It was Bobby Elliott who started it all. Elliot was drummer for Shane Fenton and the Fentones who I touched upon in my Alvin Stardust post a few months back. Elliott then joined Manchester band the Hollies just as they started to get hits. He’s a really cracking drummer far more so than the beat group styling of the Hollies would suggest but, if in doubt, just cop a listen to their first hit ‘Stay’ where Elliot is packing a fair punch. I’m sure if he’d have fallen in with Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck he would have come forward as one of the very best drummers of the 60’s but he’s stayed with the Hollies all his musical life and played with practically no one else. So reliable is Mr Elliott he’s also been married to bandmate Tony Hick’s sister for just about as long.
But this is about hats.
Elliott was losing his hair big time by his early 20’s, in fact you can date his appearances in the early days by the degree of his comb over. It soon became apparent that no amount of brylcreem would hide the issue indefinitely and so Elliot became the first one to wear the hat.
Initially it was quite a cool John Lennon cap, it looked good, but times move on and he adopted a wide brimmed piece of head gear, it looked like the sort of thing my mum would wear for a wedding but I assume that in 1966 it was quite hip, Keith Richards had been sporting a similar style for a while. I feel unreasonably sorry for Elliott during this period, it didn’t look an easy hat to wear, it had a wide brim and surely was prone to be dislodged at inopportune moments which was not what you wanted from a hat you had to wear. There was also the fact that although it hinted at Carnaby Street foppery the band were having to play cabaret dates in the late 60’s and Elliott had to wear the hat with a frilly shirt which again made him look like my mum at a wedding.
In a further twist, around the time of ‘he aint heavy he’s my brother’ Elliot emerged wearing a full wig as if to try and fool us he had been hiding a full head of hair all this time. I’ve never understood why people find wig wearing funny, it seems quite sensible to me but it must have been hot trying to drum in that mother.
As follicle related science has developed it’s a lot more possible for rock stars (and world leaders) not to be bald but for the musician strapped for case it’s always been a case of wearing the hat. As with every thing familiarity brings acceptance. We expect to see guitarist Richard Thompson with a beret jammed on his head, it’s been so long we’ve actually forgotten he is bald. Ditto Slash who is apparently sporting a fair bald patch although presumably he could afford some treatment unless he spends all his money on Marlborough’s. Pop down your local to see any bunch of old blokes on stage and note how the hat quota has rocketed, hats are cool thinning hair is not.
Believe it or not, there was a time when rock was a young man’s game apart from Bobby Elliot no one had to wear the hat. Roger Glover of Deep Purple grabbed a hat before hair loss became apparent, fellow bandmate Ritchie Blackmore did the same thing for a while but these days he appears to have more hair than ever, a man with 20 year old hair and a 70 year old face, I’m beginning to reconsider my position on wigs.
There are two acceptable ways to introduce the hat. The first is to dabble with it for a while, put it on, take it off. ‘Look’ this says ‘I don’t need to wear a hat, it’s my choice’. The trick with this approach is to time it so as soon as any thinning is visible the hat is firmly jammed on never to move again. It needs a lot of discipline but also raises the possibility of introducing a toupee by stealth and doing the reverse trick by using the hat less and less.
The other option, which is not always one of choice, is to disappear for a while and return with a hat. ‘Look’ this says ‘I’m back and I’ve chosen to wear this great new hat. The best example of this is Adam Ant who has not only returned with a striking new hat but is utilising the double protection of a bandana.
Speaking of which, lets just pay tribute to the number 1 70’s man with a hat. I speak of Miami Steve Van Zandt. A man so cool that he had a nickname but also a mysterious reason why he had to wear a hat (motorcycle accident scars-so terrible you wouldn’t want to see them honest). Van Zandt is so dedicated I have never seen him without some head covering. Wisely he seemed to have realised the risks with a broad brimmed titfer and has settled down to the more comfortable bandana. Even when he was in the Sopranos he was able to get away with what was almost a comedy wig. Mr Miami is one of those people who just looks so good on stage that it’s easy to forget he actually looks fairly ridiculous. I watched a clip of him being shown round a guitar factor a while back. Here was a tiny portly man in his 60’s wearing what appeared to be a suit made out of carpet, with matching hat naturally. Bet it would have looked great on stage though.
By way of ending lets have a favourite video which I can never use in a 70’s-based blog. It’s Mr Elliott again, great drummer and nice guy who I suspect never gave a shit about his hair (bet it was the manager’s idea) He’s looking very relaxed here.
Today, of course Bobby Elliott is wearing a flat cap in deference to his northern roots