By Keith Sharp
On Saturday November 26th at Toronto’s El Mocambo Tavern and on Sunday November 27th at Mississauga’s Classic Bowl venue, Boys Don’t Cry will open for Spandau Ballet saxophonist Steve Norman.
Most musicologists may not recognize the name Boys Don’t Cry or its principal member, Nick Richards but possibly the band’s debut 1986 single; “I Wanna Be A Cowboy” may jog some memories for fans of the British New Romantic movement which was all the rave at that time.
“I Wanna Be A Cowboy” was the first independent single to enter the American Billboard charts in 14 years. It was so popular in the U.S that Dick Clark played the track for three straight weeks on his American Bandstand show, Madonna raved about the track as her favourite song of 1986 “as it made her laugh,” and MTV VJ Martha Quinn became a personal supporter for the track’s low-budget, wacky video. Clint Eastwood used that song in his Mayor Of Carmel campaign, and the Dallas Cowboys NFL team also adopted the song.
Londoner Richards is a music entrepreneur who initially bought the trendy Maison Rouge recording studio from Jethro Tull’s,Ian Anderson, as he formed his initial band in 1983 (releasing their debut EP ”Don’t Talk To Strangers) and also purchased band catalogues, particularly Bronze Records (Motorhead/Uriah Heep) planning to re-release their music on compact disc which was new at that time.
The song’s Spaghetti Western theme was prompted by Richards’ love of the Clint Eastwood movie series, which were all the rage in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “I was a massive fan of those movies, `A Fistful Of Dollars’ is one of my all-time favourite movies,” noted Richards on the phone from London as he prepared for his first-ever visit to Toronto. About a year before we recorded that track, a session keyboardist, Brian Chatton, and I had composed a backing track, just music, I hadn’t come up with any words, and the original working title was “Hot Fuck In A Pick-Up Truck.”
“About a year later, I had been up all night watching Spaghetti Westerns,” he continued so when I went into my recording studio, I asked the engineer to play back that backing track, and I walked around singing “I Wanna Be A Cowboy,” and he cracked “Well, that’s a start! So, I quickly wrote down all the verses, but I thought it was a little monotonous just me singing on it. It just so happened though, that our drummer’s girlfriend Heidi, who was from Norway, was in the studio at that time, waiting around for us, so I said, Heidi, come here, and we changed the second verse slightly and put her on it.”
Richards said that he and the engineer mixed the track that night and it was never touched again. “It was a one-off mix which was rare because in those days tracks would be mixed 12 or 14 times.”
He made up a bunch of 12-inch copies of the recording and gave one copy to a friend, Paul Oakenfold, who worked for a company called Rush Release which promoted 12-inch releases to dance clubs. Oakenfold took a copy to New York’s influential Limelight Club, where the track received a receptive response from the venue’s patrons.
“So, the owner of Profile Records (Steve Plotnicki) rang me up and said he wanted to put it out in America. My response was “’you must be mad,'” laughed Richards. “But I sent him over the master, we didn’t talk money, but I said, ‘If this track does well, you owe us an album!‘”
Shortly after, Profile released the Run DMC/Aerosmith version of “Walk This Way,” and the label became big news at that time.
“So Profile wanted a video like yesterday and that’s why our low budget video came together really quickly,” Richards explained. “I wrote the storyline one night, passed it on to a director friend of mine who knew a film crew and so one morning at 6 a.m. we assembled at London’s Hampstead Heath to shoot the video.”
The video’s biggest coup was a cameo by notorious Motorhead frontman Ian Kilmister “Lemmy,” who agreed to appear in exchange for a bottle of vodka. Richards himself appears in the video lying in a bath, due mainly to him falling off a horse and cracking a few ribs. “I was in agony through the entire shoot,” Richards laughs.
MTV initially hated the low-budget video for “I Wanna Be A Cowboy” but with Quinn’s prompting and the fact that the track entered the Billboard charts, they had to play it. ”The first time they did, they received something like 200,000 phone calls requesting they play it again,” Richards noted. “The video cost us like 3000 pounds at the same time Duran Duran was spending over $1 million on one of their videos.”
Unfortunately, Boys Don’t Cry had to issue a follow-up single, and that’s when Richards’ relationship with Profile went pear-shaped. “They were afraid we would come across as some stupid Monkees spin off so they wanted us to be the next Bon Jovi,” he mused. “So, they released a track called ‘Cities On Fire’ which we had written in like five minutes because our debut album for them was one track short. It was the biggest mistake of my life. Radio was like, `what is this who are they now.’ It was a complete disaster. Fortunately, Atlantic Records came along, and signed us on the strength of ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy’ so we got out of the Profile deal faster than a speeding bullet.”
Boys Don’t Cry toured extensively on the strength of their two albums and hit single but Richards elected to focus on his London recording studio which was doing booming business during the mid 80’s. “Ian Anderson’s Maison Rouge was a rock recording studio (Jethro Tull, Rainbow, Genesis) that we turned into an 80’s pop studio. Our first two projects were the debut Wham album and The Cult’s Love album. We became a very hip studio overnight.”
Maison Rouge also recorded two James Bond theme songs; Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill” and A-ha’s “Living Daylights” and Richards’ friendship with Duran Duran’s John Taylor resulted in Duran Duran and spin-off band Power Station recording key albums at that facility.
“John Taylor would say to me, ‘Nick, you’ve got such an amazing studio here, why you aren’t recording in it?'” noted Richards. “He kept egging me on, but so many incredible things were being recorded here, I was personally very intimidated by what I was hearing.”
Richards and Brian Chatton did team up again in 2014 to release `Hear This’ on Richards’ own Microrich Inc label and has participated in several 80’s Retro tours performing with the likes of ABC’s Martin Fry. “There’s a great 80’s nostalgia scene happening right now”, Richards noted. “Thanks to social media, people are re-discovering “I Wanna Be A Cowboy” and turning their kids on to it.”
As for his appearance at the El Mocambo and Classic Bowl dates November 26/27 Richards will be executing a one-man show where he will be playing songs from his Maison Rouge studio and telling his audience the story behind “I Wanna Be A Cowboy” and will be performing that song along with performing some of his newer material.
Tickets for either show can be purchased at the links below.
On Saturday November 26th, at Toronto’s El Mocambo Tavern and Sunday November 27th, at Mississauga;’s Classic Bowl venue, Boys Don’t Cry will open for Spandau Ballet saxophonist Steve Norman.