Bill Legend remembers well his first shows with T. Rex — April 9-10, 1971, at Detroit's Eastown Theater, kicking off a U.S. tour opening for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
And not just because of the music.
"It was my first flight as well, at the time, and my first time in the States," recalls Legend, the last living member of the T. Rex lineup that's being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame via an HBO special on Saturday, Nov. 7. "I'd only joined the band, like, three weeks before or something. We'd rehearsed solidly for that time, and I think we flew (from London) to New York and then to Detroit.
"It was completely an unknown quantity at the time, what was going to happen. I never went into it thinking this would be with me the rest of my life, you know?"
T. Rex certainly became a known quantity worldwide during Legend's tenure 1971-73. Fronted by glam rock icon Marc Bolan, the group ruled during that three-year period, with 10 Top 10 singles in the U.K. — including "Get It On (Bang a Gong)," its biggest hit in the U.S. — and three Top 5 albums produced by "fifth member" Tony Visconti, who had recommended Legend to Bolan. The band also starred in the 1972 Ringo Starr-directed concert film "Born to Boogie," while Bolan — who died in a 1977 car crash at the age of 29 — became a bona fide marquee personality, defining fashion alongside good pal David Bowie, guesting on Electric Light Orchestra's "On the Third Day" album and, shortly before his death, hosting his own TV show, "Marc."
"It was a whirlwind," recalls Legend, 76 — a graphic artist before he joined the band and after he left — who resides in northern California, where he still plays music and is gathering his memories about T. Rex for a possible book. "Three years felt like 30 years. We were going nonstop — in the studio, on the road. I never saw my wife and children.
"But it was fun, and I enjoyed it. I knew where Marc was coming from — he was basically, as we know, a rock ’n’ roller — and I was able to take all the things I'd learned so far and put them into Marc's music. He was a real showman, but he could do that because (the music) was solid behind him."
Legend says that during his time in T. Rex he focused on playing and not on other aspects of the band's success.
"I never thought to myself, 'Oh, man, if we don't get No. 1 on this next one, we're done for," he explains. "If we only made it to No. 3, it didn't faze me. I just enjoyed the playing, and I enjoyed the traveling as well."
He also didn't partake in the glitzy fashions that became stock in trade for Bolan and percussionist Mickey Finn.
"That was their forte," Legend acknowledges. "Steve (Currie, bassist) and I were a little more laid back. I'd wear jeans and a T-shirt on stage. The fashion wasn't primary for me."
Legend — who quit the group to spend more time with family — has been well aware of T. Rex's influential legacy over the years, but the Rock Hall was not on his radar.
"Y'know, I never even thought about it all these years," he contends. "I saw people writing up, 'Oh, they should be in' and 'About time!' and all this stuff, and I'm thinking, 'What IS the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?' It never entered my mind until I heard about the nomination, and I thought, 'Oh, that's cool.'"
The T. Rex camp is, of course hoping the induction leads to a bit of revival.
Martin Barden of Britain's Culture Consultants LTD, which has curated T. Rex's catalog since 1994, says that, "All these years later, to be talking about this induction into the Hall of Fame, it's terrific news. We're going to seize this moment and make sure as best we can that T. Rex are reappraised, if you like, and that Marc gets to wear his crown again."
A tribute album, "Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan," came out in September, produced by the late Hal Wilner and featuring contributions by U2 with Elton John, Father John Misty, Joan Jett, Nick Cave and others. Barden says T. Rex's nomination last fall also jump-started discussions between Culture Consultants and T. Rex's various labels and music publishers about future projects, including a coffee table book of the late Keith Morris' photos from the band's 1972 U.S. tour that will be published next year.
Legend — who has seven children and 14 grandchildren — and his wife were planning to attend the induction ceremony, originally May 2 and then Nov. 7, both shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead the HBO special does the honors, with Ringo Starr introducing the T. Rex segment and Bolan's son, Rolan, accepting on the band's behalf.
"It gives me and sense of satisfaction and gratitude," Legend says, "not only for me but for guys like Steve and Mickey and, obviously, for Marc — and for their families and for Tony. It happened so long ago. And it humbles me. I go and listen to the songs now and I think, 'Yeah, man, we did something good, didn't we?"
"The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2020 Inductions" premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, on HBO and HBO Max. Inductees include Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, the Notorious B.I.G., T. Rex, Irving Azoff and Jon Landau. Visit hbo.com or rockhall.com.
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