BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
“I am so proud to be the recipient of such a prestigious honor,” Gouldman told a packed house at Manhattan’s Marriott Marquis Hotel’s ballroom last Thursday evening. The luxurious space was the scene of The Songwriters Hall Of Fame’s annual $1000-a-plate dinner, where the distinguished 68-year-old British composer was inducted, along with ex-Kink Ray Davies (who was unable to attend), Donovan, Jim Weatherly and Mark James.
“As I look around this room,” he added,” I see so many of you who have been an inspiration to me. Without you and, particularly, our chairman Jimmy Webb, I quite simply wouldn’t be here.”
It was a fitting tribute for Gouldman, who wrote some of the 1960s’ most memorable hits. The list includes “For Your Love” and “Heart Full Of Soul” for The Yardbirds, “Look Through Any Window” and “Bus Stop” for The Hollies and, for Herman's Hermits, “Listen People” and “No Milk Today."
In the early 1970s, Gouldman joined fellow Brit musicians Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, and Lol Crème to form 10 cc. The band’s success was instantaneous, topping the British charts with three number-one hit singles and five top-ten albums. Here in America, though not as big, they scored major hits with “I’m Not In Love,” and “The Things We Do For Love.”
Following the departure of Godley and Crème in 1976, Gouldman continued working with Stewart, keeping the band’s name alive with other musicians. From 1984 to 1990, Gouldman collaborated with the late Andrew Gold, recording four albums.
In 2012, |Gouldman released his first solo album in 12 years, the critically acclaimed “Love And Work.” He continues to tour with bands called either Graham Gouldman and Friends, 10 cc, or Heart Full Of Songs, the latter group performing a variety of songs from an impressive five-decade career.
EXAMINER: Coming from a Jewish background, did you grow up in an Orthodox home?
GOULDMAN: We were semi-Orthodox, but my parents kept a Kosher home, and I used to go with my dad to shul (temple) every Saturday.
EXAMINER: Did you experience any anti-Semitism while you were growing up, like being bullied or teased at school?
GOULDMAN: Well, I was one of six Jews in a school that had about 400 non-Jews. So, we were fair game. The funny thing is, the other kids I expected it from, but hearing anti-Semitic comments from the teachers was more of a shock. One of them was actually a religious instructor teacher. So, there you go.
EXAMNER: Your father Hymie was a very big influence on you.
GOULDMAN: Yes, he was, especially with my early writing. He helped me with my lyrics. He came up with song titles. It was like having another lyricist in the house. I’d write something, and he’d immediately make it better.
EXAMINER: Was he a professional writer?
GOULDMAN: No, but he should have been. He was writing plays. He was writing poetry. He was writing articles for newspapers, but never took the leap to becoming professional. We were a working-class family, so for him to try that would have been a massive financial risk.
EXAMINER: Were your parents supportive of your desire to enter the music business full-time, instead of going to college?
GOULDMAN: Yes. I got tremendous encouragement from both of my parents. My mom is still alive, and my greatest publicist. While my contemporaries were encouraged to go to university and learn a profession, my parents understood two things: one, I was totally obsessed with music from an early age, and two, I was completely useless at school.
EXAMINER: So, you never had an aunt Mimi, like John Lennon, who told him, “The guitar's all right John, but you'll never make a living out of it.”
GOULDMAN: (Laughs.) No, nothing like that. In fact, quite the opposite.
EXAMINER: Your original ambition was to be a drummer?
GOULDMAN: I loved drummers. I still do, but whoever decides these things decided I was not going to be one.
EXAMINER: When did you get your first guitar, and what kind was it?
GOULDMAN: When I was 11, my cousin Ronnie brought me back one from Spain. It probably cost around ten dollars. It was a Spanish-style guitar, and the action on it was absolutely horrendous, but I vividly remember writing something on it the very first day I got it. Then I got another guitar, when I was 14, and then another when I was 17. That was the guitar I wrote all of my ’60s stuff on.
EXAMINER: Now, when you were 11, that would have been 1957, when American artists like Elvis, The Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly were very popular in England.
GOULDMAN: I listened to all of them and then, of course, in the late ’50s and early ’60s we had Cliff Richard and The Shadows. Then The Beatles came in, and they became my most important influence.
EXAMINER: Amongst the early American rock stars, who were your personal favorites?
GOULDMAN: I just loved Eddie Cochran. To me, he was the coolest guy. I thought his records were just great. There was just something special about him.
EXAMINER: Did you see him on his fatal tour of England in 1960?
GOULDMAN: No, I didn’t, unfortunately.
EXAMINER: What a tragic loss, just 21 when he died and, of course, Buddy Holly was only 22 when he died the year before.
GOULDMAN: Buddy Holly was absolutely brilliant. He was not what you would call a good-looking guy. I wouldn’t like to say “goofy,” because that’s a bit unfair, but the fact that he didn’t look like the archetypal Elvis type actually made him more popular in England. What a beautiful sound he made with both his singing and guitar playing.
EXAMINER: Now, by 1957, Skiffle’s popularity was on the wane, but Lonnie Donegan was a big earlier influence on The Beatles and many other contemporaries.
GOULDMAN: Yes, that music inspired so many of us to pick up a guitar. It was like the first time there was homemade music. The instruments (like a washboard) were cheap, and anyone with a little musical talent could do it.
EXAMINER: Your first real band, The Mockingbirds, was used by the producers of the British TV show “Top Of The Pops” as an opening act. Did you have any interaction with any of the famous stars who regularly performed on it, like The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
GRAHAM: No, we were just a bunch of kids there to warm the audiences up before the actual show started.
EXAMINER: How did The Yardbirds come across “For Your Love?”
GOULDMAN: It was through a publisher who had the song. My manager Harvey Lisberg wanted to get it to The Beatles, even though we reminded him that The Beatles wrote their own songs. The Mockingbirds had recorded a demo of “For Your Love,” but our record company turned it down as a possible single. That kind-of spurned me on to think, “Well, if we’re not able to use it, why not give it to someone else?” So, our publisher sent our demo to The Yardbirds management, and that’s how my relationship with them started.
EXAMINER: Now even though you had nothing to do with their actual recording of the song, it’s been widely written over the years, that Eric Clapton quit The Yardbirds because of it. He felt he was a blues purist, and didn’t like the “pop” direction the band had taken with that record, just to have a hit on the charts.
GOULDMAN: That’s correct, (but) I think that was perhaps the last “straw” for him. I don’t think that was the whole reason he left. He did play on the recording though, before leaving.
EXAMINER: What did you think of their version of “For Your Love” when you first heard it?
GOULDMAN: I thought it was amazing. I had to get used to it, though, because it was so different than our original demo. We had the bongos on ours, but not the harpsichord that Brian Auger played. Someone later told me that they were originally going to put an organ on it, but it didn’t show up. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but you know how these legends grow around certain things. (Laughs.)
EXAMINER: Here you are, 19, you have an enormous hit record being played on the radio, and you’re still basically an anonymous person on the street. When you first heard your song on the radio, did you feel like saying to people, “Hey, that’s my song. I wrote that !”
GOULDMAN: I didn’t mind. I was absolutely fine with all that. It was not a problem to me. I know many people have asked me that. I never wanted to be famous, anyway. That wasn’t the plan. The plan was just to be in a band, play guitar, and write songs. However, I do remember walking behind someone in Manchester who was singing “For Your Love.” I thought, “My God. This is amazing. How did he come to sing my song that I wrote in my bedroom.”
EXAMINER: So, you didn’t think, “Maybe I should record my next song myself, and become a pop star in my own right.”
GOULDMAN: No. I didn’t think like that. It was quite simple, really. I was just writing songs, and some songs were written specifically for The Yardbirds, or The Hollies. Others songs I just wrote and then later I would think, “You know, this would be good for this person,” or our publisher would think, “This would be perfect for Herman’s Hermits.” I was just sort-of writing, and writing, and writing.
EXAMINER: Do have any particular memories of Keith Relf? (The Yardbirds frontman who was accidently electrocuted by a poorly wired guitar in 1976 – Ed.)
GOULDMAN: I didn’t actually spend that much time with (The Yardbirds). It didn’t occur to me that I was going to change their lives. It was more, “They were changing my life.” I think I was really in awe of them. I was only a young kid. They were older than me. You know, when you’re 19 and someone else is 23, that’s a large chasm. I saw them “live” with Clapton, which blew my mind, and also seeing them with Jeff Beck…which completely blew my mind. Those gigs are still a huge part of what I do now, and will be for the rest of my life. They had such a profound influence on me.
EXAMINER: How did Herman’s Hermits become aware of you?
GOULDMAN: That was easy. We shared the same manager, so that was my direct link. Of course, everything had to go through (their producer) Mickie Most who was a real songman that could spot a (potential) hit ten miles away. He loved “No Milk Today.” Herman’s Hermits had already done “Listen People,” which was one of the first songs I ever wrote. They did some very good songs but, thank God, they didn’t decide to write them themselves. Mickie used mostly session guys (like Jimmy Page) on their recordings to speed things up. I personally hate when that happens, but you know it’s like, “Art for art’s sake. Money for God’s sake,” so let’s do it the best way possible.
EXAMINER: Their ’60s recording of “East West” was also made into a larger hit in the ’90s by Morrisey.
GOULDMAN: I really loved what he did with it. In fact, I like his version best. It’s a very Mancurian song, about being away from home. His version captured something that Herman’s Hermits didn’t, and he also put in an extra verse that he wrote.
EXAMINER: In 1968, you released your first solo album, “The Graham Gouldman Thing.” So, at this point you must have started having pop star aspirations.
GOULDMAN: Well, someone else suggested it, and I thought, “OK. Yeah…” Allright, of course I did. The original idea was to have (Herman’s Hermits singer) Peter Noone produce the album. He never showed up, so it was just me, (producer) Eddie Kramer, and (future Led Zeppelin bassist) John Paul Jones. What could we do? We just carried on.
EXAMINER: They were actually going to put a 21-year-old Peter Noone with no production experience in charge of your album?
GOULDMAN: I think it was just going to be nominally. They were going to use his name on the album as some kind of selling point. You have to remember how big he and The Hermits were at that time. Looking back now, the whole idea seems ridiculous, with all due respect to Peter.
EXAMINER: In the early ’70s, you backed up and co-produced a pair of albums in England for Neil Sedaka, who was attempting a comeback with “The Tra-La Days Are Over,” and “Solitaire.” Had you been a fan of his music?
GOULDMAN: Yeah, I loved all those songs, “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” but they were from an earlier era than The Beatles. I couldn’t identify with his music in the same way.
EXAMINER: Are there any dream artists you wish you could have written for, like say Elvis or Sam Cooke?
GOULDMAN: Sam Cooke would have been unbelievable, and a chance to write for Elvis would have been brilliant, but I never thought of that. They were too big and too far away. I was focusing more on Cliff Richard, because he was in England.
EXAMINER: Well, Cliff is still alive and well and recording, so you still have a chance to get some songs to him.
GOULDMAN: Don’t worry. I’ve not given up yet! (Laughs.) One of the guys who works with my band is Cliff’s musical director. I went to see a Cliff Richard and The Shadows reunion tour a few years ago, and they did only songs from the early days, nothing at all from the ’70s. As soon as they started performing, I just lost it. It was so great.
EXAMINER: Many music historians consider Cliff’s “Move It” the first British record that could actually compare with what was coming out of America in the late ’50s. A lot of the early British pop stars like Tommy Steele were kind-of “wishy-washy.”
GOULDMAN: “Wishy-washy” is the perfect term to describe that kind of music. Songs like “A White Sports Coat and A Pink Carnation” – give me a break! “Move It” was all to do with sex.
EXAMINER: Billy Fury was very good, though.
GOULDMAN: He was more like Elvis. He was a bit too...I never liked him that much. I like to see a singer with guitars behind them. That’s always been my thing: guitars.
EXAMINER: You still tour with a band that’s called 10 cc, although you’re the only original member. What are your fondest memories of the original band that was so big in the ’70s?
GOULDMAN: The first four years were an absolute joy. Creatively, 10 cc was unique. There was no other band (at the time) that had four different singers. We were like a different band on every single. It might have worked against us in the end. We didn’t have a strong identity.
EXAMINER: There are some very successful bands that are considered “faceless,” that only their staunchest fans would recognize on the street. So, you think that not having a charismatic frontman like a Mick Jagger or a Freddie Mercury kept the band from being more successful than it was?
GOULDMAN: It’s true; we didn’t have a Freddie Mercury. People were always comparing us to Queen in that they were also a very inventive band; not as good as us, of course. They were very inventive in their production, but it was always Brian May’s guitar, or Freddie’s singing. It was always everybody doing what they were supposed to do, whereas with our band, if someone sang or played guitar better on a particular song, they did it. It was never, “Oh, excuse me...I’m the lead singer,” or “I’m the lead guitarist.” We didn’t have any of that. That’s why it was all so good – that atmosphere.
EXAMINER: You released a new album two years ago called “Love And Work.” Is it harder coming up with new song ideas now than it was in the ’60s?
GOULDMAN: No, I have exactly the same mechanism at work as when I was 19. I still like to write in my bedroom. I don’t know what it is. I can put a few guitars on the bed, and off I go.
EXAMINER: Of all your great songs recorded by other artists, can you pick out a few favorites?
GOULDMAN: Chris Isaak’s version of “Heart Full Of Soul” would be one. Richie Havens did a particularly interesting take on “I’m Not In Love.” I’d also heard a tape of Led Zeppelin doing “For Your Love” that I love. It was so weird…strange.
EXAMINER: So many of your great songs will live on for generations to come.
GOULDMAN: People still love the music of the ’60s. The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Animals. The Beatles were the main ones. Their music is going to last forever. I don’t know any Jay Z songs, but you know, maybe he’d say, “I don’t want to be like you. I don’t want my songs to last forever. They can last for 10 minutes and that’s it.” There are people in England like Ben Howard who I hope will carry on the songwriting tradition. I mean real songwriting, not just productions.