Gary James' Interview With Brian Hudson Of
Cass And The Cassanovas
In the early 1960s Brian Hudson had the good fortune to be in Liverpool, England at a time when the music scene was just exploding all around him. But it gets even better. Brian was a member of the group Cass And The Cassanovas. He crossed paths with an up and coming group called, you guessed it, The Beatles. Brian is the author or a new book titled How I Didn't Become A Beatle. (The History Press)
These days Brian Hudson, or I should say Dr. Brian Hudson, makes his home in Brisbane, Australia where he teaches at the Queensland University Of Technology as an adjunct professor in the School Of Urban Development.
Q - I've often heard the name Cass And The Cassanovas and wondered what became of the group. Here you are, but what happened to the other members? Do you have any idea?
A - I have some idea. What happened to them basically is they morphed into The Big Three, if you follow the history of Mersey side, the Mersey sound. They got rid of Cass after I left and they became The Big Three, led by drummer Johnny Hutchinson, but I'm pretty sure I know where Adrian Barber is, the bass player who used to make those coffin-like amplifiers. He's in Hawaii.
Q - That's a good place to be.
A - Not in Honolulu, on that island, in one of the more actively volcanic islands. With regards to Cass, the last time I heard he was probably somewhere in Germany. After he left Liverpool, he had various groups. Casey And The Engineers was one. I think he was touring. What he's doing now, I don't know, but Germany was the last probable place I heard of his whereabouts. Johnny Hutchinson, Johnny Hutch, when I was in Liverpool a few years ago, I enquired at a pub and I hear he's still around there. He still lives on Merseyside. And then there's a fellow who doesn't get much mention. I'd forgotten his name when I wrote my book How I Didn't Become A Beatle, Mal Turnbull, he was the bass player. He played the old fashion double bass. He was part of the University Of Liverpool's Jazz scene. He did join with the original group of Cass And The Cassanovas. So he's still on Merseyside, across the Mersey from Liverpool in Birkenhead. So that's the best I can do.
Q - I've been told The Big Three were a better group than The Beatles. Is that true?
A - Well, they had quite a reputation, yeah. How do you judge this? Do you judge The Beatles on "The White Album" or "Sgt. Pepper" or do you judge them on their early, raw days, "Twist And Shout" and "Please Please Me"? Those people who used to follow the Rock scene in Liverpool thought The Big Three were pretty good. Pretty noisy for three people. Adrian Barber made pretty powerful amplifiers. They're often called "coffins" 'cause they looked like them. Johnny Hutch, who replaced me when I left Cass And The Cassanovas to get on with some university work in the north of England, he got a reputation of being a top rate drummer. So they had a very good reputation.
Q - Didn't Brian Epstein approach Johnny Hutch about joining another group?
A - I did once see Johnny Hutch in The Blue Angels Club. He was with some people from a radio or TV team and he was telling me how things were declining, that The Big Three things were going wrong. I don't know whether Brian Epstein was trying to get them to break up. Of course, Brian Epstein had quite a stable of Merseyside groups eventually when he developed his business as a music impresario. But I have no details on what was happening.
Q - You spent how long in Cass And The Cassanovas? It wasn't very long, was it?
A - It wasn't very long. As I say in the book, I wasn't looking for such employment. I went along to The Jacaranda Club when Alan Williams owned the place. I heard his regular group, which was a Caribbean steel band, was leaving for a few weeks or a few months and I thought we might get some employment for our university Jazz musicians. But he was never overly interested in Jazz. It was not commercial enough. There were a couple of young fellows there who heard me talking and they were apparently planning to form a group of their own and they were looking for a drummer. It was Cass himself and Adrian Barber and they invited me to form a group with them, the original group. So Adrian had a flat space to share near the university, so I gave it some thought, but with some reluctance I joined the group and stayed with them for a few months I suppose. Eventually I had to decide whether to keep with them. They had ambitions to become professional and tour the British Isles and eventually overseas I suppose. So, they wanted to be serious about it. I had no great passion for their kind of music being a Jazz aficionado. I was involved in the university's Jazz world and I was also a serious university student. So, I was with them for a couple of months or something like that, enough to play a few gigs in clubs in various places. But I soon decided against being with them. That's when Johnny Hutchinson took over and that led to the story later of The Big Three, whereas I stayed at the university and was involved in its Jazz world.
Q - Why did Jazz musicians of the time have such a low opinion of Rock 'n' Roll? What artists didn't you like or they like? Was it Elvis? Was it The Everly Brothers? Was it Fats Domino? Who was it?
A - Well, we thought that Jazz was art, superior music, more demanding and more rewarding. It's not that we dismissed Pop and Rock. It was sung. We didn't take it seriously. We had a lot of laughs, the antics and displays of the rockers and the distorted sounds they made. We had fun with those. But we actually took ourselves very, very seriously as musicians and artists. I suppose it did help our cause at it were, as Jazz musicians. But at the time in Britain, popular music included Jazz. It was what was called the Trad Fad. Traditional Jazz was actually part of the popular scene. Real Jazz aficionados took our music seriously. The society I belonged to and was present in, was the University of Liverpool's Rhythm Club. We had serious lectures and record recitals. We took ourselves very seriously. Popular music amused us. Far from not liking it, we thought they were fun, but very light stuff compared with our real art, man. (laughs) We thought Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis were great. We had a great laugh. But we didn't think they were very skilled musicians. Later on of course, then Rock became much more sophisticated and demanding. I mean, even early Jazz was pretty crude and it evolved into a greater level of artistry and sophistication and the same with Rock 'n' Roll. People like Jimi Hendrix made enormous strides in music. But in those days we just treated it as light weight stuff.
Q - I can see why people thought that. In the '50s those records were pretty basic. You wouldn't have thought that in the '70s about a group like Led Zeppelin.
A - Probably not. You're right.
Q - When the '60s came into play, the equipment started to get better, the players got better, the studios got better, the songs got better and when we hit the '70s, the music really took off. In the '50s, the musicianship wasn't there.
A - Three chord tricksters is what we used to call them. (laughs)
Q - Why was it that Liverpool, England was Ground Zero in this whole British Invasion movement? What was going on there?
A - Well, it's a much debated question. It's like, how come Jazz was born in New Orleans, if that is the absolute truth. But in the case of Liverpool, there's always been that theory that it had a lot to do with the Atlantic shipping, that Liverpool being a port at this end of the U.S. / Europe shipping line as it were, received all the latest influences from the U.S.A. Jazz, Blues, Rock, all the latest trends reached Liverpool through sailors bringing home vinyl discs. But people like
Bill Harry, who I think you interviewed, dismissed that idea.
Spencer Leigh, who I recently interviewed, dismissed that idea because he said all those records were available in Brian Epstein's record shop.
A - There you go. But it's a common enough story, isn't it? It may be geographical factors. If you look at a map of the British Isles, you'll see Liverpool right in the middle, just across the sea from Ireland. Next door is Wales. You can actually see the Welsh Hills from Liverpool on a clear day. It's only a couple of hours drive from Scotland. It's in the north of England next to places that have a strong tradition of brass bands and choirs. And of course there was the Welsh choral tradition. So, I think it may have to do with the various culture influences within the British Isles and the fact that it is a port. Once upon a time it was the second most important port in the British Empire after London. I think those connections must have contributed to it. But it's hard to be firm about those ideas. And of course there are other musical traditions. It has a very fine symphony orchestra, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. So, it's not just Pop. And at the same time, other things were happening in poetry, painting and sculpture, a kind of cultural renaissance going on. It was an exciting place to be in those days.
Q - Had you crossed paths with The Beatles pre-1963, would you have taken notice?
A - Well, it's quite possible our paths did cross. Quite possible. I played gigs where they were playing. Some of my old musical friends said we did. But when people like that came on, we just cleared off and went to the pub and got a few beers. I used to frequent the Jacaranda and The Blue Angel. It's quite likely I saw them and took no notice. One of the people on the scene was Rory Storm, who had Ringo Starr as his drummer. I took notice of him. (Rory Storm) Although he stammered in normal conversation, he had no problem onstage singing. So he sticks in my mind. One of Ringo Starr's girlfriends used to serve coffee in the Jacaranda. She caught my attention. (laughs) But I don't recall seeing Ringo there. I was at a party one time and there were a whole crowd of people, musicians. One of the singers they toured with was there. I may have seen them there. But I wouldn't have taken much notice. Indeed, it was only after they started to record music that it started to appeal to me, what they were doing. Their earlier, crude stuff, I liked. It's nostalgia for me now. I used to go to parties where they put on discs like "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me". We used to dance to those things. That's a part of my memory. But later they became far more sophisticated. Then of course George Martin's influence was important. So now of course I take notice. But in those days they were just one of two or three hundred groups in Liverpool and I didn't take much notice of them.
Q - I will always ask American musicians who were touring in England in the early 1960s if they came across The Beatles and if they took notice of their long hair and collarless jackets. Some did and some didn't. The Beatles certainly didn't look like The Beach Boys.
A - Yes. It was a totally different idea projected. The Beatles were rebels I suppose. It's part of their appeal. The Beach Boys, their music was sweet, wasn't it? (laughs)
Q - I suppose because you were in a Jazz group, The Beatles would never have come up to you and said hello.
A - It's quite well known that The Beatles had no time for Jazz. They had a low opinion of Jazz and Jazz makers and the feeling was reciprocated. So, we had very little contact.
Q - The Cavern was not always a Rock club. It was a Jazz club in the beginning. Who made the decision to change the musical format?
A - I can't remember the name of the man who established it. (Alan Sytner) He'd spent some time in Paris. He was impressed by the Jazz clubs there. He took over this old Liverpool cellar and turned it into The Cavern Jazz Club. It was a Jazz club and anyone who dared to slip in some Rock was rocked out of the place. (laughs) So, in those days it certainly was a preserver of Jazz. It was later sold to Ray McFall. I believe it was this way; sometimes they had some local groups as an interval band and I expect some of them started to play Rock. The youthful audiences began to enjoy that music. So, in the time of Ray McFall there was a gradual shifting emphasis from the original Jazz to local Beat Rock music. Eventually of course it became mainly a Rock 'n' Roll venue, a Beat venue with only the occasional Jazz. So that's why I used to go only occasionally to The Cavern later on when Jazz performances were on, people like Zoot Sims from the U.S. playing with Ronnie Scott there. But that was a rare interval. It was mainly a Rock club. I think it had to do responding to taste. You know, Jazz clubs usually lose money. I suppose Ray McFall wanted to make a success of his business and plugged into the latest fad in music.
Q - I remember a woman telling me that when she was growing up in Liverpool, she would go to The Cavern and see The Beatles, but they were just another band at the time.
A - Yes. Of course opinions change. They did win some competition, top band that Bill Harry, through his Merseybeat newspaper, engineered a vote. I think The Beatles did top it. I think there are those people who really did become fans. I actually know such a person, a woman who was at the University Of Liverpool a year or two after me. I learned much later that she was one of a group of university students that went to The Cavern regularly for the lunchtime sessions. They thought there was something very special about The Beatles. There were those who thought highly of them.
Q - In the June, 1964 issue of 16 Magazine, John Lennon was asked "What was your first professional booking?" He responded "In Hamburg, Germany in August of 1960. We filled in for a group called Cass And The Cassanovas." Do you have any idea why they couldn't make it?
A - The answer is I don't know, but, I believe there were tensions within the band which eventually led to Cass leaving or being ejected from the group and the evolution of The Big Three. That might've been the reason. There may have been disagreements. The other thing that crossed my mind is they may have had some alternative tour. And I know they toured Britain, Scotland and Wales as well. So, there may have been a clash of that kind. I can't answer your question with certainty. They're a couple of thoughts I've had on the matter.
Q - You have to wonder what that would've meant to The Beatles' career, if Cass And The Casanovas had not cancelled.
A - That's an interesting thing to speculate on, isn't it?
Q - It might've changed the whole timeline.
A - Yes. It would've changed the story. I don't know how essential Hamburg was to the development of The Beatles. There's an interesting connection between Liverpool and Hamburg. There was quite an exchange of groups between Liverpool and Hamburg. I remember hearing of a group called The Rattles who came from Hamburg and played in Liverpool, presumably in The Cavern. They did a song called "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", which I remember from the Disney film years ago.
Q - Again, you just have to wonder why Hamburg and Liverpool had that connection as opposed to say Hamburg and Paris, or Hamburg and Oslo? Were there no French Rock 'n' Roll groups or Swedish Rock 'n' Roll groups at the time?
A - Well, again speculation. Hamburg is a port city not unlike Liverpool. They had much in common. They were both bombed pretty thoroughly during the Second World War. I don't know what maritime link there may have been, but it's interesting to speculate about those things.
Q - You went to the NEMS Record Shop on November 10th, 1963.
A - Yes.
Q - Was Brian Epstein there that day? Would you have known who he was?
A - I suppose I would have heard of Brian Epstein at that time. But that's because he would have already become famous, connected with The Beatles and other Liverpool groups. So the chances are that I think he would've been otherwise engaged in London or probably overseas and not in Liverpool, is my guess. Had I seen him I don't think I would've recognized him. But I remember the day clearly. One of the latest LPs of The Beatles was on sale, "With The Beatles" I think it was. It was selling fast. I was amazed at how old many of the buyers were, not just teenagers. But I went and bought a Dizzy Gillespie Big Band 1940s disc while I was there on that occasion. (laughs) But at that time I had a kind of Merseyside pride in the success of the Liverpool Beat musicians. First of all, Liverpool seemed to be beating London at the game and achieving an international reputation, so as an adopted Liverpudlian, I took a certain satisfaction in that while sticking to my love of Jazz and Classics.
Q - Did Brian Epstein in fact get a lot of press in Liverpool and England?
A - Some of Liverpool people were a little indignant that their Rock musicians, their Pop musicians, were taken away by people who took them to London, took them overseas. Some Liverpool fans felt rejected by that. But of course it's an inevitable thing. But I can't recall much being said about Brian Epstein in the Liverpool world, but then I left Liverpool and England in the '60s, so a lot of that was all behind me.
Q - That fact that you knew who Brian Epstein was, speaks volumes. I doubt very much if people in the U.S. could have told you who the manager of Journey, Styx or REO was at the height of their popularity.
A - Once those local groups became established, there was a strong following on Merseyside. There were people like Brian Epstein seeking to make money out of them. So, I was aware there were people trying to find employment for popular musicians. But of course Alan Williams, who ran the Jacaranda Club and The Blue Angel, claims to have been The Beatles' first manager. He certainly used to get them gigs and had some business association with them. The Beatles themselves say he was never actually the manager. I suppose it's how you define a manager. But we were aware that it was an evolving business. But I think Brian Epstein's name became better known after I'd left Liverpool. I probably had heard of him.
Q - Page 80 of your book: Girls who accompanied the musicians on such occasions were known as "band chicks." Band chicks, not birds, not groupies. Band chicks. I never heard that before.
A - Well, I'm glad I had something new to read in my book. It surprised me that it caught your attention. Well, when you think about it, a chick is a young bird and I actually took the opportunity to look it up on the internet. It comes from your country (The U.S.). (laughs) "Chick" dates back to 1899 as a term for young girl. Older terms are birds and hens by the way. Certainly chick goes back over a hundred years in the U.S.A., meaning a young girl. It's even older meaning, a child. It's long been an endearment for a child. It's been linked to baby, oh baby. But I wouldn't like to make a distinction. You use the word "groupies". I make no connection between Liverpool's band chicks and groupies. You associate groupies with girls who are clamoring to make contact with those Rock 'n' Roll groups, whereas band chick is more like a fellow on a baseball team or a cricket team taking his girl along to see a match. So if you're a musician playing a gig somewhere, you don't want to miss out seeing your girl, so you took your girl along and perhaps you hoped to impress her with the performance, but it was that kind of thing rather than a "groupie" thing. But I find it a bit interesting that "band chick" caught your eye. I hope I explained it well.
Q - You did. John Lennon referred to "groupies" on The Tom Snyder Show as "slags." Did you ever hear of that term?
A - Oh, yes. That's even more impolite, isn't it?
Q - I don't know. That's what he said!
A - (laughs) All kinds of words. Most of them not very flattering.
Q - Is it true that Liverpool has the most beautiful women in the world?
A - I'm under strict instruction from my wife to answer that question: No. (laughs) My wife is Jamaican. I have no problem with the looks of women from Liverpool. One of the good things about life is, everywhere in the world I've been, there are beautiful women. It's certainly true of Brisbane, where I live now. Thank goodness for it. (laughs)
Q - I guess it's pretty clear from your answer that given a chance you would not have been happy to have been a Beatle.
A - No. I envy nobody. I have no complaints about the life I chose, or the life I've had to enjoy.