I knew I would one day return to Liverpool, England, but didn't
think it would be quite so soon. My first trip in December
of 2004 had been one of the best experiences of my life.
I visited Beatle-related sites I'd read about since I was
a teenager in the 60s and met and got to play with many of
the musicians who'd known The Beatles and played on the bill
with them in Liverpool and Hamburg. What prompted the
timing of my second visit was an e mail I received from
Arty Davies, the Liverpool drummer who'd backed me on my previous
trip with his band, now known as Wheels on Fire. He
was also the one who was my original contact that made my
first Liverpool adventure possible in regards to being able
to meet and play with the Merseyside musicians. Arty's
e mail informed me that the Sounds of the 60s organization,
for whom I played on my first visit, were now doing a weekly
show on Sunday nights at the legendary Cavern Club.
The Cavern is, of course, the venue on Mathew Street in Liverpool
that really got The Beatles career rolling. They played
there 292 times! I knew I had to play there and wanted
to make sure I would do it while I had the chance. You
may have heard the original Cavern was torn down in the early
70s. Here's the scoop on the Cavern as it is today.
On April 26, 1984, the Cavern Club was re-opened. Over
15,000 of the old Cavern bricks had been saved and treated.
The old bricks were used to reconstruct the arches and vaults
to more or less the same dimensions as the original Cavern
Club. However, there are some differences to the original
floor plan. The club today occupies 75% of the original
site. The reconstructed club is deeper than the original,
30 steps down as opposed to the original 18. The original
archways and vaults were at 90 degrees to Mathew Street, not
parallel as they are today. One could say the new Cavern
Club was ordained on December 14, 1999 when Paul McCartney
performed there on a new and bigger stage in a new room.
The new stage is just feet away from where the original stage
once stood. The reconstructed old stage is like the
original with the same wall behind it with the names of all
the bands who played there in the 60s. However, they
made the stage bigger by giving it more depth. I don't
know how the 60s bands fit on the original tiny stage.
As far as I'm concerned, the Cavern Club, even as it is today,
is sacred rock & roll ground. The feel of it is
as it must have been back in the early 60s.
I booked my return trip five months in advance for July 2006.
The five months flew by and I was on a plane out of Palm Springs,
California, via Atlanta, Georgia, to Manchester, England.
Upon arrival, I was picked up by Arty Davies and driven to
Liverpool. It had been arranged that I would play at
the Sounds of the 60s at Huyton Conservative Club on Wednesday
night and the Merseycats Aintree British Legion Hall on Thursday
night, as I did my previous trip. The Merseycats are
another organization of Merseybeat musicians. Both organizations,
the Sounds of the Sixties and Merseycats, raise money for
good causes and keep the flame burning for Merseybeat music
and good ol' rock & roll in general. Both groups
still love and revere the music of Little Richard, Chuck Berry,
Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, et. al. These were the
same artists that gave inspiration to The Beatles themselves.
I was looking forward to my Huyton and Aintree shows, however,
the great anticipation for me was my scheduled performance
at the Cavern Club. On my first night in Liverpool,
I walked from my hotel at Albert Dock to Mathew Street and
descended the stairs of the Cavern Pub, not to be confused
with the Cavern Club across the street. On the bandstand
was 2/3 of the same band I had seen a year and a half before.
It was the same drummer and bass player/vocalist, John Ditchfield
and Davey Walsh, with a different lead guitarist/vocalist.
They had changed their name from S.P.X. to Zebra 3 and were
just as great as before. They were doing rock and funk
cover tunes and were as good as any three piece band could
be. I spoke with the new guitar player, Kevin McCann,
who was very friendly and an excellent guitarist. He
was hoping to get to America someday.
The next day, July 12th, I rehearsed for about an hour with
Wheels On Fire for our set that night at Huyton Conservative
Club. At the event, many of the same musicians were
there who were there last time, including Kingsize Taylor.
Around 9:30, I did my set with Wheels On Fire. Band
members included Phil Ford on slide guitar, George Eccles
on rhythm guitar, Ritchie Ballard on bass, Arty Davies on
drums, and Frank Hopley on piano. We didn't have a piano
in the band on my previous visit and it added a lot to the
energy and excitement of our shows. Our set list consisted
of "You Never Can Tell," "Nadine," and
"Roll Over Beethoven" by Chuck Berry, "Back
In the U.S.S.R." by The Beatles, "Slow Down"
by The Beatles via Larry Williams, "Let the Good Times
Roll" by Louis Jordan, "It Takes a Lot To Laugh
(It Takes a Train to Cry)" by Bob Dylan, "Fire Down
Below" by Bob Seger, and two of my rockers, "Meet
Me On the Other Side" and "Rockin' Like There's
No Tomorrow." Near the end of the night, I sang
"The Hippy Hippy Shake" by Chan Romero, "Long
Tall Sally" by Little Richard, and a reprise of "Roll
Over Beethoven." There was a good turnout and many
musicians got up and rocked like there was no tomorrow, so
to speak. However, gratefully, there was a tomorrow.
On Thursday, July 13th, I performed at the Aintree British
Legion Hall at the Merseycats jam. The Wheels of Fire
came along to back me at the venue. The previous time
I played at the Merseycats, in 2004, things didn't go too
well musically due to some well-meaning, but slightly inebriated
backing musicians. For this reason, Arty made sure Wheels
of Fire would back me this time. We did a solid, rockin'
set of songs, consisting of the same song list we used the
previous night in Huyton. On this night we had the pleasure
and honor of having Sam Hardie, founder of the Dominoes, playing
piano with us on our last two songs, "The Hippy Hippy
Shake" and "Long Tall Sally." Our set
went over very well and we were happy with our performance.
After the show Arty said to me, "It looks like you killed
a ghost tonight." Yes, I think he was right.
I did feel like I did the performance I wanted to give the
previous time I was at Merseycats. Geoff Nugent of The
Undertakers and Lee Curtis of Lee Curtis & the All Stars
were in attendance, who were both part of the Liverpool/Hamburg
scene of the early 60s and contemporaries of The Beatles.
I had met them both on my previous trip. On this night,
Lee Curtis sang a few songs, including a great rendition
of "Slow Down." Before I did the same song during
my set, I asked Lee from the stage if it was alright for me
to do it. He gave me the thumbs up so I went ahead.
It's kind of an unwritten rule that you don't do the same
song someone else did earlier because it might appear you
were trying to show them up. There was great camaraderie
among the musicians that night and a good time was had by
On Friday, July 14th, I visited the childhood homes of both
John Lennon and Paul McCartney. On my previous trip
I had been to the homes, but couldn't go in because they're
closed at certain times of year. This time they were
open so I made sure I had reservations and did the tours.
The National Trust owns and runs the sites and have live ins
in the homes who conduct the tours. Beatle fan that
I am, it was a profound experience for me to be in the homes
where John and Paul grew up. Paul's home on Forthlin
Road is a small and somewhat humble two story apartment with
a small backyard. It has simple wooden fences separating
it from neighbors on either side. Lennon's childhood
home on Menlove Avenue is larger than Paul's and somewhat
higher up the social scale with a bigger back yard.
As nice as it is, it still is what they call semi-detached.
This means that there is another dwelling attached to it on
one side. Considering how far John & Paul went in
the world, creating the best and most successful musical group
of all time, it boggles the mind to think they accomplished
all they did from such relatively humble beginnings.
When I was in the homes, it tended to humanize the lads that
became the world famous Beatles and, if anything, increased
my admiration for who they became. John and Paul wrote
many of their early hit songs in these two homes. Later
that day, Arty took me over to Faron Ruffley's house.
Faron played venues such as The Cavern Club and The Casbah,
along with The Beatles, in the early 60s and knew them well.
He was particularly good mates with John Lennon. I had
been to his house on my previous trip so we knew each other.
As on my previous visit, he regaled us with many stories from
his adventures as part of the Merseybeat revolution of the
60s and played many of his recordings for us. On my
visit in 2004, Faron gave me a wool scarf from the Liverpool
Art College where he and John Lennon went to school.
This time he gave me a pair of glasses identical to the one's
John Lennon wore in 1980. Faron's a wonderful guy and
a character to be sure. I might add, he's also a hell
of a singer and dynamic performer.
On Saturday, July 15th, I was a guest on Spencer Leigh's radio
show on BBC Merseyside. I had done a half hour interview/performance
with him on my previous trip. This time he asked me
to come on a show about the music of George Harrison
and wanted me to perform a couple of George's songs.
Of course, I was very happy to do so. His main guest
was Ian Kennedy, who is a sports reporter on the station,
who happens to be a huge George Harrison fan. He also
has a great knowledge about George and his music, both with
The Beatles and from his solo career. It was a two hour
program in which many George Harrison songs were played and
discussed. I played "Here Comes the Sun" and
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" in the early part
of the show and participated in some of the discussion about
George. As the show progressed,
Spencer kept asking me to sing another song. I wound
up singing four more songs. He asked me to do a couple
of my songs so I did two rockers I was doing with Wheels On
Fire, "Meet Me On the Other Side" and "Rockin'
Like There's No Tomorrow." Later in the show, Spencer
asked me to do a Beatle song so I obliged with "Back
In the U.S.S.R." Finally I did one of my dad's
songs, "Los Chucos Suaves." It was very
cool to be doing a song in Spanish, actually Chicano slang,
in Liverpool, England, particularly one of my dad's songs.
The program worked really well and had a nice flow to it.
We were all pleased with it.
On Sunday afternoon, July 16th, Arty took me to a lecture/performance
by Kingsize Taylor at Fort Perch Rock. Fort Perch Rock
was built as a coastal defense battery during the Napoleonic
period to protect the Port of Liverpool. It's across
the Mersey river from Liverpool. The event was staged
in one of the basement rooms. The walls were adorned
with vintage posters of early Merseyside dances that featured
the likes of The Beatles, Faron's Flamingos, The Undertakers,
Gerry & the Pacemakers, Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes,
and others. There was also Elvis Presley memorabilia
on display. There was a small stage where a band called
the Black Knights were set up. The musicians were
Frank Hopley and Ritchie Ballard (who backed me on my shows),
Mal Jefferson on guitar, Gerry Stewart on sax, and Allan Schroeder
on drums. Kingsize Taylor performed a few rocking songs
with the band before the lecture. Kingsize and his wife
Marga sat at a table in front of the audience of about 100
people. Through microphones set up on the table, Ted
"Kingsize" Taylor talked of his days in Hamburg,
Germany, the early Liverpool scene, and some memories of Brian
Epstein and The Beatles. It was very informative and
entertaining. After the lecture, he got up with the
band again and rocked the place. By way of introduction
to his performance of "Slow Down," Kingsize Taylor
good-naturedly said, "we're going to do a Mark Guerrero
number. Mark pinched it from The Beatles, who pinched
it from me." Apparently Kingsize Taylor was doing
"Slow Down" before The Beatles in the early days.
I got a huge kick out of what he said. After a few songs,
Kingsize Taylor graciously invited me up to sing a song with
the band. I did "Roll Over Beethoven."
The band rocked and it went over well with the audience.
Kingsize then invited Geoff Nugent of The Undertakers up to
do a song. Geoff, who was another pioneer of the Liverpool
rock scene of the 60s, rocked the house with his version of
Carl Perkins' "Matchbox." (The Beatles also
covered "Matchbox" on one of their early albums.)
After Arty and I had a great lunch at an Indian restaurant,
he drove me around to see a few more sights. We stopped
at John Lennon's first school, Dovedale Primary. Apparently,
George Harrison also attended the school for a while.
We also drove by the late Brian Epstein's childhood home,
as well as his house during his early days as manager of The
Beatles. We also went to the church graveyard where
The Beatles' original bass player, Stu Sutcliffe is buried,
but couldn't find the gravestone.
If my experience at Fort Perch Rock wasn't enough for one
day, my date with the Cavern was upon me. That night
we set up at the Cavern, where we were on the bill with Flashback,
J O'Connor & the Huytones, Wes Paul, Recall (from Manchester),
and the legendary Kingsize Taylor. There was a very
good turnout for the show. We had a video camera we
had used on our previous two performances, but it was simply
set on a table. The result was that on our Sounds of
the 60s and Merseycats shows, my head was out of frame.
I was the phantom headless rocker on those videos. For
this one, I asked Geoff Nugent's girlfriend to pick up the
camera and get some good shots. She did so and did a
great job. As a result, I have some good footage of
our performance at the Cavern. On our first two shows,
at Huyton and Aintree, I used a great Fender Stratocaster
loaned to me by George Eccles. At the Cavern, David
Jamo of Merseycats was very kind to offer me a Fender Telecaster.
For a change of pace, I decided to use it and it worked very
well. Our set consisted of "You Never Can Tell,"
"Roll Over Beethoven," "Slow Down," "Let
the Good Times Roll," "Back In the U.S.S.R.,"
"Meet Me On the Other Side," "The Hippy Hippy
Shake," "Nadine," and "Long Tall Sally."
We rocked the Cavern and went over well to my relief.
After the show we all posed for pictures backstage.
There was a feeling of a job well done and we also knew this
was our last performance of this trip.
The next day, Arty and I went to Phil Ford's house to see
the videos and say goodbye. Upon arrival, I found that
George Eccles and Ritchie Ballard were already there watching
the Cavern video. After seeing some of the video, I
got some of my own video footage of all the guys playing acoustic
guitars and joking around outside. After saying our
goodbyes, Arty and I went to see Faron one more time.
There I got some great video of Faron telling stories of his
early musical days in Liverpool. Once again he was entertaining,
funny, and a pleasure to be around. That night, Arty
and I had dinner with Sam Hardie of Kingsize Taylor &
the Dominoes at yet another Indian restaurant. As you
may have heard, or know first hand, there are a lot of great
Indian restaurants in England. This one was right around
the corner from Sam's house. We had some great conversation
and heard some great stories of the early Liverpool and Hamburg
music scenes from another person who was there. With
this, my second trip to Liverpool, I feel I have a growing
bond with the musicians. I feel accepted and am treated
very well by everyone. I genuinely like many of the
people I've performed with and gotten to know. When
in Liverpool, I truly feel like I'm a part of the scene.
One can visit sites and play shows, but it's the people that
make a place special and what it is.