First Time I Met The Blues: Chris Spedding

A man at the epicentre of British rock’n’roll, Chris Spedding started out in Dusty Springfield’s road band, played with Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim and Peter Green, and opened for the Stones at Hyde Park. He was on TOTP with 1975 hit Motorbikin’, and again as a Womble, then helped launch the Sex Pistols. He’s behind the licks on hundreds of albums and now he’s made another one of his own, Joyland.

Who are your guitar heroes?

I liked Scotty Moore’s guitar playing behind Elvis. And there’s some great licks on Motown records.

Andy Fraser, who I played with in his post-Free band Sharks, was a fantastic bass player, totally unique. Last year I hooked up with him to tour and we played all the Free hits that he wouldn’t do before. He’s on my new album and I played on his latest record. Free Live! is one of the best live albums ever.

What was the first blues record you bought?

Lightnin’ Hopkins, Last Night Blues, with Sonny Terry. He really impressed me with that country blues stuff. Then everybody in rock’n’roll got into Robert Johnson’s King Of The Delta Blues Singers.

You played with Sonny Boy Williamson II early on…

I backed Sonny Boy at the Esquire club in Sheffield in 1962. I was into jazz, and all jazz musicians thought they could play a 12-bar. Sonny turned round to us at one point and said, “I can play bebop!” He thought we were playing modern jazz behind him. We got away with it, I think.

Which of the three kings – Albert, BB or Freddie – was the greatest?

It’s Albert for me. He’s a beautiful player. Wonderful. When I first heard Crosscut Saw I realised that Eric Clapton had copied Albert’s solo for Strange Brew, and he’d pretty much got it down. Eric admits this, he just takes stuff and strings bits together. A lot of these blues guys are being plundered for their licks and being used, that’s an old story, but this was quite graphic, almost note for note. But the odd thing is that every time Eric talks about his influences, he talks about BB King.

You didn’t want to be another Eric Clapton?

When I first heard Eric playing I thought, wow, this guy’s really got that stuff together, and if I want to make an impression I better get a different style going. I was one of the few guitar players around that tried not to sound like EC. It’s ironic that, when Jack Bruce left Cream, I was the guy that he asked to play on his first solo album [Songs For A Tailor]. Maybe he thought, “I don’t want another Eric Clapton clone to play on my record. I’ve just played with the man himself, I want someone who plays a bit different.” It paid off to be a bit obstinate. Jack’s son Malcolm is in my current band.

What are your most memorable concerts?

I’ve seen Albert King many times. I saw him play the Lone Star club in New York in the 1980s. I’d be standing six feet from him. You don’t wanna mess with Albert. He really had a mean streak. One time it was his birthday, in the middle of his show all the lights went down and the waitress came out with this cake with candles on it. Albert said, “If that cake gets any closer I’m going off stage.” So the poor waitress slowly turned round and went back into the kitchen. He wasn’t having any of it! You never know what life has done to them to get them like that, they’ve all come up the hard way.

You supported the Stones in Hyde Park…

The Stones commandeered our bandwagon! We had this ex-army field ambulance with no windows and they turfed us out of it to smuggle themselves through the park. They had the limo, which everyone thought the Stones would be in, as a decoy.

Tell us about the new album.

The idea came from Cleopatra, the record company, after I’d played on a Dave Davies record. They liked what I’d done and said, “Why don’t you do an album and we can get some guests in?” So I’ve got Arthur Brown, Glen Matlock, Johnny Marr and even [actor] Ian McShane. I’m known for backing people up so why shouldn’t I get other people to play with me? It took me 40 years to figure that one out.

How did your session career begin?

The top two session guitarists were Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page. And Big Jim left to play with Tom Jones in Las Vegas and of course Jimmy left to form Led Zep, making a large hole in the guitar book of all the session fixers. So I always say a big thank you to Jimmy Page for helping me start my session career by not being there!

Joyland is out now on Cleopatra Records.

Claudia Elliott

Claudia Elliott is a music writer and sub-editor. She has freelanced for BBC Radio 2's Sounds of the 60s, Uncut, History of Rock, Classic Rock and The Blues magazine. She is a 1960s music specialist.