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The Box Tops

A Firsthand Account by Gary Talley (continued)

For three years, the Box Tops toured constantly. Our financial statements were two or three months behind. Our manager and his attorney were getting their money right off the top, so the band was paying for everything from pencils to studio time. We'd had two Gold records and were getting an advance of $150 a week apiece. The band was exhausted from touring. Alex and I were the only original members left at the end of 1969.

We booked a tour of England for December. Our records had done well there and we were excited. Our tour was scheduled to end a couple of days before Christmas. We arrived in London three days before our two-week tour was supposed to start. We checked into a little hotel on Bayswater Road across the street from Hyde Park. I spent the first two days walking around London, overtipping waitresses who called me "Duckie" and bartenders who called me "Gov'nah." Almost got run over several times crossing the street until I got used to looking to the right first.

Rehearsal day came, and we piled into two of those black London cabs. Our rehearsal space turned out to be in the basement of an elementary school while school was still in session! As we walked in with our guitars, we were surrounded by boisterous six-year-olds with funny accents. We were led to the basement, where our gear for the tour was supposed to be set up for us.

Our equipment rider had specified what amps, drums, keyboards, etc., were to be provided for us. What waited for us was quite unexpected. We were greeted by our opening act, a West Indian Reggae Band called King Ollie and The Raisins. Their equipment was what we were going to have to use on the tour. Instead of the Ludwig or Slingerland drums, there was a tiny drum kit identical to the one I received for my birthday when I was 10 years old. It had a palm tree on the bass drum head, came from Sears & Roebuck, and I had destroyed it in one day. Instead of the Fender amps, there were Marshall P.A. amps, not guitar amps. The not-Hammond B3 organ was a tiny Farfisa, but it did have a big wooden Leslie cabinet. We soon learned that the loud clunking sound we were hearing came from the broken rotating speaker in the Leslie, which banged against the cabinet every time it turned.

We must have looked shocked, because King Ollie and the Raisins were shouting "It's de bes' geah, mon! Mashall is de bes' geah!" After talking a while to Ollie & Co., we decided we should have a band meeting. This is really serious. You don't have a band meeting for just any little thing.

Ollie & the Raisins retired to the parking lot for a "smoke break." We debated on whether or not to try to play on the toy/inappropriate gear. Our first gig was that very night in Ipswich! We called our manager in Memphis from the phone in the principal's office. (No cell phones, remember.) He called the English promoter, a guy named Arthur House. I'll never forget that name. Arthur says, "They play on the other band's gear or they don't play." While waiting for a call back from our very wealthy manager, we took a vote. We decided that, as much as we wanted to play, we wouldn't play on the unprofessional/shitty equipment. But wait a minute. Where's our new bass player, Harold? Harold had replaced Bill Cunningham on bass just two months prior.

While we were looking for Harold, our very wealthy manager called back said Mr. House wouldn't budge and we said we wouldn't play. Surely in a city the size of London there was a real drum kit and a couple of Fender amps. But NOOOOO. In the meantime Harold was on his way to Ipswich with King Ollie and the Raisins, smoking gigantic spliffs in their van, not knowing the rest of the band was not coming! Little did he know, when he got to Ipswich, he was goin' to have lots of 'splainin' to do. Harold & The Raisins played to a somewhat hostile Ipswich crowd and never knew why we didn't show up until about three o'clock the next morning when they dragged back into London.

So we had a fabulous European vacation for the next two weeks, in which I got to play on a session at Abbey Road studios, met Peter Noone, went to Paris, got stuck in France without a passport, ate at the Tennessee Pancake House in London, and saw Eric Clapton and George Harrison play with Bonnie & Delaney. But that's another story.

Alex and I quit in February of 1970.

The original band (Alex, Danny, John, Bill, and myself) re-united in Memphis in 1996 and recorded an almost live-in-the-studio, mostly first-take, minimum overdub album titled Tear Off. It came out on Last Call Records and was released in Europe and got great reviews. Our next gig is in Euless, TX, on April 23rd. See our excellent website, www.boxtops.com, for more info.  • Gary Talley

The Box Tops 1997

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