Even though in terms of British Invasion band lead singers, he's about as English as English could be, Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits has always had a love of Texas music. Once he found out the tunes and performers he liked actually hailed from the Lone Star State, that is.
"Guys like Buddy Holly and Freddy Fender and Waylon Jennings were already on my radar when I was a teenager," recalls Noone today. "But I thought it was Nashville music!"
"Then I got to Corpus Christi on one of our first tours of America, and I realized it was Texas music."
"When I got to Houston - and I don't remember if it was '64 or '65 -- I wanted to meet Roy Head!" Noone remembers. "He was playing this little place, and it was probably the best show I'd seen in my life to that point. And I'd seen the Beatles and the Stones!"
"Then Roy took me to see B.J. Thomas and we went to these black clubs for days and days. It was quite amazing. There was a scene in Houston, just like Liverpool. And I could go anywhere because I had a cop. Brilliant!"
In the early-to-mid '60s, the Herms racked up a string of uptempo pop hits that helped define the British Invasion, including "I'm Into Something Good," "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter," "I'm Henry the VIII, I Am," "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat?" and "A Must to Avoid," along with covers of "Silhouettes" and "Wonderful World."
Fronting the group was the angelic-looking Noone, dubbed "Herman" for his resemblance to the character "Sherman"on "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" cartoon. Also in the band's classic lineup was Keith Hopwood (guitar), Karl Green (bass), Derek Leckenby (guitar), and Barry Whitwam (drums).
Most of their hits were recorded with legendary producer Mickie Most, who also had many hits with the Animals, Donovan and the Jeff Beck Group. Though noted by some as having a "heavy hand" over a group's sound, Noone says the two of them got along well, as both wanted the hits to keep coming.
"Mickie and I were probably the world's greatest plagarizers," says Noon. "I'd say 'Hey, what about getting that same sound that was on that Everly Brothers record?' and he'd know exactly what I meant. And then we'd do something like that. It was scary he was so brilliant."
There was some tension within the group, though, as Most would sometimes bring in session players more skilled at their instruments than the Hermits to get just the right sound -- and quickly.
"Yes, he became a bit heavy-handed when he and I decided that we could make a better record without including other people in the democracy," Noone says. "It was like 'Hey, Jimmy Page is in the next room! Let's get him to play guitar on 'Wonderful World.'
"Or Jeff Beck," he adds. "It was a time when people came up with ideas for songs, but didn't expect to come away with half of the publishing credit."
Herman's Hermits featuring Peter Noone play the Stafford Centre Friday, September 20. Coming up in Part II next week: Noone recalls club days in London hanging out with other bands, the secret of the scratch guitar on "Mrs. Brown," and why there are currently two versions of Herman's Hermits touring the world.
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