How The Band Eggs Over Easy Kicked Off London's Pub-Rock Movement
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Pub rock emerged in the mid-'70s in London, forming an alternative to all the heavy sounds and endless soloing that had become the norm. But few people know that the movement was kicked off by a band from America desperate for a gig. Their name was Eggs over Easy. And rock historian Ed Ward has their story.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTY PARTY ")
EGGS OVER EASY: (Singing) We're going to have a little party. It's going to last for a week or two. Ain't going to bring none of that small set because it's just room for me and you. Baby, baby we've got all we need. Drink some wine and we can sow that seed. Oh, please don't you go on the outside looking in.
ED WARD: What if I were to tell you that a hard-luck band from California you've never heard of changed the rock 'n' roll scene in London by being in the right place at the right time? But Brien Hopkins, Jack O'Hara and Austin de Lone did just that. O'Hara and de Lone had met in the late-'60s in the Greenwich Village folk scene but moved to Berkeley to see what they could do.
De Lone had co-written a song with a school friend that Linda Ronstadt's first band, The Stone Poneys, had recorded. And they may have decided that the West Coast was the place to be. They played in small clubs in San Francisco's North Beach and backed up former folk singer Alice Stuart in a band called The Minx.
But they weren't getting anywhere, so they moved back to New York, got a residency at a village club called the Cafe Feenjon and met Brien Hopkins, who had a loft in SoHo, where they could rehearse, and a voice that blended perfectly with them. They played a lot in the Village.
And one night after a gig, they were eating in a diner when Brien found them a name, Eggs over Easy. Pretty soon, they had a manager, Peter Kauff, who was well-connected in the film business. And he started looking for a producer to record their album. They settled on former Animals bassist Chas Chandler, who knew all about talent in small Village clubs.
That was where he'd found his last management client, a left-handed black guitarist from Seattle named Jimi Hendrix. Chandler had a huge advantage. He was connected in London, and recording there was much cheaper than it was in America. So in October 1970, Chandler and the band went to England and rented time at Olympic Studios.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOIN' TO CANADA")
EGGS OVER EASY: (Singing) I'm going to Canada. Can't stay past January. I've got to drop everything I own and run. I'm going to leave it all to the first taker 'cause I'm standing here on this shaking ground. Starting next week, I'm going to get myself together, balmy buffalo coat to keep me from the weather.
WARD: The Eggs proved to have a commercial sound. "Goin' To Canada" may or may not have been about draft dodging but it sounds a lot like the band. They also recorded a song that would show up a year later on an album by a Mill Valley, Calif. band called Grootna.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNKY BUT CLEAN")
EGGS OVER EASY: (Singing) I said I'm funky, but I'm clean. Do you know what I mean? Yes, I'm funky but I'm clean. Do you know what I mean? I get my kicks in...
WARD: But the recording was in vain. Their manager wanted to hold out for a better deal than he'd been offered and then disappeared, leaving them stranded in London. That was when they did something radical. Not radical to an American way of thinking, but Britain, up until then, had been very much about Svengali-like managers grooming bands who didn't play until they'd recorded, after which a campaign of hype in the music press would bring them into the public eye.
But the Eggs needed to eat. And they found The Tally Ho, a pub that occasionally featured jazz, and walked in and offered to play on their worst night of the week. Almost nobody showed up the first night, but a few did. The next time, word of mouth had gotten out, so there were quite a few more.
Playing a mixture of covers and originals just for fun with no product to promote, they pulled in a strange crowd, from Brinsley Schwarz, a band that had blown its major label deal thanks to an ill-fated publicity stunt, to influential BBC disc jockey John Peel, to numerous wannabe local musicians who were attracted to the Eggs esthetic - danceable, three-minute songs like rock 'n' roll had once featured, no lyrics about hobbits or the cosmos, no 20-minute guitar solos - in short, back to basics.
The Eggs had London talking. They also had expired visas. And their manager reappeared, dangling a record deal he'd gotten from A&M for them. They hopped onto a plane to Calfornia, where they met their new producer, legendary guitar maniac Link Wray. And in September 1972, their A&M album, "Good 'N' Cheap" came out.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HENRY MORGAN")
EGGS OVER EASY: (Singing) There was a boy who found a freedom that he felt. He swore he'd sail the Spanish Main. Was a man who wore a pistol in his belt, and Henry Morgan was his name.
WARD: But at this point, three-minute songs, even if they were about pirates, were bucking American trends too. And the band took what gigs they could, opening for The Eagles, Ten Years After and other bands who weren't at all like them. And when that didn't help sell their album, there was always the legendary Old Mill Tavern in the Marin County town they'd adopted, Mill Valley.
Meanwhile, pub rock, the name given to the genre that had grown directly out of their tenure at The Tally Ho, was the hot new thing in London, spreading to another pub, The Hope and Anchor and spawning a lot of fine bands including Ducks Deluxe, Bees Make Honey and a revitalized Brinsley Schwarz, whose bassist, Nick Lowe, emerged as a great songwriter.
The Eggs released a single in 1976 for a local label, "I'm Going To Put A Bar In The Back Of My Car (And Drive Myself To Drink," and then, at a time when pub rock had morphed into punk rock, another album in 1980, produced by their neighbor Lee Michaels that showed that they'd lost direction.
Brien Hopkins died in 2007. Jack O'Hara moved to New York and became a sound engineer. And Austin de Lone continues to live in Mill Valley, where he's pianist of choice for pickup bands when he's not touring with guitar whiz Bill Kirchen.
GROSS: Ed Ward is the author of the forthcoming book, "The History Of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1963." He reviewed the new collection, "Good 'N' Cheap: The Eggs Over Easy Story." Coming up, writer Sarah Hepola talks about rethinking casual sex. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.