The Man with the Golden Guitar Tone – Vic Flick
Vic Flick, a name that sounds like it was invented for a character in a 50’s rock ‘n’ roll movie, is in fact the name that christened a very real guitar legend. A man whose playing ability and music sight-reading skills earned him recording credentials that most musicians would donate limbs to have adorned their own CV. Vic has worked with many of the greats including Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield and Cliff Richard to name but a few – the list really is almost endless. And whilst you may not know his name, you will almost certainly have heard his very distinctive work.
Indeed, it was Vic who played what must be one of the world’s most famous guitar riffs; that dark and mysterious guitar lick from the original James Bond theme, first recorded in 1962 for Dr. No.
You may be forgiven for thinking that Vic reached for a well-known brand of solid body for that surf-like twang, but he coaxed, or perhaps forced might be a more accurate description, that tone from his trusty Clifford Essex Paragon De Luxe archtop, equipped with a DeArmond sliding pickup.
And the amp he used? Nothing less than the original tone machine – a VOX AC15!
Read on to hear more from the man himself:
Who was your inspiration when you were getting started with guitar?
When I first picked up a guitar in 1951, age 14, there were few guitarists to be influenced by, especially in the UK. Charlie Christian, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow were three of the very few that were heard in the UK. The influences of James Burton, Scotty Moore, B.B. King and others were yet to influence UK guitarists. I used to listen to the big band records a lot and always listened for the guitar – like Freddie Green in the Count Basie Orchestra. He certainly influenced my rhythm guitar playing.
How did you get into session playing and tv/film music?
When I joined the John Barry Seven in 1958, the ‘Plus Four’ made up of four violins on the Adam Faith recordings and the Stringbeat album, introduced me to four of the biggest fixers (contractors) in London. My recording career took off following those recordings. After that it was a case of meeting the right people, being in the right place at the right time and able to do what was required for any recording I was booked for.
What was your first big break?
Through a chance meeting with bass player George Jennings, I joined the Bob Cort Skiffle Group. The group was featured on Paul Anka’s first UK tour where I met John Barry whose Seven were backing Anka. Barry asked me to join the Seven when the Seven got their first big Television Series. The ability to read music was an essential as the Seven had many artists to accompany.
John Barry also wrote the music to so many major Hollywood movies. How many of these were you involved with?
I worked on many of John Barry’s films, from ‘Dr. No’ to ‘From Russia With Love’ and ‘The Dove’ to ‘Deadfall.’ Everyone was a great experience.
Was the classic bond guitar riff already written when you went to record it or was it something inspired at the time, in the studio?
When the producers of the Bond films wanted a more dynamic theme for James Bond the commissioned composer, Monty Norman found a piece of music from an old show which John Barry arranged. The session was hurriedly organised and the urgency and energy of the finished product has carried it down through the last 50 plus years.
Why did you choose the AC15 for this?
Vox and Fender were doing a big promotion through Macari’s Musical exchange on London’s Charing Cross Road and the John Barry Seven, the Shadows and a couple of other groups were given amps and guitars. I got the Vox 15 which was a wonderful versatile amp. Unfortunately, to my dismay, it fell off a high stage, landed on a corner and completely disintegrated. I was given a Vox 30 to replace it.
In the book “the music of James Bond” you say that ‘that sort of heavy guitar sound made him (John Barry) very happy. It had an edge to it, sort of a dynamic sound… I overplayed it – I leaned into those thick low strings with the very hard plectrum, play that slightly ahead of the beat, and it came out exciting, almost ‘attacking’, which fit the James Bond image.”
Did you plan all of his sessions with as much attention to detail?
A good question. Whatever session I was booked on, I always did my best for the producer, artist and my fellow musicians. Musicians came and went on the recording scene but I was in there for more than 25 years so I must have done something right!
We read that on the original Bond theme, you played a Clifford Essex Paragon deluxe acoustic guitar with a DeArmond Pickup through the AC15! Most people would think that the guitar part was played on an electric guitar. Did you have to spend a lot of time getting the tone right?
The pick up on the DeArmond was fully adjustable from the neck to the bridge. So, with a Senior Service cigarette packet stuck under the pick-up close to the bridge, the type of strings, the way I played and the way the acoustics of CTS Studio worked all contributed to ‘the sound.’ The sound also had a lot to do with the open mike recording techniques that were often used in the 50s and 60s for film music. I have to say that most of the people who swear they know what happened and appear very knowledgeable about the recording scene back then weren’t even born. I leave it to the reader to decide who to believe.
When you look back on your career, which moment do you remember most fondly and why?
There were many moments I remember with fondness but being asked to perform at a Royal Command Performance takes some beating.
My very best wishes to you and all your readers.