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The Mike Cotton Sound

In more than decade of activity from 1960 until 1971, the Mike Cotton Sound transformed themselves and their sound several times, starting out playing trad jazz (i.e., Dixieland jazz), switching to rock & roll and blues, then remaking themselves in the vein of Stax/Volt type soul, and finally ending up as a progressive soul band backing R&B/jazz veteran Zoot Money. In all of that time, ironically, the group only enjoyed one hit, "Swing That Hammer," a minor chart entry in England during 1963. That small statistic, however, is deceptive as a measure of the Mike Cotton Sound's influence and success. They were, for much of the '60s, one of the busiest bands in England, playing club dates of their own and also backing such visiting American performers as Solomon Burke, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, and Gene Pitney, and playing sessions behind other popular performers -- and more than a decade after the group's one hit, they were playing sessions with the Kinks. Additionally, members of the Mike Cotton Sound went on to play key roles in such outfits as the Animals and Argent.

Mike Cotton had played trumpet in various trad jazz bands in the late '50s, and in 1960 he formed a group of his own with members of the Peter Ridge Band, who broke up that year. Their sound was pure Dixieland, with John Beecham playing trombone, Gerry Williams on the clarinet, Stu Morrison on banjo, Jeff King playing bass, Jimmy Garforth at the drums, and Maureen Parfitt (known as Little Mo) singing. Parfitt exited the Mike Cotton Jazzmen, as they were then known, after a one-month series of gigs at Germany's Storyville club and was succeeded by Jeanie Lambe, who lasted a year. The group lucked out by inheriting a recording contract originally signed by the Pete Ridge band with producer Dennis Preston and his Lansdowne studio which, in turn, had a licensing agreement with EMI-Columbia.

The group got an amazing amount of work, playing as many as 300 gigs a year, primarily in clubs in the north of England, where they were best known. They also became veritable fixtures in live appearances on the radio and did their share of television performances as well. And they were sufficiently respected and successful to rate a performance onscreen in the 1962 dramatic film The Wild and the Willing, shot in the spring of that year.

The group also saw the first of a dizzying series of lineup changes in 1962, so they were a very different band by the time the movie opened in October of that year. Gerry Williams exited in early 1962 to be replaced by Nottingham-born John Crocker, and Derek Tearle took over on bass soon after, although he was replaced by Conway Smith following a serious road accident. Dave Rowberry was added to the lineup on piano in the summer of 1962.

The group's sound evolved gradually during this period, as the audience for trad jazz gradually disappeared. By 1963, it was becoming plain that they needed something to boost their audience. The number 30 status of "Swing That Hammer" was a last gasp for trad jazz in a musical environment that was shifting radically. The arrival of the Beatles at the top of the charts with "Please Please Me" spearheaded an explosion of chart activity by rock & roll groups of all stripes, and heralded the end of the trad jazz boom. In response, the Mike Cotton Jazzmen shifted their sound and emphasis, adding more rock & roll and R&B in their repertory. They also changed their name, first to the Mike Cotton Band and then to the Mike Cotton Sound.

They got their first chance to show off their new sound in the wake of "Swing That Hammer" with their self-titled debut LP, which included covers of material by Bo Diddley and the Bill Black Combo. It was only a transitional work, being a little too jazzy for the rock audience that the group hoped might hear it, and didn't sell in serious numbers, but it opened up new musical territory and venues for the group. The result was a series of shows and tours backing the likes of Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, Solomon Burke, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Gene Pitney, among others, and the group performed on bills alongside Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield, even participating in informal jams and performances with them.

The group parted company with Preston in an effort to completely reinvent their sound, abandoning their jazz roots in favor of a headfirst plunge into R&B. By 1964, concerts by the group featured their versions of songs by Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf, a repertory at which they came to excell. More lineup changes accompanied this transformation, as Stu Morrison (who later joined Chris Barber's jazz band) gave up the banjo for the bass and, with Cotton, handled the vocals; Dave Rowberry switched from the piano to the Vox organ, and exited the group in 1965 to join the Animals as the successor to Alan Price; among the musicians who auditioned (and were rejected) for his spot were Reginald Dwight (aka Elton John) and Joe Cocker, before Eric Delaney, later of the progressive jazz/rock outfit Sky, became their keyboard player. Jimmy Garforth left the music business in 1966 and was succeeded by Bernie Byrnes, late of the Mindbenders, and Morrison was later succeeded by Jim Rodford.

The Mike Cotton Sound were signed to Polydor in 1965 and cut a very respectable single of "Harlem Shuffle," which was as clear a sign as any of the changes that had taken place. By then, they'd transformed their sound once more, away from Chicago-style blues and R&B into more of a Stax/Volt vein, facilitated in part by the arrival in the group's lineup of an American vocalist. Lucas (aka Bruce MacPherson Lucas), born in Cleveland, OH, was a former GI living in England. His presence helped boost the band's credibility as a soul-based performing unit.

They were also lucky enough to sign with Pye Records and find a producer in Mike Raven, who could help them come up with a commercial sound on their records. "Soul Serenade" b/w "We've Got a Thing Going, Baby" rose to the Top 30 on the British R&B charts, but they were never able to follow it up properly. Meanwhile, ex-Cheynes and future Camel leader Pete Bardens passed through the lineup, as did Derek Griffiths, formerly of the Artwoods, on guitar, and Rodford exited in 1969 to link up with Rod Argent, a relative, in the formation of Argent.

The group held together long enough, however, to be engaged by Apple Records as the backing band on Mary Hopkin's Postcard album. Music was continuing to change with the roster of musicians, and another name change seemed in order. The Mike Cotton Sound became Satisfaction, and got to record an album in a more progressive vein for England's Decca Records, which attracted little notice. By 1971, after a brief hookup with Zoot Money, the group finally split up, although Mike Cotton and his fellow brassmen from the band were recruited by the Kinks for some notable mid-'70s recording sessions.

In the years since, most of the members have remained active in music in some respect. Cotton has remained active as a session musician, and in the '90s played with the 100 Club All-Stars, while Rodford and Griffiths continued to play soul music, and Mick Moody, of one of the last lineups, moved into heavy metal and has been involved with the group Whitesnake. The Mike Cotton Sound's name periodically surfaces in more thorough histories of the British trad jazz and beat booms, and is often mentioned obliquely in histories of the Animals, thanks to Dave Rowberry's presence in both groups and his continued musical activity. ~ Bruce Eder
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Return Of The Instro-Hipsters, Vol.1: On The Brink

1. On The Brink

2. She Walks Through The Fair

3. It's Your Thing

4. I'm A Man

5. Sexologie

6. Small Deal

7. Big Drum

8. See Me

9. Soul Thing

10. Top Of The Pops

11. Happy Walk

12. Mexican Flier

13. Nightrider

14. Moanin'

15. Soul Serenade

16. Deadly Nightshade

17. West Of Windward

18. Morning Train

19. Tricycle

20. Organ Fantasia In D Major

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