- Arrangements, Saxophone, Oboe, Voice, Production – Andy Mackay
- Arrangements, Strings, Synthesizer, Violin, Glockenspiel – Eddie Jobson
- Bass – Roger Glover and John Porter
- Clavinet – Brian Chatton
- Engineer – Phill Brown
- Guitar– John Porter, Phil Manzanera, Lloyd Watson
- Organ – Brian Chatton and Eddie Jobson
- Percussion – Bruce Rowlands and Paul Thompson
- Piano, Organ – Eddie Jobson and Brian Chatton
- Voice [Ethereal Voice] – ‘Countess’ Sadie MacKenzie
In early Fall 1973, just before the recording of The Third Roxy Music Album Stranded, the members of Roxy Music were reviewing career options following the departure of their friend and musical ally Brian Eno. Phil Manzanera voted to continue (“I hadn’t had my fill yet of being in a rock n roll band yet”). Andy Mackay, a founding member of the group, was skeptical yet pragmatic. He considered joining Mott the Hoople – playing sax on the Top 10 hit ‘All the Way to Memphis‘ – but could sense a stylistic difference and, besides, Mott was not as stable a proposition as the mighty Roxy (Mott broke up a year later). Andy decided to say with Roxy Music, though pointing out, with characteristic honesty “It wasn’t the happiest time in Roxy’s history.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Mackay wrote the music for fan favourite ‘A Song for Europe‘, in addition to receiving co-credit on Roxy hits ‘Love is the Drug‘ (1975) and ‘Angel Eyes‘ (1979), plus Country Life and Siren album highlights ‘Three and Nine’, ‘Bitter-Sweet‘, and ‘Sentimental Fool’. A much-loved musical collaborator and session musician, Mackay had stunning success writing and producing the the music for the UK hit television series Rock Follies and Rock Follies of ’77, a project that was not only an artistic success but also – crucially – a financial one. This breakthrough provided Mackay independence from the Roxy brand and the freedom to pursue his musical and personal, spiritual interests (see: Psalm Part 1 for more background and a review of Andy’s solo 3 Psalms work).
‘In Search of Eddie Riff’, then, was a project intended to provide Mackay a break from the hectic Roxy schedule and a release from the tensions of the past year. With Eno gone and Roxy management wanting to keep the good times rolling, Andy could take advantage of the conciliatory terms (co-credits being one of them) and the lower studio recording costs offered by label bosses Island Records for their Island Recording Studio on Basing Street.
Responding to the success Bryan Ferry enjoyed with his solo album hit record These Foolish Things – and taking note of Ferry’s use of favorite tracks from the Great American Songbook – the original intention of In Search of Eddie Riff arose “from a desire to play some relatively uncomplicated saxophone with friends – a kind of musical autobiography.” So taken with the idea of creating a solo identify, Andy started calling himself ‘Eddie Riff’ in interviews and indeed announced to the music press ,that he was, in fact, “changing my name to Eddie Riff” (Rigby, 85). Never one to be left behind before the party, Andy explained the reasoning for inventing his own Ziggy Stardurst-style persona:
The actual name comes from the days of my first band at college, jazzers and R’n’B rockers, and I was amongst the latter. We never really had a good vocalist, so we’d rely on instrumentals, and every time we got towards the middle of a song, the jazzers would always want to take solos. I was never allowed one [a solo], so I used to just riff in the background all the time. So Eddie Riff (Edward is my middle-name) became my personality as a saxophone player.
Clearly, Andy was aware that he had work to do to establish his own identity as musician and personality outside of Roxy Music that would match the strong public profiles of Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry (hell, everyone was creating fluid identifies in the early 70s). Certainly Mackay looked and played the part: as one writer put it “Since Eno’s ousting, Mackay was undoubtedly the band’s most photogenic face – after Ferry – and his saxophone playing was perhaps the most distinct component of the [Roxy Music] sound” (Stump, 284).
The scene then, was set: solo career in the bag and independence to pursue non-Roxy musical interests. Only, it didn’t quite work out that way: for many, Mackay’s first solo album In Search of Eddie Riff was a uninspired effort, “lackluster” and “rarely more than pure padding” (Paul Stump). Seems “like Muzak” said the NME‘s John Ingham – “perhaps if he could persuade supermarkets and [hamburger] bars to play over their music systems” (Ingham, quoted in Rigby).
To be fair to Mackay, the original intention for the recording arose “from a desire to play some relatively uncomplicated saxophone with friends.” The critics, on the other hand, wanted Mackay to test the musical waters a little more, in the manner of Eno’s Here Comes the Warm Jets or Ferry’s deconstructing Dylan (‘A Hard Rain’s a’ Gonna Fall‘).
Introducing Guest Writer Oliver Whawell
In order to see if there is more than meets the eye regarding In Search of Eddie Riff we have invited a Roxy friend to expand on why the record might actually be a hidden gem: please welcome Oliver Whawell – guitarist, saxophonist, pianist, composer, founder member of The Strawberry Thieves. Oliver believes he is “one of a handful of people who have a legitimate and quantifiable claim to be Andy Mackay’s greatest fan”. Who better to write, then, the month’s blog entry on Andy Mackay’s first solo record – an essay Oliver decided to call “In Defense of Eddie Riff”.
I: In Defence of Eddie Riff
Written by Oliver Whawell
Full disclosure – I am one of a handful of people who have a legitimate and quantifiable claim to be Andy Mackay’s greatest fan! There are more than a few saxophonists who have started playing the instrument because of Andy (Lee Thompson from Madness being probably the most famous) but people like Lee Sullivan (who also provided the artwork for the Three Psalms album) and myself went one step further and have also played in Roxy Music tribute bands – I even went so far as to learn the oboe! I have lived and breathed Andy Mackay for over 30 years.
When I was a young teenager (around 1987) I owned the sheet music for Roxy Music’s first Greatest Hits album – my dad had all of the Roxy and Bryan Ferry records – and at the back of the book all the albums were advertised, and for the first time I became aware of “Diamond Head” and “In Search of Eddie Riff”. It is impossible to describe my feelings – I loved Roxy Music with a passion, but as much as I adored Bryan Ferry’s lyrics, the songs I was always drawn to featured Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay heavily, and the songs I liked most were the co-writes. My dad had no knowledge of these solo albums, and no real interest to be fair, so it became my personal obsession.
Very shortly afterwards I stumbled on my first Record Fair. I was in town on my own, paid my 50p entry, and entered a new world. I found most of the Roxy Music singles and discovered “b sides” I’d never heard of with magical titles like; “The Numberer”, “The Pride and the Pain”, “Hula Kula”, as well as the solo albums “Diamond Head” and “In Search of Eddie Riff” – but I didn’t have nearly enough money on me. I asked the sellers to put them by for me and checked that I would be allowed re-entry into the fair – and then with a burst of adrenalin and a long-distance feat never since equalled I ran home and pleaded with dad to come back to town with me. Bless him, he didn’t just come – he made the decision there and then that the Roxy Music collection would be “his” and he bought all the singles that we could find, and I bought the solo albums with my pocket money and started a collection that is essentially complete now.
We went home and had a glorious afternoon listening to all the singles – both A and B sides and the solo albums. I was in love. There is no better word for it. I could already play the sax parts on all the Roxy records but on “Eddie Riff” Andy Mackay was able to let loose and I spent hours playing along to the album and doing my utmost to upset the neighbours; a tenor sax played by an enthusiastic teenager is not quiet.
Some time later I discovered that Andy wasn’t happy with the original release of the album, that he felt the vocal tracks didn’t work, and that there was a re-release with additional tracks on it. Tracking down a vinyl copy of the re-release took me over twenty-five years and by happy chance I found it whilst touring with Roxy Musique in a second-hand music store in Brighton, but back in the late 1980s I found a copy of it in Soho. In this particular shop (to prevent theft) only the sleeves were out for customers to browse and the vinyl itself was kept behind the counter. I was leafing through “Roxy Music plus solo” and found “Eddie Riff”. I turned it around and my heart leapt into my mouth it was the re-issue and it only cost £5! I took the sleeve to the desk and the after just a few moments the man came back with a shattered vinyl disk. I was devastated – in fact so devastated that it was only when I sitting on the train on the way home that I realised I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to ask to keep the now value-less sleeve.
II. An Die Musik
So, the record itself – and I’m listening to it as I write – is it any good? Should Roxy Music fans own it?
Well – if you like Roxy Music the chances are that you appreciate well played saxophone, and there is a lot of very fine sax playing on the album. All of the Roxy personnel are present with the exception of BF – Phil Manzanera, Paul Thompson and Eddie Jobson all contribute with the panache and musicality that we would expect of them but it most emphatically ISN’T a Roxy Music record.
Bryan Ferry’s “vision”, for want of a better word, runs through the Roxy catalogue – I think using a cake as an analogy is the simplest way to explain what I’m getting at. Bryan Ferry, I believe, knows what he wants the cake to look like and his voice is the “frosting” on the cake – but the rhythm section is the “sponge” itself – and musicians like Paul Thompson and John Gustafson produced one of the finest “sponges” ever. Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Eddie Jobson provide the tasty additional layers that make each “mouthful” worth savouring. So “Eddie Riff” then is Roxy Music without the Bryan Ferry “frosting” – in the same way that “These Foolish Things” is Roxy Music without the Eno and Andy Mackay “layers”. Listen to “In Your Mind” with critical ears and the crucial importance of the Andy Mackay “layer” in the Roxy Music “cake” is clearly evident.
In 1974 Roxy Music were massive. “Stranded” had gone to number 1 in the UK charts and Bryan Ferry had successfully embarked on a solo career. I’ve read that this caused some consternation in the Roxy camp (to put it mildly) and in a nutshell AM and PM felt they had to keep up with BF so that they weren’t just perceived as backing musicians – in effect they were positioning themselves as a super-group: successful solo artists in their own right who chose to come together to be Roxy Music.
Bryan Ferry was already the prime composer for Roxy so his solo outings were essentially a trawl through his record collection – and he applied successfully his principle that covers should either be as faithful as possible to the original, or as different as possible. Andy Mackay’s first solo outing was both an outlet for his compositions as well as a chance to cover some songs he (or his first wife Jane) loved. The original release serves as a musical biography. There are two classical melodies: “Ride of the Valkyries” (a link back to Re-Make/Re-model) which is “as different as possible” and “An Die Musik” (Andy Music of course!) which is “as faithful as possible”. Then we have the pop song covers: “The End of the World” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” are both faithful and in my opinion “work” as well as say Bryan’s versions of “Tracks of My Tears” or “I Love How You Love Me”.
The original compositions on the albums though are harder to talk about: “Walking the Whippet” is a good fun “romp” I’d guess – all the musicians are clearly having fun with it and it is perhaps the most humorous song in the entire Roxy oeuvre. Lloyd Watson (later to play on 801 Live) is the star here. I’ll be honest though – I didn’t like it much as a teenager and felt it let the album down. “The Hour Before Dawn” on the other hand I adored – it felt like Roxy – and it felt like Roxy didn’t need BF to be Roxy! It is a simple and beautiful composition and stands on its own merits. As a teenager I performed it on a sax with just a piano backing and it worked perfectly.
“Past, Present and Future” (later retitled “Pyramid of Night”) is the most ambitious work on the album – it is an extended work in three sections and “does what is says on the tin” starting with baroque/classical allusions with some success before attempting to overcome a tautological problem – music of the present is all well and good, but by definition will quickly become dated, and finding the music of an imagined future is the pursuit of all true artists. I struggled to like it as a teenager – but now rate it very highly. It sits with the other most musically ambitious tracks of early Roxy like ‘A Song for Europe‘ and ‘Bittersweet‘ in my opinion.
Before coming to the re-issue I should talk about the vocal tracks. One original song “Summer Sun” and one cover “A Four Legged Friend” which Andy recorded for his first wife Jane who was a country music fan. “A Four Legged Friend” is fun – in the same way that Bryan Ferry’s “You are My Sunshine” isn’t! That isn’t to say that either of them is good or bad. I think you just have to be in the right mood to appreciate them. “Summer Sun” is a good, straight forward pop song – unfortunately marred by TOO MUCH REVERB on Andy’s vocal.
And so, the re-issue removed the vocal tracks and replaced them with the single “Wild Weekend”, a faithful but updated version of a “sax rave up” in Andy’s words, a Mackay/Eno co-write “Time Regained” which is musically successful and a precursor for Eno’s ambient albums, and a cover of “The Long and Winding Road” – which doesn’t work for me at all sadly. Personally, I’d have given the song the same treatment as “The Hour Before Dawn” but instead Andy goes for the “as different as possible” approach. I love the album – but it is a mess. But in the end – isn’t that what love is all about?
Thanks to Kevin for letting me “defend” Eddie Riff @roxymusicsongs.com! Perhaps he’ll give me another go for Andy’s second solo album “Resolving Contradictions” (1978)… !
Credits: With permission this month we cribbed two of Fly Garrikk‘s images from Glamazona Roxy Music – Fly does great treatments of classic Roxy photos – a highly recommended and fun site; the three column Andy Mackay by roxymusicsongs; Oliver Whawell photo and gallery; front cover LP Roxy Music’s Greatest Hits (1977); back cover LP In Search of Eddie Riff; an online tee-shirt offering of Eddie Riff.
A special thank you to Oliver for his fun celebration of ‘In Search of Eddie Riff’. Oliver was inspired to play the sax by Andy Mackay but like Andy also had a classical training having both a music degree and a diploma in classical piano. The Strawberry Thieves is Oliver Whawell’s new project focusing on his own music rather than being “Andy Mackay” in Roxy Music tribute bands.
Strawberry Thieves recommended playlist:
Master of Disguise from the first Strawberry Thieves album Interior Design. This song was composed like a BF Roxy song in that the music came before the words.
One Love from the second album, Chill Out! A track that highlights Oliver’s Roxy-influenced quirky yet melodic song writing.
Can We Do It Again This song has echoes of the True Wheel by Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno, as well as hints of Both Ends Burning.