Sometime in the latter half of the sixties, our manager Gloria Bristow had an assistant, Barbara, who threw a party at her apartment in Pimlico, London. All of Episode Six were there, some PR (public relations) people, and a few industry types, but what got us excited was that we’d heard that Johnny Gustafson might show up.
When the Merseybeat explosion happened, The Big Three was one of the coolest and most underrated bands around. For whatever reason, Some Other Guy was the closest they came really cracking it – and what a great record; we often played it on stage. Some years later and we find ourselves at this party hoping to meet the legendary Big Three bass player himself, Johnny Gustafson.
The festivities went on all night. I can’t remember when he arrived, whether we met him, whether we were ourselves too drunk to remember much, whether we didn’t even notice that he’d staggered in after midnight, falling into a heap in a corner, sleeping all night with a blanket over him, oblivious of the party … it matters not. What I recall most vividly, as we came to with the morning sun streaming through the window and the smell of bacon and eggs fighting with stale cigarette smoke, was Barbara poking at the blanketed heap in the corner, telling him to get up, there’s interviews to be done, starting soon.
Johnny Gustafson, unkempt, a bleary eyed tramp, hair a mess, unshaven, shrugged off the blanket and stumbled to the bathroom, reappearing ten minutes later looking every inch the rock star; lean, mysterious and somewhat tough-looking with long black hair falling around the granite lines of his clean-shaven features, a pressed white shirt, some sort of black jacket (my imagination makes it of the leather variety), tight, faded black jeans and scuffed Cuban-heeled boots. Looking like a photograph already, a million dollars, a true star. The transformation was incredible.
That moment left a deep impression on all of us. That was how it was done. I was in awe. It was the only topic of conversation that day and still is; just a few months ago, Ian Gillan and I were chuckling about it during one of our rare, nostalgic conversations.
Quatermass was the band that should have made him. A brilliant piece of work by any standards, it was way ahead of its time – bold, adventurous, progressive hard rock – a perfect vehicle for John’s phenomenal voice. And then there was his outstanding contribution to The Butterfly Ball, and Roxy Music, and…. such a talent.
And now he’s gone, another chunk of life defined, or should it be redefined? These are just a few of many memories that came upon hearing the sudden news of John’s death. I feel honoured to have known and worked with him. I’m shocked and saddened.
My condolences go to those who loved him.