How did you decide which songs to cover for Run Devil Run?
"The track listing was my memory. Rather than think: what were the great songs from the period? I just thought: what do I remember with great affection? Maybe I don't need any more reason than that - it doesn't matter as long as I love 'em! So I just did it like that: I remember that one, that's beautiful....
"So mentally I just amassed a list. I just went 'She Said Yeah' , great, always loved that one... There were one or two that really kicked it all off, that haven't made the final record - they'll make B-sides or bonus tracks - they'll see the light of day. One of them was called 'Fabulous' by Charlie Gracie - it's a little known thing I remember from a day at the fairground, Sefton Park Fair, when I had on a blue fleck jacket, with a flap on the top breast pocket, and my mate had a fleck jacket too - I think mine was blue and his was white - it was just great. We thought we were looking cool, and we just walked around the fair, and I remember hearing this playing off the waltzer... the great thing for me musically was the riff - dum, dum diddley, dum... That was the first one we actually did, that was the kick-off on the Monday morning."
You do a version of 'Lonesome Town' - I wouldn't have had you down as a Ricky Nelson fan....
"No, I liked Ricky. 'Stood Up' - I had that record; and we were going to do 'I Believe', but never got round to it. Mick Green (The Pirates) tells me 'Lonesome Town' was an A-side, I thought it was a B-side - but I loved it. 'Lonesome Town' is like 'Heartbreak Hotel', it's a place we all know... You hit a nerve with everyone with those kind of songs. It's a nice song, sort of Elvis-y, and as I was coming to do it, I thought I'll do it like that. But as the session came nearer I thought, nah, I can't just do it like him. Some of the tracks, like 'Blue Jean Bop' and 'She Said Yeah', I don't need to go far off the original, I know it'll be different enough when I do it. But with 'Lonesome Town' I was worried it was going to be a pale imitation of Ricky - and he got there first, so fair dues.
"But in actual fact, when I got to the studio, I said I know what I'll do - I'll do it high... and I was looking for the new key. But the great thing with working so fast was that I had to come up with a solution exactly like The Beatles would have done. So I got Dave [Gilmour - Pink Floyd] to sing the harmony, which we thought of in five seconds flat. Let's try it. It works. Great, OK, that's it. That was the excitement of working that way."
'Run Devil Run' is one of the three tracks you wrote yourself, but it sounds just like a Gene Vincent song from the mid-'50s.
"Making the album I was mainly going to make all my memories. But then, as it happens, I had a couple of songs that were going in a rock'n'roll vein. I was in that mode and I happened to be in Atlanta and I saw this shop, a herbal cures shop, voodoo medicine. It was like 'exorcise your demons, burn this incense!'; and 'Stop Evil!' - 'get rid of irritating relatives, liars and thieves, get rid of them, put this on your floor!' It was like floor polishes, and this particular brand was called 'Run Devil Run'. I looked at it, and I thought 'that's a great rock'n'roll title'..."
Which are your personal favourites on the album?
" 'Coquette' is a Fats Domino B-side - I love that, it's a beautiful one. I really just do Fats on this - it's just me singing Fats. We tried fixing little bits of it because I thought God, this is too much like a pub singer, but we ended up going back to the earliest mix. I just said, 'oh sod it, we don't want to fix this, it just has a feeling'... That's the pub song - the Glasgow, Saturday night one!
" 'She Said Yeah' is a Larry Williams song... Me and John particularly loved Larry Williams: 'Bony Moronie'; John did 'Slow Down'; I was always gonna do 'She Said Yeah', and never got round to it till now. I just loved it, and I remember turning Mick Jagger onto it in my house in London in the '60s. I was living on my own - all the other guys were kind of married - but I had a cool little record collection, and you know, when you're living on your own, that's very important... I used to get 45s sent from America, I'd get ten records a week sent over - soul stuff and what was charting in America. George had a good Chess collection, he had a lot of Stax and Chess and we pooled our resources, we all played it to each other... And I remember having Mick up, and saying listen to this one, man. And I think The Stones did a version of it. I remember listening to it and thinking, nah, I can still do it."
Some of the choices are pretty obscure, like Little Richard's 'Shake A Hand'. And The Vipers' 'No Other Baby' isn't the most obvious song to cover...?
"The Vipers were Dickie Bishop and Wally Whyton, who did Olly Beak (TV puppet) - nice guy, I got to know him later on the London scene. I never had the record of that, and I've no idea how it actually got so firmly embedded in my memory but I always used to do it at sound checks. People would say, 'I know this song, what is it?' But I never had the record, still haven't!"
'Party' is an Elvis song and the last track on Run Devil Run; why close with that?
"I really just remember it from Loving You (Elvis' second movie). And whenever we used to try and get the words of that one, we used to get stuck on the verse... 'Never kissed a bear, never kissed a groom...!' We got a clue off 'room', but we were trying to work backwards, and we could never get it. We had a go at it, tried to find a way to it... and then at the end I said instead of just fading out, let's all keep going on the last chord. But come the take I think everyone thought I was joking, so I'm the only one who does it. I'm giving it 'bom bom bom bom' on the bass, and they've all stopped, and are thinking what the...? And that's me going, 'I'm not giving up, man...', so they all come back in. So it seemed like a good idea to end the album on that - I'm not giving up! "
Most of the songs on 'Run Devil Run' are from the pre-Beatle era...
"Yeah, it's history - you've gotta be old to have history! I told George [Martin] the songs we'd been doing. I said funnily enough we've done a song called 'No Other Baby', and he said I don't think I know that one, and I suddenly thought, 'He recorded The Vipers!'. It was one of his early efforts, along with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Bernard Cribbins - 'Right Said Fred' - George did all that, that's his history. I said, 'you probably recorded the bloody original version George'. He said, 'How'd it go? So I sang it to him, 'I don't want no other baby but you...' and he said, 'Oh yes, I remember that'!"
What were your impressions of London when you first came down from Liverpool with The Beatles?
"We loved it. There was a slight rivalry, Liverpool and Cockney kind of thing, but we loved it, we had a great time. We went round a lot of the offices, like NME and Melody Maker, and we had a lot of fun 'cos we were just 'wacky guys', and we'd lie a lot to the journalists, which was great fun... We hit upon this wheeze, we'd see who could plant a lie in the newspapers. There was another thing, we were fascinated by being in print at that age, we'd never seen our names in print, so much so that when Mersey Beat started, we used to place personal ads - 'Dear Percy, see you soon, Bertie'... It was just a thrill, it didn't have to be anything more than that.
"Once we were with Alan Smith of the NME, and George hit upon this thing: really deadpan he said, 'Oh yeah, my cousin's Tommy Steele, you know?' Alan said, 'Really?' Head goes down, scribble, scribble, and we were all trying not to laugh. But it got in. So that was like, drinks for George!
"So we were doing all that sort of stuff, just mischievous... and going round the clubs. We went to a place called the Nucleus, and that was the first time we ever saw speed and pills. Guy came round, 'Want speed, man?' What are you talking about?... He was talking 50 to the dozen... but we didn't know what he was talking about. We were black velvet men, Guinness and cider, that's us, man... golden days."
Did you get to see many of your rock'n'roll heroes playing live?
"People down here saw Buddy (Holly) at Finsbury Park, but I never saw him. I did see Bill Haley; and when we were working as The Beatles in Hamburg, we saw Gene (Vincent). He was the featured American act they used to have occasionally at the Star Club. They had Little Richard, Fats Domino and Gene, and we hung out with Richard and Gene. Gene was a crazy man, a Marine, and he had the injury to his leg, and he really liked his Scotch. He was sitting at the table one time when we came offstage, and he just had a bottle of Scotch and said, 'You wanna join me, guys?' 'Why sure, Gene'. So we all just sat around him, had a little drink with him."
Did The Beatles ever see Elvis perform?
"No, we never saw him. Didn't want to go to Vegas, could only have been a disappointment. But meeting him was nice. We had a good time. It was great. We were all very pleased to meet him, and he was a great guy, in very good shape. It was before his crazed period. He was really cool to us. We just sat in awe but we had a great evening. It was nice. I'm really glad to have met him."
Have you got any other special memories of your musical heroes?
"Later, seeing Hendrix at the Saville was mind-blowing. You know he opened with 'Pepper'? And it had only been released two days before - now that is a tribute! I don't care what anyone says about me, that'll do me, that's my medal. They don't have to honour me, man - he already did."
Beatle myth has John as the group's rocker and you as the balladeer, does this date back to the beginning of the group?
"It was never an issue. I think it just happened after 'Yesterday', I became known as... 'Oh, he's the one who sings the ballad in the group' and then I was often given a ballad on the record. But you know, when you think of it, John's done a lot of very touching stuff. And you gotta remember he wrote 'Good Night' for Ringo - now had John ever done that, that would have been really very, very beautiful. It was very heartfelt but it was just a bit too... soppy for him to get his head round, so he gave it to Ringo. But when you heard John do it, it was very beautiful."
Are you surprised when people still find new things in your songs, even after nearly 40 years?
"Oh yeah, but I love it, though. I love the... inexactness of all that stuff. I'm certainly not one of those people who says can you please get those bloody lyrics right. I often prefer other people's versions. The great classic was Elvis Costello's manager, Jake Riviera, and we were talking about this, how people always got the Beatles' lyrics wrong, and he says: I always thought the beginning of 'Strawberry Fields' was 'Living is easy with nice clothes'... And I kinda almost prefer it!"
"It's in the spirit of it: you can get rock'n'roll words wrong, you can get Beatle lyrics wrong. I just thought, 'Great! Spot the deliberate mistake!' We should have a competition..."
Recording 'Run Devil Run' at Abbey Road must have brought back a lot of memories of working there with The Beatles?
"I remember John bringing in 'Girl' that we'd just written the week before. I remember coming into the studio, Abbey Road Number Two, sort of summer-ish, I seem to remember - you'll have to look up Mark Lewisohn - but my memory is quite summery. I'd just come back from a holiday in Greece, so I was all bazouki-ed out, hence that guitar sound on the record - that's my Greek holiday creeping in there!
"I remember John and I arriving at the studio, starting the session, midday sometime - with George Martin and Geoff Emerick, I think - George and Ringo coming in, and all of them saying:' OK, what are we going to do?' And the great thing, I realised, shit, the producer didn't have an idea what we were throwing in; the engineer certainly didn't. The other two guys in the band didn't know what we were going to throw. It was so think on your feet, and it was actually an improvement that no-one knew. It was like you'd just written it on the spot for them, and you can't get any fresher than that.
"I remember John saying it goes like this, 'Giirlll...', and I want to get that intake of breath, and I'm doing the harmony, and all me ding-ding-ding Zorba... And it hit me like a bit of a bombshell - nobody except me and John knew... That was kind of exciting!"