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Bob Davies & The Rhythm Jesters

Canadian roots

Bob Davies was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on May 3, 1937 and grew up in the suburb of Verdun. He was the only child of Mildred and Cyril Davies, Although his father came over from England and his mother up from the United States, both lived for the rest of their lives in the Montreal area. Cyril worked for the Canadian army, as a purchasing agent for the hospital in his later years. Mildred worked for the bank of Montreal.

First musical steps

Cyril played the harmonica and would quiz young Bob on the tunes he was playing, but that was the extent of his musical upbringing. Bob showed an early interest in music and entertaining, singing at Clubs and Life Boy camps. Contrary to many musicians of his generation, Bob never got involved with the school bands at the high school he attended, Woodland and Verdun High. Instead, he was prompted to get his own guitar, at the age of fourteen, when a friend of his showed him his new guitar. Bob convinced his parents to let him acquire the instrument from Pete's Music Store on an instalment plan. In the early stages, the money from his paper route was directed towards payments, but his parents soon had to take over... Bob taught himself to play through long hours spent practising at home playing along to the record player. Bob left school after grade ten and got a job at the stock market working as a marker-board-boy. In 1953, he formed his first group, The Down Yonder Boys, with Brian Kempster on Hawaiian guitar and Fred Curry on lead guitar, and himself on rhythm guitar and vocals. Bob then teamed up with Norm 'Curly' Robertson, who, according to Davies, just materialised one de day. 'When you're playing guitar on the porch, kids walk by. Curly was French Canadian and spoke broken English. He said he had an accordion and could he get his accordion.' Bob replied that he didn't like accordion' and that he wanted a bass player. 'A week later he showed up with a bass. He had traded his accordion in. So we started practising together. He played slap bass and before long we were singing harmony and auditioning for shows.' They joined an amateur troupe called The Blue Sky Revue as a country and western musical comedy duo under the name Slim and Curly (Davies being known as 'Slim', of course). As part of that group they garnered some attention: 'When I was seventeen,,in 1954, we had the opportunity to audition for a night club called the Hale Hakala and we got the job. We started playing weekends at the Hale Hakala and then touring through Quebec.' They entertained at such local venues as the Siscoe Club, the Cafe Domino and the Morocco Club in Val d'Or, Quebec. Their hillbilly repertoire included songs like 'More and more', 'Looking back to see' and 'He's in thejailhouse now' as well as songs that Bob had written, and was very popular on the club circuit. Slim and Curly entered Opportunity Knocks, a radio talent show that catered mostly to highbrow classical acts, opera singers and the like. Nonetheless, they came in second place. Bob took that (and the fact that he was making a month's salary in one night) as a sign that he should pursue a career in entertainment.

1955-1956

In 1955, Bob's friend Danny Smith introduced Rick Munro, from Ahuntsick (a northern neighborhood of Montreal), to the duo. Rick initially joined them on lead guitar for a weekend gig in the Laurentians, but fit in so well they decided to form a trio. Montreal photographer Johnny O'Neil wanted to put the group's name at the bottom of the promo pictures he was about to print for them, so they came up with it on the spot. The idea came from a newspaper article which had called them `full of rhythm and energy' and from the fact that Curly did a lot of comedy, bringing the word 'jester' to mind. Thus, they became The Rhythm Jesters. The Rhythm Jesters were doing quite well in the night clubs in the Montreal area, where they were sometimes billed as 'The Rock'n'Roll Kids'. One of the local newspapers inevitably pegged Bob as 'our town's answer to Elvis Presley' on account of their set including Presley's versions of 'Baby let's play house', 'That's all right, mama' and 'Blue moon of Kentucky', as well as current faves by other artists such as `Tutti Frutti', 'Be bop a lula' and 'Shake, rattle and roll'. The Jesters also appeared regulary on a Friday night radio show, The Hometown Jamboree on CFCF, whipping their studio audience of (mostly female) fans into such a state the first time, that they had to be escorted away by Montreal's finest. About this time, CKAC producer Lucien St. Amand treid — unsuccessfully — to peddle some of their demo tapes to RCA Vicor, then a major country label in Canada, having both Hank Snow and Wilf Carter on their roster.

Rama Records

In the Summer of 1956 they ran into Emmett McGoogan, who played drums and acted as a tutor for a child singer named Little Billy Mason, also originally from Verdun. Mason didn't have a band at the time so he and McGoogan joined forces with The Rhythm Jesters. George Goldner of Rama Records in New York, had spotted the Frankie-Lymon-soundalike Mason on a talent show and wanted him to cut some records. Initially, Goldner had taken them to the RCA Victor studios in Montreal, but he didn't like the sound. So they packed all their equipment into a rented trailer, hitched it to Rick's convertible and headed south.

This time, Goldner booked them into Bell Sound studios, which he used for many of his acts. Davies remembers Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers coming in right after them. The three or four hour session yielded four sides. "I love my baby" and "Make me your own", both written and later recorded by Davies, were issued as by Little Billie Mason (perhaps mimicking the "ie" in Frankie)• Goldner, hedging his bets, pulled the classic move of also putting out a single under the group's name at the same time. A Bob Davies and Rick Munro collaboration titled "Rock to the music" coupled with The Rhythm Jesters' version of Clarence Williams' New Orleans classic "My bucket's got a hole in it" (via Hank Williams' rendition), retitled "Hole in the bucket" for the occasion, were put out under their name. Interestingly enough, the label on the Rama pressings would have you believe that these titles ate instrumentals, but Bob's vocals prove the contrary. Both discs were released in November 1956, iri time for the Christmas rush. Billy Mason made it onto the Compo Company's Apex label in Canada; the Jesters apparently did not.

Immediately following their initial releases, Little Billy Mason and the Rhythm Jesters were featured, together and separately, in an Alan Freed Rock & Roll Revue at The Apollo Theatre (a year before Buddy Holly made his famous appearance), along with The Moonglows, The Cleftones, The Harptones, Eddie Cooley and His Dimples, The Pretenders, The Angels, The Lanes, The Joytones and Sonny Knight. On many shows, Billy would appear as a separate act backed by the Jesters, and they would also appear in their own right.

Frank Sinatra's agent

Around this time, the Rhythm Jesters also appeared on Paul Winchell's country-wide American ABC TV show Circus Time, where they were spotted by Frank Sinatra's agent. He decided that they would be the perfect warm-up act on his artist's tour "down under". The Jesters were working at the Holiday Tavern in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, when they got the news. "It was kind of a grungy little place, but they featured rock'n'roll acts like Bo Diddley and others and they payed well. We got the call from our agent, Paul Kalet, late at night and we were pretty excited." remembers Davies.

The ads for the February 1957 Australian shows, produced by Lee Gordon, billed them as "America's newest rock'n'roll sensation". The only other artist on the bill was American singer Patti Jerome. The Jesters arrived in Sydney, via Chicago and Honolulu, and waited for Sinatra to show up. While they waited they played on the radio and received many offers to play from local clubs. Unfortunately, due to the terms of their visas, they were unable to accept them. In the end, Sinatra never arrived and the tour had to be cancelled.

Bell Sound Studios

Shortly after their return to North America, the Rhythm Jesters and Billy Mason headed back into the Bell Sound studios for their second session and cut four more sides. The top deck of Billy Mason's single was another Bob Davies-penned tune: "Thinking of you", which Bob later recorded himself. The flip was a version of the Jimmy Davis chestnut "You are my sunshine", set to a calypso-type beat. The other disc came out as by Bob Davies and the Rhythm Jesters and featured two originals. a slow burner with a catchy guitar figure called "She'll never know", and "Never anymore", a steady medium tempo rocker with a hypnotizing beat emphasized by the crack of McGoogan's snare drum. Both records were released on Apex in Canada and Rama in the U.S

Alan Freed's Easter Jubilee of Stars

Following the release of their second records, Mason and the Jesters appeared on Alan Freed's Easter Jubilee of Stars at the Brooklyn Paramount on the same bill as Charlie Gracie, Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen and The Rhythm Orchids, The Cellos, The Cleftones, Bo Diddley and His Band, Anita Ellis, The G Clefs, The Pearls, The Heartbreakers, The Harptones, Bobby Marchan, The Rosebuds, Ttie Solitaires, The Dell Vikings and Alan Freed's Rock'n'roll band with Sam (the man) Taylor, Big Al Sears, Panama Francis and Freddie Mitchell (quite a bill!). The Rhythm Orchids and The Rhythm Jesters, attracted to each other by the similarity in their names, became fast friends at this show, and Bob recalls jamming with them and Bo Diddley in their dressing room, and going to parties with the Rhythm Jesters.

Canada's own Elvis Presley

On account of legislation designed to protect children, Little Billy Mason could only perform in theatres and similar venues. The Jesters, however, were not fettered by such limitations, and their American manager, Paul Kalet, booked them on a twenty date tour across the United States hitting places like The Canyon Lake Club in Rapid City, South Dakota, where Bob was billed as "Canada's own Elvis Presley", The Crossroads Inn, The El Capitan Club in Hawthorne, Nevada, and Wally Jacobs' Desert Inn in Tucson, Arizona.

After the tour, the Jesters returned to their home base and continued to play at various clubs around Montreal, the El Morocco, the Top Hat Cafe, the Hale Hakala, the Bellevue, the Beaver Club and Vic's Cafe, as well as the Bal Tabarin and Chez Emile in Quebec City. They appeared on the same bill as Mel Torme and Sarah Vaughn, when they performed at the El Morocco. A review of one of their many return engagements at The Top Hat Cafe in Montreal, in early November 1957, describes their act like this: "They electrify their audiences with wild rock'n'roll songs, leaving the younger ones screaming in a high pitched frenzy. One of the best features of the act is a hilarious Elvis Presley impersonation handled very capably by Bob Davies, who looks and acts more like Elvis than Elvis does."

1958

In 1958, the three original Jesters split up with Billy Mason and Emmett McGoogan. The latter was replaced by Dave Holtzman for another tour of the United States. They hit many of the same spots as on their previous tours, and appeared on KOTA TV in Rapid City, South Dakota. After the tour, Holtzman surrendered his drum Stool to Dick Grant. A little later that year, Curly Robertson joined the U.S. Airforce and was replaced by Lloyd Hiscock, who in addition to bass also played trumpet and piano. This lineup played a lot around Quebec (including the Musicians' Union Labour Day Festival at the Montreal Forum), in Ontario and throughout the United States. However, they never recorded.

1959

In 1959, while they were playing at a club in Hawthorne, Nevada, the Jesters received a call from Billy Ward, who managed The Champs, then riding high in the charts with "Tequila". He had heard about them through a mutual friend. It was arranged for him to see the Jesters perform at the Heralds Club in Reno. Having witnessed their show, he offered to take them back to California with him, produce them and get them into the movies. But Bob had been planning to get married after the tour, so they turned Ward down and went home to Montreal instead. As it turns out, the group disbanded shortly thereafter anyway. Bob pursued his career as a solo act, taking part that year in Talent Caravan, a national show on CBC TV.

Bob married Celina on July 11th and took up a residency as the Master of Ceremonies at the Cavendish Cafe, a job he would keep until 1964. Also in 1959, he wrote "Come on don't be mean", with his friend Bob Ouimet from his hometown of Verdun, and recorded the song as a duo with Joyce Germain, a friend of Ouimet's (Joyce later went on to make several singles in her own right). This song, which includes both frantic Elvis-influenced sections and contrasting slower parts, was recorded at the RCA Victor studios in Montreal with former Rhythm Jester Rick Munro on bass, and the guitarist and drummer from another local outfit, The T-Birds. The flip side is a ballad titled "That's how young love should be". The record was released on the local Zirkon label. "That's how young love should be" showed up on the local charts alongside tunes such as "Clap your hands" by fellow Montrealers The Beau Marks, "Muleskinner blues" by The Fendermen, "Only the lonely" by Roy Orbison, and "Because they're young" by Duane Eddy.

Rockabilly, Hillbilly, Country

The same year, Bob was featured on many of the vocals on a budget album of country covers recorded by local outfit Wayne King and his Country Boys (Rod Gordon, Pee Wee Lafleur, Geri O'Brien and Bruce Applebee). Meanwhile, Bob was still appearing nightly at the Cavendish Cafe, where he was billed as "The Canadian Jellyhips" in a lighthearted reference to Elvis. During his years there he had the opportunity to hire an old country artist, who had fallen out of favour. This person turned out to be none other than Zeb Turner of "Chew Tobacco Rag" fame. Bob would also occasionally go on short tours of Quebec and Ontario, or play out-of-town dates. He appeared regularly on the Jimmy Tapp and Like Young TV shows, and sometimes he would drop by The Monterrey or The Blue Angel to do Elvis covers with the Stoltz Brothers ("Rock'n'Roll riot"), Scotty Stevenson ("Red hot boogie") or the Hachey Brothers.

The Sixties

Bob's next recording venture - and biggest hit - was a tribute to hockey star Gordie Howe. The song came about while Bob was sitting around with some friends watching a game on TV. He came up with the chorus and went to his neighbour Moe Chapman's apartment, where they finished it off. Bob recorded the song on the Globe label in 1963; its flip side. "You", appears on this collection. This is thought to be the only release on the label, as it folded shortly thereafter. The record was a sizeable hit in Montreal, Toronto, Detroit and other hockey towns and was played in arenas before games. But it didn't make Bob any wealthier, because the owners of the label absconded with the money. It did gain him quite a lot of publicity, though, and a certain amount of fame

This was also the first record to feature The Dollars, who would back Bob on many of his future recordings. The Dollars were Hugh Dixon on guitar, ex-Rhythm Jester Norm Robertson on bass and the previously mentioned Danny Smith on drums. Bob had first met Hugh Dixon in Quebec City, while on tour with the Jesters. Hugh was a young radio announcer and had come down to see their show. After the show he invited the Jesters back to the radio station, where they jammed and made tapes. They became friends and when Bob was about to make his record he called on Hugh, who by now had moved to Montreal, to help out. Hugh is an excellent guitarist and made several albums under his own name.

Through Dixon, Bob met Roger Miron, who ran Rusticana and Click Records. On the Bob Davies sings Bob Davies LP, which surfaced in 1963 on Rusticana, Danny Smith's brother Billy replaces .him on drums, and Bob's old band mate Rick Munro joins The Dollars on bass. The songs on this album, in spite of the late recording date, are surprisingly good rockers. Cashbox reviewed "Rock'n'Roll show" and "With you tonight" (also issued on a single as Click 14), giving both cuts the nod with a B + (their highest rating): London Records expressed interest in releasing this record in the States, but, unfortunately, Miron never followed up on it. Other tunes off the album also made Montreal radio CKGM's "Super Six". During this time, Bob continued to play clubs around Quebec, including Le Baril d'Huitres, Le Bal Tabarin and Chez Emile in Quebec City, as well as Ottawa and Toronto, also doing the occasional TV show.

In 1964, Bob re-formed The Bobsmiths. He had performed briefly under that name for a year, in 1961 and 1962, with Danny Smith. The reunited duo toured a lot, doing Beatles take-offs and hockey and boxing sketches, as well as singing Bob's compositions and hits of the day. They were extremely popular in clubs, so Bob put together an album with songs culled from his Bob Davies sings Bob Davies LP and new material he had written. This "new" album was issued on Rusticana as Meet The Bobsmiths, perhaps as a wry comment on The Beatles' disc. Again, the new songs were cut with backing provided by The Dollars. A selection of the best tunes from the Rusticana LPs rounds out this collection.

The Seventies plus

The Bobsmiths lasted until 1971, carrying on with their club work in much the same fashion. They put out a live album, which is an accurate reflection of what their shows were like at the time. After that, Bob continued performing on his own. Then, in 1977, he took a year off to recuperate from his many years on the club circuit. But now he is back at it, playing occasionally at charity events and in lounges on the weekend. He is still happily married to Celina and they live Stouffville, Ontario (he sells cars for Stedelbauer's in Markham, Ontario). Rick Munro is a successful businessman in Montreal; Curly Robertson lives in Colorado, where he works for the US Airforce. Brian Kempster is a lawyer in St Thomas, Ontario. Emmett McGoogan died in the sixties and Danny Smith in 1989. Hugh Dixon is retired and lives near Picton, Ontario. Billy Mason still lives in his home town of Verdun.

 

Marc Coulavin (in the early 1990s)

With acknowledgements and thanks to Donald Cayouette, Bob Davies, Bill Munson and Wayne Russell 



Weitere Informationen zu Bob Davies auf de.Wikipedia.org
 
 
   
 
Bob Davies & The Rhythm Jesters: Rock To The Music (LP)
Art-Nr.: RLP137
 

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