unsung siren: terry reid
There’s no good reason why Terry Reid’s name isn’t up there in the British rock hall of fame alongside Plant, Daltrey, Jagger, and Winwood. A soulful guitarist with an arrestingly powerful voice, he was in the right place at the right time, and made some truly incredible albums. Yet somehow serious fame has proven elusive for the outrageously talented Reid.
I read an article about him recently in the local paper of Palm Desert, where he now resides. Then a few days later had a brief Twitter exchange with Maureen Van Zandt after she shared her discovery of a YouTube treasure trove of tracks from his obscure 1979 album Rogue Waves. I realized that I’d never written anything about Terry Reid on here, and that needs to be remedied.
Young Terry Reid was very much a part of the Sixties London rock milieu. In 1966, at the tender age of 16, Reid was playing lead guitar with Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers when they were tapped to open for The Rolling Stones’ U.K. tour. The group disbanded following the tour but Reid had caught the attention of Mickie Most, famed producer of hits like The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” and Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow.” Collaborating with Most, Reid released his first solo album in 1968.
Bang, Bang You’re Terry Reid was critically well-received but didn’t make much of a commercial splash. His eponymous follow-up album, released in the U.S. under the title Move Over for Terry Reid, is a masterpiece. “Superlungs My Supergirl” is a slice of 60’s psychedelic-pop-rock perfection and the gut-wrenching “Stay With Me Baby” never fails to give me chills. On a trip to London several years ago I was browsing through a little record shop in Camden when I came across an original UK copy of this stellar album. Naturally, I was over the moon. When I went to purchase the LP I struck up a conversation with the shop owner, who was quite intrigued by a 22-year-old American girl getting so excited over Mr. Reid. The shop owner told me that he’d actually had two copies of this hard-to-find album, but just last week he sold the other copy to none other than Robert Plant, whose office was just down the street. So you don’t have to only take my word for this guy. . .
As a solo act Reid opened for both Cream’s 1968 U.S. tour and The Rolling Stones ’69 U.S. tour, as well as for Jethro Tull and Fleetwood Mac. In 1970 he performed at Britain’s answer to Woodstock, The Isle of Wight Festival. In 1968 Reid was asked by Jimmy Page to front his latest incarnation of that epic rock-god-incubator The Yardbirds, which would of course end up becoming Led Zeppelin. Reid declined but suggested that Page check out another young vocalist active on the Birmingham scene, Robert Plant, who was fronting the Band of Joy at the time. And the rest is history.
Despite this impeccable rock pedigree, Reid remains widely unknown. On that same trip to London, I was lucky enough to catch a rare Terry Reid live gig at the famed Dingwalls club. I was with a dear friend of mine, who is also a big fan of Reid’s, but even we managed to deftly illustrate our ignorance. At the time of our visit London had just passed its indoor smoking ban. Between sets we were hanging in a hallway near the backstage area talking with the opening band when an older man in a bright orange blazer stepped in smoking a cigarette. My friend took it upon herself to remind him of the recent ban: “You know you can’t do that in here anymore.” Well, of course the man lighting up turned out to be Terry Reid and he looked at us like we were probably the cheekiest American idiots he’d ever laid eyes on. And we might have been. Needless to say my friend was mortified and we didn’t get the chance to talk to him much after that. But he delivered a tremendous performance to the 500-seat club, his voice still just as raw and powerful as ever – the Unsung Siren of Swinging London.
Here are a few of my favorite Terry Reid tracks, for your listening pleasure: (Don’t miss the first one, it’s an unbelievably high quality video of a 1969 performance)