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Even Before John Mayall, There was Alexis Korner

Last month, I had the opportunity to chat with Denny Somach, the author of “Get the Led Out: How Led Zeppelin Became the Biggest Band in the World.” During the conversation, I asked if all of the British musicians during the early 1960s somehow came through John Mayall’s bands. While not denigrating Mayall or his importance, Somach said that the real fathers of British rock music were Graham Bond and Alexis Korner.

Korner was born in 1928 and grew up in France, Switzerland and North Africa. He ended up in London. In 1961, he and Cyril Davies formed Blues Incorporated. It was quite a band, according to Wikipedia:

The group included, at various times, such influential musicians as Charlie Watts, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Long John Baldry, Graham Bond, Danny Thompson and Dick Heckstall-Smith. It also attracted a wider crowd of mostly younger fans, some of whom occasionally performed with the group, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Geoff Bradford, Rod Stewart, John Mayall and Jimmy Page.[9]

Just that paragraph cements Korner’s importance. A more specific claim to fame was his role in the pairing of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Korner was more jazz influenced than other British blues musicians, who he criticized for blindly following Chicago blues style. Korner also became a radio personality.

The image of the times is that of a tremendous number of very talented British musicians playing blues, working it into rock and roll while forming and reforming the partnerships. The personnel of the bands with which we now are familiar – Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Cream, The Beatles and beyond – was just a function of where people happened to be when things matured a bit and, probably, what the record companies decreed when they realized that there was a lot of money to be made and started handing out contracts. That clearly is an oversimplification, but the fluidity of the era is interesting.

We now are at the other end of the era. All of the musicians who were kids in those days are gone or old men. Some the bands solider on. Alexis Korner – a man born 11 years before World War II even began – was one of the folks who started it all.

Above is “Gospel Ship” and below is “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer.” The other guitarist in that video is Steve Marriott, who was in Humble Pie and The Small Faces. I’ll post about Graham Bond in the future.

The Music Court and Korner’s Wikipedia entry are sources for this post. Homepage photo: “Alexis-Korner” by Heinrich Klaffs.