Phil Manzanera’s feature on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s No Church In The Wild earned him more than “the entire 50 years” he was in Roxy Music

In his new memoir, Phil Manzanera recalls how a riff he wrote on his sofa back in 1967 made its way onto a Kanye West and Jay-Z track.

[L-R] Phil Manzanera, Kanye West and Jay-Z

Credit: Getty Images

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What happens when one of the biggest rappers in the world decides to sample your guitar riff? You make a very pretty penny, as Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera discovered.

In his new memoir, Revolución To Roxy, Manzanera reflects on finding out Jay-Z and Kanye West had used one of his riffs on their 2011 collaborative album Watch The Throne. When he received a call from Roc-A-Fella Records, the guitarist initially believed there had been a mix-up, saying (via an extract quoted by inews), “It’s nice of you to call, but I’m afraid I think you’ve made a mistake.”

“I’m sometimes confused with Ray Manzarek who’s from The Doors,” he explains. “I think you probably mean him.”

However, the call had indeed been for him. Rather than tapping into The Doors’ rocky psychedelia, the rappers had opted to sample some of Manzanera’s prog-rock riffing. The track in question was No Church In The Wild, and it would utilise a key riff from Manzanera’s 1967 track K-Scope.

Upon hearing the news, he realised he’d never actually agreed for it to be used. He immediately rang up the business affairs department at Virgin – only to discover they were fully aware of the situation already. “[I] spoke to an executive [and] told her about the phone call from Roc-A-Fella Records,” Manzanera writes in his memoir. “[I] asked if she knew anything about it. “Oh yes we know about it,” she said cheerfully, “we’ve been discussing it with them for weeks.”

The executive went on to explain that they didn’t need his permission as the label owned the rights to the ‘67 track. But they’d already negotiated for Manzanera to receive a third of all royalties earned from the track. Upon contacting Universal, as he also had writers credit, Universal had negotiated for Manzanera to receive a third of the publishing revenue as well.

Despite being his own riff, the riff has been pitched up on the song. As Manzanera admits, he can hardly play it. “I played the track to David Gilmour, but neither he nor I could figure it out,” Manzanera admits. “Then finally my wife Claire’s nephew Toby worked out the fingering and talked me through it. The original sequence is in E flat which is damn near impossible to play. It’s just a bit easier in the key of A, but even then, it’s a stretch.”

While the riff sounds epic, Manzanera admits he had essentially forgotten about its existence. “I vaguely recalled being near the end of recording and at a loss for something new to play,” Manzanera writes. “One evening I’d been sitting on the sofa and noodling with my guitar when I came across this riff which I quite liked. I played it only a few times, recorded it in the studio the next day, and then forgot all about it.”

Watch The Throne went on to perform extraordinarily well in the charts. With heavy hitters like N****s in Paris and Who Gon Stop Me, it debuted at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling over 430,000 copies in its first week. It went 5x platinum and is both Jay-Z and Kanye West’s third best selling records. So it’s fair to say Manzanera benefitted from his inclusion.

“Who knew that I would earn more money from a short guitar riff that I wrote one evening on a sofa in front of the telly in 1978 than I ever earned in the entire 50 years as a member of Roxy Music?” Manzanera notes in his memoir. “Thank you, Kanye West, thank you Jay-Z, thank you Virgin and Universal, and thank you to the capricious mistress that is rock’n’roll.”

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