Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer
Ronnie Jones' Memories
Ronnie Jones was born in Springfield, Massachusetts (September 14, 1937). After graduating from High School in 1955, his U.S. Air Force duty took him around the world and finally to England in 1961 where this story begins.
We would like to say thank you to Ronnie, for his time, energy, and patience since our correspondence began in April 2007. Ronnie makes his home in Milan, Italy and remains very active on the musical front; please check out his websites for up-to-date news!
Well, as far as Cyril and I and Blues Inc…as I told you before I only got to sing with Alexis twice with Cyril on the harmonica. Once in the original Marquee Club (see above) beneath Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street, which was for me the day I met Alexis. I couldn't really judge Cyril's talent, because then I knew so little about people who played the harmonica. Then later we did a nobility party, for whom I can't remember, but Cyril was there. The fascinating thing was during our break we lost Cyril but later found him playing, in the middle of the dance floor, his harmonica, a flowerpot with fresh flowers overturned on his head…we laughed, he was so drunk.
Ronnie had this to say about this recently unearthed photo of Blues Inc. featuring (from left to right); Johnny Parker, Alexis, Cyril, Dick H-S, and Ronnie in full flight: "The guys (in suits / ties) in the photo, I believe were all military, but sang in a group that was formed in Lakenheath, I believe. It was my first time seeing them, but we sang well, if I remember correctly!" [Ed. - " In case you don't know, the others are the 'Stripes of Glory' - a gospel group from the same base as Ronnie who worked with Alexis quite a lot until Jodie, the leader, was sent back to the States" - Bobbie Korner]
I heard later that Cyril and Alexis had an argument about Graham Bond coming into the band. I never had any confirmation on this, though. But Graham did come in; as had Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker…I guess it was the beginning of the end of Blues Inc. as a year later they went with Graham to form the Graham Bond Organization. I refused (to stay with the band) because of drug problems in England. Phil (Seaman) was on Methadone and used heavy drugs. I was still military (USAF) and there was a purge going on against black military for use of drugs (weed, etc.). As Alexis and the others didn't disdain occasional (recreational drug) use, (this) put me in a paranoiac stage. Soon after I left the Blues Incorporated and Herbie Goins took over.
'Night Time is the Right Time' was one my favorite numbers. It's especially comes to mind because we recorded it in the early days of my arrival. I really didn't have much in common with the Blues as I loved Rhythm and Blues, Tamla, Atlantic, etc. These were new things even for England at the time. So here I was as a forerunner for Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, and many others…but I got very little credit for doing so. On the other hand, I got down to listening more attentively to blues and today I do a lot of Blues festivals (along with old R n B)! The Band itself was a strange situation; I found jazz musicians playing blues with jazz arrangements. Take Dick Heckstall-Smith and Phil Seamen for example. Malcolm (Cecil) on upright bass was also a confirmed jazz player. You know musicians play anything for money; for what it's worth, I remember we all got 3 quid a gig - I, of course, got a little more. We didn't get rich, but seemed to enjoy the situation.
I got to travel with Alexis in the few months that we played together. Some of the things worked out fine, others, you could say worked out better for others, like Mick and the Stones - who had there own followers, but weren't so well known as Alexis. The story goes that Alexis called me one afternoon saying that we had a double-header - meaning two gigs for the same day - and he asked me which job was the best. One of them was to play the second year of the Richmond Jazz festival as we had played the previous year (also free!). I said take the private party - He said "but the organizers won't appreciate it unless we have a valued substitute." I said, "Send the Stones." - the rest is history - they exploded then and there. I don't even know if Mick realized it or not, he never mentioned it!
Ronan O'Rahilly tried to tame the band, with suits and what not, but Alexis really wasn't much interested; he let Ronan do what he wanted, at least until Alexis got tired of the situation. I left the Air Force after the Keeler affair. (It) seems I was well known among the military people from the states, because you know we went to the 'All-Nighters' at the Flamingo. This was another of Ronan's ideas to promote the band as the Marquee wasn't keen on upgrading our earnings. The Rick Gunnel Agency which ran the All Nighter said, "let's give it a try", but it didn't last too long. At the end of all of this, Alexis left the All Nighter and I remained on base for a while before getting discharged.
Ronan called me and asked if he could handle me and that he would, of course, set up a band, a home, and transportation for me to return to England - which of course I did and ended up with Mick Eves and the Night Timers - and for six months did well gigging London and the All Nighter. Ronan didn't get along too well with the Gunnel's and I ended up having to put together another band - The Blue Jays. I wasn't appreciated very much in their (Gunnel) organization; they already had Geno Washington; Georgie Fame was a pop artist by then; Chris Farlowe and any other group that came along seemed to do better than me...but I was too stubborn to go home so we went Europe (France and Germany). When we returned there wasn't much happening so the band split up and I began working with Chester Simon and the Q-Set - a West Indian band that played soul. We gigged a bit around London and were the House band in the Q Club. One day the Gunnel agency said there wasn't much for us in England, but had an offer for me to go the Italy as one of the many records that I had done under Ronan's wing seemed to be appreciated there - 'Mama Come Home' was the title. We went to Italy, and even to Greece, but the band members got homesick so they left and returned to London. I stayed and almost starved, having the family with me. Later things got better. I did the Italian version of 'Hair', learned to be a DJ, got on Italian state radio, and even on the baby (then) Canale 5 of Silvio Berlusconi. I thought finally things are going to change. But even then there were problems - language, race, and whatever. I returned to private radio, did loads of spots for various companies and made a little headway. I then decided to return to singing and that's about it in a nutshell!
Thank you very much for opportunity to put things in the right light and tell my side of the story - Ciao, RJ
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