Monday, October 5, 2020

Remembering Peter Shelton —Colleague, Talent, and Friend

May 11, 1937 – October 3, 2020

In recent years when the phone would ring, a bright and ebullient voice would ring out, “Hello Carl, ol’ mate, how’s it going?” And that would begin a chat of at least 30 minutes between two old friends with mutual respect, a lot of history, and miles of laughter in between.

On Saturday, we received the sad news that longtime friend and former tour manager Peter Shelton had died today. A native of England, Peter grew up with a devotion to football. It was an early passion of his life and he rooted, as well as scouted, for both Blackpool Football and Manchester City Football Club.

Early in his career, he was highly respected as a scouting talent and football clubs often called on him to advise them. His collective knowledge of the sport and friendships across multiple teams would ultimately lead him to his first publication, “My Name is Len Davies, I’m a Football Scout.” The book co-authored with Davies, was “an account of almost 50 years of scouting for footballing talent.”

Although not a career journalist, Peter was an excellent writer and had a tremendous way with telling stories, in person and in print. As he grew, he learned to collect those stories from his vast experiences as a club talent manager in Blackpool’s famous teenage pub, The Picador Club. So many acts came through that club on their way to the top; it was similar in character to the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in Los Angeles back in the day. Peter managed the club, booked the talent, occasionally served drinks, and once in a while filled in on bass if a band member didn’t show up for the gig. He loved his time there.

As part of the band “The Robin Hoods,” they found their way to America, specifically Chicago, and they had an initial contract with Mercury Records and even had a part in a movie. Following The Robin Hoods, he played bass and sang backgrounds for a time with the Cleveland band, The Outsiders (“Time Won’t Let Me” and “Respectable”) that found acclaim thanks to the voice of lead singer Sonny Geraci. Later Peter became tour manager for the group and worked until he grew tired of band dynamics. Then, he was looking for a new opportunity.

At this point, our friendship would begin with Peter ca. 1966, with The Buckinghams. We were between tour managers (his preferred term for what he did) and his friend Hank Newman, also well respected on the national music scene, recommended to our manager and producer Jim Guercio that he hire Peter, as we were about to undertake our first big national tour, with the amazing Gene Pitney.

Peter was a few years older than we were, which meant he was light years more mature.

He always dressed so professionally, preferring the look of British turtleneck or cable sweater and jacket to American traditional coat and tie. He set himself apart from us in other ways as he made people take us seriously.

Although we traveled in coat and tie to and from concerts, we were still a group of young adults it was hard to take seriously. After all we were rock and rollers, from Chicago, and were not yet very sophisticated about the world.

Undoubtedly he had his hands full as our tour manager. Imagine trying to corral five different personalities and get them going in the same direction! Not only was there the task of getting us all to and from the airport successfully for gigs, he was responsible for hauling all of our wardrobe trunks and some musical gear as well. On paper that sounds reasonable, but making it happen was something else again.

The night after a concert, the five of us generally went five different directions. Sometimes we had dates lined up with girls for after the show. Other times a few of us went into town to see who we could meet. Others were complete night owls who could function on little sleep. Of all of us, Marty Grebb required the least amount of sleep. He and Nick were the ones who were last to come in. I was usually back first as I really loved my sleep and was desperately trying to catch up with it, because you don’t get a lot of sleep on the plane or on a tour bus.

Marty discovered a trick to being on time even after his nighttime partying. Because Peter always had the worst time getting him to wake up in the mornings, Marty presented the biggest problem. When he came in from his night on the town, he’d shower and change into his travel outfit for the next day. Then he would lay on top of his bed so he wouldn’t wrinkle his suit. He just slept on his back until Peter opened the door in the morning and saw Marty was already ready, so he’d call his name. Marty would open his eyes, stand straight up, and grab his unusual hat (he had a unique wardrobe, including a Sherlock Holmes coat), and pop it on top of his head. He was ready to roll.

Now Peter was not the tallest fellow in the room, in fact he was often the least tall, but he talked a big game, and in a British accent. In the 1960s, there were not the same level of restrictions at airport gates and on-plane boarding as there are today. I remember one day we were headed to Texas on American Airlines from our previous night's concert, and Peter arrived at the airport with all of our suitcases and gear hours before anyone else for the flight. He watched as American employees had not loaded all our suitcases into the cargo space. Gear was still on the cart and no one was putting it in the cargo hold.

We got to the airport in time to see a problem had developed. Seems like they’d planned to leave our gear behind for the next plane, and we went to find out what was happening. Peter wasn’t having any of it; American officials were specific and rather contrary, as they began explaining why not all of our gear was loaded. Peter jumped into immediate action. He descended the plane and walked onto the tarmac and stood in front of the nose of the plane, glaring up at the pilot. He crossed his arms to make an additional barrier. Finally, some airline personnel came out of their offices to speak with Peter, urging him to let the plane take off and the gear would follow on the next flight. That was not going to work because we would make it to our next concert in enough time to get to the venue, and the gear needed to be with us on that same flight.

Peter responded, “Your rules are to be at the airport in plenty of time to get your luggage boarded. I was here three hours early. We have our tickets, our boarding passes, and my passengers were here in plenty of time. No sir, that will not happen. I suggest you get all our luggage on the plane immediately." American staff meekly apologized and started loading up our gear as they should have in the first place. Peter was one tough, hardheaded champion for us. We made our concert on time, and we had our guitars, keyboards, amps and a PA. Imagine trying to do that today!

Whenever he was representing us, Peter Shelton did so proudly and compared to some of the other road managers and touring managers our fellow musicians had, we were so pleased.

Throughout the travels of the Gene Pitney Tour, Peter was both patient and fun. He could often relax with us and feel close enough to us to not be considered our employee. He had a great camera and often took a lot of time photographing behind-the-scenes images and developing them in his room. I have many of those pictures and cherish them. Most importantly we had a chance to grow up and be stupid and not have it cost us too much because there was a “supervising adult” there with us. At times he was one of us but he also knew just when to pull back and take charge and think about what we needed to do rather than wanted to do.

It was a challenge for Peter to work with Jim Guercio and they often butted heads on various things. We were too busy partying to pay too much attention or care what was happening in our business world. We were in our own private Idaho, so when the time came that Guercio decided to let Peter go, it was too late to do much about it. We also got busy learning what had happened and decided that it was wrong. We never really had charge of our careers anyway. We were too busy drifting along from one girl at one party to the next night out, with thoughts of making serious music given to our spare time.

Not much later, The Buckinghams parted ways with Jim Guercio, a decision favored mostly by Marty, with half-hearted agreement by the rest of us. At that point, Dennis and I made it a point to go after Peter and ask him to return to us, which he did. The Buckinghams were not long for popularity with the advent of acid rock and protest songs, fighting war and Vietnam…so no one wanted to talk about lovesick teenagers. The Buckinghams quit performing in 1970 when we had paid our last Diners Club bill.

In 1970 and 1971, Dennis and I committed to trying to make a career as a duo—we were going to be singer-songwriters. If Loggins and Messina could do it, Seals and Crofts, and even Simon and Garfunkel, the music world was perhaps ready for us. Peter and Bonnie Herman, his wife at the time, believed in Dennis and me fervently, and they invited us over to their home to work with us and discuss our goals as a duo.

Bonnie was part of the revered choral group, Singers Unlimited, and arguably Chicago’s most prominent female jingle singer. With their encouragement and support, Dennis and I took the beginnings of songs we’d written together and polished them. As producer, Peter (with Bonnie's encouragement) set the recording sessions at Universal Studios and our songs on paper came to life for the first time. It was a tremendous feeling! Look out Loggins and Messina! Dennis and Carl had a demo!

Peter took the photographs for the album, and Dennis did the rest of the artwork (including the hand-printed liner notes) and we had a demo at last. Despite our product we thought was quality, it was summarily disregarded by the labels. We weren’t out of the game yet, though. John Poulos believed in us as well, and he talked to every label owner in Los Angeles, trying to get us a record deal. That would result in our ultimately being heard by and signed to Ode Records because Lou Adler was happy to take a chance on us. That's a story for another time.

Peter returned to producing and found success with a pop group, Green Lyte Sunday, of Dayton, Ohio, whose members had a great sound and were perfect for recording. Two lead singers (Michael Losekamp, formerly of the band The Cyrkle, and Susan Darby created a unique sound on songs, originals and covers, and they had a good group playing with them, including James Barlow, Bo Keller, James Wyatt, and Jason Hollinger.

As an example, here’s their cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” that’s unique and pleasant. Additionally it made it to #2 on Billboard’s Easy Listening Charts.

The thing to notice is Peter’s production company, Granny Christie, Ltd., was named for his grandmother, whom he adored. That was Peter—his love of friends and family endured throughout his life. He successfully maintained positive relationships with all his loved ones such that you always knew you had a friend to care, and to listen to what was important in your life.

Peter had a penchant for recognizing a hit. One day (1971 or 1972) when the group Steeler’s Wheel was in Apple Studio in London, recording their first album, which was produced by the amazing duo Leiber and Stoller. Peter was a childhood friend of Tony Williams, at the time a Stealer’s Wheel band member. He invited Peter to sit in for the recording playback as the team was trying to figure out what would be the best single to be released from the album.

No consensus was being reached…but when Peter heard “Stuck in the Middle with You,” he remembered punching the air with his index finger and saying, “There it is! That’s your hit!” Two single releases later, it became the group’s hit after all, and it went on garnering notice and acclaim for the band and the album.

Eventually Peter returned to the UK and enjoyed his retirement years keeping up with good friends, from childhood days forward. He was a faithful phone friend and whenever the phone rang, we’ll never forget the chipper Manchester accent saying our name, followed by, “How is my old mate today?” Even if you weren’t in a good mood when you answered, by the end of the call, you would be.

In England Peter had already authored his first book, “My Name is Len Davies: I’m a Football Scout”…that was British football.

On Facebook, he had a newfound opportunity to reach out and connect with old friends across the US. He started sharing some historical memories of the Picador Club, early days of now successful British rockers who found success in the United States. Because so many were anxious to learn more about U.K. rock in the early days—the late 1950s and early 1960s, Peter decided to finish his book about the music scene. Dawn Lee Wakefield, whom he’d met through his friendship with Carl Giammarese, worked with Peter in 2011 to edit and publish his first print edition of “Rock-n-Roll Fever: Blackpool in the 60’s" [Martin Powers Publishing], now available on amazon as a paperback. Between orders from the US and local signings in Manchester, he sold out of his limited edition first run of hardback books in the same year in which they were published.

He was actually commissioned by the Manchester library to write the book, and they had limited funds to offer him, but they knew Peter had the background and was an excellent researcher and historian. It was one of the proudest moments of his life to have the book placed in the library there.

Another proud moment was his book signing at his local “Waterstones” bookshop in Manchester’s city centre.

He also made many new friends in the United States by interacting and reconnecting with The Buckinghams' Facebook friends. Peter also stayed very busy creating YouTube videos of music and actual music videos with scrapbook pictures. He even made a few for us for Christmas time.

For other musical groups, he created many custom videos. One in particular, honoring the life of Singers Unlimited talent, Gene Puerling, has been seen by over 40,000 people. Peter also took the photos, by the way. The nationally acclaimed group included (L to R) Don Shelton, Bonnie Herman, Gene Puerling (d. 2008), and Len Dressler (d. 2005).

We’ve never seen anyone so productive and engaged during their so-called retirement. Peter continued taking photographs as recently as a few years ago.

His last years were brilliantly filled with joy of family gatherings with his sister, and his niece, Samantha (Sammy), and her children as cousins and friends-as-family. His grandniece Harry (Harriet) and grandnephew Will (William) delighted him so much. He loved family gatherings and was delighted to meet his great-grand-niece, Emily. It’s so important the time he had together with them, and they truly had the chance to know and love their “Uncle Pete.”

I remember and am grateful for the time about 2013 when he traveled to the United States, as he wanted to visit his dear friends in Chicago, which I believe he knew would be for the last time. We spent an excellent afternoon together, and I'm so glad to have this photo as a memory.

In 2015 he’d heard from so many friends who appreciated his first book, that he soon penned a sequel. Entitled “Rock-n-Roll Fever: The Impact of Rock-N-Roll,” he published it as a paperback on Amazon, and it’s still available.

For the past 5 years especially, Peter battled health challenges, but he did so bravely. When he came out of the hospital, he remained active, walked daily, despite the crazy Blackpool winds and weather. The health challenges were very difficult to be sure, but his spirit of optimism was indefatigable. He could project the good side of every situation, and he delighted in posting jokes on his Facebook page to encourage people to lighten up and take a minute to smile.

There are so many things to remember and reflect on about Peter Shelton. He was a musician, tour manager, record producer, photographer, ambassador of goodness, and quite a clever chap, as he might appreciate being called. His friendship was everlasting. And in the end, when all we have is our memories, we are rich in those, and grateful for each one. Many of you have a Peter Shelton story to tell. Perhaps consider posting a memory either here or on his Facebook page for his UK family to appreciate.

George Eliot is credited as saying, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” In that case, Peter Shelton will be alive in our hearts for a very long time indeed.

Carl Giammarese and Dawn Lee Wakefield