Marc Bolan and T. Rex Biography
Bolan grew up in post-war Hackney, northeast London, the son of Phyllis Winifred (née Atkins) and Simeon Feld, a lorry driver. His father was of Polish-Russian Jewish descent. Later moving to Wimbledon, southwest London, he fell in love with the rock and roll of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Arthur Crudup and Chuck Berry and became a mod, hanging around coffee bars such as the 2 I's in Soho. He appeared as an extra in an episode of the television show Orlando, dressed as a mod. At the age of nine, Bolan was given his first guitar and began a skiffle band. While at school, he played guitar in "Susie and the Hoops," a trio whose vocalist was a 12-year old Helen Shapiro. At 15, he left school "by mutual consent".
He briefly joined a modelling agency and became a "John Temple Boy", appearing in a clothing catalogue for the menswear store. He was a model for the suits in their catalogues as well as for cardboard cut-outs to be displayed in shop windows. "TOWN" magazine featured him as an early example of the mod movement in a photo spread with two other models. Mark Feld had changed his stage-name to Toby Tyler when he met and moved in with child actor Allan Warren, who was to become his first manager. This fortuitous encounter afforded Bolan a lifeline to the heart of show-business, as Warren saw Toby Tyler's potential whilst the latter spent hours sitting cross-legged on Warren's floor playing his acoustic guitar. A series of photographs was to be commissioned with photographer Michael McGrath, who later recalls that Bolan "left no impression" on him. Warren also hired a recording studio and had Bolan's first acetates cut. One track was the Bob Dylan song "Blowin' in the Wind". A version of Betty Everett's "You're No Good" was later submitted to EMI for a test screening but was turned down.
Warren later sold Bolan's contract and recordings for £200 to his landlord, property mogul David Kirch, in lieu of three months' back rent. Kirch was too busy with his property empire to do anything for him. A year or so later, Bolan's mother pushed into Kirch's office and shouted at him that he had done nothing for her son. She demanded he tear up the contract and willingly he complied. The tapes produced during the Toby Tyler recording session vanished for over 25 years before resurfacing in 1991 and selling for nearly $8,000. Their eventual release on CD in 1993 made available the earliest of Marc's known recordings.
According to Danny Baker speaking on QI Series G, episode 15 on BBC television, Bolan is a contraction of Bob Dylan. After changing his name again to Marc Bolan (via Mark Bowland) while with Decca Records he released his first single "The Wizard". In early 1967, manager Simon Napier-Bell added him to the pop art/mod band John's Children, which achieved some success as a live band but sold few records. A John's Children single written by Marc Bolan called "Desdemona" was banned by the BBC for its line "lift up your skirt and fly." His tenure with the band was brief. Bolan claimed to have spent time with a wizard in Paris who gave him secret knowledge and could levitate. The time spent with him was often alluded to but remained "mythical"; in reality the wizard was probably U.S. actor Riggs O'Hara with whom Bolan made a trip to Paris in 1965. His song-writing took off and he began writing many of the neo-romantic songs that would appear on his first albums with Tyrannosaurus Rex.
When John's Children collapsed (amongst other problems, the band were stunned to discover their equipment had been stolen from a studio, according to a Bolan biographer), Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took created Tyrannosaurus Rex, a psychedelic-folk rock acoustic duo, playing Bolan's songs, with Took playing assorted hand and kit percussion and occasional bass to Bolan's acoustic guitars and voice.
This version of Tyrannosaurus Rex released four albums and four singles, flirting with the charts, reaching as high as number fifteen and supported with airplay by Radio 1 DJ John Peel. One of the highlights of this era was when the duo played at the first free Hyde Park concert in 1968. Although the free-spirited, drug-taking Took was fired from the group after their first American tour, they were a force to be reckoned with in the hippy underground scene while they lasted. Their music was filled with Marc's otherworldly poetry, a book of which he published in 1969, 'The Warlock Of Love'. In keeping with his early rock and roll interests, Bolan began bringing amplified guitar lines into the duo's music, buying a vintage Gibson Les Paul guitar (later featured on the cover of the album T. Rex in 1970). After replacing Took with Mickey Finn, he let the electric influences come forward even further on A Beard of Stars, the final album to be credited to Tyrannosaurus Rex. It closed with the song "Elemental Child," featuring a long electric guitar break influenced by Jimi Hendrix.
Bolan, by now married to his girlfriend June Child (a former secretary to the manager of another of his heroes, Syd Barrett), shortened the group's name to T. Rex and wrote and recorded "Ride a White Swan", dominated by a rolling, hand clapping back-beat, Bolan's electric guitar and Finn's percussion.
T. Rex and glam rock
Bolan and his producer Tony Visconti oversaw the session for "Ride a White Swan", the single that changed Bolan's career. Recorded on 1 July 1970 and released later that year, it made slow progress in the UK Top 40, until it finally peaked in early 1971 at number two.
Bolan took to wearing top hats and feather boas on stage as well as putting drops of glitter on each of his cheekbones. Stories are conflicting about his inspiration for this—some say it was introduced by his personal assistant, Chelita Secunda, although Bolan told John Pidgeon in a 1974 interview on Radio 1 that he noticed the glitter on his wife's dressing table prior to a photo session and casually daubed some on his face there and then. Other performers—and their fans—soon took up variations on the idea.
The glam era also saw the rise of Bolan's friend David Bowie, whom Bolan had come to know in the underground days (Bolan had played guitar on Bowie's 1970 single "Prettiest Star").
Bolan followed "Ride a White Swan" and T. Rex by expanding the group to a quartet with bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, and cutting a five-minute single, "Hot Love", with a rollicking rhythm, string accents and an extended sing-along chorus inspired somewhat by "Hey Jude". It was number one for six weeks and was quickly followed by "Get It On", a grittier, more adult tune that spent four weeks in the top spot. The song was renamed "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" when released in the United States, to avoid confusion with another song of the same name by the American band Chase. The song reached #10 in the United States in early 1972, the only Top 40 single the band had in America.
In November 1971, the band's record label, Fly, released the Electric Warrior track "Jeepster" without Bolan's permission. Outraged, Bolan took advantage of the timely lapsing of his Fly Records contract and left for EMI, who gave him his own record label, the T. Rex Wax Co. Its bag and label featured an iconic head-and-shoulders image of Bolan. Despite the lack of Bolan's endorsement, "Jeepster" peaked at number two.
In 1972, Bolan achieved two more British number ones with "Telegram Sam" and "Metal Guru" (the latter of which stopped Elton John getting to the top with "Rocket Man") and two more number twos in "Children Of The Revolution" and "Solid Gold Easy Action". Bolan told Gloria Jones the track "Metal Guru" would be "the smoothest song in history".
In the same year he appeared in Ringo Starr's film Born to Boogie, a documentary showing a concert at Wembley Empire Pool on 18 March 1972. Mixed in were surreal scenes shot at John Lennon's mansion in Ascot and a session with T. Rex joined by Ringo Starr on second drum kit and Elton John on piano. At this time T. Rex record sales accounted for about 6 percent of total British domestic record sales. The band was reportedly selling 100,000 records a day; however, no T. Rex single ever became a million-seller in the UK, despite many gold discs and an average of four weeks at the top per Number One hit.
In 1973, Bolan played twin lead guitar alongside his friend Jeff Lynne on the Electric Light Orchestra songs "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" and "Dreaming of 4000" (originally uncredited) from On the Third Day, as well as on "Everyone's Born To Die", which was not released at the time but appears as a bonus track on the 2006 remaster.
Bolan played guitar on the track "Have You Seen My Baby (Hold On)" on Ringo Starr's album Ringo.
By late 1973, his pop star fame gradually began to wane, even though he achieved a number three hit, "20th Century Boy", in February and mid-year "The Groover" followed it to number four. "Truck On (Tyke)" missed the UK Top 10 reaching only #12 in December. However, "Teenage Dream" from the 1974 album Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders of Tomorrow showed that Bolan was attempting to create richer, more involved music than he had previously attempted with T. Rex. He expanded the line up of the band to include a second guitarist, Jack Green, and other studio musicians, and began to take more control over the sound and production of his records.
In 1974, Bolan played guitar for Ike & Tina Turner. He appeared on "Nutbush City Limits", "Sexy Ida (Part II)", and "Baby Get It On". Tina Turner confirmed this in a BBC Radio 1 interview.
Eventually, the vintage T. Rex line-up disintegrated. Legend left in 1973 and Finn in 1975 and Bolan's marriage came to an end because of his affair with backing singer Gloria Jones. He spent a good deal of his time in the U.S. for much of the next three years, continuing to release singles and albums which, while less popular to the masses, were full of unusual lyrics and sometimes eccentric musical experiments. Although Bolan's health began to fail as he put on weight, the former glam rock icon cleaned up and continued working, producing at least one UK chart hit every year until his death in 1977.
Gloria Jones gave birth to Bolan's son in September 1975, whom they named Rolan Bolan (although his birth certificate lists him as 'Rolan Seymour Feld'). That same year, Bolan returned to the UK from tax exile in the U.S. and Monaco and to the public eye with a low-key tour. Bolan made regular appearances on the LWT pop show Supersonic, directed by his old friend Mike Mansfield and released a succession of singles, but he never regained the success of his glory days of the early 1970s. The last remaining member of Bolan's halcyon era T. Rex, Currie, left the group in late 1976.
In early 1977, Bolan got a new band together, released a new album, Dandy in the Underworld, and set out on a fresh UK tour, taking along punk band The Damned as support to entice a young audience who did not remember his heyday. Granada Television commissioned Bolan to front a six-part series called Marc, where he introduced new and established bands and performed his own songs. By this time Bolan had lost weight, appearing as trim as he had during T. Rex's earlier heyday. The show was broadcast during the post-school half-hour on ITV earmarked for children and teenagers; it was a big success. One episode reunited Bolan with his former John's Children-bandmate Andy Ellison, then fronting the band Radio Stars. The last episode featured a unique Bolan "duet" with David Bowie during which Bolan fell off the stage just as the singing was commencing. With no time for a retake, this occurrence was aired and Bowie's amusement was clearly visible.
Thanks to Gregory for submitting the biography.
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A JEWEL IN THE COSMOS | Reviewer: SUE COLLIER | 2/10/13
I RECENTLY HAD A PAINTING DONE BY AN ARTIST WHO IS ALSO A BIG FAN OF MARC CALLED GREG HART, I HAVE TO SAY IT'S THE BEST THING I COULD HAVE DONE AS I HAD LET MARC'S MEMORY SLIP INTO THE BACKGROUND SOMEWHAT. THANKS TO FACEBOOK I HAVE NOW FOUND A MARC BOLAN GROUP THAT I WAS ACCEPTED TO & NOW SEE LOTS OF PICS & MEMORABILIA OF HIM. OH MARC I MISS YOU SO MUCH YOU WERE A BIG PART OF MY TEENAGE ERA, YOU WERE A UNIQUE STAR THE LIKES OF WHICH WE WILL NEVER HAVE AGAIN. XX Sue
headbanging on t.rex's music... | Reviewer: johnfun | 7/26/12
that was around 1973 in our kitchen as our tube radio on a saturday evening played the pop music charts, and T.REX
exploded into my young brain....headbanging on t.rex's music...
- from that on music meant more to me and led me to guitarplayin'
until today. his music is still here.
Marc Bolan, shone bright the night. | Reviewer: Naomi Hamm | 5/26/11
A great talent of our times, you cannot get much better a heavy metal band with a groovy and handsome lead singer, smooth as honey vocals and a songwriting gift the Gods must have worshiped none other than Marc Bolan of T-Rex could brings us hits such as Bang a gong, jeepster, and Hot Love only to mention a few.Talents like his will shine forever more the milky way to Zamba Gamba or whatever you call Heaven.
He is still vastly missed by fans and friends alike.
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Recommend the artist to your friends.