Warren Zevon was the renegade West Coaster. While his mid-Seventies Los Angeles peers were taking it easy and running on empty, Zevon's albums swilled with troubling tales of mercenaries, psychopaths and bent lawyers.
In 1976, Zevon signed to David Geffen's Asylum label, on the promise that his friend Jackson Browne would produce his first, self-titled, album. Around this time he began work on a song which would have to wait until the second album, Excitable Boy, for release.
"Werewolves of London" was penned by Zevon, with the songwriter LeRoy Marinell and the session guitarist Waddy Wachtel. Taking a title suggested to Zevon by Phil Everly, the three sat down one hot Californian afternoon.
Marinell had a guitar figure, which had been floating around unused for some months. It was translated into a piano vamp by Zevon, a classically trained pianist, and Wachtel ad-libbed some lyrics: "I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand / Walkin' through the streets of Soho in the rain / He was lookin' for the place called Lee Ho Fook's / Gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein."
But there was a problem with the rhythm section, Russ Kunkel and Bob Glaub, whose playing was deemed too cute. Someone suggested the drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.
Fifty-nine takes later, the track was a wrap. Just before the album was finished, Zevon revisited the song, adding the final, cryptic line: "I saw a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic's / And his hair was perfect."
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