Apr 122021

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Terry Reid covers

There are very few articles about Terry Reid that fail to mention his falling at the first hurdle of being asked to join Led Zeppelin, and, I am afraid, this isn’t one of them. It seems the one fact anyone knows about this still-performing singer, and one that, understandably, always irks him. Not so much that he regrets it, more he just regrets it being the only part of his life and career anyone asks him about. Or seems interested about. Which is a shame, as there has always been a good deal more to Terry Reid than that.

So let’s get that out the way. Good-looking youthful singer, with more than a hint of soul in his pipes. Happens to be in the Jaywalkers, who get the support slot for the Rolling Stones’ 1966 UK tour. Jimmy Page, then looking for a singer to be in his New Yardbirds, is pointed his way, and asks Peter Grant to ask on his behalf. By the time of the asking, the Jaywalkers having split, Reid and his band are booked as the opening act on a Cream tour. With no money forthcoming to compensate his bailing out on either Cream or the Stones, who also want him back, Reid toddles off on these not-without-merit engagements. He also suggests that, in his place, Page might look at a youngster who had himself earlier supported Reid. A Robert Plant. Ooops.

At the time this might have seemed a not-unreasonable choice for Reid to make. He had made a well-received solo album, Bang Bang, You’re Terry Reid, and was in the apparently capable hand of impresario manager Mickie Most. Continuing to be an in-demand opener for the Stones, Reid also propped up the bill for Fleetwood Mac and Jethro Tull, each in their early and bluesier iterations. Whilst Bang Bang hadn’t set the chart alight, it was, and remains, a critics’ favorite. His second, eponymous album (Move Over For Terry Reid in the US) was no game changer either, but thanks to a cover of Donovan’s “Superlungs, My Supergirl” located within, it gave him his “Superlungs” nickname. Very apt, though: Aretha Franklin herself once said that “there are only three things going on in London: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Terry Reid.”

Terry Reid – Superlungs, My Supergirl (Donovan cover)

In 1969, Most, ever alert to which way his own fortunes may lie, was pointing Reid away from his preferred folk-blues material and more towards power ballads. Impasse, and they fell out. Stranded in the US and legally restrained from progressing his career, this effectively stymied any progress, and Reid was restricted to singing for his supper, a perennial on the live circuit, unable to get any of his material recorded or released. So he was everywhere: the first Isle of Wight Festival, the first Glastonbury, the second Atlanta Pop. He and his band were even the floor show for Mick Jagger’s San Tropez marriage to Bianca.

Once Reid’s legal worries were behind him, Ahmet Ertegun himself signed him to Atlantic Records and provided him with the cream of musicians to back a second solo album, 1973’s River. many of those involved sticking with him as his backing band, the likes of David Lindley and Alan White, the former ahead of his long association with Jackson Browne, the latter pre-Yes. A strong showing; it should have been huge, but it flopped. A move to ABC resulted in the 1976 release of Seed of Memory, in the same vein of a less explosive style. Both of these records contained all his own material. But the record company went bust the day after its release. Three years later, now on Capitol, came the covers-heavy Rogue Memory. Remaining a firmer favorite of critics than record-buyers, this too stalled, and Reid then put his solo career to bed for a while, resorting to session work. A final solo album appeared in 1979, and even Trevor Horn’s production couldn’t break it for him.

Despite the fact that any further releases have been in the form of retrospectives and of earlier unreleased material, Reid has never lost the bug to perform and play. He has spent the 21st century constantly touring on both sides of the Atlantic, playing prestige gigs and residencies, and little pubs and clubs, often with the cream of session men locally available, all queuing up to back him, sometimes alone. And canny to the changing times, making his vocal prowess available for guest appearances in genres, often well away from his perceived own, including with both DJ Shadow and the Alabama 3. By simply surviving and being present, he has become an elder statesman, popping up in that guise on TV and in YouTube interviews aplenty. Robert Plant, arguably himself made by Reid’s recommendation all those years ago, cites him as “the outstanding voice of his generation.” And I didn’t even mention he also turned down an option to join Deep Purple, ahead of Ian Gillan.

So here’s a taster of some of his better cover versions and those even better instances where his own material has been covered.

Terry Reid – Season of the Witch (Donovan cover)

Yes, another Donovan cover. Maybe a bit of the time, the screech and wail perhaps a little too unrestrained for current tastes, and it is very reminiscent of Steve Marriott and, undeniably, Robert Plant, but a powerful tool by any standards. With purely keyboards, drums, and Reid’s own guitar as backing, the bass being the Hammond organ foot pedals, it is a Doors-esque major opus, more responsible for the many and various later covers than Mr. Leitch’s own, I’ll be bound. This was part of his debut, alongside (obviously, given the record’s title) Sonny & Cher’s “Bang Bang, I Shot You Down,” which will have to wait another time.

Terry Reid – Walk Away Renee (The Left Banke cover)

Clearly realizing the greatness in the song, and taking the challenge laid down by Levi Stubbs’ Four Tops rendition, Reid de- and reconstructs the song as a bona fide rock anthem, his voice magnificently all over the shop, as is his guitar. Yes, it still reeks, decades on, of “you had to be there,” but beneath the veneer, it remains a classic song and certainly showcases his range. From 1979’s Rogue Waves, here he is, faltering on the cusp of credibility as an old wave artist, his hair on the LP cover shot dating him and damning him, but never too late to save the day.

Terry Reid – Don’t Worry Baby (Beach Boys cover)

In the absence of new material, I felt the need to put one of the myriad glut of, usually, poorly filmed performances this century offers, these being the only way to assess his current capabilities. This is one of the better, displaying the contrast between his often car-crash appearance and his vocal, despite his gawky mannerisms and jerky guitar. But then, the shock of that voice, still there, demonstrating he is able to breathe new life and a novel arrangement into an old warhorse. He looks unable to tie his shoelaces yet weaves that faultless new route, which, sadly, only appears otherwise on a live record, Live in London, released on a tiny label and near impossible to find. (This is not that particular version, but hang on past the mawkish introduction, and the first few bars, and he finds just where he needs to be.)

Crosby, Stills & Nash – Horses Through a Rainstorm (Terry Reid cover)

Initially pencilled in as the opener for Deja Vu, this is a song Graham Nash brought in to his buddies, having earlier played it, then entitled “Man With No Expression,” when in the Hollies. Nash had met Reid backstage at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966, after the Jaywalkers support gig with the Rolling Stones, and they had become and remained friends. The song had actually been written by Reid years before, allegedly when he was fourteen, appearing later on Superlungs, a 2004 compendium of rare and unreleased tracks, as the further foreshortened “No Expression.” You will have to listen to hear what it has to do with horses.

Chris Cornell – To Be Treated Rite (Terry Reid cover)

Chris Cornell was a fan too, and this well crafted cover shows again what a thoughtful writer Reid can be, his own material tending toward the folkier end of the blues spectrum, rather than the holler expected out of him by managers and many producers. Cornell too has/had a voice that shines in this lower decibel approach, much more so than in the high octane he is more known for. His posthumous covers collection, No One Sings Like You Anymore, Vol. 1, has a further Reid connection, in that his version of the Lorraine Ellison/Janis Joplin screamer “Stay With Me, Baby” unmistakably owes a huge debt to Reid’s own cover.

Rumer – Brave Awakening (Terry Reid cover)

Finally, a never more swoony version of another of Reid’s delicate laments, this time with a country hue. A standout track on Rumer’s 2012 Boys Don’t Cry project, featuring the sadder and more sensitive songs of male composers, she draws the pathos out even further than in Reid’s original. Having one of the aching of voices since Karen Carpenter certainly helps. Originally from his best record, Seed of Memory (produced, incidentally, by Graham Nash), and had ABC records not folded, I wonder whether his career have fared better. As a bonus, here’s what happened when Rumer met Terry.

So that’s it. Maybe now you might be tempted to dig deeper and pursue further. I have left enough clues and signposts. And maybe catch Mr. Reid as he rolls around to that little bar in town that sometimes puts on music, as and when the virus allows.

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  2 Responses to “Under the Radar: Terry Reid”

Comments (2)
  1. Terry Reid will be doing an online concert on 4/27/21 as a benefit for the Wild Honey Foundation, in case anyone wants to hear what he’s up to nowadays. https://www.facebook.com/events/2171913229618689/?acontext=%7B%22event_action_history%22%3A%5B%7B%22mechanism%22%3A%22search_results%22%2C%22surface%22%3A%22search%22%7D%5D%7D

  2. He is one of my favorite musicians of all time.

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