Arthur Brown: my crazy adventures with Keith Moon, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and more

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

The winner of the Showman Award at the very first Classic Rock Roll Of Honour, Arthur Brown has been a colourful constant in British rock for over 50 years. Having arrived on the scene in a blaze of glory and a flaming helmet with his now classic 1968 chart-topping hit Fire, in addition to his own albums Arthur, has contributed to records by Bruce Dickinson, Rob Calvert, Die Krupps, The Pretty Things and The Alan Parsons Project, among others. 

We spoke to him about some of the people he's met and worked with over the years.

Jimi Hendrix

"Pete Townshend saw us [Arthur’s Band] playing at the UFO club and he picked us up for Track Records, who also had Hendrix. So Jimi came down to see us play, and we ended up doing various gigs and TV spots together.

"In 1969 we hung around a place called The Scene, a legendary club in New York, where all the musicians went to jam. When Jimi went there he liked to play bass – and he was a very good bass player. And he didn’t like to sing. I remember one occasion playing with him and John Lee Hooker. It was a dream come true.

"At one time Jimi proposed that we put a band together, with me, my keyboard player Vincent Crane and The Experience. In the background he wanted tapes of Wagner and a number of big visual screens. It would be a mixture of classical, rock, jazz and R&B. But there were two things that prevented that. One was that shortly after we came up with the idea, Vincent went into a mental home. And although I loved Jimi, I wanted to go in my own direction. So I missed out on it. 

"Jimi was very humble and he also felt very responsible for his audience. If anyone started going on about how great he was he’d just say: 'I’m just a song and dance man. Don’t fuck with me.' 

"Looking at it from the other side, Jimi was also a paratrooper, a soldier – that isn’t all gentleness. Once in New York I spent the night with one of his girlfriends, and when she got back home Jimi locked her in cupboard. He had his moments. On his personal side you had to know him quite well, and there were issues there."

Captain Beefheart

"One of my best friends was Jimmy Carl Black, who was with the Mothers Of Invention and also played in Beefheart’s band. He told me a wonderful story about the Captain. Beefheart was married, and at one juncture his wife was put in charge of looking after his hats. He was quite grumpy one day when the band was at the airport, and he turned round to his missus and growled: 'Where’s mah hat! You’re supposed to be lookin’ after mah hats.' 

"She’d obviously had this thrust in her face all day, because she just suddenly turned round and lamped him one; laid him on the floor. Totally astonished, he looked up at her and laughed, and continued laughing as a crowd gathered round. He saw humour in every situation."

Frank Zappa

"I used to go and visit Frank. We played quite a few concerts together, and I think the theatrical side of our show got transmitted to bands he had on his label, like Alice Cooper

"I remember one time after the Miami film festival we went down to this bar where there were all these small round tables. At some point during the evening these young ladies would get up on them and start to do their go-go dancing. I thought: 'That’s a bit sexist, just having the girls doing it,' and decided to get up on one of the tables and started to dance while undressing. There were a lot of straight people in the room who didn’t quite dig this. Frank looked up at me and said, with a mock stern voice: “Arthur, control yourself.” We then made our excuses and left.

"I believe Frank was thinking about standing for president just before he died. A perceptive fellow who didn’t jump into any camp whatsoever."

Alice Cooper

"The last time I saw Alice Cooper he said: 'The next time you’re in Arizona, pop by for a round of golf.' Like I’d be passing by in a bus or something [laughs].

"We toured with Alice in ’68, before my song Fire was a big hit, but we already had a reputation in the American underground movement. We played at a festival where we were second on the bill and Alice was down much lower; and, as I recall, so was Iggy Pop. They thought what we were doing was great. And then, of course, Alice went on to borrow the make-up. Then we did a concert at the Rainbow in ’71, and from that he borrowed the psychodrama. 

"Alice’s early stuff was really dangerous and had energy, and then like everyone else he went Hollywood. One thing about Alice is that he’s always pretty honest about where he gets stuff. I’ve always rather liked him, actually."

David Bowie

"When I was playing in Paris in 1965, he came over and did a gig. Then he was known as David Jones And The Lower Third. In ’67 he was around the UFO club and we were all doing mime. I was cross-dressing and all of that shit. Later he distilled that stuff into his act. At one point we lived around the corner to each other in Beckenham, Kent. I remember one day his ex-wife, Angie, came round to my house and announced: 'One day I’m going to fuck you silly!' To which I replied: 'See the roadies for that.'”

The Who

"The fucking ’Oo. Moony was in your face all the time. He couldn’t help himself. I went to Keith’s for dinner and he would start the proceedings dressed as a cowboy. Then he’d go upstairs come back down dressed as a sailor. Go back up and return as an Apollo astronaut. He couldn’t not perform even in his own house. He was this maniacal, joyful presence, and people wanted to see these excesses. And although he was capable of being quite nasty, he usually did all his pranks with a smile on his face.

"Of course, later on there were times I would see him and he was quite ill; it was like his skin was almost transparent.

"Roger [Daltrey] was much straighter, never got into the dope. He was quite violent in his early years. I was at the premiere of Tommy in Hollywood. Everyone was there: Jack Nicholson and the crew. It was a glamorous affair. When I got there I bumped into Roger sat outside on a bench. I said: “I thought you told me that you’re going to be a film star? You should be in there chatting to the showbiz folk, ligging.” He just looked up and said: “I can’t stand this fucking stuff. I’m waiting here to be picked up by my mum in half an hour and then we’re going for a cup of tea.” That was Roger. A walking paradox.

"Peter [Townshend] is the sensible one and unpredictable at the same time. You know that Tommy was originally written as an opera. I was the singer he had in mind when he wrote it. We were all set to do it until Kit Lambert [one half of The Who’s colourful management team] decided he should do it with the band."

Kit Lambert

"Shit my boots, there’s a character. The Baron, as he was known. Totally neurotic, a drug addict, exceptionally talented and as gay as a button. A total visionary. 

"I remember one night I had just taken my first acid trip, and I had an African spear and a Chinese Warlord outfit. I went down to the legendary London nightclub The Speakeasy, and Kit was sitting at a table right at the entrance. I was at the top of the stairs, and I threw my spear and it landed on the table right in front of him and went ‘BOING!’ And Kit just completely passed out. 

"When he came too he proceeded to explain why the incident was so traumatic for him. He said, in his posh theatrical voice: 'I was once in the Guards, and we were out in Africa and we were being hunted by this tribe of people. We were running away, trying to get back to camp, when I suddenly heard this whistling and then a thud. 

'I looked around and there was this spear in my best friend’s chest. And when that spear hit the table it brought all that back to me and that’s why I fainted.'”

The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown has been reissued as a deluxe edition by Cherry Red

Peter Makowski

Pete Makowski joined Sounds music weekly aged 15 as a messenger boy, and was soon reviewing albums. When no-one at the paper wanted to review Deep Purple's Made In Japan in December 1972, Makowski did the honours. The following week the phone rang in the Sounds office. It was Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. "Thanks for the review," said Blackmore. "How would you like to come on tour with us in Europe?" He also wrote for Street Life, New Music News, Kerrang!, Soundcheck, Metal Hammer and This Is Rock, and was a press officer for Black SabbathHawkwindMotörhead, the New York Dolls and more. Sounds Editor Geoff Barton introduced Makowski to photographer Ross Halfin with the words, “You’ll be bad for each other,” creating a partnership that spanned three decades. Halfin and Makowski worked on dozens of articles for Classic Rock in the 00-10s, bringing back stories that crackled with humour and insight. Pete died in November 2021.