Cyril Davies (23 January 1932 – 7 January 1964) was an English blues musician, and one of the first blues harmonica players in England.
Born at St Mildred’s, 15 Hawthorn Drive, Willowbank, Denham, Buckinghamshire, he was the son of William Albert Davies, a labourer, and his wife Margaret Mary (née Jones). He had an elder brother named Glyn, and the family is believed to have come from Wales.
Cyril Davies began his career in the early 1950s first within Steve Lane’s Southern Stompers, then in 1955 formed an acoustic skiffle and blues group with Alexis Korner. He began as a banjo and 12-string guitar player before becoming a Chicago-style blues harmonica player after hearing Little Walter. Working by day as a panel beater, he ran an unsuccessful skiffle club before meeting Korner, then Davies and Korner opened a London Rhythm and Blues club “England’s Firstest and Bestest Skiffle Club”, later known as the “London Blues and Barrelhouse Club”. Popular with other musicians, the club hosted gigs by blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Memphis Slim.
During this period Davies and Korner worked as session musicians, and often backed Ottilie Patterson during her featured set with husband Chris Barber’s band, using amplified instruments for the first time – which did not go down well with their blues purist audience and many fellow musicians. After closing the blues club, Davies and Korner went their separate ways, and, influenced by Muddy Waters electric sound, Davies formed his own electric blues band.
In 1961, Chris Barber recruited Davies and Korner to play harmonica and electric guitar in accompanying Barber’s band regularly at its Wednesday and Friday night sets at the Marquee Club, a popular London jazz club. This opportunity granted Davies and Korner some exposure to the London music scene, but the duo wished to focus more on blues and R&B. The two decided to found their own rhythm and blues group and, in a show of support, Barber offered them the intermission slot at the Marquee on Wednesday nights.
Korner supplied musicians for the rhythm sections, and Davies recruited Art Wood and Long John Baldry to be the vocalists. They named the group Blues Incorporated, and their initial performances at the Marquee were very well received. However, they realized the need for additional performance opportunities and, since most jazz and folk clubs in London were wary of electric guitars, Davies and Korner decided to found their own club at which they could perform. In 1962 they founded the Ealing Club, which featured performances by both Blues Incorporated and other Trad jazz outfits popular in England at the time. The club proved to be a popular sensation in the burgeoning R&B scene, and attracted such far-flung admirers and future stars as Mick Jagger and Eric Burdon. Jagger was in the audience for the second night at the club and got up to sing “Got My Mojo Working”.
In June 1962 they recorded R&B from the Marquee, actually recorded in Decca Records’ studio. After touring the UK and headlining a residency at the Marquee, by October 1962 there was musical tension in the band as some members wanted to play crowd pleasers like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley songs while Cyril Davies and others members were blues purists who wanted to play what they saw as only genuine Chicago-style R&B. Following his departure from Blues Incorporated in October 1962, Davies then formed the Cyril Davies All-Stars in November 1962 and recorded five tracks for Pye Records, who had announced an R&B label featuring music imported from Davies’ favourite Chicago musicians (“Country Line Special”, “Chicago Calling”, “Preaching the Blues”, “Sweet Mary” and “Someday Baby”). The original line-up was largely recruited from Screaming Lord Sutch’s Savages, and featured both Long John Baldry and Davies on vocals to give Davies room to play harmonica. The band, later known simply as the All-Stars was subject to frequent personnel changes.
After contracting pleurisy in 1963, Davies began to drink heavily to assuage the pain while undergoing a heavy touring schedule. He died in January 1964, after collapsing during an engagement at a night club on Eel Pie Island, Twickenham in London. The official cause of death was given as endocarditis, although leukaemia is often quoted. The core band was taken over by Long John Baldry and formed the basis of his ‘Hoochie Coochie Men’.
In October 2014 the compilation entitled Preachin’ The Blues: The Cyril Davies Memorial Album was finally released on GVC Records (GVC2040) in Great Britain. (by wikipedia)
Early in the morning of January 8th, 1964, I received a telephone call from John Martin: “I’m sorry to be the one who has to tell you this, John, but Cyril died last night.” Cyril had been taken to hospital at six in the evening and within five hours was dead. I just could not believe it – he had been ill for some months, that I knew, but the suddenness of his death threw me. Some days before, as we were crossing the footbridge from our old stamping ground Eel Pie Island, he had said something that flashed back into my mind at that moment. “You know, John, I think this will be the last time I’ll walk on this bridge”.
As it happened, that particular evening at the Island was to be his last public appearance.
The first time I ever met Cyril Davies was a few weeks before the earliest tracks on this album were recorded. I was only a young kid just out of school at that time, just playing guitar and singing a little and very much in love with the blues. Although I had been listening to records by Bill Broonzy, and Muddy Waters among others since I was twelve, I had never heard English people playing and singing the blues until the evening I walked into the Roundhouse (the pub in Soho, not Arnold Wesker’s ex-railway turntable shed) and heard Cyril and Alexis Korner. I used to go every Thursday evening and they would invite me to join them on the piece of lino between the piano and the bar, which served as the bandstand, encouraging me in my desire to be part of the blues scene. Those were great days, because apart from Cyril, Alex and myself performing, there were visits to the club by Big Bill, Muddy, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Derroll Adams and many more.
Of course, Cyril was better known then as a twelve-string guitarist than as a harmonica player. But later, in the days of the “Blues Incorporated” and the All Stars”, he never played guitar on stage, so naturally became absolutely identified with harmonica. I have always thought it a great pity that his guitar playing was never utilized on his recordings for Decca and Pye. However, this situation can now be rectified as we listen to this collection of memorable recordings thanks to Doug Dobell.
As I listen, I look back and think of the little black Alsatian Uschi (still alive and well and monstrous in Kent) that he gave me from the litter of his scrapyard watchdog Kim. The entire barful of dockers on Teesside for whom he bought drinks all night. The inimitable way he curbed a tribal civil war in the back of a Timpson’s coach outside Middlesbrough Infirmary. My sudden arrival back to sobriety one night in Burslem with a well-aimed harmonica hurled at my head from the stage. But there’s not enough room on this sleeve to tell it all. Perhaps Doug might let me record an album one day so that I can tell you the WHOLE story of the Legendary Cyril Davies. (by Long John Baldry, taken from the originaL liner notes)
It´s time to honour Cyril Davies, one of the first blues man in UK. Listn !
Cyril Davies (guitar, vocals, harmonica)
Jeff Bradford (mandolin, kazoo, guitar on 06. + 12.)
Mike Collins (washboard on 02., 10. + 11)
Alexis Korner (guitar, mandolin, vocals on 02., 03., 05., 08. – 11.
Terry Plant (bass on 02., 05., 10. + 11.)
Lisa Turner (banjo, vocals on 06 . + 12.)
Reg Turner (jug on 06. + 12.)
01 Leaving Blues (Ledbetter) 3.15
02- Roundhouse Stomp (Johnson) 2.53
03. Rotten Break (Taylor) 3.48
04. K.C. Moan (Blackman) 2.54
05. Skip To My Lou (Traditional) 1.54
06. It’s The Same Old Thing (Shade) 2.19
07. Alberta (Leadbelly) 2.43
08. Hesitation Blues (Handy) 2.29
09. Ella Speed (Traditional) 2.58
10. Good Morning (Leadbelly) 2.36
11. Boll Weevil (Brownwell) 3.25
12. Short Legs Shuffle (Bradford) 2.34