AUTOBIOGRAPHY....... the story so far

 At this time I am living in Finland with my family and apart from an average of 120 gigs a year spend most of my time writing new pieces for the two very different bands that I work with. My plan is to produce a new record every 18 months or so. The Finnish music scene is much the same as most I have worked in with record companies concentrating on fashion and the young and radio playing from narrow playlists; usually imports or songs in Finnish. Apart from the Finnish stuff, which is new to me, I seem to hear an awful lot of fairly manufactured sounds.  However the audiences are fantastically loyal to all sorts of music especially if it’s played with all the soul you got. Also there are many talented players here and I have been most fortunate to have worked with some of them. For example, Hasse Walli, an extraordinary guitarist who has fused Hendrix with Senegalese music and with whom I have made two records (www.hassewalli.com for more info). Eero Raittinen is also a big star in Finland, much respected for many years and a great singer. He has recorded one of my songs, as have other local names like Nina and Bablo. Thanks to modern, inexpensive equipment and the relatively cheap cost of making CDs it is possible for people like me to make records. All my time in the business has been a build up to this and the frustrations you will read about in the biography have largely gone away. After all if one is part of the established music business one has to play by the rules and that works for many. Of course I would love to sell a lot more records and reach the audience that I know is out there and welcome any help from the ‘Big Boys’ if they offer, but there is great satisfaction in making records for oneself with no one to answer to. So enjoy the site for what it is intended for, the music, and if you want a stroll down my memory lane…. read on.                                               

I bought my first guitar for ten shillings when I went to St Edwards College in Malta in 1963 and there I met Victor Patacciola from Boston MA and he taught me all the chords he knew and we formed a band “The Pythons” and played our first gig at the school. Vic wrote some cool tunes, one instrumental I remember called ‘Suspense’ (There’s a old tape around somewhere) I fell in love with the guitar and when sent back to Britain to study at H.M.S. Conway in 1966, I was enrolled at the same time as Pete Brown a gifted drummer, guitarist and also nephew of Joe Brown of “Joe Brown and The Bruvvers” (Big star in the U.K. ‘Sheik of Araby’e.g. was a big hit for him) who provided us with VOX amps and our parents with warnings of the dangers of the music business. I left in 1970 and after a spell learning computers at ICL I jumped at the chance to join an American heavy rock band “The Clouds” whose guitarist and singer quit a tour of southern Africa during the Zambian leg (where my Dad was teaching tech college) They had charted in Billboard and had a mass of huge Sunn amplifiers. John Stein was on bass and Danny Surtak on drums (see photo) We played huge stadiums and hit the TV shows and landed on the front page of the national paper thanks to the gyrations of one Kathy Keppi (see photo again) Mum and Dad were not best pleased. I was a teenager and they were still my legal guardians but they let me go. John and I wrote a song called ‘Hold on baby’ that seemed to be in the right direction with Danny playing huge double bass drum lines and me screaming gamely.(Much faded copy here as soon as I can repair it a bit) We were supposed to go on to Italy but the band was eventually stranded in Livingstone for a month after being refused entry to what was then Rhodesia. (Johns ‘stars and stripes’ clothes and waist length hair? Or a scam by the agent to nick the gear- take your pick) We spent the first week swimming in the Zambezi river about a mile above Victoria Falls until some chap in a slouch hat yelled at us that the water was infested with man-eating crocodiles. We stayed by the pool from then on. The Americans finally got home and I hitched back to Mum and Dad and an ‘I told you so’ But Danny and I had got on really well and talked of me heading to the States and starting a new band when tragically he was drowned after being caught in an undertow while swimming in a flooded mine pit back in Belleville, Illinois.

I then roadied for “The Casuals” (U.K. hit “Where Jesamine goes”) when they came out to tour Zambia and through their guitarist I got an audition in London so I went back and as it turned out the gig was gone so I started street busking and made good money down the underground. However I really wanted to be in a band and after soul destroying rounds of auditions in London I headed to Southampton to look up Pete Brown and Pat Bond (a great bassist who played left-handed upside down.) who were both studying engineering there. Pete had left town but Pat and I hooked up and after a miserable time living in a van and sleeping at the station, we managed to get a gig with a wonderful dance bandleader, Bob Ames. Bob was scrupulously fair and we stayed with him quite a time playing working mens clubs and bingo halls. The bright lights were calling though and before long we were both asked to join “The Fantastics” back up band. They had a big hit with “Something old, Something new” and toured Britain incessantly. We were eight in the band and four great singers from the States, stylistically like The Four Tops and The Temptations. Don Heywood the leader and MD taught me a great deal about soul and funk guitar and I owe him a lot. Two years of roadwork and many band changes later I left to join Southampton group Iguana who had recorded an album for Polydor. This was the top band in the area with power and soul and a great groove fronted by Bruce Roberts on vocals and guitar. Bruce’s influence on me is constant as he is soul personified. On drums Pete Hunt with as heavy a groove as Al Jackson Jnr and John Cartwright on bass, a songwriter of great talent plus ace trombonist Chris Gower and the still Coltranish Ron Taylor on alto. (I heard Ron recently and he was burning!)  We sent tapes to the London labels and recorded for Island but were turned down. I relocated to London and in the summer of 1974 while loading steel pipe at Chiswick Ironworks received a call from Island and went to meet Jess Roden (Alan Bown, The Butts Band, Bronco) who had heard the Iguana tapes and wanted us to go on the road with him. Jess was in the final stages of a new record produced by Allen Toussaint and Chris Blackwell with The Meters on most of the tracks. The album is still available and lucky me I play a couple of solos on it! Iguana and Jess became the imaginatively named Jess Roden Band and went on to tour with The Sutherland Brothers (‘I am sailing’ composers), Roxy Music, opened for Eric Clapton (where I had the great honour to meet Freddie King) and toured France with The Who (We had such a bad time in Colmar with the 17,000 strong crowd throwing bottles and apples and stuff, well only 2000 of ‘em but still, that Pete sent Mooney in to our dressing room after their set and he showed us the fine art of trashing and smashing and that cheered us up no end. And to be fair they chucked things at The Who as well. There’s no pleasing some people. The other memorable gig was the 30,000 seat Palais de Sport, Lyon. The Who’s crew told us that if we thought Colmar was bad it was a snip compared to Lyon. Last time out the crowd petrol-bombed the support act. I drank a lot of whiskey before we went on but happily we took Roger Daltry’s advice to make it “Larger than life” and we cut all the slow stuff and went down pretty well)  We did many festivals with the likes of Uriah Heep, Little Feat, Bad Company and Status Quo and then went on to tour on our own. Dr Feelgood opened for us one night and promptly blew us off the stage and on another Heart crowded us off the stage with loads of Marshalls. We made an album with Steve Smith producing and at one stage Steve Winwood came and played some great Hammond on a couple of tracks. Island had an amazing artist list, Traffic, Cat Stevens, Robert Palmer, Bad Company, Paul Kossoff, The Wailers, Third World, John Martyn, Speedy Keen. the list goes on and on. You didn’t have to look too far to find great talent to play on your record. I did a session for Reebop Kwaku Baah one time and he had me tearing my hair out! He rolled the tape, about fifteen minutes of wild drumming, and said “Play!!” and I said “What key?” and he shouted “Play!!!” and I said “Reebop, I have to know what key at least!” and he started jumping up and down, “PLAY!!.PLAY!!” and finally Roscoe Gee from Traffic came to the rescue and we worked something out. I think Reebop was happy. In Ghana you better just play and let the Gods guide you I guess. Reebop played with Miles Davis so you know he was a brilliant spirit. Anyway, Chris Blackwell didn’t dig the first album so we went back and started again and   “Keep your hat on” is the result. (Blackwell gave his artists a lot of time to develop, unheard of today.) The title was taken from the Randy Newman song we covered which Joe Cocker had a big hit with some months later. We all thought his version sounded pretty close to ours but maybe that’s sour grapes. The album did pretty good in the U.K. and was a Billboard National Breakout in the U.S. but Island U.S., which was just starting up, didn’t push it and so it sank. It’s a collectors item now and I bought a much played copy in 1996 for £8.00 in a Notting Hill second hand store. 1977, two albums later, “Play it dirty, Play it class” and “Blowin’ “ and Jess decided to go on his own again so I headed back to Southampton to share a flat with John Cartwright, the extraordinary talented song writer and multi-instrumentalist (He wrote most of the songs in the JRB) and we tried to figure out what to do. The phone rang and it was one Gary Farr who had heard I was free and wanted me to try out for his new band Lion and I needed some bread so John said ‘Do it.’ Gary was one of the greats from the early sixties R&B boom and with his band The T Bones was a big influence on the London scene. He had then gone on to the States and was signed to Atlantic and made a wonderfully poetic album “Addressed to the censors of love” which is changing hands for a lot of loot these days. His new outfit had John Sinclair on keyboards, Eric Dillon on drums and Steve Humphries on bass. Various guitarists had been considered, Snowy White was in for a time, but after a fitful start I was asked to join. The other players had all been in successful bands, John in The Heavy Metal Kids, Eric in Fat Mattress (Noel Redding’s band that toured with Hendrix) and Steve with Mahatma Kane a popular London mob. Gary’s brother Rikki was the manager, he had put on the Isle of Wight festivals and ran a huge sound company in the U.S. When we first met he said “Webby, you remind me of Eric Santana especially when you scale up to the treble E.” Now you can’t top that I thought but he did. “Lads, we’re gonna go to Los Angeles, build a studio and in six months you’ll have a record deal.” And that’s exactly what happened give or take a few months. We added another guitarist, the wonderful Robin Le Mesurier (now playing with French star Johnnie Halliday), signed to A&M in 1978 for a monstrous amount of money and had a great time auditioning producers at our demo studio out in Topanga Canyon. We saw Roy Thomas Baker (of Queen fame) who came out in a Rolls and a fur coat, the temperature was 30c, he listened and said, “You want stringy-poohs do you?” Gary wasn’t having that. Todd Rundgren, who sat on the floor and trashed the lyrics, said if he took the job it would end up a Todd album, Gary wasn’t having that. Glyn Johns (Stones etc.) who after a listen said he’d take the synth outside and chop it up first thing. Well you guessed it! Finally Ron Nevison came out, said nothing, just told us to play and recorded us using our 8 track and ropey old mixer. The result was stunning compared to our own efforts up to then and we wanted him on the case immediately. Nevison had engineered some of the Zep stuff and had huge hits in the States with The Babys and other hard rock acts. His assistant was Mike Clink and we all know Mike went on to produce Guns & Roses, I guess he learned a lot of that sound working with Ron. We worked at the Record Plant and the recording went well and the album was delivered but then the plot began to unwind and Rikki and Ron fell out for God knows what reason, who had the biggest Rolls Royce is my guess. We re-recorded the whole album again with Pete Henderson who had just won a Grammy for Supertramps “Breakfast in America” and I guess we spent A&M’s profit. What a great pile of money. The band were on a weekly advance, $200 bucks or so, so we weren’t rolling in it ourselves but the studio costs and the equipment and all the rest, about four hundred grand, no wonder at the end of it all A&M decided to drop us. We did tour with the Tubes and that was fun, but the band had lost its way and at the end of 1980 we fell apart. The Lion album “Running all night” has been re-released on CD in 2006 by www.retrospectrecords.com with the tag “At last!! The long lost album !!” But if you want to hear Nevisons album, the REAL long lost record, go to the music page to hear a mastered copy of the only known cassette of this recording to exist! 

Gary joined a band with Fred Tackett on guitar (Now with Little Feat) Robin joined Rod Stewarts band and the rest of us reformed as The Difference, a name that John Sinclair came up with. John and I had developed quite a close writing relationship and he really is a talented writer, prolific and quick too. I have to say that when it comes to structure and the imaginative use of key changes and chords he has had the most influence on my song writing, a demon on any type of keyboard as well. Anyway that line up started to make a noise in the clubs in LA, The Starwood, Whiskey, Troubadour, Madame Wongs and had a lot of label interest (See Press) but I guess the A&M story scared them off as we were blamed for the huge spending and partly right too I suppose although in defence we really weren’t in control. After a hard year The Difference ran out of steam and money and split up. John and I had helped Lee Kerslake (Uriah Heeps drummer) with some demos during the dying days of Lion and after John had done a lot of work on the Spinal Tap movie he joined them for Abominog and then I believe played with The Cult and for the last seventeen years Ozzie Osbourne. I mooched around in LA doing odd jobs on building sites etc. (See the other bio, I did some crap jobs but I met some great people) and writing songs for publishers, I also landed a few sessions with Rex Smith, Jefferson Starship, Saun Cassidy (We did a national TV show, Solid Gold) and bassist Phillip Chen who was on Jeff Beck’s  “Blow by Blow”. In 1983 I did a record in the famous Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia for Rick Christian, a blazing songwriter who had had a No1 hit recorded by Kenny Rodgers. Macon is the home town of Otis Redding, Little Richard and The Allman Brothers- and Ray Charles was born just up the road, what an amazing music town.Those sessions had Greg Allman on Hammond and he was as great as you can imagine. Then in 1984 I bumped into drummer Keith Boyce (Heavy Metal Kids, Savoy Brown, Bram Tchaikovsky) who in turn introduced me to Tom Sansone of Dignity Records a small but ambitious label based in Wisconsin. We roped a bass player, Joe Reed (Had also been with Bram Tchaikovsky) and Hey Presto! The Difference was up and running again. We recorded an E.P. and did a video (See Press) and by squeezing every favour managed to get it on MTV, national radio, local TV and we nearly had a hit, but to crack the U.S. as an independent, well it’s still tough and we fizzled. Joe backed out and that was it, back to the drawing board. Steve Humphries came back in on bass and we added a keyboard player, Mark Morgan a great talent who was with Chaka Khan for some years and after his time in The Difference joined Starship (Formerly Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship) and now composes for film and television. Unfortunately personalities started to clash and Keith left to be replaced by Gordon Peeke. Gordon was in the drum chair for the George Duke and Stanley Clarkes road band and has serious, serious chops!! So now we started with new songs. Dignity made a connection with Yamaha and they allowed us to use their beautiful studio in Burbank. Along with engineer Stan Katayama we had Dennis Mackay producing. Dennis came from a fusion background, Al Dimeola and John McLaughlin, and wanted to do a rock record. We cut some tracks and then it was decided to do a showcase for the labels.(See Press) Yamaha co-sponsored the event and we had all the big A&R names there but ‘twas not to be folks! I lost my voice and we squeeked along and were left in a huddle as the bigwigs scoffed the grub, sank the wine and of course did not sign! Looking back I realize I was losing sight of the real picture, focusing on the deal too much. While all this was going on I was loading trucks for rent money and I was pretty fed up so it was a great relief when Tom Sansone of Dignity sent me to England to meet Simon Lait the then head of the Independent Record Company Association. He heard one of the songs and arranged for it to be remixed by Barry Leng (Amy Stewart ‘Knock on wood’) and from there a deal was signed with a small label, Sedition and out it went. (See Press) “I can’t get arrested with this record” cried Frank Sansom the head of Sedition and so he could not! I was learning that the British record scene was as nasty as it gets. No BBC Radio 1 airplay- no chance! But I was happy to be back in London so I stayed and then it was decided that I would do a solo album for Dignity and we went down to Martin Rushents Genetic Studios in Berkshire a really fabulous place. Martin is the man who crowned the 1980’s British invasion of the U.S. with The Human League hitting the No 1 spot, a record that by all accounts he created almost alone. I had a bunch of songs and we went in with Jake LeMesurier (Robin’s brother) on drums and a wonderful bassist whose name eludes me now, but it didn’t happen so when Gordon Peeke called and said he was in town we grabbed him and he did all the drum tracks (14 songs!) in two days. I played bass on most of the tracks and we had a ball bringing in all sorts of guests. We had Sunny and Sue do some vocals, they are the girls on Joe Cocker’s “I get by with a little help from my friends”, they did their wonderful thing so fast we ended up in the pub and they told wild stories and then roared off in their BMW’s. Martin Ditchum from Sades band played cool percussion and my old friend Chris Gower from Iguana and The JRB wrote some great horn arrangements and then brought down ‘The Rumor Horns’ and they blasted them out.  Martin Rushent mixed a single (“It’s over” arranged by Nicky Holland) for us at Eel Pie (Pete Townsends place) and Dignity released it through
Pinnacle.

Dignity hired some big guns to promote it; (See Press) Tony Brainsby as publicist (He did The Beatles my friends!), regional pluggers and so called strike forces and in London paid one Gary F £15,000 just to get it on Radio 1, £15,000!! The guy was driving a Porche and I’m not surprised. I personally even sent him a bottle of expensive Champagne. He didn’t thank me. 
Let me explain. Radio 1 at that time had a playlist of 80 songs for the whole week. And as it’s the only station that reaches the whole of the country, if you weren’t on it you’d never even get a chance at having a hit. This list was decided at the weekend and some clever dicks, who claimed to have influence on the deciders, charged big bucks to labels who really needed that hit. Albums cost big money in those days. We were told we had made the list and boy we partied hard and then we were taken off again and man we were pissed off. Tom wanted to do someone some harm, he just couldn’t believe that the whole thing was so shabby and shady and neither could I. Hey! Now I realize it’s business but then I was a lot more idealistic. When you’re with a small label you get to know all the moves being made and all the company blows become personal, and I was starting to get the feeling that I did not like the values of the people who we had to deal with.  At this time Dignity signed Simon Townsend, Pete’s brother, and this redirected their focus as my flops were getting embarrassing and new blood might change their fortune. I again wrote more songs and went back to Genetic thanks to Martin and laid them down with Neil O’Connor. These tracks were played to John Gallen who was hot on the scene at the time and he remixed them. The label was pretty happy with them and released a couple more singles but to no avail. I then decided that was it, screw the music business and I made the moves to leave the record company.   I decided to get good and drunk, always a good plan. I was in my local pub run by an ex-bass player, Keith Hasler (from a band called Coco who had come second in the Eurovision song contest one year) when he said to me, “Your trouble is you’ve been in the record business too long and you’ve forgotten how to play for people. Grab your guitar and come down here next Friday and play a gig.” I did and it was pretty rough but the folks dug it and I realized he was right on the money, and talking of money, he paid me £60 as well, the first money since 1974 that I had earned from playing and not an advance. The cliché ‘reborn’ comes to mind. It was 1988. Then my ‘cousin’ George Coulter from Belfast said, “Well if you wanna play some more gigs call my old school friend Rod Demmik (The Strawbs) he’ll have some ideas.” So I did and he did and I spent the next four years doing live gigs around London and also went to Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland and it was a blast to just play and not have to think about the business. A lot of partying too I must admit. But the itch to record came back and in 1993 I recorded a solo album “Back from the wilderness” produced by John Gallen. He had used me on a couple of sessions, Maxi Priest and some French artist, and he persuaded me to get some material together. Charlie Morgan from Elton Johns band played drums and Richard and Lawrence Cottle did the keys and bass. I felt that I still couldn’t handle the machinations of labels big or small and to be honest I knew that in the current era they couldn’t be interested in an old rocker so I registered WEBBSONGS raised some money and released it myself. A couple of tracks are still getting airplay in Britain and the record is still selling.

In 1995 I met another wonderful drummer, ‘Big Bad’ Bo Hurtig from Sweden and he introduced me to Hazze Wasen a monster on bass (also Swedish). Well the third Difference was born and we now have four records released. (The most recent ‘The ballad of Alfredo Morales’ is getting good reviews in the U.S.A. at www.garageband.com)  The music is always recorded in the traditional way, live, so we can bounce off each other and we always put performance first. As Bo and Hazze live in Sweden we don’t get to gig much though we have done a few festivals in Scandinavia and most likely we’ll do more.   
                                                                                                        Steve Webb & The RetroRockets I formed in 2004 to get a chance to blow out all the classic Rock’n’Roll I could and it worked so well I started writing and we made a CD that has sold very well in Finland and all over the world via CD Baby an on line retailer in the U.S.. This outfit features Mikko Vuorela on electric and double bass and Tapani Laastola on drums, both from Finland and great musicians. Album #2 ‘Paradise road’ is in the Helsinki shops as well as on
www.cdbaby.com 

Well that’s about it for now, I hope you like some of the music on the site, feel free to download and pass it on.  A list of albums available from Webbsongs, CD Baby or from the labels that still have current titles is on the site. Peace.           


Updated April 2008


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The RetroRockets