Graham’s band, The Quotations, often backed The Walker Brothers when they toured the UK in the 60s. At that time, screaming fans were an integral part of the music scene and the most ‘screamable’ group was The Walker Brothers. Says Graham, “I’ve been in the wings when The Beatles were playing gigs and the fans were pretty bad but at least they got through the show. But, with The Walker Brothers, at times, we couldn’t get through more than two or three songs before the fans stormed the stage and the show was brought to a standstill. It was phenomenal! There would be Johnny Goodison on keyboards, Pete ‘Greg’ McGregor and Barry Martin on sax, Graham Alexander on bass guitar, Tony Mabbett on trumpet, myself on guitar and Jimmy Buchard on drums. Gary Leeds also got on drums when he came on stage. It was usually an eight to nine piece band . We played the James Bond theme as an intro and the screams built up as each ‘brother’ was announced. First Gary Leeds came on and the momentum got going as he took his place on drums. Then, John Maus appeared and volume increased and finally, Scott Engel walked on and the whole place erupted. Pandemonium broke out and the bouncers ran up and down the stage throwing girls off only to have another take her place. The Walkers went into their first number as their fans fought to get hold of them.
They regularly had their clothes ripped to pieces. Then the guys in the audience would get onto the stage and things sometimes got nasty. At a gig in Nottingham, scaffolding had been put up between the stage and the audience to protect the group. It was the first time I’d seen that and it appears things got worse after I left the band. I believe one night the girls stormed the stage at a gig and the manager turned a power hose on them. Greg McGregor was so incensed that he put his sax down, grabbed the hose, pushed the guy away and turned it on him”.
‘It was on The Animals tour in 1964 that I first met him. Carl was a great guy, one of the loveliest guys I ever worked with. I’d never met a Tennessee boy like that before, someone with that southern accent. He introduced himself – he was so ‘over the top’ and we all looked at each other. But he really meant it.
‘Really nice to meet ya boy’, he said. Some years later I went to see him at the Albert Hall – went to say hello. He said, ‘it’s ‘Frankiestein’ or ‘Frankie’ as he called me. He introduced me to Johnny Cash who was on the same show. That was the last time I ever spoke to him. He was playing at the Nashville Rooms in Kensington one time and sent me an invite to join him, but I was doing a gig somewhere. On the ’64 tour I spent a lot of my time chatting to him. He told me how he chopped off a couple of the fingers on his left hand whilst leaning into an electric fan on stage. He got them stitched on ok, but they got stiff sometimes so he’d ask me to do the solos on certain nights and let me use his Gibson Switchmaster guitar.
The morning he had the good news we were all staying at a country house hotel. As usual, Carl and I were sitting at the back of the tour bus as we waited to set off. Rick Arden, Don Arden’s step-son was the tour manager and he got on the bus and said, ‘I’ve got some good news for you Carl, it appears that The Beatles have released three of your songs. I remember saying ‘the drinks are on you today Carl’. I can’t remember his reaction exactly, he was a cool Tennessee boy, but I think he was pretty pleased’.
In his early teens, Graham became so ill that his parents were very worried about him. At this time his guitar kept him going and he practised to his hero Chet Atkin’s records. He liked Chet’s finger-picking style and played for hours until finally falling asleep as he lay in bed. A habit that has remained to this day. Unknown to Graham, his father had written to Chet and told him about the situation and how important his records were to his son. Soon afterwards a large envelope arrived containing a signed photograph of Chet with the words,
‘To Graham, Good Luck with your playing’.
From that moment he vowed to meet his hero one day and thank him. Later, Graham himself became well known for his finger-picking style – learned from Chet. In spite of several trips to Nashville, Graham had never seen Chet until one balmy evening in 1985. He had been invited out for a farewell dinner by his friend John Beiter and his wife.It was at a patio restaurant on Music Row in Nashville and Graham was due to leave for New York the following day.
The place was crowded with music people and as Graham made himself comfortable in his seat, he was aware that he was, literally, touching shoulders with a big guy at the next table. John Beiter quickly scribbled something onto a piece of paper and passed it to Graham. It said, ‘the man you’ve always wanted to meet is sitting right behind you’. Graham waited patiently for Chet to get up to leave and said, ‘excuse me Mr Atkins, could you spare me a few minutes to tell you a story. The reason I’m here today is possibly because of you’. They chatted for 15 minutes or so. Later Graham discovered that Chet also suffered illness as a child and fell asleep while playing his guitar – never losing the habit.