JACK LEN TAPE
by Jim Ratts
Terry called him "John Jack", but the world knew him as John
Lennon. Uneasy about wearing glasses, he gained confidence from a West
Texas rocker. I was Buddy Holly he once said.
Id like to tell a story of amazing coincidence. These types of
occurrences take place all the time, but we sometimes fail to make the
connection. Ive got a name for it. Serendipitous syncronicity.
Random events with such amazing timing and interconnection as to appear
staged and remarkably deliberate.
In February of 2000 my band Runaway Express performed a 4-hour Buddy
Holly tribute show. We do that sort of thing for all sorts of reasons
with all sorts of topics. The Buddy Holly element has been omnipresent
in my brain since I flipped for Thatll Be The Day
when I was eight. It was indelible! We decided to cut a record of Holly
tunes with a slight country/bluegrass tilt. Buddys first musical
inspirations, aside from gospel, were Hank Williams, Flatt and Scruggs,
and Bill Monroe. The rhythm and blues and rock came later. Buddy climbed
aboard Elvis mystery train with a strong foundation in country.
(He asked his older brother Larry to buy him a banjo. Ten bucks - money
well spent - it was sold for 40 grand.)
We began tracking 20 Holly tunes incorporating banjo into the initial
rhythm tracks. No Shakeys Pizza stuff. Hard driving and lyrical
Earl Scruggs-inspired banjo parts that made reference to Buddys
distinctively powerful guitar style. Some thought it might be an odd
marriage, but in retrospect Yeah, Buddy! worked.
During the first week of tracking Yeah, Buddy!, an event
of serendipitous syncronicity stepped in to add power to my project.
A rare tape recording gave me inspiration. For years I had heard Buddy
Holly reflected in 60s music over and over but conceded that,
just maybe, I was being imaginative because of my passion and prejudice.
What took place confirmed for me the profound bond that the progressive
music of the sixties had with 50s roots rock.
I had met a fellow named Nile Southern. Nile had some tapes he wanted
me to help archive during that first week of Yeah, Buddy!
tracking. Some very rare and valuable old tapes from his fathers
archives, stacked in a large, dusty box. His dad, Terry Southern, was
truly a pop icon of the 60s, a fixture of the elite art/literary/music
underground of London and the World during that fantastic period when
the Stones and The Who and the Beatles were redefining our global youth
reality. They were really raising some dust over there in England (I
was attending Texas Tech at the time and we were generating some countercultural
Lubbock dust over here, too!), dust that has yet to settle, and Terry
Southern was firmly positioned in the middle of it all. A buddy of the
Beatles and the Rolling Stones, his book Candy was #1 for 11 weeks on
the New York Times Bestsellers list. With Stanley Kubrick he wrote the
screenplay for Dr. Strangelove, arguably the greatest black
comedy motion picture of all time. He came up with the title for Easy
Rider and worked on the screenplay; and wrote The Magic Christian, a
book Peter Sellers loved so much he bought 100 copies to share with
his compadres. Terrys friends included Charlie Parker, William
Burrows, Robin Williams, Hopper and Fonda, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol,
T.S. Elliot, Thelonious Monk, Keith Richards and Ringo, to name a few,
and Terry was the guy in the sunglasses on the cover of Sgt. Peppers
Lonely Hearts Club Band. Terry Southern was a sensation!
So I took some time off from my Buddy project as Nile and I explored
and copied countless tapes that Terry Southern had made during his heyday
as the darling of the jet-setting pop/rock scene. Each recording was
an insight into the 60s subculture, with magical guest appearances
by celebrity after celebrity (...Terry at home with guest Lenny Bruce,
or chatting with Kieth Richards, etc...).
We came upon a tape in our explorations, likely unplayed since it was
recorded, that had been mysteriously labeled "Jack Len". To
our delight, it was a remarkable home/party recording of Terry hanging
out with John Lennon (with guitar in hand) and a couple of friends.
Donovan (maybe) was there and sang "Rivers of Babylon" and
"The Royal Canal". Lennon performed "Rock Island Line",
"Its All Over Now Baby Blue", discussed Dylan "borrowing"
from old folk tunes, sang "Railroad Bill", "Liverpool
Lou", "Dont Fence Me In", and did a fine Howard
Cossell imitation, inspired by a recent Cossell/Lennon interview ("Tell
me, John. When did you discover that it was all a big hoax and none
of you had any talent?" Lennon replied, "On the way to the
The second half of this tape was the remarkable part. The Big Event!
It featured John (John "Jack Len" Lennon) with Rolling Stone
Mick Jagger, both playing guitar. They blasted through a jam on all
sorts of classic tunes, including "Its Only Make Believe",
"Under My Thumb", "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window",
"Youre So Square", "Stand by Me", "There
Goes My Baby", "Dream Lover" and tried in vain to get
the chords to "How High The Moon", as they discussed the recordings
and gifts of Les Paul. Terry said, "Ive got an idea for an
album. A Stroll Down Memory Lane With John Lennon And Mick Jagger."
(No stranger to great ideas, Terry Southern did, after all, come up
with the idea of calling The Beatles "The Fab Four".) But
hearing this superstar duet jam was not the amazing part.
The punchline, the moment of serendiptous synchronicity, came when Mick
made a brief comment that set in motion one of the most galvanizing
listening experiences of my life. Remember Im one week
into tracking "Yeah, Buddy" and Im passionately and
blissfully obsessed. As if making a statement of fact, Jagger simply
said, "Peggy Sue got married." It was a launching pad for
John and Mick to explode into a rampage of Buddy Holly songs, missed
chords, forgotten words and all, filled with love, enthusiasm, respect
and admiration for one of the great songwriters of the 20th centurythat
unassuming, sometimes brash, often kind, always impetuous and profoundly
gifted lad from Lubbock. For an all too brief nine minutes two giants
of 60s rock paid tribute to Buddy Holly and sang "Peggy Sue
Got Married", "Listen to Me", "Words of Love",
"Everyday", "Rave On", "Tell Me How",
and "Maybe Baby"! It was astonishing!
It was as if Lennon and Jagger were saying to me, "Were with
you, Jim. Go make that album. We love his music, too."
Just a jam session
Just a couple of guys
A couple of guys
armed with guitars and a common love for a beautiful musical heritage
A couple of guys who made an indelible impression on my generation.
Just some songs
Some very specific songs
Echoes of West
Just a moment in time. But thanks to the magic of serendipitous
synchronicity, Terry Southern was there with tape rolling.
Epilogue: This tape belongs to Nile Southern. Until he chooses to release
it, it will remain unavailable. Nile gave me permission to layer some
sound bites from the Jack Len Tape into my two Buddy Holly discs, Yeah,
Buddy! and Oh, Boy! (another yeah, buddy). Ill
point out their locations upon request. Jim Ratts
p.s. - That same week, Bob Dylan encored with Not Fade Away
at his Denver concert.