'Being a session-player,' says Herbie Flowers, 'is like being a truck driver - you're paid to arrive safely at your destination and that's it.' Herbie should know: alongside Chris Spedding he was the most famous and celebrated session-musician of the 70s, playing with the hippest of the hip elite.
On the other hand, Herbie is one of the great self-mythologizers of rock, and part of his revisionist approach to his career is to down-play just about everything he did. Now in his 60s, he clearly relishes the opportunity to pose as a crotchety veteran. He plays mostly jazz nowadays and insists that it's far more satisfying than any of the pop stuff he ever did: 'I don't care if I never go in another studio again, or hear another click-track or play rock & roll ever again.'
This could be true - certainly he's an even better bassist today than he was in his most famous years - but before we forget altogether, let's skim over the surface of a damn impressive c.v.
Herbie played in the session-musicians' house band Blue Mink and co-wrote some of their hits with Cook & Greenaway. In later years he was to score his biggest hit as a composer - implausibly enough - with 'Grandad' for Clive Dunn, though he'd rather not talk about that now.
But that wasn't what attracted our interest; it was his association with Bowie that made us pay attention. He played on and produced Bowie's 1971 flop single 'Holy Holy' and was originally intended to be the bassist in what became the Spiders from Mars - when he couldn't make the gig, Trevor Bolder was invited to join instead. And after Ziggy broke up the band, Herbie was re-united with his former employer ('I never worked with anyone, I worked for them; that's the great distinction') for the Diamond Dogs album and tour.
The connexion with Bowie also led to Herbie's most famous moment: working on Lou Reed's Transformer album, for which he most memorably created the bass-line on 'Walk on the Wild Side'. He's typically dismissive of the session: 'I hardly remember doing it because I was out of my trolley. It just seemed a good idea at the time to try putting a tenth in above it, which is a corny interval. But somebody had to do it just once, and now no one can ever do it again.'
Even better, though, and equally unrepeatable, was his line on David Essex's 'Rock On', which he suggested to Jeff Wayne would benefit from being doubled up an octave higher. 'My reward for that was instead of getting twelve pound for doing a three hour recording session, I got twenty-four. Because there's two bits.'
For those of us who didn't see Diamond Dogs (and that's most of us over here, cos Bowie didn't bother touring it in Europe), Herbie was, to be honest, a name without a face for most of the early 70s. He released some stuff under his own name - including the album Plant Life - but it didn't sell too well and we seldom noticed him on Top of the Pops. That changed in 1977 when he joined the final incarnation of T Rex and played on the TV show Marc, as watched by everyone who was anyone.
His public profile thus enhanced and his hip quotient established beyond all doubt, some of us pop kids were aghast when he joined the classical/rock fusion supergroup Sky. But the one thing you learn from Herbie's career is that he's thoroughly unpredictable and a complete wayward genius. He's also played for - amongst many, many more - Tom Jones, Rolf Harris and Frank Sinatra.
So today you can catch him playing jazz and, if you're very lucky, re-telling his life story in a show entitled My Mum's A Yoghurt. But whatever he does, we're always going to remember him as the best British bass-player of the 70s and as the ultimate session-man. Even though he insists that he doesn't care. 'If you're a working musician and you go out your front door at eight o'clock and get in at midnight, and you're feeding your family ... I couldn't give a shit about the stuff. And it is only stuff.'
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