LA had The Wrecking Crew.
Motown and Stax Records had The Funk Brothers.
But who played on all those recordings from Britain? You know, all those wonderful songs from the 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s.
During these days the music industry kept a tight lid on it but. more often than not the groups you loved; those groups that made the records which you played over and over, did not actually play their instruments on their recordings.
|Olympic Recording Studio, London|
Someone that could get the job done quickly and efficiently was needed. By working this manner, studios and record companies could crank out mistake free recordings in a just few hours.
|Big Jim Sullivan|
Sullivan or Tomkins as he was known at the time, began playing guitar at age 14 when Skiffle Music was popular. Within a few years he was giving lessons to the neighbor kid, Ritchie Blackmore.
This group went on to tour with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent in 1960. The group’s leader, Marty Wilde, had purchased a gold top Gibson Les Paul guitar from Sister Rosetta Tharp. Marty gave this guitar to Sullivan. You can view it in the above picture.
|1960 Gibson ES-345|
Shortly after this, Sullivan sold the Les Paul and purchased another Gibson guitar. This was a brand new cherry red Gibson ES-345.
|Marshall Music West London|
The rest is history.
The Wildcats had a few hits in England with covers of Donna, A Teenager in Love, and Sea of Love, which were all produced by Jack Good. Good was a music and television producer and a pioneer in British television. Mr. Good took note of Sullivan expertise on the guitar and introduced him to studio work.
|The Krew Kuts|
It may be hard to believe, but we hear his guitar on more #1 recordings than either those recorded by Elvis or by The Beatles. His name may not have been mentioned on the label, but Big Jim Sullivan’s guitar is heard on fifty-five #1 records.
|Big Jim with Led Zepplin/Jimmy Page|
P.J. Proby, Billy Fury, Frank Ifield, Adam Faith, Frankie Vaughn, Helen Shapiro, Johnny Hallyday, and Freddie and the Dreamers.
He can also be heard on recordings by Herman’s Hermits, Cilia Black, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, The Tremoloes, Peter and Gordon, Joe Meek, Brian Poole,Lulu, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Los Bravos and Dusty Springfield to name but a few.
Downtown (Petula Clark), Space Oddity (David Bowie), Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey), You Really Got Me (The Kinks), Itchycoo Park (The Small Faces) and that is his distinctive guitar you hear on the solo in Alone Again (Naturally) (Gilbert O’Sullivan).
The New Seekers, Thunderclap Newman, Long John Baldry, Marmalade, Small Faces and even played on George Harrison’s Wonderwall soundtrack.
He backed Little Richard on a 1966 LP called The OKeh Sessions. That same year he was featured on Bobby Darin’s live album. The following year he backed up Del Shannon on his album.
Sullivan was also the resident guitarist for a couple of British television series; Top of the Pops, Ready, Steady, Go and The Saturday Club.
During the 1970’s his playing was featured on the soundtrack for Frank Zappa’s movie, 200 Motels.
Big Jim Sullivan wrote the orchestral arrangements for The Who’s rock opera Tommy.
Sullivan even learned to play the sitar with his friend George Harrison when Harrison was taking lessons.
|Big Jim & Nancy Sinatra/Getty Images|
|Tom Jones & Big Jim|
From 1970 to 1974 Sullivan was the touring guitarist for Tom Jones. At this time he got to meet Elvis while Jones was performing in Las Vegas.
When the tour ended he started his own company, Retreat Records, and put together his own group. This group recorded three LP’s under Big Jim Sullivan's name and toured large venues to packed houses.
|Big Jim & Patrick Eggle guitar|
A few of the guitars Sullivan used to earn his living included a Gibson SJ-200, which he loaned to Jimmy Page for the first two Led Zepplin albums.
Sullivan seemed to favor Gibson guitars. We’ve already mentioned his original Gibson ES-345.Later in life he owned a Gibson ES-335.
He also played a Gibson gold top Les Paul (not his first).
Big Jim was also fond of the Gibson Howard Roberts model guitar.
The Crying Game he used a Gibson EDS-1275 through a Maestro Fuzztone.
On early studio sessions he is seen playing a Gibson B-45 string guitar
While touring with Tom Jones, Sullivan played an Ovation Balladeer acoustic/electric guitar.
He played a Fender Telecaster while he was with Jones..
And Big Jim used his Rickenbacker 360 on that tour. At one time Big Jim Sullivan was a Rickenbacker endorser.
Sullivan also favored a couple of unique and unidentifiable guitars.
This one looks similar to a Gibson ES 335, but appears to be solid.
He is pictured at the top of the page playing this beautiful James D'Aquisto guitar.
|Note the MIDI connection|
And of course Sullivan's favorite electric guitar which is the aforementioned Patrick Eggle model.
Aside from the 55 hit songs he played on, Big Jim Sullivan played guitar on over 750 charting singles throughout his career.
Big Jim Sullivan passed away at age 71 on October second of 2012.
This is a long video, but interesting. Toward the middle of the video, Big Jim discusses working with Gilbert O'Sullivan and his well known guitar solo on this song.