Reg Presley of The Troggs died yesterday. As a tribute to his raw brilliance, here's an interview I did with him about recording The Troggs' greatest hit, Wild Thing.
My influences were Louisiana Red and Lightnin’ Hopkins and the blues from America were sort of kicking us. But we also realised that it wasn’t quite the same in England. So you heard those influences, heard those sounds, and heard the differences. And every time we heard a song and said, ‘Oh that’s a good number, let’s do that,’ the Stones had already beaten us to it. It was a bastard trying to get something.
I’d started to write songs. I don’t think Larry Page, the Troggs manager, would have known, other than me saying ‘Oh I’ve got a song’, you know what I mean? I didn’t have a telephone in those days. I had to go to a phone box. But he sent down, Did You Ever Have to Make Me Decide? by the Loving Spoonful for us to do. And also what was sent with it was the old demo of Wild Thing, which Denis Berger, who worked in the office, had got out of a whole heap of demos. He saw it and thought, ‘Ooh, that’d be good for the Troggs’. He sent it with the one Larry wanted us to do. At that time I really wasn’t into music, like Did You ever Have to Make Me Decide. And when I finally got hold of Larry he said ‘How did you get on with the harmonies?’ I thought for a minute, because I thought Wild Thing was the one that suited us best. So I said, ‘Harmonies? On Wild Thing?’ and he said, ‘You haven’t done the other one?’
Well, I had A Girl Like You – I’d just finished that one. And we sat in an old Bedford truck, outside the studio, cos Larry told us that he was doing his orchestra, and if there was any time left on the end of that session, we could have it. We waited and waited. We knew what time the end of the session was supposed to be, and they came out about three quarters of an hour before the end. We looked at out watches and we said: ‘We’ve got three quarters of an hour to do this, then.’ They were coming out with their violins underneath their arms and what have you, so we dived in there, and said ‘Are we still going for this?’ Larry said, ‘Yeah, come on’. So we got our amps and that in there, and we ran through about eight bars of Wild Thing, and did it, and about eight bars of With A Girl Like You, and did it. They were both number ones. We couldn’t believe it.
We had been in other little studios, but this was our first time professionally, where everything was so, so, and dead right. Larry would speak though the mike and say 'Right we’ll try it' after he’d heard a few bars. 'OK from the top, go on.' So we’d do 8 bars, and he said 'OK, do it'. So we thought, OK, we’ve got to go for it, do it,' and that’s how it was done. We had to get out the studio cos somebody else was coming in. Our first album took two and a quarter hours – it’s stupid but that’s how it was.
It was all so fast. I was working on a building, doing a gable end, when I first heard Wild Thing on the radio. There was a painter, and he was working on the scaffolding behind me, and when Wild Thing came on his transistor radio, he shouted over to me, not knowing who I was. He said, have you heard this one? I said, ‘Yeah, yeah’. He said, ‘If that ain’t number one next week I’ll eat my brush.’ I thought: that bastard could be right. I threw my trowel down, there was a tea break starting, and I looked round the shed and said ‘Share out me tools, I’m off’.
The sound was raw. Music was starting at that time to go towards flower power. A lot of people say we’re the first punk rock. Well when you look back and see how the punks started, they’re probably bloody right, because they were rebels and they cut across the scene as it was in ‘77, and I think we did the same thing in ‘66. The strange thing about Wild Thing – it helps youngsters who just pick up the guitar, because to do that they’ve only got to learn three chords. It’s the first song they can play.
I still love it. It’s done some mileage.
I went up to London one night. Chip Taylor, who wrote Wild Thing, was playing this little club, and I thought, he’s bound to ask me up onstage, I’ll take the ocarina just in case. Sure enough he did. And he does it so slow – you know when a 45’s on, and you put your finger on it to slow it down – it felt like that to me. It was weird.
After Hendrix had done Wild Thing. Chas Chandler, his manager, took me round to his apartment, but he wasn’t there. Chas opened the door, went in, he showed me round the place. And he went into the bedroom, and I couldn’t believe it. If he’d have been lying in bed, you’d never have seen him, cos the whole room was black. The walls were entirely black all the way round, sheets everything, everything was black. If there’s any other way Wild Thing should have been done, he chose it. He saw the wildness of it.