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Mixing it with the legends of rock ’n’ roll

von David Charters, Liverpool Daily Post, 11. März 2008 (Auszug)



He was almost forgotten, but the musician who stepped out with the gods of rock and roll is returning to the big stage to pay tribute to his hero. David Charters reports

THE man in the thick-lensed glasses, who once looked like Buddy Holly, sits beneath the smoke from his finger-rolled cigarette and smiles like an old-timer in a cowboy saloon, as he prepares to tell a little parable about his career in rock and roll.

Years back, when his name drew crowds and people remembered that many rock gods had knocked on his door, Jimmy Stevens was booked to appear in a club in an old seaside town, where memories were carried in the salt of the wind.

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Here is a chap who has kept up with technology, even though 36 years have gone since experts predicted he would be the next sensation in rock music.

A fine singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Jimmy had been signed up by Robert Stigwood, an Australian-born impresario, then one of the biggest in the business, through his management of Cream, The Bee Gees and other acts, as well as the theatrical shows, Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. His film productions would later include Saturday Night Fever.

In 1972, through Stigwood, Jimmy released an album of his own compositions on the Atlantic label. In Britain and Europe, it was called Don’t Freak Me Out and in the USA, Paid My Dues. Peter Frampton, the guitarist who featured on George Harrison’s epic, All Things Must Pass, was one of the musicians backing Jimmy, as was the late Maurice Gibb of The Bee Gees, who also produced the album. John Bonham, of Led Zeppelin, was a drummer.

By then, Jimmy had toured with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, progressive rockers whose soaring solos were not popular with people conscious of passing time, who, nevertheless, tickled the astral sensibilities of hippies – selling 31m albums and starring at massive concerts, where people said, “Yeah, man” a lot.

He followed that by touring the USA, Canada and Japan with The Bee Gees. When he was topping the bill himself, he received telegrams from the other stars – one from Maurice Gibb and his first wife, Lulu.

His album, now re-cut on CD, is wonderful – a superb selection of songs. Sweet Child of Mine, about a father’s pride and sorrow seeing his little daughter growing into a woman, is deeply moving and beautifully performed, as is the romantic, You’re The Lady I Want To Grow Old With.

It is, therefore, a little incongruous to find him standing for photographs under a sign saying “no ball games” by his red-brick house in suburban Birkenhead, overlooking the gnomes and wishing-wells which decorate a neighbour’s garden. There’s not a rock chick in sight, though his son Jimmy pops in for a cuppa and a gab about the previous night’s match between Liverpool and West Ham United.

Well, life has its twists and turns. “Just let me put my teeth in,” says Jimmy, 65, as he poses for a close-up shot. This is not a pompous man, but he is a good man and a great survivor.

The LP wasn’t the predicted success – somehow lost with all the world’s unhung paintings and unread poems. Why?

Well, in those long-gone years, he had a liking for a cigarette-filling not sold over the shop counter, but then so did many stars, including the Stones, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Their careers weren’t harmed at all. Then Jimmy fell out with Stigwood. It was David and Goliath – Jimmy against a powerful organisation with sharp-suited lawyers and fast-talking money men.

He had made a lot of money on the tours, but nothing from the record. Perhaps Jimmy simply liked life better at home.

And so he returned to Merseyside to his wife, Cathy, and four children. Another son, Jimmy, was born in 1973.

His later stage name of Jimmy Sometime seemed a rueful comment on his career, but many heard it as Jimmy Summertime, which he would also use. There were still good shows, and people asked him about The Bee Gees and the other stars, but Jimmy was soon playing the piano in pubs and small clubs, as he is today.

However, on March 20, there will be a return to the big time when he joins other Mersey rockers in a tribute to Buddy Holly at the 1,700-seat Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.

Jimmy was born in Liverpool, the son of Tom, a bookmaker, and his wife, Mary. Brother Tommy and sister Mary would complete the family, which lived in Garston and Speke.

From St Francis Assisi School, Jimmy went to John Almond Secondary Modern School, before his dad had a wheeze of the sort liked by gentleman of the turf. Cigarettes in Ireland were much cheaper than those in England. Wouldn’t the same apply to education? It did and for two years Jimmy was packed off to board at Blackrock College, set in 56 acres overlooking Dublin Bay and run by the Holy Ghost Fathers. On a black wind-up gramophone in a dormitory there, he first heard Buddy Holly, who immediately became his hero.

Nonetheless, he was back in Liverpool at the age of 15, working for various people, including a tailor, who employed him to tighten the trousers of ordinary suits to meet the fashion for drainpipe trousers.

The young man was also turning into a good all-round musician, thanks in part to the old upright piano, acquired by his dad from a pub.

Lads about town were joining groups and Jimmy, with his love of Holly, Ray Charles and Fats Domino, became a member of the Beathovens, playing local venues including The Cavern and The Blue Angel.

He knew The Beatles and their great rivals, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

Soon after The Beatles became famous, they were appearing in Llandudno and Allan Williams, their old manager, was staging a concert for other Liverpool groups at the White City dog track, in Tuebrook.

“Allan had leaflet-flyers for this show,” says Jimmy. “He asked me and another lad to go to Llandudno to hand them out at the Beatles’ queue in Llandudno. So Rory Storm lent us his Vauxhall Cresta and off we went. On the way back, Paul McCartney passed us in this Ford Consul Classic. I said to me friend, Alfie Munger, ‘overtake him’. From Llandudno to Liverpool, there was this contest going on along winding mountain roads, but we couldn’t get past him. Anyway, we got to the Blue Angel and he is there. I said, ‘Bloody hell, we couldn’t catch you’. He said, ‘Was that you? I thought someone was after me’.”

Some eight years later, Jimmy drew himself to the attention of two Stigwood representatives by putting on a stonking performance of his own songs in the Cam recording studio, Moorfields, where they were attending a meeting. He was signed up and was soon in London watching people such as Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wandering about the office.

“Anyway,” he continues, “Maurice Gibb had this deal with Atlantic, so we made my album. On the tours, I was closest to Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees. But we didn’t see so much of Robin. They were a very funny unit, actually. I don’t think they socialised very much together as lads. They were all different. I remember us performing at the New York Philharmonic. I got a good review there. ‘I was delightful’, said the Daily News.

“I always felt part of the tour with The Bee Gees, but not so much with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. You’d go on and people would be chanting ‘ELP’ when you were trying to sing.”

There’s always been luck in rock and roll and Jimmy has had his portion – some good, some bad. He doesn’t live in a palace with a swimming pool, but he has his songs and nobody can take them away.


Day the music was born

ON MARCH 20, 1958, Buddy Holly and the Crickets performed twice at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool. Among future stars in the first house was Jimmy Stevens.

After that, hundreds of local skiffle groups turned to rock and roll. Within a year, Holly, 22, had been killed in a plane crash.

But people want to remember that great night in Liverpool and a 50th anniversary charity concert is to be held in the Phil this March 20, in aid of Cancer Research. Jimmy will join other stars such as China Crisis, Connie Lush, Howie Casey, The Merseybeats, Ian McNabb, Eton Road, Liverpool Express, Pete Wylie, The Quarrymen, Beryl Marsden, The Undertakers and others.

Jimmy doesn’t yet know what Holly song he will sing, but he has suggested What To Do, That’s What They Say or That Makes It Tough.