Hushed, restrained, subtle as the slightest breeze — Chad & Jeremy’s trademark sound wrapped crew-cut college folk around early 1960s pop. The pair rode the British Invasion wave with hit after hit — “Yesterday’s Gone,” “Willow Weep for Me,” “If She Were Mine” and their biggest chart-topper, “A Summer Song.”
The whole thing, says Chad Stuart, was an accident, a combination of primitive studio equipment and producer John Barry’s struggles during the making of the duo’s first single in 1963.
“He was the one who got us to whisper, because he couldn’t figure out how to record our drama student voices,” Stuart said recently from his home in Idaho. “We were overdubbing the vocal to ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ and he said, ‘It sounds like a locker room full of football players!’ In the end, he said, ‘Oh for Christ’s sake, whisper it!’ We did that sotto voce Lettermen thing and we were screwed from then on out. I mean that was it, wasn’t it?”
It was a recipe for success, though, and particularly in the States, where they appeared on television and hung out with Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and other pop stars.
“You kind of knew it was special, but you couldn’t see very far ahead of you,” said Stuart of those heady years. “You were just taking one step at a time, hoping it all worked out. I always liken it to getting on a surfboard and everyone is on the beach watching you and by some miracle, you catch a wave, you didn’t know how or why … then of course, you fall off and you can’t do it again.”
Poor business decisions dogged them — to this day, they’ve seen no money from their early records. Their first manager demanded half credit because “Yesterday’s Gone” was written on the piano in her apartment, but Stuart remains sanguine about that affair. “She was totally ruthless,” he said. But in exchange, she placed him in a music-publishing house, where he worked as a copyist and did arrangements for big band radio shows. “I learned a lot, so my way of looking at it is — hell, that was just school fees.”
They dealt with scandal when a British tabloid revealed that Jeremy Clyde was descended from the Duke of Wellington. “That was the kiss of death, it was all over in England then,” says Stuart. “Because once the word was out … it became obvious that we were a couple of dilettantes, independently wealthy, silver spoon, public school boys — go away! That’s what happens. Boxing, rock and roll and pop music were the sole domain of working-class youth and aristocrats aren’t allowed.”
It was all rubbish, as the Brits say. Clyde’s bloodline was from his mother’s side, meaning he’d never be a duke, and Stuart came from a working-class family. But the United States was still a fertile market, and in early 1965, Chad & Jeremy signed with Columbia Records. The music was evolving rapidly then; led by The Beatles, bands began incorporating sitar, mellotron and other clever sounds into their work, and the duo itched to grow creatively as well.
“That’s sort of our joke,” Stuart said. “Jeremy says about us, ‘rock was never softer.’ Well, if you look behind the smiles, you’d see we wished we were more versatile.” A cover of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” was scrapped for an ambitious original when they learned Simon & Garfunkel were due to release their own version.
Though they performed the song, “Ballad of a Teenage Failure,” on a memorable episode of Batman, it didn’t dent the charts. “It’s a classic example of the pop star who says, ‘I’ve had five hit records, and now I want to do Shakespeare.’ It’s not going to happen,” Stuart said. “We were both trapped in that ballad boy thing.”
But the two soldiered on, and two late ’60s records are considered lost treasures by many music fans. Of Cabbages and Kings featured the eerie “Rest in Peace,” inspired by the mid-’60s film The Loved One; “Painted Dayglow Smile” was released as a single to critical acclaim, but inexplicably left off the album (it was included in a 2002 reissue). The Ark was a concept album, of a piece with the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed.
“I was a Moody Blues fan too, and I think in a way that sort of contributed to Jeremy leaving because he never got that at all,” Stuart said. As Stuart explored new musical horizons, Clyde contemplated a return to his first love — acting. “It’s an ongoing process. You don’t sit still and say, this is it, this is as far as we go. That’s not in my nature; I couldn’t do that. But Jeremy was feeling a bit left out.” In 1969, the British National Theatre offered Clyde a spot, and he accepted.
When the pair split, Clyde excised references to the duo from English acting bio. “He thought that would be detrimental,” says Stuart. “But of course now when he’s on a TV shoot, he will say, ‘Oh, I’m off to the States to do concerts,’ [and] the actors are green with envy. They’d all love to be rock stars, wouldn’t they?”
For the next decade, Chad did arranging and for a while worked as music director on the seminal Smothers Brothers variety series, a show that in many ways resembles Chad and Jeremy’s current live performances. An early 1980s reunion fizzled when their record company president was jailed for embezzling from Hughes Aircraft, and the label went into receivership.
Apart from one 1987 show, they didn’t share a stage until 2003. It took an emotional PBS show to shift the latest reunion into full gear, and they’ve been performing together ever since.
“That’s what kicked it all off and that was pretty amazing, people were standing up and crying,” says Jeremy of the television special, with Tommy James and the Shondells, the Buckinghams and other British Invasion bands. “It just felt good, and it was well why aren’t we doing this? It was really up to Jeremy. I was there and have always been. He said, ‘look, let’s give it a shot.’”
An Evening With Chad & Jeremy is just that, says Stuart. “The whole point [is] that you open up to all these nice people and they in turn open up to you and it becomes a wonderful exchange of energy and ideas and some people shout out stuff. People want to hear the stories and they come for a dose of nostalgia perhaps if they’ve never been before. When they come and buy a CD or postcard at the end and shake your hand, they say things like ‘I didn’t know you guys were so funny’ or ‘It was like being in your living room.’”
“The other one I love is, ‘I didn’t know you guys could play!’”