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History of Track Records

May 19, 2015

History of Track Records

The public school rebel, the streetwise East End scenester and the guitar hero: the three men who put together Track Records were a diverse and complicated trio. But their label was to become perhaps the great indie of the 1960s, a showcase for a stable of great acts including Jimi Hendrix. The three men were Kit Lambert, Chris Stamp and, of course, Pete Townshend.

Kit Lambert, born into a rich, artistic family, served in the Army after his time at Oxford. He had a wild streak and was already no stranger to a hare-brained scheme: a filming trip to Brazil had ended in disaster in 1961 when a close friend of Lambert's was killed by cannibals.

When he left the service, he worked as an assistant director on The Guns Of Navarone and From Russia With Love. He became friendly with another film-maker, a slick, tough Cockney called Chris Stamp - whose older brother, Terence was already one of Britain's brightest young actors - and the two began sharing a flat.

Kit convinced Chris that they should make a film about an up-and-coming rock band and the pair went to the Railway Tavern in Harrow Weald where a young group called The High Numbers.

The High Numbers in 1964. Keith looks lively even back then!
The High Numbers in 1964. Keith looks lively even back then!

They were astonishing audiences with their blend of squalling, anarchic feedback, vicious drumming and heart-pounding energy. They were, of course, the band that would become The Who. Kit and Chris moved fast, buying the band out of their current management contract, changing their name and setting them on the road to superstardom.

 

The blend of Kit's flair for publicity and sure grasp of what would sell to the new youth culture, coupled with Chris's toughness and gritty business intuition were the perfect management team for the band. The film was soon forgotten as they began managing the band full-time. Kit encouraged Pete to explore the darker, angrier side of his song-writing, and guessed correctly that the pumping, sexually charged energy of the band could be a huge hit with young men. They dressed the band in the Mod fashion, took control of all the lighting at gigs - rare at the time for a band - and carefully shaped their image. He urged Pete on to greater ambitions in his song-writing, encouraging the genius and invention that would see them releasing such brilliantly original works as The Who Sell Out by 1967, and Tommy by the end of the decade.

The first Who album, My Generation, was a hit, and the management duo's next step was to set up their own label. First, they had to fight a legal battle with Brunswick records to get them to release The Who. In the meantime, they released the next LP, A Quick One While He's Away, on Reaction Records, distributed by Polydor. They released the single 'Substitute' on this several times, each time with a different flip-side, in order to muddy the legal waters.

The Who - A Quick Onehe Who - A Quick One

(Incidentally, Reaction Records was a small but mighty Sixties indie label in its own right: a grand total of three LPs were released on it, but what a trio they were: A Quick One, and then two terrific Cream records - Fresh Cream and Disraeli Gears.)

Cream's debut album - one of only 3 albums released by ReactionCream's debut album - one of only 3 albums released by Reaction

Eventually, Kit and Chris managed to win their legal battle and, in 1967, Track Records was born. They were keen to have total artistic control of The Who's output, of course, but there was another impetus for setting up on their own: a young left-handed guitar player from Seattle, Washington. Chas Chandler was already managing and producing him, but Kit and Chris knew that they had to get involved with Jimi Hendrix one way or the other.

The first release on the new Track Records label was the 1967 single 'Purple Haze' - not a bad way to open your account! If you have a white label copy of it in mint condition you can expect to pocket around £15 for it today. The label's first LP was Are You Experienced? An original mono copy of that will set you back around £70.

My original laminated mono copy of Are You Experienced
My original laminated mono copy of Are You Experienced

Track Records signed Arthur Brown, putting out the incomparable 'Fire' single in 1968 and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown LP in that year. They also put out records by the comic Murray Brown - Keith Moon's favourite comedian - and the now very rare first single by Fairport Convention - If I Had A Ribbon Bow b/w If(stomp). Marc Bolan's band, John's Children released four singles in 1967. Thunderclap Newman, Marsha Hunt and Dutch rockers, Golden Earring were also on their roster, but the label, being able to be choosy with The Who and Jimi on their books, were not bound by commercial pressure.

Roger Daltrey said: �It was a period when the record industry was growing so fast and the business couldn't keep up. Bands were leading the way; it was driven by the art and not the business. Now it's driven by the business.�

No label epitomised that more than Track Records from 1967-1970. On the label's first-ever press release, Kit declared:

�The label does not intend to sign artists indiscriminately. Our policy is to sign people who we consider to be unstoppable. Only artistes of the highest quality and Top Ten potential.�

For a while, they most certainly achieved that, though there are also some interesting, rare and obscure releases too by such long-forgotten bands as Cherry Smash, Tony Simon, The Precision, The Sandpebbles and Eire Apparent who even had Hendrix playing on a track. There was even a 1967 release by The Parliaments featuring a young George Clinton - that's a £30 collectible now.

Eire Apparent's single Follow Me, featured Jimi Hendrix.Eire Apparent's single Follow Me, featured Jimi Hendrix.

But things fell apart at the end of the Sixties. Hendrix's death left Track with a massive commercial hole where all their money used to be. Kit fell out, badly, with Pete over Tommy when he tried to sell it without the band's say-so. Now heavily into drugs, the management duo was over-spending and their judgment was failing them. They were fired by the band in the early Seventies, and by 1974, Golden Earring were Track Records only act of note. Kit and Chris went to New York to produce soul act Labelle. They released a couple of tracks by The Heartbreakers in the mid-Seventies but the label folded in 1978.

Kit's drug habit spiralled throughout the decade and he died after falling down the stairs at his mother's house in 1981, a grim and unfitting end for a great rock personality. Chris also battled drugs but now works as an addiction counsellor. His brother is big in the gluten-free market with a range of flour and foodstuffs, The Stamp collection. In 1998, Ian Grant - the former manager of The Cult, The Stranglers, and Big Country - revived the Track Records label with Chris Lambert's blessing.

A classic record label that was created, shaped and driven by its owners, Track Records was ultimately to be a shooting star, and although it crashed and burned, it left some of rock n roll's most revered music behind as its legacy.

THE WHO T-SHIRTPETE TOWNSHEND T-SHIRTJIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE T-SHIRT





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