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The Groundhogs interview with Tony McPhee


1. I would like to thank you very much for taking your time and answering a few questions about your amazing carrier.
If I'm not wrong Boz was your first band. How do you remember those years with Boz?

Not quite! My first band was the 'Seneschals' which meant the Head Butler in a` castle, I found the word by opening a dictionary at a random page & liked the sound of it, playing mainly instrumentals by bands like the Fireballs & Ventures from USA & British band like the Hunters & the Shadows.I went on to join the Dollar Bills ( a  name I hated & didn't like the 'pop' stuff they played, so I persuaded them to play Blues `& the REAL R&B, by Howling Wolf, Hooker, etc.) and we played the Marquee Club when I first heard of Boz & the Boz people.

That first Groundhogs split up in 1966 & Tom Parker, who was our Pianist told me about a situation where we would be paid for rehearsing!!! 

Apparently a 'City Gent' named Basil Charles-Dean,whose business was importing/exporting all sorts of stuff had heard Boz singing "Pinnochio', (He had a voice similar to Scott Walker), so Basil decided he would manage him, put a band together to back him and 'sell' him like a 'can of peas'(Basil's own words!) we put a set together & played on  Dusty Springfield tour plus some one-nighters.

When I was considering writing a book I phoned Boz`  & asked him his `recollections about this band, by this time he had been playing bass for 'Bad Company' and he said he knew who I was but said that so  much stuff had gone up his nose he couldn't remember anything about that band,the Dusty Springfield tour & even Basil taping sharpened drum-sticks around his vocal mike to stop him singing too close to it as EVERY singer does!!!

Then you were in Herbal Mixture, would you like to share a few words about this band?

The name comes from my Vegetarianism and interest in Herbalism &  alternative medicine,We had 2 singles released 'Love that's died' & 'Machines' which had some of the first songs I'd written, other songs like 'The 11-year-old-man' & 'Mr. McGee' were never recorded but we played them at gigs like the 'Electric Garden' in London,which our manager,Roy Fisher,got because he said we "dressed up" after we tried different clothes on when we were at  Joann Kelly's house!( nothing feminine!!)

Your first album with The Groundhogs is called Scratching the Surface. What do you remember from recording this LP? Same year you also released solo album called Me and the Devil which is pure blues record. Would you like to comment on that?

At this time Mike Batt was employed as a producer at Liberty Records(later became UA Records) and his idea of producing was to say "next" after each 'take' we had to ask him if we wanted to try 'take 2'

It was recorded at the 'Marquee' Studios which was a 4-track studio,very limited so when I persuaded Andrew Lauder, who was the A&R man that there were so many good blues-players in our area in South London that they should be recorded, my idea was to have an audience in the Studio because we all performed better in front of people and I still consider it and the 'sequel' 'Asked for water,she gave me gasoline' two of the best blues albums of the late '60s Blues Boom.

2. You were involved with so many different music project. The John Dummer Blues Band is one of them. There you played a guitar, but you were not on their first album right?

I played & sang on  most numbers on 'Cabal', their 1st album  & a single from the album 'Travellin' Man' a John Lee Hooker  number where I sang the Eddie Kirkland part.

3. If we go on with amazing Groundhogs discography. Blues Obituary is album where you started to play a lot more heavy.

Unfortunately the 2nd Blues 'Boom' which started with Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac was short-lived & to keep the Groundhogs  working & recording we decided to  get away from 'straight' Blues so  I could get back to song-writing, so although that album was still blues some songs were 'new' most were derived from earlier blues, but made 'heavier'!

Sooner or later you released an absolutely amazing Thank Christ for the Bomb album in 1970 followed by Split and Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Groundhogs! And Hogwash.

I would like if you could tell us what are some of your strongest memories recording Blues Obituary, Thank Christ for the Bomb, Split and others...

For Blues Obituary we  hired an old Hearse, a coffin a vicar's costume for me & pall-bearer's clothes for Pete & Ken & asked a friend of ours, a guitarist called 'Hoss' from his band 'Screw' to lie in the coffin while pictures were taken for the album cover, it was all photographed in Highgate Cemetery in London which is where Karl Marx is buried and a lot of other famous & infamous people!

We started walking through the overgrown cemetery looking at all the crypts & I heard everybody's voice getting fainter as I was walking quite quickly then I heard a very loud clap  of thunder although there was no rain so I waited for the rest to catch up!

I was living in a downstairs flat in South Kensington,just around the corner from Rory Gallagher,who we used to support when he had his band 'Taste' then the Rory Gallagher Band, so it was a good place to write songs & I wrote Thank Christ for the Bomb there, although the communal garden wasn't overgrown!

Our Manager, Roy Fisher had suggested the title of the album because John Lennon had just used the name 'Christ' and caused an uproar in the press so Roy thought if we couple that with the other great topic the  'bomb' it would get noticed!

I  thought it was a bad idea at first then I wondered about the 'sound' of it and decided it sounded pretty good, my first thought  was that in the 1st world war a soldier would be sent home if he was injured so he would be grateful to whatever caused his 'Blighty one' as they used to call them, but in the end the Atom Bomb won through!

Ken & I went to the 'cut' where the finished album was made into a finished product and Ken said to me "I like it......... I think"When we got back to my flat we had our dinner while I played the album & I started eating faster as it was` playing, to me that's a good sign, means it's exciting!!!

'SPLIT' Side 1 is the story of one night after a very hot day when I had a mental 'aberration' which actually lasted a few months until I managed  to control my thougts, basically a very long 'panic attack.

' We had a couple of numbers short after we recorded I remembered a song I'd written in Germany a couple of years before which we'd played 'live' many times and we recorded it in one take, that was 'Cherry Red' & a John Lee Hooker  song 'Groundhog Blues' where our engineer, Martin Birch, Miked up a large piece of plywood which I tapped with my right shoe which had bottle-tops taped on.

4. In 1973 you released a great solo album called The Two Sides of Tony (T.S.) McPhee. Would you like to comment this release?

By this time we had a new manager,  Pine, who suggested I did a solo album about something I felt very strongly about, Fox & Stag-Hunting which is the past-time of something else I loathe, the English 'upper-classes'

I had also got interested in synthesizers and their ability to 'imitate'  sounds like howling dogs,bells etc.

5. What festivals did you play at back then and if you have some interesting experience happened while on tour (I'm sure you have plenty of them) please share them with us.

We played the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 and the Krumlin Festival where the cover of 'Split' was photographed, we arrived on a Saturday and one of the organisers told us we were supposed to play the day before( one o the reasons Roy Fisher was sacked later on!!)  JoAnn Kelly told us that nobody was going on-stage as there had been so many forged tickets she didn't think any band was going to get paid.

The weather was awful & the stage was empty so we asked if we could play so we  played and we had a great time as did the soaked audience!

I have so many stories on tour I could write a book now that's a thought!

6. You released many other albums in 70's, 80's till now. What are you doing these days and what are some future plans for you?

We have an unfinished album produced by Jack Endino( Nirvana's 1st producer) but I had a stroke in June 2008 which affected my speech and singing  so I'm hoping that I will recover my voice soon to finish my vocal tracks soon.

7. I would like to thank you again for taking your time and agreeing to do this interview. Would you like to add something else, perhaps?

Thank you for asking me these searching questions, I've had fun answering them and I thank everybody who enjoys my music for listening to it is the only way to go!!!

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011

© Copyright 2011


bleedo said...

nice. love the Groundhogs!

Anonymous said...

Interesting interview. Would like to have heard more about his days with John Lee Hooker..maybe a book
would be the solution..also living near Rory Gallagher-did they ever jam together? Any chance of posting your interviews as audio clips?
Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Interesting interview. Would like to have heard more about his days with John Lee Hooker..maybe a book
would be the solution..also living near Rory Gallagher-did they ever jam together? Any chance of posting your interviews as audio clips?
Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Came upon your blog just recently. Thanks for all the great interviews. I'm so glad hearing from the people that made my youth a happy one.

Anonymous said...

Tony's a blues legend just like Willie Dixon or Muddy Waters and such a shame he's unwell enough to perform, but keep checking the website just in case, like Burke Shelley of Budgie, and can only wish them both the very best, saw Tony's last gig and was pleased to shake his hand and say how much I enjoyed it. Jo sang for him which was okay, the lady has a good voice but it just wasn't the same. Don't want to cause offence, and just my own view. Anyway, all the best Tony,