JOE RUSH’S FAN CLUB INTERVIEW : 2000
Just preceding the 30 year anniversary gigs in Newcastle Under-Lyme, way back in 2000, Joe kindly answered some questions posed by the fan club by recording his answers on a cassette.
The results appeared in the fanzine and as always with Joe, it proved to be humorous and entertaining.
We thought that you may like to read it.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED JOE?
I first started I suppose, I don’t know…on washboard…the first gig I done was The Bricklayers Arms, Brentford, with some of the boys. I was playing washboard.
Just after that, I bought my string bass, played around, first jazz band I played with was a Chiswick band called, The Brent River Jazz Band and then after that, I was lucky enough…we used to play Sunday lunchtimes, jam sessions at The Fighting Cocks in Kingston.
In the evening, Bill Brunscombe’s band was playing. Apparently, he sacked John Renshaw and he asked me to join the band. It was quite nice really, I was only 20 years old, it was quite good.
I first met Bob Kerr then, in 1960 and he said, “Cor, you’re a lucky lad, playing with a good band like this at your age”. I guess things went from bad to worse then!
As you know, Ray reckons I first met him in 1965, he was playing, sort of, rock stuff and that. One of the bands he used to play with, just for a piece of useless information was Sandy Gravel and The Pitmen, ’cause you know, in the Bedfont area and Ashford, it’s all full of gravel pits, where they used to dig the sand and gravel out, so that’s where that name came about.
Earning a few bob, I was playing Saturday nights, earning a bit of cash, dance bands and things, and I asked Ray what he was doing and he said not a lot, so he used to come along. We used to do the gigs, labour clubs, social clubs, that sort of thing, weddings…never done a funeral yet!
We decided, we got chatting, we worked together as you know, we got talking about the blues and people I’d met and knew. We decided to have a bit of a bash in the car park at lunchtimes, in the summer, sitting in the sun, over the back of the car park on the grass.
Then somebody I knew in the local pub had a pub in Isleworth, The Northumberland Arms in the old square there.
Things went really well, me and Ray started playing on our own there, and then he said he knew a piano player, which was Colin who came in.
We were all over the shop, bits and pieces. It was all sort of new, me and Ray were hungry young kids so we needed a bit of extra, a bit of light relief.
Ray got some gigs through an agency, I guess it was Harry Simmonds, or somebody like that, back in the old days. This is how we ended up doing the legendary gig at Oxford University. That was rather nice, that was a good gig – really good!
BUT YOU THEN LEFT THE BAND?
I don’t know if I was a bit unsettled in those days, but I left the band. It was a shame really I suppose. Looking back I knew I wouldn’t have survived, or perhaps the band would never have broken up. I don’t think Paul, in those days, if I was in the band would have stayed too long.
I used to get invited along, as you know, I did the Hollywood Festival and that was the weekend In The Summertime came out actually, that was in May, so that’s got to be 30 years now, not wait until July the 1st.
That was good. For example, I was never happy with those first tracks I played on at Pye studios with what’s his name, Barry Murray. The washboard was never loud enough and things like that. I suppose he was trying to make a pop record.
Since I walked in there, in the room, he said hello and that, and then he came down to see what mikes I wanted and whatever, and the first thing he said to me was, “Where’s your snare drum?” I thought, f**k me, here we go…but it’s alright, good luck to him.
I used to turn up on gigs, I did the Weeley Festival, they invited me along, that was a good lunchtime gig that one, and then I went back on the Sunday actually to play with Country Jug at the Weeley Festival.
I guess I was the only person to play there twice with two bands, and funny enough, when we finished with Ray, he came down, we were doing a gig at the Thames Hotel, Hampton Court with Country Jug. So I went home, had a bit of tea and next thing I knew, Ray turned up for the Country Jug gig at Hampton Court. So it was a nice day you know, that’s a good memory for me.
WHAT ABOUT COUNTRY JUG?
(Country Jug’s 1971 max-single : I’m Sorry/Do You Wanna/Flying – Ray Dorset wrote I’m Sorry and Do You Wanna, and also produced the record)
Country Jug was formed. I met Charlie (Esner), we used to go to another lunchtime gig, it was a sort of sitters-in gig down at the White Bear at Hounslow.
Funny enough, I’d get talking to Charlie, the stuff he was doing and things. So me and Charlie started again, a bit like me and Ray, and then ‘Winkle’ – Jeff Wilks joined the band. We used to work all over the shop, we had a bit of a wacky agent who used to work for us. ‘Old’ Bob Neal, he used to hustle for gigs and things.
He knew people up town, he used to run a bit of a jug band back in the old days, quite successful they were, The Dedicated Men. He used to get us gigs at Universities and stuff, then Bobby Kerr had an agency with Johnny Jones, you know ‘Jonah’? The one who fixes the Cropredy Festival and all that, appears on stage and introduces them – ‘old Jonah’, he’s a good lad!
Lots of things we used to do, Lots of funny stories, crazy that was! One night we played the Royal College Of Surgeons, it was their Christmas gig and they had a paper mache and chicken wire Buddha.
At the end of the evening, Charlie took an instant hate after looking at this thing all night, while we were playing and he attacked it with a mike stand. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, ’cause Charlie’s not very big, he’s a bit of a midget, but he’s a good character.
In fact a bit of ‘useless’ information while it runs in my mind, he’s still doing a gig around Ashford way. He was playing with Ian Thompson, a bit of a jug band job. I’ve got a feeling it’s the Hearts Of Oak, I’m not sure of the road, I’ve got a feeling it’s the Feltham Road, but they were playing there Wednesday nights. That’s the last I heard of him.
Played with Country Jug, it lasted quite a time, and then I split from these when Paul and Colin split from Ray and they asked me to join the original King Earl Boogie Band.
That was then, we spent, I dunno how long rehearsing and we made the record, and then I’m sitting at home waiting to go on the first gig, I think it was supposed to be Barnstable, and they said the car would arrive, pick you up. So there I am, waiting all day long and all of a sudden, I get a phone call late in the afternoon, “Oh Joe, we’re not going, Dave Lamberts’s left the band, he’s joined The Strawbs!” I thought f**k me, here we go! So that was the end of that, sort of, brief experience.
Joined Ray for a bit, as you know, ’75, that was lots of fun, we had lots of laughs. Well I guess that was the first time I met you up at Durham, was it the Durham Miners Club? I can’t remember, I know one night it snowed like the clappers! But that was lots of good laughs on that tour, we spent a lot of time in France. I think this is where I got to know France very well and liked it very much.
AFTER THAT, YOU TEAMED UP WITH PAUL KING AGAIN DIDN’T YOU?
After that when I left, and on the January, I walked in The Magpie, and there was Monsieur ‘Kingy’, on stage on his own. As it happened, I had ‘me’ bag with ‘me’ washboard in it, leaning against the bar, like you do when you’re having a pint.
“Hello Joe! How ‘ya doing?” “Alright! I’ve just left the Mungo band.” He said, “Got your washboard with you?” I said, “As it happens, yes!” “Oh”, he said, “Bloody Hell, come and have a sit in”.
So I think I ended up playing the second half with that, or nearly all of it. So then, I was there, I dunno, every Monday after that with him.
Then Mike Pigott joined the band, there was three of us, again! It seems a lucky number three! Two or three’s good…that was very enjoyable!
That was the first Jigilo Jug Band as such. And then we got the legendary gig at The Feathers in Wraysbury, that’s were we did that maxi-single, what did he call it? Live At The Limping Whippet, wasn’t it?
Denny Laine got the Manor mobile down, Branson’s Manor mobile in the car park there. That was good, good night recording that – lots of laughs!
One night I got a motorbike stuck between the carpet and the ceiling. Somebody had left a scrambles motorbike outside the pub. We was having a drink after, so I brought this motorbike in, done a wheelie and the bloomin’ front tyre got stuck up on the beam! I got off and left it, between the carpet and the beam and finished ‘me beer. That was a silly night that was!
Then I left the band as such and then Don Stevens joined the band, ‘old Don’, and the boys used to say to me, “Christ! Everyday, Don’s looking more like me everyday, with that flat cap and the waistcoat”. His drum kit was modelled on mine, a copy of that sort of thing.
IT MUST HAVE BEEN GREAT FUN WITH BOB KERR’S WHOOPEE BAND?
The last band I played in England professionally was Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band. I’d known Bob for yonks, since 1960, maybe ’59. That was a great experience, ’cause I’d always admired the Whoopee Band and it was nice to take Sam Spoons place. Colin always reckoned I looked like Sam Spoons double. Especially when he knocked one of his front teeth out and he grew a beard.
It was really weird, great fun with Vernon Dudley, lots of repartee in the band.
Richard Simmonds joined the band for a bit, that was really good! I liked ‘old Richard, Lovely piano player, lovely jazz piano player.
We went to the Festival Of Fools, Amsterdam. We even went to Iceland and played with the London Philharmonic, and we ended up taking the Festival Of Fools to Athens in Greece. That was a very good time for me, in fact, I think that was the best, happiest time playing as such, travelling and that. It was a laugh a minute, ’cause I used to get on really well with Bob.
YOU THEN MOVED TO FRANCE, WHERE YOU STILL LIVE?
I moved to France, in fact I met Anne-Marie when I was gigging with a pick-up band out there, The New Orleans Kings Of London and, we finally got together and I moved out there.
I toured a bit with several bands in Brittany, that was quite nice.
Charlie came over with Helene on violin, we called the band Champagne Charlie then, sorry I haven’t got any recordings of it but somewhere, there’s some photo’s of me, Helene and Charlie playing.
IT HAD TO HAPPEN, YOU GOT BACK TOGETHER WITH RAY FOR SOME GIGS IN BRITTANY IN THE LATE 80’S?
Ray came over in 1987, that’s were we done the tape (fan club cassette – Jerry, Jug and Joe 2), that was recorded with just a little walkman with a microphone inside left on the fireplace, I’m surprised how well it came out.
That was a good experience, I think Ray’s got happy memories of that, and I’ve got a feeling that is what influenced him to go back to this jug band, skiffle style of playing. I’ve got a feeling, he’s looking forward to coming over here again, I don’t think it will be long before he comes back.
ANY FUNNY STORIES COME TO MIND?
The Master Robert Motel, me and Colin have turned up for the gig. Ray said he might be a bit late, but he made it on time, ’cause he had something to do, I dunno whether he was fixing the car or fixing up the mortgage, I can’t remember, when he was buying my place off me.
He said, “Won’t be long boys”, so he gets himself a Guinness, half a Guinness and a plate of sandwiches, dunno what was in them…cheese and cucumber I think!
He decides to start the gig, he sips, has a sip of his Guinness, takes half a bite of this plate of sandwiches, I think it’s about the second number. He must have had another bite, but he’s playing away and stomping his foot, like he does.
‘Course I’m sort of standing stage left, just a bit behind him playing string bass. I thing we’re doing Statesbro’ Blues, or something, pretty stomping. So his ‘old foot’s stomping away, I noticed this plates moving, bouncing on the stage, and funny enough, it’s moving, towards his foot!
Well you know what’s gonna happen don’t ya? He’s got this foot and he’s stamping away and the next thing you know, his foot’s gone in the middle of these bloody sandwiches. And there he is, stamping his foot up and down on these cheese and cucumber and blooming…Wonderloaf or whatever it is. He stamped down and broke the plate and then kicked it off the stage.
It may sound silly, but oh dear, I’d like to capture that one on video with close ups of the plate. It was really funny!
Another time, we did a wedding. Oh, I don’t know, we turned up for this wedding see, three of us, Colin’s there, I don’t know what it is, Scouts hut, Salvation Army hut or something like that.
“Hello, where’s the piano?” “What piano!” Oh, blimey, me and Ray said, we’ll have to start. The next thing we know, this bloke’s come up, “I know where there is a piano”, so off Colin goes and they come back in a lorry.
“Alright boys, got the piano!” So we stopped playing, outside, there we are, lift the piano off the blooming lorry, pushing it up the path, or the drive to this hall.
One of the wheels fell off, so we’re half dragging it and carrying it. Finally get the thing in there, it’s all out of tune, so somebody says, “that’s alright, I’ve got some spanners in ‘me car”. So there we are, tuning the piano up a bit, all the middle bits, so we end up doing the gig and all the hammers slowly…the piano’s getting worse, so we pour a pint of beer in and do all sorts of things. And the hammers are dropping off, oh, it’s dreadful!
We end up leaving the piano in the hall, all sort of broken and all out of tune…dreadful! We never heard any more about it. We got paid and we left the piano there. That was a laugh!
Had lots of laughs with ‘Bizz’. In fact, I think ‘Bizz’ would tell you more funny stories than I can remember because he used to be, sort of always on the lookout for something to happen. He was always waiting for a laugh, and we really did used to have a laugh. You know, really funny!
WHAT ABOUT YOUR BIG HERO, KEN COLYER?
(After playing Ken Colyer track)
What about that one Alan? That’s my old mate Ken, at his best! Nice piano player on there, That’s what’s his name…Dave Kelly, funny enough, bit of ‘useless’information, he married Nancy Whisky. Do you remember the old Freight Train single? Well she was the singer on that, believe it or not. We was always pulling his leg about having too much whisky!
I used to see Ken quite a bit, ’cause I was very keen on the band and I spent a lot of time talking to him after the gig. He’d always have a gin and tonic with, or whatever after the gig. He used to love to talk about skiffle and stuff.
There’s a bit of interesting information, or useless information again, with the break-up of the Mungo band, I’ve got a feeling that it was a bit of a dog and a cat and a mouse business. Maybe two strong characters in the band or personalities and complexes.
Example! Colyer was, he had a band, The Crane River Band as such. In the band was, would you believe, Ken himself, Chris Barber on trombone, Monty Sunshine on clarinet and Lonnie Donegan on banjo.
And the thing is, they were going commercial, like the Barber Band, was very commercial, whereas Colyer wanted to stop in that New Orleans style so he just packed up and went to the States for a bit.
Then he came back and formed his own band again and funny enough, I’ve got the first recordings of that band here somewhere, but they’re very nice. I’ve got a real old Decca 78 and there’s Diz Disley, on guitar, you know, the famous guitarist, he’s playing banjo on it and I’ve got a feeling, it’s the first professional band that Acker Bilk played in.
I used to be very friendly with John Bastable, the banjo player from the Colyer band, I think he played with him for 22 years! He got killed outside The Bugle at Sunbury on the way home one night, got run over by a car, poor ‘old John. But lovely banjo player! Very keen on skiffle and the blues and stuff like that, he used to be a big Jimmy Rogers freak, he had all 78’s and everything in his caravan.
We spent loads of time, reminiscing and stuff. I used to drink down The Bugle with him if I was working on a Friday night with a jazz band. He’d be in there drinking, some funny stories with John, laugh a minute with him when we used to play with John Wallace’s Riverside Five. Really good!
A lot of the jazzers I’ve met, the other day, you said you’d found Round & Round. I’ve got a feeling that Mo Benn’s on cornet. Lovely bloke, ‘old Mo! He used to race motorbikes and things round the Isle Of Man in the old days. Lovely bloke! He’s still blowing and doing stuff. I think he had four of the valves on his heart changed. I dunno about change of valves on your trumpet or your sousaphone! He still looks like Peter Pan, I guess he’s gotta be 67 now, but he’s really doing alright.
Met Chas McDevitt the other day down The Magpie. He was having a drink, he’s done a book on skiffle, bit of a disappointment really, didn’t mention Colyer at all. In fact, I did moan to him a bit about that, that he should have done a bit more, and had a photo of him with the band with his dobro.
YOU’VE HAD A PRETTY GOOD TIME WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT?
It’s a pretty good musical life I’ve had, a lot of experience meeting people, I even played with Sonny Morris’s band and met lots of nice people at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival when I played with Bob’s band there, lots of nice people.
Oh, another little funny story! We were playing with Paul’s band, Jigilo Jug Band. We were doing the warm-up for Noel Murphy, you know the Irish folk singer, and who should turn up to the gig…Bernard Cribbins!
Brought his mum, his ‘old mum’s 80 plus in those days she was. So there I am, we finished playing, I’m in the bar before Murphy comes on, Cribbins comes in the bar and he says, I’m talking to Noel Murphy there and of course Bernard comes up, ’cause he drinks in the same pub as Noel, he said, “You little rat!” I said, “What’s wrong?” He said, “I missed your set, most of your set”, he said, “Me Mum was getting too excited, she said I was convinced I was Animal, the drummer off The Muppets, and she comes over all funny”. So he had to take her home in a cab, take her home and get a cab back. Everybody was rolling up!
YOU KNEW CYRIL DAVIES AS WELL, DIDN’T YOU?
I first met Cyril Davies in about 1956 I think, when I was sixteen. Used to spend Sundays down The Viaduct, Colin Kingwell & His Jazz Bandits were playing. Cyril used to collect the half crowns on the door and then he used to play and sing in the interval, that was quite nice.
Another piece of useless information with that band was Ted Wood on drums, Ronnie Wood’s brother, you know, the Rolling Stone. Looks just like Ronnie, big nose and all, amazing!
Nice guy Cyril, he used to play at The Roundhouse pub, and he used to call the band, The Roundhouse Jug Band, and who’s always with them? Alexis Korner on mandolin and things and playing harmonica and stuff like that. He was a nice bloke I met, I knew him very well!
Something comes to mind as well, we never had a roadie with Country Jug and I used to do most of the driving in the big old orange Transit we had. In the finish, I was the only one left in the band with a driving licence, so I had to do it!
Getting back to the Colyer saga, of stories of mine, a couple of times, he wanted a bass player so I always used to go and have a sit-in and see if I could get the job. Second time I went up The 51 Club, had a sit-in, Johnny was saying to me in The Porcupine, ’cause they always did three sets, so you had two breaks, because funny enough, The 51 Club just off Leicester Square there never had a licence so the band used to have two intervals to get tanked up see.
So in the first interval, John said, “Are you going to have a sit-in? You’re bound to get the gig, he’s desperate for a bass player!” So he plays three numbers, I play three numbers with him, the old bugger, he turns round to me and says, “Sorry Joe, I don’t want no stars in the band!” I thought, you bastard!
But in the finish, Ken moved down to the South Of France, ’cause he was not very well. He was suffering from cancer and stuff, moved down to the South Of France.
We kept in touch, I phoned him a few times and I got some of last letters before he died. Funny enough, his girlfriend phoned me and said, “What’ll I do Joe, found Ken in the armchair asleep?” So it was me that ended up phoning the son and Sonny Morris for a bit of information to find the son and stuff.
He wanted to bring his guitar up to Paris and come and play with me, just me and him, him on guitar and me on washboard and stuff doing the ‘old skiffle. So, I never really made it in the finish!
A bit of useless information as well comes to mind. There’s a guy up Cumberland way, he runs a company called Lake Records. Well, he’s got all the Decca tracks and stuff and some of Ken’s own tapes or masters, but I know for a fact that Ken put out a skiffle album on an LP.
(another Colyer track plays)
There you go! That’s Colyer playing his old dobro and Dave Kelly playing piano. That is why I talk about these sort of influences, that sort of thing is a really good example of jug band, skiffle or spasm music as such, nobody uses the word spasm now. That’s an old Negro phrase, the spasm bands, you know.
That tune was called, I think Rent House Stomp wasn’t it? It was really nice to see a band like that, because in those sets at The 51 Club, he would always put a skiffle set in the middle set, so it was really nice you know. These sort of things, they get under your skin, in your head and you never forget them.
I think that’s all about it for now, you know a lot of things I’ve said on the phone to you when we’ve been chatting and stuff. You can always quote me, I don’t mind!
That thing, it’s all honest, I’ve got nothing to prove or anybody to upset anyway, and it’s the truth. That’s it, tell the truth and they can’t catch you out!
OK! I’ll say bye-bye now. I’m looking forward to seeing you up in Stoke! I’ll get on ‘me bike and get ‘me finger out that day.
See you soon and good luck to everybody and thanks for keeping in touch.