Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Blues From The Roundhouse #2

"Alexis Korner is often hailed as the father of the British blues scene, but if that's the case then Chris Barber must be hailed as the great-grandfather. For Chris put together the band with Cyril Davies and Alexis and told them what to do. Chris is monstrously underrated for his contribution to the music scene in Britain" - Harold Pendleton to Melody Maker magazine.

To say that Chris Barber was instrumental to the general acceptance and success of the blues form in Britain is a massive understatement as his association with Big Bill Broonzy (three weeks with Chris Barber in 1954, October 1955, and the 1957 shows featuring both Broonzy and Brother John Sellers) really induced the massive ground swell of interest in the blues. [ed. Big Bill Broonzy first appeared in London in September, 1951 - with Mahalia Jackson]

Barber also brought to England's shore, Sister Rosetta Tharpe in November 1957; the Modern Jazz Quartet in February 1958 and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee in May 1958. The personal and musical impact of these visiting American blues artists on Cyril Davies & Alexis Korner was to galvanize their resolve to perfect the blues craft and pursue the lifestyle.

Cyril's growth as a musician though may be most affected by the influence of Muddy Waters. At the suggestion of John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Harold Pendleton and Chris Barber brought over the legendary US bluesman Muddy Waters in October 1958. Legend has it that this was the first time that an audience ever saw an electric guitar in a London club.

Alexis - "Muddy Waters played up there when he played in Britain in '58; the only club he played in London was the Roundhouse. Memphis Slim and Speckled Red and Roosevelt Sykes, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were president and vice president of the club. And masses of people came and played, and we got a chance to learn our blues at that time accompanying the men whose records we had been trying to learn for the last ten years, or fifteen years or however long it was. To be accompanying Jack Dupree, or Little Brother Montgomery, or Memphis Slim, or Roosevelt Sykes was quite something else. Better teachers - there just weren't any better teachers and that's all there was to it. On the whole, the critics all laughed at us. We were totally unimpressed by their laughter because, quite honestly, the only people whose opinions we were interested in…were encouraging us. We just carried on and carried on and carried on".

Alexis, Cyril & company recorded four new tracks at the Decca West Hampstead Studios, London, April 29 1958. "Blues From The Roundhouse Volume 2", produced by Geoff Milne, was released on Tempo Records in December '58 under the new and more acceptable moniker, 'Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated'. Charles Fox, author and music critic, was born at Weymouth, England in 1921. Fox lived in the Korner household as a lodger from the late '50's until his death in 1991. Well versed in the jazz idiom, Fox once again added the liner notes to this, the latest 'Roundhouse' instalment.

"From about 1958 to 1960 he [Alexis] began to drift away from Cyril and the Roundhouse and play around the embryonic folk scene happening at different venues. His relationship with Cyril was always on-off. We'd split up because we got on each other's nerves as people though we still admired each other as musicians. Cyril got this bug that you had to live it to understand it and therefore wanted to do everything that Leadbelly had done - several GBH [Grievous Bodily Harm] charges - he hadn't actually got himself involved with a murder, but it was that kind of thinking that I couldn't take at all. By then he was reading paperbacks on Al Capone, you know, he was really sinking, sinking right down to that essential sort of thing" - from the Harry Shapiro book "Alexis Korner - The Biography".

The long-time Korner family friend and fellow musician / band mate, David Stevens, recently relayed Bobbie Korner's recollection of Cyril's behaviour during this time - "she didn't know whether Cyril's rough Yorkshire personality was assumed or the REAL Cyril. There were hints of him associating with dubious characters - he would phone them late at night, from a phone box, and say things like "Keep talking - there are some people after me".

So, Alexis' horizons were expanding. Besides writing and broadcasting Alexis was networking (perhaps his greatest strength); honing his craft by playing different venues and by participating in recording sessions with a variety of folk & blues performers. Alexis would play on numerous sessions prior to his musical reunion with Cyril performing blues portions at Chris Barber shows in early 1961.

Web site navigation
Introduction: Cyril Who?
Cyril's Denham Home
Cyril and Leadbelly
With Alexis at The Roundhouse
Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated
Cyril Davies' R&B All Stars
Musicians' recollections of Cyril Davies
Cyril's Recordings
The background to the developing London blues scene
UK Blues links
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