of those original Ramrods was lead guitarist
Len Beddow, who remembers:
first got started we were all influenced by Buddy Holly
and the Crickets. While we bought his records and tried
to sound like him we had very little idea what he
actually looked like. I remember seeing him performing
on Sunday Night At The London Palladium and not
realising it was actually him."
performance on the Palladium showed just how powerful an
electric guitar could be. We all wanted sunburst Fenders
after that. The records of Buddy and the Crickets also
showed how relatively easy rock music could be. He also
wrote his own stuff."
"We were all
Rock 'n' Rollers at heart and loved nothing more than
playing the music, not only Buddy Holly numbers but
anything by Bill Haley, Eddie Cochrane, Little Richard
"Our sound in
the early days was very Rock 'n' Roll inspired with the
emphasis on the bass. The original bass player was named
Pete Hughes and he played bass on two strings of his
Rosetti six string guitar. It became the basis of the
original Ramrods' sound and it went down really well
with the kids who were mad keen on Rock 'n' Roll."
One of the most popular of the
early groups in Wolverhampton was Steve Brett and the
Mavericks. Steve Davies (Steve Brett) was the leader
of the group and he recalls the immediate impact which
the sound of Bill Haley had on him:
"When I was
about 15 I remember listening to the B side of one of
Bill Haley s early records. It was the guitar sound, not
the saxophone, which blew me away and decided me that I
must get myself a guitar and learn to play like that."
"While I was
to become more of a C&W artist later, initially it was
Rock 'n' Roll which got me interested in performing. I
suppose that's probably the same for most of the artists
who emerged in the late 50s and early 60s."
While many of
the young aspiring musicians around Wolverhampton were
deeply affected by the music of Bill Haley and other
rock 'n' roll artists, there was always the problem of
obtaining the instruments required to form a group which
could sound anything like them. There was also the need
to have the musical ability to play those instruments.
It was such factors which led to the dramatic success of
skiffle in this country during 1956.
Skiffle was a
British phenomenon, epitomised in the music of Lonnie
Donegan. He was a member of Chris Barber's Jazz Band and
was responsible for the voice on some of the tracks on
an album by the band called New Orleans Joys. One
of the tracks was called Rock Island Line and it
was released as a single. It entered the charts in
1956 and started the skiffle craze in this country. By
the middle of 1957 there was thought to be something in
the region of 40,000 skiffle groups in Britain. Adam
Faith who was to become one of this country's most
successful performers of the early 60's stated:
"Skiffle hit Britain with all
the fury of Asian flu. Everyone went down with it.
Anyone who could afford to buy a guitar and learn three
chords was in business as a skiffler. It grew in nice
dark cellars and shot up like mushrooms."
may have been the most famous skiffle performer but
there were many others like Chas McDevitt, Nancy
Whiskey, Wally Whyton of the Vipers and Johnny Duncan.
All of them had their moments 'in the sun' with hits
like Freight Train and Last Train To San
Fernando. The music became linked to the growing
number of coffee bars which also appeared all over the
centres of British towns and cities because it was often
within those coffee bars that the skiffle groups played.
Coffee bars became the centres of teenage culture and
encouraged popular music via the juke boxes which were
installed in most of the bars. The opportunities for
live music were restricted by the limited space which
was generally available. Whenever a skiffle group played
therefore, it was 'closely' involved with the listening
The most famous
of the coffee bars opened in London and included the
2I's, Cat's Whiskers, Heaven & Hell and the Freight
Train. The 2I's became synonymous with the 'discovery'
of recording artists, notably Tommy Steele, Terry Dene
and Tony Sheridan. It was also used by BBC's Six-Five
Special as one of its locations.
sprung up all over the country because the kids did not
have to learn difficult instruments like the trombone or
the clarinet, anyone could be a skiffler. The basic
requirements for most of the new groups were washboards,
tea chest basses, kazoos, combs and paper and a guitar.
In 1958 it was estimated that something in the region of
25,000 guitars would be imported into Britain to satisfy
the skiffle craze. Every part of the country was
effected by the craze and many of the most influential
rock musicians of the 60s began as members of local
skiffle groups. Each of the four Beatles performed in
skiffle groups, as did Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch, Van
Morrison, Chris Farlowe, Keith Richards, Johnny Kidd and
most everybody else. The story of skiffle also had its
chapter set in and around Wolverhampton.
Clive Mountford who was to
become the drummer for both the Tremors and
Zuider Zee, began his musical career as a member of
a skiffle group:
were originally based on an Albrighton skiffle group
called the Red Rebels. The members of that first group
were me, Mick Blythe, Mick Mercer, Lawrence Smith and
Martin Lowden. We had the requisite tea chest bass and
sang most of the recognised skiffle numbers."
won a skiffle contest and we almost caused a riot. All
the other groups had done the usual skiffle repertoire
as determined by Lonnie Donegan or the Vipers but we did
Dizzy Miss Lizzie, the Larry Williams number. It brought
the house down, especially as most of the audience was
unaware of the number. The group which came second put
in a protest because the number was not skiffle, it was
rock 'n' roll."
enough one competition which the Tremors won was down at
St. Pancras Town Hall. It was the BMG (Banjo, Mandolin,
Guitar) Magazine competition. While it was a rock 'n'
roll contest, it was judged by the top skiffle
performers, Chas McDevitt and Shirley Douglas."
Les Parker also recounts
how skiffle was influential in his early days in the
popular music business:
involvement in any group began while I was at the
Central Boys Club which used to meet on Penn Road. The
buildings are now a Sikh Gurdwara. Anyway, it was there
that I came across my first guitar. although at the time
it had no strings. I had to get strings from Jim Billau
at the Band Box on Snow Hill."
around about the time that Lonnie Donegan was in the
charts with Don't You Rock Me Daddio. I bought the
record and spent a lot of time learning to play it. I
used to play the record over and over again on an old
wind-up gramophone, trying to learn the chords."
who had a band which played at a lot of local dances
came down to the club and taught me and Roger Clark and
Mac's son to play a few easy tunes just to get used to
"It was once
I'd learnt a few tunes that I decided to try and get a
skiffle group together. We called the original group the
Gamblers. It had me and Alan Wilkes on guitars. We both
used acoustic cello type guitars which we bought from
the Band Box. We had Pat Evans on washboard and Pete
Spooner on tea chest bass."