Gary James' Interview With Reg Presley of
The Troggs

In 1966, the song "Wild Thing" was all over the radio. You couldn't help but listen to that song! It sold millions for the British group The Troggs.

Other hits followed including "With A Girl Like You", "I Can't Control Myself" and "Love Is All Around". None of those songs however, enjoyed the same success as "Wild Thing".

Troggs lead singer Reg Presley talked with us about that song and those days in Rock 'n' Roll History.

Q - When your last name is Presley, you just have to be in the music business! That certainly helped to have that name didn't it?

A - Well, I suppose it does. I was given that name. It wasn't my name. All of a sudden they told me to read this article in the paper and I couldn't find it. I phoned them back, this is our manager and A&R guy and I said I can't find it. They told me where and I went What? You've changed my name to Presley! I said why couldn't you have gotten a less well known name like Crosby or Sinatra? (laughs)

Q - There you go! The manager did that?

A - Yeah. The manager did that. It is surprising. We have a guy over here, Elvis Costello. See, his name was changed. I don't know why they do it. I suppose it's for publicity or what have you. But, you do grasp it very quick. Everybody starts calling you Presley. You think, Oh, well. (laughs) And then all of a sudden I have to use his name more than my original name. It grows on you.

Q - Have you kept your original name* or did you change your name to Presley?

A - Oh, no. I've kept my original name, but I always use the other name just as much, in fact, more than my original.

Q - What does this word Trogg mean anyway?

A - It's an abbreviation for the word troglodyte. A troglodyte was a mythical cave dweller. We were looking for earthy names. You had the Stones. Stones were Rock, Roll. So, cave, cave rock, rock, roll. (laughs) You just wanted an earthy name.

Q - You guys were doing your research.

A - A little bit.

Q - Bands don't have interesting names like that anymore.

A - No. Strange, isn't it?

Q - I'm gonna guess that you never thought there would still be a Troggs band around today or that you could make a career in music. When you started, how long did you think you'd last?

A - Well, that's a strange thing that you say because that was most of what everybody said. The first question was, "How long do you think you'll be in the group?" "How long do you think the group will last?" No one really knew how long Rock 'n' Roll was gonna be before, as it were. I always used to say two, three years. (laughs) Here we are forty years on.

Q - Some of the records from back then sound as if they were recorded last week, last month, last year. It's incredible!

A - I know. It's weird isn't it? Music is changing again right while we speak. I think the bands are coming back. 'Live' music is coming back. I don't know if you know the English market, but it hasn't been here for a long time and it's just arriving again with groups. I think it's the start of something better.

Q - I hope so. The music business couldn't be much worse than it is in the States.

A - I know. (laughs) The 60s music still comes back. New artists will do something and all of a sudden it comes back again. So, we must've been doing something right in those days.

Q - As we speak, do you have a CD deal?

A - No, we haven't.

Q - Do you tour?

A - Yes, we do. We're in the middle of an English tour right now. Because most of the bands on these are doing different shows all over the world, we go up to Sweden, we come back and then we're doing Newcastle, then we go up to Scotland for three shows and then that's the end of this trip. And it's good.

Q - Do you ever tour say, Australia?

A - Trouble is, getting something worthwhile going to Australia because it's so far away. One thing for sure is, I'm a smoker. I do smoke and that's a twenty-four hour journey from here. That's hard to go without a cigarette. I have to have so many patches on me, I start jittering by the time I get off.

Q - Well, that would be a good excuse for you to give up the cigarettes! What do you think?

A - I'd sooner give up flying. I've reached the age where my cigarettes are my only vice. I just love 'em.

Q - Were The Troggs your first band?

A - Yes, they were. I did form a little band that did a show in Andover (England). I was fifteen years old and it was in the skiffle days. We didn't do anything. I more or less said that's it. Then I started working with a guy who was a lead guitarist, he played a great guitar. I was a bricklayer and he was a bricklayer as well. He said "Let's get a band together." I thought well, yeah. He said "can you play bass?" I said "I play a bit of rhythm guitar." He said "Well pick up a bass and start learning that." And I did.

Q - Your bio says you're considered a cult band.

A - Wow.

Q - Is that the way you see it?

A - No. I don't really see it that way. I don't know what to describe it. We came in at a time when the music was starting to become what I felt was a bit sugary, sweet. I think "Wild Thing" cut across the scene and just said you don't have to go all the way that way. You could do it this way. It's kind of like what Punk music did in '77. When that came in, it was wait, you don't have to do it that way. They were a bit louder about it and a bit firmer about it. I suppose it's almost what we call a garage band. But cult? I don't know. We have got a following and there is a following that goes right around the world. What is a cult? I don't know. I don't write my own bio. Whoever did that is looking at it some other way. I don't know.

Q - The Troggs were slightly ahead of their time with "Wild Thing". It sounds like it was tailor made for a group like The Ramones.

A - Yeah.

Q - Did you write that song "Wild Thing"?

A - No. An American named Chip Taylor, and he's Jon Voight's brother, the actor, wrote that song. I think one or two people actually did it. I think a group in England tried to do it. They were an RAF band. A little group that peeled off of the RAF. Fly Boys as they were. They tried to sing it like a song. Crap, really. (laughs) When I first heard it, I thought if this was done by a group with a bit of balls into it, then this could be a hit. And it was.

Q - Did you ever find out how long it took Chip Taylor to write "Wild Thing"?

A - No. I've met Chip Taylor twice, possibly three times. So, I haven't really got to know him very well, if you know what I mean.

Q - I thought maybe you'd had a chance to ask him what prompted him to write such a song.

A - I know his mother thought it was a bit near the knuckle, for those days. A bit naughty. Strange what they used to think was naughty in the old days isn't it? You can say anything on television now and get away with it. In those days, if you insinuated something, they thought that's a bit near the knuckle.

Q - I never heard that expression before.

A - Close to the joint.

Q - It must be a British saying.

A - It is. Sorry. (laughs)

Q - How many records did "Wild Thing" sell?

A - I wish I knew. It went into the millions world wide.

Q - Tell me you weren't ripped off.

A - Oh, everybody was ripped off in the 60s.

Q - I hate to hear it.

A - I know.

Q - Did you tour behind that song?

A - It went up the charts so quickly in England, that I was still working on the building. It's an amazing story. I was doing the Gable Inn and a painter behind me was painting the eves on another block. He had a transistor radio on the scaffold. He didn't know who I was and "Wild Thing" came on. At that particular time I knew it was 44 in the charts. I was a little excited, but I didn't know what was going to happen. "Wild Thing" came on and he shouted across to me, "If this record isn't number one next week, I'll eat my brush." And I said "Do you like it?" He said "Yeah". When the record stopped, the DJ said "straight from 44 to 8 this week, Wild Thing by The Troggs." I thought, Whew... I threw my trowel down. There was a break just starting, a ten break. I put my head back in the door and said "clear out my tools, I'm off." I phoned London. They said "come on up." Our manager and everything was in London. So, that's exactly what we did. But we had to wait 'cause nobody had heard of The Troggs. We had to wait three months to get shows organized. In fact, we went out with The Walker Brothers to begin with. It was a weird time for fast. It was so great. It was like landing on the moon I reckon for the first time. The flight was incredible for us.

Q - I would imagine you met The Beatles and The Stones.

A - Yeah, we did. The only person I didn't meet of The Beatles was John Lennon.

Q - Did they come backstage to a show of yours?

A - No. We were being given an award at the top of the GPO Tower and they were as well. They came over to the table but John Lennon had to do something else. It was only the other three that came over. We all shook hands 'cause we all received awards that day. I also met Paul McCartney once when he was coming out of a club and I was going in. We always used to bump into one another. A long time ago, Paul McCartney was asked, if you had to be in any other band, which band would it be? He chose The Troggs and I can't believe it! That's so nice.

Q - That's the ultimate compliment. Did he ever say why?

A - No. I don't know. Maybe he liked some of the songs I was starting to write. "Love Is All Around" was a very big hit. When Wet, Wet, Wet, the Scottish band did it over here, it stayed at number one for fifteen weeks.

Q - Have you ever had the need to take work outside of the music business?

A - No. I've loved every minute of I've been in the music business. It kind of grows with you and on you. When you write a song, it's like having a baby. Then after a few years, you hope it grows up. The baby goes out into the world. Other people do things with it and you hope it makes more success. Some of my songs have, which is great for a writer

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

* Reg Presley was born Reginald Ball. He passed away on February 4th, 2013.