Like many of my generation, I grew up with Alexis Korner, religiously tuning in every Sunday night for his Blues and Soul Show on Radio 1 to hear his made-for-radio gravelly voice. The eclectic mix of early blues and gospel and modern R&B that he played, as well as many revelatory examples of what is now known as world music, opened my ears to the sounds of a music I barely knew existed. I am still, indeed, in his debt.
Korner himself was no great shakes as a musician – in his own words he was “an appalling singer” – and his songwriting wasn’t up to much, either, but he was a fantastic catalyst, an enabler and facilitator, as this collection of his 1960s’ output reveals.
The set opens with a fine acoustic collaboration with guitarist Dave Graham in 1961 and then proceeds through the groundbreaking sides with Blues Incorporated, the first ever all-white electric blues band. It caused quite a stir at the time – with Cyril Davis on harmonica and often Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor. Their live debut set R&B From the Marquee – actually recorded in Decca’s London studio – is now regarded as the album that launched the British blues and R&B scene in the 1960s.
After Korner and Davis split for “authentic” artistic reasons, Korner’s band became jazzier but soon split up when Graham Bond took Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker with him to form his own band. From now on, schism ruled, and the personnel changed with the weather. But Blues Incorporated kept going, recording a classic live set at Liverpool’s Cavern Club in its Beatles heyday but mostly failing to make much of a mark as their recordings were all for small labels and suffered long delays between recording and release.
By the end of the decade, Blues Incorporated had ended, Korner had had a successful run of TV appearances and radio broadcasts, recorded the fine Sky High album, was working on another album with singer Robert Plant before Led Zeppelin came calling, had in effect given birth to Free, through his daughter’s boyfriend Andy Fraser, and could claim to have been the inspiration behind Eric Burdon, Eric Clapton, and the Rolling Stones, among many, many others. Keith Richards is on record saying his group would not have existed without Korner.
What is fascinating about this set is its wide range of material, from the usual classic blues and cover versions of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon to pieces by Charlie Mingus (a slow and atmospheric “Haitian Fight Song”, an exuberant “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting”), Curtis Mayfield and Korner himself. Some of it is innovatory, some routine, but whatever the music and whatever his group, Korner played his heart out. All of which makes this documentary set an invaluable record of a period of British music when everyone knew everyone else, and all competed furiously to be the best. Korner was in the thick of it throughout, a wonderful man to have met and listened to.
CD1: 3/4 AD; She Fooled Me; Gotta Move; Rain Is Such a Lonesome Sound; I Got My Brand on You; Keep Your Hands Off; I Wanna Put a Tiger in Your Tank; I Got My Mojo Working; Down Town; How Long, How Long Blues; I Thought I Heard That Train Whistle Blow; I’m Built for Comfort (aka Everything She Needs); Up-Town; Rockin’; Night Time Is the Right Time; See See Rider; Blue Mink; Rainy Tuesday; Yogi; Sappho; Preachin’ the Blues; Taboo Man; Whoa Babe; Every Day I Have the Blues; Well All Right, OK, You Win (77.40)
CD2: Little Bitty Gal Blues; Hoochie Coochie Man; Kansas City; Woke Up This Morning; Stormy Monday; Cabbage Greens; Chicken Shack; Haitian Fight Song; I Need Your Loving; Please Please Please; Little Baby; Roberta; I Got a Woman; Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me; Long Black Train; Rock Me; I’m So Glad; Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting; Oo-wee Baby; River’s Invitation; Money Honey; Louise; Floating; Rosie (79.28)
CD3: Yellow Dog Blues; The Love You Save; Corina, Corina; Mary Open The Door; Little Bitty Girl; Go Down Sunshine; The Same for You; I’m Tore Down; In the Evening; Somethin’ You Got; What’s the Sound I Hear; I Wonder Who? Operator; Steal Away; Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey); Funky; Wild Injun Woman; To Who It May Concern; I See It; You Don’t Miss Your Water (79.35)
Korner (g, v), plus individuals and small groups, mostly London or Liverpool, April 1961 – October 1969.
Grapefruit Records CRSEGBOX048