Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Guestbook - email us your memories and photos.

May 26, 2006 - It would please me to see your honest opinions here as well as any additional information you might supply. Many thanks. Todd

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  • December 31, 2006 - Les Fancourt - Good luck with your project. Cyril's career was certainly all too short! [Ed. Les compiled the book of British Blues on Record 1957-1970 -]

  • December 27, 2006 - Tony Higgins - Leeds, UK - I read about the Cyril Davies website via Blues in Britain magazine. I have just been on the site and think it is a great tribute to him. I am a big fan of his and do a solo version of Country Line Special, which I perform regularly in Leeds where I live and I have played it regularly over the last five years on The Sparrow Hawk Hotel stage at the Burnley Blues Festival, I have also played it on the Acoustic Stage in Colne and elsewhere. I know several other blues harp players who are fans too. I will notify my fellow blues fans of this site. How about a Cyril Davies convention or special event sometime in the near future?

    Also I must join the National harmonica League (NHL), I have been meaning to do so for a while.

  • December 20, 2006 - Michael Hadley - Brisbane, Australia - Cyril Davis changed my life! He was, for me, the discovery of the Blues. It was the summer of 62. I was 18. I had been following the Trad scene socially, but loved Modern Jazz as well…and then the word got out at some of the Trad venues that Wednesday Night was R&B night at the Chelsea Arts College, Kings Road (now, I have read the history of Blues Inc and there is no mention of Chelsea, yet I am sure they played there on a week night, oh well, senior moments…anyway…). I had never heard anything quite like it; I almost pissed my elephant cord stove pipe-pants. This was my music. This was the click track my heart was beating to. I had to be part of it - eat it, sleep it, play it, perform it!

    And so I will never forget the first night I saw and heard Cyril. Alexis and Blues Inc. were already into a number. Half-way through, a young shambolic, balding man ambled onto the stage in a white business shirt and tie. This ensemble was covered by a shabby Burberry rain coat. It appeared as if he had just dropped in on his way from work for a quick drink. He looked at the audience, and then he whipped out a harp from somewhere, grabbed a microphone, waited for the turnaround and waded into the song with sounds that are still resonating with me forty four years later. From then on, every Wednesday???, it became compulsory for me to make the pilgrimage from South London to pay homage to the music, the musicians and to meet chicks.

    Sadly I never met Cyril. Six months after this epiphany I was sailing for Australia where I formed, I believe, the first electric Blues / R&B band in the country which was heavily influenced initially by Cyril, Alexis and Graham Bond. The band was the Purple Hearts. A belated thanks, Cyril.

  • December 1, 2006 - Norman Darwen - Lancs, UK - Cyril Davies recalled by Long John Baldry. When I met Long John Baldry at the Albert Halls in Bolton, England in the early nineties, he was tired. He had just completed a show with Chicago songstress Angela Brown, which included solo sets by both artists and some excellent duets. He was happy to be interviewed - but preferably the next morning! Work commitments meant there was no way I could manage that, so it was on with the tape recorder and a brief chat before Long John went back to his hotel. Given that Long John is no longer with us, I am pleased I got that conversation - here is what he told me about Cyril Davies:

    ND: Can you tell me about Cyril Davies - how did you meet him?

    LJB: Oh, I'd known him as long ago as 1956, when he and Alex (Alexis Korner) started up the Blues & Barrelhouse Club at the Roundhouse pub in Wardour Street, the corner of Wardour and Brewer. I used to go there every week and got roped in playing a bit of guitar and singing.

    ND: What kind of guy was he?

    LJB: A very volatile man - as Alex was laid back and easy going, so he was a very, very volatile person. ...(When Cyril died) It was a shock because Cyril was a young man - he looked old but he was only 31 when he died, he looked a hell of a lot older, but it was a very sudden illness - leukaemia...Cyril was taken ill in the November of '63 and then died in the first week of '64.

    ND: And then you got the Hoochie Coochie Men together.

    LJB: Well, that was the core of the Cyril Davies Band actually, and then when Cyril died we decided to rename the band the Hoochie Coochie Men.

  • November 28, 2006 - Wizz Jones - London, UK - I was a green 17 year old when a friend took me along to The Roundhouse in Wardour Street in about 1956/57. I was already an amateur skiffler just discovering blues and folk and it was there that I first saw a 12 string guitar. It was in the gigantic hands of Cyril Davies. With plastic and metal(?) picks strumming out the wonderful Leadbelly licks, his eyes shut tight, and his voice booming out "Yellow Gal" while Alexis piddled away behind him on mandolin!

    Don't get me wrong - it was a double inspiration for me that night seeing Alexis attacking the strings of the guitar in true Teddy Bunn style and turning me on to Blind Boy Fuller and all the great bluesmen. I became a regular after that night and never missed a week. Seeing the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Rambling Jack Elliot and Muddy Waters was the greatest education a drop out working class youth could ever have!

    How I wish there could be such a place to go these days - run on a shoe string with the musicians playing purely for the love of the music (mind you I do remember a few "cross words" about money sometimes after the gig between Cyril and Alexis!) -

  • November 17, 2006 - Bob Hall - Sheffield, UK - London, UK - I didn't know Cyril personally although I know a few people who did and I saw him play several times myself. Long John Baldry and Dick Heckstall-Smith would have been my best contacts but sadly they are no longer with us. I will ask those old timers of my acquaintance who are left if they have any stories for you. You should try to contact Chris Barber…All the best.

  • November 12, 2006 - John Scott Cree - Horley, England - I really wish I had more to contribute. I was just a fan of Cyril Davies and that classic EP "Country Line Special". First time I heard it was on the Take 4 slot which ran for four minutes before the 9 o'clock news for a summer or so in 1963. I recall discussing it with Jed Kearse, who ran the record department in Potter's music shop, Aldershot, where my Dad was manager. Jed told me of the Screaming Lord Sutch connection and said the band had too much soul to continue playing with him and moved to Cyril Davies.

    Fast forward to 1978, with Cyril long since deceased. I meet up with Jed, now working for Pye, after a 15 year gap. The only one who'd been at Pye longer than him was the boss, Peter Prince who I last heard of running a diving store in Florida, and Terry Brown, now sadly deceased.

    Fast forward again to 2001(?) and Ealing Blues Festival with my son and future daughter-in-law enjoying the excellent Carlo Little All Stars and being able to explain them their role in good British music. They played a storming version of Country Line Special plus other classics with Wee Willie Harris and other names. I really wish I could help more, but I was only ever a fan.

  • October 12, 2006 - Mike Wells - London, UK - The ex-Savages line-up were an amazing band; Carlo Little on Drums who influenced so many drummers, including me; Bernie Watson on guitar was astonishing - he seems to have vanished; Nicky Hopkins was incredible on keyboard - he quite rightly became a legend; Rick Brown, a formidable bass player that also influenced many up and coming bass players in the early sixties. I remember seeing Rick play Chuck Berry's Talking 'bout you in 1962 -it blew us all away! Rick used his fingers; nearly all bass players in those days used a plectrum.

    Cyril was a great bloke, a bit aloof from us 18 year olds as he was that bit older. I remember seeing Cyril and the All Stars at the 100 club in London's Oxford Street, in late '62 or early '63. In the audience were Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, Long John Baldry, Georgie Fame and Ginger Baker. I remember a fracas breaking out; Baldry called Jagger a 'bitch' as he had not returned Baldry's long playing records, which was where Mick got a lot of his early material. In those days nothing stronger than Coca Cola was served. Cyril took it all in his stride saying over the microphone - Alright, alright! Calm down girls! - Country Line Special and Chicago Calling were in the charts. Cyril started Country Line on his harp and immediately the future Rock/Blues generation was on their feet, it brought the house down. What a player, what a Band!

  • September 30, 2006 - Joe Beard - Cheshire, UK - My memory of Cyril was booking him, Long John Baldry and the All-Stars for our school 'hop' at the Kings School in Macclesfield, Cheshire in November, 1963. This included (their) backing group, The Velvettes - and all for £75 cash.

    I knew John Mayall slightly as I used to deliver meat to the Mayall house - where John had his legendary 'tree-house - and I was occasionally dating the drummer's sister - Alice Flint - her brother was Hughie Flint - so I was a male groupie around the band. It was the night at Woodford Jazz North West that I had my first guitar lesson from John backstage - and there he told me that he was going to see Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated at The Bodega Club in Cross Street, Manchester.

    We all went down on the train and John had harmonicas in all his denim top pockets; different keys obviously. Cyril was also on the bill and Long John Baldry and the Velvettes. I was 'knocked out' with it all. John did a guest spot on harmonica and later I got talking to Long John and Cyril. It was here that they agreed to the gig later. I took a big risk as it was a 'posh' Xmas hop! When they eventually came to our school - I took Cyril to the pub, The British Flag, down the street for a while. I was not allowed to drink alcohol, but still got into conversation with Cyril about the music scene. I told him I was interested in forming a jugband and he advised me about someone called Noah Lewis who played in Gus Cannon's Jugband. I got to know Long John Baldry later when I took my jugband to London, meeting him in the Marquee dressing room and later with Steampacket - he always remembered me.

    At Stockport College, a year after meeting Cyril, I founded my jugband - later to be called The Purple Gang - and we constantly listened to (the) records of Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner. We used to listen to Cyril on an old Dansette record player prior to rehearsals. We learned Country Line Special and Chicago Calling - both went into our set, but Country Line Special was a favourite that is still played by my harp man, Gerry Robinson, who does a great job on it! [ed. - see Gerry's Guestbook comments below]. It has been one of our encores from these day in 1965 to 2006 onwards.

    I found Cyril very affable and friendly and remember he looked like an out-of-work bank manager at the time - as I was so young. John Baldry was always very encouraging and friendly towards me. I seem to remember Cyril knocking back several scotches - bought by me, until I ran out of pocket money! That night the band were stunning and they actually went down great - much to my relief! £75 well invested. Good luck with the site.

  • October 11, 2006 - Barry Marshall - London, UK - I am not a musician - but remember so clearly the impact of hearing COUNTRY LINE SPECIAL on Pye R&B, alongside Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley & Chuck Berry - [that was something for a start! ]- in 1963. I played it to death, and also loved the B side "Chicago Calling" - & wonder if that is also available on CD.

    Todd A. - You're not alone as far as feeling the impact and influence of Country Line of the greats for sure! We have been advised that a Cyril disc is on its way; please check back with the site from time to time...we will post any impending release.

    B.M. - Thanks for the info, Todd - I'll be interested to see what is on the album. Incidentally, I had believed that at some point Cyril lived in Southill Avenue, South Harrow [the area, though not the street - too expensive!]. But no mention of this on the site, so perhaps my long-held belief, from vague memories, is incorrect.

    I've got Country Line Special on a couple of CDs, but never seen Chicago Calling - although I do still have the original Pye R&B single somewhere. How I wish I'd also picked up the EP which included both singles!

    T.A. - I also hope they do a good job on the CD! I have in my notes, Cyril's South Harrow address listed as 34 Roxeth Grove. Are you familiar? I also wondered if there were ways to find out about the autobody shop that he owned...any ideas?

    B.M. - Yes, I know where Roxeth Grove is - about half a mile from where I have always lived. But in 1962 I was still at school & my musical tastes were tamer - & the only live gigs I remember going to where Mike Berry & the Outlaws - and Bobby Vee and the Crickets!!!

    I did not get into "R&B" until I began to hear the Beatles' "cover versions" - & saw the Rolling Stones, at the British Legion Hall in South Harrow [Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers were the "local" band]. John Lee Hooker played there the following week, I believe.

    From covers I moved on to "originals" especially on Pye R&B [the Howlin' Wolf Smokestack Lightning EP being a prized recording]. I used to work in a record shop on Saturday mornings, and via contacts got backstage at Watford in October 1963 to meet the Stones, Bo Diddley & Little Richard, which seemed a "big deal". I remember Chuck Berry & Carl Perkins at Hammersmith [1964?].

    I initially thought that Cyril Davies, who blew the amazing harp, was ALSO American. I bought "R&B from the Marquee" on LP - and it is a cd reissue which is playing now as I type this - & the arrival of which, last week, prompted me to look up Cyril "on the net" - hence my coming across your site! You didn't want to know all that - did you?! But what great music, and great times!

    Having looked at your site - & re-read you message/looked at your email address suffix - I hadn't realised that you are in Canada! However, I have to confirm that apart from the rumour of local residence [& it was probably Johnny Kidd - of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, who lived in "upmarket" Southill Avenue [still a gated, private road], I knew nothing of or about Cyril during his lifetime. There was a car-repair and sales showroom in South Harrow, which disappeared years ago - & the owner had the surname Bennett [I vaguely knew his son, a friend of my cousin]. But of course, Cyril may not have WORKED in South Harrow…Barry

  • October 1, 2006 - Gerry Robinson - UK - Without doubt, Cyril Davies was a massive influence on my early attempts at harmonica playing. This was earlier 60's, still at school and due to be venturing on to Art College. A school-friend of mine introduced me to the Echo Super Vamper harmonica after hearing a Ewan MacColl song called 'Dirty Old Town' as sung by an English folk group called The Spinners. I fancied a crack at this and proceeded to buy one from the local emporium (key of C) cost 7 shillings and sixpence (now relating to 37½ pence in England). So, on to college, listening to more blues/rhythm & blues!

    I was about 15/16 years old and a programme started on English TV called Hullaballoo - not the American show. One of the acts that used to play on this show was The Cyril Davies Rhythm and Blues All-stars. Totally knocked out! Who was this paunchy, middle-aged guy doing things with a harmonica that I as a beginner, could only dream about. Soon, I have moved to college and getting to know the guys with whom I would, eventually, form The Young Contemporaries Jugband (who became The Purple Gang). Someone turned up with an E.P. (extended play record - 4 tracks) of Cyril Davies Rhythm and Blues All-stars. Country Line Special / Sweet Mary / Preaching the Blues / Chicago Calling ... aaaaargh! I immediately learned Country Line and Chicago Calling and played them with the jug band. Have always wanted to give Preaching the Blues a good stuffing but always feel it needs a big drive behind it. I bought the E.P. and loaned it out to a guy (after sufferance) who refused to give it back to me. Lost ever since. I have Cyril's recordings with Alexis Korner from The Marquee (along with Baldry - Hoochie Coochie Man etc) on vinyl. I cannot find the E.P. recordings anywhere. The problem is, and I can bet, if anyone brought them out on CD they would sound nothing like the vinyl recordings. When they take the original tapes and remix them for CD's - everything sounds so totally clean and clinical.

    Anyway, I got better on the harp and The Purple Gang did a gig at a club in London, circa 1972, at which we did a support to the late, great, Graham Bond, one of Cyril's great R&B contemporaries. No shit, I hammered Country Line Special that night - don't think I played it better before or since. It was meant to be! I remember walking down towards the bar after and Bondy put his arm around me, virtually lifted me from the floor (he was a big guy) and said "Cyril would have been proud of you lad, Cyril would have been proud". That has lived with me ever since.

    Sadly, that is about the only reminiscence that I can come up with. I understand from various TV programmes, relating to early Rolling Stones and such, that Cyril was a great traditionalist and not a great deal into the beefed up version of R&B. That being said, he didn't make a bad job of it himself. Wow! What about Chicago Calling? - Purple Gang Jugband

  • September 29, 2006 - Nigel White, Somerset, UK - I had a look at the web site, looks good. My main memory is hearing Country Line Special, which inspired me to start playing the blues harp. I had to learn to play that great piece of music and I did. I used to practice for hours on end in L'auberge. I think I got quite good at it according to Andy Robert's, who I was in a band with. I saw Cyril play a few times at the Ealing Club before his untimely death. What a loss that was. He was playing harp; I can't remember what tunes they played, except, of course, Country Line Special…my favourite!

    I would love to have heard him play a duet with Sonny Terry, my other favourite blues harpist. I had the joy of meeting Sonny Terry once at the Roundhouse and we played some great stuff in a bit of a jam session. Sonny & Brownie were there doing a sort of Blues Workshop. Jesse Fuller was there and a few others, but can't remember who. Those where the days! Memories are a bit dim of those days for some reason! Most of the blues I saw then was at Eel Pie or some of the other venues around Richmond and that area. Used to go and see Clapton at the Toby Jug in Tolworth and Andy Roberts and I used to do blues gigs together and used to have some great jam sessions with Jeff Beck and others.

  • September 27, 2006 - John Mayall, USA - Thanks for thinking of me for your project however I never knew Cyril and only saw him once at the Marquee with his band after he split from Alexis. Consequently I don't have any stories etc to tell. Best of luck with the website!

  • September 20, 2006 Tony Parkin - London, UK - You got me dancing along the hyperlinks - congratulations on work to date on the Cyril Davies site - though I note the best is yet to come!

    Really good to know that there are so many others out there who still remember and appreciate the man and his music too…the sad thing that nobody mentions - could a bald bloke looking like a dance band leader ever have been really accepted as the cutting edge of the UK R&B boom led by the Stones and others? None of us up in the north actually knew what he looked like - and his single was a cult hit with spotty boys like me, rather than a real hit. I have a vague suspicion that if we had he would have been the next generation's 'Bill Haley'…great sound but looks like your dad. (This is probably sacrilege).

    I did have the great delight of a year or so later lighting a university gig by Long John Baldry & the Hoochie Coochie Men featuring some of the All-Star greats... (and a young Rod Stewart). They point blank refused to play behind LJB when he sang his then chart hit 'Let the Heartaches Begin'. They downed instruments, walked off the stage, he turned on a backing reel-to-reel tape for the orchestral accompaniment, and they stood all around me in the lighting cupboard at the side of the stage absolutely taking the p*** out of his chart-topping ballad and performance. Great days!

    As a measure of my respect for the man - at my recent 60th surprise birthday party the star present was not one but two pristine copies of the 'Country Line Special / Chicago Calling' UK single on Pye R&B that I bought on its release but was subsequently stolen from me. I had tracked down the Chicago Calling track on a compilation but never found the 'Country Line Special' which I still rate as one of the best ever harmonica R&B cuts. Ironically someone else gave me a vinyl copy of a US compilation album of British Blues that included the track shortly afterwards, too.......good luck with the opus!

  • September 13, 2006 - Rod Jones, Bracknell, UK - Reading the site makes me realize that I was a Johhny-come-lately to the world of Cyril Davies. In fact, although I had seen posters of him with Alexis Korner at the Roundhouse, he really came to my attention when Country Line Special was released and became the record to put on the Dansette at parties that year( 63/64?) Somebody told me that he did a regular gig with the AllStars at the Railway Hotel in Wealdstone and I determined to go and see it since I lived in North Harrow at the time. Just as I got ready to go, he had died.

    In those days, blues harp on record was a rarity so the EP with Country Line Special, Preaching the Blues, Sweet Mary etc was played to death. One of the first things that I learned to do was a passable version of Countryline Special. Remembering my experience with Cyril Davies, when Little Walter appeared at the Hammersmith Odeon with Son House in November 68 (I think) I made damn sure that I went. Which was just as well because he was dead shortly afterwards. I'm happy to say that my current harp heroes all seem to be in good health!

  • September 9, 2006 - John Adams, Kent, UK - I've just visited your site re: Cyril Davies. Boy that brought back some memories. I met Cyril, Rod Stewart & Long John Baldry on a number of occasions, I think sometime between 1963 & 1964 when I was playing with Tony "Duster" Bennett. Although we went to other clubs it was Eel Pie Island that really won our allegiance & where we all got our inspiration. Can't offer many anecdotes other than to say that the gigs were superb with Cyril sharing many of his musicians with John & Rod (who was the back-up vocalist in the Hoochie Coochie Men fronted by John)., The Hoochie Coochies were for all purposes Cyril's All Stars but I guess you know that. The band were the best on the circuit & included a finger style bassist who played either a Gibson or Epiphone semi acoustic 335. I think it was a guy called Geoff (ed. - the amazing Geoff Bradford!) who played guitar....he blew me away; he played sitting down & played finger style on a white Telecaster. From that moment I never used a pick again & eventually bought a white USA Tele myself (only because the shop couldn't sell it & it was dirt cheap) which I still have. Blimey…it seems like a lifetime ago…which for many who are no longer with us it was. Bottleneck Blues

  • July 13, 2006 - N.E.Atwell, New Brunswick, Canada - Thank you for the education in British blues. It's interesting to read about some of the forefathers of this scene...and here all along I thought I was listening to the creators,{i.e.,Peter Green, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Yardbirds,etc., etc.} Very well written and documented. Look forward to reading more postings.

  • July 11, 2006 - David Stevens, Sydney, Australia - Though I only worked for a short time in Blues Inc, over 40 years ago, I well remember Cyril and his passionate playing and singing, and his total devotion to the blues. Thanks, Todd, for your amazing research and for filling a big gap in my knowledge of the history of the Blues in Britain.

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