At Graceland, tourists goggle at the sight of the garish room that Elvis dubbed “The Jungle Room.”
As far as I’m concerned, the real Jungle Room was in Hampstead, London, where Doris Troy resided from 1969-1972, during her time with Apple Records and her reign as doyenne of the British back-ground singer scene. Befitting her status as a hit songwriter and esteemed performer, and newly signed to The Beatles’ label, she lived in fine style. A spacious apartment in fashionable Hampstead, with a tennis court, and her Austin Princess limo parked in the back, it had a huge room for entertaining, which she had tastefully decorated with African motifs and outfitted with enough banquettes and coffee tables to comfortably seat thirty or forty people.
I’d been associated with Doris since her first U.K. tour with The Rolling Stones and The Hollies in 1963, had played with her on all her subsequent European tours, and so, by the time she settled in London, I happily became her full-time pianist and musical director. I lived reasonably close by, in Camden Town, in a nice third story flat, but because it was only accessible via a narrow, Dickensian staircase, the natural home for my Hammond B-3, when we weren’t on the road, was The Jungle Room. Being a cool pianist herself, Doris had a fine spinet piano (Yamaha or Kawai, not sure) in there, and also an Afro-Cuban percussion setup.
In this room Doris would assemble vocal groups to rehearse for her myriad vocal session projects and it was where we brewed up the Pentecostal rave-up that became the ground-breaking live album “The Rainbow Testament.” Doris’s Jungle Room soon turned into a “Salon de Soul,” if you will. Initially, Billy Preston was around all the time, as he was signed to Apple too, and he and Doris were writing and recording full-steam. I got to spend so much precious time with him … what a warm and friendly man, and so generous … one could learn a lot from Billy P.
Every eminent U.S. touring star had the Troy phone number, and that was often the first call they’d make! Doris was like the U.S Ambassador for Soul in the U.K, (or more aptly, ” Mama Soul,” as she came to be known there). Her place became a home away from home, and the amazing array of great artists I got to hang out with in that room still spins my head to this day! Ben. E. King, affectionately called Bennie, Edwin Starr, Maxine Brown, Obie Benson of The Four Tops, Esther Phillips, Junior Walker, Solomon Burke, Rufus Thomas, and a host of others would come by. The piano, the Hammond organ, and the percussion set-up would usually be too tempting for guests to by-pass, so many an impromptu jam would happen.
It was also ground zero for the many ex-pat Americans in Doris’s orbit: Pat (P.P.) Arnold and Jimmy Thomas, recently of the Ike &Tina Turner Revue, Rosetta Hightower, Claudia Linnear, Jimmy Helms, and many others got it on back there. Stephen Stills was a frequent visitor and, needless to say, there was usually a sprinkling of Apple illuminati around.
When Chris White, of Zombies fame, signed on to produce “The Rainbow Testament,” he got his first taste of the Pentecostal bomb squad in that room. By rock’n’roll standards, Chris was a low-key gentleman, arriving sedately with his new bride, but he was rapidly swept up in the contagious atmosphere, only leaving when the last Hallelujah! had been sung in the early hours. By the time tape was rolling at the Rainbow Theatre some weeks later, Chris had his sanctified hat on for sure!
The band assembled for that live album was a juggernaut, much larger than the regular version of The Gospel Truth (which was usually a 10-piece) so the logistics were formidable . As an ensemble rehearsal wasn’t on the cards, the great saxman Phil Kenzie, Doris, and I plotted and planned the whole shebang back there in The Jungle Room like it was the Normandy landing. Phil was in charge of the horn section, Doris had responsibility for the choir, natch, and the rhythm section was my pigeon. Each element was rehearsed separately with the three of us in attendance, and Chris dropped by from time to time to check progress. By show time the jigsaw fitted together perfectly, as is evident in the finished product.
But, as George Harrison, who produced records with both Doris and Billy during that time, sagely put it, “All Things Must Pass.” Eventually Doris returned to the States; I followed soon after, as did Phil. I sometimes wonder if subsequent occupants of that Hampstead house ever walked into that big back room and picked up a ghostly soulful vibe or two.