British bassman Pete Duke talks about John L Watson, Mayall, Screamin’ Lord Sutch, and his odyssey

“Without a doubt blues possesses honesty of content and presentation.”

Pete Duke: The British Blues Odyssey

Born in Liverpool, Pete’s first band was local group “The Maracas”. Playing a mixture of blues and soul they played top local venues like the legendary “The Cavern Club”. Formerly with blues band “Little Matthew & The Intentions” and served 5 long years as bandleader and Bassist backing American “Mississippi” John L Watson, with the 8-piece Odyssey Blues Band.

The band started life as a jump jive/Swing band called “The AlleyKats”, back in 1997 and changed its name to just before appearances with John L at The Hackney, The Irish Temple Bar Blues Festival, and Barbican Centre Blues Day, on the same bill as JOE LOUIS WALKER. 1999 saw the band play Exeter St George’s Hall supporting PHIL GUY and headline Act at the prestigious ISLE of WIGHT Blues weekend. The band also had the honour of supporting SCREAMIN’ LORD SUTCH, only days before his tragic death, and played an acclaimed set as support act to JOHN MAYALL‘S BLUESBREAKERS. The year 2000 saw a reconstruction of the act as John L left to concentrate on other things. A review acclaimed performance at the Abbeyfest 2000 Blues at the Mills announced to the music world that the Odyssey Band was here to stay, the guys teamed up in November 2000 with chanteuse Judy Gallimore to record the demo “Bluesy.

The band reformed around soul singer Reuben Richards late in 2001, and developed a sound evocative of the great Stax. The Odyssey blues and soul revue split up with Reuben in 2003. The Odyssey Blues Band continued as a quartet.

Some of the original Odyssey Blues Band reformed around a Rock N’ Roll/Rhythm and Blues Band called WYLIE COYOTE, with Rupert Webster (Guitar), Alf Mitchell (Drums), Pete Duke (Bass), with the addition of Gary Gibson (Vocals) and Fred Parido (Keyboards). The Odyssey is back on the road again with Tony Beagley (Vox, Sax, and Keys), Pete, Malcolm Hine (Guitar) and Terry Fanning (Drums).

Pete also played with the Pretty Things, Blues Corporation, and Shakey Vick.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

 

Pete, when was your first desire to become involved in the music & who were your first idols?

My first feelings for the Blues were generated in the mid-sixties. I was born in Liverpool in 1947, and growing up in Liverpool in the sixties meant massive exposure to Rhythm and Blues, Soul, and of course, Rock and Roll. My first ever group was a school band called the Idle Hours, and we played Rolling Stones covers. I dropped out of school and joined a local (West Derby district of Liverpool) Rhythm and Blues group (in 1965) called The Wishbones, and one of our first gigs was a trip down to London to play at the famous “Two I’s” coffee bar in Soho. We played John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, Alexis Korner, and Cyril Davis numbers, and I became hooked on the music. My next band (1966-1968) was another West Derby based outfit called “The Maracas” which played the Blues, and introduced me to my other great love, Soul Music. We made regular appearances at two of Liverpool’s best venues, The Cavern Club, and The Blue Angel.

 

What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?

A local (West Derby, Liverpool) gig called “Lowlands”. It was in the same street (Haymans Green) and more or less opposite where “The Casbah”, the Beatles first venue was. The group I saw there (bands were called “groups” in those days!) was a Liverpool outfit (of course) called “The Escorts”.

The first songs I learned included Chuck Berry’s Memphis Tennessee, Johnny B Goode, Nadine and Roll Over Beethoven!

 

What made you fall in love with the blues music, what does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?

The big thing about the Blues for me as a teenager was the gut feeling - and depth of emotion blues artists conveyed. To me Blues means feeling. The exposed emotion, spine tingling and sometimes edgy rhythms took my soul to places no other music forms could reach.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

The best moment for me – I think – was the reaction the band (Mississippi John L Watson and The Odyssey Blues Band) had when we finished our first number at The Barbican Blues Day in London in 1998. We had only just flown back that morning from a fantastic weekend playing at the Dublin Temple Bar Blues festival and were totally exhausted, but the band was tight and strong – and we really wondered what to expect at this packed and prestigious London music venue - but the audience reaction was ecstatic and truly overwhelming.

Worst moment was undoubtedly the fall out in the band (year 2000) over a guy who was not popular with the band - who wanted to manage us. There was a split of loyalties, and we split up.

 

The Odyssey Blues Band at the Mill Hill Music Festival, Photo by Daniel Bleich

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?

From my old buddy John L Watson – the living embodiment of a real bluesman.

 

Tell me about the beginning of The Alley Kats. How did you get together and where did it start?

My old keyboard player Simon Beck introduced me to “Kat” real name Kate Platt, a fine singer who wanted to form a Jump Jive band. We based ourselves at Kat’s house in Peckham and with Simon on keys, me on Bass and Kat’s friend Adrian Clift on Trombone we formed a nucleus to arrange and rehearse the material. After some trial and error with musicians, including some of the “Atlantic Soul Machine” and Alf Mitchell being recruited from audition - two bands whose paths were destined to cross were now rehearsing in London – The Alley Kats, and The John L Watson band – and I was in both bands! At this time the John L band had Lol Sandford on guitar and Pete Zisovitch on keyboards together with the late great Reg Isodore on drums. Then came the announcement that we were asked to play a live BBC Radio 1 session for Andy Kershaw. Reg Isodore had already left, Pete Zisovitch  dropped out, so we scrambled to complete a line up for the live radio 1 session. I got together with John L and we had an emergency planning meeting (!!). We agreed to co-opt Simon, Adrian and Arthur from the Alley Kats, brought in John Phillips on drums, and added his friend, Pauline Long, on Tenor. The session went out live on March 23rd 1998 and was brilliantly received. The Alley Kats were struggling to get gigs at this time, and offers were beginning to flood in to book John L and the band, so it was kind of inevitable that a merger of the bands would take place. John L and I had another meeting and came up with the name “Mississippi John L Watson and The Odyssey Blues Band”. To cement the lineup, I brought in Rupert Webster on guitar, Adrian became the band’s trombone player, Arthur Catt settled in on trumpet, and he in turn brought in Nick Charles on tenor. Simon stayed on keys, and Alf came in on drums. Photos followed, and then the gigs.

 

How did you first meet Mississippi John L Watson, three words to describe him?

I first met John L Watson at Phil May’s R&B club in 1982. This was a gig local to us both - held in a Regents Canalside pub called The Bridge House, in Little Venice, London. John L had his own band “Blues Chronicle” at that time, and I was playing with local lads (heroes?) “The Maidavaleables”. After chatting and socializing we ended up playing 3 or 4 gigs together at Phil’s joint.

3 words would not do John L justice – but here goes – GIFTED - CHARISMATIC - INDIVIDUAL

 

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Mississippi John L Watson?

With so many vivid memories to choose from this is a difficult question. Perhaps it was the time his son James was born, and we celebrated long into the night.

 

What is the difference between The Alley Kats and The Odyssey Blues Band? How did you choose the names?

As I mentioned somewhere else, the Alley Kats were a jump Jive 8 piece band, and named after Kate Platt, and The Odyssey Blues Band were at that time a mainly Chicago 8 piece blues band - the name being chosen by John L to acknowledge his long and winding journey through the music business.  

 

Do you remember anything funny or interesting from the recording time?

Oh yes, just as the tape started rolling for us to lay down “Nothing But A Devil” John L cries out “Ass Kickin’ Time!” to wake everybody up. This outburst appears before the first track on the CD, and the album was subsequently named  “Ass Kicking Time!”

 

What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had? When did you last laughing in gigs and why?

The Barbican Centre Bluesday, 1998 was amazing. Joe Louis Walker and the Boss Talkers headlined, and Taj Mahal was on early evening. We were, I think, the second act on stage, and had just flown in from Dublin, Ireland, after a fantastic gig at the blues festival in the Temple Bar district. About three songs into the set John L spoke into the mike asking if someone would kindly get him a drink – a brandy. A member of the audience ran up to the stage with a very large glass of brandy during a solo. When John L came back on the mike after taking a good sip, he announced “mmmm, good brand” to the audience’s delight.

I recall very fondly a fantastic meal from the promoter of the Chorley Blues Club in Lancashire. He invited the whole band back to his home, and fed us a huge and much appreciated meal. It was wonderful for me to be back on “home” territory in the North West of England.

 

What are some of the memorable stories from SCREAMIN’ LORD SUTCH you've had? Three words to describe him

When we played “The Rolling Stones” convention with Screamin’ Lord Sutch at Brixton Academy, he was relatively subdued – but his act was fiery and tempestuous. Only days after this show he tragically took his own life. Three words? A TOTAL PERFORMER

 

Are there any memories from Exeter St George’s Hall supporting to PHIL GUY, which you’d like to share with us?

Yes, definitely. The most vivid memory of mine is of John L and Phil Guy hugging each other after the gig, and then talking about “grits and vittles” which is a Mississippian reference to Cajun food – a mix of meats, seafood, vegetables and grain with its origins in French, Spanish, Caribbean, Indian and African traditions.

 

Do you have any amusing tales to tell of your as support act to John Mayall?

We had been given a one-hour spot at The Shepherds Bush Empire, London, and we were going down a storm. We often finished with “Every Day I Have The Blues” and this could sometimes go on a long time. Anyway, on this occasion we were full tilt into the final number and were about one or two minutes over time, when John Mayall appeared in the wings, seething with anger and making throat cutting gestures (i.e. indicating we should finish there and then). The band fell about laughing when John Mayall was spotted, and we finally put the brakes on. The band was applauded rapturously by an unsuspecting audience.

 

I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your experience in ISLE of WIGHT Blues weekend

It was pure magic to be headlining this gig. The trip across the Solent by ferry was great fun, and we were all in high spirits (well certainly high) by the time we arrived. As well as performing our set some of the guys jammed up with other artists on the bill in the bar area.

 

Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?

First and foremost from the heart. To play the blues with feeling means you have to get right in to that place where the emotions and desires lurk.

 

Any of blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite standards?

I must place Sonny Boy Williamson (II) singing and playing “9 below Zero” among the top ones. This just takes me over completely. Other Blues standards that always move me whenever I hear them are Jimmy Reed’s “Shame Shame Shame” for sheer power, Howlin’Wolf’s “Going Down Slow” for lyrical magic, and Bobby Bland’s version of “Stormy Monday” for its silky and beguiling style.

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

Without a doubt blues possesses honesty of content and presentation. This is why in my opinion it is a classic music form which is timeless, and will always be a source of inspiration and pleasure to performers and lovers of music.

 

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?

Well, day-to-day life is the great teacher. For me, Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Arthur Burnett) was the most gifted lyricist. (Listen to “Going Down Slow”)

 

From the musical point of view is there any difference between Europe & US?

US blues tends to be more relaxed than European

 

Why are Europeans so enamored with the blues? What mistake of European blues scene you want to correct?

Europeans identify with the economic social and emotional struggle of American blues players. Europe has had plenty of traumas too (two world wars and endless economic and social upheaval….). This identification was maybe easier for people born up to say the late 70s

 

Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene and why?

The 60s. A time of free association, imagination, experimentation and a desire to change and remold pretty much everything.

 

What mistake of UK blues scene you want to correct?

Maybe being too elitist and inward looking? A superstar cult grew in the UK blues scene that probably only served to strengthen the already burdensome class society of them and us.

 

Tell me a few things about the Wylie Coyote and your partners Rupert Webster & Alf Mitchell

We have been buddies for around 15 years now, and still play together and work on musical projects together.

 

How do you see the future of blues music? Give one wish for the BLUES

The blues will be forever blue. I hope more kids come in on the scene and keep the music live.

 

Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?

BB King, the late great Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson, Howlin Wolf

 

What gift would you had given to Muddy & Wolf?

Maybe a 1950s Fender Telecaster?

 

What would you ask Alexis Korner & Cyril Davis?

What was it really like to play the Soho (London) clubs in 1963 and 1964?

 

What made you want to work with Shakey Vick?

We are neighbours!

 

Do you have a message for the Greek fans?

Yassu!!!!

 

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