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An interview with Paul Slade

By Francis Depuydt

How did you get in the music business?

Paul SladeI started playing the guitar at the age of 9 and when I was 13 I formed my first group. When I left school in 1965 I joined The Ray King Soul Band as bass guitarist and backing singer. For the following two years I toured England playing on gigs with big names such as: Ike & Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Cliff, Elton John and Jimmy Hendrix… After playing at "The Revolution Club" in London in 1967 I was offered a recording and management contract and recorded my first solo singles with Decca records. At the same time I started writing my own songs and began playing the 12-string guitar. In 1971 whilst playing in Paris I had the occasion to sign to CBS records. I decided to move to Paris where I recorded my first folk-rock album Life of a Man that put me on the road to a long international career. A year later my next album Dutchman was released. I also became the top 12-string guitarist in the Parisian recording studios. I spent the best part of the '70s/'80s doing session work in Paris as a guitarist and backing singer and writing and recording film music and TV commercial jingles.

How exactly did Fred Petrus get in touch with you?

In the late '70s and early '80s all the French artists wanted to sing in English and I was asked to write lyrics for countless artists and often had #1 songs in the French charts. I wrote songs for Jupiter Sunset Band, Dan Perlman, Bimbo Jet, Guy Frasseto, Danyel Gérard, Frank Dana, D'Onorio Jean-Louis, Rose Laurens, David & Jonathan, Réjane Perry, Ringo, etc…Fred Petrus had connections within the Parisian Disco and music publishing world and got in touch with me in 1979 via Marcel Marouani, who owned the publishing company Sugar Music. Marouani produced David & Jonathan at the time. I had just written lyrics for Marcel after having the # 1 hit "I Need A Man" in the US with Grace Jones. Petrus was looking for hit lyrics. The first songs I did for him were for Macho and the Peter Jacques Band. The biggest hit was "Is it it", not the best of songs I must say but it was catchy. Then I wrote the lyrics for the Change song "Searching", my second international hit after Grace Jones. This one was followed up with the even bigger hit song "On The Beat" by the B.B.&Q. Band. More songs would follow like "Starlette", "Time For Love", "Your Move", "Hold Tight", "Stop For Love", "Got To Get Up", "Let's Go Together", "Going Dancing Down The Street", "All Right Let's Go", "Drives Me Crazy", "Keep It Hot", "Break Up" released by Change, B.B.&Q. Band, Peter Jacques Band, etc.

Could you explain how the writing process worked? What was the normal procedure when you wrote songs for Petrus?

The first couple of times that I wrote lyrics for Petrus, he sent me the playback tapes (cassettes) home. Whenever Petrus sent me tapes it was 20 or 30 songs at a time and I made lyrics for all of them! It's only natural that not all the songs I wrote were good. But as I didn't have much contact with Petrus he would either get someone else to rewrite the lyrics or to change some of them. He never contacted me to ask me to rewrite anything. This is probably what happened with the songs on the Silence album. I discovered there are songs on it that I am credited for that I don't know about. And I have certainly not signed any contract for them. Probably because Petrus got someone else to add some lyrics on the final recording and in doing so even changed the title of the original song that I wrote. On the tapes that I received someone just sang la la la for the melody. I had carte blanche for all I wanted to write. Nobody else had any say in the matter of lyrics. There are no rules for writing songs. I always tried to write lyrics with double meanings like "On The Beat". In English it means "on the tempo" and also "a policeman on his round". Writing funky lyrics was new for me but I have always worked with coloured musicians ever since the early '60s. Their music is natural to me. When I could I would just add my voice on the tape that Fred Petrus sent me, using a Revox tape recorder. But most of the time I just sent the lyrics by post to the US because the songs weren't in my key for singing. When we did the tracks "All Right Let's Go", "Drives Me Crazy", etc. in 1985, I wrote the lyrics in Italy while Change and Peter Jacques Band were recording there. When I first met the musicians of Change it was in the studio in Italy. When I arrived they were recording, so I just sat down in a corner. I was totally ignored by everyone until Petrus finally introduced me and they all cried out "Hey Man! We thought you were black!". From then on we got on fine. I even sang backing vocals and the lead vocals on several songs of Peter Jacques Band, though I was never mentioned on any record covers. I just sang the songs in the studio to show the group how I felt them. I didn't know that Petrus was going to release the songs with me as a lead singer!! In fact I only found out about it a few months ago and was very surprised to hear the tracks "Drives Me Crazy", "Don't Say You've Gotta Go" and "Everybody Have A Party" with me singing lead!! Actually when you read about the history of Petrus I am hardly ever mentioned!?! They only talk about the music never the lyrics and who wrote them!

Can you express what you felt when you heard "On The Beat" on the radio for the very first time?

Naturally I was always happy to hear my songs on the radio and in clubs. Just happy. I'm quite a reserved person, I like working on my own and always looking for new ideas. If a song becomes popular, all the better but it's not always the songs I prefer that work, although I do rather like "All Right Let's Go" "Searching" and "On The Beat".

When did you discover that you were good at writing songs and lyrics? If people proposed you poor music, would you refuse sometimes or was it always a challenge to provide the lyrics?

I first started writing songs back in 1967 when I started a solo career in England. I rarely refused writing lyrics for others because 1) it is never the best songs that work and one never knows what will happen. Grace Jones was the proof. And 2) every song is a new challenge indeed.

How did you feel about working with J.F. Petrus? Did you always deal with him? What kind of a person was he to you?

Honestly, I've had, and still have enormous problems with Fred Petrus. He was a thief, a crook, whatever... For the past 25 years I have been trying to recuperate royalties for all the songs that I wrote and since my visit to Italy a couple of weeks ago I found out that Romani and Malavasi and their Italian publisher all have the same problem! So we are teaming up together to take legal action. Petrus was someone totally bad! He had absolutely no respect for anyone he worked with and considered that once anyone had worked for him, all the rights for the songs were his! And so he did whatever he wanted with all the works and pocketed all the royalties. That is without doubt why he was shot by the Mafia. The matter of the lyrics was never discussed with the musicians of Petrus. I never dealt with Malavasi or Romani.

Was Petrus a music producer? Was his creative or musical role in the studio important enough to be called so?

It all depends what your idea of a producer is. I think Petrus just had the lucky gift of putting the right people together to create a commercial product. I honestly never really liked the guy and didn't have a lot of contact with him. For a start he couldn't speak English very well, he spoke French and Italian mostly. Secondly he was just the sort of person that I didn't like. He was big headed and thought a lot of himself. Always talked about "His" groups and always called me "Slade" and not Paul. He even thought that I was having a big success in England but was mixed up with "Sade". I think he just knew a lot of people and had the gift to wrap them up.

How did Petrus fix it to enroll all those outstanding artists, musicians, songwriters?

What was his clever trick to make it all happen? Petrus was like a talent scout. As I said he was always looking for the best to do all the artistic work. I only met him twice. The 1st time was in Paris, I think he was just starting up. The first batch of songs I wrote was: "Counting on love", "Is it it", "You Got Me Running" etc.... They were released under the groups Peter Jacques Band and Macho. They were produced in Italy. He was based there with Goody Music and Little Macho Music. That was his first crooked thing I didn't realise at the time. All the contracts were in Italian and only much later did I find out that the contracts didn't stand up and he was in fact selling his publishing rights to himself in the US and already illegally pocketing huge money from song royalties that he wasn't untitled to under European law. He was very clever at playing that sort of tricks!

Do you know something about the tragic end of JF Petrus?

I remember meeting Petrus's best friend Claude Ismael just after his death and he told me (and this is the truth): Fred Petrus was found in his bed with three bullets in his head whilst in his home in Sainte-Anne in Guadeloupe. Probably the Mafia as he dealt with them and must have done something wrong!?! I met Claude Ismael a couple of times. He worked for Petrus in his NY office. He also helped run the night club Petrus owned in Le Gosier on Guadeloupe. He wasn't concerned with Petrus's productions but is probably producing his own stuff now in Paris. I remember that he once wanted to produce one of my songs but after being so stung by Petrus himself I didn't want to work with his close friends (I never told him that though).

You wrote for Petrus projects until 1985. You were a close witness of his rise and fall. Any idea why his Italian crew left him and why he wasn't so succesful anymore in the end?

No idea. Petrus was just one of the many people I wrote for. Quite honestly I thought he was a joker in the beginning and was very surprised to find "Is it it" at #1 in the Italian charts when I was on summer holiday there. The following year I was even more surprised that "Searching" by Change was in the English charts.There must be a lot of reasons for his rise and fall. He must have had a lot of enemies around. I was certainly always trying to get him to send contracts to me after working and writing all the lyrics that I did. Once he had his recordings done he was the boss and did whatever he wanted with the works and didn't give a damn about the people who worked for him.

Does a song author (lyricist) share the same amount of royalties as the music composer?

Legally Yes! The normal share is 50% publisher, 25% author and 25% composer. BUT the Italians split it different: 50% publisher, 30% composer and 20% author. Then again for certain royalties it always stays at 50%,25%,25%.

Of which realisations are you particularly proud of?

I rather liked "Searching" and "On the Beat". Otherwise what am I proud of? I guess the answer is nothing! I am an artist and I am never satisfied with all I do. Things can always be better. I think once an artist is satisfied he is finished! One must always try to do better. So I cannot really answer fully this question. All I can say is that I have written lots of songs and played and sang on countless sessions for other artists. I don't remember all of them. In the early '70s I spent years in the studios in Paris and played on hundreds of records and I never really kept track of all I did because right from the start I was writing my own material, in my style of music (far from dance music).

How did you actually meet Grace Jones at the time?

As for Grace Jones! I got done over that song too!!! I met Grace in Paris one afternoon when she had just been "discovered". I had already worked with her manager/producer Stephan Tabakov, a zero guy! Actually I was introduced to him because he had asked a couple of my English friends if they could work on his new discovery: Colin Caldwell (sound engineer at Acousti Studios in Paris) and Alain Reeves to do the arrangements. So I agreed to write the lyrics for Tabakov but told him that I needed to meet Grace in order to know what kind of lyrics she needed. When I met her she was only a model and was taking singing lessons (God! Did she sing out of tune!!!). She was trying to put herself up as being an American star but I had worked a lot with West Indians whilst in England in the '60s and there was no way she could fool me. She was West Indian origin! Anyway, I said that I would write the lyrics for her and so met Pierre Papadiamandis one day who played me a song that sounded like "Puppet On A String" , an old '60s song by Sandie Shaw. It sounded (pardon the expression) like shit. After hearing her and meeting Tabakov, my English fiends and I all agreed that it was a joke and a waste of time! The sound engineer asked for an extremely high price for the studio and the arranger did the same. I just forgot it. Then one day, out of the blue I got a telephone call from Tabakov asking if I had done the lyrics. I answered "Yes" he then told me that he needed them that same day, so I said OK. When I put the phone down I hunted for the cassette of the piano version Papadiamandis had given me and quickly wrote the lyrics (took about half an hour at the most) then I jumped on my motorbike and took them to him. I didn't know at the time but three or four well known lyric writers also wrote some words. Mine were chosen and Grace recorded the song, it was released in France and was a complete flop so I forgot about it.

Three years later a friend of mine at RCA in Paris telephoned me to ask if I had seen Billboard Magazine. I said no I hadn't. He then told me to go and look at his copy at RCA, so I went to see him. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that "I Need A Man" that I had written was #1 in the U.S. Disco charts!!! And all they had done was remix the song. I never play it to anyone because quite honestly I think it's lousy. As I said, I got done too because what actually happened was that Grace quit her manager in Paris, met up with Tom Moulton in the States who remixed the song and made it a hit. And once again pocketed all the royalties. Yep! I'm not a lucky person concerning producers.

The Americans just told Tabakov to get lost as they had done all the hard work and my royalties got lost along with his. BUT I'M STILL TRYING TO TRACE THEM even after so many years now. The good thing was that after having a song at #1 in the USA lots of other people contacted me for lyrics (one was Petrus). Here you go! hard to believe eh? You can spend hours, days, weeks, months even years trying to write what you think is a great song and it won't work or half an hour to write a lousy, rubbishy hi commercial song and it works! The whole business isn't about Talent, it's about who knows who and MONEY. That's why I got out of it and decided to continue writing my own stuff that I am proud of and even if one or two people listen and think they're good, then I'm happy. That's why I put my songs on the net for free. I'm happy when I make others happy. That's my life.

What are you busy with nowadays? Still composing or writing for others? Still having dreams you want to realise one day?

I'm living in the small village of Saint-Christophe, way out in the country in the centre of France, where for the last two years I've been concentrating on writing and recording my own songs in my home-studio. After 40 years of being in show business and all the different music styles I've been through, I wanted to get down to some serious writing, lyrics about life, how I experience it. I was busy producing my CD Talking About Freedom. But I do lots of things in fact. I like to do everything myself and I am always thirsty for discovering things. Music is in my blood so I can't let it go but sometimes I go a long time without writing or even touching a guitar. I spend my life searching. I have built two houses alone. I am crazy about tree breeding and nature, I love painting too, I'm always on the go and looking for anything new to discover or create…

Thanks a lot for this clarifying interview Mr. Slade!

Contact Francis Depuydt: francis.depuydt[at]versateladsl.be

Interviewed in March 2009 by:

Francis Depuydt