"The Blues is something that touches everyone during their lifetime. For some it starts as early as childhood through parental or guardian neglect or abuse (emotional, physical, sexual) or bullying from peers or siblings using their power to inflict pain for whatever perverse reasons.
For others the Blues may occur during adolescence through rejection (loving someone who doesn't love you) or maybe feeling you are a failure or just not good enough.
In adulthood the Blues is felt when the loss of a valued relationship happens (death, bereavement) or through the loss of a job/unemployment/Rascism/sexism/Homophobia/disability/
homelessness/poverty/aging and isolation, all of which may contribute to the Blues.
The Blues is indiscrimatory. It is endemic. It affects the Young and old, Rich and poor, black and white, women and men.
The Blues is a state of Mental health. Depression is the Blues.
The songs on this album are about many of the above mentioned states which all of us in the band have at some time experience, or still contend with to varying degrees.
In the UK during the year 2002, more people were prescribed Anti-depressants for daily use than the total number of people who voted for Tony Blairs government.!! Thats a lot of people with the blues."
Bill Thorndycraft on YouTube - Hear Bill's "Only Place I Know" by courtesy of Pete Buckland's production - thanks to Sean Simpson for his YouTube presentation. To watch just hit the logo
Killing Floor were the support band for Freddie King on two of his European tours and we also had the honour to play with other Blues dignitaries such as Otis Spann, Arthur Big BoyCrudup, Alexis Korner and Howlin Wolf (Chester Burnett) on some of our other UK dates.
We were lined up to back Jimmy Witherspoon (on Freddie Kings recommendation), but the tour was cancelled near the time due to him going missing in the states. Jimmy did us the great honour of recording a track off of the Killing Floor first album -Come home baby- on his album Spoonful o Blues released on the Kent label in USA
On several occasions I was given the pleasant but daunting task of acting as Minde to the Wolf and Freddy.
This I found slightly intimidating and somewhat paradoxical. I was a twenty-year-old lanky youth lacking the ability and presence to scare a rabbit, suffering from low confidence and low self-esteem and was expected to look after these enormous men.
Inorder to share with you some of my memories of these wonderful people, I need to start by putting in context my situation and its impact on my view at that time.
When Mick Clarke and I decided to form Killing Floor, I had recently returned from a lengthy spell with a heavy rock Band Butterfly who were quite popular in parts of Europe especially Germany. The band featured the idiosyncratic jazz-rock guitarist Eric Lindsay and drummer Alan Warren who became a Rock celebrity in Germany as a consequence of his manic rock drumming. Bill Brown played solid Bass.
My father had died whilst I was in Germany and my physical and mental health suffered during my bereavement and also the extremely gruelling work schedule undertaken by the band.
I had also lost interest in the music and in retrospect I was suffering from an acute attack of the Blues. (To be precise, depression which to varying degrees I struggled with during my years with Killing Floor). So this is the context that I met and worked with Freddie King, Howlin Wolf etc which to some extent impaired my ability to enjoy the experience to a maximum.
Born Chester Burnett in 1910 in West Point Mississippi, In living memory of the Blues there is yet to emerge anyone quite like HowlinWolf.
His voice was phenomenal and his presence on stage was awesome. He stood six foot three and weighed 300 pounds in his hey day.
He would stalk around the stage rolling his eyes, lunging to and from the microphone,
Around 1968 he made the British charts with Smokestack Lightnin.
A few years earlier the Stones had topped the charts with his song Little Red Rooster and this had introduced the Wolf to a wider audience.
I had the privilege of meeting Wolf in 1970 when he played a number of dates in the UK with Freddie King who was touring with Killing Floor. The Wolf was being backed by the John Dummer blues band which included Dave Kelly, who I discovered on the tour, went to the same school as me (Tulse hill Comprehensive) and we had in common, a number of mutual friends from the Streatham area in south London.
My earliest memory of meeting the Wolf was when the agent for his tour, Roy Tempest, who was also was promoting Freddie Kings tour, asked me to escort the Wolf on a few of his Dates and to also compare the shows.
I was told to pick the Wolf up from his Shepards Bush Hotel at 2.00 pm and take him to the concert, which may have been at Manchester Free Trade hall if my memory serves me right.
When I arrived at the Hotel on time, I was shocked to find him waiting in a dingy hallway of a rundown B&B. I expected this great man to be in more luxurious surroundings. He greeted me with little warmth, which was understandable when I discovered that he had been told by the agent that he would be picked up by me at 10.00am. He had been sitting waiting in the dark miserable hallway for four hours without a drink or any thing to eat. No wonder he was pissed off when I arrived and felt I was late and responsible for the wait. This obviously did not get our relationship off to a good start. He later mellowed when I got him some food.
I found Wolf to be both reserved and dignified and a man of few words. However I remember him sharing with me a few words of wisdom when I asked about his harmonica sound. I was intrigued to know how Wolf managed to get his distinctive sound so I asked him to share his secret to which he replied, Man, life is like a wheel, and as that wheel goes round youve got to grab a spoke otherwise you dont go nowhere. -Im still not sure how he got that sound! I sensed he did not always appreciate my clumsy attempts to communicate with him by what I guess must have felt like insensitive probing in to his private world.
He did, however, tell me that his original nickname was Big foots which was obviously influenced by his very large feet. Now when it comes to Footism (if such a politically correct ism exists) I feel I may have some license to be footist as I inhabit size 12 shoes but next to the Wolfs size 16 feet, my feet seemed to diminish to the size of a toddlers.
I asked him on a couple of occasions how he got the name Howlin Wolf and he seemed to go off on a tangent which at the time felt to me somewhat evasive and hard to follow, but I recall him mentioning his childhood memories of stories of wolves. I later heard that he adopted the name from an old song by John T Smith who may also have called himself the Howling Wolf for a while.
Wolf died in 1976 .His influence extended to the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart and White Stripes, many of whom have recorded his material.
Shortly after his death a life-sized statue of him was erected in a Chicago park and a child education centre was named in his honour.
In 1991 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1993 his face was used on a USA postage stamp, all in recognition of this great mans contribution to contemporary music. A fitting memory to a Rock n Roll Hero.
Whenever I think of Freddie, I get a picture in my mind of a big smiling man who gave off a natural warmth and respect to everyone he met. I remember him as a polite, humble man who despite these positive characteristics was also assertive and strong. No one in his or her right mind would argue with Freddie. He was a big man, probably around 6.1. and must have weighed in the Region of 18 stones. (Despite being a Europhile I've yet to come to terms with metrics).
My first memory of Freddie, was rehearsing with him at the Pied Bull Islington, in preparation for the first tour. I was staggered by the size of his hands and fingers. I could not believe that this man could have such dexterity and fine motor movement to play such astonishing and mind blowing guitar. The strings on his guitar felt like Telephone wires and when he allowed me once the honour to strum his Gibson, I could hardly bend a string.
My other enduring memory of Freddie was his wonderful Suits. He had these amazing Stage suits, which I was required to carry (in my capacity as MC and Minder). My favourite was his Lime Green one, which seemed to be about 3 foot wide at the shoulders. I'm not sure what the material was but I guess it might have been Mohair.
Freddie was born on a farm near Longview Texas and around the age of 16 moved to Chicago where he had Aunts and Uncles living. His grandmother lived on Westside Chicago. He acquired work in a Steel Mill and at night frequented the Blues bars and clubs. I assumed he was influenced by T- Bone Walker but he said he was most impressed by Jimmy Rogers and Eddie Taylor. He also said that Robert Jr Lockwood taught him a lot.
I think Freddie's high spots as a musician were around 1961 when he had a few hits, Hideaway, San-Ho-Zay etc. He said he had 6 top ten R&B hits in the USA and was working a lot in the early 60s. He had some problem with his record company, King, who were unable to get airplay due to some problem with the companies owners upsetting Radio stations, or something like that. I sensed he was quite bitter about that.
A few other minor memories I have are playing at some Kitsch club in the Midlands and being greeted by a drunk promoter who said to Freddie "We had your brother here the other week, Ben E King". Freddie was not amused. Sadly the promoter was not joking.
At another gig in somewhere like Barnes west London, I remember the promoter (again drunk) making racist remarks and Freddie giving this lowlife a look as if to kill. We had to calm Freddie down, as I do not think he was joking when he shared with us his intentions. Freddie rarely got angry, but when he did it was scary and chilling to say the least.
Freddie use to get very nervous just before going on stage. i.e. when the band went on stage and started playing a 12 bar shuffle this was the cue for me to go and announce him and for Freddie to follow. As soon as the band started the shuffle I would say "are you ready Freddie?" and he would always respond by asking nervously for a cigarette, which he would furiously drag on. I would then announce him from the stage and he would then appear with a big beaming smile, looking confident and totally in control, which he was.
One other fond memory was after a gig at Newcastle City Hall. We returned to our hotel, which was opposite the old Sunderland football ground at Roker Park and had been invited by the landlady to help ourselves to food from the kitchen. There were dozens of eggs, lots of ham and cheese and an enormous slab of Fruitcake. Freddie had an awesome appetite and was helping himself to the Buffet. Our roadie was cooking a large pan of fried eggs and asked Freddie to pass his plate.
"How many eggs Freddie?" asked the roadie.
"Four Man" replied Freddie.
"How do you want them?" enquired the roadie.
"Sunny side up on top of the fruit cake" Freddie replied to our astonishment. We never found out whether this was a Texan gastronomic delight. The way all Texans enjoy their eggs.
A couple of years later when Freddie was touring with Leon Russell's Shelter artistes, he was playing a few nights at the Rainbow theatre Finsbury park where our ex-roadie Big Pete Walters was the sound engineer. Freddie had spoke to Pete and had asked after me and said he wanted me to go to the Rainbow on the last night to play some blues Harp with him. Unfortunately my mental health was poor at the time and the next day Pete said Freddie had wanted me to jam with him at the end of the show with Leon Russell, Eric Clapton and a few other interesting people.
This remains, one of my biggest regrets in life.
Freddie died around Xmas 1976, aged 42. I am sure if he had not died at such a young age, he would have gone on to be an even bigger Star than he was.
He was a great guitarist; a superb singer and I feel greatly privileged to have known this fine man.
We played on the same bill as Otis on many occasions. I found him to be a gentle man, modest and unassuming.
He became known internationally as the pianist who accompanied Muddy Waters in the famous Chicago blues band.
He had a connection with Freddie via their friendship and relationships with Robert Jr Lockwood who influenced and taught Freddie and with whom Otis recorded and duetted.
My outstanding memory of Otis was at a party after a gig, possibly at Sheffield City hall where we jammed with him and Freddie. He had a wonderful rolling style of playing.
I remember also him playing at some large theatre with us and he was on stage playing with his backing band when I decided to find somewhere quiet to smoke a Spliff. (a bad habit I had at the time). In order to find somewhere discreet to enjoy the moment, I wandered backstage down some stairs and stumbled upon a small broom cupboard, which was directly under the stage.
I suddenly became aware of a strange banging noise, which alarmed me and was concerned that something was wrong with the PA system, which was mine. I rushed upstairs to the wings of the stage, in a state of anxiety but could no longer hear the knocking noise and the sound through the PA was fine.
I returned below stage to the broom cupboard and there it was again. Back I rushed to the stage and then it dawned on me.!! It was Otis stamping his foot as he played. (Don't smoke dope !!!).
Another memory was having a conversation with Freddie and Otis on the Stage at Newcastle City Hall and Otis being very upset with the band that was backing him. He felt that they did not respect him musically and did not want to really play with him. Freddie was most annoyed and wanted us, to back Otis and Otis to sack the band. Unfortunately this wasn't possible due to contracts etc and Otis soldiered on.
Otis had a very interesting elderly female fan that followed him everywhere to all his gigs. I suppose she was a Groupie. I have a fond memory of this interesting woman. We were in a restaurant after a gig when she ordered a steak meal. When the meal arrived, she took one bite of the steak and screamed "This ain't steak it's Horse meat" and then to our amazement, lifted her hair, which happened to be a wig and proceeded to scratch her head and then replaced the wig back on her head at an angle and continued eating. If my memory is correct, I recall her liking a drink or two.
Otis died of cancer at the age of 40 in 1970.Sadly missed.
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup
We played with Arthur at Leeds University. His style I remember as being curious and difficult for any accompanying musicians to follow. Similar in some respects to John Lee Hooker. Not always keeping to a strict 12 bar or time sequence. I remember talking to him after the gig and got the sense that he might not have been too well. I remember being struck by his annoyance and bitterness at not being paid any royalties from the two massive hits Elvis Presley had with his songs "That's alright Mama" and " My baby left me". I remember him referring to Elvis as Alvin Priestley. If I remember correctly his case for royaltities was being taken up by the British Blues federation, as I believe it was then called. Sadly, I don't think they were successful.
Arthur died from a Stroke suffered at his home in Frankstown, Virginia in 1974 aged 69.
A major crime that he never received the money that was rightfully his.
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