Tim Rose: Shakenstir Interview Photo: Tim & me
The following interview was conducted after a concert performance for the Shakenstir website, from where I lifted it, with one or two small amendments. I could not find any name for the interviewer, but will happily attribute the interview if I can obtain this information. A lot of what Tim says here is very similar to the conversation he and I had in a pub near his London home in October 2001. You can see this and other fascinating articles about a range of musicians by going to the website: www.shakenstir.co.uk. To obtain more details about this fine online magazine, contact tony.shakenstir@btinternet.com.

Tim, I loved the song called She Gave Me Wings, a real beauty…
You liked that? Thank you. It’s a true story, it really is true. She died two years ago of a brain haemorrhage; she was only about thirty-eight, a great woman, great. I wrote that song when I heard about that from a friend of hers from L.A. She was one of those people that no matter where you moved you could run into each other fifty years later and you’d still ‘ping’. You only have one or two people like that in your life, and she was the one for me. She was dating Woody Allen when I came to New York, or at least he thought he was dating her…

When did you start the music thing and how did it start?

It’s painful out there, you write your first couple of songs and they’re mostly minor key love songs. I don’t know why that should be but that’s what they start with. It takes a long time to learn how to write.

How old were you then?

I started when I got out of the Air Force in my early to mid-twenties. I met Cass (Mama Cass Eliott) at a party. I said to her, ‘can you sing this?’ and she said ‘yes’ and I played her some blues which she’d never heard before. She was a white chick that wanted to be on Broadway, you know… That’s where she got her name from, through Broadway people. And I played her some blues and blue grass which she’d never heard in her life. She grew up ten blocks from me and we never met! And I said sing this and she sang it perfectly. I said, ‘how would you like to form a group?’ and she said yes. So we took a little VW, went to Chicago and met a friend of mine called James Hendricks who looked like a choirboy; he was the virgin in the group; he was the one who looked absolutely untouched. But then he did teach Sunday school. Cass, Jimmy and I went to New York and auditioned for a friend of mine who’s still around and manages Prince and Alanis Morissette now, a guy called Bob Caballo. Bob turns to me and says, ‘hey, I don’t care if she sings, she’s fat!’ I said ‘you noticed’. He said it wasn’t going to work. Bob’s idea was that she had to be the beautiful body. I said it wouldn’t matter.

There were two guys that day, Bob and another guy in the back row who looked at me and he said, ‘how would you like to come to New York and open at The Bitter End for two weeks?’ I said, ‘great, and who are you?’ he said, ‘I manage Bill Cosby‘ I said, ‘oh! would you like to manage us?’ and he said yes. He called me the next day and said, ‘Hi, it’s Roy, it’s The Big Three’ and I said ‘that’s the name of the group, right?’ and he says ‘yeah’. Three weeks later, we were on national television and over the next ten weeks did a lot of TV with that group. So that was back in the early to mid-sixties. That’s when I got started. The group broke up; Cass was, let’s say, ‘unusual’ to work with as sometimes people can be. She and Jimmy left and formed another group.

I was up to my own devices and after about a year I was floating around. I worked for Gene and Harry Goodman; Benny Goodman’s brothers. These two old New York publishers with the cigars, ‘we’ll tell you what it’s all about kid…’, that sort of thing and I was saying, ‘yes sir, yes sir.’ But I did go to the Newport Folk Festival that year and I stayed with an old friend called David Geffen who had just left the mail room at William Morris to become an agent. That started another thing in that I got another group together and I wanted to do folk/rock. I didn’t know it was called folk/rock at the time but I wanted to take the elements of acoustic and I wanted to add guitar, bass, drums and I didn’t want to write silly rock ‘n’ roll songs - I couldn’t write like Chuck Berry, if I could I’d be wealthy! But I wanted to take some of those traditional songs we were doing and add the guitars and drums.

I was turned down by everybody, absolutely everybody! Everybody turned us down. I was working a club in New York called The Night Owl and this guy comes walkin’ in and he’s a CBS Records producer. Now he doesn’t produce music, he produces the spoken word; he’s in the middle of producing the Pope! So when I met him I said, ‘so you’re producing the Pope? what does the Pope do? how do your produce the Pope? Do you tell him to sing that chorus again?’ All he would do is when the Pope spoke he’d get the CBS microphone and switch on. So he signed me to CBS as a soloist.

I started then to get the idea that I had access to all these musicians and after a couple of false starts we made Hey Joe which came close to what I had in mind. That was about the time The Byrds had got together because I had known David Cosby in the folk days and it was all intertwined. Neil Young used to come up and watch me in Winnipeg when I was up there with the group (he told me this later). Then I did Morning Dew and then I had this idea to do this kind of thing and that’s when it really started. My record didn’t sell. The Byrds sold. I mean it was a good song but if Hey Joe would have sold (my edition wasn’t released in Europe but Hendrix’s was) it would have changed everything. The only difference between this man sitting here and Bob Dylan is that I never sold. Dylan writes different stuff than I write, not less valid, not more valid, it’s just different. And he sold and his stuff has been recorded by numerous people. The song Morning Dew has been recorded by one hundred and forty-five artists though.

I was doing the second CBS album and Paul Simon comes along and by this time he’s got money pouring out of every pore. He’s already got Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Graduate and the whole bit and he says to me, ‘you know the only difference between you and me?’ I said he was short and I’m not! He said, ‘no seriously, the only difference between you and me is that I had the luck that somebody made a hit record from me without me knowing it’ because Sounds Of Silence and all that stuff was put out without his approval. The album put out was a stiff. And some producer said, ‘let’s take the track and add organ and bass’ and it was a hit and Paul comes along and complains saying he hates it. The CBS guy said ‘you hate it? It’s number two and has just sold over 480,000 copies!’ And Paul was over here doin’ coffee shops at £10 a night! He said, ‘that’s the only difference between you and me, was that I had that and got lucky’. If I had been left to my own devices, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because I would have been dropped by CBS, probably would have stayed in England.

But your music also seems to come into the country area as well?

It could have. I have a lot of covers done in country. I did my first single down in Nashville with Area Code 615 and Charlie McCord, a couple of guys and this blind keyboard player. I asked how this blind keyboard player learned the music. He said ‘listen’ and I played this song and the guitarist turned and said, ‘one four one four one four one four six’ and they used a numbers system and the guy played it and never made a mistake! And then the Jordanaires come up to me and ask what I wanted them to sing for me. ’But you’re the Jordanaires and you sing for Elvis Presley!’ ‘Yeah, but we’re your back-up singers today’ and I was like a four-year old!

How old were you at that point?

I was around twenty-five.

So that was quite early in your career?

Yes. We did some great tracks down there and bought them back to CBS and they were ‘too rough.’ Clive Davis, the head of CBS, wouldn’t put them out.

What do you mean, ‘too rough’?

It wasn’t country but it was kind of folk/rock. We really tried to do it down there and we had these great players, like this guy asks ‘what guitar do you want me to play’. I says ‘how many have you got?’ He says he has thirty-two in his truck! These guys travel round sessions with thirty-two guitars in his truck! I says, ‘can you have a Tele by year…?’ He says ‘yeah, I can do a 60’s, 70’s…’ I mean these guys have everything. The bass player has twelve basses… ’you wanna a Gibson sound?’ It was great, you’re overwhelmed. But we did really nice tracks and Bob Johnson was producing me first and he played them for Clive and we flew to New York and we walked into Clive’s office with these three tracks we produced, and Clive says, ‘I hate ‘em’. One was Where Have You Been, You’ve Been With Him and Clive just cringed.

And finally we came to Hey Joe. We did Hey Joe in one take with me playing the changes; we played live in there and had an eight-track but nobody knew how to use it! We finished the track and there was absolute silence in the control room. I mean the engineer is sitting there and the producer, assistant editors - all quiet, not even talking to each other. I thought that it must have been awful! And finally Rubinson looks and he goes, ‘You might want to come in and hear this.’ ‘oh, okay’.

So we all go into the control room, we’re all crowded in and he turns on the play-back and we’re just floored! I mean, I’ve never made a record like this? Nobody’s made a record like this before, and it was all live and there’s nothing you can do to change it - well we could have but didn’t. At the end of the night at 1.30am, he calls Clive Davis at home, ‘you gotta hear this Clive’ and he wakes up Clive and plays it down the phone. Clive listens and then says that he wants that record out tomorrow morning! - Mr Showbiz, right?

So David came to my home that night and slept on the couch. At 8am we’re in the mixing booth at CBS (I think we forced out Mel Tormé or somebody) and we had it mixed by 9:30 in the morning and they had it out in two days. And 90% of the radio stations wouldn’t play it. You know why? They thought I was advocating killing! The promotion guy said ‘what! ‘It’s a song, he’s a singer, that’s the way the song goes, he’s not advocating anything, he’s a singer!’ ‘No, no, he sounds like he really believes it, we don’t take to that sort of thing in Memphis.’ Zippo, didn’t play it. They couldn’t see it was entertainment, a record. It was an interesting ride from then on. You know, being on the cutting edge is not always the most comfortable place to be and so sometimes you step back. Tim Hardin started off really balls of fire and he ran into the same thing we all ran into. After the second album and you don’t sell, you gotta change because if you don’t change, you don’t record. You just don’t record! And none of us could sit with that thing of ‘what do you mean, I can’t record?’ ‘No you don’t record.’ So you have to make that decision do you want to make records or do you want to make a point. People say the sixties were great but they really were no different to 2001.

And Tim Buckley had the same problems didn’t he?

Of course he did. Everybody can be a dilettante for so long and then some accountant at the back of a record label goes, ‘hey, I gotta tell you that your friend Buckley…’ Hell, they were going to drop Dylan eight or ten times at CBS; he didn’t sell. He still doesn’t that much really but he became popular with the college kids, but the trouble being that they would share it with thirty other college kids so they wouldn’t buy the record. So everyone knew Dylan but nobody bought it…

So nothing’s changed?

No. So they said, ‘we must drop Dylan‘ and half the production staff said, ‘you drop Dylan and we’re gone!’ You can have your Alanis and the rest but you gotta have Dylan. So they kept Dylan for the same reason they kept Leonard Cohen. Cohen said something classic about major labels. He said ‘I can’t believe that for thirty-five years my label has treated me with absolute disregard and yet still continues to record me.’ And he’s right.

The same with Springsteen?

Absolutely right, they still keep recording him and he keeps selling hundreds of thousands of albums.

It appears to me the songs I heard tonight could sell today…

Well, half of them were written in living memory of today. Bob Plant just recorded Morning Dew so it’s going to be on his new album.

Is it easier now to sell your kind of music than it was then?

What do you think? How many people were here tonight? How many people would be here if my name was Robbie Williams?

You seem to spend a lot of time in the UK now?

I came back four years ago, ostensibly to do some demos for a friend of mine over a weekend. But that was four and a half years ago and while I was here at that point in the latter part of '96, the Dutch film crew was working on my film and they met me at Heathrow and while they were here they interviewed Nick Cave for my film, and called me from shooting him and asked if I wanted to meet Nick. I said sure, why not? He said some nice things about me and had recorded a couple of my songs. So we met and they filmed it and the whole bit and I suggested that we do an album together and he couldn’t light a cigarette fast enough! But it was an idea whose time had not come but it was still a thought that got a lot of people interested.

So we tossed that around for a couple of months but didn’t do the actual recording although I did do the Albert Hall concert with him in '97. We did the Meltdown concert at the Queen Elizabeth last year. I also did the Queen Elizabeth gig myself in '98 and filled it very nicely. I can do that in London for some reason, I guess there’s enough fans there. We did the show that led to the six tracks on the Haunted album which are from that performance with Nick. Then one thing led to another and then that was it, adios. I was invited to his, I think, fortieth birthday party - at least that was what he said it was. Then I never saw him again which was fine.

But from that I put this album out and a couple of other things happened and in 1998, I sang in three movies and one was with Bob Hoskins in 24/7, one was the theme song for East Is East and one was a film called Charing Cross. And they were great songs. Then Channel 4 said that they would put the song on Supertramp, a film I haven’t seen. I just had a song submitted for a Mel Gibson film called Once We Were Soldiers which is currently being shot in the Philippines. I have a song I just wrote called Ageing Soldier which is to do with Vietnam which is what this movie’s about. And I thought this was too weird and I’ve got to do something about this, I can’t just let it lie there. So I called a friend on Thursday and his sister-in-law is Bernadette Peters, the actress, and Bernadette Peters is, as you know, Mrs Mel Gibson. So I sent two or three copies and it would be a gas if it came off.

You mentioned the Troubadour in LA tonight which is a venue was often frequented by the likes of Tim and Jeff Buckley and others?

Everybody played there but me. Well, I played there once. The guy who ran it was a guy named Doug Weston who didn’t own it (his sister did and still does) but he ran it. And he wanted to manage me and also wanted to shag me. And I said no to both and I never worked the club again. That’s not to say he didn’t want to shag Tim Buckley or Tim Hardin - but they had managers and I didn’t at the time. It was a great club and I probably hit my bottom at the bar of the Troubadour! I was sitting there with Natalie Wood and pretending I was famous - it was an amazing place. The Eagles were formed there.

What do you think about dead artists and their greater popularity after death. For example, Eva Cassidy, who recently topped the UK album chart, and of course Tim and Jeff Buckley?

Music is a thing that I do to fill a vacuum in my spirit; it’s an itch I can’t scratch; and somehow picking up the guitar and singing, writing songs, hearing songs produced, making records, playing along with other musicians sitting around. There’s something about the ability to play music, to take something that’s really thrilling. Sometimes I will surprise myself with my playing and I think there’s a large percentage of the population that because of the nature of where we are today in 2001, they can’t do that in their regular job because everything has become so regimented. It’s a whole computer thing, the cheque clears before we put our signature on it, and I think after a while a lot of us feel absolutely soulless. Many singers today can’t cut it live and perhaps people are going for artists like those that can. People want to see singers perform, see the sweat, get up close. They wanna be moved, they wanna be reached and some of these artists do just that whereas a lot of performers today fail. But then there’s the Ibiza crowd who just want twenty beats to the minute and that crowd don’t wanna be reached. They’re insulating themselves. I’m happy filling with 500 people and I’m happy not being Robbie Williams - they have nowhere to go because they peak, they don’t have long careers. There are so many people over the past twenty or so years who have had hit records but don’t have any careers now.

What about your future Tim? What are you going to be doing?

I don’t know the answer to that because I can’t really control it. If I could control it, I would choose to make music on record and have it played on radio, and play in front of a reasonable sized audience. Nick Cave played Norway last week and I played a club on Wednesday. I filled the club with three hundred people. Nick Cave played a twelve thousand seater and drew four thousand. Now that’s not the way to do it. They didn’t comment on how good the show was, all they said was that Nick drew only four thousand in a twelve thousand seater. That was his choice to book a twelve thousand seater. Promoters care if they sell-out, they don’t care about liking you. And if the seats aren’t filled they won’t have you back. What I have to build on is the ‘legend’ thing and being a survivor from a mythical period called ‘the sixties’. I have to be rediscovered by the industry. But I have also discovered that the audience is not prepared for the sort of passion and power that comes with great performers. But when they discover it, they won’t let it go.

A favourite song that’s not your own and why?

As Time Goes By. As to why, the sentiment is universal and timeless. The melody is fascinating. Come to think of it, I might start singing it live!

A favourite song of your own and why?

Long Haired Boy. Why? When I wrote it, I was jealous of all the groups who had thousands of fans. Secretly, I wished to have my own hit. So I wrote a lyric that criticised and extolled at the same time those young girl fans. You might say, love ‘em/hate ‘em. Paul Simon called this tune, ‘the best almost-hit I wrote’

Thanks Tim and congratulations on a great performance.

* * *


I got to know Tim and his music after this interview and performance in Wrexham. The last time I saw him was in the Summer of 2002 in Chester following the release of his brilliant, but unheralded album American Son. He gave a brilliant performance and talked to me about the UK music media’s non-response to his wonderful record. But he was in good spirits, although he seemed exhausted. I wished him well and said I looked forward to seeing him again in a couple of months time when he was playing Wrexham. Just weeks before this brilliant singer/songwriter was due to play the Wrexham concert, I received an email advising me of Tim’s death. I was devastated. I miss Tim, both as a performer and as a formidable human being.

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