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Boom Boom: The Untold Story Of British R&B

The musicians who ignited the 1960s blues explosion talk about the trail-blazing early years, life on the road with their American heroes – and the odd punch-up.

The seeds of the R&B sound were planted in Britain in 1958, after Muddy Waters flew in for a handful of epochal gigs, influencing jazz musicians such as Alexis Korner to switch to electrified blues. A whole generation followed and formed their own bands, including Manfred Mann, the Pretty Things, The Yardbirds, The Groundhogs, The Muleskinners and others. Here, in this extract from a newly published book, Mods: The New Religion, the musicians tell their own stories, from making connections with fellow enthusiasts to playing now-legendary clubs such as The Crawdaddy and the Ricky Tick, and on to playing with their heroes – Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker and Little Walter. It was one hell of a ride...

**Tom McGuinness (Manfred Mann): **The first band I heard playing R&B were Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in 1962 at a pub called the Queen Vic in Cheam. I went about three weeks running but then decided it was too jazzy for me. 

 

Phil May (the Pretty Things): Dick Taylor went to school with Mick Jagger, and in 1962-63 I was at Sidcup Art School with Dick Taylor and Keith Richards. Around ’62, I loved R&B but I never had any intention of playing it, I wanted to be a painter. I mean really we had a collector’s thing going on within the art school. It was very much about our own music, our own dress, the way we looked. Everybody would bring in their own records, and we’d sit around and play stuff like imports. You may buy one for 20 dollars, then the other six bought theirs, so you got to hear seven records, stuff like Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. It was in the air, but you couldn’t turn on a radio or TV to get it. We heard Bring It To Jerome around ’61 or ’62 but that was a one-off, Dick heard it on some radio station, and I heard it at a guitar shop in Bexleyheath after someone bought it in. On the live front, some of the jazzers got a harp player and a guitarist to cover Muddy Waters or Leadbelly. They got in through the side door but they weren’t really doing R&B. It was just an extension of the trad jazz scene. I liked the American proper jazz but I thought the English traditional jazz was a load of bollocks. If you heard the original stuff it was far better. I mean I hated that dreaded English R&B type of church stuff that Alexis wrote, where people were actually copying harp solos and if you didn’t, you were blaspheming! They wouldn’t let us play at the Ealing Club because they thought people like Keith Richards and me were disrespectful of the good book. 

 

**Paul Manning (Blues Committee): **In 1962 I was the guitarist in an early Reading R&B band called the Blues Committee. When we started off we played sitting down. You see, all the other groups were imitating the Shadows, so everybody was doing this four steps Shadows’ thing. But the Blues Committee were the first group in Reading to play sitting down to start with, so that was a bit unusual. We just didn’t want to appear as a rock‘n’roll band, and appear cool. We had pretty high ideals at the time of what we wanted to play, and be purists. We used to play a lot of Jimmy Reed songs, Bo Diddley, Lazy Lester, Wilbert Harrison as well as the lead singer Mike Cooper’s own Backwater Blues. A lot of those early gigs attracted the more intellectual student types. When we played at the Scene Coffee bar downstairs at Duke Street in Reading you’d get the young Mods. 

 

**Tom McGuinness: **I first met Paul Jones through an advert in the Melody Maker in either ‘61 or ‘62. I wanted to play R&B. I’d been playing in a local group, I grew up in Wimbledon and we used to play around South London. We had lots of names – The Talismen, briefly the London Thunderbirds. Somewhere, around ’62 I had reached that period, that turned out a whole generation had, which was that rock‘n’roll had died out. Well, the excitement had gone, Elvis had gone into the army, Jerry Lee Lewis had been parading his underage cousin, Chuck Berry had been jailed for crossing state lines, and Little Richard had got into gospel. I’d loved the excitement of rock‘n’roll. I’d never heard anything like it, but gradually rock‘n’roll led me via Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. So I wanted to play that sort of music but nobody else did, certainly all my school friends didn’t. I remember saying to a band of school friends and youth club friends that I wanted to play R&B, and they said ‘You’re mad, no-one wants to hear it!’ I mean we used to listen to the records together, but listening to a Muddy Waters thing, they would not have thought that we could play something like that, whereas I wanted to learn. 

I saw this advert in the Melody Maker; it was from an R&B piano player looking for an R&B band playing in the style of Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Elmore James, with a box number. I wrote to him saying that I didn’t know that band, but if he found it, could I be in it too? I received a great letter back from him, a bloke called Ben Palmer, a little older than me, and a beautiful Otis Spann-style piano player. We met up, and he was friends with Paul Jones. Ben was originally from Reading, but moved to Oxford, while Paul was at university in the town. We honestly spent months trying to find other people to play with; we could only find incompetent people who liked the music or disgruntled jazz musicians who might be able to make a few bucks out of it, particularly jazz drummers who viewed what we were doing with contempt because they thought it was too simple. 

After several months we never really got a line-up together. The only gig we ever did was at a pub in Colliers Wood, we didn’t even have a band name! We’d been practising upstairs in the pub, when the landlord told us that the band he’d booked had let him down and asked whether we would step in. I remember telling him he wouldn’t like us, and I was right. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t like it, they were indifferent, completely baffled. We were playing a bit of T-Bone Walker, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, all mixed up. We all loved that wonderful era: Chicago blues, Chess and Checker records, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry. Even when we got to hear it, it was already over. The golden age had been ’55-’56. Chuck Berry had taken over, and rock‘n’roll had replaced them. So the band never really got going. 

BLUES INCORPORATED STILL held court on Thursdays at the Marquee, when they were approached about an appearance on BBC radio’s Jazz Club programme. As the radio show clashed with the gig, they had to call on Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men to replace them as headliners. A support band was needed, so Alexis Korner approached talented slide guitarist Brian Jones to ask if he could get a band together. Ian Stewart came in on piano, Tony Chapman sat in on drums, and a band that Dick Taylor had formed called Little Boy Blue & the Blue Boys, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, made up the rest. The group had to have a name so Brian came up with the Rollin’ Stones (named after a Muddy Waters track). On July 12, 1962 the band took to the stage, for what is considered to be the Stones’ first public performance. The Stones made several more appearances at the Marquee over the summer in the interval,  before being sacked by Pendleton and Barber for ‘not being authentic enough’. 

Blues Incorporated strived for authenticity, even employing the services of Ronnie Jones, a black airman from the US base at High Wycombe, as well as a gospel quartet called Stripes of Glory from the USAF base in Wethersfield. In the first week of October ’62 a new weekly magazine called Scene ran a one-page feature on the band. Alexis Korner is quoted as saying, “The secret of this band is that we sell excitement. Perhaps we can do for the blues what jazz at the Philharmonic did for jazz.” Cyril Davies, however, had begun to loathe the jazziness of the band. In November he quit Blues Incorporated to pursue his dream of forming a Chicago-style blues band by adopting Screaming Lord Sutch’s former backing band, the Savages. Davies could now realise his dreams with his newly christened R&B All-Stars. The tide against trad jazz was turning. 

  

Tom McGuinness: I started looking again in Melody Maker and saw an ad for a guitarist for an R&B band. It was for Dave Hunt’s band. He had a band called Dave Hunt’s Confederate Jazz Band, who dressed up as Confederate soldiers. Well, I didn’t know it was him, so I got in touch. We just name-dropped blues artists during the phone call, so I arranged to meet him at the Station Hotel in Richmond. It wasn’t until literally I was putting the phone down (I was in a phone box) that I asked, ‘By the way what do you play?” The answer came back ‘trombone’ then the phone went down. 

I didn’t have a car so I was lugging this guitar in one hand and an amp in the other. I turned up there, and you know when you are in the wrong place. The bar was dark, and I realised that I was illuminated in the doorway; I’d been seen from the stage and beckoned over. There were three trombonists, a piano player, a string bass player and a drummer on stage playing Count Basie type stuff. I got up and did one song, they wanted me to stay but I just left. Ray Davies (later of The Kinks) eventually got the job. I came home, and Jennifer, my girlfriend (now my wife), asked how I had got on. I told her it was terrible so she introduced me to Eric Clapton, who was a student at her college and loved the blues. So we talked about getting a band together. We roped in Ben Palmer, the pianist. Paul Jones had already joined the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers so we got Terry Brennan who was an old primary school mate and a big fan of just black music generally. I’m pretty sure it was Terry who introduced the music of Freddie King to Eric, because amazingly they had put out a Freddie King single on Parlophone in 1961 which was Hideaway. We got a guy on drums called Robin Mason through an MM advert but we never managed to find a bass player. So we had two guitars, piano, drums and Terry on vocals and harmonica. The Roosters were born. 

 

THE FORMATIVE BRITISH version of rhythm and blues was now split into four styles; the jazzy version with brass that Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated had adopted, the guitar-based rock‘n’roll blues of the Rollin’ Stones, the Chicago-styled wailings of Cyril Davies’ All-Stars, and a new more sophisticated smooth sound being pioneered by Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames.

 

Mick Eve (Blue Flames): I knew a guitarist called Joe Moretti; he told me that a black American singer called Davy Jones needed a sax player for a recording session of a song called Bonnie Banks. The session band was more or less the Blue Flames, but I actually think Albert Lee was on piano. Soon they were asked to play the Flamingo on a regular basis, and Davy would come down and sing with them. They decided to get a second sax player, so that’s when I joined them. Jones was one of the catalysts which made me realise there is a link between rock‘n’roll and jazz. You just have to find songs that are acceptable and not just blatant rock‘n’roll, I suppose. Before I joined them, the Blue Flames had been backing Billy Fury. He went up in my estimation because he was trying to be musical, it was just his management didn’t want him to be. He was singing stuff like Get On The Right Track Baby which later Georgie Fame, his pianist at the time, would put in the Blue Flames’ set. 

Davy Jones never really seemed to want a band. He was a one man show who just wanted to come down the Flamingo and have fun with the ladies. By the time we got the regular gigs there without Davy, Georgie was with us full time and playing the upright piano, as the Gunnells wouldn’t let us use the grand. We’d start off with Mose Allison stuff, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, King Pleasure and, certainly, Ray Charles material. A mish-mash of stuff that was acceptable to a dancing audience rather than just jazz. Beforehand it would have been Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott stuff that would have a crowd dancing. In the end I felt guilty that we were there when Rik laid off the jazz in the All-nighter club. He realised that the Americans and the Jamaicans wanted to dance all night, and that he’d need two bands like the Blue Flames. That’s when Zoot Money and Chris Farlowe came into the picture.

 

Chris Farlowe: After having been in various bands since the50s, I called the line-up that I was in during 1960 after my favourite car – The Thunderbirds. I had Rick Garrity on double bass, Johnny Wise on drums and Bobby Taylor on guitar. Jimmy Page would come along to watch us. In 1961 we recorded an album of early R&B stuff – Johnny Burnette covers, Barrett Strong’s Money, What’d I Say by Ray Charles and Bobby Parker’s Watch Your Step. The album was recorded at RG Jones in Morden, 12 tracks in all by our four-piece band. Jimmy Page paid for it and produced it. Only two copies exist of that LP. I think that we were aware that we were one of the first rhythm and blues bands in Britain.

BY JANUARY 1963 more bands had taken on the new sound. The Mike Cotton Jazzmen became the Mike Cotton Band (later the Mike Cotton Sound). Cyril Davies appeared at the Roaring Twenties Club with Long John Baldry, and three black backing singers from the cast of the West End musical King Kong – the Velvettes. More importantly, the Rolling (now with a ‘g’) Stones had established a settled line-up. The band had recruited Bill Wyman on bass duties to replace Dick Taylor and convinced drummer Charlie Watts to leave rival group Blues By Six.

 

Tom McGuinness: The Roosters lasted no longer than six months. I would guess we lasted between March and September 1963. There were none of us capable of organising or leading a band. Terry Brennan was the singer, I’d known him since primary school. I think it must have been him more than anyone who got us the gigs. Paul Jones wasn’t in the Roosters, although Eric Clapton insists Jones was... but Paul doesn’t think he was either. We weren’t very purist. I can remember walking back from a rehearsal with Eric Clapton with our guitars trying to learn Misery, the Beatles song, trying to do the harmonies. I remember both of us saying we’d like to be in a band like that. Because there were so few people playing R&B, once a club opened such as the Ricky Tick or the Scene; they were in a sense hungry for any band that would come on. We weren’t demanding a great deal, we’d do it for so little. If we got a fiver between the five of us we thought it was wonderful.

 

Phil May: Dick had been playing around Richmond with the Stones, but had left them to continue with his art studies at the London Central School of Art, where we met. We formed the Pretty Things because the Stones couldn’t play at our art school anymore, we couldn’t afford them because we used to get them for about £30. So now there was a gap in the art school scene. We certainly didn’t do it for the money. It was a bit like the Victorian days; if you wanted to hear a song you’d buy the sheet music and get your daughter to sing it while you played the piano. So that’s what we were doing because suddenly we didn’t have this music to dance to. Dick Taylor and I spoke to Keith Richards, and the Stones had just got this deal with Vox so we asked if we could buy their old amps. ‘No, fuck it. You can have them!’ said Keith. But when we went around to collect them, Brian Jones was there and said, ‘I think Keith made a mistake, we need a few bills’ and charged us!

 

Mick Eve: In the early days, some of the ballrooms around didn’t have a Mod following as such. In fact a lot of the big ballrooms would give the Blue Flames stick. ‘Oh, it’s not like having the Shadows!’ they’d cry. They’d expect a three guitar group to walk through the door, and we’d walk in with a Hammond organ, two saxophones and an African conga drummer! But the kids would always respond, we’d get them in the end.

  

Roland Kelly: I really loved all the Cyril Davies, Long John Baldry stuff. I fell in love with all that harmonica on his first single Chicago Calling. We went to see them over at Worplesdon Village Hall, which is near Guildford. He was absolutely stoned out of his brain with a suitcase of scotch, he could hardly stand but he still did the gig. After that gig I loved the blues and got really into John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Rufus Thomas, all those old American guys. I mean we were just kids and we were in awe of them, it was magic. We went to Windsor and would be stood at the front of the stage, and Sonny Boy (Williamson) would come on with his bowler hat and his briefcase and blow you away. Most of them were heavy drinkers, so you had a different act every time you saw them. Some people might have been disappointed at times, but we were so hyper and high we wouldn’t notice. We would always come away saying ‘Wasn’t it a great night?’ 

Other early gigs would be the ones at the St John’s Ambulance Hall in Chatham Street (Reading), the Graham Bond Organization, The Roosters featuring a young Eric Clapton, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, the list was endless. Then the Olympia started putting bands on.

I remember The Animals stood in for the Rolling Stones there. Nobody had heard of them or seen them before but they knocked the place down, they were absolutely brilliant! But theirs was a lot more of a rock‘n’roll type of sound as opposed to a lot of the black artists we saw over at the Ricky Tick with a more ‘bluesy’ sound. 

I remember really early on, we went up to Blackpool and we met these girls there. They said to us ‘We’ve got rhythm & blues where we are.’ We asked, ‘Who’s that?’ They said, 'A group you’ve probably not heard of called the Beatles.’ We said ‘Nah, that’s not R&B!’ We were equating with the Rolling Stones, and people we knew from the Ricky Tick. We didn’t equate with the Beatles as anywhere near the music we liked, real gutsy bluesy stuff. 

TO BE FAIR, the Beatles were one of the earliest bands in Britain to have covered American R&B records in their live act in Liverpool and Germany, Kansas City, Some Other Guy and Hallelujah I Love Her So among them. Their first single, Love Me Do had entered the pop charts in November 1962 but their first LP – released in March 1963 – contained 14 tracks, six of which were covers made popular by the likes of Arthur Alexander, The Cookies, The Shirelles and the Isley Brothers (although Twist And Shout was originally made by the Top Notes). 

 

GIORGIO GOMELSKY WAS a Russian émigré, who came to England as a filmmaker but his love of music saw him get involved with the National Jazz Federation. He had run the Piccadilly Jazz Club in Great Windmill Street on Soho but he too had seen the winds of change. In late ’62 he closed the club and took its resident group, Dave Hunt’s Confederates, across to new premises at the Station Hotel, Richmond. The band, now featuring Ray Davies, began calling themselves Dave Hunt’s R&B Band. Early in ’63 however, Gomelsky grew frustrated at the band’s unreliability, and decided to replace them with the Rolling Stones, giving them the Sunday night residency. 1963 was the year that R&B put the squeeze on the once dominant trad and modern jazz clubs. Ken Colyer’s Studio 51 in Great Newport Street, the Railway Hotel in Harrow, the Flamingo and All-nighter club, the Marquee, the Roaring Twenties, the Refectory at Golders Green and the Manor House near Finsbury Park. As the claws of R&B stretched out into the suburbs, nearby Kingston fell victim, as did the beatnik trad jazz stronghold Eel Pie Island situated in the River Thames at Twickenham. With more venues taking up the new sound, more new bands formed to play it; the Pretty Things, the Downliners Sect, The Yardbirds and many more.

By April ’63 the Station Hotel nights had become known as the Crawdaddy Club and the Rolling Stones’ audience had grown rapidly. The club’s legal capacity was around 360 but figures were topping the 500 mark. That same month Andrew Oldham and Eric Easton attended, and after seeing the audience response signed the Stones to a management deal. The Star and Garter in Peascod Street, Windsor also became a Rolling Stones stronghold. Promoters Philip Hayward and John Mansfield had leased the room above the pub and named it the Ricky Tick Club. Within weeks of the Stones’ first gig, they had to turn away more people than they could let in. On May 29, 1963 the Stones brought out a cover version of Chuck Berry’s Come On on Decca Records. Peaking in the charts at 21, it heralded the beginning of many white R&B bands releasing black R&B covers.

 

Terry Clemson (Downliners Sect): The dressing room at Eel Pie was behind the stage, up one flight of stairs. The walls were covered in graffiti, mainly written by the Rolling Stones. That wall would be worth thousands of pounds if it existed today! I remember someone from the Stones drawing a long thin drumstick resembling a penis. Written underneath was ‘Charlie’s drumstick’. I reckon they only had about two LPs at Eel Pie because that’s all they ever played. One was Muddy Waters’ Live At Newport and the other was San Francisco Bay Blues by Jesse Fuller, who I actually saw at Eel Pie doing his one man band. Wonderful! 

 

1964 STARTED BADLY with Cyril Davies, a true blues pioneer, dying on January 7, aged 31, reportedly of leukemia. Long John Baldry took over the band, renaming them the Hoochie Coochie Men, and employing the services of a young Mod blues shouter called Rod Stewart. Ex–Rooster Tom McGuinness had now joined up with Manfred Mann. By now the Beatles were massive and the Rolling Stones were catching them up fast. They had outgrown their residency down at the Crawdaddy Club and been replaced by The Yardbirds, featuring Eric Clapton. The Animals from Newcastle were making waves on their first visit to London.

  

Phil May: When the R&B explosion happened we were shocked. For one thing we weren’t really looking for a career. This was meant to be our music, so in some ways we were a bit pissed off. The trouble is it became everybody’s music. Initially we were pleased that people were cutting out of the Merseybeat or whatever which is fine, one moves on. We were getting a harder sound on the radio, but then there’s this kind of ‘Fuckin’ hell, this is our music!’ Then, some of the really good R&B bands weren’t necessarily floating to the surface. There was still this pop perspective put on it to sell records. But you know, you give it to the accountants and they fuck with it.

There were like-minded people coming to see us though. People like David Bowie (then Jones), who’d come to almost every gig we played locally. You kind of identified with people who were like us. Like, we may go to Newcastle and people would say, ‘There’s a really good band down the road called The Animals’, they came down to London and it started to all lock into a movement.

 

Mickey Tenner: Ronan O’Rahilly found The Animals in Newcastle with a mate of his called Rolf Van Brandzac. When they found them they were called the Alan Price Combo. He was impressed and wanted to manage them. They brought them down from Newcastle to London and put them on at the Scene Club. I think they were on once or twice a week as the resident band, kind of thing. They stayed at Rolf’s flat in Earl’s Court. They absolutely trashed his place! Ronan didn’t get the contract signed and Mickie Most came down the Scene Club. He took them over so they said goodbye to Ronan and that was it. The Animals were fantastic. They impressed me I’ve got to say, more than The Who. Eric Burdon is a phenomenal singer, so powerful. They were outstanding, and everybody at the Scene Club appreciated how good they were.

 

Mickey Modern: You could always see the Animals for five bob down at the Scene. One afternoon I headed off to the Flamingo to see them. They’d just had a hit with The House Of The Rising Sun. There was a little queue forming so I decided to go shopping. I remember buying a three-quarter length suede coat from Gaylords in Shaftesbury Avenue. When I returned to the Flamingo, the bloody queue stretched down to Leicester Square and beyond!

I eventually got in and Chris Farlowe was on stage. He was fantastic but after he finished there was an announcement that The Animals would be late appearing. An hour goes by, everyone in the crowd is getting restless. They eventually show up about two hours late because their van had broken down. When they eventually came on they were amazing. Anyway about six months later they were was an article about them in the Daily Mail featuring a new photo of them. They’d been ‘styled’ and were all wearing the same tab collared gingham checked shirts and the same suits. I was absolutely gutted. I never bought another fuckin’ record or went to see them again.

 

Tony McPhee (The Groundhogs): The Yardbirds were the best band. I saw them for the first time when they had Clapton. They were playing the Star Club [in the Star Hotel, Croydon]. The Yardbirds’ guitars were warped to fuck, the necks were all bent. Clapton had a capo on the guitar; it was unusable below the fifth fret, because it was warped. Giorgio still had the band and during the break, he asked if I wanted to do a couple of numbers. I always carried my slide but it wouldn’t work on their bent guitars!

 

Peter Moody (The Grebbels): I’d tried getting into various R&B bands. My friends Roy Acres and Peter Acres had gone over to the Crawdaddy, probably on their scooters because they were very ‘Moddish’. They told me they’d seen a great band over there, so next time I joined them. Eric Clapton was playing for them. It blew me away, the whole atmosphere of the place. We went again the following week but Eric wasn’t there. Roy, being inquisitive, asked Bill Relf, Keith’s father who the replacement guitarist was. It turned out to be a guy called Roger Pearce, a friend of Keith’s, filling in while Eric was on holiday. Roy got talking to Roger about joining our band so we met up and had a session. He liked what we played; Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry and Slim Harpo. Then,  Tony Carter became our singer. He was one of the crowd at the Crawdaddy.

By February ’64 we started to rehearse as a five piece. We practised at the South Western, where the Yardbirds rehearsed. Giorgio Gomelsky came to see us and we became the support for the Yardbirds. We were doing similar material to them but we would never copy their numbers and they never copied the Stones numbers. Giorgio asked what we were going to call ourselves. We didn’t have a clue and then Keith Relf said we should call ourselves The Grebbels. Roger Pearce and Keith were in the Kingston art crowd. There was a guy they knew from the local art scene, who was an artist who’d drawn this character ‘Grebbel’ – a cross between a gremlin and a rebel. 

We played from May ’64 to January ’65 as support at the Crawdaddy for The Yardbirds, the T-Bones, The Animals or the Moody Blues. When The Yardbirds went on tour, the T-Bones got the job because Hamish Grimes had been down to Brighton and seen them. We were gutted because we had a great following by then. When we had first started playing during the interval, the kids would go through to the bar but when we began to play at the start then we got our own crowd but we never got to be the band of the night. When the Yardbirds returned from their tour, we went on to start with. When The Yardbirds came on for their first set, the entire crowd started booing. It soon livened up but it showed we did have a following.

 

Jim McCarty (The Yardbirds): The clubs we played were seething with madness and frenzy! The Crawdaddy was particularly crazy with people on each other’s backs and swinging from the beams. Giorgio Gomelsky, the manager of the club who became our manager, had an assistant called Hamish Grimes, who would whip up the crowd even more! We had the same sort of scene going at the Marquee, so it seemed a good idea to try to capture some of the excitement on record as our studio recordings were coming out very flat. There wasn’t much room to rave around at the Marquee it was always packed, but I think our live album Five Live Yardbirds did capture something. The sound quality wasn’t great though. There was a recording machine backstage in the dressing room. Afterwards Paul Samwell-Smith, our bass player, fancying himself as a bit of a producer, pressed the wrong button and wiped off some of the recording! 

FROM THE EARLY days of struggling in The Roosters, both Tom McGuinness (Manfred Mann) and Eric Clapton (Yardbirds) seemed destined for greater things. Meanwhile ex-Rooster Terry Brennan seemed at a loose end until his services were called upon by a young band from Twickenham, led by a guy named Ian McLagan and calling themselves The Muleskinners.

 

Dave Pether (Muleskinners): We were contemporaries to the Stones. They were from Ealing Art School while Pete, Mac, Nick and I were all at Twickenham Art School. Blues was flourishing around Twickenham at the time. There was Gary Farr & The T Bones, the Yardbirds, and later, on the Groundhogs. It helped that in the middle of the river in Twickenham was the Eel Pie Island Club. In the early days it was full of jazz and trad, but on special occasions, Cyril Davies & The All-Stars would play. That must have been where we got a lot of our influence from. When, sadly, Cyril Davies died, we played a massive benefit gig for him at Eel Pie along with other bands including Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart and the jazz guitarist Diz Disley. 

 

Ian McLagan (Muleskinners): I kind of ran the band for a while. When I say that I don’t mean I was the most talented, I was probably the least talented. When I first joined we were called The Cherokees. It was Dave Pether (guitarist), Nick Twedell (harmonica) and Pete Brown (bass). At the time, the band was playing instrumentals, not really blues. I was into Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, then the rest got into the music so much that the band changed. I didn’t have the talent. At the time I was playing rhythm guitar, so Dave would help me out and show me what to play. After a while I realised everyone else was a guitarist. We needed a keyboard player. I realised if I’m a keyboard player then I’m the best one in the band! As a guitarist I’m going to be second best.

 

Nick Twedell (Muleskinners): We did a lot of Excello stuff. We auditioned for a singer, which was a bit silly really because Mac was a pretty good singer and I think we could have gone it alone, but anyway Terry came into the band. He had a fantastic collection of blues records, Lazy Lester, Lightnin’ Slim and such, so we did lots of that material. Most of the albums then were compilations of Chess stuff, made up of singles. Then came a Buddy Guy and Junior Wells album on Delmark. That was the first R&B album to ever come out. Terry had all the material we were hungry for. He was the supplier. I’m not putting him down because he was a fabulous singer and a very handsome man. We were not a girls’ band, and we were pretty boring to be honest. We certainly were not one of those bands that girls threw their knickers at, I can tell you! If any of us was, it was Terry. He dressed well, had his hipsters and was very cool. He was the face of the band.  

 

BRITISH R&B GROUPS continued to flourish and as they did so, visiting American artists were offered their services as backing bands. Sonny Boy Williamson, perhaps unfairly, was once quoted as saying, “Those English boys want to play the blues so bad... and they do play the blues SO bad!”

 

Peter Moody: We did a set backing Sonny Boy Williamson at the Crawdaddy, that was one of the highlights of my career. He used to come down because he was there to sit in with The Yardbirds. One night, I was in the dressing room and The Yardbirds had just finished their set, so Eric Clapton and I are sat there chatting. Sonny Boy walked in and Eric was sat there with his guitar. Sonny said, ‘I’ll show you how to play guitar!’ He sits right next to Eric and says, ‘You play the notes, I’ll play the strings.’ I’m watching this and thinking this is a great piece of history. Eric was like a schoolboy and the teacher was Sonny Boy. Then Sonny started laughing and drinking again, and wanders off. I was the only audience to see probably the biggest guitar hero ever to walk the land behaving like a schoolboy, respecting one of his heroes. Eric knew [Sonny Boy] was the real McCoy, we all did. We’d never met a proper bluesman up close before.

 

Mick Carpenter (Muleskinners): We turned up to play with Little Walter and he wasn’t there. We kept going outside; the crowd was in the club and wanted to know where he was. We spotted a car in the car park with a bloke hunched over in the front and Little Walter was in the back drunk. I mean completely zotto. I was trying to wake him up but just getting loads of abuse. He was on in 15 minutes, so I remember helping him into a chair, and then being really vigorous trying to wake him up because we didn’t know what he wanted to sing.

 

Ian McLagan: You’ve got to understand that Little Walter was unhappy about playing a gig on early Sunday afternoon in Guildford. Little Walter is one of my all time heroes, bigger than any of them. He was great, we idolised him and we weren’t that talented. I wasn’t that talented as a musician but I wanted to be. I wanted to be Booker T, I wanted to be Johnnie Johnson or Otis Spann. I wanted to be these people. I love the music and that’s never diminished. In fact I still want to be those people.

 

Mick Eve: John Lee Hooker was notorious for not following any set plan, he just played what came into his head. I used to think it was me. I thought how can I tell a black American what the blues are? He’d play 13 bars or 11 and a half bars, he’d just drop things here and there. Champion Jack Dupree was like that to his dying day. You couldn’t say it was 12-bar blues because it was 12 bars long, it wasn’t. If he felt like starting the next verse he’d start it and you’d have to catch him up. It was strange that legends, as they are, would lose the beat. You didn’t expect that.

 

Tony McPhee: We were doing work for Gerry Vaughn, and he was booking out for John Mayall, and John Lee Hooker who was on his first tour over here in early ‘64. It went pretty well so they booked another week, but Mayall couldn’t back him because he had his own gigs booked. Our manager knew we liked Hooker, so he asked if we wanted to play with him. I’d seen Hooker with Mayall and could tell that Hooker was not happy at all, he looked pretty stern. We did our first gig with him at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester. He started off with I’ll Go Crazy, which I’d never heard before. I knew most of his stuff but I didn’t know what he was going to do. It was in one key, and he was mumbling over it, we sort of managed to get through it. It helped that our drummer, Dave Almond, was a really good R&B drummer. At the end of the first gig Hooker came over and said: ‘You guys really know my shit.’ So we did that first week and he enjoyed it so much that when he came back for a month’s tour he asked for us to do it. 

After seeing Hooker play, I even changed the way I played my guitar. I wore the strap just over my right shoulder like he did and have played that way ever since. 

 

Pete Brown (Muleskinners): We played with Sonny Boy at the Ricky Tick club, which was upstairs in the Birmingham Bull Ring. It was a small place with a little stage in the corner. Nick couldn’t play with us because he was the harp player. Dave Pether was on, I was on and so was Mac, so there’s just the three of us. Sonny came on stage with his harlequin suit and bowler hat, but he had been drinking, he said ‘There’s one, and there’s two...’ and he’d go round and touch each of us on our heads while walking around the stage. There was only the three of us on the bloody stage but somehow he got to about 10! He’d gone round the three of us and then went round again increasing the numbers. He didn’t know what the fuck he was doing! Saying that he was an incredible bloke and a fabulous harp player. He could even play with his nose; he’d stick it under his nostrils and play this amazing stuff. 

 

Tony McPhee: We did two gigs with Little Walter. One was at Club Noreik, which was always hot and we also played at the Civic in Portsmouth. I remember watching him play chromatic harp, and thinking ‘Fucking hell, he’s incredible!’ I loved the riff to Just A Feeling and told him so. He said to me, ‘How do you know that?’ I said ‘I’ve got the records,’ so he told us we’d do it that night. When it came to it I forgot the riff! We also did a different version of My Babe with an extra bit in, which really screwed him up. He kept turning around saying, ‘Ain’t natural!’” 

Jimmy Reed was on the wagon when we met him. We did two gigs either side of Birmingham with him; the Ritz and the Plaza. We’d just finished playing the first gig and were packing up the gear to go on to the second venue when we overheard Jimmy telling the support band how good they were at backing him! Jimmy Reed never tuned his guitar. We had a piano which had to be in tune but he never gave a fuck. There was one time, somewhere near Reading I think, and a magazine really slagged us off, saying how badly we played. Jimmy was so far out of tune, he sounded really awful, but it was because he really didn’t care about tuning his guitar.

 

Mick Carpenter: My favourite gigs were with Howlin’ Wolf without a shadow of doubt, absolutely fantastic. We were playing in pubs to 30 or 40 people, three gigs a night, doing a half-hour spot then moving on. A lot of people didn’t understand it at the time. They were still into rock‘n’roll and Elvis. Just to watch Howlin’ Wolf walking around the stage, growling and being menacing was amazing. I’ll always remember for as long as I live the size of his fingers, they were like sausages. He used to shake your hand and your whole hand would disappear. You daren’t talk to Howlin’ Wolf about Sonny Boy Williamson because they were brothers-in-law and they never got on. They’d get upset if you mentioned the other one’s name. After he finished that tour we went to Heathrow Airport to see him off. I drove them up, we were the only people to turn up to say goodbye. He invited us to go to America and play with him in a club over there and to be the first white band to play blues in the States but of course we never did. We adored him and as he said goodbye he had tears in his eyes. I’ll always remember that.

 

Nick Twedell: He was a beautiful man. It’s hard to believe, you had these five spotty guys from suburbia, who were put up as a backing band to Howlin’ Wolf because there was nobody else available. It was so bizarre it didn’t sink in. Looking back, these blues guys were totally amazing. They weren’t ‘Hey man, who are these white, guys? You mean I’ve got to play with them?!!’ The first time we met him, he put his arms around everybody in the band, he was that huge, and said, ‘My boys!’ Immediately we were in love. We were just these kids who lived in suburban England. The thought of going to America was just a total fantasy. It could never happen. Saying that, we were playing, with these blues legends and that could never happen either, but it did. 

 

PAUL 'SMILER' ANDERSON

Meet the author of Mods: The New Religion: ‘The book I’d always wanted to read’

 

R&B FANATIC Paul Anderson – known as ‘Smiler’ to his friends – is a DJ, record collector, club promoter, compiler and sleeve note writer. A postman in Reading by day, his book Mods: The New Religion, is a labour of love which saw him tracking down 1960s mods and musicians and persuading them to contribute their memories. The book takes its title from a Jimmy James and the Vagabonds album.

 

What sparked your interest in R&B and the 60s Mod scene?

My first taste was with Nine Below Zero during the 1979 Mod revival, then a few years later I started going to London clubs and hearing 60s R&B records. I remember going down the stairs of The Phoenix in Cavendish Square and Slim Harpo’s I’m A King Bee was playing. That was it – I was hooked. 

 

Why did we need another book about it? 

I’ve never read the one that I wanted to read. Richard Barnes Mods! was great but I wanted to speak to people like Phil May and Chris Farlowe, to find out how musicians saw it. I also wanted to cover what was going on outside London, in Newcastle, Birmingham and Portsmouth. For instance, the Ricky Tick Club in Windsor was really important. In Eric Clapton’s autobiography, he says, if you wanted to play rhythm and blues, the Ricky Tick circuit, they were the daddies. They had 27 clubs across the south-east of England and they were the first club to put on Hendrix, they put on so many visiting American artists. The Ricky Tick made the Stones famous, but the Ealing Club gets all the credit.

 

 Where did you get the rare memorabilia?

A friend of mine Damian Jones, who’s the co-owner of Pop Classics, a rare record and memorabilia dealer, supplied most of the club flyers and unseen photos. Some of the pictures are from the private collections of people I interviewed, such as Chris Farlowe. 

 

How did you get a publishing deal?

It was actually the I Got The Blues chapter that sold it to Omnibus, the publisher. I love the blues and it was the section I was most proud of. My passion for the subject won them over in the end.

 

Did any surprises come out in the interviews? Anything that changed your perception of that era?

In some ways It confirmed what I suspected about the early Mod and R&B scene – all those romanticised clichés about smokey jazz clubs didn’t sit well with me because I always saw it as a working class culture. Our generation have mythologised that period and places like the Scene Club, but teenagers just went there to get laid.

 

These events took place a long time ago. How could you tell if what people were telling you was accurate?

You don’t, but one old mod said to me, ‘The trouble is Smiler, if you get 12 people in a room then, 40 years on, they’ll all give you a different account.’ And I said ‘Yeah, but that’s how social history works, it doesn’t matter.’ You as an author have to put your neck on the line a little bit and try and take what is correct. 

 

Tell us a story which didn’t make it into the book... 

Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs told me about when they were touring with John Lee Hooker. Like most bluesman, Hooker was a heavy drinker and he’s swigging from bottles, relieving himself in the empties and putting them up on a shelf in the back of a van. They shared the van with another band (possibly The Paramounts), who were driving to a gig, took a corner too quick and the bottles fell off the shelf, drenching them in foul-smelling liquid. They didn’t know it but they’d been baptised by John Lee Hooker! 

Another guy told me that his brother gave Eric Burdon two black eyes before the Richmond jazz festival, which is why the singer’s got shades on in the concert footage.

 

Who’s your mod hero?

He isn’t a mod but it’s Chris Barber, for what he’s given to the blues scene by bringing so many black American artists over here.

 

Interview by Claudia Elliott

Mods: The New Religion by Paul 'Smiler' Anderson is published by Omnibus (hardback, £24.95)

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