Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer
Sleeve Notes for Long John's Blues - UAS 5543
The following liner notes / essay by Long John Baldry was written for Long John's Blues [United Artists UAS 5543, LP, US, 1971]
I suppose that my interest in blues music really began when I was in school in the early fifties. At that time, there wasn't that much recorded material available to listen to. The few jazz 78s were like gold then. But in France the Disques Vogue label was releasing records by people like Big Bill Broonzy, who was my first original influence, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sidney Bechet - people like that. There were a few small labels in England like Tempo and Doug Dobell's "77" record company.
I'd had a banjo when I was twelve, and a little later my father bought me a guitar made especially by Grimshaw in London. I still have it - it's over fifteen years old, but it's still my favorite.
I learned to play a little bit, and then got mixed up in the young bohemian society in London, about 1955 or 1956. I suppose they're like the hippie society now, except that we were much more of a minority. We were playing around the coffee-houses in London, and in the streets - up and down theatre queues, busking. A lot of people used to make a point of listening to us, throwing quite a bit of money into the hat.
Then I met up with Rambling Jack Elliot, who, of course, is a very big name in American folk music history; having been the first major influence on Bob Dylan. I was also playing a lot with a fellow called Davy Graham, who is really one of the most incredible finger-style blues pickers that ever was.
In 1957 I met Cyril Davis and Alexis Korner, who had been playing together for a little while in a club called the Roundhouse in Wardour Street. A lot of people came by there and played - Bill Broonzy, Otis Spann, Speckled Red, Memphis Slim, Little Brother Montgomery…and Jack Elliot, of course. Those were fun days, and I was learning a lot about the blues.
In 1960, I joined, very briefly, the Bob Cort skiffle group, and we went to Denmark and spent some time there. Then I came back and formed an electric blues band, with Alex and Cyril, called Blues Incorporated. Hat was really something of a step, because it was thought rather dreadful at the time that the blues should be played with electrical instruments. In fact, it was only a few years before that Muddy had shocked everybody in Europe by bringing over an electric guitar and playing blues on it.
I suppose that Blues Incorporated was the first white electric blues band in the world. It probably pre-dates Paul Butterfield and company. A lot of people got involved with our group. Charlie Watts was on drums, Mick Jagger was also a singer with us…at that time we were the house band of the Marquee Club. Then I spent some time in Germany, playing with local bands and visitors like Horace Silver.
When I came back to England, Cyril had split from Alex, and Blues Incorporated had at that time Ginger Baker on drums, Graham Bond on organ, Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax and Jack Bruce on bass. Cyril had formed the Cyril Davis All-Stars, which I joined. That was an interesting band - for a time it had Jimmy Page on guitar. He was only fifteen, and only came in for a little while, because he was more interested in going to art school. I had come back from Germany on January 7, 1963. We worked quite a bit and even had our own TV program. On January 7, 1964, Cyril died; very, very suddenly. I took the band over, and brought Rod Stewart in as vocalist.
I had heard Rod before, playing harmonica, but never singing. But I "discovered" him, at the Twickenham railroad station, waiting for a train. Roddy was sitting on the platform, singing. He rather impressed me, and so I asked him how he'd fancy a gig. So Rod came in as vocalist.
We had a Thursday night residency at the Marquee Club, which we kept quite full at the time. Once a month, I would put on a special concert-type program, bringing in visiting musicians. In early '64 we did a television special, "Around the Beatles" which was shown in nearly every country in the world.
As a result of appearing on that show, I was offered a contract by United Artists records, and we made a l.p. which was called "Long John's Blues", and a few singles.
The band, called The Hoochie Coochie Men, at that time consisted of myself; Ian Armit on piano, who had come to us from Humphrey Lyttelton's jazz band; another Scot, Billy Law, on drums…Billy's left the musical scene, now he's got a grocery shop in Glasgow…and a young fellow named Cliff Barton on bass, who had been in the Cyril Davis band. I think that of all the bass players I've ever heard, including Jack Bruce or anybody, Cliff was the best. He was incredible. Unfortunately, two or three years back and really hooked on heroin, at the age of twenty-four Cliff was admitted to West Middlesex Hospital in London and died.
Our guitar player on the album, Jeff Bradford, was another great virtuoso. He was one of the very finest guitarists to ever come out of English blues. He was one of the very few who played finger-style on the electric guitar. He certainly predates Eric Clapton or any of the younger players. I think he was a very major influence - an idol - of Clapton and Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. In fact Jeff Beck used to have a group called the Tridents that were our interval band at the Eel Pie Island club in Twickenham. In 1965, Jeff Bradford suffered a rather severe nervous breakdown and was advised by his doctor to never play guitar again.
Long John Baldry - 1971
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