Cass and the
Some Early Memories
By Brian Hudson
In May or June 1959 I first met Cass, alias Casey Jones, alias Brian Casser, in Liverpool's Jacaranda Club.
I'd just spoken with the owner, Allan Williams about the possibility of getting some engagements there for the Liverpool University Jazz Band in which I played drums. The Jacaranda's resident group, the Royal Caribbean Steel Band, known to some regulars as the Binmen, were going away for part of the summer, and I saw this as a possible opportunity for me and my fellow student musicians to play at the club.
"Not commercial enough" was Williams' reply to my proposal - Allan never did show any enthusiasm for jazz, preferring to go into business with the local pop and rock scene. Disappointed at his reply, I turned to leave. As I approached the door, one of two young men sitting nearby spoke to me and invited me to join them. It was Cass. His companion was Adrian Barber, later a member of Liverpool's well known group, the Big Three. Adrian was later to become a successful recording technician working with groups such as the Cream. Both were ex-merchant seamen, and they'd been discussing the possibility of forming a rock group. Overhearing my conversation with Williams, they decided to ask me to join them as drummer.
My initial response was negative. At that time most jazz musicians had a low opinion of rock music, and I tended to share that attitude. Some jazz enthusiasts condescended to admit that rock could be pleasantly entertaining, but felt that it was "not really art, Man!" As a keen jazz enthusiast and aspirant drummer, I was much more impressed by tasteful brushwork than by what sounded to me like a mindless mechanical pounding produced by most rock drummers. Things have changed greatly since then, of course, and so have I. Persuaded by Cass and Adrian, I agreed to think about it and was also interested in Adrian's offer of a share of the flat he rented in Falkner Square, conveniently close to the University where I was a student.
Unable to find work in jazz, I joined Cass and Adrian to form the original Cass & the Cassanovas. Cass and Adrian both played guitar and we were all supposed to sing - Cass taking the lead, of course. We were still in need of a bass player. This was a constant problem as we were unable to find anyone who was able to fill this role on a regular basis. We sometimes managed to get someone on double bass, at least one of these occasional players being, like me, a University student. We became a regular band at the Corinthian Club which paid us a pound each for an evening's performance, thirty shillings on Sundays.
I recall that the entrance to this cellar club was reached through a scruffy backyard off Seel Street. To enter, patrons descended a short flight of steps where there was a doorman. I remember him as a rather sad, prematurely grey haired man who used to play one record repeatedly - Nat King Cole's 'Mona Lisa.'
As I remember, the downstairs club was quite neat and clean, not sleazy, as its location might suggest. The music we played was less rock and roll than pop and perhaps, R&B. Of all the songs we sang, I only remember 'Sloop John B', a number that had been recorded by the Kingston Trio. We rarely knew all the words of the songs we performed, with Cass's infectious bravado, we seemed to manage.
If tall, dark and handsome are characteristics of a man attractive to women, Cass scored poorly on the first, but did better on the other two. He saw himself as a Casanova, and women responded accordingly.
As a bandleader he had more modest success. To enhance the group's image, he had us buy identical shirts - tight, wooly, itchy things in the Italian style with vertical narrow red and black stripes. They made us sweat profusely in the stuffy club venues and shrank in the wash. He also had business cards printed. I still have one, appropriately coffee stained. Information on the card includes the group's availability for weddings and other functions, as well as its wide musical repertoire, including rock, R&B, skiffle, pop and cha-cha-cha. The Corinthian Club is mentioned as a contact address.
I moved into the Falkner Square flat where Adrian lived. There I saw the huge, coffin like amplifiers he used to build at that time. Despite our differences in musical taste, Adrian and I got along together well enough.
As the demands of my University studies increased, I had to decide what to do about my involvement with Cass & the Cassanovas. The group wished to continue and achieve commercial success while I was keen to complete my studies at the University. I also had a strong
commitment to the jazz activities there.
My break with the group came in late July 1959 when I had to leave Liverpool temporarily in order to do field research on Teeside as part of my university work. The drummer who replaced me was Johnny Hutchinson, soon to become a highly regarded figure on the Liverpool rock scene. He later became leader of the Big Three when Cass left the group, which then included Johnny Gustafson.