Jerry Stooks, The Downstairs Club and the naming of the Big Roll Band.
As the Downstairs Club was a focal point of my musical life in the early 1960s and (therefore?) has now largely been forgotten, I thought I’d add a few memories of it and of Jerry Stooks, who set it up. (Fear not, dear reader; “anorak” only became a pejorative term many years after these events took place.)
The Downstairs Club was opened by Jerry Stooks at 9 Holdenhurst Road, Lansdowne, Bournemouth in the summer of 1961. It occupied a cellar under a greengrocer’s shop and Jerry had also leased a narrow corridor leading from the street, together with two flats on the upper floors, one of which was occupied by Johnny Booker, better known as Johnny Martyn, (see link to obituary), a former member of The Vipers skiffle group. Johnny had a club foot and kept a pet monkey, (he was known as “Johnny de Monk” at the time), and neither of them seemed to venture outside, with predictable effects on the air quality in the flat. It stank.
Jerry was a larger-than-life character, a tall, lanky jazz-loving upright-bass player, with a short, “beatnik-style” haircut. His parents were caretakers at the then privately-owned and extremely secretive Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, where Jerry regularly stayed. His original aim was to establish the club as a full-time jazz venue, and this was reflected in his early booking policy, but it soon became clear that the real demand was for rock groups. That gave Dave Anthony and the Ravers, soon to be the Rebels, the opening we needed and we started working at the club on a regular basis.
Jerry continued to feature occasional jazz acts, and this was indirectly responsible for the naming of Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band. [ZM, if you're reading this, I know you only remember the Chuck Berry bit, but my memory's better than yours, coz it's not full of notable experiences like yours is]. I’ve mentioned this briefly on “The Bournemouth Years – Piano” page but the whole story’s a little more complicated. (NB. I’m indebted to what’s left of Rog Collis’s memory for some of these prehistoric details.)
In the autumn of 1961 I was approached by Zoot and Rog Collis to join a new group they were putting together. Their original plan had been to include Kevin Drake, who was then playing clarinet with a trad band, on tenor sax and for Zoot to handle piano and vocals. However, Rog, an extremely tough and determined bandleader as well as a blistering guitarist, (he used only downstrokes in his solos, which added a huge amount of aggression and excitement), had decided that he wanted Zoot to concentrate on vocals and on fronting the group. He’d seen me with Dave Anthony at the Downstairs Club switching to the house piano for a few Fats Domino numbers and wanted me in. (It may have been purely for novelty value, along the lines of the dancing dog – the attraction lies not in the fact that it can dance well but that it can dance at all.) Mike “Monty” Montgomery on bass and Johnny Hammond on drums had already agreed to join and Kevin Drake could come on board later when his tenor sax technique had improved. Although I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave Dave Anthony and the Rebels and switch full-time from guitar to piano, (although it would save me the cost of replacing my ageing Burns-Weill guitar), the more I listened to Zoot’s musical ideas the more appealing it seemed. He felt that rock music had travelled too far from its rock’n'roll roots, and wanted to recreate the feel of black artists such as Ray Charles, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.
This is where it gets technical, folks, so non-musos may want to skip this bit. If you listen very carefully to, say, Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, or even Good Golly, Miss Molly by Little Richard, you’ll find that the drummers, presumably because of their jazz backgrounds, are playing “ten-to-twos”, i.e. a swing beat, on the cymbal, against the hard-rock eight-to-the-bar of Chuck’s guitar or Little Richard’s piano. This sets up a tension between the instruments which produces more excitement and more of a loose “black” feel. That technique had largely disappeared by 1961. As Zoot put it one afternoon at a meeting with Rog Collis in my mother’s front room in Cowper Road, Moordown, “there’s too much rock and not enough roll”. (A similar sentiment was later applied to boogie-woogie by Chas & Dave in their 1981 single Poor Ol’ Mr. Woogie.)
While Zoot was talking I was flipping through the local paper to see who was on at the Downstairs Club that night and saw it was jazz, featuring The Ronnie Horler Big Band. At the time I’d never heard of Ronnie Horler, but the term “band” sounded much cooler to me than “group” and I suggested that we ought to call ourselves a band, or, even better, “big band”, since we were adding piano and (as we thought at the time) tenor sax to the usual rock line-up of vocals, guitar, bass and drums. Zoot and Rog agreed instantly and Zoot put back on the record player my 78 rpm copy of Johnny B. Goode that we’d been playing earlier. “Listen to the second verse”, he said. “His momma told him some day you will be a man, and you will be the leader of a big roll band… that’s what we’ll call it: The Big Roll Band.”
Of course what Chuck actually sang was “big ole band”, but my 78 record, which incidentally I’ve still got, was a bit crackly and we may perhaps be forgiven for the mistake. In any event, after a few secret rehearsals (at one of which Hammond insisted on cooking baked beans on a primus stove next to his hi-hat), Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band was launched on an unsuspecting Bournemouth public a few weeks later. As far as I know, that was the first instance of any rock or pop group in the UK being referred to as a “band”.
At first, Jerry Stooks wasn’t pleased. The formation of the Big Roll Band had resulted in several other bands breaking up, including Dave Anthony and the Rebels, one of Jerry’s major attractions, and he wasn’t convinced our very different style would catch on. It was soon apparent, however, that the audiences loved the band and he didn’t take long to come round. We did, though, after a few months begin to attract some of the, shall we say, more liberally-fisted elements of the local population and the club started to get known for its regular punch-ups. We were, however, starting to pull in some prestigious gigs, culminating in a slot at the Royal Arcade Ballrooms in Boscombe, where, while the resident orchestra were on, Zoot insisted on standing behind their bandleader, Haydn Powell, and mimicking him with a lemonade straw for a baton, causing the brass section to lose their embouchure. Although the gig went down a storm, at the end of it Monty and Hammond announced that they were leaving, their places shortly being taken by Johnny King on bass and Pete Brooks on drums. The band had by this time decided to turn pro, and I left shortly afterwards, Kevin Drake at last coming in on tenor sax and Zoot taking over on keyboards. That became the 2nd line-up of the Big Roll Band and the first version to go pro, which is why it’s often mistakenly referred to as the “original” line-up.
With the departure of the Big Roll Band to London in 1962 for its first abortive attempt at going pro (I’d joined the Sands Combo by then), the club gradually declined in popularity and Jerry decided to sell it and move on. My last memory of him at the club is of a largely empty room, with him playing double bass in a quartet with a contact mike stuck to the bottom of the bass. As there was no working house mike, he had to make his announcements by lying flat on his back and speaking up into the instrument.
After Jerry left, the club carried on under different names – The Lansdown (sic) Beat Club, Le Disque a Go! Go!, etc. and ironically it was during this period that jazz was reintroduced at the club with a Saturday late night session starting at midnight, at which I played regularly with the Crispin Street Quintet and later the Lennie Lee Quintet. It probably went through a few more name changes after then, before becoming Glasshoppers, which my daughter Emma frequented, (perhaps a little too often?) in the late 1980s while she was at Bournemouth University.
I believe Jerry Stooks went on to open a shop, and later stood as a general election candidate for the Monster Raving Looney Party. I’m ashamed to say that I still have his vinyl copy of The Atomic Mr. Basie album and feel a pang of guilt every time I see the equation e=mc2.
As is well known, Zoot Money and the Big Roll Band went on to become a major part of the British rhythm and blues scene, reaching the Top Thirty singles charts in 1966 with “Big Time Operator”. For some years Zoot also combined music with acting. Though too modest to say so, he is thought to be the only person ever to have taken a phone call from Paul McCartney while in prison. (He was filming the movie of “Porridge” with Ronnie Barker on location in Chelmsford Prison in 1979 when one of the warders asked him “is your name Money? There’s some bloke named McCartney on the phone for you”. The result was the 1980 album “Mr. Money”, issued on Paul McCartney’s MPL label.)