Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Tony McPhee's Memories

Musicians' recollections of Cyril Davies
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Tony McPhee (born March 22, 1944, in Humberston, Lincolnshire) is stalwart of the English blues / rock scene and founder of the 'The Groundhogs' (named after a track on John Lee Hooker's album, 'House of the Blues'. It was after Tony and his brother had seen Cyril Davies and the All-Stars playing at the Marquee Club that Tony became hopelessly hooked on blues and R&B. The rest they say is history as Tony T.S. McPhee went on to back several notable blues singers before fashioning his own trio, and producing a series of successful albums including 'Thank Christ For The Bomb' and 'Split'.

Tony was kind enough to submit the following vivid memory about Cyril and his band of All-Stars in October 2007. Still touring and recording today, you can catch up with Tony via The Groundhogs website.

Thursday nights at the Marquee club in London's Oxford Street in 1963 were absolutely special! Walking down the stairs into the club - my brother Sam and I took our 'usual' seats just to the side of Bernie Watson's Vox AC30. Towards the front of the stage was Nicky Hopkins' Hohner Pianet. This was in front of Carlo Little's (what seemed to me) enormous drum-kit. Ricky Fenson's bass amp completed the back-line.

The people attending the Marquee every Thursday to see Cyril Davies and the All-Stars were as regular as my brother and I. There was always the guy who wore carpet slippers which he brought in a plastic bag; presumably they were comfortable for his style of dancing which was always back on his 'heels'. The set was as regular as the 'punters'(with) Long John Baldry taking over vocals after a few numbers of Cyril singing and Bernie thumping his amp with his fist at least once a night when it developed the 'crackles'. The Velvettes, three black female singers, came on as vocal backing - then everybody waiting for the single (recorded at a studio during the weeks we were going to these gigs), the instrumental A-side 'Country Line Special' where Cyril let rip with his harmonica and Bernie steaming into his solo with two 'run-downs'; followed by Nicky Hopkins pounding his Pianet all the while Carlo was playing tremendous tom-tom fills. It was the most exciting thing I had ever experienced and I saw it week after week! 'Chicago Calling', the B-side of the single was also a favourite of the crowd but the finale, Muddy Waters' 'Got My Mojo Working' saw all the artistes on stage and the audience going crazy.

Also, sometimes, attending those magical nights were Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page. Then one night we walked down those stairs to be confronted by a stage with 'alien' equipment. Instead of Bernie's amp was a Hammond organ! We sat in our usual seats by the side of the missing AC30 and I could see the valves of an amplifier, seemingly being 'cooled' by a large fan!

This, I found out later, was a 'Lesley' cabinet, I knew nothing about organs!! Although this was Graham Bond on organ, Phil Seaman on drums, I think, Jack Bruce on stand-up bass and very possibly John McLaughlin on guitar (a tremendous line-up!), I was disappointed not to see the usual All-Stars. We were told that Cyril, who was, in fact, very ill, (we were told with leukemia) had been taken to hospital and who later on - died from possibly pleurisy in January 1964, a couple of weeks before his 32nd birthday.

I cannot think of anything that could have given me a better start with the Blues than those Thursday nights at the Marquee watching Cyril Davies and the All-Stars!


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