“Red Hot From Alex”

Transatlantic LP Liner Notes

By Charles Fox



What matters about music is not what you call it but what it sounds like. And nowhere does this apply more aptly than to rhythm-and-blues. Originally thought up by American record companies as a category for discs aimed at the Negro market, the term has now – in Britain, at any rate – been appropriated by a wide variety of ensembles, stretching from The Rolling Stones to Graham Bond Quartet, from The Beatles to Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. R-and-B, in other words, can mean exactly what you want it to.


 As a matter of historical fact, it was Alexis Korner who started the vogue for rhythm-and-blues in Britain when he formed Blues Incorporated (with Cyril Davies on harmonica) early in 1962. Soon afterwards I described the band (in the late, lamented magazine 'Scene') as "standing halfway between Muddy Waters and Charlie Mingus". It aimed – and still aims – at blending the earthiness of blues with the sounds and techniques of the further-out kinds of modern jazz.


 Alexis Korner – half-Greek, half-Austrian, addicted to Dutch cigars and West Indian cooking – was playing blues with Cyril Davies as far back as 1955, long, long before anybody dreamed that this area of music would ever edge its way into the Top Twenty. Nowadays he is busy – as bandleader and composer as well as performer – giving the blues a new foothold. It's no exaggeration to claim that Blues Incorporated is one of the most original jazz – or blues – groups to emerge in Britain.


 The line-up on this LP includes two members of prize-winning Cambridge University jazz bands: Art Themen and Dick Heckstall-Smith. Dick (a former Blues Incorporated man, anyway) was brought in at the last minute when Art's train from Manchester got delayed by fog on the morning of the first session.


 Both men eventually turned up at the studio, so the chance was seized to use a three-piece reed section. (It's Dick, incidentally, who plays the tenor sax solo on Herbie's Tune and who trades "fours" with Art on Skipping.)


 Dave Castle has played alto sax with the Humphrey Lyttleton and John Cox bands, while Ron Edgeworth has contrived to appear frequently with Blues Incorporated and also to be a member of the John Barry Seven. Danny Thompson – a name to be noted for the future – is one of the best of the new crop of young bassists who have suddenly started appearing in Britain. Crisp drumming is supplied by another promising young musician, Barry Howton.


 Herbie Gions, the band's featured vocalist, hails from New York City, where, one Wednesday night in 1957, he and his vocal quartet won the Amateur Contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Soon afterwards he came to Europe with the U.S. Army and has stayed here ever since. The songs which he performs on this LP include one of Alexis Korner's (Roberta), as well as Woke Up This Morning and Stormy Monday, blues associated with B.B. King and T-Bone Walker respectively. One of the band's instrumental numbers – Herbie's Tune, previously known as Dooji Wooji – was dedicated to the singer after he showed a special fondness for it.


Most of the pieces, of course, are twelve-bar blues, including Jones, a tune featured (but in rather a different guise) by the Duke Ellington orchestra, Cabbage Greens – a duet for organ and guitar, and the Jimmy Smith number, Chicken Shack. Skipping – another of Alexis's compositions – could be described as a blues in reverse, starting (for the benefit of those who can tell A from a bull's foot) in the subdominant and ending in the tonic. The exceptions are It's Happening, concocted by Graham Bond in the days when he played alto sax with the band, a 32-bar theme alternation between 5/4 and 6/8, and Charlie Mingus's Haitian Fight Song, where, instead of floating between two time-signatures, the piece oscillates between two keys – E minor and A minor.


 Blues Incorporated must be the only band to have performed at both The Cavern and Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, two vastly different Meccas yet equally venerated. It has some right, therefore, to describe itself as both commercial and high-minded. But must the two adjectives always be regarded as incompatible? Alexis Korner thinks not. He believes that you can be uncompromising and still get across to the widest possible audience. "I hope we are commercial," he says, "I've no objection at all to making money, only to making bad music". And in the end, of course, only the music really matters, whether you call it jazz or pop or – just to prove that you're abreast of things – rhythm-and-blues.


Charles Fox




“Red Hot From Alex is an excellent title for this album.... I really wish I had played on more of it!”

Dick Heckstall-Smith



“Red Hot From Alex”

1997 Re-mastered CD Liner Notes

By Mark Troster



It was in March 1964 that Olympic Studios – then sited within a converted synagogue in the West End of London – spawned a special kind of creativity. Alexis Korner and his latest incarnation of Blues Incorporated were in session, fusing a variety of musical styles into a sound certainly unique to the time and which stands firm to this day.


 Whether by design or by default, frequent changes to personnel were always a major element of the Blues Incorporated modus operandi which was certainly in overdrive during the months leading up to the "Red Hot From Alex" sessions. Shortly before they took place, Alexis completely changed his rhythm section – the "engine room" of any band – by enlisting the services of Danny Thompson on string bass and Barry Howton on drums to replace Vernon Bown and Ronnie Dunn, both of whom had been members of the band since the summer of 1963. With the considerable vocal talent of Herbie Goins and the keyboard skills of Ron Edgeworth also being fresh acquisitions, a more cautions bandleader may well have shied away from investing in studio time at such an early stage. However, Alexis came from a different school and Herbie recalls the sessions with great affection: "The atmosphere was very relaxed and Alexis didn't worry about the band making mistakes, the main thing was to capture the way we sounded at club appearances. If one of us made a major goof we'd just stop and do a re-take, it didn't matter because we were all having such a fun time." Barry Howton had reservations about the band's ability to reproduce the all-important literal heat of the club performances: "As I sat behind my kit at the start of the first session I was doubtful about the prospects for capturing the spark of our live work. After all, playing at 10 o'clock in the morning within the relative sterility of a studio environment was hardly conductive to making the band swing. Alexis was alive to this problem and, as if by magic, produced a bottle of brandy from which he added generous measures to our coffees. The result was that the adrenalin quickly began to flow, we became totally immersed in the music and I believe our live sound was successfully re-created." A final, but extremely germane, account of Alexis' laid back approach to studio life comes from Dave Castle: "On the morning before the second session I went into a musical instrument shop in the West End and picked up a flute just to try it out – those were the times where it was more or less essential to double on flute and/or clarinet if you wanted to work regularly – so I decided to buy one and learn to play it. The ink on the sales ticket was barely dry before Alexis encouraged me to use the flute on Stormy Monday"; a fine example of how Alexis allowed his musicians the freedom to experiment, even at a recording session.


Throughout the early 1960s Art Themen was toiling to accommodate both his passion for playing tenor saxophone and his quest to graduate through medical school: "Working with Alexis was my first big time gig – having been introduced to him by Dick – and Blues Incorporated was a very enjoyable unit to be a part of. Prior to joining the band my background had been very much in jazz and so, with Blues Incorporated's set being based pretty heavily around Blues, my knowledge of music was furthered quite a lot."


As set out within Charles Fox's original sleeve note, Dick Heckstall-Smith briefly suspended his full membership of the Graham Bond Organization to contribute at the first session. Dick had, of course, previously been a member of the Blues Incorporated line-up which enjoyed great success at the Marquee Club during the second half of 1962. However, due to his preference for material in the Blues idiom, he jumped to the Bond camp in September 1963 when his tolerance of Alexis' steady move toward a more Jazz-based repertoire reached breaking-point. It is, therefore, probably no co-incidence that this one-off return to the Blues Incorporated fold saw his excellent tenor playing confined to those tunes – Skipping, Herbie's Tune and Chicken Shack – which harked back to his earliest association with Alexis.


 Danny Thompson grew up as a Blues fanatic and later developed a taste for the works of Charles Mingus. For Danny it was his first time in a recording studio, although he justifiably looks back on his efforts with pride: "Even now I don't think that I would change anything about the way I played at those sessions. I remember being totally inspired by those around me, the three horn players were fantastic and I really enjoyed working with Alexis and Herbie. To be able to play B.B. King's Woke up This Morning alongside Mingus' Haitian Fighting Song meant that Blues Incorporated represented virtually my ideal musical blend."


In strict adherence to the Blues Incorporated script Art Themen, Dave Castle, Ron Edgeworth and Berry Howton all moved on in the three months preceding the June 1964 release of the sessions under the title of Red Hot From Alex (Transatlantic TRA117). However, as one chapter closed another began......Alexis employed his – now legendary – knack for securing the services of fine Jazz and Blues players and over the next two and a half years Blues Incorporated boasted an array of talent including Alan Skidmore, Mick Pyne, Chris Pyne, Ray Warleigh and Duffy Power.


Alexis and Ron Edgeworth are sadly no longer with us; Alexis having passed away in 1984 aged 55 and Ron in 1994 aged 56. It is therefore fortunate that their very considerable abilities were so expertly captured by Bill Leader and that, due to the commitment of Chris Dane at Wood Hill Recordings, the heat from those Olympic sessions can be felt by us all once again.


Mark Troster (1997)




Record Mirror, Week ending, July 4, 1964

From “At The Cavern” CD


‘Alexis explains his sound’

By Patrick James


A couple of years ago the initials R & B were as likely to mean rolls and butter as anything else to the average pop music fan. Today they form the password to enjoyment for millions of young people. The man who made this possible was Alexis Korner. Although he didn’t put Rhythm and Blues on the map, he did something even more important. Almost single headed he drew the map which other people later occupied.


 His band, Blues Incorporated, with which the late Cyril Davies first found fame, has been going for over two years now. It’s always been an individual outfit, from its often unfashionable sound and its taste for jazz phrasing to its leaders startling tartan trousers. But it has been the inspiration of perhaps half the R&B groups now working in this country, in particular the Rolling Stones. The lineup which makes it sound like no one else is: guitar, alto, tenor, bass, drums and a vocalist.




 Alexis plays guitar, using a Kaye Jazzsemi-acoustic with a Selmer amp. Tony Robert’s tenor is a Selmer Mark , so is Ray Warliegh’s alto. What makes them unusual is that they both have a tiny crystal microphone suspended in the bell.


 “We wanted to find a way in which everyone could move around if they wanted to,” explained Alex, “and with a fixed microphone they’d have to stay in one spot. Ray goes over one Selmer amp and speaker, and Tony goes over the p.a. system. They’re Eagle mikes at 10s. 6d. each. The reason they’re ten-and-sixpenny ones is because I tried terribly hard but I couldn’t find any cheaper.” Crazy.


 Danny Thompson plays bass, a real double bass. “I won’t use an electric bass or bass guitar in the group, “ says Alex, “the second is too muddy and lacking in individuality, Danny has a good instrument, about 150 years old, and with it he uses a bass pick-up either clamped near the bridge or slotted in to where the tailpiece meets the end of the body. This feeds into a Selmer amp. At the moment we’re experimenting with amplified cello, too.”


 On drums is John Marshall, and he uses a fine Ludwig kit (“Bought in the States, not here” he says proudly). His cymbals are a 20 inch, an 18 inch riveted (for that sizzle effect) a 16 inch and 15 inch hihats, all by Zildjian.


 In Herbie Goins Blues Incorporated has a tremendous blues singer. He is currently using his own vocal chords and occasionally doubling on borrowed conga drums. It’s no surprise at all to find that he led a vocal quartet which won an amateur contest at the famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem a few years ago.




 Alexis Korner and Blues Incorporated ought to be at the top. I thought they were going to make it at least 18 months ago, but something was working against them.


 If you want to hear what the band sounds like (though with slightly altered personnel) there’s a great new LP out from Transatlantic called “Red Hot From Alex”. They imitate nobody, and with that lineup, nobody dares to imitate them. If individuality and originality ever become the fashion in R&B circles, Alex will Korner the market.


Patrick James



“Red Hot From Alex”