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Joe Boyd on 'Making Music in the 1960s'

Record producer Joe Boyd has worked with Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, Richard and Linda Thompson, R.E.M. and many other musical acts. He has a new memoir, called White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s.

45:00

Other segments from the episode on March 20, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 20, 2007: Interview with Joe Boyd; Review of Natsuo Kirino's novel "Grotesque."

Transcript

DATE March 20, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Joe Boyd, record producer and author of the new memoir
"White Bicycles," on producing albums and festivals in the '60s
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Joe Boyd's new memoir is subtitled "Making Music in the Sixties." He didn't
play music but he made it possible for a lot of great musicians to perform and
record. He produced recordings by Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton and the
Powerhouse, the Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Soft Machine,
Nico, and Jeff and Maria Muldauer, and he produced the soundtracks for the
films "Deliverance" and "A Clockwork Orange."

Boyd is American but he moved to London in the '60s, where he opened a
psychedelic music club called UFO. His memoir, "White Bicycles," ends in the
early '70s but his music career continued, including founding his own record
label, Hannibal. Boyd started off as a jazz and blues concert tour manager in
Europe, working for George Wein's production company. He was the production
manager at Wein's 1965 Newport Folk Festival, overseeing the sound when Bob
Dylan stunned the crowd by going electric. Here's how Dylan and his band
sounded.

(Soundbite of "Maggie's Farm")

Mr. BOB DYLAN: (Speaking)
Let's go!
(Singing) I ain't going to work on Maggie's farm no more
I ain't going to work on Maggie's farm no more
Well, I wake up in the morning, fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a headful of ideas that are driving me insane
It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain't going to work on Maggie's farm no more

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Joe Boyd, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, what were you thinking about
when you did the sound check for the electric part, the plugged-in part of his
performance?

Mr. JOE BOYD: Well, that moment on Sunday night was the culmination of a
very intense summer and few weeks and few days building up into a greater and
greater level of intensity of excitement about what Dylan was going to do at
Newport, and now we knew and we were absolutely buzzing. We just were very,
very excited about it.

GROSS: But there were people complaining backstage when the performance
actually started that it was too loud?

Mr. BOYD: There were people very involved with the Newport Folk Festival,
wonderful, idealistic people who were horrified by what Dylan was doing, who
were devastated by the implications of what he was doing, and the
manifestation of it that night was volume. It was way too loud. It was the
loudest thing anybody had ever heard. It wasn't that loud by today's
standards, but I think those people there had never heard anything quite so
loud, and Alan Lomax and Theodore Bikel and Pete Seeger were desperate to get
the sound turned down.

GROSS: And did you follow through on their desperate request?

Mr. BOYD: Well, they finally, when realizing that they couldn't really get
to the sound controls themselves, they asked me to go out there and deliver a
message and, as it happened, sitting with Paul Rothchild and Albert Grossman,
Dylan's manager, at the controls was Peter Yarrow, who was also a member of
the board of the Newport Folk Foundation...(unintelligible)...

GROSS: And this is the Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary?

Mr. BOYD: Yeah. And he was loving what was going on, and so when I
delivered the message, `You've got to turn the sound down,' Peter Yarrow said,
`Tell the other members of the board that the board is represented at the
sound control and out here in the audience. This member of the board thinks
it sounds fine.' And then he extended his middle finger as a little coda, but
I did not relay that last part to the three backstage.

GROSS: So how did you interpret the audience reaction to what Dylan was
doing?

Mr. BOYD: Well, there was a lot of noise. You know, I'd gone--I'd grown up
going to, occasionally going to the Yankee Stadium, hearing people when Bill
Skowron came up to bat, you know, going `Moose! Moose! Moose!" because that
was his nickname and you at first thought people were booing and I felt it was
similar, that most people were screaming "More, more, more!" because Dylan
only did three songs. He was supposed to do 45 minutes and he only did three
songs and then disappeared, and so most of the noise I interpreted as being
"more." Now whether they wanted more specifically without the electric band or
whether they just wanted more--here were a lot of people who were complaining,
who were upset, who were excited. There were fights in the audience. I mean,
there was a lot of energy and activity in response to this.

GROSS: And that...

Mr. BOYD: I wouldn't say it was totally rejecting at all.

GROSS: And that night did you say to yourself, `I have just participated in
an important moment of music history?'

Mr. BOYD: Absolutely. Everybody knew all weekend that this was a clash of
cultures, that this was a shifting of tectonic plates; the culture camp had
been manifested all weekend. You know, there was a fistfight between Alan
Lomax and Albert Grossman on Saturday afternoon. They tried to ban Grossman
from the festival, the old guard of the Newport Folk Foundation, and it was
just everywhere in the air, this absolute conflict, which we would, I guess,
later call a generational one.

GROSS: You worked with George Wein's folk, blues and jazz festivals in the
United States and touring through Europe. How did you get from that to moving
to London, where you ended up working with a lot of rock, psychedelic, blues
and folk rock bands?

Mr. BOYD: A few weeks after Newport '65 there was a--George Wein promoted a
little folk festival in Connecticut somewhere at a ski resort, and Judy
Collins was the featured artist, and Jack Holzman from Elektra was there, and
I had a few too many little plastic cups of wine and sounded off to Holzman
about how pathetic his Elektra records operation was in England and how the
stores didn't stock it because they were too expensive and there was no
promotion and what did he think he was doing, and I thought afterwards, `Oh my
god, I really put my foot in my mouth,' but about a month later I got a phone
call inviting me for a meeting and inviting me subsequently to go to London
and open the Elektra records office in London.

GROSS: Well, in England, early on in your stay there, you put together a
blues band featuring Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, along with Steve Winwood
that was, I think you could call it a forerunner of Cream, a band called Eric
Clapton and the Powerhouse. How did you help put this band together?

Mr. BOYD: Well, when I was in New York, just before I left for London, I had
a lot of meetings, and my friend Paul Rothchild, who'd helped get me the job,
who was producing records for Elektra at that time, he was putting together a
compilation of electric blues that was going to include the Lovin' Spoonful
and Paul Butterfield and Tom Rush and Al Cooper and a few other people, and I
said, `Don't finish it. Leave a few tracks. When I get to England I'll sign
an English blues band, and it'll be the first trans-Atlantic collaboration
inside Elektra.' And he said, `Oh, that's a great idea.'

And I got to England and was very chagrined to discover that every blues band
in the country was basically--that was any good--was signed to a contract with
Decca or EMI or somebody, and I was beginning to feel that I'd really
embarrassed myself. And I was really lucky because Paul Jones, who was the
lead singer for Manford Mann, walked through the door to try and sell me some
other record that he'd produced himself and I told him about this project and
he said, `Oh, you don't need to sign a blues band, we'll just put together an
all-star team.' And he proceeded to--we made a list on the back of an
envelope, and two days later he called me up and said, `Yeah, they'll all do
it except for Ginger Baker who's on tour, and we'll get somebody else.'

GROSS: And you had them record the Robert Johnson classic "Crossroads." Why
did you choose that?

Mr. BOYD: Well, that's putting it a bit strongly to say that I chose it.
I--every--the key figures, Paul Jones and Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton were
each going to have a featured song, and Paul and Steve chose their songs but
Clapton hadn't really made up his mind, and so I invited him to come by and
chat about it. And I suggested that--he had a lot of ideas about Chicago
blues that he'd been doing on the road with John Mayall, and I said, `Well,
you know, that seems maybe a bit obvious. What if we took something, an old
country blues, and sort of brought it up to Chicago, even though it never made
that journey,' and sort of toyed with that. And he said, `Oh, that's a cool
idea.' And we spent an afternoon playing through our respective record
collections of old country blues, and we quickly focused in on Robert Johnson
and he really engineered this combination of a song called "Traveling
Riverside Blues" and "Standing at the Crossroads," and got--stole the guitar
riff from one and most of the lyrics and the song structure from the other and
created a classic.

GROSS: Well, we should hear the results. This was recorded in 1966.

(Soundbite of "Crossroads")

Mr. STEVE WINWOOD: (Singing)
I went down to the crossroads
Fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroads
Fell down on my knees
I asked the Lord for mercy
Save you if you please
Oh I was standing out in the crowd...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, featuring Eric Clapton on
guitar; Steve Winwood, vocals; Jack Bruce, bass; Paul Jones, harmonica; and
this was produced by my guest Joe Boyd, who's produced a lot of incredible
records over the years, and he has a new memoir called "White Bicycles" about
his music-making career in the 1960s.

You probably wish that you'd continued to produce Eric Clapton and then Cream?

Mr. BOYD: Well, sure, but you know, he--you can't, you know, cry over spilt
milk, and I think--I realized--Eric was, you know, he realized that electric
at that point was changing. You know, it had been the label of Phil Ochs and
Judy Collins and stuff, and Rothchild had really engineered a change and
signed Butterfield and he signed The Doors and Tim Buckley and Love, and so it
was suddenly becoming this kind of hip label. And Clapton was aware of this
and he told me about this group he wanted to put together, and I said, `Well,
you know, what about it? Signing for Elektra.' And he said, `Well, sure.'

And then he put me on the phone with his manager who was this guy called
Robert Stigwood, who managed the Bee Gees and, you know, was a big wheeler
dealer in the English music business, and within about 30 seconds of the
conversation beginning, I knew I was totally out of my depth and I had no
chance of impressing Robert Stigwood and plus which, Elektra and Jack
Holzman--Jack Holzman said, `Well, I didn't think Clapton was that good a
guitar player, you know.' So...

GROSS: Well, I hope he ate his words sometime later.

Mr. BOYD: Yeah.

GROSS: My guest is Joe Boyd. His new memoir is called "White Bicycles:
Making Music in the Sixties." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Joe Boyd. His new memoir, "White Bicycles: Making Music
in the Sixties," covers the time when he produced jazz and blues concerts,
opened a psychedelic music club in London, and produced records.

Well, you went on in London to co-found like a psychedelic music club that
also showed movies. Did you feel connected to that psychedelic rock scene,
having come out of jazz and blues?

Mr. BOYD: Yeah. London was amazing in 1966, and I had a lot of very good
friends who were in something called, you know, I don't know, this sort of
self-titled underground scene in London, and I was a kind of adviser to this
thing called the London Free School, which was trying to revolutionize
Knotting Hill Gate and empower poor people and, at the same time, raised money
by putting on fund-raising events starring Pink Floyd and a light show, and
most people who came were kind of, you know, taking various substances. And
so I was very involved in that whole world, and it was the most exciting thing
going on. I mean,the blues scene of 1964, '65, I could feel, was being
trumped in a way by what Pink Floyd were doing and Soft Machine and some other
groups that were beginning to explore, you know, new ways of making pop music.

GROSS: Well, you mentioned Pink Floyd. They were kind of like the house band
at your club, which was called UFO, and you produced their first single. How
did you get to do it?

Mr. BOYD: Well, that's the real disappointment, even a greater
disappointment than not signing Cream, because I left Elektra--Jack Holzman
and I agreed to disagree and had one of those `You can't fire me, I quit'
conversations. And so I needed to make some money. I needed to figure out a
way to support myself in England, and I tried to set up a deal for Pink Floyd
and I got them a deal with Polydore Records, but an agent got involved and he
said, `Oh no, no, no, no. We can better deal at EMI' and in the end, we made
the single "Arnold Lane," I produced it for them, and they took it to EMI and
EMI gave them a nice big advance.

And in those days, EMI was a very conservative, old-fashioned company, and
they wanted groups to record in their studios with their in-house producers,
like George Martin. I mean, you know, to work with the Beatles was a pretty
good model. You couldn't really argue with him, and so I was kind of left
behind as Pink Floyd went forward with EMI.

GROSS: Well, we should hear the single that you produced. Why don't we hear
"Arnold Lane"? I want you to introduce it to us and tell us why it didn't get
airplay at first on the English radio stations.

Mr. BOYD: Well, "Arnold Lane," Pink Floyd's first single, written by Syd
Barrett and it's a story that actually resonates with Syd Barrett and Roger
Waters, the bass player of Pink Floyd, because they both grew up in Cambridge
and both their mothers took in student boarders and they, early on, they
learned that girls were much neater than boys and didn't smell as much and
didn't mess up the place. And so they took in girl boarders, students at the
local universities. And that meant a lot of lingerie drying after the laundry
in the backyard, and there were incidents over the years as they were growing
up with items of underclothing going missing, and there was a famous case in
Cambridge of somebody who was arrested for stealing these kinds of things. So
this song is a tribute to this imaginary character that pilfered the lodgers'
knickers, and the BBC felt it was just a little bit risque and they refused to
play it.

GROSS: So here's the record. This is "Arnold Lane," Pink Floyd's first
single, produced by my guest Joe Boyd, who's written a new memoir called
"White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s."

(Soundbite of "Arnold Lane")

Mr. SID BARRETT: (Singing)
Arnold Lane had a strange moment
Collecting clothes, to shine
washing line
They suit him fine
On the wall
Hung a tall mirror
Distorted view
See through baby blue
(Unintelligible)
Oh, Arnold Lane
It's not the same
Takes two to know
Two to know
Two to know...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: OK. Well, Joe Boyd, just before we heard this, you were explaining
that the lyric was considered slighlty too risque by the BBC. Did it ever get
airplay?

Mr. BOYD: I think it got airplay on pirate ships, it got airplay on Radio
Luxembourg...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BOYD: ...which was a kind of legitimate pirate, and it got some airplay
on the BBC before they kind of realized what it was about, and then they kind
of stopped it.

GROSS: Well, you worked with Pink Floyd before they started recording, you
produced their first single, and then the band signed with a label and you
didn't produce them anymore. You probably continued to follow their careers,
and I wonder what it was like for you to watch Syd Barrett as he started to
flip out.

Mr. BOYD: It was very sad. I liked Syd a lot. He was a very bright guy,
and one of the things about him was he had these sparkling dark eyes and, you
know, girls loved him, but the Floyd were very anonymous on stage because they
were covered in these dancing lights, these kind of pulsating blobs of light,
and so they really didn't project personality much, they were a very anonymous
group.

And they played at my club, I started this sort of psychedelic ballroom once a
week in London called UFO, and they were the house band for the first month
and a half or something and then they played intermittently during the spring,
and as they got more and more famous, they played less and less because we
couldn't afford them anymore, but they agreed to come back and play one last
gig in the summer of '67. By this time, they were huge and the queues were
all the way down the block. I mean, it was an hysterical evening.

And I remembered there was no artists' entrance and so they had to kind of
make their way through the crowd. And I was standing by the door watching out
for them, and they all came by and said, `Hi Joe, how you doing, blah blah
blah.' and the last one to come by was Syd and I looked at him and because of
the crush of the crowd he had to pass really, really close to my face. And I
remember looking at him and smiling, and his face was just blank. It was like
somebody had reach in and turned off the light. And he went up on stage when
they played and just stood there, hardly touched his guitar, and they had to
play these long, you know, organ solos and stuff like that because Syd just
wasn't touching his guitar. It was really, really devastatingly sad.

GROSS: Joe Boyd will be back in the second half of the show. His new memoir
is called "White Bicycles: Making Music in the Sixties." Here's a recording
Boyd produced by The Incredible String Band.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Chinese White")

Unidentified Man: (Singing)
The bent twig of darkness
Grows the petals of the morning
It shows to them the birds singing
Just behind the dawning

(End of soundbite)

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Joe Boyd. His new
memoir about making music in the '60s is called "White Bicycles." It covers
the period when Boyd produced jazz and blues concerts, opened a psychedelic
music club in London and produced recordings by Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton and
the Powerhouse, The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Soft Machine,
Nico and Nick Drake.

After your psychedelic club, the UFO, closed, you brought together Sandy
Denny, the singer, with the band the Fairport Convention, and a really
important folk rock group came together. And before we go on with this, I
want you to explain what you think their importance was in the history of folk
rock.

Mr. BOYD: Well, the phrase `in the history of folk rock,' I think there are
probably listeners out there whose hearts are sinking right now, they're
sinking. And I assure them, don't turn that dial. It's not that bad. The
f-word has a lot to answer for, I think.

But there was a moment in the '60s where the Fairport Convention and maybe a
few other groups like Pentangle and Incredible String Band, that was another
group that I was involved with, made it kind of hip to mix a kind of popular
attitude and, you know, popular musical forms with traditional English folk
music, and this came about in a way, in a curious way, with the Fairport,
because they were--when Sandy joined the Fairport, Richard Thompson was the
lead guitar player, and that combination was incredible, I mean, that was one
of the great privileges I had as a record producer to work in the studio with
a group containing those two people at the same time. It was fantastic. And
the group was developing a style which was really quite American, quite ased
on American sort of West Coast rock and folk singer-songwriters and stuff like
that.

And they had a terrible accident and the drummer, Martin Lamble, was killed,
and their first idea was to disband, never play again. And then they thought,
`Well, if we were going to play again, we could never play the songs we played
with Martin. We just couldn't do it. So maybe we'll do something else,
completely new. Completely new repertoire.' And that spring of '69, there was
a record that every musician in London had. You used to see them walking down
the street under people's arms all over King's Road and Knotting Hill Gate.
It was "Music from Big Pink" by The Band, and that record hit like an atom
bomb, it was just so powerful as a record. And I think it cured the Fairport
of any ideas that they might have of doing an American repertoire, because The
Band was so American and so great and they did it with a such a fantastic
attitude that it closed that door. You just couldn't go there anymore. It
was just a waste of time.

And then I think they got the idea, `Well, maybe what we could do is do
something that's as English as The Band is American,' and they started going
down to Cecil Sharpe House, which is the archive of English Folk Dance and
Song Society and researching all these old ballads and things and came up with
this record called "Liege and Lief," which was recently voted the most
influential folk album of all time in Britain or something like that, and it
was a fantastic project. It was a very, very exciting time.

GROSS: Well, I want to play a track from the album that you just mentioned,
and this is called "The Deserter," and this is a traditional song from the
British Isles.

Mr. BOYD: Yes, absolutely.

GROSS: OK. And anything you want us to listen for on it?

Mr. BOYD: Well, the drumming is fantastic, I think.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BOYD: And Sandy's performance as a vocalist, and just the whole
ensemble, I think--to me, it's funny, I'd just kind of forgotten about this,
and when I was putting together the compilation to go with the book, I went
back and listened to "Leiege and Leaf" and, much to my astonishment, I said,
`That's the best track on the record.' I've completely forgotten about this
track. It's great.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is the "Deserter." Fairport Convention
produced in 1969 by my guest Joe Boyd.

(Soundbite of "The Deserter")

Ms. SANDY DENNY: (Singing)
When next I deserted, I thought myself free
Until my cruel sweetheart informed against me
I was quickly followed after and brought back with speed
I was handcuffed and guarded, heavy irons put on me
Court martial, court martial, then quickly was got
And the sentence passed upon me, that I was to be shot
May the lord have mercy on them for their sad cruelty
For now the Queen's duty lies heavy on me

Then...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Fairport Convention with singer Sandy Denny, recorded in 1969
and produced by my guest Joe Boyd, who's written a memoir about producing
concerts and records in the 1960s. It's called "White Bicycles."

Well, let me get to another really important set of recordings that you made,
and I'm thinking here of Nick Drake. And when you produced Nick Drake in,
what, the late '60s and the early '70s, he had a very teeny audience,
virtually, you know, hardly any record sales, and he's since become incredibly
influential, this like cult following. One of his records was recently used
on a VW commercial. I'm sure you never imagined--well, maybe I'm not so
sure--that you never imagined all that would happen. But let's back up. How
did you first start working with Nick Drake?

Mr. BOYD: A member of Fairport Convention heard Nick Drake at a benefit
concert of anti-Vietnam War protest concert, and he just came into the office
and handed me this piece of paper with a phone number and said, `Call this
guy. He's pretty interesting.' And I called Nick, and he came in and brought
me a tape. Later that day I put the tape on, and from the first 15 seconds
into that tape, I was mesmerized. I just thought, `Where is this coming from?
This is amazing. This is completely unlike'--I mean, I'd heard a lot of
singer-songwriters with guitar. This was so different and so unusual and so
sophisticated and so--I don't know, just hard to describe how--the qualities
that it had. It was so literate and so full of influences, but mysterious
influences that you couldn't put your finger on.

Anyway, so I made a record with him, and then that didn't sell, nobody bought
it, much to both of our horror. And then I made another record, and then
after that record, which had a lot of other musicians--John Kale did
arrangements on some things--and I left and moved to California and Nick
insisted on making his third record, completely alone, just guitar and voice,
and I thought it was mad, I thought his last chance of ever having a success
is gone now because he's willfully turned his back on anything kind of
commercial. But I believed always that Nick's music would get through, and
when I sold my production company I put a clause in the contract that Island
Records had to keep Nick's records in the catalogs at all times, no matter if
they never sold a copy. They could never bee deleted, that was in the
contract. And Chris Blackwell, from Island, to his credit, he didn't need any
convincing. He agreed to that immediately because he loved Nick as well. And
I always believed that one day, people would get it and it's just tragic that
they got it after he died, long after he died.

But Nick has the last laugh, of course, because of all the three records, the
best-selling record is "Pink Moon," the one that he did on his own with no
arrangements. And the one that I was proudest of, that I felt, you know, was
one of my triumphs as a record producer, sells the least.

GROSS: Which one is that?

Mr. BOYD: "Brighter Later."

GROSS: My guest is Joe Boyd. His new memoir "White Bicycles: Making Music
in the Sixties" has just been published. We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS:

My guest is Joe Boyd. His new memoir, "White Bicycles: Making Music in the
Sixties," covers the period when he produced jazz and blues concerts, opened a
psychedelic music club in London and produced records. When we left off, we
were talking about discovering and producing Nick Drake.

Now, you've put together a personal anthology of some of the recordings that
you talk about in your book and you feature Nick Drake's "Way to Blue." It's a
really beautiful track. Tell us why this one is special to you.

Mr. BOYD: I wanted to make what I considered a world-class first record with
Nick, and so the first thing I did was hire the string arranger who'd made the
arrangements from James Taylor's first record for Apple. And Nick and I were
both very disappointed. We just didn't think it worked. And Nick then said,
`Well, I have a friend at Cambridge who's done some arrangements for me, I've
performed with a string quartet, and he's--well he's not bad.' And Nick was so
diffident and so, I don't know, so hesitant to put himself forward that when
he actually said something like this, I thought, `Well, I'd better check this
guy out,' and I met Robert Kirby and invited him to do an arrangement, and I
didn't even know the song because Nick didn't play it on the guitar. It was
just voice and strings. And we came into the studio and Robert started
running down all the string parts, separately, individually, and the engineer
getting the sound individually. And I was so tantalized by this because they
sounded really interesting, and wonderful lines, and finally Nick started
singing, all the strings came up in the control room together, mixed
beautifully, and it was just fantastic. I almost wept it was so beautiful. I
just thought, `This is it. This is great.'

GROSS: So let's hear it. This is Nick Drake, recorded in 1969, "Way to
Blue," produced by my guest Joe Boyd.

(Soundbite of "Way to Blue")

Don't you have a word to show what may be done
Have you never heard a way to find the sun
Tell me all that you may know
Show me what you have to show
Won't you come and say
If you know the way to blue

Have you seen the land...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That was the late Nick Drake, recorded in 1969, produced by my guest
Joe Boyd, who's written a new memoir about his work producing concerts and
recordings in the '60s. It's called "White Bicycles."

Just a few years after this recording was made, Nick Drake died in what was
officially called a suicide. Do you question whether it was actually a
suicide?

Mr. BOYD: I don't know. You know, it's very hard to say. He was taking
anti-depressants, and this was the very early years of anti-depressants and I
know that the doses were very, very high in those days compared to what they
are now, and I know that there are cases where anti-depressants can make
people roller coaster, you know, go very elated one minute and very depressed
the next, and he evidently was very excited and elated like a few days before
he died. And I don't know, I suppose I'm just tempted by the scenario that he
plunged into an abyss of some kind and decided he needed to take more of these
pills that had made him feel so elated a few days before. But you'll never
know. There's no note, there's no evidence.

GROSS: You know, we've heard some really terrific music that you've produced
and, you know, you've told stories about how you didn't get the opportunity to
continue with the people whose careers you started. Some of these recordings
weren't appreciated in their own time, and so on and so on. A huge hit that
you had is something that apparently you didn't even like, and I'm thinking of
"Dueling Banjos" from the soundtrack of "Deliverance." Just tell us the story
of how you came to do this and how it came to be a hit in spite of what you
thought of it.

Mr. BOYD: Well, I was running this production company in London called
Witchseason Productions, and it was just, as you say, I mean, we had a lot of
frustrations, we had a lot of records people liked but that didn't sell, and
we were in debt and the whole thing was spinning out of control. And in the
middle of all of this I got an offer from Warner Brothers to come to
California and take charge of film music, and I thought, `Oh boy, I need a
break. I'd like to learn something new. I'd like to live in Laurel Canyon
and, you know, have a sybaritic few years after the stresses and strains of
keeping this company together in England and all these crazy artists who don't
sell.'

So off I go, and I take charge of the film music. And one of my first tasks
was to meet with a director called John Boorman who was working on the project
called "Deliverance," and he had been traveling in a car in the South scouting
locations and listening to the local country music radio and he'd heard this
song, and he'd actually had the presence of mind to tape--he had a little tape
recorder and he turned on the tape recorder and taped the last bit of this
song and then tracked it and identified it and he said, `Here it is. It's
called "Dueling Banjos," and this is what I want to make as part of the
essential element in the soundtrack,' and he had a scene that he wanted
somebody, an actor, to play the banjo and play that tune, and he said, `OK,
can you get the best guy to do it?'

And I immediately knew the best guy to do it was called Bill Keith, who was
the man who invented the Scruggs peg, who ghost wrote Earl Scruggs' book about
how to play the banjo, who'd been a friend of mine in Harvard Square in the
early '60s. And I got a hold of Bill, and he was touring in Ireland, trying
too learn out to play the pedal steel guitar, and he'd met a girl and he
didn't want to come back for the session. He said, `Get Eric Weissberg to do
it, you know. How much is involved here? Two thousand dollars? I'm not
going to be back for that.' And so I called up Eric Weissberg, who I also
knew, and Eric said, `Sure,' and we went down to Georgia and we recorded
"Dueling Banjos," backwards, forwards, fast, upside down, slow, every kind of
which way, and Boorman was delighted and used all that stuff in the movie.
You hear all of that stuff Eric did, up--you know, when they're rowing down
the river and everything.

And the key moment is when the banjo player and the guitar player from two
different cultures meet in the middle of the backwoods and they play this
duet, and Boorman thought, `This is going to be a huge hit.' The record
company absolutely refused, wouldn't put it out as a single, said, `You're
joking, this is nonsense,' and they gave him some promo copies, and he played
it on a radio station in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the next day the record
company had a record for 5,000 orders from the Minneapolis branch, and the
rest is history.

GROSS: And you were surprised?

Mr. BOYD: We were all astonished. Everybody at the record company and me.

GROSS: You know, I regret that we only have time to cover your career in the
'60s. There's so many more records that you made after that that would really
be fun to play and talk about. Before we have to end, I'm just wondering, you
know, you're interested in so many different kinds of music--blues, jazz,
rock, folk rock, psychedelic--and you've done so much, how do you think of
yourself as fitting into music history? I mean, how do you--where do you see
yourself fitting in as a producer?

Mr. BOYD: Well, I don't think producers make history. I mean, I think, I
like to think--my ambition, as stated in the book, when I set out, was to be
an...(unintelligible)...some shadowy figure in the background, and I think
I've succeeded in doing that, and it's quite nice to be, you know, shafts of
light occasionally coming back into the, you know, as I step forward a little
bit by writing a book.

But I always had a sense of history. Before I even did anything in the music
business, I listened endlessly to records from the '20s, the '30s, the '40s,
the '50s, from all over the world, from all different genres, and everything I
did, I always had, somewhere in the back of my mind, this little voice saying,
`Does that deserve to belong on that shelf with all those other great records
you have in your collection?' And I always had that sense of perspective.
That's why I tried not to make records that were too contemporary or too
trendy or too--had a sound that was too identifiable to a particular era. So
if I end up on sort of nerdy record-collecting kids' shelves in future, you
know, if they put my records up there alongside some of the great records from
the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, that'll make me very happy. That's how I see
myself.

GROSS: Joe Boyd, it's really been great to talk with you. Thank you so much,
and thank you for the great music.

Mr. BOYD: Thank you.

GROSS: Joe Boyd's new memoir is called "White Bicycles: Making Music in the
Sixties." Here's one of the jazz recordings he produced, featuring Chris
McGregor and the Brotherhood of Breath.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews a newly translated crime novel by
a celebrated Japanese writer. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Maureen Corrigan takes a look at Natsuo Kirino's
newly-translated crime novel "Grotesque"
TERRY GROSS, host:

The celebrated Japanese crime writer Natsuo Kirino made her American debut in
2005 when her novel "Out" was translated into English and became a finalist
for an Edgar Award. "Out" told the weird story of an abused wife who
strangles her husband and then seeks the aid of her co-workers at a box lunch
factory in covering up the murder. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan says that
novel was a sensation, not simply because it lured American readers out of the
tourist precincts of Japan, but because of its distinctive worldview and tone.
Another Kirino novel, "Grotesque," has just been translated into English.
Maureen has this review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:

Natsuo Kirino helps us aficionados of crime fiction imagine the kind of novels
James M. Cain might have written if he had been a Japanese feminist. That
same greasy smog of despair that hovers over the housing tract wastelands of
"Mildred Pierce" and "Double Indemnity" blankets the fringes of Kirino's
Tokyo. Like Cain, Kirino is a big believer in fate, not as an agent of
deliverance, but as the ultimate dead end to all possibilities, especially for
women. Kirino also reminds me of Cain in that she's not afraid to go over the
top. She spins out almost cartoonish plots about wildly twisted personalities
and laughable lusts that turn deadly. If crime noir is a genre that's
distinguished by its courage in exploring the outermost suburbs of the human
psyche, then Kirino, like Cain, fills up the tank, puts the pedal to the metal
and takes us readers on a long drive into the night without safety belts.

"Out," the first novel of Kirino's to be translated into English, has just
been published in paperback to coincide with the publication of a new hardback
crime novel by Kirino called "Grotesque." "Grotesque" first came out in Japan
in 2003. It's been translated from the Japanese by Rebecca Copeland, who
should have received combat pay for that job because the story it tells for
nearly 500 pages is emotionally harrowing.

Here are the bare bones of the tale. Two middle-age prostitutes named Yuriko
and Kazue, have been murdered in Tokyo. The murders are sensational because
both women were graduates of the same prestigious girls' high school. When
the novel opens, their murderer, an illegal Chinese immigrant, has been
arrested and put on trial. Case closed. Except the murders are really just
excuses for our narrator, the older sister of Yuriko, to begin a bitter
retrospective about her childhood and, most of all, the monstrous beauty of
her sister.

Yes, I said "monstrous," because one of the things "Grotesque" does so
elegantly is make a reader recognize how aberrant and disturbing great beauty
is. Yuriko and our narrator share the same parents. Their mother was
Japanese, their father a Polish businessman in Japan to peddle cheap Swiss
chocolates. While Yuriko is a knockout, our narrator, her older sister, is
drab and so much in Yuriko's shadow that she doesn't even rate a first name
throughout this book. But save your pity. As our narrator says, "Thanks to
Yuriko, I too have been blessed with a certain talent. My talent was the
uncompromising ability to feel spite." What follows from that admission is a
nasty story about incest and betrayal, bonsai and bondage, that readers have
been given fair warning to take with a grain of salt--or, better yet, a dose
of antibiotics.

While Yuriko's venomous older sister is our primary narrator, we also hear
from other voices, courtesy of Yuriko's posthumously unearthed diary, letters
from classmates of the girls, and the court testimony of the Chinese national
accused of the murders. At the quicksand center of "Grotesque" is the story
of the cutthroat competition that marks daily life at Q High School, the elite
private girls' school that Yuriko, Kazue, the other murder victim, and our
narrator attended. It's a place where the student hierarchies are sealed into
place on the first day of classes. Girls who aren't from wealthy families
might exhaust themselves, as our narrator did, in the struggle to excel in
their studies. Other girls, like sad sack Kazue, desperately attempt to
compete by stitching fake Ralph Lauren onto their knee socks and gluing on
thin plastic wands called Elizabeth eyelids in order to achieve the desired
Western eye fold. All for naught. The attributes that give women the most
power in this man's world are her father's money or her own beauty, such as
the fabulous, boundary-breaking beauty that was possessed by Yuriko.

That's a rather harsh view of things, of course, and surely a fantastically
successful writer like Natsuo Kirino is not asking us to believe that these
days a woman's face is her fortune. But in "Grotesque," as in all great crime
noir, under the heaping mounds of operatic passion and hyperbolic social
commentary, lays the shriveled corpse of a buried truth, perhaps still
shallowly breathing.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed the novel "Grotesque" by Japanese crime writer Natsuo Kirino.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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