SHAKIN’ STEVENS – FIRST ENCOUNTERS – By Ari Niskanen
In the Autumn of 1971 a Welsh Rock’n’Roll group called Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets started to record “I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent” LP for CBS Records. They started to record with guitarist Carl Petersen but they needed a new picker as they had to record another six more songs for the LP, and it was Micky who stepped in and played on the remaining cuts. The highlight of which was “Right String Baby” on which Micky played two great solos with a great, slightly distorted sound. He plays some great finger picking stuff and ultra fast pull- off licks. Another cut “Superstar” also includes some great finger pick playing. Unfortunately, the guitar has been mixed down on this record, and it’s difficult to hear him clearly. “I’m Not a JD” didn’t sell too many copies when it was initially released, however, when Shakin’ Stevens hit the big time ten years later, it was re-released and it sold very well both in the UK and all over Europe.
Micky played a few gigs with Sunsets but as they played all over UK he didn’t want to go on the road recalling the traumatic Love Sculpture tour in the USA one year earlier. Paul Barrett’s book of Shakin’ Stevens gives a different explanation saying that the other Sunsets were too wild for Micky, and that’s why he quit. But actually Micky told me that it was his reluctance to tour was the real reason.
In 1980 Shakin’ Stevens was a rising star and he had an excellent record deal with the big Epic label and also performed on the rock n roll “Oh Boy” TV series which was broadcasted in the UK and Germany. It was the same year as he got his first hit “Hot”Dog”. Everything was going fine but then the current lead guitarist Albert Lee quit, because he had a chance to play with the Everly Brothers who were his childhood idols. For a replacement Shaky suggested Micky who had made a big impression on him nine years earlier, back home in Cardiff. Micky’s first session with Shaky produced a second hit single “Marie Marie” and he was accepted into the
band and performed on “The Entertainers” TV show.
The line up now was Shakin’ Stevens vocals, B.J. Cole pedal steel guitar, Geraint Watkins piano, Howard Tibble drums, Roger McKew rhythm guitar, Stuart Coleman bass, and Micky Gee lead guitar.
It must be emphasised that many times when great players play 1950’s Rock’n’Roll they don’t look at it with respect, and they think it’s too easy for them, not appreciating it’s key components. Then the result usually sounds boring. But now that Shaky had technically great players who loved 1950’s music, he had the tools to do something positive. All the songs Shaky recorded were typically simple 1950’s Rock’n’Roll but the musicians were able to add all kinds of clever twists to the songs. Perhaps tempo changes and other little tricks that made the music much more interesting and exciting. Additionally, with soloist like Micky and Geraint that had fire in their playing, and a great vocalist, they had created a hell of a Rock’n’Roll band. Furthermore, the bass player Stuart Colman was also Shaky’s record producer and band leader and an avid collector of 1950’s Rock’n’Roll records. Too often modern rock n roll artists record familiar rock n roll songs. Shaky wanted to record good obscure cover songs and the band usually then did a completely new arrangement. Micky too, over the years, would suggest to Shaky songs like “Revenue Man”, “If You Can’t Rock Me” and “Singing The Blues” etc.
Stuart and Micky worked really hard on the guitar parts, and Micky didn’t often use an amplifier on these sessions. He plugged straight into the mixing desk in the control room where Stuart sat. In there they both worked on the guitar parts, swapping ideas, and trying to create something that, quoting Stuart’s words, “really means something.” They often worked solos bar by bar which helps to explain why many of Shaky’s songs have a really melodic guitar solo. Stuart said that Micky liked it when somebody made him really work hard. Many times Micky, who has a reputation for being a great player, would be asked to play something, and Micky joking, would object and remind Stuart that he used to play in a ‘pop band’ called Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours, back in the 60’s. Nevertheless, Stuart got Micky some great session work during the 1980’s, and over the years Micky has had most of his session work from musician buddies. He was never an actual session musician as he could not read music, and as a matter of fact, he has lost many possible sessions because of that.
Roger McKew was another guitarist in Shaky’s band in the early 1980’s. Years later Micky commented that “when I went to London I played with other musicians and I found it hard, playing alongside them (other guitar players) they are very good, probably better than me, but they are, dare I say, getting in the way. I know that’s a terrible thing to say but that’s how I really feel about it.” Stuart Colman comments that this was a problem especially with rhythm guitar playing. When Micky, for example, plays Chuck Berry style, he has a powerful style which covers a lot, add another electric rhythm guitar, and the result would have been a mess. To resolve this Micky would first put down the rhythm guitar track and then over dub the lead parts.
Shaky’s next LP “Marie Marie” was released in October 1980. This record includes some of Micky’s greatest picking. “Nobody” for instance, includes a wonderful, angry Berry-style solo. Here Micky tuned down his low E string to D when he played the rhythm guitar; the song’s key is D. On “Revenue Man” the solo has a Jerry Reed or Chet Atkins style pull-off licks. Whilst, at the end of “Slippin’and Slidin’” he plays great lick with a backstroke technique. “Move” has some of his greatest playing, where Micky combines jazz licks, harmonics, Chuck Berry third intervals, great conversational “question and answer” licks with the pedal steel guitar and God only knows what else!
Shaky’s next single was “This Ole House” which was released in March 1981. It went straight to number one in the UK and all over Europe making Shaky a teenage idol! Micky’s solo on this record is epic. The guitar has a very observable role and he plays a very melodic lead break, which includes fingerpicking and Chet Atkins influenced rolls. It is good that when Micky plays fingerpicking style solo, he doesn’t always use that technique for the whole solo, because a solo full of that style would be too much. Fingerpicking style covers a lot, because you have alternating bass notes on lower strings and top of that there are lead notes on higher strings. So, for example, on “This Ole House” the rolls and the two note licks, make it much more interesting. Then again on some of his best solos, like Shaky’s “Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles” and “I Might” he uses the fingerpicking style very tastefully, and never overuses it. Sometimes, to the annoyance of Micky, Shaky’s recording engineers changed guitar sound after the recording session, and “This Ole House” is perhaps a perfect example where the guitar sound is perhaps too bassy.
Shaky’s next single “You Drive Me Crazy” includes a brilliant solo and rhythm playing. In the guitar solo Micky uses the following trick where he changes the song’s key during the guitar solo. “You Drive Me Crazy” is originally in F but when Micky takes the solo, the song’s key changes to G. At the end of the solo the key returns to F. “You Drive Me Crazy” is a simple tune, so this sudden change of key makes it more varied. Dave Edmunds has also used this trick in the “Queen Of The Hearts” and “Singing The Blues,” so I’m unsure who invented it. The solo itself is very melodic and includes Micky’s typical “one moment sad, next moment happy” playing. The end of “You Drive Me Crazy” is also great, when Shaky repeats the song title and Micky replies with guitar licks. To the average listener this perhaps might sound like a jam session, but it was not. Here Stuart and Micky have carefully created melodic licks right through to the end of the song. Micky actually plays a two note lick (using thirds) which was inspired by Dire Straits’ guitarist Mark Knopfler, coupled with a great percussive lick on which he strums muted strings near guitar’s fingerboard.
At this high point of his career, Shaky released his next LP called “Shaky” in May 1981, and if you have never heard Micky’s playing perhaps this should be your first purchase. It has a wonderful variety of styles, with Chet Atkins style rolls and tenth intervals on “Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles”, syncopated Berry licks on “I’m Knockin’”, twin guitar harmony by playing single note lines simultaneously on “Don’t Bug Me Baby”, fast pull off licks on “Don’t She Look Good” plus all the other Micky trademarks are here. On “Let Me Show You How” Micky plays “death thumb” style. He plays constant notes on the open low E string and at the same time plays the lead notes on the higher strings all in the key of E. He got inspiration for this from James Burton who also used this style on Ricky Nelson’s “My Babe”. On “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter” Micky plays a great pedal steel lick. First he plays a D7 chord of D, A, C and F# notes and then he bends the F# half a step higher which creates a cool sounding D7sus4 chord. He borrowed this idea from another great Tele player, Roy Buchanan. You can hear Roy playing this same lick on “After Hours”.
Micky played on the following sell out tours with Shaky:
UK May-June 1981
Europe September 1981
UK November-December 1981
Shaky was a great vocalist but on stage he moved so much that he often sounded out of breath. So Micky would help out by singing “It’s My Own Business” and “Revenue Man” on the Shaky tours, and although his voice was thin he delivered these with lots of feeling.
Micky started to play with the Dave Edmunds Band in Autumn of 1981. For a while he was playing for both artists, Shaky and Dave, which sometimes led to some funny situations. At the end of October Dave was doing a tour in Scandinavia, and Micky got a frantic call from Shaky’s manager. Shaky’s manager wanted him to travel to Holland where the TV station was about to film Shaky’s Dutch concert. Micky said he could but only if they got him another Telecaster to play. They did, and he flew down from the Edmunds tour (which probably pissed Edmunds off) and did the concert. During filming Micky broke a string but changed it so fast that no one noticed.
At this time Shaky often used to do many TV shows just miming to his records with the band and Micky didn’t like doing this, so that also was one of the reasons he left. Later when I asked Stuart Colman about this he suspected that was one of the reasons and similar pressures. Remember, Shaky was Europe’s biggest star at the time and the pressure from all directions must have been enormous. Stuart too told me that “the pressure was unbelieveable and as I had produced Shaky for four years by then, I needed a good rest.” Besides, Micky was drawn to Dave because he use to do 10 – 12 week tours of the USA, a place that Micky loved, and therefore a good reason to work with Dave.
The next LP to be released by Shaky was “Give Me Your Heart Tonight” released in January 1982. Micky plays guitar on four tracks and “Shirley” includes a brilliant string bending country solo. This track was actually the only time that Micky and Shaky’s next picker, Billy Bremner, played together. They play the song’s main riff in unison.
“Vanessa” is an excellent rocker on which he plays three choruses and a long outro solo. Micky here has a great and quite unique “dry” sound for this track. On “Too Too Much” he plays a twin guitar solo with the pedal steel. Then on “Oh Julie” which was yet another UK number one single, he does one of those incredible key changes during his solo. I have listened to that track for many years but only recently realised that there is a key change. Surprisingly, as Shaky’s music is suppose to be traditional simple rock n roll it does sound radical to change the key in the middle, even strange. But when I talked to Stuart Colman about this he remarked how it still impresses him how smoothly Micky handled those key changes.
(This is another chapter from Ari Niskanen’s biography of Micky Gee and hopefully more chapters will follow together with a complete bibliography and discography – Phil Morgan)