The Popdose Interview: Peter Beckett of Player
Remember the band Player? Sure you do…and even if you think you don’t, it’ll only take three words to remind you who they are: “Baby Come Back.” That’s not by any means to suggest that there’s no more to the band than their biggest hit, mind you: they released four albums during their original run during the late ’70s and early ’80s, and despite regular claims to the contrary by the misinformed, they actually had two – count ‘em – TWO top-10 hits (the other being “This Time I’m In It For Love”), and although the band’s line-up has fluctuated over the years, Player continues to reform on occasion for live dates and, believe it or not, even has a new album: Too Many Reasons, released on Frontiers Records. Popdose was fortunate enough to chat with frontman Peter Beckett about the band’s reemergence, along with a deep discussion of his past musical endeavors, including stories about opening for Jimi Hendrix and The Who, co-writing an Olivia Newton-John classic, and more.
Popdose: You and Ronn Moss have kept in touch and even played together over the years, but what made you decide to revive Player to record a new studio album?
Peter Beckett: I actually was in the middle of a totally different project. I have an English country band that I’ve been working on called the Limey Cowboys, and…it’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing. Good country songs, but the album would be called, like, No Threat to Nashville. Just a bunch of English guys playing country. And I had six songs recorded and was just forging ahead with it—I was about to shoot a video—and Wayne Nelson from Little River Band, who I used to be with for eight years, he called me and said, “Frontiers Records want us to do an album,” and they wanted me to write with them. And that went on, and as I started sending Frontiers songs, it turned into them saying, “We’d like you to do a Player album.” So I dropped the Limey Cowboys thing and jumped into the Player thing. By then, I’d already spent several months on it and had half the songs already, so I went into the studio, and…it was pretty quick. It was done in about six weeks, I guess. Now I just need to get back to the Limey Cowboys! [Laughs.]
When you went in to record the album, did you have to get back into the Player mindset, try to recapture the Player sound, etcetera, or did you just go in there and…
Well, you know, I’ve always…I’ve been writing constantly throughout the years, and even when I was writing for other people, I was still writing in my own style. So everything I do, unless it’s a specific style that’s been requested for a movie or TV thing I’ve done or something, all of the songs that have come out of me are still very much me: they’re usually three-part harmony and pretty melodic. Six or so of the songs had been sitting around for a few years, and then I wrote a few new ones, a couple of up-tempo ones. I know where you’re going with this. You’re going to say it’s very eclectic. [Laughs.] A bit of this, a bit of that. And you’re right. But the original Player stuff was like that, too.
That eclectic-ness, if that’s the right word, has always bothered me a little bit, but that’s me. That’s what I do. I don’t know if it comes from writing for movies and stuff, because I get to write such a variety of stuff. I mean, I’ve got rap tunes, metal songs… [Laughs.] So I do a little bit of everything, and I guess that when it comes to doing my own thing, it’s in there, too. There’s a bit of everything. And like I said, it used to worry me, but…the Beatles were like that, man. Look at The White Album compared to Rubber Soul. The Beatles didn’t worry too much about what style they were writing in at any given time. So I’ve let it go.
That ties into something I was going to ask you, actually. You’re from Liverpool originally, and the word on the street is that you kind of saw the light as far as pursuing a career in rock ‘n’ roll after seeing the Beatles perform at the Cavern Club.
Yep. Pretty much. [Laughs.] Yeah, my brother took me in there—I was too young to go, but he knew one of the bouncers—for a lunchtime session for the office workers in the city. He took me down, and I just went, “Oh, my God…” I was only 15 or 16, something like that. It was so hot, and so freaking loud and so smelly. I mean, it was a combination of beer and piss, to be honest with you, and the loudest music I’d ever heard in my life. But I was just, like, “Oh, my God, I’ve got to do this! I’ve got to do this!” And that was it for me, pretty much.
I know that one of your earliest bands was The Thoughts. Was it the first?
Yeah, The Thoughts, in Liverpool. That was actually my first pro band. I was only 17 or so.
At one point they were called Tiffany and the Thoughts, but it was in the post-Tiffany era when you recorded the single, “All Night Stand,” written by Ray Davies.
That’s right, yeah. I had a job, the first one I’d ever had in my life, and I think the only one, if my memory serves me well…which it doesn’t! [Laughs.] But I had a job at CottonEx (Liverpool Cotton Exchange) when I was a young kid, and I met this Phil Boardman guy, who was about a year older than me. He’d been given the job of putting this backing band together for a singer named Tiffany, and he wanted me in the band. So I left that job and…well, that was it! That became a touring band. We were touring all over England and Scotland.
And when we left Tiffany, we started touring all the same places the Beatles had done. We did the one-month Hamburg stints on the Reeperbahn, and we started doing the Frankfurt and Cologne Storyville Clubs, where you’d go away for a whole month and you’d all sleep in one room and play five one-hour sets every night. If I tried to do that now, I’d be dead. [Laughs.] But in those days, I was a kid. And it was the most exciting thing in the world.
How did The Thoughts come to record “All Night Stand”? Did you travel in the same circles as The Kinks, or was it just the connection that Shel Talmy also produced your single?
Pretty much that, yeah. We moved down to London for awhile, and we were just…y’know, so many bands were literally sleeping on the park benches and getting together in the pubs at night and playing, trying to get a gig here and there. It was pretty rough. But we got tied up with a guy named Tony Stratton-Smith, and he knew Shel Talmy, so we… [Hesitates.] I can’t remember which came first, if it was that record or the night we did at the Saville Theater for Brian Epstein. I think we’d already recorded “All Night Stand” for Shel Talmy, and then we were asked to go on and open up the show.
It was the first show at the Saville on Shaftsbury Avenue…and this is history right here. We opened up the show and, uh, hardly impressed anybody. [Laughs.] But (Paul) McCartney was in the second row. And then a band called the Koobas, also from Liverpool and who Stratton-Smith also managed, were on after us. And then (Jimi) Hendrix was on, and then The Who topped the bill. No one had seen Hendrix. He’d only just been playing around the clubs in London, like the Speakeasy and all.
I remember standing in the wings, and (Roger) Daltrey and (Pete) Townshend were in front of me and were watching Hendrix kneel down on his guitar and set light to it and proceed to screw it. And I just remember it ‘cause…Townshend, y’know, invented all the breaking-the-guitar stuff and all that, and I remember Townshend and Daltrey just looking at each other, going, “Holy crap!” Everybody was just amazed. That was a pretty historic thing for The Thoughts to be on. Because The Thoughts did precious little else. [Laughs.] But it was quite a night!
After The Thoughts, you made the rounds in the line-up of a few other bands, working with a fellow named Winston Gork for a bit.
Yeah, that was my next band after The Thoughts. They were a London band, Winston G, but their name changed quite a few times. I joined when they were Winston G, then we changed the name to Fox, then we changed it to The Whip and did a few tours around Germany and stuff like that. But that only lasted for about a year. I was playing bass, too. I hadn’t played bass before in my life! Not at that stage. But I’ll play anything to get a gig. [Laughs.]
That’s how I ended up in Paladin, actually. I’d only played bass in that Winston G band, and I wasn’t really a great bass player, but Pete Solley and Keith Webb had just come off the Rolling Stones’ tour of America—they were with Terry Reid, but they’d left him—and were forming a new band. I was in the Speakeasy when I was introduced to Keith Webb, the drummer, and he said, “We’re forming this new band. We hear you’re a bass player.” And I said, “Yep, that’s me!” [Laughs.] And I ended up going and auditioning for the band up in the country, in Gloucestershire, where they had this castle. And I got the gig, God knows how, and played bass for Paladin for a couple of years. And I’ve never played bass again after that!
Paladin’s kind of an anomaly for you, in that they had a prog sound moreso than the pop-rock that you tend toward.
Yeah, it was a mixture. A bit of jazz fusion, a bit of rock ‘n’ roll. All sorts of eclecticism. But we used to do the university circuit, and Paladin was a headlining band in England. We did two albums together. They were great lads. I really loved it. And then after we split up, I was writing with a guy named Steve Kipner, who’s still a great writer. He’s written a million hits. But we used to just drink together and write songs in London, and he came to L.A. to join a band called Friends, and Michael Lloyd, the producer, left the band, so Steve called me in London and said, “Why don’t you come over to L.A. and join this band I’m in? We’ll take care of you, we’ll give you all this money, all you have to do is lie in the sun and write songs.” And I was just, like, “Oh, my God, that sounds good.” [Laughs.] Because it was winter in England! So I flew over…and I’ve been here ever since!
So where does your brief stint with Kipner and Tin Tin fall into the timeline?
That was in England. And that was just a short-lived thing. That’s the stuff I was writing with Kipner when we were drinking. [Laughs.] Then I came over here L.A., and Friends kind of evolved into Skyband. We did one album as Skyband on RCA. And then over a period of time, Skyband more or less grew into Player.
I haven’t heard much by Skyband, but there’s at least one song on YouTube: “Bang! Ooh! You Got Me!”
Yeah. A very poppy band, Skyband. But you’ve got to realize, I came straight over from London, where I was in a progressive band, I had greasy hair down to my ass and a big beard, and I was overweight. And then I got to L.A., where I got a fuzzy little haircut, got tan, lost about 20 pounds, and thought I was God’s gift to women. [Laughs.] And it wasn’t long after that that Player got started.
So how did the original line-up of Player—you, Ronn, J.C. Crowley, and John Friesen—come together?
That’s a quick one. Because Skyband went to England…we had this album out on RCA, so we went to England and toured with, of all people, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who were, like, the hottest band at the time. 99.9% male audience, though. Beer-drinking males, fighting…just a full-on thing. And Skyband was nothing like that. We were this little surf band from California. So we went and did this tour of England, these tan guys, and we were getting bottles thrown at us every night and being booed off the stage. Horrible tour. Towards the end of it, though, it got better because we changed things up. But when I came home to L.A., the management said, “You guys suck, and we don’t want you anymore.” [Laughs.]
So I was out of work and out of money, and over the next few months, I started writing songs, and I ran into J.C. Crowley, an excellent guy, at a party. And we kind of said, “Let’s get together and write some songs,” because we got on well, so we did that. And then we met Paul Palmer and Mark Roswell, who became our managers, and they brought on Ronn and John, who were friends and had played together a whole lot. And that was Player. And then we started writing, and we got turned down by a lot of labels until we came up with “Baby Come Back.” And then we got a lot of offers. [Laughs.]
“Baby Come Back” is obviously the most recognizable track on Player’s self-titled debut, but it’s surrounded by plenty more smooth, catchy pop-rock.
Yeah, but, y’know, it’s just what we had. It’s what Crowley and I came up with. Once we had a handful of songs, we started shopping them around and doing showcases, and once we had the deal, they pretty much let us do whatever we wanted to do. They just said, “Go ahead and write the rest of the album.” But I think that’s because they pretty much knew they had a hit in hand by that point. It’s always nice to know you’ve got a hit before you’ve ever finished the album.
Not that you can ever really predict these things, but did you yourself sense you might have a hit on your hands when you wrote “Baby Come Back”?
I did, actually. I wrote it with Crowley, and I think the minute we wrote it we knew we had something, because we liked playing it. I remember doing these showcases in Hollywood at, like, the SAR Studios and stuff, and I remember once, very cockily, when we had a whole bunch of record executives in the back, we didn’t have a deal yet, and we did a handful of songs, then I said, “I’d like to play you our first number one record,” and we played “Baby Come Back.” Of course, everyone sniggered when I said it, but then we belted it out, and it felt great. I dunno, there was just some magic there. Everybody kind of knew. We didn’t know it’d really be number one, but… Anyway, from there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the rest.
Player opened for everybody from Gino Vannelli to Eric Clapton during the band’s heyday. What do you recollect from the band’s days as road warriors?
Well, y’know, I’d been in a ton of bands in England, doing this my whole life, but the rest of the guys…I don’t know how much they’d done. But we were rehearsing in a place in Studio City, and our manager came running in and said, “Your record’s at #80 on Billboard,” which…that was just ridiculous. We were, like, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” And then as it started climbing, they put us on a tour with Gino Vannelli, and we did a few gigs with him. And as it kept climbing, we were plucked off of that and put on Boz Scaggs’ tour for Silk Degrees, and we hit #1 on that tour. So we did the whole Silk Degrees tour. And then when that was over, the album had gone platinum, and we had the dubious job of trying to come up with another album. [Laughs.]
So we were writing the second album (Danger Zone) in the same vein as the first, but then we were told we were going to be doing an Eric Clapton tour, because he was on the same record label, RSO. And again we thought, “Oh, my God!” I’d seen Cream in England, and I think my band played with them a few times, so I knew what it was going to be like. Anyway, knowing that, the writing of the album changed, and we started writing a few harder songs, like “Silver Lining.” So when we did the Slow Hand tour, it went great. Then after that, we did Heart’s “Dog and Butterfly” tour. These were all arena tours. We did very few small gigs. We did a few headlining things as Player, but mostly we did these big tours. And then we did a tour opening for Kenny Loggins…and that was the end of the band, basically.
Yeah, I was wondering if you could offer a little insight into the supposedly infamous gig Player did at the Coconut Grove, which was apparently the last show of the original lineup.
Oh, yeah, the Coconut Grove show. [Laughs.] I’ll tell you straight, it was those days: everywhere you turned, there was a coke spoon up a nose, and some of us, y’know, took it to heart a little more than others. And a couple of the guys in the band hit it hard and started to really screw things up, and I just got really P.O.’ed. And on the last gig of that Loggins tour, I’d had it. I just called our manager from the hotel, I’d just had a big fight with two of the guys, and…y’know, if it wasn’t great, if the band didn’t sound great for whatever reason, I was the guy who’d get upset. So I was upset that night. And I’d just had it, y’know? I didn’t want to be with these guys anymore. So I called Paul Palmer and I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m leaving the band.” And that was that. And then the rest of the band tried to get a record deal without me and was unsuccessful. And then after, like, a few months, I grabbed Ronn Moss and John Friese, got a couple of new guys, and we did another couple of albums as Player.
So was there any further relationship with J.C. after that? Did you ever rekindle the relationship?
Well, we were a little bit ginger with each other, y’know? We didn’t see each other much. We’ve gotten to be much friendlier over the years, because we’re older now, and when we talk about those times now, they sound like a lot of fun. [Laughs.] They weren’t then, but you talk about them now and it’s, like, “Ah, you remember those days?” And it’s great. So, no, we didn’t speak for awhile, but we talk all the time now. We have a lot of stuff going on with the old material, so we have to discuss a lot of contracts, licensing for movies or whatever.
Oh, well, with all of the old Player albums or anything else, I’m my own worst critic, I’ve got to tell you. [Laughs.] As soon as I finish something, I hate it. If I spent 10 years on it, I’d still be saying, “Oh, I should’ve fixed this, I should’ve changed that.” So I’m never really happy with anything. At some stage of the game, every time, I just have to say, “I’ve really just got to let it go.” So I listen to those things, and some of it sounds really good to me, and some of it I can hear things that make me go, “Oh, God, I should’ve spent more time on that…” But I’ll always be like that. I’ve been writing a book for 15 years, for God’s sakes, and I still haven’t finished it!
You’ve done a fair amount of songwriting for other artists, and damned if my favorite isn’t “Twist of Fate,” which you wrote with Steve Kipner for Olivia Newton-John. It’s just such a definitively ‘80s single.[Laughs.] Absolutely, yeah. And you know why? Because it was David Foster. That was his heyday. He worked on everything. But we actually do that song on stage now, in our current Player set. It’s like the fourth or fifth song in the set, and it kicks butt. I mean, she did a great job, very poppy, but when we do it, it kicks butt. We don’t have all the little techno stuff going on in there. It’s actually a really good song.
Do you still keep in touch with Kipner?
Not so much lately. As I said, we basically came to American together, albeit a few weeks apart, and started out here together, and through the years we’ve written a ton of songs together, but we’ve kind of drifted a little the last few years. The last time I saw him was at his dad’s funeral, two or three years ago. His dad’s Nat Kipner, who was also a prominent figure in the Bee Gees’ story. Steve spends a lot of time in England now. He’s got a place in England, he’s got his own record label over there (Phonogenic), and he’s obviously had a few hits on it, so he spends a lot of time in England. So, no, I really don’t see him much at all anymore. But it’s not that we had a falling-out. It’s just…that happens. Things just kind of fizzle. It’s weird.
The first Think Out Loud album received a reissue a few years ago.[Shocked.] It got a reissue?
Well, in 2009, anyway.
I don’t even own a copy! [Laughs.] I’ll have to get one! We did two albums, but the first one was really outstanding. We had a really big budget for it, and we had Humberto Garcia and David Foster involved. It cost a lot of money, that album, but people said…it was really critically acclaimed, because it was just the start of everybody getting digital and doing everything on sampled sounds and everything. Everybody was, like, “Omigod, this is so ahead of its time!” Of course, there wasn’t a hit to be found on it… But I don’t even own it! I’d love to get a copy. I’ll have to find it. The second one we did (Shelf Life), we basically got offered this deal to just take the best of our demos, so there was very little on there that we wrote together. In fact, I think it was just six of his songs and six of mine, and we stuck ‘em together, did a video, and that was the end of that.
You’ve also done a great deal of session work over the years, but I think it’s astonishing that, over the course of a two-year period in the ‘80s, you worked with the Commodores, Comsat Angels, and Kenny Rogers.
And more than that! [Laughs.] It’s funny, I just saw Mickey Thomas a few months ago, and we were talking about the old days, when…I sang on two or three songs on Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla album, standing ‘round the mike with him, the drummer, and Grace (Slick). It was just such a crack-up. We could barely even sing, everybody was just having so good a time. I won’t say why…but it was really funny!
Have you ever found yourself on a session with someone who didn’t know the details of your background and suddenly realized, “Oh, my God, you were in Player”?
I don’t really think so. I mean, whether I’m writing with somebody or just doing a vocal thing…I generally get hired for vocal sessions, and the people tend to know who I am, because they’re going to be paying me. [Laughs.] It’s not like they’re going to be paying me 50 bucks. There’s a cost involved, and the reason they tend to hire me is because of what I’ve sung in the past.
Fair enough. I didn’t know there might’ve been a case where a producer or someone brought you in, with the artist just kind of going with the flow, and then realized after the fact who you were.
I don’t think so. I can’t recall an occasion where I didn’t know the person who I was working with or they didn’t know who I was. Not if they’re paying you. [Laughs.] It’s a need-to-know situation when they’re paying out the big bucks!
Lastly, do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on over the years, either one of your own, or in a guest capacity?
You know, I’ll tell you, my favorite album I’ve ever done is my solo album, which I did on Curb Records back in 1991. But I say that song-wise, because…well, it was 1991. [Laughs.] I mean, the production…there’s so much reverb on it. It was the days of big ballads, booming reverb, big drums, and the whole thing. I love the songs on that album, though, and we actually do three or four of them in the Player set still, believe it or not, including “My Religion.”
I may be one of the few people who thought of your cover of “Brother Louie” the first time I saw Louie on FX.[Laughs.] I thought I did a real good job on that cover, actually! But, you know, as much as I love the songs, it’s hard for me to listen to that album because of the production. It’s all echo-y. It drives me crazy. But I’m possibly going to do another album, only the second one I’ve ever done, for Frontiers Records, the label we’re on now. I’ve actually just started putting it together. I’ve started writing with Steve Plunkett from Autograph, who wrote half the songs on this new Player album, and I’m really gonna take my time on it and make it something to be reckoned with…’cause I’ll probably never do it again! The songs on the last one were really good, though. In fact, it was just reissued in Europe on AOR Heaven. So that’s what I’d like to do…after I’ve finished this Limey Cowboys thing!
How did the collaboration with Steve Plunkett come about? It seems so odd to imagine someone from Autograph writing with someone from Player.
Well, yeah, all of the heavier songs…Steve writes a lot of light stuff, too, but we’ve written together for, like, 20 years now, and we’ve been bunches of things in movies. We had the main song in Rock Star, in fact: “Livin’ the Life.” That’s a great metal songs. Things like “Too Many Reasons,” “Man on Fire,” and “Life in Color” I wrote myself, but some of the harder stuff on this album I wrote with Plunkett. We write together great. It’s a really easy process. But I did write a lot of stuff on this album by myself, so some of it’s just by me.
Lastly, Player’s touring behind this new record. You’ve talked a bit about songs from other eras of your career that turn up, but how does the Player side of the set list shape up? Is it spread pretty evenly throughout all of the albums, or is it mostly the singles?
It’s pretty spread out. Obviously we do “Baby Come Back” and “This Time I’m In It for Love,” we do some stuff from my solo album, and we do songs from the new record. We do about a 90-minute set, and it’s got a bit of everything in it. We actually throw in a couple of covers these days. We do “How Long (Has This Been Going On),” because it’s one of my favorite songs ever. So…it’s a good set. And we’ve got the best band we’ve ever had. I’ve been with these guys for about five years, and they kick ass. They’re great musicians. And beyond our shows, we’re gonna be doing a series of shows in sheds around the country with Bobby Kimball, Christopher Cross, and two or three other names from the period. I think Orleans may be on it, too. We’re looking forward to it!