By Lee Zimmerman
Champions of the Tottenham Sound. Some 17 Top 40 hits in the U.S. between 1964 and 1967. The closest rivals to The Beatles during the heady early days of the British Invasion. The first band to tour the U.S. in their own chartered airplane. More appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show than any other British Invasion band in history. Members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, class of 2008.
All these statistics belong to a single group, The Dave Clark Five. Although wildly successful in the mid ’60s, their legacy often seems to pale in comparison to their more enduring contemporaries — The Beatles, The Who, and the Stones in particular. Part of the reason may be the fact that following the band’s break-up in 1970, the individual musicians mostly remained inactive, all except their late singer and keyboard player Mike Smith and Clark himself, who went on to become a successful producer, promoter, actor and businessman in addition to the keeper of the band’s name and brand. However, the biggest cause for their fleeting presence is likely due to the fact that despite the nearly two dozen albums released throughout their career, their music remained pitifully hard to find. From 1978 until 1993, their catalog was effectively absent from the marketplace entirely. Two greatest hits albums have appeared in the meantime, the double CD History of the Dave Clark Five issued in 1993 and a 2008 compilation titled Hits. More recently however, DC5 songs have popped up on iTunes and on Spotify.
Clark himself accepts responsibility for that absence, given the fact that he’s the sole owner of the group’s catalog, as well as the keeper of their legacy. Aside from himself, only lead guitarist Lenny Davidson is still alive. Smith passed away in 2008, only days before they were due to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bassist Rick Huxley died in 2013 and saxophonist and harmonica player Denis Payton left us in 2006.
Nevertheless, Clark himself has always remained consistently active. Aside from his other activities in the past 45 years or so — acquiring rights to the Ready Steady Go U.K. television series and directing the final performance of Sir Laurence Olivier for Clark’s much heralded stage production of Time — The Musical (later an album featuring, among others, Freddie Mercury, Julian Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Cliff Richard and Ashford & Simpson), he still maintains his tight hold on the DC5 catalog.
That effort in particular has culminated with the release of a new Dave Clark Five collection, All the Hits, a 28-song set that actually contains one heretofore unreleased track, “Universal Love.” Indeed, it’s the first DC5 release in a dozen years, and when Goldmine spoke to Clark two days before Christmas, he was obviously eager to tout its arrival.
After exchanging holiday salutations and comparisons about the weather in the U.S. and the U.K., the conversation began in earnest.
GOLDMINE: Let’s begin by talking about the new All The Hits album. Considering the fact that there had been a couple of earlier compilations, what was the thought behind bringing this particular effort? And why now?
DAVE CLARK: Why now? Well, the whole industry has changed. All our stuff was out on iTunes, and now everyone’s gone into streaming. I love getting a new record in physical form. But iTunes is now down to streaming. I keep getting approached by majors all the time to release our music. BMG has been on me for three years or more and kept coming up with the idea of how they want to do it. I’ve alway been independent, so I like having the freedom to bring something out while making sure the quality is what it should be. In the end, I said okay, I’ll do it because everything’s going to streaming and you get lots of bootlegs. I wanted to do it right, and now that this is coming out properly, I’m really happy with it. It’s done really well. And it’s got vinyl as well. Forty years is a long time to wait for that.
GM: Aside from the obvious big hits, how did you pare it down?
DC: Originally it was going to be the singles hits, but the record company wanted to go with the history, which I went along with. I wanted to include the songs that felt right for now. I think the music is timeless. You want to get the excitement you felt when they originally came out. I never tried to remix it. I personally don’t believe in that. When we first recorded, it was on four tracks. Then a few years later, stereo came out, and we recorded in stereo, but the early tunes — “Do You Love Me,” “Glad All Over,” “Bits and Pieces” — were in mono, so we went back and we had to remix them. We went and remixed them at Landsdowne (Studios) where we made the record originally. It was an old office building in the Victorian age, and the basement where the studio was was originally a squash court. The only problem was that the echo chamber was actually the stairwell to this huge Victorian building. If anyone walked down the stairwell instead of using the elevator during a recording, we’d have to redo the take. But by the time we remixed those earlier albums for stereo, the echo chamber had become much more sophisticated. However, I’m a firm believer that the imperfections are really perfection. Nothing in life is perfect.
GM: That is true.
DC: I think that’s why people liked those early records. I remember we were playing a concert in Chicago and we were doing a meet and greet. There was this girl standing in line and she gave me an album to sign and it said “electronically processed in stereo.” How dare they?! What it was was mono on the left and on the right it was all echo. It made the songs sound very messy, and the record company had no right to do it.
GM: We were always fascinated by that echoey effect you had on certain songs, that reverb in a song like “Glad All Over” for example.
DC: We had a great engineer called Adrian (Clark) who sadly passed away. He was amazing. When we first started recording, I told Adrain I wanted that live sound. Whether it was that distortion or whatever, you want to recreate that excitement. He was good at that. I didn’t want be the same as all the other artists. I mean, I’m not knocking The Beatles or whoever. Everything in those days was three guitars and drums. But I wanted something different. That’s why I brought in Denis on sax and had Mike on keyboards. We were going for a certain sound. I wanted something individual. We weren’t sure if it was going to be successful or if it was even going to work. But it created an amazing atmosphere, and that’s what I wanted to get on to record, and it worked.
GM: You had a very unique concept. You played lead drums — as opposed to all the other bands before, and mainly since, that had drums in the background as a support instrument. How did your style originate?
DC: The first record I ever bought was Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.” I just loved that sound. But you know the best thing that happened for us was playing the American airbases. We didn’t have any money, so we’d play all the gigs and do the Americana airbases on the weekends. It was a hard gig. You’d play for four hours with a break in-between and they’d feed you with hamburgers. They were wonderful, the American burgers, not like the British wimpy burgers. They’d have songs playing on the jukebox and they’d ask us, “Can you play that next week?” And we’d say, “Well, I don’t know. They’re not released in England. So give us a copy and we’ll learn them.” And then we’d learn them and play them. “Do You Love Me,” “You’ve Got What It Takes,” “Stay”… all these great, great American records. That’s how we came to play some of those songs. But I was always a great believer that if you’re playing somebody else’s songs, like “Do You Love Me” — which The Contours did a great job with — you’ve got to make it your own and give it your own interpretation.
GM: It was unheard of at the time, and almost now as well, to not only play in the band and help craft the music, but also to manage and promote the band as well. Yet you performed all those functions. How did you accomplish that? It must have been quite difficult at the time. You wore so many hats.
DC: I couldn’t do it now. When I look back, it does seem quite amazing.
GM: So how did you do it? How did you manage to keep it all in balance?
DC: Well, with the guys, we all knew one another from school days. We were very tight, and I can say, hand on heart, even to this day, that we never had a legal issues between us. There’s never been any animosity. Looking back, a lot of my contemporaries — The Beatles, the Stones — all did, and I think it’s sad because they deserved what they had earned and not to be ripped off. We never had that problem. We were always very open with one another and it was a great thing. We had loads of record companies that wanted us and I chose Decca for the first one. We had the audition, but before I signed the agreement, they told us, “We’d like you to work with this really new hot producer.” So we went in and the guy said to me, “You can’t record your own songs.” They were looking for the flavor of the month. I told him it wasn’t going to work. There were a lot of great people around in those days, and I’d say 99 percent of them had their careers ruined by record companies that had their own publishing companies and wanted to make sure their groups recorded songs that they published.
GM: What else did you ask for?
DC: I found out what independent producers got paid, and so I decided I’m not going to ask for that. I’m going to ask for four times the going rate and with a bit of luck, I’ll end up getting the going rate. They knew that the other companies were after us, so after a bit of haggling I got it. And then at the end of it, they asked if there was anything else we wanted. And I said yes, I want the masters to revert to me. They said, “We can’t do that. We’ve never done it.” And I said, ‘Look, I’m not asking for any money. I’ll pay for the recordings. It will cost you nothing and if it’s a hit, you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.’ So eventually, they agreed. I had no money, so I got a gig crashing a car for three nights in a row on a movie set and that gave me the money for the first recording. It was being in the right place at the right time, and if the records hadn’t gotten played, we never would have made it. You have to believe in what you do.
GM: Well, fortunately, it worked out well.
DC: I’ll give you another example. We had had four or five hits in a row in America and I sent them a song called “Because.” I thought it would make a nice change. And Epic Records refused to release it. I insisted and they still refused, so I said “Then you’re not getting any more records, it’s as simple as that.” I got a telegram from the president of Epic saying, “You’ve got 48 hours to change your mind or else it will ruin your career.” So I sent a telegram back and said “Release it,” and it became one of the biggest selling singles of our career. He later sent a telegram back to me saying, “I was wrong. Congratulations.”
GM: Hopefully you still have a copy of that telegram.
DC: I don’t know. I should look for it.
GM: Back in the day, much of the conversation centered on the supposed competition between you and The Beatles. Were you aware of that supposed competition? Did you play into it? Was anyone sort of looking over their shoulders at one another?
DC: I got on very well with The Beatles before they made it, and before we made it. Paul McCartney said he loved all that back and forth between them and The Dave Clark Five. But I never said I’m not releasing something because they’re releasing something. There was a lot of that publicity banter between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The unreleased song on the new album, “Universal Love,” was something I would have liked to release in the ’60s but Lennon had “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance,” and The Beatles had “All You Need Is Love,” so if we had gotten on that angle of peace and love, people would have said we were copying them. So I didn’t release it. I didn’t want to look like I was cashing in.
GM: You never really plunged into psychedelia either.
DC: I always believed in presentation rather than going on stage and standing there and doing nothing. We had a live show with a lot of flashing lights and strobe lights. We played McCormick Place in Chicago, which was one of my favorite places to play. So the third time we played there, we came up on stage on the riser in the orchestra pit with all the flashing lights. The reviewers said, “Dave Clark goes psychedelic.” And I said, no, it’s just all about our presentation. It’s not a psychedelic thing.
GM: In fact, you had a very clean cut image, what with the matching suits and the properly styled haircuts.
DC: The reasons for the outfits were that we didn’t want to look like everyone else. But once we were on the Ed Sullivan Show, the papers started saying that we were the guys that every American mother would like their daughters to bring home.
GM: You kind of embraced that image though. You had a consistency that your fans could count on. Which begs the question, why did you pack it in in 1970, the same year The Beatles broke up?
DC: In the beginning, I told the boys we wouldn’t go professional unless we had two top five hits. Otherwise, we just wanted to carry on for the fun of it. We really enjoyed music and what we were doing. And then when it kicked off and things started going crazy, I told the guys, once the fun starts going out of it, we would stop.
GM: It must have been hard to turn your back on the enormous worldwide fame.
DC: Our biggest success wasn’t in North America. It was in the Philippines. We once did a show there for a quarter million people. But after awhile all those countries started to look the same. It was exciting, but after awhile you’d go in and out and get asked the same questions, so it was getting to that stage where I thought we were beginning to lose our identity. There were other things I wanted to do. We decided in 1969 that we would stop in 1970 because we wanted to stop touring. There was never any animosity between us because like I said before, we were all mates.
GM: Was there ever any talk of a reunion?
DC: Yes, lots of times. The last time was in the latter part of the ’80s and they offered an absolute fortune for a tour of America and Canada. But I said no. A promoter called me on my private line at three o’clock in the morning and I asked him how he got my private number. And when I told him there was no way we’d ever do it, he said, “Yes there is. Look, Dave. Everybody’s got their price. What is yours?” And I hung up. When we did the first Sullivan show, I turned him down. I don’t know if you know that?
GM: No, we did not.
DC: We were still semi-pro in England and we got asked to do “Sunday Night At the London Palladium,” which was the biggest TV show in England. You had 25 million people watching that. That was a lot! We were on the top of the bill. So Ed Sullivan was over here and his plane got delayed and he watched the show while he was at the airport. So when he got back to the States, he rang me up. But I had never heard of Ed Sullivan so I turned it down. Ten days later, he offered to pay for the airfare over and our hotel. So I told the guys, “Look, we’re going to go professional and we’re going to do the Sullivan show.” We went over so well, he came on and said, “I’m holding them over in America for another week.” He said that on the air, but we already had a gig in England for that next week. And we couldn’t just get out of it on a week’s notice. So he said, “I’ll buy it out.” And we said, okay, but without thinking, I said, I couldn’t stay in New York for another week. We had these massive hits, which meant we couldn’t go out of the hotel without being mobbed. I thought we needed to recharge our batteries. So he said, “Where do you want to go?” Driving in from Kennedy airport, I had seen these billboards that said “Montego Bay, Isle of Paradise.” I didn’t know where Montego Bay was. I was from the other side of the world. So I told him we wanted to go to Montego Bay, and he flew us there. Five days later, we came back and there were 30,000 people at Kennedy Airport waiting for us. They couldn’t get us out so they took us out by helicopter. That was in March and we were still semi-professional. We came back in May and every gig was sold out. We were still flying commercial airlines at that time, so we decided we needed our own airplane and so that’s what we got.
GM: Which you dubbed, appropriately, the “DC5.” You were the first band to have your own airplane.
DC: Yes. That was a couple of years before the others.
GM: You had so many amazing firsts. Do you think people really appreciated all the band really accomplished.
DC: I think we were, but I think because the band stopped in 1970, and weren’t performing anymore, you have to be realistic. If you’re not performing and you’re not there on the scene, other people come along and the public forgets. If the records aren’t out you kind of lose your place in history. But for me, believe it or not, it was never an ego trip. Once I stopped, I never did interviews or TV or whatever. I’m very proud of the band and our success, but I don’t want to live in the past. I’m proud of the past and I wouldn’t have released the new album if I wasn’t.
GM: Are you a nostalgic sort of person?
DC: I suppose. But you’ve got to move with the times. You can’t live in the past, but you can look back with great relish. And I do. But you leave it open for other great people. A lot of my contemporaries — Paul McCartney, Elton, David Bowie — carried on and never stopped. That’s wonderful, but I had other interests in life — not financially, but creatively. I went back to drama school. To learn a new craft well, you have to start from the bottom. And that’s what I did.