Chris came back for more! Sadly, he has now passed away and you can read his Obituary in that section
Considering the influence and the success of the Searchers in the 1960s, it is surprising that no one has written a book about them. I have thought about writing one myself, but there are stumbling-blocks. In my view, it is not possible to write a book that would satisfy the five key members – Frank Allen, Chris Curtis, Tony Jackson, John McNally and Mike Pender – as they rarely like what each is saying about the other. John McNally and Mike Pender disliked each other’s comments in a 2002 feature in the US “Goldmine” magazine, and Chris Curtis was very annoyed at what John said about him on BBC Radio Lancashire. Yet a book that does not give all sides of the picture is going to be incomplete. Frank Allen’s own book of reminiscences, “Travelling Man” (Aureus Publishing, 1999), was very entertaining but it painted too rosy a glow and didn’t discuss the contentious issues within the band. Two sisters, Laine and Jule Rawlinson, were working on a biography and interviewed the key personnel, but nothing has been heard of the project for some years. If I do ever write a book about them, I have my title – “Someday We’re Gonna Love Again”.
Chris Curtis was the Searchers’ drummer from 1960 to 1966 – the key years – and he was the lynch-pin of the group’s success. Very hyper, very enthusiastic, he was constantly seeking out obscure songs that, nevertheless, had “Hit” written all over them. There are different accounts as to how he came to leave the Searchers, certainly some misadventures on an Australian tour played their part, but in the end he was becoming unreliable. He made a solo record with the musicians who became Deep Purple and he produced records for other performers, notably Paul and Barry Ryan, but in the end, his music career fizzled out and he took a job in the civil service. He has retired due to ill-health (a consequence of “sick building syndrome”) and he has returned, somewhat cautiously, to the public light.
I interviewed Chris Curtis for BBC Radio Merseyside early in 1998 (subsequently in March 1998’s “Record Collector”), which, although I didn’t realise it at the time, was the first interview he had given in 30 years. John McNally said, “This interview is so distorted. Anything good that the Searchers ever did is down to him and he washes his hands of everything else.” Frank Allen, on the other hand, thought the interview was very funny and “pure Chris”. (The 1998 interview is also on this website so you can make up your own mind about it.)
Chris is still very hyper and very enthusiastic and in recent months, he has taken to performing again. Itt is sad that someone who made Number 1 records should be singing “Lean On Me” with a karaoke machine at the Old Roan pub or Cooper’s Emporium, but it happens. Someone stopped him in the supermarket and remarked on his appearance at the Old Roan without knowing his provenance.
Somewhat classier have been his appearances with live musicians for the Merseycats charity at the Marconi club in Huyton on Thursday nights, where incidentially he is taken by Mike Pender’s cousin, Michael Prendergast. He has been singing R&B oldies and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” (with awesome dynamics), but so far he hasn’t dipped into the Searchers’ songbook.
In April 2003 I asked him to come on to my show, “On The Beat”, on BBC Radio Merseyside to discuss the “new” Searchers’ albums, “The Searchers At The Iron Door”, “The Searchers At The Star-Club” and the “Swedish Radio Sessions”. He came across well but it has been a pyrrhic victory as Chris has no concept of time and has been known to ring me for a chat at two in the morning. When I told him to ring only at sensible times, he left me a present at Radio Merseyside. It was a much played copy of the Judy Collins LP, “Golden Apples Of The Sun”, which had been autographed, “To Chris, Best wishes, Judy Collins”. After “To Chris”, he had appended “and Spen”. Talk about having a collector’s item.
This is what Chris had to say in “On The Beat” on BBC Radio Merseyside on Sunday 13 April 2003. The material is not copyright – anyone who wants to write that book is welcome to use it.
SL: It’s quite astonishing, isn’t it, Chris, that, 40 years on, tracks are coming out that haven’t been heard by the public at all.
Chris Curtis: Yes, I never know about them until you tell me.
SL: You are noted for your versatility on the drums. You played tom-tom rolls, military rhythms, castanets, cowbells and bongos – you did everything on the records, didn’t you?
Chris Curtis: (Laughs) Pretty much. I was always doing a lot of things but one that springs to mind is a song I wrote called “No One Else Could Love Me”. I put down a basic track down with a standard drum-kit and then they played it back to me and I added castanets and Spanish bells.
NO ONE ELSE COULD LOVE ME – THE SEARCHERS
Chris Curtis: Tony Hatch was playing the piano on that.
SL: Tony Hatch was your producer at Pye. Was he an asset or a liability to the Searchers?
Chris Curtis: He was all right. He fibbed to me for the follow-up to “Sweets For My Sweet”. He said that he had been to a folk club in London and he had met this chap called Fred Nightingale who had written this song which would be good for us. It was “Sugar And Spice” and it was exactly the same chords as “Sweets For My Sweet”. Tony Hatch had written it himself and he tricked me into recording that rubbish.
SL: Couldn’t you have said, “Even so, I think it’s rubbish and we don’t want to do it.”
Chris Curtis: We were really desperate for a follow-up then.
SL: Do you wish you had recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man” because that would have suited you perfectly?
Chris Curtis: No, it would have suited the guitar sound, but it wouldn’t have suited me.
SL: When we talked about doing this programme, you said that you would like to play some of your favourite records and the first artist is Lou Johnson.
Chris Curtis: Great bloke and a wonderful artist and this song would be just great for P.J.Proby. Especially if I sang along with him. How’s that for big time?
SL: Well, you have been performing again lately for the Merseycats?
Chris Curtis: That is run by some very nice people such as Derek Peel and I love it. Faron came and grabbed my guitar the other night and then he played it. He’s a lovely person but if he touches it again, he will never play another guitar again in his life!
PARK AVENUE – LOU JOHNSON
Chris Curtis: I love the laugh in that record. The way he goes “Ha!”.
SL: Let’s talk about “The Iron Door Sessions”. This is your audition for Pye which was recorded at the Iron Door. How important was the Iron Door to you?
Chris Curtis: It was owned by Les Ackerley who became our manager and was a good chap, very nice person, but he lost out when we went to London. It was great to play the Iron Door. We used to do doubles at the Orrell Park Ballroom and the Iron Door. It was difficult to get down the stairs with my drums at the OPB and then down another flight to the Iron Door. The stage was only a foot high, and it was a strange place. The room had a divider in it and Roger McGough used to stand between the doors.
SL: Did you do lunchtime sessions there?
Chris Curtis: No.
SL: What about at the Cavern?
Chris Curtis: Ray McFall, the owner of the Cavern, took a dislike to me because I said it was a dreadful place. It was stinky and sweaty. I used to play in corduroy trousers and a leather jacket and had a hair a foot long, so it wouldn’t be conducive to a nice, pleasant lunchtime.
SL: Well, wearing a leather jacket on stage is a pretty daft thing to do.
(1) THIS IS MERSEY BEAT (1963, two volumes, Oriole PS 40047/8) In July 1963 John Schroeder brought a mobile recording unit to Liverpool and, using the Rialto Ballroom, recorded one local band after another. The albums feature ten bands and are as close as you can get to the atmosphere in the Cavern and other local beat clubs. The bands include Earl Preston and the TTs, Sonny Webb and the Cascades, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the Merseybeats, the Nomads and the Del Renas. An EP, “Take Six” (Oriole EP 7080), was extracted from the albums. In 1982, Edsel released a 16-track compilation, mostly from these albums, and called “Let’s Stomp! Liverpool Beat 1963″ (Edsel ED 103). It included a four-page fold-out history of the bands. The 28-track “This Is Mersey Beat” (1989, Edsel DED 270 (LP) and EDCD 270 (CD)) duplicates the original artwork but omits Mark Peters and the Silhouettes and adds Oriole singles from Faron’s Flamingos and Ian and the Zodiacs. As an example of the rough and ready nature of the recordings, listen to Derry Wilkie and the Seniors performing Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So”: Derry sings, “In the evening when the sun comes up.” What was this man on?
(2) LIVE AT THE CAVERN (1964, Decca LK 4597) Only four Liverpool bands were featured on this LP – the Big Three, Lee Curtis and the All Stars, the Dennisons and Beryl Marsden. The other acts were Dave Berry, Bern Elliott, the Fortunes, Heinz and the Marauders. The CD reissue (See For Miles SEECD 385) is especially good as it adds the great EP, “The Big Three At The Cavern”. Worth hearing for compere Bob Wooler alone – he describes the Big Three as “the boys with the Benzedrine beat”, which is pretty daring for 1964. The best live album from the club, “Alexis Korner At The Cavern” (Oriole PS 40054), has never been reissued, yet it is far better than the acclaimed “R&B At The Marquee”. Quite possibly, the tapes no longer exist: the original tapes of Oriole’s “This Is Mersey Beat” were wiped clean and re-used, so the reissues have been taken from vinyl records.
(3) MERSEY BEAT, 1962-1964 (1974, United Artists USD 305/6) Andrew Lauder compiled this groundbreaking double-album for United Artists. It was a comprehensive selection of Merseybeat material given that EMI tracks (Beatles, Gerry, Cilla, Billy) and the Searchers’ hits were not available. The 34-track album only contains one Top 10 record (the Mojo’s “Everything’s Alright”) but it’s a well-chosen compilation with standout tracks from Kingsize Taylor (“Stupidity”), the Big Three (“Some Other Guy”), Beryl Marsden (“I Know”) and the Undertakers (“Mashed Potatoes”). If you see this on offer, make sure it also contains Bill Harry’s special edition of “Mersey Beat”. The caramel-coloured outer sleeve is ideal for autographs so if you happen to be at a Merseybeat function, take one with you. I should know as I’ve over 100 signatures on mine. Several Liverpool bands are also featured on the companion double-album, “The Beat Merchants” (1976, United Artists UDM 101/2).
(4) MERSEY SURVIVORS (1978, Raw RWLP 104) Some Merseybeat compilations feature spoken introductions from Bob Wooler or Bill Harry, and I love Bob Wooler’s introduction here. He refers to musicians being ripped off in the 60s, presumably thinking that Raw Records is about to do the same. The 15 tracks by seven acts include Merseybeat stalwarts Faron’s Flamingos, the Dimensions and Karl Terry and the Cruisers. The songs are 60s beat favourites – “I Can Tell”, “Some Other Guy”, “Hippy Hippy Shake”. This album was not marketed outside Merseyside and I hope the performers got their money.
(5) MERSEY SOUNDS (1980, Decca DPA 3081/2) Decca may have turned down the Beatles but they had a fine roster of Merseybeat performers including Pete Best, Lee Curtis, Beryl Marsden, the Big Three, the Dennisons and the Mojos. This 36-track double-album from Decca’s archives looks promising, but several tracks are by outsiders (Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, the Checkmates) and you wonder who put it together. Certainly not sleeve writer Bill Harry who distances himself from the intruders. The album includes some previously unissued material by Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes (“I’m Late”, “I’ve Been Watching You”). Also included are some tracks produced by Joe Meek for the Cryin’ Shames and Freddie Starr and the Midnighters. Freddie Starr’s “Who Told You” is the worst-ever Merseybeat record and Freddie would agree: “I sound like a choirboy being sick,” he says.
Early American teen idols and the Beatles
This is the final chapter from “Baby, That Is Rock And Roll – American Pop, 1954-1963″ (Finbarr International, 2001), which can be ordered through the Books page. I’ve reprinted the chapter as it is. I don’t know anyone else who does it, but I like the idea of numbering the direct quotes and then writing about the speakers at the back of the book, but I realise that the chapter might be a little confusing out of context. In other words, buy the book! (Spencer Leigh)
Rock’n’roll is American music and in the early 60s, the UK acts could only make an impression in the home market. Cover versions of US hits often did better than the American originals because the Billy Furys and Marty Wildes were available for TV performances and very little footage of the Americans was screened here. Indeed, as the TV companies never showed Ricky Nelson’s family series, and as he never appeared in a rock’n’roll film and didn’t visit the UK, I never saw Ricky Nelson sing any of his hits until the 1970s.
The UK acts made very little impression in America. Even when singing original songs, Cliff Richard only made the US Top 40 once, while the Shadows lost out to the Danish Jorgen Ingmann on “Apache”. The Tornadoes had a freak US No.l with “Telstar”, although, admittedly, it was a fine record. Ridiculously, the Tornadoes didn’t tour the US because they were backing Billy Fury and his manager, Larry Parnes, refused to allow the Tornadoes to go to America without him. It could have been more embarrassing for Billy if they had gone together. There was no logic to the occasional British record that made the US charts – Frankie Vaughan’s “Judy” or Cyril Stapleton’s “Nick Nack Paddy Wack”.
Geographically, the US dwarfs the UK and it contains four times as many people, four times as many record-buyers. However, with a population of 50 million English-speaking people, it was only a matter of time before a major international act would emerge from the UK. The way it happened could never have been predicted. Marvin Rainwater (738): “I was headlining a show in Liverpool and I found out later that the Beatles were on the same bill. It sure shocked me. I was stupid for not bringing them into my dressing-room and talking to them.”
On the strength of “Hey! Baby”, Bruce Channel (739) did club dates in the UK with his harmonica player, Delbert McClinton. They played the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton on 21 June 1962 with the Beatles in support. “I remember getting off the plane and my luggage was lost so I wore what I had on the plane that night in Maidstone. The tour is a blur after that, but I remember playing a big hall in Liverpool that reminded me of a castle. There were lots of kids there, a whole sea of people, and I said to Delbert, ‘They can’t all have come to see us’, and we soon found out that the Beatles were very popular there. Delbert was in the dressing-room with John Lennon who was very interested in his harp. Delbert played something for him and evidently John kept the idea and used it for the sound on ‘Love Me Do’. We had heard the harmonica on blues records by Jimmy Reed and people like that, and that influenced ‘Hey! Baby’. It’s a great thrill to know that our record influenced the Beatles, that our music was appreciated by someone of that stature.”
“Love Me Do” made the UK Top 20 at the end of 1962, and the following year belonged to the Beatles as they topped the charts with “Please Please Me”, “From Me To You”, “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. The Beatles didn’t make an impact in America until 1964 and so the visiting American stars coming to the UK in 1963 were witnessing a phenomenon that they knew nothing about.
Bobby Vee (740): “I was on tour with my producer Snuff Garrett in the North-West when someone played me ‘Love Me Do’. We loved it and thought it sounded like a Crickets’ record. Snuffy got very excited and wanted to buy the rights for America, but EMI wanted $25,000 for the rights which at the time was too much money. It seemed outrageous – RCA only paid $35,000 for Elvis and this was a new group. We could tell that they were going to be popular and I started to learn their tunes. I also wrote six or seven tunes such as ‘She’s Sorry’ in that fashion. It was done with the kindest of intentions, a proclamation that there was this new sound in England. It never entered my mind that I was ripping them off, although it may look like that now.”
Troy Shondell (741): “I had my own group and I wanted them to be named on the label. When I asked Liberty, they said, ‘No, groups don’t sell, we want you to remain a single artist. Don’t you worry about anything, son, we’ll take care of you.’ Famous last words.”
Brian Hyland (742): “I played in Liverpool when the Beatles had ‘Please Please Me’ out and I thought it sounded great. It was clear from listening to it that they sang and played their own instruments and were involved with the whole process of making the record. This contrasted with a lot of American performers who made records with session guys they didn’t know. I did an American tour with Bobby Vee in 1963 and I remember us sitting in the dressing-room on the opening night singing ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’ together. The others on the tour were amazed. They’d never heard the songs before and they thought they were great.”
The Beatles’ first national tour was with Helen Shapiro and Danny Williams in February 1963. The following month they did two weeks with Tommy Roe and Chris Montez. Chris Montez (743): “I was touring England with Tommy Roe and an unknown group called the Beatles. They were booked to get the show going and they had such energy and power. They played me their album, ‘Please Please Me’, before it was released and I was knocked out. I couldn’t stop singing ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. It was such a great song. I was top of the charts and topping the bill, but when we got to Liverpool, I said, ‘This is your town, you close the show, I’m not the headliner here.’ They were amazed that I should say that.”
Tommy Roe (744): “I am very proud to be a part of the history of the Beatles and my memories of our tour are all great. They were getting hot in England and it was tough following them. In fact, we turned the whole thing around and they ended up closing the show. I was so impressed that I started doing their songs and tried to get them a record deal in the States. My record company turned them down and I think now that they should have seen them. Their records weren’t too impressive in the beginning – they were doing 50s music – and you really had to see the image alongside the music. Once the Beatles started getting publicity in America, it was bound to happen. I was so influenced by what I heard in this country that I wrote ‘Everybody’ on the way home. I tried to get that same sound. We recorded in Muscle Shoals and it was a big record.”
Chris Montez (745) changed the Ritchie Valens song, ‘In A Turkish Town’ to ‘In An English Town’. “Yes, I had such a wonderful time when I came over here that I thought I would sing about an English town and an English girl. I had a coat with a round collar and a belt that was made in England but bought in America. People wanted to buy the jacket from me, which used to amaze me. The Beatles took me to their tailor and he made a couple of suits for me. On the last day of the tour, they said, ‘We hope you don’t mind, but we’re having jackets made like yours.’ No problem, I was impressed.”
Pat Boone (746): “I was gathering songs from all around the world that I might record and I brought an English song home – (Sings) ‘If there’s anything that you want, If there’s anything I can do.’ I tried my best to get Randy Wood to let me record the song, but he said, ‘No, that’ll never be a hit’.”
Del Shannon (747) did record “From Me To You”, thus becoming the first person to take a Lennon and McCartney song into the US Top 100. Del was with the Beatles as part of “Swinging Sound 63” at the Royal Albert Hall in April. “‘From Me To You’ was a big hit here and I told John Lennon that I was going to do it. He said, ‘That’ll be all right’, but then, just as he was going on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, he turned to me and said, ‘Don’t do that.’ Brian Epstein had told him that he didn’t want any Americans covering their songs. The Beatles were going to invade America by themselves.” (I thought that Del’s 1965 hit, ‘Keep Searchin’’ owed something to the Mersey sound, but he disagreed: “That song is the same as ‘Runaway’ and that was before Merseybeat. I strum hard, double.”)
Three days later the Beatles were at the NME Pollwinners Concert at the Empire Pool, Wembley. John Stewart (748): “I was playing the London Palladium and the opening of the London Hilton with the Kingston Trio. We were big fans of the Springfields and we went to see them get an award at some big concert. The Most Promising New Band was the Beatles and they did ‘Twist And Shout’ and some of their own songs. Nick Reynolds and I both said, ‘That’s it. When this hits America, it’s over for us.’ Within a few months, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ had come out, they had done the Ed Sullivan show and we never had another Top 40 record.”
In May, the Beatles were touring with Roy Orbison. Duane Eddy (749): “I was supposed to tour with the Beatles in 1963 but my manager messed that up somehow and Roy Orbison went instead. That was one of the greatest things that ever happened to Roy. It rejuvenated his whole career and he had several more hit records. He always said that he was very thankful to me for not going on that tour.”
Roy Orbison (750) had no sooner arrived than he was confronted by Brian Epstein and John Lennon. “Brian said, ‘Who should close the show?’, and John said, ‘You’re getting all the money, so why don’t we close it?’ I don’t know whether that was true or not, whether I was getting that much more than they were. I certainly wasn’t getting that much – and the tour had sold out in one afternoon.”