By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Meet Roy Young, the patron saint of anyone who has ever turned down a job and lived to regret it.
"Every night before I go to bed, I go into my bathroom and hit my head against the wall ten times," sighs the congenial midfiftyish Englishman with the sand-colored beard and the mellifluous speaking voice.
At first you might be tempted to console him: "Come on, Roy, no job is worth it." But when he tells you the assignment he rejected, you will experience a quick change of heart. You will think to yourself, "Why stop at ten?" Because if Roy Young had arrived at that old fork in the road and chosen the other path, he would not be living in a rented apartment in Kendall today, and he would not be lamenting the fact that his band can't land a gig on South Beach. His life would be dramatically different. Because if Roy had said yes, his co-workers would have been four guys from Liverpool named John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Roy Young turned down the Beatles.
It was late spring 1962. Young was jamming with the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and drummer Pete Best) at the storied Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, a few weeks before the quartet (with Ringo replacing Best) would return to England and audition for producer George Martin. "Brian Epstein came to me one night at the Star Club when I had just come off-stage," recalls Young, referring to the not-quite-yet-Fab Four's manager. "He said 'the lads' A he always called the Beatles 'the lads' A 'the lads have asked me to ask you would you join them and go back to England?' And I declined."
Today, 33 years later, Young smiles ruefully at the memory as he recounts the tale between forkfuls of takeout Chinese food. Clad in a black warm-up suit, well-worn tennis shoes, and a gray cap resting atop his medium-length, blondish hair, Young looks like a colorful character, but not much like a rock star. He smiles too easily for one thing. He greets you, engages you in pleasant chitchat, listens carefully to your boring stories, drinks moderately (two beers over five hours), and generally conducts himself far too amicably even to approach the strutting, preening, attitude-radiating stereotype. Roy Young immediately impresses you as a regular guy.
Maybe that's part of his problem. Miami always has bent over backward for flashy flimflam artists and showy one-hit wonders. Shameless self-promotion is as respected an art form here as flamenco is in Spain. If you don't toot your own horn, you don't get noticed. And Roy Young never has been good at making noise unless he's got a piano and a microphone in front of him.
Until recently he didn't need to. When the Sixties dawned, he was widely known as "England's Little Richard," idolized by future rock leviathans such as McCartney, Lennon, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Mick Jagger, all of whom caught his impassioned piano playing and soulful vocals on British TV. A decade later, he had budding recording and movie careers and was one of Europe's most galvanizing live performers. Throughout the Seventies he recorded with the Stones, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, and the Who's John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey, among others. In the Eighties, he barnstormed the U.S. and Canada, and toured with former Mott the Hoople front man Ian Hunter.
But Miami in the Nineties has been an entirely different story. Since first relocating to South Florida three years ago, Roy Young has been stuck in a holding pattern. He has assembled a crack six-piece band and is chomping at the bit to show his adopted hometown what he can do. All he wants is a shot. "Give me two nights," he promises, "and by the third night people will be lined up outside your door." But area live-music club owners don't want to take a chance on him. They've heard it all before. They've listened to similar pitches from dozens of b.s. artists and no-talents with big egos. If nobody else down here has heard of Roy Young, the logic goes, he must not be any good. Let someone else take the chance first.
And so Roy Young can't land a date in Miami for a kick-ass band about to fly to Hamburg for a headlining gig at a big Star Club reunion show. (April 13 marked the club's 33rd anniversary; the 1962 opening-night roster featured Young and the Beatles.) Paul will be there. And Ringo. And probably George. They'll slap Roy Young on the back and talk over old times. Reporters from newspapers and television stations in England and Germany will interview him. He'll regale them with anecdotes, telling them about the time those wacky Beatles forced him to drive them to the beach in his brand-new convertible in March and cavort in the freezing cold surf with all his clothes on while John snuck back to the car and attempted to drive it into the ocean. Or the time John walked on stage with a toilet seat around his neck and the club owner didn't like it and fired the band and Paul started crying because he'd just borrowed money from his father to buy a secondhand car and wouldn't be able to pay back his old man. Or Lennon's quaint habit of trying to spit chewing gum onto the tip of Young's nose when they shared a microphone. Or the time Young almost got David Bowie killed. Or the time Jeff Beck kidnapped Young. Maybe, for emphasis, he'll even show off the impressive 22-karat gold bracelet presented to him in 1962 by Star Club owner Manfred Weissleder. But you can bet that if they ask him about Miami, he won't have much to say.
Roy Young was born in the Bow Bells section of London. (Accepted English wisdom says that if you're born within the sound of the Bow Bells, you're a true cockney.) His father was a carpenter, his mother a hotel worker and avid musician who played piano A black keys only A and sang in the pubs around the college town of Oxford, where Roy grew up. Mrs. Young's piano playing rubbed off on her son, although Roy took a liking to boogie-woogie, which necessitated his learning how to use the white keys as well as the black ones. From the moment he saw the movie Blackboard Jungle in 1955 and heard Bill Haley and His Comets singing "Rock Around the Clock," Roy Young knew that rock and roll was his immediate future. (Like almost everyone else at the time, however, he assumed rock was a fad that would die out in a year or two. But he wanted to ride that trend while it lasted.)
Young quickly made a name for himself as an enthusiastic performer. His musical skill was limited A he played and sang everything in the key of C because that was the only one he knew A but he performed with conviction. Then one day he accidentally started playing a song without looking down at the keyboard, and his hands were improperly positioned. He was in the wrong key (F). Nothing to do but stretch his voice to match it. To Roy's and everyone else's amazement, he sounded great. And just like that, England's Little Richard was born. His unique talent made him the principal attraction on a spate of half-hour television shows airing throughout Britain that featured live-in-the-studio performances by homegrown rock and roll bands as well as raveups by visiting American stars such as Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry. Roy Young became a hero to legions of adolescent Brits.
Like McCartney, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Jeff Beck (all of whom have confided similar experiences to Roy), long-time Young admirer and fellow pianist Ian Hunter first encountered England's Little Richard on TV. "When I was a kid they used to have these half-hour TV shows," remembers Hunter, approximately a half-dozen years Young's junior. "Ready, Steady, Go! Oh Boy! A I remember watching this guy [Young] who looked totally bewildered, just sort of hammering on the piano and singing just like Little Richard. I even went to Oxford once, walkin' around the streets, lookin' for 'im. I just thought this guy was incredible."
Hunter remembers being awestruck the first time he heard Young sing. "That ability to sort of wobble in tune, that breakdown at the end of a line A there's only one guy in the world other than Roy that can do it, and that's Little Richard," states Hunter flatly. "Even he [Young] doesn't know quite how he does it. But he does it better than McCartney could do it, better than Lennon could do it. People tried. But Roy was the only guy who could do that. We couldn't believe a white guy could do it, let alone English."
Dave McAleer, U.K. rock and pop music journalist and author of The Fab British Rock 'n' Roll Invasion of 1964 and NME Rock 'n' Roll Years, also recalls Young from that time. "I was a fan," McAleer allows. "When he first started, he was our Little Richard. He looked like a madman. He'd stand up playing the piano and screaming his tunes out A he really looked like he believed in what he was doing. You thought, 'Yeah, this is the real thing,' unlike 90 percent of the other British artists."
So by the time Brian Epstein broached the subject of Young's joining "the lads" and going back to England to record, Young had a tough decision to make. He already was something of a legend along the Reeperbahn, a seedy stretch of real estate in Hamburg known for its teeming nightlife and burgeoning red-light district. He had a three-year contract at the Star Club, the hub of Hamburg's bustling rock scene, and could share the stage there with anyone his heart desired, including the Beatles.
Young sensed that there was something extraordinary about Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Best (Ringo still labored in the Star Combo, the Star Club's house band, whose members A Young, Tony Sheridan, and Colin Valanda A first had appeared together at the Top Ten club as members of the Beat Brothers, whose changeable lineup occasionally included the Beatles). But after thinking it over for a day, Young concluded the Star Club gig was just too good to pass up for an uncertain future with Epstein's charges.
"I was still under a three-year contract [at the Star Club], and I felt obligated to finish it out," he explains now. "I knew that the Beatles were obviously something special, but I don't think that anybody at that time anticipated they would get that big. You hear people today who say, 'Of course they would be.' At this point it's implanted. But I don't think anybody realized back then, including the Beatles themselves."
Horst Fascher, who managed the Star Club at the time and who was one of the Beatles biggest boosters during their Hamburg days, concurs. "The last time John Lennon left Hamburg," Fascher recollects with a laugh, "in the spring of 1962, he said to me, 'The next time we come back here, you'll have to roll out the red carpet for us.' I said, 'Fuck you, red carpet.' No one could imagine what would happen."
The magnitude of their success was more than the Beatles could fathom. "I can go back to when Ringo said to me, 'You know what, man, this is incredible A I'm going to be able to buy two hairdressing salons,'" Young illustrates. "That was a big deal to him. No one anticipated what would happen. So I knew there was something special, but for some reason I declined, and Ringo, who was our [the Beat Brothers'] drummer at the time, went back to London with them. And then of course I just saw this thing, just an explosion. It freaked me out, to say the least."
Even today, 33 years after he turned down Epstein's offer to make it a Fab Five, Young has not come to terms completely with his fateful decision. He doesn't really bang his head on the wall every night. But it rankles him that he has been, in his words, "written out of history." Any self-respecting Beatlemaniac can tell you about Pete Best; and now, thanks to the 1993 film Backbeat, even casual fans of the moptops know the tragic story of the group's original bassist, Stu Sutcliffe. But few know how close the world came to seeing a beaming, pompadoured Roy Young tickling the ivories for the Liverpudlians on The Ed Sullivan Show.
"Paul always wanted me to be a part of the band because I sounded like Little Richard," claims Young, who, off-stage, looks and sounds more like a mild-mannered, middle-age British schoolteacher than a howlin', wailin', piano-bangin' fool.
But Dave McAleer takes Young's story with a grain of salt. "I hadn't heard that," he notes. "Of the timing, he'd be there at the right time. But you couldn't see it being a plus [for the Beatles]. Perhaps, musically, but you wouldn't have him on-stage with them because he was a couple years their senior and had been around. It might just be the sort of story he likes to tell, because he was there at the time."
But Star Club manager Horst Fascher emphatically endorses Young's assertion. "I was there that day when Brian Epstein asked Roy Young to go back to England with the Beatles," Fascher testifies. "They were only a guitar band and they were thinking to add a keyboard player to make a fuller sound."
While Young does not know McAleer, he has heard such skepticism before. It makes him all the more eager to set the record straight about who ruled the Reeperbahn during the glory days. "I was the one who pioneered all that," claims Young. "I was at the Top Ten Club [a converted strip bar that was Hamburg's most popular rock music club] when Manfred Weissleder, a very wealthy man who owned most of the Reeperbahn, came to me and said, 'Roy, I'd love for you to come over. I'm gonna start a nightclub [the Star Club] and I'd like you to come over and run it for me.' Book all the artists, play there, whatever. He said, 'Money's no object. You name it. Whatever you want, you've got it.' It was an offer I couldn't refuse. At the Top Ten Club I followed the Beatles after Stu Sutcliffe had left. I didn't know who the Beatles were, although every night people would ask me to play a Beatles tune, play something by the Beatles, and I wondered, 'What is this Beatles shit?' I went in there [the Top Ten] for a month, then three months, and then Peter Eckhorn, the owner, offered me a lifetime contract. His exact words were, 'Roy, I'd love you to stay and play for me until you're a very old man.' I felt so bad to tell him I was going with Manfred, but the money was just too good. Peter couldn't come close."
Ian Hunter does not doubt for a second that Epstein asked Roy to join the Beatles, and provides some insight into Young's state of mind at the time of his ill-fated career choice. "The Star Club was like a home away from home for a lot of [British] bands," recalls Hunter. "Horst paid well. A lot of clubs you'd get ripped off, but that place was always all right. Hamburg was a rock and roll town. Still is. There's not many of 'em left. The whole area around the Reeperbahn was a big sort of ideal rock and roll community A strippers, gays, dykes, transvestites, hookers, artists. Most of the guys in those days lived with strippers. The girls made quite a lot of money, and they would pay for everything. It was like one big party.
"In Hamburg you played seven nights a week. I mean, I played as many as thirteen hours straight," the not-so-young dude continues, recalling his days there 30 years ago. "I'm sure the Beatles did it. I'm sure Roy did, too. You learn to play till the point where you almost can't get up. The Star Club was a good club, you'd only play maybe two hours a night, but it might be at five in the evenin' and five in the mornin', so you had to be around all the time. There were lots of beautiful girls there. In England you wouldn't get noticed, but in Germany, if you played at the Star Club, I mean they were lookin' at you. And the women were just incredible.
"Roy was in amongst all o' that," Hunter explains. "He was like the resident guy at the Star Club. He could play with anybody he wanted to play with. So of course the Beatles played with him. So when McCartney's guy [Brian Epstein] asked Roy if he would go back to England with them -- this was about the same time he asked Ringo to join -- he [Young] probably didn't even think about it. I mean, Horst had given Roy a Cadillac. He was drivin' around Hamburg in a Cadillac. Of course he said no."
Watching Beatlemania blast off -- and knowing he could have ridden in the capsule -- eventually took its toll on Young. "Now I was getting frustrated and disappointed," Young admits of that period between his rejecting Epstein's offer and his fulfillment of his Star Club contract in 1964. "So I decided to go back to England. I actually went on tour with the Beatles, but it was never the same feeling, because here I was working with them after having an opportunity to join them and be a part of it and turned it down and now I've got to live with that the rest of my life."
Young faced a paralyzing dilemma. What do you do for a second act when the first part of your life concludes with your blowing an opportunity to join the most popular rock band of all time? "That's the reason I went back [to England]," he sighs. "I'd had enough. I'd been there [in Hamburg] quite a while and I felt I needed to get out. If you know Hamburg, it's a 24-hour city. It just doesn't close down. You get to know all the prostitutes and all the pimps. You'd go into a club and they're all sex joints, and you know all the girls, and they're all like, 'Hi, how are you,' and that's how it becomes. It was just time to get out of there because it stopped making any sense."
Back in his native England, Young still was accorded the status of a star even though he never had released a record. A wave of up-and-coming British rockers A the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Ian Hunter, Manfred Mann, Jimmy Page A remembered and revered England's Little Richard from his TV days on Oh Boy! and Drumbeat. Young sorted through myriad opportunities before finally agreeing to join singer Cliff Bennett's band, the Rebel Rousers.
"That's when I first met him," recalls Gerry Marsden, the personable singer for Merseybeat stars Gerry and the Pacemakers, the second group (following the Beatles) signed to a management deal by Brian Epstein. Marsden and his band were riding high on the mid-Sixties chart success of singles such as "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying," "Ferry Across the Mersey," and "How Do You Do It?" among others. "Roy was in Hamburg with Cliff Bennett when we were there. I thought he was brilliant, a great rock and roll pianist. We all played with each other, but Roy was always the star of the show to me. Great voice. Great keyboard player."
Bennett, like Young, had paid his dues in Hamburg, in the process establishing a reputation as a musician's musician with a rabid insider following but nothing substantial in the way of record sales to show for it. "Cliff Bennett offered me to go and join with them in 1965 or '66," explains Young. "Paul wrote us a song called 'Got to Get You Into My Life,' which went right up the charts, and we had a couple of hit records, and then I put my own band together."
The Roy Young Band was a crack touring outfit whose members would eventually go on to play in the Average White Band (guitarist Onnie McIntyre), Foreigner (drummer Dennis Elliott), and Paul McCartney's Wings (saxophonist Howie Casey). In its heyday, the Roy Young Band practically owned London's Speakeasy Club (David Bowie met future wife Angela there!), where a concert in late 1970 moved Melody Maker scribe Chris Welch to gush, "Roy Young Band blowing at the Speakeasy drew such an ovation the leader had to make a short speech of thanks. [The Roy Young Band] whipped up such excitement and enthusiasm the normally cynical audience allowed themselves to whistle and stomp their feet. It was an unprecedented spectacle for Roy Young, once hailed as the Little Richard of British Rock. As 1971 dawns the future looks bright for a band which blows swinging R&B and rock. Roy hammers the piano and sings with thoroughly convincing blues power."
In 1971 the Roy Young Band released a self-titled album on RCA, then followed it up the next year with a second LP, Mr. Funky, on MCA. Neither platter sold very well on either side of the Atlantic. "His records just weren't as good as his stage shows," evaluates McAleer. "He cut things like 'Just Keep It Up' and 'Hey Little Girl,' the Dave Clark songs, which were mid-sort-of-poppy things, whereas on-stage he did Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard numbers. But he never actually seemed to record those kinds of things."
McAleer, who worked at RCA but never met Young, continues, "They were trying to launch him as the 'new Roy Young.' The albums were typical of that period, introspective late-Sixties singer-songwriter stuff. No out-and-out rock and roll. He got a fair bit of press at the time, more than he'd ever gotten as a rock and roller. You know, with the beard and the hat, he had the sort of right look for the late Sixties [a battered leather cowboy hat had become such a ubiquitous part of Young's wardrobe that it earned him the moniker "rock and roll cowboy"]. But it never happened for him at all."
Young ascribes the commercial failure of the two albums to his willingness to allot his time to other projects when he should have been promoting his records, especially in the U.S., where he was totally unknown. "When I was recording for MCA and RCA, for some reason, every time I had an offer to come over here [to the U.S.] to promote the albums, I got involved in different things over there [in England]. Like I worked with Jeff Beck. I really regret the fact that I didn't, you know, pursue America. But then again, what I achieved in England and Europe was that I was very successful in making a career out of touring. By rights I should have been making albums and going off to promote the albums. But what I seemed to be doing more was going out and playing live shows. In England I became the bands' band. I mean, everywhere I played the audience was full of other bands.
"I'd often see the Beatles," Young muses. "I was quite a regular at the Speakeasy Club in London. They allowed everyone in the business to go there and not get mobbed by autograph hunters and whatever. Everyone was someone. It was just packed, and you were only allowed in there if they knew who you were and if you were involved in the business. I was like the house band there. My piano would be right out front, and I could see them all sitting there A Mick Jagger, John Baldry, George Harrison, Eric Clapton. I met Jimi Hendrix there. It was like a big party."
At about the same time his first album was being released, the photogenic Young landed a plum cameo in Stephen Frears's 1971 directorial debut, Gumshoe, which starred Albert Finney. Young was featured singing "Baby You're Too Good for Me," a tune penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was hot off the success of Jesus Christ Superstar. Frears's whimsical spoof, about a small-time British vaudevillian-cum-private eye who thinks he's Bogart, bombed so resoundingly that a dozen years would pass before Frears A one of today's most critically acclaimed directors, responsible for My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Grifters A would be granted another opportunity to direct a film. Young's second try at acting came in another howler, 1972's X, Y, and Zee with Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine, and Susannah York. When the job offers deteriorated to French soft-core sex films, Young sensed his days as an aspiring thespian had run their course.
Meanwhile he was fast becoming rock's Forrest Gump: Young had been in the thick of everything, yet his name had somehow never quite made it into the history books. In the early Seventies, Young blitzed England and Europe with his band, and played with everyone from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, and Ray Charles, to David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Wings, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Sly and the Family Stone. Young backed Berry on piano and vocals on Berry's million-selling number-one hit, "My Ding-A-Ling," in 1972. As is so characteristic of Young's career, however, the keyboardist never received a penny in royalties for the performance, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone familiar with the song who can even remember that Berry had a band playing behind him.
In 1977 Bowie tapped Young to work on his Low album, with recording sessions outside Paris. Bowie was entering the most experimental of his many musical phases. Low marked the beginning of his collaboration with ambient music wunderkind Brian Eno. "The whole album didn't work out right at all," laments Young today. "He called it Low because it was a very low point in his life, when he was changing personas. We recorded one side of straight-ahead rock and roll. Then he called us all to his room one day and played us a tape of this huge orchestral kind of thing, and asked us, 'Do you think you guys can play this? I'm thinking of putting it on one side.' And we all said, 'Are you fucking kidding?' We were rock and rollers and this was like some weird, experimental sound.
"It turns out he'd written all this music for [the 1976 film] The Man Who Fell to Earth and it had gotten turned down. But he still wanted to use it, so he decided to put that on one side of the album. He brought in Brian Eno from Roxy Music to put all that synthesizer stuff into it. It was the first time he worked with Eno, but he ended up working with him quite a lot. He was a very clever guy, and David was very fond of him. But there was no specific sort of notation to it or anything; it was all sort of a synthesizer free-for-all. It was way out of my league, and out of anyone's league for that matter. So we all left after doing one side of the album and he finished it with Eno."
In yet another questionable career choice, Young moved to Toronto in 1977. He planned to conquer the U.S. and Canada the way he had England and Europe A by touring constantly. But the North American market was far different from the one he had just left. "Clearly the way to do things here [in the U.S.] was to release an album and then tour like crazy to promote it," Young theorizes. "But I was always doing something else in England or Europe when I had albums I should have been supporting here."
As a result, Young never released another album after Mr. Funky, and while he has toured North America extensively over the past two decades, both on his own and with Ian Hunter and seminal British blues-rocker Long John Baldry, the live gigs have gotten fewer and further between. Young and his second wife, Carol, a free-lance art director who has been listening to England's Little Richard for twenty years, moved to Miami in the spring of 1992 and were barely settled in when Hurricane Andrew ripped the roof right off the Kendall home they were renting. ("When I heard the storm was coming, I was like, 'What is a hurricane? What does it do?'" remembers Roy.) After briefly relocating to L.A. and Phoenix, the couple returned to Miami in late 1993. Some of Roy's bandmates lived in South Florida, and, after spending nearly fifteen years in Toronto, Young admits the sunshine still held a strong appeal despite his now-firsthand knowledge of hurricanes.
But while the meteorological climate has been more to Young's liking, until recently the musical climate has been absolutely frigid. Incredible as it may seem, the man who once shared a microphone with John and Paul, recorded with Berry, Bowie, Beck, Clapton, and Daltrey, toured with Rod Stewart, and counts nearly every British rock superstar from the Sixties and Seventies as a fan, has landed exactly one club gig in South Florida in eighteen months.
"My friends Eric Burdon and Brian Auger were here to play at the [now-defunct] Stephen Talkhouse on Miami Beach," Young relates incredulously and more than a little indignantly. "They found out I was in town and they just assumed I must have played there a hundred times already. They were amazed when I told them I hadn't played there at all. They invited me to join them on-stage, and I told them I'd love to. So I rang up the Talkhouse to clear everything ahead of time, and their response was, 'We've never heard of you. How do we know you're who you say you are.' I told them they could ask Brian or Eric. They took the attitude, 'We don't know who you are. If you want to play with them, it's your responsibility.' I tried to phone Brian and Eric at their hotel, but they were already out. By this time it was getting pretty close to their starting time, so I just gave up."
Young finally finagled a date at Hooligan's near the Falls in South Miami in mid-February. "They'd never seen anything like it," Young enthuses of his own performance. "The waitresses had this dazed look on their faces. Even the chefs were coming out to watch. But you can't explain that to someone at the Stephen Talkhouse." (Hooligan's employees contacted by New Times back up Young's assessment, saying that by the time Young and company finished their set, the club was packed to SRO capacity.)
Even if he were to play Rose's, Chili Pepper, Churchill's, Lefty's, Jessie's, and every other live music club in South Florida, however, Roy Young would still be a long, long way from the Reeperbahn in 1961. (Young has been tentatively booked to play Tobacco Road upon his return from Germany. He attributes a resurgence in interest in his career to the discovery by Dania resident Dave Rappoport of some striking photographs of Young on-stage at the Star Club with the Beatles.) "Roy's one of those introvert-extroverts," speculates Hunter. "He's not got the most confidence in the world. You always have to tell him, 'Roy, you're great. Roy, you're great.' He's an amazing musician. He'll always have a great band, and he'll always do a great show in that kind of way he does it. But he's from a different era. He's got a healthy ego but he doesn't know quite what to do with it. I mean, he'll sit at home and he knows he's good, but he just can't broadcast it."
But Young isn't exactly waiting for the phone to ring. He's flying to Hamburg next week with his band to participate in the Star Club reunion show. He's still in demand for concerts throughout England and Germany. And Tony Sheridan and Ringo Starr are mulling over a possible Beat Brothers reunion.
But for Young's chums Hunter and Marsden, it remains a mystery that the master of the 88s never made it big in this country, never quite crossing that final hurdle into the realm of rock stardom. "We were a lot stupider then than we are now," Hunter laughs, mocking both his and Young's lack of prescience. "Over the years he could have been huge. He was never much of a writer, which is a drag. He was the star of the Star Club. Writing was just never thought of. Then the Beatles came and it all changed. I don't think it was so much that he couldn't write; I think it just never occurred to him. You know, he was a star in Hamburg, he was a star among a certain crowd in London, he was makin' a lot of money on the road. It was probably too easy for him. It's unfortunate that the same opportunity didn't just present itself ten years later. It's a shame, really. He just kind of walked another road."
"I don't know what happened really," mulls Marsden. "Maybe Roy was a little bit shy. He wasn't one to push himself forward. He liked to be in the background. But he definitely had the talent. He's such a quiet, nice guy. An ugly bastard, but a dear friend."
His years in the rock and roll trenches have left Young comfortable but far from wealthy. He doesn't have to work to get by, but he can't afford the luxuries to which many of his peers and former bandmates have become accustomed. "One day I was talking to my old drummer, Dennis Elliott, who left my band to start Foreigner," Young reflects. "I used to pay him 50 pounds a week retainer to play in my band. He lived in a one-room flat in London. Now he lives in a house on 28 acres of land in Connecticut. I tease him a lot. I say, 'Wouldn't you have rather stayed in England?' One time I invited him to come visit me down here; I told him I was buying a 23-foot fishing boat, we could go fishing. 'Really?' he says, 'I have two of those on my yacht.' Now, he didn't really have two boats on his yacht, but he could if he wanted to. I envied him for that. That he got there and I didn't.
"During that time in Paris with David Bowie," Young confides, "we used to take a lot of long walks together. He was changing his image, growing a beard. Sometimes we'd talk about his image, sometimes we'd walk in silence. One of those times, out of the blue, he just said to me, 'Roy, there's one thing I can't figure out. That you never made it as big as I did.' I kidded him that I could still walk down the street without being mobbed. That anonymity was worth more to me. But we both knew it really wasn't.