Perhaps I can blame the pace of life, the infinite travelling, or a particularly intense period of multi-tasking, but the past twelve months seem to have simply flown by. After fifteen years spent pickin’ ‘n’ grinnin’ in Nashville, I can’t believe that I’ve experienced my second equinox in New York. This time last year, springtide didn’t so much spring into summer, it limped bedraggled into the solstice with the city getting soaked on a daily basis. In total contrast, I’m delighted to report that the sun has finally got its hat on in Manhattan. Indeed, with balmy breezes abounding and even the palest English skin picking up a tan, the weather around these parts has been mighty fine of late.
When the elements are of a temperate nature, it certainly widens the choice of venues if a soiree with Friends, Romans and Countrymen needs to be put in the book. And with good grace, that has happened frequently of late. In the first instance, a plat du jour with R&B legend Maxine Brown at Tout Va Bien on West 57th wound up being a total delight. In the second, Miss Annie and I enjoyed a resplendent regale across the road from Carnegie Hall at Trattoria Del Arte – one of the few establishments where the maitre de dishes out chilled champagne whilst you await your table. And in the third instance, a table at Café Metro on the Avenue of the Americas provided the ideal setting for an outdoor reunion lunch with John Schroeder, a fellow countryman I hadn’t seen since God was a lad.
To put a fine point on it, the respected raconteur and record producer was in town to promote his book, “Sex & Violins: My Affair with Life, Love and Music”. And what a refreshing tome it turns out to be. At a time when bookshelves groan with works that countenance one superficial postulant after another, it’s refreshing to discover how such a modest individual could have helped shape the fabric of British Pop Music. John arrived at EMI around the the time that the company moved into its Manchester Square offices. He climbed the famous staircase several years before the Beatles stared down the lens of Angus McBean’s camera from that very balcony whilst being photographed for their first album cover. Shortly afterwards, the Fab Four went out on tour in support of Helen Shapiro, a lady whose string of chart hits had been written and produced by John the Conqueroo.
The savvy Mr. Schroeder’s next venture was to accept a senior post at Oriole, with whom he set about licensing the embryonic Tamla-Motown label. His tales of wining and dining Berry Gordy and vice-president Barney Ales are worth the price of the book alone. At the same time he became involved in the early Merseybeat boom. This was when he transported a mobile recording unit up to Liverpool in order to capture some of the city’s cellar-full of noisemakers. The next stop was Pye Records, an independent that liked to be clad in a set of major label clothes. Diversity was the name of the game and during his lengthy stint with the label, John landed hits with Sounds Orchestral, the Ivy League, Geno Washington and Status Quo. It made sense that this chameleon of a man would one day launch his own label, and that he did with Alaska Records which helped fly the flag for rock & roll.
Rather than keeping the Schroeder spoils in the closet, the book makes a play of itemizing his expensive cars, his bachelor pads and the confirmation that producers have groupies the same as the rock stars they produce. But it wasn’t all milk and honey, as we learn when the latter trait leads the reader to a series of costly divorces and failed ventures. I can’t recall John’s West End musical “Pull Both Ends”, probably because it flopped. But this was back in 1972 when the man was going out on a limb and breaking the bank rather than a leg. Neither was I aware that John went through a period when he produced fitness videos and duplicated porn tapes. In a roundabout way, these pursuits hint at the book’s title, “Sex and Violins”. I have to say, the 242 pages make for an enlightening read. But bearing in mind that the phallic fretboard tends to dominate the text far more than than a Stradivarius in Sounds Orchestral, maybe John’s title should have been “Sex and Stratocasters”.