was a drummer originally, but I never thought I was that good. Trying to sing and drum was difficult. I remember the band saying, "You have to do one or the other, and we'd prefer it if you drum because we'll never find another drummer." And we had this horrible kid singer.
At the time we were called Vance Arnold and the Avengers, and we were playing the pubs, which was a great upbringing. We'd go to these pubs every night after our day jobs and drink a lot of beer and play until the pubs closed. Kept us in beer money. We weren't in that big a hurry to be successful.
After the Beatles, the scouting rush was on. People came north and saw the Avengers and said, "We don't like your band," as usual. I remember doing an orchestrated version of "Georgia on My Mind," which was never released.
Then they had me go in and do a cover of the Beatles' "I'll Cry Instead," which died a death. I was still living at home at the time, and my parents said, "OK, you had your shot. Now grow up and go out and get a proper job." My older brother, Victor, turned out to be an economist. He did really well on the straighter side of life.
I never smoked pot when I was young. I was a very late bloomer in that I sort of made up for it after. I always swore I'd be a drinker to the end. But then, when someone turned me on to some black hash, musically speaking, it was such an opening to the ears and senses.
When I got popped, busted, in 1968, it was an incredible sensation to find yourself on the evening news busted for pot. It was almost like the fuss they made over Boy George, the kind of fuss now over heroin that smoking a joint was then.
Those early tours of the States were the greatest. Like the gig at the Atlanta Raceway with Spirit and Janis Joplin and Hendrix. I remember going on at, like, six in the morning, and all these kids acid-blazed. It was a very warm occasion.
And the hotel, too. One of the floors caught on fire, four days' wait for house cleaning service. But they were great times, hippie times.
After Woodstock, I laid low. I did an album with Delaney and Bonnie, but there was nothing much for me until I heard Leon Russell. Leon came up with the idea for Mad Dogs and Englishmen. We all lived up at Leon's house. We all ran around in the nude and had some pretty wild times. But it was strange. Leon was into this revivalist sort of thing. He'd always have to have a meal before the show. We'd all sit down and he would say a little prayer.
Having come out of the Mad Dogs tour with no money never really bothered me. Back then, the feeling was, it was a crime to have money anyway. We were into this trip of stripping off our worldly goods.
I remember giving money to various people -- $70,000 here, $40,000 there, to people that I had known for years who wanted houses. I said, "If you ever make it back, you can pay it back." Of course, I never heard from them. But five years later I did hear from the tax people who demanded I come up with all the money I thought I could give away like the Magic Christian.
This thing about me being spastic is something I can't get away from. I did The David Letterman Show not long ago, and he is still going on about me being spastic. I can't talk about anything else when I go on those shows.
During the time of "You Are So Beautiful," I was working at Village Recorders, in Los Angeles, and someone comes into the studio and says, "Joe, we've got this video to show you that you're not going to like." I don't know how long Saturday Night Live had been on the air, because I never watched much TV, but when I saw this video of John Belushi doing me being spastic and pouring beer, I became hysterical.
Everyone else said, "Joe, you're not supposed to find this amusing. You're supposed to find this gross and inoffensive."
I said, "Oh, come on. You can't not laugh at this." I didn't even know who Belushi was.
Moving my hand around is subconscious with me. A lot of the time I'm more or less conducting the band, just keeping a feel. I don't know why I do it. It's just one of those things.
I didn't know where I was by the time Jim Price came around to my house asking if I'd be interested in making another record, which turned out to be "You Are So Beautiful." After we finished the album, Jim booked the Roxy for me in L.A. Everyone was there. Somebody should have kept an eye on me, but some dealer found me backstage and filled me up with cocaine. I hadn't performed live in a couple of years. I drank a whole bottle of brandy, and then went out there and got through two songs, and then I sat down on stage with a total mental block to all the words. It was rather embarrassing. Everyone just sort of closed the curtain and said good night. That was supposed to be my return.
The worst feeling in the world is to lose your voice before a concert. Happened to me in Germany. We were doing this show for, like 90,000 people, televised all across Europe, and that morning I wake up with no voice. So I go to this doctor and he gives me a shot so powerful I thought he'd turned me into a woman. It was that big a dose.
That night, I opened my mouth and I couldn't believe it. I sang like a bird. I was so scared of the power coming out of me that I realized why people are so afraid of drugs.
I get called a fossil, which is OK when I start thinking of some of the musicians I've known who are dead. People talk with morbid fascination about who is most likely to die next. I'm sure I've been talked about as the next potential dead candidate.
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