Perfect Sound Forever

MANFRED MANN

That commercial but not so commercial British rock and roll group-
who played the blues and bubblegum music
by Sam Leighty
(April 2012)


One of the most fascinating and musically airtight groups in the British Invasion was Manfred Mann. Both the group and its leader were known by the moniker of Manfred Mann. This came about as the result of some confusion over the group's various pseudonyms and some snafus in the annotations on some early acetates. Manfred was furious over this bit of business. He forgot about it several weeks later, and for a good reason.

Manfred Mann (the person, not the band) was born Michael Lubowitz in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1940. He came from a wealthy family. It was decided he would have piano lessons as a child. He showed promise and by his early teens he was interested in jazz and blues. He would sneak out of his mom and dad's house late at night and go to clubs where he had a regular thing sitting in with the likes of Hugh Masekela. Michael recorded two records in 1958 with a freind. The twosome were at that time South Africa's only rock and roll band! Michael had itchy feet to get out of South Africa. He was very disgusted with his country's apartheid racial policy. This was a long time before freedom riders or late sixties radical left politics.

In 1961, Lubowitz went to New York for 6 months where he studied music theory at Juilliard. He then went to Portsmouth on the south coast of England where he formed a large review type of band with a horn section, guitars and drums. Graham Bond was breifly a member of this group. "Manfred" Lubowitz financed the group by giving lessons in music theory and writing for a jazz publication as "M. Manne" or "Manfred Manne." The group played jazz, some pop and a bit of R&B. They were typically billed as Manfred and The Manfreds, The Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers or The Manfreds.

In 1963, the group came to the attention of producer John Burgess at HMV records. Ascot was their American distributor. Burgess began to slowly work with the "Mann-Hugg" group and several singles came out of this liason, which were moderately successful in the UK but didn't go anywhere in the USA. Remember, it was 1963 and it really wasn't until the tumult over this oddball new English rock and roll group called the Beatles started up at the very close of 1963 that these groups like the Manfreds, etc. started to break even and sell records in America and get radio airplay. Some of The Manfred's early HMV singles included titles like "Why Should We Not," "Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble" and "Cock a Hoop." Burgess was responsible for the mixup over the artist billing on the HMV acetates and studio logs. Burgess credited these to "Manfred Mann" it seems. So it would be by the name 'Manfred Mann' that the general record buying public would come to know both the South African organ and piano player and the two sixties groups who had hits like "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "The Mighty Quinn." At first, Manfred was beside himself at Burgess over the new billing. It took him several weeks to calm down enough to conduct a civil conversation with him. Somewhere along the line, manager Kenneth Pitt got involved with Manfred Mann. Pitt was one of those gay British Invasion managers in the style of Brian Epstein, Tony Stratton-Smith, Larry Page, Simon Napier-Bell or Kit Lambert you could say.

I've always said in my writings that Kenneth Pitt's overall ideas for the concept and presentation of Manfred Mann as this two-sided bohemian, intellectual/bubblegum music group were very creative and interesting. He began to go to work molding Manfred Mann for major success in The UK, Europe and North America. Mike Hugg (the "Hugg" in Mann-Hugg)said in an interview in the nineties that Pitt was really the one responsible for the entire Manfred Mann group image from Abe Lincoln beards, black plastic glasses frames, matching suits and uniforms. Not to mention the group's "university" image. Hugg said Manfred Mann would've never even thought about having an image and the whole shmazz was Ken Pitt's idea! There were all sorts of jazz and bohemian touches in PR handouts and teenybopper fanzine articles about the group. An article or press handout might say that a Manfred Mann member had been "studying Stockhausen" while another "spoke Latin and Greek" or was "fond of dried apricots." Londoner Paul Jones joined the group in 1962. In many respects he was the group's selling point. He became a heartthrob in those teenybopper fanzines. He was tall and dimply with long hair. He would sometimes move around like Mick Jagger on stage. He had been involved in the formative London R&B scene which produced groups like the Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones. In keeping with Manfred Mann's "intellectual" image, Jones had been at Oxford for awhile. All of the guys in Manfred Mann had some University background which became a part of their image, courtesy of Mr. Pitt.

The guys in Manfred Mann had decided to follow Pitt and Burgess where it might lead since it was slowly becoming profitable it seemed. This could come in handy. By the late spring of 1964 the Manfred Mann lineup had developed into Paul Jones (lead vocals and harmonica), Manfred Mann (organ and piano), Mike Vickers (lead guitar, sax and flute), Tom McGuiness (bass guitar), Mike Hugg (drums and vibes). This was the lineup that was arrived at by May of 1964 and it was what was considered best both musically and in a sense, visually, to the group's predominantly teenaged audience. A couple more singles were released in 1964. Manfred Mann did a three month residency at The Marquee Club on Wardour street in London. Bob Dylan saw them in 1964 and sang their praises. Manfred Mann covered many of Bob's songs including an agressive "If You've Gotta Go, Go Now." Manfred Mann charted big in 1964 with "5-4-3-2-1" and this became the theme song of the Ready Steady Go UK TV show. Ready Steady Go was a British network TV show and was sort of an American Bandstand or Beat Beat Beat kind of show featuring big time bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I'm certain a lot of young kids bought Clearasil and Dippity Do urged on by the show's MC's.

It all went ballistic in 1964 for Manfred and the lads. They had a hit single in July 1964 which started to climb the charts in North America. This was an irresistable cover of The Exciter's "Do Wah Diddy Diddy." It went to number one in the USA and Manfred Mann were stars in America. Another cover of The Shirelle's "Sha La La" made number one in October 1964. The group appeared on ABC-TV's Shindig at least three times that I know of in 1964 and 1965. The group is featured in a live 1965 "Shindig Goes To London" show, belting out an awesome version of Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now." There is only one problem- the network muffled the volume everytime it would come around in the verses that the young lady in the song could "go now, or else you got to stay all night!" Don't be confused, this is still a prime slice of 1965 British Invasion rock video.

Music industry insiders thought Manfred Mann wouldn't go over real big with the kids who were digging The Beatles and the Rolling Stones in early '64. Yet beards, poor dress, jazz touches, sideburns, thick glasses along with a kind of twenty-five year old's coffee house-ism only seemed to win over a large segment of the North American and UK/Europe teen audience. Manfred Mann did a breif American tour in October of 1964. The concerts were commercially planned according to AM radio markets in large cities and their surrounding areas where the radio stations were having strident success with the British Invasion and with airplay of "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Sha La La." The gigs were successful but the group members decided that America was so gigantic compared to the British isles that they could go broke trying to cover transportation and motels over such huge distances. They could fritter so much time and money away they could lose what following they had from their handful of singles in both the USA and the UK. The tour lasted only three weeks.

The individual members of Manfred Mann were seasoned and adept musicians who could play blues and jazz material like Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Workin'" and Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man." The group played a version of Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning," which was vaguely similar to The Yardbird's version of the song. Up until about 1968 (both here and in the UK), most groups cutting their first couple of 45's had their backing parts learned from their demos by session musicians. They were only brought in for the lead and background singing (along with stuff like handclaps and tambourines). The Monkees weren't the only ones. This was the case in 2/3 to 3/4 of the 45 rpm releases in those days. There was a scattering of groups who did all of their own playing such as The Beatles, The DC5, The Animals, The Searchers, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks and a handfull of others. Fortunately, due to the fact they were already broken in and they were superb musicians, it was always understood that Manfred Mann did ALL of their own playing. The guys didn't rock as loud and hard as The Who or The Kinks or play their songs as lengthy as The Yardbirds, yet they could really jam nicely and a close listen to The Manfred Mann Album or The Five Faces of Manfred Mann (both albums are on Ascot and have almost surely been reissued on compact disc) shows them working strange and interesting rhythms, chords and songs, playing remarkably captivating solos on electric guitar, harmonica, piano, sax, flute and vibraphone. It was these very kind of nerdy touches that some people thought would work against them. But those nerdy touches seemed to endear them to the kids who bought their records.

Manfred Mann temporarily had to forego their American market as I've explained (they came back to the states later on with the "Mike D'Abo/Klaus Voorman" line-up circa 1968). They continued throughout 1965 and did a movie soundtrack called Pretty Flamingo which was a big hit for them in the UK. It did chart here and there in the USA although it wasn't a big record over here. Mann, Hugg, Vickers, McGuiness and Jones continued to have some more hit singles and they toured a lot in Britain and Europe. Manfred Mann had a big following down-under in Australia. Some of their records charted better there than in other places. By this time the group was being produced by Shel Talmy who also produced The Creation, The Who and The Kinks. Paul Jones announced his plans to leave the group for a solo career in late 1965. It was all talked out and he decided he would continue as a member of Manfred Mann until they could find a replacement. Mike Vickers also announced he was leaving the group to work in TV and movie soundtracks. Interestingly, Jack Bruce came into the band as the bass player for a few weeks in early 1966. By the spring of 1966, Bruce had left the group. They continued with pick up bass players for a couple of months.

The group began to look for a new bassist and lead singer. Some auditions were held for lead singer. Wayne Fontana and Rod Stewart both tried out. The band finally brought in Mike D'Abo from the Band of Angels in June 1966. D'Abo was tall like Paul Jones and vaguely sounded and looked like his predescesor. Yet he was a major talent. D'Abo didn't try to be a Paul Jones clone. What's more, he was an excellent songwriter. The new choice for bass player was Klaus Voorman who was The Beatles' old Hamburg buddy. Klaus had also designed The Beatles' Revolver album cover and he was a member of the Liverpool group Paddy, Klaus and Gibson. Voorman was The ideal new bass player for Manfred Mann. Tom McGuiness had played lead guitar for the group in the early 1962 days and he was back on lead guitar with Bruce in the band and later, with Voorman as the new bass player.

The new lineup was Mike D'Abo (lead vocals), Manfred Mann (piano and organ), Mike Hugg (drums), Tom McGuiness (lead guitar) and Klaus Voorman (bass guitar). The new group went into the studio and recorded a new single. It was a very good cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" with the excellent "I Want To Be Rich" on the B-side, penned by Mike Hugg. This single was released in August of 1966. It was very successful. Manfred Mann had been label shopping in early 1966 and had exited HMV for Fontana. The record was issued in America and it sold moderately well in department store and shopping center discount bins. Still, it received little airplay stateside. With good initial success under their belts, the new lineup released "Semi-detached Suburban Mr. James" on Fontana in late October 1966. Many fans and critics alike consider this track to be Manfred Mann's finest hour as a commercial entity. This is an ethereal song with Mike D'Abo's vocals layered in delicately with the "electric banana" backing vocals. There are interesting trippy stops and starts on the verses and the instrumental backing. The New Vaudeville Band's Jeff Stephens wrote "Semi-detached Suburban Mr. James." As with "Just Like A Woman," the song sold OK in American department store and shopping center discount bins but got very little airplay over here otherwise. Yet, it was a major hit in Britain and Europe.

Manfred Mann did a four song set with a breif interview in a November 1966 Beat Beat Beat show hosted by German speaking American deejay Mal Sondock. Sondock interviews Manfred and Klaus Voorman. He seems pleased Klaus is German. Sondock converses with him very breifly in German before switching back to English. He then talks to Manfred who explains that he (Manfred) is not German- he's from South Africa and he came to England "five years ago." Mal asks the audience if anyone has any questions for Manfred, then a young German girl of about 15 comes up to the microphone and asks Manfred "where do you get your costumes"? In the regional German vernacular being spoken in the show's locale, an individual's suit of clothes is a "costume." Manfred and Klaus caught on right away and said they bought their costumes at a London antique market. The band did four songs in that show which have been bootlegged extensively- these were "Nitty Gritty," "You Don't Know Me," "Semi-detached Suburban Mr.James" and a strange, almost irreverent version of Willie Mae Thornton (and later, Elvis Presley's) "Hound Dog." The performance has incredible, camera angles, sound-wise, everything. It's all quite surprising for the analog technology of 1966. Sondock gets a little bit confused and announces their new single as "Semi-detached Suburban Mr.Jones" Manfred and the guys then launch into a majestic and exactly-like-the-record version of the song, which is the stuff live mid-sixties rock and roll is made of.

Manfred Mann continued to have hits on into 1967. There was more to come. Manfred was sent a copy of Dylan demo tapes by his publisher in 1967 (later bootlegged as The Great White Wonder). In early 1968 he went with kind of a nonsense anthem called "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)" to be recorded as a single by the group. They all went into the studio and for a couple of weeks, they couldn't get the beat and the chord progression down. They took a few days off and came back to the song later and it all clicked. "The Mighty Quinn" was released in May 1968 and it was a worldwide smash hit. It stayed in the charts for what seemed like a very long time and it made number one in the USA. The group came back to America on tour in 1968, although in the last year or two Manfred Mann was together, the gigs were fewer and farther in between. They continued to have hit records, they did more music for movie soundtracks such as the brilliant Up The Junction. In that last year or two, you might say a bit of combat fatigue and weariness with the business side of things was setting in. Actually, towards the very end, touring had been virtually abandoned. One of the band members in hindsight recalled "you had Manfred Mann where you had five guys working on one end and the final result was a hit coming out the other end."

Two last Manfred Mann singles were released in 1969 and they were "Ragamuffin Man" and "Fox On The Run" on Fontana. Manfred Mann dissolved the group in 1969. Manfred and Mike Hugg continued with a large free jazz group called Manfred Mann Chapter Three. Manfred and Mike Hugg financed the group by doing radio and TV commercial jingles for Michelin tires in the UK. Manfred Mann Chapter Three toured in America and played the Fillmore East in New York. After a couple of years went by Manfred had to cut his losses and disband Chapter Three. They were musically exceptional yet totally noncommercial and they weren't catching on with the general public. Remember Mike Vickers? I've seen a couple of movies on cable TV in recent years where he did the soundtrack music (The Mike Vickers Orchestra).

Manfred meanwhile put together Manfred Mann's Earth Band, which is still together at this time. They've done many singles, albums and compact discs, most notably a well regarded debut and a huge hit single cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded By the Light." Manfred Mann's Earth Band tours consistantly. Manfred is now 71 years old. He's done a few solo releases such as Just Plain Music and he's been on Saturday Night Live. He enjoys his life's work and everything that goes with it, yet according to an interview in the eighties, Manfred doesn't seem to count his long string of HMV and Fontana hits with Paul Jones and Mike D'Abo as being among the truly great songs of the sixties. It doesn't matter, we've got the CD's to listen to, and there are the movie soundtracks and TV appearances floating around.

Tom McGuiness, Mike Hugg, Paul Jones and Mike D'Abo gig together as The Manfreds since 1992 along with some supplemental musicians. Tom McGuiness and Hughie Flint fronted MGguiness-Flint throughout the '70's and the '80's.

As for Klaus Voorman, in the seventies he was back with his old freinds The Beatles and playing bass on Apple records sessions where Paul McCartney would've played, having gone with Lee Eastman for his manager instead of Allen Klein. Paul Jones continued to record after leaving the group. He was in a movie(Privelege). He headlined a 1967 Beat Beat Beat show (okay, that again) along with The Hollies, The Easybeats, Carol Friday and The Thoughts (the show is cutting edge dynamite). He won an award in the UK for his harmonica playing recently and he MC'd a reunion show a couple of years ago for British Invasion bands along with Petula Clark.

Mike Hugg has fronted various bands in the recent past including "Hugg." Several ex-Manfred Mann members were active in "The Blues Band" during the punk rock years of 1976-1982.

And if you ask me, I'll always say Manfred Mann may have been the most interesting and entertaining band to come along in 1964.

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