By Patrick Prince
In tribute to John Lennon on what would have been his 75th birthday, English singer songwriter/guitarist/pianist Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits fame has released (through Plowboy Records) a digital single titled “I Can’t Imagine (A Tribute To John Lennon).”
“I Can’t Imagine (A Tribute To John Lennon)” was recorded while collaborating with Don Cusic (author, music producer and Professor of Music Industry History in the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee) in Nashville. It was then that Noone found out that Cusic had written an ode to John Lennon way back in 1980. Noone liked what he heard so much that he immediately embraced the song, and with Noone on vocals, John Hobbs on piano, Andy Reiss and Chris Shruggs on guitar, Byron House on bass, Marco Giovano on drums and Glen Duncan providing strings and other instrumentation, “I Can’t Imagine” was given life.
The overall message about John Lennon is right there in the lyrics of the song: “I know there’s a reason why you’re not here, maybe it’s to show us that dreams live on, and the songs are still sung though the singer is gone.”
Peter Noone was kind enough to take a few moments to chat via email about John Lennon and the new single, “I Can’t Imagine (A Tribute To John Lennon).”
GOLDMINE: Producer Don Cusic had written the framework of this song shortly after John Lennon’s death. Can you believe it had been sitting round for years unused?
Peter Noone: My daughter, Natalie Noone, was studying at Belmont University in Nashville and I met Professor Cusik at the college and was impressed by his vast knowledge of music and our respect and love of Eddy Arnold and Professor Don sent me his book about Ed Arnold which I loved and every time I would visit Nashville I would look up Professor Cusik and chat about music of all things!
He asked me to participate in a tribute to Eddy Arnold and of course I was in and we went to the studio and cut something old, something new, which was great fun and the only way I knew to show my affection for Eddy Arnold.
Don said “Let’s cut another track” and I said “Yeah, what you got, Prof?” and he pulls out the lennon tribute song and we all listen and go “Yeah, let’s do it” and we cut it and the “vibe” was excellent and here you go, it’s in the bag. We have tried to get back in the studio to make a whole record, but I only ever record songs that I have to record, and we are looking, writing and not plagiarizing as I type!
Were you thinking about releasing the song as a digital single on John Lennon’s 75th birthday?
PN: I recorded it because it is a great song and is not twee in the least and the musicians got it and it’s true and all my music in concert and on record is true!
I met John few times back in those ‘days of olde when knights were bold,’ and he was always fun and I was a real fan of The Beatles but being in a band myself gave me multiple opportunities to run into them, and John was the most fun and most accessible of all The Beatles and like me was single and out a lot at the clubs and nighties of London. I was a real Beatles fan but never mentioned The Beatles to John and when he said to me “Nice suit, Herman, do they make it in your size?” I said “Yes and my tailor makes jackets with collars if you need one,” which was endearing to say the most!
GM: How did Plowboy Records become involved? Will you be releasing this single on vinyl?
PN: I am signed to Plowboy records and I will do whatever they tell me to do, but only if I love the song!
GM: In the lyric “the songs are still sung though the singer is gone” is the perfect way to sum up Lennon’s creative longevity. You saw it in the Beatles. Did you ever believe his work would have such a lasting impact on people of all walks of life?
PN: My generation made heroes out of Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran who both quit the business way too soon, so the idea that anything that The Beatles even breathed on would ever go away never occurred to me. The songs will be around for centuries, and if you look at who buys Beatles records it is every age group.
GM: Lennon’s message of world peace is perhaps the most authentic and emotionally poignant of any pop artist living or dead. Agree?
PN: Probably the one dispute I had with Lennon was his idea that singers could change the world, and my argument was “So my dad shouldn’t have flown in a balsa wood plane dropping bombs on Germany, and should have shown up and played a few tunes on his trombone and Hitler would have stopped murdering people?” I think John Lennon was an inspiration to all of us by having the courage of his convictions.
GM: You have shared many stories about you and John hanging out. He seemed very down-to-earth for a man of such immense fame. What were the things about his character that you appreciated and enjoyed the most?
PN: One of the little known facts about the British scene in the 63-66 period was that it was a small scene and basically everyone in the group business knew each other or knew of each other. I would run into The Beatles group a lot because of TV shows like Top of the Pops and Ready Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars and, of course, as a teenage fan and a member of a popular band I would find my way back stage and ingratiate myself until I was asked to leave or told to f**k off which was most times. Being a fan and having access is a wonderful thing and sometimes I would get access to them because I was a kid in a band. All of us Brits were friendly types and shared cigarettes and drinks and if you wanted to chat to someone back then you would say “Is that a Rickenbacker P31?” I smoked Rothmans and so did The Beatles and when they went to Larks so did I. John knew I was a famous drunk but only 17 so he would always get drinks for me. I would have found a way to get them anyway so he wasn’t aiding and abetting just helping the alcoholic get his meds, and it was fun to sit and hear his great Scouse voice and just sit and listen to him whinge and whine and joke about life as it was!
GM: What have you learned personally/professionally from your relationship with John Lennon?
PN: I think it is important to have a sense of humor about oneself. John had one of the greatest acidic wits and I like to think that I have the same sense of humor, and I have learned that it does not work in America — e.g., if I say to someone “Shouldn’t you have bought that helmet BEFORE the accident?” It doesn’t work here and people don’t know what to answer. I think they think it is sarcasm but it isn’t. It’s just plain rudeness.
GM: To this day fans comment that they still cannot believe John is gone. His death is like a bad dream. Knowing him personally, does it feel surrealistic to you as well?
PN: Oh, I believe he is gone. I was pretty stunned when it happened and recovered slowly, but bad stuff happens every minute of every day which is what John IMAGINED would be changed, but I say “Try to avoid that stuff happening to anyone I love.” I was very impressed with how Paul has kept all that stuff on a shelf and personal. I bet he was very hurt! I was just stunned because you like to think that bad stuff doesn’t happen to nice people, but it does.
Woke up this morning feeling fine?
Woke up this morning…. PHEW
GM: You and Lennon were part of the gigantic musical movement, The British Invasion — did you ever think that such a movement would still have such an impact even today? There will possibly never be a pop movement like it again.
PN: Being in it was also like watching it unravel. My group were lucky because I had made a choice early in my career to be myself… Herman is Peter Noone is Herman and to sing in my own accent to be different from every other British singer.
One time I saw John and he said “Hey, Hermit, I see your record is number one in America and I said THANK YOU. I felt like a complete twit at the time, because he looked at me as if to say ?! but in retrospect that may have been a Freudian slip!
The British Invasion was a gang of Brits who had an unusual appetite and enthusiasm for music all at the same time!
GM: What do you think John Lennon would have been doing creatively, politically, etc. if he were alive now, at 75?
PN: I didn’t realize he was seven or eight years older than me, but I bet he would have been a happy and grateful 75-year-old and his political views would probably still be the same as when he was 25, and that he would have many more people who would agree with him now. Perhaps the Beatles and Co. was a Cultural Revolution? And vox pop may have been John Lennon! Politically, I have no idea, and my view is: I get one vote and you get five if you are smarter than me.