interview with Paul Slade
did you get in the music business?
started playing the guitar at the age of 9 and when I was
13 I formed my first group. When I left school in 1965 I joined
The Ray King Soul Band as bass guitarist and backing singer.
For the following two years I toured England playing on gigs
with big names such as: Ike & Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder,
Jimmy Cliff, Elton John and Jimmy Hendrix… After playing at
"The Revolution Club" in London in 1967 I was offered a recording
and management contract and recorded my first solo singles
with Decca records. At the same time I started writing my
own songs and began playing the 12-string guitar. In 1971
whilst playing in Paris I had the occasion to sign to CBS
records. I decided to move to Paris where I recorded my first
folk-rock album Life of a Man that put me on the road to a
long international career. A year later my next album Dutchman
was released. I also became the top 12-string guitarist in
the Parisian recording studios. I spent the best part of the
'70s/'80s doing session work in Paris as a guitarist and backing
singer and writing and recording film music and TV commercial
exactly did Fred Petrus get in touch with you?
the late '70s and early '80s all the French artists wanted
to sing in English and I was asked to write lyrics for countless
artists and often had #1 songs in the French charts. I wrote
songs for Jupiter Sunset Band, Dan Perlman, Bimbo Jet, Guy
Frasseto, Danyel Gérard, Frank Dana, D'Onorio Jean-Louis,
Rose Laurens, David & Jonathan, Réjane Perry, Ringo, etc…Fred
Petrus had connections within the Parisian Disco and music
publishing world and got in touch with me in 1979 via Marcel
Marouani, who owned the publishing company Sugar Music. Marouani
produced David & Jonathan at the time. I had just written
lyrics for Marcel after having the # 1 hit "I Need A Man"
in the US with Grace Jones. Petrus was looking for hit lyrics.
The first songs I did for him were for Macho and the Peter
Jacques Band. The biggest hit was "Is it it", not the best
of songs I must say but it was catchy. Then I wrote the lyrics
for the Change song "Searching", my second international hit
after Grace Jones. This one was followed up with the even
bigger hit song "On The Beat" by the B.B.&Q. Band. More songs
would follow like "Starlette", "Time For Love", "Your Move",
"Hold Tight", "Stop For Love", "Got To Get Up", "Let's Go
Together", "Going Dancing Down The Street", "All Right Let's
Go", "Drives Me Crazy", "Keep It Hot", "Break Up" released
by Change, B.B.&Q. Band, Peter Jacques Band, etc.
you explain how the writing process worked? What was the normal
procedure when you wrote songs for Petrus?
first couple of times that I wrote lyrics for Petrus, he sent
me the playback tapes (cassettes) home. Whenever Petrus sent
me tapes it was 20 or 30 songs at a time and I made lyrics
for all of them! It's only natural that not all the songs
I wrote were good. But as I didn't have much contact with
Petrus he would either get someone else to rewrite the lyrics
or to change some of them. He never contacted me to ask me
to rewrite anything. This is probably what happened with the
songs on the Silence album. I discovered there are songs on
it that I am credited for that I don't know about. And I have
certainly not signed any contract for them. Probably because
Petrus got someone else to add some lyrics on the final recording
and in doing so even changed the title of the original song
that I wrote. On the tapes that I received someone just sang
la la la for the melody. I had carte blanche for all I wanted
to write. Nobody else had any say in the matter of lyrics.
There are no rules for writing songs. I always tried to write
lyrics with double meanings like "On The Beat". In English
it means "on the tempo" and also "a policeman on his round".
Writing funky lyrics was new for me but I have always worked
with coloured musicians ever since the early '60s. Their music
is natural to me. When I could I would just add my voice on
the tape that Fred Petrus sent me, using a Revox tape recorder.
But most of the time I just sent the lyrics by post to the
US because the songs weren't in my key for singing. When we
did the tracks "All Right Let's Go", "Drives Me Crazy", etc.
in 1985, I wrote the lyrics in Italy while Change and Peter
Jacques Band were recording there. When I first met the musicians
of Change it was in the studio in Italy. When I arrived they
were recording, so I just sat down in a corner. I was totally
ignored by everyone until Petrus finally introduced me and
they all cried out "Hey Man! We thought you were black!".
From then on we got on fine. I even sang backing vocals and
the lead vocals on several songs of Peter Jacques Band, though
I was never mentioned on any record covers. I just sang the
songs in the studio to show the group how I felt them. I didn't
know that Petrus was going to release the songs with me as
a lead singer!! In fact I only found out about it a few months
ago and was very surprised to hear the tracks "Drives Me Crazy",
"Don't Say You've Gotta Go" and "Everybody Have A Party" with
me singing lead!! Actually when you read about the history
of Petrus I am hardly ever mentioned!?! They only talk about
the music never the lyrics and who wrote them!
you express what you felt when you heard "On The Beat" on
the radio for the very first time?
I was always happy to hear my songs on the radio and in clubs.
Just happy. I'm quite a reserved person, I like working on
my own and always looking for new ideas. If a song becomes
popular, all the better but it's not always the songs I prefer
that work, although I do rather like "All Right Let's Go"
"Searching" and "On The Beat".
did you discover that you were good at writing songs and lyrics?
If people proposed you poor music, would you refuse sometimes
or was it always a challenge to provide the lyrics?
first started writing songs back in 1967 when I started a
solo career in England. I rarely refused writing lyrics for
others because 1) it is never the best songs that work and
one never knows what will happen. Grace Jones was the proof.
And 2) every song is a new challenge indeed.
did you feel about working with J.F. Petrus? Did you always
deal with him? What kind of a person was he to you?
Honestly, I've had, and still have enormous problems with
Fred Petrus. He was a thief, a crook, whatever... For the
past 25 years I have been trying to recuperate royalties for
all the songs that I wrote and since my visit to Italy a couple
of weeks ago I found out that Romani and Malavasi and their
Italian publisher all have the same problem! So we are teaming
up together to take legal action. Petrus was someone totally
bad! He had absolutely no respect for anyone he worked with
and considered that once anyone had worked for him, all the
rights for the songs were his! And so he did whatever he wanted
with all the works and pocketed all the royalties. That is
without doubt why he was shot by the Mafia. The matter of
the lyrics was never discussed with the musicians of Petrus.
I never dealt with Malavasi or Romani.
Petrus a music producer? Was his creative or musical role
in the studio important enough to be called so?
all depends what your idea of a producer is. I think Petrus
just had the lucky gift of putting the right people together
to create a commercial product. I honestly never really liked
the guy and didn't have a lot of contact with him. For a start
he couldn't speak English very well, he spoke French and Italian
mostly. Secondly he was just the sort of person that I didn't
like. He was big headed and thought a lot of himself. Always
talked about "His" groups and always called me "Slade" and
not Paul. He even thought that I was having a big success
in England but was mixed up with "Sade". I think he just knew
a lot of people and had the gift to wrap them up.
did Petrus fix it to enroll all those outstanding artists,
was his clever trick to make it all happen? Petrus was like
a talent scout. As I said he was always looking for the best
to do all the artistic work. I only met him twice. The 1st
time was in Paris, I think he was just starting up. The first
batch of songs I wrote was: "Counting on love", "Is it it",
"You Got Me Running" etc.... They were released under the
groups Peter Jacques Band and Macho. They were produced in
Italy. He was based there with Goody Music and Little Macho
Music. That was his first crooked thing I didn't realise at
the time. All the contracts were in Italian and only much
later did I find out that the contracts didn't stand up and
he was in fact selling his publishing rights to himself in
the US and already illegally pocketing huge money from song
royalties that he wasn't untitled to under European law. He
was very clever at playing that sort of tricks!
you know something about the tragic end of JF Petrus?
remember meeting Petrus's best friend Claude Ismael just after
his death and he told me (and this is the truth): Fred Petrus
was found in his bed with three bullets in his head whilst
in his home in Sainte-Anne in Guadeloupe. Probably the Mafia
as he dealt with them and must have done something wrong!?!
I met Claude Ismael a couple of times. He worked for Petrus
in his NY office. He also helped run the night club Petrus
owned in Le Gosier on Guadeloupe. He wasn't concerned with
Petrus's productions but is probably producing his own stuff
now in Paris. I remember that he once wanted to produce one
of my songs but after being so stung by Petrus himself I didn't
want to work with his close friends (I never told him that
wrote for Petrus projects until 1985. You were a close witness
of his rise and fall. Any idea why his Italian crew left him
and why he wasn't so succesful anymore in the end?
idea. Petrus was just one of the many people I wrote for.
Quite honestly I thought he was a joker in the beginning and
was very surprised to find "Is it it" at #1 in the Italian
charts when I was on summer holiday there. The following year
I was even more surprised that "Searching" by Change was in
the English charts.There must be a lot of reasons for his
rise and fall. He must have had a lot of enemies around. I
was certainly always trying to get him to send contracts to
me after working and writing all the lyrics that I did. Once
he had his recordings done he was the boss and did whatever
he wanted with the works and didn't give a damn about the
people who worked for him.
a song author (lyricist) share the same amount of royalties
as the music composer?
Yes! The normal share is 50% publisher, 25% author and 25%
composer. BUT the Italians split it different: 50% publisher,
30% composer and 20% author. Then again for certain royalties
it always stays at 50%,25%,25%.
which realisations are you particularly proud of?
rather liked "Searching" and "On the Beat". Otherwise what
am I proud of? I guess the answer is nothing! I am an artist
and I am never satisfied with all I do. Things can always
be better. I think once an artist is satisfied he is finished!
One must always try to do better. So I cannot really answer
fully this question. All I can say is that I have written
lots of songs and played and sang on countless sessions for
other artists. I don't remember all of them. In the early
'70s I spent years in the studios in Paris and played on hundreds
of records and I never really kept track of all I did because
right from the start I was writing my own material, in my
style of music (far from dance music).
did you actually meet Grace Jones at the time?
for Grace Jones! I got done over that song too!!! I met Grace
in Paris one afternoon when she had just been "discovered".
I had already worked with her manager/producer Stephan Tabakov,
a zero guy! Actually I was introduced to him because he had
asked a couple of my English friends if they could work on
his new discovery: Colin Caldwell (sound engineer at Acousti
Studios in Paris) and Alain Reeves to do the arrangements.
So I agreed to write the lyrics for Tabakov but told him that
I needed to meet Grace in order to know what kind of lyrics
she needed. When I met her she was only a model and was taking
singing lessons (God! Did she sing out of tune!!!). She was
trying to put herself up as being an American star but I had
worked a lot with West Indians whilst in England in the '60s
and there was no way she could fool me. She was West Indian
origin! Anyway, I said that I would write the lyrics for her
and so met Pierre Papadiamandis one day who played me a song
that sounded like "Puppet On A String" , an old '60s song
by Sandie Shaw. It sounded (pardon the expression) like shit.
After hearing her and meeting Tabakov, my English fiends and
I all agreed that it was a joke and a waste of time! The sound
engineer asked for an extremely high price for the studio
and the arranger did the same. I just forgot it. Then one
day, out of the blue I got a telephone call from Tabakov asking
if I had done the lyrics. I answered "Yes" he then told me
that he needed them that same day, so I said OK. When I put
the phone down I hunted for the cassette of the piano version
Papadiamandis had given me and quickly wrote the lyrics (took
about half an hour at the most) then I jumped on my motorbike
and took them to him. I didn't know at the time but three
or four well known lyric writers also wrote some words. Mine
were chosen and Grace recorded the song, it was released in
France and was a complete flop so I forgot about it.
years later a friend of mine at RCA in Paris telephoned me
to ask if I had seen Billboard Magazine. I said no I hadn't.
He then told me to go and look at his copy at RCA, so I went
to see him. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that "I
Need A Man" that I had written was #1 in the U.S. Disco charts!!!
And all they had done was remix the song. I never play it
to anyone because quite honestly I think it's lousy. As I
said, I got done too because what actually happened was that
Grace quit her manager in Paris, met up with Tom Moulton in
the States who remixed the song and made it a hit. And once
again pocketed all the royalties. Yep! I'm not a lucky person
Americans just told Tabakov to get lost as they had done all
the hard work and my royalties got lost along with his. BUT
I'M STILL TRYING TO TRACE THEM even after so many years now.
The good thing was that after having a song at #1 in the USA
lots of other people contacted me for lyrics (one was Petrus).
Here you go! hard to believe eh? You can spend hours, days,
weeks, months even years trying to write what you think is
a great song and it won't work or half an hour to write a
lousy, rubbishy hi commercial song and it works! The whole
business isn't about Talent, it's about who knows who and
MONEY. That's why I got out of it and decided to continue
writing my own stuff that I am proud of and even if one or
two people listen and think they're good, then I'm happy.
That's why I put my songs on the net for free. I'm happy when
I make others happy. That's my life.
are you busy with nowadays? Still composing or writing for
others? Still having dreams you want to realise one day?
living in the small village of Saint-Christophe, way out in
the country in the centre of France, where for the last two
years I've been concentrating on writing and recording my
own songs in my home-studio. After 40 years of being in show
business and all the different music styles I've been through,
I wanted to get down to some serious writing, lyrics about
life, how I experience it. I was busy producing my CD Talking
About Freedom. But I do lots of things in fact. I like to
do everything myself and I am always thirsty for discovering
things. Music is in my blood so I can't let it go but sometimes
I go a long time without writing or even touching a guitar.
I spend my life searching. I have built two houses alone.
I am crazy about tree breeding and nature, I love painting
too, I'm always on the go and looking for anything new to
discover or create…
a lot for this clarifying interview Mr. Slade!
Francis Depuydt: francis.depuydt[at]versateladsl.be
in March 2009 by: