January 14, 2015

Development of the British Blues and Rhythm
   --- show 22 ---     1-14-2014  
Fleetwood Mac
Love Sculpture

 It seems like whenever I play Fleetwood Mac I get a lot of response from listeners and our last two shows were no exception.  I had a lot of good conversations, graciously accepted compliments for how good the music was (like I had a hand in making it!), and even got three pledges during the show which is unusual because I always mention it is a good idea to pledge during the marathons.  Anyway, apparently a good time was had by all and that feeling should carry over through this and the next show.  Originally I planned on doing three shows, but after going through all their music in my collection I was surprised at the amount of material that is out there from a band that was only together between August 1967 and April 1970, the date Peter Green dropped out.

Our first show was comprised entirely of material recorded over a three-day span at the Boston Tea Party in February of 1970 which were intended to be winnowed down into a fourth Fleetwood Mac album but was shelved for decades when Peter Green departed.  What finally came out are three CDs, each containing the full show for one of the appearances with very little redundancy.  Then last time we went into their earliest studio sessions comprising 45s and their first two UK LPs.  We open up today’s show with a live assemblage of Jeremy Spencer’s take on 50s Rock which was previously only represented by his one side for Immediate, Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked in Tonight, before the numerous post-mortem releases came to light.  Our second set focuses on the band after Danny Kirwan joined as another influence on the group’s musical direction, and the third and closing set is made up of four instrumentals from the Then Play On album (their third) which are cumulatively referred to as the Madge sessions.  Our next airing will show more of Spencer’s 50s Rock taken from live BBC sessions and later his parodies of some of the respected musicians of the day intended for an EP release that was to be concurrent to the Then Play On album.  So it’s not like I’m running out of quality content and settling for filler; in fact, we’ll likely revisit the band later in the year to showcase a double LP with several of the Chess Records Chicago Blues luminaries and a separate album joining the great pianist Otis Spann.  These were bucking the trend at the time of American Bluesmen traversing the Atlantic to gather together Britain’s best artists in that these sessions were recorded in Chicago and New York.

Peter Alan Greenbaum was born October 1946 in East London’s Bethnal Green district.  His first influence was Bill Haley and other mid-50s rockers but, like so many other young British guitarists, the Shadows began to influence his playing by 1960.  In 1962 he joined the pop-oriented Bobby Denim and the Dominoes.  In 1964, in addition to his day job as a butcher’s trainee and already into the Blues, Peter moved on to the Muskrats, which included future Chicken Shack and Savoy Brown drummer Dave Bidwell.  Until joining the Muskrats Peter had taken to playing the bass, but around the end of his time with them switched back to guitar.  From the Chuck Berry / Bo Diddley-styled group he moved on to the Bluesbreakers late in October 1965, months after Clapton took off for a working holiday in Greece.  His time with Mayall was cut to just one week when Eric returned to the band.

Early in 1966, Peter signed on with Peter B and the Looners, the B standing for Bardens, already a veteran of the Irish band Them.  Mick Fleetwood was the drummer, the third band in which he was with Bardens, the Senders and the Cheynes being the predecessors.  Peter got his first studio experience when the Looners put out a single, If You Wanna Be Happy / Jodrell Blues in March 66, but its lack of success led the mostly instrumental group to add vocalists Rod Stewart and Beryl Marsden, changing their name to Shotgun Express, structurally similar to and just after Rod left the short-lived Steampacket which also featured Long John Baldry, Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll.  Green left before the band broke up in early 1967, likely due in part to Marsden’s declining Peter’s marriage proposal.

In August Green began his second term with Mayall’s long-standing rhythm section of drummer Hughie Flint, a Bluesbreaker since July 1964 as well as playing with John back in Manchester, and John McVie, member of a Shadows imitator band until he joined Mayall in April 1963.  It is reported that at their first gig Mayall said something like “Let’s do a 12-bar in C” with McVie responding, “What’s that?”  Aynsley Dunbar replaced Flint shortly after Green joined, together putting out the Hard Road album and a handful of singles.  Mayall was not entirely pleased with Dunbar’s drumming; not the quality but that it was too technical and busy for what the bandleader wanted so, upon Green’s suggestion, Mick Fleetwood was brought in as Dunbar’s replacement.  Fleetwood would only last about five weeks, some sources say even a shorter term, because he partied too much at the gigs.  I like the way it was phrased in one of my well-used books, The Blues-Rock Explosion: “Fleetwood’s need for boozed-up good times at gigs was greater than his need to keep good time on the drums.”  Mayall had already been coping with the same problem with McVie for years, resulting in multiple terminations of the bass player, and he wasn’t about to put up with it from the start with a new band member.  In spite of his brief time in the Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood did join McVie and Green in backing Mayall on the 45 Double Trouble and It Hurts Me Too.

“If John Mayall made up a tape for you, you could bet on it that there would be everything there about a guitarist or band you needed to know.”  Still, with all the respect Green had for Mayall’s influence and instruction, neither he nor McVie were happy with the direction the Bluesbreakers were heading by adding horns to the stage lineup.

When Green left the Bluesbreakers, he and McVie were contemplating a visit to Chicago, or maybe Peter would just put in some time jamming around for a while, but complications acquiring visa and work permits put an end to dreams of an American visit.  In the meantime, one of the producers for Decca Records Mike Vernon, especially present on Blues recordings, along with his brother Richard was trying to put together a new label of their own, Blue Horizon.  Being a fan of Green from his time with Mayall, Mike convinced Peter to instead put together his own group and Green desired Fleetwood and McVie to round out the trio.

Fleetwood was fine with the idea and gave up his newly-started interior design business, while McVie also liked the idea but was not ready to give up the financial security of being a Bluesbreaker.  Found through an ad placed in the music magazine Melody Maker for a temporary bass player, their choice Bob Brunning was now embarking on two new careers after also just receiving his teaching credential.  Bob had played in some local groups and would go on to form the Brunning-Hall Sunflower Band, but Mac was his first truly professional gigging and even though his term was limited he remained a friend of the band, as evidenced by Peter adding his guitar work (and some vocals) to four tracks for the Sunflower Band LPs.  From Mac’s earliest session, Brunning appeared on two released tracks: their first single I Believe My Time Ain’t Long (its B-side required no bass) and from their first LP Long Grey Mare. The 45 would be released in November 67 with the LP following in February 68 and staying on the UK charts for nearly a year.  Against Peter’s wishes, Vernon wanted to name the album Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, but through Green’s persistence this was modified to add ”featuring Jeremy Spencer”, thus giving all four members a portion of the title.

Once the lineup seemed set as a trio, Green wanted to find someone to open up for the band in order to not have to hit the stage to a cold audience, so Vernon pointed out the diminutive (5’4”) Jeremy Spencer in what was by all accounts an otherwise lackluster Levi Blues Set.  Most impressive was Jeremy’s mastery of the style of Elmore James, but he was also an accomplished piano player and vocalist, all of which should satisfy Green’s desire to share the spotlight.  With this in mind and the band already signed to Blue Horizon, Vernon convinced Green to make Spencer a full-fledged member of the group.  After a brief rehearsal period, the band was prepared for their debut at the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival on August 13th, 1967.  Brunning’s total time with the band would turn out to be only about a month as McVie would join the lineup in time to easily make the November studio session that would fill out the debut album.  The band was finally set as it had been originally conceptualized, plus the added talents of Spencer.

Regarding the debut album, Beat Instrumental declared it “the best English Blues LP ever released here”, and a writer from the New Musical Express found relief from his pondering: “I wondered where the early Animal and Stones music had gone…well, here it is.”  But by the time the LP reached our shores, Rolling Stone’s appraisal was only halfway as complimentary: “On this, their first recorded effort, Fleetwood Mac have established themselves as another tight English Blues Band.”  “(They) know what they’re doing, they dig the music they’re playing and that’s great, but the drawback here is that they don’t put enough of themselves into it instead of what they’ve heard from the original artists.”

A month after the successful release of their first album, the March release of the single Black Magic Woman topped out at #37, curiously low considering its influence especially on one Carlos Santana.  Their next release in July, Need Your Love So Bad which featured orchestral backing, fared a little better at #31, but that month also saw their first American tour turn out a disaster mostly due to mismanagement on the US side.

By now, Spencer’s role within the band was becoming increasingly diminished which caused him to feel as though he were being slighted, so he would sit backstage and mope.  His actions did not please Green either.  “I had two parts to play because Jeremy wasn’t going to make the effort to learn my things – to play properly on the piano.  I was told he could play properly but never saw him do that.”  Therefore, when May rolled around and it was time to record the second LP, Mr. Wonderful, McVie’s girlfriend Christine Perfect (who had recently retired from “the other” Blue Horizon band Chicken Shack) was enlisted to provide piano on some of Green’s material.  Also used on the album were Johnny Almond on tenor sax (one of four horn players) and Peter’s one-man-band buddy Duster Bennett blowing away on harmonica, who himself was now signed to Blue Horizon as well.  Spencer is listed as playing piano but I must presume this is solely on his own material.  The album came out in August and peaked at #10 UK but its American counterpart English Rose didn’t find its way into the record bins until six months later (just as was the case with the first LP) and failed to chart at all.  I don’t have reviews of the full LP, but Rolling Stone did deem the album’s track Love That Burns the “finest white recording of the Blues ever made.”

On August 14th 1968 after the band returned from their US tour, an addition was made in the form of guitarist / vocalist / songwriter Danny Kirwan who, with his trio Boilerhouse, had opened up for Mac in shows dating as far back as about a year earlier.  Like Spencer before him, Danny was the standout in this mediocre trio and knocked out his headliners.  At first, an attempt was made to find an adequate rhythm section for Kirwan to front but, when that failed, Vernon suggested Danny would meet Green’s desire to have another guitarist to work off of.  Green remembers Fleetwood suggesting, “’Why don’t you get him in?”  I didn’t want to at first, but Mick persuaded me that we could do some interesting things with two guitars…and he was right.  I would never have done Albatross if it wasn’t for Danny.  I never would have had a number one hit record”.  Brunning saw Danny at the time he joined the band as “a painfully shy and polite new-boy who was in awe of everyone in the band and even in awe of people like me who were to do with the band”.

For the group’s second American LP English Rose, several of the tunes from Mr. Wonderful were replaced by newer ones featuring Kirwan.  My thought was that they wished the album to be more like the stage show but my information says the disc came out in February while the tour ended in January, so something is askew.  Strange that the company wouldn’t have the two coincide.

Around December of 1968, Fleetwood Mac headed out for their second US tour which went better than the last one.  The highlight of the tour was not any of the concerts but the fact that they had the opportunity to play with some of the best American Bluesmen.  In January, probably due to his status as A&R man for Chess Records, Willie Dixon was able to put the boys together for two days of sessions featuring various combinations with guitarists Buddy Guy and Dave “Honeyboy” Edwards, harpman Big Walter “Shakey” Horton, tenor saxist J.T. Brown, drummer S.P. Leary and pianist Otis Spann at the label’s Chicago recording studio.  Dixon, of course, added some stand-up bass to the sessions including a handful of tunes featuring Jeremy Spencer’s adaptations of Elmore James’ material.  Sitting in on those tracks was Brown, who was Elmore’s sax player on so many of those classic 50s recordings, and he was blown away by the accuracy of Spencer’s renditions.  I have no chart data  for the album, but it must have suffered considerably since the double LP was held back until December when the band’s direction was morphing away from the strict Blues they had been known for at the beginning of the year.  Spann was impressed enough that he got Green, Kirwan and McVie to join him and Leary at the end of their tour later in January for the sessions which produced his Blue Horizon album The Biggest Thing Since Colossus. 

Blue Horizon had signed Mac to a one year contract with a company option for a second year but somehow the Vernons forgot to renew and Mac became free agents just as Albatross was riding the very top of the charts and just before the tour began.  In keeping with Green’s ideas toward money not being the be all and end all of any kind of agreement, he was against the change but this time lost out and in early summer the band signed with Reprise.  Also recorded in New York before their journey home was their next single, Man of the World paired with Jeremy’s rocker Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight under the pseudonym Earl Vince and the Valiants.  The 45 was released in April 1969 on the Immediate label as a one-off deal falling between the two contracts.  It started slowly but payola brought about airplay and the disc rose to #2 and kicked Mac from the large pub scene into the more profitable concert halls and stadiums.

Jeremy Spencer’s humor was an integral part of the Fleetwood Mac stage shows, and an October 1968 session was held just for the purpose of creating the experience on an EP.  It was plenty funny to me and I imagine some of this style of jocularity would be a hilarious addition interspersed with his 50s Rock mimicry.  The imaginary Milton Schlitz is supposed to typify the American MCs who might also supplement their income by doing TV ads for used car lots.  On the semi-musical side, he portrays Alexis Korner, a Doo Wop group, Lightnin’ Hopkins (the only tune omitted because it was just a little too slow), a generic psychedelic group and winds up mocking Peter Green’s mentor John Mayall.  The irreverent disc was to be an accompanying piece to the band’s third LP, Then Play On, which indeed Jeremy did not play on.  While the album came out in September, the EP never hit the record racks. Green said, “We would like him to do that sort of thing more often, but if an audience is cold he won’t do it.” 

Spencer’s humor could often be pornographic and/or tasteless as in the time the band was banned from the Marquee after the focal point on stage was a 16” pink dildo (named Harold and Jeremy’s proud possession) protruding outside his trousers.  As Chicken Shack and later Savoy Brown bass player Andy Silvester put it, “I always remember Fleetwood Mac as a happy band but a band with a bizarre humor.  They used to take things too far, and Jeremy was the instigator of this”. 

Ultimately, Jeremy was in a world of his own.  While the others were out doing things on their days off during the 1970 US tour, Jeremy could be found all on his lonesome smoking dope and reading the New Testament.

Mac was in the studio over a four month span beginning in April 1969 to lay down tracks for their first Reprise LP, Then Play On, released in September.  According to Green, “We should have had a producer on Then Play On, then it might have sold better.  We tried to produce it ourselves, like other bands did at the time, thinking it would be more fun.”

Recording engineer Martin Birch took on much of that responsibility although not the producer’s title.  Around this time, Kirwan began to think of his idol Green as more of a competitor, and Birch recalled, “When we’d finish one of his tracks, Danny would say, ‘I’d like Peter to hear this’.  And Peter would say, ‘Well, if you like it then that’s fine with me’.  I often got the impression that Danny was looking for Peter’s approval whereas Peter wanted Danny to develop himself by doing it himself.”

In an attempt to cash in on one last time on the recordings still in their vault, Blue Horizon put together The Pious Bird of Good Omen LP and released it just before the Reprise album.  The album, comprised of outtakes and 45 sides that had not been on British albums previously, reached #18.

The British press came out strongly in favor of the new album, with Melody Maker seeing Then Play On as “a great leap forward for the Mac” and Beat Instrumental declaring it “Fleetwood Mac, at their very, very best. … Peter Green’s characteristic guitar is evident throughout, and this LP can only add to his fast-growing stature as one of the best guitarists in Britain.”

In a Rolling Stone review of the album, the magazine suggests that Mac is giving up the Blues: “Tired of being another British Blues band, the group has said goodbye to Elmore James and has moved into the pop-rock field.  On this album they fall flat on their faces”, which prompted Green to say during the 1970 US tour, “We’re not getting out of Blues or out of anything.  It’s just that we’re getting into more things – you see we did some blues tonight“.  He also spoke of the album in September 1969, “There is nothing I feel I could have done better”.

Released the same month as Then Play On was Oh Well (parts 1 & 2): “I like it because it represents me at my two extremes – as wild as I can be and my first sort of semi-classical attempt.”  Within a week of its release, the 45 reached #2 and stayed on the charts for 16 weeks

Although highly respected, Fleetwood Mac never did quite make the top tier as Mick felt they should.  “I believe we’d have had the same status as Led Zeppelin in America.  Led Zeppelin had a schtick, they had a lead singer with an image.  I think Fleetwood Mac had a great image, a fun-loving bunch of lads.  Peter Green was every bit as much a talent as Jimmy Page.”

“There were a million groups making a mockery of the Blues.  And a million guitarists playing as fast as they could and calling it Blues.  Some people think that the Blues is just a way of playing guitar but it isn’t.  The Blues really is about having the Blues.”  These were Green’s comments during the sixties and in a February 1996 article in Guitar Player Magazine he expressed that, “I didn’t understand the Blues well enough so I stopped.  The Blues was too deep.  It got too painful. … the Blues is something you spend a lifetime in, and you have to understand it to play it. …The Blues ended up hurting my soul so I stopped it and started to make up stories instead. … I had to give up because it wasn’t mine, it didn’t belong to me. … The Blues is something you have to work at and I wasn’t learning it fast enough.”

In a May 1998 Guitar Player interview, Kirwan concurred.  “If you’re a white man you have to learn the Blues, you don’t know them.  It’s as simple as that. … those guys were blacks singing and playing about what it is to be black in their country, which isn’t really their country.”

This would appear an appropriate place to interject another view, that of Leroi Jones in his excellent book Blues People, with one black man’s perspective on whites taking up black music.  "The Negro's music changed as he changed ... (and ultimately) created a music that had offered such a profound reflection of America that it could attract white Americans to play it or to listen to it. ... Unlike the earlier blackface acts and the minstrels who sought to burlesque certain facets of Negro life, ... white jazz musicians ... wanted to play the music because they thought it emotionally and intellectually stimulating. ... the entrance of the white man at this level of sincerity and emotional legitimacy did at least bring him, by implication, much closer to the Negro ... (and) served to place the Negro ... in a position of intelligent regard it had never enjoyed before. ...  The music of the white jazz musician ... was ... a learned art. ... blues is an extremely important part of jazz. ... jazz utilizes the blues 'attitude' ... the white musician could understand ... to arrive at a style of jazz music. ... Afro-American music did not become a completely American expression until the white man could play it!"

During all three of Mac’s American tours a friendship with the Grateful Dead grew as the bands shared the same tickets and occasionally got together on stage.  “When I first heard Grateful Dead’s jamming, I thought it was a bit boring.  But then if you listened to it when you’d taken some LSD you could get into it and understand what they were doing.”  Whether it was the LSD or some other influence, Peter became obsessed with not needing money.  He wished to follow in the footsteps of the Dead with free concerts and encourage bootleg tapes of their appearances.

Green was more deeply embracing both Christianity and Buddhism to the point that he even renounced his Jewish faith.  “I had a strong feeling I was walking and talking with God.  I was drawing away from music into being just a Christian person and it made me such a very, very happy person.”  Towards the end of the Then Play On sessions, he and Spencer announced plans to do an orchestral project telling the story of Jesus but it never reached fruition.

There is a myth that was going around how Peter was abducted while in Munich and brainwashed by the use of LSD, but both Green and road manager Denny Keen, the only member of the Mac entourage who accompanied him claimed, first off, that he accepted an offer to join this group of artists for an afternoon during which, secondly, he did take the drug but that everything he did was by his own choice and not forced upon him.  They stayed overnight as Green spent some time jamming to some downbeat avant garde music, but regarding the next day’s concert, “I felt marvelous – kind of fresh not grubby.  We played all our usual stuff, but then when I jammed I couldn’t believe what I was coming out with – I was coming out with things I didn’t know I could play and the notes seemed to be going all around the room like machine-gun fire which left bulletmarks in the walls”.

Peter’s final gig was at the Bath City Football grounds at the end of May, followed up shortly with one last BBC appearance.  The last of his recordings with the group was released that month, The Green Manalishi (with the Two Prong Crown) b/w World in Harmony, going to #10 in the UK.  September saw the release of Kiln House, the first Fleetwood Mac disc sans Green, which was recorded as a quartet.  Peter’s first solo release came in November with a series of instrumental jams under the album title The Name of the Game.

There is more to say about the circumstances surrounding the departures of Spencer and then Kirwan, but in order to get this out today that shall have to wait ‘til our next show, so I think I’ll make my outro here from Mick’s 1990 biography Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures with Fleetwood Mac: “We were a rude, wild, fun-loving bunch of people who simply didn’t give a fuck.  Fleetwood Mac never wanted to be pure Blues like John Mayall or Rock like Hendrix or Cream.  We were a funny, vulgar, drunken vaudeville Blues band in that time (1967-70) playing music as much to amuse ourselves as please an audience and make money.”

Great Balls of Fire
Tutti Frutti
Teenage Darling
Keep A-Knockin’
Jenny Jenny
   Fleetwood Mac
3 O’clock Blues
I Believe to my Soul
So Unkind
Wang Dang Doodle
On the Road Again
Come Back Baby
Blues Helping
Shake Your Hips
   Love Sculpture
Jig Saw Puzzle Blues
Show Biz Blues
My Dream
Oh Well
Like Crying
Although the Sun is Shining
October Jam #2
Mighty Cold
Rattlesnake Shake
   Fleetwood Mac
Sabre Dance
The Promised Land
You Can’t Catch Me
Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller
(I Am) A Lover Not a Fighter
   (added if time permits)
I Hear You Knockin’
   Love Sculpture
The Madge Sessions #1
Searching for Madge
The Madge Sessions #2
Fighting for Madge
   Fleetwood Mac

December 24, 2014

Development of the British Blues and Rhythm
   --- show 21 ---     11-24-2014  

Fleetwood Mac



Be back next year

Okay, not really.  I couldn’t leave you without at least today’s playlist.  Anyway, I’ve had a lot to get done before the end of the year so I still haven’t quite nailed down the Fleetwood Mac entry and I have already put so much time into it that I want to do it absolutely right.  It will likely wind up the longest bunch of words (all brilliant, of course) yet for this series.  I’ve got three weeks before our next installation so I should have it (and a write-up on Dave Edmunds’ band Love Sculpture, making it a powerful show to begin the second year of this project) by then.  I can’t believe I have gotten through 21 episodes this year and we’re still only about halfway through!

Paul will host the fifth Wednesday’s New Year’s Eve show and we’ll instead be getting together on January 7th, so allow me to take this time to wish you all Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah or the most pleasant of whatever religious holiday you wish to celebrate.  I will be going to see my son and granddaughter for a nice Christmas dinner and it is my hope that you will all have family to share with as well.

This is our third and final show on Cream and their portion again consists entirely of live material while we go to the earliest studio sessions of Fleetwood Mac, encompassing their first two albums and other track from about the same time (all before Danny Kirwan came on the scene).  We also throw in three tunes to start our last set which were actually recorded when Mayall’s Bluesbreakers featured all three of the originally planned for members of the Mac – Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.  So enjoy the show and here is what you will be hearing.

Ramblin’ Pony
No Place to Go
My Heart Beat Like a Hammer
Hellhound on My Trail
Shake Your Moneymaker
Looking for Somebody
My Baby’s Good to Me
I Loved Another Woman
The World Keeps On Turning
Got to Move
Black Magic Woman
   Fleetwood Mac

Deserted Cities of the Heart
Sitting on Top of the World
Rollin’ and Tumblin’

Stop Messin’ Round
Need Your Love So Bad
Rolling Man
Dust My Broom
If You Be My Baby
Evening Boogie
Lazy Poker Blues
Need Your Love Tonight
   Fleetwood Mac

Tales of Brave Ulysses
White Room

It Hurts Me Too
Fleetwood Mac
Double Trouble
Watch Out
Mean Old Frisco
Allow Me One More Show
I Have to Laugh
Talk to Me Baby
Buzz Me Baby
Mean Mistreatin’ Mama
Long Grey Mare
Baby Please Set a Date
My Baby’s Sweeter
   Fleetwood Mac

December 10, 2014

Development of the British Blues and Rhythm
   --- show 20 ---     12-10-2014  
Cream (studio)             
Fleetwood Mac (Live)
Much of the Ginger Baker story has already been documented in our presentations of the Graham Bond ORGANization and Jack Bruce, but for clarity please allow me some redundancy here.  Born Peter Edward Baker in Lewisham, London, on August 19th, 1939, later acquiring the nickname "Ginger" because of his red hair.  In his youth, bicycle racing was his passion and his first instrument was the trumpet.  “From earlier than I can remember, really, I always liked the drums.  I always used to tap with my knife and fork at the table and drive everybody mad.”  At age fifteen, Ginger wanted to get a drum kit but his parents had just bought him an expensive bike and couldn’t afford the new expense, so Ginger went to work in commercial art and advertising and got a cheap set.

When he was sixteen, Baker answered an ad in Melody Maker looking for a drummer for the Storyville Jazzmen, a Trad band that took him on the road for the year.  “The way I play – I know now, more than ever – is something I was born with.… I could always play.  When I joined the Storyville Jazz Band I told them I’d been playing for three years.  In fact, I had only been playing three months.”

During that year, he also did recordings with (the?) Dobells and Acker Bilk, which led to his joining Terry Lightfoot’s Orchestra.  “I was with Terry Lightfoot for six months before I couldn’t stand it anymore.  We had a big row.  I have rowed with everyone … I’d got a gig in Copenhagen with (guitarist) Diz Dizley.  I was there three months including a tour in Scandinavia with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the gospel singer.”

Trad Jazz had been good to pay the bills, like buying his new second-hand drum kit that got him through those first gigs, but Ginger was truly devoted to modern art and contemporary jazz. “,,, when I started playing, Trad Jazz was the thing, and it was the easiest thing to play and the best music to start off with as a young drummer.  But things started to go awry when I started to play Max Roach style.  As soon as this happened, Terry Lightfoot nearly swallowed his clarinet.  He’d say, ‘I want four to the bar on the bass drum, nothing else!’  So I told him to get lost.”

“Then I got fed up with my kit.  I got this great idea for using Perspex.  It was like wood to work on, but it was smooth, and it would save painting the inside of the drum shell with gloss paint.  So I bent the shells and shaped them over a gas stove …. and pieced them together with proper drum fittings.  I made it in 1961 and used it up until 1966 when I got my first Ludwig kit,”

Back from the Scandinavian tour, Baker returned to his parents’ home and was able to use the vacant house next door to practice nine hours a day, essentially from when his parents left for work until they returned.  Gigs were sparse, so for about three months Ginger got work at a factory loading trucks.  After moving to Cricklewood, he finally got a steady gig playing mostly Big Band music at the Galtimore, an Irish Dance Hall.  He had to learn to read music for the job.  “I was there for eleven months and I could read anything when I came out …. I used to read off the tenor parts – used to sit up behind and read over the shoulder.  Very good for your side drum playing.”  About a month after getting the gig he married a girl named Liz. 

“Then I got a job with the Les Douglas band.  Used to work on all the American bases.  Went to Germany in a paratroop plane.  I left after another row.  I started them all usually.”  “I’d gone through the Big Band thing and was on to very modern Jazz.  1961, I started working in the Ronnie Scott’s club.  I worked there for about eighteen months then went to Germany with (the) Bert Courtley Band.  I also used to work in the Flamingo all-nighters.”  Some of the members of the Johnny Dankworth Band, perhaps the most prestigious of the UK’s modern Jazz ensembles, wanted him in the band, but his attitude history kept that from happening.  “I know I’m a bit of a monster.  I have always been big-headed, but people whose playing I liked always liked mine, and that kept me going.”

Ginger had come to idolize Phil Seamen by the late 50s.  “Phil heard me play in the All-Niter Club which used to be the Flamingo on Wardour Street.  Tubby Hayes (the sax player) had apparently been in there and heard me and ran over to Ronnie Scott’s Club and told Phil to come down and hear me.  When I got off stage I was suddenly confronted by my hero.”

In 1962, Ginger changed his focus toward the growing R&B scene, replacing Charlie Watts in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, joining with the bass player Jack Bruce.  “We actually found Jack earlier with Bert Courtley.  It was in Cambridge and this guy wanted to sit in on the bass.  I was very against it.  Everybody was a bit – you know how Jazz musicians are … Ever since then anything we did we got Jack on the bass.”

Dick Heckstall-Smith was already in Blues Incorporated and was representative of the Jazzier influences Korner was looking for that led co-founder Cyril Davies to leave and start his own group, the All Stars.  To replace Cyril’s vocals and harmonica playing, Alexis went with alto saxist Graham Bond, who also played keyboards.  “Graham was in the band about two months and we did a gig in Manchester – just Graham, Jack and me.  Went down a storm, so we thought -- this is it.  We gave our notices in in March, 1963.  Dick Heckstall-Smith joined us about six months later.”

After a brief time as a trio, Bond brought in guitarist John MacLaughlin but Baker disapproved and soon fired him, opening up room for Heckstall-Smith in the quartet now going under the name the Graham Bond ORGANization.  These were tumultuous times for the band members and Baker’s attitude wasn’t the biggest offender – it was Graham Bond’s drug problem and his general personality issues.  The enmity between Baker and Bruce certainly didn’t help as they would go as far as physically attacking each other on stage or sometimes just going after the other’s instruments.  Ultimately, Baker fired Bruce, but when Jack continued to show up at gigs it took Ginger pulling a knife to convince him to cease.  Jack went on to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann before he would again team up with Baker in Cream.

I’m not sure who covered the bass duties after Bruce was displaced or if it might even just have been Bond supplying the bass lines from his Hammond organ much like the American Rock band the Doors, but by 1966 the band was beginning to unravel.  They were still able to draw good crowds but the travel involved just got to be too much and Baker was looking for other opportunities.  Still, a poster for the ORGANization was visible outside the club where the Yardbirds (with Beck and Page) performed in the movie Blow Up.

Apparently, Baker already knew Clapton from a Bond jam session he had participated in back in 1964.  “I was getting fed up with Graham and the band after three and a half years, sometimes working 16 and 17 days on the trot, Glasgow one night and London the next …. So I went to see Eric at Oxford and I said that I fancied splitting (from) Graham, was he interested and he said ‘Yes’ right away …. He said ‘Let’s get Jack’ and I thought about it and decided alright, because without a doubt Jack is the best bass player about and I thought personal things should not get in the way.  I went to see Jack and he said ‘OK’ …For a few months everything was perfect and then it started getting heavy and I don’t think it has ever stopped.”

“Jack has got a very fiery personality.  My reaction to it is immediate anger, always has been.  I have a great problem with my temper anywhere; I usually hit doors or furniture.  I have broken up a few hotels in a drunken rage.  I’d rather do that than hit people.”

 “On one occasion many years ago I lost my temper with Jack and if I wasn’t pulled off him by a couple of bouncers I might have done him considerable harm.  From that day I promised him and Graham that it would never happen and it hasn’t.  I’ve walked through a few glass doors.  I kicked one in with one blow in New York on that tour. It was really good.”

We already know that Bruce was getting about two thirds of the writing credits because he was the only one to bring record-ready material to the studio, but Baker saw it another way.  “I would rather go into the studio with a rough idea and hear how it’s coming out.  The amount it changes in the studio is unbelievable.  This I have learned through experience of writing and doing sessions since 1957 …. I got nothing for the idea (of starting the band) and nothing for looking after the managerial side of the band.  When you’re on the road you’ve not got everyone there all the time to look after that side.  I check the books regularly.”

Following the breakup of Cream, Clapton and Baker stayed together as Blind Faith with the addition of bass player Rick Grech from the band Family and, most notably, former child prodigy Stevie Winwood.  Stevie was already a veteran of the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic while mastering keyboards and guitar in addition to having one of the most distinct voices in the music world.  It had long been speculated that he would join Cream, but even his skills couldn’t overcome the lack of material the band had.  After all the hype surrounding the band’s formation settled down, the reality was a dismal failure, putting out only one album in a mere seven month existence.

Clapton would begin his solo career, Winwood rejoined Traffic, and Baker formed Ginger Baker’s Air Force.  I’m afraid this is where I’ve run out of first-hand listening knowledge of Baker’s endeavors.  Although I’ve often wondered how he progressed, there were always too many other options including a strengthened focus on the American Blues artists.  It is here, then, that I will express my gratitude to Bruce Eder for his write-up from the All Music Guide, its Blues version having long been my most looked at reference book and now the biographies are even more available online.

The Air Force was assembled with two live English shows in mind, but grew into a full-blown tour.  Among the ten-piece ensemble was Baker’s idol and mentor Phil Seamen (and, I think, even a third drummer or percussionist) and Graham Bond.  Eder reported on the band’s eclecticism, “embracing jazz, traditional African music, blues, folk, and rock. The ten-piece band lasted less than a year before breaking up, leaving behind a genuinely fascinating and exciting live album and an interesting studio LP (both combined on the Ginger Baker double-CD set Do What You Like)”.  I looked into purchasing at least one of the CDs, but was warned repeatedly on-line about the first disc’s only available version’s terrible re-mastering, saying it was taken from a well-used LP that actually skipped in one segment.  Still, the reviewers felt the music was almost worth the annoyances, but I’ll wait until the double CD set becomes once again reasonably priced.

Ginger’s interest in the African music and culture led him to move to Nigeria in 1971, where he set up the first modern recording facility in western Africa.  During the three years he was there, he recorded many diverse musics, most notably Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run LP which Baker still claims McCartney stiffed him on.  Eder also particularly mentioned a solo album, Stratavarious.  I wish I could remember where I recently read a quote by Jack Bruce during this time where he said he was having no conflicts with Ginger.  Baker was in Nigeria and Bruce was in England.  But he was thinking of asking Baker to move again because he was still a little too close.  It was a lot funnier the way Jack said it.

Quoting Eder again, because I have no knowledge of Ginger’s efforts past this point and don’t feel comfortable in just rephrasing it: “During 1974, Baker formed the Baker-Gurvitz Army Band with guitarist Adrian Gurvitz and bassist Paul Gurvitz, which made an initial splash in America before fading out commercially over the next three years. From the late '70s until the mid-'80s, he re-emerged with bassist/guitarist Bill Laswell on the album Horses & Trees. By that time, a new generation of star drummers had emerged, most notably Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Bill Bruford of Yes and King Crimson, but Baker's reputation, thanks to the continued catalog sales of Cream's work, continued to resonate with fans and casual listeners. Over the next few years, Baker reappeared through various projects, including Ginger Baker's African Force and Middle Passage, that freely mixed African and Western musical influences. And in 1991, Baker surprised all onlookers with the release of Unseen Rain, a free-form instrumental album done almost entirely on acoustic instruments. Finally, in 1994, he returned to Atlantic Records -- which had been the U.S. outlet for Cream's recordings -- and to what he realized were his jazz roots with the triumphant Going Back Home, which featured the Ginger Baker Trio. Baker has hooked up with jazz trumpeter Ron Miles on Coward of the County, a hugely successful showcase for his jazz side and also includes a tribute to the late Cyril Davies, the British blues enthusiast who co-founded Blues Incorporated in the early '60s.”
I was hoping to have a write-up about Fleetwood Mac ready for this post but there was just not a lot of time.  We’ve got two, maybe even three more shows with Mac to follow so I am sure it will get done by then.  I will say this now: their music presented here today is all live, recorded over a three day stay at the Boston Tea Party in February of 1970.  The intention was that it would comprise their next album, but Green unexpectedly dropped out from the group so the project was shelved for decades.  It features Mick Fleetwood on drums, John McVie on bass, guitarist Jeremy Spencer doing his Elmore James tunes and on a later show his 50s Rock renditions, and Peter Green being joined on guitar by Danny Kirwin who had been with the band for about a year and a half.  I think you will find it a very welcome addition to their early history.

I would also like to mention the book Eric Jack and Ginger: The Cream Complete, actually a music book with a little over 45 pages of profiles and photos of the trio including each giving their own story, although it doesn’t really have the sheet music for all of Cream’s songs.  It provided many of the quotes used here for Ginger Baker and two weeks ago for Jack Bruce.

Stranger Blues
I Can’t Hold Out
Got to Move
Red Hot Mama
Oh Baby
The Sun is Shining
Madison Blues
   Fleetwood Mac

I Feel Free
Cat’s Squirrel
Four Until Late
Strange Brew
World of Pain
Outside Woman Blues
Take It Back
(Mother’s Lament)

World in Harmony
Loving Kind
Like It This Way
The Green Manalishi
    (with the Two-Pronged Horn)
On We Jam
   Fleetwood Mac

As You Said
Those Were the Days
Born Under a Bad Sign
Doing That Scrapyard Thing
What a Bringdown

Coming Your Way
Sandy Mary
Jumping at Shadows
Only You
If You Let Me Love You
Encore Jam
   Fleetwood Mac

November 26, 2014

Development of the British Blues and Rhythm
   --- show 19 ---   11-26-2014

Champion Jack Dupree & Tony McPhee

 We will be doing three shows on Cream, so I figured a good thing for these write-ups would be to feature the full careers-to-date of each of the three players, starting off this show with the bass player, occasional harmonica player and lead vocalist, Jack Bruce, followed in turn by Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton.  The fact that Jack passed away just over a month ago (October 25th) had nothing to do with my decision to do this write-up now; I had long planned to open up these Cream segments with Jack because he was possibly the band’s largest talent and had the most interesting narrative to be told.

Jack was a Glaswegian – for some reason I am infatuated with the sound of that word, but it just means he was from Glasgow, Scotland.  He attended the Scottish Academy of Music for a short while, but left because they didn’t appreciate what he was into and he felt that what they wished for him to learn would not fit into his goals.  He then took on gigs as the opportunities arose, eventually leading him to London.  It was during his intermission at a Cambridge May Ball in 1961 when he was playing upstairs with a Trad Jazz band that Jack heard a Modern Jazz sound featuring Dick Heckstall-Smith and Ginger Baker emanating from the cellar.  “It was an incredible sound and I thought I’ve got to play with them, you know, ‘cos up until then I didn’t know if I was any good.  I’d played with bands and I kept getting the sack because I was a bit too experimental.”  He asked to sit in and Dick said to come back later, but when he returned on his next break was told no because they were doing arrangements.  But Jack persisted and when given the chance bowled them over as he handled a few numbers that grew increasingly more difficult.  After the set Jack just left the stage, but by spending some time searching him out, Dick was able to take Jack to Alexis Korner and get him a job with Blues Incorporated.

Jack wasn’t there too long before Charlie Watts, recognizing he was not yet up to the caliber of the rest of the band, stepped aside to make room for Baker, a generous move that actually turned out rather well for all concerned.  Blues harpist Cyril Davies was with the band then but disapproved of the Jazz emphasis and left, being replaced by vocalist / alto saxist Graham Bond.  Bond then convinced Korner to allow the rhythm section of Baker and Bruce to back him as an organ trio during the full band’s intermissions.  The audience response convinced Bond that his own small combo could be more financially rewarding and, without consulting Baker or Bruce, told Korner they were leaving to put together the Graham Bond Trio.

Heckstall-Smith was invited to join but stayed with Alexis so guitarist John MacLaughlin put in some time with the Graham Bond Quartet, but Baker terminated him because he was a ”whiner and a miserable moaner”.  Bruce would suffer a similar fate when he upset Baker but Jack insisted the band was as much his and continued showing up at gigs until Ginger pulled out a knife and convinced him that would no longer be a good idea.  In the meantime, Heckstall-Smith had joined the Graham Bond ORGANization and the foursome made some recordings for Decca before their two Columbia albums The Sound of ’65 and There’s a Bond Between us.

Once away from Bond, Bruce spent about six weeks in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.  Manfred Mann was a neighbor of Mayall’s and was reluctant to poach Bruce from the Bluesbreakers, but at the insistence of his band mates did so.  Mayall was so outraged that his song Double Crossing Time was written to make his feelings toward Mann perfectly clear.  Bruce would stay with Manfred for about seven months until he received the offer that would bring the spotlight directly upon himself and two others.

When Ginger Baker approached Eric Clapton to form a new band, Eric convinced Baker to overlook past differences and go with Bruce on bass.  As Jack put it, “(Clapton) dug my playing.  In fact I hadn’t really dug his playing because at that time he was with the Yardbirds …I was on a more rhythm and blues gig, but when I saw him playing with Mayall I saw why everyone dug him so much”.  The Bond ensembles were among the most popular outfits in the U.K. with about three hundred gigs a year so it was no wonder Cream was considered a super group even though two thirds of its players were unfamiliar to American audiences.

Bruce had sung a couple of tunes on each of the Bond albums and occasionally sang with Paul Jones on stage while with Manfred Mann, but it was Clapton’s lack of confidence in his own vocals that essentially forced him to produce what would prove to be the powerful voice of Cream.  “There is an aggressive quality about the Cream’s music.  Basically I’m a quiet singer but on stage the actual volume of the instruments meant I had to shout to be heard.”  There was conjecture that the financial backers of the band had in mind Eric Clapton backed by a rhythm section, but once Jack opened his mouth the extraordinary musical talents of both he and  Baker could only be considered equal to that of Clapton.  Jack also played harmonica in the studio but in the live trio format his bass was usually a necessary constant.  I was at Winterland for one of the shows that created the live disc from Wheels of Fire (it was sub-labeled Live at the Fillmore and I believe recorded over two weekends) and I am trying to reconstruct in my mind how the ending went down.  As I recall, Clapton left the stage to allow Bruce to play harmonica backed only by Baker for Train Time, a tune he had previously recorded with Graham Bond.  Clapton then rejoined them for the start of Toad (a tune the other two had previously recorded with Graham Bond in a much shorter version) but about three minutes into Baker’s drum solo both Jack and Eric departed the stage for about twelve minutes, returning for the ending which was followed up by Clapton’s longtime signature song Steppin’ Out, an instrumental he first recorded for the Bluesbreakers and later for Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse   (found on Elektra’s multi-artist album What’s Shakin’).  “Every night we went on stage, instead of being out to prove ourselves to the audience, we had to prove ourselves first to each other.”

When it came to the band’s repertoire, it was hoped that each of the players would provide songs equally, but in the beginning “nobody had written any songs specifically for the group … so the basic thing was standard Blues… I think just one original”.  The problem persisted.  “We’d be on the road for months and then we would have five days to make an album.”  When the time came to put together Disraeli Gears, “I had about ten songs and Ginger had two songs and Eric had one…. I regretted that at the time, ‘cos I wanted to play the others’ music as much as my own”.

At one point, Ginger Baker brought around the beat poet Peter Brown who co-wrote Wrapping Paper and I Feel Free with Jack to begin a songwriting partnership from the band’s earliest recordings that would last for decades.  Jack’s wife Janet Godfrey also helped him on Sleepy Time Time and even co-wrote Sweet Wine with Baker.  For Disraeli Gears, their producer Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins wrote World of Pain and assisted Clapton in writing Strange Brew while Mike Taylor joined Baker in the scripting of three songs for Wheels of Fire.  Clapton was also aided by Mike Sharpe on a handful of songs.  Pappalardi became the producer beginning with Disraeli Gears and also provided additional instrumentation on several tunes while in the studio.  He later went on to become the bassist for Mountain.  For contractual reasons, guitarist George Harrison appeared on the Goodbye album as L’Angelo Misterioso on Badge, the song he co-wrote with Clapton.

Sunshine of Your Love was a collaboration of Clapton, Bruce and Brown and would become the anthem for a generation.  “I was watchin’ the telly the other night and Blood, Sweat and Tears came on and they did two bars from “Sunshine” and then went into something else.  Wait a minute.  I jumped up, that’s my riff, yeah, and there was no creditin’ being done.  My masterpiece, that riff.  I have to take responsibility for everyone who plays it.”

“I really think we began to want to go our different ways on the first American tour, which lasted for four and a half months…. We would have broken up then, but people reminded us that there were thousands and thousands who hadn’t seen us on stage and we really owed it to them and there was a lot of bread to be made so we kept on going.”  After four albums (with sales totaling 35 million including the first ever platinum LP, the double disc Wheels of Fire) and multiple American tours over a two and a half year span, the band did fall apart.  I remember speculation that Stevie Winwood would become the fourth member of the band and that did kinda happen when he joined the lineup of Blind Faith, where Bruce was replaced by bass player Rick Grech.  This revised supergroup pretty much flopped after putting up an extremely disappointing album although, to be fair, I find some things on it better listening now than I did then.

Even before Cream’s final concert at the Royal Albert Hall late in November, Bruce set up recording sessions in August of 1968 with a couple of his cohorts from the Bond days, John McLaughlin and Dick Heckstall-Smith, and Dick’s drummer from Colosseum, Jon Hiseman.  The culmination of four days of recording his own compositions finally came out in 1970 as Things We Like.  In the meantime, between April and June 1969, Jack gathered Dick and Jon together again to record an album consisting only of his own music with lyrics by Pete Brown titled Songs for a Tailor.  With exceptions for George Harrison, Felix Pappalardi and even Jack himself, all the guitar work was handled by Chris Spedding.  On three songs, trumpeters Henry Lowther and Harry Beckett and saxophonist Art Themen joined Heckstall-Smith for a full horn section.  Once again, Felix was in the producer’s chair and added occasional his own vocal and instrumental embellishments. The album climbed to #6 in its nine week stay on the Brit charts. 

“I wanted to tour almost immediately with that album, but for some reason, the management didn’t get it together.  It wasn’t until nearly six months after its release that I finally toured with Larry Coryell on guitar, Mike Mandel and Mitch Mitchell on drums.”  Jack would run into old friends Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith when this lineup, going as Jack Bruce and Friends, shared billing with Colosseum on their first gig January 24th 1970.  The band then meandered through the states on a tour beginning January 30th at New York’s Filllmore East (playing with Mountain, whose lineup included two future members of [Leslie] West, Bruce and [Corky] Laing) and closing at our own Fillmore West March 1st.

Jack tells us that before that first New York gig, “John McLaughlin came backstage and told me that Tony Williams was out front.  Tony was a drummer that I had admired so much.  His album that he recorded with Eric Dolphy when he was eighteen was very inspirational to me; he was only seventeen when he played with Miles Davis!  Tony came backstage and Jimi Hendrix was there too and Tony invited me to join his band, Lifetime!  I remember that Jimi Hendrix laid out this huge line of cocaine for us when I said I was interested!  I finished the tour and then went for an audition.  I went to a rehearsal room and Tony put up some really difficult sheet music on a music stand in front of me and I sight read it and it was amazing”.  Jack took part in the album Turn It Over, but apparently didn’t play on all the songs.  The lineup of Bruce, Williams, McLaughlin and organist Larry Young toured the US between April and September, then crossing the pond to play in the UK from October 2nd to December 5th, 1970.  “Playing with Lifetime was probably the most rewarding musical experience I’ve had.  It bothers me that Lifetime never got the recognition it deserved, as musically we were only doing what Cream did before.  It was a very difficult thing to go on the road with a band featuring two black guys and two white guys, the powers that be couldn’t get a handle on it.  Lifetime really was a high spot”.

The band split up shortly after that British tour Jack had organized, in part because, “we never cracked the USA.  John McLaughlin got approached to do his own thing and the Mahavishnu Orchestra which he formed was almost entirely lifted from Lifetime in its concept and was like a sanitized version of the band”.

This takes us a little past Jack’s time with Cream, so it seems like a good breaking point for this show’s entry.  I have much of his material up to 1972 and will surely be putting it to use in another show, although it continues to take him further away from the Blues which is the subject of our study but never really were his roots and therefore will be much less thorough of a musical survey.  So R.I.P., Mr. Bruce, and thank you for all the influence you gave the music world in general.
The band Bakerloo was formed early in 1968 as the Bakerloo Blues Line with drummer John Hinch, bassist Dave Mason soon to be replaced by Terry Poole, and guitarist David “Clem” Clempson.  As Clempson stated, “I suppose you could say we do about thirty per cent traditional Blues in our repertoire; the rest is a mixture of all sorts of things: Jazz, Rock and so on.”

The noteworthy part of the act would be Clemson, who moved on to Colosseum at the end of the band’s short lifespan,  He would also record four LPs with Humble Pie in his tenure with them between 1972-1975,  For his early life history, he was born September 5th, 1949 in Tamworth.  He started learning piano at age five and studied for ten years at the Royal School of Music in Birmingham, later switching to guitar at the age of 17.

Bakerloo Blues Line was signed in October of 1968 to the Henry Davidson Organization, which began a busy month for the band.  They acquired a Tuesday residency at Henry’s Blueshouse where they had attendants and sit-ins by Spencer Davis, Robert Plant, Cozy Powell, John Bonham and Jeremy Spencer.  On October 18th they appeared at the Marquee debut of Led Zeppelin and put a showing in on the BBC’s Top Gear radio show.

After a late November gig backing Jethro Tull at the Marquee, Clempson declined an offer made to replace their departing guitarist, Mick Abrahams.  December 1968 began a series of changes in drummers at a rate of about one a month (including former Spencer Davis Group’s Pete York) until they settled on Keith Baker.

Somewhere around February, the band recorded their only album and looked for the highest bidder.  Harvest Records put them under contract and in July released a single from the album, Driving BacHwards backed by Once Upon a Time.  The full album was put out later in the year, and it wasn’t long after that the band went their separate ways with Clemson joining Colosseum.

I figured we needed a change of pace from the intensity of the other two bands in today’s presentation so I turned down the electricity considerably with the inclusion of some solo and duet work recorded by Champion Jack Dupree for the newly-formed Blue Horizon label.  We combined things from the 1968 From New Orleans to Chicago album where the only accompaniment is his piano (excepting our last entry where he plays drums instead) with the 1967 Dupree and MacPhee release, somewhat unique in the fact that Jack does not play piano but is backed only by the acoustic guitar of Tony “T.S.” MacPhee, whom we heard months ago backing John Lee Hooker and will be encountering again soon when we look into his group the Groundhogs.

Although Jack already had an extensive recording career in the U.S. between 1940 and 1959 when he arrived in Europe, he was a popular performer on both the continent and the British Isles throughout all but the earliest days of the country’s Blues Boom and therefore can be considered a part of it.  Besides, I just enjoy listening to the man and that combination is sufficient reason for his inclusion by my standards.

I have lots of material by Champion Jack Dupree and most of them have quite a bit of biographical material so I could easily write up his career in my own words, but by gathering together all the different quotes from the different sources, his story almost tells itself, although he often contradicts himself.  I did get to see him in the very early 90s and he was a great storyteller with a big sense of humor, but apparently he was not all that interested in keeping the names or dates in order.

Born William Thomas Dupree, his mother was Creole (part Cherokee) and his father was from the Belgian Congo and they ran a grocery store on the Irish Channel.  “They sold kerosene for oil lamps and one night one of the containers exploded.  We never did find out how it happened.”  Both his parents were killed when the first floor collapsed.  Jack sometimes used to say it was done by the KKK.  One source said this occurred when he was seven but since he later said he didn’t remember his mother, he was more likely two years old as another source stated.

Jack often claimed his birthday to be July 4th 1910, perhaps because of the holiday or perhaps because Louis Armstrong also claimed Independence Day as his birthday, but according to his passport it would be July 23, 1909.  There was even a time when one of his managers was simultaneously handing out press releases stating both July 4th and July 23rd 1908.  “I don’t know which one.  The last one I got is supposed to be from my sister, saying 10th July.  When they made my passport they made an estimate and put 23rd July.  When I was born it was put in the book (the Bible).  No birth certificate.  We didn’t have no birth certificate.  When my mother and father was killed the Bible went with it, so they don’t know anything.” 

“I had two brothers and two sisters that I know of.  They’re all dead.  George, called ‘Frenchy’, was in the police in Chicago, Bernadette, Dora and Victor.  My younger sister used to sing in clubs.  Her name was Della.”  So maybe three sisters then.

After the fire, Jack was placed in the Colored Waifs’ Home for Boys, earlier the hme of Armstrong as well, where he learned basic piano and vocalizing.  He left in hopes of his sister taking him in but wound up begging food and change on the street and sleeping over warm grates.  “When I left the orphanage at 14, a kind woman named Olivia Gordon took me in.  She was the only mother I ever knew.  Even though she had eleven children of her own, she did her best to give me a home.”  This security gave him confidence and he began to sing outside the clubs around Franklin and Rampart Streets   He joined the Yellow Pocahontas (Mardi Gras Indian tribe) who called him Spy Boy.

 “I spent a lot of time in the streets and in the clubs.  One man took me under his wing.  His name was Drive ‘em Down, and he played piano in a barrelhouse place where rough cats would hang out.  They served bootleg whiskey and home brew.  Drive ‘em Down would let me sit near him and watch him play.  After a while he took to calling me his ‘son’ and he began to teach me how to play his style.  I never had any other teacher.  Drive ‘em Down died in 1930, and it was only then that I began to play piano professionally.  At first I stuck pretty much to Drive ‘em Down’s material, like his versions of How Long, Stack-O-Lee and other traditional Blues and ballads that I had heard him perform”

“None of them was as good as Drive ‘em Down.  There was a lot of them that could play good music but Drive ‘em Down was about the best barrelhouse player they had.”  Drive ‘em Down’s real name was Willie Hall, and Jack said, “he was going with my sister”.

 “The Depression was very hard on musicians.  There wasn’t much work and we were paid very little.  I got paid $1.50 an hour when I played in a club and I was lucky to get that, I guess.  When things got very slow, I took to boxing to make a living.  I fought off and on throughout the thirties and was fairly successful at it.  Incidentally, that’s how I came to be called ‘Champion’ Jack Dupree.  Boxing took me up North, and in 1940 I fought my last match.  I remember it was in Indianapolis and I knocked out Battling Bozo in the tenth round.”  Contradicting Jack’s words, it is also reported that he lost his last fight to Bob Montgomery and quit.  All in all, Jack fought 107 bouts, and indeed earned the right to be called Champion by winning the State Championships and Golden Gloves and at one time in 1939 was the Indiana State Lightweight Champion.  He likely took on the moniker Jack out of respect for the first black World Heavyweight Champion, Jack Johnson.  “In those days, we wasn’t getting so much for fights – six rounds for thirty or forty dollars.”

“I never did stay in one place.  It was like a disease, I been all over the United States, hoboing. I didn’t enjoy staying in one place.  I learned a lot by doing that.”  “I started playing piano in Memphis one time.  I was hoboing through and went up to a place, upstairs, where they had a whole crowd dancing, so I just sat down and played.  At this time I was always moving.  Didn’t matter where I went.  Felt like stopping, I would.  I used to carry spare shoes and socks in my pocket.”

He tried staying with his Chicago policeman brother George “I stayed about one year.  I only played one place.  I used to go to Jack Johnson’s place on Third Avenue, Indiana Avenue, Continental Club, at night, sell bootleg whiskey and I played the piano there.  He told me, ‘If I ever catch you in any of them places I’ll put you in jail.’  I said, ‘I’m used to going to jail for playing music.’  So I got tired of his bullshit.  After I got enough money to go to Detroit, I got on the bus.  I was lucky, got a job as porter.”

 “I met Joe Louis in Detroit.  He said I could make $10 if I worked out four rounds with the professionals.  I was a left-hander.  My first fights in New Orleans were Kid Blue, Class Black and Tony Moret.  Then I fought in New York and Chicago.  I was on the card first time Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling (19 June 1936, New York).”

“In 1935 I went to Indianapolis where I met Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell.  From there I was taking trips to Elkhart and I married when I was 22.  Her father had a gym and he was training fighters.  I got in and started that.  The first fellow I sparred with was young Jack Thompson, the welter-weight champion.  He bought everything for me to fight.  I was fighting three rounds for $10.  I made many a $10 because I had to live on that.”

Wed since 1937 (although Jack just said when he was 22, which would be 1932 and well before he claims he went to Indianapolis) to his wife Ruth, who was a dancer, the Duprees settled in Indianapolis’ Naptown neighborhood and Ruth lived there until her death in 1942.  Jack was able to keep steady gigs, supplemented at times by working as a cook.  He met ex-boxer Kid Edwards, a record shop owner since 1928, who introduced him to Sea Ferguson and other cabaret owners.  Quoting Duncan Scheid from one of CJ’s liner notes (Cabbage Greens): “This was the second floor of the Cotton Club, operated by the powerful Negro theatrical booker, Sea Ferguson.  It occupied an old four-story building in the near downtown section, and represented the zenith of black-and-tan night life in the Hoosier capital.  On the top floor was the high-ceilinged Trianon Ballroom.  In the year 1939, all attention was on the revue type of presentation.”  He worked there in a few capacities, as a musician, MC, dancer and comedian.

While hanging out in Chicago, Tampa Red helped get Jack signed by Lester Melrose, who put him together with the Okeh label, cutting 20 tracks in 1940 and 1941.  Jack stayed with Okeh until 1944; recording on June 13th 1940 with two more sessions in January 1941 and another in November, the last with Jesse Ellery who had traveled with him from Indianapolis.

World War II put a crimp in Jack’s recording career as he found himself in the US Navy by the end of 1942 serving as a cook.  He was captured and held in Japan for two years during which time Ruth died so, with nothing tying him to Indianapolis, he settled down in New York upon his discharge where he’d made some recordings for Folkways while on leave.

Jack’s dealings with Melrose left a sour aftertaste that would carry with him through most of his career.: “You sign the contract and he give you $100.  You say, ‘What’s that for?’ and he says ‘That’s because you made the record and I paid you.’  It didn’t say that we were selling the rights of our things.”  Concluding he was not being treated fairly, like so many others, he and Brownie “used different names ‘cause to make money.  They wasn’t paying enough nohow so we recorded for anybody we could.”  Jack took the money from many labels and used almost as many names in the years that followed, including the Joe Davis label, Celebrity, Alert as Willie Jordan & His Swinging Five, Apollo, Abbey as Brother Blues & The Back Room Boys, both Gotham and Apex as Meat Head Johnson, for Harlem as Lightnin’ Junior & The Empires, and Red Robin, not to mention all the sessions he was backing others.  He did stay with The King label quite a while, recording 26 sides between April 1953 and November 1955.  Jack was also on Little Willie John’s #5 R&B hit All Around the World from 1955.

For a while in Chicago: “I used to work for Al Capone’s brother, Kay Capone.  It used to be the 1-1 club down on the Loop.  Georgia Tom and Blind John Davis worked there.  What they show you in the movies was nothing like Al Capone.”  He signed with Joe Davis and recorded 8 tracks on April 15, 1945 for his Beacon label, received $100 but $54 went to join Local 802, the black musicians union.  He was living at Brownie McGhee’s house and working as a cook at Yeshiva University in Harlem: “I didn’t play.  You couldn’t go no place.  Just once in a while go on a job at night. You couldn’t live off it.  You had to work.”  “The only places you’d get a job was like on Friday, Saturday and Sunday when nothing’s happening.”  He gained a residency at the Celebrity Club which he kept until leaving for England in 1959, cutting eight more tracks for Joe Davis in August and September before his last session for the company in March 1946.

 “Meanwhile my wife died and I came to New York, which has remained my home ever since.  I made a lot of records right after the war ,,,.for a lot of different labels: Joe Davis, Celebrity, Solo, Apollo, Continental (Sony: and its subsidiary, not a quote) Lennox and perhaps some others.  In 1949 I was signed by King Records and I remained with them until last year.”  On all of Jack’s recordings between 1946 and 1951, Brownie McGhee was the one constant always in the band and sometimes contained his brother Stick McGhee or Sonny Terry.

In 1948, Jack took Lucille Dalton as his bride and, wiser now about the music business, began to assign writing credits for his songs to her.  They would have five children before they divorced.  Walking the Blues became a hit for King Records, with whom Jack laid down 26 tracks between 1953 and 1955, Lucille credited with many of them.  The song’s success led to a couple gigs at Apollo, tours with Little Willie John, George Smith, Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing, B.B. King and Nipsey Russell. 

In 1958, Jack cut what is considered to be the best LP example of his work for Atlantic, Blues from the Gutter.  A year later, Jack accepted an offer to go to England for some work and, as one source tells me, he became the first American Bluesman to stay in Europe; beginning in Paris followed by six years in Zurich, then Denmark, and finally settling in Halifax England in 1971.  Jack had married a Yorkshire girl in 1960, but by 1977 laid down his roots for good in Hannover Germany.  Jack’s first trip back was not until 1982 to New York City and then again to New Orleans for the 1990 Jazz and Heritage Festival.  While there, he cut an album for Rounder Records and either stayed there a while or made a return trip for a second session that produced his last two albums.  Aside from the Blues from the Gutter LP that languished relatively unplayed in my collection, these three discs were likely my first extended exposure to the man, and combined with seeing him in person around the same time make them a very enjoyable set of music.

It is just my opinion, but what could make a true Yankee Doodle proud American, so proud he wished to claim the national holiday as his birthday, leave home and stay an ocean away?  Like so many other Negros as far back as World War I, they had proven themselves first class warriors in defense of their country and its ideologies, only to come back home and find they were still treated as second class citizens.  The respect they received abroad, especially the musicians, made it possible for them to uproot themselves, and hopefully their families, to bask in, not adulation, but merely fair, just and friendly treatment.  Jack himself mentioned two reasons to stay “I found more respect for my music in Europe and I’ll only go back to the States when they build a bridge from London to New York.”, but just as truthfully, the mode of transportation might have had a little to do with it.  “I wasn’t intent to stay, I was to go back, but when I came in that propeller plane and the damn motors was red hot, I said that’s it.  When I got to London I said I don’t go back until they build a bridge.”

Jack died Tuesday January 21st, 1992, and I’d like to end with a couple of final quotes.  “If I stand on a box and tell the people of all the wrong in the world, people wouldn’t listen.  But if I sing it on records all around the world, everybody will know.” and “When you open up a piano you see freedom.  Nobody can play the white keys and don’t play the black keys. You got to mix all these keys together to make harmony.  And that’s what the world needs: Harmony.”

Oh yeah, lest I forget, tomorrow is our big national T-day; one filled with turkey, tackling and the biggest day of the year for travel, so I hope you all get your families together for a good old fashioned day of festivity.  Let me be a little sappy as I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Sweet Wine
Sleepy Time Time

Bring It On Home
Drivin’ BacHwards
This Worried Feeling
Son of Moonshine

Sunshine of Your Love
I’m So Glad

Get Your Head Happy
Mr. Dupree Blues
See My Milk Cow
Who Was Here a While Ago
Black Snake Breakdown
Goin’ Down to the Blue Horizon
Baby Don’t You Put Me Out
Dead Cat on the Line
Gutbucket Blues
Talk All in My Sleep
Got My Ticket
My Baby Told Me
Papa Told Mama
Easy is the Way
Snow is on the Ground
Yellow Pocahontas
   Champion Jack Dupree and Tony McPhee

Steppin’ Out