Guy Stevens is a name that I have been trying to get a documentary made on for a while now. He is a fascinating and massively influential character and someone who should, in my humble opinion, be celebrated more.
In his varied and multi layered career, he was a rabid and ‘ahead of his time’ record collector, DJ, label owner, producer and manager. He crossed all the facets of the music industry and his legacy regarding who and what he is connected to, lives on today.
For example, the ‘Sue’ record label – one of the hippest of all time – the band Procol Harum, the cover of Mr Fantasy by Traffic, the band Mott The Hoople and The Clash.
He was also an obsessed Arsenal Football Club fan, but of course as history shows us, no one gets everything right….
Guy Stevens was born in South East London in 1943. He was farmed out to a boarding school at the early age of 11, but his rebellious streak saw him expelled at 14. He soon became an avid record collector of RnB imported vinyl. ‘I’d get all my records mail order. You sent ’em the money and got the records back within seven days from Stan’s Record Store in Shreveport, Louisiana, USA.’
At the time, Guy was working 9- 5 in an insurance office with his brother, but he was never cut out for too much of that.
Married at 19 to Di and a father to James not long after, he began the best part of a two year stint DJing at his own ‘R&B Disc Night’ on a Monday at The Scene Club in Soho, where his collection of rarely heard tunes off of labels like Motown, Stax and Chess immediately assured him a fervent Mod following. He also began work as a journalist at the Record Mirror music magazine.
His nose for discovering tunes was identified by Chris Blackwell who was looking to tap into the burgeoning pop market. He invited Stevens to run the ‘Sue’ label, as an imprint of Blackwell’s own ‘Island Records’ label. As a result Stevens, from April 1964 was soon releasing singles on the distinctive red and yellow label in the UK by the likes of Rufus Thomas, Charles and Inez Foxx and Wilbert Harrison among others, as well as putting together the ‘Sue Story’ compilation albums. He also promoted acts like Chuck Berry bringing him the UK in 1964.
Stevens also began producing tracks, as well signing new groups to ‘Island’, such as bands like The VIPs who morphed into Spooky Tooth. He was also instrumental in the formation of Procul Harum and the song ‘Whiter Shade of Pale.’ Indeed he came up with the bands name. Sadly he failed to get them signed up and some one else made all that moolah that still rolls in…
A drug bust in 1968, followed by the loss of his amazing record collection, stolen from his mothers flat, caused him to have a break down. It is rumoured the thief, who had no idea what he had in his possession, sold each disc for just ninepence each….
Slowly though he eventually returned to Island Records and began producing again, working with bands like Mighty Baby and Free.
He also began work on forming the band Mott the Hoople, mentoring singer Ian Hunter to take a lead role. He named the band after the Willard Manus novel of the same name, envisaging their sound as a cross between Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.
Of course they went on the have a huge hit with the David Bowie tune ‘All The Young Dudes’ with Bowie himself in the producers chair.
However, by the mid ‘70s, Stevens was an alcoholic and known to be prone to very erratic behaviour.
But, he still found himself at the sharp end of what was going and he was there when The Clash demoed a session for their first album ‘White Riot’ and he would go on to produce their seminal 1979 album ‘London Calling’ which the band acknowledged the success of, was due in large part to Stevens’ work on it.
In assessing himself, Stevens stated ‘There are only two Phil Spector’s in the world… and I’m one of them!’
Sadly he died aged just 38 in August 1981, overdosing on his meds prescribed to combat his dependency on drink.
In 1982, the Clash wrote and recorded a song in his honour ‘Midnight At Stevens.’
‘With Guy Stevens it was very, very special, because if it hadn’t been for him seeing that glimmer of whatever that I certainly wasn’t aware of, I’d still be working in the factory right now.’ – Ian Hunter
Now, that’s an influencer.
The Mumper of SE5