“It was in the 70s, I was learning to swim and used to practise in the pool at Grosvenor House in Park Lane (pictured). It was usually pretty quiet there, just a few guests, but there was one other guy who used to come in regularly, an American called Chris. He used the weights and punch bag and we became good mates. I helped him out with his sparring and he returned the favour by racing me in the pool. He said he had to slim down and muscle up for a movie starring Marlon Brando. I asked him what it was like working with such a famous guy and he said he didn’t know because filming wasn’t due to start for a while. They were happy days and a couple of times I took my mate Peter Plow along and introduced him to Chris.
One day, a couple of years later, Peter rang me up. ‘What’s up Pete?’ I said,. ‘You’d better get down to Leicester Square Graham, I think there’s something you ought to see’. I rushed down there and saw crowds of people standing outside. I guessed it was a film premiere – nothing special about that. Above the cinema there was a twenty-foot cardboard cut-out of the leading man.
Then I realised what Peter was getting so excited about. It was the figure of my swimming partner Chris. In bold letters across the top , it said,
Christopher Reeve starring in SUPERMAN“.
“I was working, freelancing, you know, doing gigs and session work and I got a call from Ian Samwell who was producing a record with Steve Marriott – The record was ‘Whatcha Gonna Do ‘Bout It’. I seem to remember we recorded it twice because they booked me again. There was a pre-recording at Pye Studios, then another recording at IBC Studios in Portland Place where, I believe Glyn Johns was the engineer. If Glyn or Kenney Jones are out there please verify. Anyway, I know I did three or four tracks with them. They’d wanted Jimmy Page but he couldn’t do it and the second choice was me. I don’t remember whether the band was already called the Small Faces or if it happened after the record was finished but I do remember there was Steve, Ronnie Lane, (known as Plonk) and probably Jimmy Winston on keyboards and Kenney Jones on drums. I’d worked with Steve before and he sometimes dossed down at the place I shared with my then writing partner Brian Potter in Kings Road, Clapham. When I first knew him, I seem to remember he didn’t play guitar, but played keyboards and harmonica. He wanted to learn the guitar and I showed him quite a few licks and chords.
Years later I was in a sushi restaurant and got talking to a young Japanese guy. He told me he’d come all the way from Japan hoping to see Steve Marriott who was appearing at the ’100 Club’ with his new band. But he couldn’t get tickets. He seemed so disappointed that I said, ‘Come with me, I’ll see if we can get you in’. Steve was a tremendous performer, a very talented guy. I told the guy on the door, ‘Could you tell Steve Marriott that Graham Dee’s here’ – which he did. Steve had him take us to the dressing room. ‘Hey guys’, he said, ‘this guy played guitar on my first hit record’. He gave me a big build up and said some complimentary things. I left the young lad there, Steve said he could stay and see the gig. I’ll never forget the look on that guy’s face. Not only had he got into the gig but had spent time with Steve in the dressing room. I got a good feeling for making it so special for 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.