Chapter One - My Brother Jimmy
Chapter Two - Radio Jolly Roger
Chapter Three - Golden Gate Radio
Chapter Four - BBC
Chapter Five - New City Sounds
Chapter Six - Paradise
Chapter Seven - Podcast Of Sadness
You may have never heard of me, some may but unless you live on the dark side of the moon you will know who my older brother is.
He is still around you know, my brother. He will be seventy-four years old next birthday and has been retired for half of his life. Yes, decades of spending money and living the high life while I still have to work, with no pension I have to put some money into my pockets. I guess I am lucky in that I still enjoy what I do.
1959, Birmingham England. Having failed the eleven plus examination then never having excelled in secondary modern school my parents refused to let me stay on at school to sit GCE examinations.
"You can get a job," Dad said. "A proper job, not like your brother."
The number one record in the current charts would earn that older brother of mine more money than my father could possibly make as a wages clerk in a factory. It would take him two, perhaps three or more, years to match it.
Parents in those days were never close to their children. At the end of the decade with austerity still controlling everything and teenagers starting to discover lives of their own the gap widened between the generations. My brother and I were friends, not bosom buddies but we got along well enough. Neither of us understood our parents.
Brother ? As I write this story I cannot keep calling him brother but I do not want to give his identity away. My brother the rock and roll star. I had better invent a name for him. I am Max, that is my name, let me call my brother Jim, or Jimmy.
My friends would boast that they had a mate whose brother was a rock and roll star. The teachers at school, I am sure, held it against me. I enjoyed the adulation from my peers and smiled at the scorn of our school with its small minded teachers. I envied my brother and his success but Jimmy and Max were never destined to become Don and Phil Everley. I could not sing. I still cannot sing.
"I can give you a job Max," Jimmy said.
Dad glared at us both. It was one of those rare times when Jimmy was at home and not playing his guitar somewhere or other in the country. The whole family was together.
"I have employment for you my lad," my father said.
"And what would that be Dad ? Sweeping the factory floor ?" Jimmy sneered.
"To start with but there are prospects. He may be able to get an apprenticeship."
I just kept quiet but when Jimmy and I were alone later I started to explore my options.
"So what would I have to do if I worked for you ?"
"Strictly speaking it would be the management company you worked for."
"So what would I do ?"
"Fetching and carrying, working with the road team to set up and break down all of the stage and equipment."
"Sweeping the floors ?" I smiled.
"It's hard work being a pop singer you know, nobody realises that, but it is a life of fun. You would be a part of that fun."
Be it a factory floor or be it a pop singer's stage, I was not sure if sweeping either had any fun in them ?
But FUN my life was.
I left school on Friday 24th July 1959. That week-end Bother Jimmy was part of a two night concert in Birmingham Town Hall. We all then moved the show to Liverpool, Stoke on Trent, Manchester, Newcastle, Blackpool, London and finally Brighton. Seven locations, twelve shows in two weeks.
"How old are you son ?"
"Sixteen in November."
"Just a kid. You are a good kid, I've watched you at work. Do you have a passport ? A proper one, not one of those temporary things you can get from The Post Office"
"Better get one, you are going to need it."
I am not sure which weighed more, the speakers or the amplifier. Both were heavy. I was always pleased when they were in place and finally working to Mike, the producer's satisfaction. He would have us move them, adjust them then move them again. If it took his fancy he would have us move the entire setup again and again until he was completely satisfied it was just right. He was not an easy man to please but he was an easy man to work with if that makes sense.
When it came to setting up the microphones, please do not ask me why, I was assigned the job of testing them. Everything was tweaked then when Jimmy and the others came on stage to rehearse I would make the final adjustments.
If the sound equipment was heavy, and it was - believe me it was, getting it ready for the show was so much easier than the less heavy but far more complex lighting rig. It would have taken the nerve and the skills of an agile monkey to match the way we climbed up and swung about the scaffolding.
Finally, and I mean finally, when all came together, when Jimmy and the others took to the stage to perform, I was proud to be a part of it all. Only a stage hand, a small stage hand but I was proud.
The moment the audience was allowed into the hall we all had to keep well out of sight. This was the time for the stars, not for we small and insignificant grafters. I would so much have loved to see close up the faces of those who had paid to see my brother sing and play his guitar. Without us all and our hard work they would be nothing. If I were on stage anything I did could not match the adulation of Brother Jimmy. I often wondered what it felt like for him. What it felt like to be a star.
Girls were an enigma to me. I had been to an all-boys school, I do not have a sister so have little knowledge of the opposite sex. I understood, or thought I understood, the mechanics but only in theory, nothing at all in a practical sense. I did wonder constantly, as does every adolescent, what it would be like.
The pay for my job was good. It was far better sweeping a music stage than ever it was sweeping the factory floor were my Dad worked. When we were not on tour I was still paid. When my rock and roll star brother had a recording session I would sit and watch but the whole process was long and if I am honest boring. I did not understand that side of the business, it was not of much interest to me.
Times at home with my parents were always delicate for me although Jimmy managed to rise above them. Even Dad was slowly begin to accept that his oldest son was a star but he knew little Max would never achieve anything with his life.
November and December, right up to Christmas Eve was going to be a tough time. Six weeks and two days, fifteen different locations with thirty performances. It would be hard.
"I have a birthday present for you."
"Thank you Mike."
I knew the producer liked me, respected me. He would often praise my hard work. What was going to give me ?
"I think it is time you stopped just testing the microphone and started using it."
What did he mean ?
"I cannot sing," I explained.
He smiled. "I know that but it is your birthday so today I am going to give you the job of announcing your brother and the other acts on stage. You have a good voice so let's use it."
My heart beat hard and thumped against my chest. It was the job of the producer to stand on stage and introduce the artists. Mike was a good producer but on stage he was boring. The last thing I would be on stage was boring.
The night of my sixteenth birthday we were in Sheffield.
"Here," Jimmy said, "You cannot go out on stage in your overalls so here's a birthday present for you. Wear this."
I looked amazed at the gift. "Thank you."
In the dark at the back of the stage a drummer beat out a roll followed by a crash on the cymbals. I leaped onto the stage as the lights came up then grabbed the microphone from the stand to deliver the words I had so carefully rehearsed.
"Bop bopa-a-lu a whop bam boo."
I paused nervously as I waited for the applause. The audience erupted. Dare I say my next line ?
"You've heard," I said bravely, "of Marty Wild, The Teenager In Love. I am Max, the teenager not in love so any of you ladies who would like to change that, today is my birthday, I'll see you after the show."
I blew kisses and flung my arms wide. Girls screamed.
Although I could not see him anywhere I could sense my brother smiling and saying "Get on with it ! Little brother get o with it"
After the warm up act it would be Brother Jimmy. I waited in the wings for my next stage appearance.
"That was quite something," He whispered behind me. "What's next ?"
"Wait and see."
"Don't you upstage me !"
"As if I would." I had every intention of doing just that.
For a second time I danced across the blowing kisses and taking bows. "It's my birthday girls, see me after the show and help me celebrate."
Sheffield, that was where I was celebrating my sixteenth birthday. Being allowed to compare the show was my best possible birthday present. Mum and Dad did remember to send me a card and gave me a book token, how exciting.
"Max," Brother Jimmy said, "I have another birthday gift for you. Use that book token Mum and Dad sent you to buy a travel book for America. I have won a singing part, just a supporting part, in a movie being filmed in America next year. You are coming with me. you did get that passport didn't you ?"
"Hurry up and do it !"
"America ? Movie ?"
"Yes, a singing part but only a supporting role. I am not the star."
"Hawaii, where's that ?"
"Go and spend that book token and find out. You will be paid by the movie company of course."
"And I will raise your pay," Mike said walking to join us. "You did OK tonight, from now on you will introduce and compare every show."
My own part in the touring show. AND I was going to America. Some birthday. In the excitement I had forgotten all about my invitation to the audience to celebrate my birthday, it was not a serious invitation anyway.
"Hello Max, I am Juliette. This is Tina and her boyfriend Richard. I don't have a boyfriend." She then smiled and said "Juliette as is Romeo and Juliette."
"I've got a car," Richard explained. "The girls have an idea for a birthday treat. You up for it kid ? Oh, by the way her name aint Juliette, it's Joan"
"Sure," I said excitedly. What was this kid stuff ? It was my birthday.
Richard had a Ford Consul. My Dad didn't own a car, he did not earn enough as a factory wages clerk to drive one. Big Brother Jimmy had passed is driving test but was always taken everywhere he wanted and needed to go. As soon as I was old enough I would learn to drive.
"Where are we going ?"
"We thought we would drive up to the moor," Tina said.
"But it has been snowing," I protested. "There will be a lot of snow on the moor."=
"We hope so," Richard smiled. "We are going to have a snowball fight."
"A naked snowball fight, "Juliette giggled, or should that have been Joan ?
When we got out of the car the freezing ice cold air hit me. Surely we were not going to go through with this ? It was a joke. The November moon was bright, I could see my new friends clearly. If we did as Julie had suggested we would be able to see each other as clearly as if it were midday. No darkness to cover us up !
"Come on," Richard said taking his jacket off and placing it with care on the snow. "Max this is not a for ladies first, here and now gentlemen lead."
Surreal is not a word I knew or understood when I was sixteen years old. The meaning came with age and experience. Experience ? Another word, three words, experience would teach me but that night high on the moor above Sheffield they meant little to me Rite of passage.
I copied Richard and took my coat off. "Everything ?" I said.
"Everything," a trio of voices said before someone added, "even your shoes and your socks."
Richard and I started to look like something you may find in Health and Efficiency Magazine. It was strange, I felt warmer standing there dressed only in my pants than it had been wearing all the clothes I had on when we left Sheffield Arena.
"Off ! Off !" Was that Tina or was it Joan ?
I looked at Richard, in the moonlight our eyes met and there was a transfer of thought. As one we turned to present our backs to the ladies before removing our final items of clothing. As I bent forward to step out of my pants a snowball hit me hard on the bottom. That was cold !
I scooped up a fistful of snow to retaliate, turned and threw it. Soon Richard and I, neither of us phased by our nudity, were firing volley after volley at Tina and Juliette-Joan. The ladies took any notice of the bombardment as they danced taking off their clothes to be as naked as we were. As naked as the day they were born.
This was the first time I had seen a girl naked. I tried to look at what this represented without actually staring at the two bodies. Were Tina and Julie staring at me ? No, not staring but looking.
The four of us leaped about throwing snowballs and ducking the ones aimed at us. We chased one another but deliberately the pursuer failed to catch any prey. We were having lots of fun. This was not sexual, this was not dirty. Naughty perhaps but it was fun. For the first time in my life I had seen a girl naked and she had seen me naked.
My birthday present delivered, my rite of passage walked there came the moment, not planned and with nothing spoken, when we knew it was time to get dressed again. It was colder with our clothes on ! In the car Richard turned the heating up as high as its primitive engineering would allow.
"Happy birthday," Richard said.
"Happy birthday," Tina said.
"Happy birthday," Joan said but not before she had kissed me. My mind was in a daze and all over the place.
Surreal, that word again. Sorry I keep using it but life back then really was surreal. "Are you sure, Jimmy, that is who the star of the movie is going to be ?"
"Of course I am sure. It is in the contract I have signed. You will meet him, you are coming with me."
Today it would be said that I was to be my brother's PA but there was no such thing then as a PA, Personal Assistant, back then. I was to be is secretary for the duration of is filming. Surreal.
"Secretary ? You don't look like some hot chick with a typewriter, not from where I am sitting.
"No Sir. I am here to help my brother."
"Sir !" He looked about him then smiled kindly at me. "Sir ? I am far too young to be called Sir. I do have a name you know."
Of course I knew. The whole world knew the name of the greatest rock and roll star. Even my dull parents could not claim ignorance where this man was concerned. He was talking to me !
My dull parents. Christmas moved slowly. Christmas with Mum and Dad, dull old Mum and Dad. Surely a pop star and his microphone jiggling younger brother should not be spending Christmas with Mummy and Daddy.
"You be careful in that America ! It's not a country I would want to trust. You mind out for those Red Indians. Why do you have to go there anyway ?"
"They do not have Red Indians in Hawaii Mum. It's for work, you know that."
"Funny kind of work if you ask me," Dad said. "Haven't I always said so ? How much are you getting paid ?"
That question was directed to Jimmy but I answered it telling my parents what I would be receiving. That silenced my father but I was not going to leave it there. "Better than sweeping a factory floor !"
Christmas and the New Year at my dear old parents Birmingham home, stuck as it was in the mindset of World War Two, was a long and drawn out process. It was, however, short compared to the time I felt it took us to complete the complex journey to America.
A car pulled up to collect us. I could sense pride in my Mother as she saw the uniformed driver open the doors for us. I knew she was hoping the neighbours were watching. Dad, of course, was at work fixing the wage packets for those who swept the floor at the factory where he worked. Even the factory's managing director did not travel in a car like this.
We drove towards London Airport. There was the new M1 Motorway which had opened the year before. Riding along its wide carriageway was exciting.
"Can this car do one hundred miles an hour ? Can it do the ton ?"
"A Bentley can do anything," our driver said, "and this model is called The Flying Spur."
Jimmy turned his head round to look at me then said, "Let her go."
Jimmy was sitting in the front next to the driver. I was in the back so leaned forward to look at the speedometer. I watched as it climbed quickly to ninety then continue upwards to ninety five, ninety eight, one hundred, one hundred and five, one hundred and ten. I glanced away from the dashboard to look as the countryside sped by. I found myself wondering if the aircraft we would soon board could match the cars speed.
That Pan Am Boeing 707 probably did go faster than the car yet as magnificent as it was it took forever to reach New York. I got to use my new passport but saw nothing of America other than Idlewild Airport before we had to board another Boeing 707 to Los Angeles.
Not a Bentley this time but eventually on the ground a Cadillac Fleetwood drove us to Paramount Studios in Hollywood. The cast members all had their own rooms in the studio compound. All these years later I still get tired when I recall those flights. As I write my story I keep speaking of words we use today which had no meaning when I was a teenager, jet lag is another to add to my list.
"Elvis Aaron Presley's the name," he said.
The two of us were sitting on the terrace of the artists' lounge at Paramount Studio, Hollywood, California.
"It's my real name. Your brother sings under his real name doesn't he ?"
"Not like that Cliff Richard fellow you have in England. He is Harold Webb if I am not mistaken."
I had no idea what is name was.
"You don't have to look at me like that you know, just because I can sing a bit. My legs end up in an arse the same as yours do. Although I expect my arse is a bit older than yours is."
"I am sixteen."
"Lucky you, I'm twenty-six myself."
I wonder now if those reading this story believe the conversation took place, it did.
"Your brother is quite a star back in England."
"It is good to have him here, having a limey in the movie will make it more appealing in England."
Good as he was I did not think Brother Jimmy could do that.
"You don't sing yourself ?"
"Can you mime ?"
I could but I was not about to confess to the king of rock and roll that I would mime to his songs in front of my bedroom mirror. "Never tried," I lied.
"Here's a deal," the great man said. "I can sing and I have no problem remembering the words to a song, I have only to hear it once and I have them permanently in my brain. But when it comes to the words I have to learn for the film, words in between the songs I just can never remember them. I get scared in front of the cameras."
Surely not. I did not say it aloud but I did think it. Surely not.
"If you will help me to learn my words, you become my stage buddy, and I will fix it for you to be in the movie and sing with your brother. Only you can mime."
My mouth fell open.
"Is it a deal ?"
He took my hand and shook it firmly. "Now what kind of beer would you like to drink ?"
"I'm only sixteen, I'm not old enough to drink."
"Listen, if you are old enough to be in an Elvis Presley movie then you are old enough to have a beer with your new buddy Elvis."
I have drunk many beers in my life and that one at Paramount Studio was by no way my first but I have never tasted better, before or after.
I do think that Jimmy was pleased for his little brother Max, I am not sure. Perhaps he was. "Eat your heart out Don and Phil," was all he said.
In the story for the movie Elvis Presley played the part of Chadwick Gates who returned to his home in Hawaii after military service to pick up his surfboard and start is life again.
"You don't have military service in England any more do you ?" Someone asked us the next day.
"Not any more. We used to call it National Service." Jimmy explained. "My Dad did National Service, he was in the army at El Alamein."
"A war hero."
"I don't think so," I explained. "He cleaned the camel poo of Montgomery's boots."
That first day at Paramount Studio we had costume fittings, script sessions, make up tests and everything anyone could come up with.
I would still have to do all the menial duties for my rock and roll star brother but now I was to become a star in my own right. Max Robinson appearing in Blue Hawaii alongside Elvis Presley. Would my name appear in the credits at the end of the movie ? Probably not.
"When do we actually go to Hawaii ?"
"In six weeks time."
We worked from early in the morning until late afternoon. How much was there that had to be done for British pop star and is tone deaf younger brother to be prepared for small parts in a Hollywood movie ?
There were times away from work, special times to relax. The studio thought it would be a good idea and spared no expense to show two British boys some of the sights. We were taken to Tijuana in Mexico, I was not keen on that place. I wanted to go to San Francisco but was told it was far too cold at that time of year. I doubt it would have been any colder than Birmingham in January.
Elvis avoided joining us on these trips, he could not go anywhere without fans mobbing him. That did happen a bit to Jimmy back home but there were ways to step round his identity and fame. When Paramount said it was taking us to Arizona and Nevada on a three day trip Elvis said he wanted to come along with us.
It was in the Nevada Desert, somewhere between Reno and Virginia City our friend climbed on to a rock, held out is arms and said, "There is not a living soul as far as I can see."
Even at the tender age of sixteen with my limited adolescent life experience I did not envy him his fame.
Finally, finally in March we were ready to move from Hollywood to Hawaii where the real work would start.
All of the tracks had been recorded in the Hollywood studio. These would be added to the master film during editing. On the set the tracks were played through speakers but the cameras did not pick up the sound. We all sang along. It did not matter that my voice was off key. When everything was eventually brought together it looked natural and convincing.
While I have been typing up my scribbled notes for this story I have been playing the album. Jimmy and I are somewhere in each song but my favourites are: Blue Hawaii, Rockaula Baby and Aloha Oe.
In late April we returned to Hollywood and Paramount Studio.
"Well that is it," Elvis said. "Went quite well at the end of the day if you ask me. Thanks Max for your help with my lines. I appreciate it."
Everyone involved in the production came together in the theatre to watch the film. Yes, it was good. Jimmy and I may only have had small parts but we were in every scene where Elvis sang, as this was a musical we were on camera for most of the movie.
The film was not going to be released until November. Paramount had carefully selected the date for maximum impact to try and get the album into the number one spot for Christmas.
"So I guess you are off home to Limeyland."
"Max wants to see San Francisco before we fly back to London, England." Jimmy put emphasis on the word ENGLAND. "We thought we would take a Greyhound Bus up there then fly from San Francisco to New York and finally home."
Elvis nodded. "I have never been to San Fran. Hey, when you get to New York how about you stop off and join me on the Ed Sullivan Show ?"
I wondered what the Ed Sullivan Show was.
"I will get my people to talk to his people then we can fix a day to suit us all."
San Francisco ! What an important part that city was to play in my later life. I will tell you of that further on in the story. I do not know why I wanted to make that first visit but I did.
We were two movie stars but nobody knew who we were. I liked that. As we walked over The Golden Gate Bridge in comfortable obscurity I smiled at just how easy it was to be famous.
I looked out from The Golden Gate Bridge towards the hills of San Francisco but before my eyes could properly see the shoreline the scene was dominated to focus on the island of Alcatraz. Neither Jimmy nor I had ever heard of the place before arriving in the city but were told it was a national prison housing some of Americas hardest and most dangerous criminals. Why spoil a beautiful place with such a small yet horrible thing on that small island ?
Chinatown was a funny place I have to say. Until that visit to San Francisco I had never seen a Chinaman before, few Englishmen had. We learned why they were originally imported to California to work on the railway, a bit like the way our ancestors imported Irish navies to build our canals.
We did not have such things in Birmingham but London had trolley buses which were powered by electricity from a network of overhead cables. San Francisco had the strangest system of public transport, still has the strangest system of public transport, I had ever seen. Thick wires ran in slots down the middle of the road. Wooden boxes with wheels hooked on to these cables to be dragged up and down the hills and carry passengers throughout the city.
One of these hills was called Nob Hill. Nob ? In England that is a rude word. Could you ever think of Birmingham calling a road Cock Mountain ? Oh well, America !
Time to make our way back to Birmingham and home. After Hawaii, after Paramount Studios and Hollywood, San Francisco was a bit of an anti-climax. At least there was not an earthquake while we were there.
I tried to sleep on the aircraft but close my eyes as I did slumber would not overtake me. It was exactly the same on the Boeing 707 to London. Perhaps I could sleep in the car back up the M1. We never did appear on the Ed Sullivan Show Elvis wanted.
Car ? We were not met by a Bentley or any other kind of car ! We were met at London Airport by a shining bus from the Midland Red Company. Reporters and photographers were there to welcome us home and report on the Brummie Rock and Roll Stars. To my utter amazement Mum and Dad were on the bus.
"You actually met Elvis Presley ?"
"Of course Mum."
"What was he like ?"
"Shall I tell you what he said about himself ?"
"Oh yes please !"
"He said," I smiled, "his legs ended in an arse just like yours do !"
Mum made to slap me across the face but thought better of it. Just as well, too many camera lenses were pointing at us !
Of course the newspapers were primarily interested in Rock and Roll Star Jimmy but one ran a special feature all about me and my friend Elvis Presley. When I gave that interview on the Midland Red Bus I did not talk about legs and arses.
There were no tour dates but Jimmy spent the next six weeks in the studio recording a new album. Did we call them albums back then ? Or was it LP, Long Playing record ? Why was making a movie so much fun and making an LP utterly dull ?
Another birthday. I was eighteen years old when Blue Hawaii was released. Then the real work started over again. We were both to make appearances in cinemas up and down the length of Britain. There was a new Jimmy Robison Fan Club organising it all. There was not a Little Brother Max Fan Club but my role in Blue Hawaii was the same as Jimmy. OK, I did not sing but I was excellent at miming.
It was the cinemas in the evening and the record shops by day. Signing autographs, smiling and promoting the music of Blue Hawaii and my friend Elvis Aaron Presley.
He sent me a birthday card, Elvis did, signing it Your Buddy Elvis.
We went down to London, to the Odeon in Leicester Square for the opening night of the film. The second night planned for us to be in the foyer of The Geaumont Cinema in Birmingham. We were to be there for a full hour before the film was due to start. The moment the doors opened and the crowd pushed their way inside one person separated herself from the dash to Brother Jimmy. I recognised her of course.
“Happy Birthday Max,” she said. “I am sorry it is a bit late but I wanted to give you the card myself. Can I give you a kiss as well ?”
“Yes, please Juliette (Joan or whatever her name was). Yes please !” Silently I said: I so much want to be your Romeo.
The crowd pushed her aside as people decided they may as well have my autograph in addition to Jimmy’s. She was gone.
As we traveled round the country, cinema after cinema, record shop after record shop, I wondered if she would come again. I hoped I would see her again soon.
Blue Hawaii was the number one album, or LP, for Christmas. We gained nothing from these sales. Even though the film was a huge success we were paid no more than the flat fee Paramount had paid to us.
New Year 1962. I had spent not very much money at all ! I had not had the chance. A new tour programme would give Max and his Magic Microphone wages as I introduced each act on stage. I decided I would treat myself. I would learn to drive. Enthusiastically I went out and bought myself a car. I had it delivered to my parent’s house as I had yet to have my first driving lesson. Triumph Motors delivered it on the back of a truck from their factory in Coventry.
“How much have you spent on that ?”
“Not that much.”
“You have not got it on hire purchase have you ?”
“No Dad I haven’t.”
“So where did you get the money from ?”
“Paramount Pictures ?”
“There’s plenty more in the bank Dad.”
“How come ? You were only a lacky, Jimmy’s the one who is the star.”
I never did like my Dad.