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Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies - "Alexis 1957"
When the annals of British Rhythm and Blues come to be written, no one name is likely to figure more prominently than that of Alexis Korner. From the halcyon days of skiffle, beaten out on home-made instruments in the back rooms of public houses, to the pinnacles of the international rock'n'roll circuit in front of audiences numbering tens of thousands, Alexis was one of the truly seminal figures of the movement.
A modest and unassuming man who frequently left the limelight to more extrovert personalities, Alexis nevertheless played a major role in the development of British rhythm and blues both through his own music and by his unselfish help and encouragement to others. The chorus of genuine regret throughout the music fraternity and the media generally at his untimely death earlier this year bears witness to the great esteem in which he was held by all those who knew him.
Alexis was born in Paris in 1928 and lived in France, Switzerland and North Africa until 1939 when his parents moved to England. In 1949 Alexis joined Chris Barber's Jazz Band, playing first piano and then swicthing to guitar.
I first remember Alexis, with Cyril Davies on harmonica (also to be heard on this record), playing to packed houses at Chris Barber's regular weekly blues session at the old Marquee Club in Oxford Street. From the electric atmosphere of those early sessions Alexis and Cyril formed their own band, Blues Incorporated and made the first best selling British blues album, "R&B at the Marquee". After Cyril left the band, Alexis continued to lead Blues Incorporated for a number of years, with varied and often star-studded personnel.
In the seventies his partnership with Peter Thorup led to a number of hit singles for the Collective Consciousness Society (CCS for short), with such compositions as "Whole Lotta Love", "Walking" and "Tap Turns on the Water".
Although better known as a band leader, from the earliest days, Alexis was also a fine solo performer, and I have happy memories of accompanying his smoky vocals and idiosyncratic guitar in the cramped surroundings of Ronnie Scott's old place in Gerrard Street.
I addition to his own performances, Alexis also did much to promote the music through his long running record show on BBC Radio 2, and to champion new young artists in his studio session for the BBC World Service.
The publicity which surrounded Alexis tended to play upon his connections with the Rolling Stones in their early days, but a great many other artists also had cause to be grateful to Alexis for a first break at the start of their careers.
His fiftieth birthday party at Shepperton Studios brought together some of the musicians who had worked with Alexis, including Eric Clapton and Zoot Money, and the WDR television film of that occasion gives a fascinating glimpse of the man and his music.
Also in 1978, Alexis was a founder member of the formidable Rocket88, a nine-piece boogie woogie band which numbered amongst its personnel Alexis' old friends from Blues Incorporated Jack Bruce and Charlie Watts, and this was the last time that I was privileged to play with him. His energy and enthusiasm were undimmed by the years, and his featured numbers were always the highspots of the show.
All this is a far cry from the skiffle and washboard bands whose blend of blues and folk music so delighted the audiences of the fifties. Alexis himself moved a long way from those early days, but the older styles of blues were always an essential part of his music and it is fitting that some of his earliest recordings for Doug Dobell's 77 label should once more be made available for anew generation to enjoy.
Footnote - This album was conceived as a tribute to Alexis Korner but as Cyril Davies also has his admirers it seemed unnecessary to reshuffle the original album issue - of twelve tracks - in order to have Alexis open both sides. As added weight to the tribute to Alexis, however, the unissued titles made available here for the first time include three solo performances.
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