To me, Everett True has had quite an exciting life! When I first met Everett three years or so ago he told me that he was a really boring person. I beg to differ. I ask, what kind of boring person would dedicate their life to publicly performing? (performing on stage and performing in print). Everett (born Jerry Thackray) and making music as The Legend! has done more in his ‘performing‘ life than the majority of musicians and music writers ever will. On the writing front he has self-published fanzines since the late ’80s, been published in everything from Melody Maker (he was also assistant editor) to the New Music Express to Rolling Stone and more and has authored all kinds of books on popular musicians including Nirvana, Ramones and The White Stripes. Music-wise as The Legend! he has: played in front of 20,000 people; played 1,000+ shows; put out so many releases I lose track of them all; and toured and recorded with, as well as having the respect and admiration of, many of the musicians he has written about and whom he calls friends. Finding him an interesting person with an adventure filled life, I’ve been asking him to do an interview with me since I met him, recently he finally agreed. Unlike pretty much every other interview you can find with him, that mostly concentrates on his writing work or stories of his associations and escapades with rock stars, I choose to speak with him about his life as a musician. Jerry Thackray, Everett True, The Legend! whatever lens you want to look at this man through, is a lot more human than you might think.
Tell me about your beginnings of becoming a musician. You’ve mentioned to me that you taught yourself Beatles songs from a book on piano and I know that you sang in the church choir with your siblings when you were younger.
EVERETT TRUE: Yeah. All my other brothers went on to be altar boys but I didn’t because they wanted me to stay in the choir so I got to miss out on pilfering the communion bread and wine—it used to really annoy me.
Why did I start playing music? I don’t know. I always sang. I was born in 1961. I never liked popular music when I was younger. I watched Top of the Pops a few times in the early ’70s because my friends did. I kind of liked T-Rex, I kind of liked The Sweet and stuff like that – teen pop bands, but I didn’t really understand what all of the fuss was about.
I discovered comics quite later on. I was probably 13-14 when I picked up my first superhero comic and instantly loved it. It gave me a whole different world to lose myself in. I could totally imagine the streets and skyscrapers that Spider Man used to swing through. I wasn’t so much into the superheroes themselves but more the places they were supposed to inhabit. I met a couple of friends, a boy from my school saw me on the bus reading comic books and he started chatting to me. I made a couple of friends that way and we used to hang out. It was around the time of punk and they started getting into punk music. It became quickly apparent that I would have to get into that or I would lose my friends and I kind of liked my friends. They’d been listening to music for a while and listened to slightly weird punk.
At the time I was discovering punk I was also discovering pop music. I’d go out and buy all the singles from the Grease musical, Saturday Night Fever and 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday and simultaneously I’d be buying stuff by The Fall and The Residents, Ramones and Blondie. Punk and pop were interchangeable in my mind, there was no difference. I was about 17 years old and the whole point of punk in ’78 as I understood it was that anybody could get up on stage and that was it. It seemed like it was a lot of fun to get up on stage.
We formed a band me and my friends. The first band was called Blowjob. I was told it was because we blew down recorders. I didn’t actually realise the connotations of the word. I scribbled it all over my school exercise book and got in trouble. The second band was called Fixed Grin because I wore braces on my teeth. I still think it’s a great name. Fixed Grin were your classic kind of cassette band of the era in as much as we didn’t really exist – we put out lots of cassettes, we never played live, we did lots of posters and we even made badges, we’d graffiti our names on walls but that was it.
Me and my friend Phil from that band, we used to go down to Chelmsford local musicians collective at the football club. They had an open mic night on a Sunday. One time we decided we’d go down there and play a song so we did Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. He played guitar and I sang it, I had my choirboy voice. We got through that one ok – the song had only been released a month earlier – then we started Get Over You by The Undertones and I managed the first note of it but that was it. That was the first and last time for a long time I ever did a cover version on stage, mainly because it seemed too much trouble to do cover versions. It’s like why would you go to all of that effort to learn somebody else’s song when you can just make up your own very simply.
Fixed Grin existed in various incarnations, very heavily influenced by people like The Residents. We really believed that if you were going to make music you should try to make it from weird angles. We were sticking drumsticks under our guitar strings before Sonic Youth had ever been heard of. We’d hold cards next to the microphone or tape recorder and rifle through them for sound effects; we’d play the piano, blow down recorders. One of my brothers was sort of in that band and a couple of our other friends. We did concept albums kind of along the lines of what Daniel Johnston did – all about boy sees girl, girl ignores boy, boy kills himself. I wrote them. That was pretty much the entire concept of every single one. I was quite a very depressed person I suspect back then.
I remember in Religious Education when I was about 15 a teacher was talking about suicide and he said ‘I’m sure boys here must of considered it’ and he kind of pointed to me and said ‘I bet you have.’ I was like, Oh cheers [laughs].
Aww, I know the feeling, my guidance counsellor at school told me I was socially retarded.
ET: [Thinks for a moment] Anyway… music… I started doing it because you could. There was nothing telling me that you couldn’t. There was a fellow called Patrik Fitzgerald – I never got to see him until a few years later – I loved his records and the stories you’d hear about him. He was just this one guy with an acoustic guitar singing these really heartfelt songs which had some grounding in the social issues of the day. He’d be supporting The Jam at Wembley Arena and would be bottled off stage because he was getting up on stage with an acoustic and Jam fans didn’t want that. You’d just think, isn’t that way more punk than any of these punk bands to do that and to have the balls to do that.
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