Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
Mister Rhythm & Blues
on 22 June 2011
It's impossible to calculate the effect Guy Stevens had on the evolution of rock and pop music. He was the man who launched the UK Chuck Berry Appreciation Society and, in that role, advised Pye International on music to release from the American Chess and Checker labels i.e. Berry, Diddley, Muddy, Sonny Boy, Howling Wolf, etc. Everyone who was at all into blues or what we were beginning to call rhythm and blues, bought these records. They were to massively influence groups like the Stones and the Yardbirds, indeed all those bands that we labelled R&B at the time. He then went on to become a DJ at the Scene Club, Ham Yard, just off Shaftesbury Avenue, London which gave him an outlet for playing his own massive collection of American music. Chris Blackwell, in a stroke of genius, appointed Guy, head of Sue Records UK, under the Island Records umbrella. Blackwell and Island at the time were making early breakthroughs in Bluebeat and Ska, mainly to the West Indian population in London.
Stevens certainly didn't look back. He'd already been in contact with Juggy Murry, head of US Sue Records about getting hold of records to play at the Scene. He extended these US contacts to a host of other small labels. As a result we started to see singles coming out in the famous red and yellow of Sue UK - interesting that Pye had also chosen red and yellow for their Pye International label, the vehicle for Chess/Checker - most of which were snapped up by those same people who were buying Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and who were also going to the clubs, initially in London but spreading elsewhere, to hear the same music as filtered through almost exclusively white bands.
I was one of those people and I have still have plenty of those marvellous singles. I even have several of the LP's that Guy put out often containing fairly random groupings of the singles.
And this is the sort of music I was buying, music you would not get from any of the mainstream labels. London American for years had been the best at distributing some of the more obscure US material but even they hadn't got hold of much of the material that Guy was getting his hands on.
Much of this music sounds just as fresh today. Perhaps not surprisingly Ace have picked some of the best stuff for the opener to this series. "Mockingbird" from Inez and Charlie Foxx was Sue's first hit and deservedly so. Other biggies included "Billie's Bag" from Billy Preston, the young organist who accompanied Little Richard on a UK tour and who was to go on to be UK session supremo. Donnie Elbert's "Little Piece if Leather" was a regular on the turntable at the clubs. Bobby Parker's "Watch your step" was a fantastic modern blues containing one of the greatest riffs ever - Robbie Robertson was heard to use it behind Dylan during the (in)famous `66 UK tour.
Guy's tastes were widespread but almost invariably reliable. He would cover straight rock'n'roll in one direction - more of this is highlighted in the second volume in this series - through deep soul in another, a great example here is O.V. Wright's "That's how strong my love is", to jazz/blues based organ music, from, in particular, the great Jimmy McGriff, a competitor to Jimmy Smith for the organ crown, to Chicago blues like Louisiana Red's "I done woke up" - actually Red came from Alabama but having recorded for Chess he had an essentially Chicago sound., to dance crazes like the fabulous "Oh Mom, teach me to Uncle Willy" from the Daylighters.
And I see I've not even mentioned absolute classics like the original "Dust my Blues" - where would the Fleetwood Mac in its first incarnation have been without this stone classic?
All of this went into the R&B pot. What a fantastic mix.
Before his tragic early death, Guy's career was to go on to embrace English psychedelia - Hapshash and the Coloured Coat and Mighty Baby (stars of many a Roundhouse session) to name but a couple, glam rock - he was a driving force behind Mott the Hoople, and punk - can you think of a bigger name than The Clash? He also took his R&B music to Manchester and was undoubtedly partly responsible for the Northern Soul Scene. But it's for the music contained here and in the other volumes in this series that I'll still very fondly remember Guy.
I should also thank Ace for their efforts. They have surpassed even their normal high standards with the biographical material on both Stevens AND Blackwell in the Notes. Guy's almost religious conversion to the cult of Jerry Lee Lewis is contained here and there's also mention of that basement shop in Goodge St where you could buy US imports - I well recall buying Bobby Bland Duke singles plus Excello singles there - the Notes even mention the old Imhofs record store where you could take any album into a booth and play it, sometimes you could get away with more than one! Thanks, thanks, thanks Ace. Keep it up.