Jeff Christie Biography
Last updated: 11/14/2012 05:39:43 AM
HAVING been raised in a musical family, it is no surprise that Jeff Christie has carved a career as one of the industry's most brilliant songwriters. Jeff's mother was a ballet dancer who intsilled in him a knowledge of the classics, which later evolved into a love for flamenco and rock and roll music. Early piano lessons and classical music studies provided a valuable grounding for Jeff's gradual progression into a talented guitar player and composer.
Born in 1946, Jeff formed his first band in his hometown of Leeds, in the UK. The group was called The 3Gs+1, because the other members apart from Jeff had names which began with the letter G. Skiffle was the order of the day, but Jeff started to move into guitar instrumentals and the emerging rock and roll sound with his next group, The Tremmers.
This then developed into the Outer Limits— which included Stan Drogie, Gerry Layton and Gerry Smith — and the outfit eventually emulated the Beatles' sound, thereby becoming Yorkshire's local versions of the legendary group. See here for more on the band. They gradually specialised in playing songs tinged with a soulful, Tamla-Motown sound, with Jeff — somewhat of a child prodigy with his music skills — writing many of the songs the band would play.
But unlike the majority of their fellow amateur musicians, Jeff’s band even managed to release some singles. The most noteworthy were Just One More Chance/Help Me Please, released by Deram (Decca’s more progressive label) in 1967, and Great Train Robbery/Sweet Freedom, which came out one year later on the local Instant label.
All the songs had been written by Jeff, with Great Train Robbery in particular showing the emergence of his flair for melodic and appealing top lines, as well as his fascination with places in the US and US historical events — a theme he would revisit many times with his songs for Christie.
While Just One More Chance was a minor smash in the charts (it even spawned a number of cover versions), neither single was overly successful for Outer Limits, resulting in the band’s break-up - and apart from Jeff, none of the other members pursued a musical career. Jeff tells more about the Outer Limits line-up in his interview.
Jeff decided to continue as a songwriter, if not a performer, and despite his preference for making "progressive" music — along the likes of Humble Pie and Cream - he knew that his songs would find a more immediate audience if they were more commercial. He switched to what he calls his country pop phase, and put together a fine portfolio of his own compositions. He did what any budding writer in the business would. He tried — unsuccessfully — to get various record companies and song publishers interested in his songs with a demo tape.
His quest ended when the lead guitarist of the Tremeloes, Alan Blakley, got the tape. The Tremeloes liked the catchiness of Yellow River, and recorded it in a few different ways. But because the Tremeloes were at the time enjoying success with their own material, they subsequently passed on the chance to release any of Jeff's songs.
Jeff has told me that he knew he had a winner in Yellow River, though. Other groups had also registered an interest in recording the song, but Jeff decided to form his own namesake group to release the piece — to build a band around himself as the vehicle.
"I was young and a bit overwhelmed, and at the time it felt like the right thing to do," he told me.
At the same time, Alan Blakley had suggested to his brother Mike that he and guitarist Vic Elmes, with whom he played in another band, The Epics, form a band to record Yellow River.
(Interestingly, the drummer who preceded Mike in The Epics — Bill 'Legend' Fyfield — was to later achieve fame playing in Mark Bolan's band, T Rex. Ironically, the T Rex connection would be resurrected some years after when Christie's second drummer, Paul Fenton, also played with Marc Bolan.)
Seeing potential in Yellow River, the Tremeloes' publicity man and subsequent manager Brian Longley (pictured) told Jeff of Vic and Mike's availability. The happy coincidence resulted in the formation of Christie.
The name of Jeff's new group was decided upon when the band members agreed Jeff's surname had a nice ring to it. It was also the trend at the time to name bands after the lead singer and performer.
Christie signed with CBS Records in England, the same home as the Tremeloes. The debut single Yellow River — essentially Jeff's vocals over the Tremeloes backing track — was issued in spring of 1970. The Tremeloes' manager, Mike Smith, feeling bad that the Trems had turned down Yellow River, helped produce the single.
The record quickly sailed to No 1 in 26 countries across the world, staying on the pop charts for 22 weeks. It peaked at No 6 in the US, where the single was released on CBS' Epic label.
Of course, a follow-up single had to be released, and in this Jeff once again had the Midas touch in the truest sense of the phrase. In October 1970, San Bernadino was released, and its success seemed destined to launch Christie on a stellar career. While it "only" reached No 5 in the English charts, the extremely catchy pop song rocketed to No 1 in Germany and across Europe. Only in the USA was the song conspicuously absent from the charts, climbing no higher than No 92.
Conversely, Christie's eponymous debut album did better in the US than in the UK. The LP, containing the two big hits and a stack of commercial, pop-rock songs, stayed in the US charts for 10 weeks.
Christie were quickly booked for extensive world tours, and indeed, over the next few years, would become one of the most travelled bands ever. Because Mike Blakley had not been playing since The Epics folded, his drumming had become rusty to the point where it was considered a liability. He was asked to leave the group, and was replaced by Paul Fenton.
It was perhaps around this time that the first hiccup in the publicity machine occured. Although every single track on the Christie LP was worthy of release on its own, no third single from the set was put out to follow San Bernadino. In hindsight, it could have enhanced the band's profile had a third, or even fourth, single been lifted from the strong debut album, as the songs were so catchy that they surely would have charted, boosting the group's image as well as sales of the album.
Instead, the recording company chose to release Man of Many Faces as the third single, at the same time as the first album was in the stores, even though the song was not on that set.
It was not until 1971 that there was enough time to work on the second album, and For All Mankind demonstrated an attempt by Jeff Christie to return to his progressive roots and diversify into a heavier sound, infused with rock, blues and country. CBS and manager Longley tried to promote one of the songs, Picture Painter, in an advertisement and video. Curiously, Picture Painter was only released as a single in SE Asia and nowhere else, and again demonstrates that perhaps Christie were the unfortunate victims of poor boardroom decisions.
Christie returned to the bright, poppy formula with a vengeance in 1972 with Iron Horse, hailed by critics as one of Jeff's best compositions. Its catchy appeal, sublime melody, and innovative twangy intro indeed make this song one of the best pop-rock pieces ever composed.
The single was also used as a springboard to announce the addition of Lem Lubin (from pop band Unit 4+2) as a member of the group. Lem had been recruited to play bass on stage, enabling Jeff to focus on other instruments during Christie's live performances. Despite being featured on various record sleeve covers and also in the Iron Horse video, Lem never actually played on the single.
Success was also achieved in South America, where Christie always enjoyed a frenzied following, and a Vic Elmes composition called Jo Jo's Band did well for them in that continent.
Sadly, the relationship between Jeff and Vic eventually worsened, just as the band was recording songs for the third album. Matters were exacerbated in 1973 when Lem left, being replaced by Roger Flavell.
Lem became a producer of some successful albums for other artists, and also helped compose Free Inside, a song that was used in the movie versions of the popular British TV comedy series Porridge.
Shortly after Paul, who enjoyed a close friendship with Jeff, departed the group to join the group Carmen (see Paul's interview), leaving Jeff jaded and seriously considering a restructure and new direction for the band.
Jeff announced he would be considering a solo career, and split the group up. Vic was forced to take up an office job, but later pursued his own personal musical ventures.
After a month or so, Jeff changed his mind and decided to form a new Christie band with Roger. Terry Fogg, who had been a drummer with UK group Sounds Incorporated, was recruited, as was American lead guitarist Danny Krieger. Jeff continued recording under the Christie name, and for the first time started using other composers' material. The Dealer received good reviews, and nudged the top 100 in the UK. In 1974, Christie was moved on to the CBS sub-label, Epic, which released Alabama/I’m Alive.
After a tour of Spain, Danny left the band to return to the USA. With more gigs in Spain and Germany booked, a musician named Greg Ainsworth filled in the gap left by Danny.
After returning to England, Greg and Terry quit, and Roger suggested teaming up with Tony Ferguson (lead guitar), Roger Willis (drums), and Graham Whyte (guitar), members of the band Capability Brown. This was to become the last Christie line-up before the group's demise. However, just as the band was about to embark on a tour of South America and Mexico, Graham changed his mind and left the group, leaving the band as a foursome again. The band put out cover versions of two popular Spanish songs, Guantanamera/Navajo, to resurrect their South American popularity.
Jeff broke the band up after they returned from the tour. However, in 1976, Jeff released Most Wanted Man in the USA, the last single put out under the Christie name. Jeff was backed by some impressive studio musicians, including the respected drummer Simon Phillips, who was to play with The Who on their reunion tours, and John Perry, who had been part of the cult rock band Caravan.
Terry, Danny, Tony and the two Rogers had low public profiles, appearing only on the occasional poster or promotional shoot, and were ostensibly faceless studio musicians backing Jeff on lead vocals. Most of their time was taken up playing in various countries as Christie continued with a heavy tour schedule. With no recognition given to these band members on the Christie singles, it is little wonder that most fans consider that the "true" Christie died after Vic and Lem departed.
In 1980, Jeff shifted to the minor RK label, which produced the singles Tightrope/Somebody Else and Both Ends of the Rainbow/Turn On Your Lovelight, both released under Jeff's own name. An album containing these songs and others was also slated for release but never eventuated as RK collapsed soon after, in effect also limiting distribution of the singles, which today are highly sought after. The songs were eventually released on CD in 2009.
Today, Jeff is respected for the fine songsmith that he is, and frequently gets approached by various artists to write songs for them. Jeff was chosen to contribute a song for a UK Eurovision Song contest bid, and has been invited to lecture at songwriting workshops. As well, he writes advertising jingles, although his biggest success in this field is still Yellow River, used in the UK to promote The Yellow Pages. He appears on the occasional classic hits shows, playing the songs that made him famous, and does what he has always done: travel the world.
Jeff's current Christie band consists of Jeff on lead vocals and guitar; Adrian Foster on lead guitar; Simon Kay on drums; and Kevin Moore on bass. The group started playing together in the late 80s/early 90s, so while they haven't recorded any studio material, ironically this quartet is the longest-serving line-up to play under the Christie name.