Image courtesy: Tony Burke. The guy at the back in the photo is Roger not the guy with the glasses!
Empire Publications; hardback; 382 pages; index; illustrated; ISBN 1901746 909 9781901746907; £18.95
The late Roger Eagle was an enigma. Born in Oxford into a middle class family during the Second World War, like many others of his generation he became captivated by rock and roll and blues music in the 1950s. Unlike, many others he went onto live something of ‘a rock and roll lifestyle’.
Roger was major music freak. He collected records, wrote articles, edited magazines, picked up on changing music tastes before anyone else did, ran clubs, was a DJ and promoter. If it had anything to do with music Roger had been there, done it and bought the cassette (and made a copy for his mates!).
The north west of England was where he did business, in Manchester and Liverpool. He first landed in Manchester on a weekend motorcycle trip – and stayed. His mother sent his clothes in the post and he began a life of working in clubs and promoting gigs at coffee bars in the town centre.
His first big gig was at the famous Twisted Wheel, where he began to DJ - playing R&B and blues records in between sets by John Mayall, Graham Bond, Spencer Davis, the Manfred’s and visiting US artists such as Memphis Slim, Sonny Boy, John Lee Hooker and Jack Dupree.
He also edited the magazine ‘R&B Scene’ with contributions from the legendary lensman Brian Smith, and others.
The Wheel’s all night sessions music policy changed to a more urban sound – based on the driving beat of Motown, waxed for small and obscure labels by obscure artists - what we now call Northern Soul. Roger held together the all nighters at the Wheel (with other DJs) and was a major influence on the scene locally.
By 1967 he moved on and opened an underground music club in Manchester - The Magic Village, featuring newcomers such as Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, and Edgar Broughton. He also managed local Mancunian favourites Greasy Bear and promoted gigs at a larger venue, Holdsworth Hall - if I remember rightly they were ‘all-dayers’.
He was also a big fan and friend of Captain Beefheart. The good Captain even entrusted the original tapes of the disputed ‘Bat Chain Puller’ album to Roger.
One of the problems was of course that these gigs and relationships rarely made money. Subjected to the vagaries of the owners of the venues he seems to have lived a hand to mouth existence, moving to different flats and lodgings, carting with him his record collection, selling off chucks of it to make ends meet or promote gigs.
The book is based on interviews with people who new and worked with Roger. All attest his sheer dedication to his music, whether it be Bobby Bland, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Beefheart or King Tubby. He would compile tapes, share his knowledge and insist visitors to his numerous abodes listen to his latest discoveries. Hence the title.
Between 1970 and 1976 he promoted and ran gigs at a boxing venue, the Liverpool Stadium. He helped set up Probe Records in Liverpool and eventually opened Eric’s – a haven for a new wave of bands with its legendary jukebox consisting of blues, soul, rockabilly, jazz, you name it, it was on there and it spawned a classic album ‘Jukebox At Eric’s’.
By the 1980s Roger was back in Manchester promoting gigs at The International, where he featured blues artists including Albert King, Joe Louis Walker, Ann Peebles in amongst rock, reggae and jazz. He also promoted John Lee Hooker (pre ‘The Healer’) at the Free Trade Hall, lost a stack on promoting LaVern Baker at a Liverpool nightclub, managed Mick Hucknall and Simply Red, put on a great show of New Orleans R&B at an old baronial hall in North Wales featuring Earl King and Snooks Eaglin - the following year he put on Bo Diddley at the same venue.
All this time he was either living on the bones of his backside or just getting by, scrounging lifts, keeping on the move.
I didn’t seem to matter. His day job was running the International or Eric’s (both long term) - Roger just kept doing what he did – promoting, writing columns for newspapers, appearing on radio shows, making cassettes.
He was relentless in the pursuit of finding great music. Even when the music scene moved away from live bands he was ‘creating a scene” in out of the way places – one, a Thursday gig at a club in genteel Alderley Edge, Cheshire with the band appearing at ten o’clock at night! Moving to North Wales, sadly cancer eventually took him, aged 56, in 1999.
Those interviewed (many at a time when Roger was still alive and working) found him imposing, bombastic and at times exasperating, but all recognise his love of music and the music scene. Certainly he had a massive impact on the development of music scene in North West England.
Author Bill Sykes has edited hours of interviews with friends and music biz types and there some great stories about Screamin’ Jay; Sonny Boy Williamson and lady from Liverpool who “travelled” with him in the UK, John Lee Hooker seeking the company of blond ladies, late night car journeys, wasted opportunities, record collecting. Phew rock and roll!
The book comes with a full ‘gigography’ for The Twisted Wheel, Magic Village, Liverpool Stadium, Eric’s, International’s One and Two. There are some errors – the Manchester underground paper referred to as Glass Eye was actually ‘Grass Eye’; Percy Mayfield cut for the Tangerine label – not an album called ‘Tangerine’ and Terma Thomas was presumably Irma Thomas.
There are plenty of Brian Smith’s historic photos and there is lots of period memorabilia too!
Published in Blues & Rhythm 273, October 2012.