Johnny Rogan

I was very saddened this week by the news that music writer Johnny Rogan had passed away. It’s not an exaggeration to say that his biographies set a standard of quality and thoroughness that other writers can only dream of achieving. I first encountered his work when I chanced upon Starmakers and Svengalis, which is now one of my favourite books ever about the music industry. Not only did he tell amazing stories in that book, but writing it also required him to be familiar with complex court documents and financial statements, as well as the lives of the people he profiled. There are very few writers with the ability to draw on that many different types of sources and to spin them into compelling tales.

Rogan immersed himself in his book projects. He spent more than a couple of years writing many of them, but Continue reading

Lost One Rainy Morn: Ian & Sylvia’s “The French Girl”

[originally appeared in Shindig! issue 111]

‘The French Girl’ is the musical equivalent of an Impressionist painting: sparse lyrical images weaving together to create an intricately detailed world. Three silver rings, a dark-haired woman, a cozy room, glasses of red wine…..and then she disappears, and no one knows who she was or where she has gone. It’s romantic, but with an underlying and somewhat unsettling sense of unreality.

Ian and Sylvia Tyson wrote the song in late 1965, during what Sylvia described to their biographer John Einarson as “a very transitional period for us”. As the duo of Ian & Sylvia, they were stars on the folk rock circuit, and had already released four albums on the Vanguard label. Songs like Ian’s ‘Four Strong Winds’ and Sylvia’s ‘You Were On My Mind’ had brought them acclaim as songwriters. But they were well aware that Continue reading

A Quiet Explosion: Deep Purple’s ‘Hush’

(originally appeared in Shindig! issue #105)

More than 50 years after its creation, ‘Hush’ is a staple of bar-band playlists, ‘best of’ anthologies, and movie and TV soundtracks – and it damn well should be, because it’s so catchy. Who among us has not banged their head to its driving percussive beat, or joyously shouted along to a chorus of “na na-na na”? But as the past five decades have shown, ‘Hush’ is also a song that can flourish in many different types of interpretations and musical styles.

Joe South wrote ‘Hush’ in the mid-‘60s, but its origins may go as far back as Continue reading

Gone But Not Forgotten: ‘Picture Me Gone’

(originally appeared in Shindig! issue #103)

‘Picture Me Gone’ is a sassy, bold ‘60s tune, on the timeless theme of “you’re thinking about dumping me? Yeah? Well, think about me dumping you first”. The most recent version of it appears to have been released in ’92, which is a shame; this gem is just waiting to be rediscovered.

‘Picture Me Gone’ was written by Chip Taylor and Al Gorgoni in the early ‘60s, when they were working at a New York music publishing company based across the street from the renowed Brill Building. The first artist to record the song was Continue reading