As “Wild Thing” is forever linked in memory with The Troggs’ monumental 1966 hit version—not to mention the fiery Jimi Hendrix cover from the legendary 1968 rock film Monterey Pop--the song itself is also a major part of songwriter Chip Taylor’s major career.
“Of course, I remember when it happened,” Taylor reminisced the day following the death Monday of Troggs’ lead singer Reg Presley.
“Just before ‘Wild Thing,’" said Taylor. "A lot of people started asking for my songs, so it was starting to happen for me one at a time: There was ‘I Can’t Let Go’ [a hit in 1966 for The Hollies after Evie Sands cut it, and later a hit for Linda Ronstadt], and then ‘Wild Thing’ and ‘Angel Of The Morning’ [a 1968 hit for Merrilee Rush, again following Evie Sands’ version, and later a big hit for Juice Newton].”
These successes aside, Taylor always focused on “what was next.”
“I loved the songs and was very happy to have hits, but it was always next, next, next,” he said. “Then years later, I woke up and said, ‘Holy Christ!’ I remembered taking a train across Holland and seeing these humble little houses, and going into Belgium and thinking, ‘Jesus. All these little houses, and everybody behind those walls has heard my songs. It was an amazing and funny awakening.”
Taylor went on to land more successes as a songwriter, and also recorded his own albums, teaming notably in 2001 with Mexican singer-songwriter/violinist Carrie Rodriguez on a series of acclaimed albums and tours. But he stayed in touch with Presley until the end.
“I knew he was sick and all, and had called maybe eight months ago and spoke to his wife Brenda a bit,” Taylor related. “His death really touched me, and hit me pretty hard: What I think about most these days is how much I liked him and Brenda.”
And The Troggs.
“I got to know them at the beginning--maybe a year after ‘Wild Thing’ was a hit, in New York,” he said. “I remember most that they were such nice guys, very unshowbiz--a breath of fresh air compared to the typical posers who have hits and cement some kind of persona. They weren’t like that, but regular guys--and made me feel very comfortable around them.”
After Taylor started touring with Rodriguez, they did a TV show with Presley.
“We all sang ‘Wild Thing’ together and had a lot of fun,” Taylor said. “Reg came to two or three shows of mine a year later. He used to always come with an ocarina in his pocket!”
The egg-shaped ocarina, of course, was one of the key elements of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing” production.
“It came from my little demo,” noted Taylor. “The engineer started cupping his hands like he was blowing on a blade of grass to get a whistling sound, and just hummed the part--and everyone thought it was an ocarina! I played acoustic guitar and banged on the floor and stomped on some things, and had a certain way of strumming a guitar that was kind of sweaty. A lot of people recorded ‘Wild Thing’ and didn’t get it, but The Troggs did it exactly, and then Hendrix--though he slowed it down.”
Back then, “one of the most important things was that whoever recorded one of my songs, that they caught a good feeling of it,” said Taylor. “Some producers did it from the brain, and some from the gut, and I liked the ones that worked from the gut, mostly: If you catch a feel of my song, it’s good for me. Fortunately there were a lot of wonderful recordings of my songs—Merrilee Rush, Walter Jackson’s ‘Welcome Home’--but none that caught the feel of the demo more than The Troggs’ version of ‘Wild Thing.’”
Taylor said that Presley thought that an actual ocarina had been used in the demo, hence his use of one on the single.
“It became a signature, but it was just a nice record by a bunch of nice guys,” he said.
The third Troggs single following “Wild Thing” was another, more tuneful Taylor composition, “Any Way That You Want Me.”
“Reg wasn’t a fancy singer’s singer, but he could feel things,” he noted. “He was humble but passionate, kind of one of a kind. Look at The Troggs’ body of singles and you see a group like The Ramones or the Velvet Underground coming on.”
“In his humble way, he was a very original kind of character,” concluded Taylor. “I didn’t know what to do when I heard he died, but I called Brenda and I’m so glad I did. She was so warm and made me feel close to her.”
Of Reg Presley, he added, “He was just a good guy.”
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