Tim Rose: Articles from Q & Mojo

Photo: Tim & me

Where Are They Now? Tim Rose by Martin Aston (1995)

"Tim" was a familiar name around the Greenwich Village folk scene of the '60s, but one with a tragically portentious ring to it. Tim Hardin and Tim Buckley were to die before their time, and many believe that Tim Rose went the same way. Happily, he did not. He is alive and kicking in New York City. Once a student priest, USAF Strategic Air Command navigator and member of The Journeymen, alongside John Phillips and Scott McKenzie, then with Mama Cass Elliott in The Big Three, Rose embarked on a solo career, bringing Hey Joe to the American public's attention. Jimi Hendrix copied Rose's arrangement for his first single. ("He started selling millions in England whereas my version couldn't get played on American radio because they thought I was advocating murder.") Rose's self-titled debut album also included his own Morning Dew, now considered an all-time standard, one covered by nearly thirty bands, from The Jeff Beck Group and The Grateful Dead to Einsturzende Neubaten. But while the song lived on, its writer disappeared from view after his fifth album, 1975's The Musician, which has just been re-issued by Edsel. Where is he now?, asked the review in Q113.

In 1974, Rose decided to relocate to London: "I'd been coming over and staying for various lengths of time from the late '60s onwards. Then a friend suggested I should be based in the UK because my albums were doing better there than in America, where I never got much radio play, and where my albums still have never been reissued. I planned to do a Hendrix, to make a career in the UK and then bring it all back home. But it didn't work..."

He started off playing the folk circuit, making good inroads into Europe and Ireland before releasing The Musician, a more rocky, band-based affair (Andy Summers and B J Cole contributed) on Atlantic. Yet the label didn't release a single or promote it, and the record was forgotten. "Maybe it wasn't what Atlantic wanted; who knows?" Rose lived in a flat "right in front of Chelsea's football ground" but admits it was tough to survive on odd shows and old royalties. "I ended up as a bartender at JR's disco on the Fulham Road. Let's say it was a reality check." Between 1977 and 1978, he recorded a new album, The Gambler, with producer Pierre Tubbs. "I liked his stuff and thought, what the heck, let's give it another go. But the album was never released The label loved the demos but seemed to think the finished record had lost all its flavour. I wasn't bitter: it was just reality and as much as I'd have liked to make records, it wasn't working, so I came home."

Back in New York, Rose became a carpenter: "You don't get rich doing manual labour, but it paid the rent." Then, through old contacts, he landed a handful of radio and TV commercials, so Wrangler jeans, Pepsi-Cola, Ford and Wheeties got the benefit of Rose's vocals - "I was finally making a living as a singer!" Yet it was hardly satisfying, and in a fit of re-evaluation, he decided to get a college degree. "I'd go to the occasional gig, or meet friends like Andy Summers and Sting or Pink Floyd when they came to town, but otherwise, I had to get a life. I didn't want to be getting older and walking around with old tapes and records, thinking of what might have been. College seemed to be a good start, though I'm still not sure why I took Political Science - it was hardly practical."

Rose graduated in 1982 with honours from Frodham University. Continuing to feel burnt out by music, he embarked on numerous ventures - booking comedians for two years, teaching geography at Hunter College ("they needed someone and since I had studied meteorology when I was a pilot, I qualified"), flying search-and-rescue missions for New York State Air Force ("looking for lost planes and skiers, that kind of stuff"), and as a licensed stockbroker - "Well, you can't make any money teaching. I knew that without a doctorate, I couldn't get a career as a teacher, and anyway, after three years, I realised it wasn't for me. Then the stockmarket crashed and business just dropped off."

After a student realised his lecturer was the same Tim Rose whose records he had at home, the campus station started playing Rose's music, "which got me thinking that maybe I'd do something again at some point." Rose found an agent and relaunched his advertising career, doing voice-overs and jingles, which he still does today. He also took an acting role (playing the head of a dysfunctional household) in what he calls "an industrial film" financed by Bell Telephones, the name of which he cannot remember. "People on the set were saying, 'Everyone here is so crazy; you'rs so calm, you must be a professional,' but it was my first time, and I was wonderful. It got me thinking that life wasn't over. I've just been offered a play off-Broadway, which the director seems to think I can do despite not being a trained actor, and I'm producing a couple of films too."

He has just produced an album [Embodied] for The Devas, released on UK label Mouse Records. "The same student who found me out at Hunter College sent me their tape, which I liked. I met the group, which gave me some new ideas, and we did the record." But what of his own music? "I've been writing some songs all along but I firmly believe things only happen when they're meant to happen, but you have to be ready for it when they do. Things have started happening now, all independently of each other. Mouse have offered me the chance to record a new album, a Dutch comapany contacted me out of the blue, wanting to make a filmof my life, Edsel have reissued The Musician, someone involved with the Playboy label, that I recorded my fourth album for in 1973, has asked if I'm interested in making a new album, and then I ran into Andy Summers about a year ago. He's doing little albums on his own and said, 'Why not write some new songs about who you are now and then we'll see what we can do?' I've let that all sit for a while, but all this stuff seems to be leading somewhere."

Rose says he would love to return to the UK and play again. "Yeah, Nick Cave has been talking me up over there, after recording two of my songs. There hasn't been a great demand for me to perform but now it's heading that way. But a couple of years ago, I saw Eric Burdon flogging The Animals, and it was very sad - I don't want to end up being a clone of myself. I'm not trying to re-live the '60s and '70s - this is who I am today, so to reproduce Hey Joe and Morning Dew ad infinitum is not where I'm at."

Only a Rose: Pete Feenstra tracks down a '60s name come to life again (1997)

"Married-divorced, depressed-ecstatic, creative-fallow and subject of more sightings than Lord Lucan." Virginian born singer-songwriter Tim Rose offers a wry summary of the interim years between success in the '60s and his renaissance as a hip cult figure in the '90s. Already the subject of a major Dutch TV documentary, and currently filling venues to capacity from folk clubs to the Albert Hall, Tim Rose is presently negotiating three record deals, the proud possessor of a possibly killer single and has embarked on a writing collaboration with Nick Cave. The earmarked single, Natural Thing, was only finished days before this interview, and gives some indication of the pace at which Tim is currently working. It's a very contemporary-sounding song with a lilting beat and some deep soulful vocal phrasing that acts as a neat counterpoint to contemporary keyboard arrangements.

"Yeah, I guess anyone who has preconceptions of my music based on the past will be surprised - pleasantly, I hope" explains Tim. "I like things like Nobody Else But Me by the Tony Rich Project. It's got a strong melody but it's also very sparse, and I like artists such as Joan Orborn and Tori Amos. These artists are all performing strong songs. It's not dance, and it's not disco and I thought maybe there's a chance for someone like me. So when my publisher offered me Trevor Cumming's Natural Thing, it appealed to me. It's got a good radio feel; maybe even a summer hit" [laughs].

In his role as an interpreter of song Tim appears to have come full circle. It was his version of Hey Joe that inspired Hendrix, and it was his version of Walk Me Out in the Morning Dew, as performed at the Fillmore, that prompted The Grateful Dead to record it. Throw in a couple of other classics, such as Come Away Melinda and The Gambler and you have a minute CV of a singer-songwriter worthy of the term 'legendary'.

Originally a five-string banjo player, firmly influenced by Earl Scruggs, Dan Reno and Eric Weisberg, Tim's musical horizons ranged from bluegrass, gospel and breakdowns (banjo solos)  through to blues. As a thirteen-year-old, he tuned into Wolfman Jack's cross-border radio shows from Mexico. "Jack would play Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins, Elmore James, etc., just simple gutbucket blues. It was the simplicity of it that interested me. I met Big Mama Cass and introduced her to bluegrass and blues and we formed the three-part harmony group The Big Three."

Tim eventually went solo, signing to CBS and he remained a recording artist until 1977. "I think I gave up too much control" says Tim about his latter years. " I actually got to a point where I wasn't enjoying playing the music I was writing or performing." But The Gambler did come out of that period.

Twenty years on, Tim finds himself working with rock dramatist Nick Cave - a fellow wordsmith who features on two of Tim's forthcoming trilogy of albums. The most immediate release promises to be Haunted on the Dress To Kill label. "It's a simple acoustic guitar and voice album and features most of the songs people know me for, but performed in a different way. It's what I call a stripped down album and is the result of the Albert Hall gig with Nick and features Long Time Man and a surprise track.

"Then there's a straight Tim Rose/Nick Cave collaboration album, which Nick has described as the songs he would do if he could sing. Nck's a great interpreter of musical drama and that appealed to me. I always felt there was a market for the Piaf French cabaret style in contemorary music terms. Nick offers performance art interpretations of songs like Mack The Knife and Je Ne Regrette Rien. My soul is like that: I'm not a live musical Jukebox. I talk a lot. I'm a slice-of-life performer - dave Allen with songs." [laughs] "I'm possibly the only performer whose rider asks for a pot of coffee, an ashtray and a stool.

"There's a lot of interest in selling songs now, but years ago people like myself and Tim Hardin lived off concerts rather than album sales. There's a healthier equilibrium now so I'm keeping my ears open and my mouth shut more than I used to," concludes Tim. "Although I'm still quite gregarious" [laughs].

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