The (other) British invasion

Five great bands from UK blues’ back pages
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  August 19, 2008

Blues juniors: Back Door Slam revive a British tradition. By Ted Drozdowski.
Everyone’s heard of the Yardbirds, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Animals, Cream, and Jeff Beck — British lads who raised the Union Jack for American blues in the ’60s and made the style part of classic rock’s foundation. Even Peter Green, who led the original Fleetwood Mac and wrote “Black Magic Woman” before slipping into Syd Barrett-like obscurity, returned to pop culture’s radar with a ’90s comeback.

But there’s a roster of bands that played important roles in the British blues-rock revolution who have nearly slipped from history’s pages, or at least drifted off the playlist of classic-rock radio. Here are five of the greatest:

ALEXIS KORNER’S BLUES INCORPORATED | Korner was the first white British musician to make electrified blues his own. When he couldn’t find a place to book his band, he opened London’s Ealing Rhythm & Blues Club, which became a magnet for Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, and others. Blues Incorporated’s live R&B from the Marquee (Decca) in 1962 was the first British blues album. The Stones’ Charlie Watts drummed with Korner, and Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce met in his band before forming Cream with Clapton.

SAVOY BROWN | Launched in 1967 by guitarists Kim Simmonds and “Lonesome” Dave Peverett (who later formed Foghat), Savoy Brown were largely unheralded in the UK but helped make blues rock a US arena staple in the ’70s thanks to the blustery guitar attack they brought to chestnuts like “Shake ’Em On Down” and “Louisiana Blues” and their own blasters “I’m Tired” and “Poor Girl.”

BLODWYN PIG | Guitarist Mick Abrahams left Jethro Tull following a fight with Ian Anderson and formed Blodwyn Pig — authors of the great “lost” gem of the British blues era, 1969’s Ahead Rings Out (Island). It’s bare-knuckled brawling all the way, driven by the brutal one-two punch of Abrahams’s guitar and a wall of wailing sax. Alas, they didn’t sustain their debut’s fierce energy. Today, LPs of Ahead sell for about $60.

HUMBLE PIE | Guitarists Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton were stars from Small Faces and the Herd, respectively, before Humble Pie stormed the British charts with the hit “Natural Born Bugie” in ’69. Their black-leather-jacketed guitar-boogie formula made them the first biker blues band. The group’s brooding menace was nailed on 1971’s live Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore (A&M).

RORY GALLAGHER | Gallagher was known for willful improvisation and unsparing performances in his ’60s and ’70s heyday. He was nothing less than the Irish Jimi Hendrix — a link between men like Guitar Slim and Buddy Guy, who led blues toward the rock-and-roll era, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who almost single-handedly triggered the ’80s blues revival.

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