Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer
Alexis Korner's Blues IncorporatedThat Blues Inc. appears as the mainspring on practically all my London R&B trees testifies to their importance – but principally as a catalyst. It was the kids they encouraged and inspired who went out and won the revolution. We had seen it before and we would see it again: a bunch of brash energetic punks upsetting the status quo and creating a whole new movement - Pete Frame – The London R&B Explosion Tree.
After supporting Muddy Waters on his 1960 English tour, the deeply affected Chris Barber decided to 'incorporate' a blues interval into his Band's regular performance. Barber had led his own bands since 1948 and although he was one of the leaders of the Trad Jazz movement, he had long been a strong advocate of the blues. Chris believed that jazz and blues we're obviously from the same musical well and the lines of separation were to him, blurred. Chris so enjoyed the blues that he felt a proper showcase was in order. Harold Pendleton, Chris' manager, had a controlling interest in the Marquee Club and together they organized jazz concerts under the banner of the National Jazz Federation. In 1961 Alexis Korner, after accepting an offer from Barber, accompanied Ottilie Patterson with his amplified guitar as she performed a varied set of 'blues' during intervals at the Chris Barber Jazz Band shows at the Marquee.
For the most part, these 'blues intervals' were met with acceptance and considered to be a success. This audience approval coupled with limited performance time, only left Alexis with a burning sense of desire; a desire to do proper gigs, playing the music that he loved with a band of his own.
On December 10, 1961, Korner joined Acker Bilk onstage in Ipswich. Accompanying Korner were pianist / drummer Stan Grieg, vocalist Ron McKay and drummer Danny Craig.
After a meeting between Korner, Barber and Pendleton it was agreed that Alexis should take artistic control of the interval blues portion of Barber's Jazz Band shows. With this promise of a spot at the Marquee, Korner tracked down Davies to float the idea of an electric blues band. By the late 1950's, after hearing the powerful and amplified electric blues of Muddy Waters, Cyril Davies had begun to switch his orientation from the rural style of Leadbelly to that of the urban, Chicago blues, style. The meeting between these men assured the common ground between them. The Blues Incorporated seed had been sown!
On January 3, 1962, Korner took the Marquee stage -
The Marquee last Wednesday night was the scene of great excitement when guitarist Alexis Korner combined with Barber-band trumpeter Pat Halcox and harmonica player Cyril Davies to play a set of rhythm and blues numbers. Following the success of the session, Korner will make regular appearances at the Marquee. Korner's own newly formed R&B band plays a concert with the Acker Bilk Band - Jazz News and Review
Jazz news also issued the first press announcement regarding a permanent band; besides Alexis it was to include Cyril, Malcolm Cecil on bass, Danny Craig on drums and Keith Scott on piano. Harry Shapiro wrote in his Alexis Biography that Keith… was acknowledged by his peers as one of the finest pianists in the country. Malcolm Cecil incidentally went on to produce Stevie Wonder, so right from the start Alexis had a vision that his band would be home to the best musicians around, as well as giving opportunities to those on the way up.
Blues Incorporated was conceived by Alexis as an informal 'band'; the membership was intended to be fluid by nature. Press mentions of the band's line-up(s), especially in those early days were always, understandably, behind the times; bassists, drummers, etc. would drift in and out of the band with regular frequency depending on chemistry and availability.
The Blues Inc. line-up that was assembled for the Acker Bilk concert on January 19, 1962 at the Civic Hall in Croydon, was different yet again. Colin Bowden and Graham Beazley were now on drums and bass respectively and Andy Wren was doing vocals. Jazz News and Review reported, The group is not quite a group yet, but it has in Cyril Davies a very exciting harmonica player. He also had the whole audience with him when he sang Hoochie Coochie Man. Keith Scott who has done a lot of solo work at the Colyer Club, was on piano, rolling a good mean blues sound behind his leader's percussive hit parade guitar sound.
As time passed Blues Incorporated, led equally by Davies and Korner, became more formalized. The band would come to be recognized as one of the most significant groups in the history of British music, and it was certainly the first all-white electric blues band in the world. On February 28, 1962, the band performed a well received audition for the BBC. The band's lineup, although now more formal, was still subject to change. In addition to Korner and Davies, the attending musicians included Graham Beazley, Derek Manfredi on drums (recently having replaced Denny Hutchinson) and featured Art Wood on vocals.
Alexis would continue to search out new players in an attempt to perfect his musical vision. The band would practice and play during this period at the Round House with a wide variety of players; however, Davies met with resistance from his pub landlord, over the band's use of amplification, and was eventually forced to close the club. The use of amplifiers was a highly controversial practice among British folk-blues purists. Muddy Waters, while on tour in England, had been met with some degree of displeasure by a number of heckling audience members.
It has been reported that either vocalist Art Wood or Round House regular Geoff Bradford knew of the Ealing Club on Ealing Broadway in West London. The venue was located in a basement below the ABC Tea Shop. The Ealing Club was a Trad Jazz venue, and after Korner and Davies took it over, they struck a deal with the owner to work for the door proceeds. Their first gig, a sell-out(!), took place March 17, 1962.
The band that took the stage that night was Alexis, Cyril, Andy Hoogenboom on bass, Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor sax, Art Wood on vocals and a young advertising trainee on drums called Charlie Watts. Watts found out on that first night why the place was dubbed the "Moist Hoist;" he was sitting directly underneath the pavement light on the street above which dripped water all down his neck and all over the drums making the skins stretch.
The audience was made up initially of Round House / Barrelhouse regulars but soon encompassed club goers with broader interests.
Young hopefuls, musicians with blues and R&B dreams of their own would frequent the club looking for Alexis' nod of acceptance to the stage. These fledglings went on to become some of the biggest pop culture icons of the generation; Brian Jones, Paul Jones, Mick Jagger, Eric Burdon, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton & Rod Stewart all shared the stage at the invitation of Blues Incorporated, albeit some with a greater degree of frequency.
Meanwhile, in May 1962, Blues Incorporated obtained a Thursday-night residency at the Marquee Club while continuing to play Saturday nights at the Ealing Club. On their opening night on May 3, only 127 people showed up.
In June of 1962, recordings were made for their seminal first album, R&B at the Marquee. R&B at the Marquee was actually recorded at Decca's studios in north London on June 8, 1962, with hand picked jazz musicians replacing many of Blues Incorporated's regular players. The album was released on the Ace of Clubs label, a Decca subsidiary. Davies played harmonica and shared vocals with Long John Baldry. Chris Barber's drummer Graham Burbidge; John Dankworth's bassist, Spike Heatley; and pianist Keith Scott made up the rhythm section, with Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax. Despite the jazz-oriented sidemen, the material stayed true to the album title with songs like Got My Mojo Working, How Long Blues and Hoochie Coochie Man.
By September, the band was regularly drawing a huge crowd at the Marquee. To accommodate the overflow crowds, Blues Incorporated was given Monday nights as well in December, but it didn't help, as both nights were filled to capacity within 30 minutes of opening.
When R&B from the Marquee came out in November 1962, reviews were mixed. Comments ranged from "exciting music" to the inevitable charge that "the white man" can't play the blues.
The piano stool, although not exhibiting the same amount of turn-over, was still a well worn piece of furniture. Keith Scott, David Stevens and Johnny Parker, each an interesting and versatile musician in his own right, would all find time to make a contribution and leave their musical stamp on the Blues Inc. sound.
In the same month as the debut album release, Davies left the band after an argument(s) over the growing influence, which he detested, of jazz musicians in Blues Incorporated. After Dick Heckstall-Smith had joined, Jack Bruce arrived on bass and Charlie Watts retired his drum seat to Peter 'Ginger' Baker. Davies left to form his own band, Cyril Davies and the R&B All-Stars. Korner filled the large void left by Cyril with the alto saxophonist, Graham Bond. We started at the Marquee and everything was going well, but then Alex had different ideas, he explained to Melody Maker. He was after a sort of jazz-blues sound and wanted Graham Bond on sax and organ. It was just not my meat with the two saxes."
In January 1963, Korner moved Blues Incorporated's Thursday-night residency to the Flamingo, while Davies' new group took over the Thursday night Marquee slot, setting up a rivalry between the two bands.
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