In the 60’s, Zoot was a regular on the club scene and on
Ready Steady Go. Like fellow Brits Brian
Auger and Georgie Fame, he played Hammond organ. Auger covered Booker T territory
before branching out to the underground with vocalist Julie Driscoll. Georgie Fame did Mose Allison and later moved
to pop like "Get away". Zoot, with a
great voice and huge personality, played Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith and Stax soul
before it became big. He had a brief
stab at pop with "Big time operator" but nothing seemed to come of it. His guitarist, Andy Somers, changed the way
he spelled his name and went on to The Police.
Saturday before Christmas, I’m listening idly to Paul Jones on
the Jazz FM gig guide and he mentions that, on Boxing Night, Zoot is playing at
the Bull’s Head, Barnes where I had heard jazz at in the 60’s. The announcement took me back instantly to
Boxing Night 1965, when I enjoyed Zoot playing at the Ricky Tick Club, Guildford. In the years between, Zoot flirted briefly
with psychedelia in Dantelion’s Chariot and recorded with Steve Ellis of Love
Affair and others. He acted on TV but I
didn’t hear much musically. I mentioned
the Bull’s Head gig to the family and 3 of them said they’d like to go. I was bit worried for them, in case Zoot’s
playing had declined or he had gone too jazzy.
We get to a fairly empty Bull’s Head and can hear the band
sound checking on some quite jazzy piece. We sit down and I point out Alan Price walking through the pub. "Who?" they ask. "Oh dear", I think. We pay our modest £6 and sit in the back
room with fewer than 20 people. Zoot is
walking about looking nervous with a mug of coffee. His daughter is with him. The room becomes nicely full gradually. Zoot takes his place stage left behind a Hammond. He says he’d fixed a bunch of mates to play,
but thought the gig was the following night, so he’s had to ring round
again. The result is a Big Roll Band
(was Zoot the first to call his group a band?) of old and new members who haven’t
played together before. He introduces
them. New regulars Ronnie Johnson on
guitar and tenor sax player Gary Spacey-Foote.
From the original Band, Colin Allen on drums who was later with Focus
and is over on holiday from Sweden. Finally, Boz Burrell (Bad Company) looking sinister,
playing bass with black fingerless gloves.
Zoot kicks off with Jimmy McGriff’s “All about my girl” and
Boz works hard to settle the band from front stage. The number becomes “Sweet little Rock ‘n’
roller, with an unfamiliar rhythm, then “Green onions” then shifts tempo to a
storming version of Phil Upchurch’s “You can’t sit down”. This is going to be good. With barely a break, Zoot announces a Ray
Charles number “It should’ve been me” [the title track of his 1965 LP]. Nick Newall from the original Big Roll Band,
walks up and joins in on tenor sax.
Sounds great. The guitar is
quieter now and the band and balance are better. The number ends in a long, very funny, expletive-
ridden line, in which Zoot confronts his all demons for not having made
it. Moving right on, he sings an
introduction about Louis Jordan recording this next number in the 40’s. Ray Charles and Count Basie with Quincey
Jones changing it and launches into “Let the good times roll”. Marvellous.
Next we’re treated to a fine version of Bobbie Parker’s “Barefootin’”
then Zoot launches the Wedding March intro to a funky “Walkin’ the dog”. “For you Rufus”, he says at the end. Rufus Thomas who did this first, died in his
80’s just before Christmas.
In the interval, I see Alan Price in the pub again. I say to Zoot at the bar how much we’re
enjoying it. He says his daughter has
press-ganged some of her mates to come.
Back on stage alone, he sings a Sam Cooke ballad “Nothing can change
this love “I have for you)” and it moves to “Bring it on home to me”. Alan Price walks to the piano with a fag in
his mouth, takes off his overcoat and joins in with this song which he recorded
with The Animals. Yes!
“Anyone remember Huey ‘Piano’ Smith asks Zoot, “or is that
too far back?” We make suitably negative
noises and, with a thumping New Orleans
backbeat from Colin Allen, they launch into “Rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie
woogie flu”. It just gets better. Alan Price goes to get a pint for Zoot and 5
pints of Young’s are beginning to kick in with me now. I’m losing track in this glorious noise and
Zoot isn’t announcing. He sings “Bacharach
and David “Please stay” then announces a Colin Allen number then goes straight
into “Big time operator”. I picture him
doing this on.
Zoot gets Jim Diamond on stage. Jim had an 80’s Number 1 with “I should have
known better (to lie to one as beautiful as you)” and wrote Tina Turner’s “What’s
love got to do with it?” He also sang
the theme to the Boon TV series “Hi ho Silver” at that time. With his high voice he sings with Zoot the
old Sam and Dave number “You don’t know
like I know”. Can this be bettered? Not really.
Zoot announces the final number which is a jazz type workout with
extended solos to acknowledge the individual musicians. Luckily, the tempo changes to upbeat for the
last few choruses in unison and we all leave on a suitable high. It’s been an evening of solid good music,
with hardly a break. I can’t imagine
that it would have been much better if Zoot had got more of his star mates down
on the right night. A good way to end
the Christmas holiday and the year. It
looks as if Zoot will be playing once a month at the Bull’s Head and will be
touring with a Flamingo Club reunion package in 2002 – check his website at http://bigroll.4t.com and catch a hipper
flavour of the 60’s.
First published in Leisure, February 2002, p33-35
© John Scott Cree 2002