Not much can be said about Terry Reid that hasn’t already been said before. For someone who was friends with Cream, CSNY, Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Eric Burdon and David Lindley, plus a host of other famous musicians, Reid remains to this day one of the finest and yet most obscure singers of his generation.
In 1968 he teamed up with producer and Pop maker Mickie Most (for better or worse), releasing two solo albums, Bang Bang You’re Terry Reid and Terry Reid in 1969, but Most, who was more concerned with making a quick Pound or two than producing quality music, saw Reid’s talent as something to be exploited according to his own vision, rather than what Terry himself wanted, which was creative freedom.
What Reid is perhaps most well known for is that he was the singer who turned down Jimmy Page’s invitation to join the New Yardbirds, or Led Zeppelin as they would later be known as, recommending Robert Plant instead (he also purportedly rejected an offer to become the frontman of Deep Purple).
After years of touring America, and bitter legal entanglements, it wasn’t until 1973 that Reid, due to the efforts of Atlantic’s Ahmet Urtegun, was eventually freed from his original contract with Most, and allowed to issue his next album proper, a record that was two years in the making.
River, while not quite the masterpiece some make it out to be, is nevertheless a more than worthy addition to any fan of drifty, dreamy folk/rock/jazz in the vein of David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name and Tim Buckley’s Lorca (with whom Reid was also a good friend), and it’s this abstract ambience which makes River such an alluring listen.
Joining Terry on his journey was multi-instrumentalist David Lindley (steel, slide and electric guitars), Lee Miles (bass), Conrad Isidore (drums) and Willie Bobo (percussion). Reid described the title and concept for the album thus: “Every river has a bend, once round it you never know which way the current is going to flow. It starts as a spring and once you get to the sea, that’s freedom.”
Now, without sounding like a snob, the best way to experience River is on vinyl, due to there being (literally) two sides to the record. The first is all electric, while the other acoustic, meaning that the LP is divided between two different hemispheres, just as many albums were until the advent of the compact disc. Apparently, when work began in London, enough material was recorded to release three albums, however at the behest of Ertegun, Reid relocated to America hooking up with producer Tom Dowd. The finished product (for want of a better word), was like a blend of Van Morrison, Tim Buckley and John Martyn all rolled into one, with styles that range from rock, blues, jazz, bossa nova, blue-eyed soul, and even samba.
Opener “Dean” has Reid stretching his vocals, as Lindley’s steel guitar slides from one speaker to the other on top of a loose funky beat. “Avenue,” with its wobbly laid back vibe, is almost free-form in approach, like Exile era Rolling Stones, tight but sloppy. Throughout, Terry wails away like a Steve Marriot, only with even bigger lungs. The country rock of “Things to Try” could be Stephen Stills, no doubt due to Reid absorbing the Southern California lifestyle and culture.
The country rock continues on the lively “Live Life,” and serves as another vehicle for Reid’s impressive vocal abilities: “You gotta live a life of love until it drives you crazy” he cries in alongside Bobo’s intense conga playing.
Change sides and we have an entirely different album. The title track has a lovely, languid feel to it, on which Reid and band turn down the lights and relax a little, allowing the listener also to chill out, and enjoy the jazzy Brazilian atmosphere. Clearly, River is all about the moment, something which is especially prevalent on the final two numbers, the wispy, almost vaporous “Dream” and “Milestones,” both pensive reflective compositions that invoke in the listener’s mind visions of David Crosby’s 1971 solo album, albeit without the hazy Laurel Canyon ambition.
To some, River might seem like some meandering incoherent mess, but such a description would be unfair, not just to Reid, but to the overall quality of the music itself. And though despite its virtues, the LP came and went without hardly causing a ripple, disappearing almost entirely without a trace, which is a shame, because Terry Reid, despite career setbacks, was one of the most significant vocal talents to emerge out of England in the ‘60s and ‘70s, an artist who never really received the commercial recognition he deserved.