Born March 24, 1949, in Walton-On-Thames, Surrrey, England; son of a Royal Air Force officer; married country singer Carlene Carter (daughter of Johnny Cash), 1979, later divorced. Addresses: Record Company-Warner Bros., 75 Rockefeler Plaza, New York, NY 10019-9608.
Mention Nick Lowe to any fan of the new wave and punk rock movements of the late 1970s and early 1980s and you will most likely send them into a nostalgic journey. There is Nick Lowe the English singer, songwriter, bass guitarist, and band member of the pioneering British pub-rock group Brinsley Schwartz; Nick Lowe the ground breaking solo artist; and of course Nick Lowe, record producer extrodinare, godfather of all that was new wave. Lowe lead the pack when punk rock and new wave came alive in the late 1970s, the genius behind the legendary production company Stiff Records with artists that included Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, the Pretenders, and the Damned. Artists as varied as Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, and Curtis Stigers have recorded his songs. As a musician he has managed to reinvent himself several times over his career, never allowing himself to run out of new ideas or new musical interests.
Lowe first hit the stage with a group called Kippington Lodge in 1965. Lowe was the primary songwriter and bass guitarist of the band, which included his friend, guitarist Brinsley Schwartz. Kippington Lodge released five singles on Parlaphone before evolving into Brinsley Schwartz in 1969. The group was at ground zero when London pub-rock exploded onto the scene in the early 1970s. It was with Brinsley Schwarz that Lowe first worked with Dave Edmunds. Edmunds produced the group's 1974 album, The New Favorites of Brinsley Schwarz and, as The Electricians, played with the group on the soundtrack to David Bowie's 1974 film, Ziggy Stardust.
By the mid-70s Lowe was a veteran of the London pub-rock scene and ready to focus his talents on production. In 1976, Lowe formed Stiff Records with Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson. He told Margit Detweiler of Philadelphia City Paper Interactive that he got the "job at Stiff Records as a producer because, simply, out of the three people who started it, I'd had more studio experience." Lowe would use his own talents as a musician, songwriter, and singer while honing his engineering and production skills. On any typical day at Stiff, he told Detweiler, "The door would open and in would come who knows what. They would maybe only have a title or a snatch of a tune, but, generally, they had bags of attitude. So I'd get the guitar out and work their thing up into some kind of demonstration of what they could do."
Stiff's-and Lowe's-first release, "Heart of the City"/"So it Goes" sold out of its first pressing. Lowe's studio productions and original songs would carry the label through its nascent stages. Most notable among his protegees was Elvis Costello, whose first five albums were produced by Lowe. Lowe turned the dials during the recording of Graham Parker's first album, Stop Your Sobbing by the Pretenders, and British punk pioneers the Damned's Damned Damned Damned. It was the initial success of Stiff's first singles that helped spawn the large independent label industry in London. Major labels were scrambling thereafter to catch up with the new British Punk Rock and new wave mania and profit from its new stars.
In 1977, Lowe and Edmunds co-founded the near super group Rockpile. The band became a popular touring band in Great Britain and the United Sates, opening for Elvis Costello, Blondie, and the Cars. As a warm up band they tended to overshadow the featured artists. Lowe told Detweiler, "We had so much of a better time than the groups we were opening for. They'd tell us, 'You're going down too well.' So we'd have to play shorter. Well, they couldn't have done anything worse, we just took out our two rather crappy tunes and hit the ground running with our full-on blasting sets for 20 minutes."
Due to contractual obligations, Rockpile's several recorded works were released as either Lowe or Edmunds solo albums. The band garnered both critical and popular acclaim with their heady brew of rock influences. But when the band seemed on the verge of stardom, Lowe would explain to Mim Udovitch of Esquire, "I ran a mile." Lowe's other talents in production allowed him to escape stardom. He told Udovitch "There's no more exciting time than being just about to make it. Not being known is not much fun, and being famous and well known isn't much fun. But just being on that cusp is great. Whatever you can do to extend that, it's the best place to be."
In 1977, Riviera left Stiff, and Lowe and Costello formed the Radar Label. The debut release of the newly formed label was Lowe's first solo album, Jesus of Cool in England and Pure Pop For Now People in the United States. The album, more or less Rockpile's debut release, was widely praised by critics, and ushered in the burgeoning "power-pop" rock sub-genre. The album produced the British smash hit "I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass." He followed the first albums success with the 1979 release of Labour of Lust which yielded his only top 40 hit in the United States, "Cruel to Be Kind," and the British hit "Cracking Up."
Lowe's studio style earned him the nickname "Basher" for his proclivity towards borrowing from past artists. Lowe, however, would later explain to Michael Gelfand of Musician that "no one can get to the source of it all. Not even Ray Charles or Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash-you know, the signpost artists. They got it from someplace else. It goes back and back and back. Everyone's just doing reruns of their own influences." After a busy decade of producing, writing tunes, and touring with bands, Lowe married country singer Carlene Carter-daughter of Johnny Cash-in 1979.
In the early 1980s, Lowe continued producing for the likes of John Hiatt, Paul Carrack, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and his wife Carlene Carter. For most of the decade, Lowe was known more for his production credits than his solo releases. His solo efforts seemed rushed as he devoted more and more of his time to producing. Personally he was increasingly frustrated with his own music, telling Udovitch "I was only operating on two or three cylinders, and if I tried to get serious, then I didn't like it." While operating one or two cylinders short, Nick Lowe only increased his catalogue of flop albums in the 1980s. His slump would actually help him get back to the more relaxed independent labels that he knew and enjoyed. Lowe told Detweiler that his label, Warner Brothers, just said "'Have some money and go away,' which was fantastic." Lowe was uncomfortable with the blitz of public appearances that are associated with major record label releases.
In the 1990s, Lowe began to regain his perspective explaining to Detweiler, "OK, I've got my little pop star thing out of the way, learned a thing or two, but now its time for me to do something that's actually good." Lowe released The Impossible Bird in 1994, arguably his best work to date. The album includes his own rendition of "Beast in Me," a song he had written for Johnny Cash. Lowe's biggest financial success to date came when Curtis Stigers covered his song "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," for the soundtrack to the Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston film, The Bodyguard. Lowe received millions of dollars in royalties for the song, which hit paydirt the first time when Costello recorded it in 1979.
In 1998, Lowe released his tenth solo album, Dig My Mood. The album explores a range of styles from blues, jazz, soul, and country. Coupled with his 1994 release, Impossible Bird, it marked a new direction for Lowe. As the new lounge movement was heading into the mainstream the now silver- haired Lowe found himself once again at the lead. As to the secret of his long term success, he told Udovitch, "I haven't done my best stuff yet," and reflects, "There's not many (artists from the 1970's) where you feel that their story is still unraveling somehow."
by Tige Cosmos
Nick Lowe's Career
Guitarist and songwriter with group Kippington Lodge, 1965-69; bassist and songwriter with group Brinsley Schwarz, 1969-75; formed Modern Boys Productions, 1975; co-founded Stiff Records, 1975; bassist with group Rockpile, beginning 1977; bassist with Little Village, with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner, 1991-92.
- Selected discography
- with Brinsley Schwarz
- Brinsley Schwartz , 1970.
- Despite It All , 1971.
- Silver Pistol , 1972.
- Nervous on the Road , 1972.
- Please Don't Ever Change , United Artists, 1973.
- The New Favorites of Brinsley Schwarz , United Artists, 1974.
- (As The Electricians) Ziggy Stardust (soundtrack), 1974.
- Brinsley Schwarz , Capitol, 1978.
- Fifteen Thoughts of Brinsley Schwarz , United Artists, 1978.
- with Rockpile
- Seconds of Pleasure , Columbia, 1979.
- Solo albums
- Pure Pop for Now People (includes "So it Goes" and "Marie Provost"), Columbia, 1978; released in England as Jesus of Cool , Radar, 1978.
- Labour of Lust (includes "Cruel To Be Kind"), Columbia, 1979.
- Nick the Knife , Columbia, 1982.
- The Abominable Showman , Columbia, 1983.
- Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit , Columbia, 1984.
- 16 All-Time Lowes , Demon, 1985.
- The Rose of England (includes "I Knew the Bride"), Columbia, 1985.
- Pinker and Prouder Than Previous , Columbia, 1988.
- Party of One , Warner Brothers, 1990.
- Impossible Bird , 1994.
- Dig My Mood , 1998.
- Down Beat , August 1998.
- Esquire , July 1998.
- Guitar Player , July 1998.
- Musician , December 1998.
- Rolling Stone , August 20, 1998.
- City Paper Interactive, June 6, 1998; www.cpcn.com
- CDNOW, January 8, 1999; www.cdnow.com
- Rounder Records, January 8, 1999; www.rounder.com