The Roadrunners

Memories of: Liverpool

We have tried to keep this site a "light read". But if you really want to know about 60s music from the people who were there, youÂ’ll need to persevere with this and the accompanying article on the Hamburg scene. Here, our drummer Dave Boyce reflects on the pre and post 1960s watershed and the social and cultural influences on Liverpool music of the time.

The Roadrunners were white, middle-class, grammar school/college-educated boys. If one ignores the race and class divisions of pre-Beatles Britain, one gets a distorted view of subsequent developments in popular music.

In 1962 there was no white R&B scene in Liverpool. There was, of course, a genuine black blues music scene emanating from the many small drinking clubs in the Upper Parliament Street area, but these were seldom if ever visited by the young music fans of any persuasion, and had little effect on the jazz, blues or pop music preferred by white youths, this being "stolen" from American recordings.

The New Orleans or "Trad" jazz which, before 1962, was the preferred listening of the majority of university of college students was, for the most part, dispensed by woolly-jumpered, white-bearded ex-students who displayed extreme prejudice towards anything which was electrically amplified and, therefore, "inauthentic".

In those days, there was a definite divide between the music which middle and working class white youth was supposed to like. Rock and Roll was for the workers and Jazz for the bourgeoisie on the grounds that it could be justified to one's elders because it could be studied and was therefore acceptable as a branch of musicology or even anthropology! This was, of course, nonsense, and most middle class youth liked Rock & Roll, particularly the original mid 50s stuff.

Our repertoire reflected a double life. A lot of the Chicago stuff was culled from the "Muddy Waters at Newport" l.p. plus some fairly rare singles by Bo Diddley (his "Roadrunner" provided the group's name), Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf and Etta James.

The Rock & Roll oriented stuff came from Little Richard (we're pictured with him below), Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, although we tended to avoid the more obvious numbers like "Tutti Frutti", "Blueberry Hill" and "Sweet Little Sixteen", preferring non-hit but "Liverpool standards" like "Memphis Tennessee", "Jambalaya" and "Talkin 'Bout You". (Though we did cover "Long Tall Sally" and "Rip It Up").

In addition we did versions of a few Hank Williams, Carl Perkins and Elvis songs because of Pete's more eclectic musical taste. He liked Country & Western and Trad Jazz as well as the Blues.

The Country & Western thing in Liverpool is quite interesting. If R&B supposedly started out being working class and jazz middle class, C&W occupied a curious middle ground because of the Irish connection. Since the middle of the 19th century, Liverpool had played host to a vast Irish immigrant population, both Catholic and Protestant.

The Irish folk music which had been exported to the United States by the brothers, sisters and cousins of the Liverpool settlers metamorphosed into one strand of American country music, was electrified into country & western, and subsequently re-imported into Irish communities throughout Britain over a hundred years later. If you went into any Liverpool Irish pub in the late 50s, the songs of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline were being performed alongside the traditional jigs and reels.

Because of the "folk" connection, country groups became acceptable as interval bands in jazz clubs like the Mardi Gras, as they were for the most part acoustic and barely distinguishable from the "Trad" offshoot - skiffle. The Mardi Gras never did let full-blown rock groups in, but the Roadrunners did become regulars there and at its sister club, the Downbeat, because of our tenuous jazz/art connections. We were, in fact, the first electric band of any kind to play the Downbeat which, until then, had specialised in a rather more rarefied "modern" and "mainstream" type of jazz.

It must seem odd to the present day music fan, where fusion, cross-over and World music is the norm, to conceive of a time when support for a particular musical style could be as partisan as today's support of a football team. Although the Roadrunners did nail their colours to the R&B mast, in reality our performances reflected the diverse tastes of the constituent members.

I liked the Dutch Swing College Band, Louis Jordan's Tympani Five and Little Richard's backing band the Upsetters and when I listen to the few Roadrunner tracks which escaped, I can hear my youthful attempts at emulation, especially on "Mojo". I can also hear my Army Cadet Band training on Beautiful Delilah!

As for the others, they must speak for themselves, but I'm sure I can hear a trace of English folk music in Dave's guitar plucking solos and Johnny Phillips, our one-time American tenor sax player, can't disguise the modern jazz, Berklee School of Music, influence in his solo on "Mojo" and flute work on "Cry, Cry, Cry".

It was the superior musicianship of this seventeen year old from South Carolina which gave the second incarnation of the Roadrunners its much tighter and more arranged feel. Before I met Johnny, I didn't know what a syncopated triplet was! There are several on "Have you ever had the blues?" which Johnny sings as well as providing the trumpet solo with its amazing final high note.

Our second lineup allowed us to have a go at more sophisticated arrangements of material by people like Bobby Bland, James Brown, Ray Charles and BB King. At one point we even included a version of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" and, influenced by Nick's love of be-bop, the Thelonius Monk classic "Blue Monk". If there's a recording of either of those out there, I'd love to hear it!