On a recent flight back from Mexico City I caught “Bohemian Rhapsody” the Queen biopic. It brought back some fond memories.
Full disclosure, in their heyday of the 70s and 80s I wasn’t a fan of Queen. Truth is, being pretty much into the blues and funk at that time I didn’t ever learn a Queen song until “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in 1979 for a cover band I’d put together. Other than that I couldn’t name a tune of theirs.
Since the movie “Wayne’s World,” I’ve come to respect and actually enjoy their music.
I joined the Rod Stewart Group in LA in 1981 and from ’81-85 recorded on several platinum albums, 3 world tours, and 3 concert films. We crossed paths with Queen in LA and on the road (Rock In Rio ’85) over that period.
Besides seeing each other in the halls of such studios as The Record Plant and various pubs in W.Hollywood we all shared a passion: TENNIS! Yep. Can ya believe it?
I was fairly good. Good enough to annoy Rod who after being trounced by me one too many times hired a tennis pro for lessons. I learned so much from the pro at the same time it didn’t help him much. LOL.
Anyway, Roger Taylor was the guy we became mates with the closest. He was a very easy going, friendly guy and played tennis pretty well.
One day around 1982 in LA, guitarist Jim Cregan, keyboardist Kevin Savigar, [You can read my post about Kevin here] Roger and me were trying to find a court we could play on with no luck. Roger says, ”Wait a minute, I think Freddie’s got one at his place.” So he makes a call and we go over to “Freddie’s Place”.
We arrive at a huge estate in Bel Air and the massive gates are opened and we make our way up a long drive. I had thought Rod’s place was impressive (it was) but “Freddie’s Place” dwarfed Rod’s. The butler led us (all in tennis gear with racquets) through the house to the back gardens.
I’d never met Freddie before but had heard bits and pieces of insider gossip from Roger and his minders (assistants) while clubbing around town. Some of it was kind of mean but that’s just the British Way or at least in my experience with British Rock n Rollers. Cruel but Fair, ya know. I believe it was then I first heard the word halitosis, a technical term for bad breath which apparently Freddie had.
As we’re walking towards the tennis court, I got my first glimpse of Freddie. He’s sitting shirtless in a chair with his back to us, sunning himself. He turned at that moment to look towards the sun and I saw the unmistakable profile. His hair was short at this time and he had a mustache.
As we reached him, Roger introduced us all and I must say he was the epitome of grace and decorum. He asked if he could get us anything to drink, eat… you name it. Really, just totally a nice guy.
He watched us play an hour or so and then he went inside.
The next time I saw Roger and Freddie was at the LA Forum at a Queen concert. It must have been around the same time of ’82 or ’83.
Back then the RSG was like a real group. We’d go to pubs together, play soccer with Rod or tennis. Hang at Rod’s house working on songs, etc. Rod just liked to have “the lads” around. And for some reason, I was invited often.
We all had some drinks in the Forum Club and then actually went out into the arena to watch the show. Somehow I end up standing next to Rod. I was amazed Rod, being the superstar he was at the time, would go into the crowd and watch a show but he did. We were not on the floor but the section sloping up on the left side of the stage. Freddie and the Boys were just tearing the place up. Freddie in very short white hot pants, shirtless with his sawed-off mic stand prancing around the stage and in my humble opinion singing his fucking ass off.
That’s when I stepped in it (as I did often with Rod). As we’re standing next to each other, I lean over and say over the din, close to Rod’s ear, “Pretty good singer, eh?” referring to Freddie. What a mistake. Rod proceeded to go off on me saying what the fuck do I know about singing and ripping on Freddie saying he was a no talent poofter, (British slang for homosexual) and on and on for at least a minute. It seemed like forever. He went off on me like this another time when I said I liked the Doors and Jim Morrison but that’s another story. Anyway, I was very impressed with Queen and I think history is on my side regarding Freddie’s singing talents.
At one point in the film, there is a brief reference to Roger’s French wife which reminded me of one silly episode.
One night, after a bit of partying, Kevin Savigar and I were leaving my place in West Hollywood for the Coronet Pub and thought it’d be a good idea to drive by Roger Taylor’s Hollywood Hills home and invite him along. We get up to his gates, press the intercom and a female, French-accented voice comes on line. We ask for Roger and her grasp of English or lack of it became apparent and in her defense, it’s difficult understanding Brits after a few pints in the best of circumstances. Kevin starts bellowing Cockney insults like Come out ya tosser, Roger!!! Let’s head down to the pub and buy us a pint… You useless wanker!!! Don’t be a pussy… you c#%t!!! And I was tossing in some naughty, nasty French insults I’d picked up from several French girlfriends and 5 years of French class in school. All fairly loud and boisterous but harmless… and then we left.
Later, when we ran into Roger at the Entourage, a bar/restaurant next to The Record Plant on 3rd St. There was a group of us and he says, ”You’re never gonna believe what happened. My wife called me at the studio and she was hysterical. I had to run home. Apparently, some thugs came by the house and threatened her and me on the intercom. We had to call the police and she thought some terrorists were trying to break into our house.” Kevin and I were looking at each other trying not to crack up and giving each other the look like “shut the fuck up!”
TERRORISTS!!! IN WEST HOLLYWOOD!!! Hooligans? Drunken rude louts? Definitely. Terrorists???… naaaahhhhh…
Rock in Rio
Around 1985, my last year with Rod, we went down to Rio de Janeiro for a massive festival of concerts over the span of 2 weeks. It was called Rock In Rio. We were to play 2 concerts on different nights. The crowds were huge. Each night we played to more than 350,000 people. We were in Rio for 2 weeks staying at the Rio Palace Hotel so there was plenty of time to get up to no good. I’ll save that for another time but I remember running into Roger as Queen was, of course, playing the festival too and somehow during the conversation the subject came up of how much Queen was making for their two shows. TWO MILLION DOLLARS! Maybe not much by today’s standards but back then that was quite a lot.
But here’s the reason Kevin and I were a bit taken aback. Before we went down to Rio, Rod’s manager, Arnold Steiffle (a real POS) had called all the band members and asked (no… basically told us) that since Rod wasn’t making that much money on these concerts we’d only be paid $1000 a show. And we were there for almost 2 weeks!!! Based on our salaries back then we should have been coming home with closer to $10,000. And then to hear that most of the artists were being paid 2 million… and… well, it didn’t go over well with the members of the orchestra. But what could we do? We’d made the deal. Welcome to showbiz, kid.
That was the last time I saw Roger. Unfortunately, Freddie died on November 24, 1991. Great singer/songwriter. No doubt one of the best frontmen/women I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been blessed to have worked with a few of the best.
One last memory from watching the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the Live Aid part and the lead up to the concert for Queen. There were two Live Aid Concerts that day. The first was at Wembley Stadium in London which Queen played at and as that one was winding down the second one that I played at with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was held in Philadelphia at RFK Stadium. Both were star-studded events loaded with Rock Royalty. You can read about some amusing hi jinx I got up to at that one in an earlier blog here.
What struck me was the similar general feeling that management and artists shared at that time. And that was that no one fully realized how big the event would become nor if they should even sign on to do it. In Tom Petty’s case, we were in Florida for a series of concerts that would last at least 10 days to 2 weeks. That night Roger McGuinn from the Birds came up and sang “So You Wanna Be A Rock n Roll Star.” It was awesome. After the show, we were told to go back to the hotel and pack as fast as you can because we’re flying to Philly tonight for something called Live Aid. We were bummed. We’d really been looking forward to playing to The Heartbreakers home state crowds and getting some fun in the sun. In the Queen movie, they were having similar issues whether to do the damn thing too. As fate would have it we all did play it and it was a very positive thing to do for many different reasons.
All in all, I’m happy for Roger, Brian May and John Deacon for their successful movie and also sad for the loss of their mate Freddie Mercury.
Roger and Brian still seem to be having fun playing and filling stadiums with different singers.
I wish them all the best.