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Dave Clark on the Incredible Heights Reached by the Dave Clark Five (Q&A)
Rivaling the mighty Beatles in popularity in the mid-60s, The Dave Clark Five records exploded like an atom bomb detonating out of the speakers. Songs like “Glad All Over,” “Bits & Pieces,” and “Anyway You Want” were proto-hard rock anthems that generated massive success for the band all over the world.
Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inductees tallying over 100 million records sold worldwide, The Dave Clark Five are hailed by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne and actor Tom Hanks, to name just a few.
Gene Simmons of KISS is such a huge fan that his band covered the group’s “Anyway You Want It” on their 1977’s album, Alive II.
A new terrific career-spanning collection, The Dave Clark Five: All The Hits, rounds up sixteen quintessential British Invasion classics demonstrating the band’s cataclysmic power and prowess in the recording studio. Join us for a rare conversation with the band’s leader/founder Dave Clark, who reflects upon the group’s storied legacy.
Rock Cellar: When listening back to the songs that comprise The Dave Clark Five-All The Hits collection, what memories come rushing through your mind, recalling the sessions, the writing of the songs?
Dave Clark: Well, at the time when it first started, everything happened so quickly. This was in the days when you were selling millions and millions of records and racking up thousands of concerts. You don’t really have time to take it all in.
Now looking at it with a fresh perspective decades later, I’m very proud of it, I think the boys, meaning my band members in the DC5, were incredible. It was a happy and great experience.
Rock Cellar: Looking back at the band’s body of work, you notice how productive the DC5 was, recording albums, writing song, performing concerts and appearing in your own films. Are you amazed at all that?
Dave Clark: Yes, I am. And especially from my point of view, not just the going in and recording and producing, it’s all the other things, and we were on top of it all. Looking back, and maybe I shouldn’t say this but I don’t think the record company would be very happy (laughs), I love everything we did but I think we brought out too many albums.
And that was iodine, because in those days it just happened from nothing. It just took off. We wrote our material. Fortunately, we had our own plane and we did a lot of writing on that plane during the long trips between gigs. The plane was very luxurious with a lounge and big arm chairs and things. We wrote most of our stuff then and when we came back from England we recorded it.
Rock Cellar: Give me an example of a DC5 written while up in there on a plane?
Dave Clark: Let me think…I think “Wild Weekend” was one of them. It was written on the spot. The film was always called Catch Us If You Can but before we opened, somebody registered a play on Broadway called Catch Us If You Can, so we had to change the title of our film. Warner Brothers Films didn’t want to get into that hassle, and we had another song to go in the movie called “Wild Weekend,” so the title was changed to that. I’d still preferred if the film was called Catch Us If You Can, because I think it’s a better title.
Rock Cellar: Bring us back to when you first heard “Glad All Over” went number one in the States.
Dave Clark: What I can remember — and this is quite spooky — is we first bought that song out here in England. I had an old banger of a car, a jalopy, and I was with Mike Smith, the lead singer in the DC5, we were on our way to our gig at the Royal Tottenham and we knew that “Glad All Over” was gonna come on the radio so we stopped the car and in the middle of it there was a newsflash that President Kennedy was killed.
That was in England in November ’63. That song came out near the end of ’63 and hit the number one spot in England in January of ‘64. In America it took off in ’64. If you saw the documentary on the DC5 you would recall Bruce Springsteen’s comment upon first hearing it.
Rock Cellar: The DC5 appeared 18 times on The Ed Sullivan Show. Discuss how those appearances consolidated the band’s huge success in America.
Dave Clark: There was no question that the DC5’s appearances The Ed Sullivan Show helped us tremendously as far as making inroads in the States, but the ironic thing is (laughing) I turned Sullivan down because in England we were just a semi-professional group.
We had a big hit record, all the other guys had worked in offices and factories and I was doing film work. I told them we won’t go professional unless we have two top five records, so we’d go out atop of the bill and of course we got two number ones. We were asked to do Sunday Night At The London Palladium, which was a huge TV show in England.
Paul McCartney commented on it in the DC5 documentary. It had a rating of 25 to 30 million people watching it each week. And for England, that was a lot. Sullivan, apparently, I found out afterwards, was at the airport in London waiting to get a plane to New York and it was delayed and he saw our appearance on Sunday Night At The London Palladium, and therefore he contacted us.
But I turned it down because I’d never heard of Ed Sullivan. We hadn’t in England. Then a week later he came back again and offered us $10,000 and our airfares, hotel and everything just to do the one show. I said to the guy, “We were gonna give up our day jobs and go professional at the end of March, why don’t we just go for it and have a bit of fun?” And that was not knowing how big it would be then.
Then of course when we went to America we were unknown. We landed at Kennedy airport and I always remember these big billboards and one of them said “Montego Bay, Island Paradise,” and its fabulous beaches and palm trees, magical. Anyway, we do the Sullivan show and he had a routine where you did a live rehearsal in front of an audience with the whole cast who was on that Sunday. We were second from the bottom of the bill. We went down so well on the dress rehearsal we ended up being second from top of the bill.
Sullivan pulled us back on again during that show and said “I’m holding onto them and keeping them in America and they’ll be on the bill next week.” We were already booked in England. Sullivan came over and said, “I hope you’re pleased, Dave,” and I said, “I’m embarrassed, we’re already booked in England and I can’t renege on that booking.” He said, “But I’ve told 70 million American homes that you’re gonna appear.” That’s the first time I knew we were playing in front of 70 million homes. So Sullivan said, “Well, look, I’ll buy it out.” I said, “Fine.” Also, we’d had three months of amazing success in England with three number ones, “Do You Love Me,” “Glad All Over and Bits & Pieces.”
I said, “I don’t think we can stay in New York for another week, we’re all exhausted.” And then he said, “Well, where do you wanna go?” And I said, “Montego Bay.” (laughs) It could have been on the other side of the world for all I knew. It was in Jamaica. But he flew us all to Montego Bay and we came back five days later and there were 30,000 people at Kennedy airport. They couldn’t get us out so they flew us out by helicopter and the rest is history. Sullivan was very important for us.
Radio in America was fantastic, much more than England. In England there were restrictions that you could get a specific number of plays on the radio in a week. In America, if they loved you they went for it. But to actually have that TV exposure in America as well, and with that kind of reach in terms of an audience, you got into everybody’s front room every Sunday. It was amazing!
With the TV exposure and the radio play on our records you couldn’t miss, really.
Rock Cellar: What separated the DC5 from other British Invasion compatriots?
Dave Clark: What made us different is I didn’t want the DC5 to be the same lineup as most other rock and roll bands. The first record I ever ought was “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino, and it had a sax on it.
I wanted piano and sax, guitar, bass and drums. I wanted to be different. And also I went for an upfront drum sound to make it be different from everyone else. If I had been an amazing drummer like Buddy Rich, who was like the best athlete in the world, I don’t think the records would have been as commercial.
Buddy came to one of our shows and I was gobsmacked. He came backstage and I said, “I feel so embarrassed. You are my hero. I can’t play one tenth as good as you.” And he said “Dave, if I was packing out 40 or 50,000 people a night and selling millions of records, what you’re doing is great for us drummers. Keep at it.” And that was the best compliment I ever had. Buddy was a genius drummer.
Rock Cellar: The drum sound on the DC5 records was massive; listen to songs like “Glad All Over,” Anyway You Want It” or “Bits & Pieces” and the drums are very aggressive and in your face, almost proto-hard rock. Were you doubling the drums when recording those songs?
Dave Clark: We doubled sometimes, but we were recording only on four tracks, so you only used three tracks and the fourth track you’d mix to. Like on “Glad All Over,” there’s a guitar doubling up over the drumming “boom boom” part, which you can hear. That was dubbed onto after. But the main thing for me was getting a live sound because that’s what I think was important.
Dave Clark: It was fun and it was rivalry and that’s good, but there was no viciousness. You mentioned The Kinks. We came back to England after the Sullivan show and we went on a tour of England which was sold out. The opening act was a band called The Kinks. They played this song, “You Really Got Me,” and I went, “Wow!”
I went to Ray Davies and said, “Look, we’ve had “Do You Love Me,” Glad All Over, “Bits & Pieces,” you need to put that song out as your next single.” “Ray said, “Dave, I love it, I could do with the money (laughs) but if we don’t get a hit next time the record company is gonna kick us out. I sad, “Well you’ve got a number one there” and it was amazing sound.
Rock Cellar: Did you ever play on any bills with The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
Dave Clark: No, only because when it happened for us we were doing the Royal Tottenham and we were playing to six thousand people a night. Because we did that we didn’t really go out much on the road. In the early days before we ever had hit records, we used to play all the dives. There was an area outside of London called Romford in Essex. There was a hall there on Saturday where they’d have five bands play. The guy who ran it was a guy named Ronnie King, and we nicknamed him “The Audition King” because only two bands got paid and the other there were on free auditions and the public didn’t know that.
On that bill was Jimmy Page playing with a group called Neil Christian and The Crusaders, Rod Stewart was singing with Long John Baldry. It was amazing talent and none of us had made records. But it was a very exciting time.
Rock Cellar: Who would make the decision as to what DC5 songs were released as singles, was that you?
Dave Clark: Yes, I discussed it with the boys, Mike Smith and the others. It was whatever we felt was the most commercial for that moment in time.
You make some mistakes sometimes, but you’re only human.
Rock Cellar: Dave, you are a savvy entrepreneur, owning the DC5’s master tapes/publishing. What do you attribute that sense of savvy to, especially while others like The Beatles and The Stones were being ripped off in later years by the likes of manager Allen Klein?
Dave Clark: Well, I find that very sad. From the short terms, there were a lot of great artists around that only had a short two or three years. That’s their livelihood being taken away. But it’s all very well after the event and people say you were great to do that, but that’s only if you’re successful.
I did it purely because when we were playing at the Royal Tottenham and started to do really well, playing to 6,000 people a night. We got a call from a record company called Decca, which was a big label in the ‘60s. In fact, the ironic thing is they were the label that turned down The Beatles. Then the Beatles went to EMI. I was gonna sign a recording contract with Decca and they said, “Well look, we’d like the band try out with one of our producers” and I said, “Fine.” We went down and we played and the guy said, “Look, the first thing is we’re not recording our own material and the second thing is you’ve got to change your whole style.” And I said, “Forget it,” because we were packing them in, playing to six thousand people a night and you don’t do that if people don’t like you.
So I decided we’d make our own records. I didn’t have any money, but I just thought, if it’s successful we’ve chosen the right thing and if it isn’t then you’ve got nobody else to blame but yourself. So it all came together.
Rock Cellar: You’re the owner of the ‘60s British music TV show, Ready Steady Go, which featured a who’s who in the music world ranging from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones to The Who and many more. Are there any plans to release those shows?
Dave Clark: I wanted to buy the rights for those shows because Ready Steady Go was our first break; it broke us and it broke The Beatles and the Stones and The Who and you can go on. It broke a lot of American acts, Motown acts, Otis Redding and people like that.
In the ‘70s in England, the television franchise Rediffusion lost their license. It was taken over by somebody else and I’d heard about it and went, “Well, what are you doing with ‘Ready Steady Go’?” They said, “Well, we’re just getting rid of it,” and they were wiping the tapes! I mean, the one thing about Sullivan and all those American shows like The Dean Martin Show, is they kept those tapes.
We played the first Top Of The Pops here and everything was wiped. We did two Royal Command Performances with great people on there, all wiped. I asked to buy them and they said, “Well, we don’t know what we’ve got left and what’s in existence.” I knew I had to be quick to do this so I said, “I’ll buy them from the first to the very last show, whether they exist or not.” We agreed upon a fee and that was it.
I don’t own them anymore. I passed it on. I’d done all I wanted to do with it. I’ve never licensed individual clips. It’s never been a monetary thing for me. I actually sat on Ready Steady Go for over a decade. I decided not to license clips, I wasn’t doing it for the money. It was to keep that special thing of the show itself, and not to carve it off and have to appear in every show, whatever it was. BMG owns it now. I think they’re gonna release them at some point.
You see, as an artist I have to put two hats on. If an artist came to me and said, “Can I use a clip?” It’s not a money thing, I’d give them the clip, but once you do it for one artist, you’re in a vulnerable position and you have to say yes to everybody. I thought maybe if I step aside somebody else can do that.
Rock Cellar: Beyond this greatest hits collection, are there any plans in the works to ever release the DC5 albums, which have been unavailable for decades?
Dave Clark: Yeah, I’ve remastered them all. I’ve done it. Look for those to be released over a period of twelve months.
Rock Cellar: Why did the DC5 disband?
Dave Clark: When we finished the DC5 in 1970, we wanted to stop while we were still enjoying it. It was a magnificent experience. You went around the world half a dozen times but every city in the end looked the same because you were locked away.
You go to the States or Australia or Japan and you’re in the hotel and locked in, taken out of the back way to the auditorium and the TV studios and everything else. That’s the reason we stopped while we were still enjoying it.
Rock Cellar: Dave, when’s the last time you sat behind a drum kit and played?
Dave Clark: Oh, very long ago. The last time must have been Everybody Get Together, maybe Universal Love. I don’t remember exactly. If you play guitar or piano you can sit and play to yourself, but it’s not that way with the drums. It’s nice when you’re playing with other people.
In 1972, I went to private party at Alexandra Palace and it and a ski resort, a ski slope with artificial snow, but it was huge. After midnight I went down on a toboggan and my toboggan whip-lashed. I put my hands out to steady myself and my four knuckles went into a hole in the artificial snow and it went bang, bang, bang and snapped them all. So I was out of action for over two years. I couldn’t sign a check even to myself.
And when that happened I felt, “Now is the right time to move on.” The thing about drumming then, if I was gonna play it would be in the studio and your timing has gotta be perfect. The only way you get your timing back is a lot of rehearsal.
Rock Cellar: Do you miss playing?
Dave Clark: I miss going out on stage. I love d every moment of that. That’s what used to annoy me with some of my contemporaries who would say playing live is not exciting for them.
My god, when you’re playing for 50,000 people it’s like being heavyweight champion of the world for that moment in time. It’s an amazing feeling. I think we were very blessed, the boys and I, to experience all of that.
Rock Cellar: If you could take a time machine back to the ’60s to relieve one DC5 moment, what would you want to revisit and why?
Dave Clark: There are so many great experiences. Our biggest audience was playing to a quarter of a million people and that was in the Philippines back in ’65, ’66. I mean, we had so many wonderful experiences. I think your big hit is the biggest high you can get because once you’ve done it, although you appreciate it, it’s never as exciting as getting your very first hit.
When I got my car when I first made it, for me that was so exciting. I bought a car called an E-Type, I think there’s another name for it in America, an XKE. It was fabulous. It was like a bullet. I got so excited buying that.
When it arrived I kept getting up in the middle of the night looking out the window to see if it was still there. (laughs) It was so, so exciting. Years later when I bought a Rolls Royce convertible it was lovely but as exciting as that first experience car.