More revelry with Slade’s Dave Hill
Slade hit the highest of highs in their homeland during the early 1970s – hit after hit after hit. Other Brit bands made the Atlantic crossing and replicated that success Stateside; Slade crossed the ocean and gave it a go, but American success never came.
Songwriters Noddy Hill, the singer, and Jimmy Lea, the bassist, left Slade long ago. But guitarist Dave Hill has kept the band and the brand alive, with various younger players cycling in and out. I met Hill (and the others) back in 1975 on a tour stop. They were my first rock band interviews. Forty-three years later, I thought it might be time for a catch-up and so Hill and I conducted an email interview.
We met at that show in Bangor, Maine where you were the opener on a triple-bill, ZZ Top headlining.
Hill: I have good memories of many great shows we had and, yes, I remember the ZZ Top dates. I met them a few years ago, met Dusty [Hill, no relation] and he couldn’t remember working with us in the seventies. Ha-ha.
Your book and where it begins …
My story starts in 1946 post-war Britain and growing up in that environment. And people and places and movies from Hollywood and of course rock and roll from America – Elvis, Chuck Berry Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly and of course Dion, Paul Anka and Bobby Darin. Doris Day films, musicals. Gosh, you [America] had so much to offer then of course we had the Beatles. Best days of my life, mate.
You write about not being able to crack America, a source of frustration for you and the band. This tour, 1975, is of course when I saw you and I’ll ask questions about that below. But in terms of America: I know there are many conspiring details you mention – entering the US at a time when laid-back FM radio dominated, also, being “too British” for mass American tastes like maybe Status Quo and Hawkwind (bands I also love.) Could Slade have played it differently to “conquer” America?
I know, too, from your book that all the time you spent here resulted in less popularity when you went back to England – as if English fans felt abandoned by your attempts to make it here. How did you react and cope with that?
There’s always after-thoughts of what went with us and reasons we didn’t crack it big. I remember Elton John watched us play Australia and said “I cannot understand why you have not been big in the States.” My answer is not simple. We were a great band with great songs at the wrong time. Other [British] bands in the States learned from us and made it later. And, yes, the UK was suffering, as we were from being away too long many times to the point of despair with it all. Still, on a good note, we made some good friends there and had some great shows. Not all was lost.
You’ve said the skinhead-era Slade was really kind of a pose – suggested by management to differentiate you from the long hairs – but you didn’t fit into that sub-strata and, actually, felt kind of threatened by real skins. Looking back, was that a mistake or ultimately just part of the process that led to your fame during the glam-rock era?
No, it wasn’t a mistake. It was a way to lead us to the next stage. Maybe in life as I know myself, all roads lead to destinations. And that road led to getting known and finally fame and success.
Glam was a funny thing, wasn’t it? More a look than a sound in many ways – Slade and, say, Roxy Music, being far apart sonically. But you guys, and, say, The Sweet, had that four-on-the-floor, melodic hard-rock thing down.
Thing is, Jim, we were never any other band – just Slade. The songs were written by Nod and Jim and we had a great manager and producer, Chas Chandler. You would do well to listen to what we were doing before fame, such as the album, Beginnings, and Slade Alive!. They speak volumes about what we were capable of. We were more than four-on-the-floor, my friend. The floor had great depth with Slade and we could have been the next Sgt. Pepper band.
The continuance of Slade, post-Noddy and Jim: It’s funny now that, of course, there’s a lot of talk about “older” rockers still doing it, some of it derisive and some encouraging. (Frankly, I think it depends on the act as to where I fall on that axis.) I remember talking to Motorhead’s Lemmy sometime in the ‘90s about that, me raising the question that maybe for what he does – loud head-banging rock ‘n’ roll (he hated Motorhead being called metal) – that maybe he was aging out of the demo that likes that music. He looked at me, incredulous and said, “What the fuck else am I gonna do?! Host a talk show?!” He was right, of course. Lemmy and Motorhead soldiered on ‘til he could no long and died pretty much with his boots on and we Motorhead fans got a lot more gigs. Do you think that’s close to your attitude as well?
You know, Jim, when I was 18, I asked my mom and dad [if I could] go professional and that was, and still is, the best time of my life – to travel, to make people happy, to entertain them as I do and to be a part of something that gave me great purpose in life and my passion. Age is a number, not a destination figure. It’s in the blood. And people like me and the Stones don’t do anything else that we are great at and why should we? I bought the ticket and it was for lifetime.
Your book has a lot about Slade, of course, the ups and downs – obscurity to fame and then to not-fame and back again – but also your upbringing and then, in the final chapter, trying to reckon with all of what life’s brought – the physical, the mental, the financial – and your reckoning with it philosophically. Is there a message you’ve got for others – fans, musicians, people in general – what you’ve learned over the years that you didn’t know when you were young?
My message is simple: Do in life what you love that will bring you the greater happiness and maybe you don’t make loads of money at it, but the reason you do it is not based on fortune. It’s how you feel inside. Success based on money is often not great, but success based on family and a job you love is real success.
You’re very open and honest about your own mental state, the depression you went through at various times of your life. Did you have any trepidation about sharing that with the public or did you feel that, well, this is part of my story and maybe it’ll help others going through it?
When I wrote my story, my wife said “You should write all that down and what you went through with the depression and the stroke,” and indeed it helped people to see hope. So, no, I didn’t feel at all concerned in sharing that side of me. I mean, if you help one person in this world, it’s worth it.
I suppose there’s some irony in the fact that these post-Noddy and Jim versions of Slade have been around much longer than the original lineup. And I’m guessing you play to the old fans (my age, your age) who were with you then, and some of the younger set, who’ve got on. Is there any question in your mind of legitimacy, being without Nod and Jim? Or is it more a case of: The people want to see me/us and hear the music and whoever’s playing it, it brings them back to a great period in their lives?
When I was contacted by Suzi Quatro’s husband Len Tuckey, he said to me, “You need to get out there. You are Dave Hill of Slade. Everybody knows that.” So, the name of the band had to be Slade. It was correct. I worked for it; it’s what I am. The other guys had left the band and wouldn’t do it anymore and, another thing is, I’ve kept it alive all these years and played to millions of people and that is surely proof enough that it’s right to be Slade.
When Quiet Riot had the hit in the States in 1983 with a note-for-note replication of “Cum On Feel the Noize” what were your thoughts? And there are, certainly, scads of successful bands everywhere that will cite Slade as an influence. A good feeling or somewhat bittersweet?
It was a good version. No room any negative thoughts. It’s nice to hear the likes of KISS, Oasis etc. and many American bands mention our influence. We all need inspiration.
Any chance this version of Slade may tour the US?
I would like to think so. Just need the right contacts to get it together for America. We would do very well there, I think.
Is there anything you’d like to add about Slade then or now? Any misconceptions to clear up?
Keep on rocking. That’s what I would like to say to all fans out there nothing good ever dies. It lives on. And so do I.