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Chris Spedding

+ {Sharks}

Session guitarist to the stars (too numerous to mention all and sundry) or just an eclectic one-hit-wonder solo artist with his finger on the pulse (from jazz and blues to punk and pop), Englishman CHRIS SPEDDING has always kept the ethos of rock’n’roll while staying outside on the fringes. During an exciting mid-70s period which saw him in the suit of a furry Womble, his claim-to-fame was with his proto-punk, leather-clad hit, `Motor Bikin’’.
Born Peter Robinson, 17 June 1944 in Staveley, Derbyshire, but raised in Sheffield and Birmingham as Christopher John Spedding by his adopted parents, he quickly went from school orchestra violinist to rock’n’roll guitarist, which led to a position with London-based beat group The Vulcans.
A much-in-demand session man for mid-60s pop stars LULU and DUSTY SPRINGFIELD, while he was on the road backing ALAN PRICE, PAUL JONES and jazz wedding/bar mitzvah band The Nat Temple Orchestra, SPEDDING finally settled down – on the say of reed man George Khan – under the guidance of PETE BROWN AND HIS BATTERED ORNAMENTS. This CREAM-y connection led to extracurricular session work for singer/bassist JACK BRUCE on his debut album `Songs For A Tailor’ (1969).
The Battered Ornaments combo issued a couple of sets, `A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark’ and `Mantle-Piece’ (both 1969), before CHRIS SPEDDING delivered his own solo debut LP for Harvest Records: BACKWOOD PROGRESSION (1970) {*6}. Recorded at Abbey Road studios with guest musicians, including bassist Roy Babbington and drummer Laurie Allan, it straddled the advent of glam while having a foot in folk, a la his re-vamp of DYLAN’s `Please Mrs. Henry’.
Combining his work since the turn of the 70s with IAN CARR’s jazz-rock ensemble NUCLEUS (for a triumvirate of tasty sets `Elastic Rock’, `We’ll Talk About It Later’ and `Solar Plexus’), Chris continued onwards with a few of his own jazz/blues-styled sets, the Japanese-only instrumental SONGS WITHOUT WORDS (1971) {*6} – showcasing an 11-minute `I Thought I Heard Robert Johnson Say’ – and THE ONLY LICK I KNOW (1972) {*5}.
The temptation to duly join up with croaky frontman Snips (aka Steve Parsons), former FREE bassist Andy Fraser and drummer Marty Simon for semi-supergroup SHARKS was too overwhelming to turn down. A fixture for two albums on Island Records, debut FIRST WATER (1973) {*6} was a commendable dip in the ocean for a band probably too close to BAD COMPANY and KEVIN COYNE to stir their own pot of gold. But in `Steal Away’, `Ol Jelly Roll’ and `Snakes And Swallowtails’, success looked to be imminent.
Sadly, for album two JAB IT YORE EYE (1974) {*5}, the absence of one of the best songwriters around, ANDY FRASER, was only too apparent; replaced as he was by both Busta Cherry Jones (bass) – who contributed the fine `Baby Shine A Light’ – and Nick Judd (keyboards); check out also `Cocaine Blues’ and `Kung Fu’.
Out in the cold until producer/manager Mickie Most (and RAK Records) saw potential in his version of `My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It’, SPEDDING might well have stuck to session work for the likes of ROXY MUSIC, ENO, JOHN CALE and ROY HARPER’s Trigger. From Womble (alongside MIKE BATT) to post-glam Top 20 hit-maker by way of the aforesaid classic 45, `Motor Bikin’’, SPEDDING had his 15-minutes of pop fame – all wrapped up by 1975.
Derivative to the point of nauseating, follow-up flops (`Jump In My Car’, `New Girl In The Neighbourhood’ and `Guitar Jamboree’) could be tracked on the guitarist’s eponymous “comeback” LP, CHRIS SPEDDING (1976) {*6}. Whether he aspired to latch on to the punk scene by way of `Pogo Dancing’ (crediting The VIBRATORS), or the chant-y one-that-got-away `Get Outa My Pagoda’, proper punks were having none of this pseudo-biker, rock’n’roll substitute; 1977’s HURT {*6}, 1979’s GUITAR GRAFFITI {*5} and 1980s I’M NOT LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE {*5} – the latter taking its title from a KINKS song – posed no threat to man or punk beast.
Mickie Most would reluctantly let the man go. And go he went, all the way to America where a live-in-concert update of his most recent works, FRIDAY THE 13th (1981) {*5} – featuring Busta Jones and Tony Machine on rhythm – played to a sizeable audience. Still a resident of the USA, SPEDDING continued to work, releasing rock-oldies-styled sets such as ENEMY WITHIN (1986) {*4}, CAFÉ DAYS (1990) {*5} and GUITAR JAMBOREE (1994) {*5}; the latter live from 1991 also known as “Gesundheit!”, while he was a special guest on Mike McClintock’s `In Like Satin’ set and for ELLIOTT MURPHY on his `Live – Hot Point’ (also 1989).
Choosing again to swim with SHARKS (joining Snips/Steve Parsons, Simon Etchell, Jackie Badger and former ATTRACTIONS drummer Pete Thomas), Chris and Co released LIKE A BLACK VAN PARKED ON A DARK CURVE (1995) {*3} – a re-formation too much.
Post-millennium, SPEDDING re-tread the boards once again, this time around his re-interpretations of tracks by J.J. CALE, JIMI HENDRIX, PETER GREEN’S FLEETWOOD MAC and older blues icon, rested peacefully in with 2002’s ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE BLUES {*6}. Following in its wake, CLICK CLACK (2005) {*5}, the live CD/DVD-package ROCKIN’ THE PARADISO (2006) {*7} and IT’S NOW OR NEVER (2007) {*5} – the latter pair led by ROBERT GORDON – were worthy attempts at getting back some roots.
Unwilling to take gardening leave just yet, New Yorker singer/songwriter SPEDDING spread further bottled-up R&B on 2011’s PEARLS {*7}. In the style of MARK KNOPFLER, the finger-pickingly good Chris (best bits `Louisiana Blues’, `Abuse’ and `Rhumba’) was again in his element, before he once again took part in the revised album version of Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds; he’d been part of the shows from 2006 onwards and, more importantly, re-took his berth from 1976’s original.
A rock’n’roll concept co-scribed by the man himself (having just turned 70), JOYLAND (2015) {*6} was a star-studded studio meisterstroke. Roping in old buddies ARTHUR BROWN (on `Now You See It’), BRYAN FERRY (on `Gun Shaft City’), ANDY FRASER (on `Shock Treatment’), plus ROBERT GORDON, Steve Parsons, Glen Matlock, et al, there was even a spot for Lovejoy/Deadwood actor Ian McShane on the narrative opening title track.
© MC Strong 1997/GPD // rev-up MCS Feb2015

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