JOHN VERITY – Interview > talks Argent, Phoenix, latest solo album!

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If you’ve seen a few of my recent posts you should know that British rock legend John Verity has been very busy lately with new releases from his ’70s post-Argent band PHOENIX, as wel as a new studio album. I’d also re-posted an interview I did with John back in 2000. So here was my chance to dig a bit more in to John’s career, as he talks about ARGENT, PHOENIX, his solo career, and his new and more more recent releases.

*John’s latest releases can be purchased through his website- http://www.johnverity.com

Interested to know how much say / input you had on the 2 ARGENT albums?  How were songs brought in and put together? 

Recordings for the Circus album were well advanced by the time I joined the band, so material was pretty much decided on.

I didn’t play any guitar on Circus, my contributions were just vocal, as all the basic tracks were completed.

I was involved from day one on Counterpoints but didn’t feel I had anything ready in terms of song material that would fit the project, so I didn’t put anything forward.

I did contribute fully in the recording of the album though, both on guitar, and most of the vocals.

Generally what would happen is prior to the planning of an album everyone in the band could submit demos of songs/material that they felt might fit.

It was clear to me that Counterpoints was going to follow a bit of a Jazz/Rock feel generally and I had nothing that I felt would work.

Of the 2 albums you did, do you have a preference, and what were your favorites off those albums to perform live?  Favorite Argent tunes from before your time? 

I don’t have a preference, I feel that both albums have their moments, there are some great songs, and some lovely playing from everyone involved.

I wasn’t too familiar with the band before I toured as their opening act. I had been living out of the country for some time, totally focused on my own music and didn’t get to hear Argent stuff until I returned to the UK in 1972. Rod, Russ, and Chris White are amazing writers and their material is great to sing and play so again I have no real favourites as everything in the show was both challenging and satisfying to perform. It was a great time and everyone in the band was as the top of their game.

Did you come to North America with Argent? Any memorable gigs, festivals…? 

Yes I toured North America with the band. Always a bit of a whirlwind to be honest with each day melding into the next so it’s hard to remember… I always did prefer the smaller gigs, like the Agora clubs, and the Starwood in LA. I like to see faces!!

With Phoenix, did you guys have a say in the album’s artwork? Very cool cover. Wondering if you’d having any recall on that? 

Yes, one of our strict rules on forming the band was that we would have total control.

We usually came up with a concept, then met with a team specializing in album art to bring it to fruition.

The only time this didn’t work was In Full View. We recorded the basic tracks in LA and did a photo shoot for our proposed cover.

On our return to the UK our label, Charisma didn’t like concept and persuaded us to change. It was a mistake!

You had previously told me there was unreleased Argent songs, as well as songs from an aborted reformation. Curious if  any of this stuff has ever seen the light of day, or will? 

I very much doubt this will resurface. I don’t even know where the tapes are…. Sorry!

That first Phoenix album is a classic guitar rock album, IMO. Can you give me any insight to a few of the songs and the writing & recording of tracks like “Easy”, “Woman Like You”,  “From The Ashes” …. ? 

Yea, I wrote a lot of the material with live performance in mind.  ‘Easy’ for example was meant to be a show opener. I visualized Jim starting with bass line on a darkened stage, then Bob’s big drum fill leading into the main guitar riff. Same with “Woman Like You’, which has dynamics suited to a live show. These two really did worked when we took them on the road. “From the Ashes’ was a song I’d had in my head for while. Jim had been messing around with Rod’s Mellotron and that finally gave me the idea for a mood that would suite the song and then it came together really quickly.

What did the Phoenix set list consist of back then [after debut]?  and do any live recordings exist? 

You know what? I really can’t remember the setlist. I know we did EasyWoman Like YouYou Got Soul, Are You Ready. I remember we did a drum feature called Dirty Water.

There is a well recorded bootleg from our show in Zurich but I never kept a copy unfortunately.

Can you detail the time and time frame of when the Out Of The Sun album was written and recorded?

We were writing material for Out of the Sun when we were on the road promoting the first Phoenix album. We even did some of the new material in the show.

This was 1977. When we came off the road after touring with Aerosmith we went straight into my home studio to make demos of the songs and pretty soon thereafter into Trident Studios in London to complete the actual album recordings. I asked Rod to play on the album and he has played on a lot of my recordings over the years. We’re still great friends.

Do you recall any clear memories or specifics on the tracks on Out Of The Sun? Any insight in to some of the tracks? 

We worked really quickly, meeting each day at my place we would play basic ideas to each other and thrash out arrangements whilst I recorded everything we did.

Next morning we’d start by listening to the previous day’s stuff and choose/reject songs each time until we were happy with enough strong material for an album.

Once I had nice recordings to refer to we’d get our Management to book Trident and we’d start again, fine tuning and laying down the proper album tracks.

How did the making of Out Of The Sun differ from the first Phoenix album? and can you recall how it was put to you that the record company wanted something different?

We worked in the same way as we did the first album. Same studio, same routine except that I wanted to stretch out a bit on a production level. Tying stuff out like real phasing and backwards guitar tracks… I think CBS were worried that what we were doing was out of stride with what was currently happening musically. Record companies tend to follow fashion…

So, where were the tapes for Out Of The Sun for the past 40 years, and can you tell how you came back in to possession of them? 

I kept the multi-track tapes for many years. Magnetic tape doesn’t age well, and when I brought the masters out of storage and tried to play them they simply fell apart on the tape machine.

There is a process whereby you bake the tapes and are then able to play them once and copy them but that didn’t work either.

So… I thought they were gone forever…

Then late last year (2021) Steve Rodford (Jim’s Son) called me to say that he’d found some recordings amongst Jim’ stuff. Steve hadn’t looked through everything since Jim had passed, and had spotted a box that looked ‘interesting’. To cut a long story short, I had forgotten that back in the day I had given Jim some mixes of the album when I was working on the tracks at Trident Studios. Jim took them home to listen to and then put them away safely. We all forgot about it. Steve said that in Jim’s writing it said ‘Out Of The Sun’!. So I jumped in my van and drove straight to Steve’s to grab the stuff and check it out. Together with Matthew White I was able to restore the recordings, then bring them to my studio to remaster. You’ve heard the results.

Was there more than just the 8 tracks on the album? Anything left out or any alternate takes? 

I’ve used everything…

One thing that’s interesting, is that you joined Argent on Russell’s recommendation [whom you replaced], but over the years you’ve covered some of the songs he wrote, obviously kept in touch, in a distant working relationship. Can you talk a bit about Russell as someone you’ve worked with, a friend or mentor [?]. And Russell as a songwriter, baring in mind all of the classic songs he’s written that ended up being hits for other artists!? I think more people know a few Russ Ballard songs than actually know who Russell is. 

I was obviously aware of Russell but didn’t really know him until the late ‘70s when I had a call from his management.

Russ was working in the studio and the engineer had become unwell. Russ had heard about my reputation as an engineer and wondered if I could help him out. That was the beginning of our relationship really and for a time we worked together every day in the studio as Russ wrote and recorded songs. (don’t ask me to list them!! Russ is very prolific.

I learned a lot during that time and have approached Russ for songs when I needed strong material – Phoenix was the first band to record ‘I Surrender’ (That’s another story).

We’re still good friends and talk regularly to put world to rights…

 There were a couple of Phoenix resurrections …[or attempts?] over the years. Can you mention a bit about any such shows or attempts to reform? 

Bob Henrit was in my band for many years after Phoenix ended, and we did think about doing some Phoenix stuff from time to time.

In 2010 an agency showed an interest in putting some Phoenix dates together and we decided to record an album to fit in with this.

The album ‘Still Burning’ featured Bob & I, with Mark Griffiths on bass and Ian Gibbons on keyboards. We finished it and were preparing to go on the road to promote it when the same agency suddenly announced a tour by ‘Argent – the original line-up’. This came as quite a shock to me of course, so I shelved the Phoenix album and used some of the tracks on my ‘Verity – Rise like the Phoenix’ CD.

Over the last few decades you’ve recoded a lot of albums. Can you touch on some of these more recent ones, such as Zep It Up, My Religion, and Blue To My Soul?  

Zep it Up was really just a bit of fun recording a bunch of my favorite Zeppelin tracks.

At the time my studio was in a truck, as I wanted to try recording in different locations/acoustic environments etc.

I was in the Northwest of the UK at the time and was checking out one particular location for rehearsing with my current band – John Clark on drums and Dave Kinley on bass.

It sounded great so I drove the truck there, ran some mic lines in and we spent a few hours messing around recording stuff we liked. In the end we recorded about 14 Zep tracks that day, and I spent another day recording vocals, tidying up and mixing. It became the ‘Zep it Up!’ album.

Soon after that I moved to my current home in the Southeast of England and built my current studio.

I write and record all the time here, with various guests and the guys in my current band lineup, sometimes just by myself.

Every couple of years I put out a new album and tour to promote it.

Over the years my albums have often been a mix of my own material with covers of some of my favourites from other writers.

If I do a cover it is seldom anything like the original…

As of writing, my latest album ‘Passion’ is all originals, it just worked out like that.

I tend to write about the things I care about, such as being in a band, touring and relationships though my stuff can be a little political too – with tongue in cheek…

You released Passion in 2020. I presume this was recorded before the pandemic and lockdowns!?  

Yep, my timing is diabolical!

Passion’ was released just as the pandemic hit. We were 2 days into the tour and had just played a festival in Scotland when the Lockdown was announced. That was the end of our tour, so we came home.

Passion definitely sounds inspired and energetic. Is making new music now still a labor of love?  How happy were/are you with how Passion turned out? 

Music is my life. I formed the first John Verity Band in America in 1970 and I had already been playing professional in bands since the early 60s.

Fronting my own band was a big move for me.

I love doing what I do, my whole life from early teens has been about music, to the detriment of everything in my life. I’m very lucky to have found an amazing woman, Carole who’s prepared to put up with it. I sing and play every day, our home is a 300 year old cottage far enough from neighbours for me to make music anytime without interruption. It’s bliss!!

I’m really pleased with ‘Passion’ but like most musicians there are things I would change. A note here, note there…

Can you touch on what inspired some of the tracks [musically] on Passion? [I know there’s details in the liner notes on lyric ideas] ? 

My music has swung between blues and rock over the years and I wanted to do an album that reflected that, and touched on some of my influences.

‘Higher’ is much like the stuff I was doing in the 80s and lyrically its about how I feel about my music. My harmonies are typical of stuff from that time, intentionally. It’s time-warp!

‘Get Wise’ it about what was the current political situation in the US. I think it’s sad that kids don’t seem to care about what’s going on around them…

‘Sand In My Pocket’ is a tongue in cheek conversation on what it’s like to be in a band being lied to by promoters/agents time and again. You end up with no money – just sand in your pocket… But we love it so much we do it anyway…

‘Broken Heart’ is about what we’re doing to our planet.

‘Big Stick’ I think it was Franklin D Roosevelt who spoke about Big Stick Diplomacy. The current (at time of writing) President should maybe take a leaf out of this book. The song, again with tongue in cheek refers to Trump and the UK Prime Minister Johnson.

‘Red Devil’ In the style of Cream I wanted to write about one of my musical heroes Ginger Baker.

‘Bad Boy’ I suppose is a really obvious tribute to another one of my heroes, Chuck Berry. He was a very bad boy, but he changed everything musically for me and countless other musicians like me.

‘The Open Road’ was never meant to be released, I just recorded it one day when I was feeling a bit blue. My Wife Carole pushed me to include it on the album.

I see you have vinyl copies of Passion at your website, might we see a vinyl edition of Out Of The Sun

I don’t have the budget to do this at the moment – but you never know…

I presume you have a home studio [?] Have you spent more time in it during covid? Any extra music projects to keep you busy until live gigs come back fulltime? 

I’m in my studio every day. As we speak I’m recording acoustic versions of some of my electric songs.

During pandemic I’ve been streaming weekly to a private group of fans from the studio.

Can you talk a bit about your own guitar playing and singing and who’s sort of influenced you, especially in later years, with more blues stuff? 

I was into blues early in my career and the influence has be there throughout but maybe not so obvious.

I started like a lot of kids in the UK in the 60s. Skiffle had just finished and we were listening to Blues & R&B records from America, and of course Rock & Roll plus pop chart stuff.

I joined a group and we would play the easy 3 chord stuff, then as the instrumental groups like the Shadows, Ventures & Duane Eddy came along we’d some of that too.

I wasn’t really interested in anything else so would play whatever I had to play to get gigs. A bit of a musical tart!

I would play R&B and soul, sometimes a little Jazz, and of course Pop hits of the time. My influences by then were the up and coming blues players like Eric Clapton and Peter Green. I was already heavily influenced by BB King & Albert King.

I was in a band playing Soul & Chicago Blues at the end of the 60s when the ‘Underground’ music scene kicked off and we morphed into a band called ‘Tunnel’. We would stretch out musically and that’s when I started writing. By then I was pretty confident to solo on guitar and I think I was getting my own style together. We were living in America by then and doing some pretty amazing shows. When Tunnel came to an end in 1970 I decided to stay in the US and formed my first John Verity Band with drummer Teddy Napoleon and bassist Mark Troisi.

By that time Jimi Hendrix had arrived and scared all of us guitarists to death, and I had the honor of opening for him in Miami, 2 days after my 21st birthday in ’71.

This first JV Band lasted for about a year then my visa ran out and I had to return to the UK.

At home I continued to work on the songs I had started in Miami, and began looking for musicians for the next chapter of the JV Band.

After a few false starts I found a great lineup with Ron Kelly on Drums, Gerry Smith on bass and Geoff Lyth on guitar and keyboards.

I had just negotiated a record deal with Probe/ABC/Dunhill and we set about recording what would be my first album.

My timing once again was dreadful!

There were political problems in the UK resulting in a 3-day working week meaning studio time was scarce, but we managed to get the album finished at last.

With the album finished the label wanted me to tour, and secured an opening slot of the upcoming ‘Argent’ tour.

The rest, as they say is history…

KJ, 01/’22

*Photos of JV courtesy of – http://www.johnverity.com/

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