Rock n' Roll guitarist Terry Clemson talks about the 60s in UK, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and his book "Sect Appeal"

"I think what I miss most is the “spirit” of the post war 1960's. It was an exciting time. A time of discovery, discovering the Blues and hearing great American music for the first time. I guess that for me there's nothing new or exciting anymore."

Terry Clemson: TNT Rock n' Roller

The TT’s were formed in the summer of 1986 with Terry Clemson (vocals and guitar), Noel Brown (vocals & guitar), Johnny Blunt (vocals & drums) and Terry Glasse (bass). Johnny Blunt and Terry Glasse had just left the legendary South London group CSA, and Terry Clemson had just finished two years of touring with Johnny & the Hurricanes. Terry Clemson wanted a name that was short, to the point, looked big on posters, had connections with motorbikes, black leather and rock ‘n’ roll; after much consideration he came up with the "TT’s". Terry Clemson drew on his experience of working with rockers like Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley to take the band more into 50’s rock ‘n’ roll. They have been very well received at many Rock'n'Roll clubs up and down the UK, playing a danceable selection of music for the jivers, strollers and boppers. They are also experienced in playing social clubs and private functions, re-creating the 50's music and arousing nostalgia in the crowd.

Terry Clemson says: "I became a professional musician at the age of seventeen. The early sixties saw me in my first professional group, the internationally acclaimed DOWNLINERS SECT. Not only did this "Rock Rhythm'n'Blues" band achieve cult status in the U.K. but their record sales in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Scandinavia had to be seen to be believed. How many bands can boast that they knocked the "BEATLES" off the top of the charts- well the DOWNLINERS SECT did exactly that in Sweden with their recording of "Little Egypt”. After leaving the Sect I toured as guitarist with Motown’s EDWIN STARR, and once backed the FABULOUS TEMPTATIONS at a one-off gig at London's Scotch of St James Club. When GENE VINCENT toured France and the U.K. in the early '7O's I provided the guitar sound not only for the live gigs, but also for the record and radio sessions. Both CHUCK BERRY and BO DIDDLEY had me play guitar with them when they played the prestigious Wembley Rock'n'Roll Show in 1972. I also hasd the distinction of being the FIRST guitarist ever to play at the FIRST Rock Concert ever staged at the old Wembley Stadium. HANK MIZELL stormed his way to the top of the charts in 1976 with "Jungle Rock". When he toured the U.K. in the wake of this success I not only played guitar in the band but also produced a live album recorded here in the U.K. The early 198O's saw me out on the road with JOHNNY and the HURRICANES. I toured extensively in England and Europe for over two years as their lead guitarist. I also once played guitar for Rockabilly legend BOBBY LEE TRAMMELL. My guitar has also been found providing the sound behind big names of the British Rock scene, including:- SCREAMING LORD SUTCH, HEINZ, TOMMY BRUCE, WEE WILLIE HARRIS, THE WILD ANGELS and BILLIE DAVIS to name but a few. Today I have my own band, The TTs."

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll and R&B culture? What does the blues mean to you?

I Think what I have learnt is that I'll never stop learning! I have learnt that I shall never be as good as I would like to be and I'm sure that any good musician would pretty much say the same. I have been influenced by so many people from the 1940's , 50's and 60's in particular, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Howling Wolf and blues guitarists like BB King, T-Bone Walker and Buddy Guy to name but a few. From my Rock' n 'Roll roots I love Gene Vincent who I worked with in the early 1970's. Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly. Guitarists like Cliff Gallup, James Burton, Joe Maphis, Merle Travis, Chet Atkins and many others were pivotal in influencing me along the way.

The blues to me is really only something I can try to emulate because of never having experienced the kind of poverty that many of the original blues artists did. Their music is borne out of personal experience and hardship. I personally identify more with the “rockier” Rhythm and blues music.

"My fear for the future is that we're at an age where we've lost nearly all of the great American and British artists and there are very few up and coming acts to replace them and keep the vibe going. Let's hope I'm wrong?"

How do you describe Terry Clemson sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I guess my sound and songbook is influenced mainly by Mr. Charles Edward Berry. My style of playing is very much based on his. I use a lot of double notes and thicker rhythms than you might hear in say, single note blues solos and Rockabilly. I don't use much in the way of effects I probably wouldn't know what to do with them!!!  I use only a little reverb to give the sound some presence and on a couple of numbers some echo. When you break it down the original blues and rock' n 'roll players had small amps and cheap guitars. Their sounds came from simplistic things. Today most people think that to play the blues you've got to have a Marshall stack, a £3000. custom shop guitar and a host of fuzz boxes, sustain pedals , compressors and god knows what else. So I guess my philosophy is keep it simple!!!

What were the reasons that made the UK in 60s to be the center of Rock n’ Roll researches and R&B experiments?

I would say the interest in Rhythm and blues and the 1960's R & B scene here in the UK was brought about through the efforts of people like Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies and Chris Barber. Chris Barber was bringing American blues artists over as early as the 50's. We had specialist record stores in London selling imports like Dobells and Imhofs. I guess the commercialism cross over from Blues to R&B fired people’s curiosity as to the origins of blues music? Artists like Chuck and Bo Diddley led the way and opened the door to other Chess recording artists who in turn encouraged people to look back further to the roots.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I've learnt from everyone I've ever worked with, I’ve played guitar behind both Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, Edwin Starr and from the rock'n'roll scene, Gene Vincent, Johnny and the Hurricanes and so many others. I can go to a pub and maybe see a band and pick up something from the guitarist albeit a riff or just another way of playing something. You're never too old to learn something new. The best advice I was given was something Chuck Berry once said which was “Don't let the same dog bite you twice” Anyone who has been involved in the music business will understand that piece of advice!!!

"Two places I'd love to go in that time machine. To Sun Studios, Memphis in the mid 1950's to witness those legendary recording sessions with Sam Phillips and Jack Clement at the mixing desk! Wow! Also Chess records, Chicago, say mid 50's to mid-60's to meet and work alongside some of those amazing musicians."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Meeting Chuck Berry for the first time in 1964 when he arrived in England on his first tour. He came to see us (The Downliners Sect) one Sunday afternoon at Studio 51. He was charming and very complimentary about my guitar playing. We chatted for quite a while he answered all our questions and signed autographs. He wanted to get up on stage with us but unfortunately he would have been in breach of contract had he done so.

Also another great memory was playing guitar behind Chuck and Bo at the 1972 London rock' n 'roll show at the old Wembley stadium in front of some 80,000 people is something I'll never forget. Bo and I swapping our guitars in the dressing room and just having fun.

Seeing Jesse Fuller with his one man band play at Eel Pie Island and Sonny Boy Williamson at the Club a go go in Newcastle upon Tyne. Touring with Memphis Slim. Seeing John Lee Hooker when we played The Rolling Stones concert at London's Alexander Palace. I regret never having seen Jimmy Reed perform live although I did meet him once.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I think what I miss most is the “spirit” of the post war 1960's. It was an exciting time. A time of discovery, discovering the Blues and hearing great American music for the first time. I guess that for me there's nothing new or exciting anymore. All we seem to have now is computer generated music, boy bands. None of these newer artists will stand the test of time. I was 16 years old and found myself playing in a professional band. People would support the clubs and live music. Now people stay home more. They have everything to hand, satellite and cable TV, DVD, They can phone for a pizza and they are lazier now. There just isn't the buzz for good music that there used to be. My fear for the future is that we're at an age where we've lost nearly all of the great American and British artists and there are very few up and coming acts to replace them and keep the vibe going. Let's hope I'm wrong?

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?                         Photo: Terry Clemson & Gene Vincent

It has always been the case that where's there's money to be made there is corruption, especially in the music / showbiz World. So many of the original Blues artists were ripped off for thousands of dollars and so it goes on to this day. I'd like to see this change for the better. Sadly I doubt it ever will. Big business rules the entertainment industry.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Hmmm I'm not sure about laugh... but playing a good gig and seeing people enjoying my music makes me smile and makes me glad that I chose a life in music. Hopefully the good times will always outweigh the bad. What touches me emotionally is seeing some of the talented youngsters out there playing on Youtube and Facebook and looking back to my early life and how I started. The breaks aren't there for up and coming musicians and singers that there used to be. It'll be so much harder for them to make it than it was for me back then.

What is the impact of Rock n’ Roll and R&B music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Sorry but I don't get involved in politics. The racial and cultural differences are not the same as say back in the 1950's and 60's we've all moved on.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Two places I'd love to go in that time machine. To Sun Studios, Memphis in the mid 1950's to witness those legendary recording sessions with Sam Phillips and Jack Clement at the mixing desk! Wow! Also Chess records, Chicago, say mid 50's to mid-60's to meet and work alongside some of those amazing musicians.

Thanks for inviting me to have my say on music. I hope it's what you wanted. Oh, before I go may I unashamedly promote my new book “Sect Appeal”? It's about my life on the British R&B scene 1963- 1966 anyone interested can contact me at my email addressterrycaster(at)hotmail(dot)com. Good luck and keep promoting the good music. 

The TTs - Official website

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