By John Platt
Although the music on these recordings begins in 1961, the story
starts over thirty years earlier when Alexis was born into the cosmopolitan
The Korner family finally settled in
Around this time Alexis made the discovery that was to change his
life. Alexis and a friend had acquired the habit of spending Saturday mornings
stealing records from stalls in the
After leaving school Alexis joined the family shipping firm (a brief disaster) before entering the music business as A&R man at Melodisc. This was followed by a spell at Decca as a publicist and the BBC as a studio manager (where his outrageous to offend people!).
By this time Alexis was already playing and (to some extent) singing, with various trad-jazz bands, notably Chris Barber's and later Ken Colyer's.
It was an offshoot of the Barber band (including Alexis) that first performed 'skiffle' which at the time was more or less synonymous with 'blues'. It was only later that it developed into the commercialised version personified by Lonnie Donnegan.
It was more or less at the point where skiffle was taking off (around
1956) that Alexis met Cyril Davies, harmonica player, 12 string guitarist and
extreme Leadbelly enthusiast. They decided that they
wanted to play 'real' blues with no compromises. In short order they took over
the room above the Roundhouse pub in
A local following did gradually appear, several of them aspiring
performers like Long John Baldry. Never popular with
critics, Korner and Davies decided to antagonise them
ever further by acquiring amplification - 10 watts between the two of them -
and adding bass (stand-up variety), drums and piano. They lost the Roundhouse
(for playing too loud!) but these seeds of
Unable to obtain gigs in the increasingly reactionary world of trad jazz clubs the obvious answer for Korner and Davies
was to open a new club. They did this in March 1962 in the unlikely setting of
the basement of a teashop in Ealing. Within weeks the
place was packed and the prestigious Marquee Club in
What the critics couldn't understand was why people wanted to hear this music. The answer was simple. Even the primitive form of electric RnB that Blues inc. were playing was far more exciting than the forced jollity of trad jazz.
The other factor that was gaining the music so much popularity was Korner himself.
At the drop of a hat he would enthuse endlessly about his favourite music and few listeners could fail to be moved by his erudition, sincerity and his undoubted charisma.
It has to be said that Blues Inc. was rarely stable. In the early days particularly, almost anybody who felt like it could sit in. many of those early musicians are now forgotten (as in the line-up on the first track on this album 'She Fooled Me') but gradually better known musicians started to drift away from trad jazz (like Dick Heckstall-Smith, future Stone Charlie Watts, and future Cream members Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) to join Blues Inc. At the same time Korner was inspiring young kids who'd never performed before to get into music. Thus either as guest artists for one night or as semi permanent members any of the following could have been seen with Blues Inc. during 1962 and 3 - Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Paul Jones, Eric Clapton, Graham Bond, etc., etc.
The first serious split came in October 1962 when Davies left. His concept of the blues being different from Alexis - Alexis liked horns and Davies hated them. Blues Inc's base of operation moved as well - down the road to the Flamingo, where it was felt that the horn based sound would go down better. In fact it should be said that although the blues remained Alexis' first love he enjoyed (and played) practically anything from soul through to modern jazz. Witness track 3 on the album which is an arrangement of Charlie Mingus' 'Oh Lord Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me'.
Despite the massive success of many of those he encouraged, Korner and Blues Inc. never achieved commercial recognition, a fact that never really disturbed Korner.
The band plugged on, changing almost monthly, recording regularly and frequently appearing on the radio. New members included Terry Cox and Danny Thompson, (later of Pentangle), who, remarkably, stayed with the band for over three years. In fact as a trio they had the odd distinction of being the house band on a weekly children's TV show, 'Five O'clock Club', for which Alexis was also Musical Director. Alexis continued Blues Inc. for several years but by 1967 it was obvious that the band was really 'Alexis and friends' and the name was dropped.
Free At Last
With the final dissolution of Blues Inc., Alexis formed a new band 'Free At Last' with Hughie Flint (drums - from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and Cliff Barton (bass - from Cyril Davies' RnB All Stars and Long John Baldry's Hoochie Coochie Men). In common with Blues Inc. this line-up was far from stable and others who passed through included drummer Gerry Conway, who went on to the Eclection and Fairport Convention and singer Marsha Hunt. In reality this was a period when Alexis spent more time hosting radio shows than performing and Free At Last only survived until mid 1967, although Alexis did bequeath the 'Free' part to a new group who made good use of the name.
The second half of 1967 and early '68 saw little in the way of Alexis performances but he did record notably as 'Duo' either with Victor Brox or Robert Plant, (immediately prior to his joining Led Zeppelin), examples of both of which are included here. Incidentally the Steve Miller featured on 'Operator' is the English one not the American one.
In early '68 Alexis gradually returned to performing and started to
sing much more than in his earlier bands (Blues Inc. had always had a separate
lead vocalist). His popularity in
A new band was always on the cards and in early 1969 Alexis set
about forming '
Apart from Alexis the mainstay of the band was the Danish musician
Peter Thorup, whom Alexis had met whilst guesting
with Thorup's band The Beefeaters, in
New Church made its English debut at the Stones' free concert in
The two tracks on side 2 feature the Korner, Thorup, Warleigh, Hodgkinson line-up and were recorded at the
New Church lasted throughout 1970, but Alexis continued to perform and record as a solo or 'with Friends' as in the last two tracks on side 3, where he is duetting with Thorup and Colin Hodgkinson respectively. Another project, but one that should be regarded largely as an extra curricular activity, was the studio band CCS formed by Alexis and Peter Thorup. They lasted (or to be more exact put out records) between 1970 and '74 and were in many ways the most commercial project with which Alexis was ever involved. As a result the music doesn't really fit with his other recordings, so nothing is included here. However what to be Alexis' last 'real' band Snape certainly are worthy of inclusion.
Snape, unlike most
of his bands, largely fell into Alexis' lap. In early 1972 when Humble Pie
undertook their first tour of
Surprisingly, the SNAPE line-up remained constant throughout its
(admittedly relatively short) existence. However on a subsequent tour of
Two tracks recorded live on that tour are included here. For various
reasons, despite enormous critical success both in Europe and
Of course Alexis didn't retire after that, although here in
Although the amount of recorded material became finite with his untimely death in January 1984, there is a wealth of recordings that remain either unreleased, only released outside of Britain, or just plain rare (and will be the subject of future compilations or reissues).
This current compilation is not a 'Best of Alexis Korner' but simply a cross-section of material recorded over an eleven year period that indicates the variety of both material and styles that Alexis utilised during that time - with a little help, of course, from his friends...