I first got involved in the world of music back in 1952.
I’d always been a lover of music from the age of 7. My sister played music non-stop on a wind up gramophone that her boss gave her. I sang all day long songs from those early days. Bing Crosby, The Ink Spots etc.
In 1952 I belonged to a Youth Club called the YCW (Young Christian Workers). We would meet every Friday night at St Wilfred’s School in Hulme, Manchester.
In its hey-day the club would put on Pantomimes at Christmas time. But this particular year I talked them into something different – doing popular songs with a theme background. What we had was a ‘Western’ theme (Cowboys). It was set in a saloon and we had dialogue plus songs. I was a big fan of Guy Mitchell and I sang ‘My Truly, Truly Fair’ – ‘My Pretty Little Black Eyed Susie’ and finished with ‘My Heart Cries For You’. I was a pretty good singer, or so my sister would tell me…at least I could carry a tune. Which is something I couldn’t do as I got older - ha! The concert was well put together, but on the night of the concert its-self – the pianist didn’t turn up and we had to do all the songs a cappella.
Then in 1956/57/58 I used to frequent the Plaza Dance Hall on Oxford Street Manchester. The manager at the time was a guy called Jimmy Savile (he was insane even back then). He became the top DJ for decades to follow – he was even Knighted for his services to Charities. He had all kinds of things going on like - when the dance-band took a break, he would play records of the period – mostly the latest R&R so that we all could ‘Jive’.
He then started Saturday night singing contests. The songs would be mostly Sinatra, Doris Day stuff. I sang ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, and surprisingly, I won. Jimmy gave me a ‘Tootal Tie’…very popular back then. It was maroon in colour and I still have it.
He then began a regular R&R session with popular records. On Saturday afternoons he would have a R&R only thing for us R&Rollers - ‘Jivers’. He played the music and did the spiel. Later I got a job assisting him when it became a regular Saturday night feature. I would play the records and he did the chatter…’Now then, Now then’ – ‘Ow’s about that then’ – ‘Guys and Gals’. He did all his famous phrases back then. But I wanted to be a rock singer.
In 1959 I moved to Blackpool still bent on making my mark in the world of music. In 1960 I got a job, firstly as manager of this brand new ‘teenage’ nightclub … the first in the Country, and later I played in whatever group we had at the time. I did everything, keeping the Club clean, booking the acts, and playing with a Jazz Trio we formed – The Tony Ashton Trio. Tony Ashton was the keyboard player. He went on to form ‘Ashton, Gardner and Dyke’.
I would also play with the bands if they were short a player. Sometimes I played rhythm, and sometimes bass. I wasn’t particularly great, but I could get by. I would sing and play in the house band we formed called the ‘Rockers’ (unique name huh?).
The Club was a huge success. We began to attract bands Nationwide. Emile Ford and the Checkmates (Hal Carter played guitar in this band). Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Dave Berry and the Cruisers. Graham Nash, being Blackpool born, came in a couple of times with Alan Clarke, I think they were doing the rounds as ‘Ricky & Dane Young’. This was obviously pre-Hollies. The Dakotas, Billy J Kramer’s backing group did a night without being advertised – they didn’t want to cause any problems with their agent who didn’t know anything about it…they’d played a gig in Preston and came over and did a late show.
In early 63 I booked the Beatles into the Picador for a weekend for £50 (a lot of money in 63). I did the deal with Epstein. It was just about the same time as ‘Love Me Do’ was released. They did a Granada TV Show and the owner of the Picador saw them and cancelled the contract – he said they were awful and looked like girls – can you believe that. The locals were in disbelief at what he’d done. They would have had crowds lined up down the Promenade to get in.
Then in the summer of 63 (June) a Rock Show was going to be doing the summer season at the South Pier Blackpool. It featured, Marty Wilde, Eden Kane and Karl Denver Trio plus Julie Grant. Marty’s group, the Wildcats came into the Picador club. I became friends with Rex Gates the bass player, and Brian Dunn the guitar player. I went to their rehearsals on the pier and met up with Marty. They gave me a job as ‘Road Manager’. They paid me five times as much as I made at the Picador Club. So I joined them as their ‘Road Manager’.
A couple of weeks into the 18-week season, the bass player took ill and went home. I took over as bass player and still doing my roadie duties. During that season, around July and August - the Beatles did a series of Sunday Concerts at the ABC Theatre and the one at the Queens Theatre. I went along with Julie Grant and Brian Dunn our guitar player and met the Beatles on 4 occasions. We watched the shows from the wings and chatted with them in the dressing room and shared some of Ringo’s cake that some fan had sent him. When introduced to everyone, George, when introduced to Julie Grant said…”Ah…Julie Granite the Rock singer…”.
When the summer season finished I stayed on with Marty as bass player and still doing Roadie duties. We did tours with Billy Fury, Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Freddie and the Dreamers, Billy J Kramer, Brenda Lee and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. The Tornados did all of Billy’s backing. In mid 64 I left Marty and went with the Tornados’ as their Road Manager for a short period. Then back to Marty for a short spell before joining Bern Elliott and the Fenmen…the name later changed to the Klan. I stayed with them until Christmas 64.
Then at Christmas I was in Blackpool visiting old friends and family. I went to a farewell party for some friends who were emigrating to America to play the Irish Ballroom circuit for 2 years. They were a Showband from Ireland. The bass player had quit and they asked me to join. I said I couldn’t because of other commitments. After the Christmas celebrations were over (during which I was ’slightly’ inebriated), I woke up on a ferry in Belfast Harbour. I’d been ‘shanghaied’. I was now a member of an Irish Showband and on my way to America in February 1965 in a band called ‘Paddy McGuigan and the Big Four’. Actually there were six of us - and NO Paddy McGuigan. He decided not to go at the last minute.
In America a guy called Bill Fuller managed us. He was an Irish entrepreneur who paid all the expenses in getting us to America. Set us up in apartments and gave us spending money until we began our contract to tour his ballrooms that were all over the USA, and in Ireland. We had to rehearse a stage show before setting off on tour.
In the interim we were making quite a stir because of the English boom in music (The Beatles and the Stones). Hundreds of teenyboppers were hanging around our apartments night and day wanting to see the English group. So in the end our thanks to Bill Fuller for getting us there and getting us our ‘Green Cards’ was to tell him no thanks and we left him.
A guy who owned the ‘Whiskey-A-Go-Go’ nightclub heard about us and offered us a couple of weeks in his club. On our first night we broke the house record for takings over the bar - $30.000. That included a table charge of $5 per table. There were lines of people almost right around the block waiting to get in to see the ‘English’ group. We played sets from 9.00pm until 4.00am and they cleared the place out between sets so that others could come in. I have never worked so hard in all my life. We did 7 sets a night, 40 minutes on and 20 minutes off for 14 days. I lost a stone in weight.
He signed us to a management contract. We did local TV Shows. Battle Of The Band contests - gigs for teenagers. We topped the bill at the McCormick Place, Chicago with 3000 screaming kids in the audience. We did it again sharing billing with Herman’s Hermits. Mercury records signed us up to a deal. We went on promo-tours doing promo-gigs in Cleveland, Ohio, Pittsburgh PA and New York and at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City with…Dion and the Belmonts, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Four-Tops, The Platters, Jackie DeShannon, Kim Weston, Brook Benton etc. and we hadn’t even got a hit record, ours failed miserably. We were the only English band in America without a hit record.
We did a 6-week engagement at the Mint Hotel in Las Vegas. Johnny Ray was in the main lounge – we were in the smaller lounge. After about 8 months we broke up. We didn’t have what was necessary to succeed – originality and a hit record.
I went from there to join a band in Cleveland, Ohio called the ‘Outsiders’ and our first record peaked at No.4 in the US Charts. We did a tour with, Stevie Wonder, and Ike and Tina Turner. I stayed with the Outsiders for about 6 months and then became Tour Manager to a Chicago Group that had just gone No.1 in the US Charts. I preferred the Tour Management side of the business to the playing side. I liked to organise. They were called the Buckingham’s. They followed their No.1 with 5 top 5 hits. They were the most played recording artists on radio in America in 1967/68 - even above the Beatles and the Monkees. During those couple of years I was with them we did gigs with, Donovan, Beach Boys, Mama’s and Papa’s, Neil Diamond, Jose Feliciano, Kenny Rogers, Sonny and Cher, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Buffalo Springfield, Roy Orbison, John Fred and the Playboy Band etc.
I left them at the end of 68 and formed my own Management and Production Company. My first venture was a Jazz/Soul group from Dayton Ohio called, Green Lyte Sunday. I got them a deal with RCA and our first album, and single (Chelsea Morning), reached No.2 in the Cashbox & Billboard ‘Easy Listening Charts’.
Around July/August 72. I was over from Chicago with my wife, Bonnie Herman. She was a part of a jazz vocal group called 'The Singers Unliited'. We'd come over with some friends who were recording their first album at Trident Studios, London. I was doing photographs, and Bonnie was waiting to do background vocals.
I took some time off and went to pick up Tony Williams in Blackpool and drive him back to Apple Studios where he was a member of 'Stealers Wheel' - they were finishing their first album. That particular day they were doing the vocals for the last track on the album, 'Stuck In The Middle With You'.
After they finished the track. I managed to get a few pix. Above is the group listening to a playback of 'Stuck In The Middle With You' and on the right, Gerry Rafferty listening intently.
Bleow are Tony Williams (bass player) and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller the Producers of the album.
Leiber and Stoller are one of the most successful writing teams in America throughout the 50's and 60's writing such hits as, 'Hound Dog' - 'Jailhouse Rock' - King Creole' - 'Loving You' - 'Don't' etc for Elvis Presley. They also wrote a string of hits for the 'Searchers' (American vocal group from the 50's) 'Charlie Brown' - 'Yakity Yak' etc.
They also wrote, 'Stand By Me' for Ben E King.
At the end of the session I said that the track 'Stuck In The Middle With You' was a hit. They disagreed and released 'Late Again'. The first two songs released failed to make any impact and eventually they turned to my pick, 'Stuck In The Middle With You'. The rest, as they say, is history.
I then ventured into my favourite vocation, photography doing album covers and working with acts on live performances. I wish I had started this sooner.
After this I retired and returned home to England where I now spend my time writing.
Check these out...'Blasts from the past 1965' - This was the band I played with in Chicago 1965. I'm playing bass and doing the vocals.