THE STORY OF BLUESVILLE
by Ian Whitcomb
Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can
find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by
or by going to ianwhitcomb.com
Ian Whitcomb, an English undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin, had been involved in the local music scene ever since he arrived there in 1961. First he joined the TCD jazz band on piano, and later he formed a quasi-R&B band called "Warren Whitcomb & His Bluesmen" -- whose only appearance was at the Trinity Jazz Band Ball at the Shelbourne Hotel in St. Stephen's Green in the winter of 1962, and a cold one it was indeed. Ian was influenced very much not only by recordings of genuine black American electric blues by the likes of Muddy Waters but also by the success of British blues groups such as Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies. He was very serious about his blues and wanted to start a proper R&B group complete with electric guitars.
Through local jazz outfits he had met Barry Richardson, another English undergraduate, and he and Barry discovered they had a mutual interest in R&B. Together they schemed to start their own outfit. Barry, a bass player and reedman, was currently playing with a showband called The Crickets and so the first assembly consisted of members of that band since they owned the requisite electric guitars and amps. The agreement was that they could play with us if they brought all the equipment with them.
Ian played piano and did most of the frenetic singing. The rest of the band consisted of two guitars, fender bass, drums, and Barry on saxophone. Ian dreamed up a name Bluesville Mfg., Inc., inspired by Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated which was operating over on the mainland at the Ealing Club. Bluesville was soon hard at work learning numbers like "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Built For Comfort". Ian had been an enthusiast for gutsy boogie piano and hard blues since the late Fifties, but bear in mind that a little earlier he'd been the first boy at his English boarding school to proudly display Bill Haley's first LP, "Rock Around The Clock" and to champion Elvis as well as Danny & The Juniors. So he was there defending original rock & roll when it was looked down on by his peers.
One of the first Bluesville appearances was at St. Anthony's Hall on the Quays. This was a lunchtime show and Ian was several sheets to the wind on ale and spirits when he came on stage. The result was that he fell all over the loudspeakers. He was surprised to hear the girls screaming in ecstasy and he realized he had a certain sex appeal. He capitalized on this, flinging himself around the stage and hollering and fondling the mike at subsequent gigs -- which, when not at religious centres were invariably at tennis clubs. The local "guerriers" or "scrubbers', as they were called, took to calling the group, "Der Bluesvilles", slotting them into the long line of Irish showbands.
But the band was a reaction to what was seen by the In Crowd as the enervating old-fashioned music of the showbands. What was happening was the Irish equivalent to the beat group mania currently infecting Britain. The Rolling Stones were becoming popular and as Ian bore a passing resemblance to Mick Jagger he was frequently stopped in the street by punters who enquired, "Are yer Mick Jaggers?". Ian took this as a compliment. There was an even greater compliment in a note he received which read, "I would like to have sexual intercourse (sic) with you at your earliest convenience, Yours, Moira". This was framed and hung on a wall in his TCD rooms to the amusement of his fellow history students.
By this time Bluesville had taken on a new personnel due to Barry Richardson's having joined another showband, this one called "The Alpine Seven", named after the manager's car. This was the band, largely, that was to make the historic recording. TCD students, hitherto haters of what they saw as commercial crap, now became interested in Bluesville. Many of them attended a memorable show at Mount Merrion, another religious centre, where Ian, in the middle of "Bony Moronie", fell through some rotten floorboards. Again, the girls screamed in intense pleasure. It was at this concert that the band was offered a stint at the Star Club in Hamburg by one Dermot Hurley. Somehow it never materialized. It was also at this concert that the band first played Ian's arrangement of an old folk song he'd learned during the skiffle craze era called "This Sporting Life". The idea was to make a song that capitalized on the sound of the Animals' "House Of The Rising Sun".
At this stage Ian had secured a recording contract with a Seattle label, Jerden records. He had done this while on vacation there in the summer of 1964. The label owner, Jerry Dennon enjoying great success due to "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen which he had produced. Bluesville's first release was an instrumental called "Soho", which consisted of Ian and Barry plus a bass drum, but the other side was a Bluesville recording of "Bony Moronie" made in a Merrion Square basement earlier in 1964. Ian was determined to make a hit song. This meant abandoning the strict blues content, the slavish imitation of the African-American music that had been the driving force begin the band. But Ian knew it was pointless to try to copy black music and that his sex appeal and the burgeoning beat scene could catapult him and the band into the mainstream. But he knew this could only be done by having a hit record. And this is what he now devoted his time to. "Sporting Life" was just one of his efforts. He also wrote a lot of other songs such as "Too Many Cars On The Road" within the hallowed walls of the TCD Library.
The band continued to go from strength to strength in Dublin -- there was nothing else like it in the Republic. The sole rival was Them in Belfast. Bluesville played most of the tough venues in Dublin -- sometimes fights broke out and blood mingled with the stout. Ian can remember leaping from the stage to tackle a ruffian who'd insulted him. The best-run place was "Sound City" down at Burgh Quay where the management really understood how to present beat music. The chief mover there was a smart young entrepreneur called Tony Boland who went on to work with Bob Geldorf.
In the winter 1964 Ian took the band, minus Barry Richardson who had graduated and was back in England working, into the Eamonn Andrews studio in Henry St. to perfect "This Sporting Life". He had tried an earlier version in Peter Sellwood's Merrion Square basement studio (where Bluesville's first recordings, including "Bony Moronie" had been made), but it didn't cut the mustard. The Eamonn Andrews version, which had the addition of Bill Somerville-Large on organ, was on the right track. But Ian wasn't satisfied and during the Christmas vacation he few to Seattle and there added a beefier organ played by one of the local big beatsmen, Gerry Roslie. This was the version that was released on the Jerden label in January, 1965 and it soon made the Seattle top ten. Sensing a new sensation Tower records, a newly formed subsidiary of Capitol Records, leased the master and with the giant's push the record dented the Billboard Top Hundred. "This Sporting Life" garnered a lot of attention because of its odd sound -- a combination of swirling electric guitars with organ and piano -- a sound known in black gospel churches but hitherto unheard in the world of commercial pop. This was not lost on Tom Wilson, the black producer of Bob Dylan records: when he later cut "Like A Rolling Stone" he used a similar combination. He told an English journalist, Virginia Ironside, that Bluesville's record was what jogged him back to his gospel roots.
On the strength of the record's American success Jerry Dennon flew to Dublin to oversee an album session for Bluesville. At the very end of the session the band launched into a shuffle-beat thing that had had the girls excited in the clubs. Ian used a phrase he'd learned in America from a Seattle girl who'd been stimulated by his accent: "You're Turning me On", she'd said. He inserted some orgasmic panting at the end of each chorus and made up the rest of the words as the band played on. It was one of those improvised affairs at the end of a session when there's a few minutes to fill in. But this was the track that was released as the follow-up to "Sporting Life". At first it had no title, then it became "The Turn On Song" and finally "You Turn Me On". There was no stopping this monster -- a record that Ian was not proud of--and by July, 1965 it reached Number 8 in the Billboard chart. Ian went to America without the band, for reasons of economy and the fact that the band seemed reluctant to leave Dublin. In America he toyed with the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Sam The Sham and The Pharoahs, the Kinks, etc. But he always used pick up bands. He missed the tight and special sound of Bluesville with its locked-in twin guitars of Mick Molloy and Deke O'Brien, and especially the unique sound of Ian McGarry's drumming which utilized the bass drum in patterns hitherto not heard on pop records. Soon he was a bona fide teen heartthrob. However, he left a big tour (he was replaced by Tom Jones) in order to return to TCD and sit for his finals in modern history. He got a second class degree. The band had been performing in his absence and this caused a little bit of friction since Ian disliked seeing another member taking over all the moves of his stage act. He rewarded the culprit with an onstage blow to the head with his rolled-up copy of "Billboard".
After this Ian returned to America to pursue his teen idol career and Bluesville gradually petered out. They reunited in 1966 for the Trinity College Ball but after that it was no more. But Bluesville have a historic place in the history of Irish rock: not only did they inspire countless locals to get into hard rock but they were also the first Irish-based band to get into the American Top Ten.
For the record the basic Bluesville band that recorded both "Sporting Life" and "You Turn Me On", as well as the tracks that made up the first LP were as follows: Ian Whitcomb, piano & vocals; Mick Molloy, lead guitar; Deke O'Brien, rhythm guitar; Gerry Ryan, bass guitar (Bryan Lynch of The Greenbeats played on "This Sporting Life"); Ian McGarry, drums. On certain tracks Barry Richardson and Peter Adler played saxophones. In the early 1980s Big Beat records, a subsidiary of Ace (founded by Dublin's own Ted Carroll, who used to book Bluesville at the Rathmines Tennis Club), released an EP called "Bluesville". For more detailed and colorful information on Bluesville see Ian Whitcomb's books, "Rock Odyssey", "Whole Lotta Shakin'" and "After The Ball". All these books are available at various times on eBay.
Ian Whitcomb is a highly
respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his
CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by
or by going to ianwhitcomb.com