Georgie Fame, Ben Sidran and Clyde Stubblefield
Hamburg, Germany (May 11, 2003)
by Norman Bender
It was late Sunday afternoon when I arrived at the hotel Mercure Domizil in Hamburg. I looked at my watch and it was ten minutes to five. I had to hurry, because I had a interview at five with the legendary Georgie Fame, the famous british organist. I went to reception and asked for him. The girl at the reception said that Mr. Fame and the group were relaxing on the balcony at the 5th floor. (Later Mr. Fame told me that the group had a five-hour trip from Berlin to Hamburg--normaly its only three hours). I took the elevator to the 5th floor and went to the balcony. There he was, with Ben Sidran and Clyde Subblefield. He smiled and smoked a handmade cigarette. He came up to me and asked me my name and then he introduced me to Ben and Clyde. It was a very exciting moment to me, but Georgie and the rest of the band were very calm and collected. Clyde was laughing all the time--this man is fun. Ben was so smart and polite, and Georgie was all of the above. We started the interview and it was like talking with old friends. Ill remember this interview as one of the best experiences in my job as a journalist. Thanks for this interview Mr. Fame, Mr. Sidran and Mr. Stubblefield.
~Norman Bender, May 2003
Norman Bender: Mr. Sidran, when did you first meet Georgie Fame and how did Mr. Fame become a member of the Go Jazz All-Stars?
Ben Sidran: I met Georgie in 1988 or 1989, I forget exactly what year. He was performing with the Aussie Blue Flames at the Perth Jazz Festival. He performed on a Friday night and I was supposed to perform on a Saturday, but I got there a day early and I went to hear him. After hearing his set, we sat and talked and I asked him if he would consider recording for Go Jazz. I was just starting to think about starting the label.
Norman Bender: Mr. Stubblefield, how does it feel to be the most sampled man on Earth?
Clyde Stubblefield: The feeling about that is like show me the money. (laughter) Its what they tell me. They say Im the most sampled drummer, so I accept it now, but I cant grasp it. I cant comprehend me being the most sampled drummer. If its happening, ok, cool. I respect it and honor it, but Im not getting acknowledgement. By speaking like this I get acknowledgement for myself, but the rappers or whoever uses it doesnt put my name in there, saying this is Clyde Stubblefields sample. Im looking forward to getting acknowledged on some of this stuff. The moneys not the important thing, its being known...whos doing what. Then the money follows.
Norman Bender: How long have you been in this business?
Clyde Stubblefield: Well, I just turned 60. Ive been in this business...out of 60 years, about 58 of them. (laughter)
Georgie Fame: The ultimate Clyde Stubblefield sample has been sampled and its about to be released this year. Is that right?
Ben Sidran: Well, what were doing is were releasing a Clyde Stubblefield solo Go Jazz record with Clyde Stubblefield playing everything out in the clear. If youre gonna sample it, youre gonna take it from him and youre gonna say his name. Cause hes right there playing it.
Clyde Stubblefield: His son, Leo Sidran, produced it. Hot new young gentleman. Hes a genius.
Norman Bender: Is this the first time for the Go Jazz All-Stars in Hamburg?
Georgie Fame: I think we did play here five or six years ago, when we did the last tour. But we cant remember the venue. It wasnt Fabrik. It was some hall and they combined it with a kind of fashion show.
Norman Bender: Mr. Fame, how do you manage to plan so many projects? Youve been a member of Bill Wymans Rhythm Kings and the musical director for Van Morrison...
Georgie Fame: Well, theyre all friends of mine. I only work with friends and that makes it easy. We play the kind of music we enjoy and we have a lot of friends around the world who like the same kind of music. We all get along fine and we enjoy playing together. Ive never thought of myself as Van Morrisons musical director. Van Morrison is his own musical director. He writes his own songs and he knows how he wants his band to sound. I was just happy to be a member of it. If he wanted to walk off stage, Id sing a couple of songs. So its easy. Thats all a part of our musical life. Were only playing the music that we love playing. Were not doing anything that we dont like to do. So that keeps it pretty simple. Thats quite easy to manage, is the answer to that question.
Norman Bender: In 1966 you released your first album with the Harry South Orchestra and in 1968 you toured with the Count Basie Orchestra.
Georgie Fame: I did.
Norman Bender: Two years ago, Robbie Williams released an album called Swing When Youre Winning and was backed by an orchestra. What do you think about this old-fashioned album entering the Top Ten?
Georgie Fame: I admire him for trying to do it. He wanted to branch out and he obviously loves Frank Sinatra. I actually played on one of those tracks, but it wasnt on the album. I walked into a studio in New York at the end of a Bill Wyman tour and layed some organ on Thats Life. But apparently Robbie Williams didnt like his vocal, so it didnt actually go on the album. Otherwise, Id have been on it. But I admire him for doing it. That was what I tried to do with the Sound Venture album. Id listened to great jazz singers like Jon Hendricks, King Pleasure...Lambert, Hendricks and Ross group were dynamite for me. Great learning curve. I was involved with Jon Hendricks through my hit Yeh Yeh, because Jon Hendricks wrote the lyrics and did the first vocal version. So that was all a natural progression for me. And working with Harry Souths band led directly to me being able to sing with Basies orchestra, which again, was a tremendous experience. Its all down to that experience of learning all the time. Its all a part of this musical education that we indulge ourselves in for all our lives. Ill be 60 years old next month. (laughter) Im the kid in the crowd.
Norman Bender: Are you yearning to do a project with a big orchestra?
Georgie Fame: Well, I work with big bands and orchestras quite a lot...around Europe, most the time. Theres some very fine bands. Ive worked with the NDR Big Band, here, many times. Ive done a lot of projects with them. The VDR is a fantastic big band. Theres a lot of great big bands in Sweden that I work with all the time. And five years ago, I put my own big band together in London. Just for a special birthday celebration, I thought Id give myself an expensive birthday present. So I put the band together. And Ben was in London. Ben introduced it and we sang a duet together. And I just called all my friends, great musicians that I worked with over the years and put this fantastic big band together, my own band. And thats going to be released later this year as a double CD. We did a two-hour concert and there wasnt a bum note in it. So were gonna release the whole thing. [Back to big bands] I do that all the time. I have my whole personal library of big band arrangements at home. Ive got about 95 great arrangements which I use whenever I get the opportunity.
Norman Bender: Elvis Costello said that the album Sound Venture was a very important album for him. What do you think about this praise?
Georgie Fame: Ill take it kindly. Cause hes a good songwriter, hes a great singer. His father used to sing in a British dance band, so he grew up listening to dance bands and big bands. I was only 21 years old when I started recording the Harry South big band thing. I was only 23 years old when I was singing with Basies orchestra. But it was something I wanted to try to do.
Clyde Stubblefield: And youre great at it.
Georgie Fame: And I came through. (laughing) I mean, I was shaking like a leaf at the time, but now Im comfortable with it.
Norman Bender: Can you imagine working together with Elvis Costello?
Georgie Fame: Yeah, I recorded one of his songs. He wrote a song and sent it to Chris Blackwell at Island Records. It was called Thats What Friends Are For. And I turned it around and rearranged it, but its a good song. I like it.
Norman Bender: Let me take you back to the sixties...1966...
Georgie Fame: Me?
Norman Bender: Yeah...the famous Hamburg Star Club. Do you still remember this time, this concert?
Georgie Fame: Yeah, I remember coming here. That was the first time. I did play here in Hamburg with Count Basie in 1968, but I came here in 1966 the first time. After we had a couple of hit records, we started to get invitations to play outside of England. The Star Club was the first invite we had to play in Germany. Because of the historical connection with The Beatles, who lived here for months and months, cutting their teeth playing six sets a night for a year or two. Yeah, I remember it well. Its just around the corner from where we are now, right?
Norman Bender: Was that with the Blue Flames in 1966?
Georgie Fame: Yeah, it was the Blue Flames. Mitch Mitchell was on drums. Glenn Hughes played baritone saxophone. Speedy Acquaye played the congas. Eddie Thornton played the trumpet. Peter Coe played the tenor saxophone, and I think Tex Makins played the bass. That was the band at the time.
Norman Bender: Is there a difference in the club culture between the swinging sixties and today?
Georgie Fame: Well, I guess so. Because all the people who were in the clubs in the sixties are our age. (laughter) Theyre all grown up.
Clyde Stubblefield: The only reason we come back is because we play. (laughter)
Georgie Fame: But the Fabrik, where were playing in Hamburg, is a long established venue. Ive played concerts in there with Bill Wyman, the NDR Big Band. Its had a lot of good artists for many, many years. Its the kind of venue that were happy to play in.
Norman Bender: Do you think there will be a return of the sixties club culture?
Georgie Fame: Oh, I dont know. I cant answer that. You'd better ask Ben.
Ben Sidran: A return of the club culture?
Georgie Fame: Its never really gone away, has it?
Ben Sidran: No, no. Its all a matter of fashion. The clubs have been open since 1915 around the world. Actually, the best thing that ever happened to the night clubs was prohibition. People started going out to hear music when they couldnt buy alcohol. Ever since then, people have been going to clubs for various reasons and theyll keep going.
Norman Bender: What was the thrill of combining rhythm and blues, rock and jazz to make fusion?
Ben Sidran: I dont think we think were combining anything really. Were just playing music. Then later people say youve got a funk element and bebop and all that stuff. But this is just the music that weve always listened to. Its not hard. We dont think about it. We dont talk about it. You play the music where it feels good. Call it what you want.
Norman Bender: Who is your favorite musician?
Ben Sidran: My favorite musician is Georgie Fame.
Clyde Stubblefield: Yes. The legend.
Ben Sidran: (aside to Georgie, laughing) Im sorry I said Georgie Fame.
Georgie Fame: (laughs) My favorite drummer is Clyde Stubblefield...and my son James. Who plays drums in my band.
Norman Bender: Mr. Fame, in 1960 you did your first recording session with Gene Vincent. Do you still remember this early time? What was it like to play piano for the American rock and roll stars of the fifties?
Georgie Fame: It was like playing with God. For me, I was 16 years old. I loved Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. That was me at 16. That was enough to get me on the road. Three months later, I had this job playing with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Eddie Cochran got killed, tragically, at the end of the first tour. Gene Vincent came back to do the second tour and we went into EMI Abbey Road Studios and recorded two tracks, a single: Pistol Packin Mama and a ballad on the B side, Weeping Willow, it was called. He just used the four of us. That was the original Blue Flames band that backed Billy Fury, the English rock singer. But we had to back Gene Vincent as well. And I can remember that session like it was yesterday, because I couldnt play sitting down. (laughter) We were on the road doing these rock and roll tours and I used to stand up playing. And when we recorded that song, I stood up and played. It was a great experience for me as a young boy. You couldnt get greater experience than that. You were playing with these great rock and roll artists. If I wasnt playing on stage, Id be standing in the wings every night, checking it out.
Norman Bender: Was he a wild star, a little bit crazy, Gene Vincent? Or was he a nice guy?
Georgie Fame: He was very nice to me. He taught me how to sign my autograph. The way I sign my name, Georgie Fame, Gene Vincent taught me how to do that on the band bus. He was a nice guy. He did pull a knife once (laughter)...not on me. Not on me, but he did pull a knife once. And got a little gun. But he was ok.
Norman Bender: So that was the "rock and roll" time and 1963 was more the "mod" time.
Georgie Fame: This was before the group scene happened in England. The Beatles were here in Hamburg. The group scene started to happen in England in 1962. We got sacked from Billy Fury at the end of 1961 and we got a job in the Flamingo Club in London, which was a great jazz club--an all-nighter club--where we played rhythm and blues to black American GIs, West Indians, pimps, prostitutes and gangsters. We certainly had access to the music that we wanted to play. It was there for us for the taking. We played in that club for three years. Thats when the club scene started to happen, and the group scene started to happen. But before that we had rock and roll singers who were clones of Elvis Presley and other American rock singers of the day. Nobody could play guitar like Chuck Berry. We were just little beginners. We didnt have any source, we had to tune into American Forces Network from Frankfurt to listen to jazz, or even rock and roll, until they started to play it on English radio. The club scene was for jazz in those days. But The Beatles changed all that. I went back up to my home town in Lancashire in 1962, and one of my friends who I used to play with in a local band said youve got to come around to the local hall because theres this band from Liverpool and theyre tearing the place apart. And I went in and there were The Beatles. And all these girls were screaming...in my home town. I went back to London, and nobody had ever heard of them. (laughter) But then soon enough, this whole avalanche came and the whole group scene started. I can remember Eddie Cochran playing Whatd I Say on the rock and roll package tour that he was on, and nobody had ever heard of Ray Charles. He was playing Whatd I Say and we all went, whats that? And we all started buying Ray Charles records. Thats the way it goes.
Norman Bender: What is the program for tomorrow?
Ben Sidran: Its Clyde and Georgie and myself, and Bob Rockwell on tenor and Billy Peterson on bass. My son Leo is playing guitar. Were playing all kinds of music from my record, from Clydes record, and Georgies record, and Bob Rockwells record. Its bebop and blues and funk and swing.
Clyde Stubblefield: We enjoy doing it and thats the greatest thing. Its a groove.
Ben Sidran: Heres what it is, it says right here (reading): the Go Jazz All-Stars telling the history of jazz and groove.
Georgie Fame: In a sentence, thats it.
Norman Bender: Best wishes for the concert.
All: Thank you.
Clyde Stubblefield: Its time for lobster, idnt it?
Ben Sidran: Yeah, we gotta get some lobster now.
Copyright © 2003 Norman Bender
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