“The Lost Album”
By Michael Heatley
Gilt by association ... that's the story of Alexis Korner, the acknowledged founding father of British rhythm and blues. From his emergence as one of the country's biggest musical catalysts in the mid to late Fifties until his untimely death in 1984 at the age of 55, he recorded and performed with scores of musicians who went on to make names for themselves, profiting from their time spent with the great man and very often exceeding him in fame and fortune.
The roll call is immense, from Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Brian Jones through Manfred Mann's Paul Jones and Cream's Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker to lesser known but still influential musicians like Dick Heckstall-Smith and Duffy Power. All had gravitated towards Blues Incorporated, acclaimed as one of the first white electric blues bands in the world. The Paris-born son of Austrian-Greek Turkish parentage proved not only a serviceable guitarist (in which role he'd started in the Fifties with Chris Barber's band) and distinctive, gravel-voiced vocalist but more importantly a bandleader of some renown. In short, a musician's musician.
Though many of his most famous associations happened in the Sixties, Alexis found his greatest commercial success in the Seventies with CCS. A brass-laden ensemble in which he shared the spotlight yet again, this time with Peter Thorup, their hits included "Tap Turn On The Water" and an instrumental version of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" that was for many years the theme tune for TV's Top Of The Pops.
The album we are considering here takes up the story later in the decade and documents a period in early 1977 when Alexis recorded at Foel Studios in Wales with a quartet known as Bandit: unearthed in January 1990, the master tape had been lying on a shelf gathering dust for years. Much had happened during this time: Alexis had passed away, while Bandit's lead singer Jim Diamond had carved himself an international solo career, most notably via the Number 1 single "I Should Have Known Better".
Back at Foel Studios, there were a number of old hands on hand – besides Alexis, of course. Bassist Cliff Williams had experience as a member of Home, with Wishbone Ash's Laurie Wisefield (and was later to join Australian megastars AC/DC) while guitarist Jimmy Litherland could already point to a lengthy stint with Colosseum (alongside Dick Heckstall-Smith) as evidence of his experience.
Drummer Graham Broad and another guitarist, Danny McIntosh, were the other band members. For vocalist Jim Diamond, still in his early twenties, in particular it was a learning experience – and one the stocky Glaswegian will clearly never forget.
"It was a great privilege to work and sing with Alexis," he recalls. "He was a hard man to please, he knew his stuff, and when you pleased him it was a buzz for him. Alexis was the boss: he told you what to do"
"There was a lot of laughing, a lot of serious – very serious – musical discussion about why we were doing it and what we were trying to do. It was a very friendly situation ... not like bands."
The material here is varied in source and sound, but always shot through with Alexis's characteristic warmth and feeling. And even though some of the titles included in this recording would later appear in other versions, most notably tracks "Lend Me Some Time", "Day Time Song" and "The Gambler" on the album "Just Easy" (Intercord Records, 1978), this still remains an interesting example of work in progress.
At the time of recording, Alexis had been playing mainly with his daughter Sappho, his son-in-law and Zoot Money. Jim Diamond had gone to LA when Bandit split ("We were trying to be a serious band," he lamented, "but everybody wanted to hear the Sex Pistols") to sing with an abortive supergroup featuring Carmine Appice and Earl Slick, but returned to produce an album for Money, who became a firm friend: the spirit of co-operation and fellowship Alexis fostered that's so apparent on this recording was clearly contagious.
On German release as "The Lost Album" (Nibelung Records, 1990), background vocals were erroneously credited not to Diamond but Steve Marriott – like Alexis, another influential and inspirational man since sadly lost to British rock. These recordings may not be the jewel in the Korner crown, being a little rough and ready I places, but are certainly worth examination, particularly for those who may have picked up on Jim Diamond's later recordings.
Diamond's worldwide success in 1984 saw him country-hopping by air for the inevitable promotional appearances. He carried around with him not only warm memories of the recording sessions which gave rise to this album but a tangible souvenir. "I keep a piece of Welsh heather that Alexis gave me in my passport."
With this album's long-awaited British release, he has another memento of the sessions. Alexis aficionados may well find it just the ticket.
In December 1994