Thursday, February 4, 2016

Big Jim Sullivan - His Career - His Guitars

LA had The Wrecking Crew.

Motown and Stax Records had The Funk Brothers.

Alabama had The Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section.

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
Recording time was expensive in the U.S. and in the U.K., so studios hired professional musicians to play the instruments. The voices of the singers in the band would be heard on the records, but it usually was someone else playing the instrumental part.

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
Big Jim Sullivan, born James George Tomkins, was probably the most in demand session guitarist in Britain.

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.

By the time Sullivan was 19 he became the guitarist for a group known as The Wildcats. At the time they were a warm up act on a television series called Oh Boy.

The Wildcats

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
In the early 1960’s, guitars and amplifiers imported from the United States were still very expensive. Sullivan, Ritchie Blackmore, Pete Townsend and other players would hang out at Jim Marshall’s Music Store in the West London town of Hanwell. It was Sullivan, Blackmore and Townsend that convinced Marshall the UK needed a more affordable and louder amp. 

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
After working with  The Wildcats, Sullivan went on to join a band called The Krew Kuts and recorded a few songs with them, including the Chet Atkins song, Trambone. By this time he had a whole other career as a session guitarist.

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
Sullivan got the nickname of Big Jim, because of his size and stature and also because, the other well known session guitarist at the time was Jimmy Page. Page was known as Little Jim and Sullivan was known as Big Jim.

Big Jim Sullivan has the distinction of being the first guitarist in England to use a wah-wah pedal and a fuzztone. His use of a DeArmond wah-wah dates as far back as 1959. He put the Maestro fuzztone to use in 1964 on an Everly Brothers recording.

In the early 1960’s he played on hits by Dave Berry, 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.

His guitar was heard on such songs as It’s Not Unusual (Tom Jones), 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).

From the mid 1960’s and ‘70’s he had played on recordings by The Walker Brothers, Donovan, David Bowie, Benny Hill, The New Seekers, Thunderclap Newman, Long John Baldry, Marmalade, Small Faces and even played on George Harrison’s Wonderwall soundtrack.

Big Jim also backed up the Everly Brothers on their live album recorded in Paris called Live in Paris.

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
During his prime working period, most studio sessions called for two guitars. Jim would work three sessions a day, seven days a week. He was in demand because he was so versatile. Sullivan could play rock, pop, country and was even called in for symphonic orchestra recordings that needed a guitar part.

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.

As the 1980’s approached he linked up with some other musicians and played small venues and clubs.

Big Jim & Patrick Eggle guitar
By the 1990’s he was approached by luthier Patrick Eggle. Eggle built the Big Jim Sullivan Legend Model for Sullivan with Jim's input. This is the guitar Big Jim used for the rest of his life. This guitar was designed to be compatible with the Axon AS100 SB guitar to MIDI controller, which was state of the art at the time..

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.

On 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 also seen in several photos with a Jazz archtop guitar that says SFX Legend on the pickguard. (I do not believe it is made by Cort, although Cort does offer a SFX series of guitars).

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.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Johnny H and the Henchmen aka Jesse Haemmerle - The Original Hollowbody V Acoustic Guitar

Johnny H publicity photo from Lordize Records
The first thing I noticed was the guitar. That is one Unique Guitar! The caption under the picture said “Johnny H and His Henchmen.”  

He and his band had a couple of Doo Wop hits in the mid 1960's called I Wish I Really Knew and Baby Good-bye. It was on a New York label called Lordize Records.  

He has posted 19 other  recordings on his myspace page, Most are  covers of popular hit songs of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. But what is really amazing, besides that guitar, is his story.

Check out the headstock cover
Jesse Haemmerle had been using the name Johnny H as the leader for his band. But he had learned from three family members that his real birth name was Presley. His legal father obtained his birth certificate and it showed his birthday to be January 8th of 1935 and his birthplace was Tupelo Mississippi.

Coincidentally Elvis Aaron Presley was born on that same day, January 8th of 1935 and his birthplace was  also in Tupelo, Mississippi. It is said that Elvis had a twin brother named Jesse, who was declared dead at birth. This baby was named Jesse Garon Presley. This is something that haunted both men throughout their lives.

Jesse says that he was able to meet Elvis in 1964. He tells the story about that time. Elvis rarely talked to anyone about his “stillborn” brother, but on that afternoon when they met, the floodgates opened up and that's all both men talked about for hours.

Jesse and brother Richie
Was he actually Elvis Presley's twin brother? I do not know if that mystery will ever be solved.

In addition to music Jesse Haemmerle did some film work with Frankie Avalon, he was a contestant on several TV game shows and New York city TV show where he played a singing cop.

He was in several other films in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Through these connections he met up with a lot of other famous people including Frank Sinatra and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

For much of his life Haemmerle has kept busy as a body builder.

He was  a member of the Federation of Arm Wrestlers as participant as well as a referee.

In 1969 he created and constructed the first opposing grips arm wrestling table.

I have searched in vain to discover more information about his rather bizarre V-shaped guitar. Its rocket-shape is reminiscent of the “space age” era of the early 1960’s, when we were fascinated with rockets and being the first man on the moon.

His brother, standing behind Johnny H, has a Kay Stratotone with an unusual cover over the headstock

The V shaped wings and pointed headstock seem to be attached to the guitar more than being a part of it.

Jesse and Richie Haemmerle - This is the guitar before the wings and headstock were added.
When we see it in it’s original form, judging by the headstock, it may possibly be a Martin with a cover on its top. In any event it is a wild and unique guitar.