The Mighty Shadow

The title of this essay is taken from Harry Shapiro’s, long out-of-print, 1992 biography of Graham Bond. It chronicles the career of a seminal figure in British R&B and Blues.

Popular success eluded Graham Bond but his influence on the creation of British Rock was subtle but profound. Brian Auger, Jon Lord and Keith Emerson are just some who were influenced by his aggressive organ playing. Many others were influenced by the sound of his band which contained two musicians who were, individually and collectively, to have an even greater impact with their instrumental prowess: Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. For a period in 1963 another highly influential musician of the 1970’s was a member, John McLaughlin.

Graham Bond was born in October 1937 and dumped in an orphanage. Adopted by caring parents, his love for music received great support with the hope he would become a concert pianist but instead he fell in love with Jazz and the sound of Charlie Parker. By 1961 he had made a name for himself as an Alto Saxophonist but jazz did not provide a reliable income and he had a day job as a refrigerator salesman.

Around this time he came under the influence of Ray Charles via his 1961 release “Genius + Soul = Jazz”. Graham took up the Hammond organ and singing. It expanded his versatility and he was able to play in various circumstances from the Be-Bop of Don Rendell to the modern jazz of the John Burch Octet, with Baker, Bruce & Heckstall-Smith, and Blues/R&B of Alexis Korner.

Graham, Alexis Korner, Ginger, Dick, Jack, John Burch, ?

Jack and Ginger proved to be ideal companions as Jazz was their 1st love and they also enjoyed playing Blues and R&B. They played as a backing group and on their own—anything to make a quid especially for Graham and Ginger to support their habits.

In February 1963 Bond decided to form his own band and resigned from Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated but he also included Ginger and Jack, who were surprised by Alexis’ antipathy at the gig that night. They started as a trio but soon added a young guitarist called John McLaughlin. It was a Ray Charles R&B with heavy Jazz influences. They could flexibly play R&B or a Charles Mingus influenced modern jazz.

They signed to EMI in early ‘63 and initially recorded as the backing band for R&B/Pop singer Duffy Power. In September, Ginger fired McLaughlin because “He was a whinger” and replaced him with their old compatriot Dick Heckstall-Smith.

As the Graham Bond Organisation they toured aggressively taking advantage of their versatility—Jazz, R&B and blues. Increasingly the jazz inflected R&B became dominant with Bond’s throaty Ray Charles’ influenced vocals and powering organ. The next big change was Jack Bruce’s conversion from his white acoustic bass to Fender VI electric bass after a session for Ernest Raglin (Jamaican proto-reggae guitarist) - it was loud and it allowed him to take some guitar like solos.

Technically they had it all - driving drums, power vocals x 2, Hammond organ, saxes, inventive bass, clever arrangements and huge energy. It was a unique amalgam, as this collection proves. Comparisons to Booket T. & the MG’s are warranted but the GBO was more aggressive and jazz influenced. Live performance features were Bond playing organ and alto simultaneously, Jack taking lead guitar-like breaks on bass, playing harmonica and Ginger’s solos. The problem was that they didn’t look good, they lacked sex appeal. They simply were not photogenic which was fatal in an increasingly Beatle world. However they had no lack of live gigs as they drew the adventurous.

It was the hard slog of £15-60 a gig with Ginger taking control of the band’s management as Graham became increasingly erratic due to his addiction. One anecdote is the about the night that Graham arrived at the gig and collected the fee from the assistant manager, then at the end of the gig collected it again from the manager. The rest of the band never saw any of the money. Ginger made sure everybody got paid.

Recording was ever problematic, as they could not get a chart hit, culminating in the ludicrous recording of “Tammy”. An aborted Live album had been attempted in late’ 64. In 1965 they recorded two albums: “The Sound of ‘65” and “There’s a Bond Between Us” with Robert Stigwood producing. The former contained the staples of their live performances including Jack’s “Traintime”, Ginger’s arrangement of “Early in the Morning” and their perennial “Wade in the Water” which was to receive the definitive recording for the B-side of a US single.

“There’s a Bond” is the superior album as it is more sophisticated with some clever arrangements with commercial expediency being restrained i.e. no Tammy equivalent. The highlights were Bond’s brilliant “Walking in the Park” (a later performance staple of Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum), Baker’s “Camel’s and Elephants” (Toad’s precursor) and Bruce’s inventive “Hear Me Calling Your Name”. Ray Charles’ influence permeates both albums.

The lack of recording success began to gnaw at them - record royalties were a nice income but chart success, more importantly, increased performance fees. A feature role in a very strange film “Beats are Gonk” is memorable (included on the “Fresh Live Cream” video) but garnered no recognition as the film sank without a trace.

Jack became increasingly restless and wanted to try new things which, for Ginger, meant he was getting “out of control”. Fights on stage became increasingly common drum sticks in the back of the head, bass crashed into drum kit, Dick breaking up their fights and Graham spiralling into the depths of addiction.. Jack was fired, kept turning up to gigs, then physically ejected from the band at knife-point. The trio format (Bond playing pedal bass) had the benefit of a better share of income for the remaining members, something Ginger was to carry through with his next band.

The GBO had some unexpected chart success in early 1966 when they had the B-Side of the Who’s “Substitute” single. They got the side due to the Who’s legal battle with Shel Talmy. “Waltz for a Pig” was penned by Ginger and the target of the title is obvious.

Jack joined John Mayall and had a few weeks playing with Eric Clapton, then moved onto Manfred Mann. Around March 1966, Ginger wanted a new band to try and make more money. He contacted Eric Clapton who was keen if the bass player was Jack Bruce. Ginger ate humble pie and the rest is the Cream of the story.

Ginger was replaced by Jon Hiseman and the GBO fizzled out when Dick and Jon joined John Mayall in 1967. Graham formed Magick, recorded with Pete Brown and rejoined Ginger in Airforce in 1970. He toured with Jack Bruce in 1971 from which he departed after Jack attacked him with a sink in a dressing room. He also featured on Dick Heckstall-Smith’s excellent 1972 solo album “A Story Ended”.

Unfortunately Graham’s talent was being swamped by his on-going habit, obsession with magic and then the break up of his marriage to Diane Stewart (vocalist of his bands and in Airforce). On May 8th 1974, Graham Bond dived from a platform on the London underground into the path of an approaching train.

The GBO Recordings

Copyright 2002 Graeme Pattingale