Swimmming with Superman
“It was in the 70s, I was learning to swim and used to practise in the pool at Grosvenor House in Park Lane.
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.
Grosvenor House, Park Lane
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“.
Moments with Steve Marriott
"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.
Graham with Steve Marriott
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”.
The screamable Walker Brothers
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."
Sampaguita, Pretty Flower Sampaguita
Sampaguita, part of the Jasmin family
It was 1978 in London and Graham was doing an album at Pye Studios.
In the studio were: Godfrey Wang on piano, Nigel Martinez on percussion, Colin Pincott, guitar, Robbie Tate on drums, Yusuf Allie also on guitar and Delisle Harper on bass guitar. Says Graham, "They were all top musos."
They’d spent two days recording and were now mixing and tracking solos. Howard Barrow, who ran the studio department at Pye, came into the control room and said, "Got someone recording in the other studio, do you mind if he comes in and listens to your music?"
Graham indicated, ‘no problem’ and the guy, an American, came in and sat down unobtrusively in the corner. They were doing a Latin number written by Graham and Jack Keller called Sampaguita, Pretty Flower Sampaguita, named after the Philipino national flower.
It had already been recorded by Moacir Santos – a Brazilian jazzman – on his album ‘Carnival of the Spirits’ in March 1975 and featured Jerome Richardson, Harvey Mason and Dean Parks amongst others.
The album became popular on the London jazz scene, which was where Godfrey Wang, a top jazz pianist, heard it. Says Graham, “As my friend Godfrey knew it, we decided to include it on the session in 1978″.
The ‘unobtrusive’ American guy stayed for about twenty minutes or so , then said, "Like the track very much, thanks for letting me listen," then left the studio.
Godfrey, cool as ever, leaned over to Graham and said, “Don’t you know who that is”? Graham shrugged. “That’s Stan Getz”, he added.
"Stan Getz, no!" Graham said in disbelief. Then it occurred to him that Stan might like to put a solo on the track. He took off to Howard Barrow’s office.
"Don’t even think about it," Howard’s voice was heard shouting adamantly. "Or you’ll never use this studio again." So that was that. Back in the control room Godfrey mused, "These jazzers, you know, if they like it, they’ll do it!" and he and Graham were left to ponder over how good it would have been to have Stan Getz on the track.
A decade later in Malibu, California, Graham was working on a place that had Arab stallions, run by a woman who was into healing horses.
Says Graham, "One day she said, ‘I’ve got a neighbour who’s very sick. I’m going to see if I can help him at all’. We went round there and it was Stan Getz who opened the door. He looked rather frail – so I didn’t mention the incident in the studio."
Three songs for Carl Perkins
‘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’
Rubbing shoulders with Chet Atkins
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’.
‘To Graham, good luck with your playing’ Chet Atkins
A very your Graham practicing with his guitar
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.