Though his own early recordings are highly regarded by critics and collectors, Terry Manning's best known for the records he's made as a music engineer and producer working with artists like the Staples Singers, ZZ Top, Isaac Hayes, and Led Zeppelin. Before cofounding the storied Compass Point recording studio in the Bahamas, Manning spent time in Memphis, working with both Stax and Ardent, and he can spin terrific yarns about things like the time he walked into Chips Moman's American Studios on Danny Thomas to discover grown men chasing a rat around the room swinging electric guitars like clubs. Manning's also a dedicated photographer and has been since the 1960s. "Scientific Evidence of Life on Earth During Two Millennia," an exhibit of urban landscapes mixed with images from his long and storied career opens at Stax this week. He’s also playing concerts at Stax, the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale, and an intimate showcase in "Elvis' Living Room" on Audubon, in conjunction with Rhodes College's Mike Curb Institute for Music.
Memphis Flyer:I want to talk music, of course. But your photography is the bigger mystery for me. You’ve obviously been shooting for a long time, but was your first exhibit really last year? What brought about the move from serious hobbyist to what you’re doing now?
Terry Manning: About five or six years ago another music friend from Boston who’s the head of the photography department at MIT called me up. I’d let a couple of my pictures go into some magazines. Like I have Dusty Springfield sitting with Tom Dowd when they were recording Dusty in Memphis. That got into Mojo magazine. So my friend called up and said, “Look, I know you take these photos. I know you mentioned you have some of Martin Luther King. We need to do a show. I said, “Sure!” Then I'd always go back to music. On to the next album and the next album. Finally he called back and said this exhibit was never going to happen. Well, he said “never.” So I started going through thousands of pictures and getting things I thought might work.
And it was a big success. Great reviews. Tons of attention.
It got so much coverage online with Facebook and Twitter and social media that people started calling and asking, “Can we do the show?” I got a phone call from China from a bunch of the principles with Hard Rock Café. They are building a lot of new hotels. Very exclusive, five-star hotels where they want more things going on than just butts in beds. They want lots of opportunities for experience and one thing they wanted was art galleries. They’d seen this online and asked if they could get my show to open their galleries when they come on line. I said, “Sounds great.”
You mentioned the King photographs, which are incredible.How did that opportunity come about?
Al Bell was a friend of Dr. King’s and of course at Stax we were all involved in the Civil Rights feelings if not being actual protesters. Stax was such an island of racial harmony in a time and place where that shouldn’t have been. It was wonderful to be around Stax where nobody cared what color you were or what religion you were or anything like that. All that mattered was what kind of person you were and what kind of music you made.
Did Al Bell make the introduction?
Al had been a DJ in Washington and was quite well known there. And he'd been friends with Dr. King and Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy and all the people involved in the movement. So you could occasionally be the Stax offices on Union Ext. and see him walking down the hall. He was so charismatic and just exuded goodness. So what happened was, I just bought a new car. It was one of the first cars I bought with my own money without my dad helping me. Actually John Fry helped. But I got a brand-new Ford Fairlane. It was wine red. I’d told Al Bell about it, so he called up one morning and said, “I know you've got that car and we need people to go to the airport because Dr. King's coming in, and he's got a lot of people with him.” Of course King had been back-and-forth with a whole “I Am a Man,” march that was going on with the sanitation workers. I wasn’t chauffeuring Dr. King or anything, but I went and he was just coming off the plane when I got there. Him and Ralph Abernathy and the whole crew— all of the people involved in the movement. And then bunch of newsmen came up. l had one of my cameras with me. In this case I think it was a Nikon SLR. So I thought, “Heck, why not take some photos?” I took 13 shots. All my pictures are literally normal focal length. I don’t use telephoto lenses or crop pictures. What you see is all from my viewpoint. So I had my camera literally in his face. In a couple of the shots his face takes up the full frame. Just inches away. You can see the stubble on face or where he may have nicked himself shaving. Stuff you don’t see normally. I took those, then I got a couple of bags and drove to the Lorraine Motel and everybody got out. And then I drove on to Ardent out on National for a session. Then that night I went down for Dr. King’s speech at the church — what turned out to be the, “I have been to the mountaintop” speech. And there was a terrible storm going on. It was lightning and thundering. Really electric.
"One day she’d had enough. Couldn’t stand any more of me being a pestering little idiot, I guess. So she leaned around, took her pencil and jammed it right into my leg. Right into my right knee. And a piece of lead that broke off in there. I still see it every day, right under the skin."
So those were all taken the day before he was assassinated. I didn’t think there were any pictures from that period we hadn’t seen already.
Nobody knew what to do. I told Al I had these photos. He said maybe we should get them to Time magazine or something because they’re really historic. But I never felt right about it. So I put everything in a box and until this last August. So for 47-years nobody saw them.
And now they’re back at Stax. A literal homecoming for you and these photographs.
Such a homecoming. I’m really kind of in shock doing all of this.
I’ve got to be honest. There’s so much I want to ask you about music I don’t know where to begin. That Texas rock scene where you get your start with Bobby Fuller is underappreciated, I think. But you’ve really surfed the wave of rock-and-roll working with Isaac Hayes, the Staples Singers, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top — even Iron Maiden. I wish there was a question in there, but I’m hoping you can maybe share personal high points.
Mostly, it always seems to me, like I’ve been very lucky in the places I’ve been and the times I was in them. Such as being at that airport when Dr. King came in. For instance, when I was in junior high school, the girl in front of me in homeroom was really, really cute. I mean I really had a crush on her. Probably my first real crush. But I didn’t know how to deal with girls, and to be honest still don’t. So I’d poke at her, or pull her pigtail if she had one, or whatever. Just stuff. You know, thinking maybe she’ll notice me. One day she’d had enough. Couldn’t stand any more of me being a pestering little idiot, I guess. So she leaned around, took her pencil and jammed it right into my leg. Right into my right knee. And a piece of lead that broke off in there. I still see it every day, right under the skin.
"I’ve always seen myself as a sponge. Imagine a very young teenager sitting in with Steve Cropper, and Willie Mitchell, Teeney Hodges, and Bobby Fuller."
You know, I have the same story. I think most guys probably carry a piece of lead from failed early flirting experiments.
Well, shortly after she stabbed me, the teacher announced that we were having a class party and that it would be a dance. Every boy in the class was supposed to ask a girl to go with him, and the parents would chaperone. We’d all be learning manners, and ballroom dancing or whatever. So I asked the girl in front of me whose name was Stephanie. She was still new and didn’t really know anybody because she was an army brat. El Paso’s got a big army base with lots of military. Anyway, she said okay and we went to the dance. Dad took us. Mom spent the whole week before teaching me how to dance and it was so embarrassing. So awful. Because musicians don’t dance, anyway. And I knew immediately I didn’t like to dance.
So we went to the dance and Bobby Fuller happened to be playing. And we tried. But the girl said, “I don’t really like dancing.” And then I said, “I REALLY don’t like it. Would you mind sitting over here on these chairs in the corner while I go try to sit in with the band.” Because I’d been banging away on a guitar. And I loved Bobby Fuller and hadn’t met him yet. He was quite a bit older, but he was kind and sweet and come the break he said band could go but, “Me and my new friend Terry are going to do a couple of songs.” So, for my class I did “Peggy Sue,” and “Donna.” We both had Strats and Bobby accompanied me. Now here’s the thing.The girl got in a band later too and changed her name from Stephanie to Stevie Nicks. She was my first date. How lucky is that? There was Bobby Fuller and me and Stevie Nicks together in a room doing or listening to music at one time. Just a freaky coincidence. So, to me so much seems like luck. I guess I have some talent at music and whatever. But a whole lot of any of this is just getting up early, working hard, and doing a good job, and meeting people, and making friends. Turned into an incredible journey.
Dusty in Memphis
But you and she have never worked together, have you?
We have but... See, I didn’t know for a while that Stevie Nicks was her. I remember seeing that first Buckingham Nicks album where she’s almost partially nude on cover. The second I saw that, I fell in love. I fell in love with the album cover. There was just an attraction. But I didn’t realize it was the same girl. We did indeed work together on a record by a guy named Rick Vito. He was in Fleetwood Mac after Lindsey Buckingham left. He got Stevie to sing. By that time I realized it was her, of course, but we didn’t talk about it at all. I’d love to do that some day though.
You’ve been making your own music again, which is a good thing in my opinion. Was the time just right?
You have to make a living. You keep working, keep working, keep working. You get into music to do what you want in it. You love music. You love playing music. You love writing, or singing. And that’s what you want to do. In my first year I didn’t think, “I’ll become an engineer and a producer.” It was about writing songs and singing and playing, and whatever. Then other things take over. And it paid me pretty well and it was alright, and it was able to get me through life. And I was able to have houses and do the stuff you do. So, at that point, if you stop to do the things you want to do for you, you’re depriving your family part of their livelihood while you have fun and experiment. So it becomes a job rather than fun, although it is a fun job. But my wife had passed away, and I just got to a point where I was like, “I don’t have to work all day, every day every month of every year.” And we closed Compass Point in Nassau. So I said, I’m taking two weeks or four weeks for me. I’m not taking a job, I am the job. I don’t know if other people will like what I do, and it’s really not important if they do. If they do, great. Of not, I like it so there. I just got to a point in life where— It’s like the guy in Boston bringing up the photo thing and then saying it was never going to happen. Well, everything’s, “never.” Everything’s finite. There’s an end to all of this, and this isn’t all I was meant to do. So let’s do that.
Which is great. I was listening to your recording of "Savoy Truffle" right before this interview, with that crazy Moog intro from before many people had even heard of synthesizers. And it made me think about Jim Dickinson for some reason. He’d worked on everybody else’s projects for his entire life, but had so very little that was just his. Then one day all of that changed. He started recording his own material and putting out records fast. And it was all great because you could hear his thing, but you could hear all the places he’d been musically. And then I think about your early stuff and all the artists you’ve worked with since. You’ve got to take away a little bit from all that, don’t you?
Oh yeah, I’ve always seen myself as a sponge. Imagine a very young teenager sitting in with Steve Cropper, and Willie Mitchell, Teenie Hodges, and Bobby Fuller. I met Robert Moog in 1968 and he taught me synthesis. I remember feeling like a sponge then and making sure I was taking it all in. I had guitar lessons with Jimmy Page. Stuff that most people don’t get. I was so lucky. Specifically, I thought in the front of my mind, “watch this, learn this, absorb this.” You do soak it up.
Guitar lessons with Jimmy Page. Of course. Did that happen when you were working on Led Zeppelin III?
No it was backstage at Yardbird shows. I’d ask, “How did you do this?” And he’d get a guitar and teach me little things. Not long lessons but tricks, and how he did things.
Was he a patient teacher? I require very patient teachers.
Jimmy was very patient. Teenie Hodges I’d get from sitting right in front of him in sessions. I’d sit right on the floor and just look at his hands.
I’ve got to play fanboy for a minute. You played a cover of Chris Bell’s "I Am the Cosmos" at the Hi-Tone a few years back that really stands out as one of the most magical performances I’ve ever seen in Memphis. Here’s this performance of a song I never expected to hear live, and it was incredible. After it happened I didn’t believe it had happened. That it could have happened.
You know, it’s funny. Several people have said almost those exact same things about that performance. But during it… whew. First of all, I was really channeling Chris. It was the first public acknowledgement or anything I’d ever done of Chris, and he was my best friend for 10-years. I told a little story before about how he asked me to finish a real recording of the song for him. Because what we know as “I Am the Cosmos” is just a demo. He really swallowed his pride. I got him started at Ardent. Got him started on my early solo stuff. Brought him into the Ardent fold and into John Fry’s world and everything. Mentored him for years, as did John. Then we had a big fight at a time when he’d gone a little off kilter. He was burning tapes and trying to blow everything up. And he had a fight with me. We literally had a fistfight. “I’m doing everything on my own,” he said. “I don’t need you or anybody,” and he went off to Europe. So, anyway, he’d come back and he knew “Cosmos” was great just like he knew #1 Record was great. It depressed him so much that #1 Record never made it at the time. And he doesn’t know it ever made it. But he knew “Cosmos” was great and he knew it was his next best chance. And he’d done it two or three times. Some of it at Abbey Road. Some of it other places. He’d asked me to do hand claps over the solo in the version that we know, which is the late last version. So we went into Ardent B and overdubbed some hand claps, just him and me. He had already apologized for some horrible things he’d said, and I told him, “No problem, man. It’s okay. We’re friends, we’ll get through anything.” So he asked me to help him re-record it because it never sounded technically great. It was kind of mushy, although I love it and I’m not putting it down at all. But it wasn’t what Chris had envisioned sonically. So I said I’d be honored to do it, but I was working on a ZZ album and it was probably going to be 2 or 3 months before I really had time. Of course he died before we ever got to do that. And so that got me very emotional that night at the Hi-Tone. I told some of that story while I was strumming "Cosmos" in D-minor so nobody would know what it was. Then I went to major which is probably part of what made it pop up. During the performance of it, especially the guitar solo, I remember looking over at Steve Selvidge, and he looked like Chris with his long curly hair and a bit of a beard. And I was freaking out. It was like it really was Chris over there, and it had me emotional.