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Charlie Patton painting © Copyright 2004 Loz Arkle
Painting © 2004 Loz Arkle

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Hero. Legend. Good Bloke.
John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

Red Lick Records



 

 

A few details about me, how I got into the Blues as a teenager, how my passion for the Blues grew over the years, and how I came to build the early blues website...

Birthplace - Worcestershire, England

I was born on 6th May 1949 at Thorney Cottage, Brotheridge Green, Upton upon Severn, Worcestershire, UK, a very historic and pretty old town next to the River Severn, now home to one of the finest annual blues festivals in the UK. Of course when I popped into the world there were still many of the old blues singers still going strong in the US, but in the deep rural countryside of Worcestershire in the 1950’s, no chance of growing up listening to blues music there! When I was still young however, my parents moved to Solihull, on the south side of Birmingham, so most of my schooldays were spent in the Birmingham area. 

Schooldays - Discovering Blues Music

As a schoolboy at Wellesbourne School, Acocks Green, Birmingham, some 50 years ago, I used to rave about the Rolling Stones – I always preferred their music and raucous style over the Beatles. I bought all their LP records and played them over and over again. My special favourites were Love in Vain, Little Red Rooster, and Prodigal Son. Why did I prefer these and who were these written by? Johnson, Dixon, and Wilkins - who were they? As a teenager in England in 1967 there were no computers, no Internet, nothing about them in the libraries and I knew no-one who could tell me who these songwriters were. Slowly I trawled the record stores in Birmingham and started to discover a few - very few - albums with titles like ‘The Rural Blues’, ‘How Blue Can You Get’ and ‘This is Blues’. I started to recognise song names but I didn’t recognise the singers – Muddy Waters – who’s he?? I invested in one or two of these ‘sampler’ albums (that’s all you could get at the time) and I was smitten – what wonderful music – I had found the Blues! From the Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Cream and John Mayall in the UK to Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Robert Wilkins and Muddy Waters in the US. This was my introduction to the Blues and I’ve been passionate about all types of Blues music ever since. About the same time I also became interested in Gospel music (as I read somewhere, Gospel and the Blues are just the flip sides of the same coin). I’m not very religious but I love the passion in the singing. 

Teenage Years - Live Blues Music at Mother’s Club, Erdington, Birmingham 

As a teenager, at that time, you were supposed to go to discos, night clubs, dancing and parties. I wasn’t for all of that. I wanted live music – blues or rhythm & blues or even rock n’roll. My good schoolfriend Bob Sumner and I were of one mind – we had to find good live music. Fortunately Birmingham had a number of venues that attracted artists and bands which we were able to see, such as Spencer Davis Group, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Deep Purple, Van Morrison, The Who, and many other major bands of the time. In addition to these one-off gigs at large venues we were looking for a blues club and we certainly found it at Mother’s Club in Erdington, Birmingham. We spotted an advert for Mothers Club in the Birmingham Evening Mail newspaper, listing names we hadn’t heard of at that time but thought it sounded just what we were looking for, so we went one Saturday night. And we continued to go three or four nights a week until the club closed down in 1971. 

Mothers was THE ‘home of good sounds’. From 1968 to 1971 the club carved a niche in the history of rock music, being voted number one venue in the world by America’s Billboard magazine! The list of artists and bands who played there (and many of whom I was fortunate to see) included:  

Pink Floyd
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
Canned Heat
Deep Purple
Joe Cocker
Fleetwood Mac
Muddy Waters
Otis Span
Free
The Who
Led Zeppelin
Richie Havens
Black Sabbath
Mississippi Fred McDowell
Johnny Shines
Jeff Beck
Traffic with Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi
Groundhogs
Elton John
Santana
Van Morrison
The Faces
Derek and the Dominoes with Eric Clapton 

A regular DJ at Mothers was John Peel.

Birmingham is regarded by many as the birthplace of heavy metal music. In the late 1960s Black Sabbath, The Move, Judas Priest and Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant and John Bonham) cut their teeth in the city's early bands such as the Band Of Joy, Balls and the Rockin' Chevrolets. At this time America's Billboard magazine declared Mothers to be "the number one rock venue in the world", later in an interview with Fused magazine, John Peel also cited it as being one of the "best nightclubs in Britain" of it's time. Pink Floyd recorded much of their album "Ummagumma" at the venue, The Who performed their musical hit "Tommy" there, Traffic staged their debut gig there alongside many early performances from Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath with ‘frontman’ Ozzy Osborne were the local band who played Mothers regularly on Wednesdays. Mothers used to be compared with the Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles regularly played. Mothers was about the same size club, but with a more ‘bluesy’ feel. By the way I saw the Beatles play at the Odeon in Birmingham in circa 1965 when I was about 16 (you could say I saw them but I couldn’t  hear them – full of screaming girls!!). After Mothers Club closed down (the owners of the site wanted to use the space as a furniture showroom - hmmmm!) Bob and I continued to go to other music venues in and around Birmingham, but it was never the same as Mothers! 

We did go to the Bath Blues Festival, or should I say ‘The Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music’ on the weekend of 27-28th June 1970. The festival started at midday on the Saturday and finished at about 6.30 am on the Monday. This was our first experience of a major music festival. A crowd of some 150,000 descending on the small town of Shepton Mallet near Bath for two days of music - flowing virtually non stop – bliss! 

The festival featured a lineup of the top American west coast and British bands of the day, including: The Byrds, Canned Heat, Colosseum, Donovan, Fairport Convention, Maynard Ferguson Big Band, Flock, Formerly Fat Harry, Keef Hartley, Hot Tuna, It's A Beautiful Day, Jefferson Airplane, Dr. John, Led Zeppelin, John Mayall, Country Joe, The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Santana, Steppenwolf, Johnny Winter, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. We were amazed by it all, especially lying in a field looking up at the stars (we had our tent pinched before we could even put it up!) listening to John Mayall – he was on stage at about 4.00am as I recall!  

Of course many of these bands and artists at the Bath Festival we had seen at Mothers Club – Colosseum, Fairport Convention, Keef Hartley, and believe it or not Led Zeppelin! How could you have seen Led Zeppelin at such a small club in a suburb of Birmingham I hear you ask. Well the Groundhogs (the original Groundhogs : Tony (T.S.) McPhee - vocals & guitar, Pete Cruickshank - bass guitar, Ken Pustelnik - drums) were billed to make one of their regular visits to Mothers and they couldn’t get there in time (stranded somewhere in Europe), so Phil Myatt (the club's promoter), decided to call up some friends for a bit of a jamming session instead – so as not to disappoint the usual capacity crowd. When Phil announced to the audience that the Groundhogs couldn’t appear, he explained his urgent phone calls and introduced on stage… Robert Plant and John Bonham (they both lived close to Birmingham at the time), so they had a jamming session to an aghast audience! 

Passion for the Blues and Gospel Music

Over the years my passion for the Blues has continued, going to see blues artists performing live whenever I could, collecting many vinyl albums and of course more recently accumulating a wealth of blues CDs. As I have a broad Blues and Gospel interest, my collection covers a wide range. If I had to list my favourites it would include (in roughly alphabetical order): 

Barbeque Bob
Big Bill Broonzy
Rev J.M. Gates
Golden Gate Quartet
John Lee Hooker
Son House
Howlin' Wolf
Mississippi John Hurt
Elmore James
Skip James
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Lonnie Johnson
Robert Johnson
Blind Willie Johnson
Leadbelly
Blind Willie McTell
Rev A.W. Nix
Charlie Patton
Ma Rainey
Bessie Smith
Frank Stokes
Washington Philips
Washboard Sam
Sister O.M. Terrell
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Muddy Waters
Geeshie Wiley
Rev Robert Wilkins 

And of the current blues artists and bands:

Tommy Allen & Johnny Hewitt
Dave Arcari
Gary Fletcher
Larry Garner
Hokie Joint
Dave Kelly
The Holmes Brothers
Kyla Brox Band
Paul Lamb & The King Snakes
Connie Lush and Blues Shouter
Mud in Your Ear
John O'Leary Band
Roadhouse
Ian Siegal
Slowburner
Mavis Staples
Ray Stubbs
The Stumble
Swampcandy
Earl Thomas
Ben Waters
Sharrie Williams

Studying and Researching the Blues

About 9-10 years ago I came across an advert for a part-time course on “An Appreciation of the Blues” at a local college which I thought would be too good to miss. This was my first meeting with my good friends Max Haymes and his brother Rex. Max was a regular part-time lecturer at Lancaster University, specialising in African-American Studies, particularly pre-war Blues music (
see Max’s details). Rex is Max’s ‘kid brother’ who plays a mean acoustic blues guitar. Max has run several part-time evening blues courses over the years and I have attended most of them (even persuading my wife, Christine, to attend one of them). I suppose at this point I should tell you the true story of the time when Max set us all a project to write an essay on a blues topic taken from a list of suggestions. Both Christine and I did our separate essays, mine was on the life of Robert Johnson (see essay and Christine’s was on Poetry and the Blues (Christine won’t let me publish her essay!). Our essays were duly marked and we both were given pass grades. However the essays were then sent to an independent assessor (this was a part-time ‘Open University’ course module). When the essays came back the assessor had upgraded Christine’s essay! I am now often reminded that Christine had a higher grade than me – and she would be the first to admit that she isn’t really a blues fanatic (she just happens to be good at poetry – my excuse!). 

Evolution of the Early Blues Website

In the year 2000 I had the idea of creating a blues website to publish interesting articles about the origins of the blues, and help promote a new blues club Max wanted to start in Lancaster. I remember the very first meeting of the club in a back room at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster. Rex played acoustic guitar, joined by Al Dean and Brendan Cronin, both also on acoustic guitar. The audience consisted of Adrian and Victoria Morris (who on subsequent meetings played bass guitar and saxophone respectively), Max, as ‘compare’ and ‘one man crowd’ (people who know Max will know what I mean!), and me as supporter and ‘official photographer’ (I cant play a single note in tune on any instrument) . The club has gone from strength to strength, at several venues in Lancaster over time, and is alive and well to this day. And what of the website? I registered the domain name www.earlyblues.com and set up the website in October 2000, initially comprising blues articles and essays, together with photos taken at Max’s Blues Club. Over the years I have added many blues related subjects, and the website has become much more diverse, which I think is good as it creates more interest. More recently I have added many of my photos of artists and bands taken at UK Blues Festivals (combining my hobby of photography and the Blues). I also have many other plans for the website, with lots of blues related material to add. But reader, you will have to be a little patient, whilst I've now taken early retirement I somehow still don’t have enough time to update the website - household chores have to be done!

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope you enjoy the website as much as I enjoy developing and maintaining it. Keep checking, I'm always adding new material.

Alan White

If you have any thoughts or comments, you can email me at alan.white@earlyblues.com
 


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