Tag Archives: Mick Jagger

The Deity of British Blues – Alexis Korner

8 Sep

Alexis Korner

Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, Ma Rainey, Big Bill Broonzy – Names that are forever linked with their god-like status among the propagation of American Blues – an extensive genre that had an indelible impact on the future molding of rock ‘n’ roll.

On the other side of the pond, British jazz musicians and fans became ensconced with the Blues music of musicians like Ma Rainey and Fats Waller, acquiring much of these tunes from African-American GIs stationed there during the Wars. After the Skiffle craze died down in the 1950s, many Skiffle-influenced musicians turned their attention to pure Blues music. Muddy Waters had a shocking electric (literally) visit to England where he shocked Brits with his amplified electric blues. Some were appalled by his lack of reverence for the classic style, but the youth ate up this edgy playing. Among them was a guitarist by the name of Alexis Korner, who, like the Blues ancestors above, would spark a focus on Blues in Britain and influence a slew of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest musicians. Thus, he too should be considered a true Blues god, and it should come to no surprise that he is often given the moniker of the “Father of British Blues.”

Korner’s elaborate music history is extensive and impactful. It is not easy to keep the plenitude of anecdotes to a minimum, but for the sake of the reader I shall limit my focus to a few stories. Like, for example, in 1969 while touring with a new band, Korner was jamming with a little-known singer named Robert Plant. Jimmy Page, who often performed with Korner at the Marquee Club, was intrigued by Plant’s voice and asked him to join The New Yardbirds…who would soon turn into a rock band called Led Zeppelin with Page and Plant at the helm.

But I am getting ahead of myself. That was in the late 60s. Korner’s career (even though he dabbled in Skiffle) really began in 1961 when he founded Blues Incorporated with Blues harmonica extraordinaire Cyril Davies. Blues Incorporated (like The Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and Cyril Davies’ All-Stars) was an early example of a “supergroup.” But, in truth, it was just a platform for talented blues musicians to play music. Blues Incorporated, though, has the special mark as the first electrified Blues band in Britain. The band secured a residency at the Marquee (mentioned above) and even established an R&B Night at Ealing Jazz Club.

Remember what I said about the youth loving electrified Blues music? Well, where do you think they went to hear this music? And who do you think inspired them to pursue this music? So when I tell you that Korner played with musicians like Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Paul Jones, Eric Burdon, and many, many others, you should not be too surprised. Most of the early Blues musicians in Britain are linked with Alexis Korner in some way. He is like the Kevin Bacon of British Blues. And when Cyril Davies left Korner to form his All-Stars he played with musicians like Nicky Hopkins and Long John Baldry until he died far too young in 1964. The All-Stars were led by Baldry who created Hoochie Coochie Man, featuring a singer named Rod Stewart. Page also had a few All-Stars jam sessions, adding individuals like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, and Mick Jagger to the mix.

But back to Korner for one more story before I urge you to watch this documentary about him.

Blues Incorporated was asked by BBC radio to broadcast a session in the early 60s, but the producer only had room for six musicians. The seventh member of the group with a singer named Mick Jagger. Jagger was asked to gather some friends and play the normal spot at the Marquee. The friends he gathered were Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Ian Stewart on piano, Dick Taylor on bass and Tony Chapman on drums. The band went by the name of  Rollin’ Stones after a Muddy Waters tune.

Cyril Davies on vocals and harmonica. Alexis Korner playing a mean acoustic guitar. Released in November, 1962.

Planting the Seeds: The story of Sky Saxon and the Seeds

11 Oct

The Seeds

The Seeds is a band that teeters on the line between obscure and known. I’m not sure where to place them myself. While I do think it is safe to say that many have not heard of this garage rock pioneer, the band may be a little too known to be classified in this obscure category. I’m arguing pedantic semantics with myself. The reason I want to include The Seeds in this Tuesday’s “Obscure Classic Rock” is because I featured David Peel and the Lower East Side Band last week. As you may remember (and if you don’t click here to view last week’s post), I labeled Peel as an inspirational pre-Punk force. The Seeds, with their blend of angsty garage rock and bouncy beats, do fit the description of a band that planted the seeds for Punk rock. Pun very much intended. So for the second week in a row we focus on a pre-Punk performer, but this time we enter into an earlier realm of mid-60s rock n’ roll.

When you explore the premiere early roots of Punk rock bands like the Kinks, the Who, and the Small Faces are mentioned. These are bands that started developing the fast-paced, strained pop sound that Punk became known for in the 70s with the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie, Louie” (1963) is aptly cited as the first proclamation of Punk. The song even sparked an ill-informed FBI investigation over the non-existent obscenities that are not in the song. When I look at the early stages of Punk music, though, I quickly look at the impact of Mick Jagger. His carefree, over-sexualized, Elvis-on-acid-inspired on-stage pelvic movements clearly inspired performers like Iggy Pop and a little-known singer named Richard Marsh, better known as Sky Saxon of The Seeds.

To some, Sky Saxon is a cheap Mick Jagger impressionist, but I think he something much more than this. Saxon formed the Seeds with keyboardist Daryl Hooper, guitarists Jan Savage and Jeremy Levine (who left the band because of personal reasons shortly after the first recording session) and drummer Rick Andridge. Sky is credited as the bassist and in one of the videos below he is playing an egg-shaped fire-red bass guitar, but he did not play bass during recording sessions. Instead, Hooper, much-like Ray Manzarek did with the Doors, played a keyboard bass.

The band released their first single “Can’t Seem to Make you Mine” in 1965 and it became a regional hit. The band, even though remaining most popular in southern California, reached the top 40 with their 1966 song “Pushin’ Too Hard.” After this release, they hit moderate success with a few other singles, but their popularity slid and by the end of the 60s the band was transformed with new members into Sly Saxon and the Seeds and then broke up in the early 70s. We are going to look at the band’s top two singles in this post. Both of these songs can be found on the Seeds’ eponymous debut album released in April of 1966. The album has aged well and it is now looked at as early Punk inspiration and proof that Punk existed before the 70s.

Simple repetitive melody, possessed vocal (Sky seems drugged), neat and concise keyboard solo. It’s pop. I’m not sure if we can hear Punk in this early release (even though Sky Saxon just looks and sounds ahead of his time.) The song is not grungy, but instead pretty organized and easy. It is like cool and collected garage rock mixed with sunny California pop. Keep this sound in mind and let’s move ahead a year.

What a change. Throaty-punky vocal. The guitar has the traditional 60’s twang. The keyboard is one of the most understated and interesting parts of the song. It fits, but it doesn’t fit. I can’t seem to place that quiet, even subtle sound. The tune, which clearly provides a great example of fuzzy and raw garage rock, has a rhythm that resembles Punk. I hear Protopunk in this release.

Sky Saxon’s future would involve joining a religious group in California called YaHoWha for many years. The band reunited in 1989 to headline “The Summer of Love” tour (which also included Arthur Lee and Love). In 2003, Saxon and Savage toured with other members, but Savage had to depart midway through the resulting tour. Saxon continued performing, recording and writing up to his passing on June 25, 2009.

If you click on Sky Saxon’s name above you will be linked to his official website. A tribute album featuring covers of Saxon’s songs by performers like Iggy Pop, The Bangles, The Chocolate Watchband, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Electric Prunes, will be released soon (perhaps by the end of the year) so definitely keep tabs on what will most definitely be a must listen when released.

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