The voices of John Peel, Hughie Green, Max Wall, Kenneth Williams, Chris Wood, Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, Steptoe and Son, and that of a Radio 5 announcer, appear by courtesy of Stan Webb.
Special Effects: Harry Simmonds Chorale. M.C. for 'Live' track Harry Boxer.
BGO CD Reissue Notes:
There is only one Stan Webb. Mercurial and cantankerous, he's been wilfully self-destructive on occasion. Yet at the same time he's gifted and original, with an extravagant guitar style that squanders as much as it creates and an electrifying stage presence to this day. Stan's fortunes have (w)ebbed and flowed in the 25 years since 'O.K. Ken?' was recorded, He holds up his hand for some of the reverses his career has taken but he's survived it all relatively unscathed and he's still hungry for the main chance, In fact, he's the most underrated and deserving used-to-be in action today.
Stan still lives in Kidderminster, close by the railway station in a house that reflects his obsession with acting, comedy and films, the memorabilia of Chicken Shack's 26 years around him. These days, he exhibits a muted anger at the inequities of fame, the failures of bad management and the missed opportunities that chance and temperament have inflicted on his career. But there's also self-confidence and the belief that he too should be benefiting from the resurgence of interest in the blues and the Sixties bands that through it created a major movement in popular music. It's ironic that to those unaware of the band's reputation at its height, Chicken Shack exists as a footnote in the Fleetwood Mac story, the band that Christine McVie left, to pursue first a solo career and then to join her husband John's group, itself in danger of dissolution. In 1964, Christine was Perfect and a pianist when Stan joined her and bass player Andy Sylvester in a Birmingham-based band, Sounds Of Blue. Other members of the band included vocalist David 'Rowdy' Yates and Chris Wood on sax and flute.
The band lasted a year before Christine and David made the trek to London, she to become a windowdresser and he to work on the business side of the record industry. Stan and Andy formed a trio with drummer Alan Morley and went to test thelr stamina in Hamburg's Star Club. At the beginning of 1967, Andy contacted Christine and suggested that she rejoin them. Legend has it that the band's name came from the chicken loft belonging to Andy's parents in which they rehearsed.
1967 was a good year for British blues, a fact celebrated by the Seventh National Jazz & Blues Festival, which that year took place on August 11-13 at the Royal Windsor Racecourse. By then, not only had Eric Clapton left John Mayall to form Cream but his successor, Peter Green, had likewise slipped the leash to create Fleetwood Mac, with Bob Brunning on bass because John McVie couldn't quite forsake the Bluesbreakers. There were two stages at Windsor, the main one an open-air ramshackle structure, the other inside a marquee. Fleetwood Mac had their initiation on the main stage but much was made of Chicken Shack's tented debut.
The formation of Fleetwood Mac had also provided Mike Vernon with the impetus to elevate his nascent Blue Horizon label, till then a mailorder sideline, into a fully-fledged record company distributed by CBS (now Sony). After Mike's trip to the Kidderminster allotment, Chicken Shack became the second major signing. The band's Windsor success and the busy work schedule that resulted from signing with a London agency ensured that their first album, 'Forty Blue Fingers, Freshly Packed And Ready To Serve', its title almost as long as Side One, fell on receptive ears.
By her own admission, Christine had not been the best blues pianist when she joined the Shack but Stan and Andy's regard for Freddie King provided her with a mentor. "I rushed out and bought a bunch of Freddie King records," she told Stephen Davis. "I listened hard to his piano player (and producer), Sonny Thompson. That's where I got my style from." Which gave much more substance to the three Freddie King tracks on 'Fingers', 'Lonesome Whistle Blues', 'See See Baby' and the instrumental, 'San-Ho-Zay'.
Stan had cut his teeth on King's guitar workouts and had the opportunity to witness the man at close quarters when Chicken Shack backed him on his first UK tour. "Freddie was my boy," Stan says now, a mixture of reverence and reminiscence in his voice. "He taught me a hell of a lot about playing the guitar. He used to tell me, 'You can play uery fast but you don't haue to do it in every number all the time. You've got to put your notes in the right place.'"
The protagonists first met for rehearsals on the stage of the Ram Jam Club in Brixton. "We were all bloody nervous, even though we knew his stuff backwards. He came in and we were introduced, then he got out his guitar and said, 'Do you know 'See See Baby'?' We nodded, so he said, 'Right, it's in C' and we just did it. He stopped it half way through, looked back at us, giggled and said, 'How you know my stuff?' And I told him we'd been playing it for quite a long time already."
King's influence became a lasting one. "I used to tell him, I don't like hearing what I'm playing. He said, 'Yeah, I used to be like that'. For years, I was never impressed. I'd think 'You're not doing this right' while people were slapping me on the back. And then about two years ago, it suddenly all slotted into place and I've found my direction. One night at a gig in Germany, I suddenly remembered what Old Freddie'd said. He said, Try and think. It might take you a long time, it might take you years'. Talk about ghosts from the past but he was dead right."
So why did you call the album 'O.K. Ken?' then, Stan? "It came from Chris Wood, when we had Sounds Of Blue together. He told me, I can never remember people's names, so I call all the boys 'Ken' and all the girls 'Doris'. He used to have this mythical family that he'd talk about. He'd say, Sorry I'm late but Doris had a quinsy on the ironing-board and Ken had to look after her. And he'd say, 'OK Ken?' to everybody."
And then there's the sleeve. Blue Horizon albums always had distinctive covers, usually the work of photographer Terence Ibbott, but few were as quirky as 'O.K. Ken?', with its random association of disparate elements. What on earth did he have in mind? "The number of things people read into that cover were incredible. One bloke came up with what was nearest to what Terence intended, which was that we're all the same underneath the skin." It looks like Mick Fleetwood's Mr Wonderful on a severe diet, with a failed lasagne for a hat. No model for a growing lad.
In keeping with the times, the album was basically recorded on two days in October 1968, with the Stan and Christine duet, 'A Woman Is The Blues', and her 'Get Like You Used To Be' coming from the previous June. As ever, Christine's songs provide a distinct contrast to Stan's pyrotechnic displays, including a manic version of Howlln' Wolf's 'Tell Me'. But it was still brave for Christine to sing Littie Walter's 'Mean Old World' with another harmonica virtuoso, Walter Horton, in the studio.
The first thing I saw was this bloke in a brown twill suit, tall, gangly guy with a small briefcase full of harmonicas, with Duster Bennett rather nervously trying to coax him into the studio. I thought, I've only ever read about him in books or seen him on the backs of record covers. The first thing he did before he even opened his trap was drop his harmonicas all over the floor. He couldn't work out what Christine was doing on the piano. He said, in front of her, 'Why's she playing the piano?'. Until she started, and then we did it in no more than two takes.'
The most notable thing about 'O.K. Ken?' is the impressions of sundry popular icons of the day which introduce each track. Today, they are a source of embarrassment for Stan, who prides himself on his ability as a mimic, which has improved since 1968. "That was just mucking about. I did them one after the other, without stopping. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing in the studio, after euerybody had 7,000 gallons of lager. I started mucking about and Mike Vernon said, Why don't you do them on the record? At the time I thought, Oh, all right. However long they are, that's how long they took. It still quite amazed everyone, including me."
"Nobody else was putting blues together in the way that the songs on 'O.K. Ken?' were written. I had these sounds in my head but I wasn't mature enough to put them into action. I knew what I wanted but I couldn't explain it musically. I tried to avoid cliches because I didn't want to get into that rut of becoming just another blues player. And it stood me in good stead, because that's why people are coming to see me now. Some people say, you should be on stage at the Albert Hall, not Eric Clapton. And I think, Well, I don't agree with that but I should certainly be able to go on there as well. But I'm happy with what's happening now. I've done the years and I'm getting more respect than I ever did then. It's worked for me."
(P) 1968 Licensed from Sony Music Entertainment U.K. Ltd.
(C) 1993 BGO Records
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Remastered at Sound Recording Technology, Cambridge, 1993
Made in England
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