Gary James' Interview With Peter Beckett Of
They were named Billboard's Best New Singles Artist of 1978. And no wonder. Their song "Baby Come Back" went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978. They toured with Eric Clapton and recorded for both RSO Records and Casablanca Records. Peter Beckett was part of that group, and still is. We are talking of course about Player.
Q - Peter, I actually saw your group in concert at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, N.Y. You opened for Kenny Loggins.
A - I remember that.
Q - You remember that concert?
A - Well, I remember the tour. (laughs) That was the tour that broke the band up. The last gig on that tour was at The Coconut Grove in Florida. Let's just say there were various fist fights going on. That was the end of Player. (laughs)
Q - The audience was very respectful of the band. There was no booing. There was no "Bring on Kenny Loggins." They paid attention to what you were playing. Did you receive that kind of treatment in other cities?
A - Well, yeah. We got that everywhere. You got to realize the first tour we ever did was with Boz Scaggs. It was the Silk Degrees tour. "Baby Come Back" hit number one right in the middle of that tour. Then, a year later, they put us on the Slowhand tour with Eric Clapton. Quite frankly, if you can tour with Eric Clapton, you can pretty much tour with anybody. I mean, we got great respect from everybody. We did Dog and Butterfly with Heart and they were much heavier than us. We always got pretty well respected. I think the Kenny Loggins tour was more Player oriented anyway. More similar music than any of those other acts, I think.
Q - And now "Baby Come Back" is being used to sell Swiffer mops.
A - Thank you very much.
Q - Do you own your publishing?
A - We own part of it. It's actually had a lot of commercials before that. Before the Swiffer thing, which was huge and quite lucrative I might add, it was a Sprint commercial, an SBC commercial...God, there were three other smaller ones. But the Swiffer one was huge. It was a big commercial. I think Human League has it now. But when those Swiffer commercials run, they're totally national and they run for about eight to nine months. So, it's really good for the writers.
Q - I'm not exactly sure if I like the idea of using "Baby Come Back" to sell mops.
A - The humor in it is great. I liked the idea that the old mop is trying to get in through the door and he's singing "Baby Come Back" and the new one is kind of throwing water on him. The mariachi thing was hilarious. I didn't mind it at all. I thought it was great. Hey, you know, I'll take it. (laughs)
Q - I know.
A - I'll take it! (laughs)
Q - You're from England. Why did you choose to make your home in Los Angeles in the '70s? Is it because that's where the record companies were?
A - Well, I was actually brought out here. I was in a band called Paladin. They were a very highly rated Jazz / Rock fusion band. I was the bass player. I was with them for years...like, late '60s through early '70s. We did all the universities. We put two albums out. We were on the Bronze label with Uriah Heep and all these heavy duty bands. That band broke up and I started writing with a guy called Steve Kipner, over in London, who became my best friend. He later went on to write "Let's Get Physical", "Hard Habit To Break" for Chicago. He wrote "Genie In A Bottle" for Aguilera. He's written a ton of stuff since then. I still see him every once in a while. He brought me over. He set out to L.A. to join this band with Michael Lloyd, the producer. The idea was to have an American, an Australian and an English writer and form this super writer band in L.A. And Michael Lloyd left. So, Steve came over to London and got me, brought me back over to America and that was '74. They gave us a whole bunch of money to sit around the swimming pool on Sunset Strip and write a bunch of songs. (laughs) It was great. I got a tan and felt like I was ten years younger immediately. We did one tour. That band ended up being called Skyband. We did one tour, which happened to be in England and the band came back and broke up. And it was in the remnants of that band that Player was born. So, in answer to your question, I was brought out here.
Q - You met J.C. (Crowley) at a party. Would that have been a Hollywood celebrity party?
A - Yeah. It was a typical Hollywood Hills party. Robin Williams was there and God knows who else. I was a young guy and didn't really care. It was a good party and there were a lot of chicks there. That's all I cared about and Crowley too, pretty much. I was this Liverpool kid and he was this Texan guy. Everybody was in a white suit and white dresses and we turned up in jeans and t-shirts. Almost got kicked out. We had a couple of beers together and started talking. We said let's get together in a few days and try to see what we come up with. So, I went to his house, which is in the Hollywood Hills. It was in this garage which was full of cockroaches. We sat down in the sweltering heat and started writing a handful of songs. "Baby Come Back" was not one of them. In the later weeks we came up with "Baby Come Back". Then we got (Dennis) Lambert and (Brian) Potter...but, I jump ahead.
Q - How long did it take you to write "Baby Come Back" and did you write the words or the music or both?
A - We both wrote it together. I was married when I came out to America. She couldn't take the L.A. thing and we got divorced during that period that lead up to "Baby Come Back". Initially it started off being about that and Crowley had his own problems. He came up with the verse chord. I came up with the riff. We wrote the verses together. It was over a period of, I'll say days not weeks. It was definitely a 50/50 effort. We had five songs by that stage. We went 'round and played 'live' with acoustics once we got Ron Moss in the band. In people's offices. We got passed on by a whole bunch of people. We kind of looked good. We were real young and healthy. We kind of had that L.A. freshness to us, and the big harmony thing going on. Then we went into Lambert and Potter's office. They were like pinned to the wall and then we played "Baby Come Back" and they were sold. They got in touch with Al Coury at RSO and played it to the Bee Gees. We made a tape then. They played it to The Bee Gees and Robert Stigwood and they loved it. Next minute we were signed. We were rehearsing just to do a few gigs and our manager comes running into the rehearsal and says "Your record is number 80 on the Hot 100." (laughs) I think that was the most exciting day of our lives. It was even more exciting than when it hit number 1 because none of us had ever had a smell of a hit. Number 80 on the Hot 100? Oh my God! And it was great and then it all rolled from there.
Q - One thing that just occurred to me, were you the guy who was wearing a yellow ruffled shirt and black leather pants when you appeared onstage at the Landmark Theatre?
A - It could've have been me. It could've have been Crowley. I was the lead singer. So, it would've been Ron Moss on my right and Crowley on my left and (John) Friesen behind. So, whatever I was in, I was in the middle. But, two of us wore leather pants. Crowley wore leather pants and I wore leather pants. I don't know why. They were awful hot onstage.
Q - When you were in the garage with J.C. writing these songs, how much time went by before the group was put together: months? weeks?
A - Probably, finding Friesen and finding Ron Moss; I mean, we just wrote a bunch of songs by ourselves and then our manager Paul Palmer, who ended up managing No Doubt and Bush ended up with his own label and managing them in later days. He brought Friesen and Ron Moss in like weeks into the thing and then they started sitting around with us. We actually started playing instruments through amplifiers. I would say months. Not a whole lot of months, but definitely months.
Q - Probably under six months?
A - Yeah. Definitely.
Q - How did life change for you and the band when "Baby Come Back" went to number one? Did the tour offers start to come in?
A - Well, you gotta realize we were already with RSO and RSO had Clapton, The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, a whole bunch of people. They kind of had their own tours going on. As the record started charting, they put us out with Gino Vanelli, who had nothing to do with anybody and we were big fans of Gino Vanelli. We went to Buffalo, New York and played in The Town Hall and we'd never done a gig, man. We were just rehearsing. We walked in and Gino was doing his sound check. It was the early days of the big synthesizers. Oh my God, we just stood there with our mouths open. We went, Oh my God, we gotta go on with this guy? He was incredible. We did a few gigs with him. Then we got pulled and got stuck on the Boz Scaggs tour, because the record was charting. The "Silk Degrees" tour was huge. Then I think we had about eight months in between that and the Clapton tour because we had to write a whole new album and the whole thing. But obviously when you got a number one record, the offers come piling in. I wish I had a number one record now. (laughs)
Q - I imagine a lot of people would like a number one record.
A - Yeah, but I got a Swiffer commercial. (laughs)
Q - You do have that. It would be easier for anybody to have a number one record if the system was in place like it was 31 years earlier. We don't have Top 40 radio anymore.
A - The thing is so spread out and huge, I don't even know what's going on anymore. I've done a lot of writing for other artists and movies and TV. And even that has become a lot harder. I mean, I had a good run there for about ten, fifteen years. Even that's become harder. There's just so many people doing it. It's just harder to nail anything down and especially with the economy, it's pretty whacky. We were doing a good share of gigs right up to a few years ago. Even that started to drop off. We really don't do that many gigs anymore. It's a tough business these days. It really is.
Q - You said you're from Liverpool, right?
A - Yeah.
Q - So, growing up, did you see all the bands coming up that the world would know as The British Invasion?
A - Oh, sure. I saw The Beatles play like three times at The Cavern. My big brother took me. I ended up playing The Cavern a whole bunch myself when I was like seventeen, with different bands I was in. And then strangely enough, much later when I was twenty-one or twenty-two and living in London, that band I was in Paladinthat was a real touring band, they ended up playing The Cavern on a Saturday night and I got to go home and see my Mum, which was kind of cool. But, The Cavern is still going. I went home last year and it's still there.
Q - They tore it down and re-built it, didn't they?
A - Exactly. But you know what? And this is the truth. I heard that they tore it down and heard that they re-built it. And I went for the first time a couple of years ago and went and saw it. Once you actually get over the shock that it's on the other side of the road, you go down in there and it's exactly the same, except they've extended it. There's all these extra bars. But, the original three tunnels which were the warehouse, with the brick ceilings, exactly the same. Dressing room is the same. It even smelled the same to me, which was pretty bad. In the dressing room, all the bands had signed bricks. It looked like they had copied it from photographs. It was pretty amazing.
Q - When you would go out and see these bands as a kid, did you have any idea you were looking at the future of Rock 'n' Roll?
A - I'd already gotten into guitars and stuff. My bigger brother, he was like three years older than me, he used to bring all these papers back from Germany with pictures of The Beatles in Hamburg. It used to get me very excited. I knew once I went into the Cavern that I'd play in there one day and of course the first real band I got into, we played there. We were horrible, but we played it. We played there with several bands after that. Liverpool was thriving because of The Beatles thing. Every little kid with a guitar in his hand was real excited. The place was electrifying. I kind of knew. That was it for me. I even had a little job there and I left it thinking I was gonna take the world by storm. (laughs) I did in a little way.
Q - Right. You did. They're still playing your music. How were The Beatles when you saw them?
A - Wild as Hell. Loud as Hell. Now, you're talking about the first time I saw them?
Q - Yes.
A - OK. Here's what Matthews Street was like. It's in a warehouse district. Real old, old brick. Three story warehouse buildings. The streets are cobbled 'cause they're hundreds of years old, from horse and cart days. You know what cobbled is? It's like little kind of tiles. Very noisy. And The Cavern was underground. It was a small street, Matthews Street, maybe about fifteen feet across. Just walking up the street, the ground was shaking. You could feel the bass. And then you walked down the stairway to the club. It probably by today's standards wouldn't be loud, but for me, I was only like sixteen and walking down there, it was so damn loud. And it was all brick of course. There wasn't much to baffle anything. I'd never heard anything so loud and exciting in my life. That was pretty much it for me. They were great of course. Not that I would have known if they were bad.
Q - Did they have long hair at that time?
A - No, not real long. It was just the Hamburg days. They did have the Beatle cuts, if that's what you're referring to. It wasn't real long. They combed it forward. It was the girlfriend of Stuart Sutcliffe I believe who started all that. She got them to dress in black leather and comb their hair forward. That was their signature. I think that's what did it for them. But there were some great bands in Liverpool in those days. A lot of 'em never made it. Do want to hear a real strange story?
Q - Go ahead.
A - Last year (2008) I went back and for the first time in my life I went to The Beatles Museum, which is different from The Cavern. It's in the same area. It's all warehouses. One of the exhibits is an office and it's supposed to be the office of Merseybeat, the music paper and Bill Harry is sitting there on the phone. It's a wax work, talking to John Lennon. Out the window you can see the docks and everything. I remember standing there thinking, "Wow! Look at that. That was so long ago." It was a little before my time actually. At any rate, I enjoyed it. Well, I stayed at my Mum's house for two weeks and then I came back to L.A. Weirdness of weirdness, I turn on my computer when I got back and there's an e-mail fro Bill Harry, who I'd never met in my life before. He said we're doing this thing for the Liverpool exhibition and we're doing a little plaque on all the guys who made it out of Liverpool and we'd like to do an interview with you. I just thought that was the strangest thing in the world. And they did it and I've been in touch with Bill Harry quite a lot since then, 'cause I've written a book which isn't finished yet. I got about two hundred pages. He's gonna help me get it published in England.
Q - You're talking about your autobiography?
A - It's a quasi-autobiography. It's got a good sense of humor. The main part of the book is about the old days in Liverpool. I'll put it in thirds. The first third is the old Liverpool days. There's a lot of really inside stuff, inside band stuff in there. The second third is coming to L.A., having a number one record in the days of The Bee Gees and cocaine and Disco and what that was like. Then my last third is like my filling in for Little River Band for ten years and then the film music and the TV stuff. I'm just looking for a real good end.
Q - Did any of the '60s bands come to see your band when you played The Cavern?
A - Not that I know of in The Cavern, but I'll tell you something interesting. I'm gonna zip forward a little bit. I was in a band in Liverpool called The Thoughts. That was my last band in Liverpool. Then I moved down to London in the late '60s. It was the same band, The Thoughts and we moved down to London. We did a big show. We had this manager and somehow he was a friend of Brian Epstein. He put us on this bill at the Saville Theatre. It was the first show at the Saville Theatre. This was the bill: It was us opening the show. It was The Koobas, a band from Liverpool and then it was Jimi Hendrix and then it was The Who topping the bill. I talked to Bill Harry about this just a few weeks ago 'cause he had it mixed up. He thought it was a different bill. I remember this: When we were on, I remember seeing a couple of guys from The Who and a big Afro walking around in the wings when we were on. (laughs) Not looking that interested in us particularly. Then we stood in the wings watching Jimi Hendrix. But, I stood next to Daltry and Townshend and they'd never seen Hendrix. He was on right before them, doing the whole thing where he was like sitting on his whammy bar, setting the guitar on fire. They were standing there with their mouths open, because they kind of started all that stuff, smashing the guitars and all that. But that was the most interesting bill I ever played on. Bill Harry had it mixed up. He thought it was something else. But he said Paul McCartney was there that night, in like the second row or something.
Q - Wikipedia made mention of the fact that the song "Baby Come Back" had found its way onto Ambrosia's site or was credited to Ambrosia and that both groups had a similar sound. Could you see how that could happen?
A - You mean how would it end up on their site?
Q - Yeah.
A - Well, if this tells you anything, we almost signed six months ago with Hall And Oates' management company and the manager said to me, "Do you know what Hall And Oates most requested song is?" And this is from Darryl Hall's lips apparently, he said, "Baby Come Back". So, that leads into the Ambrosia thing, you know, whatever. (laughs) I'm sure all those bands from that era get asked for...
Q - You can see how that would happen though, can't you?
A - Yeah.
Q - Like you, they were very good musicians, were good songwriters and yet they didn't receive the publicity they should have.
A - I'm not sure it's even publicity 'cause I can tell you this: when we were with RSO during that period, we got tons and tons of publicity. Now, I know what happened with us. When they put us on the Eric Clapton tour, the band took a turn to the left. Instead of sticking with the R&B Pop thing, which is what the first album was, we started to think we're gonna be onstage with Clapton and Heart, we better write some Rock 'n' Roll songs. So, we grew our hair real long. We got the bigger amps, the 100 watt Marshalls and we started to change the band. And the band changed. Then, we stopped getting hits. I don't think for us it was publicity.
Q - Why shouldn't a band change their style of music? The Beatles changed their style of music as they went along. As a matter of fact, they were probably the only band that could ever do that.
A - You're absolutely right.
Q - The Beatles not only changed their music, but their look as well. Today Bon Jovi is Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen is Bruce Springsteen.
A - You're absolutely right. I've got to be honest with you. In the old days, I saw it as a problem for us. We were doing Rock 'n' Roll, R&B, Pop ballads, and it worried me. But, you're absolutely right, The Beatles did it forever and got away with it. I don't know why it bothered me so much, but it did. I like an album to have a theme and the songs to sound reasonably in the same vein.
Q - As we speak, is there now a Player group that you've put together with Ron Moss?
A - Well, we've had several groups over the past few years. Up until a couple of years ago, we were doing a handful of casinos. The way things are these days, the casinos are leaning hard on the economy. They're cutting down the prices everywhere. You can't really go and do an out of town gig now for what they're willing to pay. So, I don't really know where we're gonna take this right now. We were gonna sign just a few months ago with Hall And Oates' people. There was talk of putting us on tour with Hall And Oates, which would have been great, and there was an agency that went hand-in-hand with that deal who had a handful of nice gigs for Player and then we could not see eye-to-eye on the contract. It's like every time I turn around, somebody was trying to grab my royalties. (laughs) So, I just passed on it. I let it go. We lost the agency when it fell apart and so we find ourselves looking for new agents and we keep the band tight. We've got five different agencies trying to get us gigs right now, so hopefully in the Fall (2009) things will kick in. Be on the lookout for my new project "The Limey Cowboys".