Rick Grech and Me: a Personal Memoir by Kenny Wilson

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Rick Grech with Geoff Overon in the late 1970s. “to ruminate and reminis (sic) is allright (sic) once in a while. file this under Rock to Geoff. Rick Grech”. Actually, this is perhaps the first time I’ve seen him play bass in this period. He mostly played guitar and violin. The cryptic comment is probably referring to the fact that although he is playing bass he feels he has moved on from that. He no longer wants to be seen as a “bass player”.

I realized as I started this memoir that I don’t really know how to either spell or pronounce Rick’s name. Until recently I thought it was Ric and that Grech was pronounced with a hard “K” sound. I’m not sure now. On most of his recordings, and his own signature on a photograph I have, it is spelled Rick and many people I have spoken to who knew him assure me that Grech should be pronounced with a “CH” sound. I also thought he was of Polish origin but many biographies online say he was Ukrainian. Not a great start really as I am now totally confused and can hardly put myself forward as an expert! Mind you, it fits the person I knew for many years who was both interesting and sociable but was also a bit of an enigma who rarely gave a straight answer to  any personal question.

What I do know is that I met him late 1975 and subsequently did gigs, wrote songs and recorded demos with him until the early eighties when we went our separate ways. When you look at biographies of Rick they all tend to agree that his career ended in 1977. Bizarrely, many say he became a carpet salesman. I don’t know where that came from but it was the sort of thing he would say as a joke. He had a cynical and sometimes surreal sense of humour. He actually saw himself as a musician and played in various combinations until his untimely death in 1990. The period I knew and worked with him was between 1975 and 1982 and we did many gigs together mainly around the Midlands area in the U.K.

In 1975 I was living on the St. Matthews Estate which was an area of social housing near the centre of Leicester. It was a time of economic upheaval with hyper-inflation and widespread industrial unrest. The then prime minister, Ted Heath,  announced a three day week at the height of a miner’s strike that eventually brought down the government and returned Harold Wilson and a Labour government to power. On top of that there were many terrorist acts being committed by the IRA and other extremist groups with particularly horrendous bombings in Birmingham and Guildford. It was a time of great unrest and social change. The hope of the 60s had dissolved into the pessimism and paranoia of the 70s.

However, personally untouched by the economic downturn (living “on the dole” was alright as long as you didn’t have expensive habits), I continued to pursue and develop my career as a singer/songwriter. There weren’t many gigs in the centre of Leicester at that time so I and some of my musical friends started a club in the top room of a pub called the Town Arms on Pocklington’s Walk. We met every week and played songs and generally had a good time. Everyone at that time was making a big effort and many of the songs were excellent. Regulars at the time included Geoff Overon, Mick Pini, Dave Plimmer, Gwyn Jones, Annie Williamson and many others, some of whom I’ve forgotten the names of. None of us were making much money at the time but that didn’t really matter. We were more interested in writing and performing good songs.

The Town Arms, Leicester
The Town Arms, Leicester where our club used to meet every week in the upstairs room.

One night, out of the blue, Rick Grech turned up with his violin. He commenced to play along with people and then borrowed a guitar and sang some of his own songs. He obviously enjoyed himself and started to come every week. At the time he had just finished working with Gram Parsons and had even made two records with the original Crickets! One week he brought a cardboard box full of records to the club. It was by a “super-group” called KGB featuring Rick on bass. He proceeded to give everyone a free copy of this! This is when I first encountered Rick’s evasiveness. I said shouldn’t he be in America promoting this record but he told me nothing and didn’t want to discuss it! It was at this time that rumours started circulating that he had been expelled from America and could not return. I don’t know any facts about this but I know he never returned when I knew him in the 70s.

At the beginning Rick was a bit of an anachronism with his Rock Star status and red Ferrari which he crashed and abandoned shortly after I met him. But he was a nice guy who was soon part of the scene and we started working with him in various ways. At the time my maisonette (like a third story house on top of another house!) was a centre for continual jam sessions. I had a reel to reel tape recorder set up (a bit like the Basement Tapes) and recorded many sessions that involved Rick and lots of others. Unfortunately, the tapes I used were the cheapest available and oxidized over time and are virtually unplayable now. Rick was buzzing with ideas and writing some great songs and playing some fine fiddle. He was still involved in recording as a session musician with people like Rod Stewart and was still managed by impresario Robert Stigwood who released a compilation album of him in 1973. He had also promoted the talents of guitarist Albert Lee and had involved him in records with the Crickets and “Doctor to the Stars” turned country singer, Hank Wangford. It seems like Rick was everywhere, doing everything, he couldn’t fail, but cracks were beginning to show. Hank Wangford says this of his time with Gram Parsons and Rick:

“I spent four months in Canada, and came back and resolved to make a country album with Rick Grech for Robert Stigwood, I called Rick up one day and said, ‘You know who should co-produce this? Gram Parsons.’ He said, ‘I know Gram well’, and called him up. And Gram came over. “This was 1972. I did a demo with Rick on bass, Mike Kellie from Spooky Tooth on drums, Mike Storey on piano, and Pete Townshend on lead guitar. Glyn Johns was the engineer. I could have been forgiven for thinking I’d made it. But the whole thing fell apart. Gram came over, we spent a couple of days at Rick’s house going over the songs, but it fell apart because of heroin. Rick and Gram just got really stoned, and I didn’t take heroin. I hated it. Rick was so wrecked, he couldn’t get his recording machine to work. For hours and hours, he and Gram would get higher and higher, and nothing happened. Nothing was put on tape. Actually, that time, he brought with him George and Tammy’s new duets album We Go Together. And that was Gram’s role model for him and Emmylou.” (http://www.gramparsonsproject.com/hank/)

Hank Wangford with Syd Barrett and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Formentera 1967!
If Daniel O’Donnell is the brightly scrubbed face of British country music then Hank Wangford is its guilty conscience, its dark and troubled grubby soul.This messianic derailment onto the path of country music came from befriending and playing with Gram Parsons, ex-Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, in the seventies. This was at a time when Hank – as Dr Sam Hutt – was a rock ‘n roll doctor. Many of his patients were from the world of rock music and the hippie alternative world. The Grateful Dead, the Who and the Rolling Stones were some of his clients.

There’s a horrible prescience to this because years later I was with Rick when he was incapable of working his tape machine because he was so wasted! He became a victim of serious drug and alcohol abuse that eventually sent him to an early grave!

In 1976 Rick decided to form a band to showcase his songs. It was based on the kind of music Gram Parsons had been producing on his two solo albums “GP” and “Grievous Angel” both of which contained songs written by Rick although he didn’t play on them. He did have a producer credit on “GP” though. He teamed up with a local Irish/Country band called the Lentones at the time but who changed their name to Rhinestone in 1976.Gram_Parsons-Gp_Grievous_Angel-Frontal

They did gigs at Irish clubs and were breaking into the Country & Western club scene that was becoming very popular at the time. They were a very good band who won a national Country Music competition and played at the Wembley Stadium at a big festival with Rick on fiddle. To get the “Gram” sound he invited singer Claire Hamill to join him. She was a fairly well-known singer/songwriter at the time from the North East (I’d seen her play when I was a student in Darlington) and had recorded four solo albums at that time. She was favourably compared to Joni Mitchell. Praise indeed!!

In 1976 we had moved operations from The Town Arms to a place called Watson’s Restaurant on Belvoir Street, Leicester. This was originally intended as a kind of club for well-to-do business types but it was short on customers. We turned it into a live music venue and it did very well for over a year until the owners went bankrupt. It was here that Rick and Claire refined their songs and harmonies and they sounded very good. It was time to go on the road. A band was formed and a tour was set up. Robert Stigwood was still the manager and was setting up recording etc.

2012-09-01 13.32.31
The site of Watsons Restaurant as it looks now on Belvoir Street, Leicester. The live music was on the first floor.

What happened then can only be called a disaster. I went to one of the gigs at the Nottingham Boat House (a well known venue at the time) and Rick was not on his best form. Captain Video (an up and coming country rock band) did the support but the main problem was that most of the audience were not expecting Country music. They were there to hear Rick play bass and do a Rock set. He didn’t touch the bass and played no Rock, no Blind Faith, no Traffic, no Family. I believe this was the reaction that met most of the gigs on this tour! Although Gram Parsons had convinced us that Country was hip there were a lot of people who hadn’t got the message. A Abracadabra_(Claire_Hamill_album)shame, because actually it was potentially very good. The harmonies and songs were excellent and the musicians were good if a little unrehearsed. They should have toured the Country Music Clubs who would have loved it! To make matters worse I believe Claire and Rick ran up enormous expenses at London’s Claridges Hotel and charged them to Robert Stigwood who then immediately dropped Rick from his management. Well, that was the story at the time and I’m sure that’s what Rick told me!

It was towards the end of 1976 that I started doing gigs with Rick. By this time his drug and drink addiction was spiralling out of control and he was getting short of money. A Gibson Dove that had belonged to Gram Parsons began to be pawned regularly and the royalties from his recordings had begun to dry up. For the next four years I did many gigs with Rick as a duo and also in a band. At one point we were doing over four gigs a week! One of the most memorable regular gigs we did was at the Crows Nest on King Richards Road, Leicester every Tuesday night.

Rick Grech and me at the old Crows Nest, King Richards Road, Leicester
Rick Grech and me at the old Crows Nest, King Richards Road, Leicester 1978

This was always well attended and Rick often produced some great work on the fiddle. It lasted for several years. We also did many club gigs as a band and recorded some demos in the early eighties that showed some promise. From 1982 I didn’t have a lot to do with Rick but I know he continued playing. He’d sit in on jam sessions and continued to write songs and record them on his TEAC four track tape recorder. The mid eighties were a difficult time for him but interest in his old recordings was increasing. Many of the recordings he had been a part of had become classics and were selling well in the new CD format. I heard that he went to New York at one point, thinking of forming a band but I don’t think anything came of it. His early death was a great loss and he continues to be missed. He was a warm, funny guy who could be difficult at times but had a big and generous heart.

Here are two demos I made with Rick in 1981. We had a band called Blue Mountain with Stu Wilson on bass and Chris Drayton on drums. Rick on violin and vocals, both my songs:

 

Rick jamming with Geoff Overon and Graeme Malen at the Phoenix Theatre Leicester c.1985
Rick Grech jamming with Geoff Overon and Graeme Malen at the Phoenix Theatre Leicester c.1985

 

Here is a great concert video of Rick Grech with Blind Faith in Hyde Park 1969. They sound really good!! Rick is on great form!!

 

14 thoughts on “Rick Grech and Me: a Personal Memoir by Kenny Wilson

  1. Dan March 16, 2014 / 10:29 pm

    Very interesting! Lovely pics of young Geoff!
    Dan x

  2. Kenny Wilson June 21, 2014 / 1:07 pm

    Geoff Overon assures me that the guitar Rick is playing in the first picture is a Telecaster and not a bass! However, he does say that Rick played bass with him occasionally, notably in the the upstairs room of The Magazine pub, possibly his last gig!!

  3. Kenny Wilson September 10, 2014 / 9:31 am

    Geoff Overon, who should perhaps make his own comments here rather than text them to me, has told me that the photo and comment are not related. He placed the photo over an LP sleeve with Rick’s comments written on it and then snapped them with his Blackberry. However, I won’t let truth interfere with a good story so I have left it as it is!! The essence of it is true!

  4. Pete Townsend October 13, 2014 / 11:00 am

    Hello Ken, you might remember me; I frequented all of the venues in your blog and knew or met all of the people you mention, unfortunately, with the exception of Gram. I first met Ric in 1964 and remained friends until his death. He was Rich or Rick then, but he changed it later because he thought it looked cooler. His real name was Richard Roman Grechko and he was born in Bordeaux. I think his dad was responsible for shortening the surname. Ukranian father and a French mother. If you look in the Leicester Mercury archives there is a picture of Ric outside a refugee home in Loughborough (circa; Late 50s) with some other Ukranian boys and girls. Ric, of course, looks the coolest and is holding a guitar.
    The Claridges story is true. This happened after Ric had made some disparaging comments about Stigwood and Peter Frampton to Roger Forrester (the manager of Stigwood’s Uk op’s) because Stigwood wouldn’t see Ric that day and Roger had told him to go home and come back the next day. Having a similar attitude towards heroin as Hank Wangford, I went to see some friends in Notting Hill, but Geoff Cartwright (congas with Streetwalkers) stayed and he told me about the shenanigans. I don’t remember Claire being there.
    On the GP album Ric played bass and produced aswell as writing ‘Kiss the Children’.
    Regards, Pete Townsend (protestant spelling)

    • Kenny Wilson October 13, 2014 / 1:39 pm

      Yes Pete, of course I remember. Great to hear from you again and thanks for the information about Rick. There’s a lot there that I didn’t know. I did meet his parents who were lovely and were obviously quite worried about him. When Paul McCartney phoned up for Rick to be a part of the Buddy Holly tribute concert as an ex member of the Crickets his mother didn’t want him to go. Thought McCartney was a bad influence re drugs! Hilarious!

  5. Pete Townsend October 14, 2014 / 10:40 am

    Ha Ha! Just a couple of snippets: it was a source of mirth that, in the early days of Family, Ric’s mum would pack him sandwiches when he went on a gig and Dianne, who was the landlady of the Town Arms in those hedonistic days, later married Charlie Kray!
    Pete Townsend.

  6. Rikky Rooksby March 1, 2016 / 2:32 pm

    Hello Kenny, interested to read your memories. Old tapes of course can sometimes be salvaged with careful baking. I have a question for you about Ric. Can you remember him ever mentioning Marc Bolan? I’m writign a book about him and there is an extant letter from Bolan to Ric dated Oct 1969. I wonder how they met and what the connection was?

    • Kenny Wilson March 2, 2016 / 11:00 am

      Hi Rikki. I’m afraid I can’t really help you there. From 1968 to the mid 70s he was involved with a bewildering number of people. I seem to recall he mentioned Marc Bolan but I can’t remember what he said. When I knew him was shortly after his Gram Parsons collaboration and we met Emmylou Harris and Jerry Lee Lewis on separate and not particularly auspicious occasions. He was, however, quite a private man and didn’t give a lot away. I wish you luck with your book.

  7. Ophelia Grech king March 12, 2017 / 7:31 pm

    It’s the anniversary of dad’s death Tomm and stumbled across this little lot. Lots of stuff I didn’t even know !

    • Kenny Wilson March 12, 2017 / 9:02 pm

      Hi Ophelia
      I remember you when you were really little. Glad you discovered this and learnt something new. I hope you are all well. Maybe we will meet up sometime in the future.

  8. Martin Osborn March 22, 2017 / 3:35 pm

    I formed a band with Rick in the very early 60’s called “The Berkeley Squares”, and we played together for a couple of years. We had a regular Friday night gig at the Engineers Arms in Coalville, playing Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran stuff amongst others.

  9. Paul Martinez June 11, 2017 / 9:06 pm

    Hi Kenny Firstly can I say what a great song Blue reeling is and that is my kinda songwriting. Secondly Ric Grech played bass and Harmonica with the Berkeley Squares when I was the rhythm guitar player in 1964 with my brother Ray also on guitar and John Watkins on vocals. I know Martin was an original founder of the band with John Watkins but I was not aware that Ric joined the band TWICE ? Martin certainly was not involved in any of the many gigs Ric did when I was in the band. However, Ric was headhunted by The Farina’s and left us without a Thankyou or goodbye. I was 17 at the time and pretty green so it all went over my head. Ric was a man on a mission and knew his destiny way ahead of the competition . In fact where he stood, there was no competition. I think he achieved more than most people only dream about and in a very short period of time. You enlightened me to stuff I never knew about Ric . Although I bumped into him on occasion in the 80s he never told me about his work with you which surprises me cos it’s up there with anything he did with all those other people including Gram Parsons ! Thanks Kenny

    • Martin Osborn June 12, 2017 / 11:48 am

      Very interesting to read Paul’s comments.
      I was a founder member of the Berkeley Squares in probably 1961, with Rick Grech on bass, John “Woddy” Watkins on rhythm guitar and Jim Milton on drums.
      I left the group in 1964 to concentrate on the day job, as it was clear to me that , whilst we were all competent musicians, Rick was the only one with any real talent.
      Jim became involved in night clubs in, and eventually moved to Sidney Australia , where he died in June 2011. His last job was DJ at the Sidney Opera House bar.
      Does anyone know what happened to John Watkins?

      Martin

    • George Butler July 11, 2017 / 10:10 pm

      Paul Martinez – do you remember me from Nuremberg in the spring of 1966 I’m George Butler and we were friends even got thrown into jail together. my phone in Austin Texas 512 761-2077 email grnciti@aol.com get in touch.

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