Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Andy Hoogenboom's memories

Musicians' recollections of Cyril Davies
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Andy Hoogenboom became well known as a sculptor of large abstract form during the 'Swinging Sixties' in Britain. Like many of those who were part of this major cultural and artistic upheaval, he was closely involved with music. A professional musician from the age of fourteen, Andy's love of music making can be felt in much of his work today.

While at art school in London in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he played acoustic bass with several bands including Blues Incorporated - led by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies. It was while playing in that group, with drummer Charlie Watts, that Hoogenboom met and played with the musicians who were soon to form The Rolling Stones.

Years later, when the Stones were recording their Bridges From Babylon album, he made a series of art works based on sketches of his old friends making music. Three of The Stones have art and design backgrounds but they chose music as their day jobs. Andy chose art, recalling, "It wasn't an easy choice but I knew in my heart it had to be art".

Since moving to the USA in 1996 he has become fascinated by printmaking. Music and nature feature in much of his print work, and he has had the rare opportunity to make drawings at rehearsals of both the American Symphony Orchestra and the New York Housing Authority Orchestra. Jazz is a great love and several jazz musicians feature in his work.

Andy Hoogenboom is the Vice President of the New York Society of Etchers. His work is in museum and private collections in the USA and abroad, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can see some of Andy's work here, American guitar boutique

On behalf of 'Cyril Davies - British Blues Architect' I would like to thank Andy H. for his time and consideration. Our correspondence occurred during March 2007, EXACTLY 45 YEARS (!) after Blues Incorporated's first Ealing Club gig took place. Cheers mate, your help and enthusiasm is greatly appreciated - Todd

A. H. - I am delighted that you are doing a profile of Cyril, long overdue. I don't know what I can contribute as I really only knew him for a year or so; (Cyril) and Alexis certainly planted the seed of blues music in me and who knows how many others, both audience and musicians. I suppose a brief recital (is in order) as I remember it.


The Early Days

Firstly, yes I was at Hornsey (College of Art) where I knew and played with Keith Scott in various bands. As far as I know he went to teach in Edinburgh after Hornsey, but I don't know for certain. I knew (of) Cyril and Alexis through going to the Roundhouse (Pub), on Compton Street in Soho, where they would host blues nights with records and live music plus, occasionally, and real US players like Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee.

Chris Barber was also bringing blues stars to London like Rosetta Tharpe, so we were getting a bit of education and new experience.



Blues Inc.

Ealing Jazz Club

I believe Keith Scott was already in Blues Inc. because he told me that Alexis wanted me to audition. Charlie Watts and I auditioned the same night and the first rehearsal was set up. Lineup was Alexis (guitar/vocals), Cyril (harp/vocals), Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor), Keith (piano), Geoff Bradford (guitar) - he may have come later, ask him, Charlie (drums), and me on bass.

We rehearsed mostly Chicago Blues, a la Muddy Waters / Lightning Slim, etc. We did about half a dozen sessions, worked up maybe ten to fifteen songs then Alexis announced our first gig - the Ealing Club. Saturday night we opened to a good crowd (I think) and seemed to go down well.

More rehearsal and a couple more songs and quickly the gigs became very popular. Brian Jones and Mick Jagger sat in, at Alexis' invitation, and then soon after Keith Richards appeared - they did occasional songs.



The Marquee

About six weeks of this and Cyril and Alexis announced that we are going to open at the Marquee. This had always been a jazz venue - it was an exciting prospect to me! They got us some publicity and Alexis and Cyril led the band to a virtually empty club at our opening night. However, over the weeks it grew into 'if you were not there - you were not anywhere'! Very soon the place was packed every week. Alexis and Cyril took it in turns to lead/sing but we also had a lot of people sit in, Paul Jones John Baldry, Ronnie Jones, and Mick Jagger. By now we also had Art Theman on tenor playing with us most gigs, so the band was really starting to sound good.

Cyril Davies

Cyril always seemed to me to be the one who could 'feel' the blues. His playing and his direction to the band had both roots and spontaneity. He would always select his harmonica from his special carrier box - a sort of briefcase but all sectioned up for his instruments. It was always a careful choice relating to what kind of effect he wanted. Cyril was in my eyes a perfectionist working within a framework of personal improvisation therefore demanding a solid foundation on which he and the other soloists could expand. He knew what he wanted and would keep insisting until the sound was the way he 'heard' it.

Between them, Alexis and Cyril founded the blues into London. I think some degree of discord grew when Alexis bought in a Country band to share the gig at the Marquee. Personally, I thought it was a bum idea born out by the fact that the people started coming later after they had done their set. I think it was about that time that Cyril formed the All-Stars, eventually getting a minor hit with 'Country Line Special' - I still think that is terrific!

Cyril to me was a real 'working man'. He ran his car repair firm during the day and indulged his music passion at night but applied the same energy and gusto to both. He suffered the sadness of watching his daughter die from a hole in the heart but managed through that to find the drive to go on. It was a great sadness to me when he died. I owe a lifetime of great musical joy and inspiration to the roots Cyril planted in me, and I will never forget him.

Band Photo

(Seeing this photo again) gave me a good giggle. That was the day Alexis produced the 'band uniform' (with) kind of (a) purple stripe trouser. Charlie refused to wear them on the grounds that they were hideous. At the time they were the best trousers I had! Alexis was very keen to get recording work for the band. Record company people started having a lot to say about gigs and personnel. I was replaced by Spike Heatley, a well known jazz bassist, and shortly after that Charlie was replaced by Ginger Baker. Brian Knight approached a few people and we formed Blues By Six, playing at Ken Colyer's club and gigging wherever we could.

Long John Baldry

I knew John Baldry from way back, long before Blues Inc. We used to busk together on the Strand and round the West End. John was about twelve and I was fourteen or so…so we knew each other pretty well. I have to say I do not remember the girl incident (see Long John's page by Jeff Edmunds) but that does not mean it did not happen. It certainly sounds like Cyril!

Live in NYC!

(Today) I still play - but only to the wallpaper! I use bass playing to relax when I am working on my drawings. Keep in touch…Andy H.

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