Can blue men sing the white's?
That was the eternal question in the early/mid sixties when there was an explosion of 'white' r&b bands here in the UK and, eventually, over in the US too once the 'British Invasion' had established itself in the American musical psyche.
First, let's look at what we mean when we talk of 'white' r&b music:
The origins of the movement were in the British jazz, skiffle and folk movements of the 1950s. The 1958 visit of Muddy Waters influenced key figures Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner to leave the Chris Barber band and turn to electric blues and form the band Blues Incorporated, which became something of a clearing house for British rhythm and blues musicians.
Now, we have to distinguish British rhythm and blues bands from beat bands (who were influenced by rock and roll and rockabilly) on the one hand, and from "purist" British blues (which particularly emulated Chicago electric blues artists), on the other, although there was considerable crossover between the three sets of musicians.
Merseybeat bands, or those from the parallel beat scene in Manchester, were influenced by American forms of music that included rockabilly, girl groups and the early Motown sound, helping them to produce a commercially orientated form of music that began to dominate the British charts from 1963. However, bands from the developing London club scene were mainly influenced by Chess Records' blues artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and also wider rhythm and blues singer and rock and roll pioneers like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley resulting in a "rawer" or "grittier" sound.
British rhythm and blues singers were initially criticised for their emulation of rhythm and blues vocal styles, with an emphasis on shouts, glottal stops, moans and cries. However, vocalists such as Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, Eric Burdon and Steve Winwood were soon seen by critics as able to sing the blues convincingly and with some power. Instumentally, in cover versions of R&B songs, riffs were often simplified or used less frequently and the object of the music was usually to whip up energy, rather than to produce musical finesse.
Critics Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden noted that after the split of Blues Incorporated at the end of 1962, four main strands could be discerned in British Rhythm and Blues. Cyril Davies left to attempt to recreate the Chicago electric blues of Muddy Waters. The style would be the major influence on the late 60's emergence of the blues boom, particularly through the work of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Alexis Korner continued with Blues Incorporated, bringing in jazz saxophonist Graham Bond and developing a more jazz orientated sound. This strand would be taken up by acts including the Graham Bond Organisation, Manfred Mann and Zoot Money. A unique form was pursued by Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, who as the resident band at the Flamingo club on Wardour Street, unusual in having a predominantly black audience of American GIs and locals, also utilised jazz, but mixed R&B with elements of Caribbean music, including Ska and bluebeat.
However, it was the 'fourth strand', including The Rolling Stones and others who focused on rocking guitar music based on the work of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley that would be followed by many small guitar and drum based groups, both here and in the US, which came to define 'white' r&b of the mid-sixties.
It's this 'fourth strand' I'll be concentrating on (although not exclusively) with a selection of tracks from my vinyl collection so let's start, as you'd probably expect from me, with a couple of tracks NOT from the above criteria:
Adam Faith: 'Watch your step'. Released January 12th 1962. Here's the b-side to Adam's smallish hit 'Lonesome' where he's backed by his early mentor, the John Barry Orchestra. Let's ignore the 'scream' intro and concentrate on Adam's almost out of control version of Bobby Parkers US original from 1961. Co-incidentally, Barry had cut a mean instrumental version a few months earlier than Adam's vocal treatment, which is worth seeking out too, but here Adam really pours it out on a song which was, at that time, a favourite in all the early 'mod' clubs in London. How many of the 'mods' heard this version is open to conjecture but, certainly, the Beatles used to perform this song around 1961/2 and loved it so much they simply re-wrote it as their eighth single 'I feel Fine'.
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates: 'I just want to make love to you'. Recorded 31 Jan 1961, Unreleased until 1983. Here's the 'original' Pirates backing Kidd on a slow, bluesy version of Muddy Water's 1954 single, later popularised by Etta James. Somehow Kidd's management repeatedly screwed up on his releases, and this is a case in point. At the time of this recording the nascent Stones were a 'bedroom' band called 'Little Boy Blue and the Blues Boys', still to perform live as a unit and reliant on guest spots as part of Blues Incorporated. It would be 1964 before the Stones would place their version of this track on their debut album, by which time Kidd and his 'new' Pirates were incorporating Motown tracks into their act, alongside other blues numbers, such as the Beatles favourite rocker 'Some Other Guy'(unreleased until 1990) and Little Richards 'Right string, baby...'(unreleased until 1983). It's a constant source of mystery as to why Kidd was never allowed enough time off the road to cut a bona-fide album but, perhaps it was his constant popularity at such venues as Doncasters St James Swimming Baths, where he outsold the Beatles in 1961, that is proof of his real worth.
Rolling Stones: 'Road Runner'. Recorded 11th March 1963 IBC Studios. No official release? Taken from the same demo session as the vastly inferior 'Come On', surely this would have been a much better debut single? The band recorded around a dozen tracks at Loog Oldhams expense and when Decca took the bait, after being pointed in the right direction by the Beatles, Oldham purchased the demo's and released 'Come On'. A constant favourite amongst the early 60's R&B bands, I have several versions including Wayne Fontana/Mindbenders, the Pretty Things and the Animals.
Le Roys: 'Money'. Recorded 1963. released 1963 on Give-a-disc/LYNTONE flexi. A strange one here, a 'give away' flexi by a Walthamstow band who toured regularly on package tours featuring the Rolling Stones and backed Mike Berry, John Leyton, Mike Sarne and Billie Davis both on stage and in the studio, as well as producing the odd fine performance on their own recordings. Here's a recording probably more in the style of the Stones first EP version than Lennons eye-popping second album closer and surely this was too good for a 'give-away'? Again it's probably a management decision but, bearing in mind some of their other releases, it was a chance missed to cash in on the Beatles/Stones connections, something not lost on Bern Elliot and the Fenmens team who placed their rather more 'beat' version on the charts in November 1963. The band struggled along (as Simon Scott and...) until 1965 when Parlophones patience eventually ran out after their rather fine, Big Jim Sullivan enhanced single 'Move it Baby' and a 'shared' EP with the Innocents covering the hits of the day.
Animals: 'Boom Boom'. Recorded Summer 1963, 'Graphic Sounds' private release EP. Limited release early 1965. Recorded 'in just two hours in a large country house near Hexham' when the band were still known as The Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo, the four tracks snuck out when they left EMI to join Decca and were the subject of legal action which led to their quick deletion. The version here of John Lee Hookers 'Boom Boom' is even better than the 're-recorded' version on their EMI debut album, and that one's a corker!!! These recordings were instumental in securing the band a 10 day residency at Londons Crawdaddy Club in exchange for the Yardbids travelling up the A1 to the Club a GoGo in Newcastle. Chas Chandler later remarked it was a ten day London residency which lasted 20 years!! Although probably almost too well known nowadays thanks to '... Rising Sun', all their early/mid sixties albums should be in your collection (if they're not already!) and don't forget to track down the US 'Animalism' album which features several different tracks to the UK's similarly titled 'Animalisms'.
Note: This is the Animals 'EMI' version 'cos the Alan Price Combo/Graphic Sounds ain't available.
The Clique: 'See that my grave is kept clean'. Recorded October 25th 1964, released 2011. Taken from the '64 Rave Up' EP from those fine people at Acid Jazz Records, here's a storming version of Blind Lemon Jeffersons 1927/8 blues standard which, as far as I'm aware, is probably the earliest (and, perhaps, only) cover of this song by a UK band. Bob Dylan had recorded it on his 1962 debut, and revisited it on the 'Basement Tapes' in 1967, but this is just the kind of high energy song that would have kept the mods leaping at the Marquee in '64. The band supported the Yardbirds, Kinks, Zoot Money, Graham Bond and the Birds, to name just a few, and regularly played the Marquee, 100 Club and the Railway Hotel alongside the Who. Signed to Pye in late '64, the band released a couple of fine singles ('She ain't no good' and 'We didn't kiss, we didn't love..') in 1965 but were quickly deemed passe and manager Larry Page soon moved on to his latest signings, The Troggs, who took the primitive sounds of the Clique and moved it to another gear entirely.
Betterdays: 'Honey what's wrong'. Recorded October 1964. Limited released on Oak Records EP. From the Deep South... well, Plymouth in Devon actually, who formed in 1960 as a fairly standard rock 'n roll group before introducing r&b into their set during late 1962. Playing this 'unusual music' saw them banned from the towns clubs during 1963 so they broadened their horizons and started playing all the village halls in Devon and Cornwall they could. By early 1964 their ferocious reputation saw them granted a residency at Plymouth waterfronts 'prestigious' Quay Club, playing 4 hour sets seven nights a week to sell out crowds. The band paid their first visit to a recording studio, R G Jones in Morden, in October where they laid down just 4 incendiary tracks, including 'Honey...'. Jones' studio was the 'go-to' demo studio for many established acts, including the Stones, Bowie, the Yardbirds, Joe Cocker and many others. They were picked up by Polydor for just one single, the band composed 'Don't want that' backed by Bo Diddleys 'Here 'Tis' and only paid one more visit to a studio where they laid down another version of 'Here 'Tis' with guide vocals. And that was it!! Seven tracks, including one single, and the offer from Polydor to cover a couple of 'pop songs'... declined of course, before they split in late 1965 as the r&b craze started to wane.
OK..... let's take a look at what was happening elsewhere: first up, the US:
Kenny and the Kasuals: 'Gloria'. Recorded 1965 for 'The Impact sound of...' LP. Just 500 copies were pressed of the 'Impact...' album, making it one of the most collectable of the era. Formed in Dallas in 1964, the band were soon opening locally for the Stones, Beach Boys and Sonny and Cher as well as, surely what should have been the highpoint of their career, a slot on the famed Shea Stadium gig with the Beatles!!A dispute over publishing rights with their record label, however, saw them pulled at the very last moment. Now that's what I call bad luck!!! 'Impact' is chock full of Brit-Invasion tunes but the band did also compose some of their own numbers including the super rare psych single 'Journey to tyme' in 1966. This is one of, probably, dozens of covers of Van the man's Them classic b-side, indeed, it seems like every US band did a version between 1965 and 67 and this is as good as any of the others. The band folded when leader Kenny Daniel was drafted in 1967.
Chocolate Watch Band: 'Sweet Young Thing'. Released as a single 1966. Here's the debut single (taken from the French EP on Eva Records released 1983) by a band with a labyrinthine history, which we'll only touch on here. Record producer, songwriter and founder member of the Four Preps, Ed Cobb had started his own label (Green Grass) after leaving Vee Jay in 1965 and, after hitting with Gloria Jones 'Heartbeat' and the Standells 'Dirty Water', Cobb signed the CWB in 1966. And here's where the water gets muddied! Members were exchanged, along with band names, with other local San Jose bands such as the Topsiders and the Other Side before a (sort of) settled line up was established. At this very moment, Green Grass 'leased' the band to Tower Records and here's where the real problems began which would dog the band for the rest of their career. The 'proper' CWB do play on both this storming Cobb comp, and it's follow up, the more wistful 'Misty Lane' but, in the meantime, they had covered a Davie Allen and the Arrows track from the biker movie 'The Wild Angels' as The Hoggs and, after appearing in the exploitative 'Riot on Sunset Strip' in their full 'live' glory,began recording their debut album... or did they? They certainly appear on most of side one but, when it comes to the second sides more 'exploratory' pieces, it was Cobb's studio musicians who took the lead. By January 1968 the band appears to have been merely an excercise for Cobb to foist more spacey psych on to the US record buyers, who were not particularly interested anyway. There were still some fine tracks by the 'proper' band and these are collected on Big Beats superb '44' compilation as well as on an EP by French label Eva.
Now, over to Europe:
Dynamites: 'Don't leave me behind'. Recorded 1966 in Paris for limited EP plus as A flexi with 'POP' magazine. Perhaps Basel's finest (and only?) r&b band, formed in the mid-50's as The Little Robin Band. Re-naming themselves after Riff Clichards single in 1959 the band released a series of local label singles over the next five years, plus a live album also featuring noted rockers Les Sauterelles. 1965 saw the band supporting the Kinks on their European dates as well as being back up musicians to Tony Sheridan before lack of record company interest saw the band split in late '66. This is one of the wildest r&b tracks I have except for...
The Safaris: 'Crazy, Crazy'. recorded Hamburg 1965, released as single. Not too much info here, and even that is confusing! 1966 saw Lord Crazy release 'The witchy-bitchy Superduper Eyeball-highball Cocktail Party Hell-based Ghost chased' single, which played backwards (honest, you couldn't make this up!!) and on the flip was an identical version of the Safaris'Crazy, Crazy'. Quite why is, at this remove, not known. Lord Crazy does, however, feature on some of the bands publicity photo's so... maybe they just lent him the track to fill up the single??
Anywaze.... back to normality in the UK:
The Kinks: 'Long Tall Sally'. single release 24th March 1964. Here's the debut single by the recently re-named The Ravens who had signed to Pye earlier in '64 at the behest of producer Shel Talmy. The bands live dates were scheduled by the Beatles tour organisor Arthur Howes and he placed the band on the Beatles UK 1964 mini-tour. They had already heard McCartneys gig highlight version of Little Richards 'Long Tall Sally', at that time not recorded by the Fabs, and decided to put it out as their debut single. It flopped, despite a fine Ray Davies comped b-side, as did the follow up 'You still want me' and it was at this time that Pye warned the band that a further flop would see the band dropped. Of course, the rest is history when, after several attempts, Davies scrapped the original recording of his new song, stamped his kinky boots and insisted on a re-recording of 'You really got me', which broke the band nationally within weeks of release. In the meantime, however, I had caught the band as support on the Dave Clark Five's only UK tour in mid-64, alongside the Hollies, the Mojo's and, errr, Mark Wynter!! And pretty wild they were too!!!
David John and the Mood: 'Bring it to Jerome'. Single released March 1965. Fine cover by Preston's grooviest r&b band (surely?) of Bo Diddleys homage to his maraca player Jerome Green. Produced by Joe Meek, and surely one of his finest productions, the 'piece de resistence' was achieved when a lavatory chain was purloined and dropped, rhythmically of course, into a biscuit tin for added percussive effects. The band also did a fiery version of 'Pretty Thing' on their debut flip side and just one further single ('Diggin' for Gold') after 'Bring it...' before folding in late 1966.
The Beat Merchants: 'Pretty Face'. Single released September 1964. Another band from the 'Deep South', this time Horsham near Brighton, soon to become Mecca to a generation of scooterboys but, between 1962 and '64 home to, firstly Peter and Hustlers and by late 1963, the more snappily named Beat Merchants. P & H had entered a local studio in mid-1963 to record a four track demo of blues numbers which found it's way to Norrie Paramour at EMI who expressed an interest to, sometime in the future, produce the band. August 3rd 1963 (the day after my 16th birthday fact/trivia fans) saw P& H support the burgeoning Rolling Stones at Horshams St Leonards Hall, a 400 capacity venue which squeezed in over 600 on the night. Scales fell from the bands eyes, members were fired and like minded blues-wailers drafted in along with more blues covers in the set. In April '64, still not hearing anything from Mr Paramour, the band demoed another couple of songs and started touting those round too. May saw the band turn fully professional and become the subject of a minor bidding war between EMI and Decca, with the band reluctantly signing with the former. At Abbey Road, amidst the recording gear belonging to the Beatles, they ran through their stage act, including the new group comp 'Pretty Face', which they had also tracked at Decca. Backed by Muddy Waters 'Messin' with the man' the band soon debuted on TV (Thank your lucky stars and Scene at 6.30) and the chart, making No 44 on October 17th listing. The record hovered in the 40's for a few weeks whilst the band toured with the Honeycombs, Applejacks, Lulu and the Luvvers and Gene Vincent before hitting out on their own. Early 1965 saw the band back in the studio, this time to cover a J Gribble (?) song entitled 'So Fine' which promptly bombed in the UK, possibly due to record buyers exhaustion at all the r&b singles flooding out at that time. The strange thing is, though, the single went on to sell a milion, and make the band receipients of £1000 in royalties! 'How come' I hear you ponder? Well, Tower Records (US) had signed Freddie and the Dreamers for 4 tracks and, not wanting to 'waste' any material, slung out 'So Fine' on the flip of 'You were made for me' with an 'Introducing the Beat Merchants' tagline affixed and watched as Freddie and the gang soared to No 1 stateside. Now, if they had plumped for 'Pretty Face', of course, the band would have made considerably more. As it is, Mr Gribble must be well satisfied. The band limped on for 2 or 3 years before folding after one too many European jaunts. Shame really, a fine band, attested to by Circle Records fine comp from 2000 which rounds up all the demo's plus a bonus EP of the Peter and the Hustlers tracks.
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers: 'On top of the world'. Recorded November 1965. Released on 'The Blues Anytime' comp 1969. Here's Mayall, Clapton, Bruce and Hughie Flint making a stab for the charts, except they didn't. The track was produced for Immediate Records by Jimmy Page, who also sat in the chair for the earlier 'Witchdoctor' single, but was never released at the time. Clapton had famously left the Yardbirds in a huff after recording the 'commercial' single 'For your love' and joined the more authentic Bluesbreakers and it perhaps for that reason that 'On top of the world' was nixxed. Perhaps one single was one too many? Anyhow, within weeks, the band was back in the studio with Mike Vernon and Decca to record the era defining 'Beano' album, although I still prefer the follow up 'A Hard Road' featuring Peter Green! 'On top...' does, however, feature a stunning 'coda' on (Gibson?) guitar by Clapton, repeated near the end of the track, which to my mind, points directly to Creams debut 'commercial' single 'Wrapping Paper' which was similarly out of kilter with the rest of their output.
Poets: 'Baby don't you do it'. Released January 1966. Sticking with Immediate Records, here's Scotlands finest (excluding Alex Harveys Soul Band of course) on their fifth single. Signed to Decca in 1964 by Andrew Loog Oldham and released after three flops, they signed to Oldhams Immediate in '66 for a further brace, including this storming cover of the Marvin Gaye pounder recently covered by the Who and the Small Faces amongst others. Produced, with the echo button on overdrive, by Paul Raven (you know who!) this is one r&b monster which should have torn up the charts but, by early 1966, r&b was deemed passe'. All their singles, especially 1967's £450 rated 'Wooden Spoon' are much sought after, and there have been a couple of comps of their recorded output, including several early demo's.
The Others: 'Oh Yeah'. Released October 2nd 1964. One of the wildest r&b outings I have, unfortunately only on a comp album but, hey, it's the music what counts, surely? Somehow American garage-gods the Shadows of Knight must have heard this because their cover of this Bo Diddley song owes much more to the Others outing than to Bo's original. This was, unbelievably, their sole release (as the Others) on Fontana and, such is its legendary status that the band have reformed on several occasions to play Londons clubs. One black spot, however.... the band were the inspiration for Hampton School fellow-student Brian May to turn professional with his band Queen!!
On that note............
OK, that's a bag-full of classic 'white' r&b tracks from my vinyl records.............. I'll let you digest, discuss and disgorge (probably!) and list some more at a later date.