Wednesday, 11 February 2015


And so it has to be admitted. Sunspot activity, and quite possibly alien intervention hit the Gonzo Weekly offices last weekend, and the unedited version of the Sidonie Jordan interview went out. Herewith the edited one. 

In 1973 while trying to form a second incarnation of Flash, Original Yes guitarist Peter Banks recruited musicians and fell in love with the singer Sidney Foxx real name Sidonie Jordan. She soon became his wife. Named as Empire, Banks, Foxx, and various other band members recorded three albums up to 1979. Banks and Foxx who were by then separated, remained friends divorcing in 1985. They remained friends up until the early 90s.
SJ: The Mars tapes came from the rehearsals for our third album. Usually our album rehearsals were financed by a record company but this time we were financed by a manager named Dwight Tindle who owned a radio station in Phoenix Arizona and was a big prog rock fan. The plan was to rehearse the album and then shop for a record deal. In those days studio time was very expensive and you needed to be well rehearsed before you went in so as not to waste studio time! One always heard the phrase "Time is Money" back then. Peter was an excellent producer and a real stickler for quality and rightly so. He wanted everything to sound perfect. So the Mars Tapes were taken from recordings that came straight off a top of the line sound system during our rehearsals and showcases.

During our last showcase Peter had a falling out with our manager. Things fell apart, so in an effort not to waste all the time we had spent rehearsing, Peter, myself and the band went into a studio in Redondo Beach and recorded the entire album in two days. Rather than record the instrumentals the band had rehearsed, I think out of desperation Peter decided to do some commercial tunes. We had always been pressured by record companies to create commercial tracks so they would have singles to release, but we never worked together on how to develop our own sound for singles which was a failing of both of ours. We should have sat down and asked the question, what would an Empire single sound like?

One of the reasons Peter did not focus on singles was that 'Yes' was quite successful without actually doing singles in the beginning. I don't know if they did shortened versions of the songs later or not. With Flash they had a hit record that came from a DJ somewhere in the US who edited a long track of theirs
called 'Small Beginnings' and they had a hit with that. So Peter didn't really think he needed to do singles but we were pressured to do them and for some reason with the Mars recordings, he threw in some disco tracks. I hated disco. And the tracks we did (which were created on the spot) were awful. I sounded particularly bad as Disco was not my forte! I never found out why Peter allowed those tracks to be released on the album Empire Mark III, but hopefully they won't ever see the light of day again. 

Things got a little crazy after that and we never got a deal with the Mars recordings. After being together for 5 years, Empire then broke up in 1980. It's nice that some those unheard instrumentals that the band rehearsed at Mars Studios are seeing the light of day because they are wonderful. Peter really was at heart an instrumentalist who would've been happy to have never had to work with lead singers. But in the industry lead singers were a 'necessary evil' if you wanted a record deal. He would have been happiest doing albums like his 'Two Sides Of Peter Banks' which was genius!

JD: the three albums you did were actually- the three Empire albums-were three different bands weren't they?

SJ: Yes Empire was basically Peter and myself. We found the record deals and were I guess you would say, a duo! I think after his experiences with Yes and then Flash, he did not want to be in a band again. You know, when you're kicked out of your own band twice it's kind of hard to cope with.

JD: Yes I can imagine. It must be absolutely heartbreaking.

SJ: Even though he may not have liked me at times or agreed with my philosophy in life he trusted me. It is a misconception that I was just a lyricist for Empire. I was a guitarist later turned keyboard player and I actually brought a catalog of my own material to Empire which is one of the reasons he wanted to work with me. I had a lot of good songs that I had recorded with A&M records and of course I was thrilled to be able to work with somebody of Peters caliber who was a rock musician. I was being pushed into the country rock genre by A&M Records because that was what was popular in those days. But my heart was in harder rock! Peter and I were a good combination! I shared all my songs 50/50 with him and a few we wrote together like 'Sky At Night'!  I wish we had written more songs from scratch together!

JD: Mark Murdock is an incredible drummer isn't he?

SJ: Yes, he sure is! I think Peter used to get on him a lot for timing. But I think he was wrong. I have a lot of respect for Mark. It was Mark that got us the Mars rehearsal deal. He knew Dwight Tindle who financed us, and he approached him regarding backing the band. It was also Mark that arranged for the Mars deal with Gonzo. (There is another release coming this year). He organized everything including a Japanese only release on Disk Union.  I have great respect for Mark and I'm very grateful to him. He's multi talented and a very cool guy! He even acts on Television!

JD: What were you doing on A&M before you and Peter started working together?

SJ: I started my career really young-at 15. I dropped out of school when I got the lead in a TV series called The Happeners for ABC. Based around a musical trio of two boys and one girl. I released my first record on MGM at 17. I was an Ikette with Tina Turner at about 19, and became a  writer for A&M records a few years later! I remained with A&M as a staff songwriter until I met Peter in 1974. I had just recorded a 'Midnight Special' TV show with the Bee Gees and Argent! Some of the guys from Crazy Horse, Neil Young's backing band, backed me up on that show! Crazy Horse had recorded one of my songs. I also recorded all the songs for a few episodes of the TV series Peyton Place that I appeared in. 20th Century Fox wanted to increase the shows ratings by bringing in some young characters and created a fake band called 'The Pillory'. A&M did the music!

JD: must've been amazing working with Crazy Horse. They're one of my favorite bands of all time.

SJ: Oh really. Do you like the guitar player, Greg Leroy?

JD: Yeah, absolutely awesome.

SJ: He played on the Midnight Special show with me. He and I were good friends. The song Crazy Horse recorded of mine was called Rock & Roll Band. It was a single off their album  'At Crooked Lake'.

JD: He was one of the people that I always wanted to sound like as a guitarist, and never could.

SJ: Oh you are kidding, of course! He was awesome. I will have to send you a picture of me and Greg from the Midnight Special.

JD: Oh yes please.

SJ: That's great. One day at SIR rehearsal studios I was introduced to Neil Young. He sat down next to me while I was playing piano and he said 'so you're the lady who wrote Rock 'n Roll Band' I said 'yes' and he said 'that is an amazing song' . And of course Neil Young was one of my all-time singer heroes you know. I couldn't believe it. <laughs>

JD: Well he's one of my all time ever heroes.

SJ: Yes? his music was just life-changing wasn't it? Well, with Peter I was really blessed to work with the most amazing people as well!  Peter knew so many wonderful artists. I was invited to record a song with Pete Townshend on his album called 'With Love'. Peter, Pete Townshend and I recorded it at his studio on Eel Pie Island. Townshend produced it and played all the instruments except guitar! He loved Peters playing and said that Peter took up where he left off on the guitar! He wanted to sign us to his publishing company as he liked my songs. Another regret is that I did not go forward with that. Peter and I broke up around that time and without anyone to advise me,  I just assumed Empire was finished when it was not.

JD: All three versions of Empire were such good bands. I just don't get why you guys didn't go massive.

SJ: Thanks Jon! I think a lot of it is just hard-core luck and timing. We were coming to the end of the popularity of progressive rock. I think that in '74' after finishing our first album, if we had been able to get Empire off the ground then, we might have  been okay. And I think we might have found a way to change with the times. But I don't think either of us saw musically ahead very far. And when disco hit, it was so far removed from Prog Rock that we were sunk! But it is wonderful to see people enjoying it now and there are bands out there doing it and doing it beautifully. But at the time it was like okay that's over what's next? Disco was such a departure that I think it killed prog rock! Music does that. It goes off in different directions

JD: Yeah and things always come around again. It's like prog rock seems to have it's star in the ascendant again at the moment.
SJ: I know. It's crazy isn't it? Well it's 'real music' as Peter used to say! I love pop music. I didn't care for disco, but I like today's commercial music. I love Sia and Katy Perry. They inspire me!  Peter was a purist. He didn't emjoy much other then jazz and classical music. All the time we were together was a wonderful education for me because that's all he played plus Genesis. We played Genesis a lot! (I used to sneak a listen to Abba songs!) But Peters mentoring was a wonderful education for me musically, and came in handy when I started producing later. It gave me a musical vocabulary that I doubt I would've ever received had I not lived with and worked with him! I have always felt grateful for that.

JD: What did you do after empire?

SJ: Let's see after Empire, I went back to the UK and I signed with, well I was in the process of signing with somebody you'll know Charlie Gillette from Oval Records! 

JD: Oh yes.

SJ: He had Lene Lovitch and he discovered Dire Straits. So I had recorded some demos with them and been offered a contract,  but I had also been approached as well by Bob Gaudio who was Neil Diamonds producer and one of the Four Seasons. He offered me a production deal in Los Angles and I decided to go back to California and record there. I wish I could have taken both offers! I loved Charlie! He was wonderful and I have often wondered what we might have come up with had I chosen to stay in the UK and work with him! I have several such regrets and feel my career would have benefited from good outside personal management guidance which I was never able to find!  Upon returning to California,  I went into the studio with Ric Parnel (one of my favoriter drummers) and David Kaff from Spinal Tap. Also on those sessions were John Goodsall from Brand X, and Paul Delph from Empire. We recorded about six tracks! I signed at this time for management with Eddy Leffler and Michele Martin who handled Van Halen. Michele is my sons God mother and a close friend. I spent from 1983-2008 living in the UK.  

In the early 90s, I began co producing first with Kat from Kat People and then with my favorite ever producer/songwriting partner Jez Larder from Skyline Studios UK. He is to me what Randy Rhodes was to Ozzie! In the 90s and with the advent of digital recording one could afford to spend time in the studio without the need for record company financing! I found my real passion had always been and always will be recording. I have enjoyed many years of producing and writing and have written and co produced with Jez for others artists as well, such as Katy Shotter who went on to perform with Beyoncé and is making waves in the UK now! Sadly, finding my own production feet is what led to Peter and my falling out!  In the near future there are plans to work with Mark Murdock and Ray Bennett on some new Prog tracks! Mark has a wonderful prog band called Machine Messiah and I hope to write for them too! And of course I would drop everything to work with Jez Larder on anything! Jez and I produced many tracks for three versions of our girl band Cyan. I managed and choreographed them as well as writing and co producing their music with Jez!  I met my second husband when I joined a reggae band in South London in the mid 80s and we have one son! Meeting him and doing reggae tracks led to my first ever Britsh single release on the famous reggae label Trojan Records called 'Something About You!' and a production deal with Tony Hatch's company Mr & Mrs Music. That was a great experience! I also got to do a lot of recording during the 80s with Chris White who was a producer and in my favorite teen fan band The Zombies! I have been blessed to have been recording nearly my entire life!

JD: I can think of much worse ways of spending your life than recording for a lifetime.

SJ: <laughs> Yeah. Well my dream was never to be rich and famous. I had seen many examples of the folly of that madness! My dream was to be recording artist. But It was difficult back in the day to record because if you were not a union member you couldn't record legally and if you were a member of the union you had to be paid, which meant you could never help a friend out or do demos etc. I could go into the studio at A&M as a songwriter and record a demo with just piano and vocals but bands had to be paid. So I would sneak them in the studio. That's what I did with the Crazy Horse sessions. I sneaked in the entire band- I literally hid them in the studio-and recorded what was known as a 'scab session'. Hoping not to get caught. I remember that during that session Phil Spector pressed his face up against the glass in the studio door and begin making crazy faces. I was relieved it was him and not a union representative! Although I had heard he had a penchant for carrying guns! Recording is still what I enjoy most in the world other than spending time with my amazing son!

And that was it. Time ran out and I returned to what is loosely called normality. I very much look forward to talking to Sid again.

The Mars Tapes
2CD - £11.99

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