RAY DORSET INTERVIEW : PART 1
Incredibly after almost 35 years of the Mungo Jerry, to my knowledge, none of the occupants of the fan club hot seat had got around to interviewing the main man himself - Ray Dorset! We had of course interviewed other Mungo Jerry personnel over the years but for some reason, not Ray. This was addressed in 2005, Mungo's 35th year in the business, and we were granted a very special exclusive fan club interview with Ray covering just about everything from his childhood, a trip through the 60's, the glory years of the early 70's up to the present day.
IS THERE ANYTHING PARTICULAR OR MEMORABLE FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND?
I had a really good time as a kid in my pre teens. I was an only child, born and brought up in Ashford, Middlesex, a small dormitory town whose population in the mid fifties was 16,500. My family moved there from London and I had a number of cousins and aunts and uncles living close by. We were always in and out of each other’s houses, there were many parties and lots of music being played.
Our house was pretty small but we had a good upright piano in the then sitting room, (later when I was seventeen, my father knocked down the wall and made the downstairs two rooms into one), as did my grandmother on my mothers’ side and also my great aunt, who lived just around the corner.
My grandmother’s house was quite large and her daughter, i.e. My mother’s sister also lived there with her family, we were all very close and my cousins Barbara and Jeanette were like sisters to me.
FOR ME, IT MEANT KICKING A BALL AROUND THE STREETS AND PARKS FROM MORNING TO NIGHT. WERE YOU KEEN ON FOOTBALL AS A YOUNGSTER?
My mother’s uncle Jim, who had the big house was also the manager of Ashford Wanderers football club, I used to walk there most Sunday mornings with my Dad to watch the home games. My cousins and myself used to travel to many of the away games with my uncle or sometimes in the back of a furniture van that was owned by a family friend who had a shop in the town.
We kicked a ball around a lot and sometimes played in the street but the games were more for the older kids, I was still very much pre-teens at this time. The football club would always have an annual dance held either at the Links Hotel, which was to the left of our house at the top of Stanwell Road, or St. Hilders Church hall, which was a few hundred yards, down the road to the right of our house.
DID MUSIC PLAY A PART IN THOSE EARLY DAYS?
I sang 'I've Got a Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts' unaccompanied at one of these dances at the Links when I was about five, and I sang with the band on the stage at one of the St. Hilders dances. This was my first time on a stage and I remember it feeling like going to the dentist. My mother remembers that I sang two songs, 'Mr. Sandman' and a novelty song that begins with the words, “outside a lunatic asylum one day”? I don’t know the title and I cannot now remember all of the words to this one but it was probably a song that we sang in the sing along sessions at the Nab Club at Hayling Island where we used to have our annual summer holidays. We used to go there with my Aunt Lal, Uncle Horace and their daughters Barbara and Jeanette, sometimes some of my other aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends and their children would also take their holiday there at the same time and we all used to sit on the beach together, play games hand generally have a great time.
CHRISTMAS TIME STANDS OUT FOR ME WHEN I WAS A KID. WAS IT THE SAME FOR YOU?
The family Christmas parties were held there every year until my great Aunt got a much bigger house where we also had the New Year parties. One New Year's Eve, there was 113 of us celebrating. My mother usually played the piano at these gatherings and various members of the family would join in singing or playing along on make believe and make shift instruments like the comb and paper.
The Christmas that followed, the success of Eddie Calvert, the man with the golden trumpet, three or four of us kids were given golden plastic trumpets as presents, we thought that we would soon be playing 'Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom Wine' just like Eddie but they would only produce a bland squeaking noise, we were very disappointed but it wasn’t long before we all got into rock‘n roll and Skiffle. We then all wanted to play the piano like Jerry Lee, Little Richard or Fats, play wild electric guitar or the drums.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR SCHOOLDAYS?
As a kid I used to collect a lot of cards so I used to get through a lot of bubble gum, as did most of my friends and cousins. We also used to collect cards from packets of tea but the ones from the bubble gum were best especially when the cards were of football or film stars. I had two cousins that lived in Hillingdon, Victor and Valerie, they were the children of one of my dad’s sisters, May, and her husband, my Uncle Charley worked for a printing firm and he often turned up with sheets of the football bubble gum cards uncut so I was well ahead with my collection. He also used to get us loads of Marvel and 3D comics, which I was well in to. My Uncle Horace in Ashford also worked in the print and he also used to get us loads of comics like TV Fun, Radio Fun etc. I spent many happy hours reading these, normally in bed.
We didn’t get any homework until we went to senior school so we had lots of happy times after school hours playing in the park or most often playing on one of the then pieces of free land on our road. This is where the street bonfire nights were also held. We used to bring all of our rubbish to these plus the bits of branches and bushes that we could find and build an enormous bonfire which would still be burning about three days later. When we learnt to make a fire using the heating effect of the sun through a magnifying glass many other fires were started on this land though not intentionally, meaning to clear the place and attract the attention of the fire brigade.
WHEN DID YOU START PLAYING IN A BAND?
My Aunt Kit and Uncle Jim would also have a big bonfire party and this is where we normally let off our fireworks, they also used to have a garden party in the summer and this is where I first played with my Skiffle group when I was eleven.
Music played a big part in my life from as long as I remember; we had a big brown radio with typewriter like keys on it. The radio was on just about all day and everyday, we had no TV then and knew nobody that did, this was about 1951, I think that we got our first TV in 1953 a 12 inch screen and made by a firm named Consul, many neighbours came round to watch the Coronation and the Cup Final between Bolton and Blackpool who won by four goals to three, the great Stanley Matthews was playing for Blackpool at this time.
We used to be tuned in to mainly the BBC Light Programme in the daytime, “are you sitting quietly? Then I will begin” this was how the Listen With Mother story would begin, I remember programmes like Workers Playtime, Family Favourites and the Edmundo Ross show (Latin music that influenced me at this early age), the Billy Cotton Band Show, Henry Hall’s Guest Night, having quite a lot of music in them but not to all of our taste. My father used to fiddle around with the radio a lot in the evenings after he had eaten following his return from work trying to tune in to Radio Luxemburg which played a lot of pop music at the time as well as the Ovalteenies and some quiz shows. Luxemburg English speaking service began in the evenings and was transmitted on 208 meters medium wave and the signal varied due to atmospheric conditions and just as you would get into a great new record the sound would disintegrate into some horrible swirling hiss. Sometimes my Dad would find some good trad jazz, blues or rock ‘n’ roll on a foreign station, usually German or French.
One day when I came home from school for my 12 o'clock dinner break, my mother and myself were listening to Workers Playtime as usual when suddenly the radio burst into flames and fire rose up the dining room wall. Quick as a flash, my mother wrenched the cable from its socket, grabbed the radio and managed to get it onto the back door step where she immediately throw a saucepan of water over it. Luckily no damage was done to the house but the radio was a write off.
The radio was replaced by a much more smaller modern one with a proper tuning dial that was to give us many problems later on as the chord that drove the tuning indicator along was always breaking, but we got a lot more stations on it and a better reception.
Radio played a big part in my life and still does so today, if I had to choose between having a radio or TV, I would always go for the radio. When I got into electronics I used to build my own, I started off with a crystal set that my grandmother gave me for Christmas when I was eleven or twelve.
I also enjoyed listening to Hancock's Half Hour in bed, the next-door neighbour's used to have it on really loud, and I was able to hear it quite clearly through the wall. Although our sitting room, we called it the front room, was quite small, we had a pretty good Barnes upright piano in it that I grew up with, and both my mother and father played it quite often at the weekends. I used play on it most days, just picking out the odd melody by ear with one finger. It wasn’t until I was able to strum chords on the guitar that I learnt to play some chords on the piano; I started with C, then F and G, with my right hand and managed to play a walking boogie bass line with my left hand.
Before I got my guitar, my parents bought a rather large Ferguson radiogram, it had long, medium, and short wave radio but no FM or VHF, as it was known as in those days, and a Garrard auto-changer record deck that you could stack eight records on. Although when we first got it we only had four which we got when we purchased the machine, I remember one of them being 'Gonna Get Along Without You Now' by Prudence and Patience (I still think that it is the best version of the song), c/w 'The Money Tree', on the black London label. When a record had finished playing, an arm would come out and sense which size record was next, the disc would then drop down on to the turntable and the tone arm would then come down put the sapphire stylus in a groove and the record would play automatically.
It was on the radiogram that I used to listen to my favourite radio programme of the time, BBC’s Saturday Club, this was broadcast on the Light Programme every Saturday morning from 10 am until midday, and was presented by Brian Matthews.
DID YOU GET INTO TROUBLE AT SCHOOL?
I enjoyed infant school the most and I have very fond memories of this time, junior school was also OK. I failed my eleven plus exam and went to Stanwell Road School, which changed its name to Abbotsford County Secondary. I took the thirteen plus exam which I passed, I asked to go to Twickenham Tech. but was sent to Southall Tech. for an interview which I also passed, this school also had a name change, it became Southall Grammar Tech. It had a very strict regime, and to be seen going to or from school minus the school cap was a caning offence, of which I had many, but I wasn’t a tearaway. I never played truant, I just used to like having a laugh, that reminds me, I was once caned for smiling in class, crazy!
HOW DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR GUITAR PLAYING?
As I said before, music played a great part in my life in those days and when I was ten years old my parents bought me a steel strung acoustic guitar for Christmas. I had a washboard that I used to play along to the music on the radio with and I had made a tea chest bass, which I later cut up with my Hobbies fret saw kit to make my own guitar. Previously to this I had a four string plastic guitar that was more like a ukulele, my cousin Barbara had one too and we used fuse wire to replace the strings, which we would often cut our fingers with, to replace those which broke after our over enthusiastic strumming. I had a guitar tutor book that was written by Johnny Southern and I remember that one of the songs in the book to learn was The Platters hit 'The Great Pretender'. I learnt two chords from the book, C and E but wanted to play the solos on the rock‘n roll hits of the day, I especially liked the sound that Scotty Moore got on the Elvis records and to this day I don’t think that it has been bettered. Not long after that Christmas, I saw a Bert Weedon programme on TV about learning to play the guitar and he demonstrated something like the three chord trick for a twelve bar sequence with the song 'Frankie and Johnny', I was a quick learner at this time and soon I was accompanying myself singing and playing some Skiffle songs from a Lonnie Donegan book, and a Ken Colyer book. At that time I was not aware of Leadbelly although I was probably singing some of his songs as adapted by Lonnie, in fact 'Rock Island Line' was one of them. Of course, years later I tried to collect every recording that he had made.
YOU FORMED THE BLUE MOON SKIFFLE GROUP?
I was ten years old when I got my first real guitar and the Skiffle group must have got started when I was eleven, there was me on guitar and vocals plus Phillip Collins on tea chest bass and vocals and Peter Langley on washboard, these two guys had older brothers who played the same instruments in a proper Skiffle group called The Silver Stars, we called ourselves The Blue Moon Skiffle Group. We played our first and only gig at my great Aunt's garden party.
The next Christmas, I talked my parents into buying me a tape recorder, this is how I got into recording, the machine was a Phillips, can’t remember the model number, it had 5¼ inch spools and ran at 3¼ i.p.s. My mother bought it at Curry’s in Staines and it cost thirty-nine guineas. I later used it to amplify my first electric guitar. I had a few guitar lessons when I was twelve to thirteen but gave up when I went to Southall Tech. I learnt some fingering technique and some musical theory but not much, as I wanted to play rock ‘n roll, Skiffle etc. the pop music of the time.
AND YOU STARTED TO WRITE YOUR OWN MATERIAL, CAN YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST THING YOU WROTE?
I started to make up a few tunes around this time but nothing that I remember performing until I wrote a kind of cheesy song entitled 'Little Girl' that I played at one of the family parties and later with my band when I was about sixteen.
DO YOU HAVE ANY RECORDINGS FROM THOSE EARLY DAYS?
I sometimes used my tape recorder to record the band practice but have nothing from the very early days, I do have a version of 'Twist & Shout' from a rehearsal when I must have been nearly seventeen.
When I got the tape recorder I used to place the microphone in front of the radio speaker and record Radio Luxemburg and Saturday Club programmes but the quality was very poor especially as the microphone was of the crystal type. I then discovered that I could take a line out of the radiogram, to the line in on the recorder, and obtain much better quality recordings, my cousin Eileen’s boyfriend connected a cable to the loudspeaker terminals of the TV and I used to plug the other end of the cable into the line in on the recorder so that I could record music from the TV. I used to do this every Saturday evening, recording the Jack Good show, Oh Boy on ITV, which later became Boy Meets Girl when it was presented by Marty Wilde, and BBC TV’s Drumbeat which became Wham.
It was from these recordings that I learnt many songs, when I heard something that I would like to sing I obtained the lyrics by playing back the recording and pausing the machine after every line so as to give me time to write down the words on a piece of paper. Brian Matthews used to end each edition of Saturday Club by playing the current No. 1 single and the show would also feature sessions from various UK and visiting American artists. One guy that I heard on the show was Terry Wayne, he played a rock-a-billy guitar style, which at that time I had never heard of, and he did a lot of then obscure Carl Perkins songs, I tried to imitate this style and I think that this was the beginning of my love for the rock-a-billy sound although when I could afford to, I never collected all of the Carl Perkins recordings but got just about everything that Gene Vincent did.
Saturday Club ran for several years and the musical content changed with the times, even John Lee Hooker did the show.
From the ITV shows, I remember recording the live performances of both Eddie Cochran and Johnny Cash, I learnt 'Twenty Flight Rock' and 'Something Else' from Eddie’s show and two songs from Johnny, 'I've Got Stripes' and 'Five Feet High And Rising'. I wish that I still had these recordings and all of the others that I did, but I only had two reels of tape and I used to use them again and again.
Another piece of music that had a big influence on me was the sound of Johnny Cash's, 'Ballad Of a Teenage Queen' which blasted out over and over again from some massive loudspeakers one Saturday afternoon at a fete at St. Hilders Church. It was the thump of the bottom end low frequencies on the on beat that seemed to accentuate the rhythm, together with the slap back echo on the electric guitar that I liked so much. There was an awful lot of excitement from such a small instrumental line up something which I always strove to achieve in the early incarnation of the Mungo sound.
THE MUNGO JERRY BOOK, 'BEYOND THE SUMMERTIME' HAS A PICTURE OF YOU PERFORMING AT SINAH WARREN HOLIDAY CAMP TALENT CONTEST IN 1960. CAN YOU REMEMBER ANYTHING ABOUT IT?
At Sinah Warren, I was fifteen when the picture in the book was taken, it was not a talent contest but a showcase, I think that I sang 'What D'You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?' The Emile Ford & The Checkmates version.
IS IT TRUE THAT YOU WERE EXPELLED FROM SCHOOL?
I was not expelled from school but was asked to leave after taking my mock GCSE exams, the headmaster said that I was a spiv and would not get anywhere.
DID YOU THEN START WORK AS A LADIES HAIRDRESSER?
After seeing an ad in the local paper for a ladies hairdressing apprentice, I thought that this was a job that I could do with no exam passes to my name so I called them up, did the interview, which I got through OK, and my parents paid a fifty pound fee and signed the contract for me to learn the trade. I lasted about ten months but I had a really good time there. The late opening times on Fridays clashed with my gigs and I left and was lucky enough to get a job in the electro mechanical industry with day release at Twickenham Tech. plus Wednesday evenings, this was for a City and Guilds course.
YOU BACKED SOME WELL KNOWN ACTS BACK THEN. DID YOU RECEIVE ANY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT OR GOOD ADVICE FROM ANY OF THEM?
We did gigs for pubs, clubs, parties, weddings, Saturday morning cinema, just about everything one could imagine and we eventually got to support many name bands, I will sometime make a list of all those that I can remember. I learnt something from just about every one of them. I particularly enjoyed supporting The Yardbirds at the Attic Club in Hounslow, in fact I lent a plectrum to Eric Clapton at this one.
REMIND US OF YOUR FIRST PROPER BAND?
My first band was the Skiffle group, the next was Dick How on guitar, Derek Sirmon on drums and myself. We called ourselves The Buccaneers and did our first gig at Jimmy Denton’s dance school in Feltham Road, Ashford. We said that we would play for nothing but the place was packed out and every one had a great time so Jimmy Denton gave us ten shillings each, I put the money towards a lairy green shirt. Dave Hutchins, a school friend of the other guys came to the gig and offered to become the bass player, he bought himself a Framus Star bass and joined the band. I was fourteen at the time, we all were, we began practising every Sunday and we soon had lots of weekend gigs.
By this time I had got myself an electric guitar, a Rossetti Lucky 7 that my father bought for me in the Band Box music shop in Staines for the sum of thirteen guineas. I had no guitar amplifier at the time so I connected the guitar to my tape recorder and used this to do the job, but I did not get much of a sound, if I connected the guitar to the line in socket the volume level was much too low, and if I used the microphone input the guitar would be a little louder, but there was far too much distortion and I really wanted to get a Scotty Moore sound, I never did then, and have never been able to since.
I don’t remember what amplifier Dave used but I had acquired a second hand eight watt, one channel amplifier of Italian origin, also from the Band Box in Staines, it was quite light and I used to carry it together with my guitar and microphone stand to Ashford station where I used to take the train to Whitton, which was the second stop, the first being Feltham the place where Freddie Mercury grew up, I don’t know if he ever made it to any of our gigs and I never thought to ask him when we met at a party at the House of Commons for the launch of one of the Guinness Book of Hit Singles. I had made the microphone stand by fixing an ex-government whip aerial into a block of wood that was weighted to the floor with a thick metal plate that had been given to me by my next door neighbour. The microphone was a silver metal stick type and it was made by a company named Eagle, it had a crystal insert that was of dubious audio quality, but a very high output and easily had a tendency to feed back with a high pitched whistle that would set one’s teeth on edge. Dick had a fifteen-watt Rogers amplifier and played a Hofner acoustic guitar that he had fitted with a pick up, the guitar was probably a President or a Committee. We had no PA so we plugged the mike into his amp. Derek just had a Premier snare drum and hi hat.
I don’t think that we could have been very loud but the place was packed and the punters danced all night to our music, Jimmy Denton told us that his wife had to go home early because all of the noise had given her a very bad headache.
I lay in bed that night not being able to sleep, the buzz of playing that first gig had really wound me up, I was still full of excitement, plus, my ears were ringing like crazy. I was fourteen at the time, we all were, we began practising every Sunday, and a few Sundays after the first gig, Derek, 'Degs' as we called him, and both of his parents, ushered us into their house, and with big smiles on their faces pushed open the sitting room door and gave us a great surprise by showing us the complete black pearl Premier drum kit that was Deg’s new pride and joy, and of course, a great new asset to our band. We soon, well, maybe after several months, had lots of weekend gigs, but not as The Buccaneers.
Our band practice was done alternately at Dick’s and Derek’s houses, we didn’t practice at Dave’s as he lived in a flat, we used my house once but it was hard work being that the rooms, like the house, were so small. By this time we had changed our name to The Conchords, as The Buccaneers we all wore a black patch over one eye, we got this idea from Johnny Kidd who also wore a patch over one eye as front man of one of the best British rock ‘n’ roll groups, Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. They made some really great recordings and over the years with my band, I used to play and sing some of their songs, notably, 'Please Don't Touch' ( UK charts No 25, 1959) , 'Feeling', 'A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues', 'I'll Never Get Over You', 'Linda Lou', 'Growl', and the classic 'Shakin' All Over' (UK charts No.1, 1960) . Myself and the guys in my band went one time to see them perform live at Hounslow Baths and they did a great show, the guitarist was Mick Green and he seemed to play both rhythm and lead guitar at the same time and his style has influenced many other players including Pete Townsend of The Who, and WILKO JOHNSON of the British R & B band Dr.Feelgood, who incidentally recorded a version of my 1971 No.1 hit song, 'Baby Jump'.
In 1966, Johnny Kidd, whose real name was Frederick Heath, was sadly killed in a car crash.
Although Mick Green's guitar playing became synonymous with 'Shakin' All Over', via his live performances with the Pirates, he did not join the band until 1962, and it was the session musician Joe Moretti that played guitar on the record. In fact, Mick Green only played on one big hit single and that was 'Trains And Boats And Planes' that he recorded as guitarist with The Dakotas in their role of being the backing band for Billy J.Kramer.
I’m not sure why we changed our name but I remember that we all felt rather strange doing a gig with one eye covered and even stranger when we removed the eye patches afterwards. I think that it was Derek that came up with the name Conchords for the band, this was before we or anyone else had heard of the aeroplane with the same name but different spelling. We wore matching stage clothes that consisted of royal blue taffeta shirts that were made by my mothers cousin Kath, the daughter of my Aunt Kit, very light beige slightly shiny jeans and black suede Cuban heeled boots. Dick How was training to be a pattern maker and he made shiny aluminium medallions with the name The Conchords written on them, these we hung around our necks with silver dog chains, I still have my medallion at home.
As I was the lead singer, our repertoire consisted of the songs that I knew, but we didn’t play anything that we didn’t all like. It was mostly rock ‘n’ roll, the pop music of the time. This was 1958 and rock ‘n’ roll music and culture was in its prime commercially. The Conchords somehow or other got mixed up with a guy by the name of Phil Jay, a DJ and sometime radio presenter, he also appeared on TV in a panel show. Phil I think had something to do with a popular local band Frankie Reid and The Casuals and also managed another local band, Mike Dee and The Jaywalkers, their guitarist at the time was a guy by the name of Brian Cell and when he left the band he was replaced by a young but great guitarist by the name of Ritchie Blackmore. Phil told us that the medallions had to go as he thought that they were too flash, he also said that Dick must get himself an echo unit and a new guitar to improve his sound and that I was a better rhythm guitarist than singer and should consider getting ourselves a new vocalist. Dick got the gear and Phil gave us some jobs. We did some supports to The Jaywalkers and some other gigs and eventually the Sunday night residency at the White Heart pub on the Uxbridge Road in Southall. The pub paid us seven pounds and charged sixpence for entry. Just a few people turned up at first but eventually we started to get packed houses peaking at around the four hundred mark.
Deg’s was a great natural drummer and one night got asked to step in for The Jaywalkers who gave him a regular job with them and it wasn’t long after that he joined the band of Screaming Lord Sutch that Ritchie Blackmore went to play with. He was just sixteen at the time. Myself, Dick and Dave went to see them perform a great show at Staines Town Hall and were really pleased to get invited backstage. In later years I got to meet Dave Sutch several times, we used to exchange Christmas cards and he even invited me to London to join his launch of the Euro sausage where he sang 'It's Sausage Time' to the tune of 'In The Summertime', and some of the event was broadcast on national TV news.
Deg’s place in the band was taken by Colin Forest who was older than us and already, to our advantage, had a driver’s license; he stayed in the band for quite a while but was replaced by Dave Wadhams. While Colin was in the band we shopped around for material for new stage clothes and settled on some dark green mohair, which we had made into suits by a tailor in Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey. We had begun to be influenced greatly by The Shadows and were playing several instrumental numbers in our show and even attempting 'the Shadows walk', and The Shadows and most of the other popular bands of the day wore suits.
Dave Wadhams was a lodger at the house of my Aunt Kit and barber by trade. Being an avid follower of the Cyril Davies All Stars he endeavoured to emulate the style of their terrific drummer whose name was Carlo Little and in order to obtain more punch and volume from the bass drum, Dick made him several wooden beaters which accentuated the power of the rhythm that we generated from our music. By this time R & B groups were gaining favour on the London club circuit and in the adjacent vicinity, hair was getting longer and it was becoming cool for band musicians to have a decidedly unkempt appearance. Dick’s father had a connection to the Feathers boys clubs that were situated in the West area of London, I remember playing the Seventh Feathers and the Fourth Feathers clubs and it was at one of these that we played what was known as a tramps ball. It was obligatory for the punters at these balls to come dressed up as tramps and for this particular gig we did the same and as we enjoyed the dressing down for the event so much, unanimously decided to rename ourselves The Tramps and adopt the look for our stage appearances, and ditch the mohair suits that we had been wearing previously especially as this kind of scruffy image was becoming popular with the purveyors of the kind of music that was hitting the new music venues that had opened up in and around the London area and other big cities throughout the UK.
It was through his connection with the boys clubs that Dick’s father got to hear about the Loughton in Essex Beat Group competition and he suggested that we enter, this was in 1964, and we arrived at the venue, as we had began to do, in our stage clothes and when we eventually took to the stage we were greeted by rapturous cheering by the audience even before we had played a note, the new image had done the trick and we won the competition hands down and soon had our pictures in the local paper. Not only did we change the way we looked on stage, we also changed our repertoire.
AFTER THE TRAMPS, CAME THE SWEET & SOUR BAND?
Roger Earl and Dave Hutchins decided to leave The Tramps and form a new band and they asked me to help out and play the guitar when they were auditioning singers and guitarists, they chose Owen Finnegan as the singer but no gigs were done with him and he became the vocalist for the new band that ex-John Mayall drummer Keef Hartley formed, they auditioned guitarists and I supplied the vocals although some good musicians turned up they did not find anyone that they would like in the band so they asked me if I would do the honours and became the guitarist and vocalist.
We decided to call ourselves The Sweet and Sour Band and we played a mixture of blues and some of my original compositions, the guitar, bass and drums line up was in at that time as portrayed by The Who, Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. We were also influenced by another of our favourite bands, The Yardbirds and we tried to inject a psychedelic edge to the delivery of our music. Part of our show included a soul medley and this is what we played when we did the audition to get the job of being the backing group for the singer songwriter, Jackie Edwards, this audition was overseen by the producer Jimmy Miller who immediately gave us the gig.
We did another audition in answer to an ad in the Melody Maker for a Doors/Love type band, this was organised by Harry Simmonds and Barry Murray who worked for the London City agency. Harry was the brother of Kim Simmonds, guitarist of Savoy Brown and was also their manager, and also manager of Chicken Shack. I think that one of the songs we played to them was 'Cold Blue Excursion'. They liked what we did and soon gave us some gigs at prestigious venues like the Electric Garden in London. Barry suggested that we change our name to Camino Real (Spanish for Royal Highway and the title of a book), which we did.
As the Sweet and Sour Band, another guy that we got mixed up with was Kenwyn Balch, he managed another band that also had keyboards in the line up and they took over the job of backing Jackie. Kenwyn put on a gig at the London venue the Lyceum with Jackie and us on the bill, it was poorly attended and because we did not get paid we had a fall out with Kenwyn and went our own separate way. Roger got offered the job as drummer with Savoy Brown, which he took, and our roadie Malcolm Gray went with him and became their tour manager.
SO HOW DID THE GOOD EARTH BAND COME ABOUT?
I got the idea to form a rock'n roll band and Dave Hutchins suggested that we ask Colin Earl if he would like to join us. Colin was a big fan of Jerry Lee Lewis and had just about everything that he had recorded, in fact, when I was playing a bit of piano in The Tramps, Roger had lent me some of Colin’s Jerry Lee records so that I could learn some of the songs. I did not know Colin very well at the time but he used to come and see us play most Sundays when as The Conchords and later, The Tramps. We had the regular spot at the White Hart pub in Southall.
We tried out some drummers in a church hall in Chiswick, which we later used for rehearsals, the father of Dave’s girlfriend was the vicar there and I think that he let us use the place for nothing. We used to go to the nearest pub for a break and one night we saw Tommy Cooper there having a drink, we were amazed as to how tall he was. Ray Bowerman seemed to be the best of the drummers and he also impressed us when he played some tunes on the piano. I gave Barry Murray a call and told him that I had a new band that played rock‘n roll, he had by this time left the London City Agency and was working for Bryan Morrison booking the Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, Tyrannosaurus Rex and other hip bands, Barry wanted to see us perform and booked a gig for us at the Pied Bull pub in Islington. Again Barry decided on a name change for the band and he called us Memphis Leather, he gave us some gigs, one of which was at Middle Earth in London’s Covent Garden (this venue was formerly known as the Electric Garden and was a Hippie haven) as support to Spooky Tooth and Captain Beefheart's Magic Band.
An independent record company named Saga put out a budget album entitled Soft Rock and All That by a band named Catch 22, the price of this album in the shops was ten shillings, it got good reviews and Marcel Rodd the company owner decided that he would like to follow this up with recordings by another band and the album title would be Hard Rock and All That. By this time we were being managed by ex-pirate radio DJ, later of Rene and Renate fame and owner of Hollywood records, John Edward, he also was the creator of a successful children’s TV character. John had a connection to Saga Records via producer Tockenham Ore, who had produced Catch 22 and they arranged for us to audition for Marcel Rodd at his Hampstead studio in order to get the job of recording Hard Rock and All That. We were not informed about any payment for the recording if we happened to get the job but they said that all of the songs that we played had to be original, that is, free of any previous publishing contracts. They were all particularly impressed by my composition, My Own Country and we were given a date to record which was to be on a Sunday after a gig at Middle Earth. The Hippies were grooving around to our rock ‘n’ roll music until about 07.45 am that Sunday morning and by the time that we got to the studio which was in part of Marcel’s large house, my voice was “shot” despite sucking many Mac throat sweets.
Marcel decided that we should begin recording on another date when we were not so tired, he and his wife gave us a nice roast beef lunch and some Guinness and we all went home to get some much needed rest. We found out that the fee for the recording and for supplying the songs was to be a £250.00 buy out and we were quite shocked at this as we were told that we would be getting nothing but the honour of making a recording. Marcel Rodd was also shocked that we had not been informed of the fee as it appeared that John and Tockenham would be keeping all of the money for themselves, so it was decided that we would produce the album together with the recording engineer whose name escapes me at the moment, but he also engineered Lonnie Donegan’s classic hit 'Rock Island Line'.
I set about writing some more songs for the project, Colin wrote 'Memphis Leather' and I wrote all of the others, words and music, but I gave credits to the other guys for some of the songs as a gesture of friendship, I didn’t know anything about the cut throat mechanisms of the music business then. Marcel Rodd stipulated that we had to have a new name for the band and the engineer came up with The Good Earth, the title of a book by Pearl Buck.
As far as I can remember, we rehearsed all of the songs in the studio and recorded them in the evenings over a period of about five days. I was living in Bedfont, Middlesex at this time in the maisonette that I had bought from Joe Rush and I was working at Timex in the research lab. When I came home late at night from the recording sessions I used to have very large bowls of cereal, usually Corn Flakes or Sugar Puffs I think.
COLIN EARL HAS BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING THE ALBUM, 'IT'S HARD ROCK & ALL THAT' WAS "NO AUDIO DELIGHT", WHICH I THINK HE PUT DOWN TO THE POOR RECORDING FACILITIES, BUT I THINK THAT IT WAS A BRILLIANT ALBUM - GREAT SONGS!
I thought that the songs that we recorded were really good but the recording facilities left much to be desired, the mixer was run on batteries and when we played a loud passage of music the mixer drew too much current for the batteries to handle, hence the distortion on most of the tracks. We also recorded on half-track machines and I don’t remember doing any overdubs. The titles were to be faded earlier to get all of the songs on the album but this was not done, I did not mind as I quite like long tracks, so that some of the songs could be used on another Saga budget album, 'Swingin' London'.
WAS IT A DISAPPOINTMENT WHEN THE BAND BROKE UP?
Dave Hutchins left the band to become a full time musician; he played with Shaky Vicks Blues Band and Bobby Parker of 'Watch Your Step' fame. For some reason we were looking for a new drummer just prior to his departure, this must have been in late 1968 but we had not found one. There was one gig left in the book to do and this was for one of Oxford University’s Christmas Ball's, The Keef Hartley Band with Miller Anderson on guitar and vocals was on the bill, as was Mick Farren's Deviants and a jazz band that had a Clement Freud look alike on clarinet, this guy was to play 'Have Pity On Me' on my solo album.
JOE RUSH WAS IN THE BAND BY THEN?
Joe Rush played a big part in my musical career and also in my life outside of music, he too worked in the Timex research lab; in fact it was he who had got me the job there. I first met Joe at a place that I had worked previously, this was R.C.S. (Radio Control Specialists) in Hounslow we were introduced by a work colleague who had told me that Joe was also a musician, he played amongst other things, double bass and had at one time been in a band with Ken Colyer, we had a mutual interest in blues and Skiffle and he informed me about Mike Raven's blues show on the Radio 390 pirate station. Joe also loaned me his Leadbelly records. He became and still is a very good friend. I was impressed by his great knowledge of jazz and country blues musicians and also his ability to get things done and if it wasn’t for Joe, I would not have become the owner of my own property, as I said before, I bought Joe’s maisonette off of him at the age of twenty one and it was he who gave me all of the ideas on how to get the finance organised, he said I will ask £4,500.00 for the place, you make me an offer of £4,250.00 and I will accept it.
Although I had already got into playing and singing country blues for my own amusement and occasionally in the break at Sweet and Sour Band gigs at the Ealing Club, it was Joe that got me interested in playing this kind of music more seriously and he introduced me to the recordings of many American artists that I was not aware of. I did many gigs with Joe in dance bands for private functions, social clubs at the weekends when I had no jobs with my band and we always had a good time and around the time that my band had fallen apart, Joe had found out that Bruce, the personnel manager of Timex was taking a trip up to the Timex Dundee plant and he asked Bruce to bring him back a couple of washboards as they could then still be bought in Scotland. This he did and we promptly tried them out at a lunchtime Skiffle session. We then decided to have an evening session at the Duke of Northumberland pub in Isleworth and I invited Colin along to play. We did some jug band type stuff, which was well received by the pub audience and we decided to take the chance and do the Oxford University gig as a three piece and play this same music there, we were to get a fee of thirty pounds for this show and as Christmas was well on the way (this was December 1968) we all needed the extra cash.
We did two sets that night and the student audience went wild for our music, in fact the power had to be turned off in the early hours of the morning to stop us from playing any more, we must have played 'Maggie' at least five times.