"The search for rock and roll has taken me hundreds of thousands of miles in the last few years. To Europe, and behind the Iron Curtain. To Japan and Australia. And across America more times than I care to count.
It has not been a vain search. I believe that we are living in one of the most entertaining, original and inventive musical eras of all time. And I have found ample justification for that belief.
Not that rock music, or pop music, should ever be taken too seriously. Or treated with anything like an academic approach. It came from the streets. And it is the music of a generation which has done more than any other to give pomposity a bad name.
I agree with Mick Jagger that 'It's only rock 'n' roll. And like Mick, I like it."Bob Hart, March 1977
New York, USA. probably Summer 1976
The bar was not easy to find. It is tucked away in a corner of New York City where even the muggers are frightened of muggers. Blind Charlie was playing a piano in one corner. The piano had seen better days, and so had Blind Charlie's fingers.
Noddy Holder, versatile lead-singer with British fun-rock band Slade, was doing his famous AI Jolson impression during which he falls over rather a lot. After a third encore of Mammy, and two spectacular falls, he joined me at the bar and showed me just how much he had grown to like American beer.
He said, 'It has taken us a while to adjust to living over here. A year to be exact. But at last we are starting to really enjoy ourselves. Just look at this bar. Reminds us of the Dog and Trumpet in Wolverhampton. Just a little bit, anyway. The beer's not as good, and nor is the piano-player. But I've never played to better audiences. That lady in the corner, her name is La Belle. And she reckons I should go into show business. Imagine that!’
La Belle knew Noddy was talking about her. She smiled an embarrassed little smile and straightened her hair. She was somewhere in her late sixties - she was not saying where exactly and she used to make a fair living dancing in the choruses on Broadway. Most of the regulars of this raw little bar are retired, or 'resting' actors to whom life has not been extraordinarily kind. They have adopted Slade, as, indeed, has a large slice of the teenage population of America. A slice that seems to be getting bigger every day.
'But it's not easy:’ Noddy admitted. 'We had to come here and start from scratch. And that is pretty tough once you have tasted life at the top, as we had in England and Australia and Japan. Here, we have been touring as a support act to bands like Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, Ten Years After and Aerosmith. We have played a lot of places, and to a hell of a lot of people. And at last it is starting to payoff.'
'In some parts of the country, we can fill halls on our own - places like New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis and a couple more. But in other places, nobody has even heard of us.'
A hit record would help, of course. But nothing that Slade have turned out since beginning their American campaign has made any real impression on the US charts. The band - Noddy, Dave Hill, Jimmy Lea and Don Powell - still score in the British charts. And just about the only time they visit Britain these days is to record a Top Of The Pops appearance to boost a new single. Then they fly straight back to the States.
Noddy said, 'Living in New York has affected our writing, of course. There are some pretty strange people here. And they talk funny, too.'
He said, 'Yeah, the locals do have a bit of trouble understanding us. For a long time they thought we were called Slide. But we feel at home here now. There are a few things we miss, of course. It is strange looking at the British pop charts in the music papers and seeing all these records we have never even heard. And we had some trouble with the food at first. But we have taught a few places the correct way to make a bacon and egg sandwich, so we should survive. '
'We have brought along a few of life's little necessities. Like a dozen bottles of HP sauce and a gallon of Branston Pickle. It's amazing how an American hamburger comes to life with a bit of that splashed on it. Really makes life worth living again. '
When Slade left Britain, they were not only our most popular pop act, but they were also regarded as pop's only true working class heroes. They grew up in council flats, and they were proud of it. The friends they valued, and the friends they spent most of their spare time with, were still the lads they had gone to school with and grown up with. But how does living in New York affect all of that?
Noddy said, 'Well, I don't really see that we can be regarded as working class heroes anymore. We all own Rolls Royce’s in England. Whoever heard of a working class hero in a Rolls? Our accountant actually had to tell us to go out and spend money or we would have tax problems. Have you ever heard of a working class hero with those sort of difficulties?'
'And when we came to America, it was mainly because we were determined to be established here. But there was also the tax consideration. We were about to be faced with a tax bill of 83 per cent of our earnings in England. Does that sound like a working class hero's headache?'
'Nothing will ever come between us and our friends, or us and Wolverhampton. But there are things in this business that change you. And anybody who says they can be successful and stay just the same has to be kidding.'
It was at this point, as our conversation was taking on a serious tone, that a splendid looking lady called Lilac, who had been supporting the American gin industry at the expense of her own stability, sat herself down at the piano and joined battle with Singing In The Rain.
Noddy picked up his beer and said, 'I must go. We have a special arrangement, Lilac and me. I do all her backing vocals and she never throws glasses at me when I am doing my Jolson.‘
‘Just tell everybody at home that things are fine. Our musical talents are in considerable demand in the city of New York, just ask Lilac.’
Bob Hart is The Sun's ace pop and rock writer. His picture packed POP SHOP page is the one the stars read. Tune in to the Number One in Rock 'n' Pop... Every week in The Sun.
He has listened to many groups and singers talk about their style of life and music in the relaxed atmosphere of home.
He has interviewed many of the greatest names in the rock 'n' roll business.
And here he offers a unique insight into the world he has seen and heard, into the good, the bad and the ugly of rock. Share this insight and see why Bob says:
'I have reservations about many things in the rock world. But I love the music. It has life and arrogance and beauty. And it will survive longer than anybody who appears in this book.'
Bob Hart has moved on from tabloid journalism, the music business and the world of celebrity. He's back in Australia now, he is still writing though, about his #1 passion... Barbecue. I contacted him recently to try and nail the interview date and this was his reply:
I reckon 1976 is good, but I have no idea of the exact date. I have never bothered to keep cuttings, and I interviewed Slade rather a lot in those days, and toured both Australia and Japan with them on different occasions. I believe the Japanese tour was 1974 as my first daughter had just been born, and I really struggled with the idea of travelling. But work came first! And I know the NYC interview was later. But that's the best I can do.