The Shakedown Sound 1
The Shakedown Sound 2
The Shakedown Sound 3
First Time I Met the Blues
‘Up the road from where I lived there was another young lad who I’d spotted playing guitar in his front room. I’d also seen him about the town. He wore sharp suits, Cuban-heel boots and there was a touch of back-combing about his hair”.
Jess was now sixteen.
The birth of The Shakedown Sound can be traced back to another two local outfits – The Sunsetters and The Zodiacs.
Kevyn Gammond and Sean Jenkins were both members of the former and were asked by Colin Youngjohns (of the latter) to join The Zodiacs.
One gig later (at Brinton’s Club) and Gammond and Jenkins decided that The Zodiacs were too mainstream and not a musical path down which they wanted to tread.
Leaving their previous singer (Alfie Knott) to his own devices and, together with Bill Davies, they took the name The Shakedown Sound and began playing a mix of blues tinged rock ‘n’ roll.
However, the embryonic Shakes were still short of a suitable singer.
‘I’d given up my job as a an apprentice motor-mechanic which, funnily enough is where I met Johnny Pasternak. He had a reputation as bit of ‘Johnny the Knife’…
‘He was a Grammar school boy, very clever kid, but, his father had died when he was quite young and his Mum was into alternative medicine. She ran the health food store in town and Johnny became a bit of a rebel.
‘He carried a flick-knife but he also had the most magnificent duck’s arse hairdo and all that kind of stuff, winklepickers before anybody else – so that’s where I first met him.
‘But later on, when he became a musician and channeled his energy into playing guitar as opposed to ripping up cinema seats, I met him again then and we became friends.
The Soho Scene
By the mid-Fifties, Soho had become the centre of London’s ‘Beatnik’ culture; spawned through the numerous coffee bars such as Le Macarbre (which had coffin-shaped tables), The French, Freight Train, and The Moka Bar.
The 2 i’s paved the way for this next generation of clubs.
Over time, these would include The Flamingo, The Whiskey A Go Go, the justifiably-famous Ronnie Scott’s that opened in 1959, The 100 Club and The Scene (run by Ronan O’Rahilly who also owned the offshore pirate radio station Radio Caroline).
As much as The Scene was well known as the first Mod club, it could well be argued that the 2 I’s was – very possibly – the first ‘rock club’ in all of Europe.
And, notorious indeed the 2 I’s was; the club was situated in the basement of 59 Old Compton Street and run by a onetime Australian wrestler, Paul Lincoln (aka ‘Dr Death’) and Ray Hunter.
It numbered amongst its doormen a certain Peter Grant – later to find fame and a not inconsiderable fortune with Led Zeppelin wherein his managerial ‘do not mess with my boys’ attitude was a direct throwback to his days as the club’s bouncer.
Basically an Espresso bar, the 2 I’s opened its doors on April 22nd 1956 and was named after two brothers called Irani who had originally owned the café.
It featured live music in its basement with a small 18” high stage and The Vipers were the first group who secured a residency there. Indeed, it is claimed that during one of their performances that Tommy Steele was first ‘talent-spotted’ there.
The 2 I’s reputation within the nascent London coffee-bar scene was significant – a number of other ‘stars’ were ‘discovered’ there, among which were Cliff Richard as well as the likes of Marty Wilde, Joe Brown, Eden Kane, Screaming Lord Sutch, Ritchie Blackmore,Tony Sheridan, Johnny Kidd and Jet Harris (later of The Shadows).
That long list also includes Paul Gadd (later to be known as Paul Raven before becoming Gary Glitter), Terry Dene, Wee Willie Harris, Carlo Little, Jay Chance, Mickie Most and Big Jim Sullivan. All played there regularly until the 2 I’s closed its doors in 1967.
‘Anyhow, Kevyn gave me a copy of an album called Festival of the Blues – I remember it was on the Pye International label and featured several artists.
‘In fact, thinking about it, I can remember most of the tracks like it was yesterday. There was Smokestack Lightnin’ by Howlin’ Wolf… Muddy Waters’ Got My Mojo Working… Reconsider Baby by Lowell Fulson… Bo Diddley’s Road Runner and…First Time I Met The Blues by Buddy Guy.
‘Kevyn said that he thought Buddy was a fantastic singer and if I wanted to learn the song and could sing like him, I could be in the Shakedown Sounds.”
In fact, Jess learned the entire record and, as with all good samplers, began to investigate the work of every artist on the album and, from them, to others playing similar music.
‘I went down to see a show The Shakes were doing at The Ritz in Kings Heath near Birmingham, sang that song and… joined up. Simple as that really.”
The Ritz was part of ‘The Regan Circuit’ – clubs owned and run by Joe and Mary ‘Ma’ Regan – a formidable Irishwoman who had emigrated to the Midlands where, after a stint as a teacher, she opened a series of tea shops. These led to tea-dances and then dance halls.
However, after one show in London’s Soho at the notorious 2 I’s Coffee Bar, Billy Davies left to be replaced by John Pasternak.
‘There was a record shop in Birmingham called The Diskery and they had all of the imports, a chap called Erskine Thompson ran it then and he was really hip with regard to what was coming in from the States.
‘He used to turn not only us but Winwood and all those guys onto the Blues tunes that were happening.
‘We had a Bedford van. It was dark green and covered in lipstick scrawl. I don’t recall ever staying in a Hotel.
‘We would either ask to kip down at the venue or drive to a lay-by and once, a beach in Wales. Heck, you could drive and park a vehicle almost anywhere in those days.”
With Billy Davies’ departure, the line-up behind Jess became: Kevyn Gammond (lead guitar); John Pasternak (guitar); Sean Jenkins (drums) and Pete Waldron (bass).
And... the band started to step on the gas a bit because, in their early days, all Midlands’ ‘beat groups’ set their sights on gaining a toe-hold as opening acts on the rapidly emerging Birmingham ‘beat-scene’ – a crucial part of which was establishing themselves on the Regan Circuit.
This ‘circuit’ consisted of The Plaza in both Old Hill and Handsworth as much as it did the Ritz in Kings Heath since, at that time, the circuit’s headliners would be mainly from further-flung metropolises – The Beatles, The Kinks, The Animals, The Searchers, Manfred Mann etc.
Nevertheless, there were further changes ahead – but, evertually, The Shakes’ line-up settled.
‘I replaced Billy Davies and then Pete Waldron left the band when we turned ‘professional’ (surely a misnomer – high school girls used to fund our espresso and sarnies in the local coffee bars).
‘Johnny P switched to bass and Sean’s dad signed as security for all the new equipment we bought (a huge-great bank of 4 x 12s).”
At this point, the Shakedown Sound, almost overnight, started to become a pretty busy group – playing halls in the local area as well as clubs and dance halls in and around Birmingham.
The shows included The Elbow Room, a club frequented by Messrs Winwood, Wood and Capaldi – later, of course, to form the nucleus of Traffic.
They also often played The Whisky-a-Go-Go, sometimes backing but more often opening up for / supporting a wide variety of Blues legends such as Little Walter, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, T-Bone Walker and Buddy Guy.
Other greats such as Sonny Boy Williamson and Ike & Tina Turner also played The Whisky alongside other local bands of the time including The King Bee’s (featuring a young Carl Palmer – later of Atomic Rooster and, of course, ELP), The Modonaires, The Moody Blues, Denny Lane and The Spencer Davis Group
The Whisky was situated above Chetwyns on the corner of John Bright Street and Hill Street in Birmingham and was not just a cult-club but also right on the cutting edge for urban 60’s live Motown & blues band music, dance styles and fashion.
And, as the strong following for R&B developed, so did the first All-Nighters come to be.
All nighters were Friday and Saturday events, generally lasting until 8am the following morning; The Whisky would pack in 250 onto its two floors – live bands were on the first floor while the second was reserved for DJ’s.
‘On some Saturday nights, we would start off in Worcester at the Co-op Halls, then drive over to Handsworth on the outskirts of Birmingham for a set at The Plaza.
‘Then, finally, we’d tip up at The Whisky (it was on two floors over a clothes shop) in Birmingham City Centre for the all-nighter.”
With their reputation on the rise, The Shakedown Sound signed to a London Agency (Malcolm Rose) and began to play the in-vogue-at-the-time round of package tours; one such being bottom of the bill in Great Yarmouth to The Rolling Stones.
Also on the bill were The Walker Brothers, Lulu and Jagger’s main-squeeze, Marianne Faithfull – the very next day and The Stones would meet Allen Klein for the very first time...
By now, The Shakes’ set was starting to include early soul as much as R&B and a Mod following grew apace; besides their club shows – such as The Gaff in Banbury and the Ricky Tick Club in Windsor – they were also out supporting The Who and The Small Faces.
As 1965 turned into the year of World Cup Willie (1966) – and not long after another support show in Birmingham at The Silver Blades, the winds of change blew once again for Jess.
"Johnny had a girlfriend, and… y’know, we were young kids, seventeen and so on. And, he was thinking of getting married… and, basically, all our amplifiers and everything was broken, all the cymbals were trashed because we used to smash things up a bit a la The Who – we really were a bit of a renegade R ‘n B band. And so, in a sense, everything was coming to the tragic end of its life.
"We weren’t doing that many gigs either; we were working perhaps once, twice a week. There was an agency that used to book us out but, we weren’t getting much money and it was all a bit sort of hopeless really.
"So, I didn’t really have any serious intention to move on but, being given the opportunity, it was a natural really.”
One ‘phone call and a return-ticket rail journey to Slough later, Jess quit the band to move to London and work with Alan Bown.
The End of the Beginning
With Jess moving on, The Shakedown Sound didn’t just loose their singer and focal point but entered melt-down; Kevyn moved on to join Cliff Ward’s Cruisers before hooking up with yet another outfit who specialized in this localised form of personnel-merry-go-round; Lee Starr and The Astrals – who, at various points recorded under the supervision of Joe Meek.
Somewhat similar to Phil Spector, Meek developed his own, idiosyncratic, production techniques that, at the time, were branded ‘mad professor’ by employing ultra-compressed sound, ghostly backing violins, echo and reverb, vari-speeded piano parts along with a plethora of outer-space sound effects.
Nowadays, he’s recognised as a vital figure within early British rock & roll.
For all that, the records he made were all the more remarkable since they were all conjured up in his back-bedroom.
Besides Lee Starr & The Astrals Walkin’ With My Angel and Come Back To Me (the former of which is now available on a 4xCD compilation entitled Portrait Of A Genius), Joe Meek is probably best remembered for his huge, multi-national hit Tulstar by The Tornadoes as much as The Honeycombs’ Have I The Right.
Meek, sadly, sank into debt and murdered his landlady prior to turning a shotgun on himself – he was 37.
Be all that as it may, in December 1966, they (that is Lee and his Astrals) travelled to London to audition as Jimmy Cliff’s backing band for projected European and British dates.
The line-up (at this point) was Sean Jenkins (drums), Jon Best – aka Jon Lee / aka Lee Starr (bass), Kevyn Gammond (guitar) and Terry ‘Verden’ Allen (organ – formerly of The Inmates – who had joined the group the previous March).
And, on securing their role as Cliff’s backing band, changed their name – again - back to... The Shakedown Sound.
Later still, Mick Ralphs would fill the guitarist’s slot as Kevyn moved on to join Robert Plant in The Band Of Joy.
Ultimately, Dale Griffin took over the drum stool as Sean Jenkins moved across to The Silverstone Set but The Shakedown Sound’s days were finally coming to an end when Ralphs, Allen and Griffin relocated back to Hereford.
There, they re-united with Pete Watts (originally in a band called the Doc Thomas Group alongside Mick Ralphs) and vocalist Stan Tippins.
They continued to use the Shakedown Sound name in the UK but worked as the Doc Thomas Group in Italy during the Summer of ‘68.
By the end of the year, they were back in Hereford playing locally as The Shakedown Sound but further afield as The Silence and even trying out for Apple as The Archers before Mick Ralphs and Pete Watts failed an audition with svengali Guy Stevens to join Free.
EMI also rejected demos that had been recorded at Rockfield, but they were good enough to secure another audience with Stevens and, after Stan Tippins voluntarily stepped back from the vocal mic, became the basis of a group with a completely new name… Mott The Hoople.
Mick Ralphs, ultimately quit Mott The Hoople and co-founded Bad Company with former members of Free, Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke together with the late Boz Burrell, previously with King Crimson.
For Sean Jenkins, The Silverstone Set morphed into The Elastic Band; they featured Andy Scott who would later join Sweet and Gus Eadon (or Ted Yeadon as he was then known).
The Elastic Band released two singles for Decca (Think Of You Baby and Do Unto Others) as well as one album, Expansions On Life.
After The Elastic Band split in 1969 (with Eadon moving across to Love Affair) Sean joined Chris Mayfield (formerly a roadie for Amen Corner) in Mayfields Mule – who released three Parlophone singles and recorded one, eponymous album for EMI at Abbey Road.
In a strange twist of fate, this album was only issued in Uruguay, but has recently been re-mastered and re-released by NightWing Records.
Sean then spent two years with Henry Cow who, emerging from Cambridge, melded avant-garde to progressive improvisation unlike no other outfit before (or, very possibly... since).
He quit before Henry Cow signed to Virgin, hooking up with Gus Eadon once more, this time in Love Affair. Sadly, however, Sean died in 2007.
As a curious, wheels within wheels element to the above, Andy Scott auditioned for The Alan Bown (just after Robert Palmer had left) but, on the same day also auditioned for and joined... Sweet.
And Kevyn and John Pasternak..?
Their respective musical paths and Jess’ would cross again in the not too distant future.
As would Simon Kirke, Mick Ralphs and Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter.
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