The birth of British Blues four decades ago is inextricably bound up in the questing spirit of jazz bands led by men like Ken Coyler and Chris Barber, musicians who recognized the close affinity between jazz and blues. Both men were assisted in their early explorations by the flamboyant "Balkan terrorist" Alexis Korner.
In a world where authenticity was de rigeur, singer/guitarist Alexis Korner was a visionary. Right from his earliest experiments with 'skiffle' playing in the Barber band, he was never content with merely recreating songs which were largely drawn from Huddie Ledbetter's vast repertoire. His appreciation ranged wide enough to encompass both the electric blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and bebop masters Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. When another Barber bandsman, Lonnie Donegan had a pop hit with "Rock Island Line" in 1956, Alexis resolved to chart his own course deep into the blues heritage.
He was helped in his endeavour by Cyril Davies, a panel-beater by trade who had an even greator fixation on Leadbelly's music. As well as playing harmonica, Cyril wielded a 12-string guitar with the same intensity as his idol. He too became tired of skiffle, and with Alexis started the Barrelhouse Blues Club, the first of their many attempts to bring blues to the attention of a public obsessed With trad Jazz. The urbane Alexis called his on-off relationship with the mercurial Cyril "...a great working mismatch", but together or apart, each loved the blues with a supreme passion.
The band began to roll with regular gigs at the Roundhouse and the Marquee, each becoming a landmark venue for blues and jazz. While Alexis played a blues interval on tour with the Barber band, Cyril recruited guitarist Geoff Bradford and pianist Keith Scott. As 1962 began, the pair joined musical swords in Britain's first electric blues band, Blues Incorporated, with Cyril relinquishing guitar in favor of the harmonica. On bass was Malcolm Cecil, who along with Bob Margouleff would later become Tonto's Expanding Head Band and still later produce Stevie Wonder.
The Golden Age of British Blues began that same year with the opening of the Ealing Club in West London. Blues Inc. now had Art Wood (older brother of Ron) and Long John Baldry as vocalists and with Charlie Watts often steering the drumkit. In keeping with the open policy advocated by Alexis, the band featured a 'cast of thousands' that at one time or another included Mick Jagger, Dick Taylor and Keith Richards (until then members of Little Boy Blue & The Blues Boys). Elmo Lewis (aka Brian Jones), Paul Jones, saxman Dick Heckstall-Smith, Brian Knight, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Graham Bond.
Unlike Alexis and Cyril, this younger generation of blues enthusiasts combined its hard-bitten realities with the mainstream of black American popular music. Their heroes recorded for Chess, Vee-Jay and King, Cameo-Parkway and Tamla-Motown, and they regarded Chuck Berry, Bo Didley, Jimmy Reed and Arthur Alexander just as important as Muddy and Wolf. As The Blues Boys became The Rolling Stones, as Eric Clapton and Tom McGuinness formed The Roosters before joining The Yardbirds and Manfred Mann, as John Mayall moved The Blues Syndicate from Manchester to London to become The Bluesbreakers, as Eric Burdon joined The Alan Price Combo and they became The Animals, they all looked to Blues Incorporated as the touchstone of their craft.
By marrying rock rhythms to the blues beats, British Blues was born. It was a vital juncture in the worldwide development of popular music, a crucial fusion of the traditional and the contemporary, an explosion that has continued to reverberate down the decades. This is the time that Knights Of The Blues Table celebrates.
Several members of Blues Incorporated's fluctuating ranks are featured here, among them Jack Bruce, Mick Jagger, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Paul Jones, along with notable contemporaries Pete Brown, Maggie Bell, Big Jim Sullivan, Georgie Fame, Duffy Power, Dick Taylor and Phil May. Their ranks are further strengthened by such luminaries as Mick Taylor, Miller Anderson, Mick Clarke, Clem Clempson, TS McPhee, Chris Jagger, Otis Grand and Nine Below Zero. There will be a second volume of this set titled Knights Of The Blues Table Volume 2, which will serve as a complement to the assembled figures here.
The most welcome participant in these proceedings, though, is Peter Green, marking his return to the recording studio and the music he loves. He has recorded three tracks for this project, the first of which is included here (with the other two to be presented on the second set) and which amply illustrates his abiding love for all eras of the blues. He wields his guitar to stirring effect on a stunning performance of Robert Johnson's 'Travelling Riverside Blues" with fellow Splinter Group guitarist Nigel Watson.
All the musicians who appear on this disc were asked to record either their favorite blues track or a track that was influential on them personally. Of course, none of this could have happened if Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies had not laid the groundwork. Regrettably, Cyril died before he could realize his full potential. He and Alexis parted company at the beginning of 1963 with Cyril forming his own band, The All Stars. In the course of the year, he recorded a pair of singles, "Country Line Special" and "Preaching The Blues", before his death from leukemia on January 7, 1964 at the age of 32. His songwriting talent is represented here with the inclusion of a previously unpublished song, "Send For Me", performed, appropriately, by Blues Inc. graduate Jack Bruce; in addition, there is an extremely rare, haunting track featuring Cyril himself titled "KC Moan", recorded in his home in 1954. After Cyril's death, Long John Baldry continued with Blues Inc., renaming them The Hoochie Coochie Men, thereby ensuring that Blues Incorporated would enjoy several more years of joyous music-making.
Long before John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd donned their dark glasses and porkpie hats, Britain had its own Blues Brothers. Cyril Davies died before he could make the impact on the blues world that was his to impart. Alexis Korner went on to be dubbed "The Father Of British Blues", but he would surely have wished for some of that credit to be bestowed on his one-time partner. Together they stood at the crossroads of a new development in blues and showed everyone a new way. The performances collected here on Knights Of The Blues Table salute their achievements and their memory.
Neil Slaven is a free-lance writer, occasional record producer and a regular contributor to Mojo Magazine. He has co-authored the definitive Chess Discography and was a co-founder of Blue Horizon Records with Mike Vernon. Recently he completed a blography of Frank Zappa.
These recordings are dedicated to the memory of Cyril Davies (who fathered the Blues in Britain with Alexis Korner) and to those musicians who followed them but sadly, are no longer with us: Graham Bond, Duster Bennett, Brian Jones, Jo-Ann Kelly, Alex Harvey, Steve Marriott, Ian Stewart, Nicky Hopkins, Rory Gallagher, Paul Kossoff, Les Harvey, Keith Relf and Chas Chandler.
?A large measure of thanks are extended from the Viceroy Entertainment Group to the following, all of whom were instrumental in helping make this project a reality: Jeff Allen, Paul Aaronson, Lucy Aubree at Marathon Music, Bob Brunning, Margrit Seyffer, Pete Brown, Lisa Bardsley, Gintaras Baltoushis, Sherry Daly at Munro Sounds Ltd., Ben Elliott, Joe and Ira Gastwirt at Ocean View Digital, Arnold Holland, Kenny Jones, Jim Kozlowski, Bob Laul, Rupert Lowenstein, Jim Pitulski, Tristan Powell, Lise Price, David Pegg, Mich Reynolds, Anthony Roger, Don Spielvogel, Neil Slaven, Ai Staehely Jr., Stuart Taylor, Shu Tomioka, Clare Turner, the staff at The Church Studios, George and Johannes at Vivid Images and all the musicians whose time, talent and love of the music buth defined this project and made it shine.
Recorded at The Church Studios, London, October-December 1996
Mixed at Showplace Studios, Dover, NJ, January 1997
Mastered in HDCD at Ocean View Digital, Los Angeles, February 1997
Photo Of Brown, Roger And Elliott On Page 15 (C) 1997
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