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

November 12, 2014

Development of the British Blues and Rhythm
   --- show 18 ---   11-12-2014

Mayall with Mick Taylor                          1967
Jimmy Page Yardbirds                              1967
Chicken Shack                                           1967

This being the third show in a row to feature John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, we will be putting our focus on Mick Taylor and the time he spent with John.  Mick was born January 17th 1948 in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire and began learning the guitar by the time he was eleven.  He had an uncle who turned him on to 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll after he had been to a Bill Haley concert, and Mick was well on his way by 1962 with his first band, the Strangers.  With his next group, the Juniors, a single was recorded in 1964 for Columbia, There’s a Pretty Girl with the flip side Pocket Size.  Taylor was a member of the Gods (along with future Euriah Heep keyboardist Ken Hensley) in 1965 and 1966, by which time he was starting to listen to the Blues.

Already versed in Mayall’s material by the time he attended a concert in 1966 when Eric Clapton failed to show up, Mick asked if he could sit in in his stead.  With nothing to lose, Mayall allowed him the opportunity and he impressed enough that John put an ad in the Melody Maker to locate him when he needed to replace Peter Green.  The nineteen year old Taylor responded and was installed as one of the newest Bluesbreakers.  At the same time, Mayall recruited guitarist Terry Edmonds (who quickly left to join Ferris Wheel) and saxophonists Rip Kant and Chris Mercer.

Along with Mayall and McVie, the three joined drummer Keef Hartley in the studio on July 11th and 12th and recorded the Crusade album.  I may have already expressed my opinion that the album is a smoother listen than the two preceding LPs which are considered by many to be among the finest of their time, but the musical press mostly did not agree.  Rolling Stone wrote, “You can find better Blues groups, white and black, by the dozens; and if you dig the material, the originals are still around.  And, in the case of Muddy Waters or Albert King, the originals are very much better in terms of musicianship.”  Still, the album climbed to #8 in the UK and #136 US.

In September of 1967, John McVie finally left to join Fleetwood Mac (possibly because of Mayall’s Jazzier leanings at the time but more likely because Mac was growing in its appeal so it was no longer a financial risk), being replaced by Zoot Money’s bassist Paul Williams.  Around the same time, Rip Kant’s departure brought about the arrival of Dick Heckstall-Smith, most recently with Graham Bond.  Quickly showing up in the studio on September 14th and 15th, the revised band recorded the single Suspicions parts 1 & 2.

I’ll take the time to explain that I usually play the albums pretty true to the order the band (or record company) originally placed them, but for Crusade I deconstructed the LP and reassembled it in a way that sounds best to my ear.  I also opted for part two of Suspicions as the strong opener of our second set because there was a little more instrumental and a little less of Mayall’s vocals.  I must admit that through the first three albums his voice was not yet noticeably getting on my nerves.

The album immediately following Crusade was an interesting adventure called The Blues Alone and, as its name implies, Mayall played all the instruments with the exception of Keef Hartley adding drums or percussion to some of the tracks.  Interesting in its attempt, not so much its results, although I haven’t listened to the album in decades.

The Bluesbreakers spent the waning months of 1967 touring Britain and the continent while Mayall carried around a reel-to-reel recorder to collect over 60 hours of live samplings.  These were sorted and submitted to Decca in January with the caveat that the sound quality was not of studio caliber but that the tapes were a true representation of his working band.  The Diary of a Band was issued in two volumes in 1968 in Britain but took an extra two years to reach the American market, and while the sound quality is not up to studio standards I found the CDs much better listening than I recalled.  It was during this period that Paul Williams left and Keith Tillman took over the bass duties.

In his book Blowing the Blues, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith recalled his time spent as a Bluesbreaker, regarding Mayall as “a nice easygoing bloke … Where he got his hard taskmaster image I have no idea whatsoever” and that “His modus operandi seemed to be: get the right players and leave them to it.  The only musical instruction I ever got from him was that ‘Right then, on you go.’ look … And to cap it all, John paid noticeably better than the GBO (Graham Bond ORGANization).”

January 1968 saw the Bluesbreakers first American tour, beginning with a two week stay at New York’s CafĂ© au GoGo and culminating in San Francisco for four night gigs each of the tour’s last two weeks.  As I mentioned in last show’s commentary, Bill Graham had booked Mayall with Albert King and Jimi Hendrix (possibly for the second week only) and I was fortunate enough to have attended one of these shows but Mick Taylor’s amp was messed up and therefore found that portion disappointing.

Once back in England, Paul Williams dropped out and the 15-year-old Andy Fraser, recommended by Alexis Korner whose daughter he was dating, joined for about six weeks on his way to becoming bassist for the band Free.  Soon afterward, Mayall added Henry Lowther on trumpet and violin and, when Keef Hartley was sacked, Heckstall-Smith was reunited with his former drummer from the GBO, Jon Hiseman.  When Fraser left, Hiseman himself had a reunion with bass player Tony Reeves, a fellow graduate of the New Jazz Orchestra.

All these changes having occurred in the first two months of 1968, the new seven-man lineup went into the studio in April and came out with the album Bare Wires.  Heckstall-Smith gives us some insight on one portion of the Bare Wires Suite, subtitled Fire.  Included on the tapes Mayall did over the last two months of 1967 were anything he found interesting on stage or off and one of those segments was of a sexual encounter that was supposed to have been highly energetic.  After editing it into a seven minute tidbit, he played it for Hiseman and asked him to interpret whatever he heard through his drum kit, later to be overdubbed.  It was an excellent example of Hiseman’s style but the entire suite was an undivided 22 minutes with little else to make it worthy of about one-eighth of today’s show.  All in all, the album received the best chart ranking so far with #3 in the UK and #59 in the US.

Of the three songs we did take from the LP, two were the handiwork of Mick Taylor.  His instrumental Hartley Quits is inappropriately titled as you will hear the conversation between Mayall and Hartley on the first track of his first album which clearly shows the decision was not Keef’s, but that is down the road a few months.  No Reply was co-written with Mayall and John decides to tell us about his possibly pedophilic tendencies when he speaks of a romance: “very soon she’ll be seventeen” in She’s Too Young.  No kidding!  The 35-year-old Mayall romancing a 16-year-old?  The music is good so it gets included here, unlike a song from his next LP Blues from Laurel Canyon where he sings about the Medicine Man who cured him of VD on his California vacation.  Apparently his standards for what is appropriate and entertaining vary greatly from mine.

Again, notes from DHS’ book expand upon what is generally available regarding the paring down of the band.  Late in July of 1968, Mayall told the band that for the next tour he was planning to cut back down to a four-piece and tone down the volume.  He got Dick and Mick together to say he would decide in a week whether he would go with a saxophone or the more accepted Blues guitar lead.  One evening when he found Dick warming up alone he told him, “Hullo Dick – it’s bad news, I’m afraid.”

DHS and Hiseman had been talking about putting together a new band, so Dick contacted Jon, but Hiseman wanted to stick with Mayall for the American tour after which they could get together, but three months was too long for Dick to stay stagnant; he likely would have moved into another commitment by then.   Bottom line for that saga is Hiseman did opt out of the Mayall tour and the two, along with Reeves put together Colosseum, but that is a tale for another day.

So Mayall was left with only Mick Taylor for his toned-down quartet, recruiting drummer Colin Allen, whom we heard previously with Zoot Money and Georgie Fame, and bassist Stephen Thompson.  In August 1968, they went into the studio and laid down tracks for Blues from Laurel Canyon, the last album for Decca and the first under just John Mayall with no mention of the old band name Bluesbreakers, also the last Mayall session for Mick Taylor.  33 UK and 68 US were the album chartings.

In September, Mayall took the band to America on a ten week tour, then flew back to London to headline the three-day Blues Scene ’68, also featuring Muddy Waters, Champion Jack Dupree and the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation in November.  All of the recent work had taken its toll as John was sidelined in late January with a diagnosis of “influenza and physical exhaustion”, causing the rearrangement of bookings until mid-February.  After some British touring, the band was off again to the states.  Upon their return in May, the band was disassembled once more, keeping only bassist Thompson for his new drummerless project with guitarist Jon Mark and the return of saxophonist Johnny Almond, fulfilling Mayall’s idea of a sax-centric unit although the theory was that all musicians receive equal time. 

The result was the live album Turning Point, and that is when we will be next visiting the Mayall epic.  As for Mick Taylor, Mayall did not forget him when Mick Jagger came around soliciting suggestions regarding a replacement for Brian Jones and Taylor became the next Rolling Stone on June 13th 1969.
I had a write-up started about Chicken Shack but ran out of time to finish it properly so will include a full bio of the band when we do our second edition some time in the future.

Surprise!  I do have standards I must live up to.  Probably hard to tell, though!

We gave a pretty good rundown of the Yardbirds through the departure of Eric Clapton, and it was so long ago that I opted to copy it to this posting immediately following the playlist in case anyone wanted to locate it easily.  That said, when Clapton gave notice in March 1965, the band had to find a replacement and their first choice was Jimmy Page.  Page was certainly a guitar virtuoso if by no other standard than the fact that he was probably the most sought out and active studio Rock guitarist in the UK.  He kept himself so busy, in fact, that when the Yardbirds first extended the invitation he knew he was better off continuing what he was doing than to join a band that had finally come up with their first successful selling single in For Your Love   Instead, Jimmy suggested his friend Jeff Beck, who had been playing with the Tridents since late 1963.

Beck went to the Marquee to audition for Giorgio Gomelsky, owner of the club and manager of the Yardbirds.  The band had found their man and Beck played on the three track EP Five Yardbirds, released in April.  Later that month they appeared on the BBC’s TV show Top of the Pops to promote their earlier single, For Your Love.  They went on a package tour headlined by the Kinks the first three weeks of May.  Initially, Beck was not received particularly well, leading to one time when he took the microphone to express, “Don’t be so fucking rude.  Don’t you read the papers?  Eric’s left.”, but rather quickly he won over the audiences with his own style.

For Jeff’s first single with the band, he convinced them to resurrect a song they had tried with a sitar player who couldn’t quite get the timing down.  Heart Full of Soul featured Beck’s guitar emulating the instrument and was released with the B-side Steeled Blues, derived from a Chuck Berry instrumental.  With Paul Samwell-Smith on the engineering side of the recording, Ron Prentice provided the bass.  The 45 got into single digits on both sides of the pond, #2 UK and #9 US.

Epic, the Yardbirds’ American distributor, patched together the album For Your Love with both sides of each of Clapton’s three singles and a couple of outtakes alongside Beck’s three EP tracks.  The album cover featured Beck even though Clapton provided the lion’s share.  Their two week September tour of the states to promote the album wound up being a disaster as the group was not allowed to perform on the TV show Shindig and the taping for Where the Action Is was never aired, all due to union and work visa problems, but they did manage an appearance on Hullabaloo.  They also were not allowed to check into their Los Angeles hotel and were unable to get into Disneyland, presumably because of their long hair.

Limited regarding broadcast and play for pay as they were, the group still tried to accomplish something on their trip so they went to a couple of the legendary American recording studios: Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis, where they recorded Train Kept A-rollin’ and Mister You’re a Better Man Than I, and the Chess brothers’ studio in Chicago, putting the studio version of I’m a Man to tape.  While there, they were also able to catch Muddy Waters band and Jeff was even invited on stage.  Appropriately, New York City Blues was done at that city’s CBS studio.

Once they were back home, the band released a 45 that got equal airplay on both sides of the record, Evil Hearted You and Still I’m Sad, the latter resembling a Gregorian chant.  In America, Still I’m Sad backed I’m a Man.  Both were put out in October and went #3 UK and #17 US.  In late December, the Yardbirds began another US tour and they needed an album in support.  They only had a little over half an album’s worth of material so that is likely the reason they took four songs from the Five Live Yardbirds date to fill the back half of the LP.  That is strictly my conjecture but, no matter, the resulting Having a Rave Up was far better than the previous and one of the best of the entire British Blues genre.  Still, the album only reached #53, but the band did take the opportunity on December 21st to again stop by the Chess studio, this time recording Shapes of Things, which would climb to #3 UK and #11 US after releases in February and March.

Individually, the readers of Beat Instrumental voted Beck a close second behind the Shadows Hank Marvin as the nation’s top guitarists; Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty were working on “an abstract comedy”; Paul Samwell-Smith wished to take lead vocal on Green Trees; Keith Relf was putting together Mr. Zero with orchestral backing; and Beck was planning on an instrumental version of Summertime.  As Relf put it, “All the members of the other leading groups are known individually to the fans – but not us.  So it seemed a good idea to try some solo discs.”  Relf’s project was the only one to come to fruition and it made #50 on the Brit charts.

April saw Gomelsky ousted in favor of Simon Napier-Bell and Beck coming down with meningitis, but they were back in the studio in May to lay down the tracks for their first UK album.  First release from the session was the single with Over Under Sideways Down (later the album’s American title) and Jeff’s Boogie which hit #10 UK and #13 US.  The feel of the LP was not dissimilar to the Beck side of Rave Up with some more innovative ideas.  One of my favorite songs (because of the way Beck bends one extended note in the instrumental), The Nazz Are Blue, was omitted from the US album but appeared late in the year as the flipside of Happenings Ten Years Ago, which only reached #30 while the album hit #20 UK and #52 US.  Why are these American numbers so low?  I and most of my friends bought the albums and, against my nature, I even bought that 45.

Before the album even came out, Samwell-Smith dropped out from the group.  Although he was beginning to play less and less in the studio his musical directorship made a strong mark on the group, and production was the direction in which he wished to go.  After the announcement, the plan was for Dreja to take over the bass duties but until he properly learned the instrument Jimmy Page would handle it.  As it turned out, Page decided to stay on and make it a two guitar attack.

As we have already read, Page was an integral part of the Dave Berry and Them recordings and he participated in releases by the Kinks and numerous other groups in the early to mid-sixties, but now he was ready to get back to stage work, as he brought up with Hit Parader, “I was drying up as a guitarist.  I played a lot of rhythm guitar, which was very dull and left me no time to practice.”

The point of no return, so to speak, came during their third American tour in August of 1966 when Beck came down with tonsillitis.  Fortunately, Dreja was close enough to ready to take over on bass as Page switched to lead guitar.  As Relf observed, “Jimmy has been doing great … It’s the first time I have seen him really blow out on stage.”  With the idea of Jeff and Jimmy both as leads, Jimmy told Beat Instrumental “I think it will move more to free-form.  Mind you, it will be highly organized.  The whole thing must be done tastefully otherwise the Yardbirds’ sound would be ruined.

”Happenings Ten Years Time Ago was recorded with the twin guitar leads but its flipside, recorded at the same session, had Page back on bass.  The Yardbirds’ Stroll On was the only other recorded piece of Beck and Page both on lead that has come to light and it was a double surprise.  First, producer Michelangelo Antonioni wanted the Who for his movie Blow-Up, but when they were unavailable he went with the Yardbirds.  And second, it was intended that they would play The Train Kept A-rollin’ but the royalties were too high so the band just changed the lyrics.

When things were good they were very, very good and when they were bad … well, as critic Norrie Drummond put it in the New Music Express, it was “outrageous cacophony which completely drowned out Keith Relf’s voice.  Perhaps if Jeff Beck cut out the gymnastics with his guitar, the group might find some semblance of music!”

One night in Texas during a four week US tour, Beck got angry and threw down his Les Paul guitar, smashing it and quitting the band.  The group finished out the tour as a four-piece and when the it was over there was plenty of speculation regarding the makeup of the band.  Napier-Bell stated that Jeff left due to health issues, and that “There is no question of his being sacked”.  Beck responded to Disc and Music Echo, “It’s not true.  I’m still with the group” and Relf replied to the same magazine, “Jeff has left.  There won’t be a replacement.  We find we are working better as four – with Jimmy on lead guitar”.

One of the reasons for Napier-Bell’s replacement of Gomelsky was in hopes he would bring in more revenue to the band members and, when that did not happen, they again changed managers to a former road manger and pro wrestler, Harry Grant.  The Yardbirds were disappointed with the low ratings for the Happenings single and Grant sought out producer Mickie Most to keep that from recurring.  Most had had success with pop groups like Herman’s Hermits, Lulu and Donovan, but while he was picking music for the Animals they felt that what he handed them to record did not reflect the true nature of the band which was what they played on stage.

Most’s first attempt was Little Games backed by Glimpses but it fell short at #51.US and failed to even chart at home.  Coincidentally, Most was also responsible at the same time for Jeff Beck’s first solo release, a trivial little song Hi Ho Silver Lining which I must confess is a guilty pleasure of mine and reached a much more respectable #14 in the UK.  About the same time, the Greatest Hits LP was released stateside and by far outdid their previous albums at #28.

Most even had the bad taste to put session players backing Relf on their next release, Ha Ha Said the Clown, which had already been recorded by Manfred Mann and thus not released in the UK. Its B-side Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor featured Page using a violin bow on his guitar during the solo.  Little Games had the worst American showing of any Yardbirds single ever, but Clown was a close second worst at #45 and was stylistically definitely the bottom of the barrel.

The band was given a mere three days to record the rest of the Little Games album,, which was again deemed inferior and not released in the UK.  Page’s complaint, as told to Trouser Press in 1977, was that “It was just so bloody rushed.  Everything was done in one take because Mickie Most was basically interested in singles and didn’t believe it was worth the time to do the tracks right on the album.”  The album ranked a dismal #80 in the US.

Most’s next attempt was Ten Little Indians, backed by a standard Blues tune, Drinking Muddy Water.  I wonder if the release was a success would I still be crediting it to Most?  Needless to say, it was not and hit the American charts at #94.  The next release, Goodnight Sweet Josephine fared even worse with a high point of #126 US

So in the tenure of this supposedly masterful pop producer from early 1967 until the breakup of the band in mid-1968, the Yardbirds only released the one single in their home country.  Brilliant.  Page explained it to Hit Parader: “We had done Happenings Ten Years Time Ago on our own and then our manager decided to turn us over to a producer.  We thought it was a great idea because the producer just had tremendous success with Sunshine Superman.  We had tremendous confidence in him.  So we did Little Games and it didn’t do very well, but that was all right.  It was a reasonable number to do.  Then he gave us Ha Ha Said the Clown, which we didn’t like, but we still had confidence in him.  Over a period of time, his ideas started to kill us off.”

Early in their 1968 tour, an attempt to record their March 30th appearance at New York’s Anderson Theater was made with the idea of a live album release, but sound quality issues made the band decide to trash the idea.  Still, after Page’s success with Led Zepelin, Epic overdubbed some applause and issued it in 1971 as Live Yardbirds!  Featuring Jimmy Page.  A displeased Page saw to it that the LP was taken off the market so it has kinda become a collector’s item.

There was a schism in the group with Relf and McCarty wanting to do more of a folk-oriented repertoire while Page and Dreja wished to remain solid rockers.  The last concert with these four was at Luton Technical College on July 7th 1968, following which Relf and McCarty formed the band Together while Page and Dreja tried to carry on some semblance of the Yardbirds.  I’m not sure how Dreja got out of the group but, ultimately, Page put together what would become Led Zepelin and fulfilled some Scandanavian contractual obligations.  But when they returned home to England, Dreja sued to keep them from using the name Yardbirds, and thus another band was born.  The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
Snowy Wood
Man of Stone
Driving Sideways
My Time After a While
Stand Back, Baby
The Death of J.B. Lenoir
Oh, Pretty Woman
I Can’t Quit You Baby
Checkin’ Up on My Baby
   John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Mick Taylor

It’s Okay with Me Baby
Lonesome Whistle
When My Left Eye Jumps
San Ho-Zay
Hey, Baby
When the Train Comes Back
The Right Way is My Way
King of the World
Webbed Feet
   Chicken Shack

Little Games
Drinking Muddy Water
White Summer
Stealing Stealing
Smile on Me
Stroll On
   The Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page

Suspicions Part 2
Your Funeral and My Trial
Please Don’t Tell
Knockers Step Forward
Hartley Quits
No Reply
She’s Too Young
   John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Mick Taylor

What You Did Last Night
Baby’s Got Me Crying
Get Back Like You Used to Be
Tell Me
Worried Aout My Woman
I Wanna See My Baby
See See Baby
I’d Rather Go Blind
Remington Ride
   Chicken Shack

Walking on Sunset
The Bear
Miss James
Long Gone Midnight
   John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Mick Taylor 

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.