The indie-dance débauchés went to Memphis in 1993 on a soul pilgrimage. The LP they made emerges in its true colours at last.
In 1994, PrImal Scream released Give Out But Don’t Give Up, their brave but flawed attempt to channel the spirits of Southern soul and rock. For years, its original memphis mix was but a legend. Now a reissue, and a BBc documentary, has brought it back from the dead, along with the ghosts and fables – not to mention the attempted murder – attached to its creation. “Basically, we lost faith,” the band tell BoB mehr. Portrait by Tom SheehaN
“Our initial reaction was, ‘A new album? What I need is to go to bed for the next six months!’” Andrew Innes
T’S NOVEMBER 1992, AND PRIMAL SCREAM ARE gathered at Roundhouse Studios in Camden Town, with Jimmy Miller, the production architect of The Rolling Stones’ late-’60s/early-’70s golden era, attempting to deliver a worthy follow-up to 1991’s genre-melting Screamadelica LP. But given the dearth of material – the band have only one finished song, and the chords to another – the session is pretty much doomed from the start. “We’d start jamming each night about one o’clock in the morning, so we never saw any daylight,” says Scream guitarist Andrew Innes. “We were just playing the same two songs over and over. It turned really negative very quickly.” “The drummer was falling asleep in the middle of songs,” says singer Bobby Gillespie. “We were doing Ever ybody Needs Somebody and after the guitar solo I start singing and… there’s no drums. I look out from the vocal booth and he’s nodded out. ‘Wake up, ya fucking cunt!’” Over a chicken salad lunch at a Memphis café, in a break from filming a BBC documentary that revisits this mythladen period in the group’s history, Primal Scream are struggling to describe the mixture of exhaustion and narcotic enervation that followed their notoriously debauched 15-month tour supporting the smash hit Screamadelica. “We were burnt out physically and creatively,” says Innes. Yet the band’s Creation Records labelboss, Alan McGee, had recently sold a 50 per cent stake to Sony Music, and was pressing them to head back into the studio. “Our initial reaction was, ‘A new album? What I need is to go to bed for the next six months!’” Gillespie, Innes, guitarist Robert ‘Throb’ Young and keyboard player Martin Duffy persevered with the alcohol-impaired Miller, then Screamadelica collaborator Hugo Nicolson, to no avail. “We were in there for weeks, partying the whole time,” concedes Gillespie. Another issue was the material. “Every time we wrote, out came a ballad, another sad song. Maybe everybody was feeling like that,” says Gillespie, then gorging on the R&B of O.V. Wright and James Carr, and the country soul of Donnie Fritts and Dan Penn. “Robert would play these riffs, these beautiful plaintive melodies – like (I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind or Free. It was kinda obvious that’s the record we needed to make.” But who could help realise such a record, and where? Joe McEwen, the band’s US A&R man at Sire Records, suggested Tom Dowd. A New York-born physics wunderkind turned record producer, Dowd had been the creative catalyst during Atlantic Records’ glory years, ushered in the era of multitrack recording, worked with giants of every genre – Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin – and helped shape soul music with his work at Stax and Muscle Shoals. “Dowd was involved in making some of our favourite records, and we wanted to know how you made those records,” says Gillespie. Alan McGee was less enthusiastic. He didn’t really know who the 67-year-old Dowd was, and tried to steer the band towards a more contemporary choice, The Black Crowes’ producer George Drakoulias, who would ultimately figure in the album’s completion. But Gillespie was set on another path; one that returned to Ardent Studios in Memphis, where on a brief visit in 1991, Primal Scream had cut tracks for 1992’s Dixie-Narco EP. This time, though, Gillespie wanted to go the whole hog. That meant using drummer Roger Hawkins and bassist David Hood, the FAME/Muscle Shoals Sound rhythm section who’d backed everyone from Wilson Pickett to Willie Nelson, Bobby Womack to Bob Seger. “We were looking for a feel,” says Gillespie. “People in rock music, especially in the ’90s, you couldn’t have found a drummer that could feel that shite. We had to go get the old guys.”
IN OUR MEMPHIS CAFÉ, BOBBY GILLESPIE IS MIDsentence when his eyes light up at the sight of David Hood. Still fit and vibrant at 74, Hood has arrived to do an interview for the BBC film. “David!” shouts Gillespie, springing up from the table, “How are ya, man?!” It’s been more than two decades since they’ve seen one another. As Gillespie and Innes surround him, Hood opens his jacket to reveal a bright yellow Screamadelica T-shirt, a souvenir from their time together. Back in 1993, Hood had no idea who Primal Scream were. “When I got the call, they were described as a young Scottish group, kinda like The Rolling Stones,” he recalls. “We weren’t totally sure about working with them, and I sorta had to talk Roger [Hawkins] into doing it. But we felt like it would be an adventure.” That spring, Hood and Hawkins arrived in London for preproduction – or, more accurately, to integrate themselves into Primal Scream. “We went to their local pub and it was like the bar scene from Star Wars. People with tattoos and piercings, all kinds of crazy things,” says Hood. “Between their Glasgow accents and our Alabama accents it was about three days before anybody could understand a word anyone was saying.” For Primal Scream, woodshedding with members of the Muscle Shoals Swampers (as the studio’s rhythm section was known) was an eyeopening experience. “It was really hard at first,” admits Andrew Innes. “I thought, I can’t play with these guys. I felt I must not be very good. Eventually it clicked. Then it was, All right, that’s what we’re meant to sound like.” For Gillespie, the rehearsals made him selfconscious as a singer and lyricist. “Sometimes I’d muddle the words ’cos I didn’t want people to hear them,” he says. “But I noticed that Roger Hawkins is looking at me intensely when I’m singing. After four days or five days of this, during a break, I finally went to Roger: ‘Hey man, why do you keep looking at me?’ He said, ‘’Cos I’m tr ying to feeeel what you’re singin’, man.’ I was like, This guy’s played with some of the best people ever – Aretha, Wilson Pickett – he’s probably thinking, ‘Who is this skinny punk who can’t sing?’” By the end of the two and a half weeks of rehearsal, the band were ready to ship off to Memphis. “We put ourselves in the deep end going over there and working with Tom, Roger and David,” says Martin Duffy. “We had to raise our game. It was a turning point of maturing and believing in ourselves as musicians. Looking back now, it kinda made the band in a lot of ways.”
AFTER LANDING IN MEMPHIS AT THE END OF May 1993, Primal Scream received some bad news: Tom Dowd would be delayed, as he’d had to undergo a small but urgent surgery. Rather than sit twiddling their thumbs at Ardent, the band drove south to North Alabama, hooking up with Hawkins and Hood on their home turf. “We stuck out a bit in Muscle Shoals, because we walked everywhere,” says Gillespie. “I think David Hood had a word with the local cops. ‘If you see some guys going about with long hair and you can’t understand what they’re saying, don’t worry, they’re our friends.’” The combined Scream/Swampers band continued rehearsing together, writing new songs including the standout ballad Sad And Blue. On their return to Memphis, they were met by Ardent engineer Jeff Powell. He’d worked with the Scream in ’91, and was struck by the tight bond ➢
that had developed between the band and Hawkins and Hood. “They were almost like old friends by the time they got to the studio,” says Powell. When Dowd finally arrived, things got serious. “I’ve never seen anybody have more control of everything going on in a session,” says Powell. The animated Dowd loved to get on the studio floor, waving his arms and conducting the players – whether it was Memphis Horns Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, or backing singers Susan Marshall and Jackie Johnson. “Dowd would have the bars of the song written out, measure by measure. He’d follow with his hand as the band played. Then he’d say, ‘All right, back in the fifth bar in the bridge, the second beat – what were you doing there?’ He was that into it, he was that detailed.” “Tom took charge and we were prepared to listen,” confirms Innes. “You can’t really argue if he says something. It was good enough for John Coltrane… OK, that’s good enough for us.” Gillespie insists they approached the sessions professionally (“If we had been wrecks, Tom Dowd would’ve said, ‘See ya later!’”). Still, the Scream were magnets for a certain kind of action. “The first person we met in Memphis – the driver from the car hire place – was wearing a High Times cap. We asked, ‘Can you sort us out?’ Which he did,” recalls Innes. “We were trying get away from all the bad influences in London and that’s the first guy we meet off the plane! But that’s our band.” Among the assortment of odd characters hanging around the sessions was a wealthy former debutante, known as the Quaalude Queen. Also present was a dealer who carried around a briefcase full of gear. The band nicknamed him Face Ache, because he was selling drugs to finance an expensive addiction to plastic surgery. Throb would occasionally disappear to God-knows-where; Duffy was regularly booted from the local tavern, and Innes’s visit to Graceland ended with him passed out on its front lawn. “But there was no fucking about in the studio,” insists Gillespie. “We were so honoured to work with these guys. When I listen to the original tracks, the Primal Scream guys are right in there with the Muscle Shoals guys. We gave a good account of ourselves.” Gillespie ended up delivering some of his best vocal performances with Tom Dowd’s encouragement. “Tom would get a chair and go out there with him, and kill the talkback,” says Powell. “Dowd said when you’re doing vocals that’s a private thing between the producer and the singer. He did a lot of coaching.” Gillespie’s confidence only wavered at the end, when he enlisted Screamadelica singer Denise Johnson to handle lead vocals on Free. Throughout the summer, the band worked hard to make what they felt would be a classic rock’n’soul album. Gillespie, in particular, burned with a purpose that took the seen-it-all session veterans by surprise. “One night we sat around my house and played Stax singles ’til the sun came up,” recalls Powell. “Bobby was weeping, saying, ‘This! This is what we’re trying to do!’ It was this impassioned plea about how important this music was to him. I thought, Wow, he ain’t playing around.”
AFTER FIVE WEEKS IN MEMPHIS, PRIMAL Scream took a break to let Powell mix the album. Innes and Gillespie took a road trip to New Orleans, while Young and Duffy returned to the UK. The plan was to reconvene at Ardent in a week’s time. When Gillespie and Innes returned to the studio, they received a confused, distressing report. “We got word that our piano player had been shot… or stabbed,” says Gillespie. “No one knew what had happened. We still don’t know what happened to him.” On their way back, Duffy, Young and members of the Scream retinue stopped in New York City. At the end of a long night, a barman noticed that Duffy, slumped over a table, was bleeding profusely from his side. “All I know is what the doctor in the UK later said – that it was a knife wound, he said it was a professional job,” says Duffy. “My whole lower spine was haemorrhaged, another centimetre I would’ve been dead. It’s not like I fell on a broken bottle. But I don’t remember exactly how it happened or who did it – that’s probably a good thing.” Duffy was patched up and sent back to the UK to convalesce. Young, somewhat traumatised by the whole ordeal, arrived in Memphis in a dark mood. These were the circumstances under which Dowd and Powell played the band the album mixes for the first time. When the final notes rang out, the producer and engineer waited for a reaction. But the members of Primal Scream sat stone-faced, saying nothing. “Maybe it was shock when we heard it,” says Gillespie. “Because it was so different than anything we’d done before.” What happened next, and why, remains another mystery. “It’s all fuzzy to me,” says Gillespie, “but Innes reckons that we felt it was too slick. That we wanted it to be more punk – not punk like the Pistols, but a bit more edgy, more fucked up. But Tom Dowd does not do fucked up. So we fucked it up ourselves. The truth is we probably just panicked.” The band made immediate efforts to recut one song, Big Jet Plane, at Ardent. In Duffy’s absence pianist/producer Jim Dickinson stepped in on Wurlitzer. (“He was a hero of ours, so that was cool,” says Gillespie.) Even after a bit more tweaking in Memphis, the band were still unsure. They took the tapes back to England and soon sent for Powell to help them remix the record completely. Working at Jacobs Studio in Surrey, things only grew more confused as the band continued tinkering. “Once we started, we didn’t stop,” says Gillespie. “Basically, we lost faith.” At this point, Creation’s Alan McGee stepped in, again suggesting they enlist George Drakoulias. The band shipped off three tracks – (I’m Gonna) Cry Myself Blind, Jailbird and Rocks – to Los Angeles for him to rework and remix. The producer delivered souped-up, glammed-out versions of the songs. “George was great, and he made Rocks into a hit, he made it more contemporary,” says Gillespie, who travelled with the band to LA to recut Call On Me with Drakoulias. “Suddenly, it was like, OK, this is good – but… it shifted the whole record.”
“The record we intended to make, we actually made it… it just never got released.” Bobby Gillespie
Creation then suggested Parliament/P-Funk maestro George Clinton – another Scream hero – get involved. Clinton was sent Funky Jam and Free, and essentially created a new track in Give Out But Don’t Give Up. The band then enlisted Andrew Weatherall, Brendan Lynch and Jimmy Miller for further remixes. “In the end the whole thing became more like Screamadelica,” says Gillespie. When the mutated 12-track Give Out But Don’t Give Up arrived in March 1994, reviews were mixed. Some critics accused the band of musical tourism. “Back in those days you couldn’t defend yourself. The music press just ripped you apart,” says Gillespie. “They’d been praising us to the skies, and then they thought, We’re going to bring those fuckers down.” Though the album was a commercial success – Rocks reached Number 7 on the UK singles charts; the album peaked at Number 2 – the alterations left almost everyone unsatisfied. “Tom Dowd was not super happy,” says Jeff Powell. “He wrote Bobby a letter, and there was some hurt feelings there.” When he heard the record, David Hood was left scratching his head. “I said, ‘Man this isn’t nearly as good as what we’d done in Memphis,’” says Hood. “They cut it all up and sampled it and ran it backwards, did crazy things with it. I was really sort of disappointed with the results.” Primal Scream would move on, shifting musical styles numerous times – but the disappointment over Give Out… lingered. “I felt a sense of failure about that album,” admits Gillespie. “For me, it was always a bit of an open wound.”
JULY 2018: IT’S A SWELTERING AFTERNOON IN Memphis, and Jeff Powell is finally finishing a job he started a quarter of a century ago. These days Powell operates his own vinyl mastering studio, down the street from the old Sun Studios, and he’s prepping the lacquers of his original mixes of Give Out But Don’t Give Up. Turning up the volume on Big Jet Plane, he falls silent. “When I listened to this stuff after so many years, it was really emotional,” he says as the track ends. “It brought tears to my eyes.” In late 2016, Andrew Innes was cleaning out his cellar when he found a couple of boxes of old cassettes. “I saw one tape marked with the Ardent logo and wondered if they were the original mixes from Memphis.” After digitising the cassette and hearing the tracks, Innes confirmed his hunch. “I listened and thought, This sounds terrific. When you hear this version you think, why did we mess with it? What possessed us?” Innes immediately emailed the MP3s to Gillespie. “I was blown away,” says the singer. “The benefit of time shows we made some great music in Memphis. The record we intended to make, we actually made it… it just never got released.” The band decided to finally remedy that situation, and began developing a package that would feature the original unreleased version of the LP; nine Dowd-produced tracks, with Powell’s original mixes, plus a bonus disc of Ardent outtakes. Its release should be a cause for celebration, but it’s tinged by sadness, given the loss of Robert Young, who died in 2014 at the age of 49. “It’s a real shame Throb’s not about,” says Innes, “because when you hear the Memphis tapes, it’s probably his musical peak, his tour de force.” “Robert’s not here, but he is here, you know?” says Gillespie. “He’s always gonna be here when you listen to this record.” Many others involved in the recording have passed: Dowd died in 2002, Jim Dickinson in 2009, Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson in 2012 and 2016 respectively. Backing vocalist Jackie Johnson suffered a stroke some years ago and no longer sings; Roger Hawkins has retired from playing. “That was probably the last really good project I did with Tom Dowd,” reflects David Hood. “And that’s one of the last things I did with Roger too. I sure miss playing with him. A lot of the people who worked on that project are gone. But I’m excited we’re all getting a second chance with this record we did 25 years ago.” For a moment, Gillespie fills with pride – for the redemption at hand, and because Primal Scream can finally, legitimately claim their own piece of Memphis music history. “I can’t think of another band of our generation that could’ve gone down there and done what we did,” he says. “Tom and David and Roger – they saw something in us that they recognised was true. We were sincere. There was no agenda except to make a fucking good record. And finally, people will get to hear that.”
Give Out But Don’t Give Up: The Original Memphis Recordings is released by Sony in September. See listings for documentary broadcast date.
Best foot forward: Scream inspiration and former FAME/ Muscle Shoals client Wilson Pickett, 1965.
Funky jam: with Give OutÉ remixer and maestro George Clinton, on-stage Brixton Academy, April 1994.
Southern gentlemen: Andrew Innes and Bobby Gillespie, Madison Avenue, Memphis, 2018.