How his visits to Britain between 1963 and 1965 are more significant than previously thought. Revelations courtesy of Robert Hilburn’s remarkable new biography.
A prophet without honour at home, New York boy PAUL SIMON found support, acclaim, and romance, in mid-’60s Britain. From extensive original interviews with the star and his peers, ROBERT HILBURN reveals – in this extract from his new biography – how Simon rebuilt his confidence in Blighty and how his first great songs flourished in its sod: “It was like love at first sight.”
IN 1963, AGED 21, PAUL SIMON WAS already a veteran of the New York music business. Not only a teen pop-rock recording artist – as a duo with schoolmate Art Garfunkel (as Tom & Jerry); solo, as Jerry Landis and True Taylor; and briefly, in early 1960, in a white Brooklyn vocal group called The Mystics – but also a producer, demo singer and song plugger, all the while juggling classes at Queens College. Yet, since a 1958 split with Garfunkel which would prove a fertile source of future acrimony, hits had proven elusive. Simon was not the early ’60s’ idea of a natural pop star. “There was always something about me, about my face and my expressions,” Simon told me in 2015. “When I was nine or 10, people would ask me all the time, ‘What’s wrong?’ Even my mother once asked me, ‘What happened? You used to be so happy, and now you look sad.’ All I know is that this feeling of melancholy entered into my personality somewhere in adolescence. Artie says I was angry about height, but I wasn’t angry. I was melancholy.” Simon’s stature had been at the root of his rejection by The Mystics in early 1960 (“We were tough guys, and here was this nerdy little guy from Queens,” said Mystics bass singer Al Contrera). But by ’63 music was changing in Simon’s favour. He warmed to the acoustic flavours of the new folk boom, led by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, pop stars of a new stripe, and had begun to write songs in a “softer” and “deeper” style. Simon got on-stage at a few open-mike hootenanny nights in Greenwich Village, where he ran into another image problem. To come from Queens and try to get a gig at a Village club was much more difficult than if you blew into town from Oklahoma, like Tom Paxton, or the Midwest like Bob Dylan, who made up the story that he’d ridden the rails as a hobo. Eager for new experiences, Simon had joined the thousands of young people who hitchhiked across the country in the summer of 1962, inspired partially by Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. He planned to continue the following summer with a trip to Europe, both to see the sights and, specifically, to check out the music scene, prompted no doubt by the reference in Nat Hentoff ’s linernotes for FreewheelinÕ to Dylan’s having performed briefly in London and Rome. The sojourn was to prove the first of several over 1963-65, and enormously significant in Simon’s development as a writer and performer.
IN PARIS, SIMON BUSKED FOR SPARE change at tourist spots and slept, at least for one night, on the concrete embankment of the Pont Neuf. While there, he met Dave McCausland, a young Englishman who gave him an open invitation to sing at a Sunday evening folk show he ran above a pub across from the railway station in Brentwood, Essex. McCausland also arranged for Simon to play another nearby club, the White Swan in Romford. Returning home, McCausland told some of his Brentwood Folk Club regulars that a wonderful young American folk singer who played a prized Martin Dreadnought guitar would be
coming to the club. One of those regulars was so interested – especially in that guitar – that he went to the White Swan show, where Simon sang He Was My Brother and at least three songs that had been recorded by Joan Baez: What Have They Done To The Rain, The Lily Of The West, and Geordie. After the show, a couple of fans took Simon to central London in search of some late-night folk clubs where Simon sang Man Of Constant Sorrow, and, surprisingly, the Little Willie John hit Fever. At each stop, the reaction was enthusiastic. After staying in London that night, Simon showed up the next day at the McCauslands’ in Brentwood, where he would do a brief set on Sunday at Dave’s club. “Paul got along great with my father – with all of us, in fact,” recalled Jonty McCausland, Dave’s younger brother. “He played a few songs on the guitar and said he hoped to come back to England soon and do some more shows.” Buoyed by what was at that point rare acclaim, Simon returned to New York to accept a plugging job at Edward B Marks Music Company, one of the world’s largest music publishers, although any excitement was dashed when he discovered the company’s vast musical catalogue was severely dated. “They wanted me to pitch songs like The Peanut Vendor, and nobody was ever going to record them,” said Simon. “To make things worse, I wasn’t a good salesman.” Feeling guilty about not being able to place the material, Simon gave the company the publishing rights to some of his new songs, including He Was My Brother and another folk song, Carlos Dominguez. Apparently eager to get active in the contemporary market, Marks arranged for the two songs to be released as a single in August 1963 by a tiny label called Tribute. To differentiate from Simon’s Jerry Landis sides, the record was released under the pseudonym Paul Kane. It disappeared quickly. But in the fall of 1963, Simon had another song brewing, one that drew on his enthusiasm for his college literature classes, of which he would later say “it feels like there’s Camus in there”. The Sound Of Silence hadn’t come easily, even though Simon was working with new purpose and ambition. Paul played an early version of the song for his jazz bassist father Lou and brother Eddie in his upstairs bedroom, and he was thrilled when his father responded with, “You wrote this, Paul? It’s ver y good!” He wasn’t finished with the song when he returned to England on his Christmas break, but he played what he had for the McCauslands, and Jonty McCausland remembered his dad telling Paul how much he liked the song. Simon’s bond with the McCauslands was special. “It was like we adopted him and he adopted us,” said Jonty’s older sister, Lynne. Later, when he was doing shows in other towns, Simon would often return to the McCauslands’ well after midnight, around the time Lynne’s dad was getting home from work, and they would sit and talk for hours. Eventually, Mr McCausland began calling Simon his fifth son. When the McCauslands needed $3,500 in 1967 for the deposit on a pub, Paul gave them the money. “It wasn’t a loan,” Lynne said. “It was a gift.” This second exposure to the British folk scene made a strong impression on Simon. After years of rejection in New York folk circles, he was embraced. “I remember being introduced as Paul Simon from New York, and people actually cheered,” Simon said. “We were still close enough to the war that people really liked Americans.” In New York, things were looking up, too. There’d been a rapprochement with Garfunkel, and Simon’s plugging role had brought his songs to the attention of Tom Wilson, Dylan’s producer at Columbia. The reconstituted duo signed for the label on February 10, 1964, and between March 10 and 31 the pair recorded the material for their debut album with Wilson and engineer Roy Halee, including five Simon originals – notably The Sound Of Silence and what was to prove the album’s title track, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Indicating a measure of ambivalence on Columbia’s part, its release date was set for October. On July 10 Simon returned to England, where he would meet the first love of his life.
SIMON RECALLED FIRST SEEING KATHY Chitty taking tickets on the steps of the Brentwood Folk Club in 1963 but they didn’t meet formally until April 1964, introduced at the White Swan by Dave McCausland. The singer had dated a reasonable amount in New York, but this was different. “It was like love at first sight,” he said years later. “I had never felt that. It was just chemistry.” “We were all excited because everyone liked them both,” Lynne McCausland said. “Kathy was lovely, very gentle, very shy and quiet. Paul also had his quiet and shy side, so they fit each other perfectly.” Meanwhile, Simon was continuing to build an audience. Wally Whyton had heard about the American even before they shared a bill one night at the Brentwood Folk Club but was still surprised at the excitement during Simon’s set. “It was a phenomenon that I had never seen anywhere,” he recalled. “Paul was singing I Am A Rock, and girls were screaming, and old ladies were jumping up and down. It was really quite staggering.” In July Simon travelled from London to Paris, accompanied by English folk singer Redd Sullivan. Simon, who had bought a Sunbeam Alpine sports car, which he eventually took back to the States, spent time busking in the street, but it was as much for fun as for money. His good spirits made it all the more jarring when he heard of the murder of his exclassmate, activist Andrew Goodman – along with two Congress Of Racial Equality colleagues James Chaney and Michael Schwerner – in Mississippi on June 21. As soon as he heard about Goodman’s death, Simon went to the American Express office in Paris to get more information, but he had to go back outside because he was so shaken he was afraid he was going to throw up. Soon after Simon returned to London, Art Garfunkel, who was on vacation in Europe, visited him and accompanied him on some club gigs. But they didn’t revive Simon & Garfunkel; Simon was still a solo act in England. On their last night in town before returning to America, Simon played a few of his songs, including The Sound Of Silence and Leaves That Are Green, at the Flamingo Club. Then he brought Garfunkel on-stage to sing Wednesday MorningÉ’s Benedictus with him. Afterwards, Simon was approached by Judith Piepe – later a key booster for Cat Stevens, Sandy Denny, and Al Stewart – who said she loved his songs and wanted to introduce him to some of her contacts at BBC Radio. Simon thanked her but said he had to get back to New York. The Simon & Garfunkel album was finally coming out, and he planned to enroll in Brooklyn Law School, after an aptitude test, which he’d taken largely because some friends were sitting for it, suggested law would be a good field for him.
“I REMEMBER BEING INTRODUCED AS PAUL SIMON FROM NEW YORK, AND PEOPLE ACTUALLY CHEERED.” Paul Simon
“PAUL WAS SINGING I AM A ROCK, AND GIRLS WERE SCREAMING, AND OLD LADIES WERE JUMPING UP AND DOWN.” Wally Whyton
THAT DECISION WAS TO LOOK ESPECIALLY WISE when Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. emerged, finally, in November, to little fanfare. Garfunkel returned to his studies at Columbia University but Simon was not so easily deterred; he quit law school after one semester. In contrast to his label’s promotional efforts, Simon returned to England in January 1965 to find that Piepe had been working overtime on his behalf. He’d recorded a BBC session on her prompting, and the songs found a home on the Light Programme’s daily religious show, Five To Ten. As it turned out, the slot was better than it sounded because it was in between two massively popular shows, one of which, Housewives’ Choice, had about eight-and-a-half million listeners. The programmes, each featuring one Simon song, aired on four consecutive days in March. To the network’s amazement, the response to the songs was enormous. People all over England called the BBC asking who this fellow Paul Simon was and where they could buy his records, all of which prompted the BBC to air four more Simon episodes in May. Sensing an opening, Piepe talked CBS Records in London into making an album with Simon. Tom Wilson flew in from New York to sort out legal details. Reginald Warburton and Stanley West were credited as producers, but what was there to produce? Simon went into Levy’s Recording Studio on New Bond Street with an acoustic guitar on Thursday, June 17, and sang into a single microphone. Unlike the Simon & Garfunkel album, these were all Simon songs – no covers and certainly no Dylan. When the solo album and a single (I Am A Rock) were released in England that summer, neither sold much, which is surprising given all the response to the BBC show. The joke was that maybe Piepe made all those calls to the station herself. On the positive side, the recordings helped build Simon’s reputation among folk club operators. Unlike most of the performers bidding for time on the club scene, he actually had an album in stores. Simon played more than 60 dates in four months on that UK visit. In some ways, he was a student again – learning about performing and adjusting to the life of a professional musician. At a folk gathering around this time, Simon offered this playful sketch of himself for the event programme: “I am Paul Simon. I’m sure of that. It is probably the only thing I am sure of. I was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1941 and a piece of less relevant information I can’t conceive. I started writing at the age of 19 – perhaps I should say my birthday was 1960. There’s nothing I did before that year that means a hell of a lot. I write not so much as a means of communicating my thoughts to others, but rather because I might die of internal poisoning if I didn’t release the words that spawn in my brain. Oh, man, that does sound dramatic.” According to most who knew him in England, Simon was viewed warmly, not simply for his manner but also his open-heartedness. “Paul was a very lovable person,” said Joan Bata – a friend of Piepe’s – recalling how Simon often came in at four in the morning with a bag of doughnuts to share with everyone. But not everyone was so enamoured of him. “Paul managed to rub some people the wrong way,” said one veteran of the British club scene. “He was paradoxical: charming, courteous, shy, arrogant, self-assured, ruthlessly determined. He was eager to learn, to soak things up, open to experiences, yet very opinionated and driven. If you expressed an opinion he disagreed with or information that would be of no use to him, he’d shut down – the eyelids would come down. This led some people to think he was on a mission on behalf of himself, which, of course, he was.”
SIMON FLUKED A TV SLOT ON READY STEADY GO!’S JULY 23 programme. He’d been booked for the less popular folk programme, Heartsong, but that series was cancelled before his date. Since Simon had already been paid, the production company, which handled both, switched him to the pop show. “When Simon showed up at rehearsal that afternoon, we were sort of snotty toward him because we didn’t really want him on the show,” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg said years later. “He was folk. He wasn’t rock. He didn’t fit.” Because Simon was a last-minute addition to an already crowded show, Lindsay-Hogg told him he needed to drop a verse from his only number, I Am a Rock. When the director passed by the makeup area a few minutes later, he found Simon sitting in a chair, leaning on a table, his head in his arms. He seemed beaten down. “You don’t understand,” Simon told him. “I Am a Rock is a story, and if you cut a verse out of it, you’ve ruined the story.” Lindsay-Hogg, who personally liked the song, apologised, but the verse had to be cut. Paul and Kathy were still seeing a lot of each other. She would take the train to town to visit him at Piepe’s, where Joan Bata noticed an early danger sign in their relationship. “Kathy used to get a bit sulky
because she felt that Paul was neglecting her,” she said. “He was neglecting her in a way that wasn’t deliberately being hurtful. It was just that his mind was totally occupied with something else.” Still, there was no question Paul was in love with Kathy, which was why he missed her so deeply during a nine-date tour late that summer in the north-west. It was the trip that inspired his second great song. Later, in interviews, Simon would often say Homeward Bound grew out of the northern England tour, even specifying the time he sat in a railway station in Widnes. Residents would place a plaque outside the station to mark the spot where they believed Simon wrote the song. After the first two plaques were stolen, a third was set up inside the station, where someone could keep an eye on it. Geoff Speed ran the Windsor Folk Club in Widnes, where, on September 13, 1965, Simon sang for maybe an hour – mostly his own songs – which was unusual on the folk club circuit because most performers sang old English ballads. Speed’s wife, Pam, was struck by something else. Most performers closed their eyes when they sang, but Simon looked right at the audience. “He made you feel like he was singing just to you,” she said. “He was so sincere. Right away, I thought, He’s got it.” The final word on Homeward Bound belongs to Speed, because he was the one who drove Simon to the Widnes train station the day he was supposed to have written the song. “It has always been a sweet story, but there’s no way he could have written the song at the station,” Speed said. “The thing I remember most about that morning was that we got to the station just as the train pulled in, and Paul had to run to make it. He didn’t have time to sit down, much less write a song.”
SIMON WAS BACK IN LONDON IN PLENTY OF TIME to celebrate his 24th birthday and work on Homeward Bound while he hoped for word from New York about a single version of The Sound Of Silence, electrified by producer Tom Wilson, on the unlikely chance it actually caught on. Al Stewart had a room next to Simon’s at Piepe’s, and he could hear Simon working on his songs through the thin walls. Stewart, four years younger than Simon, was so impressed that he started following Paul around to clubs, even carrying his guitar on occasion, trying to pick up some pointers. “One day I heard Paul searching for the right word,” Stewart said. “He’d play ‘Sitting in a railway station, got a ticket for my…’ And then after a long pause, I’d hear, ‘destination.’ After a while, he came out to the communal area and played it for whoever was around.” In New York, Columbia Records’ promotion staff were getting encouraging reports from the field about DJ reaction to the new The Sound Of Silence. The first breakthrough was when the single entered the Boston airplay chart at Number 21, just eight spots behind the week’s hottest new single, The Supremes’ I Hear A Symphony. Still, everyone at Columbia knew the real test was whether The Sound Of Silence would pop up on charts outside of Boston. As they waited in early November, Simon left London on what would be his last significant tour of 1965: a series of dates in the Netherlands, Denmark, and France. In Denmark, Simon took a ferry from Aarhus to Copenhagen the week of November 21 and went straight to his publisher’s office to see where the single had gone on the latest US chart. As he picked up the new issue of Cash Box he was understandably anxious. If The Sound Of Silence hadn’t leapt into the Top 100, it most likely never would. Trying to prolong the suspense, he looked at the bottom of the chart to see what Number 100 was, then slowly looked higher on the list – 95, 90, 85, 80 – and his heart began to sink. Just when he was about to give up, he saw it – gloriously! – at 58. “At that moment,” Simon said, “I knew my life was going to change forever.” When he returned to London, Garfunkel was calling from New York. Columbia Records wanted Paul to come home immediately. Rather than simply replace the old version of The Sound Of Silence on the Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. album, the label brass wanted to record a new album, titled Sounds Of Silence, and include the new version. That way they could also replace the cover songs with some of the new Simon tunes. A secondary benefit was that the new cover photo would take them out of the suits that had made them look square. Suddenly, everything Simon always wanted was waiting in the States. Yet he was torn. He went to see the McCauslands. “He was excited about what was happening in America, but part of him didn’t want to leave England; didn’t want to leave Kathy,” Lynne McCausland said. “He spent a long time talking to my mother about what he should do.” Ultimately, there was no way Simon was going to pass up the opportunity, but he didn’t necessarily think the move would be permanent. He told Kathy he’d go to New York, maybe make some money (he actually mentioned $25,000), and then return to England. With that in mind, on Wednesday, December 8, Simon stepped onto an Air India flight, homeward bound. When he arrived in New York, The Sound Of Silence was Number 26 in Billboard. By Januar y 1, 1966, it was Number 1, and his life was changed forever.
Paul Simon: The Life by Robert Hilburn is published by Simon & Schuster.
Look sharp: Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon in a Columbia Records publicity shoot, 1964.
Notes on an island: Simon & Garfunkel loosen up before the ITV cameras at Ready Steady Go!, July 8, 1966.
Respect is due: Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, Canterbury Park, Shakopee, Minnesota, July 2, 1999.