The Legacy of Cyril Davies...British Blues Pioneer

Introduction: Cyril Who? Part 1

Introduction: Cyril Who? Part 2 - more memories of Cyril

Some fellow musicians called Cyril 'Squirrel' Davies a musical genius with a purist's vision. Cyril sang, played banjo, guitar and harmonica and was among a small group of young British musicians in the late 1950's who simply became possessed by a seemingly mystical musical form - the BLUES; these like minded musicians were affected by its purity, simplicity, and by the depth and honesty of emotion that was accessible through its traditional patterns. Cyril, though, narrowly defined the acceptable boundaries of this blues tradition.

Just as Cyril was hitting his stride musically, his failing health proved too much for this 'tough as nails', panel beating blues shouter - and he passed away at 31 year old, a few days shy of his birthday.

Cyril left a deep impression on all who had seen him perform - whether it channelling Leadbelly, playing his Grimshaw 12 string guitar at the Round House, blowing harp on the frontline with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, or fronting his own 'force of nature', the R&B All Stars - some familiar faces remember:


Long John Baldry

Well, we're sitting in the upstairs room of the Round House Pub on the corner of Wardour Street and Brewer Street in Soho and of course this is the very room that Alex Korner and Cyril Davies had their weekly 'Blues & Barrelhouse' sessions back in the late 50's…and I think it was about 1957 (that) I first came up here and met Alex and Cyril for the first time and of course…they were 'THE BLUES'. I mean, they were, they were totally enamored with the blues, as was I at that age, and I became very close to them in a very short time - Long John Baldry (LJB doc) 'In the Shadow of the Blues' ©2007


Ray & Dave Davies (The Kinks)

In a new series (2006), 'Soundtrack of My Life', Ray Davies the Kinks singer (now turned solo artist) reveals the five records that more than any others have shaped his career. "The record that kick-started The Kinks? 'Country Line Special', Cyril Davies and His Rhythm And Blues All-Stars (1963). I did buy that one, and it's one of the greatest records of its type ever made. It's a seminal English R'n'B track played brilliantly. I saw the band when I was at Hornsey Art School in 1962, and my girlfriend booked all the bands that played; I thought she'd be good to latch onto because she would get me free tickets. She booked the Rolling Stones for £50, and (English R'n'B legend) Alexis Korner, so art school gave me access to music I wouldn't have otherwise heard. The Kinks came through after that." Ray Davies - Sunday January 22, 2006 - ©The Observer

"I used to go down The Marquee Club where all these R & B bands were playing. It was like hearing Big Bill Broonzy with drums, but they were British bands. Alexis Korner had his Blues Band. Cyril Davies & His All Stars backed Sonny Boy Williamson…" (Excerpt © from Ray Davies' 'When Big Bill Speaks / The Man Who Knew a Man' (Dialogue) from the album 'The Storyteller')

I'll spend hours listening to Big Bill Broonzy - his voice is fantastic and he's also one of my personal favourite instrumentalists. His style is for real. It's genuine; got a lot of atmosphere - but then I also like girl singers like Anita O'Day; also the late Cyril Davies on harmonica. It was a tragedy that he didn't live to earn the acclaim he deserved, for he was a pioneer of rhythm 'n' blues in this country - ©Dave Davies


Ginger Baker / Jack Bruce / Graham Bond / Dick Heckstall-Smith (Graham Bond Organization)

Ginger Baker's 1999 album, 'Coward of the County', opens with the gracefully swinging 'Cyril Davies' inspired by the harmonica player/singer…the piece is infused with the blues - click here and listen for the echoes of Blues Inc at the Marquee. Kinda Spooky, but Nice.

I wanted to record 'Send For Me' because the writer, Cyril Davies, was a tremendous influence on all of us lucky enough to play with him in Blues Incorporated. He showed me that it was valid to just be yourself - but I never dared to play harp while he was around! - ©Jack Bruce

I joined Alexis and it was marvelous tuition. If it were not for him and Cyril Davies this scene wouldn't have been what it is today - ©Graham Bond

In the two or three months (August-October) and a little bit of November 1962, when Ginger, Jack and I were playing with the crème de la crème, the absolute best (for me) version of Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, I played this original of Cyril Davies' many, many times. Fantastic - Cyril was IT every time, always was. ©Dick Heckstall-Smith, (commenting on his remake of the song 'Spooky But Nice' in 2001)


Jimmy Page

It is interesting to look back to the birth of the British blues scene when one man pioneered a sound that was to give incentive to every group of that time. This man was the late Cyril Davies. Robbed by an early death of the fruits of his labors, he and his group the "All Stars" showed the path to many. Cyril was the first man to emulate the sound of the Chicago Blues Band in England, and with his harmonica electrified in the style of Little Walter, he set a standard which helped many groups such as the Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - ©Jimmy Page

In the middle of '62, Alexis Korner, who played acoustic guitar and Cyril Davies, who played electric harmonica, began organizing these blues jams at [London's] Marquee club on Thursday nights. These became quite popular. In fact you could trace the whole beginning of the British blues boom to those jams. Alexis was the person that actually introduced Brian Jones to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, which led to the formation of the Rolling Stones. (Although I was asked to join Cyril's band) I was still committed to art school, so I didn't want to make any serious commitments. Instead, I started this very informal band with this pianist named Andy Wren, that would jam on blues standards like 'Sweet Home Chicago' and 'Got My Mojo Working' between sets. - Jimmy Page, ©Guitar World interview p. 70, October 1999


Pete Townsend

This (filling out the Who's sound) started with Nicky (Hopkins) playing on our very first LP 'My Generation' and me realizing he was the guy who played piano on 'Country Line Special' by Cyril Davies, one of my hottest tracks at the time! - ©Pete Townsend


John Mayall / John McVie (The Bluesbreakers)

Having been there, it was just a change of pace from the traditional jazz, which you would know as New Orleans jazz. It had been the dominant force in clubs and radio for ten years prior to Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies bringing amplifiers into the clubs and performing the Chicago style blues. I think it excited everybody in the '60s at a time when not only music was changing, but fashion and culture and the whole thing. The whole generation was changing and looking for fresh things. I think the raucous music of the blues just fit in with that. It all happened very quickly, this British rock/blues scene, Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies pioneered it; then there was the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Georgie Fame, Spencer Davis, the Yardbirds -- everybody was playing in London - ©John Mayall

A band called the Krewsaders, formed by boys from the same street in Ealing, West London, was John McVie's first job as a bassplayer. "We had jackets, a logo, the whole deal. We played weddings and parties, those kinds of things. Someone called Cliff Barton, bass player with Cyril Davies (harp-player with Alexis Korner and Chris Barber) was asked to play with John Mayall. He said: "No, I won't do it because I already play for Cyril Davies…but I know this boy of 15 - give him a chance" - ©John McVie


Jim McCarty / Paul Samwell-Smith / Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds)

We got a gig playing with Cyril Davies at Eel Pie Island. We didn't have a name or anything; we were just playing twelve bar blues. Then when we'd finished playing - Cyril Davies said, "That was a great set, thank you (!)...and what was the name of the band?" Keith (Relf) said to him - it was, "The Yardbirds"! That was the first time I had heard the name! - ©Jim McCarty (The Yardbirds)

We all went to the Marquee to see Cyril play. Watching him made me think 'I want to do that' - we all felt the same, so we all went off and did it. I was knocked out by his (Ricky Brown) playing, so exciting, he just floated over the strings. I copied everything he did - and he knew it. - Paul Samwell-Smith (The Yardbirds), ©Harry Shapiro, 'Lost In the Blues'

Alexis had the first real R&B band in the country, with a fantastic harmonica player named Cyril Davies. - ©Eric Clapton, 'The Autobiography', 2007 - It was truly exotic stuff, because it was still so rare. They played once a week at the Marquee and the rest of the week the club put on jazz. But it made me realize it could be done. I was listening to Muddy Waters by then, so I knew full well what a blues band ought to sound like. Then the second time I went to see Alexis play, Mick Jagger was there and we got talking. Brian Jones and Keith Richards were also there, and they'd all get up and play with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, or whoever was Alexis' rhythm section that particular night. After that, it was only a matter of time before I thought about trying to do it for myself - ©Eric Clapton


Ritchie Blackmore

Well, Jeff (Beck) was always brilliant. Yeah, I did like the Yardbirds very much. They were an exception. Jeff was one of the first to use distortion. There's quite a few guys before Jeff that used distortion but you wouldn't have heard of any of them. Like Bernie Watson with Lord Sutch. In 1963 he made a record with Cyril Davies which has an amazing solo, all distortion. It was like Hendrix on a good night. He now plays for the Royal Philharmonic…just gave it all up. - Ritchie Blackmore, ©Trouser Press




Rod Stewart

... at that time he (Long John Baldry) was well known within the blues circles. I mean he had so much, him and Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies and Chris Barber…four names that literally brought Rhythm & Blues and Blues to Britain…so we really owe them a great deal - Rod Stewart (LJB doc) 'In the Shadow of the Blues' ©2007

I was playing harmonica with a couple of mates and singing a Muddy Waters song and Cyril Davies had just died. Do you know who Cyril Davies is? He was instrumental in bringing blues to this country, him and Chris Barber and Alexis Korner. - ©Rod Stewart




Mike Vernon

As I recall it, this ('Country Line Special') was the first solid British blues single released on the market. It featured Cyril Davies' superb harmonica work which was heavily influenced by both Sonny Boy Williamson and Sonny Terry. Davies did record other sides at this early date but none have ever been released to my knowledge. The only other sides featuring Cyril's work were made for Decca with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated - ©Mike Vernon - Producer


Introduction: Cyril Who? Part 2 - more memories of Cyril.
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