In addition to his work on the Bond movies, Vic played for George Martin on the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night and also performed on scores for The Pink Panther and Midnight Cowboy. Justin Hayward calls him "A musician's musician," and adds that Vic could coax a fabulous sound out of the whole range of notes, "from the bottom E to the very top D."
In his book Guitarman, Vic writes about growing up during World War II when air raids were the norm in London. His story of musical survival is just as harrowing, with tales about live TV meltdowns, bloody brawls on the road, and a deafening experience with Tom Jones.
We had the pleasure of asking Vic some of our burning questions about the hit songs he worked on and the James Bond themes.
Absolutely no inkling at all. When John Barry and I first got involved with the Bond films, the producers were scraping the barrel for money. They had completed the film, had no money for much of the post production and nobody wanted to release Dr. No. The Americans had no interest in a British Spy and the British weren't that interested either. Then they got a small release contract and the film took off. The rest is history. The Bond theme was constructed from a little song that Monty Norman came up with. His idea wasn't what Eon Films wanted so they asked John Barry to arrange this musical show type song into something dynamic. Within about 8 days we were in the studio and recording the title. No film to see, just another recording session - even though it was heavily featured. The session finished with everybody smiling and here we are 50 years later still talking about it.
How were sessions for Bond soundtracks different from others?
Once everyone knew the Bond films were taking off like a rocket, the sessions became more interesting and, to an extent, exciting. We all looked forward to seeing bits of the film as the music was being recorded. Back then, the action was big and the girls were beautiful - especially when they were painted in gold! It was quite a status thing to be working on a Bond film. The films now are all big explosions and heavy breathing. To me, not as atmospheric as the first few.
John Barry had this knack of catching the atmosphere of the films with just a few notes and repetitive phrases. The music today, although excellent doesn't capture the atmosphere as Barry's did. Perhaps not many will agree with me, but being part of the Bond evolution, I think I can put in my two penny worth.
You played on "Johnny Remember Me" by John Leyton, which was Joe Meek's first #1 production. What memories do you have of working with the famed producer?
Joe Meek was an innovative producer whose ideas were used throughout the industry. My recollections of Joe are his very laid back approach to the actual recording and, in contrast, his near manic demands of himself in the mixing and FX he used. He had tunnel vision with getting 'his sounds' as he wanted them so, as everything else was a distraction, his studio can best be described as a total mess. Tape spools, lengths of tape, old boxes, tattered posters, sandwich wrappers, all littered the studio floor in contrast to the couple of tape recorders that were in pristine condition. These were Joe's musical instruments. I have the fond memory of Joe walking from his control room into the studio, basically two adjacent bedrooms, leaning on the old upright piano and saying, 'Go on then,' to start the take. A good man with a few personal problems.
You worked with Dusty Springfield on her first solo hit "I Only Want To Be With You." What are your recollections of that session?
I don't have any specific memories of that session but Dusty was always good to work with. She knew what she wanted, both from the musicians and from herself. I first met her in 1959 when she was part of a girl trio, the Lana Sisters. I did a couple of arrangements for them to use on the live show we were doing. I had just started with John Barry Seven and everything was happening at once. Good days.
You also worked with Tom Jones on his first hit "It's Not Unusual" and on several of his other singles. What do you recall of your contributions to his records?
Like Dusty, Tom had a goal in life and nothing was going to stop him. He is a great singer and all round good performer - lots of stage presence. His recordings were always good to work on. Great songs, very good arrangements and always a great band. I've seen him change from being buddy, buddy to becoming aloof and distant, at least with me. Maybe it was something I played.:) I remember a TV show many years ago when he just completely ignored me, and many other musicians, all of whom had been substantial contributors to his success. Then he changed back to buddy, buddy and we met up in Las Vegas when he did his annual show here. In many ways he and Engelbert, who I have known from 1959 when he was Jerry Dorsey, are similar. Going from easy going to big time and back again. Maybe they realized people were more important than money and fame. Who knows?
When you started out as a guitar player in the 1950s, most British guitarists were trained in classical or jazz. What were your early influences?
Certainly, some guitarist were classically inclined but most played folk or skiffle and had no basic musical training. The image of the dance band singer sitting on stage to look good playing a guitar with rubber strings is not entirely untrue.
I studied piano from the age of 7 till 12 and could read music and understood the basics of theory. This knowledge proved invaluable when I transferred to the guitar as the great majority of players could not read music. My brother and I collected 45 rpm records whenever we had enough money and some of them featured guitarists like Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, and Charlie Christian so my influence was jazz and big band music. I still listen to Tal Farlow recordings to this day and constantly admire his musicianship and melodic jazz lines despite knowing all Tal wanted to do was paint names on the back of boats!
You initially recorded the title song to Licence To Kill with Eric Clapton but the producers turned it down. What happened to the recording? We'd love to hear it.
That's the BIG James Bond question. What happened to the recording made by Eric, Michael Kamen and me? Nobody really knows. The last person thought to have it was Michael Kamen, but as he has since passed away the tape has turned into the Holy Grail of Bond aficionados
You've shared the recording studio floor with many guitar greats. Who do you rate as the best that you've played with?
Difficult question to answer as many guitarist were great at one thing and others great at other things. I enjoyed working with Big Jim Sullivan who was always coming up with something different. Guys like Judd Procter, Eric Ford, Joe Morretti, Clive Hicks, Martin Kershaw all gave a special something to the music world. Some guys weren't happy doing sessions and moved on to other things, like John McClaughlin and Jimmy Page. I enjoyed working with both of them and learned a lot from them. I must mention the time when the contractor for a session came up to Jimmy and said, Is it true you're going off to join some group? Jimmy replied that he was. The contractor then said the immortal words, 'Silly boy, you should think of your future.' I think he's done OK for himself!
American session musicians like Ralph Casale and Carol Kaye told us that they were compensated very well and widely respected. How were you treated in England, and did you have any idea how well the American players had it?
A lot of the difference between how musicians were compensated in the USA and UK was the result of the Unions' attitude. I have a chapter in my book, Vic Flick, Guitarman on this very subject. In the USA, the Union was income orientated. Mainly in the early days, the Union was run by people who sought and secured every income stream available as some of that steam was allegedly skimmed before it got to the musicians. When the Union cleaned its act up, the income stream continued and the musicians benefited. Pensions and residuals were jealously guarded. In the UK, the Union's mindset was more toward the gigging rate in the local town hall than what was going on in the studios. There was no interest in securing a future for the session musician as the attitude was we were making too much money. Once, when I asked the Union for help in getting some money for me their answer was it was too much bother and I was making too much anyway. Of course, now that the session musicians and the Union have woken up to the fact there's big money out there, a concerted effort is being made to collect it. Unfortunately, this means those entities who were used to getting the money don't want to give it up. All sorts of reasons are being put forward to stop the change but we are making progress. Lack of information of who was on what recording back to the late '50s is very hard to come by so we have a difficult job claiming every penny owed to us.
How many songs did you typically work on in a session, and how long did the sessions last?
A record session lasted three hours with anywhere from three titles to seven or eight being recorded. The maximum music allowed to be recorded was 20 minutes. Film music sessions were four hours with about the same music time limitation. Jingles/Commercials were one hour with a maximum of three minutes of music allowed to be recorded. The times were mostly 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sometimes there were jingles booked from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. - and after the last session. This would happen, in the '60s and early '70s, day after day to the point of exhaustion. That's a lot of right notes!
Please tell us about playing on "A World Without Love."
This was the first time I used my Vox electric 12 string guitar. It was terrible to play, with a high action and not a very good sound. Things have improved, I'm pleased to say. Still it was a new sound and added to the character of the recording. I have the memory of the organist having his organ being brought into the studio by four road workers he cajoled into lifting it from his van. The workers were looking around in amazement at the big Studio 2 at EMI and tripping over the cables. Peter and Gordon were professional and did a great job. Peter Asher is now something big at Sony and was nice enough to write a letter confirming I was on the recording. The letter was needed to prove to the collection agency I was on the recording so I would get some sort of residual.
On what songs did you make your greatest contributions, and how did you do it?
All of them, I hope!!
Vic appeared at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of their From Songwriters to Soundmen series. A lot more info is in his book Guitarman. Ed Pearce did research for this story.
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