Development of the British Blues ---- show 5 ----
Pretty Things 1964
Clapton’s Yardbirds 1964/65
Santa Barbara Machine Head 1966
We have already been introduced to Dick Taylor as the longtime friend of Mick Jagger with whom he often shared the stage, most notably as the bass player in the earliest configuration of the Rolling Stones. As youths, they began jamming at Taylor’s parents’ house and by 1961 they had taken on the blues style as Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. By this time, Dick was away at Sidcup Art School where he also got together on guitars with Keith Richards, another childhood friend of Jagger’s from Dartford who eventually also joined the Blue Boys. When Brian Jones came into the picture, Taylor switched to bass guitar as the group took on the moniker Rollin’ Stones.
As the Stones were turning pro in 1962, Taylor had been accepted at the London Central School of Art and opted out of the band in favor of his studies. But by 1963, he got together with vocalist / harmonica player Phil May, then added May’s bass player friend John Stax (the last name taken displaying his reverence for the American Soul label; real name John Fullegar) and recruited rhythm guitarist Brian Pendleton through an ad in the local newspaper. They would all stay together through early 1967 as the Pretty Things, a name chosen not only to pay homage to Bo Diddley but also in defiance of the critics who felt their hair too long. In fact, if the Stones seemed to go against the conservative conventions of the day, the Pretty Things took everything a step further, be it in their looks, their music, or their lifestyle.
They started out at the local Dartford Station Hotel, became successful on the College circuit and, in May 1964, took up residency at London’s 100 Club where the Record Mirror commented that they had “built up a reputation as one of the hottest new acts on the London scene”. They had struggled to find the right drummer and when they signed with Fontana Records in the spring of 1964, it was the label’s suggestion that they add the stabilizing influence of veteran drummer Viv Prince, whose skills May said “made Keith Moon look like a pussycat! And Keith studied him … for about three months before he got the gig with the High Numbers”, later to become The Who. “Stabilizing influence.” Hmmm…
The band’s first single, Rosalyn and its flipside Big Boss Man was released in June, leading to an appearance on BBC television’s Ready, Steady Go!, which in turn led to an offer of an American tour to include a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, all of which was declined by the band’s management team. Don’t Bring Me Down and its B-side We’ll Be Together came out in October and made the Top Ten by November, and by year’s end the two singles were put out again as an EP. In promotion of the single, an eight day Scottish tour was followed by appearances on Ready, Steady Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars.
Now, the plan was for an album and a US tour early in the year. For the album, May recalls, “We drove all night down from a gig in Leeds and waited outside in the van until the place opened at nine o’clock. We went in, set our gear up and basically played our live set”, all while chasing the A&R man / producer from the studio, saying “’I’m not staying down there with that bunch of animals!’ We’d only been at it for half an hour and we had no producer. And Viv had spewed up over the drums and fallen twice”. It was veteran session drummer Bobby Graham who took over behind the mixing board and presented their sound admirably. After its release in March 1965, the album reached number 6 and the Taylor-penned Honey I Need, culled from the album with its b\w I Can Never Say but released a month earlier, went on to #13. Still, May was not all that pleased with the early LP. “It didn’t sound like a record, it sounded like anarchy. And I thought that would be our undoing … But what was going down was a raw energy that the other records didn’t have.”
Again, the US tour didn’t happen, partly because it was felt the offer wasn’t serious enough but also because the American distributors had not wholeheartedly promoted the band’s singles. The next 45, Cry to Me and Get a Buzz, was released in July and reached #28, giving them four singles and an LP, all but the first 45 charting, in thirteen months time. Cry to Me likely would have gone higher had the Rolling Stones not contemporaneously included a version on their Out of Our Heads album.
An April 1965 televised concert in Holland was shut down after only three songs due to the volume of complaints from outraged parents. More justified would appear to be the August concert, where the New Zealand Truth told us “the longhaired ‘musicians’ broke chairs, lit fires backstage and abused officials”. This led to a lifetime ban from playing in New Zealand but, as they were about to head home, Prince got into an altercation with the plane’s pilot and was kicked off the flight. According to May, “He got thrown off the plane when we’d all got on. A few seats caught alight, but it was blown out of all proportion”. He did make it back in time to miss numerous gigs due to self-indulgence and his tenure with the band lasted only a little longer, his drum stool soon filled by Skip Alan.
For the follow-up LP Get the Picture, the band included six band-penned tunes of the twelve tracks as opposed to only three on the first album, although we only present one in our samples chosen. Prince was available on some of the cuts, but Bobby Graham often filled in as well as again spearheading the recording sessions. Master session guitarist Jimmy Page also appeared on at least the album’s first track, which didn’t make the cut for our playlist. This album and the preceding single, both released in December of 1965, marked the beginning of a long-term failure of commercial success as registered by the charts.
Alan, as well as Graham and Mitch Mitchell, had sat in with the group in Prince’s absences on stage, but his first studio time was for the Midnight to Six Man single with the B-side Can’t Stand the Pain. The release only hit #46 in its only week on the charts. The two songs, along with LSD (referring to English currency pounds, shillings and pence while not shying away from the drug implication) and Me Needing You, resurfaced on the On Film EP after being included in a 1965 short film entitled The Pretty Things.
The last song in our set Come See Me, which was backed by LSD, winds up our Pretty Things’ second set not only because it winds up the two CD set I have but, also, because the band moved away from the Blues-based sound into more Pop material supplemented by strings and horns before they moved on to the psychedelic fad.
One thing worthy of note is their 1968 LP, S.F. Sorrow, which was the first rock opera and an inspiration to Peter Townsend’s Tommy. The product of more than a year of labor, the album was released in December 1968 to critical acclaim but once again no chart success. In spite of the fact the album was out in the UK 12 months before Tommy, the American distributor dragged their feet to the extent that The Who’s opera had been out six weeks and the American press panned it as derivative of Tommy instead of the other way around.
Considering how popular the Artwoods were on the British club scene during their three year existence and how much a couple of the players would contribute in the future, it is amazing that the band never had the opportunity to make any kind of impression on the American music fans. Especially with a little brother who played with the likes of the Jeff Beck Group and the Faces, both with Rod Stewart, and eventually wound up with the Rolling Stones, Ron Wood’s brother Art was only able to conquer Europe with his band while performing as many as 300 gigs a year.
Art Wood was born in London in 1937 and began attending the Ealing Art School in 1950. He started his National Service commitment in 1955, and during this period he put together a Skiffle Group. He began his singing career in earnest in 1958 when he formed the nine piece group the Art Wood Combo with a Swing and R&B repertoire, but his immersion into Blues brought him in contact with Cyril Davies who invited him to join him and Alexis Korner in their Blues Incorporated as part of their initial lineup in 1962. The band was structured along the lines of an R&B revue in that they featured multiple singers, early on including the harmonica playing Davies, the strictly vocalist Paul Jones and Long John Baldry, who also occasionally played his 12-string guitar. Pretty much not what he had signed up for and receiving less and less singing opportunities as the number of singers expanded, Wood would only stay with the band a matter of weeks before engaging in a short-lived reformation of the Art Wood Combo.
With the Combo employing various musicians as gigs arose, in late 1963 Wood signed on with Don Wilson’s outfit. Bass player Wilson also went by the name Red Bludd while calling the rest of the band his Bluesicians as they played a blend of Jazz and R&B in the clubs and at American armed services bases, but most often the Don Wilson Quartet was playing weddings and bar mitzvah-type gigs. They would take on the name Art Wood Combo with the arrival of their new singer and included Jon Lord on keyboards, Derek Griffiths on guitar and Reg Dunnage as their drummer. Heading out from a gig one night, the band’s van crashed into a truck, breaking both of Wilson’s legs. He would recover but did not go back to playing music,
In 1964, the combo went into the studio and cut a pair of tunes for a demo, Kansas City and Talkin’ ‘Bout You. They took on Johnny Jones as manager, who promptly got them a residency at the 100 Club and a contract with Decca Records. Malcom Pool had already taken over the bass duties, but as the band was building to a heavier schedule Dunnage opted out and the auditions brought out both Mitch Mitchell, later of Jimi Hendrix fame, and Keef Hartley. Hartley had only taken up the drums at the age of eighteen and upon moving to Liverpool that same year (1962) replaced Ringo Starr in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Keef moved from to Freddy Starr and the Midnighters and then on to the Artwoods, the new name Decca convinced the band to now work under.
Summer of 1964 saw the recording of the unreleased Hoochie Coochie Man, but the Leadbelly tune Sweet Mary did hit the airwaves in October with the backup If I Ever Get My Hands on You. Promoting the song on the first live broadcast of BBC TV’s Ready, Steady Go1 brought the bands playing schedule up to almost every day of the week. It also brought requests for Lord as a session man and he performed on the Kinks’ first album.
They found themselves back in the studio in January to lay down their second single, Oh My Love, whose lack of chart success did nothing to hinder their popularity in the clubs. Another appearance on Ready, Steady Go! preceeded a couple of radio broadcasts on Saturday Swings and Easy Beat and then another TV shot on Beat Room. They were also selected to back the American Blues singer Mae Mercer on her UK tour and were included in the packages with P.J. Proby’s English tour and Petula Clark’s tour of Europe as well as being chosen to play at Monte Carlo’s International Beat Festival, hosted by Prince Ranier and Princess Grace.
The commercial failure of their third 45, Goodbye Sisters released in August, was frustrating, compounded later when an American tour including a recording session with Bo Diddley fell through their fingers because there was apparently no band available to work in England as part of the reciprocal deal and thus the Musicians’ Union blocked the opportunity.
These frustrations made their way onto vinyl when, after a January 1966 tour of Poland with Billy J. Kramer, the band went against their soulful roots and put out an EP including A Taste of Honey, Our Man Flint, These Boots Are Made for Walking and the only tune penned by a band member on the 26 track CD I have (the entire recorded output while the band was in existence with the exception of two 1966 B-sides), the Jon Lord authored Routine. Which leads us directly to their problem: this was the era where the song writing duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney set a high bar for bands to strive for with their imaginative and prolific writing output. An excellent cover band such as the Artwoods could still draw a big dance crowd, but if one were prone to buy the music they would most likely seek out the original.
The boys regained much of their R&B credibility and garnished a minor UK hit when they put out their version of Sam and Dave’s I Take What I Want backed with one of those songs I don’t have, bearing the ridiculously long title I’m Looking for a Saxophonist Doubling on French Horn Wearing Size 37 Boots. The other tune I don’t have is Molly Anderson’s Cookery Book, which backed their next single I Feel Good when it was released in August of 1966, again failing to hit the charts.
Not only were the club appearances still going strong, they were getting into the better playing venues more and more, such as their August 22nd debut at the Marquee. The band was now hoping that their LP could do what the five singles could not: provide the public with a buyable product. Art Gallery came out in November and, while it sometimes followed the band’s R&B sensibilities, it just didn’t have the oomph of their live performances. With the lack of success of the album, Decca called it quits and dropped the Artwoods in spite of having an albums worth of recorded material that, unless recently released, is still collecting dust.
Parlophone put out a 45 with What Shall I Do and In the Deep End in April and the band performed the two songs as well as Steady Getting It and Devil with a Blue Dress / Good Golly Miss Molly on radio’s Wayne Fontana Show, but sales were not strong enough for the label to exercise their option for a follow-up release.
Hartley would leave the band, replaced in April of 1967 by Colin Martin, and play a year with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers before putting out seven LPs with his own Keef Hartley Band, followed by a return stint with Mayall. The other band member to put together as notable a career was Jon Lord, who had ten years of training with aspirations towards becoming a classical pianist until he was exposed to the Jerry Lee Lewis tune Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On. He was playing Jazz in the tenor saxophonist-led Bill Ashton Combo by 1962 and joined with Wilson in 1963. Lord began playing the Lowry organ while Art was with the group and they were occasionally billed as the Great Organ-ised. He then switched to the Hammond B-3 organ for concert purposes in spite of the problems incurred in moving such a beast. One thing Lord wanted to do was to apply some of his classical leanings into the combo’s sound which would later occur while with Deep Purple. After the Artwoods, Jon was in the Flower Pot Men and he and their bass player Nick Simper would join Ritchie Blackmore in the formation of Roundabout which in turn morphed into Deep Purple. He then moved on to Whitesnake.
Fontana gave the group one more chance, putting them in a gangster setting and under the moniker of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, with Al’s Party backing Brother Can You Spare a Dime, originally a 1932 Bing Crosby release. This A-side and the album opener Can You Hear Me are likely my favorite two tracks from the CD, but again sales were disappointing except in Sweden, where the boys made a final hurrah on tour before putting it all behind them and breaking up the band.
Art was a part of Quiet Melon in 1969, whose all star cast included Kenny Jones, Ian McLagan, Kim Gardner, Ronnie (probably Wood, not Lane) and Rod Stewart. However, as Art later put it, “Then Rod and Ronnie blew me out, the little bastards, and went on to become the Faces. Oh well!” In the nineties he joined the Downliners Sect and, in 1998, he and brothers Ted and Ron got together to record a Quiet Melon album and a performance at the Eel Pie Club.
Griffiths went on to session work and played with the Mike Cotton Sound before rejoining Hartley in 1974 to form the Dog Soldier band, later putting together his own GB Blues Company. Malcolm Pool was in the Don Partridge Band before retiring from the music biz and Martin would become a BBC producer.
Santa Barbara Machine Head appears to be a brief stepping stone in Jon Lord’s transition from the Artwoods to Deep Purple. Bassist Kim Gardner and guitarist Ron Wood from the recently defunct Birds joined him in this endeavor that had only a few gigs but made it into the studio for these three 1966 tracks which we include today, first issued in 1995. From here, Gardner went on to Creation, Wood to the Jeff Beck Group, the Faces and ultimately the Rolling Stones, and the fourth member, drummer John “Twink” Adler, later went to the Pink Faeries.
NOTE: I use the term we throughout this blog site because I don’t want to take any blame, but if you should happen to like it then you can give me all the credit.
Eric Clapton was born on March 30th, 1945 in Ripley in the county of Surrey to the unwed Patricia Clapton and a married Canadian soldier, Edward Fryer. When his father returned home after the war, his mother wed another Canadian soldier and moved to Germany and then Canada, leaving Eric in the care of his grandparents with the belief he was their son. He then went by the name Eric Clapp, the surname of his grandparents, Jack and Rose. The situation became even more tangled as his mother moved back home when he was twelve and had to be referred to her as his sister.
Eric became interested in the guitar during the Skiffle era and coerced the Clapps to get him a plastic Elvis guitar after his attempt to carve a Stratocaster from a block of wood and, when he was fifteen, a Hofner acoustic. In 1962, Eric enrolled in the Kingston School of Art presumably to learn the design of stained glass, but he discovered too many diversions from his studies and three months later was most often found busking in the streets of Kingston and Richmond after being expelled from the art school. He was much more diligent in his pursuit of knowledge of the Blues than he could ever have been towards his curriculum.
Eric was 18 when he met Tom McGuinness at the Station Hotel in Richmond. Fellow guitar player McGuinness and Clapton formed the Roosters in January 1963 and would move together from there to Casey Jones and the Engineers. While the Roosters were an R&B group in the style meeting Clapton’s approval, the Engineers were a Pop-oriented outfit that Eric stayed with for only about six weeks between September and October. Eric was the lead guitarist in both bands and this was where he switched from acoustic to an electric Kay guitar. This was also the period that Clapton picked up the nickname Slow Hand because he broke a lot of strings, so the audience began to clap slowly each time he had to restring his axe. Eric went to the Yardbirds in October and McGuinness to Manfred Mann in December, initially as their bass player, and would form McGuinness-Flint and a while later help found The Blues Band.
By the time Clapton joined the Yardbirds, they had pretty much completed their formational phase. The earliest assemblage would have been in the late fifties when the rhythm section of drummer Jim McCarty and bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, then playing guitar, joined some schoolmates in the Strollers. After adding Paul’s brother, Brian Smith, the band renamed themselves after his Gretsch guitar, becoming the Country Gentlemen and playing copies of basic American Rock ‘n’ Roll such as the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Ricky Nelson plus the English chart toppers Cliff Richard and the Shadows, performing at high school dances and pubs until the individuals graduated in early 1962.
Later in 1962, Chris Dreja and Anthony “Top” Topham were getting together listening to and learning tunes by Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed, among others, while in attendance at Hollyfield Road School in Surbiton, coincidentally simultaneously being attended by Eric Clapton. They put together an R&B group that stayed together until merging with the Metropolis Blues Quartet in May 1963.
The MBQ was an acoustic Blues group including Samwell-Smith, now on bass, and Keith Relf as its harmonica playing singer. At the same time that McCarty rejoined Samwell-Smith, Topham and Dreja came into the fold. Relf came up with the name Yardbirds (meaning hoboes who hung out around train yards) and the boys began to put together a repertoire based on American Blues such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.
After a couple of weeks, they convinced Cyril Davies to put them in the intermission set at his Eel Pie Island Hotel gig and did well enough that they joined them similarly at his gig the next week at the Railway Hotel in Harrow. This second showing earned them a Friday night residency and they soon picked up a regular spot at Ken Colyer’s 51 Club. As a new band with a limited set of material combined with the fact that Colyer’s club was often an all-night affair, the songs had to often be extended well past their original three minutes or less to as long as twenty minutes while the band learned to improvise and progressively build up the dynamics into what would become their trademark “rave-ups”.
When the Rolling Stones deserted their manager Giorgio Gomelsky in favor of Andrew Loog Oldham and gave up their engagement at Gomelsky’s Crawdaddy Club, Giorgio chose the Yardbirds as the new house band for his Sunday night shows starting September 29th, 1963, seamlessly replacing the Stones one week after their last appearance. Having been brought up in France and Switzerland, upon immigrating to England in the mid-50s Giorgio’s endeavors would make him an important character on London’s Blues and Jazz scenes. He had filmed the Chris Barber Band’s performance at the First Richmond Jazz Festival in August of 1961 and by mid-1962 took over occupancy of the back room of the Station Hotel every Sunday evening to promote Trad Jazz with an appreciation also for Blues. After taking on the Stones in February, Giorgio moved to the larger Richmond Athletic Club and continued to sell out each week. Following the release of the Stones’ first single, the band needed an even larger venue and the door opened for the Yardbirds. Having been burned by the Stones, Gomelsky put the Yardbirds on a salary and made sure they signed a managerial contract. A few weeks into their new gig, the 16-year-old Topham was convinced by his parents that his schoolwork was more important than his musical avocation, and that is where our story goes full circle back to Clapton, playing for the first time at the Crawdaddy on October 20th, 1963. Keith Relf had been a schoolmate at Kingston Art College and, being familiar with his recent musical talents, invited Eric to consider joining the band.
Meantime, Gomelsky’s friendship with Horst Lippman and Fritz Rau, producers of the American Folk Blues Festival series of shows, often gave him first opportunity to promote the visiting musicians in the UK. While in the country, Lippman and Sonny Boy Williamson attended a Yardbirds show in Croyden and were impressed so much with Clapton that they determined to come back after the festival tour and record shows with the band. Giorgio convinced them his Crawdaddy Club would be the ideal venue and the shows happened on December 7th and 8th, 1963, but were not released until mid-1966, and then only in the US and with the picture of Jeff Beck rather than Clapton on the album cover. The opening set of the band finally made it to vinyl much later, in 1981 on a German label. We lead off our first Yardbirds set with two tracks from these opening sets, Let It Rock and You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover..
The Yardbirds also had a regular Saturday night slot at Croyden’s Star Club and began a Thursday residency on January 23rd, 1964 at the Marquee. When the club moved to a larger venue, the band played the opening night of Friday March 13th (coincidentally the last of Sonny Boy’s concerts in the UK), and continued on Fridays rather than their previous Thursday shows. The group also played at Birmingham’s town hall for the First Rhythm and Blues Festival in February, once again backing Sonny Boy. Also on the lineup were Steampacket, the Spencer Davis Rhythm and Blues Quartet and Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men (including Rod Stewart).
The Yardbirds were in the studio in December and January making three demo tracks that enabled Gomelsky to get the group signed with EMI. They then put together I Wish You Would and A Certain Girl for their first single, released in May 1964.
The band was booked for the August 9th Fourth National Jazz and Blues Festival in Richmond but, the evening before, Relf suffered a collapsed lung and nearly died. Being the most important gig of their career thus far, the band went on to close the Festival utilizing Mick O’Neill, whose band Clapton would consider joining after his departure from the Yardbirds, as substitute vocalist. The band’s finale was a jam session with Georgie Fame, Graham Bond, Ginger Baker and Mike Vernon joining them on stage. With Relf’s health (he was a chronic asthmatic) putting the status of the band in limbo, they decided to go into the studio and lay down the instrumental foundation for their next single, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Contradicting his doctor’s recommendations for three months recovery time and against pleas from the band, Relf left the hospital after only two weeks and added the vocals and joined the band in recording the flip side, I Ain’t Got You. The A-side was banned by the BBC but still reached #44 on the strength of their popularity on the club scene. Much of the rest of the year was spent on package tours where Relf felt their portion of each show would be much less stressful than their normal full-night shows.
Realizing the minimal success of their first two singles, especially compared to the vitality of the live performances, the band decided their debut album should be a live recording. The natural choice for a venue would be the Marquee so in March of 1964, everything was set up for the resulting Five Live Yardbirds album, released in its entirety in the UK in December and only partially in the US as one side of the Rave Up album. Rolling Stone writer Lester Banks later considered it “without a doubt one of the four or five most exciting rock concerts ever recorded. The early Yardbirds were loose and raw and played with a breathtaking natural energy that has never been matched by any of their progeny.” I would like to know the others he has in mind to consider adding to my collection. In spite of having half of it already on the American Rave Up LP, I purchased the import around 1968 along with Graham Bond’s Sounds of ’65 to listen to some pre-Cream material and I have never come close to regretting either purchase. Because I consider it that good, the whole Five Live album is used to close today’s show.
In May of 1964, Clapton had the opportunity to share guitar duties with Muddy Waters on a session for his longtime piano player, Otis Spann. Apparently two tracks featuring Clapton were released but I have only one in my collection, Pretty Girls Everywhere, a song that I have heard done by many artists since and seemingly always done well, but this is my favorite version. Because it was not with the Yardbirds, I have opted to include the track in an upcoming show. For the Yardbirds next 45, Clapton wanted to do an Otis Redding tune, but Samwell-Smith had more sway over the rest of the band and he wanted to go with a more commercially viable song they been asked to record by the teenage songwriter, Graham Gouldman, titled For Your Love. Clapton disapproved vehemently and refused to take part in the recording, agreeing at the last minute to put a lead in the instrumental break. Along with Relf’s vocal, the song utilized an outside bongo player and bass player (Samwell-Smith instead was on the production end) and Brian Auger playing harpsichord. As it turned out, by totally dropping their R&B roots for Pop drivel, the Yardbirds finally achieved the success they were hoping for when the March UK release climbed to the number three spot while its May US debut reached #6. Got to Hurry was a Clapton-penned R&B instrumental that was the flip side and Eric’s first recorded composition. It was Samwell-Smith’s opinion that “the R&B sound is a bit dated now” and Relf confided that, regarding the public’s musical appetite, “If they want more pop numbers, we’ll play them.”
Disillusioned, Clapton gave public notice in March 1965 that the Yardbirds no longer had his services. Where would he find a home and be allowed to develop his Blues skills? And who could possibly replace Clapton and keep the Yardbirds whole? Hint: it wouldn’t be Brian Auger or any other harpsichord player.