Gary James' Interview With
Paul Carrack

You might recognize him as the lead singer of Ace, the band that had such a huge hit with in 1975 with the song, "How Long?" And incidentally, the singer of that song, Paul Carrack also wrote the song as well. Paul Carrack would go on to work with such artists as The Pretenders, The Smiths, Roxy Music, Squeeze, Ringo Starr And His All-Starr Band, and the list goes on and on. We're honored to present an interview with "The Man With The Golden Voice", Mr. Paul Carrack.

Q - Paul, you have never given up the road. You are one busy guy!

A - Yeah, I'm busy. It's very strange. I turned 66 this year (2017), but I like to think I'm in pretty good shape. I've been real busy. It's probably been almost twenty years since I started doing my own band thing, independently, making the albums and touring kind of independently. That started off really small, but it's kind of established in the U.K. for sure and some places in Europe. But also, these other things keep turning up like the Clapton thing which has just been fantastic. It's been really great. I've enjoyed that. It's very bizarre. Busier than ever.

Q - You've got your own recording studio. You've got your own publishing company and you've got your own record company.

A - Well, that sounds fancy, but it's not a record company. It's a label. It means I own my own stuff, which I never did before as stupid kid. As a stupid adult I suddenly turned 'round to find out no rights to any of the stuff, even Mike And The Mechanics. I had no actual rights to it. I figured whatever I was going to do from there on in, and as I say it's almost twenty years now, I figured at least I'm going to own my own stuff. Same with the publishing. You say I have a publishing company. Basically I don't have a publisher is what it means. I just register the stuff.

Q - How then do you get the word out to interested parties that you've written a song? You have to employ someone to make the rounds of record companies and/or publishing companies.

A - To be honest, I don't do that. I write for myself basically. The things I've done recently that have been covered, I had a song on the Eagles album "Long Road Out Of Eden", but I was specifically asked by Timothy Schmit to write a song for them, which is what I did. But I don't actually have anybody out there beating the bushes, which is a shame. Maybe I should do more of that. (laughs) There's only so many hours in the day to do stuff.

Q - That's what I was getting to. You're a musician with all these business interests.

A - It's funny 'cause my mom and dad ran the corner shop in Sheffield (England), which is where I'm from, this small area of working class Sheffield. My mom ran the paint and wallpaper shop. My dad was a painter and decorator. He did people's houses and we lived in the shop. We lived in one room at the back of the shop. That is where I kind of think it comes from. It's a curse I tell you. (laughs)

Q - Your father was also a part-time drummer?

A - I believe he was, but I think that was all before I came along. By the time I came along he was a full-time painter and decorator, and I mean full-time. He worked all hours. As I said, we lived at the back of the shop and there was an attic at the top which had these bits of old drums, bits of drum kits. I believe my dad dabbled when he was younger. He was a big music fan. He was the one who encouraged us to enjoy music. It's a pity he didn't live to see me sort of go on. He died when I was about eleven years old.

Q - Had your father not died would you have pursued a career in music? You said his death was a massive blow and it really turned your life around.

A - Yeah. There's no doubt about it. It was a major, major tragedy in our lives. My brother was 15. He took over the shop. As long as I kind of went to school, which I did every day, they (my mother and brother) had their hands full just running the shop, keeping a roof over our heads. They didn't really know what was going to happen with me. I didn't like school. I hated school. I found it hard. I wasn't academically minded. I already had started playing in little bands. I had a band at school and then I was playing with kind of a semi-pro band in Sheffield. I didn't want to get a proper job. The thing was in our family and most people around us in that working class area in Sheffield, work was it. You had to. It was un-thinkable not to get a job when you left school. There was plenty of work. I wasn't any good at anything basically.

Q - What I've discovered is that people who lose a parent at an early age are almost driven to succeed.

A - It's possibly true. I've heard that also. I mean, I wasn't driven to be super successful. I just wanted to be in music, to be involved in it and do nothing else. I've heard that also that people are driven. I think I still am. I'm 66 years old and I'm probably okay, but I still have that insecurity of thinking I gotta keep going. Probably most musicians have that insecurity. It's a tough business. Things change. You have ups and downs. That's the way it's always been.

Q - In 1964 you were where it was all happening. England was the place to be, wasn't it?

A - Yeah, they were exciting times. We thought we'd invented music.

Q - And in a way you did.

A - Well, we put our slant on it. There were a lot of bands in Sheffield. Tons and tons of bands. For instance, Joe Cocker. You could see Joe Cocker any night of the week in Sheffield playing in bars or what have you.

Q - Did you ever see The Beatles in concert?

A - Yes I did, twice. I saw them when they were making it, when they were really hitting. I saw them at Sheffield City Hall, which is where I play now. (laughs) It holds about 2,000, 2,500 people, something like that when it's rammed. I saw everybody there. I saw The Beatles, The Stones, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, you name it. Everybody came through. I did see The Beatles.

Q - That would've been in what year? '63 or '64?

A - I'm guessing '64. I'm not real good at those dates. It was a package tour. I saw 'em twice at least. I'm not sure if it was two or three times 'cause I saw 'em on the Roy Orbison tour.

Q - So, what'd you think? The audience was probably screaming so much you didn't get to hear too much, did you?

A - Yeah. To be honest you didn't hear too much. The girls were screaming. Everybody was gong nuts. I had just never seen anybody lay into the drum kit like Ringo, see the old hi-hat flailing away like that. It was incredible, but they were fantastic times. Every week there'd be a new band coming out on the TV. They'd have the clothes and the guitars. It was just fantastic.

Q - You must have said to yourself, "I want in! How do I get a job like that?"

A - Yeah. As I said, I was kind of playing in bands at school. I wasn't any good. I saw all these bands going around Sheffield in their transit van with all the lipstick written on the side. The girls would write, "I love you Fred! Dave's the best!" I'd see them hanging out, waiting to load into the youth club or working man's club and think, "That's what I want to do."

Q - Fast forward for just a minute. You were part of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. When Ringo asked you to be a part of that, what went through your mind?

A - (laughs) It was amazing. What I thought was if I'd had known through the years that this was going to happen, that I'd end up playing with a Beatle on stage and on tour, it would've saved me a lot of worry. It's been an insecure career really. We have four kids, my wife and I. We brought up four kids, and you never knew what was going to happen. My hair was falling out when I was in my thirties. Many times I thought, "Well, that's it." I remember when Punk Rock came in. I thought, "That's it. I'm done."

Q - I was smart enough to realize it wouldn't last.

A - It wouldn't last. You have too many good bands. It was an attitude. It was a small thing. There were small parameters to it all. It made sense in England amongst the kids. We were living in the States with Ace. We'd had our big hit with "How Long?" in '75. '76 we were living in the States. Some of the English bands were coming over. We lived in L.A. and we'd go down and see 'em and say, "Hold on, it's not gonna work here." It's like I said, you had too many good groups.

Q - You recorded a version of "Misery", didn't you?

A - Yeah, but that was just a TV program. They were doing a time line of The Beatles recording their first album or something like that. It was done at Abbey Road and it was some kind of tribute to The Beatles. They (the BBC) asked me if I wanted to do it and they gave me a list of songs. Most of 'em were taken, but I said I'll do "Misery". That's all that was.

Q - According to Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia Of Rock And Roll, Ace became the best known of London's Pub Rock bands. Of course Pub Rock means Pop Funk band. That's what they were referring to. Were you a Disco band?

A - No, no. It wasn't that at all. It was more Rock 'n' Roll and what we would call R&B by then. Bands doing covers of Rock 'n' Roll stuff. Ace liked Rock 'n' Roll, Soul, but we did write our own stuff which most of the bands weren't doing. They were just playing covers, but it was the opposite of Progressive Rock. We had this sort of Progressive Rock era, bands taking themselves very seriously. Things were getting a bit hyped. It was to be just the opposite of that. Just guys getting together, forming little bands and playing small venues for fun and beer money basically and that's what Pub Rock was all about.

Q - Did you think at that point that you had a career in music?

A - Don't forget I left school at 15. I played in little bands around Sheffield. Then we had a band and we went over to Germany and did that whole thing for a few years after The Beatles did that whole thing. We did the Hamburg bit, playing over there for a month at a time.

Q - Did you play The Star Club?

A - No. We didn't play The Star Club. That was on the next street. We played The Top Ten Club on the Reeperbahn.

Q - Were you playing the kind of hours The Beatles would play?

A - Yeah.

Q - Eight hours a night?

A - At The Top Ten, two bands alternated. You'd start maybe at 7 PM and go to two or three in the morning. You'd play fifty minutes and the next band would come on, on the hour, and they'd play fifty minutes, and that's how it went.

Q - How'd you kike that experience?

A - I loved it! I absolutely loved it. (laughs)

Q - Was in a wild club?

A - It wasn't that wild. It could be wild on the weekends because it was Hamburg and you'd get the ships, the sailors. They could get a bit lively, but we absolutely loved it. We were living it! (laughs) It was pretty basic. It was pretty hand to mouth. We just loved it. I'd left school. I wasn't working. I was broke. But as far as I was concerned I was a musician. But we started this little band, Ace, playing in pubs and having fun. You asked me if I thought it was going to last. I didn't know and I didn't care. I wrote the song, "How Long?" and I felt, I was naive enough to think that this could be a hit. A few of these bands were getting signed up by the record companies. We must've been the last one to get signed up. There was a new record label, a small company, and they signed us up. We made a record and had that big, old hit.

Q - How long did it take you to write "How Long?"?

A - I don't think it took very long. There's not a lot to it.

Q - Did you write that bass intro?

A - I think so.

Q - Would it have taken you a half hour, an hour, two hours?

A - I don't really remember that. I lived in a small flat with my girlfriend who's still my wife now. It was a great thing about being a self-taught musician, learning how to play, because nobody shows you anything. I thought I invented those chords. (laughs) I'm only kidding. So, that was new to me. What was that? I like that! I'll keep that. I got the basic chord structure. I borrowed a Rebox tape recorder, but you actually bounce one track, left onto the right and you do a dub and back again to the left. So you could over dub a couple or three things. To me this was just magic. I was in Heaven. This is a long, long time before Pro-Tools. So, I must've come up with the chorus and put the harmonies on. Then my wife and I went to her Mum's weekly visit where we got one square meal of the week. (laughs) This I do remember, I wrote the lyric on the bus going to my future mother-in-law's. I wrote it on the back of that bus ticket. That's my excuse for there only being one verse.

Q - How did your life change when "How Long?" became a hit. Were you touring?

A - Yeah.

Q - In '76 I believe you toured with Yes.

A - I think it was '75 actually. '75 was the year when it took off in the States. We were on tour with Yes for about three months, quite a grueling tour. They played most nights. They were playing the arenas, 20,000 and we were just this bar band from London. They put us out in front of 20,000 Yes fans every night. We were very laid-back, casual, rough. We just about got away with it because we had that one big hit, but it was pretty tough.

Q - Would you say then that the pairing of Ace with Yes was not all that good?

A - Yeah. It was our first experience of America. That's how we landed. It was mind-blowing to be honest with you. Just to be in America back then... This was before people used to go on holidays in the States. This was incredible to go to America. Everything was incredible. The mid-'70s in England was bloody awful. It was austere. There were strikes and power cuts. It was grim. To land in America was just like, "Wow!" It was like another planet. It would've been great if we would have had some experience of the country, if we had played some bars over there, worked our way up. But, we just sort of landed, plumped on this thing. To be honest, I don't know how we got away with it 'cause we weren't very good.

Q - Who was booking you then? Would it have been Frank Barsalona of Premier Talent?

A - It might have been. That name definitely rings a bell. But were were managed by somebody who shared an office with Yes' management. I guess to them we were no threat and we had a big hit. So, we might've sold a few tickets. It wasn't great for us I don't think.

Q - After "How Long?" I take it you tried to follow it up with something else and it didn't work?

A - Yes. We had that one song. I think the first album was pretty good. But that was a stand out song. There were other influences within the group. I wasn't the dominant personality in that band. There was another personality in the band that was much more dominant. I think they thought there were other things. Stupid really 'cause it was such an opportunity. I left school at 15. I'd been living hand to mouth and suddenly this amazing opportunity! I was all for getting our act together. To be honest, there were a couple of other lads in the band that it was more or less their first band. They thought this is easy! This is great! They got a bit blaze. "We don't want to be commercial. We don't want to do that."

Q - Did it take a long time in the studio to record "How Long?" Was it a first take? Second take?

A - Well, I'll tell you what happened. I was the last to join Ace. Two of the guys in the band wrote quite a lot of the stuff, so we had a lot of material. Basically we were playing our set 'live'. But, I came up with the song, "How Long?". I think this kind of swung the record deal 'cause we were playing it 'live' before we ever recorded it. People kind of zeroed in on that and we made a couple of attempts to record it as a single and it didn't happen. We recorded it in London and it wasn't working. We said, "Right. Forget about it. We're going to go to Rockfield Studios in Wales." It's a little residential (studio). It sounds too posh because it's pretty basic, but we had two weeks there to record our album. We recorded "How Long?" there as part of the album and that was the version of how it came out. Of course the thing was in my head I always heard it as like a Northern Soul, stomping record, almost like "Reach Out And I'll Be There" by The Four Tops. But that wasn't how the band saw it or interpreted it, because we were basically stoned out old hippies. So, the version we came up with that evolved was the version, and I'm not knocking it 'cause it was bloody great, that wasn't how I envisioned it, that sort of laid back, smooth thing.

Q - I'm thinking how much a tour with the Eagles would've helped out the career of Ace, right?

A - Here's the funny thing, on that first tour I got to meet Timothy B. Schmit, who was in Poco at the time. He was in Poco on the same label, ABC, as us in America. So, I got to know Timothy and I got to see him over the years and we came into L.A. and then he joined the Eagles. I worked with him in the '90s on a project. They recorded that song, "Love Will Keep Us Alive", which I co-wrote. I'm cutting a long story short even though it's still long. Right before "Long Road Out Of Eden", Timothy asked me if I had any songs. I said I didn't, but I would try to write one. I wrote that song, "I Don't Want To Hear Anymore", which is on "Long Road Out Of Eden". Timothy sings it. So, I'm telling everyone I've got a song on the Eagles' album and they're saying, "Yeah, I heard it! 'How Long?'." "No, no, no, no. It's not 'How Long?'." So, on the album "Long Road Out Of Eden", their first release was a song called "How Long". So, Timothy told me they actually recorded that song, which is written by J.D. Souther, back in the '70s and the Ace song came out and they thought, "We can't release that now." (laughs) If their's would've come out and our's hadn't it would've had a bit of a bearing on my career I think.

Q - Sure. The DJs would have thought you covered the Eagles' song.

A - And there's also similarities in there with it. Anyway, I just thought that was funny.

Q - Are you surprised at all with the public continued fascination with the British music on the 1960s? You've played with Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, and Ringo. It never goes away. It's always there.

A - Amazing isn't it? I don't know. It's fascinating. I don't think about music analytically. I just kind of get on with it. I don't think I ever got stuck in any sort of time frame. I've always just kind of moved on and been happy to do different things and all the rest of it.

Q - You were in that special place at the right time.

A - I think we've had the best journey. We've seen it all coming up, from Rock 'n' Roll in the '50s, the '60s, the '70s. It's been fantastic actually. It couldn't have been a better time. But I often think by the same token we got away with murder because when you listen to, as I do now as I'm getting older, some of the old, classic stuff. Your early Sinatra or your great, great Country people and the musicianship and the arrangements and the performances of that old stuff and us guys who just picked up a bloody guitar and learned a few chords and made a living, (laughs) it's incredible! I just think it's fantastic! I thank my lucky stars. I can't complain. I can't even think what I would've done. I would've struggled. I couldn't have had the kind of interesting life I've had, traveling, meeting all kinds of people and eventually making a decent living. It's just incredible.

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