Even if Argent never came close to achieving the same success as the Beatles, the man who gave the band its name have reason to be proud of what they did as a band. Not just because of what they did when it came to songs, that now have been covered by even more famous bands than themselves. We can mention bands like Steppenwolf, Kiss, Petra, Uriah Heep and Three Dog Night doing covers of their songs, but the musicianship of this band that Mr. Argent collected are quite staggering. Rod Argent himself have, amongst others, recorded or played live with artists like Phil Collins, The Who, Gary Moore, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ringo Starr.
Bob Henrit was identified by Keith Moon as one of his favourite drummers. Jim Rodford later played with The Kinks.
John Grimaldi died way too early and never fully realised his potential, but he was into jazz and experimental jazz, and you have to be good to those things. John Verity has released 20 albums in a long solo career, and his ability as both a guitarist and a vocalist is simply out of this world. Try to get hold of his album from 1983 called “Interrupted Journey” and you will know what I mean. And last, but not least, even Russ Ballard was in this band. A major songwriter, lead singer and guitarist who have been covered by several major artist like Frida (ABBA), Roger Daltrey, Kiss, Santana, Night Ranger, Rainbow…. and so on and so on… a very long list it certainly is….
All these people in the same band! Just wow! So check them out both as a band and individually if you never did so. They deserve it.
Sorry for the long introduction – here is the article.
In the talk-in
By Ray Telford
Firstly, can you outline briefly the Zombies` history?
Yeah, sure. The Zombies started in `64 and the first record we had was “She`s Not There”, which, luckily or unluckily for us at the time, sold a million here and it was also a big hit in the States. We didn`t have any hits in this country after that although we had a tickle at the charts with a couple more songs. We went on to have “Tell Her No” which was really a follow-up to “She`s Not There” in the States, and that too, was a hit. The next number one we had was “Time Of The Season”, but that was released in 1968 after the group had broken up. Contrary to what a lot of people expected there was no chance of us reforming to capitalise on “Time Of The Season” and from that time forward we went our separate ways.
Between the Zombies disbanding and Argent`s first gigs there was a space of around two years. What were you doing during that time?
Well, it really took about a year to get Argent together. It was a strange time for me because I`ve always liked playing anyway and to fill in some time I did a gig with Mike Cotton. He asked me to sit in on piano for a Gene Pitney tour and we really had a great time on that tour. I was knocked out with the whole thing because there was a lot of good fun doing it. Joe Cocker was with us – I think he`d just had “A Little Help From My Friends” released. But just getting Argent together took a very long time. You know, there was the whole thing about finding the right people. Recording the first album, going to the States and organising management and record production deals. You know, there were a lot of things like which I wanted to make sure wouldn`t hang the band up in any way and that took up a lot of time. Another thing was that the guys had to finish off their committments with the other bands they were with at the time before they could start gigging with this band.
When you formed Argent what sort of ambitions did you hold for them?
Well, right from the start I`ve always had this philosophy that there`s no point in aiming at anything other than the absolute top. You know, it`s been like that right since I was a kid and when we got The Zombies together the aim was to be the number one band in the world both commercially and artistically. So it`s the same with Argent. We`re aiming for the top and be better than anyone else.
Presently, are things going the way you hoped they would for the band?
Yeah. I mean some things are obviously going in directions which we couldn`t envisage when we started because we had no knowledge of what was going to crop up. But things are working out very nicely. The thing that has pleased me is that the band have got better and better all the time because, really, nothing has stood still and to me it`s just not the same band as it was two years ago.
That is borne out when you compare the first album and “All Together Now.”
That`s right. The first one was so much lighter compared with the new one but each album indicates exactly where we were at the time. Like, the new album is very funky and is nothing like anything we`ve done as a group previously. For me the direction of the band has always been getting better and on stage the band has got better. Nothing has stood still.
Are Argent primarily a recording band?
No, not really because we get the biggest charge playing to people. See, the hangups for me are always that when you`ve got a band in the studio it`s a different band to what plays on stage. There`s a whole lot of problems like separation of sound and technical things which can lose a lot of any group atmosphere. You know, the biggest problem is getting an atmosphere in a studio that`s good for playing – you need that to get into a groove. But these are things that every band has to go through and put up with. There isn`t much you can do about it.
Bearing what you`ve just said in mind, how do you see Argent`s previous albums?
I`ve always been happy with them when they were recorded even with the reservations I`ve had at the time. I wouldn`t look back now in retrospect and say I was unhappy because I wasn`t. I mean I can still go back to the last album and play it and be very pleased with it although it was a lot different to “All Together Now” but just in itself and as a complete production it still gives me pleasure. I think the first two albums were albums of songs as such rather than tracks which had been stretched out. You know, if you`ve only got four or five tracks on an album which are all self-indulgent with a lot of improvisation it just doesn`t sustain your interest. I`m not against long tracks but I think they should be structured and have an aim. We`ve got one track on the new album which is thirteen minutes long but it`s in four very distinct parts and it`s very easy to listen to because it has been arranged that way.
Argent apart, you also have a reputation as a session musician. Could, or will you someday get involved in session work full time?
I can`t really say that I would because I like being on the road. Sessions can be very satisfying and I enjoy doing them, especially if they`re with people you get on with personally, but I wouldn`t be happy doing it all the time because it`s not often that you`re entirely satisfied on a session. In fact I can`t think of anything worse than doing them all the time. I`d hate that, really. Anyway, there isn`t much time at the moment for anything else other than the band because we`re working so hard. In fact to finish the new album we had to pull out a lot of dates after Christmas.
In what ways do you feel the success of the “Hold Your Head Up” single is going to affect Argent?
Well for a start I don`t see us as a singles band and I certainly don`t want to get into that position. In the first place “Hold Your Head Up” wasn`t released as a single; it was released as a maxi single originally and that was supposed to be in place of an album. When we did that tour of Britain last year we wanted to have the album out to coincide with it. However, we didn`t have the album finished in time so we put out the maxi single as a taster. We never were aiming for the singles market and we`re not going to consciously try for another hit single and I think we`ll only release singles if we think it actually is a good single to do. The Zombies were a singles band absolutely but then so was everybody else at that time.
Would you say that more bands are putting out more singles of better quality nowadays than what they were, say, a couple of years ago.
Oh yeah, there`s no doubt about that. Also more bands are recording singles who previously would never have dreamed of releasing a single and it`s really good to see that the charts are accepting more good things. You can see the change by the sort of things they have on Top Of The Pops nowadays. You know, at one time anybody who wasn`t an out and out teenybopper band refused to play a Top Of The Pops but even all that`s changed and it`s a good thing. It`s like a philosophy that says if you`ve got something that isn`t a compromise then it doesn`t matter where you play it. I mean I don`t care if Jimmy Young plays our records, or whatever, because we`re not compromising. It gets pretentious otherwise because if you go into a studio and look we`ve got to get a single out and make it commercial and it`s got to be different from what`s on your albums then you`ve got a problem. But if you just go out and everything that you record is done with the point of view of recording a piece of music then that`s fine. Personally, I want to cool it for a while because I don`t want to get into a follow up thing. We`re concentrating on getting this album off the ground and then if we feel any particular song would be good for a single then we`ll put it out.
Don`t you feel, though, that the single has drawn a lot of attention to the band from people who otherwise never knew Argent existed?
Absolutely, yeah. But on the other hand we`d already built up a good thing for ourselves without a hit record and I don`t want to lose that because, really, it was a painful process. I mean, we were going out for really good money just before we had a hit and although the money has gone up a bit further it didn`t have an awful long way to go up. Say if we had two hits in a row then a massive flop we`d lose a hell of a lot and we`d be playing to no people. Recently the gigs have been incredible; we`ve had to turn people away which is a horrible thing to have to do, but it`s also a nice feeling way.
I hear you`re due for an American tour soon. How do you feel Argent will be accepted there?
Well, I`m very optimistic at the moment because when we were over there before we were a very new band and we were thrown right in at the deep end playing the first gig at the Fillmore but it was a great way to do it, you know, that whole experience was very good for us. Yeah, I`m very optimistic about this tour. It`s amazing, though, how just being off the road for two years can throw you. Like when The Zombies broke up I was more or less out of it for two years and even in that time so many things had changed and Argent were that much behind everybody else when we started up. We realised that when we were in America the first time and it took us about six months to get back into things. This happens to a lot of bands that have been at the top of the tree and they`ve got so much money that the financial need to work has gone and so they degenerate into a cosy little scene of making the occasional album and it really shows that they`re out of it just from listening to their music. I`ll always want to work because I like to keep my finger on the pulse. That`s why the Beatles always knocked me out because they always managed to keep themselves aware and they were always intensely interesting creatively. At one point The Stones went through a period where they just sat back a bit and rested on their laurels and that certainly showed.
Keeping your finger on the pulse to some people might sound as though you are very aware of particular trends in rock and roll and that you`d like to become part of them.
It all depends on how you approach any trend. In other words if you become part of a trend just through your natural progression and just because you feel that that is REALLY the right thing for your band to do at the time then you will eventually change that trend. But if you become part of a trend because it is actually trendy to do it, then you`re a loser. You lose out that way.
On “All Together Now”, as you say, there are some very funky songs which wouldn`t have fitted in with the material on, say, the first album. Has the change been gradual?
Well, I think this is because Bob (Henritt) and Russ (Ballard) particularly have always been very heavily influenced by American R&B musicians and this has been a very good thing for them. For myself I`ve never really been that conscious of it. I mean I`ve always dug American styles of music but I`ve never sat back and analysed them in such a way that it`d influence me to any great lengths whereas Russ and Bob are very conscious of the differences involved.
Apart from coming up with as good an album as possible what other aims did you have for “All Together Now.”?
Well, what we tried to do, and I`ve always felt this, is that rock music should be exciting and I think that this is maybe something we lost a bit on the first two albums. I see the first two as sort of cameos in a way because they were complete things in their different ways. “All Together Now”, though, has the excitement because it`s got more of a rawness but it`s not a planned or deliberate change as such because the rawness and the excitement in rock and roll is something we`ve all felt right from the beginning.
Do you think that British audiences, in the main, understand the essence of good rock and roll?
I don`t know really. I certainly don`t think they`re as analytical as American audiences so therefore they feel something but couldn`t tell you what it is. There`s a strange paradox there really because Americans, a lot of the time, will accept complete rubbish but they still analyse everything whereas in Britain it`s down to pure raw excitement – that`s all they want. I`m surprised that Yes have gone as well as they have in the States because although I think they`re a great band, Americans tend not to like that sort of thing in a big way.
Have you ever thought objectively about what kind of image Argent has?
No, because I`m too close to it to be able to do that. But I think in two years whatever image there is has come about through our live gigs more than by albums because, although the albums are typical, they were too sort of quiet whereas on stage there`s more energy. But I think overall we`ve got this kind of placid image, which, doesn`t really fit in with what`s on the new album. Another thing is that I think a lot of music critics tend to sit back and listen to records all the time and never go to gigs and so they form opinions from albums but the kids are much more involved – they go to concerts and see what they the group are all about.
You were talking earlier about perpetually striving for perfection. You once told me that there never seemed to be enough time for actual individual or band rehearsals. This must surely frustrate you.
That`s right. It annoys me but it annoys me more that there`s also such a waste of time in this business which could be used for the good. See, I`m the kind of person who`d love to get down and really get my playing as good as it could be and to do that you`ve got to practise the whole way up. You know, I should be practising two or three hours a day but I can`t because there`s no time. The only time I get to play is on stage. I just don`t want to stagnate. See, I`ve always thought it`s incredible how short your life is and I`m always very conscious of how much older I`m getting all the time, although I`m still young, and I don`t want to look back, over my life as a musician, say, when I`m 40 and be saying to myself – `Christ, I could`ve been so much better` because by the time I`m 40 I want to be as near my full potential as possible. The worst thing is when you`re on the road, like travelling in a car for 8 hours a day seems an incredible waste of time to me. You know, it`s 8 hours of the day out of your life when you`re just sitting there like a vegetable. What I want to do if we can tail off the gigs a little bit is to take piano lessons again, not to change my style or anything, but because there are a few holes in my playing which need filling, although none of them are noticeable generally, they`re noticeable to me.
What is your ultimate ambition for Argent?
Well, again, without wanting to sound big headed, I think the only thing to aim for is the very top and my ambition, my ideal, is to see the band in the position that The Beatles were in a few years ago and when we get that far I`m really going to be happy. Of course it`s all struggle but I don`t mind that at all. See, it`s not just to do with pure achievement – not saying if we`re going to be bigger than the Beatles then we`ve got to have a few hit albums – but working all the way through developing musically and developing in the right directions. I`m a strong believer in that if you make yourself good enough then the rest will follow and I think you`ve always only got yourself to blame for failure.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Wishbone Ash, Maggie Bell, David Clayton-Thomas (Blood, Sweat & Tears), Matching Mole, Jon Lord, Ornette Coleman, Marc Bolan, Peter Frampton, Rita Coolidge, ELP, Robert Altman, Happy And Artie Traum.
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