Horn is famous for his mega-hits, but he also made some of the boldest and weirdest records of his time, including Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s influential 1983 hip hop-world mash-up, Duck Rock. Horn credits his late wife for supporting his more eccentric choices. “She was like, ‘If you do this band you’ll make a lot of money, if you do Malcolm you’ll learn a lot. I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to go there and learn a lot of things.’ ”
Horn is visibly overwhelmed with emotion while talking about Sinclair. “Jill was funny, she was a great manager, she had more balls than most people I know. And she was…just…it’s very hard…again. He falls silent.
The recording studio remains a sanctuary for him. And, while what he calls his “imperial age” may be over, he’s still a top producer. “[The studio] is a really nice place to be, with other musicians, making music that no one has ever heard before.
It tells the story of a recent encounter with a taxi driver. “He said, ‘I remember, in 1983, I said to my friend, ‘Have you heard that band Frankie Goes to Hollywood? They’re doing great. My friend says, ‘No, they’re not. .It’s just that Tony Horn f——about.” Horn laughed. “That’s what I should call my next album: Tony Horn F——About.”
‘There’s Grace!’ Ultimately
Trevor Horn on the set of Slave To the Rhythm
I first met Grace Jones in a studio just off Queensway in London. She was smaller than I expected but seemed to grow the more I got to know her, purely by the strength of her personality. She threw herself into the recording with enormous enthusiasm, walking around the place, but I wasn’t a fan of the end result – it sounded a bit like one of those aerobic workout tapes that were popular at the time.
The thing was, I wanted to make a really good record with Grace, not just a throwaway song, and that’s what the original Slave to the Rhythm sounded like. In retrospect, I should have finished on the spot and saved a lot of time, money and energy. Instead, I decided to rewrite the song and play it on a go-go beat.
I took my idea to Island Records owner Chris Blackwell, who was footing the bill, and asked if he could hire a go-go rhythm section for me in New York. A little baffled, as it wasn’t an obvious direction for the song, he put together a band, which we were to meet at Power Station Studios in New York.
My engineer Steve Lipson was with me when I went to New York, as was songwriter Bruce Woolley. The first shock we had was when they told us that we could only have the studio from 9am to 6pm because they had another reservation. I’m not into the 9am recording sessions. Yet we were there and we had the musicians there. But what we didn’t have was Grace.
At 6 p.m. we were kicked out of the studio and as the band headed to their motel for a night of debauchery, me, Bruce and Lippo returned to the Parker Meridien Hotel with drum machines, guitars, keyboards and loudspeakers.
That night Bruce wrote another version, helped by me and Lippo, and his beautiful chords helped us shape the song in a new way. Overjoyed and overexcited, I phoned Chris Blackwell, who was just around the corner. He came downstairs, I played him, and he got the shock of his life: the song went from something grand at 120 bpm to something else, something funkier and more muscular at 90 bpm. .
Everything seemed to be going well and we were ready for Grace to sing. I called her to find out what time she would arrive: “Grace, we have the tracks, they are really cool, you should get off.
She said, “I just set Dolph’s clothes on fire. It was Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren, who was her boyfriend at the time. “Well, that’ll get you out of there. You can come down and sing,” I said. She finally agreed to come on Sunday.
A strange thing happened the day before he arrived. It was the weekend, and the studio was now ours for as long as we wanted, so of course we were working crazy hours.