inspired me to pick up an instrument in the first place. I went to Paul's studio in the country and spent a day just hanging out jamming with Nicky Hopkins on piano, Chris Whitten - who would be the drummer in the band, and Paul. That evening I returned to London where I met Linda for the first time at a nice quiet little dinner in St. John's Wood and left the next morning on a lightning visit to my folks in Scotland. It was a difficult time as I really wanted to do the gig with Paul but the Easy Pieces record wasn't finished yet so when A&M sort of let the record die, it 'freed me' to join forces with Paul and Linda alongside Chris.
In February '87 we started recording the new album at Paul's place with Elvis Costello co-producing the songs they had recently finished writing together - Robbie McIntosh, late of The Pretenders, had been suggested by Chrissie Hynde and myself as the guitar player and came down to play on the 'Elvisless' next batch of sessions - eventually he came on board leaving the keyboard chair the only one to fill. Paul had some unfinished tracks, like 'We Got Married' and some stuff he had cut with Trevor Horn - it all pulled together really nicely to become 'Flowers in the Dirt' and just as we were finishing up Paul 'Wix' Wickens came into the picture and we had a band.
We started rehearsing for the tour and in between, shot the video for the first single 'My Brave Face', one of the Elvis songs. When the tour was announced we played a short set at Jeffrey Archer's theatre by the Thames for the press and fan club. The first review described myself and Robbie as 'a brace of guitarists you wouldn't want to owe money to' (cheek!).
We started the tour in Norway and went all over Europe - it was great to be playing live again! The production came together fairly quickly although there were a few hiccups. America, Japan, Brazil - all fantastic - particularly the Maracana in Rio, although the weather was heavily against us (oh, just a tropical storm and a few flash floods!). Somehow the crew put it together and after having to postpone a day or two, the second night was incredible. The rain had abated and the crowd was massive - quarter of a million! We finished in Chicago at Soldier Field and took 3 months off.
Chris Whitten decided to go off round the world with Dire Straits so In early '91 we started rehearsing for MTV's 'Unplugged' with the new drummer Blair Cunningham.
This was pretty daunting as it really was 'unplugged'! Mikes on all guitars and no electric instruments - period. If you moved an inch off mike you disappeared. We rehearsed for about three weeks and then all of a sudden we were in front of an audience - we did the show in two halves - the first of which was very tentative but we started the second half with a jammed version of 'Be Bop a Lula' which loosened the whole thing up. When it was televised 'Be Bop a Lula' was the opener after which everything else seemed much more relaxed. Unfortunately my version of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' hit the cutting room floor but it was on the album. I think it was the intimacy of unplugged after the mega stadium experience that made it so attractive. We embarked on a mini European club tour - just a few dates doing one set acoustic and one set electric - places like Naples and Copenhagen. During this time the live album and the movie of the world tour had come out and it continued non-stop till the last date of the 'New World Tour' in Santiago, Chile in December '93. The unplugged album had Paul's highest chart entry in America since 'Band on the Run' and after deciding that Julian Mendelson should co-produce with Paul we began work on 'Off the Ground'. The barn at Paul's place which we'd done most of our rehearsing in had been wired to the studio so we set up there and cut all the new songs. There was a song I wrote with Paul called 'Is it Raining in London' which needed a string arrangement. Angelo Badelimenti who worked on David Lynch's movies was contacted and I caught up with him in L.A. where I gave him a tape and just talked about the possibilities. We reconvened at Abbey Road a while later with a large string section augmented by French horns and trombones. Angelo had written a beautiful chart but unfortunately the track was never finished and sits in limbo. When the record was done we started on the videos including filming the title track at Skywalker Ranch which was a lot of fun. George Lucas really created something special there.
The 'New World Tour' got down to Australia in March '93. This much bigger stadium production had a lot more in the way of teething troubles but once it was up and running, looked really and truly awesome.
Europe had been really successful and somewhere in the middle I took a little detour. Jan Gaye, the wife of Marvin had called asked if I would take part in a tribute to the man at Midem in Cannes. Luckily there was a window of a rehearsal day and a show day but it meant three flights to rejoin the tour in Frankfurt starting with a helicopter at about 7am. The show was a nice idea going chronologically through Marvin's career - musically directed by my old friend Leon Ware whose 'If I Ever Lose this Heaven' I had covered with AWB and who had worked with Marvin most famously on 'I Want You'. Marvin's daughter Nona, Leon, El DeBarge and myself did some backgrounds for each other. The rhythm section was a killer with James Gadson on drums, Wah Wah Watson on guitar and one of the greatest bass players on the planet, Chuck Rainey.
The Pointer Sisters, Al Jarreau, Randy Crawford, Ashford & Simpson, Omar and Chaka who did a beautiful 'How Sweet It Is' with Clarence Henderson on piano. I had the honour of doing 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine' my old fave, for the first time with the original arrangement - strings and horns. A memorable event to be a part of and a tribute to someone whose music I have loved for more than thirty years. We partied late and off I went to Frankfurt.
Back with Paul, on the second world tour, we had changed the show quite a bit this time around - one thing he was not short on was back catalogue so we added 'All My Loving', 'Paperback Writer' and 'Penny Lane' plus 'Brithday' for the fourth of July in America. The sound checks started getting called 'the first house' because some of them got so long, jamming and messing around. Every show was special and there were lots of magic moments along the road.
When the tour ended in December '93 there were mixed feelings of sadness and relief - working with Paul and Linda and the guys had really given me back the joy of playing again and it was tough to stop, but it was sort of left up in the air that we'd reconvene another day and as I had a ton of song ideas that I hadn't had the time to pursue to a conclusion I was glad to finally have the time to begin working on my own music.
As I was putting the finishing touches to this I received the the sad and shocking news that Linda had died. I hadn't seen her or Paul in a long time as I kept my distance, hoping that everything would be all right and respecting their privacy in dealing with her illness. Now it's too late. She was a good buddy to me those long hours of hanging around backstage waiting to play, our own little support group. My heart goes out to Paul, Heather, Mary, Stella, James, her brother John and the rest of the family.
I had been having such a good time playing with Blair, Wix and Robbie, that when I got back to the UK and wanted to get out and play some of the tunes that had been burning a hole in my pocket, it seemed to make perfect sense to ask them to do the gig with me. Pino Palladino came in on bass and Danny Cummings on percussion. We played one gig at the Borderline in Soho, London. Without my knowledge, the venue had billed us as Hamish Stuart and the Paul McCartney Band. I realised that it would always be perceived that way so I decided to wait a while to get my feet wet with a new team.
As 1994 loomed I started to work on all the ideas I had kicking around and new songs like 'Same Old Moon' and 'Reach You' started to materialise; 'I Don't Wanna Be A Rock' was written with Graham Lyle; 'It Is What It Is' with Frank Musker and Richard Darbyshire; 'Midnight Rush' with Bluey and his partner Richard Bull from Incognito and 'Suffer For You' with a lyric by my friend Ken Dampier. Different demos done in different studios with different people meant that the direction was not totally clear and I knew that a band was the only way to solidify that - but I wasn't ready to make that move yet. Frank Musker called to say that Claudio Dentes from 'Psycho Stuidos' in Milan had heard 'It Is What It Is' and wanted to record it, so we met up and a few weeks later I went there to start work on it. I made occasional trips over the next few months until we finished a 3 track CD containing 'It Is What It Is' and two new tracks - 'Care For You' and 'La La Land'. Just before I flew to Milan for the final mix I finally figured out the kind of line-up I needed for the band and who I wanted to play with. I asked Ian Thomas in on drums - I'd heard him a couple of years previously in Jim Mullen's band and more recently with Tony O'mally - and Pino Palladino on bass.
Adam Phillips and Andy Wallace who Frank Musker had turned me on to, came in on guitar and keyboards - 2 terrific players who could also cover backing vocals - a nice plus and my long time friend Jody Linscott added the percussion that a lot of the material needed. The only other element I wanted to have was saxophone... essential; Nigel Hitchcock provided this on alto sax. Our first gig was the Mean Fiddler in north west London. Even with all the new material and the two or three old AWB tunes I had selected, we still had to throw in a blues and an uptempo jam of the great Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready' which I had cut a few years before with Phil Upchurch and The Emotions to fill things out and keep it loose. It was wonderful to finally get started and it made the picture much clearer as to what needed to be done for the future.
Ideally, I wanted a sort of residency where we could develop quietly without being under the microscope. The 606 Club in Chelsea gave me the opportunity to do this and things really started to come together quickly down in the basement. The vibe is perfect and occasionally the likes of Brian Auger, Hawk Wolinski and Jim Mullen come by and sit in. Recently my old compatriot Dundee Horn, Molly Duncan joined us for an evening. I still take time out to do other things which I find important in avoiding the 'tunnel vision' of one project. One such diversion was the L.A. jazz funk band 'Hiroshima' who have a conventional western rhythm section but augment with traditional Japanese intruments like Shackuhachi Flute, Kodo Drums and the beautiful Koto. Having met this lovely group of people before made it an easy, pleasurable experience. Also working with the producer Robin Millar of 'Sade' fame was superb.
Robin really knows what he's after and it's always good to work with someone that focused who can also help you get to the level of performance you want to achieve.
In March of 97 Claude Nobbs, who runs the Montreaux Jazz Festival, called me to do a show in Gstaad, Switzerland with Quincy Jones. I had met 'Q' in the studio once before but had never worked with him. Needless to say I was 'jazzed' by the opportunity and said yes immeadiately. Later I found out that we were to play a film festival which was honouring him and it would be with a full orchestra, plus Greg Phillinganes on keys plus the added bonus of my old partner Steve Ferrone on drums.
Quincy's lovely daughter Jolie, Monica Mancini (daughter of Henry) and Patti Austin were to be the other vocalists. I hadn't seen Patti in years or Steve in at least one, so we had a ball together. It was a terrific group of people and became like a little club for the four or five days we spent together. I don't recall ever being as nervous as I was at that first rehearsal - doing 'In The Heat Of The Night' with full orchestra and the author conducting but 'Q' put me at ease pretty quickly by giving me my new nickname 'Hamhock'. The show was beautiful - everybody doing their particular piece - Patti and I duetted on 'Everything Must Change' which was a real treat then she, Greg and myself traded verses on the closer 'Let The Good Times Roll'.... and they did.
The line-up of the band has changed slightly since it's inception. Steve Pearce stepped in to replace Pino early on and brought a lot to the party. Around the summer of '97 Nigel departed to work on his solo thing and Chris 'Snake' Davis arrived on the scene with some authority to take his personal place in the equation. At the end of January 98 I did a little guest shot with Snake and his band in the north of England.
'Sooner or Later' was finally put together with the team and released in June '99 followed by 'Jimjam' with Pino, Ian and Jim Mullen in April 2000 and 'Real Live' in March 2001. There's still plenty of music to be made so that's what I'll be endeavouring to do - we'll try to keep everybody who wants to know up to date.