The Legacy of Cyril Davies...British Blues Pioneer

Introduction: Cyril Who? Part 2

Introduction: Cyril Who? Part 1

Without a doubt, it was Alexis, together with the late Cyril Davies who was directly responsible for nurturing the way in which most progressive blues and pop in this country has developed -for it can virtually all be genetically traced back to…Blues Incorporated - ©Roy Carr (New Musical Express)
There's certainly three key figures in the early history of British Blues. Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies in R & B Incorporated laid as explicit a template for the way the British Blues can be done as anybody did. Chris Barber, in his position as a successful trad jazz bandleader and who outlived that whole trad phase, was also a Blues fan, a great record collector, and he knew enough about modern Blues to know about and be interested in musicians like Muddy Waters - ©Tony Russell (author)
I have spent a deplorably large part of my life listening to music in dives. But I will never, ever, forget the impact of seeing Cyril Davies and his All Stars steaming into Smokestack Lightning in the Ricky Tick Club in Windsor, the first R&B I'd ever heard live...He humped over his mouth-harp, spat his lyrics and drove his band like a galley master. The noise was phenomenal, a humping, thundering blast. Davies...was a true fanatic, and we loved him for it. Behind him sat various apprentices juddering along in his wake, doing respectful imitations of Chicago Southside-as-glimpsed-at-Croydon. These hopefuls were mainly Thames Valley art students who have subsequently become rock millionaires or OD'd. But then they were people just like us with spots and girl trouble - ©David John Turner Widgery (writer/activist)
Cyril Davies was probably the best blues harmonica player in England in the early-to-mid 1960s. He was also the inadvertent midwife of the Rolling Stones: it was Davies who pressed his then-bandleader, Alexis Korner, to make a kid named Jagger a full band member after the kid gave an exuberant reading of Chuck Berry's 'Around and Around' on an audition night. Ironic, since Davies ordinarily had no use for rocking the blues - ©BluesDuke (
I lived in Hounslow and was at art school in Twickenham. I'd go down to the island on Saturday night. You'd get there as early as you could and drink as much as you could. I think I saw Cyril Davies there the first time, but I also saw Memphis Slim with the Tridents, who had Jeff Beck on guitar. I saw Alexis Korner a few times. My membership card, the Eel Pie Passport, I got that signed by Alexis - ©Ian McLagan (of Small Faces/Faces)
I hadn't heard harmonica played like this ('Chicago Calling') before and Davies was probably the best white R & B harmonica player in the world. Listening to him also made me interested in others, like Jesse Fuller and Sonny Boy Williamson - ©Des Henly (of Fumble)
…went to see Humphrey Lyttelton and Kenny Ball at Eel Pie Island, and Cyril Davies, one of the fathers of British R&B, at the Railway Tavern in Harrow - ©Nick Mason (of Pink Floyd)
He (Cyril Davies) and Alexis Korner started this whole thing up in about 1958 and prompted some of the Stones and others to focus on blues. He showed me how he miked up his harp with a home made microphone consisting of a small pick-up covered with rubber cut from a bicycle tyre and attached to a cable with a jack plug at the other end. I even made one myself and it worked. Ah, life as a poor boy. Later, he used an ordinary mike, such is progress. There were some great afternoons at Studio Fifty One which was in Great Newport Street. He'd split with Alexis by then and had formed the Cyril Davies all stars. I remember the early Stones doing a support there. The earlier Marquee residency with Alexis was also pretty hot. Cyril died too soon. - ©Graham Vickery aka 'Shakey Vick' 2008
I didn't know Cyril personally although I know a few people who did and I saw him play several times myself. I first remember Alexis, with Cyril Davies on harmonica playing to packed houses at Chris Barber's regular weekly blues session at the old Marquee Club in Oxford Street... the electric atmosphere of those early sessions (!) - ©Bob Hall
The first British Blues I heard was Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated at a pub in East Cheam, a suburb in South London near my home in Wimbledon. That would be '62, I think. Then I used to go every Sunday to see the Stones at The Station Hotel in Richmond. They were wonderful and inspired me to get into playin R'n'B - not just listening. I saw Cyril Davies' new band at their first gig at Ken Colyer's club one Sunday afternoon. They were so LOUD partly because all (of) his band came from Screaming Lord Sutch! - ©Tom McGuinness
I first met Cyril Davies in about 1956 I think, when I was sixteen. Used to spend Sundays down The Viaduct, Colin Kingwell & his Jazz Bandits were playing. Cyril used to collect the half crowns on the door and then he used to play and sing in the interval - that was quite nice. Another piece of useless information with that band was Ted Wood on drums, Ronnie's brother, you know, the 'Rolling Stone'! Looks just like Ronnie, big nose and all, amazing! Nice guy Cyril, he used to play at The Roundhouse pub, and he used to call the band, The Roundhouse Jug Band, and who's always with them? Alexis Korner on mandolin and things and playing harmonica and stuff like that. He was a nice bloke I met - I knew him very well! - ©Joe Rush (Mungo Jerry)
The other band I saw regularly was Cyril Davies' All-Stars, and for me, they were the best, especially when they had Carlo Little on drums and Nicky Hopkins on piano. I later heard an album by Nicky, and it was dreadful! All strings and massive orchestrations, no blues, no rock'n'roll, yuk! It's the sort of thing that happens when middle-of-the-road record company 'execs' think they know best - ©Colin Earl (Mungo Jerry)
The Roaring Twenties was one of the first R&B clubs in London, it was frequented a lot by black Americans and musicians. When you walked down the stairs into the club there was a strong smell of grass, no hash, brown or black, only grass in those days. The resident band was Cyril Davis and The All-Stars. Cyril sung and played the harmonica (he had a roll of cloth with lots of pockets in it with about a dozen harmonicas sitting in them). He was absolutely brilliant on them. Another regular was Long John Baldry a great singer and now also an excellent harp player. He would sit in with the All-Stars. We would start playing and warm them up, and then Cyril, then us, and then Cyril again. I have some good memories of our weeks at the Roaring Twenties - ©Bob Posner (The Rokes)
White British musicians found the form liberating and bold, and the list of bands that sprung from the UK blues clubs is a complete Who's Who of 20th Century English music: Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown. Muddy and his fellow Chicago bluesmen touched off a tidal wave of music in the UK. The Rolling Stones took their name from a Muddy Waters song. British musicians admitted their debt to Muddy, a fact which led countless Americans to examine the neglected blues giants right under their noses - ©Fender Players Club
In the early '60s, I'd take every opportunity to see Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, partly because Sutch was great entertainment but mainly because the Savages always contained great musicians…they were a joy! Pure theatre, great rock 'n' roll and worth three shillings and sixpence of anybody's money! The same band could be found later the same week playing down home blues as Cyril Davies' Rhythm and Blues All-Stars. In fact, the backing band on Davies' superb "Country Line Special" single, now a highly sought after collectors' item, and in my view the best UK blues record of all time, consisted entirely of the above, classic, Savages line-up - ©Trev Williams (Audience)
Every generation, mostly, think that they have experienced the 'best' period of topical music, but I do feel that the sixties were a special case. Consider this; any weekend my friends and I had a difficult decision to make. Did we go 'up town' to Ken Colyer's to see American blues stars like Big Bill Broonzy or jazz giants like Dizzy Gillespie; or perhaps to the Marquee or 100 Club to listen to the up and coming Britishers like Paul Weller in the Jam, Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds and Georgie Fame with the All Stars…or did we stay closer to home and go to the Riky Tick in Windsor and risk asphyxiation in the tiny room listening to an exciting new group called the Rolling Stones. And that was only the start; what about Osterley where you could hear John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee and any number of other Southern American blues stars; or Windsor Drill hall where, on a Friday night you could enjoy the best of Cyril Davies and the All Stars, which usually featured one of my favourites, Long John Baldry - ©Fabio Marcell (writer)
…one other club must be mentioned, although many should be. That was the Roundhouse in Soho. Started by Cyril Davies as the London Skiffle Centre, it soon brought in Alexis Korner. Informal visits from Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, gradually confirmed the move toward a blues oriented programme. Davies started out as a Leadbelly imitator with a good command of the twelve string. I clearly remember taking Sonny Terry there one night and him saying "That Cyril sounds more like Lead than Lead does." He moved over to harmonica as the sound electrified, Muddy Waters and Otis Spann paid state visits, and the stage was set for the new blues craze. Evicted by a pub landlord who said the music was too loud, they went to Ealing and the rest is the history of R 'n' B in Britain. Nevertheless, the first recordings for Dobell's 77 label, were listed as the Alexis Korner Skiffle Group and Korner himself started out as a Woody Guthrie fan - ©John Pilgrim
Halcyon days…where to begin? In London the 1960s began in the 50s. The Skiffle Cellar in Greek Street, with Russell Quay and the City Ramblers, Rambling Jack Elliott and Deryl Adams, Red Sullivan, and Steve Benbow. I saw Margaret Barry and Paddy Gorman there. The Blues Club in Wardour Street with Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, Long John Baldry, Rory and Alex McEwen and Nadia Catouse. The most memorable night for me was seeing Big Bill Broonzy, playing and singing like a dream, and consuming two bottles of whisky from a pint glass. - ©John (the Fish) Langford
Upon being asked to play 'harp' (instead of drums) for my first band, I went down to Hamilton's in M'bro (1963). Strange as it may seem, nobody in the shop knew which particular instrument, from the cabinet array, got you the 'blues' sound. So, in my ignorance I was offered, and bought, a Hohner 'Rhythm'n'Blues' model, which had 3-holes in it! Turned out you got 6 'suck/blow'- chords for 8/6d. It was a huge, chrome and red plastic useless lump. Some weeks later I went to see Cyril Davies and the All Stars at The Outlook, and made a particular note of his instruments. Trouble was, that first harmonica had 'skint' my pocket money, and it was therefore some 3-weeks later before I could afford the 7/6d for a Hohner 'Echo Vamper'. Today, that almost same model costs £21.00, and if you wanna go a bit more pro…£65.00. Multiply that by say 4 to 5 keys and it's not the sort of 'tin-sarnie' you leave out on the amps anymore, during the break. I've lost too many that way!!

The 'granddaddy' of all local musical raconteur-ship and charisma must of course be John McCoy who can still tell masses of funny stories from the late '50's. I especially recall a riotous one about Cyril Davies's Blues All-stars appearing at his Outlook Club around 1963. When Barry Faulkner opened 'Ossies Bar' on the same site (15 yrs later) he found a ledger of 'receipts' from all the bands who'd played the Outlook. Amongst them was one for the 'Rolling Stones' on which the signature of 'band-leader'(i.e. who received payment) Mick Jagger had been strangely crossed out and Brian Jones signature thereby substituted. I believe Barry later gave this document to John McCoy. A piece of real musical history indeed! - ©Chris Bailey
One of my favourite blues harp players was Cyril Davis, who played with Alexis Korner in the early 1960's and had, for a time, his own band called The Cyril Davis All Stars. One of his best cuts on record was "Chicago Calling"...great stuff! - ©Patrick Kearney
I was an art student in Guildford, and like every English art student of the time could play Cyril Davies' 'Country Line Special'. We used to go to the local Ricky Tick Club; the regular bands on that circuit other than the old black guys that were going around were The Rolling Stones, original Yardbirds, Cyril Davies, Animals, Graham Bond Organisation. Zoot Money, Pretty Things, Manfred Mann, Georgie Fame and so on. We also used to go to Eel Pie Island to see Long John Baldry and up to town to see the Downliners Sect. - ©Clive Murray White, Sculpter
I was inspired to start playing blues harmonica when I first heard Cyril Davies playing with Alexis Korner during the early sixties - ©Ian Briggs
I was at The Outlook that night. Never forgot it. Why? Because Mick Jagger and The Stones were different then, with their introduction of American style blues, it was exciting to listen to. I've been a blues fan ever since. Another night I won't forget in 63 ,was at The Coatham Redcar at Sunday nights Jazz Club, where we went every Sunday to listen to all the jazz bands on tour and imbibe copious quantities of Newcastle Brown Ale! Great times. Expecting another Jazz band we were introduced that night to 'Cyril Davies All Stars' from London with Alex Korner. It was quite something because they were our first introduction to a Chicago style harp blues band. The place went wild, it was quite a night. Times had changed - the popularity of Trad Jazz bands declined rapidly after Blues stars like John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson visited. Teesside was blessed with a great evolving music scene in those years with John McCoy's Crawdaddies and Long John Baldry's Steam Packet among many others ©Ian William Johnson
It was the British Legion Hall in South Harrow…I knew one of those places was a Legion Hall and S. Harrow rings all the right bells. I thought Jerry Lee Lewis was simply wonderful the night he played there. Others to share: Sam Cooke, Little Richard and the Everly Brothers at the Granada, Harrow; going down to Studio 51 in Leicester Square, on Sunday after Sunday, to see the Stones play from 3 till 6 and then bombing back to Wealdstone for the Who's weekly gig; the Hop Bine (?) in Wembley; the Blues and Barrelhouse in Soho where we'd watch Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner, the very cradle of the British Blues phenomenon, and not quite believing, at the age of 17 or so, that we were watching Memphis Slim playing the piano. And, to jump from the sublime to the ridiculous, the Guy Hayward School of Dancing where some of us, never able to master the quick step and the fox trot, would wait all night for the inevitable Jim Reeves waltz and grab the girl we'd been eyeing for hours….and then say, just before the attempted kiss, something quite bizarre like 'Do you like Blind Lemon Jefferson?' - ©Pete Fowler, Professor

Introduction: Cyril Who? Part 1
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