The records that changed Jona Lewie's life
Before he stopped the cavalry at Christmas, the quirky Stiff Records singer-songwriter was a boogie-woogie blues boy in 60s London
"The blues was a vibe, a feeling, a rawness, a thrill. My first encounter came through two albums that my stepfather brought home. One was Elvis Presley’s first album, and the other was Rock And Rollin’ With Fats Domino. I loved these records as a young kid. The sleeve notes on the Elvis album began: ‘The jazz phenomenon to end all phenomena, the record breaker to end all record breakers, is a slim six-footer from Mississippi, USA named Elvis Presley.’ I was puzzled because the cover was talking about rock’n’roll. On the back of the Fats Domino LP, it said ‘blues lies at the heart of jazz’, and I thought, ‘but I’m listening to Fats rocking and rolling’. So that’s how I became aware of ‘blues’ and ‘jazz’. Blues does lie at the heart of jazz and at the heart of rock’n’roll.
“I’d seen Big Bill Broonzy on TV with a cigarette dangling in his mouth and he was playing Hey Hey, this lovely boogie guitar thing, and it blew my mind. At 14 I bought a Big Bill Broonzy EP and on it is a great number called Get Back [Black, Brown And White]: ‘If you’re white you’re alright, if you’re brown stick around, but if you’re black, oh brother, get back, get back.’
“A lot of British music in the 50s – aside from Lonnie Donegan, who was doing Lead Belly – was not very exciting. If you can imagine someone like Dickie Valentine commanding the airwaves in the mid 50s, and then you hear Hound Dog – it’s a deliverance, an earthquake, a revolution. This was excitement, this was freedom, this was wildness. It was alien to British culture, which was so prim and music hall. And here [holds up Elvis LP cover] we had raw, untamed sex. You’re moved by these things because they’re coming from the heart. They should really call it heart music.
“I went to the Folk Blues Festivals at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, in 1963 and 1964. After the show I went to the tour bus and got autographs from Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Sonny Terry had a rubber stamp that said ‘Yours truly’, because he couldn’t write. Big Joe Williams’ autograph was just three crosses. It was so special that they’d come to England and inspired a generation of white kids to form bands.”