Jim Cregan: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Jim Cregan of The Rod Stewart Group: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Having rubbed elbows with the likes of Steve Harley, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Etta James, and many more, guitarist Jim Cregan’s influence over rock and pop music transcends decades and genres.

You might know his licks from the Cockney Rebel’s No.1 single “Come Up and See (Make Me Smile),” or perhaps from Rod Stewart’s numerous solo offerings dating back some 50 years. But truth be told, Cregan’s influences stretch further than those admittedly towering six-string exploits.

An able producer, songwriter, and arranger, Cregan’s singular style of guitar have long been a staple of FM radio and, in turn, has influenced droves of young bucks who came after him. Sure, his name might not always be mentioned amongst other axe-slingers from his era, but make no mistake, Cregan’s importance over classic rock and pop music are undeniable, if not quintessential.

With 2022 in his rearview mirror, Jim Cregan logged on with ClassicRockHistory.com to discuss his latest single, his exploits with Stee Harley and Rod Stewart, and his many adventures throughout a long and fruitful career in music.

Tell me about “When A Child is Born.”

Well, it’s a cover of Johnny Mathis’ hit but with a little bridge added to replace the talking bit in the middle. I wanted to do something for Christmas, so I brought in Sam Tanner and Ben Mills, who sing on the track. I am very proud to say that “When A Child is Born” is currently in the top 30 on the Heritage Charts.

What is your current approach to songwriting and the guitar?

Honestly, not much has changed; I still mainly write from melody first. Since writing my autobiography, I have had more confidence in my lyrics. I like to see it as solving a word puzzle rather than a problem to solve. As for the guitar, I play almost exclusively with my fingers. I have my nails strengthened with acrylics at the nail shop. One of my friends found it awkward to be in a women’s domain. I quite enjoy it.

What can you tell me about the iconic acoustic guitar solo on Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel’s No.1 single “Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)?”

It was improvised and recorded after midnight in Studio 2 at Abbey Road. It was done in two pieces, and I laid it down in about half an hour. I played the first part almost immediately and then had a few go’s at it to get the ending. We only had two tracks, so you had to make all the decisions on the fly. The solo changed people’s perception of me as a guitarist, which was very helpful.

Steve is known to be hard to work with. What was your experience like?

Steve and I have a great relationship. We are lifelong friends. I have seen him be grumpy with others but never with me. And yes, I will work with him again.

You’re a founding member of The Rod Stewart Group. What are you most proud of when it comes to your time with Rod?

I think the thing I care most about is the fact that after 46 years, we are still the best of friends. Despite not always living on the same continents, we have remained close.

What are your five favorite tracks with Rod, and why?

I’d have to say “Forever Young” because of its great final verse, “Hot Legs,” because it’s a wonderful bit of classic rock, “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right,” because of Rod’s amazing vocal performance, “Only a Boy,” because I love the fun lyrics, and it reminds me of a Faces track, and “I Was Only Joking,” as it’s one of my better solos and who gives a musician that kind of freedom these days?

Tell me about your infamous soiree with the Holywood A team.

One night, after finishing at about 1 am, Rod suggested that I come back to his house for a nightcap, “Alana’s having one of her parties, and you might find it amusing,” Rod told me with a knowing look. We were a bit scruffy for an “A list” party, but we could care less, and I sensed a certain pleasure in him inviting me. Alana thought of the band as “staff” and wouldn’t be best pleased. When Rod and I entered the party room, I quickly realized that Alana and I really did have something in common… we were the only ones that were not household names. In fact, I was the only person I didn’t recognize.

Cher was off to one side, dancing alone and happily ignoring everyone; actor Ryan O’Neal wanted to talk music and was very informed, knowing lots more than me, while David Janssen, of The Fugitive fame, was chilling at the bar, as only he could. But it was Liza Minnelli who really wanted to rock. Somehow, I found myself playing flamenco guitar while she danced with a rose clamped between her teeth…or were those my teeth? [Laughs].

Wilder and faster, she turned and swayed, stamping her feet in time to my outlandish attempt to play while suffering the effects of martini poisoning. So, I abandoned the guitar and swept her ’round the room, attempting – unsuccessfully – to avoid the tiger skin rug, complete with a massive head that invariably caught unsuspecting guests by the ankle and deposited them on the floor in a heap.

Meanwhile, a grinning Tony Curtis was dancing with a dining chair, spinning it around his body. He offered me a lesson. I couldn’t say no and didn’t want to. It looks easy, but as you spin the chair on one leg and try to jive with it, it deliberately attacks you with its other legs, causing the kind of bruises that, on examination the following morning, you remark, “Where the hell did these come from?”

Alana had gone AWOL at some stage during the frolics but reappeared, holding the infant Kimberley in her arms, “Look what you’ve done; you’ve woken the baby!” Hmmm… the nursery was at the other end of this huge mansion and on another floor. There was no way that we could have woken the baby. We all stared at our feet and looked sheepishly at each other, trying not to laugh. We were all unceremoniously sent home in disgrace.

How about playing Rock in Rio and having the Go-Go’s drink your friends under the table?

We went out to dinner around 9 pm with the Go-Go’s on a night off. We partied ’til about 1 pm the following afternoon when I went to bed. We had a midnight gig that night, leaving the hotel at about 10 pm. We agreed to meet them in the bar at 9 pm as they would come with us on the bus. When I asked them how much sleep they’d had as we were leaving, they scoffed and said they had partied right on through. After the show, we all returned to the hotel and continued for a while, but I was wrecked and went to bed around 3 am. As for the Go-Go’s, they were still going. [Laughs].

What’s the backstory behind meeting Etta James in the studio and telling her she wasn’t doing it right?

Etta agreed to sing a verse and some ad-libs on a song I was producing called “Stars and Seeds,” which I wrote with Bernie Taupin and Robin LeMesurier. During the warm-up, she sang quite softly and with a beautiful sound. As soon as we went for a take, she opened up and gave it her signature full voice. We took a couple of passes, and I realized I liked her first warm-up better. So, now I have to tell Etta James I don’t want what she’s known for. Happily, she responded very well and gave me a more nuanced vocal that fitted the song perfectly.

Can you recount jamming with Queen while over-refreshed and trying to buy back the tapes the next day?

I think the question contains the answer! It took place at the Record Plant on 3rd St in L.A. We had finished recording for the day and were hanging out in our studio, which had a fully equipped pub. Queen was recording in the next room, and we were friends. Somebody asked if we would like to jam, and somebody else foolishly said, “Yes.” I have a longstanding rule never to pick up a guitar when over-refreshed, but somehow amnesia had set in. I never heard the result, and I am truly grateful for that. My only hope is that they were trashed too. [Laughs].

What did you love most about sharing a mic onstage with Tina Turner?

I couldn’t believe it was happening! She was so sassy and charismatic. I was elated; later backstage, she couldn’t have been nicer—what a lady.

What was smoking a joint with Willie Nelson before a session in Texas like?

It was for a Janis Ian album I was producing, and the track was called “Memphis.” Willie showed up all smiles and great vibes. He’s quite tiny, but the energy coming off him could power a small hotel. I am rarely star-struck, but Willie had me at “Hello.” So he said, “Hey, before we start, let’s smoke a little weed.” I rarely take any perception-altering substances, especially in the studio, but how can you turn down a chance to get high with Willie Nelson? Janis had already sung her parts, so in a couple of takes, Willie had nailed it; we sat around some more ’til we regrettably had to get back on the plane to L.A. One for the grandkids.

You received guitar lessons from Jeff Beck, right? What did he teach you that you still use to this day?

You can’t really learn much from Jeff because what he does is so out there you hardly have any frame of reference. There was this thing where he played 16th notes on the E string with his thumb while playing syncopated rhythms using his other fingers. As a guitarist, the idea of that is terrifying. But once in a blue moon, I can do it for a few bars. Oh, and Jeff gives out guitar picks with the message, “Jeff Beck doesn’t use a pick.”

In 2020 you penned an autobiography called …And on Guitar. What was that process like for you?

Mostly enjoyable except when it wasn’t. I had great help from my co-writer Andrew Merriman who was responsible for keeping me on schedule. He also edited, advised, and arranged my random recollections. I probably actually wrote about 70%, but it would never have happened without him.

Is there one guitar you have that holds more meaning than others?

It’s my old Martin D18 that I have had from new. It’s 52 years old, and a bit beat up, but any acoustic work I do is on that guitar. I searched the whole of the London area when I was buying it as my Gibson J50 had been stolen. I must have tried dozens, but this one just sounded amazing, and it’s even better now.

What’s next for you, Jim?

I’ll be doing what I’ve been doing all these years: making records, playing concerts, taking care of my family, and staying out of jail. Oh yes, and since it’s currently 3:15 am, I’ll need to go to bed, too.

Jim Cregan of The Rod Stewart Group: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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