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Coming of Age with Brixton Key

No Comments 2 April 2012

Coming of Age with Brixton Key

The coming-of-age novel is one of literature’s most enduring forms. In the hands of Brixton Key, author of Charlie Six, it becomes a romp through swinging Sixties London, by turns endearing, hair-raising and hilarious. It’s also a fitting accomplishment at this particular juncture for someone whose contributions to the music business span the last forty-plus years and involve writing and managing acts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Key was a reporter for Melody Maker, the U.K.’s premier music trade periodical, from 1969 to 1973. In the 1980s, he launched Chris Isaak’s career, managing him through the recording of his third album. It all got started when he was in his early teens, hanging out by the stage doors of London clubs, offering to haul music gear for the acts of the Mod era.

Charlie Six ( 361 p,p.) isn’t completely biographical, but there are definite parallels between the life of the main character, a wily urchin with a gangster father and a mother who knew how to insinuate herself into social scenes that could ensure her a luxurious lifestyle, and the way Key was actually raised. Key’s own father ran with underworld figures, many of whom provided the inspiration for the parade of hit men and racketeers that help form young Charlie’s worldview.

Charlie Six cover

In the novel, Charlie has an older sister who turns him onto blues, jazz and Beat literature circa 1960. In real life, it was a brother who opened those doors for Key. “His record collection just rocked, man,” he recalls. “He was also going to clubs early on, seeing Cyril Davies, all those people.” Key’s favorite record as a child was the version of “Hoochie Coochie Man” on the LP Muddy Waters Live at Newport. “My mom used to yell at me to knock it off after I’d played it over and over,” he says.

“My parents had a pub,” he reveals. “They were party people. Blues greats would come by and play piano.”

Just like the fictional Charlie and his gangster dad, Key says that his real father’s shady activities provided his exposure to Europe’s other cultures. “We’d go to Spain when things got hot,” he says.

Charlie is a mixture of tough street waif and cuddly cherub from an early age. He knows how to fight and shoplift, but at age ten, he still sleeps with a teddy bear named Concrete, and talks his mother into taking in a stray cat.

As was the case with Key, Charlie learns the opportune times to be situated by the side doors of clubs when bands are hauling their equipment in. The year-by-year unfolding of the story gives us a glimpse into the incremental advent of such British Invasion legends as the Small Faces, Georgie Fame and the Rolling Stones.

Key came to the United States in the mid-1970s. In the latter years of that decade, he was “hanging out in L.A., when the punk scene was going on. I came up to San Francisco and worked with a couple of bands. Nothing much was happening until a girl I knew played me a tape by a singer that just blew me away.”

The singer was Chris Isaak. “He was singing a George Jones song.”

He finally met Isaak through a guitar player. “I invited several musicians to dinner to hear him,” says Key. “That’s how we put his band together. It was a time when musicians were exploring their roots - country, rockabilly.”

Erik Jacobsen, a producer who started out in the early 1960s as a Greenwich Village folksinger and whose producing credentials included The Lovin’ Spoonful and Tim Hardin, approached Key at one of Isaak’s shows and introduced himself. That led to a contract with the Warner Brothers label.

In the 1990s, Key suffered an aneurysm. “That really knocked me for a loop,” he says. “My stepson said, ‘Why don’t you start writing again?’” He entered the creative writing program at San Francisco State. One of his mentors on the faculty was a poet whose work he had loved in his youth, Daniel J. Langton. The boyhood idol proved to be a writing coach of uncompromising candor. “He’d say things to me like, ‘Haven’t you ever heard of a fucking comma?’”

Book promotion for Charlie Six has mainly consisted of radio interviews and bookstore readings. Key envisions a trilogy that traces Charlie’s life into later years. He’s also looking for a movie deal. “I’ll try L.A. If I can’t find an American producer, I’ll go to London.”

Buy the Book/Find Out More:

Brixton Key’s blog:

praise for Charlie Six

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