2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life

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About those top guitar riffs?

guitar_and_pick_perspective_1600_wht_12837Total Guitar magazine this month has the BBC’s Top 100 guitar riffs as its main feature and they raise an interesting point about what counts as a riff based on the following dictionary definition.

Definition of a riff: “A short repeated phrase in popular music and jazz, frequently played over changing chords or harmonies or used as a background to a solo improvisation”

Like me you may have wondered how a tune like “Apache” by the Shadows can be classed as a riff when it’s an instrumental?

The same goes for “Misirlu” by Dick Dale, “Rumble” by Link Ray and “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes. Also “Peter Gunn” by Duane Eddy (although the melody is pretty much just a repeated riff so maybe  that one should be allowed on the list).

And then there are the tunes relying on repetitive phrasing like Television‘s “Marquee Moon”, Chuck Berry‘s “Johnny B Goode”, and the “shave and a haircut” rhythm in the eponymous “Bo Diddley”.

And there were some that made me scratch my head as to why they’d been included e.g. Queen of the Stone Age‘s “No one knows“.

But a good idea for a radio programme and something to argue over in the pub!

If you didn’t hear the riffs the first time round they are all here.


P J Proby and Tom Jones – two great voices

PJProby-27036527 March 1965 at the Nelson Imperial. We’d been on stage for the best part of an hour; had played our set twice, and couldn’t get off because it was a revolving stage.

The girls in the crowd were screaming – not for us, the Avalons, but for the star of the evening who was in his dressing room keeping everyone waiting: Mr P J Proby.

When he finally appeared, after starting his song off-stage, it was well worth the wait because he had a fantastic voice. He also had a pony tail and a green velvet suit. Earlier in the year repeated pant ripping due to excessive hip movement – what would now be called a wardrobe malfunction – in Croydon got him banned from all ABC cinemas, ABC TV and the BBC.

His big hit from 1964 which reached No. 3 was “Hold Me”. Not only a powerful song but it featured two guitar greats. Jimmy Page (later of  The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin) played rhythm guitar and Big Jim Sullivan played lead guitar. Big Jim, to differentiate him from Little  Jimmy, had played lead guitar in Marty Wilde’s Wildcats and the KrewKats and backed Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran on their ill-fated 1960 UK tour.

And he was a prolific session man who’d played on 800 top forty hits including 54 number ones. He later joined Tom Jones’s band (1969-1974) and  in Las Vegas he became friends with Elvis Presley.

When P J was banned from the ABC cinema tour his place was taken by Tom Jones and the Squires, formerly known as Tommy Scott and the Senators. They’d left Joe Meek after being unsuccessful at getting a recording contract but Gordon Mills took them on and renamed him because of the popularity of the Tom Jones film at the time.

Tom Jones first record on Decca was “Chills and Fever” which did nothing but his second release, originally intended for Sandie Shaw and which he sang as a demo for her, was “It’s not unusual” and it reached No 1 in the UK and was his first top ten hit in America.

Going back to that day in 1965 I remember girls fainting after becoming hysterical and helping the bouncers to drag them over the stage and to the fire exits. I also remember talking to the lead guitarist who was fed up of touring with P J and who actually offered me his job – at £65 a week! Now I was probably earning about a tenth of that at the time but I thought if this pro can’t put up with Mr Proby, could I? And I also felt loyal to my own group.

Dave Parkinson our vocalist at the time also remembers it well. He says “That night at the Imp was memorable, wasn’t it? Not only did we have to battle on with Bob Kane yelling at us to “do one more” from the side of the stage whilst old PJ had his tonsils lubricated, but then we had to watch as he put on a brilliant show, wowing everybody in sight. The man had style and a powerful voice to boot, that’s for sure”

sc0000541bAt his peak P J Proby was considered a potential great but lost his substantial wealth and came back to Britain to perform in musical theatre and 60s revival concerts where Dave and I last saw him in 2006 on a Solid Sixties tour with Gerry and the Pacemakers, Wayne Fontana (one of our big heroes in his day) and Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick and Tich, who gave the best performance in my view.

In 2008 his record company released a new CD to commemorate his 70th birthday. It contained a previously unreleased version of “Delilah”. This had been written for him by Barry Mason and Les Reed for his 1968 album but was left off it for some reason. It then became a massive hit for Tom Jones in 1968 and its songwriters won the Ivor Novello award for best song with it.

 It could have been so different for PJ Proby, who is still touring at 76 years of age, while Sir Tom Jones got a knighthood.



Duane Eddy – twangy guitar hero

My earliest musical influences, if you discount the Deep River Boys on the radio on Sunday evenings, were Buddy Holly, and Duane Eddy. Guitarists Chet Atkins, the Ventures and the Shadows came later.

One of my neighbourhood friends Peter Fenton (later our roadie and electrician in the Avalons) had a record player and we would meet in his house after school to listen to the latest records by Buddy Holly and Duane Eddy. Every wannabe guitar hero learned to play Oh Boy and Shazam. (A local guitar teacher who worked “on the bins” saw me messing with my guitar at my front gate one day and showed me how to play Shazam).

Buddy played a sunburst Fender Stratocaster and Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy played Gretsch guitars (although Duane Eddy used Guild for a while before going back to Gretsch). These guitars were so far beyond my reach – and most other aspiring guitarists – that they had an iconic status. For one thing you couldn’t buy Fenders in the UK because of a government ban on American imports.

Buddy Holly bought his first Fender Stratocaster in 1955, the year after they came out, for $305. Cliff Richard bought Hank Marvin a Stratocaster from America for 140 guineas in May 1959 and it was the first one in the UK. In 1965 a Gretsch cost over 300 guineas (equivalent to about £2,500 at today’s prices).

sc000182c1 sc00091650I was too young to see Buddy Holly live (although I did see the Crickets on tour when they came to Burnley with Bobby Vee in 1962) but imagine my delight to be playing with my group The Expression on the same bill as Duane Eddy on his UK tour when he played the Princess Ballroom in Workington (18 August 1966).  

The Devils Disciples also supported Duane Eddy on that tour at Morecambe Pier. So both of us have separately supported him.

sc000182c1 - Version 2The other pleasant surprise was that we had met his band, a group of British musicians led by saxophonist Red Price, when they backed the Walker Brothers at the Astoria Ballroom in Rawtenstall when The Avalons were the support group. These musicians were so friendly and supportive even though musically they were streets ahead of us.

And Duane Eddy was a gentleman. He didn’t say a lot but he was happy to sign photographs.

de-roadHe’s still going strong having forged a working relationship, cut a new CD Road Trip“, and toured, with Richard Hawley, another Gretsch player.

gretsch-duane-eddie-630-80Some facts about Duane Eddy

  • First top ten hit was Rebel Rouser in 1958 (Movin’ and a-groovin’ was his first record the previous year but only reached 74))
  • Apart from his rock hits he also played film themes such as Because They’re Young and Peter Gunn
  • First rock guitarist to have his own signature guitars the DE400 and DE500 made by Guild
  • Gretsch brought out the first Duane Eddy signature  6120DE in 1997 but reissued it as the G6120 in 2011 (see picture on right). It was  based on the original Chet Atkins 6120 he used for his early hits, with some modifications.
  • Has sold over 100 million records making him most popular rock guitarist
  • Admitted  into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 1994

On those guitars

I’d had a pink 1964 Fender Stratocaster when I played in The Expression and the Uptown Go-Go Band but I could never keep it in tune and (foolishly) got rid of it, and my Vox AC30 TB amplifier, when I left the band.

Years later I saved up and went down to London to buy a Buddy Holly-type Squier Stratocaster in sunburst with the original 3-way pick-up switch (which I upgraded to a 5-way). It was assembled in Japan but from genuine US parts. And it served me well (I used it a lot when I played with a 60s cover bands Oh Boy and Shades of Rock as shown in archive photos). I had it cleaned up and checked over recently and it’s in good condition for a 25 year old guitar.

The Gretsch had to wait a bit longer. At over £$3,000 dollars there’s no way I could afford the Duane Eddy signature guitar but a couple of years ago my ex-Avalon colleague David Parkinson and I decided we’d both buy an Electromatic vintage re-issue. He wanted an orange one in memory of Eddie Cochran and I got a black one. We get together occasionally for a Gretsch-fest!

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Robert Cray – modern blues legend

sc00002d5dWe saw Robert Cray in Manchester in on his World Tour  “Don’t be afraid of the dark”  (a song we’ve just added to our repertoire).

He and his band were incredible. His mix of soul and blues was wonderful. He played and sang superbly and his band were so tight.

It made us realise how much work we needed to do with our band on the endings of songs (with so many musicians in the band sometimes it seemed like everyone wanted to have the last word).

IN-MY-SOUL-ALBUM-COVER-HI-RES-300x300His latest album “In my Soul” is very good and it’s packaging is cool too; it’s square like an old LP and has the CD inside a sleeve and printed with grooves just like the old vinyl.P1020194

It looks as good as it is to listen to.

Found out more about Robert Cray here

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Steve Cropper – guitar legend

As a young guitarist I was in awe of Steve Cropper, guitarist with Booker T and the MGs (Memphis Group). Listening to him play guitar licks such as those on Green Onions or  Soul Man which were simple but his technique made them sound special.

P1000442We’d seen the Stax revue when it came to Manchester in the mid-60s and three years ago I had the chance to see Steve Cropper play at the Ramsbottom Music Festival supported by The Animals.

The Animals were good but I went to see Steve. It was a rain-sodden day but worth waiting for.

P1000454Steve played, and sang, a number of the songs he’d written for Stax artists. He wasn’t playing the Fender Telecaster that I remembered but what might have been a Schecter tele-style guitar – but it sounded good.












He also told stories about how some songs came to be written, for example “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”.

Otis Redding couldn’t really play guitar that well so he had his guitar tuned to an open E major chord.

All he had to do to change different chords was to slide his fingers up the neck. So there are no minor chords in that song.

Steve said he also wondered about which ships Otis was referring to until he went down to ‘Frisco Bay and saw the roll-on-roll-off container ships.P1000468

It was a great evening. I was cold and wet but it was worth it!