‘70s group to release new album, ready to make film debut
By Peter Lindblad
|Player - Peter Beckett and Ronn Moss 2013|
Peel off the layers of the onion known as Player, and it quickly becomes apparent that there was more – much more – to these ‘70s hit-makers than the ubiquitous soft-rock chart-topper “Baby Come Back.”
Right off, there’s the fact that Ronn Moss is a huge international soap opera star, having portrayed fashion mogul Ridge Forrester on “The Bold and the Beautiful” for an astounding 25 years, before recently calling it quits.
Moss’s partner in Player, Peter Beckett, may have an even more interesting background. Not only did he see The Beatles play at the Cavern Club and perform with the Little River Band from 1989 to 1997, but he also was an integral member of Paladin, one of the U.K.’s most intriguing and experimental early 1970s progressive-rock outfits.
When Paladin, which Beckett called “a fusion-rock, quasi-jazz thing” formed by ex-Terry Reid band members Keith Webb and Peter Solley, split up, Beckett headed for America – or more specifically, California – at the behest of friend Steve Kipner.
Thinking back to Paladin, Beckett recalls, “We did that whole thing where we went out and lived in a castle in Gloucestershire in the countryside for six months, and then did an album and we came back to London, and we did the whole university circuit. We did two albums. It was a pretty well-known band in England, and then it split up. And truthfully, I can’t remember why it split up. It was just a couple of guys left, and we replaced them, and it was never as good and the band split up.”
Looking around for work in L.A. after Paladin dissolved, Beckett auditioned for record labels and management companies, before winding up in something rather ridiculous called Skyband.
“It was atrocious,” says Beckett. “I mean, I’m sure they had their reasons, but they made us all dye our hair white, and they took pictures of us with no shirts on with these big helmets with feathers in … and it was Skyband and we were supposed to be like warriors from the sky – very embarrassing album cover.”
Nothing they did was well-received.
“We put out one album, and it did nothing,” remembers Beckett. “We did one tour of England, believe it or not, with the [Sensational] Alex Harvey Band. We were horrible, and we came back and split up [in 1975], and I was like floating for a year.”
Whatever sins Beckett committed beforehand in his life, Beckett’s penance with Skyband more than made up for them, and soon, he was rewarded with a 1977 meeting in Los Angeles with future band mates Moss and Texan J.C. Crowley that would lead to the formation of Player.
As Moss recalls, “We met at J.C. Crowley’s little cockroach-infested apartment. Peter and J.C. were there already and our soon to become manager Paul Palmer had said to me, ‘I’ve got a couple guys that I think you should meet, and I think the three of you will work really well.’ So he arranged it, we exchanged demos that day, we played … the place was so small that we had to go outside to meet each other, because there wasn’t room for all three of us. But we wound up using his garage to finish writing all the songs for the first Player album. And it worked out really well. I really liked the guys, and we had a camaraderie that worked well.”
|Player - Too Many Reasons 2013|
That friendship between Moss and Beckett that began in that tiny hole-in-the-wall has survived for decades, and they have made a lot of music together, even though it’s been almost 20 years since the last official Player record. In 2013, however, Player has resurfaced, with its newest album Too Many Reasons, and it feels to them like the late ‘70s all over again, when Player’s varied musical tastes helped propel them up the charts.
“Player’s always been a very eclectic band,” says Beckett. “I’m always worried about the songs fitting together, which is kind of stupid because The Beatles were like that anyway. You know, they always had hard rock and soft ones, and so even in the old days, we’d have a song like ‘Baby Come Back’ on the same album as a song like ‘Silver Linings,’ which was a total hard rock song. And then we’d stick some pop in there, and it was always very eclectic, and this album has turned out to be exactly that. As Ronn will tell you, I was really worried that the songs didn’t go together, but when we put them all together and mastered it, it sounded exactly like one of the old Player albums. It’s got a bit of everything in it.”
Moss adds, “I feel like these songs now, even though some of them are pulled from older songs, we’ve given them a new flavor. They are not sounding like old songs. They sound new.” And that includes the title track, which Beckett claims is “… from a while ago, and we fixed it up. That could be anybody. It sounds to me like it could be a Whitesnake record.”
‘Silver Linings’ Playbook
Unlike Beckett, Moss grew up in L.A., the son of the owner of Mutual Ticket Agency, a predecessor to Ticketmaster. Concerts, theater and music – Moss became immersed in the entertainment industry from a young age, and he played multiple instruments, including drums, guitar and bass.
Moss found his kindred spirits in Beckett and Crowley, who had been in a band together called Riff Raff, which changed its name to Bandana. That band had been on Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter’s label Haven, but Haven folded. There was a silver lining, however. The two record company moguls eventually moved on over to RSO Records, the Robert Stigwood label that would go on to sign Player, but not before Beckett, Crowley, Moss and the drummer Moss brought to Player, John Friesen, went to great lengths to get a deal.
“We got turned down by almost every record label in America, until we found the RSO label through Dennis Lambert,” remembers Beckett.
Player’s search for a label involved performing live in front of producers, because as Moss puts it, “We’d always wanted to play live in those showcases. We never wanted to play tapes of us playing. We wanted to make sure they saw us and heard us playing live.”
Before each one, Beckett says Player would rehearse for a week.
Before each one, Beckett says Player would rehearse for a week.
“I think we did two or three, the final one being when we had ‘Baby Come Back,’ and that’s when we were starting to get pretty good,” says Beckett. “There was one we did … I think we did about five songs, and we did ‘Baby Come Back’ at the end, and got all of it done. I seem to remember being very cocky in those days and all that, but I went on the mic and on that last song – nobody had ever heard ‘Baby Come Back’ yet – and there’s all these record executives, and I said, ‘Now, we’d like to do our No. 1 record.’ And this was like six months before it even came out, and we did it and it kicked ass. And everybody’s mouth was open like, ‘Oh my God. That sounds like a hit.’ And then we went and recorded it, and you know the rest.”
|Player's self-titled debut album|
Well, that’s not quite all there is to the story. With their self-titled first record out, Player brought their brand of breezy, laid-back pop-rock out on the road, initially touring with Gino Vannelli in November 1977.
“The very first gig we did – and we’d been rehearsing for a while, but we hadn’t been playing gigs – and we got this gig at the Buffalo Town Hall and we were supporting Gino Vannelli, who is, you know, amazing,” says Beckett. “And we all, with our little guitar cases, just kind of walked in behind the stage and he was doing his sound check, and it was just monstrous. It was just so good, just as synthesizers were coming in and his whole thing was synthesizers, and it was just huge. And we were sitting in the wings going, ‘Oh my God, we’ll never be anything like that (laughs).’”
While out with Vannelli, “Baby Come Back” was climbing the charts by leaps and bounds.
“We were in … a real dirty little rehearsal place, and the manager comes running and he said, ‘You guys are No. 80 on Billboard,’” says Beckett. “And we just went crazy,” much as they did when they first heard the song on the radio.
“I remember the first time we heard it on the radio,” says Moss. “J.C., Peter and I were actually driving up La Brea Avenue in my car and it came on the radio – it was one of those freak things that just happen in life. And we just started screaming in the car. It was a great moment.”
There would be many more highlights. With their hit single on the rise, going all the way to No. 1, where it spent three weeks in the top spot, Player was shifted from the Vannelli tour to the Boz Scaggs bill. “We were plucked and put on [Scaggs’s] ‘Silk Degrees’ tour,” says Beckett. “And we went from just medium-sized gigs to doing huge arenas, and [‘Baby Come Back’] hit No. 1.”
The Scaggs gig was a high-profile one for Player, but in short order, they’d be called up to the big leagues as the support act for guitar god Eric Clapton on his “Slowhand” tour.
“Well, you know, the Boz Scaggs tour wasn’t chopped liver, either,” says Beckett. “But we’d already done about two months of 30,000-seat arenas, and then we went back and did the Danger Zone album. We knew we were going on the ‘Slowhand’ tour, so we made the Danger Zone album harder edged so that we were able to go out and support Eric Clapton and have the right kind of music under our belts.”
As it turned out, they were a little too good for Clapton’s entourage.
“We had a wonderful little thing happen to us at the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas,” says Moss. “Player had the No. 1 record, and in the middle of ‘Baby Come Back’ there’s a silence, before the last chorus starts. Well, right at that downbeat to that chorus, after the silence, we all came in … and, no power. The power had gone out. There was nothing but drums.”
Beckett chimed in, “The sound had gone out,” before Moss added, “The lights didn’t go out – just the power to our amplifiers. So we all looked around, and they finally got it up and rolling.”
Evidently, as Player would later find out, one of Clapton’s roadies pulled the plug on Player’s performance. “It took several days for somebody backstage to finally fess up,” says Moss. “And it turned out to be Eric Clapton’s crew who fessed up and said, ‘Yeah, we pulled the plug on you guys.’ We were going down to well, and initially, we were really pissed. ‘Why would you do that?’ and the guy said, ‘It’s because you were going over a little too well.’”
Beckett says Clapton knew nothing about the incident, but after the roadie admitted what he’d done, Clapton tried to make peace. “They fessed up. They fessed up. And [Clapton] came in the dressing room a couple of weeks later with a bottle of Jack Daniels, and he never really admitted anything, but he said, ‘Are you guys okay?’” says Beckett.
The original Player lineup started to break apart after the Danger Zone LP, as Crowley departed for a solo career in country music. There were arena tours with Heart and Kenny Loggins, a handful of hit singles such as “This Time I’m in it for Love” – which went to No. 11 on the Billboard chart – and 1980 saw Player release Room with a View, but Moss and Friesen left soon after.
“My own decision came from the fact that our record company seemed to be falling out from under us,” explains Moss. “RSO Records had reached the pinnacle and then disbanded. And then we went to Casablanca, after Neil Bogart had died. And we weren’t recording enough. We were basically sitting around, getting frustrated and I decided to do acting and give it a try. So I went from having something in music to basically having absolutely nothing in the acting world. And I took a couple of years’ hiatus from being with Peter and Player and doing music, and they continued on, with another album from Player. He never stopped doing music, and I took a short break, and eventually we hooked back up and it’s been a nice ride – still is a nice ride.”
|Player - Lost in Reality 1996|
Beckett kept Player going, recording one more album with Spies of Life in the early ‘80s before shelving the Player name, until Moss and Beckett – the sole remaining original members – made 1996’s Lost in Reality. Over the years, Beckett has been a prolific behind-the-scenes songwriter, penning material for such artists as Heart (one of his favorites), Kenny Rogers, The Temptations, Poco, Janet Jackson, Survivor, and Olivia Newton-John, who scored a Top Five hit with one of Beckett’s compositions.
“I love Heart. I had a song on Bad Animals,” says Beckett. “Kenny Rogers, I had a beautiful song that Ronn actually did as well, called ‘All This Time.’ It’s a song that’s one of my favorites of what I’ve done. Kenny Rogers did it and then Ronn put it on one of his solo albums. With Olivia Newton-John, she had a song at No. 5 on Billboard called “Twist of Fate,” which we do onstage today with our band. It’s a lot harder than Olivia did it.”
Writing music for the movies has also kept Beckett busy. “I’ve written rap songs for movies. I’ve written ballads. I’ve written heavy metal. I had two things in ‘Rock Star,’ the Mark Wahlberg movie. I had the main song, ‘Living the Life.’ And that’s serious metal,” says Beckett.
But, it’s his partnership with Moss that has endured, and soon Player and its music will make it into a feature film being directed by none other than Moss himself.
“Combining Player’s music with the visual, that’s something we’ve been heading toward for a long time,” says Moss, who regrets that Player missed out on the MTV explosion. “When we did our videos, everything was very simple – standing up on a soundstage and filming the band actually playing the song. We didn’t have all that great imagery you have now.”
With their latest album, out Feb. 26 on the FrontiersRecords label, Player now has plenty of songs for Moss’s directorial debut as a filmmaker. Player will have more to say about their new album in a blog slated for that release date.