The person chosen to front a supergroup featuring Joe Walsh, John Entwistle and Keith Emerson recalled why the project ended after just five shows.
Rick Livingston found himself as the unknown among the stars of the Best when they undertook a short tour of Japan and Hawaii in 1990. His only previous claim to fame was a successful album released in his native Canada, which was produced by Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter.
At Baxter’s invitation, he moved to Los Angeles, and the pair led a house band in a fashionable club, where big-name artists would drop in and join them.
“There were about 80 of those jams across 18 months, and they started to become world-renowned,” Livingston told Rolling Stone in a new interview. “It wouldn’t be surprising to find Sting or Mick Jagger on the stage jamming along with us. Giants of the industry decided it was a cool club to be at.”
He noted that “one particular night, the band configuration was me and Baxter and Keith Emerson, John Entwistle, Joe Walsh and I believe Simon Phillips was playing drums. It just happened to be a night where there were a bunch of promoters from Japan in the audience. They cornered Baxter at the end of the night and said, ‘Why don’t you come play some concerts in Japan?’ Baxter took it upon himself to talk to everyone on the stage that night to see if it was something they wanted to do. As it turns out, it was.”
Livingston admitted he wasn’t the first choice to be singer, saying that Terry Reid – who once rejected an invitation to front Led Zeppelin – was asked first. When he said no again, the band chose Livingston under Baxter’s persuasion. “They wanted somebody not famous,” the singer explained.
The Best’s set featured music previously written by the group’s various members. “Joe said, ‘I’ll do it, but I’m not doing any Eagles songs I didn’t write.’ Entwistle said, ‘I’ll just do Who songs that I wrote.’ … The same with Simon. We did a song that he wrote for Jeff Beck. With Keith, it was easy because he was part and parcel of the ELP writing process. We did mainly instrumental stuff. He didn’t want to do any of the big hits like ‘Take a Pebble.’ He just wanted to show his keyboard prowess.”
Livingston said he was “treated kindly” by his world-famous bandmates, describing them all as “genuine, authentic people.” In the end, they performed their first stadium show in a bar after the planned event was rained out. They went on to play in front of 20,000 people over the next four nights.
“There was talk of doing more shows, but a funny series of events happened after we got home,” Livingstone said. “Keith was like, ‘We’re doing an ELP reunion tour.’ And then Simon was enlisted by Toto, and Joe Walsh was told the Eagles were getting back together, but he had to clean up.”
Entwistle and Baxter put a new lineup together, but the bassist was soon recalled for a Who reunion. “Within a few years, everyone was back with their original bands,” Livingston said. “It never came around again.”
He went on to have a successful career in TV music, garnering eight Emmy nominations. He remembered being “devastated” when video of the Best’s performance in Yokohama appeared on YouTube in 2008, leading to a barrage of negative comments.
“It took me a while to realize that it was just hate,” he said. “Why let that influence your life when you’re trying to be a loving, kind person and trying to surround yourself with those kinds of people? And hey, what do I care? I’ve had a great life.”
You can watch the Best perform “Reelin’ in the Years” in Yokohama in 1990 below.