In 1968, Alexis Korner found himself in a strange position. What little commercial success he’d archived as a Blues musician seemed to be disappearing out of sight, as his album sold fewer and fewer copies. And as he’d taken Blues Incorporated into increasingly Jazzy areas, he’d been overtaken by the new British Blues boomers like John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac and Chicken Shack, who all majored on the sort of guitar pyrotechnics Alexis was never going to aspire to. Consequently, that year Alexis somehow found himself working the Folk circuit for the first time in many years, in addition to the traditional Jazz and Blues clubs.
Yet as the ‘Blues guru’ of Britain, his star had never shone brighter. Guests at his 40th birthday party in April had included Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful, John Mayall and Ginger Baker had jammed together, Charlie Watts chatted with Alexis’ children, and Ornette Coleman drifted around talking with the many other celebrities who’d turned up. Alexis had also narrated a film about Jimi Hendrix, See My Music Talking, fronted a three part radio series about British Blues, kicked off a new R&B series on the BBC World Service, and began what became a very lucrative career in advertising, blessed, as he was, with a signature voice straight from three o’clock in the morning.
However, Alexis didn’t abandon his recording career – not least because a handy, if modest, Advance was always on offer, and he had a family to provide for. At the time, Alexis was associated with the Bryan Morrison Agency. As well as providing agent services, Morrison also shared management duties with Alexis to promote a new band whom Alexis had discovered, called Free. Within this arrangement, Alexis signed a production deal with Morrison for an album, called New Generation Of Blues – to be released on the Liberty label, which listed other Blues acts on its roster like The Groundhogs, the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation and Canned Heat.
The big question for Alexis was, who could he get to play on his new record? Since the demise of Blues Inc, he was working without a regular band, whilst most of the musicians who’d started out with him were now in their own well-established bands. Moreover, the business had moved on. Unlike the Jazz world, it was very hard for what were now Rock musicians to just turn up on one another’s records without managers and record companies becoming extremely pissed off. So, once again, it was to Jazz that Alexis turned. But he had a problem here as well. The obvious choice would be the last rhythm section, who’d made up the final incarnation of Blues Incorporated; bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox. But that association had ended acrimoniously a year ago. The reason? Money. It was almost written into the contract that bandleaders would fall out with the other musicians over money. The employees would always gripe that the leader was taking too much of a share; the leader would complain that ‘they’ never understood that he had all the extras to pay – transport, PA and so on. Alexis, though, seemed especially difficult to deal with over money, and the big bust-up came when a cheque he gave to Danny Thompson bounced.
In truth, storm clouds had already been gathering. The band, plus saxophonist/flautist Ray Warleigh, had a reasonably full date sheet; but much of this was hardly more than cabaret work and when Alexis had refused to play the Hilton Hotel many months earlier, Blues Inc was no more. By 1968, both Thompson and Cox were spearheading the new phenomenon of Folk-Rock with Pentangle, but still Alexis managed to sweet talk them both – and Ray Warleigh, plus pianist Steve Miller – into interrupting their busy schedules to lay some tracks down intermittently over March-April at the Sound Techniques Studio, which in due course came together as A New Generation Of Blues.
The opening track, ‘Mary Open The Door’, was written by Duffy Power, arguably one of the most underrated Blues singers this country has ever produced. Born Ray Howard, Duffy became part of Larry Parnes’ Rock’n’Roll stable, which included Marty Wilde and Billy Fury. But after a series of failed singles, gruelling tours and disillusionment with Parnes’ questionable management tactics, Duffy quit Rock’n’Roll and moved into the Blues/Jazz scene. He recorded The Beatles’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ with Graham Bond, plus some remarkable Jazz/Blues material with the likes of John McLaughlin, Phil Seaman and the rhythm sections of Bruce/Baker and Thompson/Cox, all of which was criminally ignored and he slipped into bouts of despair and drug-driven mental illness. He played & sang with Alexis in Blues Incorporated – even appearing with them on their dreaded Five O’clock Club TV show residency (on which Duffy was famously once caught smoking a huge joint – he’d thought he was out of camera shot!). He was also heavily featured on Sky High (check out CMRCD 1416), on which he took lead vocals on several tracks, in addition to playing harp. But he had a strained relationship with Alexis who, according to Duffy, took one of his songs and credited himself with its composition – and call him ‘Duff’, which irritated Duffy considerably. Nor could Duffy understand why Alexis asked him to stand down for some songs during live performances. Yet they remained friends until Alexis’ death. Duffy recalls that ‘Mary Open The Door’ had been inspired by a relationship he had with a girl, whose boyfriend came round one day and hammered on the door yelling to be let in.
A New Generation Of Blues has a production feel at once more subtle and more substantial than Alexis’ previous two albums, I Wonder Who and Sky High, with excellent support from his former band members – whatever their previous differences. Indeed, the stripped-down, off-stark production, with Ray Warleigh’s flute adding a light, airy feel (most notably on the first two tracks), lent the album a rather ethereal tone, something which was invariably observed in the album’s album’s reviews. But equally, there were timeless songs full of Blues passion, like ‘Go Down Sunshine’ and the achingly-beautiful ‘The Same For You’ (Alexis’ long recording career is dotted liberally with real gems like these – often a perfect synthesis of a man and his guitar – which, taken together, could perhaps yet make a creditable Alexis Unplugged album). He delivers a pair couple of fine, contemporary R&B covers in the shape of Freddie King’s ‘I’m Tore Down’ (which got Side Two off to a truly magnificent start) and Chris Kenner’s much-travelled ‘Something You Got’, although some reviewers identified Alexis’ ‘A Flower’ as the album’s outstanding track.
Rare single from France
While Alexis was always happy to nurture new talent – and those musicians owing him a debt is long and illustrious – he could demonstrate a parochial territorialism about The Blues itself, and especially in some of his journalism, could be quite vitriolic about those he saw not keeping the flame burning true and fierce. Yet on ‘What’s That Sound I Hear?’, you get a sense that Alexis knows well enough that he has been outgunned by the fastest guitarists in the West, name-checking Clapton, Hendrix and Peter Green (it’s a great track – EMI should perhaps have issued it as a single!). Blues Incorporated as an entity was by now long dead, and therefore this album can be regarded as Alexis’ pure Blues swansong, as he literally passes The Blues mantle over a new generation. As is well-documented, Alexis was never particularly comfortable in the recording studio – indeed, his son, Damian, has often said that much of the best of Alexis came during rehearsals, before the tapes were running. Here, though, as we have seen, he delivered some heart-felt performances accompanied by some deft acoustic Blues guitar.
The bonus tracks are largely taken from contemporaneous BBC sessions and reflect Alexis during a period, without a regular band, just playing with many of the new musicians who were shipping up on the London Blues scene. Multi-instrumentalist Victor Brox hailed from Manchester and came south, boasting a degree in philosophy and a stint as leader of the Victor Brox Blues Train. He teamed up with Alexis and they formed a duo lasting about nine months, during the course of which (on November 28th ’67) they recorded a great Rhythm & Blues BBC session, which yielded the first three of these bonus tracks, Muddy’s ‘Louisiana Blues’, the ubiquitous ‘Corrina Corrina’, and the mighty Joe Tex’s ‘The Love You Save’. While Alexis and Victor were working together, drummer Aynsley Dunbar brought Victor into his new Retaliation. Dunbar, too, had been helped out by Alexis when he came south from Liverpool; he sat in with Alexis on a night when John Mayall was in the audience who promptly signed the drummer for the Bluesbreakers.
1968 was also a watershed period for a young Midlands singer Robert Plant. By the age of 15, he was a dedicated Blues fan, hanging out at all the local clubs, hair down his back with his parents dreams of young Robert becoming a chartered accountant fading into the distance. He scuffed around with long-forgotten bands, then made some progress with The Crawling King Snakes and the Band of Joy, both with John Bonham. But it still wasn’t happening. He’d set himself the target of making it by 20 or giving it up altogether. He’d been born in August 1948 – his birthday was looming. Alexis often played in Birmingham; one day he met up with Robert and the two went out as a duo, sharing brandy, wine and dope on the way. Alexis took Robert through his twentieth birthday, urging him all the time not to give up. Plant said later, “Alexis absorbed me in his large family .. helped me build my confidence and aided my schooling for what was to come”. Jimmy Page was looking for a singer for the New Yardbirds and had given Robert’s name by singer Terry Reid. Robert Plant got to the call, asked Alexis, who just said “Go!”.
But before then, they began to lay down tracks at De Lane Lea for what was intended to be an album, with pianist Steve Miller. They had just got through two songs, ‘Steal Away’ and ‘Operator’, when the session started for the first Led Zeppelin album – and Robert was gone for good. A snatch of ‘Steal Away’ can be heard on ‘How Many More Times’ – and while we are on matters Zeppelin, a version of ‘In The Evening’ appeared much later on In Through The Out Door.
American soul singer PP Arnold sings with British blues musician Alexis Korner (1928 – 1984) at an anti H-Bomb demonstration near St Paul Cathedral, London,
UK, 15th April 1968.
And so to the last tracks on this expanded album, where Alexis dips into the gene pool of Blues standards, just one man alone with his guitar. Another superb Rhythm & Blues BBC session – recorded on March 19th ’69 – finds Alexis in fine form, as per usual (indeed, his live BBC sessions were uniformly excellent). He was no guitar virtuoso and he knew it, but what he lacked in technical fluidity, he made up for with passion and commitment – although actually he was a far better acoustic guitar player than most gave him credit for. It’s interesting to note that live, he performs ‘Go Down Sunshine’ in a lower key than the album version, and the four-song session wraps up with superlative performances of ‘Stump Blues’, ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ and ‘Just The Blues’.
Like all Alexis’ s albums thus far, A New Generation Of Blues failed to make much of a commercial impact. As we’ve discussed, this was doubtless due to its rather plaintive, stripped-down, largely acoustic feel, which was very much at odds with the sounds elsewhere of the late 60s Blues Boom. This becomes particularly apparent when comparing this album to those of other contemporary (essentially, guitar-driven) UK Blues bands, such as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, Cream, etc. Nonetheless it remains one of Alexis’s career milestones, and it certainly includes some of his finest solo performances. (Harry Shapiro)
A basically competent, though hardly enthralling, effort from the British bluesman that alternates between minimal, acoustic-flavored production and fuller arrangements with jazzy touches of flute and upright bass. Korner wrote about half of the material, leaving the rest of the space open for R&B/blues covers and adaptations of traditional standards. “The Same for You” has a strange, ever-so-slight psychedelic influence, with its swirling flute, fake fadeout, and odd antiestablishment lyrics. Korner’s voice is (and always would be) a tuneless bark, but it sounds better here than it did on the first album to prominently feature his vocals (I Wonder Who, 1967). As such, this album is one of the best representations of Korner as a frontman. (by Richie Unterberger)
Terry Cox (drums)
Alexis Korner (vocals, guitar)
Steve Miller (piano)
Danny Thompson (bass)
Ray Warleigh (flute, saxophone)
Victor Brox (violin on 12., trumpet, vocals on 13., piano on 14.
Robert Plant (vocals, guitar on 15., 16.
01. Mary Open The Door (Power) 3.30
02 Little Bitty Girl (Traditional) 6.29
03. Baby Don’t You Love Me (Traditional) 3.26
04. Go Down Sunshine (Korner) 4.06
05. The Same For You (Korner) 4.11
06. I’m Tore Down (King) 2.09
07. In The Evening (Traditional) 4.37
08. Somethin’ You Got (Kenner) 2.24
09. New Worried Blues (Korner) 2.37
10. What’s That Sound I Hear(Korner) 3.18
11. A Flower (Korner) 2.14
Various BBC sessions:
12. Louisiana Blues (Morganfield) 3.14
13. Corrina Corrina (Traditional) 3.09
14. The Love You Save (Tex) 5.39
15. Operator (Korner/Plant/Miller) 4.39
16. Steal Away (Korner/Plant/Miller) 4.45
17. Go Down Sunshine. (Korner) 4.09
18. Stump Blues (Broonzy) 3.36
19. Sweet Home Chicago (Johnson) 3.18
20. Just The Blues (Korner) 2.53
Alexis Korner (19 April 1928 – 1 January 1984)