“Rocket 88”

Liner Notes

By Ian Stewart


Anyone reading the line-up of musicians on this album would be forgiven for thinking that this is yet another jazz-rock fusion. It is, in fact, a straight-forward, mainly instrumental blues album with boogie woogie as its foundation.


My first love, musically speaking, was the sound of boogie woogie piano. Although I first heard it practiced on commercial records by the white swing bands of the Forties, I soon discovered Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson; and to this day I still find Ammons' Blue Note recordings and the Ammons/Johnson duets very moving. From that point it was a natural progression to the records of Ammons and Johnson backing Joe Turner, Sippie Wallace and others; the Bluebird label recordings of Bob Call and Big Maceo (the latter in my opinion the only player to rank with Ammons); Milt Buckner with the unbelievable Lionel Hampton (in the late Forties); the bands of New Orleans pianists Fats Domino and Amos Milburn; Sammy Price backing blues and gospel artists for U.S.Decca; and the great R&B artists of the Fifties, such as Wynonie Harris and Louis Jordan – in whose bands the pianos played eight to the bar and the saxes ruled. I dreamt of one day organizing a band with these influences.


When I first met Brian Jones in 1961, he said that he wanted to form a rhythm & blue band; and I had hoped that he had a Wynonie Harris sort of things in mind. I was a little disappointed at the time that his idea of R&B was Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters – styles that did not always leave too much space for pianos and tenor sax.


The idea of a boogie woogie bands was forgotten until 1978, when some of England's best musicians celebrated the 50th anniversary of boogie woogie, a term which had first appeared on a record label in 1928 ("Pinetops' Boogie Woogie"). The first concert was largely instrumental, but was successful; and the formula was repeated, while giving more freedom to the horns and introducing vocals from Alexis Korner - and later from Danny Adler and others. Working by necessity from a pool of musicians, we arrived at Rocket88, a band with the best horn players in Europe, a very powerful rhythm section, and the only boogie woogie piano team in the world.


Of the musicians on this record, Messrs. Korner, Jack Bruce and Charlie Watts should need no introduction. In the early Sixties, they were the power behind Alexis' Blues Incorporated, a band which was a catalyst for a musical revolution. When John Picard was asked how Colin Smith, Don Weller and he should be described on a sleeve note, he jokingly said "British Jazz Legends," but this really sums it up rather well. They have been around for years, have huge sounds, are great blues players, and are, above all, powerful swingers. George Green, like Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons before him, is a taxi driver. Bob Hall is a patent attorney, but over years he has had much playing experience: with Chicken Shack, Savoy Brown, and backing nearly every American blues artist to play in Britain – including Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf. Which brings us to Hal "Cornbread" Singer, one of the innovators of the honking tenor sax style. Hal had a hit record with "Cornbread" in the late Forties and made a series of records for Savoy in the Forties and Fifties. He was a session tenor player for the King and Deluxe labels and is the tenor player on Wynonie Harris' "Good Rockin' Tonight." Hal has recorded or been on the road with Brownie McGhee, Ray Charles, Lowell Fousen, H-Bomb Ferguson and Joe Turner. More recently he has been living in Paris and playing all over Europe.


Of the titles on this album, "Roadhouse Boogie" and "Rocet88" are both Pete Johnson numbers from 1949, originally recorded for the Swingtime label. The latter (not to be confused with the Jacky Brenston/Ike Turner hit) is probably still available on the Arhoolie Joe Turner album. "Roadhouse Boogie" appeared on a European Polydor album under Lloyd Glenn’s name. "St. Louis Blues" follows the Albert Ammons Mercury arrangements; Hal Singer takes the first tenor sax solo. "Swindon Swing" is a Colin Smith original; Don Weller takes the first tenor sax solo and Hal Singer takes the second. On "Rocket88" the tenor sax solo is Don Weller all the way. The tenor on "Roll 'Em Pete" is Hal Singer. Jack Bruce's "Waiting For The Call" is a song from his "How's Tricks?" album.


This album was recorded under less than ideal conditions at the Rotation Club in Hanover, West Germany – where the stage is 20 feet above the floor and most people watch from the sides. For some reason, the band was on fire that night, despite a long bus ride and the odd hangover or two. Although acoustically the club left much to be desired, I feel we have achieved one of the best live albums ever, with the sort of feeling that is never achieved in studios. Jack Bruce in particular played his ass off; and by the time "Roll 'Em Pete" ended the set, his fingers were bleeding profusely from playing double bass – something he has only rarely done in recent years. Although the album was recorded on 24 tracks, there are no instrumental overdubs. Everything is as it was on that night, and the editing scissors were only used on one number so that we could have four tracks on side two.


As mentioned earlier, this has to be an occasional band formed from a pool of players, as nearly everybody involved is a leader or permanent member of another group. So I would like to take the opportunity to thank some of the other musicians who have been, and hopefully will be again, involved in Rocket88: drummers Mickey Waller and Pete York; bassists David Green, Colin Hodgkinson, David Markee, Harvey Weston and Charlie Hart; saxophonists Dick Morrissey, Willy Garnett and Malcom Everson; the mighty voice of Chris Farlowe and last but not least, Cincinati’s own Danny Adler. Thanks to Karston Jahncke and Dell Taylor, who organized the Hanover trip, and also to Arnold Dunn, Peter Stevens and Mick McKenna with the Stones Mobile – who recorded many Rocket88 gigs, usually in pouring rain, before they got the right one.


Ian Stewart



“Rocket 88”