"John Verity began his
music career in the early 1960's, playing guitar in various local bands
around his home town of Bradford, Yorkshire, until he was offered a full
time gig with a band which was backing various visiting US pop acts, as
well as Decca Records UK acts when they toured. The earliest
incarnations of the John Verity Band supported legends such as Hendrix,
Mountain, Canned Heat and Janis Joplin, and he was quickly signed up as
the replacement for Argent's Russ Ballard after Ballard quit the band in
1972. When Argent disbanded in 1976, John put together an outfit called
Phoenix with bassist Jim Rodford (later to join The Kinks), then spent a
few years producing, playing guitar or providing backing vocals for
various acts including Motorhead, Ringo Starr, Russ Ballard, Brian
Connolly, John Parr, BowWowWow and The Searchers amongst others. More
solo albums followed, with Verity dividing his time between his solo
career and recording and touring with Keith Emerson (ELP), Jools
Holland, Mike Rutherford (Genesis), The Zombies and John Coghlan
(ex-Status Quo). JV always said that live work was his first love and
that holds as true today as ever. After playing the Cambridge Rock
Festival in the summer of 2009 JV and the band went into the studio once
more – The resulting recordings were released in April 2010: VERITY – A
Phoenix Still Rising... yet another stage in JV's amazing journey ... "
Following recent emails
emanating from a mutual friend I had the pleasure in interviewing John:
Alan: What are your first musical memories growing up in Bradford,
John: When I was young there was very little music aimed specifically
at young people. There was hardly any music on the radio – I remember
looking forward to Sundays because there was a programme called ‘2 way
family favourites’, which was for overseas men and women to request
records for their loved ones at home. Often the records played were of
the type not readily available in the UK – rock & roll!
used to hang around older boys before I reached my teens, and they were
listening to early American records by people such as Elvis, and even
some early R&B. I think I was hooked then!
By the time I reached my teens rock & roll was really happening, and it
was easier to get early blues records here – I started listening to
Radio Luxemburg on my crystal set (don’t ask!) and got my first guitar.
My first groups were doing what we called R&B – stuff like High-Heel
Sneakers, Hoochie Coochie Man (and other Muddy waters stuff) mixed with
the obligatory Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, Little Richard, and of course
Shadows stuff. I played rhythm guitar because I didn’t have a tremolo
arm on my Vox Clubman guitar!
Alan: Did you come from a musical family - is there a long musical
John: My Dad played in brass bands from being very young. My Mum spent
most of her childhood on the road as her Dad was a Vaudeville act
travelling from show to show – so I suppose it’s in my blood…
Alan: Did you always want to become a musician and how did you get
started in music?
John: I learned very quickly that in the early 60s if you had a guitar
you’d attract the girls! Pretty crap excuse but it was a real incentive
to a young guy. Once I got my first guitar I wasn’t really interested in
anything else – guitar/music/girls, that was it really.
had a crappy acoustic guitar to start with. I made it electric by
fastening a contact pickup to it with tape, and plugging it into a radio
– it must have sounded awful!
noticed that the Sunday papers carried adverts for proper electric
guitars – and you could get them on credit. So I sent for one, forged my
Dads signature on the agreement and stayed home from school every day
waiting for the guitar. When it arrived I hid it under my bed and went
back to school as normal, hurrying home to practice every night. I came
home from school one day to be confronted by a furious Mum. The company
had written to my Dad, congratulating him on the purchase of a new
guitar!! They found it in my bedroom. Mum said I’d have to earn the
money to pay the instalments and that’s how I got started. Dad got my
gigs in Working Men’s Clubs and drove me there. Mum shoved me on stage –
terrified, to sing and play accompanied by the organist and drummer!
Horrendous! Anyway, it got me started, and I was soon able to find a
group (band) to play in.
Alan: What kind of material were you playing in the early days and
who were your heroes?
John: As I said earlier, we played what we called R&B. But I learned
very early on that if you wanted to work you’d have to give the people
what they wanted so the sets would also have plenty of current chart
stuff too – this was in the 60s so we’d be able to do Chuck Berry which
was cool. We always finished with Stormy Monday – which would kill the
gig stone dead! We loved it but the punters didn’t, in the local WMC.
Alan: What first attracted you to the blues?
John: I just drifted into it. When I look back, even Elvis’s early
stuff had a lot of blues influence and probably didn’t realise it at the
time, but I was attracted to those particular tracks. I got hold of a
lot of early blues imports and was listening to those alongside the
chart stuff of the day. Remember I started gigging in my early teens so
always had to keep an awareness of what people would be prepared to
listen to. I think I probably began very early on in my career to sort
of rearrange stuff into my own, more bluesy style – I would play popular
songs, but in a slightly different style / more bluesy.
Alan: What does the blues mean to you?
John: An awful lot. It’s a way to express myself. My whole life has
revolved around music, performing/playing/writing/recording. I’ve had to
diversify at times to survive but my music has always had a blues edge.
In the 70s you lived and worked in the USA supporting many big names
such as Jimi Hendrix, Canned Heat, Savoy Brown and Janis Joplin; you
must have some fond memories.
John: Yea it was an amazing time. In the late 60s I was in a band that
found itself in the Bahamas of all places, playing for 7 nights a week
in a club that catered for American college kids on holiday (vacation).
We could play what we liked and as we had a brass section there was a
lot of Chicago blues in there. An American promoter came in one night
and offered us a deal to move to Florida and open shows for the acts
passing through. Of course we jumped at the chance and that’s how I got
involved with all this wonderful stuff. We got really close to signing
with Atlantic records but it didn’t quite work out and the band split. I
decided to stay on and formed the first John Verity Band, with American
musicians on bass and drums. I could probably write a book about it!!
Alan: How did you come to join the band Argent?
John: I came back from America and formed the first JV Band with an
all-English line-up. Back in Yorkshire I was writing and recording demos
of my material, and of course gigging again in the UK. I managed to get
a record deal – I was the first UK act to be signed by ABC Dunhill and
found myself on the same label as BB King!! Amazing. The record company
were looking for a tour to put me on to promote the album, and
eventually got me the opening slot on an Argent tour. During the tour,
the guitarist/vocalist Russ Ballard decided to quit Argent, and
eventually I was in the frame to replace him.
Alan: You then formed the band Phoenix, producing their albums as
well as the first Saxon album I believe.
John: Yep. On what turned out to be the final Argent tour of America,
I decided I wanted to get back to a more straight forward approach to my
music. I was also getting into more production projects. Originally
Phoenix was meant to be an offshoot project and I asked Bob Henrit and
Jim Rodford from Argent if they fancied playing some blues with a rocky
edge. We started rehearsing in my studio in London, and it turned into
our main project when it was announced that Argent had folded. Going
back a few years, Biff & Paul – who eventually formed Saxon, had been in
the final line-up of the JV Band. Biff was my bass player. We split when
I joined Argent but we stayed in touch and I helped them to get their
first record deal, and produced the first album.
Alan: Tell me a little about your record production work in
recording studios and around the world and also back in your native
Yorkshire; was this full time?
John: I got my first serious recording setup back in the Bahamas – in
a cupboard! I was able to get some decent recording gear and would spend
hours trying out ideas. I continued – (in another cupboard) when we
moved to Florida. By the time I arrived back in England I was writing
and recording all the time, and one of the first things I did was find
premises in which to build my first proper studio. We did all the demo’s
that got my first record deal there. That would be around 1972. When I
joined Argent and moved to London I was able to build a studio in my
house there and started getting involved in other projects, sometimes
producing and sometimes as a session player. From there I started
getting offers to do projects all over the place – Sweet Silence Studios
in Copenhagen, The Chateaux in France, Mountain Studios Montreaux etc.
Right through the 70s I was combining studio and live work really.
You then went back on the road to promote your album 'Interrupted
Journey' which was pivotal in boosting your career in the UK, Europe
and USA I believe.
John: Yea that was my ‘comeback’ album! I had missed gigging, and had
started to put some of my own tracks down in the studio whilst working
on other peoples productions. Those tracks turned into Interrupted
Journey and really I haven’t stopped recording my own stuff, or
gigging since then.
Alan: You guested at the 1994 Manchester Festival "Fender
Stratocaster 40th Anniversary" alongside rock legends including Frankie
Miller and Rory Gallagher; tell me about the gig.
John: It was the first of the Fender ‘Anniversary’ gigs. I’d been a
long-time Fender user and endorsee – I’d always used a mix of Fender &
Marshall amps, with Fender or Gibson guitars so I knew all the people
involved. It was a great night – I got to play with The Crickets! I
spent hours talking music with Rory at the bar – heaven!
Alan: More recently you opened for Jools Holland on his 32 date
'Sex, Jazz and Rock'n'Roll' tour; tell me about the experience.
John: That came out of another production/session project. I’d been
working on an album with Bianca Kinane, and her record company got her
the opening slot on the Jools tour. I was asked to put a band together
for her which I did, and off we went. A great experience – Jools has ‘em
eating out of his hand, and his band is full of really tasty players… a
really nice tour.
You have been quoted as saying your first love is live work, why is
John: There’s nothing like it really. As I’ve said, I’ve had a studio
now for many years and I spend a lot of time in there, and I love doing
sessions for other people but there’s nothing like the buzz of playing
in front of people. I’ll play anywhere! I do festivals, I play in bars –
I play in peoples back gardens! Like I said I’ll play anywhere they’ll
have me, I guess it’s in the blood. I find that it doesn’t matter what’s
troubling me, if I get out my guitar and get on stage I can just play it
out of my system. I’m a really lucky man.
Alan: Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and
John: There isn’t any one person or band. I appreciate all kinds of
music. I still listen to BB & Albert King, Bobby Bland - Aretha kills me
when she sings, but I’ve also learned a lot from Hendrix, The Beatles,
Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry…When I first heard Terry Reid, and even Robert
Plant they gave me the courage to sing. I had always been a guitar
player and my singing voice is in a high register – I thought you had to
sound like Otis Redding or BB to be a singer!
Alan: Are there any particular songs that you play that have
special meaning to you?
John: Oh, too many to list. There are so many special songs out there.
I sing Stay With Me (Baby) and it lets out so much stuff I can’t tell
you – it can sometimes even take me back to the day my Mother died. It’s
too heavy to talk about, but that’s what music can do…
Alan: Tell me about the making of your new album 'It's a
Mean Old Scene', a mixture of self
penned songs as well as versions of your favourite blues standards. When
is it being launched?
John: Ok. I’m aiming to have the album out in December 2011. It’s all
being recorded at home in my studio. I’m lucky – and my neighbours are
lucky, that I live in a detached 300 year-old cottage with very thick
walls! I can play anytime I like and I record when I feel inspired.
There are songs from my live set that I’ve never done studio recordings
of – like Hoochie Coochie Man, so I’m doing them pretty close to the
live versions – though we never really do them the same two nights on
the trot… The live band has a pretty fluid line-up. Most good musicians
these days are into lots of different projects so I have to have a
shortlist of people to draw on for gigs – I have 3 regular drummers & 3
regular bassists to choose from & I sometimes use keyboards, sometimes a
harp player. I’m trying to get everyone on the album, and get their take
on the material. Its sounding really great so far.
The first track for the new album is here on YouTube:
Alan: I believe your new JV Signature Fret King guitar is released
in January 2012, tell me about it.
Over the years I’ve often done trade shows for various guitar & amp
companies, demonstrating their stuff. At a trade show a couple of years
ago I was chatting to the designer Trev Wilkinson from Fret King about
guitars (what else!). He asked what my ideal gigging guitar would be, I
told him & he said ok let’s do it and call it the JV model. That’s it
really – they sent me a guitar to mess around with, I spent a year
trying every type of pickup/set & format before deciding on a very
typical Strat-type layout with a few JV twists. After all – Leo had it
Alan: What's in the pipeline regarding gigs, tours and record
John: Off to Italy tomorrow for a festival. Then I have a couple of
production projects to complete before my own album - I really need to
spend some serious time in the studio in order to complete the album in
time for the launch gig at the Stables Theatre, Wavendon near Milton
Keynes on December 10th 2011. Then it’s out and about
promoting the album, I have festivals in the pipeline – Skeggy Rock &
Blues in January is one of them but really we’re in the planning stages
– any ideas gratefully accepted!
Alan: Thank you so much John, I really appreciate your time.