The Studio, Poole Lighthouse
27 October 2005
Last night I went to see Zoot Money. I’ve always rated his early 1960s band as the British equivalent to Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks, and as I hadn’t seen him for thirty something years I went along to his “Tribute to Ray Charles”. It was in a 150 seat studio theatre, sold out ages ago. He complained that they could have moved it to the bigger hall, and judging by friends who moaned that they couldn’t get tickets, he was right. When MVC Records still existed in Westover Road in Bournemouth, I complained bitterly that they didn’t have the Zoot Money reissues on sale, and pointed out that their window looked straight across to Bournemouth Pavilion, the scene of so many evenings with Zoot Money. They should have devoted the window display to him.
In the early sixties, I tried to never miss Zoot’s weekly gig at Bournemouth Pavilion. By the summer of 1963, the support act was Tony Blackburn, who wore a gold lamé jacket for one set and a blue lame´jacket for the second and regularly had the piss taken out of him by Zoot. The place was always packed, and to this day “Raindrops” remains weak everytime I hear the original because Zoot’s band did it better (though Zoot didn’t sing lead on that one).
I know his age, 64, because he was in my older sister’s class at primary school when he was still called George. He only looks about fifty, and also not very different to 1963 or 1965. He had Ronnie Johnson on guitar, plus drums, bass, baritone sax. The bass player was Paul MacCallum, another Bournemouth musician from the sixties, who was at Portchester School with Zoot. Paul was also, at one time, a Womble.
The two hour plus set was heaven for me, as I first met all the Ray Charles songs via Zoot – Sticks & Stones, Hallelujah, I Love Her So, I Got A Woman, It Should’ve Been Me and a very long What’d I Say (always his showpiece). He had the audience in fits by orchestrating a sudden dead stop a couple of minutes in and pointing out that this is the stop between Part A and Part B. What’d I Say was one of the very first Part 1 and Part II singles, and as with so many later ones (e.g. Fingertips Part II by Stevie Wonder or Sunshine Part II by The O’Jays), DJ’s played Part II, which came in once the head of steam had been worked up during Part I.
He also did versions of Hard Times and Georgia On My Mind (with just electric piano and baritone sax) that in mood, style and vocal range could be compared only to Richard Manuel’s solo sets. The keyboard playing (switching the keyboard between piano and organ, and sometimes hitting something that sounded right in between) made me think that he could have done the job Richard Bell took in the 1990s version of The Band. They needed someone who could double on organ and piano. However, his take on Alexis Korner’s ‘Captain America’ complete with “amusing” Stars & Stripes might not have amused Levon Helm … also, his bursts of humour, on stage chat and lyric improvisations means that he really should be the leader, not a sideman. There’s that rock urban legend about him giving lip to a load of greasers one night and having his Hammond organ carted away, and thrown off the pier, with the warning that next time he’d be tied to it. I’ve heard this story assigned to piers at Bournemouth, Southampton and Southsea by people who swore they were there at the time.
One long aside was after What’d I Say. He said he’d … ” done it in F, and hoped no one minded, as Georgie Fame and Alan Price – organists mind you, not pianists – had always done it in E. Ray Charles had done it in E. You know why? Well, it’s the sort of song that attracts fucking rock guitarists on stage and those fuckers are unreliable outside E.”
Add the story about Ray Charles’s braille edition of Playboy … anyway, Zoot Money was a great in the mid 60s, seen as a peer of Eric Burden, Georgie Fame, Alan Price, Van Morrison et al. He never hit the really, really big time he deserved … a bit like Ronnie Hawkins, I guess.