KATMANDU : A CASE FOR THE BLUES
Over twenty years on from its initial recording dates (December 1983) and to it’s conclusion by mixing two months later (February 1984) the album 'A Case For The Blues' is still receiving plaudits from blues fans world-wide when checking it out, sadly it was by usually finding it bargain bin sales. That was until it’s splendid mixing, re-packaging and release by the Snapper label in 2000.
In Ray Dorset (a.k.a; Mungo Jerry), Peter Green the onetime founder and leader of the blues era Fleetwood Mac and Vincent Crane, a more than integral part of Atomic Rooster, you had three players who knew their blues inside out.
How it came about is a story in itself, but first we must start with the musical pedigree of the three main players;
Ray Dorset was the singer, guitarist and songwriter with the group Mungo Jerry and after two hit-making years and the disbanding of the original line-up the record company, Pye, decided that indeed Ray Dorset was Mungo Jerry.
Mungo played blues/rock and Skiffle in a carefree manner, it was music to get involved with and not to be taken too seriously. This was proved at Hollywood Music Festival in Newcastle under Lyme, on the Whitsun bank holiday weekend of May 1970. Mungo, came, saw and conquered over the likes of the Grateful Dead, Free, Black Sabbath, Traffic and Ginger Baker's Airforce, because as the Melody Maker review of the festival stated “Mungo Jerry were the only band who let the audience use them, rather than vice versa. The bonfires were burning brightly on the hills, and the assembled crowd of over 30,000 accompanied the band by banging coke tins together until the sound heard from a few hundred yards away was like a very groovy scrap yard working overtime.” Mungo Jerry entered the festival as semi-professional musicians and only got the billing because the band’s management Red Bus had organised the whole event. They left the stage on the Sunday night after being called back to do another spot after the roaring success of their Saturday slot, to find that the newly-released maxi-single 'In The Summertime' had been voted song of the weekend. Within two weeks this was confirmed by the start of a seven-week stint at No 1 in the UK singles chart, and in less than six weeks it was to be top of the charts in every major record selling territory world-wide. In the U.S. although it was listed at No 2 in the Billboard & Cashbox Charts it did make the top spot in the World Record Chart. 'In The Summertime' went on to sell over six million copies in its first year of release, and has to date sold over a staggering thirty million copies. It is now officially the most successful summer song ever!
Following such a mega successful debut could indeed be a hard act to follow, but follow it Mungo Jerry did. With two Top twenty albums 'Mungo Jerry' & 'Electronically Tested', and seven UK Top 40 singles including a second No 1, the riff-rocking 'Baby Jump'. By the early eighties the UK and several European hits had dried up, but Ray Dorset was still actively gigging & touring with various assembled musicians from the ranks of such bands as Chicken Shack, Spooky Tooth, Love Affair, Savoy Brown, Fat Mattress and Camel passing through the ranks, meaning whatever direction Dorset wanted to take his band, he had the talent around him to do so. Ray Dorset was now living in a huge house in Grayshott on the Surrey / Hampshire border and in the grounds he had his own Satellite recording studios, which he had built to help give new talent a foothold on the recording ladder. He also used the studio and his previous home studio in Rushmore to enable him to take on his own music projects that took his fancy. One of these projects was a blues band that he fronted, The Insiders, with whom he could record without the pressure of having to try to come up with a hit, and play gigs without needing to perform them. Some of the best product that Ray was involved with at that time came out of those sessions - until a chance meeting one night with Chris Holland who had put together a couple of tours for Peter Green’s current band Kolors...
Peter Green was the founder member and leader of Fleetwood Mac, in fact the band’s first name was Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. They topped the bill at their first gig, the National Jazz and Blues Festival held in Windsor in 1967, and were soon signed to Mike Vernon’s Blue Horizon label, recording several hit albums and singles including 'Need Your Love So Bad', 'Albatross', 'Oh Well' and 'The Green Manalishi'. But to imply that the band was a hit making machine would be an insult. They were at the forefront of the British Blues Boom and Green’s haunting guitar was indeed one of the highlights of this period. The fact that he replaced Eric Clapton as guitarist in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and was accepted without a murmur speaks volumes for the mans talent. It is strongly argued in blues circles as to which of the first two Mac albums is the definitive, but any self-respecting record collection should contain both the eponymous 'Dustbin Cover', (thus known because of the sleeve design) and 'Mr.Wonderful'. If you have never checked them out, do so now.
By 1970, Peter Green was increasingly disillusioned with his part in the music biz, because to him that was largely all it had become - purely and simply a business. He still wanted to play music, while spurning the money-making machine that he felt he was becoming. Much has been said and written as to what turned Peter’s head at this time; it was to change his personality both to and for the rest of his life. But basically he wanted out, and in May 1970 he announced to a stunned management and band personnel on a tour bus in USA, that he was leaving Fleetwood Mac for good. He honoured his commitment to see out the tour and at the same time as Mungo Jerry were jet-setting the world with the beginnings of their star status, Peter Green was saying goodbye to his and spending most of the next ten years as a recluse with finger nails so long, guitar playing was impossible...
Vincent Crane, started with his first success as keyboard player for the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown in the late 60s and co-wrote with Brown the hit 'Fire'. He quit the “Crazy World”, which indeed the band had become, while touring the USA in 1969. With drummer Carl Palmer (later co-founder of Emerson Lake and Palmer) he went on to form Atomic Rooster, and it was assumed that their new group would achieve sustained success. Starting off at the height of the UK progressive rock boom, Atomic Rooster recorded the acclaimed 'Death Walks Behind You' album in 1970 and with this riff-laden yet catchy style had hit singles with, 'Tomorrow Night' and 'The Devil's Answer'. Internal disagreements resulted in several line-up changes and after a final throw of the dice when Crane recruited blue-eyed soul singer Chris Farlowe in 1974, Vincent kicked Atomic Rooster into touch not long afterwards. He starred briefly once again behind the ivories with Arthur Brown and even tried to re-ignite the Rooster, but the success that was once enjoyed by leaving the stage at a festival in Germany and having Deep Purple refusing to follow, and Free being plagued by chants of “Rooster, Rooster” throughout their set, was never to return. In 1983 he accepted an invitation to record and tour with Dexy's Midnight Runners and starred alongside Kevin Rowland on the musically acclaimed album 'Don't Stand Me Down', but his final music fulfilment was to follow, his indeed would be a case for the blues...
Fast forward, England, December 1983...
The idea of Dorset, Green and Crane recording together came about after a couple of chance meetings, the first after a gig at the Winter Gardens, Bournemouth, where Ray Dorset met up with tour manager Chris Holland and later at a Christmas party on Richard Branson’s Virgin Barge Studio, when Len Surtees who would play bass on the album and was at the Winter Gardens with Ray, was introduced to Jeff Whitaker and Vincent Crane by Chris. Percussionist Jeff was looking for a different type of gig for himself and Peter Green as their band Kolors was coming to the end of their shelf life at the time. It was agreed that they all meet up a few days later at Ray’s Satellite studios, which was being built at the bottom of his garden at his home in Surrey. “It started off really as a jam thing in the beginning” recalls Ray “Peter was not the easiest person to get along with at first, but I had met him before in the United States in 1970 and our chat developed from there. I was also in the audience at the Windsor festival in 1967, also I had attended the same school as Len Surtees and as musicians you talked as you jammed, in fact I remember a conversation at Southall Grammar with Les who was in the same class as me about the rock merits of Chuck Berry’s, 'Schooldays', a favourite for both of us”.
After a break for Christmas, everybody returned early in the New Year and a musical vibe was again quickly formed. Ray Dorset took overall control of the proceedings, but everybody was welcome to input ideas. The studio engineer was Ken Marshall who at the time was also playing guitar in the Mungo Jerry band. Songs were recorded after rehearsals directly live onto tape, and in some cases where Peter felt more could be achieved after song-writing sessions in his Richmond home, before returning to the studio the next day to lay them down on tape. The whole thing turned into a comfortable musical groove with no external record company pressure to come up with a hit-making pattern. People who were happy with each other as musicians were playing the blues and the sounds were a mixture of rhythm, blues, soul and afro-Caribbean beats.
Peter Green really enjoyed the experience, and it is one of his favourite if not favourite post-Mac albums. He often compared the recording with his mid 90’s product of his Splinter Group and their album 'Destiny Road' citing two of Dorset’s songs from the sessions 'One More Night Without You' and 'Blowing All My Troubles Away' as his inspiration for the use of female backing vocals and keyboards for that album. Even so, to start with Peter needed a lot of nudging and encouragement to get him in the mood, but Jeff Whittaker was quick to point out, "that whatever he did musically he needed to feel wanted, and would sooner underplay his guitar parts so as not to stand out in the crowd". Ray Dorset added, "Peter is one of the greats, who can say it all with just one note, after hearing that one note you knew it was Peter Green". After the initial settling in period, Green was up and away and would often like to start warm-ups with 'Crying Won't Bring You Back' from his 'Little Dreamer' solo album. In fact he enjoyed these jam sessions so much that he would often sit behind the drum kit as well. The fact that Peter would play drums during warm-ups was no slight on the drummer that the band used, session drummer Greg Terry-Short, in fact Greg went on to sit on the stool for Peter Green in Kolors 2, his follow up band. Ray knew Greg from his session work at the Rock City Studio at the Shepperton Film complex, where Ray had offices for his Satellite and Kosmic labels which he had set up for up and coming new bands. Of the other musicians Len Surtees was a member of the Nashville Teens and had done some work with Greg on an album for bluesman Jackie Lynton. Percussionist Jeff Whittaker had been a member of Crosby Still & Nash and had come up with the lyric idea and played on the hit 'Love The One You're With', as well as playing in the hit West End musical 'Catch My Soul', and being in a pre-Pink Floyd band with Dave Gilmour.
"Musically it started to come together quite quickly", recalled Ray Dorset "the fact that we were all from a similar music background, having been regular members of the Ricky Tick circuit during the beat boom. I used to lead a band in the early 60’s that shared a residency with the Rolling Stones at the Station Hotel in Richmond and I had shared the stage with the likes of Eric Clapton and Ritchie Blackmore and their early bands. Peter of course had done his bit with Peter Bardens in Peter B’s Looners and also The Muscrats, where at one spell the drummer was Dave Bidwell who later went on to perform with Chicken Shack before joining me behind the drum stool in my Mungo Jerry band".
Sadly in 1989, Vincent Crane committed suicide and so cannot speak for himself about his past career, so part of his story is taken up by his old sparing partner "The God of Hell and Fire". Arthur Brown recalls that "Vincent was a brilliant, classically trained musician with an immaculate taste in music, in fact when we used to play the Speakeasy in London (which had become a fashionable haunt for the Rolling Stones), Mick & the guys were quite bemused by our set". This was before the Stones 'Satanic Majesties' LP, which owed more than a little to the ‘Crazy World’s style of art-rock. Brown also remembers that "During our first American tour supporting The Doors and Frank Zappa, Vincent suddenly developed a James Brown vibe, and buys all his albums and plays them constantly. In fact he starts to go over the top. He begins to speak in numbers - ‘You’re the one. Two. Arthur three, Four. Maybe five’. And there was an aggressive undercurrent about it. We thought someone had spiked him. But it turned out he was a manic depressive".
On the Crazy World’s next tour of the States, Carl Palmer had taken over on drums and along with Vincent and Arthur was asked by non other than the mighty Jimi Hendrix to form a new band. "We used to play a New York club called The Scene, and Hendrix used to come down. We got to know each other a little bit and he’d come up and jam with us. He’d play bass, he’d never sing even when asked. He hated singing, but he was a f*****g great bass player! He wanted badly to be in a band with Vincent Crane. With a whole idea of screens, and tapes of Wagner playing in the background in fact he could focus on anything musical".
Jeannie Crane, Vincent’s widow remembers that he was "very excited by the prospect of recording with the others especially Ray & Peter and of terrifying car journeys to and from the studio during a very snowy/icy winter".
For many followers of the blues it became apparent that the careers of Mungo Jerry, Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack and Savoy Brown had crossed many paths and had become intertwined in many different ways. Members criss-crossed the bands with alarming regularity and it was amazing that it took two of the main players Ray Dorset & Peter Green, so long to find themselves in a recording studio together, and standing on the balcony of Ray’s house which literally overlooked the communal Fleetwood Mac country manor in Benifold, it would have been very interesting to be a fly on the wall on any tell-tales taking place. "Peter fell in love with my house and at one time was very interested in buying it, but I was having trouble with one of the roofs and it didn’t go ahead. We used to buy-in Chinese and Indian foods which kept Peter happy, and also one of the girl backing singers that we used had big boobs and that kept the smile on his face".
Studio engineer Ken Marshall recalls, "The atmosphere was relaxed, I got the feeling all enjoyed doing it, Ray took overall control. I don’t think much would have of got finished if he hadn’t. Jeff Whittaker became Peter’s middle-man, Peter didn’t like hassle and Jeff would step in to say what he felt Peter wouldn’t be happy with". Ken remembers the set-up consisting of "a 16-track studio, recording on two-inch tape and Peter and Ray using my Lab Series as their main amp. Vincent had a Leslie amp which Peter liked the sound of and put his guitar through it a couple of times". The guitars used during the sessions were Peter’s 1960s Framus Nashville and Ray’s Fender Strat and Gibson Les Paul Custom. Ray’s Strat was the red one he used on 'BABY JUMP' and other hits, his original red strat was stolen from Pye recording studios after the recording of 'In The Summertime'. Peter liked the feel of it and would also often use it during sessions. "We used to keep the tapes rolling and edited the best takes for the album, some of the out-takes not used are stunning. These guys were very experienced and learned me a lot, Peter needed the most coaxing to do another take and his favourite saying was” ‘the first take is always the sweetest’. Ray on the other hand could do it over and over, until coming up with that all-important one. Which very often would be the first take. Lying around in Ray’s current studio set-up must be some of those amazing jams".
Insert the CD - A CASE FOR THE BLUES
DUST MY BROOM
The old Elmore James blues-standard. Ray wanted this one to start off the album. One of the reasons being it featured Peter Green’s vocal, a rare thing at that time, and it only came about because Jeff for once pushed Peter into doing it. Peter may have only agreed because it was one of his favourites.
ONE MORE NIGHT WITHOUT YOU
A Ray Dorset song and like the other two on the album, was written some time before. Which is something Ray is renowned for, taking years to transfer one of his demo ideas to recording. Peters guitar in the instrumental break features his trademark behind-the-beat phasing. Backed by Ray’s quirky rhythm guitar it ends up as a kind of colourful ‘soul/blues’.
CRANE'S TRAIN BOOGIE
Written and featuring the ivory skills of Vincent Crane’s boogie-woogie style with Peter Green on drums. Very much done on the spot. Listen out for the Keith Moon style crash cymbals, but some very nice neat jazz-like rolls and shuffles on the snare. Vincent in real-life was a great storyteller and very much brings this talent to life in a talking instrumental. Ray Dorset plays some forceful bass guitar in trying to follow Peter’s lead.
BOOGIE ALL THE WAY
The only track of Dorset’s that had been issued before on a Mungo Jerry Polydor label album, Ray loves to get a Sun Studios feel to certain songs and it works well with this one. He also blows some nice harp and is underrated in this department.
ZULU GONE WEST
Jeff Whittaker’s main contribution to the LP. Using virtually every piece of percussion available to him, he leans heavily on his Caribbean roots of Jamaica to get this African sound just right. Both Peter and Ray are lovers of afro/Caribbean sounds and take a back seat for this musical vibe.
BLOWING ALL MY TROUBLES AWAY
Ray’s haunting tale of a lover ending up as a murderer and swinging for the crime he has committed. A smokey blues style vocal from Dorset adds to the tension and it is clearly one of the favourites of all involved with the making of the project. Peter Green still talks about this song today.
A Peter Green arrangement with the percussion work coming from Jeff Whittaker. Green has his fun with his guitar phasing making a little go a long way, aiding it with some powerful blues harp.
Rock'n roll and groupies go together like fish an’ chips and Morecambe & Wise. Vincent had many a tale to tell during the recording of this star struck inspired song. Vincent’s vocals while the others mainly supplied a nod and a wink.
WHO'S THAT KNOCKING
The story behind this number is sad, it tells the tale of Peter’s fears when living as a recluse in his Richmond home some time before, kids ‘knocking and running, throwing stones at his windows and silent phone calls’. Vincent mainly wrote the lyrics, which showed that conversations had become both deep and personal during the breaks in recording. It took a long time to record compared to most of the other tracks, and is credited as a joint Crane/Dorset/Green composition. The blues-rock feel of the backing groove added to the sound, and Peter considers it to be the one that he would of most like to record again in the future because he can still hear its freshness.
The title track of the album, mainly associated with Jeff Whittaker as he got the rap-feel going and named the song after the 'Case For The Blues'. Which was his way of laughing off the time that he left his business briefcase back at Vincent Crane's house in Little Venice. They had to turn back for it in the car as they neared the studio as it contained some important papers for Peter Green to sign.
Eject or replay?
During the sessions for the project Mungo Jerry guitarist Tim Green became involved. Tim had played some stylish bottleneck guitar for Mungo in the mid 70’s, joining the band along with fellow members of the group Rock Island Line who had starred in the David Essex, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr movie ‘That’ll Be The Day’. Rock Island Line had supported Mungo Jerry on a couple of tours and the idea of teaming up with Ray became according to Tim “a dream come true”. Tim takes up the story “after leaving Mungo in 1978 I moved to Germany where I was getting increasingly involved in publishing and production as well as playing the odd gig. In early January 1984 I was visiting Ray at home on some completely other business and Ray told me about the sessions that he was recording with Vincent and Peter. I immediately thought that the idea of a kind of definitive British Blues album would be something that a lot of music fans would be interested in. Peter’s guitar, Ray’s great vocals and harmonica and Vincent’s boogie piano. I told Ray that I could be constructive in obtaining a record deal. I contacted at that point in time a label partner in Switzerland who was a Peter Green fan and who was immediately interested in releasing the album. After a lot of legal wrangling, a couple of trips to Switzerland, and some very expensive telephone calls between Peter Green’s lawyer and the record company, the deal was finally settled and the original album was released on vinyl.
Ray Dorset remembers, “on completion of the recordings Tim & myself flew to Switzerland to deliver the tapes. We flew on a brand new plane, whose baggage doors locked up on arrival and our baggage had to be delivered to our hotel later. The deal was actually sorted out at midem and we were invited to meet the other record company owners at a party they were hosting, also on a boat, which took us back to where it very first started”. Tim Green offered the following thoughts from his current home in Berlin “the great thing about the album is the session character that it has. If a major label had been involved I feel that the creativity would have been wiped out. It would have been nice to develop the project further, but with the death of Vincent and other factors it never moved on. Nevertheless 'A Case For The Blues' still remains one of those very interesting albums”.
By using such a small label the album then became one of brit-blues best kept secrets for years to come. And for an album that was both melodic and fresh with a great twist of percussive blues it was a shame and pity. But, the players involved were not overly concerned by this. Ray Dorset takes over with his thoughts “ We could have gone to a major record company with the idea and they would have hyped it with a major budget. But with that we would of given away the freedom we had to move at our own pace. We would have had to contend with deadlines and interference and our laid-back approach would have been quickly lost”. Jeff Whittaker felt that “Peter would not have been happy with a major deal, he hated business and hassle”. In the Peter Green biography, 'Peter Green The Founder Of Fleetwood Mac', Martin Celmins the author points out, ‘While making the album gave Peter a boost, the business side of things increasingly left him cold. It seemed as though each new project, each fresh line-up of musicians, brought with it legal and financial complexities ….bringing him full circle….back to the days of Fleetwood Mac when money-making always spoiled the music’ So when it came to dividing the spoils, according to Jeff “It spoiled the gig, and very soon he realised that Ray Dorset could be a businessman too”.
Jeannie Crane thoughts were different, “Vincent wanted to get back together with Peter and Ray and do a follow-up, but then he went through one of his manic phases and had a breakdown”. Ray Dorset remembers Vincent getting back in touch “to ask me would I consider it, he told me Peter would do it if I was in the band. I said yes, and not long afterwards Vincent came to see me in the studio and he had spoken to Peter over the phone and it was on”. Sadly before it could happen in 1989 Vincent Crane committed suicide.
Random shuffle...hiding in the vaults should be at least sixty minutes of a jam rehearsal. Reviewed in the Mungo Jerry fanzine Mun-Go For It
Starting off with, 'Let's Get Started' (who makes these decisions?) which is much closer to a live Mungo sound than the rather sterile vinyl version issued. It has a groove that feels good and apart from distorted bass lines, could be released as it is. Peter Green underplays his guitar parts, which according to his devotees is something he likes to do. It makes the song more laidback, nice sprinkling of piano too by Vincent Crane. Ray Dorset uses that growl vocal that seems to stem from his boots.
What you would think was, 'Knocking On Heaven's Door' is next before it settles into a song called 'One Sided Love' (?), which is one of those numbers you feel you should know, Bob Dylan maybe? It has the same sort of good-time feel as “Started” and Dorset seems to be making up the lyrics as he goes along, snippets from, 'Shadow Of The Trees', 'Night On The Town' and 'Something On My Mind'. If this were a ‘Super Group’ with the likes of Jim Morrison and John Lennon, it would be documented as pure genius. It fades just as you want it to go on forever. 'Rock Me Mama', the bass line is un-distorted for the first time; I defy you not to tap to the beat. Ray screams “take it down a little bit”, “stay on the E”, “nice & slow” and the band obliges each time, you can almost see the nodding of approving heads. And it ends with the Mungo Jerry live shows, “and I went down to the railway track and the rain came down - Ow - Whooh!!!”. Simply put, bloody great!
Next is 'Dust Pneumonia Blues' replacing Colin Earl’s boogie piano with Peter Green’s guitar, it’s more upbeat, rather like Mungo’s version of 'I Just Wanna Make Love To You'. Remember Mungo performing 'She Loves Me Like A Woman' live?. Well add Peter Green on guitar and it becomes pure heaven. Nice forceful bass lines turn it into 'There's a Light Shining In The Sky' and then a reggae beat and back out again. 'Gone To Malaya' finishes it off, Mungo’s album track comes alive and even has a bit of 'Riders On The Storm' thrown in.
One day this will get an official issue and you can be your own judge, but the jury may well have beaten you to it and will surely be in contempt of court for not bringing a unanimous verdict of guilty as charged, this most certainly is a 'A Case For The Blues'.
Derek Wadeson 2004.