Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

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Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated - "Blues From The Roundhouse Volume 2" (EXA102)

Side 1

1. Sail On (Leadbelly)
2. National Defence Blues (Leadbelly)

Side 2

3. Go Down Sunshine (Johnson)
4. Death Letter (Trad.arr. Leadbelly)

Alexis Korner: vocals ('Go Down Sunshine'), acoustic guitar
Cyril Davies: vocals/acoustic guitar (except for 'Go Down Sunshine'), harmonica ('Go Down Sunshine')
Jim Bray: string bass
Dave Stevens: piano ('National Defence Blues')
Mike Collins: washboard

Recorded: Decca West Hampstead Studios, London, April 29 1958
Produced by Geoff Milne
Released: December 1958 (Tempo EP, EXA 102)
Liner Notes by Charles Fox

Once it was believed that only Americans could play jazz. At one time this was true, but today jazz is becoming more and more of an international idiom. Something very similar is now being said about blues, and it must be admitted that it is more difficult for a non-American to sing blues than to play jazz. It's largely a question of accent; the rhymes in many well-known Negro blues depend upon the words being sung in the way they would be in Mississippi or Louisiana. Nevertheless, authenticity in blues-singing and playing springs from the performance rather than the musician's pigmentation. And that is why Alexis Korner and Cyril Davis can be described as genuine blues artists.

For many years these two British musicians have been studying and playing blues. Their absorption in the idiom has become so complete that now they can think and work naturally within it. That explains why visiting American blues artists like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters and Otis Spann, have been so enthusiastic about their playing. Sonny Terry, in particular, is a great admire of Cyril Davis. Whenever he and Brownie McGhee are in London they go regularly to the Roundhouse, the public house at the corner of Brewer and Wardour Streets where the Alexis Korner group performs every Thursday night. And they go to listen, not to play.

Naturally enough, both Korner and Davis have been heavily influenced by the great Negro blues artists. There is a great deal of Blind Boy Fuller's style (emphasized by the use of a steel guitar) in Alexis Korner's performance of Go Down Sunshine. (Alexis uses the steel guitar again, incidentally, in Sail On.) In the case of Cyril Davis, it is Leadbelly who had provided the inspiration, and Sail On, Death Letter and National Defence have all been recorded, at one time or another, by Leadbelly himself. Dave Stevens was added to the group for the last-named track, but it's noticeable that his piano-playing is much closer to Big Maceo Merriweather's than to that of Willie "The Lion" Smith, the pianist who played on Leadbelly's version.

Details of the musicians' lives and opinions have already been outlined on the sleeve of a previous Alexis Korner EP ("Blues At The Roundhouse", Tempo EXA76). To some people it may still seem strange that British performers like these can sound as authentic as some Negro blues artists. The only way of proving it is to shut your eyes and listen.

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