1. Nothingness Minus The Fun 2. Baby Get Some Of That 3. Silhouette 4. Cell Soliloquy 5. My Love Is Like A Spaceship (demo) 6. Little Men 7. Penthouse 8. If Flowers Please Your hair 9. Invalid Of Love 10. Funny World 11. Henry Nut (Part Three) 12. Sitting In The Sun 13. The Painter 14. Boogaloo 15. Watch Your Step 16. Character Actors 17. Flowers Cry Too 18. Love Is Proud 19. For Love Of Thee 20. Who In The Heck Do You Think You Are? 21. It’s Over 22. The Sound Of Automation 23. L.S.D. 24. Sheer Lunacy 25. Crocogators 26. I Am Seldom 21 27. Knit Me A Kiss 28. 1,5000, 000 Volts 29. Captain Of My Toy Balloon 30. John Celery 31. Paranoia 32. Chinaman 33. Music Created By Dust 34. A Dog Called Doug 35. The Procession 36. The Candle Man 37. The Treacle Dance 38. Twas Not So Short Ago 39. Me 40. Summerland 41. Nasty Nazi 42. The Raid 43. Creosote and Cream 44. Crystal’s Tune 45. Strontium 46. Ninety Nel 47. Convercircles 48. The Day Stares Straight Back 49. Henry Nut (Part Two) 50. Hung Up 51. Sums 52. The Shelter 53. Baby I Got News For You (demo) 54. Flying Solo 55. Farewell Welfare 56. London American Boy 57. She’s The Only Woman 58. Sweetmeat 59. Listening To The Wind 60. Freeloader 61. There Is A Town 62. Shiralee (Part One) 63. Shiralee (Part Two) 64. A Light In The Sky 65. Have You Wished? 66. Blue Dan 67. The Mother Seeds (Land Of Schlimpf & Whatzif) 68. Where Did It Go? 69. The In Things 70. Time Has No Meaning 71. Time and Time Again 72. Forget Me Not 73. Who Cares About The Moon 74. Soho Solitaire 75. Sweet Talk Town 76. Peter Pan 77. Willow Tree 78. Antoinette 79. Fiesta Time 80. Listen Girl 81. Oh Miss Halliday 82. A Little Bit Of Lovin’ 83. It’s Better To Try and Fail 84. The Telephone Company 85. Rawsex 86. The Long Way Home 87. Moon Ego 88. Checkmate 89. I Just Can’t Stop 90. Leave It In The Hands Of Love 91.Scrople
WORLD WAR IV (unreleased album, recorded in 1968)
1. Overture Movement 2 (Largo) 2. Movement 3 (Transience) 3. Movement 4 (Echelon) 4. Quietus Finale
Recording date: 1965 - 1968
Group Members: Pete Miller (gtr, vocs)
The following text was kindly submitted by Pete Miller, 2012:
Pete "Buzz" Miller (aka Big Boy Pete)
Before the Invasion. In 1962, Pete "Buzz" Miller recorded with Decca records in England. In 1965 he switched to Columbia using just the name Miller. At the end of the decade he signed with Polydor under the name Big Boy Pete. In the last 10 years Big Boy Pete has had eight vocal albums released and Buzz has made 3 guitar instrumental albums.
Guitarist and vocalist Pete Miller has been at the forefront of the music scene since the early sixties. Rockin' became Miller's business, in fact, back in 1957, after he caught an eyeful of Chuck Berry duck-walking across the screen in the movie classic "Rock Rock Rock". Dreaming of the mythical Johnny B Goode, Pete, a gangly teenager living in the English city of Norwich, sold his Hornby Dublo electric train set for five pounds to buy a secondhand guitar. It had been a mere two hours since he left Chuck Berry at the Regent Theatre on Prince of Wales Road, Norwich. "I saw him duckwalk across the stage and it was all over," Pete says with a laugh. "Sorry Mum, sorry Dad, I'm not going to be that doctor you wanted. Back then, you were a weirdo if you were in a band; now, you're weird if you're not.”
“I went to an all-boys public school - which in fact means a private school in England - and it was very academic, very anti rock 'n' roll, but there were a couple of kids in the class that grooved - listened to records. Dave Wilson was in my class, he’d crafted a home made electric bass guitar, and we started out playing Elvis songs together. We found a drummer; then a rhythm guitar player and a singer - then we got a gig! And thus the Offbeats were born. We rehearsed at our local youth club and gigged at local teen dancehalls.” Pete says. The affection they maintained for their idols was reflected in the songs they performed: Jerry Lee, Chuck, Lonnie, Gene, Eddie, Buddy, Fats, and, of course Elvis. The members of The Offbeats were: Luke Watson - drums, David Wilson - bass (later replaced by Mike Parish), Mike Lorenz - rhythm guitar, Tony Woods - vocals (later replaced by Andy Fields who also played piano), and Pete on lead guitar.
Pete learned guitar by listening to contemporaries such as Hank Marvin, Vic Flick, and Big Jim Sullivan. But it was the Americans Chuck Berry, Scotty Moore, James Burton, Johnny Meeks and Chet Atkins that were his main mentors. "I'd wear out the records learning the guitar solos note by note," he remembers.
In 1956 the only way to hear the latest and greatest came fading in and out from Radio Luxembourg (208 on the medium dial). Most families had but one wireless set, usually in the parlor. The good rock shows aired later in the evening when most of us schoolboys had to be in bed so we did it under the covers with crystal sets and earphones. The components for my set cost 16 shillings and sixpence. The following year another media emerged. Every Saturday evening every kid would religiously watch the "Six-five Special" on BBC TV -- the only visual clues as to how the big boys did it. Eddie Cocran. Gene Vincent. Billy Fury. Marty Wilde. Cliff Richard. Hooped skirts and pointed bras, ponytails and Bobby sox boppin' to the big bad beat. Why else did you play in a band? The skiffle craze was still hot and Pete bought every Lonnie Donegan record that was released. Lonnie always used great guitarists in his group. It wasn't until many years later Pete learned that his producer (Joe Meek) had actually produced and engineering most of the best Lonnie Donegan records. "It was not so much the song as the sound, the tones, the groove. Of course I didn't know what producers really did at the time but later on I realized that they imprinted a certain identifiable sonic footprint. Joe's use of extreme compression was his magic wand." February 14th 1957. (Valentines Day) Went to the Norvic cinema (in Norwich) to see Rock Around the Clock for the second time. February 28th. Bought Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" 78 record. March 3rd. Bought Guy Mitchell's "Singing The Blues" 78 record. April 13th. Bought Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill" 78 record. April 17th. 1957 Bought Humphrey Lyttleton 78 record of "Bad Penny Blues" Here is a few more snippets from Pete's 1957 diary. For a 14 year old kid - an amazing proximity of starbursts occurred in the single month of May. May 5th. Make a home-made guitar with a cigar box, broom handle and length of wire. Take it to a friend's house and he also makes one. We have our very first jam session playing Lonnie Donegan skiffle songs. May 10th. Go to see the Saints skiffle group rehearsing at our youth club. May 12th. A lady comes to my house and buys my Hornby Dublo electric train set for twelve pounds. May 14th. Place a classified ad in the local evening newspaper looking for a guitar. May 15th. Go to the newspaper office. There is one reply. May 16th. Go to the Regent cinema to see the film "Rock, Rock, Rock" in which Chuck Berry does the duckwalk while singing "You Can't Catch Me". After watching the movie three times, I go to buy the guitar. It cost five pounds. It was an acoustic Spanish instrument. May 20th. Buy the Bill Haley 78 record "Goofin Around" - an instrumental featuring Franny Beecher on guitar. May 24th. Buy a Lonnie Donegan songbook of sheet music with guitar chords for 2 shillings and sixpence. May 25th. Listen to rock and roll show (Smash Hits) on Radio Luxembourg. May 29th. Buy the Bill Doggett instrumental "Honky Tonk" (78 rpm) featuring the exemplary solo by guitarist Billy Butler. Notate the complete solo on sheet music. June 2nd. A friend takes a picture of me with my new guitar in his garden. June 11th. Buy a box of new (steel) record needles for my phonograph. (Incidentally, Buzz recently recorded Goofin' Around, Honky Tonk and Bad Penny Blues on his latest instrumental album "Bang It Again!" (by Bonney & Buzz) You may wonder how Pete recalls such vivid details of his 50 year old antics. Well, maybe surprisingly, from January 1st 1949 (when he was just seven years old) until May 20th. 1962 he kept a complete day-to-day diary. How many rockers can tell you exactly what they did on every single day for over 13 years of the most dramatic events and days of their musical life? Pete is still a meticulous saviour of data in all formats. Sunday November 3rd. 1957. It was a rainy day. Stayed in bed late playing my records then listened to Family Favourites on the wireless at noon. Go riding my track-bike in the afternoon through the Valley Drive on Mousehold Heath. Andrew Hawkins, one of my classmate's (who happened to have taken all the Offbeats photographs) and his parents came to dinner in the evening. After dinner, Andrew and I went to my "laboratory" and mixed some chemicals, constructed a home-made bomb by packing the gunpowder into the steel rod casing of an old phonograph pick-up arm that was no longer usable. (I was proficient at making a variety of different explosives including dynamite and TNT, in fact I'd written a "how-to" booklet detailing the methods to produce about thirty different explosives with a home chemistry set). I had recently been given some ex-government military fuse-wire by my cousin which has not been tested prior to that evening. We took our explosive outside the house and set it down on the patio and I lit it with a match. The 12-inch length of fuse-wire was so old and brittle that it burned the whole length in less than a second while I was still leaning over the device. It blew me almost into the next door garden and also brought down the plaster ceiling in the room where our parents were watching television. They whipped me off to hospital where I was stitched up. For the next week I stayed in bed playing guitar and was shot full of pennicelin every day to fight infection because the pain would not go away. This was way back when the doctor did his rounds everyday, happily making house calls with a bagful of needles and pokers and stethoscope and medicines. November 12th 1957 Went to the hospital with Mum to have an X-ray and a small operation to remove the remaining shrapnel from my leg. On the way home we went to Woods music shop and I bought a new Rosetti guitar. It cost 23 pounds and two shillings. "Smashing model. It has a roller bridge." I got most of the money from fruit picking during the previous summer holidays, plus Mum threw in 4 pounds and Dad gave me 1 pound. This was part of my Christmas present. Pete augmented his allowance during the eight-week long school summer holidays by fruit-picking at farms a few miles outside of Norwich. (A city of 150,00 people situated about 100 miles North-East of London). He would bike to the farms at 7.00 am to see if there was work. Wages - beginning July 7th for 8 full days work - 3 pounds, six shillings and twopence. (blackberries, plums and green beans) Eight days picking in August (beans and spuds) total 4 pounds 18 shillings and ninepence. Final total for the summer, 8 pounds, four shillings and sixpence. (About US $30) Up until now, Pete had owned only hollow-body guitars. He briefly saw a flash of a Fender Strat on TV and, having no money other than his measly schoolboy allowance (about two shillings a week) decided to build a solid-body electric for himself. Armed with a handful of Dad's primitive woodworking tools (and not even a vice) he buried himself in his Dad's garden shed for about three months and finally emerged with a few cuts and bruises proudly wielding "Warblerama". A beauteous barely-playable turquoise colored, tremolo-armed, DeArmonde-equipped prize. It also sported a Rosetti pickup in the neck position. Both pickups had their own volume and tone controls and on/off switches. He'd never heard an out-of-phase condition so "I guess I was just lucky when I soldered it all together - I had a soldering iron from my crystal-set making days." Having never seen a real Fender tremolo (or Bigsby) Pete was unaware that a spring was the secret. So he installed a metallic rest for the arm to sit in when not being used. "Occasionally, I'd accidentally knock it off the rest and it would crash down onto the body of the guitar with an alarming, resounding boinging crash, and the strings detuned about a tone, scaring the shit out of the rest of the band and audience. The arm had a rather cool white plastic tip. I nicked it from a chap's Ford automobile. It was the turn indicator signal arm on the steering wheel. The neck was as long as a guitarlin neck - it had about 30 frets." He also put together his own amplifier. His cousin made the electronics from a do-it-youself kit and Pete constructed the chipwood box, inserted a 12-inch Goodmans Audiom 60 speaker and painted the whole thing sparkly black. A sight to behold was this young lad bicycling three miles to rehearsals at the youth club, balancing the amp on his crossbar and the uncased guitar slung around his neck. No mean feat! Is there no lengths a boy will go to to rock and roll? Another of Pete's creations was a bass-reflex cabinet for his bass player. He acquired the exact dimensions for the cabinet and the correct position for the port from a popular science magazine. He "borrowed" the ten-inch speaker from his parents' wireless console. "I remember testing it by playing my 45 of Eddie Cochran's C'mon Everybody through it which had a nice deep bass guitar intro." Pete remembers buying an "expensive" set of Fender guitar strings and holding on to them for months before installing them for a "really important gig!" (They didn't sound any different from his normal Ivor Maraints set) Maybe it was the tortoiseshell plectrum!
Not a collectors item by design, “Introducing the Offbeats” - their 1959 six song E.P. survives as the Offbeats' only recorded legacy on the Magnegraph label. “It was a London company and I just sent off the tape to them, and that was the end of it. We didn't know anything about the record business in those days. I remember getting some copies, but I don't recall how many were pressed. I don't know anybody who has one. It was an instrumental EP, six songs, all originals.” Pete remembers. “The Offbeats lasted a couple of years, I have a list of all the gigs that we ever did; we played about one a week from July 17, 1959 to March 16, 1961, then I joined another local band who seemed to be on the stairway to stardom.”
THE JAYWALKER YEARS
Unfortunately, after a few months the neck of Warblerama began to bow and the action became un-playably high so he set about designing and building a replacement. But why not invent something different? Back to the woodshed with a few more ingenious ideas. "I don't think I had ever seen or known of the existence of a double-neck guitar at that time." Twelve weeks later he emerged with Warblerama II. A lilac-coloured wonderbeast sporting a six-string guitar neck and four-string bass neck. This time, he laid a steel rod surrounded by a bed of concrete inside each of the necks! "The bloody thing weighed a ton, and was totally top heavy, but it sounded screamy and looked gorgeous. The Jaywalkers absolutely insisted I played it at The Windmill theatre in Great Yarmouth when I joined them in the Spring of 1961." Pete had been going to school in the daytime and taking his A-level exams and after school, catching the train 20 miles to Yarmouth to do the show each night. Now the writing was on the wall. The applause pre-empted the academics. A career. It was an esteemed public school. (A private school to you Americans.) A highly conservative, ancient boys-only school of unblemished repute. Lord Nelson had once been a pupil. Pete remembers one lunchtime, he was severely reprimanded for playing his "Jailhouse Rock" 45 on the school phonograph. ("This machine is ONLY for classical music!") Forty years later, the current headmaster visited Pete in San Francisco and asked him if he would consider becoming the school's US representitive. How things change! "It was nice taking the headmaster out to lunch and getting him pissed on Thai Singha beer!" Norwich City was unique in more ways than one. There was an amplification company known as E.R.A. They would truck a PA system to various local events such as fetes and festivals. (Not unlike Joe Meek used to do in his pre recording studio days). A by-product of E.R.A's activities was the production of a small amplifier/speaker combo which came to the attention of local pickers. The name on the amp was Haco. It had all the trimmings of an early Vox AC15, contained a 12" speaker, sounded great and found a home with almost every local skiffle group and rock band within 50 miles. It also sported a basic tremolo circuit. Even Tony Sheridan used one for a few years. (Incidentally, Pete and Tony grew up just a few blocks from each other in the Norwich suburb of Thorpe St. Andrew). The E.R.A. company also had a small acetate recording studio upstairs in its shop on Botolph street where a few ambitious groups made their way to record demos. The Offbeats had a couple of Haco amps. Pete actually preferred the sound of his Haco over the Vox AC15. "It had a sweeter tone". In fact, later in the decade he integrated it into his recording studio where all the Big Boy Pete records were made. It played an integral role in supplying his strange guitar sounds. Most guitarists at that time used the Watkins copycat for echo, but Pete had a red coloured Selmer Truvoice. Essentially the same thing but not quite the same sound. A razor blade and reel of blank recording tape were mandatory road items at that time because the splice on the loop of tape would frequently come adrift due to the heat the unit built up. His tape-echo unit would last until 1962 when he upgraded to a Baby Binson which he bought second-hand from Jim Marshall's shop on the Uxbridge Road, London. Hank B. Marvin used a Binson at this time. They sounded great but were prone to the rigors of the road. If the unit had been bumped around on the trip, the revolving metal magnetic disc would wow and flutter for a while before settling down to a uniform speed. "We would warm them up for half an hour if possible before taking the stage." At the end of that first wonderful summer season in Great Yarmouth with the Jaywalkers where Tommy Steele and Frankie Howard were the stars of the show, a pair of bright-red Hofner Verithins arrived so Pete left the double-necked donkey in a dusty darkened corner underneath the stage of the Windmill Theatre and happily Verithinned his way onto his first Larry Parnes tour backing the top pop stars of the day. "I often wonder what happened to Warblerama II - I never did go back to look for it". Just look at the picture. Has anybody created a prettier looking double-neck? "Hofners had that distinctively indestinctive run-of-the-mill European pick-up tone. Listen to Bert Weedon. Oh and by the way, you won't get famous if you play a Framus!" Then came the stage full of Voxes. The band had two bass players and two guitar players and also needed a PA for the dance-hall tours. The endorsement deal with Vox was very generous. They would give us what we asked for whenever we asked for it and it arrived promptly. We didn't take advantage and luckily this went on for a few years. Initially the Vox equipment was thrust upon us without us being able to select individual instruments, but it was free so nobody bitched. The AC30 amps were always great but after a while we became despondent with the poor sound quality and virtual unplayability of some of the Phantom guitar necks. The twelve-string guitar was just dreadful. The four-string bass wasn't at all bad but the only instrument which really sounded great was the Phantom six-string bass. You can hear Pete soloing with this at the end of their "Poet and Peasant" record and also playing the introduction to "You Girl" on the Phantom 12-stringer. Talking about endorsement deals, George Harrison also had one with Gretsch. I remember midway through the Beatles tour, we were playing Manchester I think, probably the Apollo theatre. The morning after the show we all arrived back at the theatre to pack up the gear and re-board the tour bus for the next night. Jack, our driver looked a little shocked and told us that the theatre had been broken into during the night and amongst other things, George's Country Gentleman had been stolen. George, to my surprise was quite unfazed. "Doesn't matter. Who cares. They'll send me up another." To me, the loss of your very own guitar is like losing a member of your family and in no uncertain terms I told him how I felt about his attitude. We had a bit of a barney about that. Anyway, when we arrived at the next town on the tour, a policeman was awaiting the bus with George's Gent slung over his back. Looked kinda funny - with his Bobby's helmet and all! He explained that the guitar had been found only a few blocks away from the Apollo theatre, just hanging on the wrought iron fence of a church graveyard. Maybe the thief had second thoughts. Who knows! Soon after Vox started making solid-state amps, circa 1964, a pair of Vox Super Transonic amps were manufactured and given to the Jaywalkers to try out on stage. Pete believes they were the only pair ever to leave the factory. They were essentially fully-working prototypes which were given to the band to test on the road. After a quick trial we found they were unsuitable for public consumption and for any kind of bass or low-end instrument because of their small 3-inch tweeters. They were barely passable for lead guitar and rhythm guitar. We used them on tour for about a week before shipping the remains (I think in a coffin) back to the Vox factory in Dartford along with our disgruntled evaluation: In comparison to the trusty AC30s, they were a load of crap. The transistor amps sounded distorted, toneless, thin and nasty. The tweeters soon blew, the chrome hardware broke, the counter weights fell off, the casters broke, and the fuses continually blew. Even the Vox logo fell off. Needless to say, they never went into full production. The two 12-inch speakers in the lower cabinet were whatever Vox was using at that time in its AC 30s. However, the Super Transonic looked really cool. The amp and speaker cabinets were covered with the same orange vinyl cloth that was used later on the Vox Continental organ. The grill cloth was a light beige. The two tweeters were housed in circular chrome balls, balanced by a solid counterweight. They would rotate horizontally but not vertically.
Vox had made a valiant but failed attempt to enter the cool. Like many other musical instrument manufacturers who over the ages have unsuccessfully tried to expand into new waters, it may have signaled the beginning of the end for the company. They panicked with more untoward and preposterous products such as the Electric Conga Drum which also has a story. It was essentially an oblong wooden black vinyl-covered wooden box with nothing but a microphone inside - and it had its own chrome stand. Of course it sported the Vox logo. My band The News took one of these to Thailand in 1969 (we were touring the US bases, working for the Vietnam GIs.) Firstly the "drum" got lost by Alitalia airlines and never arrived with the rest of our equipment in Bangkok. A few weeks later Vox sent us a replacement and we used it for such sillyness as 50-minute jams on "In A Gadda Da Vida", complete with Electric Conga Drum versus Electric Wah Wah Sitar solo battles. The drum acquired the name "The Electric What" because GI's would come up to us on stage and ask "what's that box we were beating on?" We'd tell them "It's an electric Conga" and they would say "An electric what?". "We also were privy to some of the very first Asian guitar and amp knock-offs. Most of them were quite dreadful and fairly obvious to any experienced picker that they came from cocoanut trees. They certainly wouldn't get past George Gruhn - even at closing time. However, some GIs were fooled and bought them real cheap from the PXs. Many ended up back in the USA.
Vox also issued a small amount of ribbon microphones. Many of you may have noticed pictures of English Beat groups on stage singing through these oblong looking mics. They were actually manufactured by the Reslo company but Vox stuck their logo sticker onto the body. They sound excellent with a warm delicate resonance. The only drawback is that ribbon mics are very fragile and don't stand up to the rigorous road life very well. You can break the ribbon even by blowing into the mic. Our band would go through a couple of dozen of these every year. Pete still has one of these Vox/Reslos in his studio that he uses on occasion for special sounds. It works nicely micing a low-level Deluxe reverb, off-axis, from a distance of about twelve inches.
Upon hearing of our disappointment with the Phantom guitars as well as the Martian amps, Vox invited the whole band to come down to the factory one afternoon. "I remember getting excited seeing the Phantom guitar-organ on the workbench but it wasn't quite ready for a test drive on that day. The people gave us cups of tea and a proud tour of their factory and we left with a van full of goodies, including about eight guitars and the same number of AC30s. They also supplied us with a hefty PA system which we would use on the dancehall circuit. This had a pair of Vox columns containing about six tens in each and a complementary mixer/amp of quantiful wattage. All this gear was quite enough for a couple of long arduous tours. We were working over 300 nights per year. It was on one of these tours that the javelin Phantom incident occurred. This resulted in a replacement one-of-a-kind pair of look-a-like Phantom guitars which to all intents and purposes, from a distance, looked just like the real thing, but actually contained Fender Strat pick-ups and fiendishly disguised Fender necks with the Phantom headstock glued on. Needless to say, they played and sounded great.
I heard later that when details on the hybrid Voxes with hacked-up Fender parts reached Leo's ears at Fullerton in California, apparently this caused the immediate cessation of import license to JMI and they lost the Fender contract to Selmers - which was just two shops down on Charing Cross Road. Has anybody ever pointed out that that location on Charing Cross Road near Cambridge Circus, shoulder to shoulder stood The Big Four? Annello & Davide, Jennings, Cecil Gee's and Selmers. Everything a rocker could ever need. Beatle boots, fancy stagewear, amps and guitars. And it was right across the street from the Pussycat porno theatre and a great pub, the name of which presently eludes me. This one-of-a-kind special-issue incident was not unheard of in those days. The early Shadows, after a discourse twixt players and Vox boffins were supplied with AC30s which contained extra tone controls located on a white panel cut into the back of the amp. This gave the players a much greater tonal range and made the Vox capable of sounding just like a Fender Bassman if desired. Thousands of budding Hanks around Britain wondered why their salmon-pink Strat and AC30 didn't sound anything like Mr. Marvin's. It was at least a couple of years before Vox implemented this "treble boost" into the top panel for the hoi polloi. (Actually the original circuit was not just a treble boost, but it had a bass boost controlling a midrange cut - something else lifted from uncle Leo's three-ten Bandmaster circuit).
The AC30s not only suffered from overheating - even while working for short periods, but they'd start smoking and burst into flames every once in a while. We learned to use the stand-by switches at every available opportunity. Furthermore the cabinetry was less than stellar. Twelve months on the road being dumped daily into the cargo hold of the Timpsons tour bus by ex-wrestler Jack (our cigar-drenched driver) took a toll on the mortoise-and-tenon joints which would gradually come apart due to the overheating. I remember picking mine up one day and the handle and top just popped away from the rest of the cabinet. Never mind - call Dartford. I think even Paul would agree that the T60 was less than fulfilling for bass. Dave Denny would crucify me, bless his soul, but let's be honest the AC30 was king. The rest was crap. Vox should have stuck with their valve amps and Jim Marshall might still be trading used gear in his Hanwell shop. But it happens with all companies: Gretsch got Baldwinized, Fender got CB-Ssed, the only true believer was Gibson - but even they faltered for a while. Their quality was compromised when Kalamazoo raised the rebel flag in Tennessee. And let's not even get into the later Asian artifucks. Most companies, other than Fender and Gibson had just a couple of winners and a bagful of losers. Now I don't expect all the major guitar companies to come a-knocking at my door for design ideas after this story, you know why? Cos they're all run by corporate penny-pinching polyester-suited clit-twits who don't really know the difference between a G-string and a Vegas dancer. It's always been a torrid tale of misled marketing. I don't have a lot to say about Vox guitars that couldn't be summed up in a single word. That's why you see very few of the famous sixties beat groups using them. They were basically your starter guitar for the younger local bands who couldn't afford anything superior. The Jaywalkers now had a couple of long tours under their belt and a second summer-season coming up. (A summer-season was a thirteen week gig in one of the many seaside theatres around the country where folks would vacation for a fortnight). There was also a major-label recording contract was in the works. I decided it was now time for a real guitar. AN AMERICAN GUITAR! I espied a two-tone green Gretsch Anniversary while walking around the London music stores with my girlfriend Kathy one afternoon, on Monday April 30th. 1962 to be exact. (You don't forget your first time!) It sat in Selmer's window. It was love at first sight. She dragged me away and we walked into the 2 I's coffee bar in Soho and I couldn't get him out of my mind. Kathy went home at 3.30 pm. Next morning (May 1st) I was waiting for the shop to open and for 159 pounds, Henry had a new home. That night on stage at a dance hall gig in High Wycombe he made his premier appearance. I remember being a little disappointed because his Hilotron pickups were not as strong as my Hofner Verithin's although his tone was magnificent. A few months later George pointed it out to me after he'd used Henry on stage a couple of times: "Trade the Hilotrons for Filtertrons". Yeah sure! Finding Gretsch parts in England? No way! (Both George and John would use Henry on stage occasionally - when their own instruments were out-of-commision due to broken strings etc. This was long before anybody had the luxury of roadie guitar-techs.) "All I wanted to play with my new guitar was Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy tunes." Luckily, there were such songs in the Jaywalkers' repertoire. Henry was Pete's ONLY electric guitar for the next 35 years until 1980 when he needed the sound of a single-coil pickup solid body guitar for a particular album. So what did he do? He built one! Of course, this was with Henry's full permission. But Henry can be heard on hundreds of his recordings. There aren't many guitar players who can truthfully say they've been faithful to the same guitar for 46 years. So it wasn't just a May-day madness fling! Towards the end of the touring days in 1965, he was using the Vox AC30 as the power amp, but bypassing its pre-amp stage. He inserted his RCA Orthophonic Hi-Fi Preamp and also replaced the Vox speakers with a pair of 12" Golden Wharfdales. This would be the equivalent of replacing sixties Fender speakers with JBLs. The result was a more contemporary, louder, over-ridden, brighter and fatter sound. After leaving the Jays in 1965 and signing with Columbia as just Miller, he released his first solo record "Baby I got News for You". Back in his hometown Norwich he formed a new band, the Fuzz, and purchased a 50-watt Marshall half stack. He never was totally happy with the sound, the marriage of Gretsch and Marshall was not made in Heaven. A Selmer fuzz box, Vox wah-wah and DeArmonde 610 pedal helped the mis-matched couple. They resided for a few years at Pete's unBeatlebooted feet. One day Pete's music publisher called. He was producing a record and wanted Pete's unique violin/guitar sound on a recording. The sound of this set-up can be heard on The Magic Lantern's recording of Rumplestiltskin. Pete humped his guitar and all his unique recording stuff onto the bus to the Norwich train station, then across London on the underground to the Regent Sound recording studio on Denmark Street (where they used the larger gold-coloured Binson Echorec for studio echo) to play the lead guitar part on the Lanterns' song. (He got five pounds for his trouble). The skullduggery of copyright pilfering would snakedance indelibly into his lobes before the pentade was over. While in London he heard of an Abbey Road tape-recorder that was looking for a new home. "It weighed about 400 lbs. We actually loaded the monster EMI machine into the trunk of my drummer's Jaguar car (of course the door wouldn't close) and drove it back to my home with the car riding at a 15 degree angle. The machine was far too heavy to get upstairs into my bedroom-studio so my mother kindly allowed me to move the studio downstairs into the lounge - which was sizable by English standards. We pulled a curtain across that corner of the room when guests were due to be entertained. It actually worked out well because Dad's upright piano could now be implemented on my recordings. He wasn't too keen on the thumb tacks I installed on the hammers. I told him to imagine he was playing a well tempered clavier!" Pete was lured away from the Offbeats in 1961 by Peter Jay, who fronted the rival group "The Jaywalkers", also from Norfolk. “The Offbeats and the Jays had played a dance together, February 10, 1961. That was when Pete Jay decided that he was gonna steal me from the Offbeats. He contacted me and said, ‘You must meet me in the Wimpy Bar.’ (That was the musicians’ hangout in Norwich). It was all kind of secret, we snuck into the back of the room, because there were other musicians hanging around, and you were considered kind of unfaithful or unloyal if you started talking to another band.” So Pete’s hangout went from the Norwich Wimpy bar to Soho’s coffee houses where he met his idol Hank B. Marvin one morning. They became acquainted early one morning over breakfast in the Golden Egg restaurant - opposite the 2 Is coffee bar in Old Compton Street.
The Jaywalkers were a popular sax-driven instrumental group that played the big theatres and were courting a record deal with Decca. "They were basically copying American bands such as the The Piltdown Men and Johnny & The Hurricanes," says Pete, “but they wanted to feature the guitar a lot more." Jay was particularly fond of Pete's creative guitar techniques, which bolstered the Jaywalker's non-stop road show and helped boost them into the charts with the classic "Can Can 62". The Jaywalkers toured incessantly, playing a grueling road schedule of more than 300 gigs a year and backing up countless acts. Pete credits the heavy gigging with developing his chops and versatility. "If there were nine acts on the bill, we would be backing up seven of them", he says. "So I was able to gain a lot of experience playing different musical styles."
With Pete on lead guitar, the Jaywalkers enjoyed immense popularity in Britain, releasing a dozen singles for Decca and Pye records between 1961 and 1966. Many of these tracks were produced and engineered by the legendary Joe Meek (Outlaws, Tornados, Honeycombs, Heinz etc.) from Joe's bedroom recording studio at 304 Holloway Road in London. It was from Joe that Pete learned many tricks of the trade as far as recording techniques are concerned which is quite apparent in the sounds on the Big Boy Pete records. It was around this time that Pete turned down an offer from Clem Cattini to join the Tornados - just days before they recorded the world-wide smash Telstar. No regrets!
Equipped with two bass players (a strategy that Pete employed in many of his later recordings), and a barriage of Vox equipment, the Jaywalkers made numerous TV appearances (Ready Steady Go, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Arthur Haynes Show, Cool Spot, etc.) and stole many a show from their headliners. Their stage show was probably the first really heavily choreographed rock group performance in history. It was not just their music, they were visually exciting, humerous and colourful. In Pete's five years with the group, the Jaywalkers toured and shared bills with the diverse likes of the Kinks, Animals, Dave Clark 5, Billy J. Kramer, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Cream, Donovan, Freddy and the Dreamers, Billy Fury, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, The Tornados, The Moody Blues, Maryanne Faithfull, Carl Denver Trio, Joe Brown, Eden Kane, Shane Fenton and the Fentones, Brian Poole & the Tremeloes, Marty Wilde, The Byrds, Gene Pitney, Freddie Cannon, Del Shannon, Gene Vincent, in addition to the Beatles and Rolling Stones tours. On the big Larry Parnes tours which occured twice a year, the Jaywalkers would play their own set and serve as backup band for the solo acts who didn’t have their own group.
The popular success of "Can Can 62" landed the Jaywalkers second billing to the Beatles on that legendary tour in the autumn of 1963, from whence the term Beatlemania was coined. Incidentally, their hit “Can Can 62” was released the very same week as the Beatles’ first record “Love Me Do”, and they both enterered the charts at the same time. "The Beatles were our pals," Pete says. "We had already hung out together a lot, even before we’d both gotten signed, they were just another band, like us. No big deal.” When asked about those tempestuous times, Pete leans back in his chair and smiles. “Another anecdote? Okay. I suppose no story is complete without a new Beatles' anecdote.
(NB: For those of you who have travelled no further than your outhouse, Aer Lingus is an Irish airline). "I remember we were flying to Ireland. It was around noon on November 7th. 1963. We sat patiently on the runway at London airport awaiting take-off clearance. It was a regular commercial flight. We were about one week into the Beatles tour which was set to play the Ritz in Dublin that night and the Adelphi in Belfast the following night. I was sitting directly across the aisle from John and Paul. The captain came on the intercom, introduced the crew and then welcomed the passengers: 'We are happy to have the pleasure of your company today on this flight today to Ireland and we would like to give a special welcome to some famous lads. We have all the Beatles on board. Welcome to Aer Lingus!' " John immediately jumped up out of his seat and yelled 'Don't ya mean cunnilingus?' "Everybody on the plane burst into laughter."
Pete's debut on a major label as a guitar player however, was not with the Jaywalkers - he played lead guitar for Marty Wilde on his minor hit single “Ever Since You Said Goodbye.” The late Heinz (from The Tornadoes) was the bass player. It was recorded at IBC studios in Portland Place. Pete "Buzz" Miller (as he was often known in those days) still plays the very same two-tone green 1961 Gretsch Anniversary guitar (Henry) that was featured as the lead instrument on all of the Jaywalkers records and later, on all the Big Boy Pete stuff. Like many of his contemporaries, he bought it on the never-never from Selmers on Charing Cross Road. Although somewhat faded, it still bears the shop name on the strap.
Incidentally, here’s a couple of pieces of trivia: Next door to Selmers were a couple of other notable shops. Jennings music store, run by Larry Macari, was the original outlet for Vox amplifiers and Vox guitars. (With an old Italian accordian maker working in the basement). Next door to that was Annello and Davide, a tiny boot and shoemaking store which catered to the needs of Spanish flamenco dancers and ballet dancers. It was there that their hand made flamenco boots caught the eyes of all rockers, giving them an extra two inches in height. The boots later became known around the world as Beatle Boots. In 1972 the shop moved to a new location in the heart of London’s theatre district - Drury Lane.
“Every act on the tour used to wear suits that were made by the same tailor - Dougie Millings, he had a little shop down in Soho. Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, the Beatles, The Shadows, everybody wore his suits. They were about 30 quid each. They were fabulous hand-made suits in beautiful Italian silk, and Dougie would do one special thing just for us guitar players: Inside, under the right lapel at the top, he would put a tiny little pocket, a pick pocket, where we could store our plectrums. (Or is it plectra?). The Jaywalkers trademark was for us all to wear a different coloured suit - yellow, red, green, orange, lilac, blue and silver. Mine was yellow.”
“The annual calendar was a pretty hectic affair. A couple of months of dance hall gigs would begin in January followed by a spring tour, which would last a couple of months. This would be about sixty continuous one night stands in theatres around Britain. Then the summer season would come along, that would take 14 to 16 weeks in some beach resort like Great Yarmouth or Blackpool. After that, we'd go out on the autumn tour, another eight-weeker which would take us up to the end of November. Any odd days that we had off, we'd be in the recording studio, or doing TV shows or photo shoots. The ballroom gigs would be just single nights in big dancehall chains such as Meccas, Locarnos, Hammersmith Palais etc. We liked the dancehall gigs because we got to play longer. On the tours we'd only get to play about a 13-14 minute set per show - although we'd be backing most of the acts on the bill, so we'd be onstage most of the night. But on a ballroom gig we would always be the main attraction and we'd get to play for 45 minutes. There would be one or two local bands opening for us. I met a lot of unknowns in those bands who later became big stars. Our first single was recorded at Decca studios in Broadhurst Gardens, Hampstead, in a large studio where they could record symphony orchestras. We did "Can Can 62" in there, with Joe Meek producing. He didn't get along with the Decca engineers because he couldn't get the sounds he wanted. The white-coated boffins would not allow him to push the equipment beyond the limits into the distorting red zones. (Which was one of the secret ingredients to his unique sound.) After that session he decided he was gonna record us in his own place from then on. Our second single was "Totem Pole." We were in Joe's house in the morning, on Holloway Road, and I think he didn't like the B-side that we'd prepared, and decided that he wanted to do something else. So he sent the boys down to the pub and asked me if I would stay and write the B-side with him. I was fiddling around with the guitar coming up with lines, and a tune came together which we called "Jaywalker." It only took about 20 minutes or so. I remember at the time I was kind of surprised that he would let me get away with some of the lines I was doing - there were some kinda inside guitar things on there which a Decca producer would probably have not accepted. Then the boys returned and we recorded it. Joe was the English equivalent to Phil Spector. He really had an ear and a notion for the exact sound he wanted. I would watch, pick up stuff, and hang around with him after he was done recording us if he had another session booked. He became somewhat secretive later on when he thought people were listening through the walls and stealing his ideas.”
“Our next single was "If You Love Me," an old Edith Piaf song. Nice melody. That was produced by Ivor Raymonde back at Decca number two studio, because there were strings and French horns and things, and Joe didn't like to deal with that kind of stuff. I guess they probably wouldn't all fit in his house!” I remember we played “If you Love Me” live on the Arthur Haynes TV Show. That was kinda scary because most on almost all TV shows you would mime to the record. Furthermore our management insisted that we used the Vox Phantom guitars that we were endorsing at that time which although they looked cool, were never very playable and sounded like shit. (We never ever used them on our recordings.)”
“We just weren't happy with the way Decca was marketing us, and they didn't want to release our records in America, and we wanted them out over there. So we changed labels and went to Pye (Piccadilly) records working under the production of John Schroeder with Eddie Kramer as engineer. Around that time we happened to do a couple of dozen dates with the Rolling Stones. By that time bands like the Stones and Kinks were getting popular. We decided we needed a new image, because although we had a massive fan club (about 10,000), we weren't getting our records into the charts anymore.”
“So first off, we let our hair get a bit longer. Then we dumped the Beatle Boots for Nazi-looking knee-high boots. Got rid of the fancy suits, donned American style casual clothes and pretended to be cool. It was basically a conscious decision, we were changing horses midstream. I remember the Pretty Things opening for us in Glasgow, Scotland, and we were amazed. It was like looking at a Hammer movie, a Fellini movie or something! They were doing raunchy R&B, and although the music was great, their appearance was something aweful. British bands up to that point, including The Beatles were very clean-cut and professional, no fuckin' around. The Pretty Things was a whole different attitude like we'd ever seen, and it blew us all away. Then we did a gig at Slough Adelphi with The Byrds, and their completely unprofessional unpolished stage performance kinda sealed it. It was scruff-out time. I’m sure Dougie Millings, the tailor, was less than pleased with this wardrobe change. There really wasn’t too much friction within the band. In those days the roads were really bad and roadwork was a killer, sometimes it would take 15 hours to travel 350 miles. But it was fun, we worked with a lot of good people, but it's hard when you've got a six-piece band living out of each others' suitcases. You deal with it. We had very little time off to socialize anyway; we were lucky to make it home to London one night a week. Quite often we would not book a hotel. We'd just wait and see if there were any young ladies outside the stage door who would take pity on a homeless musician for a night and take us home - which sometimes happened. Often we’d luck out, sometimes we didn't. I remember sleeping in the backs of theatres, in the back of our band wagon, and quite a few nights just walking the streets waiting for morning to come. But after five years, it starts to wear a little thin, you can only take so much.”
By late 1965 Pete eventually grew tired of the incessant road work and quit the Jaywalkers. But not before he had made plans for a solo career. He was replaced by Terry Reid who became the guitarist for the group's final year before they hung up their rock and roll shoes and disbanded.
“I was still with the Jaywalkers when I wrote "Baby I've Got News For You". I offered it to them and they didn’t like it so I recorded it surreptitiously in the summer of '65. You couldn't record at Decca or Columbia unless you were signed to them, so I went to a private studio: R.G. Jones, in Morden, Surrey and made the record there. That studio has now reached a legendary status because many famous artists cut their teeth there. Some demos were produced on the Oak label and I got signed to Columbia. The record was released October 29th., 1965 and that’s when I quit the Jays. The guys who backed me on the record were members of The Herd, including Peter Frampton, Andy Bown, and Mickey Waller on drums. They were all pals of mine at the time.” The single was released under the name Miller. Alas, Pete's ferociously fuzzy guitar riff and Troggsy snarl -- which earned the single the arguable title of first British psychedelic tune ever -- was far too rough for the Mersey-sweetbeat public.
Miller undertook a few solo appearances to promote the record at such places as the Marquee on Wardour street, Hammersmith Palais and the 100 club on Oxford street, and also did a live broadcast for Radio Luxembourg. This record has been re-released on numerous independent compilation albums. It has also been bootlegged by a French record company with an exact look-alike Columbia label, so collectors beware!
Pete was living in a flat on Randolph Avenue in Maida Vale, London through March of '66 writing songs. Although he had written some instrumentals for the Jaywalkers, his first vocal composition was a little love song called "Time Has No Meaning When You’re Young” which had been hanging around since 1964. His songwriting skills soon rewarded him. He decided to take this song to a London publisher, Mike Collier at Campbell Connelly, and fortunately Mike fell in love with it and not only published it, but offered Pete a house-writer’s contract and retainer. And that was the start of Pete’s career as a tunesmith.
Word soon got around that Pete was now a gun for hire. With his solid guitar-playing reputation, he began doing extensive work as a studio session musician in London, playing on dozens of records for other folks during that golden era of British pop. “The sessions were fast and furious, you don't remember them.” Pete recalls. “But I do remember one thing, I was doin' a lot of ska and bluebeat stuff with Jamaican artists like Millie, those kinda people, and some English artists who were trying to jump onto the bandwagon. Alan Caddy, the lead guitar player from the Tornadoes, was doing some production in those days, and he used me on a lot of this stuff ‘cause it was beginning to get real popular. I remember that after three hours of bopping up and down to that kind of ska rhythm guitar backbeat, when I left the studio, I'd lope down the street nodding that incessant rhythm like a deranged wino. I had developed the bluebeat rhythm by that point, so if producers wanted that style I would get called in. I thought I might have been able to make a living out of doing sessions, it was fun but it was tough, I was getting about 5 quid for three hours work. One non-bluebeat session I do remember at Regent Sound was playing a fuzzy violin-sounding lead guitar for the Magic Lanterns on their song Rumplestiltskin. I even contemplated working with Jerry Dorsey (later Engelbert Humperdinck). Jerry had a 12 week gig lined up somewhere in the South of France and did a couple of rehearsals with him before deciding that this was not the avenue to pursue.”
Somewhat disappointed by the rigors of the star-making machinery, and deciding that five years in London was enough (1961-1966), Pete quit his flat in Maida Vale and returned to his home town Norwich to "churn out hits for the stars". Here he could channel all his energy and concentration into being a staff writer for the music publishing company that had signed him.
BACK TO NORWICH
This brings us into the beginning of the Big Boy Pete psychedelic era. Or as Pete used to call it - Psychobollux. Endless touring had taken its toll, and finally, freed from the road, a burned-out Pete sequestered himself in his home studio in Norwich. Under the spell of psychedelic-influenced albums such as the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, Pete wrote and recorded hundreds of tracks over the course of the next three years and Big Boy Pete was born. Comparisons to tracks from these classic albums are inevitable and Pete unashamedly admits to the influences.
Although his songs owe a great deal to British psychedelia, Pete's rocking roots poke through on many cuts where he mixes fuzzed-out wah-wah textures with rockabilly style solos and raving rock breaks through from time to time. Then he tosses aside his roots-rock influences and unleashes lewd ring-modulated fuzz squawks that presage Adrian Belew's animal calls. His recordings are full of well-conceived guitar parts developed through Pete’s process of "letting the tune do the talking. I always get my inspiration from the song and what the song calls for, then I try to come up with something appropriate." he says.
Although most of his songs were recorded at his home studio, some were taped at Advision studios in New Bond. Others were cut at R. G. Jones, Regent Sound, and Olympic studios. But back in Norwich Pete was able to do what he liked best - writing and recording. From his studio in Margetson Avenue, Norwich, surrounded by lava lamps and Hindu visuals, literally hundreds of recordings were completed between 1966 and 1969, including "Cold Turkey". Many of these, rejected at the time by the London publishers as being "too far out" are now available for the very first time.
Of the 100 or so songs that were published by major publishing houses in London, fewer than 20 were actually taken and recorded by established artists. Freddie and the Dreamers, Sounds Orchestral, Boz, and The Knack were just a few of the artists who recorded Pete’s compositions. More recently, The Damned covered his song "Cold Turkey" on their Nazz Nomad and the Nightmares album. Also, The Bristols did great versions of “Baby I Got News For You” and “My Love is Like a Spaceship” (The B-side of Cold Turkey). A New York band, the Squires of the Subterrain, was so taken with Pete’s sixties tunes that they released a complete album of fourteen never-before-heard Big Boy Pete songs entitled “Big Boy Pete’s Treats”.
Frequent trips to solicit the music publishers in London’s Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street) found him often hanging out in the infamous Giaconda coffee bar with his equal-opportunity, claphappy girlfriend Maria who worked there as a waitress. One lunchtime an informal jam session took place in the upstairs studio of one of the publishers' offices with Pete, Clapton and Page exchanging licks.
For you hi-finatics, the equipment in his Norwich studio consisted of the following: For tape recorders - Vortexion, C.B.L, Bang & Olufsen, Brenell, and later, an old mono monster EMI BTR-1 which came from Abbey Road studios. Being limited to two-track recorders at best, bouncing signals between machines gave Pete multitrack capabilities. Up to nine bounces were achieved on some songs before severe signal degradation (and tape hiss) prevented further. Tape speeds of 15, 7 1/2, 3 3/4 , and even 1 7/8 inches per second were used to produce various delays of slap-back echo. Other echo devices included a Binson Echorec, Watkins Copycat, and a couple of Farfisa spring reverb units to achieve stereo reverb. Extra reverberation was acquired by commandeering the bathroom as an acoustic echo chamber, and also the underground concrete-walled bomb shelter from World War II, which was buried in Pete's back garden. A visiting producer once remarked that it may have been illegal to have so many echo devices in one place!
Signal processing options were also limited. A custom made six input mixer (with no EQ) linked to a single channel RCA Orthophonic equaliser provided frugal mixing power. The monitor system consisted of a Norwich-made HACO amplifier linked to a pair of Golden Wharfdale speakers. Two local electronic wizards - Granville Hornsby and Tony Howes built Pete a couple of unique effects boxes (the Goobly Box and the Humbert Humbert) with which some unprecedented sounds could be created. The sound of a monophonic synthesizer was simulated by hand-twisting the oscillator dial on a Honor sine wave generator. Pete discovered that the recognizable Joe Meek sound (squashing signals through a Fairchild 670 compressor) could be simulated by carefully overloading the valve pre-amps of certain tape recorders, hence saturating the tape.
Studio instruments included Fender, Marshall 50 watt half stack, and Haco amplifiers (No Voxes - Pete had had enough of them from his Jaywalker days) also an upright piano with tacks in the hammers, a Fiesta red '62 Fender Precision bass, electric violin, electric sitar, wooden flutes, various percussion instruments, Levin acoustic guitar with DeArmonde pickup, and of course Henry - Pete's trusty Gretsch guitar, which he still plays to this day.
Many of Norfolk's local bands also recorded demos at Pete's recording facility and he helped local songwriters get their works published through his contacts. But writing and recording left a void and Pete needed to play live so after a few months, in the summer of '66, he formed a new band called The Fuzz. “Probably my most favourite band, 'cos we did all the old fifties rock 'n' roll shit that I loved - Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, Larry Williams etc. Yeah, we rocked. Although they called me Big Boy Pete on the record label, The Fuzz were actually the guys that backed me on "Cold Turkey" which was released a couple of years later. Sadly, the band was short-lived because we refused to play the hits-du-jour. Gigs were few and far between, so when another local band called The Continentals offered me a job, and I decided to go with them. The Fuzz only lasted three or four months, and The Continentals disbanded after about the same amount of time.”
“Around Christmas time I went to work at this club on the rural outskirts of of Norwich. The now infamous Washington 400 Country Club. Actually it was a gambling casino with a restaurant and a hotel, frequented by traveling salesmen and dodgy underworld characters. The club put on a little cabaret show twice a night with striptease, singers and maybe a magician or a comedian. It was a bit like the working mens’ clubs from Northern England. I played in the house band for the shows and then for general dancing. We would do a lot of Jimmy Smith kind of stuff, Stones, Mose Allison, anything. It was a very easy gig. We could play whatever we wanted. They didn't give a hell. They just wanted to see the tits. I would go there five hours a night, hang out with the strippers, smoke hash, drink barrels of beer, get in loads of trouble, and then go home and write songs before hitting the sack. Then I'd get up at the crack of noon, go to my studio and record them. It was almost like a regimented procedure five or six days a week. Some weeks I’d complete ten or more songs. Incidentally, the song “Pig” on this album was about Roy Dashwood, the club owner.” Over the course of the next two years, as personnel came and left, Pete played in various incarnations of the Washington house band - The Paul Saint Trio, Peter London Trio, SNAFU, and finally The News.
On January 26th. 1968, Pete made one last stab at commercial success, putting out his second solo "Cold Turkey". It was released on the Camp label - a subsidiary of Polydor. The song was the kind of bluesy hard rock that bands like Blue Cheer would eventually popularize; at the time, however, no one wanted to play it. This record is now regarded as one of the most collectable 45s from that era. As it was the heyday for strange names, Polydor issued the record under the name Big Boy Pete without asking for Pete’s opinion or authorization. He was absolutely furious when he discovered his new name and when Polydor suggested a promotional tour, he point blank refused and told the executives to go find another Big Boy Pete to do the dirty work. Pete agreed to continue to write, perform, and produce the records under this name, but someone else must be found to hit the highways. The record company reluctantly agreed and employed a touring stand-in. A German video exists of the stand-in, lip-syncing to the record on the now famous Beat Club TV show. “I don't know what his name was - never even met him” says Pete. “I've got a copy of that TV show. He looks cool in the video, plays a Stratocaster which isn’t plugged in, but he makes all the right moves.”
The song has been re-released on many compilation albums such as the Electric Sugar Cube Flashbacks and Pebbles compilations, sparking several "Where is he now?" items in Melody Maker and other music publications. People are still arguing about who Big Boy Pete really is. “First I was Peter Miller, then Buzz Miller, then just Miller, then Big Boy Pete, then just Buzz. It’s not surprising there’s some conjecture as to who I really is.” Pete grins.
But the dozens of psychedelic and pop songs he wrote in this period were nothing compared to Pete’s masterpiece, World War IV, his concept album about the end of the world. Over the course of a year, he labored at crafting a multi-layered, hallucinatory work that would stand alongside Sgt. Pepper, the Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, and Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love.
“I was writing most of my songs for commercial reasons, with the charts in mind, or what I perceived were commercial reasons. I was basically trying to get a hit record. Finally I got tired of churning out this pop and turned to my publisher one day and told him, ‘I've done what you wanted for the last two years, and you haven't got me a chart topper, so now I'm gonna do something that I want to do. And I don't give a shit if you like it or not, but you'll have to wait about a year, and then I'll play it for you.’”
So he went to live in a little flint cottage in the village of Fritton, about 15 miles outside of Norwich, and began to compose the piece around March of '68. It was completed in March of '69, having taken three months to write, and then nine months to revise, rewrite and record. It was rather an ambitious undertaking given the limited amount of recording equipment he had at his disposal, and, except for a couple of musicians that played on “The Overture” section, it was all Pete - multitracking. The work lasted 45 minutes and he called it World War IV, a symphonic poem. When completed, he took it to his music publisher, who listened to it and said, “Ooookay -- What am I going to do with this?” “That's your job.” Pete said. "Well, leave it here," he said. Somehow the publisher got it over to Apple publishing and John Lennon liked what he heard and wanted to put it out on the Apple label.
Meanwhile the road beckoned once more. For a long time Pete had wished he could go to America to play with American musicians, but getting there wasn’t easy. Not surprisingly, he took the long and scenic route. This included a three year layover in the Far East entertaining the Vietnam G.I.'s before finally landing in - of course - San Franfuckingcisco. Where else could our petal-pushing, peace-pooping psychodaisy end up? And this is how it all came about:
Back at the Washington Club in Norwich, the band were all thinking about getting out of England. They were bored with the scene and disillusioned with the way the music industry had turned and all wanted something exciting and new to do. So one stoned night, they cooked up a crazy idea. They planned to pack everything into a small wagon and drive overland from England to Thailand. Ten thousand miles through God knows how many weird and dangerous countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Burma, not to mention all of Western Europe and some communist Russian satellites. Stupid idea, right? But they were gonna do it. “That sounds like a good idea. OK, let's do that, we'll get a hold of a bus and we'll drive to Thailand, and we'll go play over there.”
And this is how it went down: A buddy who was a waiter at the Washington club had come from working in the African Congo as a mercenary soldier. He had sold medical supplies for profit to some insurgent guerilla army or another, so was quite knowledgable about medical needs, diseases and survival techniques in unhospitable lands. And by pure coincidence, he was also planning on making a similar trip to Thailand and he was gonna hitch-hike overland.
On the waiter’s advice, Pete wrote for donations of prescription drugs from drug companies, and concentrated high protein food supplies that would get them through what they anticipated would be a six week expedition. Upon their return, our intrepid heros would endorse their products. Next they bought a Land Rover, decided it was too damned unconfortable - no springs on the seats or anything. So our bunch of wimpy musicians tried out a VW bus and liked that much better ‘cos it had soft cushioned seats and beds. Then they thought that they should do a test trip to make sure this was all going to work. “Let's load everything in the wagon as if it's the real trip, and just drive around France for a couple of weeks.” Pete recalls. This actually made sense because they knew that once they got out there as far as Istanbul, from there on out, if something went wrong, they were dead meat. But it became a total disaster long before Istanbul.
So Pete and his drummer Robert loaded it up, drove to Dover and crossed the channel to France. It was late in the day when they landed, so they just drove about ten miles inland and parked for the night in a country lane. They cooked up some Veraswamis curry, smoked some hash, and went to sleep. So far so good. The next morning Pete said, "We gotta go get some wine and food from the local market." But they'd slept late and that day all the stores happened to close at noon, so they couldn't get any wine. So they just drove around for a few hours and found another rural camp spot. The next morning, up bright and early, Pete said, "Now, let's get some wine”. However, it was a national public holiday, and all the stores were closed again. Bummer. Finally, on the third day, they got up really early, went down to the Monoprix market, actually got there before it had even opened. At nine o’clock, like girls rushing into an after-Christmas sale, they grabbed a whole case of wine, French bread, butter, cheese. “Right. Let's go party,” says Pete.
Pete was driving. Of course they were imbibing from the git-go and about 10 miles outside of the town of Verdun, along a quiet country road, a wine bottle got caught under the clutch, and as Pete leant down to pull it out, he lost control and the VW bus skidded, somersaulted about three times and landed about 30 feet off the road in a field which just happened to be an uncleared minefield from World War II. Nobody was hurt but the VW was a write-off. They cautiously tiptoed successfully back to the road, then figured out a safe path and got most of their stuff out of the van. The rest of it was strewn up and down the road 'cos they'd rolled some 70 or 80 yards. The van was obviously destroyed, so they just left it there and sat and waited for someone to come along. No one did for five or six hours.
At least they had some wine and hash, and cooked up some more curry. Finally a farmer came by and gave them a lift to town. From a cheap hotel they phoned their bass player back in England who drove over and got them all back home. So that was the end of the vehicle which was to take them to heaven.
Luckily, a couple of weeks later, Pete received a very welcome letter. The mercenary doctor had made it safely to Bangkok. He'd got involved with a Thai movie company, and persuaded the owner that importing an English band to play for the American troops in that country might be a lucrative investment. There were numerous US bases scattered throughout the jungles of Thailand. After a month or so of negotiations, the company, Amthai Films, sent Pete four plane tickets. (Pete actually thought Bangkok was Baghdad. Oh well -- close enough for rock and roll.) So they finally did get out. And that was it; that was the end of the English thing.
But what happened to Pete’s World War IV -- the symphonic poem that Lennon wanted to release? Pete replies “I pursued initial negotiations with Apple and then when I got caught up in the excitement of learning that I was finally getting out of England, and I knew I wasn't coming back, I lost interest and just dropped the whole idea. But of all the tapes I had made in those seven years of recording, World War IV was the only one I took with me. I was real proud of it.” It eventually came out in 1999 on Gear Fab records as a CD, and on Comet records as an LP.
On July 3rd. 1969, just two weeks before man walked upon the moon, four disheveled, sweaty, disoriented, sparkling non-entities alighted at Don Muang airport, Bangkok and were efficiently escorted around customs and into a waiting Mercedes limousine. Now we’re talkin’!
Amthai had set up a tour of the American bases, which were scattered throughout the jungles. After a couple of quick rehearsals with the blonde Australian chick singer who had big tits and no voice whatsoever, the band did the regulation audition for the US military agency that oversaw the entertainment. After they’d passed the audition, Pete was presented with their “do not play” list. Certain uplifting revolution-inciting tunes were not allowed to be included in their set list. One was “We gotta get out of this place,” another was Country Joe’s “What are we fighting for?” A third, strangely enough, was “Happiness is a warm gun.” (Wasn’t this part of the soldiers’ indoctrination?) So we asked "Why not? We like that song." And they said, "You play it, and you're out of here." They didn't want us filling their boys’heads with ideas. After a bout of internal bleeding, the band agreed to disagree and opted to go along with the mandations of the powers that be. After all, they’d come all this way, and although Pete wasn’t playing in America just yet, the US bases were considered hallowed US territory. Close enough once again.
And so began another grueling tour schedule, this time in the jungles of Southeast Asia. There were about 20 bases scattered throughout the country, with three clubs on each base (enlisted mens, officers, and non-commissioned officers). The band would always play all three clubs in one night, a one hour set in each, then have to sleep in the only “hotel/brothel” in the nearby village -- always a rat infested, cockroach ridden, filthy, non-airconditioned ugly piece of concrete which had been hastily erected to service the GIs’ off-base needs. Sleep was near impossible with screaming drunk soldiers and their teenage bargirl dates tearing through the corridors and generally creating mayhem.
Pete points to a map on the wall. “Next morning, we would sometimes have to drive for a whole day on dirt roads to get to the next camp. Some of those bases were in very difficult-to-reach places, for example, NKP (Nakhon Phanom) was right on the border with Laos. We would have to leave Bangkok at six in the evening in order to play there the following night, it was a 24 hour drive, and it could reach 120 in the sun. And it’s real jungle out there. There were snakes, monkeys. elephants blocking the road, -- and, although this wasn’t Vietnam, the Viet Cong were all over the place. Sometimes it was just the occasional sniperfire comin' from outta nowhere and hitting the van, which had us running for cover and ducking into the jungle. It was hell on wheels. Sometimes it was, like, face to face. What really mattered was letting 'em know that we weren't American soldiers, 'cause they'd get paid really well for the dog tags.”
“One moonlit night, after a gig at Udorn Airbase, we walked a mile or so out of town, along the banks of the river Mekhon into a small village looking for some dope and this drunk VC stumbles over, thinking we were soldiers and excitedly waves his gun at us. Our roadie, who spoke a little Vietnamese kept pointing and pulling at our hair, yelling, “Long hair, no GI, long hair, no GI,” and eventually the VC finally took notice and let us go. We would've been dog meat if we hadn't had long hair. There was a bounty of $50 for every set of American dog tags that a Viet Cong soldier turned in. That was a lot of money to them.”
“It was kinda scary but we didn't know what was goin' on half the time. We'd pay five dollars for two kilos of what they called "best Buddha grass," so naturally the memories are a bit wispy to say the least.” Pete smiles. “However, I kept a diary while I was there, and lots of memorabilia.”
Musically speaking: Eventually the heat and the humidity became stifling and Pete’s creative juices ceased to flow. Furthermore the Asian recording industry was, well let’s just say what recording industry? All they seemed to be doing was manufacturing poorly pressed pirate copies of putrid bubble-gum pop. However, there was a vein of gold -- the GI’s were bringing over all the best Yankee music and they were more than happy to share their records with Pete and the band in order that they could learn this stuff and put it into their act. Yes, they even played a 45 minute psychedelic freaked out version of “In A Gadda Da Vida” during which Pete played a lengthy stoned-out sitar solo (which sported a crystal pickup, routed through his Vox wah-wah pedal and Selmer fuzz box into his Fender Pro Reverb amp set on 10.) Pete remembers “There was a gaggle of turbanned Indian gentlemen who would often frequent one club specifically to be amazed and bemused at this Western wanker wah-wahing their national instrument while my drummer accompanied me on a similarly electrified and effected tabla. And the best up-country Buddah-grass dope was only five US dollars for two kilos. You may wonder why we ever wanted to leave all this? Well, in fact, Robert didn’t. He’s still there! And I’ve been back half a dozen times. And I didn’t even mention the gloriously gorgeous bar-girls that were available by the truckload. Free to their number-one bandboys.”
By 1973, like most rock and rollers in paradise, green pastures beckon and rear their sirenesque heads with a frequency unlike that for any other profession. Pete had had enough of the Orient and the band disbanded. After two weeks back in England in the midst of a brutal, miserable winter, he decided that he no longer wanted to reside in Old Blightey and finally headed for his dreamland - the USA, where his Hawaiian girlfriend awaited on the beautiful island of Oahu. (Yes, Hawaii is part of the United States of America.) This was the young girl he'd met and stolen from an American lead guitar player, in Bangkok. (Upon discovering the liason, the American's retort was "You want my Strat as well?") The hula dancer would later become Pete's wife and that would be his membership card into Uncle Sam’s club.
They stayed in Hawaii for almost a year, until rock fever drove them to San Francisco because, beautiful as it was, after one year of solid songwriting, and finding little or no music industry connections on the islands, Pete and his fair lady decided to take the mainland by storm. They landed in Frisco in December 1973, just days after watching Elvis play an incredible concert at the H.I.C. Arena in Honolulu. So Pete had a bellyfull of songs, a four track Sony tape recorder, Neumann U87 microphone and a Binson Echorec -- and a dream to make come true. The tapes started rolling. They’re still running!
Frisco: Busking street musicians that shamed the London session crew with their grooves; North Beach blues clubs wailing like an ol’ steam drill; Broadway’s jazz clubs sending you to swirly clouds of rapture; across the Bay, Bump City’s original black blues boogie boys from the deep South; the psychedelic Winterland, famous Fillmore and awesome Avalon dancehalls. And just down the road apiece -- Holy Hollywood and Vine, and Sunset Boulevarde, and that Taj Mahal of the Barbary Coast -- the legendary Capitol Records tower that graced the label of all five of Pete’s original Gene Vincent albums. Shangri-La. El Dorado. Now all Pete needed was a green card to nail his residency to the wall. “I do.” he said happily!
After searching for a few weeks for a suitable location in which to build a fully professional recording studio, he relocated to the Marina district. Built by a musician for musicians, and tucked away in a quiet courtyard between yuppie boutiques and chic restaurants on San Francisco's famous Union Street, Pete’s studio began recording “Loud & Proud” (his studio slogan). Pete is proud to have played a part in the production and success of dozens of albums and singles and countless demo recordings, and he offered a complete production service for record manufacturing and promotion. The studio served as Pete’s livelihood and remained in this idyllic environment for almost 25 years. This was the womb from which hundreds of his own masters issued forth, many of which have yet to see the light of day.
Pete has been responsible for producing and engineering hundreds of American artists and has won great respect within the industry as an engineer and producer. Thanks to Joe Meek, he employed many of the envelope-shredding recording techniques he'd gleaned from Meek and implemented what he'd learned from Meek not only in his own recordings but, where appropriate, on sessions he produced and engineered for his clients. From jazz to punk and everything in between. Beginning in 1978 with the first songs of The Avengers, he worked with dozens of local punk bands. "I enjoyed working with them," he says, recalling the punks. "They injected life back into what was becoming a sappy sterile scene." With punk, Pete was again on the periphery of a musical revolution, but his own albums fared no better than before. In another case of too odd, too soon.
The tracks on this CD were some of his first U.S. recordings, done on a simple 4 track open-reel recorder at the Union Street studio. Since it became operational, Pete was able to “audition” dozens of different drummers etc., and thus select those which he thought best fitted to each of his songs and projects. A luxury to be sure. It was the first time Pete got to select and play with American musicians. Those of you who are familiar with his sixties songs will notice a shift in style on this album. Although the melodies and lyrics still retain that BBP footprint, the musical arrangements are cut down from his previous multi-layered textures. Many of these tracks are just a basic four piece band with no overdubs whatsoever.
Miller still plays out live occasionally, dragging out Henry, his beloved Gretsch, along with a '63 Fender Vibroverb amplifier, and a Watkins Copycat tape echo unit. However, with more material waiting for a release in his archives, he'll probably be toiling away in his studio for quite some time. “I'll just keep releasing albums until I get sick of it, or until the public gets sick of them.” He smiles. “Plus I intend to continue to share my recording knowledge and experiences with all the students in my Audio Institute of America recording school. I’ve had students in over 120 different countries,” he says proudly.
History, they say, is written by the winners. But Pete Miller's stories are too good to write off, even if his name hasn't gone down in the books -- yet.
All material in this biography is copyright 2009 Peter Miller. Permission must be obtained from him in writing before any of this material van be used in any manner whatsoever. (That does not include using it for toilet paper).
Commercially unreleased work by this artist is currently not available for online streaming and their concerned work appears as data for information purposes only, until further notice.
Big Boy Pete contact info: e-mail: email@example.com website: www.bigboypete.com Postal address: Pete Miller, (Audio Institute of America), P.O. Box 15427 San Francisco, CA 94115, U.S.A.
Special thanks to: Pete Miller. 2012.
All recorded and photographic material copyright Pete Miller. 2012.