Roxy Music - Biography
Roxy Music successfully walked the line between their uncompromising artistic tendencies and a constant devotion to pop music. They were pushed and pulled by those two extremes early on; in one corner was the “non-musician,” Brian Eno, who's drag-dressing and make-up wearing were almost as eccentric as the songs he wrote. And then there was the pop classicist, Bryan Ferry, who looked and sounded like a very suave Dracula, and could write hooks that rivaled those of Sir Paul McCartney. Ferry was certainly one for experimentation, but not to the degree that Eno was, resulting in noticeable mounting tensions on the band's second LP, the brilliant For Your Pleasure. Eno left the group after that album, leaving Roxy Music to sink or swim with Ferry alone at the helm. For a whole decade, Ferry and the band put out album after album of infectiously appealing pop music that managed to challenge the listener as well as provide something to dance to. Roxy Music finished their career as one of the best and most seminal bands of the art-rock genre.
Bryan Ferry had been pursuing an artist's life, studying with painter and collage artist Richard Hamilton at the University of Newcastle. Ferry himself soon became a ceramics teacher in London, and during those years, he played in various bands, like the R&B-influenced group, the Gas Board. That project also featured future Roxy bassist Graham Simpson. Toward the end of 1970, Ferriy and Simpson decided to start their own band, joining forces with oboist-cum-saxophonist Andy Mackay, who used to play in the London Symphony Orchestra. Mackay soon introduced Brian Eno, a man of little musical proficiency, to his bandmates and he became a member as well. Two more additions, drummer Dexter Lloyd and guitarist Roger Bunn, were brought in after an ad was placed by the band in Melody Maker.
They called themselves Roxy originally, adding the “Music” after discovering an American band of the same name. Once they lost their original choice for a name, they began to lose a few original members as well. After playing on the first couple of demos, Lloyd and Bunn left the lineup, leading to a second Melody Maker ad. The new search yielded a former member of 60's prog-rock band The Nice, guitarist Davy O'List, as well as drummer Paul Thompson, who had previously been accompanying singer/songwriter John Miles. Guitarist Phil Manzanera, formerly of the progressive jazz fusion band Quiet Sun, stepped into the picture when O'List departed in '72. Even before the first album was recorded, Simpson himself was out. Roxy Music never found a permanent bassist after that, and the role would be filled by various bassists throughout the band's career. Rik Kenton was the first man to fill Simpson's shoes, and he plays on the band's self-titled first full-length.
Roxy Music (Virgin) appeared in 1972 and as soon as that summer, it was in the British Top Ten. It was produced by Peter Sinfield, the lyricist for another art-rock band that Ferry had once auditioned for, King Crimson. Although there was room to grow for the band on a technical level, theirs was an assured debut, full of Ferry's well-written pop songs funneled through Eno's experimental aesthetic. A non-LP single, “Virginia Plain,” made its way into the top ten singles chart, followed by “Pyjamarama.” The group played “Virginia Plain” on Top of the Pops that September.
Their second LP, For Your Pleasure (Virgin), was recorded in February 1973, this time with bassist John Porter. Released later that year, the album was a definite step forward for the band, and it was loved in the UK as much as its predecessor. US music fans, on the other hand, had not yet begun to pay attention. The creative tension with in the band became so great that Eno, angry with Ferry's unwillingness to work on his songs, left after For Your Pleasure was recorded.
Ferry finished a solo album of covers called These Foolish Things before getting to work on the third Roxy Music album, Stranded (1973, Virgin). Recorded with Eno's replacement, multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson, Stranded ushered in a new Roxy, now directed more completely by Ferry, producing a group of fantastic songs such as “Street Life,” “Just Like You,” and the double epic whammy of "Amazona" and "Mother Of Pearl" contained on the same record. He took some pressure off himself by allowing both Manzanera and Mackay to contribute songs of their own. Stranded became the band's first number one album in the UK. The band was starting to gain attention in the US as well, and the LP gave them their best press yet.
By the time they released 1974's breakthrough hit, Country Life (Virgin), there was actually some fervid anticipation in the US for a new Roxy album. With it's controversial cover (a photo of two scantily-clad models that got it banned in several US stores), the album broke the top 40 in the US and became their fourth LP to reach the top ten in the UK. Never before had Ferry and his band perfected their blend of glam, art-rock, and simply infectious songwriting to such a degree as this. They went on tour with bassist John Wetton and then recorded Siren (1975, Virgin), which gave them their first top 40 single in the US: the groovy dance smash “Love is the Drug,” a song that finds them exploiting eurotrash decadence in disco form. The album peaked at number 50 in the US.
After that fifth LP, the band members started working on solo projects. Manzanera started up a prog-rock outfit with Brian Eno called 801. Mackay and Ferry began recording solo albums. The summer of 1976 brought the announcement that the band was breaking up, but that it would only be temporary. A live album, Viva Roxy Music! (Virgin), was released later that year, comprising performances from the past three years.
After 18 months spent on their respective solo projects, the group got back together in 1978, minus Jobson and Wetton, who formed their own band called UK. Roxy Music now featured Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay, Thompson, keyboardist Paul Carrack, and two studio bassists, Gary Tibbs and Alan Spenner. By the spring of 1979, the sixth Roxy album, Manifesto (Virgin), was released, providing a continuation of the glossy, disco-influenced sound that the band had explored to some degree on Siren. The single “Dance Away” boosted the album to number 23 in the US, the band's highest-charting position in the States. Before the promotional tour, Thompson was forced to leave the band after injuring his thumb in a motorcycle accident.
For their next album, Ferry entered the studio with only Mackay and Manzanera, filling out the empty spots with studio musicians. Flesh + Blood (Virgin) was released in 1980, and on the strength of “Over You,” it became the band's second number one album in the UK. Roxy Music released a non-album single, a cover of John Lennon's “Jealous Guy,” as a tribute to the late legend. It became the band's first and only number one single in the UK.
In the summer of 1982, the group was back with Avalon (Virgin), their biggest album ever in more ways than one; the production, first and foremost, was the most detailed job they had done thus far in the studio, and musically, Ferry was swinging for the fences like never before. Also, it was the biggest album for the band in a commercial sense, spending three weeks atop the British charts, where “More Than This” and “Take a Chance With Me” became huge hits. Meanwhile, the album was spending a staggering 27 weeks on the charts in the US. It went gold there, the only Roxy album to do so, and soon enough, it was certified platinum.
A live EP, Musique/The High Road (Virgin) followed in 1983 after a successful tour. After that tour, Ferry began to devote himself purely to his solo career. It had been only a matter of time, and his bandmates didn't waste time pursuing other projects of their own. Manzanera and Mackay formed the Explorers in 1985. For the next 15 years, the two unsung heroes of Roxy Music would work together under various monikers on top of handling solo careers. To commemorate their 30th anniversary in 2001, a reunited Roxy Music – featuring Ferry, Manzanera, Mackay, and Thompson – went on a full-fledged international tour. In 2005, the band announced that they were recording new Roxy Music material, and even Brian Eno, who criticized the group's initial decision to reform, stated that he'd take part in the proceedings. In typical Ferry fashion, the album was put on hold so that the crooner could promote his new solo album, Dylanesque, a collection of Bob Dylan covers. There are no plans as for a new Roxy Music LP up to this date.