Jeep Solid

Rod Mackenzie has had many nom de plumes over his 7 decades in the music business. We refer to him as the Sun Ra Of Inverness. Because he is. His current moniker is Jeep Solid. First becoming aware of Jeep Solid via LA skate legend Louie Lopez, we soon established he was now a longterm citizen of the fine city of Norwich, where Spoke Records HQ is based, so our paths were due to cross often. A complex character in both spatial compositions and general chit-chat, we thought a segmented interview would be the best way to help you to form your own picture of this genius musician. Enjoy!

Increasingly, it seems, when something matters, some things don’t. Under obsessively compulsive displeasure, then, and the strains of deficient attention, context and subtext become one-and-the-same. I first met Rod Mackenzie over the course of three days in New York City. I didn’t like him straight away, but in order to sustain my purpose, I grew to call him ‘Jerry’ and we got much closer.

From another angle, I’d heard he was doing something recently where he was wearing a cape, and there were like Quines or Loons, with Doric graveyards in gloom, in some dangerous Hamlin north of Here. Better known – as he is today – under the guise of ‘Jeep Solid’, he looked late-50s, with patches on the knees, and a black upside-down petri-dish on his head. It was leather, he wore rose-tints, and I’m sure they called those things “fleece”.

The first impression I got was of a bristling, looming figure. He was strumming a guitar, reductively, and I was late, admittedly. But I’d heard of his powerful magic and learned through the back channels about the salve of delay.

For my part, I tried to make sense of the overall, you know, products of his psyche. His recent social patterns seemed to have blessed him with an un-allowed weirdness. Here was a man whose every utterance – in thrall to the excesses of his past and impenetrable chaos in his poetry – became the answer to the next question.

The furthest I got, after five or six hours of ‘I’ll sit in the corner and continuously lick the edge of my mouth’ looks, was a series of names and seemingly unrelated incidents.

Luckily, my emissary got it down.

His career kicked off in ‘66 upon seeing Johnny Kid & The Pirates, Roy Orbison and the height of The Who. All in the hub of a Highland club called ‘The Two Red Shoes’. He played what the real writers call ‘vintage R&B’, but what our recluse knew only as “Bo Diddly and the drumming Earl of Moray, stringed with violins and pipes in a melancholic lament.”

He later left this band that he’d formed – they were called ‘Size 4’ – when he moved to Edinburgh to join ‘Three’s A Crowd’. The Scottish capital sounds like an amazing place at the time, with nightclubs I’ve never heard of called ‘The Place’ and ‘Top Story’. Rod replaced some guy called ‘Smiggy’, who in-turn joined The Pathfinders, an influence, along with The Miracles, Four Tops, and Marvin Gaye.

He was into Dexedrine by this point too, and marijuana became available, while for the first time, kids didn’t dress like their parents. Rod paid attention to what these bands were doing too; assuming this means he noticed The Who’s amped up toms, or maybe the cut of a jib.

He hit London, where there was a toilet scene involving an invitation to join ‘White Trash’. Actually, no, wait a minute. This turned out to be the second time he went to London. On the first occasion, he went alone, only to swap drugs with Lemmy Kilmister, and there’s some reference here to a “Bum injection of Mephedrone Crystal”.

I didn’t check what that was, but I understand that, while he was a roommate of the Motorhead front man, Rod moved onto other ‘green and clear’ psycho-stimulants, but mainly barbiturates and anti-convulsants.

Back and Forth he returned with his third band, ‘The Grope’, which must have been in the last swing of ’69. Next thing he knew he was whisked to 6 Saville Row, looking every inch the Scottish Mod, with the sharp face and the sharper suit, by his own analysis, and he got poached.

‘The Grope’ consisted of Size Mackay, whom I assume named the band, and Viv Prince, the mentalist drummer thrown out of ‘The Pretty Things’. The Ian’s Cluse and McMillan, Timmy Donald and Ronnie Leigh were in ‘White Trash’ at the time, and it was their combined toilet talking which persuaded Rod into a career move.

White Trash were good enough to get the best of shit. Rod got to handle Lennon’s Rickenbacker, and he remembers Harrison was writing ‘All Things Must Pass’. They would play on Top of the Pops as Hank Marvin’s band, and were guided by Richard DeLillo, Derek Taylor and Tony Meehan.

Dr Roberts was Rod’s Harley Street physician, and his prescriptions were all about slowing him down, and stepping back from the beat. The imported Quaaludes and Ativan were hypnotic and no doubt soothed any lingering anxiety. Soon he was down the Kings Road, learning about explanations and haberdashery.

When Apple folded, White Trash signed to Polydor, and regrouped as ‘Cody’. By this time, Rod had co-written the Double-A side hit, ‘I Belong With You/Wanna Make You Happy’, which is longhand, apparently, for “Stax versus Nashville Skyline”.

Kenny Cooper, an executive from Boston got déjà vu on the back of this buzz, thinking he could get them a deal at Atlantic. So he came to view their demo, Rod alleged, as “the British Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.”

This was at the end of the first day, when we finally got to New York City.

Rod moved into Kenny Cooper’s pad on East 13th Street, around Grammercy Park, I should think, and hung out with the supervixen-sounding Jeanne Talbot and the model, Susan Greenstreet-Slater.

It was here he heard the Everley Brothers on the radio, Bread, Sly & The Family Stone, The Doors, and Badfinger, his old label mates at Apple.

The late-Pete Ham and Tommy Evans had introduced Rod to Todd Lundgren in London, and they would hang out regularly, dining in Chinatown of a Sundays, and compare notes on what it was to be afforded the automaticity of cool on account of being Brits abroad.

He remembers catching the Art Garfunkel age-of-consent movie, ‘Carnal Knowledge’, in-between appearances on the Academy of Music guest lists for The Band and Traffik. He went shopping for Mr Freedom suits in the Village with Chris Wood, the horn player out of the latter. Within the confines of such a life, things couldn’t have been much better.

For Christmas, he recalls only the lights, probably, on Long Island. There’s no mention of The Endicott Hotel, or even the Mercer, but he does remember New Year’s Eve at a lavish Atlantic party somewhere on the Upper East Side. There were speedballs there, lots of Champagne, and impossibly, so was Fellini.

Around that time, Kenny Cooper finally managed to hit-up Rod with that introduction/presentation at Atlantic. The Australian, Phil Carson, was there too, but I guess by then the alchemy told.

Next thing, he’s getting serious with Jeanne, and falling-in with Richard Thomson, Sandy Denny, and Maggie Bell in ‘The Bottom Line’, where I like to think he was working his way up to ‘Nobody’s’ – the place where Susan, in a fit of fortune, would later introduce him to Jerry Nolan and Gregor Leroque.

Jerry and Gregor came to know Rod as ‘Noddy’, which turns out to be his nickname all along. They’d also get him to say “Poodle” because of his grisly brogue, though I don’t see him being anybody’s poodle.

“You know, I think they had the skinny, dope-fiend chic that I recognised as emanating from Biba, back in London. I suppose we were the down brothers; we liked speed as well, but preferred being down and out.

“We only became animated when it came to putting the sting back into R&B, or the ram back into rock – anything rude, artistic, and inventive – as the overall glam-pod wasn’t particularly imaginative.

“I would wear the purple pants, with the satin stripe, and I had these snakeskin boots, with one platform, and this sort of backcombed hair with the tint at the side.”

There, in Bleecker Street, Rod found what he thought was New York’s own take on Kensington Market, only: “more elaborate, less subtle, more satin, less velvet. Gayer, louder, more liberated, moving that way.”

At a stroke, he remembers a policeman stopping him in Saint Marks, smoking a joint and looking for direction.

“Glam was really coming up, and there were a lot of stoned geezers in the Village, all dressed nicely, with the David Copperfield hats, but if you gave them a Les Paul or whatever, they couldn’t do much with it.”

“Like, pretenders? Shysters?” I pushed, “Or bluffers? Fakers?”

“That’s what we were called! What was it you just said?”

“Which, what? Pretenders, shysters, bluffers, fakers?”

“‘Shaker’!” (Not ‘Choker’. Choker was later).

This was at the end of our second day.

Until then, I’d understood that – without a job or contract – he, Nolan, Leroque “and some guy with frizzy hair and this enormous family” had formed ‘Choker’ in the early days of 1972.

“We were going to be called ‘Mick, Spick, Scotty, Paddy, Dick & Woppy’. You know, like ‘Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mitch & Titch’?”

At this point, as a quiet favour to this force of nature, I actually started calling him “Jerry”.

“Jerry was unstoppable; like Ronnie Wood. If he hadn’t made it, he would have killed himself, you know what I’m saying?”

“Well, he is kind of recognised as the first real punk drummer.”

“Really? Well I figured he was going somewhere. I thought he was a good left-handed drummer, and I was a drumming snob. He was going to do something. He would lig, he would fuck, he spoke a million miles an hour, and he had a profile. That’s what they would call it: they’re “profile”.

“Anyway, people liked him, and he and Gregor used to do this gay thing – you know what it’s like. Gregor was this big lank with an Afro. He was Haitian Creole, and really comical. I remember one time he was eating sweet corn and French Fries with some bird called ‘Bethany’, who’d just fucked Bowie, but she was this big dog, fighting girl. Jerry was Irish, obviously, and he was an even bigger pig with women! They quite often took me out of myself.”

The Hispanic (who remains nameless) broke his leg at a ‘Ski-Bees’ gig somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains. It might have been Saint Patrick’s Day because the snow wasn’t white. I say “might”, because it seems like they played there quite a lot, and there’s every chance the curative catalysers – Secanol and Tuinal – were taking effect.

So they retained his equipment, became a threesome, and started rehearsing what he now calls: “Après-Ski Pre-Poodle Glam-Rock” in the Meatpacking District. Often, they would decamp to Jerry’s mum’s house in Queens for tuna sandwiches and home comforts.

“Jerry was the driving force behind what we were trying to do. What it was we were trying to do, I don’t know, but I remember having to get a bus uptown with Gregor’s bass unit, Jerry’s drums, two Fender Amps, and a small PA. We were playing all these upper-middle class ski resorts and getting laid every weekend.

“There was this one time when I was off my tits, staggering about on the edge of a swimming pool, rocking out in the Appalachian’s, without any Earth wire – which is really dangerous – and in hindsight I wasn’t as electrifying as I could have been.

“On paper, I had the beginning of a career, a lovely girlfriend, but when I should have been paying attention to the momentum, I was mashed up on gear. Like as if a beautiful girl would walk by and I’d forget about everything.”

I let my feelings lead me, with not much help from my head, suggesting it must have been masterly, having a great time all of the time, when not even his amies belong more here than him, and it becomes impossible to control, like a sleepwalking phase where he keeps discovering he’s spent part of the night on the carpet at the top of the stairs, lying on his side, clothed. “Probably got disorientated,” the story would go, “on the way back from the toilet.” Only you can’t remember, so you mumble something about being “highly motivated” and spelling effect with a “fucking A”.

At this point of rest, Rod looked at me, blankly. It was now day three.

By now adding The Temptations and Curtis Mayfield numbers to a barely sustainable repertoire, Rod was bent on wholly occupying his persona, becoming consumed by the close harmonics and frothy psychedelics of ‘Magic Garden’, from The Fifth Dimension (Written by Jimmy Webb, he of McArthur/Wichita Line Man credits).

He had been picking out tunes on Jeanne’s brother’s guitar since he got there, but only ever seemed to have money for drugs.

Nevertheless, he does remember moving quickly through a backstage corridor to an audition one day without either: “It was for this guy called Curtis Knight. He was really smarmy, and all over us. He told me not to worry about not having a guitar, because when he’d first met Hendrix, he didn’t have one either.”

“We were going to be his band: ‘The Squires’. He wanted us for a tour of Washington State, but Jerry and Gregor weren’t happy. I remember Gregor saying he’d seen Curtis around town, in some Cadillac. It was yellow or pink, white or pink.

“Jerry was getting really animated as Gregor filled in the details, because what they came to, and what I overheard, was that Curtis Knight was hooked up with some bad people. They worked out he was a pimp. He also had a hell of a lot of this horrible, gaudy jewellery, and a ten-gallon cowboy hat, which was black with braids in it. Something really fancy. He was bling as fuck, come to think of it, and he had a big Cadillac.”

“We might have had fuck-all, but we still told Curtis Knight to ‘Fuck Off!’ Everyone was getting really feared up, but me, Jerry and Gregor weren’t having any of it. It was a statement of morality though. So we didn’t go. Then with my Visa and the birth of my son back in England, I had to come home.”

Rod would go on to form ‘Choker’, with his old friends Jimmy Bain and Smiggy from Three’s A Crowd. Choker nearly signed a deal with Don Morris, but Rod got luckier with Victoria Burgoyne, a Pirelli Calendar model and sometime actress, with whom he moved in with in Epping Forest. He became a regular visitor to 11 Downing Street – even getting caught up in a tabloid scandal – as Bain was dating the daughter of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. After the demise of Choker, Rod moved into a flat with Tommy Evans from Badfinger, and the rest of the decade remains a cautionary blur.

Fair enough, I registered, but what about Jerry?

The route to an answer may lie with the Mackenzie clan motto; he seemed to have in him enough of the family code: “I shine, not burn.” At first I thought this was a take on John Giorno’s book of a similar name, but it transpires to be his station-in-life apercus: a pledge of sincerity, justice, and faith.

“I was a honorary guest for a Dolls show at Biba, sometime later. But the last time I saw Jerry was in 1977, on Kensington Church Street.” In a pretence of infantile ribaldry, Jerry had said something like, ‘You look fucking awful, man, you need to lose some weight!’ but then as Rod remembers to this day, Jerry was always on about the profile, and such is the comme il faut wit of fate.

With thanks to Rod Mackenzie and Scott MacDonald.