The Savages Years 1960-62 - Part Two

25 June 1962. The Savages are booked to play at Wembley Town Hall. Local resident Keith Moon was a little disappointed that night to find that Nicky Hopkins and Bernie Watson, as rumoured, had left the Savages to take up a residency with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers in Hamburg, although Keith couldn't blame them: he would have jumped at the chance himself to get out of London and play in a foreign country. No, what really got his back up was that the new guitarist was even younger that Watson, a Middlesex boy by the name of Ritchie Blackmore whose devastating runs up and down the guitar were leaving people gasping for breath (he was eventually asked to join the Savages from May to October 1962 whilst Watson and Hopkins were in Germany, and Andy Wren was back too). Keith Moon thought he could hear his life ticking away above the noise. He turned back to checking Carlo. All the budding musicians were down the front at a show like this, monitoring the movements, studying for tips. Somehow, despite his own lack of any real musical talent, Sutch always managed to surround himself with the best musicians.

 

A young Keith Moon >

Eric Clapton:

"We had our heroes. The band, then, we were all trying to sound like... was it The Wild Ones?... what were they called... with Carlo Little and Nicky Hopkins? The Savages... that's it, yeah.  They were the band of the day, they were the band to emulate, because they used to do, you know, before Lord Sutch came on, they were like... a little blues set... and there was that fantastic Andy Rand [sic, Wren], who was a keyboard player, who would sing 'Worried Life Blues'.  It was astounding... that was our hero at the time... yeah... Carlo Little with the leopard skin drum kit (laughter)".

From an interview in British Blues Review, August 1988.

If you wanted to be a guitarist, Ritchie was your man (or boy); if you were learning the bass, you turned to Ricky Brown; if you were striving to be a singer, you didn't look to Sutch for vocal excellence but you could certainly learn a lot about working the crowd. And if you were planning on becoming a drummer, well there was really no one to compare. During 'Good Golly Miss Molly' Carlo would stand on his motorbike crash helmet to take a solo.

And somewhere towards the end of the set, his playing would get louder and louder, like an express train, until the other members would stop what they were doing to look at him quizzically, at which Carlo would go off on this solo for five or ten minutes that sounded like he's just escaped from the funny farm. The applause at the end of it convinced Keith he'd been right not to go after the guitar or bass like everyone else: you could make it as great an impression on the drums.

After the show, the Savages were to be found holding court in the changing room, trying to get their breath back. There wasn't much chance. As always seemed to be the case, they were surrounded by potential apostles, those budding musicians who had been down the front and were desperate for pearls of wisdom to fall from their spiritual leaders' lips that they could take back to their own cover bands (these included from time to time various members of bands who later became The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Led Zepplin, etc.) Most of these hopefuls, however, would never successfully emulate their heroes because they didn't have the guts, as the Savages did, to turn their backs on the Shadows' instrumentals, the neatly tailored suits and carefully choreographed stage moves of the day and let rip into real rock 'n' roll, with all the blood, sweat and tears demanded of it. But that night Keith Moon walked backstage with his friend, waited for the right moment, and then approached Carlo Little, eight years his senior, twice his size, and the best drummer he had ever seen in the flesh. 

The original Savages >

He introduced himself. And then he asked Carlo Little for drum lessons. Carlo looked down on this kid with the 'bumfreezer' brown jacket and greasy hair that sat incongruously atop such a cherubic face. The kid didn't look strong enough to hold a pair of drum sticks. "I'm not a teacher, mate," he said eventually. "I'm self-taught. I could probably do with some lessons meself." "No," said the boy, "You're fantastic. You really are. Me and my friend come and see you all the time. The way you hit the bass drum..." Carlo thought about it for a minute. "Where do you live?" he asked the boy. "Chaplin Road." That wasn't far from his own place at Sudbury at the end of the Harrow Road. Carlo thought about it some more. He wouldn't have minded having someone teach him when he was the boy's age. Every penny came in handy when you were devoting yourself to something as unstable as rock'n'roll. "I can only teach you what I know," he said by way of agreeing. "Ten bob for thirty minutes. Wednesday at seven. Here's the address."

Gerry Evans never ceased to be amazed at his friend's audacity. He could never have dared ask the great Carlo Little for lessons, even though he dealt with so many famous drummers at Paramount on a daily basis. And that's why, as Wednesday approached and Keith suggested that Evans come along with him, Gerry balked. Carlo was a frightening bloke. He looked like a gypsy. Who knew what he was going to do once he got him in his lair? And besides, Gerry could already play the drums. It was Keith who needed the lessons. Keith, who had such a terrible problem holding on to the £4 wages he was earning at Ultra Electronics every week that the 10 shillings for the lesson had started to look expensive, then had another idea. "He said, 'Tell you what,' " recalled Gerry. " 'I'll go in and have the lesson, then I'll come out and tell you all about it and you give me half a crown.' That way I was getting the lesson, second hand, for half a crown, and Keith actually got the lesson for seven and six."

 

The Savages 'uniform' was orange shirt, black trousers and white boots >

Carlo Little never knew there was another potential student hanging round outside his house on the Harrow Road. He just set up his kit in the front room - "I didn't care about the neighbours, they just got used to it" - and when the doorbell rang, he opened it to find one diminutive, somewhat shy boy at his doorstep. "Here's your money," Keith said before he was half way in. Carlo mumbled something again about not being a teacher. He felt guilty about taking ten shillings from a 15-year-old but then again, he didn't play for free. He sat the boy down at the kit and struggled to contain a laugh. The lad would have been small for any kit, but framed by Carlo's drums - a 24" bass instead of the standard 20", a 14" snare rather than a 12", and two equally over-sized tom-toms - he was almost invisible. 

Carlo asked Keith to show him what he could do. It wasn't very impressive. "He was just a lad fumbling, trying to play. I said, 'Right, this is what you should be doing. I can only show you, mind, I can't do it for you. You go home, remember what you've been shown, practise and practise and come back next week and I'll show you some more.' " While Carlo tried to explain, in layman's terms, which were all he knew, what a paradiddle was, how it enabled a marching drummer to lift alternate arms at the top of the beat despite maintaining a continuous roll, Gerry Evans paced up and down the Sudbury section of the Harrow Road. He should have come on the scooter he'd bought when he'd turned 16 earlier in the year, then he could have gone home for a while, he thought...At least it was summer, and warm outside. The lesson was taking a while, though. It had been almost an hour. What was Carlo doing to his friend?

Dave and Keith in 1971 >

Keith went back to Carlo for lessons several more times. "He was keen and eager," recalls Carlo. "I remember he came back one week and he'd got off what I'd shown him. So he was obviously listening to what I was telling him." The usually irrepressible Keith was unusually intimidated by his teacher, who remembers him being polite and ordinary - and focused. "When we talked it wasn't for more than a few minutes, and it was always about the drums." Carlo was glad to see his one and only student coming along, but compared to the standards that Carlo had set himself, he remained unimpressed by the boy's skills. "I thought nothing more of it, just a young lad called Keith." (Much of this section of text was reproduced from Tony Fletcher's book 'Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon')

Eventually Keith emerged from Carlo's house ecstatic. "I've got it!" he exclaimed, as if he'd been given the holy grail itself, and the pair of them ran back to Chaplin Road so Keith could show Gerry everything he'd learned before he might forget it. Up in his room, Keith sat himself at his blue Premier kit -  which looked awful small all of a sudden - and started to play for Gerry. You didn't just tap the bass gingerly on the beat like they'd been previously been doing, he explained. You hit it double time - and double hard - on the beat, and then off the beat again, and then here again, and there again...It was the rudiments of syncopation married with the energy of hard rock, and as he tried to emulate their hero, Keith fell off the beat completely. He hit the snare extra loud in frustration and almost tore the skin. He didn't have it yet. But the roots had been sown. "That was what put Keith on the right road," said Gerry almost 35 years later. "He realised that if he could put the bass drum together, it would be the whole foundation of any band he would be in, because all the other drummers were hardly tapping the bass drum. That was the turning point, and that was for ten shillings." Or six or seven, counting Gerry's contribution.

Don't You Just Know It, 1963

Bernie, Carlo, Rick, Dave, Nicky

Good Golly Miss Molly, 1961

Tony Dangerfield - The Savages, bass, 1964:

"We couldn't get hit singles but I don't know where we could have found one from! We were too cult. 'The Ripper' is about as commercial as we could have got. We once or twice went in and did things with Joe Meek that were sort of bordering on commerical, but it didn't work. Nobody had the heart. It could have blown the whole thing if we had a hit record, you know? The mystique would have gone.

The Liverpool bands were on the same bill as us but we completely blew them away, even with their hit records. Pretty boys in suits couldn't follow that. We got banned from a lot of big chains of ballrooms, due to the act. But we never ran out of work." - From Unknown Legends of Rock'N'Roll by Richie Unterberger, 1998.

Photos above, early 1960s. Dave Sutch and The Savages performing in a British town near you.

Photo below. mid 1960s. Left to right: John Bedder, Ritchie Blackmore, Carlo Little, Rick Brown, Dave Sutch.

** 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!

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