Big wheel

Pub date March 14, 2007
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer

SONIC REDUCER Perhaps Fall Out Boy said it most succinctly: this ain’t a scene — it’s an arms race. Joe Boyd — Hannibal Records founder, producer, general 1960s-era scenemaker and welcome arm for many an intrepid musical tourist, and now author of White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s (Serpent’s Tail, $18) — has seen battle on the front lines of UK rock. He knows when to drop his fascinating bombs, when to jump into the fray — such as when he stage-managed Bob Dylan’s landmark electric Newport performance — and when to step back and let nature or L. Ron Hubbard take the course — like the time his discoveries the Incredible String Band glommed on to Scientology. Battle-scarred but unbroken, Boyd has soldiered on down the road with Muddy Waters and Coleman Hawkins, scored early production credits overseeing Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse’s “Crossroads” and Pink Floyd’s first single, discovered Nick Drake and Fairport Convention, and gone on to make records for songwriting enlistees ranging from Toots and the Maytals and REM to Billy Bragg and Vashti Bunyan, in addition to organizing inspired scores for films such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller. So trust that Boyd knows whereof he speaks when he says that when it came to writing his first book, it was best to take a long view.
“Of course, I have read a lot of music books in my time,” the 64-year-old says on the phone from London, “and there’s a lot of books that I’ve read that are full of interesting information, but they’re very stodgy, and they’re very crammed with information that only guys who live alone with 8,000 LPs really want to know about. So I was very conscious of wanting to write a book that, every once in a while, occasionally, a young person or a female might want to read.”
Is Boyd trying to say that most music books seem to cater to male collectors? “Yeah, I’ve done a lot of book signings, and I can tell you what the queue looks like. There’s a lot of beards. There’s a lot of bald pates. There’s a lot of gray hair, and every once in a while there’s a twentysomething woman in the queue, and then you kind of make sure your hair is combed straight,” Boyd says mirthfully. “Then she comes up to the head of the queue and says, ‘Will you please sign it “To Peter”? It’s for my father for his 60th birthday.’<\!q>”
Of course, in attempting to dodge the earnest fan, Boyd has taken fire from the obsessives who say he didn’t include enough about, for instance, John Martyn. And some women, as luck and long lines would have it, have griped that he didn’t include enough about his love life. Guess they didn’t get to the end of a chapter deep in where, almost as a punch line, he allows that his on-and-off girlfriend Linda Peters — who was with him when he was producing his sole number one hit, “Dueling Banjos,” for Deliverance — eventually married Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson.
Telling his tales plainly as if, he confesses, he’s “sitting at a table with a bottle of wine, dominating the conversation,” Boyd throws out his take on the fetal ABBA; the quasi-resident combo at his UFO Club, Pink Floyd; artists less known stateside, such as the Watersons; and crazy diamonds in the elegant rough such as the painfully shy Drake. Boyd produced 1969’s Five Leaves Left and 1970’s Bryter Layter (both Hannibal) and witnessed some of Drake’s sad decline, going as far to write, “There is certainly a virginal quality about his music, and I never saw him behaving in a sexual way with anyone, male or female. Linda Thompson tried to seduce Nick once, but he just sat on the end of the bed, fully clothed, looking at his hands…. Yet Nick’s music is supremely sensual: the delicate whisper of his voice, the romantic melodies, the tenderly sad lyrics, the intricate dexterity of his fingers on the guitar.”
“I don’t really say anything that isn’t already out there,” Boyd says now. “In a way what I’m saying is his privacy remains inviolate.” Boyd’s ear has also remained inviolate, as seen with the ’90s attention to Drake, whose “Pink Moon” Boyd licensed to Volkswagen, although “by the time the commercial came out, the records had been selling more and more,” from the initial 3,000 to 100,000 a year. “My feelings are best described as ‘what took you so long?’<\!q>”
Regardless, he continues, “I never made the sort of records that you put into the normal process. You had to come up with original strategies and eccentric ways of presenting a group in order for the kind of records that I made to sell.”
These days Boyd prefers to battle the page (his next book is on world music) rather than run a label after all he has been through with Rykodisc, which bought Hannibal, and Palm Pictures, which in turn swallowed Rykodisc. Still, the feisty music lover isn’t above a parting volley. “I’m optimistic about the music industry,” he says, equal parts wag and curmudgeon. “I think the dinosaurs will go to the tar pits and that will be fine. And all their distant cousins will turn into birds.”<\!s>SFBG
Tues/20, 7:30 p.m., free
Black Oak Books
1491 Shattuck, Berk.
(510) 486-0698
Also March 21, 7 p.m., free
1644 Haight, SF
(415) 863-8688
We All Belong (Park the Van) finds the Philly psych-swamp canines breaking out some toothsome songcraft. Thurs/15, 9 p.m., $10–<\d>$12. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016
Gnarly SF psych rockers caterwaul alongside paisley-drenched Kyoto kids — all hail garage skronk, mademoiselle. Sun/18, 8 p.m., $10–<\d>$12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. (415) 621-4455
Does this highly touted sprawling ensemble boil down to Denmark’s Bjorkestra — with kalimba, strings, and tuba? Mon/19, 8 p.m., $13. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. (415) 885-0750
Matthew M. Melton (Memphis Break-ups, the River City Tanlines) was stranded by his bandmates in San Francisco but has managed to peel out the muy groovy reptilian garage punk once more. March 26, 8 p.m., $5–<\d>$20 (Mission Creek fundraiser). 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission, SF.