We never, as far as I know, had any actual Beatles or Stones in on our Wednesdays (though Dylan showed once, at least we were told it was him: he lurked, head down, at a back table, surrounded by defenders, for an hour or so then vanished – now you see him, now you don’t, maybe he was or he wasn’t …), but we did get a pretty good cross-section of the B-list. They listened – I remember catching Clapton’s eye and raised eyebrow when I managed, probably by accident, a particularly snazzy multi-string hammer-on lick (the kind of stuff Hendrix would blow us all out with a year later) during one of the bluesy solos which had become my trademark – but mostly, once we’d done our first set and they’d got mellow enough, they wanted to jam. Every week you could count on something happening. I don’t want to make things up, so one clear distinctly recalled line-up will do: Stevie Winwood on organ, Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Moon on drums, Long John Baldry singing, and our Billy gamely holding out on bass. The rest of us had been nudged off the stage.
I’d like to take this opportunity, by the way, of casting doubts on a myth which I’ve been spreading around for the last forty years – that Clapton played my Telecaster. I still have this guitar, but it stubbornly refuses to answer this question. Certainly he got up and plugged into my Fender amp; certainly he made a few adjustments to the amp settings and achieved his then definitive Buddy Guy sound; certainly I don’t recall seeing him ship in his Les Paul or whatever he was using then (this was probably just on the cusp between Bluesbreakers and Cream) … I honestly don’t remember for sure, and I’m certain he doesn’t. His autobiography sheds no light.
I did however (I’m sure of this) use Andy Summers’ plectrum. I dropped mine, couldn’t find it, didn’t have a spare, pleaded with Andy at the break – he went out to his car, found a little spare plec and delivered it to me just before we went back on, with a smile. Hero! His autobiography also unaccountably overlooks this crucial event.
Another good thing about the Crom was that, unlike most places, we were allowed to leave the equipment on site and go back to collect it the next morning. For those of you who weren’t in a working band in the sixties, this was a rare blessing. Bear in mind, if you will, that bands at our level didn’t have the services of those beasts of burden, logistics engineers, psychiatric counsellors called ‘road managers’. We did it all ourselves. A typical first time Saturday away gig at let’s call it The Cave in Bromsgrove, would go roughly as follows. Wake up, get dressed and if lucky washed and shaved. Hopefully the van is already loaded with the gear, ready to roll. I make sure my Telecaster is in the van, not the bedroom. Elect driver, head north. Find the Cave (how did we do that the first time? No satnav: not sure we even had a map). Check out the Cave (make sure we can get the Hammond B3 through the door/down or up stairs; don’t forget the Disque *). Hump gear into the Cave (I learnt everything I know, which is a lot, about how to carry heavy square boxes), set it up. Sound test (‘yeah, everything seems to work’), find a pub. Turn up in time to play. Play. Disconnect and hump gear back out of Cave **; load van; drive or be driven back to London, via Blue Boar grease-out; fall into bed. If lucky, sleep.
* See future post, maybe.
** Make sure it’s all loaded. At one such gig, Bill left his beautiful white Fender Jazz bass leaning against a wall. We drove back twenty miles; it was gone. I felt – can you do this? – vicarious sadness. He got a nice Precision replacement though.