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DARREL HIGHAM CHECKS IN AT HELL’S HOTEL… BILLY BRAGG PUNK ROCK’S TROUBADOUR TELLS THE STORY

DARREL HIGHAM

CHECKS IN AT HELL’S HOTEL…

DARREL HIGHAM CHECKS IN AT HELL’S HOTEL… BILLY BRAGG PUNK ROCK’S TROUBADOUR TELLS THE STORY OF
DARREL HIGHAM CHECKS IN AT HELL’S HOTEL… BILLY BRAGG PUNK ROCK’S TROUBADOUR TELLS THE STORY OF

BILLY BRAGG

PUNK ROCK’S TROUBADOUR TELLS THE STORY OF SKIFFLE

CHUCK BERRY

ROCK’S TROUBADOUR TELLS THE STORY OF SKIFFLE CHUCK BERRY THE FINAL ALBUM REVIEWED & RATED WHY

THE FINAL ALBUM REVIEWED & RATED

OF SKIFFLE CHUCK BERRY THE FINAL ALBUM REVIEWED & RATED WHY IT WAS THE GREATEST YEAR
WHY IT WAS THE GREATEST YEAR EVER! THE BLUES HAD A AND THEY BABY… NAMED
WHY
IT WAS
THE
GREATEST
YEAR
EVER!
THE
BLUES
HAD A
AND THEY
BABY…
NAMED
IT
MUDDY WATERS, HOWLIN’ WOLF
HOW
& T-BONE WALKER WENT ELECTRIC
AND CHANGED THE WORLD…
‘GODFATHER OF BRITISH BLUES’
JOHN MAYALL
REMEMBERING NICK CURRAN
CHARLIE RICH’S SUN LEGACY
MATCHBOX’S GRAHAM FENTON
SHOW REPORT
VIVA LAS VEGAS 2017
STILL CUTTING IT AT 83
& SHOWING THE YOUNG
’UNS HOW IT’S DONE
ISSUE 30 JULY/AUGUST 2017 £5.99
3 0
9 772054
357003
VINTAGE
Issue 30
ROCK
Anthem Publishing, Piccadilly House, London Road, Bath, BA1 6PL Tel 01225 489984 Email

Anthem Publishing, Piccadilly House, London Road, Bath, BA1 6PL Tel 01225 489984 Email vintagerock@anthem-publishing.com www.facebook.com/vintagerockmag

EDITOR Ed Mitchell ed.mitchell@anthem-publishing.com

ART EDITOR Andy McGregor andy.mcgregor@anthem-publishing.com

PRODUCTION EDITOR Dan Biggane dan.biggane@anthem-publishing.com

ADVERTISING MANAGER Adrian Major adrian@majormediasales.com

CHIEF EXECUTIVE Jon Bickley jon.bickley@anthem-publishing.com

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ART DIRECTOR Jenny Cook jenny.cook@anthem-publishing.com

MARKETING MANAGER Gemma Bailey gemma.bailey@anthem-publishing.com

CONTRIBUTORS Johnny Black, Bill Dahl, Vince Eager, John Howard, Patrick Humphries, Jack Watkins, Paddy Wells, David West and Henry Yates

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7 pence per minute plus your phone company’s access charge Anthem Publishing is the proud home
7 pence per minute plus your phone company’s access charge Anthem Publishing is the proud home

Anthem Publishing is the proud home of Vintage Rock. Anthem was established in 2003 and publishes Classic Pop Magazine, Guitar & Bass Magazine and Music Tech Magazine. www.anthem-publishing.com

WELCOME

WELCOME

Tech Magazine. www.anthem-publishing.com WELCOME WELCOME Welcome to my first issue as editor of Vintage Rock .
Tech Magazine. www.anthem-publishing.com WELCOME WELCOME Welcome to my first issue as editor of Vintage Rock .

Welcome to my first issue as editor of Vintage Rock. Think of me as the plumper, Scottish-born reboot of the younger, thinner and infinitely more Welsh Steve Harnell who, I’m sure you’ll all agree, has done a fantastic job of helming the magazine. What gives me the right to step into Steve’s shoes as he passes the VR torch

over and launches his other magazine Classic Pop as a monthly title? I’ve played rockabilly guitar to your classic three men and a dog in countless pubs in Scotland; I’ve twisted my ankle trying to run in brothel creepers; not to mention, my first ever gig was Shakin’ Stevens at the Glasgow Apollo back in the early-80s, a fact I haven’t immortalised in print, until now. So, as you can see… you’re in good hands. What won’t change is a commitment to bring you the best quality new and archive content on the music and artists you love, with a liberal side order of vintage culture… the magazine equivalent of driving your car to 88mph so you can get a guitar lesson off Chuck Berry… This issue finds us slap bang in the middle of a couple of hugely important musical events of the 1950s. In the first, writer Johnny Black transports us back to the time when acoustic delta blues musicians fled poverty and segregation in the South to the more prosperous cities of Detroit and Chicago in the North, where people like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf fuelled the explosion of electric blues. The second event, ironically, involves the skiffle phenomenon in 50s Britain, when kids were enthralled by stripped down acoustic blues channelled through homegrown artists like Lonnie Donegan and Chas McDevitt. Both of these musical explosions set the scene for the pop and rock music that was to follow in the 1960s. It’s unlikely we’d ever have heard of The Rolling Stones without the influence of American electric blues; and who knows what would have become of the fledgling Beatles without the inspiration to become musicians that came out of the skiffle craze. We also have first-hand experience of how this American music changed kids’ lives in the 50s from Godfather of British Blues John Mayall and our own Vince Eager who got his start thanks to skiffle. I hope you enjoy this trip into the past, whether you lived through it or not.

Ed Mitchell

Editor

ISSUE 30

VINTAGE ROCK

3

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30 © Getty
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© Getty 94 36 30 © Getty 22 52 © Jacob Blickenstaff 66 72 4 VINTAGE
© Getty 94 36 30 © Getty 22 52 © Jacob Blickenstaff 66 72 4 VINTAGE
22
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52 © Jacob Blickenstaff
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© Jacob Blickenstaff

66

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ON THE COVER

ON THE COVER CONTENTS IN THE ISSUE THE STARS TOMMY HUNT 16 The Rock’n’Roll Hall of

CONTENTS

IN THE ISSUE

THE STARS TOMMY HUNT 16 The Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame inductee and famed R&B vocalist
THE STARS
TOMMY HUNT
16
The Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame inductee and famed R&B vocalist with The Flamingos reveals
why he only has eyes for the UK
JOHN MAYALL
30
The Godfather Of British Blues tells us about being at the heart of the original British blues
boom and his new album Talk About That
GRAHAM FENTON
36
The Matchbox mainman, who has been at the forefront of the rockabilly revival for 45 years,
talks to Vintage Rock about his new A Rockabilly Legend album
NICK CURRAN
40
Little Richard meets the Ramones as we remember the rockabilly punk, Nick Curran who
passed away in 2012
DARREL HIGHAM
46
One of Britain’s finest exponents of rockabilly guitar makes his long-awaited return as
a solo artist with Hell’s Hotel
BILLY BRAGG
66
Billy Bragg’s lifts the cover on his new book and seeks to throw light on the musical genre
that fell through the cracks
VINCE EAGER
82
72
Brit-rocker Vince remembers the moment he heard Rock Island Line by Lonnie Donegan for
the first time and how it forever changed his life
LONNIE DONEGAN
76
Patrick Humphries tells the story of The King Of Skiffle and how his DIY brand of infectious
music inspired an entire generation
46
CHAS MCDEVITT
82
Jack Watkins looks back at the career of Chas McDevitt one of the leading lights of the
skiffle movement in the UK
THE FEATURES
ALL MAMA’S CHILDREN
6
The latest happenings in the world of rock’n’roll, including the passing of “Corki” Casey O’Dell
TIME MACHINE
18
The story of Spade Cooley who was convicted for the brutal murder of his second wife, Ella Mae
THE BIRTH OF ELECTRIC BLUES
22
Johnny Black traces the marathon journey of electric blues and discovers how, by the
mid-50s it had become a fully-fledged genre in its own right
CLASSIC ALBUM: LONELY WEEKENDS WITH CHARLIE RICH
52
The sole Sun Records release from Charlie Rich
1957 THE GREATEST YEAR EVER
56
We revisit the year when Brits were told they “never had it so good”
LONG LIVE VINYL
88
© Getty

From obscure reissues to long-lost unheard recordings, we dig out some great releases

long-lost unheard recordings, we dig out some great releases ALBUM REVIEWS 90 New releases from Chuck

ALBUM REVIEWS

90

New releases from Chuck Berry, Hiway51, Alice Jayne and The Big Jamboree

from Chuck Berry, Hiway51, Alice Jayne and The Big Jamboree LIVE REVIEWS 96 We’re in Long

LIVE REVIEWS

96

We’re in Long Island for its Doo-Wop Weekender and Nevada for the 20th Viva Las Vegas

A LIFE IN ROCK’N’ROLL

108

Vince Eager recalls how, in 1960, he was embroiled in a Teddy Boy-related riot in Dundee while on tour with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

112

Guitarist Albert Lee chooses his favourite songs – from The Beach Boys and The Band to Buddy Holly and a record he has no idea what it’s called but it involves yodelling

CODA

Billy Fury at the peak of his success in 1962

114

record he has no idea what it’s called but it involves yodelling CODA Billy Fury at

“Corki” Casey O’Dell (left), the pioneering female guitarist pictured playing with old boss Duane Eddy, passed away at the age of 80 on 11 May

Mamas ’’ “CORKI” CASEY O’DELL DIES AGED 80 “Corki” Casey O’Dell, the pioneering female guitarist
Mamas ’’
“CORKI” CASEY O’DELL DIES AGED 80
“Corki” Casey O’Dell, the pioneering female guitarist who, as a member of The Rebels, backed
up leader and ‘Rebel Rouser’ Duane Eddy on many of his biggest hits has died at the age of 80.
Affectionately described as the “First Rock & Roll Sidechick” by Eddy on her induction into the
Musicians Hall of Fame in 2014 – in a ceremony that also celebrated the achievements of
country artist Barbara Mandrell and Nashville session guitarist Velma Smith – the guitarist was
born Vivian J. “Corki” Ray Casey on 13 May, 1936.
“She stood her place with all the guys,” Hall of Fame founder Joe Chambers told
The Tennessean newspaper of her induction, on the night where she shared the stage with
bluesman Buddy Guy and rock guitarist Peter Frampton. “She was not looked at as a female
player. She was looked at as a player, period. She was just a joy to be around. Corki didn’t miss
a beat. She was just tearing it up.”
One of the guitarist’s earliest recording sessions was for Sanford Clark’s 1956 hit The Fool which
was subsequently recorded by Elvis Presley on his 1971 album, Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years
Old). O’Dell kicked off her career with Duane Eddy on his 1959 debut album Have ‘Twangy’
Guitar Will Travel which yielded the hits Rebel Rouser and Ramrod.
O’Dell served as a member of Duane Eddy’s Rebels in the late-50s and early-60s before
marrying Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Kenny O’Dell (his writing credits include
Behind Closed Doors for Charlie Rich and his own hit Beautiful People) almost 50 years ago and
they moved to Nashville in 1969. She is survived by her husband, three children, seven
grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. ✶
©Getty Images
’’ NN LLUP
’’
NN
LLUP
’’ NN LLUP A L L Mamas Mamas asasassss CHILDREN GRETSCH CLIFF GALLUP DUO JET SIGNATURE

ALL

Mamas Mamas asasassss

CHILDREN

GRETSCH CLIFF GALLUP

DUO JET SIGNATURE RE

G retsch Guitars is – some might say, finally – paying tribute to Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps guitarist Cliff Gallup, with its G6128T-CLFG Cliff Gallup Signature

Gretsch Guitars pay tribute to Cliff Gallup, who died in 1988, with this G6128T-CLFG Cliff
Gretsch Guitars pay tribute
to Cliff Gallup, who died in
1988, with this
G6128T-CLFG Cliff Gallup
Signature Duo Jet model

Duo Jet model. Dressed in flawless gloss black lacquer, of course, the guitar is a doppelgänger for Gallup’s original

1954 Duo Jet with its twin DynaSonic singlecoil pickups, a rosewood fingerboard with period correct ‘big block’ pearloid inlays and 22 thin vintage-style frets, and a compensated aluminum bridge with aluminum base. It also comes with the obligatory Bigsby B3BBST vibrato unit with ‘black painted trough’, classic “arrow” control knobs, and a dark-stained headstock bearing Gallup’s signature. The Duo Jet also features the deep U profile mahogany neck, found on the earliest models,

finished, like the chambered mahogany and arched maple top body, in a nitro-cellulose lacquer. Guitar-playing Gallup disciples have long attempted to capture the feel and tone

of Cliff’s guitar by pimping existing Duo Jet reissue models with replacement parts. Two period quirks of the ’54 model that contribute to that overall vibe of Cliff’s cherished original, that couldn’t be missed, are the fixed arm of the Bigsby vibrato, and a set of .11 to .50 gauge flatwound strings. Expect a closer look at Gallup’s career, and his signature guitar, in the next issue of Vintage Rock. A huge influence on Jeff Beck and Stray Cat Brian Setzer, Cliff Gallup played lead on Gene Vincent’s greatest cuts including Race With The Devil, Be-Bop-A- Lula, Woman Love and I Sure Miss You cut in one session on May 4, 1956 at Owen Bradley’s Film & Recording Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. He died in 1988.

8

VINTAGE ROCK

ISSUE 30

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE MOVE!

M uch-loved American band

Southern Culture On The Skids

are set for a brace of appearances

in Spain later this year. The trio – singer/ guitarist Rick Miller, singer/ bassist Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman – will kick off their Spanish escapades with a set at Hell Dorado Kultur Elkartea, in Vitoria-Gasteiz on 6 October before heading to Sala Acapúlco, Gijón the following day. The remaining dates are at La Iguana Club, Vigo [8 October], Whisky Bar Los Picos in Liérganes, Santander [10 October], Sala Caracol, Madrid [11 October], Sala X, Seville [12 October] and the Razzmatazz in Barcelona [13 October]. The final date of the tour to host the band’s unique mix of country, surf, garage rock, presented with the sartorial elegance of Clark

Southern Culture On The Skids features Rick Miller (singer/ guitarist), Mary Huff (singer/bassist) and Dave
Southern Culture On The
Skids features Rick Miller
(singer/ guitarist), Mary
Huff (singer/bassist) and
Dave Hartman (drummer)

Griswald’s Cousin Eddie, will be the brilliantly-named Funtastic Dracula Carnival held at Ku Disco, Benidorm on October 14. Regarded by fans, including the new editor of this magazine, as the greatest live band out on the road today, Southern Culture On The Skids – or SCOTS as they’re often abbreviated – draw from a huge, gem-filled back

catalogue that stretches back to 1985’s Voodoo Beach Party EP and culminates with 2016’s The Electric Pinecones. Classics that everyone should have in their collection include 1995’s Dirt Track Date, 2000’s Licquored Up And Lacquered Down and 2004’s Mojo Box. For more information on Southern Culture On The Skids tour dates and back catalogue visit www.scots.com.

The Skids tour dates and back catalogue visit www.scots.com. CALENDAR OF EVENTS Billy Fury Weekend No.8

CALENDAR OF EVENTS

Billy Fury

Weekend No.8

Rock Ridge Rumble

4-6 AUGUST

FEATURING The Q Jumpers, Rockville, The Jets, The Outsiders, Darrel Higham, John Lewis Trio VENUE Burdon Plain, Co. Durham NE16 ADMISSION Prices start from £15 per person for an evening or £20 for a day BOOKING www.rockridgeevents.co.uk

High Rock-A-Billy

7-9 JULY

FEATURING Colin Paul & The Original Persuaders plus Colin’s Solo Show, The Alligators featuring Tony Graham (Roy Orbison Specialist), Vince Hughes Rock ’N’ Roll Jukebox Show featuring tribute to Dion, plus Billy Fury on the big screen and Record Hop, visit Billy Fury statue and other sites in Billy’s home town VENUE Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool ADMISSION Prices start from £164 per person BOOKING www.yesterdayoncemore.co.uk

Mississippi To Mersey – Elvis Weekender

6-10 SEPTEMBER

FEATURING Anita ONight the Mercury Trio, Don Cavalli, Hayden Thompson, Portuguese Pedro, The Booze Bombs VENUE Pabellon Deportivo Municipal Joan Ortoll – Calafell, Spain ADMISSION ¤70 BOOKING www.highrockabilly.es

Spain ADMISSION ¤70 BOOKING www.highrockabilly.es 28-30 JULY FEATURING All Elvis video disco with the Nutty

28-30 JULY

FEATURING All Elvis video disco with the Nutty Brothers (Neil & Andy), Dominic Halpin & The Honey B’s, Gordon Davis – Tribute to Elvis, Tony Graham – fantastic 1960’s vocalist, Colin Paul & The Persuaders VENUE Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool ADMISSION Prices start from £164 per person BOOKING www. yesterdayoncemore.co.uk

Adelphi Jive

Weekend No.7

8-10 SEPTEMBER

FEATURING Colin Paul & The Persuaders, The Kingcats, Dominic Halpin & The Honey Bees, Mark Keeley’s Good Rocking Tonight, The Firebirds, Downtown Daddyos VENUE Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool

ADMISSION Prices start from £164 per person BOOKING www. yesterdayoncemore.co.uk

The Welsh

Rockabilly

Fair

14-17 SEPTEMBER

FEATURING The Ruzz Guitar Blues Revue, The Rimshots,Fat ’N’ Furious, The Cueball Katz, Jake Allen & The Lawlessmen, The Deadshots, The Three Farmer Boys,The Bullets, The Doggone Honkabillies, The Skiprats, The Hayriders, The Retrobaits, Delta 88 VENUE The Hi Tide, Porthcawl, Wales ADMISSION Earlybird offer £70 (£80 thereafter) BOOKING www.welshrockabilly.co.uk

Blackpool Rock &RollWeekender

15-17 SEPTEMBER

FEATURING The Firebirds, The Jets, The Revolutionaires, Memphis Lee & The Creepers, Debra June & The Rockin’ Tunes VENUE Norbreck Castle Hotel, Blackpool ADMISSION £159 per person BOOKING www.ventureawaymusicweekends.co. uk/Blackpool_Rock_Roll_Weekender

£159 per person BOOKING www.ventureawaymusicweekends.co. uk/Blackpool_Rock_Roll_Weekender ISSUE 30 VINTAGE ROCK 9

ALL

Mamas Mamas

CHILDREN

A L L Mamas Mamas ’ ’ CHILDREN ALBUM OF THE MONTH The Sun Records Story

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

The Sun Records Story

VARIOUS ARTISTS CHARLY RECORDS



THE FRUITS OF SAM PHILLIPS’ ICONIC ENDEAVOURS RECEIVE A WELCOME VINYL REBOOT

L egend has it that, a few years ago,

a limousine pulled up outside Sun

Studio at 706 Union Ave, Memphis,

Tennessee. With that, out stepped Bob Dylan who headed to the X that marks the spot where Elvis Presley stood to record his Sun classics in 1953-55. Dylan than apparently dropped to his knees, kissed the X, then scuttled off back to his limo. It’s a great anecdote. It might even be true. What it does underline is the importance of what studio owner and producer Sam Phillips, and cats like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others, achieved at Sun. If you’re feeling the itch of déjà vu here, that’s because Charly’s The Sun Records

Story has been available on CD for a few

years now. As enjoyable as that collection is, few would quibble that vinyl is the proper home for these ancient cuts. Break open the beautifully presented package and you’ll find 94 tracks spread across a trio of double albums, further split into three chapters [Roots, Good Rockin’ Daddies, Hits & Then Some]. Each album is presented in heavyweight 180 gram audiophile vinyl and accompanied by sleeve notes on the history of Sun, Sam and his hard rock’ amigos. Hits & Then Some isn’t just a clever name. This double LP plays host to Sun’s most iconic tracks. There’s Rocket 88 by Jackie Brentson & His Delta Cats [featuring Ike Turner, natch], Just Walkin’ In The Rain by gifted chain gang The

Prisonaires, Bear Cat, DJ Rufus Thomas’ response record to Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins and Little Junior Parker’s original 1953 cut of Mystery Train, the tune that would define rockabilly when rebooted by Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black in 1955. Speaking of Elvis, The King features on

a single track here, Walk That Lonesome Valley, a duet with Jerry Lee. Taking Elvis out of the picture gives some breathing space to the work of his onetime label- mates like Johnny Cash [I Walk The Line, Big River], Jerry Lee Lewis [Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Great Balls Of Fire] and Carl Perkins [Honey Don’t, and the truly menacing Dixie Fried]. Those icons aside, there are some killer second division gems like Red Hot and Flyin’ Saucer Rock ’N’ Roll by Billy Lee Riley and Lonely Weekends from Charlie Rich. You’ll also find the Bill Justis track Raunchy, the 45 that got George Harrison into John Lennon’s Quarrymen when he played a note perfect rendition in 1958.

KISS THIS BOB!

While Roots comes predominantly embossed with the early blues sides Sam Phillips cut at his Memphis Recording Service – including Highway Man by

Howlin’ Wolf, the singer he considered the greatest he ever worked with – there’s

a number of white boy rockers from the

likes of Hardrock Gunter [Gonna Dance All Night] and the ever-brilliant Charlie Feathers [Defrost Your Heart]. That theme continues on the Good Rockin’ Daddies LPs with the train rhythm of “Jumpin’ Gene Simmon’s Crazy Woman, the rollicking Judy courtesy of Rudy Grayzell, and that Elvis namecheck, and Jimmy Wages’ breathless [Take Me From This] Garden Of Evil with a guitar solo that sounds like it could’ve fathered The Cramps. Yes, you probably own these tracks but the remastering and vinyl format bring them bursting back to life. Charly has made the past year infinitely more enjoyable for Sun worshippers thanks to the essential Johnny Cash:

The Original Sun Albums 1957-1964 CD box set, and the Deluxe double 10” vinyl print of The Million Dollar Quartet, the infamous, informal late 1956 session featuring Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. If you need us to tell you how essential The Sun Records Story is, you might also be interested to know that the sky is blue, and chocolate tastes nice. Bob Dylan might want to kiss this too Ed Mitchell

TROUBLEMAKERS HIT THE ROAD T outed as for disciples of soul, rockabilly, Stax, Sun Records,

TROUBLEMAKERS HIT THE ROAD

T outed as for disciples of soul, rockabilly, Stax, Sun Records, R&B, garage rock, ‘and everything in

between’ Las Vegas-based revivalist band Shanda & The Howlers released their debut album Trouble via the Rum Bar label on 9 June. Featuring 11 tracks [“that speak directly of breakups, heartaches and moving on after surviving both…”], the album is described as the sum of a range of influences that include artists like Big Maybelle, Ruth Brown, Otis Redding, The Crystals, LaVern Baker and James Brown. Formed in early 2015, the band – vocalist Shanda Cisneros, guitarist Trevor Johnson, saxophonist Micah Lapping- Carr, bassist Luke Metz, and drummer Keith Alcantara – have shared the stage with the likes of Wanda Jackson, The Blasters and Rev. Horton Heat. Shanda and her crew showcase the new album with a series of dates at The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas on 30 June, The Hubb in Pahrump, Nevada on 15 July, The Sand Dollar, Las Vegas on 21 July and the Rockabilly Extravaganza in Riverside, California on 25 November. For further information visit www.shandaandthehowlers.com.

For further information visit www.shandaandthehowlers.com. RARE Rock‘N’Roll RECORDS V inyl can be an

RARE Rock‘N’Roll RECORDS

V inyl can be an appreciating asset, so it’s wise to keep an eye on the market when it comes to your rarer records. This month we lay five great platters before the good folks at www.omegaauctions.co.uk…

before the good folks at www.omegaauctions.co.uk… JUST WALKIN’ IN THE RAIN C/W BABY PLEASE THE PRISONAIRES

JUST WALKIN’ IN THE RAIN C/W BABY PLEASE THE PRISONAIRES (SUN 186)

This Sun rarity, recorded by three inmates from the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville is extremely sought after. Even the reissue, put out on Jack White’s Third Man Records, is a collectors’ item!

MINT VALUE: £300

Man Records, is a collectors’ item! MINT VALUE: £300 LISTEN TO ME BUDDY HOLLY (FEP 2002)

LISTEN TO ME BUDDY HOLLY (FEP 2002)

This EP on Coral features a seldom seen image of Buddy Holly without his glasses. Collectors will pay top money for this release from the rock’n’roll legend.

MINT VALUE: £300

release from the rock’n’roll legend. MINT VALUE: £300 THE SHEIK OF SHAKE DICKIE PRIDE (SEG 7937)
release from the rock’n’roll legend. MINT VALUE: £300 THE SHEIK OF SHAKE DICKIE PRIDE (SEG 7937)

THE SHEIK OF SHAKE DICKIE PRIDE (SEG 7937)

A scarce release from the talented Dickie Pride. This was his only EP release, issued on Columbia (SEG 7937), at the age of 18. An unsung British rock’n’roll hero, Pride took his own life at the ill-fated age of 27.

MINT VALUE: £250

his own life at the ill-fated age of 27. MINT VALUE: £250 SHAKE IT UP THE

SHAKE IT UP THE VIBRATIONS

Shakin’ the list up with this Chess monster! This is essential spinning for any DJ worth their salt with fantastic breaks on this modern soul 45 proving the label’s diversity.

MINT VALUE: £400

ROCKIN’ WITH WEE WILLIE WEE WILLIE HARRIS

Another outstanding EP here issued by Decca (the original is a tri-centre DFE 6465); without him would we have had The Beatles?

MINT VALUE: £150+

ALL

Mamas Mamas

CHILDREN

FIRST IT WAS TOMMY STEELE, NOW IT’S JOE BROWN

FROM THE Archives

JUNE

HARRIS,

DISC,

27

AUGUST

1960

‘I JUST CAN’T WAIT TO DO THOSE PUB SHOTS’

“Ain’t it great about this film,” mused Joe Brown. “Just think of it, me in me own 35-minute spot – it’s goin’ to be better than television.” Joe’s forthcoming movie, a 35-minute feature film based on his life story, is to be made by Jerry Bryant, who produced The Tommy Steele Story. “I wasn’t half surprised when I read the script,” said Joe. “They haven’t changed a thing. We begin shooting at the end of the month, and the bit I’m looking forward to will be the shots in the pubs down in East London. Me and the boys used to play down the pubs when I was about 14, and we had some cracking times, mate.

COCKLES

“It all started when me mum bought me a second-hand guitar. In between selling cockles and mussels, I played around with it, and a few of the lads joined in. Soon, we had a swinging group, which we called ‘The Spacemen’.” Joe Brown and The Spacemen played in pubs “and all that sort of thing,” and then, without the group, Joe did a season at a Butlin’s holiday camp. “When I came home, me and the boys did an audition, and were signed up by Jack Arnold to play in the Strava Ballrooms. Shortly afterwards Larry Parnes invited me to audition. Jack Good was there, and that was it. I didn’t know what hit me, but I landed up with two contracts — one from Jack for Boy Meets Girls, and another from Larry Parnes. Talk about luck.

A MUDDLE

“Show business to me is a muddle,” he admits, “but when I’m working, I love it. There I am, just me and the boys having a bash, and not caring about anything else but what we’re doing. If I had me own television show, or even a small spot in someone else’s, I would do exactly what I’m doing now. That is I wouldn’t change me act, I’d sing a few numbers like Jellied Eels and Darktown Strutters Ball, and

“FANCY, ME A FILM STAR! THE LADS AND ME MUM WILL BE TICKLED PINK”

belt a couple of things out on the old

guitar, but I would never work by a script, just can’t bear ’em. “Don’t laugh when I tell you this, but

if I had the time, I would even bash out

a couple of classical pieces by Brahms, I

like classical music, the only thing that puts me off are the titles. I wish they’d make ’em a little more simple.” In the film, Joe will be heard singing three numbers written by Bill Crompton and Morgan Jones. He has already recorded two of them, Make A Monkey Out Of Me, and Letter Of Love, a ballad. “Unfortunately,” says Joe, “I ruined me voice yellin’ from the barrow, but I wish I could sing.”

In spite of the fact that Joe Brown cannot read or write music, he has no trouble in working out his arrangements, which are always fresh and original. “I work these out as we’re going along,” he says. “F’r instance, I give me knees a good old knockin’ for the, drum parts, and the drummer picks it up, find an imaginary bass for the bass part, or pick ’em out on the guitar. At times, I feel sorry for the lads, but they’re used to me now.” In view of the arising success of Cliff Richard and Adam Faith, it seemed surprising that Joe Brown should be chosen as the subject of a film life story. “You could have knocked me down with a feather when I heard,” says Joe, “but these people making the film reckoned that my history was far more colourful — rather like Tommy Steele’s they said. Fancy, me a film star! The lads and me mum will be tickled pink.” Joe is hoping that the movie will be successful, “Cos I’d like to do a whole lot more. I’m not a star yet, but I’m hoping the film will help.”

NEVER SEEN HIM

Joe Brown has been compared with Tommy Steele on many occasions, but he admits that he has never seen the artist at work. “I’ve never met him, and I’ve never seen him perform. I’m sure it’s only because I’m a Cockney that people compare me with him.” As for the future, “All I need,” says Joe, “is more time, more television and more films. Personal appearances help, too, and so do recordings. And as long as I keep me head and wits about me, I might make out yet.” © June Harris, 1960

© Getty

After signing a management agreement with Larry Parnes ,“Chirpy Cockney” Joe Brown, charted with The Darktown Strutters Ball in 1960

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LEGENDS OF ROCK TOMMY HUNT THE ROCK’N’ROLL HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE AND FAMED R&B VOCALIST
LEGENDS
OF ROCK
TOMMY HUNT
THE ROCK’N’ROLL HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
AND FAMED R&B VOCALIST WITH THE
FLAMINGOS REVEALS WHY HE ONLY HAS
EYES FOR THE UK BY JOHN HOWARD
T he man who arranged the huge
harmony hit I Only Have Eyes
For You, later borrowed by Art
Garfunkel, Tommy Hunt, is now
VR What happened then?
TH Well, the A-Side of the disc didn’t do
much business, but New York disc jockey
Jocko Henderson decided to play the flip,
a long-term UK resident. Hailing from
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tommy
a song called Human. This turned into
was a stalwart of doo-wop heroes The
Flamingos for four crucial years. Hunt
left the group in 1960 and released
a number of singles in the early-60s
including Human, The Door Is Open, So
Lonely, Didn’t I Tell You She’ll Hurt You
approached by Zeke Carey of the well-
established Flamingos at a gig, and was
asked to take his place while he served his
time in the army. The group had already
had a regional hit with the original
version of I’ll Be Home, which gave Pat
Boone a million seller. I remained with
the group when he returned, and we
moved to New York. We got national
recognition thanks to I Only Have Eyes
For You, which I arranged.
my biggest solo hit in the USA, and it also
became the title of my autobiography
when I came to write it years later.
VR How did you end up in Britain?
TH I’ve lived in Yorkshire for many years,
but I first came to Europe in 1969. I met
an Australian called Geoff Patterson while
and And I Never Knew, which had the
first recording of I Just Don’t Know What
To Do With Myself as a B-Side.
Tommy was inducted in the Rock’n’Roll
Hall of Fame in 2001.
VR So how did you feel when Art Garfunkel turned that
arrangement into a worldwide million-seller years later?
TH You can copyright a song, but you
can’t copyright an arrangement. I was
flattered he used my arrangement.
I was working the US service bases in
A member of The Flamingos, Nate
VINTAGE ROCK Tommy, you are now 84. Isn’t it about time
you started dying your hair white?
TOMMY HUNT (laughing) I do dye my hair. I
dye it black!
VR Where were you born?
TH I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
but as a young man I moved to the big city
of Chicago.
VR What was your first professional gig?
TH I joined a group called the Five
Echoes in Chicago. I enlisted in the Air
Force, then re-joined the Echoes. I was
Nelson, wrote Lovers Never Say
Goodbye which sold well for us, and
he got his royalties for that.
VR Why did you quit The Flamingos?
TH Three of the members, Jake and
Zeke Carey, and Johnny Carter, were
cousins, and they were members of the
black Jewish Church of God and Saints
of Christ Congregation. Jewish hymns
were an influence on their harmonies in
the early days, before I joined. They kept
trying to convert me to Judaism, and I’m
a Baptist.
I also wanted to try a solo career, and
Germany, and he said that if I wanted to
work in Europe, he would look out for
me. For various reasons, I had decided
to leave the States, so I came over, but
initially I couldn’t find Geoff. However,
the man who had taken over his job
booking acts into the bases helped me out,
and worked as my agent organising gigs in
Europe, and I lived in Holland for a while.
Eventually, I was invited to live in the
UK, and was told that I still had fans in
the UK who were interested in my music,
and that proved to be the case.
I was pleasantly surprised at the
response when I first played the Wigan
Casino. That was my first introduction
to what I now know is Northern Soul.
Prior to that, I’d never heard of it. I
by b
the time I
thought I was going to play a casino,
left l
the group
but I discovered that was just the name
I I had already
of the place.
cut c
my first
VR Then you had hits with numbers like Loving On The
solo s
single. It
Losing Side and Crackin’ Up on Spark.
w
was released
t three days
TH I was very lucky, and remain lucky. I
work with a Spanish doo-wop group I
a after I left the
named The New Flamingos, and with
g
group. It was
a ten-piece Northern Soul band called
c
called Parade
The Signatures. I will be recording again
O
Of Broken
soon. I won’t quit show business until I’m
Hearts.
H
called to that ‘Big Gig in the Sky’. ✶
© Getty Images
Specialists in 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country- Hillbilly, Rockabilly, Surf, Instrumentals, RGM, Blues, Rhythm &

Specialists in 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country- Hillbilly, Rockabilly, Surf, Instrumentals, RGM, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Doo-Wop.

(All styles of 1950s-Early 60s Music)

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T I M E © Alamy
T I M E
© Alamy
TIME
TIME

SPADE COOLEY MURDERS HIS WIFE

AMERICAN WESTERN SWING MUSICIAN DONNELL CLYDE COOLEY, AKA SPADE COOLEY, WAS A LARGER THAN LIFE CHARACTER WHO, AS JOHNNY BLACK DISCOVERS, HAD A DARK SIDE

I n the early 1960s, ageing country music star Spade Cooley and his significantly younger wife Ella Mae were living on

his remote ranch, Rosamund, in the Mojave Desert near Bakersfield, California. A decade earlier, between B-movie film work, recordings, his own TV show, radio and concerts, Cooley had been pulling down $10,000 a week, but his career, along with many others, took a nose-dive in 1955 when rock’n’roll became the new thing. Nevertheless, when he announced his retirement in early 1960, he still had $15m in the bank. Cooley was by now an alcoholic and pill-popper and, paranoid with jealousy of his young wife, he relentlessly accused her of infidelity. Desperate to leave him, in the second week of March 1961, Ella Mae was hospitalised for emotional problems. Towards the end of March, Cooley contacted a private detective and asked him to “check up on” his wife, probably to help build his case against a potential divorce settlement. In the meantime, Cooley continued to badger Ella Mae, demanding that she admit her sexual transgressions. Within days, she would be dead.

31 MARCH, 1961

As they bicker in a moving automobile, Ella Mae either jumps or is pushed from their car. Despite serious bruises, she does not seek medical help. Leonard Winters (private investigator): He had a mean streak in him, he was running out of money and he was drinking heavily at that time. He always was very possessive. Bobbie Bennett, (Cooley's manager): He virtually kept her a prisoner. He was very jealous of her. Of course he was with another woman, or two or three, every night. Kit Nelson (District Attorney): She was going to leave this man. She’d had enough. She wanted a divorce. No-one gets away from Spade Cooley unless he tells them. Bobbie Bennett: Cooley was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- type person.

3 APRIL, 1961

6pm Convinced that Ella Mae is involved in a ‘sex-cult’ love triangle with medical technicians Clifton Davenport and Luther Jackson, Spade Cooley brutally beats, kicks and strangles her into unconsciousness. Spade Cooley (courtroom testimony): She told me about a love cult she had

joined. She described her initiation at length. It was with two men in a motel near our home. It included

unnatural sex acts. I hit her. The next thing I can recollect,

I saw her half on the bed

and half on the floor. I must

have hurt her terribly. I have

a hazy recollection it was

an animal, not Ella Mae. I can only say that when she told me about that love cult, rockets went off in my brain. My head was literally on fire! Clifton Davenport: To serve his own purposes, only Spade Cooley would think up something like a free-love cult. His statement only goes

“HE VIRTUALLY KEPT HER A PRISONER. HE WAS VERY JEALOUS OF HER. OF COURSE HE WAS WITH ANOTHER WOMAN, OR TWO OR THREE, EVERY NIGHT.”

BOBBIE BENNETT

to show how his mind works and that he is a person, in my estimation, void of human decency. I am appalled and amazed at what lengths he would go to.

6:20pm Their daughter, Melody, 14, who has been

visiting friends, arrives home. Melody Cooley (courtroom testimony): When I entered he was on the phone. He was talking to a business partner, Beal Whitlock. I heard him say: ‘Beal, don't call the police.’ He was real sweaty and he had blood spots on his pants. He said to me: ‘Come in here. I want you to see your mother. She is going to tell you something.’ He took hold of my arm and took me into the den. The shower was running in the bathroom. Mother was in the shower. He opened the door and said:

‘Get up, Melody’s here. Talk to her.’ He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her into the den with both hands. She was undressed. He banged her head on the floor twice. He called her a slut. She couldn’t move. She seemed to be unconscious. He turned back to mother and said: ‘We’ll see if you’re dead.’ Then he stomped her in the stomach with his left foot. He took

see if you’re dead.’ Then he stomped her in the stomach with his left foot. He
SPADE COOLEY MURDERS HIS WIFE a cigarette which he had been smoking and burned her

SPADE COOLEY MURDERS HIS WIFE

a cigarette which he had

been smoking and burned her twice. Spade Cooley (courtroom testimony): She went into the shower alone. I didn’t push her or shove her. There was a terrible thud. P. Basil Lambros (Defense attorney): The whole crux of this case is what happened in the shower. She wasn’t pushed into the shower. What actually happened, nobody knows. Spade Cooley: I rubbed her wrists, breathed in her mouth, put cold towels on her head,

and I prayed. I did not hit her with my fists. I went in a rage.

I slapped her.

Melody Cooley: He told me, ‘You’re going to watch me kill her, Melody. If you don’t, I’ll kill you, too. I’ll kill us all.’

6.30pm The phone rings, and while Cooley answers it, the terrified Melody runs for her life, returning to her friend's house.

8pm Manager Bobbie Bennett arrives, sees Ella Mae is dead, calls Dorothy Davis, the nurse and family friend, and his married son and daughter-in- law, John and Dorothy Cooley.

11.35pm An ambulance, called for by Cooley himself at the

insistence of Dorothy Davis, arrives at the ranch. Richard Stickel (ambulance driver): It was a hard time finding it out there at that time because there was nothing out there, but we found it. When I got there,

I went into the house and

he told me his wife needed taking to the hospital. I kinda

questioned it. I was by myself, didn’t have anybody with me. The house was in disarray, you could see there had been

some kind of

She was lying on the floor and I could see that she had bruise marks on her and burn marks on her.

uh

activity.

I told Spade Cooley I couldn’t get a pulse. I said she didn’t seem to be breathing, but Cooley kept saying there were noises coming out of her throat. ‘You see! You hear her?’ he’d say. But I wasn’t gonna argue with the man when he said he wanted to take her to the hospital. He helped me put

It was my judgment that the coroner be notified and an investigation ordered before any further determinations could be made as to the cause of Ella Mae Cooley’s death.

12.45am The Mojave Sheriff ’s Office and Kern County Sheriff's Office are notified. The Mojave officers arrive at

“I TOLD SPADE COOLEY I COULDN’T GET A PULSE. I SAID SHE DIDN’T SEEM TO BE BREATHING, BUT COOLEY KEPT SAYING THERE WERE NOISES COMING

OUT OF HER THROAT. ‘YOU SEE! YOU

HEAR HER?’” RICHARD STICKEL

her on the stretcher and put her in the ambulance.

11.45pm: Ambulance leaves the Cooley ranch Richard Stickel: He rode in

the back seat, behind me, and

I kept thinking all the way

on that back road, you know, River Springs Road, what had happened, and the man was riding right behind me. It was scary.

12.20pm Ella Mae Cooley, 37

years old, is declared dead on arrival at Tehachapi Hospital. Dr. Vincent Troy (medical report): Upon our arrival, observed the victim to be

a Caucasian female of the

apparent stated age of 37 years. There were numerous marks of external violence noted on the body consisting

of bruises over the entire body, indicating the victim had been beaten severely. When I was told the circumstances of how this woman died, that she’d suffered a fall in the shower, I found this to be inconsistent with the condition of her body. She was badly bruised and these appeared to have been inflicted, repeatedly so.

the hospital first and begin questioning Cooley, who maintains that his wife died from a fall in the shower. Sgt. H.E. Cooper (Kern County Sheriff's Office):

At approximately 12:45am, I

received a telephone call at my residence, stating that there had been a victim of a beating brought into the Tehachapi Emergency Hospital and that upon arrival, that victim had been pronounced dead. Deputy Marion Dickey (Mojave Sheriff's Office):

We found Spade Cooley in what I’d describe as a state of shock. I noticed right away

that his hands were swollen and bruised, and he was shook up, saying the fact that his wife was really dead was hitting him bad. Maybe excited is the better word to describe his condition. I got him some water and, sort of coming apart at the seams, he told us his wife had jumped from the car a few days earlier, but he didn’t give much detail. Then she fell in the shower, he said, and hit her head. He said he believed she had a concussion.

I looked at the body and she looked like somebody’d clobbered her. I didn’t need any medical confirmation to see that this woman had been beaten to death. Sgt. H.E. Cooper: On arrival at the Tehachapi Hospital, we were contacted by Sgt. Shuell of the Mojave Sub- Station who had just been talking to Spade Cooley. This conversation was taking place in the waiting room of the Tehachapi Hospital. Chief Fote and myself contacted Spade Cooley and he stated that he would gladly give us a statement of what happened at his ranch house earlier in the evening. Along with Chief Fote, Sgt. Shuell and Coroner Stan Newman, Spade Cooley was taken into a doctor’s office at the Tehachapi Hospital where he was briefly interrogated. Dr. Vincent Troy: He stated his wife had jumped from a moving automobile a couple days prior to this and had fallen in the shower on this particular evening, which caused the injuries. Further questioning revealed he did admit slapping his wife two or three times while at their ranch in Willow Springs. Sgt. H.E. Cooper: After talking to Spade Cooley for about 20 to 25 minutes, Mr Cooley stated that he would free and voluntarily on his part proceed with Sgt. Shuell and myself to the Sub-station in Mojave. Richard Stickel: They were very nice to him, whether because he was a celebrity or not, I don’t know. And he was very co-operative and nice about the whole thing.

3am Cooley is interviewed by Deputy Harmon Cooper for an hour in the Mojave Sheriff's Sub Station, then arrested. Sergeant Tom Shuell (Mojave Sheriff's Dept):

He stuck to the story about her falling in the shower. We

didn’t believe him and, during the recorded interview, talking about his swollen hands, he did finally admit to having struck his wife. He

said, ‘

slapping her maybe a

couple times because she was hysterical, but that was it That was all.’ I asked, ‘How many times did you slap her? You hit her once? You hit her twice or more than twice?’ He confessed he might’ve struck her more than once but denied having done anything that could’ve caused

any serious injuries. Bill Gillis (reporter, Henderson Home News): I was one of the first newsmen on the scene. While news, radio and TV men weren’t afforded the opportunity to interview Cooley, we did see him, and he was understandably haggard after several hours of questioning. As dawn was breaking over the desert mountains, Cooley was handcuffed and driven to Bakersfield, 90 miles from Mojave.

4 APRIL, 1961

Spade Cooley is booked into Kern County Jail, Bakersfield, California, USA. Tex Williams (employee of Spade Cooley): The Deputy District Attorney from Bakersfield came down and spent two or three hours with me and he was on the scene. There was no way I could say it was an accident. Leonard Winters: When he was arrested, he couldn’t wait to talk. He wanted to tell them the whole story. Not the true story, of course, but he thought he could talk himself out of it.

10 JULY, 1961

Trial starts at Kern County Superior Court No.5, Bakersfield, and will last for six weeks. Cooley pleads not guilty by reason of insanity.

TIME
TIME
Don ‘Spade’ Cooley (left), with his attorney, P. Basil Lambros, leaving the courtroom after Cooley
Don ‘Spade’ Cooley (left),
with his attorney, P. Basil
Lambros, leaving the
courtroom after Cooley was
found guilty in 1961
© Alamy

“WHEN HE WAS ARRESTED, HE COULDN’T WAIT TO TALK. HE WANTED TO TELL THEM THE WHOLE STORY. NOT THE TRUE STORY, OF COURSE, BUT HE THOUGHT HE COULD TALK HIMSELF

OUT OF IT.” LEONARD WINTERS

Bill Gillis: Kern County Superior Court No.5 isn't particularly spacious. In fact, it seats only 62. But hours before the start of the daily sessions, a long line formed hoping to gain admission. Most of the curious were women, maybe 90 per cent. Leonard Winters: The courtroom was packed. They’d bring lunches and wait out in the corridor for seats. Bill Gillis: During the six weeks of testimony an air of informality reigned in the jurors’ box. Only one or two men ever bothered to wear ties. Sport shirts were the motif. Some even chewed gum. Kern County District Attorney Kit Nelson, the prosecutor, and P. Basil Lambros, who represented Cooley, were a study of

opposing contrasts. Lambros, a flamboyant individual, wandered endlessly around the courtroom as he hammered away at the prosecution witnesses. Nelson wasted no words, rather stood quietly by his desk, querying witnesses with the damaging questions that were to lead to Cooley’s conviction. Frequently, they engaged in verbal clashes, at

times had to be restrained by Judge Bradshaw. The colour pictures I saw (about eight) of Ella Mae’s body would tend to indicate she had been subjected to a considerable beating, particularly her face. Kit Nelson (D.A. and prosecutor): Mr. Cooley is not normal. He is abnormal, has sadistic tendencies and a dual personality. His recollections are convenient memory to Mr. Cooley, but he doesn’t recall when things look bad for Mr. Cooley.

19 AUG, 1961

Spade Cooley is convicted of first degree murder. Leonard Winters: I’ll never forget it. The jury brought the verdict in as guilty and you’d have thought he was a star all over again. People hugged him, they kissed him, they cried, the men cried, after finding him guilty of first degree murder. Oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Bobbie Bennett: It was an accident. He never intended to kill her. We had thousands of letters from all over the country and most of them felt that, because of the pleasure he had brought them, and so forth, they didn’t feel he was particularly guilty. But I must say, as far as the particular entertainers in the field, they were very harsh as far as he was concerned. It was such a shock to me that I just closed up my office and I went back into law.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

Cooley withdrew his insanity plea, and Judge William L. Bradshaw sentenced him to life in prison. He had cheated the gas chamber. His physical and emotional state qualified him for a cell at a much less forbidding lockup, the California State Prison at Vacaville. After Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966, mutual friends from the B-movie business began lobbying for a pardon or parole for Cooley. Reagan waved his magic wand, and in August 1969 the state parole board unanimously recommended parole for Cooley, effective 22 February, 1970 – his 60th birthday. However, he never learned of his pardon. On 23 November, 1969, during a three-day furlough to perform in Oakland at a benefit concert for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, Cooley left the stage with cheers ringing his ears. Backstage, asked how he felt, he replied: “As if the rest of my life is just beginning.” Moments later, he dropped down dead of a heart attack.

THE BIRTH OF ELECTRIC BLUES

From Roosevelt Sykes in 1932 to Elvis Presley in 1954, Johnny Black traces the marathon
From Roosevelt Sykes in 1932 to Elvis Presley in
1954, Johnny Black traces the marathon journey
of electric blues and discovers how, by the mid-50s
it had beco e a ully edged genre in it own right
blues and discovers how, by the mid-50s it had beco e a ully edged genre in
n 22 September, 1932, blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes recorded Highway 61 Blues in R ichmond,
n 22 September, 1932, blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes recorded Highway 61 Blues in R ichmond,
n 22 September, 1932, blues
pianist Roosevelt Sykes
recorded Highway 61 Blues in
R ichmond, India na, for
Champion Records. This was
the first of many songs about
the 1,400 mile highway which
began in downtown New Orleans, rolled north
through Baton Rouge, ran the length of
Mississippi, on to Memphis, Tennessee, and
ended at the Canadian border.
Sykes looked like a cigar-chomping pug dog,
but he was known as The Honeydripper,
allegedly for his winning way with the ladies,
and in the song he wailed: “Lord it breaks my
heart: to sing about Highway 61, I felt so blue:
while I was out on that lonely highway.”
The song told of his 300 mile journey from
his home in St. Louis, Missouri, to Memphis,
Tennessee, where: “The women out there, don't
mean no one man no good.”
Sykes’ true motivation for travelling along
Highway 61 was less about the women he might
encounter than about the work opportunities
a bigger city like Memphis might offer.
Tens of thousands of his peers travelled for the
same reason but, usually they came from further
south and, rather than Memphis, their
American bluesman, Muddy
Waters, often cited as the “father
of modern Chicago blues”
© Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

THE BIRTH OF ELECTRIC BLUES

Legendary American blues singer-songwriter and guitarist Robert Johnson The sheer numbers of black musicians
Legendary
American blues
singer-songwriter
and guitarist
Robert Johnson
The sheer
numbers of
black musicians
destination was Chicago. They would begin their
Highway 61 migrations from as far south as New
Orleans but, after reaching St. Louis, they would
switch to Route 66 to finish their journey to The
Windy City.
Consider Koko Taylor, bearer of the soubriquet
‘Queen Of The Blues’, who grew up chopping cotton
oc ing
hicago
into
eant,
ine itably, that
u ic in the
city would be
changed
in the Mississippi Delta. She left the south in 1952,
aged 18, and with her husband: “Got the Greyhound
bus up Highway 61 and headed north to Chicago.
He didn't have no money and I didn’t have no money.
We had one box of Ritz crackers that we split
between us. With no money, nowhere to live, no
nothing; we was just taking a chance.”
The mass migrations north, however, started
much earlier. In the opening
Singer Singer Koko Koko Taylor Taylor
known known as as “Queen “Queen Of Of
The The Blues” Blues” poses poses for for a a
portrait portrait circa circa 1966 1966
decades of the 20th century, the
Mississippi River had been the
major route along which black
music – jazz and acoustic blues –
could travel to the cities of the
north but, by the 1940s, the
development of rail and road
networks significantly increased
the possibilities for escape not just
from rural poverty but from racial
bigotry and violence.
The statistics tell the story very
well. In 1910 the black population
in Chicago numbered 44,000, but
by 1940 it had grown to 492,000
and by the mid-1950s it was 813,000
Most of the migrants were
© Alamy
© Getty
was 813,000 Most of the migrants were © Alamy © Getty Roosevelt Sykes, also known as
Roosevelt Sykes, also known as The Honeydripper, recorded Highway 61 Blues in 1932 © Getty
Roosevelt Sykes, also
known as The
Honeydripper, recorded
Highway 61 Blues
in 1932
© Getty
Honeydripper, recorded Highway 61 Blues in 1932 © Getty agricultural labourers hoping to make a better
Honeydripper, recorded Highway 61 Blues in 1932 © Getty agricultural labourers hoping to make a better
Honeydripper, recorded Highway 61 Blues in 1932 © Getty agricultural labourers hoping to make a better

agricultural labourers hoping to make a better living in the factories of the North than they could in the fields of the South. Nevertheless, it’s a striking fact that many of the artists who took the blues north – B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), Robert Nighthawk, Sunnyland Slim, Honeyboy Edwards, James Cotton and Jimmy Reed, lived close to Highway 61.

BLUES FOR CHICAGO

In August 1941, Alan Lomax of the Library Of Congress Folk Song Library journeyed to Stovall Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, on an expedition to record country blues musicians. While there, he encountered a young man called McKinley Morganfield who played guitar and harmonica and sang. “He brought his stuff down and recorded me right in my house,” Muddy Waters later told Rolling Stone magazine. “Man, you don’t know how I felt that Saturday afternoon when I heard that voice and it was my own voice. Later on he sent me two copies of the pressing and a cheque for 20 bucks, and I carried that record up to the corner and put it on the jukebox. Just played it and played it and said, ‘I can do it, I can do it’.”

it on the jukebox. Just played it and played it and said, ‘I can do it,
The crossroads at Clarksdale, Mississippi, where legend has it Robert Johnson sold his soul GOVERNOR
The crossroads at Clarksdale, Mississippi, where legend has it Robert Johnson sold his soul GOVERNOR
The crossroads at Clarksdale,
Mississippi, where legend has it
Robert Johnson sold his soul
GOVERNOR OF THE BLUES
William James Dixon was an important
link between the blues and rock’n’roll
Suitably inspired, Muddy left the plantation in
1943 and headed north to Chicago where he found
work in a paper mill, but continued to play music.
“Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Big Maceo, we
brought a different beat to the city,” recalled Muddy
later. “There wasn’t anything like it.” Little wonder
then that this road, the supposed location of the
crossroads on which Robert Johnson made a deal
with the devil to gain his prodigious musical gifts,
has long been known as The Blues Highway.
The sheer numbers of black musicians flocking
into Chicago meant, inevitably, that music in the
city would be changed. However, other significant
factors helped ensure that the new music being
made in The Windy City would ultimately spread
across the globe and spawn another revolution –
rock’n’roll.
Those factors were the popularity of Hawaiian
music and the use of electricity to amplify Hawaiian
steel guitars. The acoustic guitar was being widely
employed in jazz in the 1920s, but only as a rhythm
instrument until a brief but widespread vogue for
Hawaiian music caused many larger American
orchestras to introduce Hawaiian songs into their
sets. However, they found themselves facing a
problem. In Hawaiian music, the steel guitar
provided melody, but it was such a quiet instrument
that it was drowned out by an orchestra. In an effort
Understandably, the birth of electric blues is often perceived in
terms of the pioneering guitarists, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James,
B.B. King and others, who brought the music to the fore. Willie
Dixon was not one of those.
William James Dixon was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on
1 July, 1915. Some of his earliest musical experiences came in a
gospel group, The Union Jubilee Singers, where voice and melody
were paramount, and by the time he pitched up in Chicago in
1936, Dixon had started setting his poems to music. Standing
6ft 4in and weighing more 250 pounds, he briefly became a
successful boxer (1937), founded vocal group The Five Breezes
(1939), and spent ten months in jail as a conscientious objector
(1942), refusing to fight for a nation which endorsed
institutionalised racism.
By 1951, he was a full time employee at Chess Records, working
as a producer, talent scout, session bassist and songwriter.
“I began to take life apart and put it together into words,” Dixon
later said. “I found out that things from my past fitted a lot
of people in the present and also their hopes for the future.
It didn’t always have to be a sad song… blues can be happy as
well as sad.”
His compositions, always as direct and simple as they are
irresistible, include such classics as Back Door Man, My Babe,
Wang Dang Doodle, Spoonful, Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Want
To Make Love To You and Diddy Wah Diddy, which have been
recorded not just by almost every musician on Chess but by artists
as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Peter Paul And Mary, Bruce
Springsteen, The Doors and Elvis Costello.
Dixon’s typically concise summation of the blues remains true
– “The blues are the roots and the other musics are the fruits.”
The Frying Pan, the world’s oldest
electric guitar, built by George
Beauchamp in the 1930s
to solve this problem, the world's first electric guitar
and amplifier combination was built in 1928 by steel
guitarist George Beauchamp, on his kitchen table
in Los Angeles, with the help of craftsman Harry
Watson and their partner Adolph Rickenbacker.
Around the same time, young San Francisco-
based jazz guitarist, Alvino Rey, was pursuing a
similar line of thought. “I’ve always been an
electronic nut,” Rey explained. “In fact, that was
my ambition, to be an electronics engineer, and I
just applied the amplification of that to the guitar
and string instruments. As far as I know, it was the
first application to a string instrument. I used the
idea just to be heard in a band. And after that, it
became an integral part of an orchestra.”
In spring of 1935 Rey was hired by the Gibson
© Alamy
© Getty
© Brianmcmillen
Brianmcmillen©
of 1935 Rey was hired by the Gibson © Alamy © Getty © Brianmcmillen Brianmcmillen© ISSUE

THE BIRTH OF ELECTRIC BLUES

T-Bone Walker was T-Bone Walker was an influential an influential pioneer of the pioneer of
T-Bone Walker was
T-Bone Walker was
an influential
an influential
pioneer of the
pioneer of the
jump blues and
jump blues and
electric blues sound
electric blues sound
Around 1936,
Los Angeles
blues guitar
slinger T-Bone
Walker began
to experiment
with the
electric guitar
© Getty

Guitar Corporation to produce a prototype pickup based on the one he had developed. The result was used for Gibson’s first electric guitar, the ES-150 in 1936, the same year in which Rickenbacker applied for a patent for their ‘electro-Spanish guitar’. Before long, jazz and swing big bands began introducing amplified guitars into their line-ups and jazz guitarists, notably Charlie Christian, were using the instrument as a melodic instrument. Also around 1936, Los Angeles blues guitar slinger T-Bone Walker began to experiment with the electric guitar. Born Aaron Thibeaux Walker in Linden, Texas, he had begun his career in Dallas in the 1920s, and in his late teens was often to be found leading a family friend, Blind Lemon Jefferson, along that city’s streets. By the age of 25, T-Bone was performing in the clubs along Central Avenue,

e, Los Angeles, but despite his proficiency on guitar, ar, he was employed mainly as
e,
Los Angeles, but despite his proficiency on guitar,
ar,
he was employed mainly as a singer.
It was not until 20 July, 1942, that T-Bone got the
the
opportunity to play some lead solos on the tracks
cks
Mean Old World and Got A Break Baby, during a
ng a

Hollywood recording session with the Freddie Slack Big Band. Many experts cite this as the first

An early advert for The Gibson Guitar Corporation’s ES-150

significant electric blues recording. Walker’s use of intricate jazz chords coupled with his superb tone and sense of dynamics made him an inspiration

for countless later guitarists, among them B.B. King, who has said: “He was the first electric guitar player

I heard on record. He made me so that I just had to

go out and get an electric guitar… that was the best sound I ever heard.” Mississippi-born Jimmy Rogers was one of many axemeisters who moved to Chicago in the mid-1940s, after playing around Memphis with the

likes of Little Walter. “I came on a bus,” he told Paul Trynka for his authoritative 1996 book Portrait Of The Blues. “I had uncles and cousins in Chicago, so

I felt pretty safe there. It was a big raggety city to me, big tall buildings, cars blowing their horns, buses running and people making a lot of noise. But I wanted to meet these guys – Tampa Red, Big Bill, Memphis Slim, Memphis Minnie, Doctor Clayton and people like that – ’cause they were based around there.” It was in Memphis, however, that he had first caught sight of an electric guitar in the hands of

locally-revered bluesman Joe Willie Wilkins. “Joe Willie had the first electric guitar I’d actually seen,” revealed Rogers. “So when I got to Chicago

I got a guitar with a De Armond pickup, so we had

an electric sound. We had just small amplifiers,

I had a small Gibson with a 12’’ speaker, but you

could get a good sound. That was before Muddy came. We’d get power from a man in the block. He would drop an extension cord from his front window down to the street, and we'd jack in there and get the juice.” Rogers quickly realised that amplification significantly increased his income. “Other guys would be playing acoustic, but the sound of the amplifiers was drawing most of the people away, so we would make good money – that’s why we did that.” Instead of the $5 a night he had been earning in nightclubs, playing on the street could earn him up to $70 a night. Thus, by the time Muddy Waters moved to Chicago, he found that: “There was amplified music

but it wasn't like the beat I brought from Mississippi.

I got amplified after I came to Chicago because of

the acoustics. Everybody was dancing and yelling and having a good time and couldn't hear the music.”

CHESS MAKES ITS MOVE

So it was that in 1944, Muddy bought his first electric guitar and formed an electric combo. Playing in small venues, electric blues bands tended to remain modest in size compared with larger jazz bands, so the new-fangled electric

guitars proved ideal for creating a big sound from

a small group. Recordings were being made in the new style as early as 1946 by Chicago-based musicians such as electric mandolin-playing Johnny Shines (Delta

as 1946 by Chicago-based musicians such as electric mandolin-playing Johnny Shines ( Delta 26 VINTAGE ROCK
Sonny Boy Williamson II and his band (Joe Willie Wilkins, Joe ‘Pine Top’ Perkins, Sonny
Sonny Boy Williamson II and his band (Joe Willie Wilkins, Joe ‘Pine Top’ Perkins, Sonny
Sonny Boy Williamson II and his band (Joe Willie Wilkins,
Joe ‘Pine Top’ Perkins, Sonny Boy Williams , James ‘Peck’
Curtis the announcer, Hugh Smith and Houston Stackhouse)
perform on the King Biscuit Time radio show at KFFA radio
station circa 1942 in Helena, Arkansas

Pine Blues, 1946), Johnny Young (Worried Man Blues, 1947) and Snooky Pryor (Stockyard Blues, 1947), but it was Muddy who perfected the style. Muddy didn’t release his first single, Gypsy Woman/Little Anna Mae, until 1948 on Aristocrat Records. That first release, as he subsequently recalled, was an instant success: “I believe the figure was 3,000 on Friday and on Sunday morning, couldn’t buy one. Sold out. I went to a record store and tried to buy two. ‘No.’ Said it was one to a customer. I had to buy one and send my wife in to get another. That’s how fast it was selling.” The great blues songwriter Willie Dixon has observed that, as well as being electrically-powered, Muddy stood apart from the general run of bluesmen, because his sound reflected the optimism of postwar African Americans. “There was quite a few people around singing the blues but most of them was singing all sad blues,” explained Dixon. “Muddy was giving his blues a little pep.” Despite Aristocrat’s success with Muddy and other artists, it was destined not to last very long. Founded as a small indie in 1947, it was quite quickly

taken over by a pair of ambitious Polish immigrant nightclub operators, Phil and Leonard Chess, who re-named it Chess Records in the June of 1950. “Muddy Waters was our first really big artist,” explains Marshall Chess, the son of Leonard Chess. “His was the first electric band. In a way, Muddy was an immigrant, like my father. Muddy came from a farm where you made 50 cents a day. He came to Chicago, just like my father, and what's an immigrant's big dream? To make money. My father and the blues singers were there to make money, not to make great music. It was never a head trip of, ‘Let’s make great music. Music is art.’ That wasn't it. The main reason was to make money.” Chess and its sister label, Checker, would become synonymous with Chicago’s burgeoning electric blues scene, releasing a steady stream of classics by artists including Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. Another lynch pin of the Chess roster was bassist and composer Willie Dixon. He wrote many songs which have become blues standards, such as Hoochie Coochie Man and I Just Want To

Make Love To You (for Muddy Waters), and Wang

Just Want To Make Love To You (for Muddy Waters), and Wang There was quite a

There was quite a few people around singing the blues but most of them was singing all sad blues, Muddy was

giving his blues

a li le pep
a li le pep
the blues but most of them was singing all sad blues, Muddy was giving his blues

THE BIRTH OF ELECTRIC BLUES

Dang Doodle, Spoonful and Back Door Man (for Howlin’ Wolf). As well as being a superb musician and songwriter, Dixon was a world-class producer. “I had to get involved in the recording, to get the right tone, otherwise it wouldn’t come out the way I wanted,” he revealed. “Getting the sound was sometimes hard. “There was this rivalry between Wolf and Muddy, and each of them thought the other was getting the best songs. A lot of times Wolf wouldn’t like a song unless I told him I’d written it for Muddy. “There was no headphones, maybe only one or two microphones, you’d have to do all the harmonising and blending with your ears, go into the room and listen, and work out how to blend the sound properly.”

© Getty Getty©
© Getty
Getty©
out how to blend the sound properly.” © Getty Getty© After establishing that a local radio

After establishing that a local radio station, WLAC, was broadcasting this music and creating demand, Wood invested in a small order of R&B records from a jukebox supplier. “I bought, I think, 100 records and they were all contemporary R&B – at that time they were still called Race Records. It was on Friday and by Saturday, the next evening, I had sold all of them. At that time they sold for $1.05 and they were huge 10” 78s, so brittle because just after the war compound was hard to come by. That was the first time I heard or even knew what was later called R&B.”

time I heard or even knew what was later called R&B.” THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’

Although Chicago was unquestionably the hub of the electric blues revolution it should not be forgotten that other cities had also benefitted from the waves of migration north. Urban areas including Memphis, Los Angeles, New York and Washington DC had all seen an increase in electric blues activity. To take just one prominent example, by 1949, Detroit-based John Lee Hooker was pursuing his own unique electric blues style based on his sandpaper growl accompanied by a single electric guitar. His first hit, Boogie Chillen’, on the Los Angeles-based Modern Records, reached No.1 on the R&B charts in 1949, after which he remained a major figure until his death in 2001. Thus, by the late 1940s it was becoming evident to the world outside Chicago that something was happening. Randy Wood, later to found the highly successful pop-oriented Dot Records in Nashville, was running a small record store in 1947 and noticed changes in the air. “I had all the masterpieces, the works of Chopin, Beethoven and Bach and all the things I liked in popular music, but no-one ever bought them,” he later recalled. “Every customer would come in and ask for Joe Liggins or Roosevelt Sykes, people who were in the R&B idiom.”

FIVE CHESS PIECES JACKIE MUDDY WATERS BRENSTONAND I’m Your HISDELTACATS Hoochie Rocket “88” Coochie Man
FIVE CHESS PIECES
JACKIE
MUDDY WATERS
BRENSTONAND
I’m Your
HISDELTACATS
Hoochie
Rocket “88”
Coochie Man
(1951)
(1954)

In the 1950s, Howlin’ Wolf had five songs on the Billboard national R&B charts: Moanin’ At Midnight, How Many More Years, Who Will Be Next, Smokestack Lightning and I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)

Chess Records, founded in Chicago, was home to the blues and R&B. Here are our five essential 45s

Mississippi saxman Brenston scored his biggest hit with Rocket “88” . Although released on Chess, it was recorded at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, and Phillips astutely used the profits a year later to start Sun Records.

BO DIDDLEY

CHUCK BERRY

LITTLE WALTER

Bo Diddley

Maybellene

My Babe (1960)

(1955)

(1955)

From Chess’

Based on a

Berry’s

sister label

pre-existing

country

Checker, this

This early success for Muddy and Willie Dixon, features Little Walter on harmonica and Otis Spann on piano, virtually a blues supergroup before the term existed. The song’s stop-start riff became a blues cliche.

folk rhythm known as The Hambone, this adaptation for Bo’s debut single was so successful that it’s now widely known as The Bo Diddley Beat and subsequently borrowed by Buddy Holly, Bruce Springsteen and George Michael.

music-inspired debut single appeared as blues and R&B were morphing into what would become rock’n’roll, and his signature guitar licks would become the cornerstone for every young white wannabe guitar hero.

was the biggest hit for the man who wrote the book for amplified blues harp. Based on a gospel-blues tune, the number was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame as a Classic of Blues Recording in 2008.

was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame as a Classic of Blues Recording in
was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame as a Classic of Blues Recording in
Dot Records grew from this tiny start to become internationally successful, with their biggest artist,
Dot Records grew from this tiny start to become internationally successful, with their biggest artist,
Dot Records grew from this tiny start to become
internationally successful, with their biggest artist,
Pat Boone, achieving massive global sales by
covering songs first recorded by 'race music' artists.
Another who saw the future around this time
was classical music DJ Alan Freed of Cleveland,
Ohio, who one day spotted white teenagers eagerly
snapping up R&B singles at a local record store and
decided to start promoting this music on the radio.
Freed would become not only a major music biz
entrepreneur, but also one of the first people
to describe the kind of R&B enjoyed by white kids
as rock’n’roll.
Just as the roots of Dot were nurtured by the
emerging black musicians, so too was the label
which has become synonymous with 50s rock’n’roll
and rockabilly – Sun Records of Memphis.
Phillips, who founded Sun in 1952, famously once
declared: “If I could find a white man with the
Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a
billion dollars.”
On his way to finding that white man, however,
he was happy to record local black musicians, who
he mostly found on Beale Street, where, he claimed,
“there was a guitar on every corner or someone
playing a lard can with a broomstick.”
When, in 1951, Phillips had first encountered
Howlin’ Wolf, he apparently declared: “This is for
me! This is where the soul of man never dies,” and
decided to record the Wolf. He had already put
B.B. King, Roscoe Gordon and Joe Willie Wilkins
to tape when Howlin’ Wolf, on 14 May, 1951,
Randy Wood, president of Dot Records, talks during the Dot Records banquet
Randy Wood, president of Dot Records, talks during the Dot Records banquet
at Disc Jockey Convention / Grand Ole Opry Birthday Celebration in 1958
at Disc Jockey Convention / Grand Ole Opry Birthday Celebration in 1958
WhenPresley’s
careertook
off, Sun turned
to the rapidly
expandingwhite
audience and
beganrecording
mostly
rock’n’roll
Elvis Presley walked into
the Sun Studios in 1954
and started recording a
rendition of bluesman
Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s
That’s All Right… Sam
Phillips knew he was on to
something special
recorded How Many More Years and Baby Ride
With Me (Riding In The Moonlight) during his first
session at Phillips’ studio.
Phillips had an arrangement whereby he sent
recordings from his studio to Chess in Chicago and,
when brothers Phil and Leonard heard these demos,
they asked Phillips to undertake a full recording
session with Howlin’ Wolf.
At this second session, in July 1951, Wolf recorded
Moanin’ At Midnight and How Many More Years.
Chess released the single two months later and by
November, it crashed into the Billboard R&B chart
Top 10. Understandably seduced by Chess, Wolf
moved to Chicago in 1953.
It was also in 1953 that New Orleans blues
musician Guitar Slim recorded The Things That I
Used To Do, prominently featuring an electric
guitar solo with distorted overtones which became
a major R&B hit in 1954. Chosen as one of The Rock
And Roll Hall Of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped
Rock And Roll, it also contributed to the
development of soul music.
Meanwhile, back in Memphis, Phillips was
becoming frustrated that white teenagers clearly
liked this music: “But were not sure whether they
ought to. So I got to thinking how many records
you could sell if you could find white performers
who could play and sing in this same exciting,
alive way?”
Sam’s question was answered when Elvis Presley
walked into his studio on 26 June, 1954.
His first recording sessions were unsatisfactory
but when he started into a rendition of bluesman
Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s That’s All Right, Phillips
knew he had something special.
When Presley’s career took off, Sun turned to the
rapidly expanding white audience and recording
mostly rock’n’roll.
This was where electric guitar techniques such
as distortion, power chords and string bending
began, without which rock’n’roll, psychedelia, rock,
heavy metal and all of their sub-genres would never
have existed. ✶
© Getty
© Getty
Getty©
© Getty

BREAKING THE BLUES

FROM BACKING UP JOHN LEE HOOKER AND T-BONE WALKER TO FOUNDING THE BLUESBREAKERS, JOHN MAYALL
FROM BACKING UP JOHN LEE HOOKER
AND T-BONE WALKER TO FOUNDING THE
BLUESBREAKERS, JOHN MAYALL HAS EARNED
HIS TITLE AT THE GODFATHER OF BRITISH
BLUES. HE TELLS VINTAGE ROCK ABOUT BEING
AT THE HEART OF THE ORIGINAL BRITISH
access to it in that respect but mainly music was
distributed through record collectors. In Manchester,
which was the nearest big city, there was only one
record store, that I can remember, where you could go
in and listen to what was new and then use your
pocket money to buy whatever 78 took your fancy.”
FROM THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA TO MANCHESTER
BLUES BOOM BY DAVID WEST

ow 83-years-old, John Mayall is not so much a pillar of the British blues scene as its bedrock, foundation and some sort of university that specialises in training future stars to boot. “When you’re writing a blues record, you want to pick subjects that you can talk about and something that you know all about,” says Mayall. “It all comes from your own personal experience and you build it all from there. There’s nothing fake about it, it’s all real stories… or pipe dreams.” Born in Macclesfield in 1933, Mayall spent three years in the army, including a stint in Korea, before returning to the UK where, in 1963, he moved down to London to pursue a career in music. And there was only one thing he wanted to play. “I was listening to blues music from about 1945/46 onwards, so it was always in my life,” he says. “The BBC had Jazz Club, one programme per week where they would play jazz and blues. It was mainly jazz, but they’re all interconnected. It was American music so you had

Manchester is long way from the Mississippi Delta, Chicago and New Orleans, but the music reached out across the Atlantic to take root in Mayall’s heart. “It was pretty easy to get hold of,” he says of feeding his fascination. “British labels put out the Chess catalogue. There was plenty to choose from but in addition to that there were magazines where you could get American records sent over. As long as you knew what you were looking for, you could have more than enough to go along with. There was a magazine called Vintage Jazz Mart which had a lot of blues stuff and American records.” From the mid-40s Brunswick, the British jazz label that brought Bing Crosby’s crooning to the UK, was releasing blues cuts, including recordings by Sleepy John Estes and Louis Jordan. The short-live Jazz Collector label released songs by Lead Belly and Blind Lemon Jefferson in the early-50s, while the Vogue label was a flagbearer for blues and R&B in the UK. Their impressive collection of 78s included tracks like Wynonie Harris’ Bloodshot Eyes and Lovin’ Machine, Big Bill Broonzy’s In The Evenin’ and Back Water Blues, John Lee Hooker’s Whistlin’ And Moanin’ Blues, and Muddy Waters’ Honey Bee, Long Distance Call and Rollin’ Stone Blues. Thanks to Vogue the likes of Big Mama Thornton and Earl Bostic found their way into British record shops, while over in the States, labels like Aladdin, Imperial, RPM, Vee-jay and Chess gave

shops, while over in the States, labels like Aladdin, Imperial, RPM, Vee-jay and Chess gave 30

© Getty

British blues legend John Mayall live on stage at New York’s Colden Center in 1970

© Getty British blues legend John Mayall live on stage at New York’s Colden Center in

© Getty

BREAKING THE BLUES

TRANSATLANTIC BLUES the blues a home. “The Chess catalogue was one of the mainstays where
TRANSATLANTIC BLUES
the blues a home. “The Chess catalogue was one of the
mainstays where you’d find out who were artists on
that label, so that was a good source, but there were
lots of other labels, Excello, Cobra. You’d find a record
label that had a particular artist and they’d have other
artists that you’d check out,” says Mayall.
For many years blues was almost inseparable from
jazz in the minds of the British music press. “The
main ones were New Musical Express and Melody
Maker,” says Mayall about where he found out about
his favourite artists. “Melody Maker was probably the
first one, that was where it all got talked about and
the way the word spread. There were other
magazines, R&B newsletters, quite a few publications
that gave you information, Jazz Journal, Jazz
Larry Taylor (bass) and
John Mayall of John
Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
on stage in Denmark,
in 1971
John Mayall performs
at the North Sea Jazz
Festival in The Hague,
Netherlands, in 1998
Getty©

Monthly off the top of my head, I can’t think of them all but there was plenty of information you could go to, to find out what was going on and to find out about people whose music you appreciated.” Once Mayall moved to London and founded the Bluesbreakers, he was the epicentre of a network of top blues players. The list of people who played with Mayall includes Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar, Andy Fraser, John McVie, but in the decades before he made the decision to go pro, his passion was very much a solitary pursuit. “Nobody was really interested in jazz and blues as I can remember,” he says. “The music was everything to me and all that mattered. As long as I could hear what I wanted to hear. “It was people like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf, they all started coming out at the same time, Sonny Boy Williamson, the list is quite endless. There was definitely a resurgence of interest in American blues, mainly the stuff out of Chicago. Lightnin’ Hopkins was coming out of Texas, but as English people who didn’t have access to it [live], we were record collectors and that was our connection.”

In September 1951, Big Bill Broonzy came to the UK on tour, the first of a slowly growing wave of blues artists to cross the pond. However, on his visits Broonzy played folk blues and his performance was promoted by The London Jazz Club. Electric blues didn’t reach these shores in its live form until Muddy Waters arrived in 1958 with Otis Spann, brought over for a run of dates by Chris Barber, the trombonist and bandleader whose importance in planting the seeds of the blues in Britain is hard to overstate. Having grown accustomed to the folk blues of Big Bill Broonzy, there were listeners and critics within the British blues scene that didn’t take to Waters’ electric Chicago blues. “There was a faction of people who were blues purists who didn’t like what he was doing when he was playing electric, but I think that was a small per centage of people who felt like that,” says Mayall. “They were die-hard traditionalists who didn’t want any change, but most people just went along with it. If that’s the way the artist wants to play, that’s what he should be playing.” One quirk of the laws governing live performance at the time meant that American artists coming to the UK couldn’t bring their backing bands with them, necessitating the hiring of local musicians. Mayall said: “I caught plenty of people and played in the backing group for Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Freddie King. He was one of my heroes. The agency brought those guys over for British tours, filled all the dates in for them, and they would play with English backing groups. So like I say, I was one of the first to be able to do that. Chris Barber had gone before me. He backed all the people that he brought over, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, so there was a lot of activity there.” It might have been a matter of necessity that forced the American bluesmen to play with a bunch of white

and he had proper songs, but we knew all the songs that he wanted to
and he had proper songs, but we knew all the songs that he wanted to
and he had proper songs, but we knew all the songs that he wanted to
and he had proper songs, but we knew all the songs
that he wanted to play. They were very easy.
Everything was very easy. Blues is a language that
we’re all familiar with, feel comfortable with.”
BIRTH OF THE BRITISH BLUES BOOM
Moreover, it was a shared language and a shared
experience between the American and British
musicians, regardless of whether they were black or
white. Back in the States, segregation was still very
much in force, so the Americans visiting the UK
encountered a different way of life which many found
appealing. “In America, it was a divided society. Black
musicians played to black audiences, but when they
came to Europe they were treated like gods. That was
such a big thrill for them. Memphis Slim moved to
France once he got a taste of European audiences,
Champion Jack Dupree, there was quite an exodus of
people who moved out to Europe where they were
really appreciated.”
The audiences that embraced the American blues
stars in the UK and Europe were overwhelmingly
white and when Mayall tours now, whether in Britain
or the US, he finds his fan base is still predominantly
white despite the fact his music is rooted in the songs
of the black American experience. “I don’t think that’s
really changed over the years,” he says. “That’s always
been the way right from the very beginning of British
blues right from the early-60s. If you’ve ever been to
any of those clubs or concerts, you won’t see too many
black people. They’re more interested in putting that
“I ALWAYS FELT THAT THE BEST
BLUES SINGERS WERE ALWAYS
SINGING ABOUT PERSONAL
EVENTS IN THEIR LIVES”
John Mayall backed
blues greats, John Lee
Hooker, T-Bone
Walker, Eddie Boyd
and Sonny Boy
Williamson on their
first English club tours
historical connection behind them. They’re more
interested in rap music or whatever, I don’t know.
Too big a subject to get into.”
Mayall recalls the heady days of sweaty clubs,
saying they were filled with: “The usual crowd of
blues audiences that were packing the clubs for
everybody that was on the scene. It was a very vital
part of the British rock audiences and the club scene,
it was alive and well.
Getty©

boys from Britain, but it allowed the Brits to learn from the best, whether they were tackling jump blues with T-Bone Walker or Texas blues with Freddie King. “He was a great guy,” says Mayall about King. “When he came over to my flat in London he was very impressed with my record collection which really was quite extensive. I played him a bit of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton just to see what his reaction was to those, which were new to him. He really liked Eric’s playing but he didn’t really care for Jimi, he thought it was way too busy, it wasn’t playing blues. But whatever. He was very impressed with Eric and Peter Green. He really enjoyed the trips he made over to England and I got to play with him a few times which was really a big thrill.” While electric blues and R&B took over it didn’t mean the American bluesmen were cranking up the output, a lesson that wasn’t lost on Mayall. “The main thing I learned from them was that you didn’t have to play loud in order to get across,” he says. “The use of dynamics and not playing at full volume was one of the main lessons that I learned.” If a British player like Mayall was employed to back up a visiting blues dignitary, it was taken as given they would have their chops together and know the canon, for rehearsals were not on the agenda. “None of that,” confirms Mayall. “If we were booked to back them up they assumed we were familiar enough with their work. John Lee Hooker never called anything out. He didn’t even play a 12-bar structure so you had to be on your toes. T-Bone Walker was a bit more business-like

“The Flamingo and the Marquee were pretty cramped situations, there wasn’t much room for dancing. The circuits we were playing all over the country and across Europe were clubs that catered

to blues audiences and blues music. There was quite

a network all over the place. It was all down to

promoters really. They would book whoever they thought would fill their clubs. I don’t think there was any shortage of venues. The British blues boom was on, so to speak.”

think there was any shortage of venues. The British blues boom was on, so to speak.”
BREAKING THE BLUES SOWING THE SEEDS FOR AN INVASION Alongside the Flamingo and the Marquee,

BREAKING THE BLUES

SOWING THE SEEDS FOR AN INVASION Alongside the Flamingo and the Marquee, the blues circuit
SOWING THE SEEDS FOR AN INVASION
Alongside the Flamingo and the Marquee, the blues
circuit included the Feldman Swing Club which
became The 100 Club in 1964, Klooks Kleek in West
Hampstead where Mayall recorded a live album in
December 1964, The Crawdaddy Club in Richmond,
Eel Pie Island in Twickenham, and The Ealing Club.
Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies’ Blues Incorporated
were the house band at The Ealing Club and Mick
Jagger was a regular guest sitting-in with the group,
which drew him to the attention of Brian Jones.
The network formed by the club circuit was the
breeding ground for the future of rock’n’roll, although
at the outset the bands that would spearhead the
British Invasion of the US later in the 1960s were
firmly rooted in the jazz and blues scene. When The
Rolling Stones released their first album in April 1964,
alongside three original compositions there were nine
covers of songs including cuts originally recorded by
Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Gene
Allison. British rock was built directly on American
blues and brought that music to new audiences. “In
general I think the people who made records and got
in the hit parade were people who started off playing
blues and got more into the rock direction, people like
the Stones, Spencer Davis Group, The Animals, but
they still played the blues clubs,” says Mayall. “The
Rolling Stones were the first ones to break on to the
American scene. Prior to that The Beatles had opened
the door to British rock music. Then of course Jimi
Hendrix, one thing led to another, hence in America
there was a great interest not just in British rock-blues
people but rock players. It opened the door for a lot of
musical change.”
Mayall formed the first version of The
Bluesbreakers in 1963 and the group released their
debut single, Crawling Up The Hill, in May 1964.
“TIME GOES SO FAST WHEN
YOU’RE HAVING A GREAT TIME.
IT’S A THRILL WHEN WE GET
BACK ON THE ROAD
Mayall pictured
performing live in 2016
– he was inducted into
The Blues Hall of Fame
later that year
Five-plus decades and more than 60 albums later,
Mayall is still writing and recording his own music. “I
always felt that the best of the blues singers that I
heard on record or played with personally, were
always singing about personal events in their lives,”
he says. “I always thought rather than do cover songs
I
would write my own songs about things that were
TALKING ABOUT
TALK ABOUT THAT
happening in my life. That’s always been the bedrock
of what I’ve thought about the music, rather than
playing other people’s music and trying to make
carbon copies of what they were doing.”
Mayall will be hitting the road in the UK in October
and November to support his new album of original
music, Talk About That. Asked to compare playing
John Mayall shows the pretenders how it’s done on his new release
Talk About That. The Eagles’ Joe Walsh lends his inestimable guitar
skills to The Devil Must Be Laughing and Cards On The Table.
“Apparently, he knew the people who own House Of Blues
Recording Studio where we recorded, so he made a request to come
down and hopefully sit in with us,” says Mayall. “I wasn’t really
familiar with his work, I just knew him as a rock musician, so it was
somewhat of a surprise to me.”
The album is much more diverse
than just a collection of 12-bar blues.
Gimme Some Of That Gumbo has a New
Orleans second-line marching rhythm,
while the title cut is deeply funky.
“When I put an album together I want
to make sure that track-for-track
they’re all very different in their
approach so you never get bored,”
says Mayall. “I like to think of an
album as a musical journey, where
you start at one point and go through
all these different moods and make it
a whole experience.”
live and working in the studio, he replies: “They’re
both very different things. I obviously enjoy the thrill
of playing live, there’s nothing like that when you’ve
got an audience and you’re communicating through
the music, but on the other hand, it’s a completely
different thing when you’re in the studio and you’re
putting down music that’s going to be a permanent
record of what you do. So they are both very
stimulating and very enjoyable, but they are in my
mind two different ways of making music. I wouldn’t
be able to choose which I enjoy most.”
Having retired the Bluesbreakers moniker, Mayall’s
band features Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport
on drums. “They’re both from Chicago, so they
definitely know what the blues is all about, they’ve
been brought up on it,” says Mayall. “We’ve been
playing together for a little over 10 years or so. Time
goes so fast when you’re having a great time. It’s
thrill when we get back on the road and get to
play together.” ✶
a
© Getty

BEAR FAMILY Rocks!

Brandnew volumes

jam-packed

with real rockin’ tracks!

ARTHUR ‘BIG BOY’ CRUDUP ROCKS

CD digipac with 36-page booklet • 28 tracks BEAR FAMILY RECORDS BCD 17555

booklet • 28 tracks BEAR FAMILY RECORDS BCD 17555 ● The father of rock’n’roll – one

The father of rock’n’roll – one of the most influential bluesmen of all-time.

His classic tunes That’s All Right Mama, My Baby Left Me and So Glad You’re Mine were covered by Elvis Presley.

Contains recordings for RCA VICTOR, TRUMPET, JEWEL, CHECKER and FIRE, incl. Mean Ole Frisco and Dig Myself A Hole.

Comes with a fabulous booklet written by R&B expert Bill Dahl.

with a fabulous booklet written by R&B expert Bill Dahl. THE PLATTERS ROCK CD digipac with
with a fabulous booklet written by R&B expert Bill Dahl. THE PLATTERS ROCK CD digipac with

THE PLATTERS

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30 uptempo dancehall fillers to prove that they never forgot their jumping R&B roots!

Includes 36-page booklet with liner notes by Bill Dahl.

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HOT ROD NIGHT THE ROUSTABOUTS DJ LITTLE CARL WEDNESDAY 5TH JULY 6pm – 11pm ENTRY
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Ace Corner, North Circular Road
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Tel 020 8961 1000 Fax 020 8965 0161
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INTERVIEW

JACK WATKINS TALKS TO THE MATCHBOX MAINMAN AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE ROCKABILLY REVIVAL WHO
JACK WATKINS TALKS TO THE MATCHBOX MAINMAN
AT THE FOREFRONT OF THE ROCKABILLY REVIVAL
WHO HAS BEEN
FOR 45 YEARS
O n hearing the fondly familiar
opening bars of the Eddie Cochran
favourite Rock’n’Roll Blues on
Graham Fenton’s new A Rockabilly
Legend album, a nostalgic
tightening in the throat is surely
forgivable in British rockabilly fans
with a sentimental disposition and a sense of
history. That’s not just because Cochran was
the first American rocker British youngsters
took to in a big way on his tragic tour with
Gene Vincent in 1960. It’s also because Graham
Fenton has been part of the UK rockabilly scene
since the late-60s, and has been making records
for 45 years. His greatest success came as the
Matchbox frontman, one of the entry points for
those of us “discovering” the likes of Cochran
and Vincent at the end of the 1970s. And then
there’s the man playing the guitar on the track,
none other than Darrel Higham, who’s done
so much to continue carrying the torch. It’s
maybe over-egging it to say that there’s almost
a nostalgic tone in his strumming and a wistful
note in Graham’s singing, but there are so many
associations, so many memories, it’s no wonder
the track creates a tingle.
The production on the song, much sparser
than the Cochran version, wasn’t how Graham
first envisaged it. “I was in the studio while
Darrel wasn’t around, and me and the engineer
started experimenting. I can do backing vocals
and I put down some harmonies, but Darrel
walked in and said: ‘Why don’t we leave it raw,
as it’s a different tone?’ and I guess it works.”
The album was recorded at Darrel’s studio in
a converted barn near Basingstoke, the songs
made up of new compositions by him and
ex-Flying Saucers’ bass player Pete Pritchard,
and older songs. Released on Darrel’s Foot
Tapping Records, both he and Pritchard, who
provide the instrumental backing along with
Dave Priseman on rhythm guitar and Steve
Rushton on drums, are superb writers of
tough, modernish rockabilly. Ring Dang Do,
200 Pounds Of Hard Time and Another Bar
Room Death are good examples, alongside the
more traditional rockabilly of Hard Hearted
Woman, and Darrel contributes some blistering
guitar runs across the 12 tracks. Graham clearly
enjoyed the experience of working with these
experienced, multi-talented players. “Darrel
said: ‘What’s a “ring dang do’ when we were
working on that song. We just said: ‘Listen to the
bloody lyrics!’” he laughs.
Of the older material, there’s a feisty revival
of Skeets McDonald’s Heartbreakin’ Mama,
Graham’s eager tenor perfectly capturing the
energy of the original. Make Ready For Love was
an Otis Blackwell song he’d wanted to record for
years, having heard The Vipers’ effort as a boy.
The backing vocals from The Roomates are a
welcome bonus.

GR A HAM

FENTON Rider In The Sky! Graham Fenton will be motorbiking it to the Teddy Boy
FENTON
Rider In The Sky! Graham
Fenton will be motorbiking it
to the Teddy Boy Stomp,
Skegness, on 28 July with
rockabilly revivalists Matchbox

INTERVIEW

looked after me. I had to pinch myself sitting in these all-night cafes after gigs
looked after me. I had to pinch myself sitting in
these all-night cafes after gigs eating bacon and
eggs with him.”
ROCKABILLY REBEL
Matchbox are as much a
part of the fabric of the
rock’n’roll story as the
original stars
The track out of the left field and among
the best and most unexpected on the album
is the Marty Robbins number You Don’t Owe
Me A Thing. Its presence is a clue to Graham’s
musical upbringing. Like a lot of second
generation rockers who should normally have
grown up on The Beatles and The Rolling
Stones, Graham came from a close-knit West
London family and he loved playing his parents’
78s, everything from Bing Crosby to country
and boogie woogie, and most importantly,
Bill Haley And The Comets. It gave him a
broader appreciation of popular music than the
everything-stems-from-the-blues beat boys of
the mid-60s. “l love Marty Robbins but I also
grew up with Johnnie Ray because my mum
liked him, and I later discovered that he’d also
done You Don’t Owe Me A Thing,” he says. “As
I’ve grown older I really appreciate what Ray
did. There are some great clips of him where
he slaps the mike stand down. He had a bit of
attitude about him, and such a voice and stage
presence. If you listen to Charlie Gracie you can
hear Ray’s influence. Charlie told me Ray was
of his heroes”
Graham cut his performing teeth on the
underground revival scene of the late-60s,
working with Freddie “Fingers” Lee. After his
jazz-inclined elder brother and bass player Ken
set him up with his own band, which included
Carlo Little, the Stones’ first drummer, he
then joined The Houseshakers as lead singer
in 1970, just as they were about to tour France
with Gene Vincent. Right from his early days
listening to Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Carl
Perkins, it had been Vincent’s unique voice that
had made the biggest impression on Graham,
leaving a huge imprint on his own vocal style,
and the memory of working with his idol
remains vivid: “I was only a kid and although
people said he was a bit mean, he kind of
CLASSIC
MATCHBOX
Cherry Red Records have done the band
proud on the reissue front, re-releasing
their three best Magnet albums on CD,
along with bonus tracks, as well as The
Magnet Records Singles Collection, a
32-track double CD, the first ever
collation of all the band’s A- and
B-Sides for the label. The Magnet debut
album Matchbox is probably the best of
the lot, containing the singles Black
Slacks, Rockabilly Rebel and Buzz Buzz
A Diddle It, plus another Matchbox
favourite, Hurricane, with its buzzsaw
guitar plus, among the bonus tracks,
Palisades Park. Their cut of Buddy
Holly’s Tell Me How was testimony to
the band’s feel for classic rock’n’roll.
The album also captured Matchbox’s
sense of fun and love of country music,
including a superb version of Jerry
Reed’s Lord Mr Ford. That love was in
evidence again on the strong follow-up
album Midnite Dynamos on tracks like
Southern Boys. But the instrumental
Stranger In Nevada was like something
out of a Clint Eastwood western. The
third album Flying Colours maintained
the band’s always high musical
standard, but the drift towards pop
was increasingly evident.
The Houseshakers backed Vincent in the UK
in 1971 and Graham, the proud owner of a 1959
Chevrolet, chauffeured him around. Drawing
on his own biker background, he took him
to the legendary Ace Café, just past the old
railway bridges that cross London’s North
Circular Road, at that moment in its pre-
restoration guise as a tyre factory. “A lot of the
gigs had turned sour by the end because he was
so ill,” Graham recalls, but he saw him one last
time in London the following year when his
life was falling apart, and he was embroiled
in a court case.
“He was being driven in this little Austin
car, and he just rolled down the window and
said “Hey, man, no hard feelings.” He looked
so ill. I shook his hand, and three weeks later
I heard he’d fled back to the States and died
in his parents’ home of a haemorrhage. So, for
long time after that I’d do these tribute shows
to him. And after Steve Aynsley, who ran the
fan club, managed to track down the surviving
members of the Blue Caps, I ended up singing
with them.” In February, along with Aynsley,
he’ll return to the Ace Café to do one of his
much-admired Gene Vincent tribute evenings.
The Houseshakers, featuring Terry Clemson
on guitar, were one of the best early bands of
the British rock’n’roll revival. Their recording
legacy can be heard on an excellent album
they made for Contour in 1972, Demolition
Rock. Although reliant on old material, it’s
delivered in an authentic rockabilly spirit,
with similarities to the contemporary, likewise
all too often forgotten Shakin’ Stevens and
the Sunsets. Graham, with Clemson, went
on to form the marginally less successful
The Hellraisers, who also cut an album for
Contour, Remember When? But it was with
Matchbox that Graham enjoyed his commercial
breakthrough as the rockabilly revival started
gaining wider exposure.
Matchbox were another of the rootsy
rockabilly bands, along with the likes of Crazy
Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers, who were
starting to gain a wider exposure as the 70s
rolled on, in the wake of more gimmicky outfits
like Showaddywaddy. Although they’d been
around since 1971, it wasn’t until 1979 that the
“classic” five-piece – which is still together
today – crystallised round Fenton, Steve
Bloomfield (lead guitarist and songwriter),
Fred Poke (bass), Gordon Scott (rhythm guitar)
and Jimmie Redhead (drums).
Signed to Magnet Records, their
breakthrough single, the Steve Bloomfield-
© The Ace Cafe
GR A HAM FENTON penned Rockabilly Rebel, made number 18 on the UK pop charts
GR A HAM
FENTON
penned Rockabilly Rebel, made number
18
on the UK pop charts that year. With its
atmospherically droning biker intro, it became
one of the anthems of the revival era, pitching
Darrel Higham and
Graham taking a break
during the recording
of A Rockbilly Legend
the band onto Tops of the Pops. For a lot of
rock’n’roll diehards, this step into the wider
world of commercial pop was a step too
far, but it was a key moment of recognition.
The continuing popularity of 50s-inspired
rock’n’roll and rockabilly today owes much to
the way Matchbox attracted a new generation
to the music, and the band’s reputation spread
worldwide. “I did Viva Las Vegas recently and
even Americans were coming up with vinyl
copies of the record,” says Graham.
For the follow-up single, the band revived
Freddie Cannon’s Stateside hit from 1961 Buzz
Buzz A-Diddle-It, which stalled just outside
the Top 20. Less commercially successful was
an excellent recording of Cannon’s Palisades
Park, released under the band name Cyclone.
“Steve recorded that with a mandolin which
was put through a Leslie speaker to get the old
funfair effect,” recalls Graham. “I sent a copy to
Freddie Cannon and he was quite chuffed with
it.” It sparked a friendship which is still going
37
years later, Graham being delighted to catch
up with him on his recent States trip.
Midnite Dynamos, another Bloomfield
original with a rumbling biker lead-in, gave the
band their biggest hit, reaching No.14, though
that was then topped by their version of the
Crickets’ When You Ask About Love, which
made No.4, their biggest UK seller, shifting
half a million units.
ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE WORLD
Matchbox were a classic band, and the quality
of their albums, the interpretations of old
songs, the instrumentals and the original
material by Bloomfield, shines through
after all these years. Yet there’s no doubt the
records got poppier as time went on. “All the
companies at that time were trying to get a bit
of commercialism into it,” Graham admits. “Our
albums were well-produced, but the album
Midnite Dynamos cost £50,000, which was a
lot of money in 1980, whereas the Rockabilly
Rebel album had only cost £20,0000. Our third
Magnet album, Flying Colours, was further
away from the sound we wanted, but we went
along with it because we wanted to continue
our success. It was the same with The Jets,
Shakin’ Stevens and Crazy Cavan. Whatever
they say, they all wanted to get a hit, and tried
to do a commercial single. But deep down
inside, of course, you’ve still got your roots.”
As the hits dwindled, the band split in 1985,
but they reformed in 1995, and continue to gig
intermittently. London fans were treated to a
rare gig at the Kingsmeadow Stadium in South
London last autumn. “That was brilliant,”
LEGEND
If Graham Fenton and Darrel Higham
working together isn’t fine enough, a
few years back Graham got together
with Western Star genius Alan Wilson
to make a little masterpiece of an
album Raging Heart. Building on his
rocker image, Fenton let rip across a
range of old chestnuts, including
rock’n’roll, R&B, country, cajun and
pop. With the vocalist on top form, so
was Wilson’s guitar on rockers like
Three Months
To Kill and Jet Black Machine, and the
choice of tracks was perfectly paced,
including Rosie Flores’ Crying Over
You, Chuck Willis’ What Ya’ Gonna
Do and even a couple of Joe Meek
compositions Just Too Late and Try
Once More. Excellent.
remembers Graham. “There were loads of
people from London I hadn’t seen for years
as most our gigs are now in Finland, Sweden
and Germany. It was bit of a cheer-up for
me, because I’d just had my brother Ken’s
funeral, and the crowd kind of took me under
their wing.”
Of course, the real prize is to get the band
back in the studio, but that looks a distant
hope. “Alan Wilson and several other people
have tried, but it’s getting everyone in there.
It’s the kind of thing that might happen,”
Graham says, tantalisingly.
Meanwhile, as a solo performer, he continues
to tour the world. In the US, they call Graham
“the original rockabilly rebel,” in France he
is “le legend,” a last link with their beloved
Gene Vincent. There’s often been something
grudging or dismissive about the way bands of
the rockabilly revival have been treated in this
country, but Graham Fenton and Matchbox
are now as much a part of the fabric of the
rock’n’roll story as the original stars they
modelled themselves on, and it’s time that
was properly recognised.
Matchbox are performing at the Teddy Boy
Stomp, Skegness, on 28 July, and the Jive
Weekend, Folkestone on 9 December ✶
© The Ace Cafe
40 VINTAGE ROCK ISSUE 30

© Helen H. Richardson/Getty Images

© Helen H. Richardson/Getty Images Curran Nick Almost Remembering Nick Curran 1977 2012 THE STORY OF

Curran Nick

Almost

Remembering Nick Curran

1977 2012
1977
2012

THE STORY OF THE ROCK’N’ROLL BADASS WHOSE TALENT BURNED BRIGHT, BUT SADLY LEFT US FAR TOO SOON BY PADDY WELLS

LEFT US FAR TOO SOON B Y P A D D Y W E L L

ick Curran should have been a star. And not the shallow, disposable kind of celebrity that swathes of today’s questionable TV talent shows perpetuate, but a bona- fide, international rock’n’roll star. Mercurial and prodigious talent? Check. Youth and good looks? Check. Admiration and support of his peers in a city awash with serious musicianship? Check. A growing and constantly evolving body of work that effortlessly blended blues, rockabilly, punk, rock’n’roll? Check. It all seemed to be in place and worldwide success just an arm’s length away. Unless tragedy derailed it. Nicholas Michael Curran was born in Biddeford, Maine on 30 September, 1977, growing up in nearby Sanford. Music always featured prominently in his working-class family, and by the age of three, Curran was already enthusiastically hitting the drumset. His father Mike – himself an established musician fronting his own blues band Mike Curran and

The Tremors – encouraged his son to learn the guitar by playing along to the likes of The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Duke Robillard. The astonishing musical intuition that many have subsequently spoken of was evident from the outset, Curran learning licks shown to him by his father and playing them back almost instantly. By the time he was nine, he was already adept at the instrument, playing in his father’s band when he was just 15. It was around this period that fellow Maine resident and harmonica virtuoso Jason Ricci first encountered Curran on the local music scene. “I met him at an open mic session that neither one of us were supposed to be at, as we were under-age”, laughs Ricci. “But the band who were running the jam knew who we were and wanted us to be there. Our friendship was arranged by older blues musicians – we were told we should meet and that we should play together. We didn’t really have a choice in that. We were thrown together at a young age, being told ‘well you both

have a choice in that. We were thrown together at a young age, being told ‘well

© Ana P. Bosque (CC BY 2.0)

Through music he will live forever: Nick sadly passed away on 6 October, 2012, at the age of 35

play music you should hang out together. Basically you guys are gonna get up and play together, because none of us guys wanna play with you because you’re too young and not good enough yet.’ But neither one of us wanted to do that, we wanted to play with the good guys! “Even as a kid, he was already into

think he cared about anything else that wasn’t related to music.” Although deeply in thrall to blues and vintage rock’n’roll music, Curran was equally influenced by bands such as The Misfits, Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC. Aged just 19, he left Maine, touring with rockabilly stalwart Ronnie Dawson.

“You felt him coursing through whatever he was playing, all the time. This indomitable spirit ”

rockabilly, there was a band in town called the Memphis Mafia, Nick was already playing with those guys too. The punk thing came later for him. But we listened to a lot of blues stuff like Thunderbirds, Jimmie Vaughan, James Cotton, Slim Harpo, Little Walter, Magic Sam, Albert King, B.B. King. “But here’s the thing – the kid could play anything. Anything. He lived in Sanford – I don’t think there was anything else for him to do! I don’t

HEY! HO! LET’S GO

Word of Curran’s talent was already spreading beyond his local scene, and when Dallas-based neo-rockabilly doyenne Kim Lenz found herself in need a of a new guitarist, he came highly recommended. Having just released her first album with her band in 1998, Lenz was eager to get out on the road, but her current

1998, Lenz was eager to get out on the road, but her current The cover to

The cover to Nick Curran’s 2000 album Fixin’ Your Head

guitarist was unable to commit to touring. Sean Mencher, at that time living in Maine and playing with rockabilly outfit High Noon, had seen Curran performing around their home town and was impressed enough to pass on his name. “We flew him in as we were about to start touring, rehearsed with him and that decided it – alright, you’re staying!”, remembers Lenz. “I ended up kicking the other guy out of the band the next day. We were on the road for about two years straight, doing 200 shows a year at least in 1998-99. “Nick is not like anybody else. He just had such a crazy energy. When we did a show, it was always 150 per cent. He was able to bring in all of his influences, blues, punk, whatever. “Even though we were doing traditional rockabilly music, he was able to filter those things in. Always with his own stamp on it. Some blues players seem to play almost by rote, but Nick really did put himself into his music. “It’s something that very few people can do the way he did. You felt him coursing through whatever he was playing, all the time. This indomitable spirit that could not be contained. “He was born to be an entertainer, that’s for sure.”

© Jordi Vidal/Redferns/Getty

© Jordi Vidal/Redferns/Getty Curran Nick Ronnie James Weber – with whom Curran would later play alongside

Curran Nick

Ronnie James Weber – with whom Curran would later play alongside in The Fabulous Thunderbirds and their own punk band Deguello – remembers seeing a 21-year-old Curran for the first time when he was part of Kim Lenz and The Jaguars. “I was sitting at the bar – I had gone to see Rosie Flores, and hadn’t heard of Kim before. And I’m thinking that’s weird, I never heard a rockabilly guy start throwing in Lightnin’ Hopkins before, and I made some comment along those lines to him at the bar, but it wasn’t until years later that we ended up in the same band. I thought he was crazy back then mixing those styles, but it was perfect!”

PRINCE OF THE PUNKS

Curran’s reputation as an outstanding

rockabilly musician was now unassailable

– even at such a remarkably young

age – but it was the release of his solo records that really made everybody sit up and take notice. His 2000 debut Fixin’ Your Head was swiftly followed by Nitelife Boogie in 2001, both comprising of various covers and his original compositions. It’s hard to believe they were not recorded sometime in the 1950s, such was the level of playing and Curran’s fastidious attention to how the albums were recorded, always with vintage equipment. As Jason Ricci explains, nobody was concerned that these albums might be derivative, because nobody else was capable of making a record so authentic to that period. Alongside his own material, Curran reworked songs

such as Women and Cadillacs by Doc Starkes & His Nite Riders and I’m Glad, I’m Glad by Lloyd Price that crackled with his unique intensity while retaining the classic sound of the era. Speaking to AllMusic in 2010, Curran said he wanted to take that early sound and fire it up with some modern punk urgency. “All those old blues guys that I

love have that. They have that attitude like a punk rock band. Like Howlin’ Wolf and Little Richard, that stuff is like punk rock but in the 50s.” As well as the universally acclaimed studio albums, Curran was rapidly cementing

a reputation as a

captivating live performer not to be missed. Now living in Austin full time, he was regularly packing the house at the

city’s famous Continental Club and at established events such as Viva Las Vegas Fest, his magnetic stage presence and incendiary guitar chops ensuring that every audience remembered his name. Kim Lenz recalls: “He was obsessed with tone. So many guitar players these days don’t think about tone much, but that was a big thing for him – always working toward getting the right tone. When players look right over that, I’m like

Nick Curran released his second album, Nitelife Boogie, in 2001

Curran on stage at Spain’s Festival International de Blues de Cerdanyola at Parc del Turonet in 2009

do you even play guitar?! Nick’s tone was always perfect, he just wanted to entertain people the best way that he could, it was in his blood “He was ferocious.”

WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’ GOIN’ ON

By 2002, Curran had signed with blues label Blind Pig where he would record a further two albums, the first of which – Doctor Velvet – was released in 2003. If his previous albums jolted listeners awake and brazenly announced a burgeoning new talent, this is perhaps where Curran truly hit his stride. Jimmie Vaughan – one of his earliest guitar heroes – guests on this record, indicative of the respect he

– one of his earliest guitar heroes – guests on this record, indicative of the respect
– one of his earliest guitar heroes – guests on this record, indicative of the respect

© Gary Miller/FilmMagic/Getty

Curran Nick

“Whenever he made music, he was making it for real”

Nick “Whenever he made music, he was making it for real” Nick Curran performs in concert

Nick Curran performs in concert with The Blasters during the Texas Rockabilly Revival Festival in 2010

during the Texas Rockabilly Revival Festival in 2010 In 2002 Nick Curran, having formed the Nitelifes,

In 2002 Nick Curran, having formed the Nitelifes, signed with blues label Blind Pig and released Doctor Velvet in 2003 and Player! In 2004

“I’m trying to show people there is a similarity between this and that and that is where they were coming from. This might be what it would sound like if it was done back then.” Never one to sit still for long, Curran disbanded his current recording and touring band The Nitelifes, and instead opted to join The Fabulous Thunderbirds, one of his very favourite bands since childhood. He appeared on their 2005 record Painted On and stayed with the legendary Texas blues outfit until 2007. This is where Thunderbirds bass player Ronnie James Weber finally played alongside Curran, all those years after seeing him tearing up the stage with Kim Lenz.

was already commanding. The title track, an edgy version of the Doc Starkes & His Nite Riders song, seemed to suit Curran perfectly, an audacious statement of arrival ready to shake up the blues scene. The following album in 2004, Player!, saw Curran playing with yet more influences, a horn section and his fluid guitar lines lending more of a jazz and R&B flavour to the record. Covers of songs by garage- rockers The Sonics, country legend Hank Williams and punk-rockers The Stooges were sprinkled across both records, never sounding forced or remotely incongruous. Curran clearly saw a throughline connecting many types of music and had no qualms about mixing colours to make it his own. He told AllMusic: “The way I do things, I always want to do something where there’s no way someone could give me a hard time about it – like do it with conviction. “You are going to like this whether you want to or not. So, when I do a song like that I want it to be known that this is this song that you probably would hate, but you like my version of it.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

Like many, Weber also remembers his ability to incorporate any style of playing, despite the visual image of a punk rocker he had cultivated during the period he played with Kim Wilson’s band. “Whatever he felt like throwing in, he would nail it!,” Weber laughs. “Howlin’ Wolf? No problem, Little Richard? no problem. It was beautiful! He ate, breathed, drank everything about music. “For me, he was the throwback to the real stuff, man. Based on talent, energy and passion. A genuine artist. I think even Kim Wilson would tell you that it upped his game as well – he lit a fire under Kim’s ass! Young, good-looking, talented. It was already great with the T-Birds to hear a white guy like Kim who could sing that music like that, then Nick comes along and everyone takes notice. It definitely helped in my department because Nick sat up on my side of the stage, so the pretty girls would be over there! Ha! I wasn’t complaining.” Curran said of his time with The Thunderbirds: “Let’s say when I was first going with the T-Birds, the last thing I wanted to do was go up there and look

Curran Nick Nick pictured with close friend and fellow Jaguar Kim Lenz © Helen H.
Curran Nick
Nick pictured with close
friend and fellow
Jaguar Kim Lenz
© Helen H. Richardson/Getty Images

like Jimmie Vaughan – which a lot of people would try to do. So I’m like, well, if I’m gonna play guitar with the T-Birds, I’m gonna have to look like Sid Vicious or something. That’s what I did and a lot of people didn’t like it. But at the same time, I was kind of telling people, hey, listen with your ears, not your eyes. You don’t have to play a 50s Stratocaster and wear vintage suits to play blues.” Weber and Curran also formed Deguello while they were both members of The Thunderbirds, a side-project that provided an outlet for their punkier leanings. Some of the material made its way onto what would become Curran’s final record, Reform School Girl. Released on Eclecto Groove Records in 2010, it’s perhaps the point where all of Curran’s influences coalesce into one gloriously indefinable noise. Billy Horton, Curran’s bass player and producer of the album, summed it up as: “Little Richard meets the Ramones.” “He wanted the record to sound like your record player blew up,” Horton said. “He loved punk, blues and rockabilly. He was able to bring in all of those influences he loved and make a weird Nick stew. Only he could do that and make it work.” It should have been the record that elevated Curran from cult status to

worldwide stardom. However, just prior to the release of the album, he began to experience pain in his throat and in early 2010 was diagnosed with oral cancer. That evidently wasn’t about to get in his way and Curran remained positive and optimistic throughout. For a while it looked like he would beat the disease, but in 2011 the cancer returned and was no longer responding to treatment. He passed away on 6 October, 2012.

into his own thing immediately. It was really impressive to see. A master as he already was, he was still taking in new stuff all the time. He was great, he was a monster. Whenever he made music, he was making it for real, he never phoned it in. I’m glad we were friends and that I got some time with him.” Kim spoke of his still devoted following:

“Every place I go, people wanna talk to me about Nick. It was hard at the

“He was the throwback to the real stuff, man. Based on talent, energy and passion. A genuine artist ”

Austin-based harp player Greg Izor, who played alongside Curran every week for two years in a house band called The Jackalope All-Stars, was among the many who felt he still had much more to create. “I always felt that Nick was right on the edge of fully actualising. He was drawing from so many different things and he’d go through these phases and just absorb everything, and it all culminated in Nick, but it felt like he was still growing. It was hard to see that cut short. Whatever he was influenced by, he could bring that

beginning, but I’m finally getting to be ok with him being gone. He was a real close friend of mine and I miss him dearly.” Jason Ricci: “We all miss him. He was such an innocent. I know in the pictures he looks kinda tough and bluesy all tattooed and punk rock, but he was actually just a complete music nerd, a little socially awkward and geeky. He was like a sponge, he just soaked up

everything that life had to offer. He loved

life

came true. Almost.”

I know that Nick’s wildest dreams

ONE OF BRITAINS FINEST EXPONENTS

HIS

MAKES

OF ROCKABILLY GUITAR

SOLO

A

AS

RETURN

LONG-AWAITED

OPENS

HOTEL

HELL’S

AS

ARTIST.

PROPRIETOR

ITS

BUSINESS,

FOR

VINTAGE

TELLS

HIGHAM

DARREL

HANK

OF

THE GHOST

ABOUT

ROCK

ROLL TO

WILLIAMS, TAKING ROCK ‘N’

HE DOESNT

NEW AUDIENCES, WHY

Getty©

INTERVIEW

A U D I E N C E S , W H Y Getty© INTERVIEW BOTHER
BOTHER THE ROCKABILLY PURISTS AND WHY THEY BY DAVID WEST DON’T BOTHER HIM.
BOTHER
THE
ROCKABILLY
PURISTS
AND WHY THEY
BY DAVID WEST
DON’T
BOTHER HIM.

Darrel

Higham

Darrel Higham “ROCKABILLY FANS ARE VERY PASSIONATE AND VERY WELL INFORMED. THEY KNOW THE MUSIC, THEY

“ROCKABILLY FANS ARE VERY PASSIONATE AND VERY WELL INFORMED. THEY KNOW THE MUSIC, THEY HAVE THEIR HEROES. I’M NO DIFFERENT, I’M ALSO A FAN”

INTERVIEW

INTERVIEW So Higham set up shop in Embassy Studios, which he co-owns with Clive Duffin of

So Higham set up shop in Embassy Studios, which he co-owns with Clive Duffin of Foot Tapping Records. “There was no plan, no theme to the album, I just wanted to see how many good songs I could come up with and whittle them down to 10 or 12 tracks. I felt that I probably wasn’t going to get many offers to go into another band at the level that I’d been working at and so I thought well, I’ll resurrect my career such as it was and see if I can start again but this time I want to do it with songs I’ve written and try to go out to a different audience.”

A WHOLE LOTTA LOVE FOR PLANT

He brought in Russ Chadd, who was a backline tech for May’s band, to play drums and David Konig on bass, plus some famous guests. Jools Holland plays piano on three tracks. “He’s on When You Smile, I Found A Smile, which is a real piano-led rocker, and also on Please Give Me Something,” says Higham. “He’s just one of the best boogie-woogie pianists out there. His love for the music is unbelievable.” The aforementioned Please Give Me Something, a cut originally recorded by Bill Allen And The Back Beats in 1958, features Robert Plant on vocals. “He’s a huge fan of rockabilly,” says Higham. “When I had the idea for this album, I emailed him and said:

While Higham says the album doesn’t have any overriding theme, he does show a proclivity for writing songs about love. Yet he’s quick to point out that he’s not writing about himself, however tempting it is to read into the lyrics of

a song like Nearer To A Love. “There is a tendency these days to write about your life if you’re a songwriter and put it out there,” he says. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with that but if you do that you’re going to have to live with the consequences. It’s like having your girlfriend’s name tattooed on your arm. If it doesn’t work out you’re going to have to go back, have it covered over and go through that pain again. I didn’t want to write an album like that, I couldn’t, I’m not that sort of songwriter. I think there are two types of songwriters, there are those that write a collection of songs and say: ‘This is about me,’ and there are songwriters that say: ‘I’ve written a collection of songs, I hope they’re about you.’ I fall into the latter category. I wouldn’t know how to write a song about me and make it interesting.” Instead, Higham approaches songs as stories, often dealing with affairs of the heart, whether falling headlong in love or tumbling painfully out of it. “It’s something we can all identify with,” he says. Nearer To A Love was inspired by Hank Williams, who

or more than 20 years, Darrel Higham has helped to keep the torch burning for rockabilly. He’s a fixture on the rockabilly festival circuit with Darrel Higham And The Enforcers, he co-led Kat Men with Slim Jim Phantom, he backed up Jeff Beck for his Rock’n’Roll

Party, and most famously shared the stage with his wife Imelda May as they brought rockabilly back to the charts with her hit albums Mayhem and Tribal. After the couple separated in 2015, Higham found himself at a loose end. He hadn’t released an album under his own name since 2008, but it was time to get back to the business of rocking. The result is Hell’s Hotel, Higham’s superb new record that he hopes will break out beyond the boundaries of the hardcore rockabilly scene. “It’s a tough audience to try to please with new material,” says Higham. “Rockabilly fans are very passionate and very well informed. They know the music, they have their heroes.

I’m no different, I’m also a fan of the music and to a large extent I feel exactly the same

way. My job, as I see it, is to try to get the music out to as broad and big an audience as

I possibly can.” When he’s out

with The Enforcers, Higham is happy to play songs from the rockabilly canon – “You can’t

re-write Rockabilly Boogie,

“YOU ALWAYS SEE TEENAGERS AT ROCKABILLY GIGS, THERE’S ALWAYS A LITTLE GAGGLE OF THEM

SOMEWHERE AND YOU KNOW THAT THEY LOVE THE MUSIC”

Higham considers one of the greatest songwriters of all time. “There’s a song of his that has always affected me profoundly when I first heard it when I was a teenager, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” says Higham. “I remember thinking one day I’d love to write a song as sad as that. I find it very difficult to write

there’s no point, so you might

 

something very sad, because life’s not like that. Even when you’re

‘Would you be interested in singing a track?’ He came back almost immediately and said: ‘When do you want me to come down and what track do you want me to do?’ We fired a few ideas back and forth. The idea of doing Please Give Me Something had always appealed to me because it’s such a powerful song, it’s a very well-known song in the rockabilly world, it’s almost a standard, but it’s one of those songs I think if done right would really work with more rock’n’roll fans. I thought it was just a really good choice and thankfully he agreed. He knew the song anyway, he came down and he did it in two takes. It was incredible. Sang it twice, he was done and it was perfect.”

as well do Rockabilly Boogie” – but that’s not what he wants for his solo career. “A

lot of the songs I write are not necessarily rockabilly songs,” he says. “What I’m trying to find is a balance of keeping the rockabilly in there but making the music

going through the worst times in your life, you always know you’re going to come out the other side. That’s why I wanted that song to have that light at the end of the tunnel. It came from a conversation I had with somebody when I was very young.

a

little bit more rock’n’roll. In fact, I find

it

very difficult to write rockabilly songs

I

was moaning about a relationship and I

because all the great ones have been written as far as I’m concerned.” Construction on Hell’s Hotel began in the wake of Higham’s split from May and the uncertainty that created. “I didn’t know where life was taking me at

remember someone turned around to me and said, ‘You know what? If it doesn’t work out it just means you’re one step nearer to meeting the right person.’ I thought, ‘What a great bit of advice!’” In addition to lending some inspiration to Nearer To A Love, the founding father of country music haunts Hell’s Hotel in phantasmagorical form in the song

that particular time,” he says. “I was in

a

band that had been very successful, I

didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Darrel Higham performing with Imelda May during the ‘Swinging London’ Monaco Rose Ball in 2012
Darrel Higham performing
with Imelda May during the
‘Swinging London’ Monaco
Rose Ball in 2012
© Getty

Hank Williams And Me. “I’ve written a lot of songs over the years that look on love from a supernatural aspect,” says Higham. “I don’t know why I write songs like this, but I’ve written Ghost Of Love which Imelda covered on Tribal. And with Kat Men I wrote a song called It’s A Heartache I Can’t Bare which is another story song about a ghost. It’s a theme that fascinates me.”

SPIRIT OF THE HILLBILLY SHAKESPEARE

In Hank Williams And Me, the spirit of the country legend appears to help the narrator write a song. But it’s not that simple for the character being visited by the ghost of country past. “Hank Williams

turns up in a dream and says, ‘Hey, let’s write a song.’ You think, ‘This is going to be great! I’m going to write the best song I’ve ever written and I’m going to write

it with Hank Williams!’” says Higham.

“Then you realise that because you’re

in such a dark place, in such a bad period of your life, that you can’t write the song you’ve always wanted to write with this god of country music. As the song progresses Hank realises that even he

can’t help you. Lyrically,

I think it’s the saddest song on the album

because that, to me, is

a

After Higham had the lyrics, he found the tune he’d originally written didn’t fit the subject matter. “Because it was in a major key and it was quite happy, it irked me with the lyrics being so dark. I changed it to a minor key and then it all fell into place, it became a proper dark song. It starts off happy and then ends up quite dark. That really appealed to me.” Given his long, not to mention successful, presence on the rockabilly circuit, Higham isn’t worried about how the die-hards will react to the rock’n’roll sound of Hell’s Hotel. Ive often said the purists don’t bother me because I don’t bother them. That’s the way I look at it,” he says. “For many years, I was on a crusade to try to make

rockabilly commercially viable again because I felt that it still has that power. It can still profoundly affect the lives of teenagers. I see it at the gigs. You always see teenagers at rockabilly gigs, there’s always a little gaggle

at rockabilly gigs, there’s always a little gaggle Don’t Look Back: Hell’s Hotel is Darrel Higham's

Don’t Look Back: Hell’s Hotel is Darrel Higham's new collection of stories dealing

with affairs of the heart

of them somewhere and you know that they love the music. They’ve discovered it probably through their parents or maybe through the internet, but it’s reached out and grabbed them and it’s affected them the way it affected me. It says a lot about the music that it can still suck people

nightmare.”

Darrel Higham
Darrel
Higham

DARREL PICKS THREE ROCKIN’ CLASSICS

Darrel Higham DARREL PICKS THREE ROCKIN’ CLASSICS EDDIE COCHRAN - SINGIN’ TO MY BABY “That was

EDDIE COCHRAN - SINGIN’ TO MY BABY

“That was the album that changed my life the first time I saw the cover picture of

Eddie holding the Gretsch guitar. It was his one and only album released during his lifetime. He was probably 17 or 18-years-old when he made it and his performances are so mature, that really does still floor me to this day when I hear it.”

really does still floor me to this day when I hear it.” ELVIS PRESLEY – ELVIS’

ELVIS PRESLEY – ELVIS’ GOLDEN RECORDS

“When I was about four-years-old, I was walking past a neighbours’ house

with my mum. It was a beautiful sunny day, the neighbours had their windows open and they were playing this music at full blast. I stopped and said to my mum: ‘What’s that?’ She said:

‘That’s Elvis Presley.’”

that?’ She said: ‘That’s Elvis Presley.’” GENE VINCENT – GREATEST “I can honestly say that the

GENE VINCENT – GREATEST

“I can honestly say that the only time in my life I’ve heard music that terrified me was listening to Gene Vincent when I was a kid, because

the screams, the echo, the wild guitar, the drums, the cymbals, it was absolutely terrifying to a seven-year-old child. That taught me a lesson, that rockabilly, real proper rockabilly, should frighten children.”

in even in this day and age with all the options that are open to people. I just like the idea of coming up with my own way of doing it. From time to time I come into the studio and want to make an authentic sounding rockabilly record and I think I’ll always carry on doing that. “A lot of time and effort went into the production of Hell’s Hotel, so it’s not geared towards purists but I think most rockabilly fans are quite broadminded. They go to rockabilly clubs dressed in the style but secretly they like a lot of other types of music. I do think that a lot of rock’n’roll fans in general will enjoy this album because it’s heart is rock’n’roll.”

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CLASSIC ALBUM

WW OO RR DD SS BB YY JJ AA CC KK WWW AAA TTT KK
WW OO RR DD SS
BB YY
JJ AA CC KK
WWW AAA TTT KK II NN SS

CHARLIE RICH

LONELY

WEEKENDS

WITH

CHARLIE

RICH

W hen Charlie Rich first walked through the door at Sun Records, Sam Phillips couldn’t

W hen Charlie Rich first walked through the door at Sun Records, Sam Phillips couldn’t have been blamed if he thought he’d found another artist with the pulling power of Elvis Presley. “He was one of the best-looking men

I’d ever seen,” recalled one of the few female rockabillies on the label, Barbara Pittman. “Elvis was pretty, but Charlie was handsome.” The bull- necked quarterback’s physique was offset by soft, sensitive eyes, a shy smile and thick wavy hair, given a hint of distinction by streaks of grey. At times when he sang, you could detect a soulful

trace of Presley, and he could emulate Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano-pumping style, though always in a much more considered way. But that was as far as the comparisons went.

An intensely private man, Rich was not one of those introverted characters who finds another self out under the spotlights. He disliked being the centre of attention, and might have been content as a sideman or songwriter, had circumstances not propelled him into the front line. His innate musicality was as wide as it was deep, however, and because of this, even his more mediocre offerings are never without interest. Lonely Weekends With Charlie Rich, his sole Sun Records album, released in 1960, offers an overview of Rich’s struggles to blend a range of influences, including

rock’n’roll, country, blues, gospel and jazz, into

a distinctive style. Rich had initially started at Sun towards the end of 1957 as a songwriter, the snag to his development as a performer for the label in his own right was his sophisticated musical taste. He and wife Margaret Ann, who often sang with him on early blues and supper club dates, were jazz fans. Rich adored the brassy sound of the Stan Kenton big band – an anathema to young rock’n’roll fans – and when it came to singers, Frank Sinatra’s records were more likely to be on the turntable than Presley’s. When Margaret Ann had taken along a tape of some material she and Rich had done together to Bill Justis at Sun, he’d handed her

a batch of Jerry Lee Lewis records and told

her that her husband need only come to the studio when he had “learned to play that bad.” The point he was making that was that Sun specialised in an earthy, primitive sound that

CHARLIE RICH

L O N E L Y WITH W E E K E N D S
L O N E L Y
WITH
W E E K E N D S
CHARLIE
RICH
1960 • SUN RECORDS

LONELY WEEKENDS

SCHOOL DAYS

WHIRLWIND

STAY

C.C. RIDER

COME BACK

WEEKENDS SCHOOL DAYS WHIRLWIND STAY C.C. RIDER COME BACK GONNA BE WAITIN’ APPLE BLOSSOM TIME BREAK

GONNA BE WAITIN’ APPLE BLOSSOM TIME BREAK UP THAT’S HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU REBOUND JUANITA

came from a performer’s heart, not one full of calculated, jazzy modulations or clever chord progressions, and in songs which had basic lyrics shaped to appeal to the youth of the day, not middle-aged sophisticates. But after a stuttering start, Rich hit his stride, writing good material for the likes of Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ray Smith. Then, with Cash’s departure to Columbia and the Jerry Lee Lewis marriage scandal, Rich was given the opportunity to record his own singles.

JUST A HURRICANE FROM THE SEA

Rich’s debut single, Whirlwind, coupled with Philadelphia Baby, had only enjoyed moderate sales on release in the autumn of 1958, but it was strong enough to justify its place on the Lonely Weekends With Charlie Rich LP. Rich’s boogie piano is strong and Jimmy Van Eaton’s drum accompaniment is bang on the money as

it invariably always was. Sam Phillips deployed

the characteristic ‘Sun echo’ on Rich’s voice, though his attempts to effect the hip vocal mannerisms of some label mates were half-hearted. Backing vocals and handclaps were subsequently overdubbed on what has been a somewhat underrated song in the Rich catalogue. The same could be said of the follow-up

single Rebound, which is only surpassed by Break Up as the hardest rocker on Lonely Weekends With Charlie Rich. Of course, the word “rocker” has to be heavily qualified when it’s applied to Rich, who never did get frantic. That just wasn’t his style. But Rebound had

a lovely piano intro that was pure Charlie

Rich, and Van Eaton’s playing featured the infectious swing-era shuffle rhythm played simultaneously on the snare and ride cymbal, familiar from his work on the Jerry Lee Lewis Sun recordings. Van Eaton used it again on Break Up, a song Rich had originally written for Lewis, but which had stiffed after his disastrous UK tour. For Rich’s version, Scotty Moore was on hand to play guitar, while Rich, not on the whole a guy who banged the

guitar, while Rich, not on the whole a guy who banged the LONELY WEEKENDS WITH CHARLIE
guitar, while Rich, not on the whole a guy who banged the LONELY WEEKENDS WITH CHARLIE

LONELY WEEKENDS WITH CHARLIE RICH, HIS SOLE SUN RECORDS ALBUM, OFFERS AN OVERVIEW OF RICH’S STRUGGLES TO BLEND A RANGE OF INFLUENCES

SUN RECORDS ALBUM, OFFERS AN OVERVIEW OF RICH’S STRUGGLES TO BLEND A RANGE OF INFLUENCES ISSUE

CLASSIC ALBUM

CLASSIC ALBUM A RICH LEGACY If diverse musical influences, the Bear Family Records’ Lonely Weekends: The

A RICH

LEGACY

If

diverse musical influences, the Bear Family Records’ Lonely Weekends: The Sun Years 1958-1962 is even more revealing, usually on material he wrote himself. Many people think Rich’s song Who Will The Next Fool Be was one of his best performances of all time, notwithstanding the fact that Jerry Lee Lewis did two ripping versions of the number, on

his The Greatest Live Show On Earth album in 1964, and on his first Elektra album, Jerry Lee Lewis, in 1979. But Rich’s bluesy qualities were never at the expense of melody, as evidenced on the gorgeous Time And Again, on which, as so often, he delivers the most sublime of piano chords. Red Man is a jazzy instrumental, featuring some sonorous tenor sax, and one of his prettiest ballads

is I’ve Lost My Heart To You. Everyday has

a mambo rhythm and a scintillating

production reminiscent of the swirling arrangements of the Ben E King-era Drifters. You can also hear Rich tearing into an early

cut of Right Behind You Baby, the rocker he wrote for Ray Smith, and of course, there’s the song Sam Phillips once said was the best thing he’d ever recorded, Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave.

Lonely Weekends

reflects Charlie Rich’s

keyboard hard, knocked out one of his fastest and most furious solos. As a single Rebound had been paired with Big Man, and although the latter didn’t make

it onto the album, it had played a significant

part in terms of Rich’s commercial career development. As JM Van Eaton, who played

on just about all Rich’s Sun releases, explains,

it was the inspiration for the Lonely Weekends

single, which was his breakthrough hit: “Sam had ok’d this guy (Dale Fox) to come in and record a gospel song. He called me in to the studio as well as Charlie, who was to play piano. There may have been a guitar player there, and a bass player, I can’ remember. So we worked on it, but the guy’s vocals weren’t very

good, and to salvage it, Sam told Charlie to sing

it just to get the session over with. Well, Big

Man had this gospel-type feel to it, so I’d come up with a matching beat, with the bass drum. And Sam said to Charlie, “Man, if you can write us a song, I love that beat.” So when Charlie came up with Lonely Weekends, I played the

same beat. If you listen to the two records, you can hear the rhythm

pattern of Lonely Weekends comes from Big Man.”

ALL THAT JAZZ

Along with Van Eaton’s double-timed bass drum, another notable thing about

Lonely Weekends

was that, instead of a guitar, the solo part was taken by a baritone saxophone,

a rarity in a pop

record of that time. The sax was played by Martin Willis,

a member of Billy

Riley’s Little Green Men, along with Van Eaton and Roland Janes, who played guitar on the session. “Sun wasn’t real big abut sax

solos at the time

guitar break,” Willis later recalled. But Rich had been insistent that he wanted something different and instructed Willis on what his solo should sound like. The track was recorded in the Sun Studio, 706 Union Avenue in October 1959, but the overdubbing featuring the Gene Lowery Chorus, and the catchy rim shots that

can be heard over Willis’ solo, were added in the new Phillips Recording Studio at 639 Madison Avenue, with its state-of-the-art echo chambers, later in the month. The undubbed takes, which can be heard on Bear Family Records’ Charlie Rich 3CD box

set: Lonely Weekends The Sun Years 1958- 1962, suggest the song was strong enough to

not require adornment, but the chorals do lend

it an cavernous, epic quality, and were “part

of the mystique” as Roland Janes later put it, while admitting the use of echo was excessive. In any case, released in January 1960, the song gave Rich his first hit, reaching No.22. Yet a follow up success proved elusive, and the album indicates why, as Rich skirted around in search of an identity. Gonna Be Waitin’ was

the follow-up single to Lonely Weekends. It was a good song, but it repeated the rhythmic pattern of Lonely Weekends, and even Rich’s throaty shout of “yeah!!” over a guitar solo couldn’t rescue it. Its flip School Days wasn’t exactly a trip into Chuck Berry land, even if the title sounded like it could have been. It sounded like an older man looking back nostalgically on his youth. Rich’s singing was tasteful and jazzy, suggesting someone who found conventional pop boundaries limiting. Stay, though a Rich favourite and with typical stylings, was a tepid ballad, despite some nice piano, and it’s a pity that the flip side on its single release, the graceful Latin- styled swayer, On My

single release, the graceful Latin- styled swayer, On My RICH’S SINGING WAS TASTEFUL AND JAZZY, SUGGESTING

RICH’S SINGING WAS TASTEFUL AND JAZZY, SUGGESTING SOMEONE WHO FOUND CONVENTIONAL POP

BOUNDARIES LIMITING

SOMEONE WHO FOUND CONVENTIONAL POP BOUNDARIES LIMITING Knees didn’t make it onto the album instead. But

Knees didn’t make it onto the album instead. But other tracks on the album are of considerable interest. The self- penned Come Back and That’s How Much I Love You

are examples of Rich doing Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra-style swing. His comfort with the material is obvious, and you just wish he could have been given more space to spread out his elegant

piano playing. Apple Blossom Time, another old favourite, had a saccharine lyric which Rich’s jazzy inflections helped make bearable. The dreaded backing vocals were on again for C.C. Rider and Juanita, two tracks which indicated Rich’s affection for the work of Chuck Willis without approaching the stark majesty of the latter’s recordings. They did reflect the R&B influenced direction of Rich’s post-Sun hits like Big Boss Man and Mohair Sam, though his greatest commercial success would come during his “Silver Fox” countrypolitan years, working with producer Billy Sherill on ballads like Behind Closed Doors and The Most Beautiful Girl. Charlie Rich was a multi-faceted performer who would never be pinned to a single style,

a fact fully reflected on Lonely Weekends With Charlie Rich.

a solo usually meant a

JM VAN EATON on CHARLIE RICH IN GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT: SUN RECORDS AND THE BIRTH

JM VAN EATON on CHARLIE RICH

IN GOOD ROCKIN’ TONIGHT: SUN RECORDS AND THE BIRTH OF ROCK’N’ROLL COLIN ESCOTT WROTE THAT “THE SOUND OF SURPRISE” JIMMY VAN EATON CAPTURED IN HIS DRUMMING “WAS THE PULSE OF SUN RECORDS.” HERE HE TREATS US TO HIS RECOLLECTIONS OF CHARLIE RICH…

HERE HE TREATS US TO HIS RECOLLECTIONS OF CHARLIE RICH… Sam Phillips raved about Charlie Rich’s