This interview was originally published on the ProGGnosis website in 2003. I have made minor edits to the original. July 2009
Steve York (East of Eden) – 14 December 2003
Interviewed for ProGGnosis by Eric Abrahamsen
East Of Eden released a series of albums with a constantly changing line-up, but it’s the first album, Mercator Projected’ (released on Deram) that remains the group’s best work. It is one of my personal favorites of the early UK progressives mixing psych, prog, jazz and middle eastern musics that still sounds as fresh and innovative as ever. So imagine my surprise when I found that EastOf Eden bassist Steve York lived not to far from yours truly, and had become an important part of the local (Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota USA) music scene! Always interested in the 60’s UK scene with more than a little curiosity concerning Steve’s activities in the years since, I felt an interview was in order…. Eric Abrahamsen
PROGGNOSIS What were some of your early influences?
Steve York My grandfather and grandmother were professional pianists. My grandfather was a concert pianist and did very well in the 1920’s. My grandmother played for silent movies. My mother was a concert quality pianist but did not like to perform in public. I grew up with constant classical music. My grandparents and my mother liked jazz, especially Art Tatum, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and, later, Miles Davis. I heard Count Basie with Joe Williams at a London concert when I was 11 years old and decided then that I wanted to play bass. I was also listening to all the American pop music at that time. I particularly liked the Everly Brothers, Elvis, Buddy Holly, and all the early rockers. I was also a fan of The Shadows, a guitar instrumental group who had some of the first Fender instruments in the UK. I had some lessons on upright bass, and took up electric bass at the age of 14 in1962,when it was a relatively new instrument. By then I had discovered Chicago blues and I was also listening to a lot of jazz. My favourite jazz bassist/composer was Charles Mingus. I looked older than 14 and was able to start going to clubs and hearing the London bands. By the time I was 16 I was playing some gigs, mostly blues and some jazz. The London jazz musicians at this time were crossing over into American blues and R&B. Those records were hard to come by at that time, so many of the jazz musicians were getting gigs on the ocean liners to the USA and bringing back the records. Alexis Korner and Chris Barber were two of the first London musicians to assemble bands with mostly jazz musicians playing blues. The music started getting a club following, and right behind them came bands led by Graham Bond, Cyril Davis, John Mayall (with Eric Clapton, John McVie & Mick Fleetwood), Manfred Mann, The Who, The Yardbirds ,The Pretty Things, Long John Baldry with Rod Stewart, The Rolling Stones, The Downliners Sect, Zoot Money, Georgie Fame, The RamJam Band and a few others. The bands I heard most often when I was starting to play were Alexis Korner and the two offshoot bands from his band. Cyril Davis was a harmonica player who had spent some time in Chicago and split from Alexis’ band to play less jazzy blues. He put together some of London’s best rock players ( I think mostly from Screaming Lord Sutch’s band. The other offshoot band was Graham Bond’s band which had a huge influence on me. Graham was a leading cutting edge alto sax player, but he bought one of the first Hammond B3 organs in the UK and sang. He had Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on bass, and, at first, John McLaughlin on guitar, later replaced by Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor sax. This was an amazing band and influences me to this day. I heard all these London bands regularly from 1962 to 1967. I was more partial to the more jazz influenced groups. The jazz players of that time realized that they could work more if they simply played jazz over American soul, R&B and blues grooves so there were some fine players in some of these bands. Nobody cared about copying the original records.They threw a bunch of styles into the pot and came up with some original sounds. The Northern bands such as the Beatles, Hollies, Searchers etc that had hits in the US during the early 60’s were more pop influenced, although many of their hits were covers of R&B hits. The difference with the London bands is that the London scene was more influenced by jazz and blues. The Animals and the Moody Blues were two bands from the North and Midlands that played blues back then, but they were exceptions.
Between 1964 – 1966 the London club scene was thriving. I would often leave the house with my bass on Thursday night and stay out until Sunday morning. There were folk music clubs, rock clubs, blues clubs and jazz clubs, some of which were open all night. After regular club hours, many of the musicians would move around from club to club and sit in with each other. The mixing of backgrounds and styles led to some interesting music. A good example of one of the many bands that came out of this is Pentangle, which combined folk and jazz. I could elaborate on this but I would end up writing a book.
In 1966 In turned 18 which meant I could legally leave the country to work. I got a gig with an English variety band playing on the US airbase in Izmir, Turkey for a year and then the Greek island of Crete for 3 months. This meant that I got deeply exposed to American blues, jazz, R&B and country music that was not being heard in the UK at that time. I also played regularly with Turkish folk and classical musicians. The variety band played 6 to8 hours 6 days a week on the air base, and then I would go and play with the Turks at their clubs! During this time Eric Clapton’s first album with John Mayall came out and then later Cream’s first record was released. I had them sent to me from England.
When I returned to the UK in 1968 the music scene was in full boil. I was stunned to hear Jimi Hendrix and the Cream on TV and radio. This music had been confined to clubs before and was now breaking out. The London clubs were bigger and more eclectic. Psychedelia had hit the clubs, and the melding of musical styles was rampant This was real fusion music. The Sergeant Pepper album was out. I had always liked The Beatles records but pop music wasn’t really my thing. This album, however, blew me away. I hooked up with an old friend, Jon Lee. I had met Jon when I took jazz theory classes at the age of 14-16. He was a trombonist who had played on the Sergeant Pepper album. The club scene was so open to anything that we formed a trombone/bass duo and were able to get gigs! Graham Bond heard us and we were briefly hired to play in his band, but Graham left to spend a year in the US. I had a long and close relationship with Graham until his tragic death. For more on Graham, get hold of the almost impossible to find book ” Graham Bond, The Mighty Shadow” by Harry Shapiro. I also landed steady work playing on TV jingles as there were very few electric bassists who could read music and play many styles at that time. This meant that I was working with older musicians who showed me a lot about rhythm section playing. They also stressed the importance in studio work of being able to comprehend and play a piece of music very quickly. I gained an lot of experience doing this.
PROGGNOSIS It was an interesting period in music. Did you have contact with other bands of the time and what happened to the club scene?
Steve York The club scene of this era came to an end when the Establishment decided to kill it. The police started harassing a lot of the clubs and club-goers. The real beginning of the end came when the major UK tabloid printed a story that the hippies were sacrificing babies in the clubs and a mob descended on a couple of clubs and beat people up. Club bands I liked around this time included the Third Ear Band, early Pink Floyd, The Nice, The Family, Sam Gopal (an Indian /rock fusion group) and a band whose name escapes me but they had Steve Howe on guitar. I did not have much contact with these musicians as I was hanging out more with jazz and blues players.
PROGGNOSIS Any memorable concerts from this period?
Steve York Most of the dates that stand out in my memory were in Switzerland. We played a week in a department store in Geneva. This may sound strange, but we built up quite a following. I recall that we were invited to a party at the British Embassy. We later played the Montreux Jazz Festival. It was held in a beautiful glass building overlooking Lake Montreux. The building was connected by a tunnel to a wonderful old hotel that was used for the filming of “Last Year In Marienbad”. There were endless unlit corridors with antiques and bats. The festival building later burnt down, inspiring Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water”. East of Eden Montreux 1969 Other artists on the festival were vibist Gary Burton with the great Steve Swallow on bass, and also the great drummer Roy Haynes. I also recall playing a club in Zurich . Then Dave Dufort (our drummer) and I got stuck in the elevator after a Saturday night show. The local fire department showed up and said they couldn’t get the keys to release us until Monday morning. We used our shoes to break a glass panel in the elevator door and squeezed out into a hairdresser’s salon. I think we knocked over a display and broke a mirror in the process. We then jumped out of the window onto the roof of the band’s van and took off with the firemen and the police chasing us. Luckily it was foggy and we lost them. We drove to Berne that night and visited the famous zoo at dawn. I went to the men’s room to change out of my stage clothes . We went to see the baboons, which were in an open enclosure, and one of the apes ran up and grabbed the stage pants I was holding. The baboons then used my pants as a cushion on their slide until a zookeeper retrieved them.
We played a lot in France and Germany. After a short time it seemed that a lot of the opening acts featured a violin, which was unheard of with European rock bands until E of E. (The Flock in the US had a violinist.) It would really irritate our violinist Dave Arbus, who took it as direct competition. I used to tell him that all the opening acts also had bass players but this seemed to upset him.
PROGGNOSIS And the recording of ‘Mercator Projected’?
Steve York They were done at Decca studio in London which was one of the best at the time. The producer Noel Walker and the engineers were very keen on tying out the latest recording effects, such as flanging which was done in those days by slowing down one of the tape reels (flanges) by hand. My one regret about that album is my bass solo on “Centaur Woman”. I had an old, dead set of strings on my bass. The sound suited some of the songs we recording, but I had intended to change them before recording my solo. On the day of the solo I had intended to change them during the lunch break. Right before lunch Noel asked me to play through the solo so he could set levels. I basically just ran my hands up and down the neck for a couple of minutes so they could get a level. We then stopped for lunch and I said I was going to change my strings so I could record the solo. Noel said, “No, we’ve got it” and I could not get him to let me record it again. I learnt a lesson there but now I have to live with that piece of garbage.
PROGGNOSIS Why the unusual costumes on the cover?
Steve York Another embarrassment. We were managed by a theatrical manager. He had a gay assistant who was put in charge of the photo sessions. He rented these costumes. They must have been rejects from a 1930’s Cleopatra production. I don’t think we knew they would end up on the album cover.
PROGGNOSIS The band moved on to a more ‘progressive jazz’ sound on later albums, was this intentional?
I wasn’t around then and haven’t heard there later stuff, but I’m sure it was intentional.The band was saxist Ron Caine’s brainchild and he was a jazz fan.
PROGGNOSIS How and why did East of Eden split?
Steve York I left to join Manfred Mann and the band replaced me , so I don’t know, but guitarist Geoff Nicholson, Ron and Dave have reformed the band and have a three albums out.
PROGGNOSIS Any contact with those guys in the years since?
Steve York No contact until very recently. I have recently been in touch with Geoff Nicholson. Universal Records are going to reissue “Mercator Projected” in 2004 with a booklet. I never received a penny of royalties from the recording or song writing. I always assumed the rest of the band did quite well as they charted with “Jig A Jig” after I left. Geoff just told me that none of them ever saw any royalties. This may be why the band split. The royalties all went to the manager or his heirs, and Decca won’t even release a royalty statement to the band. Geoff is trying to get this straightened out for the reissue, but I’m not too hopeful. Geoff is also trying to persuade Universal not to use those awful photo’s! Note 2009 Geoff has resolved the royalty issue with Decca and future royalties are payable to the band. Past royalties are still unaccounted for. We are still not receiving song writer / composer royalties.
PROGGNOSIS You went on to join Manfred Mann. What was that like?
Steve York I was very young (20 )and immature when I worked with Manfred and don’t really have any great insights to share. Manfred & Mike Hugg had had a lot of success with hit singles but wanted to do something more musically adventurous and so they formed Manfred Mann Chapter 3. I turned down the job at first because I was happy enough with East of Eden and I tried to recommend a very innovative bassist named Binky McKenzie. Looking back, it was also intimidating to be taking over from the great Jack Bruce, who was a hero of mine. Manfred and Mike treated the band well. The music was very experimental and they wanted to feature the bass as a solo instrument. Manfred was very organized and methodical. Manfred and Mike had received a large advance from the record label and , although the band was never a commercial success, there was financing available to be able to work comfortably. I did my first US tour with this band. We started at Fillmore West for 3 days with Boz Scaggs, The Steve Miller Band, and Janis Joplin. We were also in Boston the day of the Kent State shooting. I came out of the hotel the next morning to find armed National Guard standing on every block. This whole tour was quite an eye opener.
Manfred and Mike were in demand in the UK as jingle writers and used the band on their jingle sessions. I was already recording for another jingle house in London so I played a lot of jingle sessions from 1969 – 1971. Three of Manfred’s jingles are on my website. At the time I preferred the first album but coming back to them after 30 years I now like Volume 2 better.
PROGGNOSIS Robert Palmer and Vinegar Joe. You appeared on what I think is his best solo album – ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley’ What was he like to work with, and when did you first meet?
Steve York First let me say that I was quite shocked and saddened to hear of Robert’s recent death. I first met Robert after Manfred Mann Chapter 3 split. I was a fan of a London band called DaDa. DaDa had recorded an album for Atlantic with the great Phil Chen on bass. They were looking for a bassist and I auditioned. DaDa was an eleven piece band with three great singers – Elkie Brooks, Jimmy Chambers and Robert. We toured the USA. When we returned to London, Ahmet Ertegun ,head of Atlantic Records, flew out to see us. The next day he called a meeting with guitarist/leader Pete Gage, Elkie, Robert, me, and Chris Blackwell, head of Island Records. He explained that DaDa was too big a band for Atlantic to keep financing and wanted the four of us to find a drummer and maybe a keyboard player, and put together a new band. Chris Blackwell was going to take over the financing and Atlantic would retain the rights to the US, while Island would have the rights for the rest of the world. His exact words were “we’ll split the world between us”. Vinegar Joe made three albums and toured the US. We achieved a lot of popularity in Europe. The third album , “Six Star General” sold out it’s first pressing immediately. This was the year of the “vinyl crisis” and it was months before Island pressed any more. Just prior to this album’s release we were finishing a six week US tour. Our US agent wanted to keep us in the US another six weeks as every place we had played wanted us back. Robert announced that he was leaving the band to go solo. The band was a 6 piece by that time. Four of us wanted to stay in the US and keep touring, but the decision was made to return to the UK as there wasn’t enough time to rehearse a new show as a four piece, and we thought it would be better to record a single with Elkie first. When we returned to the UK we recorded a totally new arrangement of the old Fontella Bass hit “Rescue Me”. I have seen info in books that this was released, but as far as I know it was never in the stores. The band had no further support from Island Records and Elkie Brooks was held under contract to Island and was unable to record for at least another year. Robert went on to have a long career with Island Records. It turned out that Chris Blackwell had really only been interested in Robert all along and had just been using the band to build enough popularity and groom Robert for his solo career. Robert himself explained all this on a VH1 special a couple of years ago (without mentioning VJ by name) I’m telling this story as I recall it because a couple of the recent Vinegar Joe reissues have insert notes which say that Chris Blackwell put the band together . Chris came up with the name, but it was Ahmet Ertegun’s idea. The insert notes also say that the band folded because of internal differences, but it was really because Island pulled the plug on us and we were unable to go to another company as we were held under contract. I certainly don’t hold any of this against Robert and remained friends with him. I last spoke to him about a year before his death. I played the harmonica solo on the original version of “Sneaking Sally”.( Robert remixed this track for his recent “Anthology CD and omitted the harmonica solo. Unfortunately there are no musician credits on this record. There was a rumor put out at the time that Little Feat was playing on the album. Just prior to Robert recording this album, I loaned him Esther Phillip’s “From A Whisper To A Scream” album. This album featured recorded some material written by Allan Toussaint. This influenced Robert’s decision to record part of the album at Allan’s studio in New Orleans. Although Allan is not credited as producer, Robert spoke of him as a co-producer on this album. The Meters were pretty much Alan’s house band at the time. That is Leo Nocentelli ( guitar), Art Neville (keyboards), George Porter Jr. (bass), Joseph Modeliste (drums). They play on Tracks 1,3,6,&7 with Lowell George on guitar. Tracks4, 5, & 8 of the “Sneaking Sally” album feature the great New York studio band that played on Esther’s album. Cornell Dupree on guitar, Richard Tee (keyboards), Gordon Edwards (one of my favourite bass players), and Bernard Purdie on drums. Lowell George is on most of the record, but no other Little Feat members are present. Some overdubs were recorded in the UK. The UK musicians I know for sure are on the album are myself, guitarist Jim Mullen, and percussionist Jody Linscott, who is American but who was living in London at the time. Vicky Brown is on backup vocals on Tracks 1 & 4. Tracks 4 & 8 also have Mel Collins on horns and Nigerian Gasper Lawall on percussion.. Ex- Vinegar Joe guitarist Jim Mullen, who is now regarded as one of the UK’s top jazz guitarists, played on “Hey Julia”. Tracks 6 & 8 have South African Mongezi Feza playing brass. Other musicians include Richard Parfitt (guitar) Track5, Chris Stainton (keys) Track7, Onaje (piano) and Jack Vance (strings) on Track 8. The tune “Hey Julia” was the only track recorded totally in the UK. The drum machine and bass tracks were recorded in Robert’s apartment, and all the UK overdubs were recorded in the Island Records mobile studio. I mainly wanted to mention the New York players as they are on half this album and I have never seen them credited. Please listen to them on Esther Phillip’s “From A Whisper To A Scream” album if you can, as it was the inspiration for Robert’s version. During my last conversation with Robert I asked him to send me a letter confirming that I played on the this record so that I could claim UK performer’s royalties. He said he would take care of it, but I never received the letter and I was about to remind him when I heard of his untimely death.
A few years later I played on Marianne Faithfull’s “Broken English” album, for Island Records, which has sold millions. Marianne told me that Chris Blackwell did not want to put musician credits on this album either, but she insisted on it (Thanks Marianne!). The credits are on the album, but neglect to say what instrument anyone plays.
Elkie Brooks signed with A&M records after her Island contract expired. Her first album for A&M was recorded in LA and did not sell well as it was disco oriented. I played on her second album “Two Days Away” which was produced in the UK by Leiber & Stoller. This album produced two major UK hits for Elkie and established her as a star in Europe. It is one of my favourites out of the albums I worked on, but unfortunately is not available on CD.
PROGGNOSIS What other session work have you done?
Steve York Too many to discuss here. It would take a book! My discography is at www.steveyork.com/discography.htm ,and at AllMusic web site which has a more complete listing of albums featuring my songs. There is also a Spanish web site called the Musicians’ Olympus that has very detailed info on me and also on the work of many of my favourite European musicians of the 1970’s. This is a link to my page: Musicians’ Olympus . For every recording listed in my discography there were dozens that sank without trace. Recently one of these surfaced. It’s a CD by a band called Casablanca. It was recorded for Elton John’s label in 1973 but was not released until now! I also recorded an album for Ringo Starr’s label for a singer songwriter called Carl Groszman. who wrote Ringo’s hit “A Dose of Rock & Roll”, which is featued on the album with Ringo on drums. This was a good album that was released as Ringo folded the label. There were many others like this that weren’t released, although some may eventually escape. The best sessions are those with the best producers, singers and songs. The “Two Days Away” album with Elkie Brooks is one of my favorites. It was produced by the legendary Leiber & Stoller. It is unfortunately not available. Also working with Dr John was outstanding. I did not play on his “Gumbo” album. but attended the LA sessions produced by Jerry Wexler and learnt a lot.
PROGGNOSIS You have been in Minnesota for the last several years, why the move to our fine State, and what are you doing now?
Steve York I have two stock answers for this question. #1 Witness protection program.#2 I saw the end of world approaching and figured Minnesota would be 10 years behind. Neither answer is true, unless you substitute “saw the end of the music industry approaching” in answer #2. Answer #1 usually puts an end to further questions. The simple answer is that I lived in New York from 1981 to 1985. Most of that time I was touring with Laura Branigan. When that ended I could not afford to stay in New York. Laura’s guitarist was Jim Behringer from the Twin Cities and he encouraged me to move here. Then I had a call from guitarist/drummer Oliver Leiber, son of Jerry Leiber of Leiber & Stoller. Jim and Oliver were playing with Doug Maynard, who needed a bass player, and Oliver needed a roommate , so I came out here. Minneapolis was already on my list of cities with a good music scene as I had passed through here a number of times on tour. I have been playing with Big John Dickerson for the last 31/2 years. Please come and say hi if you are in the area. I have also been playing bass and often acting as musical director for various 50’s and 60’s artists such as Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, The Platters, Coasters, Drifters, Shirelles, Fabian, Marvelettes, and many national blues artists when they come to the Midwest. My wife Lisa www.lisayork.net works with me with Big John and with most of these other acts, and we also do duo and trio work together. We have been married for 4-1/2 years but have been working together for 12 years. Note – this is as of 2003.