[ the one with the guitar ]
Roger Dean on the Nu-Notes and Bluesbreakers
I originally came across Roger Dean, the guitarist, not the one who did the cover designs for the Yes albums with whom he is constantly being confused, about 5 years ago whilst doing some research on a 60s band by the name of Russ Sainty and the Nu-Notes for my California Ballroom web site. They had been resident band there and made over 300 appearances. Subsequently, whilst speaking to Brian Matthews, it transpired that they had also done hundreds of sets on the BBC radio show Saturday Club, appeared on Meet the Beatles TV shows but had never had chart success and finally went their separate ways.
I tracked a couple of them down to get info for the site and there began a long term friendship with Roger Dean, their guitarist between 1961 and 1964. The longer I knew him, the more I found out about his incredible career and the famous names he'd played with. The following is just a small part of his story which has spanned more than 50 years.
I interviewed him for a piece in The Beat magazine and these are his memories of the way things were.
- How did you get into the Nu-Notes and why did you leave Bob Xavier and the Jury?
I joined the band after Russ heard me playing guitar in 'Lew Davis' guitar shop in Charing Cross Road. I was a trainee at 'Maples' furniture store in Tottenham Court Road, and as we had long lunch breaks, I'd nip down and have a look at the guitars. When I played with 'Bob Xavier and the Jury', it was only odd gigs, the lead player was Albert Lee
- You played on "Send me the pillow" and Russ Sainty considers that the most successful single but it never charted, why do you think that was?
I played on all Russ Sainty's recordings in the 60s. It probably didn't chart because 'Frank Kelly and the Hunters' had another version out at the same time, and anyway, it had already been a huge hit for Hank. We also had instrumentals out as the 'Nu Notes'. 'Kathy', 'Fury' and 'Hall of Mirrors'. If you ask me did I play on 'Hall of Mirrors', I WROTE the booger!
Go on then, ask me, ask me, ask me! Mel Miller wrote 'Kathy' and I seem to remember that the tune was named after the daughter of one of our friends at the Cali. Funny you should mention those tunes right now, EMI released two CD's. 'Greatest Instrumental Hits Of The Sixties' featuring 'Mirrors and 'Kathy' in 1990. A compilation album also featuring Ventures, John Barry 7, Shadows. Not only did they not tell us about the release, THEY FORGOT TO PAY US!
- The Nu-Notes were known as Russ Sainty's backing band. How did you come to be doing solo singles?
Russ's A+R man with EMI was Wally Ridley, he was looking for good players to emulate the success of Acker Bilk with 'Stranger on the Shore'. We were in the right place at the right time. We didn't tour on our own to promote our singles, but we did go to Hamburg without Russ, I think he had his tonsils sorted, or something else that prevented him from singing for a while.
- Was Rhet Stoller still involved at this time?
Rhet played celeste on one of our last singles. I think it was 'This is our lovely Day'. I haven't seen him since.
- I understand you did shows with the Beatles.
We did do a few broadcasts on the same BBC show as the Beatles, but we recorded on separate days, we were never in the studio at the same time
- The Nu-Notes, with and without Russ, were a pretty big name at the time. Why do you think they're not as well remembered these days as some of the other 60s outfits?
I really don't know why we didn't crack the big time. We had all the broadcasts and suchlike, but we were not doing any original material ... unlike the Beatles and Hollies etc.
- The Nu-Notes were resident at the California Ballroom in Dunstable which has now been demolished. What do you recall about what has become a legendary venue?
I remember the Rolling Stones first performance at the Cali. It was so cold in the dressing room (kitchen!) that we had all the cookers roaring away to keep warm, and when we headlined The Spotnicks, their guitar player couldn't play their own hit (Orange Blossom Special). The crowd made such a fuss that we played it instead. A bit uncool if you think about it now but it's a tough life!
- You left the Nu-Notes to go to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Was this an enforced decision or did you feel you needed a change?
When I left to go to John M, I fancied a change of style. As Mel Miller (Nu-Notes) has said, the band was going in no particular direction and we had been living in each other's pockets for a long time... we had reached a stalemate situation at that time. Around 1962, I was introduced to John by Ray Smith of 'Head Hands and Feet'. Bernie Watson had left to pursue his classical career and I was in the right place at the right time. John had a stack of work, I did a couple of gigs and liked the players in the band, John MacVie and Hughie Flint. Joining the 'Bluesbreakers' turned out to be a springboard to meeting a load of new musicians, many of whom have become lifelong friends
The following information is taken from an interview with Eddy Smit for Rock of Ages and reproduced here with his kind permission.
- December 7, 1964 the 'John Mayall plays John Mayall' album was recorded live, very much the fashion at the time. Who's decision was it to go for a live recording?
John has always made his own decisions. We were a tight unit so recording live with no retakes was not a problem. I think we had a run through in the afternoon, a couple of tunes were new to all of us such as 'I need your love'.
- Was that the band's basic repertoire, did you play other songs live?
We played a lot of the stuff on the album, John would leap into whatever he fancied playing and we had to keep our ears open.
- Is it true that, with the Decca Studios right next door, they brought in the cables through the roof to record the show?
No! the cables ran out of the window and down the road to the studio about 100 yards away.
- Although Mayall is always regarded as a blues purist, I get more of an R&B feel from that LP. What was the reaction within the band to the album and how do you look back on it now?
John has always been a purist , I was more R&B so I suppose I was holding him back at that time. I was a bit headstrong in those days! We were so busy doing gigs that I didn't really listen to it at that time! I recently reviewed the album on somebody's website, and a guy wrote in saying he didn't believe that I hadn't listened to it for 40 years! Looking back on it, it's great!! You can always improve solos by retakes - we stuck the lot down in one - very different to being in the studio.
- The Bluesbreakers backed up John Lee Hooker on his 1964 UK tour. Was Mayall himself part of that band?
Yes, I think that was just after John bought his first Hammond. John Lee was a lovely man - you had to keep your ears open for the changes though! It was a thrill to get that gig, John Lee was a very big name at that time.
- In February 1965 Mayall's second single was recorded: Crocodile walk c/w Blues city shake down. Was that also recorded at Decca West Hampstead?
Yes, but that was a long time ago and the engineers didn't understand that the amp needed a lot of poke to get the right sound. They were always watching their meters, not listening to the sound.
- My baby is sweeter (later to turn up on the Thru The Years album) was also recorded at these sessions. Was that a contender for the single?
Can't really say. I liked it, but as I said before, John made the decisions
- By this time Mayall already had a bit of a reputation on the scene. Did you get the feeling you were going places?
At the time we were doing basically six or seven gigs a week PLUS one or two all nighters, so we were already a name on the circuit.
- Were you aware of his interest in Clapton for the band?
John always keeps his plans close to his chest but he was always straight with me and I was always straight with him, so he could call me up and explain the situation. I already new that Eric was 100% into blues. At that time I wanted to play like George Benson. I didn't fit.
So Roger left the Bluesbreakers and needed a new challenge. As luck would have it there was a vacancy with his old band, the Nu-Notes and being the forgiving lot that they were, they took him back.
Celeste or Celesta - a musical instrument which looks similar to a small piano. The keys are connected to hammers which strike a graduated set of metal (usually steel) plates suspended over wooden resonators. There is a pedal to sustain or dampen the sound. The sound of the celesta is akin to that of the glockenspiel, but with a much softer timbre.