Eric Clapton Guests On “Memories Of My Trip” – Chris Barber’s New Album – Out April 18th 2011

Chris Barber - "Memories Of My Trip"

Chris Barber - "Memories Of My Trip"



Trombonist, bandleader and sometime bassist Chris Barber has been at the centre of British musical life for sixty years.

In celebration of his 80th birthday, this 2CD anthology shows just why he has been such an influential figure, giving just a taste of his breadth of interest, and of his involvement in jazz, blues, skiffle and beyond.



Brownie McGhee (vocal, guitar) 1959.
(From Blues by Brownie McGhee, Folkways 3557, reproduced by permission).

Brownie was a very nice man, lovely to work with and a very good musician He — and his musical partner Sonny Terry — really justified the choice that we made when we first realised that we could bring people over to Europe ourselves. These were people with whom we wanted to work, in order to get closer to the music and to learn more about playing it right. If you play with such musicians you learn in the same way that kids in New Orleans always did, by being in direct contact with those who developed it in the first place. One reason we chose Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee for our very first such tour was that they had worked on Broadway shows that had already taken them outside their normal black environment. In other words they’d be familiar with working with people like us, and to playing to concert audiences like the ones we had in England and Europe.

Sonny was nearly blind, and Brownie led him around, although Brownie himself walked with a stick as he had had polio as a child. Nevertheless he was very given to being professional. “Don’t be too serious,” he’d say. “Just do the songs.” This was something Ottilie found hard to understand because she (like all of us) was perfectly serious about performing the blues Yet despite that professional attitude, Brownie was actually so sentimental that when he got home to the United States, on his next record for Folkways, as part of his ordinary recorded output, he did a song about the trip and about the band. He went through all our names and thanked us for having had such a really good time. Actually, the names posed a problem for the sleevenote writers at Folkways, because they tried to write down exactly what he’d sung. So they refer to a mythical character called “Big Gilman” whereas — as you can hear on the track — what he actually sang was “Dick Graham, and Eddie”. And Ottilie was transformed into the blues singer “R. B. Patterson”!

At the time, we though “Oh, that’s nice,” but as time went on, and we toured with many other musicians from America, Brownie remained the only one who actually thanked us in this way, and so it meant a lot to us. The other real memory of the trip is tied up in the line “I saw Berlin”. Recently I found a photograph of Sonny and Brownie plus the band, descending the steps from a Constellation, after landing in Berlin just before our first concert there. In those days following the Berlin airlift, all flights from the West had to land in the cramped airfield at Tempelhof, which was squeezed into the urban area of West Berlin, so when Brownie sang “I saw Berlin”, he had genuinely seen it from about 100 feet above the city.

Eric Clapton (guitar, vocal); Chris Barber (trombone); Chris Stainton (keyboards); Dave Bronze (bass); Henry Spinetti (drums). 2010

I knew Eric as a real blues enthusiast way back, and indeed when he walked out of the Yardbirds, they were signed to our management office, and my partner Harold Pendleton had to go to Eric’s flat to get back a guitar when he left, because it belonged to the group. I’ve listened to him over the years, and I noticed that whenever he worked with a brass section it was all just backing riffs, not instruments actually interacting with the blues, which the trombone in particular is capable of doing. The first time I did this with Eric, I went along and played at a charity concert that Mike Rutherford (of Genesis) runs, and when Eric brought me up we did “Stormy Monday”, and as he finished singing the first phrase, I played something similar on the trombone to the fill he did on the guitar. And it surprised him, because I don’t think that happens very much in his world. I made contact with him again when the late Andrew Sheehan, my partner on the Blues Legacy record project, was able to give Eric a lot of video clips of him playing to be used in Martin Scorsese’s film biography of Eric. When he got the clips, Eric said to Andrew, “If there’s anything I can do for you or Chris, let me know.” And so in due course I suggested we record together.  I was thinking of asking members of my band, but Eric immediately suggested Chris Stainton, Dave Bronze and Henry Spinetti, all of whom he works with regularly. So we did it while Eric was at home between yours, in a little homely studio near Hampton Court. We didn’t have any elaborate separation for the drums, and just played together as if it was a small concert. I love Eric’s playing because he’s the only blues musician I’ve heard apart from B. B. King who can play an opening phrase on the guitar that catches you immediately. An audience can have tears in their eyes before he’s even sung a note because of the strength of his playing.

Chris Barber (trombone); Muddy Waters (guitar, vocal); Pinetop Perkins (piano); Bob Margolin (guitar); plus, probably, Calvin Jones (bass); Willie “Big Eye” Smith (drums).
Capital Jazz Festival, Alexandra Palace, 1979.

We brought first Muddy Waters over to England in 1958, because we’d been told we ought to by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, who was a great friend, and also a dedicated Chicago blues lover. I remember some critics said that Muddy played too loudly, but I never experienced this. I played with him on tour, and then sat in with his band quite often, and you could hold a conversation two feet in front of his amp and hear each other talk. That was how loud he wasn’t! I didn’t see him so much in the late 60s and early 70s, but in 1978 he toured as support to Eric Clapton, and Eric would do a few numbers with Muddy before going on with his own band, which was rare in showbusiness, but a really generous thing to do. Then in 1979 he played two weekends running at the Capital Jazz Festival, and he asked me to sit in on the first weekend. I’d just come down off the stage, when a member of the audience came up and said how much he’d enjoyed it, and how great the music was. As it happened he’d recorded it, and he gave me a cassette. Although the sound out on the grass wasn’t perfectly balanced, with a bit too much bass, it’s a wonderful memento. I don’t know who the man was, but I thank him, for giving me the opportunity to pass the music on to you now!

Rory Gallagher (guitar, vocal); Chris Barber (bass).
Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, 1990.
(Included by permission of Donal Gallagher for the Rory Gallagher Estate. Taken from the forthcoming album “Rory Live with Chris Barber in 1990”.)

In contrast to Muddy Waters, Rory really was loud Like some other British blues players, he aimed to get that slightly distorted guitar effect by using volume, whereas Muddy seemed to have some knack of twisting the string, that just produced it at little or no volume. But Rory really was very good, and played and sang really well. The Irish connection was very strong, and when he sang Leadbelly’s “Out On The Western Plains” it really sounded like an Irish song. It was a shame we lost him. But as well as remembering Rory, I’m pleased to include this track because it gave me the chance to play the bass for once.