Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Carlo Little's Memories

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Carlo (Carl O'Neil) Little - born December 17 1938, died August 6 2005.

I wish to extend a special thank you to Giselle Rawlins, Iris Little and Trevor Hobley for their written words and information that were used in the article below - Todd Allen, Oct. 2006.

Carlo Little played with many bands throughout his distinguished career; his most treasured memories, however, were of those early formative days with Cyril Davies. Cyril Davies and the All-Stars are gone, but certainly not forgotten. They were the pioneers of British popular music, so one might ask why they never made the big time. In his own words Carlo Little offered this judgment - Cyril was a real blues enthusiast. Whenever we used to suggest playing something more upbeat, like in the style of Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley, the kind that really got the crowd going, he would say - no. It took me weeks to convince him to let us do 'What I'd Say' by Ray Charles, but when we did, the crowd went wild. John Baldry sung that one great with the Velvettes, but Cyril didn't really go for the commercial sound. Instead, the Stones filled the commercial R & B gap, and look where they are today!

Carlo Little was one of the loudest and most talented rock 'n' roll drummers on the British pop scene of the early 1960's. A member of the original Cyril Davies R&B All-Stars, Carlo also played with the then semi-professional Rolling Stones.

Born on December 17 1938, at Shepherd's Bush, West London at Queen Charlotte Hospital, Carl always longed to play the drums. Inspired, initially, by the Ted Heath Orchestra, he bought himself a drum kit consisting of a snare and high hat. In 1954, Chris Barber's band played Wembley town hall. After hearing Lonnie Donegan, who launched the skiffle boom out of Barber's jazz band, an inspired Little joined a skiffle group, the Rhythm Katz. Two years later, after hearing Chuck Berry and Little Richard, he was experimenting with the rock 'n' roll sound. In 1958, Carl was called up, joining the Royal Fusiliers as a snare drummer and bugler; he learned how to beat a snare drum loud enough for it to be heard by 1,000 men.

Demobbed in February 1960, Carl returned to his old haunts, including The Cannibal Pot coffee bar in Sudbury where he met a young girl who was dating David Sutch at the time. Both young men had a common interest in the rock and roll and rhythm and blues phenomena that was sweeping the country at the time and they soon became firm friends. They talked of forming their own band and making their plans known to other musicians in the area - they soon achieved their early ambitions. Calling himself Carlo Little, he joined with Dave, Bernie Watson, Rick Brown (Fenson) and Nicky Hopkins for their first rehearsal in the hall behind the Sudbury Sun public house. The embryonic Savages were on their way and three months later achieved their first gig with David, now Screaming Lord Sutch, up front belting out covers of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis Little Richard and of course, Elvis.

Sutch embraced Little's dynamic and heavyweight drumming style. I took it as hard as it could go, Little later recalled - We were the loudest band ever.

The Savages were also popular with many young musicians including Keith Moon, a budding young drummer. Moon was so taken with Little's technique that he asked him for drumming lessons; Carlo agreed - charging 10 shillings a lesson. Much of the Savages' energy emanated from the drummer's seat behind the group where Carlo Little knew what it took to play rock 'n roll. Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages became one of the biggest live draws in the country during the early sixties and the band was arguably way ahead of its time.

In October 1962, after another Savages split, Carlo joined Cyril Davies and the R&B All-Stars. From the end of November they became known as the best British blues band of the early sixties. Gigging in and around London the line up produced a raw mixture of Chicago R & B and rock 'n roll with Cyril's amazing harmonica playing and Carlo's powerhouse drumming whipping the crowds into a frenzy - even outdoing the Savages early stuff.

Keith Richards later quoted, Ricky Fenson and Carlo Little, they were the ones who gave us the power shot. Ricky Fenson, bleached hair, his hair was black but was dyed peroxide blonde. Him and another guy called Bernie, they used to call him Strawberry, the guitar player. I wish I could remember his last name. He would sit on the stage with his gloves on his head, on this peroxide thing cos he had the same hairdo as Rickie Fenson. Bernie, what a guitar player. I thought, well, I might as well go home, this is ridiculous, this cat's so good. Cyril Davies put that band together - listen to a record called 'Country Line Special by Cyril Davies All Stars, with Nicky Hopkins, Bernie, Ricky Fenson and Carlo Little.

Hard up for a permanent drummer and bass player, the fledgling Stones asked Carlo and Rick Brown to help them out with some gigs. Carlo and Rick obliged but when Brian asked Carlo to stay on with the Stones, he was turned down by the drummer. The Stones were only semi-pro at that time and couldn't afford to pay Carlo what he could earn with Cyril Davies, so after his short stint with the Stones Carlo went back to the All-Stars.

However Carlo was not entirely happy with Cyril's insistence to play purist blues all the time and suggested some changes to make the sound slightly more upbeat. After a row with Cyril about this he was sacked, and returned to the Savages. Carlo was replaced by Mickey Waller. - Giselle Rawlins

For a full account of the remarkable life and career of Carlo Little, make sure you check out - Confessions of a 60's Drummer; Carlo's time with Cyril Davies is extensively documented.

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