The man was a pit bull, according to rock lore. But, there was a reason for his domineering ways.
In a recent interview with Goldmine, Phil May, lead singer and harmonica player for the British Invasion, R&B ne’r-do-wells The Pretty Things, was reminiscing about the time his band was being wooed by Led Zeppelin’s new label, Swan Song, when his thoughts turned to Grant. Eventually, the Pretties would be the label’s first signing.
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had approached May about a possible record deal. Swan Song — launched in 1974 — was still just an idea, but it was gaining traction.
“They actually said to me they’d been approached by Atlantic to put this label together, and they were very suspicious of that,” says May. “They said, ‘We don’t want to do an Apple, where they’re using our name to just make another arm of Atlantic,’ you know?”
Zeppelin wanted full artistic control. Page and Plant were adamant that they be able to sign artists they wanted for the label, according to May.
At the time, the Pretties had a one-album deal with Warner’s to complete, but once that obligation was met, they were free agents.
“I have a lot of respect for Jimmy and Robert, and Jimmy played on our second album,” says May. “I mean, we go back a long way. And bit by bit, they’d kind of bump into me, and [said], ‘It’s looking more likely,’ and ‘Yeah, I think we got control.'”
May had one stipulation: he wanted Grant, who was heading up the label, to manage the Pretties.
“I knew nobody could take him on,” says May, “and I thought, ‘How are we going to negotiate a deal with Peter with some young kid who doesn’t know his elbow from his ass and not get taken to the cleaners,’ not that Peter would take us to the cleaners. But I just felt, “F**k, if we’re going to be in this company, and Peter, very reluctantly [agreed}.”
At first, Grant, according to May, responded, “Oh f**k, I don’t need that. I’ve got Led Zeppelin.” But, he relented, and, as May recounts, sort of managed all the bands that signed to Swan Song.
May said that people hated Grant ” … because he would kill for his artists,” because he’d seen artists “get shafted” in dealings before coming to power in the music industry. “It kind of completely colored Peter,” says May.
Having Grant as manager was a comforting feeling for the Pretties. May remembers one time, when the band arrived for a show in San Francisco, Bill Graham was backstage making sure everything was in order.
“We got there, like we do, about three or four (p.m.), … and Bill was backstage and in the dressing room, and he’s saying, ‘Are the flowers okay? What about the food? Is the food okay?'” says May. “And he’s sort of fussing around, and I said, ‘Bill, you’re not normally here when bands show up, are you? I mean, you have a staff, haven’t you?’ Well, he said, “I just know that bloody Peter Grant … if I find … ‘ and then he says to me [that Peter said], “Whatever you find, you look after my boys when they get there,’ and so he was down there early. And you know, it was great, because that’s the kind of person Peter was. I mean, [Bill] knew his relationship with Peter was … you know, we weren’t Led Zeppelin, but we were one of Peter’s artists, and [Graham] said, ‘I don’t want you telling Peter on the phone that I’ve let anything sip in any way.’ But I said, ‘Don’t worry, Bill.'”
That night, interestingly enough, the opening band was one who would eventually take the arena-rock world by storm. As May recalls, though, they weren’t quite ready for prime time.
“The funny thing was, who was opening up for us — which absolutely bowled us over, because I’d never seen a support band with so much pyrotechnics and shenanigans — was Queen,” says May. “They were really bad, but they had all this stuff going on, and it’s like, you know, when you go watch support bands, and sometimes they’re very good and sometimes they’re not so good, but with them we went, ‘F**king hell, they’re a support band, and they’ve got all this stuff and lights and explosions.’ It was amazing, and about six months afterward, it all happened for them.”
To read more about The Pretty Things’ wild history and their tough, dark new album, Balboa Island, read the #710 issue of Goldmine, dated Oct. 12, due out on newsstands in late September. Watch www.goldminemag.com for a longer story on the Pretties. Or, go to www.prettythings.net/ to learn more about the band that many considered more dangerous and more raw than the Rolling Stones.
To check up on Queen, visit www.queenonline.com.