White Bicycles: Making Music In The 1960s
I knew Joe Boyd was a cool, well-connected music biz guy when we met in 1980. He brought Lorne Michaels (the producer and creator of Saturday Night Live) and Paul Simon backstage in New York to meet the band I managed, threw a party in London that attracted all kinds of insiders, and set up a recording session with engineer John Wood.
But I had no clue he was the compleat heavy hitter until I started poring through the pages of White Bicycles: Making Music In The 1960s.
Boyd might have been born on third base, a young man of privilege and wealth, but he also was blessed with an ear for great sounds and nose for adventure that made all the difference in the world.
It’s all here. Coming of age in college with his roommate Geoff Muldaur to watch the great New York vs. Boston folkie standoff unfold. Bringing Muddy Waters, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, the Reverend Gary Davis, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and other American blues all-stars to England and Europe. Watching Dylan and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which he helped discover, electrify the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Tapping into the United Kingdom’s emerging folk scene and producing Sandy Denny, John & Beverley Martyn, Fairport Convention, Fotheringay, the Incredible String Band, and Richard & Linda Thompson. Running UFO, the London club where Pink Floyd, Arthur Brown and British psychedelia erupted. Meeting ABBA when it was just Bjorn and Benny and their girlfriends. Stumbling bass-ackwards into his only #1 record, Eric Weissberg’s banjo instrumental from the movie Deliverance.
Jimi Hendrix pops up. So do the Lovin’ Spoonful, Stiff Records mastermind Dave Robinson, producer Paul Rothchild (with whom Boyd worked), and Mo Ostin, head of Warner Bros. Records, the hippest record label during a period when the business of music was at its peak.
But all that’s almost a lead-in to the biggest “get” of all, Nick Drake. Boyd delivers detail and perspective on the brilliant and troubled British songwriter, whom he discovered, encouraged, and nurtured. He pulls back the veil on Drake’s brief recording career, which ended in suicide decades before Drake became an inspiration and beacon for the current crop of contemporary singer-songwriters who cite him as an influence.
It’s a fascinating ride told with intelligence, insight and wit, tied neatly into a bow at the end by a meditation on music and its role in triggering a cultural revolution in the 1960s that makes more sense than any polemic I’ve read. All of which makes plain that Joe Boyd is still one of the coolest guys in music I’ve ever crossed paths with, no matter how much water has passed under his bridge.