1974. Part of “Smiler” inside album cover shot outside pub in London.
Left to right in front:
Ken Jones, Pete Sears and his future wife Jeannette, Ron Wood, Ron’s mum & Dad, Ian McLagen, Rod Stewart, Spike Heatley, Rube.
The album had taken quite a bit longer to make than expected due to Rod having some sort of problem with his record label. Although I was paid very well for a session musician, the relatively long gaps between recording dates made it difficult for us to stay afloat much of the time.
I would take other sessions to pay the bills, to buy food (Jeannette is a wonderful cook), tobacco for my pipe, and cigarettes for Jeannette. We’d drive to London to buy her favorite brand “Turkish Specials”, but when she ran out, the local grocer’s got used to Jeannette dumping pennies on the counter and counting out enough for a packet of Dunhill’s. They liked this beautiful, intelligent American woman who was respectful of the ways of the village…she got on with all the shop keepers. Somehow we always stayed afloat, and we always paid our rent on time.
We had this wonderful woman right out of an Agatha Christie novel living next door to us…she was a spinster who wore tweed skirts and lived alone. She once asked if I’d help her pass her driving test…I of course said I would. It was only then that she told me she had taken and failed the test many times before. She had this little old Morris Minor station wagon and we’d go out together with Jeannette in the back seat. It was a bit unnerving to say the least…she wore glasses and would lean her body forward over the steering wheel which she clutched firmly with both hands, and peer through the windshield as if she couldn’t see where she was going very well. When she had to make a turn she would bend her entire body in the direction she wanted to go. We almost hit something or someone many times…but she never did, and eventually got her license. Her name was Peggy and she loved Jeannette…they would talk for hours or pick flowers together. I was mowing Peggy’s lawn one day when I suddenly heard this panicked screaming from our garden next door. Jeannette and Peggy were picking flowers together. I looked up and couldn’t believe my eyes…Jeannette was frantically tearing her dress up over her head and jumping around in her underwear with no bra like someone possessed. And Peggy was helping her. It took me a few seconds to process what I was seeing, and to realize that my American girlfriend hadn’t suddenly lost her mind. It turns out that a yellow jacket had flown up into her dress and was stinging her multiple times…Peggy was wonderful and knew exactly what to do. She was one of those can-do English women you like to have around in an emergency…hardy stock. It was very painful for Jeannette, like multiple yellow jacket stings can be…but fortunately she had no allergic reaction of any kind, and soon recovered. She was later stung the day before our wedding, again with no serious reaction. But in 1977, when our baby son was ten days old she stepped on a yellow jacket in our bathroom in California and went into anaphylactic shock. It took the emergency room doctors three hours to stabilize her heart…it would stop, and they’d have to give her another shot of adrenaline to get it going again.
It happened while I was up north in the state of Washington buying an old open cockpit bi-plane and I wasn’t contactable. Fortunately Jeannette’s mother was staying with us and she called the ambulance. When I came home I put our new son in the car seat and drove to Marin General to see Jeannette. She was happy to see us. She had a scarlet red streak running from her foot up the entire length of her leg to her heart…they kept her overnight for observation. It was very scary. She has to carry Epinephrine everywhere now. She later developed a serious seafood allergy as well…I used to go fishing for our dinner. No way now.
Jeannette and I were out driving with Peggy one day when out of the blue she said,
“I’ve had my roll in the hay you know”.
“Excuse me”? Jeannette said.
We fell silent…not sure we’d heard correctly. It seemed so out of character.
“I just want you to know…I’ve had my roll in the hay. My Joe and I were engaged before he went off to the war…he was killed in action”
We felt very sad for her. Living next door to Jeannette and me…it seemed important to her that we didn’t think she was an old prude that had never loved.
We never saw Peggy again after we moved back to America, but we exchanged Christmas cards until she passed away around 1995. She told us she had started playing organ for the local church in the village of Westerham, and had eventually married a man named Ian whom we never met. We miss her.
One dark, and stormy night I was on my own in the cottage when I received some very bad news. I was in the bedroom upstairs when I received the phone call. My emotional state was such that I started shouting out in anguish to the empty room, my cries blending with the howling wind and rain beating against the window panes. It instigated a metaphysical experience which I can only describe as a vision of light. It was too intense for me to go into now, but to say it was a life changing event that has taken me years of spiritual searching to try and make sense of, and to come to terms with.
In June of 1974, the album was finally finished; it was time to fly to California for Jeannette’s sister’s wedding and for me to check out Jefferson Starship. We had to come up with the airfare somehow and all my session pay from Rod had been spent on bills. Paul and Grace had offered to pay our way over, but I wanted to stay independent and not commit to anything yet. I had improvised this little harpsichord interlude between songs on “Smiler”. Rod suggested I come up with a name and publish it through his company so he could give me an advance. It was an instrumental piece about thirty seconds long…pretty short; right on the limit of being able to publish. I decided to call it “Lochinver” after a beautiful little village on the north east coast of Scotland that my mother and father loved to visit.
Rod gave me a healthy advance…enough to buy our tickets to San Francisco and more.
We bid a sad farewell to our close friends and my mother and father. It was especially hard for them. They loved Jeannette and had been hoping we would stay in England…perhaps even live near them. We loved our visits to their house in Hayes for Sunday dinner.
But half of me belonged to California now. I will always love England, the land I grew up in…the land my dad fought for; the land my grandfather died for. But I had grown strong roots in the California soil that would only grow stronger as the years rolled by. We said goodbye to my brother John; he’s five years older than me, but we have always been very close. He had met his future wife, Pam, by then and I could see he was very happy. Pam is wonderful and kind and very smart; she has a degree in Physics from Oxford University. John became a scientist and they are now retired and living in an old market town in Hertfordshire. They have two wonderful grown children, Melanie and Daniel.
Before we left, Ron Wood had put me in phone contact with Stevie Windwood about possibly playing bass on an upcoming “Traffic” tour of the USA. I had already said goodbye to Martin Quittenton and John Lingwood…we’d been rehearsing together for some time. John and I are still in touch even today…he’s a wonderful drummer.
After our flight to San Francisco, Jefferson Starship offered me an equal partnership…it was too good an opportunity to turn down. That was pretty much the moment we settled for good in the States. Jeannette and I were married a year later, bought a house the following year, and had our firstborn child, Dylan Sears, the year after that. Our daughter, Natalie, arrived six years later.
Soon after I joined Jefferson Starship I went to see “Traffic” when they came through San Francisco…it was a great show and I popped back-stage to say hello to Stevie. We had only spoken on the phone so it was nice to meet in person…what a great talent he is.