Ian Whitcomb - "Confessions Of A British Invader"

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In these rough-and-tumble places we were getting accepted as Ireland's only authentic R&B band, and I was starting to savor the greatest pop weap-on of all, sex. Let me give you an example.

Bluesville was appearing at a charity function at a church hall in Mount Merrion. We were now surrounded by the latest in electronic devices. Amplifiers to the right of us, to the left of us, and behind us, amplifiers glowing with red lights, studded with chrome lettering spelling "Fender Showman." Guitars, all electric and with solid bodies, and even a gleaming gold sax. And me standing at the battered old church-hall piano, its innards stuffed with thick chrome microphones. When we plugged in, we'd amaze the welkin, waken the dead, bring an end to Celtic Twilight!

Fueled by ale and stout, we gave our audience raw chunks of R&B, while I sang on top of this stew about having the blues all 'round my bed every day, feeling fairly honest because it was cold in Dublin that winter. . . . Suddenly—wham!—I tripped on a wire and fell headlong into our city of amplifiers. What a foul-up!

But no, wait! As I lay sprawled there, I heard a scream—a girlish one—and then more, excited, sexual. My bottom touched a loose amplifier wire, and the electric shock sent me leaping into the air with a jackknife movement in the Jagger manner. A howl of ecstasy rose from the hall. Then I limped around the stage while Bluesville played on, although my accident had rendered their guitars acoustical. But the thump of the drums was enough to accompany my dance of agony, and soon the crowd was joining in with claps and yelps. My sense of this was later confirmed when the college postman delivered a letter to my rooms: "Ian, I would like to have sexual intercoarse [sic] with you at your earliest convenience. Yours, Moira."

This was all very exciting, but the problem remained of how to capture my inadvertent stage magnetism on record. My Seattle-released "Soho" hadn't done the trick, and there had been an awful silence from Jerry Dennon, the dream of golden summers on golden beaches with golden bodies fading away. So quite deliberately I decided to fabricate a hit record.

I took the old ragtime number that I'd been performing at the coffee- house, "The Sporting Life Is Killin' Me," and gave it some British In- vasion touches. I would make the old song sound like that recent hit by the Animals (from Newcastle): "The House of the Rising Sun," another transmogrified American folksong. With jerky arpeggiated guitar chords and the gospel combination of piano and organ, as well as my own particular brand of English angst, our recording was eventually completed. At Christmas I flew over to Seattle with the tape of "This Sporting Life" and told Jerry Dennon there was absolutely no doubt we had a hit. He nodded and made an "O" sign with a finger and thumb.

The record was released on Jerden Records in Seattle in January 1965. Almost immediately it became "Pick of the Week" on the local powerhouse rocker station, KJR. Dick Clark was soon featuring it on "American Bandstand." The college postman handed me a telegram: "Record released nationally by Tower Records, a subsidiary of Capitol. Record makes charts next week. Get Bluesville in accord as am arriving to make album soon. Regards, Jerry Dennon." Capitol Records! Home of Tennessee Ernie Ford!

Get Bluesville in accord. Getting them in one place at one time would be work enough. More important, I had to rustle up some songs for the album. Some I wrote, others I found. The most promising seemed to be an antiwar number called "No Tears for Johnny," a surefire follow-up to "This Sporting Life." My pop would be taken seriously; my recordings would slot in with ease beside my Marxist studies. Life would be in rhythm, in a groove. . . . Jerry Dennon arrived in the middle of the Easter term, accompanied by his delightful wife and a briefcase full of business papers. I booked them into the only hotel in Dublin that offered ice water. Between lectures I conferred with Jerry about the forthcoming album, suggesting a cheap studio. He gave the "O" sign. Then he presented me with a pile of contracts: for recording, publishing, personal management. Me, the subject of long- winded contracts! I signed and signed.

Next evening Bluesville and I cut our album in a tiny studio near the famous post office where, in 1916, the Irish Republic had been declared. Most of the time was spent on the antiwar song; I felt sure I would be the next Joan Baez. With a few minutes left at the end of the session, we decided to record a version of a song with no name, a funny thing we'd been exciting the girls with at local beat clubs. It involved some orgasmic panting and no lyrics except the repetition of the phrase You turn me on, the words that the Seattle girl had murmured to me.

As the resulting recording was to become a monster hit—one that is now a golden oldie, is still played every day somewhere in the U.S.A., has been also recorded by Mae West, the Surfaris, Sandy Nelson, and Brazil's top rocker, was featured ad nauseam in the movie Encino Man, was for a time an anthem of the gay liberation movement, inspired William Burroughs when he had a case of writer's block, et cetera, et cetera—I intend to go into the creation of this classic in some detail. I'm still flummoxed by its success, I'm still trying to rid myself of this albatross. And yet . . . "You Turn Me On," I think, is as good and honest a piece of rock 'n' roll as you'll ever hear.

Like the British Empire, this song was conceived in a fit of absence of mind. Nothing was planned. The tape rolled; Jerry paced the room, nodding; the band set off at a boogie shuffle pace on a bluesy gospel lick of ancient origin but recently popularized by Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marvin Gaye, and count-less others. During the instrumental opening chorus an ashtray, powered by the music, slid off my piano and thudded onto the floor. But the band chugged on, so I thought I might as well contribute a vocal for the heck of it since the take was already ruined. I sang in a high-pitched, whimpering voice, and I made up the full lyrics as I went along. Here is a transcript:

Come on now honey—you know

you really turn me on!

Come on now honey—you know

you really turn me on!

And when, when you do—huh!

huh! huh! huh! huh! huh!—

that's my song!

Come on now baby—come on and

do the jerk with me!

Come on now honey—come on

and do the jerk with me!

And if, if you do—huh! huh! huh!

huh! huh! huh!—that's my song!

We listened to the playback, had a laugh, and went our various ways. The protest song was to be the hit, a worthy successor to "This Sporting Life," already in the Top Ten of Los Angeles.

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