One afternoon in San Francisco, during a period when the band was “on hiatus”, Chuck invited me down to his basement, our rehearsal room, to preview a piece he had been working on. He had been fairly obsessed with first his set of bells and later with his vibraphone which he had purchased from Tower of Power’s David Garibaldi.
Up to that point, it had never been like Chuck to actually practice an instrument. His guitar had always served a utilitarian function once Chuck had a few chords together and his famous double time strumming pattern. “My guitar’s a drum with strings” he said often enough. But the vibes were different and Chuck worked out melodies and arpeggios that he practiced over and over.
Once we were based out of San Francisco, the first big change in Chuck’s songwriting was the frequent use of composed riffs. Prior to that, G. Elwyn would often plug in Chuck Berry-style licks that Chuck would soon regard as integral to the song.
The first song I remember Chuck writing with a composed riff was called “Go Away, Marie” which exists on a very early demo tape somewhere. That was soon followed by a pair of classic songs “Kojak Chair” and “Talk to Me”. Kojak Chair was also the first instance where Chuck devoted a portion of the song to spoken words.
He expanded on that with the song “Solid! Behind the Times”. Having come up with the guitar riff based on Chuck’s glottal-stop vocal suggestions, “Solid!” was the only instance where Chuck gave me co-writing credit. “Solid!” included a reference to “cream-of-the-only-hat-that-ever-fit-me soup” which came from an exchange Chuck had had with Brad Fox. At the time, Brad was never seen without this ugly brown knitted cap of his. One day Chuck snatched it off his head and refused to give it back.
Brad: Hey! That’s the only hat that ever fit me!
Chuck: I’m gonna make cream-of-the-only-hat-that-ever-fit-me soup out of it…
Back in the basement, Chuck began to play a funny riff over and over on the vibes. He explained that the riff was the entire song and that everyone would play it. Over it, he would recite pages of words. The song was called “I’m Considering a Move to Memphis”. The first time Chuck was able to get everyone together to play the song, he received less than unanimous support from his bandmates. We all thought he was crazy. This had to be just some odd ball phase of his.
Little did we know this would be the song that roughly five years later would catch the ear of John Peel on BBC1 and begin our three tour relationship with the England.