New Musical Express
January 14th 1984
Alexis Korner Tribute
Blues For Mr Korner
Bob Fisher, who worked with Alexis Korner on a TV history of rock, pays tribute to the man who was the chief architect of British blues and R&B
I first met Alexis in the late ‘70s when I was involved in the reissuing of the Stax catalogue in the UK. Meeting a living legend (a term he would have hated but true nonetheless) in the guise of a Radio One DJ should have been a pretty weird experience, but his captivating charm and unique politeness made one feel straightaway that you had known him for years.
His Radio One show, which regularly appeared in the Top Ten polls of the NME and other music papers, was very important to him. He had been broadcasting for the BBC since 1964, mainly on the World Service and later the BBC German service. His sunday night show had an incredibly faithful audience and the respect was mutual. He always had time to answer listeners who questioned him on specific records he had played which they could not locate. It is to be hoped that the void in broadcasting which he leaves can be filled, for it’s certain that labels like Charly, Ace, Demon and Route 66 will miss him greatly.
I had been working with him since 1981 on a 13-part TV series, The History Of Rock. He was providing the commentary and working on the scripts and research. All of this work was slotted, like the radio show, around TV commercial voice-overs and live performances, mainly in Germany and Austria. His radio audience regularly complained to the BBC that his series never ran long enough, but naturally they were unaware that despite his lack of profile on the English circuit he still performed regularly abroad.
The tragedy of his death is further compounded by the projects he was involved in during 1983. He had formed his own production company Vita Viva to undertake work in TV, film and records. Ironically the first Vita Viva project to reach UK screens was his own Marquee show screened last Saturday by London Weekend. Work was progressing well on a book and TV special on the history and development of British R&B. Jody Grinder, also well into the research stage, was to be the story of US military marching songs and would embrace their cross fertilisation with blues, soul and rap.
For The History Of Rock he had conducted over a dozen video interviews. Listening and watching him converse with artists like Paul McCartney, B.B. King, Bill Wyman and Michie Most, it was difficult to ascertain why TV had never used him more in this capacity. The relaxed atmosphere of trusting musicians conversing resulted in some unique dialogues.
Last year, after mush persuasion, he had also returned to the recording studio for the first time in seven years. The sessions resulted in some devastating performances, including a remarkable version of the old Peter Sarstedt song ‘Beirut’. Decisions on the future of these and other projects will now rest with his estate.
His death, coming at a time of such varied activity, was a cruel shock to all who knew him. A visit to Westminster Hospital at any time before mid-December would have given only the very slightest trace of concern and worry. He had charmed and beguiled the nurses and staff in the way he did all who spent time with him in work or pleasure. He didn’t believe in wasting time; he wrote an entire album of new songs whilst in residence at Westminster. Like all true bluesmen he fed off personal experience: the titles are wonderful - ‘Cat Scan’, ‘Westminster Rock’, ‘Lung Leak’ and ‘Hanging Fire In The Air’ amongst them. He felt that anyone else who might have to suffer the indignities of lengthy tests might enjoy and even find comfort in these songs.
On 1 January 1984, British music lost one of its leading architects. Those whose lives he touched, however briefly, will be the poorer for his loss.
On Sunday 27 January at 7pm Radio One will repeat the 1980 programme that Alexis recorded on his own life and career. Try and hear it.