He said he was Bernie from the Black Cats and lived over the Monkey Shop a hop, skip, and jump from Penny Lane and was I interested in playing horn with the band.
I asked how he knew I was learning sax and he replied he met a guy in the pub who said the whole neighborhood was complaining about some bloke practicing scales night and day. Well, I was in a hurry to emulate sax man Rudy Pompilli of Rock Around the Clock fame. When you’re seventeen, you’re in a mighty hurry to get where you’re going fast - at least before you’re twenty something and over the hill.
A wise music tutor saved my musical career by answering my dumb question; “Can I master this piece of plumbing in six months?” with “A smart kid like yourself should ace it in three months”. Hmm, several decades later I’m still learning where all the faucets and shutoffs are.
So big, bluff, bearded Bernie - singer, guitarist and raconteur, who lived over the pet store specializing in monkeys, hired me as a Black Cat.
One of the first Liverpool rock and roll bands the Black Cats teemed up with was Rory Storm and the Hurricanes when Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) was the drummer.
At that time most club dates featured two or three bands a night, which meant rushing from club to club in different towns, dragging instruments, amplifiers and huge speaker cabinets as large as wardrobes up and down staircases into basement clubs and second floor venues. Now that I think of it, I don’t believe we ever played on the ground floor. I guess that’s why lots of guitar players went on to careers as wrestlers and their girlfriends as piano movers.
Down one such dingy staircase was the now famous Cavern Club, where the Beatles got their start.
We first gigged there with the Beatles on Wed 23rd August 1961. Later we shared the stage with Gerry Marsden and the Pacemakers, The Swinging Bluejeans, Billy J. Kramer, Cilla Black, Brian Giffith’s Big Three, The Merseybeats, Freddie Starr and other Liverpool notables.
In 1958 Liverpool and nearby towns: Ormskirk, Southport, Chester, Warrington and Birkenhead were alive with dance halls, nightclubs, pubs, bars, and restaurants.
Anywhere you could tuck a zit faced Elvis, Duane Eddy, Freddy Cannon, Bill Hailey or Everly Brother wannebee, there was music - that is music after a fashion - if nothing else there was unbridled enthusiasm.
You had to be a wooden solder not to join in the fun, and join in the audience did.
Surrounding each stage, gaggles of squealing girls and howling guys greeted each song like an anthem from above. Tons of teenagers tracked the bands from club to club generating their own carnival atmosphere in a cavalcade of beat up vans, broken cars and motorcycles.
They careened from gig to gig, all without the attention of emission standards, statutory vehicle check ups, seatbelts, airbags or alcohol laws.
It’s a wonder anyone survived at all. But survive people did in an orgy of release from the post war deprivations and shortages of everything because anything of value in Britain was exported including London Bridge – cor blimey.
It rained every Sunday, church bells mourned all day and it was illegal to kick a soccer ball. We were fed a strict cold diet of lumpy porridge and black and white movies depicting a Victorian England peopled by tailors dummies dressed in pinstriped suits, bowler hats, walking as if they were clenching a bus ticket between the cheeks of their bottoms.
Even funnier, they contrived to speak as if they had a mouth full of prunes, unless of course they went to Cambridge U and learnt to spy, lisp, and mispronounce the letter R - some even survived this and became top flight comedians.
These were exciting times - revolt was in the air. A repressed nation expressed itself.
John Osborne opened the floodgates with his groundbreaking play Look Back In Anger; John Braine’s gritty novel Room At The Top was made into a film and the leading man Lawrence Harvey used a Northern working class accent which was ‘un’eard of’ in the those far off days.
Another film A Taste of Honey set in Manchester featured Rita Tushingham, a working class girl, as the star. Before we knew it we were in the Swinging Sixties and all the girls were throwing their underwear at Michael Caine in Alfie. (They probably still are for all I know). While back in Liverpool, we were in a whirl rushing from gig to gig, boozing the vindaloo nights away and generally causing society to bemoan the fact that the youth of today will be the ruin of the country.
Somewhere in this era I found myself in a Gaelic band led by the fiddle-playing foreman of the Guinness factory.
We’d meet in the then notorious Yates Wine Lodge by the Mersey Tunnel and load up on cheap Australian wine before tearing off to some Gaelic club where we’d launch into drunken reels with the piano player pounding the tuneless piano, belching clouds of talcum powder which she’d sprinkled all over her voluminous bosom.
I escaped with my life by fleeing to an American forces base in Fontainebleau. There, I spent my Paris nights soaking up jazz on the Left Bank, sipping Pernod and listening to jazz great Bud Powell at the Blue Note till dawn. Racing the street-cleaners before hoofing it back to the Gare du something or other for the train trip back and a huge breakfast in the officer’s mess.
Somehow I ended up at the amphitheatre in Rhyl, North Wales (if you haven’t been, go - its lovely) accompanying clapped out variety performers and developing a stutter after being pressed-ganged into acting in madcap sketches.
Scoring for the Show Business X1 with Tommy Steel and the Dallas Boys. (Lawrence Oliver had this dying music-hall scene off to a tee in The Entertainer). Then another wonderful big band blur of a summer at Pontins Holiday Camp, Blackpool with ‘Freight Train’ folk singer Nancy Whisky, which was like being paid to play in a bordello with food and accommodation thrown in.
A winter of discontent changing bands like musical chairs then off to another glorious cherry filled summer in Kent, the garden of England for a taste of southern delights at Warner’s Holiday Camp.
Back in the ‘pool, I fell out of the fat into the fire and was hired on by the rhythm and blues group the Master Sounds.
We gigged at all the new exciting nightspots like the Mardi Gras, Pink Parrot, Iron Door, and too many others to remember - and again at the Cavern with the Beatles, The Stones, Yardbird Eric Clapton, and the then Rockin’ Rod Stewart.
The beautiful Jessica was a Beatles fan and we met at the Cavern club where she was waiting to see the Beatles. But I knew when she sang She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, she was singing about me so we married and forty years later she’s still singing but I don’t recognize the song.
Touring England in the Master Sounds truck with road manager Ricky Tike Tami. Surviving on meat pies, fish and chips, sweating pint after pint in greasy spoons and transport cafes. The nightmare overnight drives shuttling between The Twisted Wheel in Manchester and Kingston On Thames. Drooling over Dusty Springfield at her club, fighting with her manager and fans, the police, back in the truck. blurry eyes, sore heads. The whole world spinning. Day turns into night, night a kaleidoscope of neon clubs, gyrating bodies, spotlights, broken glass, screaming guitars, Blues shouters, cymbals slashing, girls shrieking, fighting, drinking, music, more pints, more miles to go before dawn.
It was a relief to follow the Beatles into Hamburg’s red-light district Five hours on-stage every night at Germany’s famous Top Ten Club on the Reeperbahn. Jamming with Fats Domino. Swapping choruses with the great Glaswegian Ricky Barnes on tenor sax who augmented the band. Being surreptiously recorded by the management from the spotlight booth.
Years later, we found out we had five top ten records in the German hit parade. Not only that but also we had laid down some tracks at Olympic Studios for RCA’s budget label Brunswick in Barnet under the name Mal Jefferson and the Mersey Five. This session was bootlegged in the States and chalked up sales of over 350,000 copies - we got diddly squat.
Again, escaping with my life after being shot on stage by a debauched deranged Nazi in black leather. Then we blew it, backing out of a residency contract in Flensburg on the Danish border. Fleeing on the midnight express with the help of some British squaddies to Holland one-step ahead of some German mafia types.
We must have still been in a foul mood when we arrived in Newcastle. Reunited with the Rolling Stones at the Whisky A Gogo ended up in an ego fisticuff saga over who should have second billing behind the great Jerry Lee Lewis. The Stones claimed that being in the charts with, I Wanna Be Your Man gave them second billing. We said yeah all right but it was a Liverpool song written by our mate John Lennon.
Needless to say, us Liverpool lads held our own and stayed at second billing. It must have been because we inhaled but never smoked.
Again in Liverpool, supping and gigging around town with the fabulous, ‘In Crowd’ playing a mix of bossa novas, Motown and Dave Brubeck.
Then a switcheroo, being a long time fan of the bands of Chris Barber, Alex Welsh, and Acker Bilk, traditional jazz grabbed me.
For awhile, I co-led the Tunnel City Jazz Band on clarinet, cluttering up the working men’s clubs on the ‘B’ circuit: Bickerstaff, Bolton, Blackburn, Bury, Burnley, and Burtonwood. Then back to Liverpool with George Dickson’s ‘In Crowd.” Soon fronting my own quartet, the Faces, doubling the Masonic Arms, then nipping across the street to gig the famous Blue Angel, nightclub.
As the - house band - we had the honor of backing blues great Sunny Boy William, the equally great Tina Turner, (we all lost weight just watching her gyrations.) Plus all the local lads who sat in for a stint: Lennon, Paul, Brian Poole, Eric Clapton, Gerry Marsden, Freddie Starr, The Stones, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express and a host of international stars visiting the city.
Among the parade of movie stars and theatre people mingling with rock musicians was a slumming society bandleader, who offered me the jazz chair in his resident orchestra at the beautiful restored Shakespeare Theatre nightclub.
There, the orchestra backed some of the best of England’s entertainment aristocracy, especially comedians such as Michael Bentine, absolutely crazy; reformed rocker and old buddy Freddy Starr, certified crazy, also comedians: Jimmy Tarbuck, Norman Vaughan, Harry Secombe, Dudley Moore, and Bruce Forsyth, all crazy wannabees.
In addition, favorite vocalist, then and now, Dame Cleo Laine, still the worlds top jazz singer (sorry Diana Krall) who plays Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre.
Another move, another band, another gig at Liverpool’s notorious Grafton Ballroom, writing and arranging big band charts for big-time bandleader Johnny Hilton.
Married, a wee baby girl and a wee bairn – taking the last bus home to Tuebook, driving taxis for extra cash to build a stash - then the lure of the new world.
Ice and snow at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel with Moxie Whitney’s Orchestra. The frantic (then) airport hotel strip with Harry Mayle’s Dominant Seven.
Then rain and rhododendrons in Vancouver. Joining Copperfield, a residency at the Canyon Court on Capilano Road. Cruising English Bay, salmon barbecues, jamming on Whistler, sneaking into the USA to play Mount Baker ski resorts.
Then to Streetsville to settle down in a quiet oasis in an urban desert with enough music to keep the angels dancing on the head of a pin.
Forming Sax Appeal - rocking at jazz festivals, boat cruises, lobster things, restaurants, weddings, conferences, dances, parties and barbies. Recording with guitar maestro Jean LeGendre.
Performing acoustic jazz duo with Steve G, reprising the music of the all-time jazz greats. Switching to alto-sax for solo gigs, as UNISAX, with my digital orchestra specializing as chief ambiance maker at restaurants, dinner parties, or whatever.
The party goes on. Rock ‘til you Drop!
For booking information or to buy Gerry’s latest CD ‘YesterYear.’ Check it out! at www.saxappeal.com
Gerry can be Emailed at: email@example.com