Bluesman Uncle Eric Whitehouse describes how a band found its name…
With the death of Fats Domino recently, it made me feel a little further away from Lynn’s Caff, draped jackets and blue suede shoes, but it’s still left a feeling of warm bonhomie when I listen to “Ain’t that a Shame”. I’ve always loved New Orleans music and its great exponents: Fats, Huey Smith, Alan Toussaint and Doctor John (the Night Tripper).
I love the laconic, easy group rhythms and the lazy feel, but thinking of this made me smile when I recalled my predilection for THE DADDY of this style……the truly wonderful Roy Byrd AKA ‘Professor Longhair’. Longhair’s style inspired all the others but, really, how could anyone fail to love a bald-headed man who called himself ‘Longhair’. How could I fail to love someone who dressed outrageously at all times and described his profession as ‘card sharp’.
Most of all, he gave his backing band the greatest band name ever: ‘The Shuffling Hungarians’. I wondered how he had come to think this up and was reminded of an incident in my own musical career. This is the story of ‘The Staggering Bavarians’.
Way back in the mists of time, I was asked by a large musical booking agency to provide a Rock’n’Roll band to audition for holiday camp entertainment. This involved getting a band together and performing along with many other ‘artistes’ at a large hotel outside Coventry.
This was long before the ‘X Factor’, but, if you think of their auditions, you’re in the right ball park. To this end, I assembled an ad hoc ensemble of my musical co-conspirators with the object of taking the place by storm. The guilty parties, apart from myself were: Zeppo Barford, guitar and steel guitar, Dave Henderson, guitar, Roscoe Birchmore, double bass, Andy Shaw, drums and Brother Duff (Trevor Riley) as road manager and butler.
We were required to appear at 10.00am on a wet Wednesday. We were ushered into a huge ballroom where there were several bands like us, two Elvis impersonators, random people in strange clothes and an Oompah Band. As always, at these things, complete chaos reigned for at least an hour.
I spoke to ‘Jim’, the Head Booker for the Agency, and asked for a running order and – Oh! Bless me! – we were on last. It’s the truth that the excruciating racket emanating from the first band did not inspire us with confidence, so I turned to ‘Jim’ and said, in the words of Jerome Green “Where’s the bar man? Please show me to the bar” .
We were directed to a side room which, even at this early stage of the morning, was densely populated with people whose main source of income seemed to be walking on and off the set of ‘Coronation Street’……
“Yes! That was me, just to the right of the dartboard on Monday’s episode”.
They were all ‘extras’. Also, there was a smattering of the musical detritus from the main room and in the corner was the bass player from the Oompah Band, hammering a large nail into his double bass. One thing lead to another.
It has always been our mantra that all such occasions are to be savoured and we therefore ordered several rounds of savour. The assembled crew were in no way strangers to the foibles of the road musician and waiting time was duly celebrated. The noises from the other room began to blur into a humdrum drone whilst we became ever more animated.
It seemed that we might not ascend to the stage until about 5.00pm, which had given us ample time to imbibe and become friendly with our roommates, in particular the accordion player with the Oompah Band. He was dressed in lederhosen and the hat with the feather in it, but was from Wolverhampton and his name was Kevin. I remember telling him of my liking for accordions because of their use in Tex-Mex, Conjunto and Mariachi music.
We got along just fine and the time flew by Kevin got yet another round in and, in this state, we all agreed it would be a great idea for our new friend, Kevin, to join our band.
As anyone who has waited a long time to perform will know, the longer it lasts, the more the tension grows. Then we had another one! Then it was time!!!
The, as yet, unnamed band took to the stage in high spirits. We were not just going to go through the motions by this stage; we were now full of the Spirit of Rock’n’Roll. Up until then, all of the acts had been very toned down and suitable for a family show. All that was about to change.
We ripped into the first bars of ‘ Good Rocking Tonight’ and steamed along with me whirling the microphone around my head and Roscoe standing on top of his bass, whilst our new band member, Kevin, stood bemused. Dave had a ‘Hendrix Moment’ and chose to play the guitar behind his head whilst I screamed out the vocals. Andy stared straight ahead and whacked everything. All of a sudden, Kevin became animated and began staggering around the stage like a headless chicken and we realised he was completely plastered. After two or three minutes, he tripped over and collapsed in a heap on stage.
All the people in the room had gathered around to see this extraordinary performance and, for the first time that day, they broke into clapping and cheering. We finished the set with several, almost incoherent encores, and retired back to the bar.
‘Jim’ came in and said “Well done lads! You’ve passed the audition, but do you think you could tidy it up a little for a family audience?” I looked at the ceiling and said “Of course, James”. “What is the band called?”, he asked.
Thinking quickly and remembering Professor Longhair I said “ ‘Uncle Eric and The Staggering Bavarians’ “.
We retained that title for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, Kevin was too ill to make the next gig, but we kept the title in his honour,
(Jerome Green is Bo Diddley’s maracas player and the quote is from ‘The Animals’ version of ‘The Story of Bo Diddley’)