Caught by the River

The Lovers, the Dreamers and Bobby Scott

6th July 2015


You Know My Name : The Lovers, the Dreamers and Bobby Scott
by Kevin Pearce (Kindle Only-available here)

Review by Paolo Hewitt.

In 1976 Bruce Lundval, then President of CBS Records, defined the musician Bobby Scott thus: ‘At once a composer, arranger, producer, singer, pianist, historian, actor, gourmet, coin collector, baseball and horse racing statistician, conductor, accompanist, teacher, student, producer, pub crawler, sociologist, humanitarian.’

Amazing man, right? Kevin Pearce certainly thinks so. He has just written a book about Bobby Scott. Except this is not a biography. Instead, Pearce uses Scott as a totem, a way to celebrate, ‘a magnificent musical journey and illogical career progression.’

Pearce is a word obsessive, a man who has wrought from his overwhelming passion for music, a magnificent musical jigsaw with Bobby Scott placed firmly in the centre.

This really is a journey into sound, a voyage into a world of songs both famous and obscure, that world filled with artists, some of whom touched fame, others who still live in the shadows.

Bobby Scott composed the well known songs A Taste Of Honey and He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother and I suspect lived magnificently off the royalties from those two songs alone.

He also produced a musical canon which is vast and hip and in many cases, hidden. That is what interests Pearce – the music, not the life. To expose that music, to enthuse and celebrate, Pearce has dug it up and done so in a glorious manner. His method is to start with one song and then jump onto its history, see where it takes him. Here is an example.

‘There are no credits on the Lenny Welch single of ‘A Taste of Honey’, but the singer remembers Archie Bleyer being responsible for the arrangement. Lenny’s recording of ‘A Taste of Honey’ was not a hit, but it had a UK release on the London American Recordings label in the autumn of 1962. It would be the next single released by Cadence with which Lenny Welch had his big hit. This was a wonderfully romantic reworking of the old torch song ‘Since I Fell For You’, a superbly soulful, anguished vocal performance that captured the torment of love, which crept nearly to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. While Lenny’s recording of ‘A Taste of Honey’ may not have reached the charts, it was heard by Paul McCartney and he felt it had something his group could work with.’

And so it goes. Pearce goes right through Scott’s career as composer and producer, in this style, touching and bringing up for air the great singers and artists Scott worked with, some prominent, most hidden. Here are some of the names he enthuses about: Nana Mouskouri, Esther Ofarim, Aretha Franklin, Tony Myddleton, Meieko Hirota, Judy Roderick, Judy Henske, Bonnie Dobson, Oreil Smith, Luiz Bobfa and Maria Voledo. And that is just the first few chapters. Seriously.

In fact over the same course of the book, I made a note of the songs that Pearce’s words and enthusiasm caused me to think, Jesus, I need to hear that. I jotted down 1, 2, 3…68 songs and that was within the first 100 pages.

As befits a man who collects coins and goes pub crawling, Scott’s musical range was amazing. A child prodigy, Scott mastered music – he loved jazz and show musicals and gospel and blues and pop. But he didn’t stop there. Always on the hunt for great songs, Scott scoured the world and found gems in the work of so many different genres. Kurt Weill and obscure Celtic folk songs were not unknown to this man. Far from it.

This open minded attitude chimes perfectly with Pearce’s own approach to music. This is a man for whom the sound of the Jasmine Minks is as important as the sound of Bobby Paris as is the sound of Mina. Music is music and boy does Pearce immerse himself in that most magical of all elements.

The only criticism I can throw at this book is that there is too much music in there. For example, half way through the book, Pearce uses Scott to leap frog into an exploration of Brazilian music. Dazzled by his breadth and knowledge, once or twice I had to lay the book aside and come up for air a few times myself.

This is a book to savour, to keep by one’s side, a book to select a chapter and dive into, see where Pearce will take you. You will not be disappointed. Even if the music he celebrates is not to your liking, his writing style, which is so succinct, so neatly crafted, will more than compensate.

Of Pearce himself, I have nothing but deep admiration. He is a writer who keeps his distance, operates by his own rules, his own standards. Pearce trusts his talent and instincts and that the result is always more than enough. He is a jewel, brilliant and pure.

Paolo Hewitt on Caught by the River
Kevin Pearce on Caught by the River