Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Remembering Brian Knight and Cyril Davies

Musicians' recollections of Cyril Davies
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Remembering Brian Knight, Page One.
Remembering Brian Knight, Page Two.
Remembering Brian Knight, Page Three.

Brian Knight, the influential vocalist, slide guitarist, harmonica player and founding member of The Rolling Stones was one of the most respected and important figures in British blues history. Morning had barely dawned on the sixties when Brian Knight met Brian Jones on West London's blues circuit. Jones revealed that he was forming a band, proposed that Knight should sing. Geoff Bradford joined the line-up on guitar along with pianist Ian Stewart, bassist Dick Taylor (later of The Pretty Things) and a succession of drummers. It was the beginning of The Rolling Stones. Jones and Knight could not agree on which musical direction to take; Knight wanted to pursue the Muddy Waters school of blues, while Brian Jones favoured Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry styles. Brian Knight left, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards later teamed up with Brian Jones, and the rest is history.

Brian Knight formed a new band, Blues By Six with Charlie Watts on drums. They gained prestigious London residencies at the Marquee and 100 Club, often supported by "The Rollin' Stones Group". In 1966, exhausted from being constantly on tour, Brian Knight quit making music until the early 70's. Brian, itching to play again, was reunited with Geoff Bradford in a band simply called The Bradford - Knight Blues Band. A high profile act on the blues circuit, they often welcomed Rick Wakeman and other assorted luminaries onstage for impromptu lunacy! As a blues star, Brian continued to shine, and from the 70's - 90's he performed with Fairport Convention's Bruce Rowland, Ian Stewart (the sixth Stone), Charlie Watts, Peter Green, Dana Gillespie, Paul Jones, Ronnie Lane, Georgie Fame, Zoot Money, Chris Farlowe, Micky Moody - the list is endless…(author unknown)

Brian Knight, guitarist, born October 14 1939; died September 25 2001; Brian should be remembered and celebrated as one of Britain's blues legends.

Brian Knight by John Pilgrim - Thursday December 6, 2001

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Brian Knight, who has died of cancer aged 61, was a wonderful guitarist who came from that late-1950s repertory company of musicians who provided the cast for the 60s British rhythm and blues boom, but achieved little fame - or money - from it.

At the beginning of the 60s, he met Brian Jones at an Ealing r 'n' b club. Jones was forming a band, and Brian became its vocalist; but Brian was a devotee of Muddy Waters, while Jones favoured Chuck Berry, and down such sectarian divisions the band plunged. Jones departed for what became the Rolling Stones while Brian created Blues By Six (BBS). Electric blues was supplanting the "trad" jazz craze, and in clubs BBS - featuring drummer Charlie Watts - became immensely popular, and also backed touring American bluesmen. Overworked Watts, still holding down a day job, moved on, to Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated.

Brian was working class, born in north-west London. In the early 1950s, a radio era dominated by crooners, what impressed him was the black American blues singer Josh White, and interest had been sparked. In the mid-1950s, he got his first job as a panel beater in a London garage. Also employed there was the pioneer British blues harmonica player, Cyril Davies.

Davies invited Brian to visit the Wardour Street Roundhouse pub - the venue for Davies and Korner's London Skiffle Club and the London Blues and Barrelhouse Club. It was there that Brian heard Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Muddy Waters. He was there the night that Big Bill Broonzy had to be extricated from a passionate, if over-enthusiastic, Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, and he helped cart Bill off to my Waterloo flat.

In those days, aficionados of American music headed to its source by the cheapest route, by signing up on a merchant ship. So, like the jazzman Ken Colyer, a New Orleans enthusiast, Brian headed west. He spent two years in the US coastal trade, from the Gulf of Mexico to Maine, learning guitar and absorbing the music, visiting black clubs and gospel halls.

Back home in 1957 he played his first gig, at the White Hart in Southall. He turned down an invitation from Korner to join Blues Incorporated, as a vocalist. But then came Brian Jones and BBS.

The times did not treat Brian kindly. In 1964 Cyril Davies died of leukaemia. Two years later an exhausted Brian quit the music business and bought a garage. In 1967 he married Davies's widow, Marie. He continued to work with bands, perfecting a slide guitar technique that earned the respect of musicians like Ronnie Wood, Peter Green and Eric Clapton - who recorded with him.

And then there was Terry and McGhee. Brian had the habit of showing up on their tours - and at their after-show jam sessions. One night, at the Half Moon pub in Putney in 1975, the two Americans were playing when in walked Brian. McGhee put down his guitar, and switched to piano. He was not playing, he announced, when "there was a proper guitarist" around.

In his later years he played acoustic guitar and harmonica in East Anglian pubs, inviting local musicians to join him on stage. Brian was an outstanding musician, and if his life history was closer to those of the black Americans who were his inspiration than those of the rock stars who admired him, well, that is perhaps the way he would have preferred it.

He is survived by Marie, their two daughters and his stepdaughter and stepson.

Brian Knight - A Recollection by Kris Gray

Kris Gray, manager of British vocal legend, Chris Farlowe, kindly submitted the following recollection in January 2008;

Thank you Kris for helping us remember Brian - Cheers, Todd

I first met Brian at a party I attended for the head of PVK Records in 1980. I had gone there with Peter Green who was living with me at the time and was also signed to the label for his comeback album 'In The Skies'. Brian was also due to release 'A Dark Horse' for the label featuring a host of guests including Peter. He was at the party with his wife Marie, we struck up an immediate friendship and he invited me to a gig he was playing the following week in Camden.

Peter and I went to the show and although Brian was on form I was not impressed with his somewhat pedestrian bass player. I mentioned this to Brian and stuck my neck out to say I could do better, a challenge Brian accepted by inviting me to come and rehearse with him. At the time I had a rehearsal facility in Deptford so we met there one rainy evening with the rest of the band consisting of Jamie Boura and Troy Blackley. This line up gelled together quickly and the other bass player was history.

For the next two years I travelled the length and breadth of the UK with Brian and Troy, Jamie for a while plus a number of guitarists who came and went. We finally came down to a trio that Brian dubbed 'Brian Knights Thin Line' until he once again became disillusioned with the lack of success and split the band. I went into production and management, which, ten years later brought me back to Brian when I invited him to support Chris Farlowe, who I also manage, on a major UK tour. A few years later I re released 'Dark Horse' on my then label Citadel and it is still available in the shops if you search hard enough.

In our time together we wrote some songs one of which 'Moving Down Country' appeared on his album 'Blue Eyed Slide'. I was a single parent at the time and I often stayed with my son at Brian's house. Marie and her daughters would baby-sit whilst I went out and played with Brian. He was a bit like a big brother to me and it was sad that he never achieved the success he deserved. Definitely an innovator of his style of slide playing on his trademark copper topped guitars. There are many pretenders to this title but I think Brian can rest in his grave knowing he has the crown.

Cyril Davies: Preaching the Blues - Interview with Brian and Marie Knight - by Graham Vickery

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Brian Knight - A Recollection by Stephen Carter - 2011.

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