Who will Be a Rock and Roll Band?
by Sam Leighty
"Our Music Is Red With Purple Flashes"-Eddie Phillips of The Creation, 1966
At times, we tend to think of rock and roll groups as landmarks like the Rock of Gibraltar, Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids. You could compare The Creation and The Nazz, for example. Both groups seemed to be at the peak of their powers in that 1966-1967 period when garage rock and electric banana-pop ruled the airwaves and progressive/heavy rock was just getting started yet and hadn't come into full definition. The Creation came from Enfield, Middlesex, England near London. The Nazz came from Philadelphia, PA. The Creation broke up in June 1968. The Nazz kind of dissolved around 1969-1970. Both groups left behind devoted cult followings and their vinyl records are collectable. Each group gave us great lead guitarists who would've been in the ranks of that top 5 or 6 guys (Clapton, Hendrix, Beck, Page and Townshend) had care been taken to promote them as such. The guitarists were Todd Rundgren in The Nazz and Eddie Phillips in The Creation. I don't think there were any domestic issues of The Creation's recordings in America until the compact disc era. Before that, I believe there was only one American "best of" issued in '70's. Though the Nazz definitely deserves their own article, here we'll concentrate on the group of British lads.
The Creation were a "mod" group, you could say. They were big in The London Clubs along with The Who, The Small Faces, The Kinks and others. Sometimes, they were thought of as "Who clones." The Who-Creation connection is way overplayed though. Eddie Phillips says they didn't even see or hear The Who until the later months of 1966, when both groups shared the bill at a London club. On a pleasant note, the guys in both groups hit it off nicely. Eddie and Pete Townshend found out they both had a mutual love for slot car racing. There is some indication that the conversation wherein Pete asked Eddie to "join the Who as a second guitarist" never took place. As much as it increases The Creation's legend and adds romance to things, Phillips himself doesn't remember exactly and chalks the story up to "a bit of sharp press."
Eddie Phillips was born on August 15, 1942. He started playing guitar when he was 14. That was in about 1956/1957. He had been hearing records like "Rock Around The Clock." He recalls being in on the skiffle craze and rehearsing with neighborhood pals in the bathrooms of whoever's parents and families happened to be out that day- the reasoning being that the sound reverberated through the plumbing and the drains. That way, the sound was amplified! Eddie's first guitar cost him only four pounds and he claims he played it in the wrong tuning for three months, not realizing what he was doing. He bought himself a mail order kit to build his own amplifier. When it was all assembled, it consisted of a chassis with the guts, speaker and parts of an amp with no surrounding cabinetry to contain the amp. He used it anyway by plugging in a cheap microphone and dropping it into the F hole of the guitar. His first good guitar was a Futurama with a three-way toggle switch. It was an Italian model that looked a lot like a Fender Stratocaster. Eddie has described it as a "brilliant guitar" and that "Tony Sheridan played one." Somewhere along 1963/1964, Eddie bought a beautiful Gibson ES-335 and a Vox AC30 amp on time payments. He had been in cover bands for years with friends, playing primarily straight rock and roll.
By this time, he was in a group called The Mark Four which actually included Kenny Pickett (vocals), Eddie (lead guitar), Mick Thompson (rhythm guitar), John Dalton (bass) and Jack Jones (drums). The Mark Four recorded a few singles. John Dalton eventually joined the Kinks and Mick Thompson also left the group. The remaining members regrouped shortly therafter as "The Creation" which was the name thought up for the group by Tony Stratton-Smith, who became their manager just as 1965 turned into 1966. Tony Cook breifly replaced John Dalton on bass for awhile, yet Stratton-Smith thought there were things about Cook that didn't suit the sort of image he was plotting for them. Phillips has pointed out that Cook was a good bass player and he could handle any jam you threw at him but "Strat" and a few other people thought he didn't quite fit in, so he was replaced by Bob Garner who had been in Tony Sheridan's band and was also a member of the Merseybeats.
The Mark Four started out playing straight rock and roll cover songs, then over time got into "Beatles and Shadows songs." Eventually, they started doing American R&B music such as Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley. In 1965, The Mark Four did a 4 or 5 week stint in Germany where Eddie recalls that people behaved as if they were the first long-haired rock and roll group they'd ever seen! When they came back to London, there seemed to have been a transition from Beatles and Shadows styled music to a more Rolling Stones-ish kind of style. The Mark Four were now a four piece group with Tony Cook on bass. The group was tremendously loud and unpredictable on stage. Eddie used a lot of feedback and he would slide random objects up and down the strings and the fretboards, creating other-worldly clusters of sound. He used frozen meat pies from supermarkets and he even used potatoes!
Somewhere along 1964 or 1965, Phillips found that he could create unearthly sounds if he played his ES-335 with a good horsehair violin bow with lots of resin and just the right amount of distortion and reverb added. Respectively, Jimmy Page began using the "violin bow effect" onstage with the Yardbirds in double leads with Jeff Beck as soon as he joined The Yardbirds in June 1966. This was featured on the Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page LP album along with the first two Led Zeppelin Albums, which are all-time favorites (I could listen to those albums for hours). But Phillips was the first guy in British Invasion rock and roll to play an electric guitar onstage with a violin bow.
Anyway, Stratton-Smith saw the group at a London club and he was particularly taken with the sliding of weird objects on the guitar and the violin bow producing the bizarre sound effects at top volume. Besides, he liked the band's material and thought he could do something with them. He was an independent producer and managed Genesis, Lindisfarne and The Nice. He did have a thing about image and comportment. He replaced Tony Cook with Bob Garner and he started to deck out the band in matching shirts and matching suits. He sometimes put them into clothes for publicity stills that looked like something Brian Jones or the Hollies would wear. After all, this was 1966-1967 and it was all umbrellas, unicycles and electric bananas everywhere.
It was "Strat" who added what many people see as that "arty" aspect to the overall concept and presentation of The Creation. Like Brian Epstein and Kit Lambert, Stratton-Smith was gay and he had definite ideas about how his artists should look and act. Young groups such as the Creation or others like them all over Britain were usually willing to go along with these manager's gimmicks and publicity stunts. It was understood by the locals in the large city neighborhoods where people like Strat lived that they had some money and show business contacts, which made it all the more enticing for these young groups with their Carl Perkins and Muddy Waters covers to cooperate. Like Kenneth Pitt with Manfred Mann, Strat's ideas for how he wanted to put The Creation over were, in a way, ingenious, although through it all, it's music we're dealing with. Groups like The Creation were most likely familiar with amphetamines and they were probably hash smokers as well. Hashish is more common in England and Europe than marijuana. Somewhere along the line in 1965 or 1966 somebody turned the band on to acid. Stratton-Smith encouraged all of this, foreseeing a trend in psychedelic music, clothes and art which, in fact, did eventually come about as the months went by. I'm not trying to proselytize drugs (I haven't been high since 1981) but it would be watering things too far down to sift out those kind of details.
They eventually worked their way up to a residency at The Marquee club on Wardour Street in London. The Creation released a handful of singles of which "Making Time"(June 1966) and "Painter Man" (October 1966) were near hits. The songs were penned by Pickett and Phillips. Kenny wrote the lyrics and Eddie wrote the music. Strangely, Kenny's lyrics for "Making Time" show him as someone worldly-wise beyond his years. "Painter Man" sounds to me like a friendly but cynical send-up of the art colleges they have in the UK and Europe. Art college at least offers something to 17 year olds who are very intelligent but don't fit into the offices, factories or the military (I wish we had something like it in the USA but there is one design flaw- there aren't enough people with $75 to buy all of your paintings on the sidewalk sale). "Painter Man Painter Man Who Will Be A Painter Man."
The band had an avid cult following. They were big in Europe, particularly in Germany where they played live on rock music TV shows "Beat Club" and "Beat Beat Beat." In fact, The Creation were a Top 10 group in Germany. It's true they had a big cult following in The UK and they were a steady presence in London's club scene. At this time (1966-1967), the band consisted of Phillips, Pickett, Bob Garner and Jones.
On some of the 1966 Creation gigs in the wake of the "Painter Man" hit single, the band would bring out a huge 10 foot long piece of painter's canvas and while the band played the song, Kenny would sing and make multi-colored aerosol canvases. Then he would proceed to set them on fire! In the spring of 1967, Kenny came to a group rehearsal only to find that Bob Garner put aside the bass and took over the lead vocals. Kenny was puzzled and finally left the rehearsal in frustration. Kim Gardner was then brought in to play bass. He was a very good player and he was a choice everybody in the group agreed to. This lineup of The Creation is featured along with the Move, P.P. Arnold and The Warriors in an August 1967 'Beat Beat Beat' show where the group performed live. They were on an earlier September 1966 'Beat Beat Beat' show with Kenny also. Both shows are overwhelming examples of rarely captured mid-sixties bands playing absolutely and incredibly live.
In 1967, The Creation released an album called We Are Paintermen and a handful of singles on German Polygram. In 1968, they released a "best of" collection. It's interesting that Shel Talmy, who produced the Who and the Kinks early sides, was The Creation's producer. Phillips left the Creation at the close of 1967. He says that he was disillusioned with the music business. He joined P.P. Arnold's touring band TNT as a bass player and he also played lead guitar on a couple of songs. It's not widely known, but Ron Wood was brought in to replace him. Ron was on hiatus from the Jeff Beck Group. He was a friend of Kim Gardner's. This lineup lasted for almost exactly 6 months and released 2 or 3 singles. Wood left and Tony Oller replaced him. They announced their breakup back in June 1968 after finishing up with a handful of German gigs.
Eddie became a London bus driver for years. Nowadays, he looks back on driving a bus as "lots of fun." Kenny was briefly with a couple of bands and landed a job as a Led Zeppelin roadie. Gardner became a member of Ashton, Gardner and Dyke and died in Los Angeles in 2001.
So what's the legacy of the band? The Creation were a Top 10 group in Germany and they had an enthusiastic cult following in England which has sifted over into the USA. In the later part of the seventies, a lot of people who bought stuff like Yardbirds albums and garage rock records were very interested in finding out more about this legendary English group who they kept reading about in collector's magazines and punk rock oriented publications. Indie label bands were covering songs like "Biff Bang Pow" and "Making Time." If you're interested in all of this, then I recommend you splurge a little bit and pick up the reissue of We Are Paintermen with 12 bonus tracks on Repertoire records. As for their 'Beat Beat Beat' appearances, I'm a liberal person about bootlegs but even the most accommodating and pleasant of dealers play possum and "now you see it now you don't" with the complete 'Beat Beat Beat' shows. Try tv.com and TheVideoBeat.com for the shows.
The Creation have reunited more than once for recording and for concert work over the past 30 odd years.
One of the group's best reunions was at a venue called The Mean Fiddler in North London in July 1993. It was out in the press that there was friction between Garner and Pickett, who stated that the two of them had talked things out and agreed to "lay the ghost." So the live album recorded that night is aptly titled Lay the Ghost. The group was a little rusty but hadn't lost any of its soaring, ear splitting power. Their first song that night was "Batman." It carried into "Biff Bang Pow" after a few minutes went by. Other songs included "Life Is Just Beginning," "I'm a Man," "Lay The Ghost," "Making Time" and "Painter Man." Phillips wore out two violin bows that night. Kenny Pickett did some aerosol painting on stage but he didn't set them on fire this time. The actual artwork for this 1993 live album was done by the late, great Viv Stanshall. And it was cool that they were back and it wasn't as an oldies act or some dreary nostalgia trip.
Unfortunately , Kenny Pickett passed away in 1997. Kenny was a great singer who I always thought sounded sort of like Jim Sohns (Shadows of Knight) or Roky Erikson.
Phillips is honored nowadays by many people and not undeservedly. What makes the esteem OK is that he is not a part of that over praised superstar pool. He fronts bands sometimes billed as The Eddie Phillips Band and he has tried to resurrect a full-time touring Creation. He is usually promoted as "The Riffmaster of The Western World" or
"a cross between Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend." He was the lead guitarist on a couple of sets of recordings in 1989-1990 called "The British Invasion All-Stars" which featured Eddie and ex-members of The Yardbirds, Nashville Teens and the Downliner's Sect.
Eddie sent out kind of an unofficial request to everyone dealing in vintage guitars in The British Isles and also to anyone involved in import/export of vintage guitars in and out of The British isles, trying to find his old Gibson ES-335. He says it "got away from him" back in the early seventies, which were lean years for him. He says the guitar has a faded and nearly illegible black paint autograph by Little Richard on the back and hacksaw markings by the toggle switch. It is also obvious that some work has been done on the headstock and the nut. Eddie is prepared to pay a very decent sum of cash if the guitar turns up so be on the look-out...
1966 Making time/Try And Stop Me
1966 Painter Man/Biff Bang Pow
1967 Cool Jerk/Life Is Just Beginning (Germany)
1967 If I Stay Too Long/Nightmares
1967 Life Is Just Beginning/Through My Eyes
1968 Tom Tom/How Does It Feel To Feel?
1968 Midway Down/The Girls Are Naked
1968 Bonney Moroney/Mercy Mercy Mercy (Germany)
1968 For All that I Am/Uncle Bert (Germany)
1968 Mercy Mercy Mercy/Uncle Bert (Germany)
1987 A Spirit Called Love/Making Time/Mumbo Jumbo (12" EP)
1994 Creation/Shock Horror/Power Surge (CD single)
2008 Red With Purple Flashes (1 sided promo -strictly limited 200 only)
1967 We Are Paintermen (Germany, The Netherlands, France and Sweden)
1999 Power Surge
2004 Psychedelic Rose: The great Lost Creation Album
Compilations and live albums
1968 The Best of the Creation (Germany, Sweden)
1973 Creation 66-67
1973 "Makin' Time"/"Painter Man" (7" single)
1975 The Creation (UK collection)
1982 The Mark Four/The Creation (Germany)
1982 How Does It Feel To Feel?
1984 We Are Paintermen
1984 "Making Time"/"Little Bert" (7" single)
1985 Live At the Beat Scene Club (7" EP)
1993 Lay the Ghost
Also see the Creation's official MySpace page
Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER