Rock's Backpages

< back to list of all episodes

Episode 158 : Charles Shaar Murray on the NME + John Lee Hooker + Robbie Robertson

14 August 2023

In this episode we welcome NME legend Charles Shaar Murray, beamed in from his adopted Ipswich to reminisce about his career from Oz magazine to his John Lee Hooker biography Boogie Man.

We start by discussing Charles' 1970 interview with the mighty Muddy Waters, his "favourite singer since I was 12 years old". Our guest talks about the Oz "School Kids" issue and the other underground publications for which he wrote before he was recruited by New Musical Express in the summer of 1972.

We hear how "CSM" became NME's unofficial David Bowie correspondent and how — under Nick Logan's editorship — the paper radically broadened its rock remit to embrace film, literature and politics. Taking the story into the early '80s, we discuss the continuing passion for blues that led to years of research for Boogie Man. Clips from Tony Scherman's 1992 audio interview with its subject Mr. Hooker prompt our guest's memories of coaxing information out of the veteran bluesman.

From John Lee and Muddy Waters we turn our attention to a Canadian guitarist who fell heavily under their spell: Robbie Robertson, whose death we learned about the night before recording this episode. After we hear audio of the Band man talking in 1991 about his "musical brother" Levon Helm, we discuss what the proto-Americana quintet meant then and now. We also pay tribute to punk artist Jamie Reid and Mexican-American cult hero Rodriguez. En passant, CSM talks about going to New York's CBGB for the first time in April 1975 and the NME piece that resulted from it.

Wrapping up the episode, Barney quotes from late '70s interviews with Ted Nugent and Bruce Springsteen, after which Jasper talks us out with his thoughts on pieces about Monie Love and Beyoncé...

Watch a video clip from this episode

Many thanks to special guest Charles Shaar Murray. His books, including Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker, are available from all good bookshops.