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Guitar WorldAt the conclusion of This Is Spinal Tap, director Marty DiBergi's warts-and-all (or, as David St. Hubbins puts it, "all warts") documentary of the metal pioneers' 1982 American tour, the band's future couldn't have looked brighter. But true to the up-and-down nature of Spinal Tap's legendary career, the band proceeded to do the only thing that could derail certain success: they disbanded to concentrate on solo projects — most of which either failed miserably or were never fully realized. Lead guitarist Tufnel's much-anticipated trilogy, Clam Caravan (which includes the neoclassical "Lick My Love Pump") remains "under construction"; St. Hubbins's "Saucy Jack," a musical based on the life of Jack The Ripper, opened and closed in London in record time; and bassist Derek Smalls played the North England pub circuit in various Tap copy bands.
But after an almost eight-year hiatus (during which Tufnel was mysteriously conscripted into the Swiss Army and St. Hubbins and longtime girlfriend/interim manager Jeanine Pettibone settled down in Pomona, California), Tap is back, reaching new levels of volume and stretching the boundaries of hard rock — indeed, of art in general — with Break Like the Wind. Featuring guest appearances by Joe Satriani, Slash, Cher, Nigel-lookalike Jeff Beck, Dweezil Zappa and Steve Lukather (who co-produced the album with Dave Jerden and Danny Kortchmar), BLTW proves once again that, temptation notwithstanding, you can't underestimate the triumvirate of Smalls, Tufnel and St. Hubbins. In addition to Smalls's debut as lead vocalist ("Cash On Delivery") and a Tufnel guitar-scatting solo that would make George Benson blush ("Spring Time"), the album contains "Rainy Day Sun," the flipside of 1967's "Listen To The Flower People," and "All The Way Home," a pre-Tap demo featuring Nigel and David in their Squatney skiffle days, circa 1961.
"We may be gods," sings David St. Hubbins on "The Sun Never Sweats." "Or just big marionettes." There is perhaps no better summation of Spinal Tap's lofty position in the pantheon of rock and roll.

GUITAR WORLD: Where's Ian Faith, your manager?
ALL: Dead.
NIGEL TUFNEL: Yes, Ian died.
GW: How did he die?
DAVID ST. HUBBINS: Who cares?
TUFNEL: You get news like that and you go, "I'm not even going to ask how."
ST. HUBBINS: He was always prone to
I apoplexy, because he had very thin English skin and very thick alcoholic blood.
TUFNEL: He was prone to apoplexy and ... what do they call it? Embezzlement.
DEREK SMALLS: He took everything personally — including our royalties.
TUFNEL: From what we hear, even his mum didn't go to the funeral. She said, "Go bugger off! I've better things to do."
SMALLS: We have a custom label, a subsidiary of MCA, named in tribute to him —
ST. HUBBINS: — but mainly because it's a great name.
SMALLS: It's called Dead Faith Records.
ST. HUBBINS: Dead Faith Records, Tapes & CDs —
SMALLS: And Any Other Form Of Recorded Entertainment There May Be In The Known Universe. That's the legal name.
GW: Would you characterize the new album, Break Like The Wind, as a reunion? A comeback? Or something else?
ST. HUBBINS: It's both, really. We reuned and we came back.
SMALLS: It's a reassertion. A reinsertion, really.
ST. HUBBINS: I was happy where I was, producing local groups in Pomona and teaching soccer for the Parks Department. I was really living the life of Riley. I passed my 40th birthday and said, "Well, maybe this is it." As long as I could go out to the Rainbow every Friday or Saturday to see some of the old blokes and recharge my UK batteries, then spend the rest of the week just being a suburbanite, I was perfectly happy. I thought I had rock and roll out of me blood. But one day we all had some legal things to talk about on the phone, and we said, "Let's get together and jam a bit." We did it — and it was great.
GW: What did you think of This is Spinal Tap when you saw the finished product?
TUFNEL: We were betrayed, basically.
SMALLS: Call the butcher's union, I said. Marty DiBergi? Try the butcher's union.
ST. HUBBINS: Because we really came off — I don't know if you picked up on this — as sort of second-rate. A great big joke. As if we were at odds with our art, which couldn't be further from the truth.
TUFNEL: [to David] You put it best: Somebody who'd seen that movie would never dream that we were a smooth act.
SMALLS: [nodding] The pod sequence.
TUFNEL: Exactly. Every night, that pod opens and Derek gets out. The night they're filming, there's a jam-up. So people who see it go, "They're stupid."
ST. HUBBINS: Now, if we'd turned the cameras on Martin DiBergi, and caught him slipping out of a hotel room with some 14-year-old girl — I'm not saying this happened — but if the camera had caught him doing that, if it had been in our hands, we would have at least had the decency to come to him and say, "Look, we've got this on film" —
TUFNEL: "How much money — "
ST. HUBBINS: Exactly. "What will it take for us to take it out?" We would have made those choices on firm moral grounds. As it happens, we were just screwed.
GW: Yet for all that the film doesn't always show you in a good light, you're more popular now than ever. Not many acts could make that claim — particularly after an eight-year hiatus.
ST. HUBBINS: Well, they miss us, you know. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Always leave them wanting more. Half a loaf is better than none.
SMALLS: See, it's the flipside of what happened when we were active: we tended to become less popular. A karmic turn of the wheel, there.
GW: After Mick Shrimpton exploded, the movie shows the gig in Japan with Joe "Mama" Besser on drums. What happened to him?
ST. HUBBINS: We assume he's dead.
SMALLS: He was not a well man. He had a jazz background.
ST. HUBBINS: We assume he either returned to the world of jazz or he died.
TUFNEL: Which is really a toss-up.
GW: Last year's auditions for a new drummer were pretty competitive — with Mick Fleetwood and Debbi Peterson, among others, contesting. Who did you eventually decide on?
ST. HUBBINS: Well, we saw some great people — some who we're definitely going to use when we play our big gig in L.A., or perhaps in a video. But it seems like the wheel of fortune has stopped, and landed on the younger twin brother of Mick Shrimpton, Richard Shrimpton.
TUFNEL: He was always in Mick's shadow, but, ironically, a better drummer more chops. But he dropped out and worked in a shop where they sell used stamps. People come in and say, "Give me two Ivory Coasts and a San Marino." Again, it's the karmic wheel turning around and stopping. He's in good health, which, of course, is a major plus for us.
GW: What about Viv Savage, the keyboard player?
ST HUBBINS: He's dead. Sadly, he passed away.
TUFNEL: He went to visit Mick's grave, up in Hampstead, and the grave exploded.
SMALLS: It was like swamp gas.
TUFNEL: Scientific people have an explanation for that sort of thing. When dead matter is under the ground for any length of time
ST. HUBBINS: Gaseous build-up. It's methane, and also what you find in beans, that kind of nitrogenous —
TUFNEL: An organic explosion. Tragic, really. It's unfair, in a sense, that Mick died twice.
SMALLS: The irony is that we found out later that Viv had originally been a drummer.
TUFNEL: He gave it up as a teenager to play keyboards, as best he could.
SMALLS: If we'd known that, we'd never have hired him.
GW: I've never heard of this happening to other bands.
SMALLS: Oh, and what of the Grateful Dead and keyboard players? Imagine if
they'd hired Viv Savage.
TUFNEL: It just seems more focused in our case. I mean, look at all the actors that have died. John Wayne died, Clark Gable died.
ST. HUBBINS: [to Nigel] They were over the hill; I don't think that's a great example.
SMALLS: Race car drivers, perhaps.
GW: More than any group, Spinal Tap has either followed, anticipated or paralleled almost the entire history of British rock. from skiffle to heavy metal.
TUFNEL: Sort of a living time line.
ST. HUBBINS: Of course, there are a few missing chapters in there, too. We recorded but did not release a dance album during the disco era; we never went punk; we never went new wave. We experimented with r&b, but only as filler for our live act.
SMALLS: Britain is very fashion-oriented. A lot of its musical styles are like bits of clothing you put on and take off. You know: "This looks good." "No, it doesn't."
ST. HUBBINS: We've never been like that. We're sort of like Gibraltar. We're always there, obscuring most of the view. Especially when you get up close to us — have you noticed that? The closer you get to us, the more the view is obscured.
GW: The new album includes your old skiffle demo, "All The Way Home."
TUFNEL: Yeah, it was recorded in '61. We don't even remember who played on it. David and I were in the Creatures and the Originals, respectively, and it was probably one Creature and one Original.
ST. HUBBINS: We had an acetate we shopped around, but we didn't actually have appointments. We'd just show up and they'd say, "Bugger off." Or we'd play it for them and they'd read their mail or order breakfast. We didn't really make a big dent in the industry, but looking back on it, for all the youthful sass, it's quite a mature work.
GW: The Beatles were just a little older than you. Did you ever meet them'?
ST. HUBBINS: I never met any of the Beatles. I enjoyed their music, I liked it, it was light. With a few exceptions, it wasn't really what you'd call gritty, hard music. It was more like really accomplished, professional music.
TUFNEL: It wasn't dirty. It was musicians who washed their hands.
SMALLS: No jiz. Jizless music.
TUFNEL: It's okay to have music like "Here Comes The Sun," if you're shopping in the market, buying meat or poultry. [Sings very high] "Here comes the sun, here comes the sun. There it goes, here it comes."
ST. HUBBINS: We're not trying to be unkind.
TUFNEL: No, that's just the way it is. They know it.
GW: So you wouldn't count them as a major influence on Spinal Tap.
SMALLS: A bit of the reverse, actually — listen to "Rainy Day Sun." These guys were taking acid and listening to other people's music.
I met George much later; it was at a mutual friend's home, long after the Beatles. We were having dinner, and all of a sudden George says, "I've got this tape of my new record." And we all had to sit and listen to his record.
TUFNEL: But back to "Rainy Day Sun": I would not be surprised if they heard that record and said, "Hmmm." Or maybe it was George Martin. 'Cos there's backwards stuff and a string quartet on our record as well.
GW: So "Rainy Day Sun" was pre-Sgt Pepper's?
ST. HUBBINS: They both came out in 1967. It's one of those great-minds-think-alike sort of things — the single came out within weeks of Sgt. Pepper's. On this album we used one track that's an album remix of "Rainy Day Sun," which was the flipside of "(Listen To The) Flower People." It was just truncated, chopped off willy nilly by the record company, and we finally had a chance to put it on in its entirety, with the sound collage at the end. Another group might have had an ego problem here because the bass player on that track isn't Derek; it's Ronnie Pudding. He was an excellent musician but got too big for his hat size, if you know what I mean. Went off on his own, failed miserably, but at least had the backbone not to come crawling back.
TUFNEL: He did ring up, though.
ST. HUBBINS: Oh, he called a few times and we wouldn't take the calls. But he didn't literally crawl — which we admire him for. But to get back to my point, a lot of bass players not like Derek would say, "As long as you're remixing, let's yank that duff bass part —
SMALLS: Well, I did say that.
ST. HUBBINS: But you didn't mean it. So we kept Ronnie's bass. But you know what he did? Derek went in, this man, this Christian martyr, and said, "Let me just tweak it a bit." And he re-eq'ed the bass part, made it sound a bit more up to date.

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Interview by Teisco Del Rey, who won the ASCAPI Deems Taylor Award for a 1984 interview with Nigel.

from Guitar World, April 1992. © 1992 Guitar World. Posted with permission.

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