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Draw Blood: 13 Things You May Not Have Known About Warren Zevon's "Werewolves Of London"

This month marks 34 years since the film An American Werewolf in London opened in theaters, giving moviegoers the opportunity to laugh and scream at the same time. For music fans, though, when the topic of werewolves and London come up, the point of reference isn't David Naughton howling at the moon, it's Warren Zevon howling about a furry fellow who's walking through the streets of Soho in the rain with a Chinese menu in his hand, which is why we've pulled together a few facts about Mr. Zevon's song, many of which might surprise you. If you don't know any more about werewolves than what you've learned from Tyler Posey, then it's time to turn off Teen Wolf and get schooled on a rock 'n' roll classic.

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1. Even if you think you don't know this song, you do: it's the song that isn't Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" that's heavily sampled in Kid Rock's "All Summer Long."

Right now, you're going, "Oh, that song?" Yes, that song. If that's the only way you know "Werewolves of London," we'll take it, but - not that there's anything wrong with a good old fashioned party anthem - by the time you reach the end of this piece, we hope that the actual song will be your go-to when someone mentions it.

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2. “Werewolves of London” was written while Zevon was working on his self-titled debut for Elektra/Asylum.

Zevon was going through a decidedly productive time as a songwriter during the mid-1970s: even as he was recording one album, he was continuing to co-write new material with guitarist Waddy Wachtel for the album to follow. In addition to "Werewolves," a future title track was composed during that same window: "Excitable Boy," which - as we all know - adorned the front cover of Zevon's second album for Elektra/Asylum.

3. Zevon credited the origins of "Werewolves of London" to an Everly Brother and a certain gonzo journalist. / Via

In the early '70s, not terribly long before becoming a proper "name" in his own right, Zevon toured with both Don and Phil Everly - not with The Everly Brothers but independently, as it was during a period when the sibling were taking a shot at solo careers - and for a brief period he also ended up staying at Phil's place. (Now there's a sitcom we'd like to see...) It was during that brief window when the eldest Everly provided the title to Zevon's signature song.

"I was living with him, because I was in one sort of trouble or another, and he told my wife (Crystal) and I we were welcome," Zevon recalled in a 1995 interview with Goldmine. "Well, they both said, 'You can move in with us,' Don in an apartment and Phil in his house, so we were staying in Phil's guest house. And he said, 'I'm working on this solo album. Why don't you guys write a song for me? Write a dance song. Like.. 'Werewolves Of London.' That's exactly what he said. I just said, 'O-kaayy...' And I was over at Roy Marinell's house, and Roy started playing the figure. And Waddy walked in and said, 'What are you guys doing?' And I said, 'We're doing the 'Werewolves of London.' And Waddy, without batting an eye, said, 'You mean, 'Aah-Ooh! Werewolves Of London'?' And we said, 'That's right.' And he sat down and we wrote it in 20 minutes. But it was entirely instigated by Philip."

The song's lyrical inspiration, meanwhile, came from Zevon attempting to pay tribute to a man who brought a great dear or fear and loathing into all our lives: as Uncut wrote in 2002, "Werewolves of London" was "a jaunty tune about lycanthropic mayhem intended as a homage to his hero and eventual friend, Hunter S. Thompson."

4. Before Excitable Boy was released, Jackson Browne regularly covered “Werewolves of London” in his live shows.


In fact, Browne - who produced Excitable Boy as well as the album that preceded it - covered the song so well live that his label was befuddled as to why he wouldn't just record it himself. "When I told them it was for Zevon's second record, they thought I was crazy, because they believed I could have a hit with it myself," Browne told Rolling Stone. "But that was wrong, and you can see it now. I mean, who wants to hear me sing 'Werewolves of London'? Warren spoke to your inner cynic. There was a dialogue that went on inside of him that's going on inside of everybody."

5. Waddy Wachtel described "Werewolves of London" as being "like (Francis Ford) Coppola making Apocalypse Now."


In I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Lives of Warren Zevon, by Warren's ex-wife, Crystal, Wachtel described the recording of "Werewolves" as "the hardest song to get down in the studio I've ever worked on," with seven different bands backing Zevon on the song at various times.

"I tried it with every combination of players we'd used on the record already," said Wachtel. "Russell Kunkel and Bob Glaub, Jeff Porcaro and Bob Glaub, Russell Kunkel and Lee Sklar… Tried it with Mike Botts, with Rick Slosher, and two different bass players. Didn't work. Tried it with Gary Mallaber and both the bass players. Kept not working."

6. The eventual bass-and-drums combo on the song ended up being a none-too-shabby - and none-too-sober - pair: John McVie and Mick Fleetwood.


"I remember that (harmony vocalist) Jorge Calderon said, 'I think you need a real band. Not like 'cats,' but a band,' and I said, 'Really? You mean like Buddy Rich?'" Zevon told Goldmine in 1995, laughing. "And Jorge said, "No, I was thinking more like Fleetwood Mac. Let me call them."

Zevon may have misremembered on who actually made the call, though, based on Wachtel's comments in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead.

"I called Mick and said, 'We have this song 'Werewolves of London' and we need you to play it," said Wachtel. "He goes, 'You want us to play with you guys?' I say, 'Yeah, man.' Mick says, 'Waddy that would be tremendous.' Those guys were drunker than we were, it turned out, but they came down and we set up."

7. McVie and Fleetwood might still be in the studio today if Wachtel hadn't shut down the session.


In I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, Wachtel recalled how quickly McVie and Fleetwood nailed the song, at least as far as he and Browne were concerned, but they were dismayed when they discovered that the Fleetwood Mac members didn't share their opinion.

"Jackson and I looked at each other after the second take: 'That was pretty good, wasn't it?' Mick says, 'Keep going, keep going,'" said Wachtel. "Now it's like six in the morning and we're at take sixty-six or something, and I looked at Mick and said, 'I think we're done.' Mick looks at me and says, 'We're never done, Waddy.' I'm standing on the platform with the drums where I'd been all night, and I look through the glass and I say, 'Jackson, take two was pretty good, wasn't it?' He says, 'Take two was still good.' I say, 'Sorry, Mick. We're done. Take two was good.' We went into the booth and take two was the one we used."

8. One of the final lyrics of the song - and one of its most famous - was a last-minute addition by Zevon.


"Warren wasn't happy with one of the last lines," Wachtel recalled in an interview on his official website. "'I've gotta have one more line, Waddy!' 'Okay, Warren, you're the guy!' So I'm on the road, and I get this call: 'Waddy, it's Warren. I've got the last line - 'I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's, and his hair was perfect.'' 'That's it?' 'That's it!' 'Okay, Warren. Whatever you say!' And strange as it was, it was the right line. That's Warren!"

9. Both Zevon and Wachtel were horrified - and possibly even nauseated - when the label selected "Werewolves" as the pick from Excitable Boy.

"When Elektra picked 'Werewolves' as the single, Warren and I just about threw up," Wachtel admitted in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. "We were insulted, depressed. Artistically, it was like a fuck you. They took that piece of shit after we gave them 'Tenderness on the Block' and 'Johnny Strikes Up the Band'? Meanwhile, it's the only hit we ever had, and it will still be a hit when Ariel has grandchildren. But we didn't see that logic at all."

10. Despite his feelings about the song as a single, the success of "Werewolves" earned Zevon and his band a serious upgrade in their road accomodations.


"Early in the tour (for Excitable Boy), the record company released 'Werewolves' as a single, (and) when we got to our room in some middle-of-the-road hotel in Philadelphia, the phone was ringing," recalled Crystal Zevon, in her aforementioned - and oft-quoted - book. "It was Joe Smith (head of Elektra/Asylum). He told us a limo would be there to take us to our new hotel with the hour. Twenty minutes later, a driver escorted us into our new hotel suite where bottles of chilled champagne and baskets of caviar, fruit, and flowers were waiting. 'Werewolves' was an overnight hit. We were living a rags-to-riches story."

11. The Grateful Dead loved "Werewolves of London" so much that not only did they start covering it in their sets, but they also invited Zevon to open for them in Santa Barbara...for better or worse.


"We had finished a gig in Dallas the night before, arrived at LAX at dawn, and taken limos straight to Santa Barbara," Crystal Zevon recalled in her book. "Warren hadn't had any sleep and he was popping pills and drinking from a hip flash to keep himself going. Warren refused ot go onstage until he'd met Jerry Garcia. He dragged Ariel, Rita, and me into the trailer. A Hell's Angel tried to stop Warren, but he made such a ruckus, Jerry waved us in. Bob Marley was in there, and the pot smoke was thick enough to choke on.

"Anyway, Warren barges in demanding to know how they're going to protect his daughter from the crazies and the psychedelic punch. They were all totally stoned, and they just watched Warren performing like a circus act. Then Jerry very quietly assured him there was no acid in the punch and that the security was there for us all. He managed to calm Warren down, and we got him onstage."

It would be fair to say that Zevon went down poorly with the assembled Deadheads: they were stoned and sitting down, he was wound up and wanted them on their feet, they hated him for pressuring them, and he hated them for not being more involved. The end result was a poor review for his performance in the Santa Barbara paper, but he apparently didn't hold it against the city: he and Crystal moved there soon thereafter.

12. Zevon left "Werewolves" out of his live set once. Just once.

He may have been exaggerating, but Zevon assured Goldmine in 1995 that he always played "Werewolves" in his shows because "I tried [omitting it] once...and we got, like, hate mail on the bus." Ultimately, though, Zevon admitted that it really wasn't all that big a deal to roll it out on a nightly basis, mostly because of who inspired it.

"If you had a lot of hits, and you hated 'em all, and somebody made you do them, then it could be burdensome," said Zevon. "But playing one three-minute song that still seems funny (and) that was and is an homage to Hunter Thompson, I don't mind playing it. That's a fact that seems to elude most journalists because, I guess, it's so obvious. And it wouldn't occur to Hunter, because he's too much of a southern gentleman to consider the fact that he's been ripped off."

13. Whether Warren Zevon particularly liked it or not, "Werewolves of London" has gone on to be covered by everyone from Adam Sandler to the Flamin' Groovies to - wait for it - Chord Overstreet and Kevin McHale..

Yes, you read those last two names correctly. That's how famous the song has become over the years: even the cast of Glee has covered "Werewolves of London."

And their hair was perfect.

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