This interview was originally published in 2004:
Guitar Hero Par Excellence: Chris Spedding
By David Chiu
Chris Spedding may not be a household name to this generation raised on 50 Cent, Ashlee Simpson, and Usher, but to the rock intelligentsia, he is well known in the business. For almost 40 years Spedding has been renowned as the session guitarist for many acts in addition to being his own artist. When needed to fill an essential guitar part either on someone’s album or on tour, Spedding is the go-to guy. The people that this British veteran has played for reads like a who’s who in popular music: Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Rosy Music, Jack Bruce, Dusty Springfield, Nina Hagen, Marianne Faithfull, Paul McCartney, Roy Harper, John Cale, Chrissie Hynde, Robert Gordon, the Sex Pistols, Laurie Anderson, and the Bay City Rollers. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame starts nominating people for the sideman category, Spedding’s name should be on the top of the list.
Ironically Spedding, born in 1944, started playing the violin first before switching to guitar at the age of thirteen. It was around the time when he fell in love with the rock music of Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, and Eddie Cochran. He formed a band called the Vulcans in 1959 that played school dances; then in 1964 he played in the house band of a luxury steamliner that traveled the South Pacific. Afterwards Spedding began gigging around London and earned a reputation as a guitar for hire. Around the early ’70s Spedding founded the hard rock band Sharks that recorded two albums before splitting up.
Spedding’s guitar style is rooted in solid fundamental rock and roll playing without the overindulgence of his peers. Rolling Stone reviewer Gordon Fletcher said of Spedding’s work on the first Sharks album in 1973: “He spits out sparse but effective chords that provide emotional fire otherwise missing from the group’s sound.” An example of this can be heard on his work with Roxy Music leader Bryan Ferry’s mid-’70s solo albums Let’s Stick Together and In Your Mind. One can hear the tough rhythm work on rockers (“Let’s Stick Together,” “The Price of Love”) and the lovely, lyrical solos (“In Your Mind,” “Heart On My Sleeve”).
In addition Spedding recorded several solo albums under his name, and had a Top Ten UK hit “Motorbikin'”, produced by Mickie Most, in 1976. He moved to New York in 1978 and teamed with Robert Gordon; then later he formed another group The Trio in 1981. While continuing to do session work throughout the ’80s and ’90s (and making an appearance film in Paul McCartney’s film Give My Regards to Broad Street), Spedding was also the music editor at Details magazine from 1985 to 1988. In 1993, he reformed the Sharks and recorded their first new album in almost 20 years.
Chris Spedding still continues to be active. He was on the road with the reunited Rosy Music on their 2001 world tour, and played on recent albums by Bryan Ferry, Jane Birkin, and young pop star Kate Mellua. Most recently Spedding is completing his latest album, the follow-up to 2002’s One Step Ahead of the Blues. He kindly took time to talk about his music and stellar career.
1. According to your web site, you are currently working on a new album. How is that coming along and what can fans of yours expect when they listen to it?
The CD is nearly finished. Instead of choosing material that fitted into a single style I thought, since I play so many different styles, that I’d just record what I felt like. I hope there’ll be something for everybody. There’s a jazz number, a couple of instrumentals, an acoustic folky track, pop, blues and rock.
2. Given your schedule as a session and touring player, how often do you get the chance to write and record your own songs? And if not much, do you sometimes wish you were more prolific?
I write when there’s a recording opportunity. I write much better material under pressure when there’s a schedule to meet. If there’s no immediate outlet for a song, the song usually lies around unfinished til there is a recording project for it.
3. According to your list of credits, you worked with the Sex Pistols? What was the extent of your involvement with them and how was it like working with them at the height of their popularity?
I worked with them before their popularity, not at their height. No one thought they could play in the beginning. I though they needed to record a demo so people could hear them and to help them get a record deal. I helped them do that. They were very professional in the studio.
4. I love your work on the two Bryan Ferry ’70s solo albums Let’s Stick Together and In Your Mind (by the way, was it your guitar solos I hear on “Heart on My Sleeve” and “In Your Mind.” I love the lyrical quality to them).
Yes that was me.
5. How was it like working with Bryan Ferry then in the ’70s and now working with him again with the reunited Rosy Music and his current solo projects?
6. Throughout your career, has there ever been one artist or one particular session that stands out in your mind as being your absolute favorite, or at least a couple of memorable ones?
6. Do you still remember your first professional music job? And what was the best advice you were given when you were starting out?
I didn’t listen to advice.
7. In your late teens or early 20s you were in a house band on a ship called the Himalaya? Was that your first time touring outside of England? Was it a culture shock being on your own outside of home?
I had been on vacation by myself to Germany before. I enjoyed having my first musical job. I wasn’t exactly on my own. The ship was full of people. I shared a cabin with two other musicians.
8. You were the music editor of Details magazine? Had your experience as a journalist shaped your perspective about musicians and the business in that sort of role reversal?
9. What was the impetus behind “Guitar Jamboree” where you imitated the styles of several famous guitarists in rapid succession? Since I have not heard that song yet, can you tell me who the players were that you were emulating? How did that come about
There was an old record from the 50s by Thumbs Carlisle called something like “Saturday Night Party” where he imitated many country players. “Jamboree” was my own 70s rock version. I did Albert King, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Dave Gilmour and Leslie West. I thought it was an entertaining way to show off without being self-indulgent.
10. Motorbikin’ was your first Top Ten UK hit if I am correct. What was the story behind that song? Do you consider yourself a pop songwriter?
Definitely. I write other stuff too.
11. Have you ever considered writing a memoir of your experiences?
A biography is being written.
12. What living artist you would like to play with that you haven’t yet?
No. Only dead ones.
13. You have been in several bands such as Trigger and the Necessaries. Do you like being in your own band because that brings some sense of stability in that you are calling the shots? Or do you prefer session work because of the freedom to work with anyone and not be obligated to your other band mates?
Trigger was only formed for a short tour. Sharks was the band that was a serious attempt at a band. My solo efforts have always been more successful than my bands. I don’t know why.
14. Was appearing in the film Give My Regards to Broad Street your first ever on-screen movie appearance?
15. In your opinion, what are the marks of a great guitar player?
A recognizable style.
16. Does technique, virtuosity, or flash impress you?
It can do if there is a recognizable style.
17. Do you like the dual identity of being a well-known and respected player to fellow artists in the industry and knowledgeable music fans, and yet having the sense of anonymity to casual music listeners?
Not much I can do about that.
18. Aside from your new record, what other projects are you working on? Any plans to tour the States for your album?
19. After so many years in the business, what still keeps you motivated?
I can’t afford to retire.