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Alan Price

Alan’s physical and mental condition had deteriorated to the point of a collapse. He told the local press: “Let’s get this clear: there was no bad feeling between me and the others. My doctor had diagnosed exhaustion. He’d warned me I’d have a breakdown if I didn’t slacken the pace. I simply can’t stand the pressures of the pop world anymore.” Despite reports to the contrary, Price insisted that he’d been trying to tell Mike Jeffrey of his intention to quit for several weeks, but had been ignored. On the morning before the group was to leave on a tour of Sweden, Alan walked out of his London apartment and boarded the train to Newcastle. Upon arriving back home at his mother’s house, he fell into bed and slept for 36 hours.

Although nervous exhaustion and his phobic dislike of flying were most certainly cause enough to leave the group, there were other, more deep-seated issues, as he told BBC Radio London’s Stuart Colman in a 1982 ‘Echoes’ interview: “The Animal’s were originally my band, the Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo. Then, when we decided to give it the big try and we came down to London, we made it a co-operative, a democracy, because everyone was taking an equal risk. I played a Wurlitzer electric piano, which was one of the very few in the country at the time. I’d only had it 10 days, when after a gig, the roadie left it on stage and it was stolen. Being that we were now a co-operative group, I asked the guys to chip in so we could get a new one. They refused. The moment I wrote out the check for the new Wurlitzer was the moment I realized I would leave The Animals.”

Despite the loss of their founding member, The Animals duly jetted off to Stockholm with Micky Gallagher (an inexperienced 18-year-old Geordie) as their new keyboardist. They would eventually take on Dave Rowberry, from the Mike Cotton Sound, as the permanent replacement, and Alan Price would remain in Tyneside.

When Alan awoke from his 36-hour slumber, he seemed very much at loose ends. Now, back where he started, he was adrift in a sea of misunderstanding about the decision he had made. His fellow Geordies and the world-at-large were equally astonished as to how he could walk away from the fame and fortune that was raining down upon The Animals at the height of their worldwide success.

Alan spent some time hanging out with Bob Dylan during the ground-breaking Don’t Look Back UK tour, which was being filmed as a documentary by D.A. Pennebaker. This brief interlude in Price’s life has been greatly exaggerated over the years, with numerous references to his ‘heavy drinking’ and ‘odd behavior’ that was caught on camera. The truth is, he wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary in regard to backstage partying (for the times), but he was the only one captured doing it. [Webmaster’s note: For example, The Beatles were forewarned about the cameras and were, therefore, never filmed when hanging out with Dylan.] The emotionally fragile condition Alan was in during this time must also be taken into consideration.

Aside from the Dylan jaunt, Price did very little initially. He later explained to Stuart Coleman: “I went into hibernation when I left The Animals. I had a bit of a drink was like a semi-breakdown. Except in Newcastle, you don’t have breakdowns. You get drunk a lot and play football with your mates.”

At the time, in an interview given to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, he suggested that he might give music up completely. “I just want to get a job as a rep or something...” he said. But he eventually recovered sufficiently to put together a new band, The Alan Price Combo, using local musicians he knew back in the pre-Animals days: including Nigel Stanger (tenor sax), John Walters (trumpet), and Cliff Barton (bass). He began playing the Club A-Go-Go a couple of times a week, although he insisted to the local press that he was going to keep it all very low-key and he had no intention of going after the ‘big time’ again: all he wanted to do was enjoy his music and make a living.

Eventually, arranger Ivor Raymonde helped Alan snap out of it, booking him to play keyboards sessions (e.g. Dusty Springfield’s Middle of Nowhere) and finally persuading him to give it another go. Price moved back down to London, played on several more sessions, rediscovered his old enthusiasm, and gradually assembled a new band. Their lineup comprised Price (vocals/keyboards), Clive Burrows and Steve Gregory (saxes), John Walters (trumpet), Pete Kirtley (guitar), Rod ‘Boots’ Slade (bass), and ‘Little’ Roy Mills (drums).

Although their early press releases suggested that Price’s new group would be a jazzy, strictly non-commercial outfit, their recorded endeavors soon proved otherwise. Signing with Decca Records and working in tandem with arranger Ivor Raymonde, Price proceeded to unleash a truly remarkable body of work. The Alan Price Set subsequently debuted in September 1965 with a punchy revival of the old Chuck Jackson US R&B hit Any Day Now. Although it failed to chart (the reviews generally categorized it as either ‘too good’ or ‘too classy’ for the Hit Parade), it was a magnificent start. Not only did it serve to remind people of what a great musician Alan Price was, it introduced his smoky, bluesy voice to the general public for the first time.

Oddly enough, material proved to be something of a problem initially. The Set’s live ‘set’ comprised mainly contemporary Soul and R&B numbers with the occasional Ray Charles oldie thrown in for good measure (a combination that would eventually provide the formula for Price’s first LP, The Price To Play). Six months would pass before their next single, but when it came, Price’s compelling yet highly-commercial arrangement of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You, certainly put the Alan Price Set on the map. Revered to this day as one of the finest British blues recordings ever made, it has remained a highly-requested number by Alan Price fans the world over.

Some reviewers commented on its similarity to The House Of The Rising Sun, and it charted shortly after its release, eventually climbing to No. 9. It even dented the US Top 100, where it was the first release on the US London label’s new Parrot subsidiary, peaking at No. 80. Alan told Dawn Eden in a December 1995 interview for Goldmine: “I made the record the night after my mother died. My mother died on New Year's Eve, in Newcastle, and I had go onstage afterwards. We traveled down to London immediately after the funeral. So I think some of the emotions sort of transmuted themselves onto the record, and I feel that's why it was a success.”

In regard to the selection of the song, Price explained the decision to Record Mirror’s Richard Greene: “I was fed up with people looking around for ‘commercial’ sounds for me month after month, and I decided to do I Put A Spell On You. We’d been doing it on stage for some time and it had been going down well.”

Ironically, Price had recorded it just days after The Animals had also cut a version to be included on their next LP, Animalisms. Price’s version was co-produced with Mike Jeffrey at Kingsway Studio in High Holborn. Said Alan: “It must have been the cheapest hit record to product, ever. It only cost £16. We did it on stage, went into the studio and recorded it, and after I listened to the playback, I just wanted the horns changed a bit, so they came back in, did it again, and it was finished.”

Hot on its heels came a romping revival of the old show tune, Hi Lili Hi Lo, which also made the UK Top 20, peaking at No. 11 that summer. However, his next single, Willow Weep For Me didn’t fare quite as well.

In terms of chart action, 1967 would prove to be Price’s peak year. He registered his two biggest hits to date with Randy Newman’s Simon Smith And The Amazing Dancing Bear (which reached No. 4 in April) and his own satirical composition The House That Jack Built (which also reached No. 4 in August). He also got rave reviews for his second album, A Price On His Head, a set of songs which concentrated on contemporary songwriters like Dylan and the aforementioned Newman. Price was one of the first musicians to take Newman’s songs to a wider audience, and he told Goldmine in 1995: “I was writing songs when I was an amateur, but it wasn't until I discovered Randy Newman that I felt confident enough to write personal songs.”

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