INTERVIEW WITH "KINK" MICK AVORY.
THE STORY THAT BILL WYMAN GOT WRONG: MICK AVORY’S TRUE INVOLVEMENT IN THE ROLLING STONES SAGA.
In the chapter about the very early days of The Rolling Stones’ saga in “Stone Alone”, Bill Wyman got one thing wrong: Mick Avory did not – read: not – occupy the drummer’s stool at their 12 July 1962 gig at The Marquee. Wyman also omits to mention Mick Avory’s real involvement, viz. two rehearsals with the embryonic Stones the weeks before that gig.
When we phone Mick Avory at his London home one day in March 2007, he suffers a horrible bronchitis. Friendly and helpful – apparently, some of my questions are not exactly new – he patiently replies to my questions through a number of bouts of cough. Mick Avory became The Kinks’ drummer in January 1964, but two years earlier he simply refused the vacant job of drummer with…The Rollin’ Stones (mind the spelling) who were then rehearsing for their famous 12 July 1962 gig at The Marquee. Mick Avory truly is a footnote to the Stones story, since his involvement is restricted to…two rehearsals at The Bricklayers Arms in Soho. Still, it’s worth listening to Mick’s story as it reflects a genuine and demystified context of the emerging pop, R&B and blues scene in 1962: innocence, ignorance, idealism, young guys trying to gain a few extra ££ and luck. Lots of luck.
Mr Avory, various sources like Wikipedia, www.drummerworld.com and even Bill Wyman’s book ‘Stone Alone’ claim you were the drummer at The Rollin’ Stones’ famous Marquee gig on 12 July 1962. But you say you weren’t. How did you become involved in the embryonic Rollin’ Stones in the first place?
Mick Avory: "The reason I came across Mick Jagger was that I had a day job and was doing gigs some evenings, usually weekends. One of the people I worked with was this young guy - , 14, 15 years old - he played the vibes and piano. His father was a drummer and a chimney sweep. He came round to my house to sweep the chimney and noticed the drums in the room and remarked: “You have a son playing drums, I could get him some work” - because I worked with his son see.
He used to advertise as a drummer in the Melody Maker and he got this contact from one Mick Jagger. He realized they were all youngsters and he was sixty back then and he passed the job on to me: “Do you want to do a gig at the Marquee with Alexis Korner?”. So I rang Mick Jagger who was unheard of then, it was 1962, he spoke to me and he said “Come up, we’ll run through a few things, got this gig to do”. (Note: Alexis Korner having other commitments, he passed the gig to Mick Jagger who subsequently had to put a group together and rehearse – ed.).
This R&B Thing...
So I went out there. Keith was there, Elmo Jones was there - who was Brian Jones calling himself Elmo after Elmore James - they had this Chuck Berry thing in their heads. Everything would be Chuck Berry, we ran through Sweet Little Sixteen and a few more Chuck Berry songs. Ian Stewart, who was in the band then, was telling me all about this R&B thing that was coming in, how it was getting big and taking over the world, that it was only beginning in England. I was skeptical, I had a day job and I wasn’t at the time thinking of doing it for a living. I could do the gig, but I wasn’t really interested in joining a band.
So I went back a second time and rehearsed with them an said ‘If I do the gig, I wouldn’t want to carry on’. Ian said he understood. Ian Stewart was convinced this was gonna go somewhere. They were sort of fairly well-known in their own area. I wasn’t in the swing of things, so I didn’t know them. They were joust doing a few gigs around the area, like Ealing and Richmond. I hadn’t heard anything at the time, because I came from a town called Molesey, near Richmond. It was quite early in 1962, they were just piecing the band together and I didn’t even know what they were called”.
Mick Avory forgot about the rehearsals, the band and the music. Quite later, he picks up an issue of Jazz News and to his surprise sees himself listed under the “personnel” of a new band that one Mick Jagger had formed…
Mick Avory “That issue turned out to be a year old and there was a column that read ‘Mick Jagger forms a new group called The Rollin’ Stones’. I hadn’t realized what they were called, but they’d had a hit by then. That’s when I first realized that the guys I had rehearsed with were The Rolling Stones! I never actually did the gig, even though Wyman says I did. It’s such a long time ago, they’ve all forgotten”.
Isn’t it strange that even recent sources keep on repeating that mistake? Apparently, they all copy Bill Wyman’s book.
Mick Avory: “Yeah, sounds like I did do it!”
That’s a good one! But who did the gig at the Marquee?
Mick Avory: “I think Tony Chapman did the gig at the Marque. I didn’t. I just rehearsed twice in the Bricklayer Arms in the Soho”. (Note: Chapman was the regular drummer for The Cliftons whose bass-player was…Bill Wyman)
I’m surprised you say they played so many Chuck Berry songs. Brian Jones for one wasn’t exactly into Chuck Berry.
Mick Avory: “I don’t remember that much about it. Everyone just played along, whatever people’s preferences were. It’s probably Mick Jagger and Keith Richards who picked up the Chuck Berry stuff. I spoke to Ian more than anyone and he was assuring me that this Chuck Berry stuff it was something new over here; these songs were recorded in the fifties but not released here. They used to get exports. These were all black guys, they weren’t pushed around the world”.
Do you have memories of this or that Rolling Stone in particular?
Mick Avory: “Brian Jones seemed to be very into himself. He wasn’t that friendly, more on his own, keeping himself to himself. Mick was fairly friendly and Ian was kept fairly quiet. I remember thinking ‘Elmo’ was a strange name not knowing it came from Elmore James. But I can’t really remember. It wasn’t my world, it was a different world. Strange the way it came about. That’s all there was to it, really”.
Less than two years later, in January 1964, you join The Kinks. Though they played pop, the early Kinks also played quite some R&B. So how come you joined The Kinks and had refused to join The Rolling Stones?
Mick Avory: “By then, that music had gained some ground, got popular. The Rolling Stones were on the map, The Beatles had come out, you saw all these bands on TV, like The Searchers… I thought I should have a crack at it really as I didn’t have a career job. The reason I didn’t do it in 1962 was that I just used to go to a jazz drummer for lessons and his advice was the music business wasn’t such a good profession and so I went by their experiences saying it’s tough when you’re just a working musician. But they didn’t know what was happening around, the older generation. Plus I liked the jazz stuff, I had a gig that was fairly jazzy. I wasn’t really tuned into what was going on playing wise, even though we’d done some R&R in the youth club, The Shadows and skiffle too. Then I moved on through the jazz and took lessons with a jazz drummer; that’s all there was, it was the jazz era. You know, you got wrong advice because they didn’t realize what modern things were gonna happen. That’s one reason. I kept myself reserved on doing it for a living. Then I watched everyone on TV and started to like what they were doing as well. Some of the numbers crept into the gigs we were doing and I quite liked the R&B side of it. I didn’t like the poppy stuff that much, more the bluesy side. So I advertised myself as an R&B drummer, which I wasn’t entirely and then I got the job with The Kinks when their manager phoned up. I went for the audition and that was it”.
Bobby Graham (Hollies), Charlie Watts, Ginger Baker (Cream), you: all these drummers have a jazz background. Was that because jazz drumming was the only way to learn drumming or did the drummers change their style upon joining a pop group?
Mick Avory: “Those were the people we used to listen to. There wasn’t anyone else around at the time, skiffle bands were also derived from trad jazz. They were the drummers of the time, it wasn’t that you specially went out and looked for them”.
A good drummer was a jazz drummer?
Mick Avory: “Well yes, at the time. It gradually evolved. All the early r&r records were not done by bebop drummers. Then rock and roll changed anyway. The bass player used to do a running bass and the drummer used to go dunk-a-dunk-a-dunk; together it sounded like the drummer did straight eights. We all used to struggle with these straight eights, but the drummers didn’t do it. Together, it made them sound like that. Through that, something else evolved; different rhythms came out of different songs, it changed into a more straight field. Things don’t stand still for long. At the time no-one played the stuff they play now, all those people were playing jazz”.
Why is that evolution not true for guitar playing?
Mick Avory: “A lot of guitar players used to listen to Chet Atkins and Les Paul who sort of invented the electric guitar. Through the sound of it, a new dimension was opened, a different way of playing. That was a real breakthrough, these solid guitars making all that noise coming from an amp was a real breakthrough. That creates different ideas and sounds and then people write music for that sound and it all gradually evolves. Ray (Ray Davies – ed.) is able to think of a song that would go with a certain sound, like ‘You Really Got Me’. The Kinks were definitely put on the map not because they were a good blues band, because they weren’t, but when I joined them they played all the blues stuff like Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, all the blues stuff that Americans used to do. They knew, realized, you had to do your own thing, Ray was already writing then I think. Getting the right thing for that band. With ‘You Really Got Me’, Dave (Dave Davies – ed.) changed the shape of it, it didn’t sound like that first, but when two and two were put together it really worked. There’s a breakthrough every now and then. A lot of that stuff still stands up today, a lot of 60s records still sound fresh”.
It’s a jazz influence for drumming and C&W for guitars?
Mick Avory: “Yeah, in a way, guitarists also listened to jazz players, but for them it’s probably more C&W because it featured guitar more than jazz where it is more sax and brass. The other thing is how to get it going when you have success ; many bands have a few hits and then it all fades out and you have to play the same few songs for the rest of your life.
BRIAN KNIGHT SLIDE
Decades later, you run into Brian Knight who also played with the embryonic Stones for some weeks. You join his band and play on his last CD, released shortly before his death (“1861”, released in 2001). How did this come about?
Mick Avory: “Since I left The Kinks in 1984, I played in numerous bands. I did some blues stuff over in Holland with Billy O’Hare, an American that settled there. I met him at Wembley at a Dylan concert because he knew Dylan well and he asked if I wanted to play with him so I did little tours with him which I enjoyed. Through that, I met Dave Clark (not the drummer) who played with Noel Redding and he knew some people and he liked the blues feel, so we formed a band called Shut Up Frank. Noel Redding was in and out of the band, there was Jim Leverton on bass who used to play with Steve Marriott and Dave Rowberry from The Animals on keyboards. When that waned and Brian Knight was looking for a drummer to work with because he wanted a regular band, Dave Clark said to Brian ‘Mick’s been playing a bit of blues, give him a call, he might be interested’. So I got a call from Brian. I had heard of him, but hadn’t seen him play. He is really authentic, he wanted things to be played a certain way, the way they always used to be played you know. He said to me he had first formed the Rolling Stones with Brian Jones, but when Mick and Keith got involved they wanted to make it more commercial and he didn’t wanna go in that direction and he never stayed with them. That’s his story. Brian used to work with Cyril Davies and people like that. When all that faded away he had a day job for a long time and brought up his family but continued to play music but only on the side. He was going fulltime again, that’s when I joined him, but he wasn’t a very well man by then. He looked a lot older than he was. He’d had a bad childhood, well, a bad ‘youth-hood’, too many substances I think. His music was conservative and even the things he wrote sounded like they’d been written by one of the old blues guys. That’s where he stayed, he didn’t develop it really, he stagnated into the blues he liked when he first heard it. He suddenly died. Younger people wouldn’t know, so you can learn things from these people because of all the knowledge they’ve got”.
For you, that Chicago blues formula can’t have been too exciting.
Mick Avory: “It got me to play this shuffle properly. All those years I played I never really did it and I wasn’t very good at it. The Kinks never did a shuffle. There are different ways of doing the shuffle. Brian did it a couple of different ways I hadn’t come across. That added to my repertoire really, these ‘shuffly’ things he did”.
When I spoke to Geoff Bradford, he said that Brian Knight was bitter about his time with the pre-Stones and also because of the lack of recognition.
Mick Avory: “Bitter no, but disappointed that the music that he really liked wasn’t popular enough. But he didn’t want to do ‘Johnny B Goode’ like everyone else and he steered himself away from the commercial aspect; but that’s where the money comes from that gives you independence to do other things, but he didn’t see it that way. That’s the way he went, it was his decision, no-one made him do it”.
How would you rate Brian Knight as a musician?
Mick Avory: “He was a great slide player. He made a couple of guitars. One of the guys he ended up playing played with just before he died was Damien McCabe, an Irish boy who really liked what Brian did and so Brian left him two guitars that he’d made himself to play slide on really, ‘cos this bloke could play slide really. He learned his stuff off Brian.”
Looking back, how do you relate to The Rolling Stones musically and how would you rate them? Or have they disappeared from sight? After all, The Kinks and The Stones produced different sounds
Mick Avory: “They started emulating Chuck Berry and eventually got their own sound. When you stay together long enough, when your mind is full of the same music, you get good together, you get a good feel without being technical. They are not a technical band, but arty, like The Kinks, and they’ve got earthiness about them and it works. I like them for that. They also wrote some classic songs Put that together and you got a hell of a band”.
Mick, thank you very much.
MICK’s CURRENT PROJECTS
What are your current projects?
Mick Avory: “There’s The Kast Off Kinks and Class of 64. We formed Class of 64 – 1964 was the year of the British Invasion – three years ago to play music from that period. We did a tour to see how it would be received and were surprised to find out how popular it was. It’s still a working band! The line-up consists of sixties musicians: Chip Hawkes (Tremeloes), Graham Pollock (Mindbenders), Eric Haydock (Hollies) and Telecaster Ted Tomlin (Love Affair).
The Kast Off Kinks (picture left; Mick is on the right front stage) do Kinks stuff. We got the conventions, there’s the UK Kinks convention every year in November usually. In April we did a Dutch convention, then we got some gigs in-between; not too many, many boys have day jobs. It works and it’s fun, we can play Kinks stuff that’s not really heard that much and there’s mines of it you know, like the album stuff.
The line-up consists of Dave Clark (no, not that one) and three former Kinks: John Dalton, John “The Baptist” Gosling and myself”.
www.whykinks.net/links/kast/start.htm (Kast Off Kinks fan site)
MICK & BRIAN KNIGHT
Mick plays drums on Brian Knight’s last CD, “1861” which was released in 2001 shortly before his death. The studio line-up is: Brian Knight, Mick Avory, Rick Brown and Damien McCabe (gtr). Reference: Lost Moment Records, BCD 002, 2001. Contact Stephen Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org
The FOOTNOTES SERIES...
This article is part of out series “FOOTNOTES TO THE ROLLING STONES STORY”. Before The Rolling Stones scored a minor hit with ' I Wanne Be Your Man' in 1963, a considerable number of musicians had been involved in the making of the greatest rock'n'roll band-to-be. Some found fame (e.g. Dick Taylor with The Pretty Things), some were in and out of the music business (e.g. Carlo Little), others never made it, many have been forgotten ever since. Remarkably, only a few dumped music for good.
Expect contributions on Geoff Bradford, Brian Knight and Carlo LIttle.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Thanks to Stephen Carter of Lost Moment Records at: email@example.com
Eddy BONTE ** The original Dutch article first appeared in www.keysandchords.com, June 2007 ** ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Sincere Thanks to Stephen Carter and, of course, to Mick Avory ** PIctures from www.drummerworld.com, except Kink Off Kinks in action from http://www.john-dalton.com** (Ed.: Version 2 15june07, ed. web 15Aug2007)