Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lee Curtis - Star-Club Show 3 (1963)

At one point, in late 1962, Lee Curtis and the All Stars were the second most popular band in Liverpool, outpolling Gerry & The Pacmakers, the Searchers, and every other band except the Beatles. So what happened to them? Egos got in the way, some of the best talent in the band took off, and Lee Curtis did, indeed, become a star—in Germany. In late 1961, Liverpudlian Pete Flannery joined some schoolmates who called themselves the Detours (nothing to do with the pre-Who combo) as lead singer, and adopted the stage name Lee Curtis (reversing the name of American rock 'n roller and Phil Spector alumnus Curtis Lee). The unit didn't last long, as their manager (Curtis's brother Joe) succeeded in alienating the rest of the band, who promptly quit. 
Lee Curtis & the Detours became Lee Curtis & the All Stars, the new band selected by Joe Flannery from the best available players in Liverpool, and they became an extremely popular band in Liverpool during the summer of 1962. Then, in August of that year, they scored a major coup when Pete Best, fresh from being sacked by the Beatles, and with a serious fandom in Liverpool and Hamburg, took over the drum kit from Bernie Rogers. 
It was the birth of a rhythm section that would soon take on a life of its own. Meanwhile, Lee Curtis & the All Stars were on a roll, popular in the clubs and voted the second most popular band in Liverpool after the Beatles. Decca Records, which had been offered the Beatles and turned them down in mid-1962, tried to recover its position by signing Curtis and his band. Two singles were forthcoming, which didn't sell especially well but were pretty powerful stuff, "Little Girl" (issued under Curtis' name) and "Let's Stomp," the latter considered by many the quintessential non-Beatles Liverpool rock 'n roll track. 
By the time, Curtis—with encouragement from his manager-brother—was pretty full of himself and managed to lose this band as well. Frank Bowen (lead guitar) and Best (drums), Bickerton (bass), and Waddington (rhythm guitar) formed The Original All Stars in mid-1963, with Waddington and Bickerton taking over the vocal duties and writing songs together. Bowen later left to join the Trends and Earl Royce and the Olympics, while the Original All Stars, now under the management of Best's mother, evolved into the Pete Best Four (after a stint as Pete Best's Original All Stars, and then Pete Best's All Stars, in January of 1964), with Waddington playing lead and sharing the singing with Bickerton on bass, and Tommy McGurk playing rhythm—he later left and was replaced by a pair of brass players, and the Pete Best Combo eventually ended up as a trio of Best, Bickerton, and Waddington. The latter two went into production and songwriting full-time, and were responsible for the Rubettes, among other successes, while Best soldiered on as the perennial ex-Beatle. Meanwhile, Lee Curtis and his brother assembled a new band of All Stars in early 1963, though not with that level of talent or name recognition—Curtis didn't need it, however, as he'd found a locale where he was almost as big a star as Best, playing the lucrative club circuit in Germany. Various All Stars line-ups came and went, including future Ian & The Zodiacs drummer Joe Walsh, over the next few years. They had a full-year residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, and Curtis became one of the top rock 'n roll performers in Germany. He and some version of the All Stars spent four years there, and cut two whole LPs and numerous singles that were only heard in Germany. His career ended only with a car crash that left him hospitalized for weeks, and in 1967 he retired to Liverpool. 

1 - Memphis Tennessee
2 - Mess Of Blues
3 - When I Get Paid
4 - It's Only Make Believe
5 - I've Got My Eyes On You
6 - Boys
7 - Boppin The Blues
8 - My Baby
9 - Where Have All The Flowers Gone
10 - Blue Suede Shoes
11 - Let's Stomp
12 - Hello Josephine
13 - Can't Help Falling In Love
Review by Bruce Eder 
Back in the day, in Liverpool, there were basically two types of bands — the ones that could pump out the wattage and the beat for audiences in crowded, poorly ventilated clubs that just wanted to dance, and the ones that built their sound on ballads, and could sing with some vocal (and, preferably, harmonic) sophistication; the latter were often considered (ages before Arnold Schwarzenneger made it into a political epithet) kind of "girlie" in their appeal, i.e., more suited to charming the fairer sex (which was not an attribute to be totally neglected, by any means) than getting a crowd of four or five hundred working class teens waiting to blow off some steam on a Friday or Saturday night on their feet. The Beatles were among the few that could do both, and it took time for them to get good at both. Somewhat in their shadow were Lee Curtis & The All-Stars, who placed directly behind them in a December 1962 poll of the city's music fans. Listening to this album, it's easy to understand how Curtis and company could pull that off. They clearly came from the hard, stomping end of the music spectrum, but they were also good enough to give a subtly sophisticated approach to the numbers here, so that it's clear that Mike Cummings had been listening to a lot of Carl Perkins and James Burton, but also to George Harrison and Gerry Marsden's playing on records by the Beatles and Gerry & The Pacemakers, respectively. And the little bits of harmony singing show that their producers in Germany, as in England, were listening closely to the music of the Beatles. The 13 songs are all solid, even somewhat sophisticated rock 'n' roll as it was best loved in Hamburg, Germany, with a few slightly elegant and complex (for the place, genre and era) components woven in.

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