Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

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Alexis Korner Skiffle Group - "Blues From The Roundhouse Volume 1" (EXA76)

Side 1

1. I Ain't Gonna Worry No More (Estes)
2. County Jail (Merriweather)

Side 2

3. Easy Rider (Merriweather)
4. Kid Man (Trad.arr. Leadbelly)

Alexis Korner: vocals (except for track 3), acoustic guitar
Cyril Davis: acoustic guitar (track 1, 3), harmonica (track 1, 2, 4), vocals (track 3)
Chris Capon: string bass
Dave Stevens: piano (track 2, 4)
Mike Collins: washboard

Recorded: Decca West Hampstead Studios, London, July 22 1957
Produced by Geoff Milne
Released: July 1958 (Tempo EP, EXA 76)
Liner Notes by Charles Fox

At the corner of Brewer and Wardour streets, hardly a stonesthrow from Piccadilly Circus, stands the Roundhouse, a purple-brick Victorian publichouse. On a Thursday evening passers-by are sometimes startled to hear blues floating from its upstairs windows, blues sung and played by the musicians heard on this record. In an area packed with skifflers strumming away in cellars and coffee-bars, only at the Roundhouse - headquarters of the London Blues Club - are Negro blues sung regularly and looked upon as an end in themselves.

Alexis Korner has been playing the guitar for eight years and collecting race records for double that time. In 1949, as a member of the Chris Barber Jazz Band, he played and sang with the first Chicago-style race group ever to be heard in London. Later he helped to organize the original Ken Colyer Skiffle Group. Asked for his favourite guitarists, Alexis picks Scrapper Blackwell and Charlie Christian; the singers he likes the best are Sleepy John Estes, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Brownie McGhee and Joe Turner.

Not many British guitarists have succeeded in playing blues with sympathy and understanding. One who has is Alexis Korner, another Cyril Davis. Cyril's style of singing and the fact that he had a 12-string guitar specially built for him should be evidence enough of his regard for Leadbelly's work. Yet although he employs many of Leadbelly's phrases, Cyril always tries to use them in a personal manner.

Mike Collins, a civil servant and expert linguist, and 17-year-old Chris Capon complete the regular group. On two tracks of the EP they are joined by Dave Stevens. A chartered accountant by profession, Dave has been active as a pianist over the past eleven years, playing both jazz and blues with a variety of groups. His favourite pianists are Earl Hines and the late Cripple Clarence Lofton.

That great singer of country blues, Sleepy John Estes, recorded I Ain't Gonna Worry No More in 1937; many of his cadences can be discerned in Alexis Korner's interpretation. Easy Rider, a traditional blues, is best-known in Leadbelly's version. "If I was a catfish swimming in the deep blue sea I'd have all you women diving after me" runs one stanza of this half-sorrowful, half-boastful song.

Although Kid Man and County Jail were originally recorded in 1944 by Big Maceo Merriweather, Dave Stevens' piano playing on these tracks is entirely different from Maceo's, just as Alexis Korner's guitar work differs completely from Tampa Red's. "I had a woman, had a woman, had a mouthful of shiny gold," runs the opening line of the exuberant Kid Man. County Jail, a prison blues, is graver in mood and pattern.

When Big Bill Broonzy and Jimmy Rushing visited the London Blues Club they not only sang but expressed their delight at hearing genuine blues in the heart of London. Their tributes were appreciated by these young musicians, who take the blues seriously but not themselves. With humility and sympathy they re-create these songs, striving always for authenticity of feeling, hoping to use the idiom in a personal way.

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