White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s
By Joe Boyd
One of the virtues of 1960’s was that it seemed to be an easier time for music to cross-over categorical boundaries. Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles is a valentine to the years when blues, jazz, and folk could share a place in the public consciousness with rock and pop.
Boyd would have his greatest success producing folk-rock and psychedelic bands in London, but he started in the business with the blues. For his first foray into concert promotion was as a teenager in New Jersey. Boyd found the temporarily forgotten bluesman Lonnie Johnson and enticed him to give a concert in a friend’s living room. As Boyd recalls:
“As the evening went on and everyone relaxed, the music grew more intense and Lonnie began playing his old blues. Our friends and their parents edged closer to Lonnie’s chair in the middle of the room; none of them had ever heard anything like it.” (p. 15)
Boyd would first his first real professional work in the blues field as well, managing George Wein’s Blues and Gospel Caravan European tour, featuring artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Reverend Gary Davis. Boyd frequently worked for Wein’s Festival Productions, coordinating jazz tours as well. While his own company primarily handled rock-oriented acts, he returned to jazz to record South African Chris McGregor, with countrymen Johnny Dyani and Dudu Pukwana. It is these reminiscences that will be of most interest to jazz and blues listeners.
Boyd however, became intimately involved with the London rock scene as the decade advanced. As a producer and record label owner he pursued but just missed out on major acts like Pink Floyd and ABBA. Throughout Bicycles Boyd consistently defends the music, culture, and leftist politics of the sixties. At times though, he does express some reservations about decade, particularly in regards to the drug use which would ultimately claim so many musicians. Boyd writes:
“Is this one legacy of the sixties? That after flinging open the doors to a world previously known only at the margins of society, the pioneers would move on, leaving the masses to add drugs to the myriad forces pulling our society towards chaos and mediocrity?” (p. 267)
To his credit, Boyd writes with a great deal of candor. He pulls no punches when suggesting the band members’ conversion to Scientology led to the artistic demise of the Incredible String Band. While some of the figures and events of White Bicycles may not ultimately be remembered as mythically as Boyd views them, he makes a passionate case for his music.