Rocking on Merseyside: 1958-62
By Neil Foster
One night in early 1959 I watched a rock’n’roll group called the Hot Shots playing their version of ‘C’mon Everybody’ to a sparse audience in a dingy club on Merseyside.
What made them stand out was that they were playing the bass line to the song not on a guitar but on a baritone sax!
I can see the saxist now, leaping energetically high into the air (quite a feat in itself as the baritone is a heavy instrument), wearing a jaunty cheese-cutter on the back of his head (I didn’t know it was called a cheese-cutter, then; to me it was just a funny-looking cap).
Full marks for originality!
These were the very early days of what came to be called the Mersey Sound but which was, in fact, just British boys trying to sing and play American rock’n’roll.
I had been a rock’n’roll fan since 1955 and had met a kindred spirit, Charlie Richmond, while working in Liverpool Public Library in 1957.
He became my best friend but it was not until 1958 that we met the man who would change our lives completely: John Day, who, in spite of his name was Anglo-Indian, born in Bombay, came to Liverpool in 1958 and started work in the library, where we met him.
He was over 6 feet tall and a superb athlete: so good that he was picked to swim for the All India Under-18 team in the Olympics. He was also a very good runner but more important, he could play guitar.
He taught my friend, Charlie, to play guitar and John’s brother, Rodney, came in on drums. As a trio, they performed at all sorts of church socials, wedding receptions etc. I have a vivid memory of their appearance at a small club called The Chequers (not the well-known one in Seel Street; this was off Renshaw Street, near the city centre).
It was a Sunday night and there were few people in. During a lull in the performance, an educated female voice (probably a student) floated across from a corner. “I say, why have you stopped playing?”
John, the leader, explained that he was consulting a list of songs, trying to decide which one to play next. “Why don’t you play one of that twangy guitar fellow’s things?” suggested the voice. “Eddie something-or-other”.
I had never heard Duane Eddy described in such toffee-nosed terms!
I desperately wanted to join the Delacardoes (as the trio was now called) on tenor sax but John was reluctant to take me on. It seemed I had put him off by hitting top F on the sax after hours in the Picton Reading Room, which had a fantastic echo.
He was afraid that the sax would drown out the guitars.
I had been taking saxophone lessons for a year, working my way through ‘The Jimmy Dorsey Saxophone Method’ with ill-concealed impatience. I was complaining to my tutor one day about the endless scales and arpeggios I was forced to
practice, whereupon he reminded me that it could be a lot worse.
He told me the true story of a German saxophone teacher who had forced his pupils to
practice blowing on one note for six months until they were able to produce what he considered an acceptable tone quality: then he allowed them to blow another note!
The truth was that my teacher and I were at cross-purposes. He was trying to turn me into a sight-reading, dance-band sax-player when all I wanted was to be a honking, rip-roaring sax-blaster in a rock’n’roll band. It was inevitable that we would go our separate ways.