Driver 67 (Paul Phillips) (2016)
'Control, This Is 67 (Still) Here ... at 67!
You may not know Paul Phillips' name, per se, but you'll know his MASSIVE hit UK single of 1978 (as Driver 67), 'Car 67' - "Hey Control, this is 67 here I can hear you loud and I can hear you clear, yeah. Control, this is 67 here I can hear you loud and I can hear you clear, yeah. Is there something that you want me to do-ooh, yeah. (Yes, we have a job for you)You know I'm only here to please you-ooh. (We want you to pick up a young lady at 83 Royal Gardens)", etc.
Got that stuck in your head now? Good, welcome to my world for the past 40 years! For the most part, Paul Phillips is an English singer-songwriter, journalist at Music Week, and a former A&R man and record producer at CBS Records. But, trust me, he is so much more than that, as this interview will prove to you.
Paul began songwriting at age 14 and even performed in a band in his hometown of Wolverhampton. He met future band mate Pete Zorn while at Music Week covering CBS’s annual convention in Killarney, Ireland ("It was on the train from Dublin to Killarney, where I also met Dan Loggins", Paul further explains, "who had just been brought in to head up CBS A&R. Dan and I got on so well, he offered me a job a few months later. So that was quite a momentous four hour train ride! My future boss, my future music partner, and future brother in law!") and the two hit it off instantly.
Indeed, thereafter, Zorn was on almost every session where Phillips was producer. They also started demoing their own songs. Phillips trekked around London record companies for nearly three years until he finally landed a deal for him and Zorn with Logo Records.
While arrangements were being made for their debut album, Phillips played Logo's managing director a demo he had made of a novelty song called 'Car 67', written during idle moments in a three-month stint as what he has called "possibly the worst cab driver London has ever known". Logo immediately wanted the song as a single. Recorded for just £850 and released in late 1978, it went on to sell nearly half a million copies, peaking at number seven in the UK Singles Chart. Indeed, in its biggest week, orders were coming in for 20,000 copies a day!
But due to pressing plant issues (who only managed to press and distribute 20,000 copies a week, let alone the desired per day amount) the single soon dropped down to number 11. The record then doomed their career as an act to one-hit wonder status when BBC Radio refused to play the follow-up, 'Headlights'. A subsequent dispute over royalties dragged on for two years, after which Phillips, completely disillusioned with the record industry, returned to journalism.
All that came after that, and even before, has, in some part, never been spoken about before! And so, here in what turned out to be a VERY EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with the man himself, Paul Phillips, I first wondered just how long it had actually been since he had last been properly interviewed (for a worldwide publication) about both Driver 67 and himself? EXCLUSIVE #1 - "I don’t think I’ve ever been interviewed by a worldwide publication, so to that extent you really do have yourself an exclusive here! Last time I was interviewed was about six years ago, a little five minute insert on a BBC Television programme that is nationwide here, but would hardly set the rest of the world on fire."
"But perhaps my proudest moment, before this interview, was being mentioned in Rolling Stone by Hunter S. Thompson. That was quite a thrill, I can tell you." [FYI: You can read a highly indepth account of that from Paul himself via his new magazine blog-site, The New Colloquium
OK, taking it from the top, and you got into the music industry via a job at Music Week magazine and then CBS Records, but it wasn't until you had nearly turned 30 that you actually made a record. Being that the record was 1978's hit single 'Car 67' from your band Driver 67, that must have made turning the big 3-0 a little easier! "Since I was about 14 years old, I wanted two things: I wanted to get married and have children; and I wanted a hit record that would see me appearing on Top Of The Pops, the BBC TV weekly chart show. I got married when I was 19, had two children by the time I was 21. So that probably slowed down my Top Of The Pops moment."
"I started writing songs aged 11, performing them (in my first band) when I was 15 and recorded my first demo when I was 18 – right there in Central Sound, Denmark St (London’s Tin Pan Alley) where the Rolling Stones made their first recordings. But, y’know, rent had to be paid, food put on the table, school uniforms had to be bought."
"And – let’s be honest – I was working right in the heart of the music industry, first on the industry weekly Music Week, and then at CBS Records. At Music Week I met everyone worth knowing in the business (no-one ever declined a call from Music Week); and at CBS I spent nearly three years learning to produce records, make arrangements and how to direct musicians. So really, not a moment wasted."
"And yes, my 30th birthday was a blast!"
Did the fact that you were actually a real life cab driver for a few months encourage you to name your band Driver 67 and subsequently, name the first single 'Car 67'? And did you experiment with any other Car ID #s? "Without the cab driver gig, there never would have been a Car 67. I was Driver 67 – that was my call sign. Sitting there one day, waiting for the next job, the song appeared in my head: “Car 67, Car 67 can you hear me?”"
"The chord sequence, the bass drum, the slightly faded-in (“He-e-y Control this is 67 here…”) were all there, instantly. Sounds easy with hindsight, but I knew if I could capture what was in my head, I had a stone certain Top 10 hit on my hands. So, no. No other numbers were tried out, because 67 was the number."
You've publicly said before that for those few months of being a cab driver that you were "possibly the worst cab driver London has ever known"! Why was that though? What made you so damn bad?! "Black taxi drivers (not ethnic; the colour of the cabs themselves!) go through training that’s called ‘The Knowledge’. Day after day they have to drive around London on certain routes, and they have to memorise place names, street names and directions. It’s a skill just to be able to store all that in your head. At the end of training, you’re tested, and if ‘the knowledge’ isn’t there in your head, you can’t drive a black cab."
"I was what we call a mini-cab driver – no training involved. So the least you need to know to be any good is where you are and roughly where you’re going. And you have to be good with maps. I rarely knew where I was; I had no idea where I was going; and I couldn’t read a map to save my life. That’s what made me so damn bad!"
The single was made for just £850, which is a minor miracle in its own right for vinyl 7"s back then! Add to that it went on to sell nearly half a million copies, peaking at #7 on the UK Singles Chart, I've since discovered it should have actually been #1 in the charts! In it's biggest week, orders were coming in for 20,000 copies a DAY, but the pressing plant only managed to press and distribute 20,000 in total that WEEK, so it dropped down to #9, then #10, then #21, before dropping out of Top 40 at the end of February. Reading some of your posts on the subject over the years, you have simply put this down to being with the "wrong record company". So, does that all still sit badly with you today, and in hindsight, what would you have done differently? "I spent three years trudging around London, making appointments with A&R men (always men back then), playing my tapes. Occasionally they’d put me in the studio, but nothing ever came of it. Logo Records was the only label to offer me a deal. I think I always felt I had a long career in front of me, so one stumble wasn’t going to hurt."
"In retrospect, I’d rather be a one-hit wonder with a Number One than a one-hit wonder that didn’t even make the top five; particularly when it could absolutely have been number one if they’d pressed all the damned copies that were ordered. But it’s not like I had my pick of record companies, and picked the wrong one."
Looking on the bright side, it seems that I must have been one of those 20,000 orders (in a day) as 'Car 67' was the very first 7" single that I purchased with my own money (closely followed by the Barron Knights' 'A Taste of Aggro,' funnily enough!) So, being that my mother had already purchased for me Streetband's 'Toast' single, my first three 7" singles were all, shall we say, novelty songs! All hits, all super catchy, were you following a writing trend back then or were you STARTING a trend back then?! "First off, thanks for buying it! That warms my heart. My songwriting (and my music partner Pete Zorn’s) was generally pretty serious stuff. We had ourselves somewhere between Eagles and Steely Dan in style, with a little satire thrown in. (We could never take ourselves too seriously; hence the band name, Tax Loss)."
"So, no, I didn’t start a trend, and I had no intention of writing a novelty song. But the thing is, when Paul McCartney got the tune and words of 'Mull of Kintyre' in his head, he didn’t argue with it. He knew he had a hit. He got a lot of stick for it over in the UK. But for years it was the biggest selling single by anyone, ever. So, y’know, screw them!"
EXCLUSIVE #2 - "By the way, Streetband were on Logo, as were The Tourists. We were very successful signings for such a small label. But they screwed us all, and lost us all!"
Funnily enough, on the UK 7" single the taxi controller had a distinctive West Midlands accent, but the version that usually appears on compilation albums, especially over here in the US, features the taxi controller with a mid-Atlantic accent! Also, there's a change of address from 83 Royal Gardens to 83 Brook Terrace and the taxi driver is called Ralph!! At the time, did you know about all those changes, approve of them all, or even have a say in them, perhaps? "Oh, that was still us - me and Pete Zorn. The record company felt the single was too ‘English’ for release in America. Plus – and this was a big mistake on my part, and I take absolute responsibility for it – I didn’t want the single on the album. We weren’t making a Driver 67 album. We were making a Tax Loss album – that’s what we’d signed up to; that was the name on the contract."
"But out of the blue, while we were in negotiation, that bloody song came into my head, and as soon as the record company heard it, they wanted it. So my compromise was – and it was partly to get a US release – to make an American version. Pete Zorn’s brother Bill – lately of the Kingston Trio – did the talking bits. We changed the address because Royal Gardens didn’t sound like a good address for the republic of America."
"At the time, we were wildly into The Firesign Theatre, and they did an American radio soap opera skit that included the immortal line: “Does…..Peggy……know that?” When Bill said, “What’s wro-o-ng, Ralph” Pete and I – behind the desk – just fell over laughing. Then it seemed a perfect idea to segue into this transcendental corn from the album opener, Hey Mr Record Man, which is a satire on how the music industry tries (and often succeeds) in watering down ‘difficult’ music into something more soft and acceptable."
Video of Driver 67 with 'Car 67' on TOTP @ 1979
A former Record of the Week from Radio One DJ David "Kid" Jenson (the youtube video above proves it), looking back at that now infamous first live appearance ever on TOTP, please tell us more about these observations:
a) What was that green "muppet-looking thing" that hung from the rear view mirror in the opening shot?! "There was a fashion in England at the time for ‘fluffy dice’ or, as you say, Muppet-like dolls to hang from the rear view mirror. That little touch was just the show’s producer having a laugh."
b) You seem to be looking ahead, very sternly fixed on something out the windscreen throughout the entire song - but what was it?! "I was really, really pissed off, so I was looking at ‘the road ahead’ (which, obviously, wasn’t actually there) rather than look at the camera. I’d gone to the TOTP studio with my full band, and my guitar. And they just said: “Oh, we’re not doing any of that. You’re going to sit here and do the talking bits live in the studio. Then afterwards, when the audience has gone home, we’re going to bring in a car, and film you doing the singing bits".”
"I almost walked. The idea of miming those talking bits in front of teenage girls who were there for a cool experience was humiliating. But the record company persuaded me that sales would go through the roof if I did the show. At the time I think we were shipping 4-5,000 a day. And, right enough, the following week the orders were up to 20,000 a day."
"Of course, what they didn’t tell me was that wouldn’t be able to press the buggers! So I went through that for nothing, really. Still – at least it’s there on YouTube today! And, to be honest, my children (four of them, two sets, 20 years apart) and my grandchildren (five of them) and now my stepdaughter all think it’s really cool. They don’t remotely judge the song. It’s just cool to have been on Top Of The Pops (when it meant something) and to be a permanent fixture on YouTube."
c) 83 Royal Gardens? A real address of an ex, perhaps? "Invented address. We went through the London A-Z to make sure no-one would sue us because the press were camping outside their house!"
d) Who thought of, and created the taxi controller's Driver 67 cap? "While all the searching for a record company was going on, and after I stopped being a cab driver, I’d become editor of another weekly music paper, Radio & Record News. The night before Top Of The Pops, some of the staff made that hat for me. I probably wouldn’t have worn it if I’d been allowed to front the band and play my guitar. But since the on-stage thing (playing the Controller) was such a joke, I decided to wear it. And I put the silly moustache on so people would think the Controller and the Driver were different people!"
e) Blow me down! I had NO IDEA you played both roles! Anyway, being that Driver 67 were all on the same stage who came up with the layout (and props) for the performance - you guys or TOTP? "The producer drove the whole thing (pun intended). The stupid desk and the stupid control setup. The Cortina (from which the windscreen had been removed to stop flash reflections) was waiting off somewhere. I didn’t see it till they wheeled it in."
f) What's the most vivid thing you remember about that performance that day/night? "Being excited, then being angry, and finally being relieved when it was over. Apart from that, I spent most of the time in the dressing room learning the timing of the Controller’s words so I wouldn’t look completely stupid when I mimed to them. If you listen, there’s no rhythm to those words. They are, literally, just spoken like speech. So miming to them and not looking like a dick was excruciatingly hard."
The lyrics of 'Car 67' are not tricky, free flowingly easy, but my goodness SO BLOODY CATCHY! To this day, do you find yourself humming them at various, perhaps even weird times?! "I. Do. Not! People do like to hum it around me, though, or put it on during a party, just to see my reaction. But, obviously, I’m thrilled you liked it so much."
The song, as has the band, has been cemented in musical history as a One Hit Wonder, but is that a term that sits well with you today? "It’s never going to sit well with me. I envisaged a career which would involve several hits and three or four albums at least. Maybe even touring. Within two years of that single, I walked away from my music career frustrated and outraged at the amorality of the music industry. I didn’t even get paid the royalties owed."
"The classic words of the MD were: “Look, Paul, we have the money and you don’t. So just go and make some more records and have some more hits. You’ll get paid in time.” I probably should have. But I was mightily bored with solicitors and contracts and just walked away."
As my UK 7" single of 'Car 67' didn't have a picture sleeve, looking at this Italian copy, what thoughts come to mind about the cover art?! "The picture with the scarf was taken because I was supposed to be anonymous. I was very well known in the music industry, and we wanted the record to make it on its own merits, rather than through favours. And that really worked for us, because the press started speculating as to who it might be. All the guesses were bizarre, but none so bizarre as that Driver 67 was Eric Clapton having a laugh!"
I actually never knew this next thing until I did my research, but is it true that BBC Radio refused to play your follow-up single, 'Headlights' because of its controversial content re: a truck driver menacing a lone girl on an isolated back road?! And why follow up such a fun, light-hearted hit as 'Car 67' with such a darker-toned track anyway? EXCLUSIVE #3 - "'Headlights' was the song that got us through the doors of any record company. We had recorded two other versions (apart from my home demo) before we made that version. And no-one thought it wasn’t going to be a smash. The thing that got in the way of a deal anywhere else was the lack of faith that we would make a truly great album (fair enough; I’d been an A&R man, and those are judgements you have to make)."
"So 'Headlights' as the second single was a pre-planned no-brainer. What we hadn’t bargained on was that the BBC had already labeled us a novelty act. Headlights was at number 75 on the charts when it got its first and only play on Radio 1. The DJ introduced it saying: “If you thought Driver 67 was a one-hit wonder, think again. We’ll be playing this a lot.” After the fade, he came back on and said, “Well, apparently we won’t be playing that again.” And that was the last it was heard."
"I think getting to 75 with no proper promotion says it all. It could have been a big hit. But you can’t gainsay the BBC. Many a career has been trampled under foot on their whim."
As your relationship with your record label, their A&R men, and the record industry in general began to eat away at you, you wrote and recorded the album Hey, Mr. Record Man. A satire based on all the aforementioned, and inclusive of a spoken word playlet in two acts about the end of the world, the last track (about illegal copying of music) addressed the listeners as "you stupid turkeys". The record company subsequently shelved, perhaps even literally buried the album and it ever saw the light of day. So, in the cold light of day today, was that album a good idea to make, do you regret it (and what you said), and has it been so buried all these years that even you don't know where a copy currently resides?! "Actually, Hey Mr Record Man – again – was written before we got the deal, although I have to admit we didn’t play it to any record company! I’d been in and around the music industry for 12 years by that time, and I was pretty cynical. So it wasn’t specifically driven by the 'Car 67' experience."
EXCLUSIVE #4 - "By the way – and I’ve never told anyone this before – the chords of Hey Mr Record Man were based on the chords of The Beatles’ Sexy Sadie. I found it fascinating that John Lennon had written a song where the second chord was just a half-tone down from the first chord. I’d never heard that before, and wanted to see if I could follow suit."
"But you’re right about the playlet at the end. The record company certainly didn’t want that on it; no more than they wanted Hey Mr Record Man to be the opening track."
"But I don’t think they buried it. It certainly got released. I think though, not being a Driver 67 album, and not containing the one hit record, it just had no traction. Mea culpa."
Looking at the cover art for the Hey Mr. Record Man album, what thoughts come to mind about it? Also, was Zorn really throwing that LP at that very moment captured?! The front of the cover doesn’t make a lot of sense without the back cover. On the back cover were a bunch of real life actual ‘record men’, including Dave Dee (yes, he of Dozy, Beaky etc) and A&R men from EMI, April Music and others. And it was to them Pete Zorn was throwing the record. They’re all jumping up trying to catch it – like we were a band everyone wanted and the competition was really hot."
"It was a happy day. I knew all these guys, and once Dave Dee agreed to do it (he was running Warner Records A&R at the time, I think) everyone else just fell in behind."
"The record was, really, being thrown. Whether the one they’re leaping for on the back is the one Pete threw on the front, I couldn’t say. But it was good fun."
Moving on from those days, and after all that "fame" stuff had died off, along with the anger for the industry, what did you get yourself into thereafter? Word has it you imported vintage guitars from the US for a while? "I went back to magazine editing, and quite quickly started publishing my own magazines in the then just emerging video industry. I probably did that for 15 years, and then graduated to consultancy work for other publishers and big retail chains who had their own staff magazines."
"And yes, around 2006 or thereabouts, when the dollar was $2.14 to the £1, I spent a couple of years importing vintage guitars from America. That was such good fun. Imagine, going to America with money in your pocket to buy 100 guitars and get them back to the UK. I played so many great guitars during that period, including Peter Green’s Gold Top Gibson that was sold for $500,000 (but not to me!)."
You came back, as a solo artist, to make new music in 2012 with the album Now That's What I Call Divorce! Obviously "borrowing" the famous Now That's ... series title beginnings, had you actually been going through a divorce at that time, perhaps? "I had had a songwriting block for the best part of 30 years. I would try. Nothing would come. I’d give up again. Then in 2008 I started divorce proceedings just before the banks crashed, and then property prices crashed."
"So we couldn’t sell our house. We had to split it down the middle – I took the top bit. And I got out my Korg SG Grand out of storage, invested in Logic 6 and just stayed up in the attic seeing what would happen."
EXCLUSIVE #5 - "It was unbelievable. I started out with a snippet of a song I’d written 30 years before, Follow Your Dreams, which had been a positive and inspirational song, completely in line with its title. But in this state of divorce and consequent domestic misery, I added the line: “But you have changed my mind”, and the song became something else entirely. “I have always thought, you should follow your dreams. But you have changed my mind”. After that, I couldn’t stop writing!"
EXCLUSIVE #6 - "I deliberately called the album Now That’s What I Call Divorce in the hope that EMI would sue me. It was a marketing play. Instead, they threatened to sue iTunes, who in turn asked my aggregator (the people who get your music out into the digital world) to take it down."
"Hoping to provoke them into a lawsuit, I told Ditto (my aggregator) to tell EMI to “f*ck off”. And guess what? They f*cked off! Bastards! My entire marketing plan down the pan!"
You recorded the entire album at your home, using Logic Pro at the time, so with there hopefully being new music from you sometime soon, will you still be using a newer version of Logic to create it, or has a new digital recording platform beckoned you, perhaps? "I upgrade my Logic every time a new one appears. So I’m now using Logic X. I love it. I tried Cubase in the mid-90s, but I love Macs and I loathe PCs. And Logic, which is now just £150 (the updates used to be double that, at least) is unbelievable value for money."
"There’ll be a new album later this year, probably September. It’s called Driver 67 Is Having The Time Of His Life. Three other albums are waiting to be completed and mixed. So lots more to come from me."
And talking of the current digital age re: music this time, will you simply put any new material out online digitally, with no need for CDs or vinyl pressings any more? I mean, given that vinyl is making a welcome comeback, it would be fun to hear a new album from you on that medium, inclusive of a 2016 version of 'Car 67'! "I don’t have the money to invest in hard copies. I had 500 CDs pressed of Now That’s What I Call Divorce, but it’s vanity really. Something to have in your hand and to show people. But unless you’re huge, or an EDM artist, CDs and vinyl are not where it’s at."
You have a Blog website - Driver67.com - where you not only relate stories of the industry (back then and now), give background on some of your songs, showcase new material, but also passively rant at will (about anything and everything!) What made you create this Blog in the first place and two years on, what have you learnt from it, and the responses that have come in to you from readers / fans? "I started the blog because I knew I was never going to write ‘that book’, you know, the one we’ve all apparently got inside us. So taking a leaf out of Charles Dickens’ and Armistead Maupins’ books, I decided to write it in weekly installments. Seventy five posts later, it is, essentially, a book."
"One of the most important things I’ve learned from the blog is to stop being embarrassed about Car 67. It has been humbling (and I’m not a naturally humble guy!) to discover that I’ve been embarrassed about something for which there is an enormous amount of affection. 600,000+ views on YouTube for a pre-computer era song is a lovely thing to see. So thank you for that, all those who take the trouble."
"But I’ve also discovered that if I post about other stuff – drug legislation, for instance – I get a higher response than for the music posts. And so…."
EXCLUSIVE #7 - "The Driver 67 blog has now migrated to my new magazine blog-site The New Colloquium. It’s a mixture of music, politics, travel, books, television film etc. Just like, erm, a magazine!"
Going off tangent for a second, it seems that you are as MASSIVE a fan of ELO as I am! I know you first saw them with Roy Wood singing at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon (England) in the early 70s, so how did that live experience influence your own musical future? "My biggest influences have been The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Since Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne created ELO in the image of I Am The Walrus, I can’t say they had any influence on me, per se. But they certainly gave me a lot of enjoyment and entertainment."
Also, with regard Wood's ELO vs. Lynne's ELO, which do you still today prefer? Did you ever see Lynne's ELO perform live, perhaps? "I remember absolutely loving the Roy Wood version, to the extent that I thought it was all his. Clearly Jeff Lynne didn’t think so. And who is going to gainsay 'Mr Blue Sky', 'Telephone Line', 'Turn To Stone' or 'Wild West Hero'? Not me, that’s for sure."
"But I was at Wembley for what I think of as the ‘UFO gig’ in 1978. Tony Curtis, coked out of his head, compered, and the fuss and hype of it all was too much for me. It was impressive to see the spacecraft land and open. But it all felt overblown and I left after about three songs!"
"I’d like to see Jeff Lynne now. I think he regrets all that paraphernalia. He’s an honestly great musician and writer – not to mention a fantastic producer. I love his last solo album, Long Wave. We’re lucky to have him."
As for the social media aspects of today’s world re: Twitter and Facebook, how active are you on both? "Not as active as I should be. I have all the accounts, and every new blog I post automatically Facebooks and Tweets etc."
"But I am looking for some internet genius to tell me how to get The New Colloquium out to a big audience. And when I say big, I have The Huffington Post in my sights. Oh yes. Even though Driver 67 turned 67 this year, the fire still burns to make a mark!"
"So if any of your readers are social media geniuses, I’d love to hear from them!"
And finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine LOVE penguins! So, do you yourself have any penguin moments (soft toy or real) that you can talk to us about? "I was in Australia in 2007. I swam with dolphins, I saw the edge of what used to be Antarctica (visit The New Colloquium to read that story) and I climbed a 130 feet tree to skywalk across a forest."
"But still, one of the sweetest memories is of a penguin reserve. I was really surprised how small they were. Having seen King and Emperor Penguins, probably at London Zoo when I was a kid, I expected them to be three to four feet tall. But these little guys were barely 18 inches. My daughter wouldn’t leave until every last person had left, and even then, she wanted to take a penguin with her. Which wouldn’t have been too difficult. We could have fit one in my rucksack!"
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
Driver 67 Music Blog: www.TheNewColloquium.com/category/music
Paul Phillips / Driver 67 @ Facebook
Paul Phillips / Driver 67 @ Twitter
Driver 67 'Car 67' on TOTP @ 1978
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED CD from Paul Phillips, just answer this question about Driver 67: Which of these is the correct way this verse ended - "Controller have mercy on me
I don't wanna do the pick-up at number 83. And the girl of my dreams left me all alone ..."
1) And now I just can't bear to be on my own
2) And number 83 she now calls home
3) And at number 83 is where she made her home
4) And that's where she lives, I've known it all along
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win an AUTOGRAPHED Now That's What I Call Divorce!!! CD from Paul himself! Just send us an e:mail here before August 1st with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: SIGNED PAUL PHILLIPS CDs to: email@example.com