An Interview with The Go Jazz All-Stars in Hamburg

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 it’s 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. I’ll 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) It’s what they tell me. They say I’m the most sampled drummer, so I accept it now, but I can’t grasp it. I can’t comprehend me being the most sampled drummer. If it’s happening, ok, cool. I respect it and honor it, but I’m not getting acknowledgement. By speaking like this I get acknowledgement for myself, but the rappers or whoever uses it doesn’t put my name in there, saying this is Clyde Stubblefield’s sample. I’m looking forward to getting acknowledged on some of this stuff. The money’s not the important thing, it’s being known...who’s doing what. Then the money follows.

Norman Bender: How long have you been in this business?

Clyde Stubblefield: Well, I just turned 60. I’ve been in this business...out of 60 years, about 58 of them. (laughter)

Georgie Fame: The ultimate Clyde Stubblefield sample has been sampled and it’s about to be released this year. Is that right?

Ben Sidran: Well, what we’re doing is we’re releasing a Clyde Stubblefield solo Go Jazz record with Clyde Stubblefield playing everything out in the clear. If you’re gonna sample it, you’re gonna take it from him and you’re gonna say his name. Cause he’s right there playing it.

Clyde Stubblefield: His son, Leo Sidran, produced it. Hot new young gentleman. He’s 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 can’t remember the venue. It wasn’t 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? You’ve been a member of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings and the musical director for Van Morrison...

Georgie Fame: Well, they’re 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. I’ve never thought of myself as Van Morrison’s 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, I’d sing a couple of songs. So it’s easy. That’s all a part of our musical life. We’re only playing the music that we love playing. We’re not doing anything that we don’t like to do. So that keeps it pretty simple. That’s 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 You’re 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 wasn’t on the album. I walked into a studio in New York at the end of a Bill Wyman tour and layed some organ on That’s Life. But apparently Robbie Williams didn’t like his vocal, so it didn’t actually go on the album. Otherwise, I’d have been on it. But I admire him for doing it. That was what I tried to do with the Sound Venture album. I’d 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 South’s band led directly to me being able to sing with Basie’s orchestra, which again, was a tremendous experience. It’s all down to that experience of learning all the time. It’s all a part of this musical education that we indulge ourselves in for all our lives. I’ll be 60 years old next month. (laughter) I’m 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. There’s some very fine bands. I’ve worked with the NDR Big Band, here, many times. I’ve done a lot of projects with them. The VDR is a fantastic big band. There’s 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 I’d 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 that’s going to be released later this year as a double CD. We did a two-hour concert and there wasn’t a bum note in it. So we’re 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. I’ve 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: I’ll take it kindly. Cause he’s a good songwriter, he’s 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 Basie’s orchestra. But it was something I wanted to try to do.

Clyde Stubblefield: And you’re great at it.

Georgie Fame: And I came through. (laughing) I mean, I was shaking like a leaf at the time, but now I’m 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 That’s What Friends Are For. And I turned it around and rearranged it, but it’s 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. It’s 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) They’re all grown up.

Clyde Stubblefield: The only reason we come back is because we play. (laughter)

Georgie Fame: But the Fabrik, where we’re playing in Hamburg, is a long established venue. I’ve played concerts in there with Bill Wyman, the NDR Big Band. It’s had a lot of good artists for many, many years. It’s the kind of venue that we’re happy to play in.

Norman Bender: Do you think there will be a return of the sixties club culture?

Georgie Fame: Oh, I don’t know. I can’t answer that. You'd better ask Ben.

Ben Sidran: A return of the club culture?

Georgie Fame: It’s never really gone away, has it?

Ben Sidran: No, no. It’s 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 couldn’t buy alcohol. Ever since then, people have been going to clubs for various reasons and they’ll keep going.

Norman Bender: What was the thrill of combining rhythm and blues, rock and jazz to make fusion?

Ben Sidran: I don’t think we think we’re combining anything really. We’re just playing music. Then later people say you’ve got a funk element and bebop and all that stuff. But this is just the music that we’ve always listened to. It’s not hard. We don’t think about it. We don’t 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) I’m 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 couldn’t 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 couldn’t get greater experience than that. You were playing with these great rock and roll artists. If I wasn’t playing on stage, I’d 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. That’s 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 didn’t 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 you’ve got to come around to the local hall because there’s this band from Liverpool and they’re tearing the place apart. And I went in and there were The Beatles. And all these girls were 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 What’d I Say on the rock and roll package tour that he was on, and nobody had ever heard of Ray Charles. He was playing What’d I Say and we all went, what’s that? And we all started buying Ray Charles records. That’s the way it goes.

Norman Bender: What is the program for tomorrow?

Ben Sidran: It’s Clyde and Georgie and myself, and Bob Rockwell on tenor and Billy Peterson on bass. My son Leo is playing guitar. We’re playing all kinds of music from my record, from Clyde’s record, and Georgie’s record, and Bob Rockwell’s record. It’s bebop and blues and funk and swing.

Clyde Stubblefield: We enjoy doing it and that’s the greatest thing. It’s a groove.

Ben Sidran: Here’s 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, that’s it.

Norman Bender: Best wishes for the concert.

All: Thank you.

Clyde Stubblefield: It’s time for lobster, idn’t it?

Ben Sidran: Yeah, we gotta get some lobster now.

Copyright © 2003 Norman Bender

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