- - Thursday, May 18, 2017

If all frontman Terry Sylvester ever did was sing lead on The Hollies classic “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” his place in rock ‘n’ roll history place would be secure. (His time in that band alone got him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.)  But add to that the fact that he was also a member of The Escorts, The Swinging Blue Jeans and Alan Parsons Project, and you realize that Mr. Sylvester himself is a piece of rock history.

Mr. Sylvester spoke about replacing Graham Nash in The Hollies and touring with The Beatles in this exclusive interview.

Question: What was it like to be part of the “British Invasion”?

Answer: More so I was part of the Liverpool scene. I used to play at The Cavern Club with my first group, The Escorts. We played with The Beatles lots of times and Gerry & The Pacemakers and Herman’s Hermits and all the groups.

But those groups left me back a little bit because I was five years younger. I remember thinking, “I’m 15 and they’re all 20.” They all went to America with the British Invasion, and they came back stories of how fabulous it was — all the skyscrapers. I was really pea-green with envy then, to be honest.

Now I’m 69 years old, and I’m delighted to be five years younger. (Laughs)

Q: When did you know you made it as a musician?

A: When I joined The Hollies and took Graham Nash’s place. By the time I did that, I was 21 and I had learned enough about getting ripped off in the business. Had I been successful at age 15, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.

Q: How did you end up in The Hollies?

A: In 1965 The Escorts did a month in Munich. And The Hollies came over and did three days in the middle of our residency there. We used to get up at night and perform together. We were like friends. They were No. 1 in the charts and we were nobody. But they didn’t treat us like that. They looked after us because we didn’t have two pennies to rub together.

When Graham decided to leave in ‘68, the other guys remembered me from The Escorts and asked me to take his place.

Q: Was there any trepidation in joining an established band?

A: No, not at all, because when I was in The Escorts, we were quite confident. I didn’t feel any trepidation about stepping in to replace Graham. I didn’t want to mess up because I knew this was my big break. And I didn’t want us not to have a hit record with our first record.

I think the record company was a bit concerned. Not that he was the lead singer, but he was a spokesperson.

Q: What was the first thing you recorded with The Hollies?

A: We went into the studio and recorded “Sorry Suzanne,” which wasn’t a big hit over here in the States. But it got to No. 2 or No. 3 in England. It re-established The Hollies sound.

Q: Did the Hollies sound change when you joined?

A: No, because I could hit the high notes. Still can. (Laughs)

When I joined, I just stepped into Graham’s shoes.  I didn’t say too much to start with, but obviously I was writing songs. I got together with Allan Clarke and Tony Hicks and we started to write.

Q: The first Hollies album you were on wasn’t an album of new songs, yes?

A: Right. It was “Hollies Sing Dylan.” That album ended up being No. 1. We got knocked by the press for doing that one.

Q: What did Bob Dylan think of it?

A: I wish I had the letter. Bob Dylan sent a telegram saying how much he loved it. That was enough for us. We were No. 1.

I remember talking to a journalist from Melody Maker who knocked us and said, “You shouldn’t have done this.” I asked “Why? Bob liked it. We liked it.”  I listen to it now sometimes, and it’s an absolutely brilliant album.

Q: Coming up, was there a sense of competition between the bands?

A: We were all rivals trying to get in the charts. At the height of it in the ‘60s and the ‘70s, I think there was a hundred records getting released a week. We’re talking singles. And four would get played by the BBC. Which was the thing. If you didn’t get played by the BBC, then how could you get a hit?

It changed a bit with the pirate stations. There was rivalry but friendship as well between us and The Kinks, The Stones, The Beatles. We were all pals.

Q: How has that changed now when you see other bands?

A: It’s much different. We spend a lot more time hanging out doing these shows. In the old days we would be passing ships in the night. Every day you would move from city to city. Now it’s every weekend. On these British Invasion tours we’re pals. We get together the night before we do the show.  We all get on stage together at the end of the shows.

Q: What is the best part of touring now?

A: You get to see all of America. We don’t do many shows on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays. So if we have a show on the weekend, we stay around and explore.

I always wanted to be here. I remember watching the old films and TV shows as a kid and dreaming of being in America. Now I live in St. Augustine, Florida, and get to tour America. Brilliant!

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