Gary James' Interview With Don Powell Of

There was Glitter. There was Glam. There was Slade.

In the early 1970s they were so popular they were compared to The Beatles! How did that happen? We put that question and more to Slade drummer Don Powell.

Q - You're in the process of writing your autobiography?

A - Yeah, it's in the process at the moment. It's going to be quite interesting, actually.

Q - I would bet it would be. The focus is going to be on you or your years with Slade?

A - Yeah, and my previous bands. Basically, from Day One. Because of my amnesia, it's going to be just as much fun for me to read. (laughs)

Q - Who's publishing the book?

A - There's no publisher yet. It's in the process of being written. The feelers are being put out by the lady who's writing the book, so I'm just waiting to hear some feedback really.

Q - Is there a Slade in existence as we talk?

A - Very true. The Slade in existence today consists of myself, Dave Hill and two new guys who replaced Jimmy Lea and Noddy Holder. There's Mal McNutty on vocals and guitar and there's John Berry on bass and vocals.

Q - Do you guys have a record deal?

A - Not at the moment. We're about to start recording in the next few weeks and laying new tracks down and I hope to see what happens there.

Q - You're still performing primarily in Europe?

A - Yes, Europe mainly. We've been to Australia, but mainly Europe. What's happened in the last few years is, we've spent quite a bit of time doing concerts in the Russian states. That is fantastic. For obvious reasons, we could never go there in the 70s, but now all the barriers have been broken down and we've been there quite a few times. It's absolutely amazing. They've been waiting so long for Western bands to go out there and it's just like a new revelation for them now. The last time we played in Moscow, we played in the Olympic Stadium, which is 18,000 people. It's just fantastic territory. It's quite safe there. The people are fantastic. It's just like any other territory now.

Q - Last time I heard something about you, you were recovering from a car crash. You were hurt pretty badly weren't you?

A - Yes I was. I was completely smashed up. I was unconscious for five days. I had a fractured skull. My whole face was broken up. Two broken legs, ribs and arms as well. I was in the hospital for six weeks in all and I still don't remember what happened. I've got no idea.

Q - Were you driving?

A - I've got no idea. In 1973, when we went on tour after the accident, our agent in New York arranged for me to see this brain specialist. I always remember his name. His name was Albert Goodgold. He explained to me for something like that, the brain will switch off and you'll never recall what happened. The accident happened on the way to my apartment, where I lived when I lived in Wolverhampton. For obvious reasons, I used to drive by there every day afterwards and it still never meant anything to me.

Q - Who was in the car with you?

A - My girlfriend, and she died. When the accident happened, we were both thrown out of the car and she died of head and chest injuries and I had the same injuries. Just by the injuries, they couldn't tell who'd been driving the car. So, no one knows basically. Strangely enough, all I remember is being wheeled into the hospital in like an upright stretcher, that's for a few seconds and everything else means nothing to me. I've no recollection at all about anything.

Q - Did that accident impact your ability to play drums?

A - Funny enough, it didn't! The only thing is with the nasty sort of fractured skull, it was like an amnesia situation and I'd forgotten all the Slade songs. Once they were sort of sung to me again, it was OK, but the initial thing is I couldn't remember any of the songs. That is strange I'll tell you. That is very, very weird.

Q - But now you're alright?

A - Yeah. Certain things happen sometimes when I forget the simplest things, just different things. It's nothing like it was. It's just strange, strange things happened where I forget certain things.

Q - You're not talking about music here, are you?

A - No, no, in my whole sort of way of life.

Q - What kind of place is Wolverhampton?

A - It's a working class town. It's very industrial there. Lots of steel factories.

Q - You're not in England anymore. You're in Denmark.

A - That's right.

Q - Why did you make the switch?

A - 'Cause I met my lady here.

Q - That explains it.

A - Yeah. I've been coming here for a number of years. I've actually lived here for about four years now. But, the world is such a small place these days. I can still get anywhere at the drop of a hat really. I just travel from here to wherever we're going or I just meet the guys back in England and then we travel on from there.

Q - How dose that affect rehearsals?

A - That's no problem. I just go back to England. I have a choice of like six flights a day from here. We just plan rehearsals or recordings and I just go back there for the duration.

Q - If they called a day rehearsal, you could actually fly in and fly out.

A - Exactly. I've done that many times. I've gone out on a morning flight, rehearsed and then come back on the evening flight, or stayed over for a few days and just come back when I finished. It's so easy these days.

Q - Is it hell for a group to be on the road these days, when you're flying your equipment around?

A - Normally, when we have the big boxes, they'll obviously go through radar. Then they want them opened and checked. Everything has to be checked, especially the electrical equipment. One time we were going to Germany from England. My name came over the system in the plane to go to the front of the plane. The security wanted to see me. So, I went and they took me off the plane and down to where they were still loading suitcases. My suitcase was taken off the conveyor belt. It was on the tarmac. As I walked towards the suitcase, I could hear my electric toothbrush had switched on. That was causing quite a bit of havoc with security.

Q - So you had to open it up?

A - They wouldn't let me anywhere near the suitcase. They had to do it.

Q - I guess the moral of that story is don't bring an electric toothbrush when you travel.

A - Exactly, which I don't anymore, or anything electrical really. They check anything like that. One time I think we were in Czechoslovakia and I never even thought about it, I was given a cigarette lighter in the shape of a small handgun. You can imagine what happened.

Q - Oh, boy.

A - Actually what happened is when I collected my suitcase in London, it had actually already been opened and the lighter had been taken out. They left a note saying their security for obvious reasons, saw the lighter in the shape of a hand pistol and took it out and confiscated it.

Q - That's the world we live in.

A - That's the way it's gonna be for many years I think.

Q - When you were starting out, you were in a band called The In Betweens?

A - That's right.

Q - What kind of music were you playing?

A - Well, at first we were just sort of playing the normal Pop tunes. Then we went heavily into Blues music. The only thing was, we only had selective places we could play them because it wasn't really a very commercial sort of repertoire that we had at that time. There were only certain clubs or bars that we could actually play. But, we did manage to play with quite a few big names at the time, like The Spencer Davis Group and all those Blues bands there were out at the time. We played with Cream quite a few times, which is quite good.

Q - You were playing covers? Did you play originals?

A - No. We didn't write our own material to play.

Q - From the In Betweens you changed to the name to Ambrose Slade?

A - That's right.

Q - What does Ambrose Slade mean?

A - It doesn't mean anything. At the time there was a record company boss who hated the name The In Betweens. That's why he said "I want the name changed. We said "we don't know what we can change it to. We can't think of anything. We've only ever known ourselves as The In Betweens." I think it was a secretary or someone in the office actually came up with the name. Don't ask me what it means. I've got no idea. It just sounds like someone's name.

Q - And probably your manager Chas Chandler said drop the Ambrose.

A - That's what happened eventually, but on posters when we were doing concerts, they always spelled the name Arnold Slade or Amgo Shed. That was really like the premise of dropping the Ambrose and just calling ourselves Slade.

Q - Where did Chas Chandler see you?

A - We went to this recording audition in London for a company called Fontana Records. They're not around anymore. The guy there, the head of the company, a guy named Jack Baverstock really liked us. He wanted us to make an album. So, we were just in the studio. We hadn't started writing our own songs then. The material that we were recording were just the songs from our stage show, which were all like cover songs. If you look at that album, we've got covers by Ted Nugent, Steppenwolf, Jeff Lynne, Frank Zappa, The Beatles. We didn't think of it at the time, but when you look at the album now, we covered songs by all these guys. Jack Baverstock said "I think you need London management." We were still living in Wolverhampton. We just had a policeman and his wife looking after us basically, a local policeman. He said, "well let me put the feelers about." Then he contacted Chas Chandler and Chas Chandler came down to the studio while we were recording. And that's where that relationship started.

Q - Are you happy with the job Chas Chandler did for Slade?

A - As a manager, he was fantastic. He knew everything. Because of his experience as well with Hendrix of course. There were always discrepancies about the record production, 'cause he used to produce our records as well. But, I'm sure you get that with every band and their producer.

Q - But, you agreed with his business decisions, correct?

A - Not all of them. There was a time when we all became skin-heads and had all our hair cut off. We actually did that, but it was under duress, believe me.

Q - He didn't rip you off did he?

A - Not at all.

Q - You're one of the few guys I've interviewed who can say that.

A - I know. It's amazing. It happens. It's happening today. It's happened all throughout the history of this thing. We were very lucky.

Q - You were fourteen when The Beatles hit?

A - A little bit older. I was sixteen, seventeen.

Q - Did you ever see them perform?

A - I never saw them perform. That was one of my biggest regrets. Noddy Holder saw them perform in one of their concerts in Birmingham. Myself, I never saw them perform 'live' and they're still one of my favorite bands.

Q - On one of the evening newscasts in America, just before you came over here, Slade was being compared to The Beatles. I always thought that was the kiss of death for a band. No group could compare to The Beatles, but the press did this constantly with not only Slade, but The Ohio Players, The Osmonds, New Kids On The Block and on and on.

A - How can you live up to something like that? I think the reason that came about is in 1973 we had three singles going to the top of the English charts on the day of release you see. That's why they started comparing us to The Beatles. The Beatles did it in 1963. That's a tough thing to live up to. The Beatles wrote everything themselves. OK, we did as well. The Beatles were just purely an incredible phenomenon. I don't think anyone will ever surpass that. I'm a big Beatles fan. I've got lots of early videos of them in their early shows, especially the one at Shea Stadium. It's incredible. You watch it now, they actually used the house P.A. at Shea, which is probably just tiny speakers dotted around the arena. There's no way anybody could hear anything. You see the film now and you see The Beatles falling about, laughing onstage because no one could hear them. They're singing the wrong words. They're basically just playing around onstage. I remember Chas, our manager, used to play bass for The Animals. At that time in the '60s, there were always The Beatles, The Stones and The Animals. There's a big, popular TV show here that used to be aired on Friday nights called Ready Steady Go!. The Beatles, The Stones and The Animals were always on together. Chas was telling me one Friday in '64 or '65 it was, EMI was having a big celebration for The Beatles because they had the numbers 1, 2 and 3 singles in the Top 20. There was a big celebration in the TV studios and apparently a guy from EMI came in and said "Stop! This party is all wrong!" Everybody turned 'round and said "What do you mean?" He said "You've got the Top 5 singles in America and seven other records in the Top 20." They actually had twelve singles in the American Top 20, amongst that, they actually had the Top five singles in America. That will never, ever be surpassed. No one will surpass that.

Q - Slade had girls throw their bras and panties onstage. What did you think about that?

A - Well, it was very strange. At hotels, we could never get through the front door without security and all the police there because of all the crowds out in front. A few hotels actually made us leave 'cause they couldn't handle all the kids outside their hotel. In a way, it's fantastic, but it sort or takes away what you're there for. You're there to put a show on and then you get that. It sort of takes it away a bit. It's almost like you're not being taken seriously.

Q - You could still hear the music in your show, couldn't you?

A - Oh yeah, you could. It wasn't as loud as The Beatles, but it still was un-nerving. You can't actually do what you've been put there to do.

Q - Have you any idea how many records Slade has sold?

A - No...obviously in the millions. We had seventeen albums out. Every one went Gold anyway. I've actually got fifty-one Gold and Silver records.

Q - Gold is for 500,000 records sold?

A - It is now, but in the 70s it was actually a million.

Q - A million?

A - 500,000 for Gold then. I beg your pardon.

Q - Did you guys like Quiet Riot's version of "Mama We're All Crazee Now"?

A - I preferred "Cum On Feel The Noise" by Quiet Riot. In a way, I felt a bit... sort of not angry, but it's not that different from ours, yet when we released ours in America in '73, it didn't do anything at all. I think obviously the time was wrong. But, I think it was a really good version and they deserved all the success they had with it.

Q - What kind of a crowd is Slade drawing these days?

A - There's a lot of new kids that come out to see us and there's a lot of people who came to watch us in the '70s as well, except they bring their children with them now, 'cause the children are sort of grown up now. It's like a mixed audience really. It's like new and old.

Q - Are you still wearing those platform shoes?

A - No, nothing like that from the '70s. It's still colorful, but it's nothing like it was in the '70s.

Q - No Glitter?

A - No. Nothing like that. We always used to say we look like something from the bar in the film Star Wars, all those freaks walking out of the bar. We said that's what we used to look like. (laughs)

Q - I would never have made that connection.

A - Well, have a look again and see. (laughs)

© Gary James. All rights reserved.