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Nick Lowe

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Nick Lowe (born Nicholas Drain Lowe, March 24, 1949, Walton-on-Thames, England) is a singer-songwriter, bass guitarist and producer who records and performs in a number of different musical styles. He lives in Brentford, London, United Kingdom.

He began his recording career in 1966 as a member of Kippington Lodge, founded with his friend Brinsley Schwarz, which released a few singles on Parlophone. Three years later Kippington Lodge had changed its name to Brinsley Schwarz and its musical focus to country- and blues-rock. Lowe’s best-known songs from the Brinsley Schwarz era are “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”, which was a major hit for Elvis Costello in 1979, and “Cruel to Be Kind”, a song the other band members rejected but was later a solo hit for Lowe.

After leaving Brinsley Schwarz in the mid-1970s, Lowe began playing in Rockpile with Dave Edmunds. In August 1976, Lowe released “So It Goes” b/w “Heart of the City”, the first single on the Stiff Records label where he was in-house producer (the label’s first EP was Lowe’s 1977 four-track release Bowi, apparently named in response to David Bowie’s contemporary LP Low) . On this and other labels, Lowe would go on to produce The Damned’s Damned, Damned, Damned and many albums by Elvis Costello, including My Aim is True, This Year’s Model, and Armed Forces. His early ‘rough & ready’ production style earned him the nickname Basher (as in ‘bashing them out’). Upon moving from Stiff to Jake Riviera’s Radar and F-Beat labels, Lowe became extremely selective in his choice of production tasks.

Because the two main writers in Rockpile had contracts with different record labels and managers, albums were always credited to either Lowe or Edmunds, so there is only one official Rockpile album, from the very end of the collaboration - 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure, featuring the Lowe songs “When I Write The Book” and “Heart” - but all of Lowe’s and Edmunds’ solo albums from the period were effectively Rockpile albums. Rockpile’s demise was hastened by a number of conflicts between Lowe’s and Edmunds’ respective managers, not Lowe and Edmunds themselves.

Lowe’s best-known song from this era is probably “I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock ‘n’ Roll” (the verse structure and topic adapted from Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” (a.k.a. “Teenage Wedding”), but adding a chorus section to Berry’s verse-after-verse format). On the 1977 Live Stiffs compilation with a pickup band called Last Chicken in the Shop, he virtually sneers out his contempt for all concerned; in 1985, fronting Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit on The Rose of England, he hasn’t changed the words, but the tone is entirely different, even affectionate (the song was produced by Huey Lewis, while The News played on the track).

Lowe was quoted as saying that he had “escaped from the tyranny of the snare drum,” when explaining his move away from regular pop music that would get played on mainstream radio.

Other well-known Lowe songs include “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass”, “All Men Are Liars”, and “Cruel to Be Kind”,, co-written with Ian Gomm and originally recorded with Brinsley Schwarz, a re-recording of which was his only US Top 40 hit, reaching Number Twelve on the Billboard charts in 1979.

In 1979, Lowe married country singer Carlene Carter, daughter of country singers Carl Smith and June Carter Cash and step-daughter of Johnny Cash. He adopted her daughter, Tiffany Anastasia Lowe. The marriage ended in the mid-eighties, but they remained friends, and Lowe remained close to the Carter/Cash family; he and Johnny Cash played and recorded together, and Cash recorded several of his songs.

After the demise of Rockpile, Lowe toured for a period with his band Noise to Go and later with The Cowboy Outfit, which also included the noted keyboard player Paul Carrack. Lowe was also a member of the short-lived mainly studio project Little Village with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Trevor Whittaker, and Jim Keltner.

In 1992, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” was covered by Curtis Stigers on the soundtrack album to The Bodyguard, an album that sold over fifteen million copies. Because Lowe received royalties from these sales, he suddenly found himself a millionaire. Freed from commercial constraints, Lowe has recorded more solo albums in his own very individual style to critical acclaim.

A New York Daily News article quoted Lowe as saying his greatest fear in recent years was “sticking with what you did when you were famous.” “I didn’t want to become one of those thinning-haired, jowly old geezers who still does the same shtick they did when they were young, slim and beautiful,” he said. “That’s revolting and rather tragic.” Rock critic Jim Farber observed: “Lowe’s recent albums, epitomized by the new At My Age, moved him out of the realms of ironic pop and animated rock and into the role of a worldly balladeer, specializing in grave vocals and graceful tunes. Lowe’s four most recent solo albums mine the wealth of American roots music, drawing on vintage country, soul and R&B to create an elegant mix of his own.”

His latest album, The Old Magic (2011), continues Lowe’s late-career evolution with arguably his best collection yet. Amidst urbanely insistent grooves (‘‘Sensitive Man’’), and spare-yet-imposing shuffles (‘‘Checkout Time’’), The Old Magic features three exceptional Lowe ballads - album opener ‘‘Stoplight Roses,’’ ‘‘House for Sale’’ and ‘‘I Read A Lot.’’ As is his custom, Lowe also peppers the album with three covers - by Elvis Costello, Tom T. Hall and Jeff West - that fit seamlessly with his originals. The Old Magic might be the album title equivalent of calling your shot, but for Nick Lowe it seems more a simple statement of fact.


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