Friday, March 1, 2013

Roxy Music

 'In November of 1970 a ceramics teacher at a British girls school by the name of Bryan Ferry was fired from his job. No, not for the reason you're thinking (minds out of the gutter, people!). It seemed that Mr. Ferry preferred to use up valuable ashtray-making time to play rock and roll recordings for his student's listening pleasure. Shortly after his dismissal, Ferry placed an ad in the venerable rock publication Melody Maker for a keyboardist to collaborate on musical projects. During this time in late 1970 Ferry also auditioned for the band King Crimson for the vocalist spot left vacant by the departure of Greg Lake. While Ferry turned out to be not what the band was looking for, bandleader Peter Sinfield was impressed enough to help Ferry secure a contract with E.G Records. In the meantime, Ferry's ad was answered, not by a keyboardist but by saxophonist Andy McKay and friend Brian Eno. While not a musician, Eno knew how to operate a synthesizer and shared, along with McKay Ferry's love for avant-garde and electronic music. The three decided to join forces. Another ad was placed for "a wonder drummer" which resulted in the addition of Paul Thompson. As the result of yet another ad, this time for "the  perfect guitarist", twenty hopefuls showed up, among them one Phil Manzanera who, though quite proficient, was not chosen. The position went instead to David O'List, formerly of The Nice. The band was still sufficiently impressed with Manzanera to offer him a job as a roadie, which he accepted. He also, unbeknownst to the band learned all of the band's repetoire. As it turned out, in early 1972 O'List had an altercation with drummer Thompson and consequently was asked to leave, wherein the band immediately gave the job to Manzanera. 

The band was originally named Roxy which was Ferry's tribute to the old theatres and dance halls. Upon finding out about an American band with the same name, the change was made to Roxy Music. Visually, the band certainly stood out from most. With Ferry's secret agent/gigolo, Mckay's beach boy from outer space and Eno's androgynist vampire, their look was a calculated potpourri of styles. Their sophisticated fusion of Brit-pop, soul and retro influences proved both arty and artful. Topped off with Ferry's vocal style which basically defined the word "croon", you had an arrestingly appealing
yet challenging act.
Interesingly enough, Roxy Music never really had a permanent bass guitarist. Those filling the spot included Rik Kenton, Graham Simpson, John Gustafson, John Wetton and Rick Wills. Of them all, Gustafson in my opinion was the best fit both musically and visually, and indeed spent the most time in the band's ranks.
The band's epynomous debut album, produced by King Crimson's Peter Sinfield, went into the U.K. top 10 in 1972. The non-LP singles "Virginia Plain" and "Pyjamarama" also hit the high end of the charts in Britain. While the U.K. readily embraced the band critically and commercially, America proved to be a tougher nut to crack chart-wise, despite positive critical reviews in the U.S.

The next LP, For Your Pleasure was the start of a long and fruitful partnership with producer Chris Thomas. It was also the end of the band's partnership with Brian Eno, who departed the band due to differences with Ferry about the band's direction and Ferry's dominance song-wise. Eno was replaced by 19-year old Eddie Jobson. Jobson was a classically trained keyboardist/violinist formerly of the prog-rock band Curved Air. An accomplished musician and dazzling violinist, Jobson brought a greater refinement to the band's sound and in addition to freeing Ferry from keyboard duties onstage, he also added to the song writing. Eno himself acknowledged the quality of the material following his departure.

It wasn't until their fourth album,1974's Country Life that Roxy Music managed to crack the U.S. top 40, albeit at #37, yet with widespread critical acclaim. Their fifth album Siren was the one that got them their first actual U.S. hit, "Love Is The Drug", peaking at #30 in 1975. After touring in support of that LP, they disbanded for a short time to concentrate on individual solo projects, paricularly Ferry who was carving out a successful solo career. During this time a live album, Viva! was released in 1976.

The band reunited in 1978 to record the album Manifesto, their highest charting U.S. release at #20. This would  be without Eddie Jobson who by this time had joined the band U.K. with John Wetton and Bill Bruford. The album would produce two major British hits "Angel Eyes"(#3)  and "Dance Away" (#4). This would begin a distinct change in musical style to a smoother, less challenging direction. This was met with mixed critical reviews. After a tour and the recording of the next album, Flesh And Blood, Paul Thompson would leave the band permanently after breaking his thumb.He would turn up again later in the band Concrete Blonde (elsewhere in this blog).

In 1981 Roxy Music recorded a cover of the John Lennon composition "Jealous Guy" as a tribute to the slain Beatle. It went to the top of the British charts to become their only #1 single and was awarded a gold record in the United States ultimately reaching platinum status. Later their sombre, atmospherically crafted eighth and final studio release Avalon redeemed the band's critical status and was commercially successful on the strength of the single "More Than This", which went platinum in the U.S. After extensive touring they disbanded in 1983.

From 2001, the band would regroup sporadically for festivals and the like up to this day. Their influence is seen in a generation of style-oriented artists. Those who acknowledge Roxy Music's influence include The Human League, Duran Duran, Annie Lennox, The Psychedelic Furs, Nile Rodgers, The Cars and many more.  The British band Madness (elsewhere in this blog) recorded a tribute to Bryan Ferry called "4BF", a reference to the song "2HB" that was itself a tribute to Humphrey Bogart and appeared on the first Roxy Music album.
For their role in making style and substance equally vital in all things rockin', I have to say Viva Roxy Music!

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