The Rhythm & Blues Years 1962-1964
October 1962. The original Savages were split into two - but not for much longer. Following a spell in Hamburg, Bernie Watson and Nicky Hopkins had been sacked by Cliff Bennett. Carlo Little and Rick Brown had also broken away from Screaming Lord Sutch in a row over pay. Knowing the fact that the great Savages were now all free, the R&B club scene legend Cyril Davies approached them all about starting a new band. This became Cyril Davies & The R&B All Stars; "the best British blues band of the early '60s" - Bruce Eder, All Music Guide.
The Cyril Davies All Stars with The Velvettes
The band: Bernie Watson, Carlo Little, Cyril Davies, Long John Baldry, Rick Brown.
The Velvettes: Patience Gcwabe, Eunice Mamsie Mthomben, Hazel Futa.
The Velvettes were recruited as backing singers, completing the line-up. They were Patience Gcwabe (Princess Patience Nyameka Gcwabe aka Princess Patience Burton), Eunice Mamsie Mthombeni aka 'Mumsy', & Hazel Futa, who had come to England on tour performing with King Kong the musical from South Africa in 1961 with singer Peggy Phango. Hazel was the former Miss South Africa 1955. After King Kong she sought political asylum in Britain, fleeing from apartheid and security police. She also acted in an episode of The Saint and died unmarried in London aged 57 in 1989. Patience also sang with Sir Victor Uwaifo and The Bluenotes and other jazz artists. She married in 1969 and died in London in 1991. Mumsy married jazz musician Jonas Gwangwa in London in 1963 before returning together to South Africa.
"They were a fantastic band. Bernie Watson was the first guy I ever saw bending notes and the first I ever saw playing a twin-cutaway Gibson semi-acoustic. He always sat down with his back to the audience; never stood up... a very mysterious man" - From Pete Frame's 'Rock Family Trees of the Early Sixties - The London R&B Explosion'.
The Flamingo Jazz Club, 1952-67.
Located at 33-37 Wardour Street, Soho, London.
From November 1962 the band gigged in and around London, which was now evolving into an exciting, revolutionary music scene, packing out its music clubs and dance halls. (See Rhythm & Blues: The Birth Of British Pop). This line-up was producing a raw mixture of Chicago R&B and Rock 'n' Roll, even bettering what they had produced as The Savages, with Cyril's amazing harmonica playing and Carlo's drumming whipping the crowd into a frenzy. They secured a residency at The Marquee club, and covers included 'Got My Mojo Working'. (Click here for Marquee Set List). The other musicians on the scene were in awe:
"Ricky Fenson and Carlo Little, they were the ones who gave us the power shot... Ricky Fenson, bleached hair. His hair was black but was dyed peroxide blonde. Him and another guy called Bernie, they used to call Strawberry, the guitar player. I wish I could remember his last name. He would sit on the stage with his gloves on his head, on this peroxide thing, 'cause he had the same hairdo and Ricky Fenson. Bernie. What a guitar player. I thought, "Well, I might as well go home, this is ridiculous, this cat's so good." Cyril Davies put that band together - listen to a record called 'Country Line Special' by Cyril Davies' All-Stars, with Nicky Hopkins, Bernie, Ricky Fenson and Carlo Little... " - From biography 'Keith: Till I Roll Over Dead' by Stanley Booth.
"Monday 14th Jan, 1963: Flamingo Club. Surprise!!! Rick and Carlo played. Without a doubt the Rollin' Stones were the most fantastic group operating in the country tonight (from his diary). Rick and Carlo! Little was a killing drummer, great energy. From time to time they'd sit in with us - that's when Charlie still wasn't with us, and it's why he decided to join the band, because he heard we had this red hot rhythm section. Ricky and Carlo, if they went into a solo, they would go into turbo max. The room would take off; they almost blew us off the stage they were so good. When Carlo set into that bass drum, this is what I'm talking about. This was rock and roll! That was the first time I got three feet off the ground and into the stratosphere" - Taken from autobiography 'Life' by Keith Richards.
Hard up for a permanent drummer and bassist, the not-long formed Rolling Stones (Mick, Keith and Brian) asked Carlo and Rick to help them out with some gigs they had lined up, which they did in December and January 1962/3 (see the dates for 1962 here and 1963 here).
"Brian was quite enthralled with Carlo. He'd never heard anything like it before. Brian wanted someone flash like Carlo Little because by then Brian was starting to see dollar signs" - From 'Keith Richards: Life As a Rolling Stone'
Early 1963 letter from Brian Jones to his friend Dave Williams, mentioning Carlo and how The Stones "could do with a solid rockin' rhythm section".
From First Time We Met the Blues by David Williams, 2009.
"We used to have these other drummers, including Tony Chapman, Mick Avory, and Carlo Little... Carlo used to play these great fast eights, just like the early days of power drumming, the kind of thing that John Bonham used to play later on with Led Zeppelin. All the American drummers - DJ Fontana or JM Van Eaton, the drummer with Jerry Lee Lewis' band - were much lighter players. They came out of traditional country music backgrounds and did these little shuffles, whereas the drummers with Little Richard came from a kind of jump music background - "babadoom, babadoom" stuff - which they played very hard, and which formed the basis for drummers like Bonham and Keith Moon. When we played with Carlo Little he would put all this stuff into the band. It was very exciting to play it but Charlie had no knowledge of that so he just played with more of a jazz feel." - (from 'According To The Rolling Stones', Chronicle Books, 2003).
"The first ever performance we did was in July at the Marquee Club in London and it was billed as Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. It was just me and Keith, Brian (Jones) and a backing band. No one else – no Charlie (Watts), he wasn’t even there. I remember it exactly. I was 19 years old. Ricky Fenson on bass, Carlo Little on drums and Nicky Hopkins on piano. They all told us to **** off when we tried to hire them but it was a big deal getting a gig at the Marquee because it was the hottest London club. It was a jazz club trying to break into blues. The gig was amazing – the drummer was going mad and Nicky was rocking his electric piano and I remember the crowd going absolutely wild. I was thinking as I was singing, they obviously have to book us again, this is the most rocking gig they’ve had in the Marquee ever. But they didn’t. They didn’t let us back in there for ages because rock was working-class, rubbish music. It didn’t exist on an intellectual level like jazz. They saw the future and they didn’t like it. That was our first gig and the people we wanted to get the point just didn’t get it". Daily Mail, 10 Sept 2011.
When Brian Jones begged Carlo to stay on with the band, he couldn't do it. The Stones were still only semi-professional at the time and could not afford to pay the fees Carlo was now earning with Cyril Davies. (So hard up were Mick, Keith and Brian at that time that Carlo bought Brian's Johnny Cash records from him to provide them with enough money for food!)
Dave Sutch remembered it this way:
"The Gunnell Brothers [who ran The Flamingo Club] said to Carlo, 'What're you doing with these idiots? Because you're gonna get nowhere with these lot. You oughta stick with Sutch and Baldry and people like that you've been with, 'cause at least they headline. With that, Carlo was so embarrassed that he lent over and picked up a cigarette packet and wrote on it Charlie Watts' name and number. 'Look, I can't do any more gigs. Give my mate it, we cover for each other, he'll be ideal for you'." - From Unknown Legends of Rock 'N' Roll by Richie Unterberger, 1998.
So Carlo gave the empty cigarette packet to Brian, and a few weeks later The Rolling Stones, now complete with Charlie and Bill Wyman, were given the chance to support the All Stars in the interval on Thursday's at the Marquee, the resident spot that had now been taken over by Cyril due to the stir he and the band were creating.
"After working with Cyril Davies and his All Stars one night I had a crack at copying the 'walking bass' style of their bass player Ricky Brown (sometimes known as Ricky Fenson). I remember Brian Jones looking round at me and saying, 'Hey, that's good. Where did you get that from?' At that moment I joined The Stones on a new level... All the Stones loved the Davies band; the way they interpreted Chuck Berry's 'Deep Feeling' had to be heard to be believed" -
From his autobiography 'Bill Wyman: Stone Alone'.
Chuck Berry's 'Deep Feeling' >
The Stones performed the 20 minute break at the Marquee supporting the All Stars for about a month during January 1963, until Cyril Davies suddenly decided they weren't good enough for the rise in money they were asking for, and sacked them. Instead, he brought in Long John Baldry (an Alexis Korner protégé), and The Velvettes, three 'black chicks' who sang back-up vocals. Sometimes during the larger shows they would be brought on stage half-way through.
It was around this time that all of the major record companies were after the new R&B sound. They could see the crowds loved it; the Marquee was only supposed to hold 500 but was opening up to an incredible 1000 people. Three months after the All Star band was formed they were approached by Decca and Pye. Cyril decided to go with Pye, as they were bringing out a new label called Pye R&B Series. A session was arranged for the 27th February, 1963, at Pye's Marble Arch Studio, with Peter Knight Jr. as producer. The highlight of the live gigs had been Cyril's own 'Country Line Special', so that was the obvious choice as their first single. "It took until the thirteen take to capture the excitement that was felt in the live performances. I felt that the stuffiness of the studio situation was holding us back, so by the last take, after the guitar solo, I did a big roll round the kit and pushed the whole thing forward right to breaking point!" This was the sound they had been trying to capture, and at last they'd done it!
Hear the single Country Line Special and B side Chicago Calling
Ray Davies, singer/songwriter with The Kinks:
"Country Line Special...it's the unsung British R&B classic. It said to me, this can be done in Britain, we don't go to America to get players..." - From an interview with 'The Independent' UK newspaper, 1994.
"The record that kick-started The Kinks? 'Country Line Special', Cyril Davies and His Rhythm And Blues All-Stars (1963). I did buy that one, and it's one of the greatest records of its type ever made. It's a seminal English R'n'B track played brilliantly". - The Observer newspaper, 2006.
"...an amazing solo, all distortion. It was like Hendrix on a good night." - On Bernie Watson's contribution, from an interview in 'Trouser Press' magazine, 1978.
"I remember getting this record, which was on the jukebox in Sid’s Cafe [opposite Ealing Art College] and they put Country Line Special by the Cyril Davies group on that on that jukebox. So you would sit there with your dripping toast and your cup of steaming tea listening to this unbelievable record that was recorded down the road”. - Suburban Steps To Rockland: The Story of The Ealing Club, 2017.
The single was released to rave reviews in April 1963. People in the business were overwhelmed and excited by the record, but the general public, who were buying bland pop records such as 'Summer Holiday' by Cliff Richard, weren't quite ready yet for this new, fast and heavy R&B sound and so it did not dent the British charts. However, pirate Radio Caroline DJ Jerry Leighton used the track for his theme tune for a while and the band became hot.
The original Cyril Davies All Stars.
L-R: Nicky Hopkins, Cyril Davies, Carlo Little, Rick Brown, Bernie Watson
While the All Stars were concentrating on their growing fame, the Rolling Stones had managed to get themselves an audition on 'Jazz Club', the BBC's only R&B radio show, after Brian Jones had written a persistent letter:
102 Edith Grove
I am writing on the behalf of the 'Rollin' Stones' Rhythm and Blues band. We have noticed recently in the musical press that you are seeking fresh talent for 'Jazz Club.
We have West-End residencies at the Flamingo jazz club on Mondays, and at the Marquee jazz club on Thursdays, as well as several other suburban residencies.. We already have a large following in the London area, and in view of the recent increase of interest in Rhythm and Blues in Britain, an exceptionally good future has been predicted for us by many people.
Our front line consists of: vocal + harmonica (electric), and two guitars, supported by a rhythm section comprising bass, piano and drums. Our musical policy is is simply to produce an authentic Chicago Rhythm and Blues sound, using material of which R+B greats as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolk, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reid, and many others.
We wonder if you could possibly arrange for us an audition. We look forward eagerly to hearing from you,
Yours faithfully, Brian Jones.
But the day of the audition, 23 April 1963, fell on a week day and the now-permanent members, Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, could not get the time off their jobs to attend. Brian Jones looked again to Carlo and Rick, who would always happily oblige as long as there was a fee at the end of it! Songs including 'I'm A Hog For You Baby' (a Savages favourite) and 'I'm Moving On' were taped and later played to BBC Radio's light entertainment booking manager David Dore, who rejected the band on account that "the singer sounds too black"! (see the audition date here).
Closer to home, the All Stars were shortly never to be the same again. Nicky Hopkins became very ill in May 1963 and was not to work again until 18 months later. (When he returned to the music scene in 1965 he became the best-known session piano player in the business, playing with everyone from the Stones, Beatles - he can be heard on 'Revolution' - The Who, and many others, up until his death in 1994). Shortly after in June, fed up with Cyril's famous temper and stubbornness, Rick returned to Sutch and Bernie teamed up with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.
This left Carlo and Cyril to continue promoting 'Country Line Special' with a new line-up that consisted of Geoff Bradford (guitar), Keith Scott (piano) and Cliff Barton (bass). The All Stars #2 got to perform the song in June on 'Thank Your Lucky Stars', the main pop show in the UK, and the BBC radio show 'Saturday Club', along with a residency on TV show 'Hullabaloo' (see below - the dates for these recordings can be seen here). On 'Saturday Club', which was broadcast on 6th July 1963 and presented by Brian Matthews, the band played numbers that were "typical of what we were doing at club gigs, but in shortened versions", according to Keith Scott in a letter to this website, "as the attention span of the average Saturday Club listener was short and sharp, especially through their portable trannies". A rare home-taped recording of this radio programme reveals the Saturday Club numbers as:
See See Rider, guest vocals Long John Baldry
Country Line Special
Roberta, guest vocals Long John Baldry
Roll 'em Pete
I Got My Mojo Working, 1963
John Baldry, Cyril Davies, Carlo Little
Leave My Woman Alone, 1963
However, Carlo was not entirely happy with Cyril's insistence to play purist Blues all the time and suggested some changes to make the sound slightly more up-beat. After a row with Cyril about this he was sacked by August 1963, and returned to The Savages. Carlo was replaced by Mickey Waller, and the All-Stars #3 (see right) continued until Cyril's death from pleurisy on January 7th, 1964 (it was not leukemia like many have said). None of the All Stars had even known he was ill, although Nicky Hopkins had once heard a crash from Cyril's dressing room at the Marquee, and on going to investigate he found Cyril standing there with his fist smashed through a mirror and this look... "His eyes were really tight-shut, everything, tense in his face. You couldn't have moved him. He looked like a statue. You could see the pain in his face - not physical, but mental pain...he was built like a tank which was why I could never believe...he'd be the last person on earth you'd think would die." - From an interview with 'NME', 1974
All Stars lineup #3 with Mickey Waller on drums
Dave Davies, The Kinks:
"It was a tragedy that he didn't live to earn the acclaim he deserved, for he was a pioneer of rhythm 'n' blues in this country"
speaking to Beat Instrumental, March 1965.
Cyril Davies and The All Stars are now gone - but not forgotten. They were the pioneers of British pop. So why did they never make the big time? Carlo offered some light: "Cyril was a real blues enthusiast. Whenever we used to suggest playing something more upbeat, like in the style of Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley, the kind that really got the crowd going, he would say no. It took me weeks to convince him to let us do What I'd Say by Ray Charles, but when we did it the crowd went wild. John Baldry sung that one great with the Velvettes, but Cyril didn't really go for the commercial sound. Instead, the Stones filled the commercial R&B gap, and look where they are today...".
Rick Brown stayed with Screaming Lord Sutch for 6 more months, until January 1964, and then went on to join Steampacker, Brian Auger, and Georgie Fame until leaving the scene completely. Carlo carried on a bit longer with The Savages until May 1964. It was during this period that the Rolling Stones were really starting to make it in the charts, although they were still working hard, promoting themselves up and down the country, constantly performing the gig circuit. On 15 March, after a short holiday, the Stones' discovered that Charlie Watts had not yet returned as planned. With a gig to do in Kent, a last-minute search took place to find a competent stand-in.
Stones' associate James Phelge:
"After several names were mentioned they finally agreed that the experienced Mickey Waller would be an apt replacement if he was available. Another option was Carlo Little. Both had played with several well-known bands... either of the two would have been an adequate deputy as they both had familiarity with R&B. Mickey was currently on tour with rock star Marty Wilde but he was free that evening so he got the job". - From his autobiography 'Phelge's Stones'. More here.
In fact, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones had visited Carlo Little's house that day, to ask him about standing in for Charlie, but Carlo was away gigging with The Savages. When he returned home his mother told him that Mick Jagger had knocked for him! Therefore, it may be that they wanted Carlo first and had to make do with Mickey Waller because Carlo was away.
Long John Baldry continued with the All Stars band after Cyril's death, and re-named them The Hoochie Coochie Men. Six months after, in June 1964, Baldry asked Carlo to join. It was here he backed their second-singer Rod Stewart, and made an appearance on Granada TV show 'Scene At 6:30'. After a difference in musical opinion (Baldry, like Cyril, was a Blues purist), Carlo left and headed into the next stage of his life as the elusive Session Man...
Long John Baldry & The Hoochie Coochie Men
You'll Be Mine, 1964
Carlo on drums with Rod Stewart and
Baldry's Hoochie Coochie Men
Steampacket in 1964
with Baldry on vocals and Rick Brown on bass
Next Chapter >>
HELP NEEDED: if anyone has any information on the whereabouts of guitarist Bernie Watson or knows what became of him after leaving the Bluesbreakers, please contact us!
Cyril Davies R&B All Stars
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