Fresh from just appearing on Later… with Jools Holland, Chas Hodges agreed to talk to John Daulton for Mojo20. Chas has so far had an incredible career, including playing in Jerry Lee Lewis’ backing band and being a member of the band who supported the Beatles on their last ever European tour. He is part of the legendary Chas & Dave.
John: Hello Chas, many thanks for sparing the time to talk to us. Firstly, you’ve got a new album out at the end of this month.It’s your first studio album since 1987. Is that correct? I know you’ve had compilations out since then though.
Chas: Yeah, I think you’re right, it’s the first proper studio album. We’ve been and done a couple of rock and roll albums but it’s our first proper studio album yeah.
John: So, what’s brought you back into the studio to do an album then?
Chas: Well, as they say in the business, and it’s very true in some way, what comes first is the phone call. Warner Brothers called saying they’d like to put a Chas & Dave album out. I went up there for a meeting with them. My son came along – he’s done most of the dealings. He plays drums for us now. It all sounded good and we ended up in Abbey Road for the week – had a very enjoyable time and we came away with an album.
John: Saw you on Later… with Jools Holland on Friday night – you’ve got quite a different sound now, is that right?
Chas: No, we’ve gone back to our roots really. It was suggested by the producer Joe Henry, American producer, who said that Dave and myself started off in Skiffle groups, before we knew each other and that he’d like to put some of that early roots sound together – songs such as Midnight Special and Railroad Bill. In fact Railroad Bill was one of the first songs I recorded when I was about eleven, so it’s pretty much come full circle.
John: Seeing you on Jools Holland, you had a double bass player and a violinist.
Chas: The bass player player is an American, Greg Cohen, who was recommended by Joe Henry who wanted to bring in some musicians that he had worked with. So, Greg features on the album – both me and Dave love double bass. And it was Lucy Wilkins who was playing the violin.
John: Do you have a favourite track on the new album ‘That’s What Happens’?
Chas: Well, if I had to pick one I think it would be the one that we’re going to put out as a single. It’s called ‘When Two Worlds Collide.’
John: Is that a cover version?
Chas: It was suggested by Joe Henry and he said we should give it a listen. I’d vaguely heard it. It was written by Roger Miller. I had a listen and it had been produced in a very laid back waltz time and I thought I’d try and liven it up a bit. We did some brass arrangements for it and added those on the session – we uptempoed it really and I think it’s a really good version of it.
John: I’ve heard it and I enjoyed it.
Chas: Yeah, the original version was very laid back [Chas then wonderfully starts to sing a line from ‘When Two Worlds Collide’]
John: When did you and Dave both start performing together then Chas?
Chas: We first met round about 1963. I was thumbing a lift home from my girlfriends – who’s now my wife by the way. In fact it’s our anniversary today – 47 years.
John: Congratulations to you both!
Chas: Anyway, I was thumbing a lift home, and an old school friend drew up and I jumped in, he said I’d like you to meet someone. Now, I was actually on the road with Jerry Lee Lewis at the time – I was with a band called The Outlaws, and he said I’ve heard all about you now (we were in a skiffle group at school). He said that’s my bass player in the back of the car. And it was Dave! I was a bass player in The Outlaws, so we struck up a friendship. We never thought of getting together though because we were two bass players but we’d get invited to parties and if there was a piano there I’d start playing – I’d been learning to play the piano – and Dave would bring a banjo along and that was the start really. But it was many many years later that I was in a band called Heads, Hands & Feet and to cut a long story short, I came back from touring America and I realised that singing in an American accent wasn’t for me anymore. It just came to a head when I was singing in America and I just thought it wasn’t right.
John: Was it difficult singing in a completely different accent?
Chas: Well, I’d been singing in an American accent all the time – when you sing skiffle songs and rock n roll songs so I just decided to become myself. When I came back from America I rang up Dave and said I’m ready to go on piano as my main instrument now and how about me and you getting together cause I’ve got some ideas about singing and writing songs in my own accent – becoming more honest with my own music. He had a little think about it and he said yes, and we got together. And that was the start of Chas & Dave.
John: I know you’ve done some gigs with the Libertines haven’t you?
Chas: Yeah that was few years ago that Pete Doherty said that we were a big influence on him
when he first started to play. And they invited us to support them on a couple of gigs including at the Brixton Academy about nine years ago.
John: What was Pete Doherty like to work with then? Was he easy to get on with?
Chas: Well, the first time we worked with him he was sort of pretty quiet.
John: He’s got quite a reputation for being wild though hasn’t he?
Chas: Well, he’s been to see us a couple of times. Last time he came to see us he just sat behind the piano with a pint of Guinness and just really enjoyed himself. He wasn’t being wild at all, he was just really enjoying the music.
John: When you are on tour, do you get an opportunity to look around the cities you are actually playing in?
Chas: No, it’s funny, you never do. You get to the hotel, go to the gig, have something to eat, then go for a soundcheck and then you see a local Indian restaurant after and then it’s back to the hotel. It becomes quite an enjoyable routine. If we’ve got time to kill we may have a walk round but in general we don’t. You sort of get mixed up as to where you are on stage and you can’t remember where you are. People think it’s funny but every artist does it. On stage you say, ‘It’s good to be here tonight in…’and you think to yourself ‘Where are we?’
John: I saw you when you played Lincoln a few years ago and I was wondering if you managed to get time to look around the cathedral and the castle?
Chas: I didn’t but I think Dave had a good look around the cathedral. I had some writing to do
so I stayed at the hotel. Dave was quite impressed.
John: I know you’re a big football fan Chas?
Chas: Well, not fanatical like a lot of people think. I was born in those days when where you were born determined who you supported. It’s different now though. It still seems funny when you see someone with a cockney accent who says they’re a Manchester United fan. Where I was born was north London, Spurs area. If I’d been born two or three miles up the road I’d be an Arsenal fan. There was nothing fanatical or hooligan about it, it was just a nice feeling. Even though I lose track of who’s in the team now I still like to know how they’re getting on.
John: Do you get to any Spurs games still?
Chas: We went to one last year and Gareth Bale had a blinding game and we met him after so it was quite a memorable match.
John: You mentioned earlier you did some backing for Jerry Lee Lewis. What was that experience like?
Chas: That was great for me. I first saw Jerry Lee when I was a kid in a skiffle group. He came to my home town in 1958 and I was just blown away. And I decided I wanted to learn the piano. I mean, my mum was a great piano player – she used to go out and play. It put food on the table as well as enjoyment. Piano means so much to me. It’s got everything going for it. But after I’d seen Jerry Lee I decided I wanted to play then. The bass guitar was a brand new instrument in the late 1950s and I brought a base guitar in 1959 and I was suddenly in demand by all the bands and then in 1963 when I was in a band called The Outlaws we got an opportunity to go on the road as Jerry Lee Lewis’ backing band. That was just heaven for me. I would say that Jerry Lee taught me the piano. It was just watching him every night thinking that’s how he does it and just trying things out that he does. So, my piano playing came on in leaps and bounds after that tour. Then I got to know Jerry Lee and worked with him many times since. And he’s quoted me as being a good musician. So it’s great when someone you really admire turns round and says the same thing about yourself.
John: Jerry Lee has got such a unique style – he gets so excited when he’s playing the piano doesn’t he?
Chas: Yeah, he just stays true to the way he plays. I couldn’t have been with him at a better time – 1963 he played his way back ino the public’s affections just by playing and doing a good show. And he was playing great then.
John: Correct me if I’m wrong, but When you were in The Outlaws and you were recording an album weren’t the Beatles were recording an album in the studio next to yours weren’t they?
Chas: No that was with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. We had the same management as the Beatles – Brian Epstein was the manager. We toured with and supported the Beatles on their last ever European tour. Yeah, we mixed up quite a bit with the Beatles.
John: You’ve toured with some amazing artists then?
Chas: Yeah, it teaches you so much. You learn not just what to do, from different people, but also what not to do. I’ve had some great experiences and it certainly rubbed of.
John: As well as being a musician you’re a bit of an author too. I notice you wrote Chas & Dave: All About Us. It took you quite a few years to write though didn’t it?
Chas: Well ,the first half did. About 30 years ago, John Pidgeon, who had ghost written Eric Clapton’s book, among others, said he’d like to do a Chas & Dave book. So, we had a meeting and he said he’d write for me and Dave. He said go away and write down some things you can remember and then we’ll have another get together. Well, I started and then after about two or three weeks Dave said how are the ideas coming on? Well, I’d filled up about 4 kid’s exercise books with scribblings. Dave said he’d started with the day he was born at the top of the page and was down to present day at the bottom of the page! So anyway, I rang up John Pidgeon and he said ok, perhaps we’ll do a book about Chas before Dave – what you did with Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Cliff Bennett, supporting the Beatles and up until you got together. So I sent him the stuff I’d put together and he said we’d work on it. I’d no aspirations of being a writer and it really hit me between the eyes when John rang me up and he told me I didn’t need him. He said your writing is great – it’s just like talking to you. And I just thought, I’m not an author – I can’t write. But he was a proper writer and he’s told me I can do it, so I just went ahead and did it. And also in those days we didn’t have any word processors so I was sticking bits of cellotape to it to link pages together.
It took me about three years to do the first half. Then a publisher read it about three or four years ago and said this is great, we want you to bring out the Chas & Dave story but at the time there was just so much happening. Anyway, I got myself a word processor and I finished the second half in probably about six months. So really, the first half took me three years and the second half took me six months.
I really do enjoy writing now though and when I’d done it I missed being able to write something. I’ve been gardening all my life and I remember there was a booklet in one of the papers about some pathetic vegetables and my wife said I could show them a thing or two. And I remember thinking I will write a book on growing your own so I wrote a book called Chas and his Rock N Roll Allotment. It’s still doing alright at the moment.
I’ve also just done another book too, just sent it to the publisher and it’s going to be called 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Chas & Dave.
Chas Hodges was talking to John Daulton (mr_jonnyd)
Chas & Dave’s new album That’s What Happens is available from 28th October 2013.
All images used are copyright of Chas & Dave.