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Interview With Keyboard Maestro Danny Peyronel

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Today Eurorock has the undoubted pleasure of interviewing  Danny Peyronel. What better way to start the week? Problem for me is, where the hell do you start? This is a guy whose career has taken him from the Heavy Metal Kids (great band!), to UFO, and Tarzen, and that’s just for starters.

He wrote “Midnight At The Lost & Found” for Meatloaf. He has written for Sade, Nick Mason, and David Gilmour; produced bands; and released Make The Monkey Dance, a solo album that really deserves to be heard. One of rock’s unsung heroes, he is both horribly talented and a really nice guy, despite being a Juventus FC and a Ferrari fan.

So here goes, I hope you enjoy the interview and follow it up by visiting Danny’s site. Don’t forget to grab a copy of that album whilst there.

We first got in touch when I started pestering you about the new Heavy Metal Kids album. So how’s it going?

The album is going at a steady pace, and of course, taking way longer than we hoped. We did our first album in nine days, and the second in ten. This will probably clock in at a good six months!

As you know I am up here in the wet, cold bit of France and you are down there in the sunny south. You have moved around a fair bit: Argentina, London, Los Angeles, Spain, Milan. How long have you been down in the south of France?

We’ve been here for five years now and we love it.

You were born in Argentina, is that where you grew up?

The question of where I grew up is not an easy one to answer. For starters, three of my grandparents were from the north of Italy and one from the French Pyrénées, so Italian and French in various dialects, was spoken at home, as well as Spanish.

When I was seven we moved to the U.S. for a couple of years and, after having attended an English Day School down in Argentina for a couple of years previous and not getting very far with the lingo, I returned a fully-fledged yank kid who thought he spoke much better than any of his teachers. Probably true, as well.

As a teenager, I lived in New York City and attended music school there. I then moved to London, where I spent what I consider my most formative years, starting my pro career, meeting my girl, and starting our family, etc. This period was so formative for me, that I like to consider myself a Londoner. I have more in common with another Londoner of a similar age, than with anybody from any other place. It’s a cultural thing, of course: the telly, the music, the scene in general.

When did you first start to play music? Is it in your family?

Not much. My mum had apparently studied and played Spanish guitar, though I never heard her play, ever! My dad was a Navy Officer and always remembered how, during those incredibly tedious, long days at sea as a cadet, this other kid who played the piano would have hours of fun at the ivories, while the rest had to watch paint dry. This was apparently the motive behind him getting my brother and I to take piano lessons, God bless him!

So what brought you to London and was it like you imagined?

It was more than that. My only big regret was that the sixties were over. I remember feeling ripped off at having been too young and missing it! Of course, you look back at the seventies now and it was a glory time. I moved to London in 1973 no less! What a year! But at the time, I felt I missed something wondrous. One is never happy with one’s lot, eh? Don’t worry, I am now.

You are right in the same bracket as ‘Mac’, Ian McLagan (what a lovely guy), from the Small Faces / The Faces / The Stones / Bob Dylan etc, Ian Stewart (the other Stone), and Nicky Hopkins. Did you ever meet any of them?

I met all of them, except Nicky. I did some gigs in the U.S. with Rod and The Faces when in UFO and that’s when I met Mac. I love his playing. We’re very much from the same school. Not really so much keyboard players, but honky-tonk piano and Hammond guys. Same with Stu, whom I met in London sometime in the seventies, the real thing.

Who else do you admire?

I have a lot of time for Elton as a piano player. Not many can rock like him. For proof positive, have a listen to that early live-at-a-radio station album with the black cover, where he’s on his own, no guitars, with Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray. Terrific! Of course, both his material as well as his playing, is very idiosyncratic, and so people forget just how great a rock and roll pianist he is.

How did the Heavy Metal Kids come about?

The boys were rehearsing in the same studio in South London as the band I was in at the time was (my very first band, a group of loveable nutters called The Rats). We even opened for them at The Marquee once. Then they realized they needed a piano and organ player and I was there. Besides, I didn’t really have much competition, all the other keyboard players wanted to be like either Stevie Wonder or Rick Wakeman. There was pitifully few of us rockers around.

Was this punk time? Where do you think HMK fit in?

Well, technically it was ‘proto-punk’ times. I still have cuttings from reviewers in the New Musical Express or the Melody Maker or whatever, saying our live show was tremendous and rockin’, but that whole ‘punk’ thing we had going – hmmm – not too sure about that. This was 1973, ‘74, ‘75, and a full three to four years before our little fans The Pistols, The Damned, GenX, and so many others.

Was this a band with the wrong or right name? ‘Heavy metal’?

Errr, wrong. But how were we to know? We got the name from a William Burroughs book. I think it may have been The Naked Lunch, one of them, anyway. The Heavy Metal Kids were a gang of violent young (and possibly extremely sexually confused) young boys. Hey! It could have been worse. We could have chosen Steely Dan, also from a Burroughs book, which was the name of a dildo. In any case, the term ‘Heavy Metal’ was really not in use yet to describe a particular musical style or sub-culture.

Atlantic Records signed you, so you were rubbing shoulders with Zeppelin and Bon Scott’s AC/DC!

Yeah, sometimes quite literally. There are some well-documented episodes between us especially our Gary (Holton) and Bonzo (John Bonham), Percy (Robert Plant), and Jimmy (Page), at a well known London ‘designer’ hotel, which happened to be round the corner from our bedsits in Chelsea. As for AC/DC, we never really mixed with them. Our only thing in common is our dearly departed Dave Dee, who had signed us to the label, having also signed them.

There were loads of venues back then but you really went down well at The Marquee. Can you remember any of those places?

Well, for starters, we ‘honed our skills’ at the infamous Speakeasy, the muso’s club on Margaret Street in the West End. One of our managers also ran the club, and so we got to play there regularly. It was the toughest crowd anywhere. That’s how our Gary became the consummate frontman, he had to. But yeah, there were loads of venues.

We even baptized the Kings Road Theatre for bands, after their long run with the Rocky Horror Show. We sold out two nights in a row. The promoter was thrilled, but, apparently, no-one ever did that again.

There was The Rainbow, The Hammersmith Odeon (still there but with yet another name) and a million pubs, of course, though you could never really say we were part of the ‘pub-rock’ scene that The Motors, Ducks Deluxe and others belonged to, in fact, the whole thing was very polarized. You had the huge dinosaur bands, like Purple, Zeppelin, Yes, and others, then you had the pub-rock bands, and then there was the Heavy Metal Kids.

People will want to know about Gary Holton. What was he like as a performer, a frontman, and a person?
Funny you should ask this, because I recently got an email from a thirteen year old girl who goes to a stage school and has fallen in love with the Kids and Gary, and wondered if we could tell her something about him, since she was having trouble finding info. Some of the answer I sent her might work in this case too.

Our Gary was a total ‘showman’ Pretty much all the time. I don’t really remember him ever being ‘off’, as they say. His personality was incredibly outgoing and simply did not have an ‘off’ switch! He had a ‘gift of the gab’ and could always be counted to come up with a funny or clever (usually both!) come-back to anything that anybody said to him.

Having said that, under the outer-skin of the consummate front-man and joker there was a warm, affectionate and highly intelligent person. I felt that, and I’m sure the rest of the boys did, as did the fans. That’s why they loved him, and not just because he would climb up to the top of the PA system in his wellies and tails, shaking the severed head of a mannequin and shouting ‘His head fell off!’

It was thanks to Gaz that I met the ‘girl of my dreams’, my soulmate, Alexandra, and we’re still together. He enjoyed life totally and completely and although it is, of course, sad that he’s no longer with us, most people don’t get to live what he lived in his short stay, however long they get.

Of course Gary was well known in the UK as much for his acting skills on television playing Wayne in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Did he see himself as a musician who acted or an actor who sang?

Hmmm, what a good question. I don’t think he saw himself as a musician, that’s for sure but, then again, I don’t see myself as a musician either. I think he saw himself as Gary, and there was only one of them around.

Tell me about Dave Dee, sadly no longer with us. You clearly hold him in very high regard. What part did he play in the HMK/Danny story?

He signed us to Atlantic when Head of A & R for their London office in ’73. Ten years later, I asked him to manage Tarzen, and then again he gave us a hand when we released Hit The Right Button, our fourth studio album and first after our 25 year tea-break. Yes, he was more than a very dear friend, he was a wonderful, good person and I miss him.

I’m sure I saw you with the Kids at the Reading festival in 1974 or ‘75 or both even though it’s a more than a bit hazy for several reasons. Would that be possible?

Yep. I was in the band at Reading in 1974, and with UFO in 1975, in fact, it was my first English gig with them.

The HMK support slot with Kiss wasn’t without incident was it!? Can you talk about it?

Yeah, well, they really took themselves way too seriously, and we didn’t. We especially didn’t take OURselves seriously either. This was the cause of much mirth for us and of getting booted off the tour for laughing at them.

Gary broke his leg on that tour, how did that happen?

You know what? I don’t remember! And I normally have a fairly prodigious memory. I just remember him being a total pain in the ass with that plaster cast in these cramped station-wagons we were forced to travel thousands of miles in.

Then you joined another huge band UFO. Were you the first keyboard player they had?

Technically you could say I was the ONLY keyboard player they had. I’m sure they would agree that, after me, they had guitarists who could play a bit of keyboards but not keyboard players.

No Heavy Petting was produced by legendary Ten Years After bass player Leo Lyons (dust down your Woodstock video). How did that come about?

That lovely Leo had already done Phenomenon and Force It, the previous two albums. I really like him. Another genuinely good person, no bullshit, what you saw is what you got.

You wrote several songs for that album, I think, “Highway Lady” and “Can You Roll Her”. They both became singles. Did you write them with that in mind?

I don’t think I ever wrote with a ‘single’ in mind. I’m not one of those writers who can churn stuff out as if making sausages. I just write, when I get the inspiration. Then it’s over in minutes.

UFO were playing stadiums by that time. Was there one that stands out?

They were playing stadiums in the U.S., sure, but mostly opening for larger acts, or second in a three band bill. We were also doing large clubs and smaller theatres at the same time.

What happened after UFO? I read somewhere you were trying to get a band together with Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden fame.

Yes, it is true. Sadly, we never got much further than going to the pub across the road from me in Chelsea and talking about it. After that, neither of us remembers much.

I see you recorded the Blue Max album at the famous Chateau D’Herouville, (Elton John, Jethro Tull, David Bowie etc. etc). What was the Chateau like?

The Chateau was great! I just saw a special on Elton’s recording of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and they showed the place (well before we were there, of course), and the memories flooded back. The actual recording was far from great, however. They had had all this ‘state-of-the-art’ Westlake installation done, from America, and it did not work too well. In there, everything sounded terrific but as soon as you took it outside, oh dear…..

Can you tell me about writing Meatloaf’s “Midnight At The Lost And Found”?

To be fair to Meat, it was he who gave me the title idea and asked me if I’d have a go at writing a song around it. Now normally I’m not the best at writing to order, but.it has now paid for many gas bills.

You wrote for Sade too didn’t you? Was that through the connection with Robin Millar?

Yes. We were at Jimmy Page’s Sol Studios in Cookham, recording the first Tarzen album, and I got a call from Robin asking if he could give this girl Sade the number, for she needed some words for a certain song. She called me a bit later, I asked her to call me back in ten minutes, she did, and I read her the words. That was that. When she asked me what I wanted to do about the credits, I told her I didn’t really feel I’d done enough to bother with any of that, and that a ‘special thanks’ on the cover would suffice.

I never bothered listening in detail to the finished song, until years later. When I finally did, whilst living in L.A, I found that the four or five lines had been sung repeatedly and ended up constituting a good 40% of the lyric total. The album sold in excess of four million copies in the U.S.. The multi-platinum award looks really nice in my loo, but the checks would have been a lot nicer. Of course, by then, there was an apparent ‘statute of limitations’ on a claim. Rock 'n’ roll.

You worked with Nick Mason the drummer with Pink Floyd and David Gilmour sang one of your songs didn’t he?

That has to be one of my proudest moments, of course! I have always loved the Floyd and especially David Gilmour (I wonder if he knows it?). I had already written “Israel”, one of the two songs with vocals on the Mason-Fenn album to be called Profiles, with my mate Rick Fenn from 10CC. I sang the vocal on that at the end of our Sol Studio sessions with Tarzen, at the Floyd’s studios.

Then, when I was about to catch the plane back home to Madrid (at the time), I get a call from Rick, saying Dave refused to sing the lyrics of the other song, “Lie for a Lie”, and could I come up with something quickly. I asked him to phone me the day after and I had the finished words ready. Rick tells me that Dave said something like ‘now these are lyrics”. Wow!

Of course, that little episode has put me in the myriad Floyd books, sites, everything. Talk about glory by association! Still, much better than a mallet over the head, eh? (I usually use a much more unsavoury expression, but I want to spare your readers and your own sensibilities, as well as your lovely Debbie’s).

Did Riff come next ? That had an Argentina connection didn’t it?

Riff was my brother Michel’s band in Argie-Bargie. They were huge and doing football stadiums, that kind of thing. He got me in a weak moment of slightly lean cows, and tempted me with some coloured glass and a lot of good steaks. I went down there to help him produce a live album they were doing, and also guest-star on a couple of songs. The thing was like Beatlemania! It was a lot of fun but it was only a guest thing and when it was done, I came back home to Europe.

To Spain and Banzai?

Yes, basically another guest situation, this time on their album Duro Y Potente, which was hoped would launch them internationally. To this end, I wrote English lyrics for about four of the songs and coached the singer with the pronunciation, not an easy task with Latin/romance language native speakers, unless they happened to, like me, live in an Anglo-speaking country as children.

When did you get involved in production?

During that first Argie outing for the live Riff album En Accion, my brother Michel and I produced an album by an up and coming band there called Virus. They went on to become quite the massive thing throughout Latin America. Then we produced some stuff in Madrid as well, and after that, some more in Argie-Bargie.

How did you get to work with Denny Laine, Ginger Baker, and Ric Grech? What a line up that would have been. Is anything left from those sessions?

Unfortunately no. I really liked Denny, and Ric was a sweet guy. He was in a very sorry state however, and he died not much later. It was a fun little thing though. Fortunately, the Tarzen thing started happening around the same time, so the fact that this never went anywhere didn’t worry me unduly.

Tarzen brought together people from the UK and Spain, as well as you and your brother Michel from Argentina.

Yep. It was initially Salvador (Dominguez) on guitar and vocals, Michel on drums and vocals, and me on keys and lead vocals. We quickly found Ralph (Hood) for the bass/vocals job, recommended by Nicko McBrain, who had just passed through Madrid on tour with Maiden, and had come to the house for dinner, as was his custom. Cheeky bastard, he could have called in advance!

What happened next?

Then came our American period. At the insistence of a good friend and sometime manager, who was at the time managing Desmond Child, the writer of the Bon Jovi hits, and many for Aerosmith, etc, we finally made the move and went to live in La-La-Land for a year. It was 1990. My mate had said it was his dream, his two favourite writers collaborating. At the end of a year in L.A, I had zip to show for my efforts.

We weren’t fans of the place before, and didn’t fall for it then, either. But, truth be told, I simply was not cut out for writing to order as if manufacturing sausages. Just wasn’t my thing. I didn’t have enough bullshit in me to make that work.

Tell us about the excellent Make The Monkey Dance album?

Well, an excellent bunch of guys, my boys on the record – top players and top blokes. It came about from the brain of Marco ‘Barux’ Barusso, a top-flight producer and guitarist, who we’re lucky to have as a fully-fledged Heavy Metal Kid now, as well as our producer.

It’s great stuff and includes your version of “Midnight At The Lost & Found”, and UFO’s “Highway Lady”. Were you pleased with how the album was received?

The album came out with a German-based Indy label called Target Records, run by two terrific and passionate blokes, real fans. Still, they were never in a position to offer serious promotion or distribution, but they did all they could and were totally decent. That’s something rare these days.

The reviews and reactions from the press that did get their hands on the album, were very exciting, and we live in hope that, someday, someone will ‘discover’ the album and it will get the exposure it deserves. It can happen. The album is what they call in Italy, an ‘evergreen’, it really has no expiration date on the lid.

What's your favourite track on the album?

“Never Been Cool”. It’s the story of my life.

Any plans for any more?

Ohhhh, yeahhhh. Though I’ve always considered myself a ‘group’ guy, I’m pretty sure there will be more Danny Peyronel. It’s like Denny Crane in Boston Legal, my name’s on the door.

How did you get back with the HMK?

Ronno was visiting with us in Milan, and I took him to the studio, DiddeStudio, where we had started foolin’ around with Marco Barusso and my boys, Max, Luca and Mario. Right there and then, Marco asked if we felt like doing a new HMK album. Yes, was the answer.

Were you pleased with how Hit The Right Button came out?

Easily, and without the slightest doubt in any of our heads, it was the best album we ever did with the band. It was the album we had always wanted to do, and couldn’t manage to in ‘them’ days. Our regret had always been that we could not seem to translate the power and fun of our live show onto record.

Perhaps it was a producer problem, or a technology thing, who knows? But with Hit The Right Button, we finally felt that’s what we always wanted in a record.

What can we expect from the next HMK album?

Even more of the above, from frantically intense rockers to really moving, (whilst always dripping in sarcasm and irony and/or tongue in cheek) ballads and mid-tempos.

You’ve been in the news a lot recently, receiving awards at last. It must be very pleasing?

I’m feeling a bit like a really down-sized version of those people who get ‘Lifetime Achievement’ awards, when they’re about to kick the bucket. For that reason, I have now ordered all buckets removed indefinitely from my sight.

Thanks Danny. It’s an amazing story. Can I write your biography? I wrote one of David Byron the Uriah Heep singer, did you ever meet him?

Of course! We used to tour with Heep a lot in the early seventies, and yes, sure, you can write my biography, as long as it’s wildly embellished and you remember to wax lyrical on all my missionary work in Africa.

Who knows we might finally get to that football match! Which brings me to my last question, why Juventus? I thought, having lived in Milan, you would be more of an AC or an Inter chap?

Not funny. If you do your homework, you might find that Peyronel is a name that comes ONLY from the valleys west of Turin, in Turin province. Not funny at all! Ok, a little bit funny, but not much. Besides, I have a natural rejection for football teams with a lot of red in their strip. With cars it’s different of course. I like a lot of red there.

Here’s one final funny anecdote that you might wish to include. I have always been one who believes that speaking negatively of people you’ve worked with only reflects badly on you and not them. I mean, what kind of an idiot are you, if you chose to work with people that, now, you think were rubbish, right? I’ve tried to live by that philosophy, if you can call it that. However, it’s sad when, after so many years, now that we’re all grown-up, you come across things like this:

There was a multi-page piece on UFO in the UK magazine Classic Rock fairly recently. In a boxed bit, the singer, ALLEGEDLY, told a couple of supposed stories involving me, and painting me in the sort of light that I like to reserve for my own painting. None of it involved my musicianship or talent or lack thereof, grant you. It was more a character thing, and, curiously, it cast doubt on one of the few personal attributes of which I have never doubted, nor does anyone who knows me.

The funniest, most bizarre, and quite frankly sad thing is this: the singer in UFO had taken an anecdote that happened to Gary and I in the Heavy Metal Kids with Stevie Marriott (Small Faces, Humble Pie), and which I had of course shared with the band (as it was very funny) all those years ago. He had changed the names of the characters in the story, assigning Michael Shenker to the Marriott role, etc., and re-told it to this journalist for Classic Rock. Previous to that story, he morphed the then image of Rob Halford from Priest (as it was when they’d opened for us, or were lower in the bill at that ‘75 Reading Festival, for instance) onto me.

How sad is it, when you don’t even feel you have good enough anecdotes of your own, and feel the need to borrow other peoples? I always had a healthy respect for Phil Mogg as a singer, and the band in general of course but this sort of thing…. If he really did say this then it doesn’t say much for him. I remember the change from the Heavy Metal Kids to UFO as a bit of a culture shock and this, after so many years, brings that back.

I have to tell you that my first feeling was that this was possibly a rookie journalist doing the piece, some kid who wasn’t even born then, and that he embellished and/or took the singer’s words totally the wrong way, or just made it up. Then I found it was none other than Geoff Barton.

He had been a total HMK fan and champion in the seventies. He must have surely known me or about me, and yet he gleefully printed it. I had never done anything like this in my entire career, but, afterwards our mate Dave Ling (also a writer for Classic Rock) gave me his E-mail, so I wrote to Geoff.

I simply wanted to know if Phil could have possibly spoken in that unkind and totally unnecessary way quite apart from using someone else’s stories from his tired, much bamboozled mind. I wondered if he might have thought of asking me about any of this before printing it since we’re no longer young kids and you surely need to stand behind your words now.

Of course, he never replied to me. Some people get very scared when they get old and don’t want to open the door to anyone.

Rock 'n’ roll.

Thanks Danny. Don't forget to write that book.

Meanwhile please keep tabs on the latest Eurorock ramblings for news on how the new Heavy Metal Kids album is coming along. Also don’t forget to check out Danny’s excellent solo album Make The Monkey Dance on the links below.

More information about Danny can be found on the following links. You can also listen to tracks throughout his career on his MySpace page.

Also please visit Danny's official website, and the Heavy Metal Kids website which carries all the latest news on that soon to be album.

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About Jeff Perkins

  • PeteO’

    Great interview to a great rocker!

  • Jeff

    Thanks PeteO’ very much appreciated – yep a great rocker, loads of great stories and a lovely guy too. It was fun to do. Thanks for reading it, Jeff