A Dark Korner in the Blues Room: A dissenting view of the ‘Founding Father of British Blues’
09:42 am


Robert Plant
Alexis Korner

This is a guest post by Stephen W Parsons

Alexis Korner, born 1928, died 1984, was a minor figure on the British jazz, blues and rock scene but a major influence on many of its young players as they were hungrily transforming themselves into superstars. He was a middling talent at best with a limited musical ability redeemed by, when on pitch, a warm husky voice and an engaging performance persona, which remained patently intact both off-stage and on. The voice was indeed a seductive instrument and in later years it opened the door to lucrative voiceovers for commercials and work as a presenter on both Radio and TV.  My first memory of the man was as the leader of a shabby-looking house band, who played in a cardboard cabin on a children’s show called 5 O’ Clock Club

Wikipedia, well-researched books on the period and general critical opinion are all agreed that Korner was a “founding father of British blues music,” an all around good guy and a beneficial mentor to emerging talent.

I beg to differ but before we get to the murky heart of the matter, the casualty list, and the body count, we must examine the historical set and setting.

You may think, from the 21st Century perspective, that the ‘British Blues Boom’ of the 1960s and 70s was simply a genre “of its time” like swing music or punk. This would be a severe underestimation of its latent vitality. Crinkly veterans such as The Rolling Stones are carving out substantial profits and Fleetwood Mac, which still contains three stalwarts of the Brit blues explosion, is on its way back to the marketplace in a big way. Industry analysts estimate that, were Led Zeppelin to reform tomorrow and an announce a 24 date world tour, the combined earnings of such a venture and its concurrent media heat would cast a long shadow over the current crop of musical superstars such as Jay-Z, One Direction, Adele or Mumford and Sons.

Alexis Korner, inadvertently, played a small part in the development of the mighty Led Zeppelin. He discovered Robert Plant during the Summer of Love and decided to build a musical venture around the handsome and talented young performer. They formed a duo and Korner decided to self-finance an album. Only two tracks were recorded before wild fate intervened. Jimmy Page, having just been rebuffed by the supremely talented Terry Reid, was searching for a singer to front The New Yardbirds, and intervened with a better offer. The two songs recorded by Korner and Plant, “Steal Away” and “Operator” are in circulation and demonstrate the wisdom of Plant’s career choice. Terry developed into a fine musical talent but never hit the heights, or the record sales, of his teenage years. He always claims that he doesn’t regret joining the proto Led Zeppelin – but I’ll bet that he does.

Alexis Korner did eventually receive a rather odd payoff from this particular setback. In 1975 his outfit the Collective Consciousness Society, a group comprised of top British session players and produced by pop supremo Mickie Most, recorded a corny big band-style instrumental version of the Led Zeppelin/Willie Dixon song “Whole Lotta Love.” It was picked up as a theme tune for the BBC’s premier British chart show and went on to become his biggest hit. He neither sang, nor performed on the track. 

The story of the all embracing blues room, and in particular the Alexis corner of it, raises an obvious question mark which must be answered: How in the hell did the anguished wail of hoodoo blues crawl its way from the Nile Delta of antiquity into the dreams of middle class, suburban British teenagers during the middle of the 20th century?     

Vooudon prophet M. Bertiaux and inspired musicians such as Sun Ra, Pharaoh Saunders and Lee “Scratch” Perry all refer obliquely to the Afro-Atlantian tradition, by which they mean that a thing of great value was carried by the Nubian slaves on their flight from Egypt. It was something invisible and intangible, yet it provided an inner source of vitality and a succour to sweeten the hardships endured while escaping from captivity. The technical name for the expression of this spirit is Misraim.

We know it as the blues.

It came to America with the slaves and put down roots in the plantations, then spread to the carnivals and juke joints and finally blossomed into jazz. Wherever there was a need for low-down, dirty music—the blues was always present. After the Second World War, African-Americans began to lose the taste for it. By the mid 1950’s they were looking for upbeat entertainment that didn’t stink of the cotton fields. Dirt music had spread its wings from the South to Chicago and found a temple at Chess Records. While upscale “colored” entertainers such as Louis Armstrong and the ruthless Nat King Cole were busy courting the white audience, blues masters such as Muddy Waters, BB King and Howling Wolf were producing startling music for a declining audience. As the decade came to a close they were reduced to eking out a living on the Chitlin’ Circuit, which was as appetizing as it sounds. They stared in stupefied amazement at young kids named Elvis and Buddy Holly who were aping their stage personas and shook their heads at newcomers from their own side of the fence such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley, who were going head to head with the white boys over this new-fangled hybrid thing called Rock and Roll.

What none of these people knew was that the blues had up and left.

One part of it flew straight into the hands of a Mr. Berry Gordy, who had recently been dreaming about using it to make something powerful, elegant and profitable like the cars that rolled off the streamlined Detroit conveyor belt.

The other part hitched a ride to Britain and Europe in the form of grooved shellac. American recordings were considered rare and precious gems in a drab, postwar Britain. The vibrant sounds of Armstong, Kid Ory and Bessie Smith were not available from the monopolistic state broadcaster. It was gramophones in otherwise sedate front room parlors that sparked a noisy revolution. “Trad” jazz bands and crude skiffle groups sprung up like a wildfire, taking the livelier end of the tradition into pubs, clubs and dance halls. It summoned a diverse crowd to these smoke-filled rooms: Left Wing ‘ban the bomb’ types, working class people who liked “a knees up,” earnest intellectuals, part-time bohemians and run down Aristocrats on the lookout for something new and slightly daring to tickle their jaded fancy.     

There were those among them who began to search out, and value above all else, primitive field recordings by artists like the sublime Robert Johnson. Alexis Korner was an energetic and enthusiastic member of this elite group. It was here, right at the beginning of the development of British Blues, that an intellectual faultline occurred. A strange kind of inverted snobbery developed as to what exactly was “the real thing.”

Doubt had entered the blues room. 

Of course the great apocryphal story on blues authenticity concerns Sleepy John Estes. He was one of the many great folk artists recorded ‘in the field’ by pioneer archivist Alan Lomax and when his sensuous recorded music began to gather followers, Lomax invited him to play at Carnegie Hall. It’s said that Sleepy John bought himself a sharp suit, an electric guitar and a two-piece band to accompany him when he hit the Big Apple. Unfortunately Lomax was concerned that this would compromise the naturalistic vision he was selling to the predominantly white audience. Sleepy John was convinced to dump the suit, the amplifier and the sidemen; put on a work shirt and sit on a bale of hay.

The notion of an archetypal purity in the dirt soon became a siren call across Britain attracting a new breed of audience members to the Alexis Korner shows: sincere young men with longer than average hair, a distinctive dress sense and a polite soft spoken manner.

One of them was Brian Jones.


This is a guest post by SWP aka Snips/Stephen W Parsons/Steve is the founder of the Scorpionics self-improvement system. He sang for various beat groups until 1982 and then pursued a more successful career as a composer for hire until 2004. Since then he has voyaged into peculiar seas. His latest musical adventure is The Presence LDN which will be releasing product in October 2013. His younger, and more handsome self can be seen singing with Ginger Baker here.

Below, Alexis Korner with Steve Marriott in 1975:

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‘Trampled Under Foot’: Barney Hoskyns’ brilliant oral history of Led Zeppelin

I have always liked Barney Hoskyns’ writing. He has a subtle and incisive way of getting to the seed of any story. His biography on Montgomery Clift, Beautiful Loser was sublime. More recently Hotel California: Singer-Songwriters & Cocaine Cowboys In The L.A. Canyons was perhaps the best book written on West Coast music. He also wrote a commendable biography on Tom Waits, and written histories on Glam and Soul, particularly the exceptional Say It One Time For The Brokenhearted: Country Soul In The American South.

Now Hoskyns has delivered Trampled Underfoot: The Power and Excess of Led Zepelin, which is the best biography written about Zeppelin to date.

It’s the best because Hoskyns’ book is a mammoth oral history of the band, told through over 130 interviews, featuring the key players, the management, the wives, the girlfriends, the roadies, the producers, the engineers, the PR people, the record label, the security, the druggies, right down to the designers of the album sleeves and office staff. Where there have been gaps, caused by death (drummer John Bonham, manager Peter Grant) or refusal (Kenneth Anger), Hoskyns has lifted directly from the original, key interviews, to maintain the story’s immediacy.

In an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds, Barney Hoskyns talked to about Trampled Underfoot and the power and excess of Led Zeppelin.

DM: Why did you choose Led Zeppelin?

Barney Hoskyns: ‘I chose Zeppelin because I love them. The mission really was not to preach to the converted, if you like, it was to an extent to preach to the unconverted. Obviously, I hope that the Led Zeppelin community will read it and take to it, and embrace it. But I think I wanted to pitch it at as much skeptics, to say look a) Zeppelin’s music was incredible and b) the story is extraordinary.

‘And I think there was an opportunity to demystify the story a little bit, just to sort of get away from glorifying the usual larks and antics, and Hell-raising, and to make the story a bit more real. I think, was the mission, and that’s kind of how the book mutated into an oral history. Because it didn’t start out like that, but the more interviews I did, I ended up doing over 130, the more it became clear to me there was an opportunity to tell the story in a different way, with the kind of immediacy you get from people just talking quite openly and candidly. And I thought let’s see if we can tell the story in a kind of continuous way, from start to finish. That was the mission and that was the methodology.’

Hoskyns starts the book from the with the earliest moments in the band member’s careers. This is a youthful Jimmy Page showing his prodigious skills on TV with his skiffle band, before going onto a brief career as a session musician.

Page was so talented a guitar player that unlike most session musicians, he played both acoustic and electric guitar. Jimmy could play anything, and was the guitar on records by The Kinks, Donovan, Lulu and even Val Doonican. As can be seen from Hoskyns’ book, Page dedicated himself so much to playing his guitar that he was removed from the world, becoming that slightly isolated, mysterious figure of his adult years.

Most session men were middle-aged, with an interest in angling and loft-conversion. Yet, it was at one session that Page met a bass player and sometime musical arranger, John Paul Jones. The pair got on because of their age, but also because they had a respect and admiration for each other’s talent.

While Page and Jones were connecting in recording studios, Robert Plant and John Bonham were performing with various bands across Birmingham, which in the mid-1960s was considered to be the next Pop Capital of Britain after Liverpool, as it had so many music acts (The Move, The Moody Blues, Steve Winwood) coming to the fore. Plant and Bonham were equally dedicated to their talents. Bonham was a self-taught drummer, who even then was showing the skill and innovation that his contemporaries found difficult to match. It’s interesting to note that all these years later how many people in Hoskyns’s book still describe Bonham as the best.

Robert Plant was also trying out his skills fronting various bands. He had a love of Blues and Rock, and was developing his powerful and unique way of singing.

The turning point came when Page joined The Yardbirds at Jeff Beck’s insistence, which led Page into the orbit of manager Peter Grant.

Grant had the reputation of a hard man, one that he liked to play up. When stories circulated he had hung some recalcitrant manager over a penthouse balcony by his ankles, Grant neither admitted nor denied the charge, only quipping, “Let’s say I acquainted him with the view.” This was the kind of whispered tale that created the fear and myth about Grant.

As manager, Grant became like a father to Page and helped support the young guitarist with his vision to create a new Supergroup, one that he could lead. Page contacted Jones, and then through different connections, Plant and Bonham were brought in. The foursome that was to become the biggest band of the 1970s was born.
Author: Barney Hoskyns
DM: Why did Led Zeppelin take-off? Was there a gap, say after The Beatles split?

Barney Hoskyns: ‘I think there was a gap there and Peter Grant spotted the opportunity, if you like. I think he intuitively knew there was room for a new band, a supergroup, you might call it, though Zeppelin weren’t a supergroup in the sense of Cream was a supergroup. The disbanding of Cream left a gap for Atlantic Records. Clapton had decided to mellow out and to calm down, and that allowed some other bands, or Zeppelin to step into the breach.

‘I think it was an evolution musically. ‘There are 4 guys with extraordinary talent, who have respect for each other. And they all kind of liked each other. They hung out with each other. There weren’t ego struggles, until the tensions start coming in as a result of many things, not just drugs. But until that moment, you know, these 4 guys, they weren’t punching each other in the dressing room. They’re having fun.

‘And, it was about the alchemy of these 4 musicians that was at the heart of everything. Without that you can hype a band to death and but it’s not going to mean much if there isn’t some substance and quality there form the outset, and there was that. But that’s not the whole story, as the book makes clear, there was an awful lot else that went on around this. There was the machinery, an extended family, that all contributed in creating this machinery, that all contributed to creating the phenomenon.

‘It was all very sudden and was done by sheer brute force in many ways. Peter Grant was a powerful figure who decided that Zeppelin was going to be his mission then nothing was going to stop him from turning that band into the biggest band on earth. And it was kind of brilliantly done. If the music hadn’t been as great as it was then even Peter Grant would never have succeeded in that mission.

‘The thing is there will always be a wave of adolescents, a new generation coming through that will need a band of its own. I’m not sure that’s the case now, as I think pop culture, rock culture, is very different, but then, there was a new generation, a semi-generation coming through, for whom bands like The Beatles and The Stones belonged to their older siblings, or boys and girls who were 4 or 5 years older. I think Led Zeppelin were the best in every sense technically and mythologically, as they sort of captured the imagination at that time, especially in North America, where there was almost a religious aspect, a mass cult of Zeppelin, the likes of which we will never see again.’
More from Barney Hoskyns plus bonus of Led Zeppelin ‘In Concert’, after the jump…

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It’s Not the Age, It’s the Mileage: Extreme close-up pics of aging rock stars

Talk about yer strolling bones…

To be fair to these aging rockers, anyone, and I mean anyone over the age of 40 would look unsightly photographed this close-up.

John Lydon
More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Led Zeppelin: Rocking the Gladsaxe Teen Club for Danish TV in 1969

Roughly 6 months after their first gig (where they were billed as ‘The Yardbirds med Jimmy Page’) this is Led Zeppelin giving a hint as to why they will dominate venues and stadia across the world during the 1970s.

Recorded at the Gladsaxe Teen Club, Denmark, for TV Byen / Danmarks Radio on March 17, 1969, Led Zeppelin perform “Communication Breakdown”, “Dazed and Confused”, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, and “How Many More Times”. Impressive and tight, this was what I considered as “grown-up Rock ‘n’ Roll” when I was young - the kind of music you studied after achieving good grades in Bowie and Bolan - and forty-three years on, it is still a cracking masterclass.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Pop Stars in Drag

A selection of pop’s bold in beautiful in drag.
Robert Plant and Roy Harper.
Annie Lennox in “Who’s That Girl?”
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Film footage of The Rolling Stones in drag from 1966

More beautiful people after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Robert Plant’s wiener (NSFW)
12:26 pm


Led Zeppelin
Robert Plant

“Is that lead in your zeppelin or are you just happy to see me?”

See the NSFW weiner after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment