I’ve delayed this section for so long now that, before you read any further, I suggest that you go back to Woke up this morning…part 1 to get up to speed! All done? OK. Now read on –
Having renewed my friendship with Paul Marsden since writing part one, I can tell you that the recording of black Southern convicts that had such an impact on us was Angola Prisoner’s Blues. We were completely blown away by Robert Pete Williams and Hogman Maxey, and began to realise that the blues was very much a living thing. Hitherto I think we had looked on it as form of music that had run its course and had been absorbed into jazz – after all, most of the stuff that we had been listening too so far was from the twenties and thirties. Yet here was the absolute and undeniable real thing and the recordings were made between 1952 and 1960! Here's Robert Pete Williams performing 'Old Girl at my Door' from a 1971 documentary film about him.
When Muff and I met Max Emmons a few years later we were much taken with the fact that he could (and in fact still can) perform a version of ‘Stagolee’ that was strongly influenced by Hogman Maxey. It was to become a featured solo in Jugular Vein performances.
Muff was by now working for BEA and as a consequence was able to get cheap flights. He would frequently fly up to Glasgow, where he had discovered a second hand record store that he thought worth the 700 or so miles round trip on his day off. We thought so too when he came back with treasures like a Blind Lemon Jefferson collection or Preachers and Congregations. We were (and remain) avowed atheists, but found the religious material deeply fascinating. It seemed to shed some light on the passion that we found in much black music, and the narrow divide between the sacred and the secular.
By the beginning of 1962 Muff, Paul and I were all working for a living and were beginning to attend jazz gigs and folk clubs. The blues strayed into both of these areas, with the folkies tending to favour the original country blues whilst the jazzers were showing interest in a more recent phenomenon – electric blues. The brief Trad boom was drawing to a close and the hipper youths were beginning to gravitate towards modern jazz. This divide was reflected in clothing. The traddies still tended to favour ‘rave’ gear – tight jeans, baggy sweaters and eccentric headgear, any or all of which could be decorated with the CND symbol, whilst those who favoured modern jazz (or ‘mods’, as they were called) went for a much sharper look -Italianate suits and chisel toed shoes with big heels. Those of us that strayed into both camps tended to wear denim shirts with button down collars over thin black roll necks, cord or denim jeans, and donkey jackets, reefer jackets or duffle coats. The CND symbol was present in the more discreet form of a lapel badge (as opposed to the 'whitewash on a bowler hat' with optional arrow piercing' approach of some of the traddies).
These prototype mods already tended to favour black music, particularly soul jazz (not to be confused with the soul and Tamla music scene that was to emerge a year or so later). They also favoured what was beginning to be referred to as Rhythm and Blues or ‘R and B’. The Pye record company was shrewd enough to pick up on this trend and started its own R and B label which issued many great albums and singles by artists such as Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. We were immediately grabbed by Muddy Waters, and totally blown away by Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960 when it was released here. Here's a clip from that performance.
I abandoned my nylon strung guitar in favour of a cello-bodied model with steel strings that to my mind looked a lot like the one that Muddy was playing in the sleeve photo. It was at this time that I first got into blues harmonica seriously, and heard James Cotton, Sonny Boy Williamson and the great Little Walter. Here are some clips - first James Cotton performing 'Rocket 88' -
and here's Sonny Boy Williamson. I'm pretty sure that this clip was recorded at The Fairfield Hall, Croydon in 1964, during one of the American Folk Blues tours organised in this country by Giorgio Gomelsky, first manager of The Rolling Stones.If this is the case then I was in the audience!
Finally here's Little Walter playing a classic harmonica blues that will be familiar to anyone who listened regularly to John Peel's radio show -
I bought a Hohner diatonic harp (or ‘gob iron’ as it was charmingly named) and had soon added to the number of things that I did which irritated my father. As I was flatly forbidden to play the thing at home I took to carrying it with me wherever I went, and pulling it out for a quick tootle whenever I had a moment. I could pick out simple tunes without too much problem but, try as I might, I just couldn’t make that wonderful blues noise…
Then we got wind of a new place in Ealing and the world tilted on its axis.
I don’t remember how we found out about The Ealing Club. It might have been an ad in Melody Maker or a review in Jazz News, or it might have been word of mouth from one of our hipper acquaintances, but however it happened we were all eager to go and check it out at the first opportunity. ‘We’ was the usual suspects – Muff, Paul and myself plus one Ian Fenwick (known as ‘Fen’), who was an ex-school friend of mine who wasn’t quite such a music nut as the rest of us but did share our sense of humour. He was also something of a mechanical whizz, as well as having been my fellow enthusiast in the manufacture of a variety of amateur explosives and model aeroplanes a few years previously. Fen was the proud owner of an ancient car and what’s more was happy to drive us all down the Uxbridge Road to Ealing Broadway most Saturday nights for many months to come (There was only one other thing that competed for our Saturday night affections at this time and that was a television programme called That Was the Week That Was - or TW3 as it soon became known. I can’t remember another TV programme that ever held such sway over teenagers as to actually keep them in on a Saturday night, but it was required viewing and as well as being satirical and irreverent, also had a damn fine house band.)
The Ealing Club was located beneath an ABC (Aerated Bread Company) tea rooms, opposite Ealing Broadway Station. It was a most unpromising location for what was to become the birthplace of British Rock and I can remember being vaguely dismayed to think that some English people were going to attempt to recreate something as quintessentially American as THE BLUES in a place as quintessentially English as a tearoom! However, my fears were soon put to rest as we descended into the vaulted cellar and shoved our way to the bar through the heaving, sweaty, Twisting hordes as Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated belted out “I’ll Put a Tiger in Your Tank” at what seemed then to be an earth-shattering volume. It was…fantastic!
I can’t remember what the exact line-up was that night, other than Alexis (known as ‘The Benevolent Gaucho’ because of his Zapata moustache and Mediterranean complexion combined with a more or less permanent amiable grin) on guitar and vocals and Cyril (Squirrel) Davies on harmonica and vocals, but over the coming months we were to see a whole hoard of soon-to-be legendary musicians grace that dank stage. We saw drummers Charlie Watts and Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith (christened ‘The Benevolent Egg’ by us because of his bald head and to match Alexis’ moniker) and organist/saxophonist Graham Bond. Once or twice we saw Chris Barber's (see It's Trad, dad) long-time trumpeter Pat Halcox making an unlikely but excellent appearance with the group. A certain Brian Jones was also to be seen occasionally, sitting in with the band on slide guitar. Here's a taste of Alexis and Co in full flight, taken from a Studio recording from 1962 (although it purported to be from the Marquee Club, where the band had also acquired a residency)
and heres another from the same album -
In fact, a whole roster of the great and the good (or should that be ‘bad’) of the British rock scene passed through that club, including Paul Jones, Eric Clapton, Eric Burdon and Rod Stewart but I can’t honestly say that I remember seeing them. There were, however, two guys that we saw on a regular basis who would often take to the stage during the interval break. They were Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It has to be said that at first, the audiences could hardly contain their indifference for these putative Rolling Stones, but as the weeks went by they began to command more attention. Soon they were being invited up to sit in with the band. I was ostentatiously fiddling with my ever-present harmonica during one interval break when I felt a tap on the shoulder. I looked round to see Mr Jagger, who asked me if he could borrow the gob iron as he was going to sit in with the band in the second set. (I think that Cyril must have left the band by this time as I’m sure that Mick wouldn’t have had the brass neck to play blues harp with Cyril on the same stage.) I duly handed over the harmonica – and that was the last I saw of it. I didn’t manage to connect with him after the set had finished and I never saw him at the Ealing Club again. So – if you’re reading this Mick – please can I have my harmonica back? I think it was an ‘A’.