Huey Morgan on why pop stars take drugs

In an extract from his book. the DJ says we need to understand what drives our heroes over the abyss

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The Independent Culture

In the exploration of the abyss, we lost a lot of talent. Some guys were looking for just too much information. [Jimi] Hendrix was a sponge for knowledge and trying to achieve wisdom. Maybe it sounds hippy, but the drugs did move people that were more creative. The more you take, the closer you get to the abyss, and some of them fell right in. Janis [Joplin] and Jimi are so missed because they made incredible music while surfing that wave; we lost the possibility of more when they went under.

Who (if the stories are true) puts blotter acid in their headband and then puts it on their head so that the acid soaks into the bloodstream? A rock’n’roller, that’s who – a rock’n’roll guitar player at Woodstock playing “The Star-Spangled Banner”, looking for the next level. They were explorers and it was uncharted ground. Music and drugs have, historically, gone hand in hand. I’m not saying everybody who makes music takes drugs but it’s part of the lifestyle  – it’s dancing with danger: Hendrix and Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse and Keith Moon, Shannon Hoon and Johnny Thunders – I mean, these guys knew the risks. But I guess some people stop caring.

That idea encapsulated rock’n’roll for me as a kid; whatever you’re going to do, do it to the upmost of your ability – be it rocking, drugging or sexing. Some of these guys and women were doing it to the point of addiction.

Janis Joplin

Ray Charles was an addict for years. But he was a functioning one – because he was blind and had to wear sunglasses, no one could tell when his eyes were pinned! But that’s one of the things that defines rock’n’roll. “Give me something.” “What do you want?” “Whatever you got.” It’s the raw nerve. It’s like dancing on the edge of the flat world, knowing that at any moment a gust of wind could knock you the fuck over, but you don’t give a fuck because you’re living something that no one else really lives. The second-best job in life is a musician. The first is astronaut, but you can’t take drugs. So… there you go, I’m out!

In my dictionary, rock’n’roll would be this: the playing of music loudly, the living of life proudly, the acceptance of opportunities gladly, and… “Can I have one more, please?”

US musician and singer Ray Charles

I was 27 years old when I got signed to my deal. I was a grown man. I’d been in the Marines. I saw all these young kids in other bands going off the rails because it was the first time they had had access to sex and drugs on that scale. I had to take it easy because I knew I was 27 and if I went out and did eight grams of coke and drank a bottle of whisky, I couldn’t get up the next day without crying. So I always kept it back a little. I had the supermodels and the actresses, but I didn’t really do that many hard drugs; I was more of a weed man. I wasn’t really a drinker either. Completely tame if you consider that, before us, people were doing heroin and freebasing and smoking coke. Rick James would hold people hostage in his house and burn them with crack pipes. There was some serious craziness going on.

When Keith Moon left the handbrake off that Rolls-Royce and it rolled into the pool, he knew he could buy another one. It was no big deal. Chuck Berry would be like, “Rent me a Caddy at the airport. When I get to the gig, rent me a Fender Twin and a Gibson ES-335, you get a band that knows all my songs, in any key. I show up, you give me a suitcase full of money, I go on stage, play the gig and leave. And I keep the guitar.”

Keith Moon, who died in 1978, was known for a lifestyle characterised by excess

We’re all looking to fill a hole. A void. An emptiness within. Sure, everyone has a hole to fill but it feels like, for musicians and actors and painters, that hole’s a little bit bigger. I partied hard for a while, but ultimately I filled my hole with love, as corny as I know that sounds. But a lot of people chose – or choose – drugs.

The work ethic involved in trying to be a good musician takes its toll. You do a gig, then you go to a party, you push on through.

You’ve had an hour or two hours’ sleep; what are you gonna do the next night? You’re gonna start drinking at the soundcheck. Could rock’n’roll exist in the same way without the influence of drugs? Possibly not. Who’s to say. It’s certainly a part of the formula. Sex + Drugs + Rock + Roll. Ian Dury said it and I’m inclined to agree.

Extracted from:  ‘Huey Morgan’s Rebel Heroes’ by Huey Morgan, published by Cassell Illustrated £18.99