“Accidentally Born In New Orleans”
2007 re-mastered CD Liner Notes
by Neil Slaven
As usual, Alexis Korner’s personal and professional life was in turmiol: finding gigs, finding musicians for gigs, arranging record contracts, fixing sessions, doing radio programmes and voice-overs for adverts – and on the home front, dealing with a trio of rebellious siblings who thought they could behave like their father, unware of the constraints and the management skills that kept him on a relatively even keel in the storm that usually raged around him. That’s what happens when you have several bad habits and prefer your children as friends rather than obedient satellietes. Not that love didn’t bind them all together.
As those around him knew, Alexis was in a perpetual state of becoming. Any attempt to put a finger on what constituted the essence of his talent merely created ripples that reflected back to – what? Well, Alexis. If you recall your chemistry, a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without being changed itself. When applied to humans, a catalyst is someone who precipitates change – and in Alexis’s case, he applied the process to himself as much as he did to others. When one idea had outlived its usefulness or just plain fallen apart, as it regulary tended to do, he simply moved on to the next. And there was always another idea. And this was what was happening in the Autumn of 1968, when Alexis took his Duo act with teenage bass player Nick South into Europe.
Having nurtured a raft of Blues-oriented bands that clogged the British club circuit, Alexis, who spoke several languages, decided to export himself and his music to the Continent, where a more deep-seated Blues boom was emerging. He delivered his message to Belgium, Holland, Poland, Czechoslovakia and in particular to Germany – in whose language he was fluent – a fact appreciated by his young audiences who, between songs, learned the history of The Blues in their own tongue. In Dusseldorf, in October, he sat in with Dutch group Cuby & The Bizzards – two songs later turned up on their Live album.
The following month, while in Copenhagen, he sang on a couple of numbers for The Beefeaters’ second album, Meet You There. The band was led by singer/guitarist Peter Thorup, who’d begun his career at the age of fifteen with the Blackpooles, an R&B and Soul band who cut a couple of singles in 1965/6. The Beefeaters were a couple of years old when Thorup joined them in 1966; their music also favoured R&B and Soul but Thorup’s original songs and organ-player Morten Kjarumsgard’s arrangements took them into areas that reflected similar developments in England.
Meeting Throup brought New Church, Alexis’s next idea, to fruition, with a musical policy as eclectic as ever, this time with an added flavouring of Gosple. Under trying conditions, Both Sides (CMRCD 1417) was recorded, the basic band augmented by a brass section that included Lol Coxhill, John Surman, Chris Pyne, Henry Lowther and Harry Beckett. Four tracks from a gig in Hamburg in December 1969 completed the lineup, a good sales point since he was now under contract to the German Metronome label. Though plagued by militant students who wanted to see the band but didn’t want to pay for it, the German tour was a big success. They played regularly to audiences of several thousand, a situation that just wasn’t happening back in England. Nor would the British authorities allow Peter Throup to live and work in dear old Blighty. They relented in the Autumn of 1970, but by then Alexis was ready to abort New Church for a new baby.
While all this was going on, Mickie Most, producer and owner of Rak Records, and pianist/arranger John Cameron had been discussing an idea for a big band album that would reflect what bandleader Don Ellis was doing in America. With the albums Electric Bath, Autumn and Shock Treatment, Ellis had dragged big band music out of dowdy Ellington and Bsie territory into a kicking, shouting amalgam of impossible tempos and barely-sane soloists that wowed audiences at festivals and the Fillmores. Most and Cameron didn’t want to go that far, but they liked the idea of challengeing the lumpen dominance of Prog Rock.
Most had already been talking to Phil Roberge, now Alexis’s manager, about singing the Korner/Thorup duo and since Alexis had been nursing a long-held hope to work woth “a big palais band”, the Constant Catalyst found himself back in business. As the main protagonists lounged on Most’s yacht in the south of France, the talk turned, of all things, to Jung’s theory of a society conditioned by a collective consciousness. As was expected of him, Mickie Most had “eureka!” moment and decreed their project would be called the Collective Consciousness Society – CCS. Not content with that, he also decided that the album would be preceded by a single, nothing less that Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.
The rest, as they say in Clicheland, is history. Whole Lotta Love entered the charts on October 30, 1970, stayed thirteen weeks, rose to No. 13 and became the next theme tune for Top Of The Pops, a programme on which Alexis never expected to apprear. Two further singles, Walkin’ and Tap Turns On The Water, were Top 10 hits in 1971. Alexis, no doubt to his embarrassment, became a Pop star, his face a fixture on magazine covers, his opinion sought on all manner of fleetingly important issues. But, in quiet moments, he already knew that all this attention and adulation was merely a sideshow to the ongoing importance of his career.
For the time being, that meant tours with Peter Thorup, the release of Alexis Korner, the album he’d recorded in Bermuda the previous year, with producer Jean-Paul Salcatori (check out CMRCD 1470), the ongoing CCS, sundry other sessions, and a gig in Hamburg to celebrate his twenty-five years in the music business. Earlier that year he’d attended a session for the B.B. King in london album, with Steve Marriot, Greg Ridley and Jerry Shirley, three-quarters of Humble Pie. Alexis’s heightened profile and their previous history got Marriot thinking: Humble Pie were booked to do a major American tour and he persuaded his manager Dee Anthony that having the Korner/Thorup duo opening the show would be a positive asset.
Sandwiched between Alexis and Humble Pie on the bill were Black Oak Arkansas and King Crimson. Away from the prestige venues, the British musicians were happy to hang out together. “Everyone would get together before the show and later in the hotel bars and jam,” Crimson’s Mel Collins told Chris Groom, “Alexis, Steve Marriot, Boz Burrell and myself, which was great fun. King Crimson fifnished their part of the tour in Birmingham, Alabama and Alexis, who knew we were all leaving, thought it would be good to work with a drummer and asked Ian Wallace to join him and Peter for the rest of the tour.” “Crimson came on after Alexis and my drums were set up behind them,” Wallace remembered, “so one night I just walked on and joined in.”
Collins continued, “So Boz and I jumped into the back of a car with two young ladies and went over to the tour promotor’s house in New Orleans – he was lending it to us for a holiday. Meanwhile, the tour carried on round the country and two weeks later was scheduled to play at The Warehouse in New Orleans. Boz and I went down to see them play, Aleixs, Peter and Ian, and then went backstage to meet them afterwards. By now, Alexis was keen to expand this new ‘band’ of his and asked Boz to join in on bass for the final six weeks of the tour. As they were leaving the dressing room, Alexis looked back at me, I must have looked a bit lost and forlorn, and said, ‘Well, we can’t leave Mel…’ So then I was in the band and we alll finished the tour together.”
It ended in San Francisco and Alexis booked time in Wally Heider’s studio to lay down some demos and backing tracks, which were completed over the next three months at what was then Island Studios in Basing Street, London. Zoot Money, Tim Hinkley and Steve Marriot added keyboards to the material, while Ollie Halsall, Mike Patto and Alexis’s daughter, Sappho, contributed backing vocals. The resulting album was called Accidentally Born In New Orleans, which was exactly how the band had come about. It was released in West Germany on Metronome’s Brain subsidiary in December 1972, and in the UK some six months later, on Transatlantic. After some discussion, the band had been christened SNAPE, which had nothing to do with the Suffork location of Benjamin Britten’s concert hall, The Malting, being in fact an acronym of “Something Nasty ‘Appens Practically Everyday”.
Like so many things from the 70s, Accidentally…, thirty-five years on, sounds a bit trapped in its time. It has the benefit of a rhythum section who’d already played themselves in, hitting the complicated time signatures in King Crimson’s songs. That said, it was a time when musicians on both sides of the Jazz-Rock divide were trying to find common cause. For Rockers it meant making riffs more complicated; songs had to go through changes (man), stop, start, meander and exlpode rather than proceed amiably from point A to point B. Previously, because of their Jazz background, Blues Incorporated’s rhytum sections had a supple, flexible discipline in their playing that had lightened the music’s texture. Now, the stolid riffs of stadium Rock, delivered head-down and with hair swaying, brought a predictability and earthbound unanimity to these songs, and their impact wasn’t helped by a mix that leeched away the power with which they were played.
Thus, a song like Lo And Behold (with Gospel Story, the religious portion of the album) feels far more complicated than perhaps it sound and doesn’t reflect the fervour hinted at in Gospel Story. Almost seven minutes long, it’s hard to predict how or when it will end. The other magnum opus, the venerable Rock Me, is played with the metronome at its slowest setting. Amos Milburn’s One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer and The Chamber Brother’s You Got The Power (To Turn Me On) are locked into their riffs over which Peter Thorup waxes soulful. Throughout, his guitar and Mel Collin’s various saxophones provided the solo interest, when the latter wasn’t engaged in a supernoodle he sounded as if he’d been listening to Davis Sanborn, which was no bad thing.
Five of the songs were also futured on a previously unreleased BBC session recorded on June 15, 1972. The only newcomer was Looking For Fun, a title to which hindsight adds resonance, given what was about to happen. The band were bundled off to Germany for a month, with Del Taylor as their tour manager: “I walked straight into a Snape tour”, Del later told Alexis’ biographer, Harry Hapiro, “which (once it got going) was something like twenty-eight shows in thirty days… We took over the second floor of some unsuspecting hotel in Hamburg, which nobody else would go to after we’d been there for three days. It was an incredible tour…so successful I remember the band playing US dollors at the end of the tour for all the damege they’d caused as they wreaked havoc across Germany.” Ian Wallace: “Snape was pretty wild at the time. We were all living the Rock’n’Roll myth. Alexis enjoyed it all. He joined in – and in no small way. I think Alexis was the worst of us.”
Live On Tour In Germany, recorded bewteen November 18 and December 19, was issued as a double album, on Brain, almost a year later (it was never released in the UK). The band was augmented by Tim Hinkley’s keyboards and Gasper Lawal on assorted percussion. Only You Got The Power and Rock Me survived from the album sessions in a set that also included Don Nix’s Going Down (best known in its Freddie King incarnation), Junior Parker’s These Kind Of Blues and old warhorses Night Time IS The Right Time and Oo-Wee Baby. As with all live albums, ten-minute work outs on You Got The Power and Rock Me Baby lose some of their immediacy on record, underlining the importance of the visual element in a successful stage performance. On vinyl, the instrumental, Snape, took up a whole side, as it grew out of a percussion interlude before establishing a recognisable theme. It drew to a close, after solos from guitar, piano and tenoe sax, more than sixteen minutes later in what here sounds like an interminable drum solo that nevertheless (as thse things do) drew wild applause from the audience.
When the band came home, there were discussions about taking their particular brand of musical mayhem to America. Alexis wasn’t enthusiastic, as Del Taylor recounts: “I remember spending twenty-four hours in a room with Phil (Roberge) and Alexis, trying to convince him that we should take this amazing offer both record and support-wise. He didn’t want to do it because it would have meant being over there for a year – and he had his other commitments: his radio, voice-overs.” Biographer Harry Shapiro may have been right when he observed, “(Alexis) might simpley have been canny enough to realise that in Europe he was a big fish – success there was self-evidently attainable.” Alternately, Alexis’s son, Damian, believes that Snape’s full-on R&R lifestyle had simply go out of hand, and a US tour would have been a serious health risk to all involed.
As fot the band, they too gave in to wanderlust. As Mel Collins put it, “We did a two-month tour of Germany, just doing the rounds of little clubs. Not making much money – in fact, I know Boz came back owing Alexis money, in the end. We realised we weren’t getting anywhere, musically-speaking. It was great fun, it was fantastic to have come out of King Crimson, playing high-energy Rock, with its complicated time signatures to just playing The Blues with Alexis. And learning to play The Blues, if you like, because up to that point I hadn’t really been involved with that music form at all. Alexis was very good, bless his heart, at being a catalyst. Both he and John mayall would find good musicaians and put them together, then move on to form another band. And having given those young musicains the benefit of his experience, he was content to let them leave and find their own way.”
Collins, Burrell & Wallace indeed continued as a unit, joining Steve Marriot and Zoot Money in Dick & The Firemen, which in turn metamorphosed into Hinkley’s Heros, before they teamed up with Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney as The Streetwalkers. Alexis went back to his duo gigs with Peter Thorup and we hear them performing Sunrise from a BBC session, possibly in July 1973. There were also further CCS sessions, as well as another album for his German fans. Life went on as before. He’d turned down the opportunity to try for the American prize. In the end, he didn’t value it as much as those who tried to persuade him to do it. He was content with his world and perhaps the chaos that surrounded him was a form of security he just didn’t want to relinquish.