We can imagine a handful of classic poses in rock music: Pete Townshend´s tremendous high jump with his Gibson as well as Mick Jagger´s microphone friendly bumper lip blow job. Mick´s tools would hardly suffice for DICK HECKSTALL-SMITH´S visual trademark, though: Dick's simultaneous playing of both tenor and soprano saxophones has left an enduring audio visual impact.
In 1949, after two years of clarinet tuition, DICK HECKSTALL-SMITH (born Richard Malden 26th September 1934 in Ludlow near Wales) persuaded his father to buy him a decent "Boosey & Hawkes" alto sax, for the then princely sum of 25 pounds. Dick´s black Devon school mate Kaye Dunham couldn't match his playing, but made Dick aware of his innate but hitherto quite unconscious, mind-blowing jazz feeling and introduced him to Sidney Bechet, an expensive acquaintance: Dad had to finance a "Maltese" soprano sax for a further 10 quid. After seminal sessions, Heckstall-Smith led the school band until Christmas 1952 and the attended Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (1953-56) as an agricultural student, where he made more of an impression in the jazz circles than the academic field: he joined the UNIVERSITY JAZZ BAND as co-leader – in 1955, they won the "Inter University Jazz Contest“ and Dick got a Silver Cup for playing a good solo.
Following his degree, DHS accompanied the UNIVERSITY JAZZ BAND on a Swiss tour in 1956, after which he started his conscientious objector's service in a London hospital. His early departure due to spinal problems enabled him to turn professional, starting out with the great British clarinet player in SANDY BROWN'S JAZZ MEN and later the RONNIE SMITH QUINTET: Ronnie was able to offer an 18 week engagement in a "Butlin´s" holiday camp! – Fate struck during a New Orleans style jazz session for Bob Wallis, in Ken Colyer´s London based Club "Studio 5", Dick met the animalympic drummer Peter "Ginger" Baker. The trad-group in the makg left some recordings which were later issued on an LP called "Acker´s Early Days": on three tracks, there is an unlisted soprano player who sounds surprisingly like Sidney Bechet, but is not Sidney Bechet. But Dick´s skills grew at lightning speed: in the late 1990s, he was to receive a CD entitled "Fairweather Friends", also done in 1959, on which he plays four tracks on tenor, but no longer sounds like his then hero Wardell Gray.
A rather unstable "free lance" period in numerous commercial gigs and jazz clubs took place from 1957 to 1962: No matter where or when, Dick made love to his great love, Bebop: During the famous "Flamingo Club All Nighters" in the heart of Soho, he filled the breaks in between GEORGIE FAME & THE BLUE FLAMES sets with the JOHNNY BURCH QUARTET – Fame remains a good friend. DHS also got hired by the NATIONAL YOUTH JAZZ ORCHESTRA, toured all over Europe´s and Israel´s stage pits with Jerome Robbins´s Ballets USA, and took part in Jazz & Poetry projects, such as with (later to be famous CREAM lyicist) Pete Brown, poet Mike Horovitz and legendary comedian Spike Milligan. The refined Modern Jazz BERT COURTLEY SEXTET also offered regular gigs, featuring Ginger Baker on drums.
Dick on tenor, Jack Bruce on bass, Cyril Davis on harp
In the summer of 1962 – he had felt a lack of risk-taking and „too much good taste“ on behalf of Modern Jazz musos and afficionados for too long – Dick gave up his „free lance“ status and came to a verbal agreement with ALEXIS KORNER´S BLUES INCORPORATED. He enjoyed the group dynamics, but infiltrated his peers anyway: The young Scotsman, who had impressed Dick during a jam session, replaced the resident bass player Andy Hoogenboom, and Ginger Baker took over from Charlie Watts, who secured his pension shortly afterwards with the ROLLING STONES. Their singer Mick Jagger had started out via solo spots for BLUES INC., just like the unforgotten Long John Baldry.
Thus, the first classic BLUES INC.-line-up was all set, including Alexis Korner, the Greek-Austrian band-leader /guitarist with his dark-pitched, Willie Dixon-type voice, the cosmopolitain charm courtesy of the jazz trio Dick, Jack & Ginger, plus pianist Johnny Parker and the harmonica genius Cyril Davies. But Blues purist Davies nursed an aesthetic/stylistic aversion to the saxophone! On a personal level, Cyril & Dick got on very well: the harp blower Welsborn and London bred, the English saxman having grown up in the hills of rural Wales. Davies said goodbye in 1962 and started his own CYRIL DAVIES ALL STARS. He was replaced by the charismatically diabolic Graham Bond on alto sax,organ and vocals. Ginger, Jack and Graham got a trio spot inside BLUES INC., which gave them ideas – at the begining of 1963, they started their own band.
Graham Bond ( kybrd, vcls), Ginger Baker (drums), DHS (tenor), Jack Bruce (bass)
When their guitarist John McLaughlin was fired due to timing problems (!), DHS – tired of Jazz almost like Cyril – got his chance, and the GRAHAM BOND ORGANIZATION was born. Four years of musically exciting gigs nerve-wracking tour adventures and disillusioning finances followed: their little van always carried two emotional time-bombs in the drugged hedonists Baker & Bond, all too often naked Angst ruled! In early 1966, Jack Bruce was fired by Ginger (rumours would hint at a strategic move to get Cream started) and replaced by the black trumpet player Mike Falana. During the summer, Georgie Fame´s young drummer Jon Hiseman took over from Ginger. He helped sort out the band in musical a financial terms, but couldn´t prevent the physical and mental breakdown of an increasingly occult-ridden Graham Bond: The GBO split in the following summer, 1967.
Only days later, DHS became a member of JOHN MAYALL´s BLUESBREAKERS, who consisted of Keef Hartley (dr), Paul Williams or Keith Tillman (b), future ROLLING STONE Mick Taylor (g) and Chris Mercer (tenor sax). After countless club gigs round Britain (documented by 2 LPs „Diary Of A Band“) and a successful US tour, Mayall replaced Williams with young Andy Fraser (later in FREE) and Hartley with Dick´s friend Jon Hiseman. The latter fed Mayall´s selfmade svengali instincts by making him double his fee demands, but even during the sessions for the concept album „Bare Wires“, he harboured plans for his own band – no leaders, but equal rights for gifted, inspired players. ( "No nutters, no passengers")
As a sideline, DHS and Hiseman helped Jack Bruce record his solo album „Things We Like“, according to Dick "one of the few albums of mine I enjoy listening to!" With Bruce´s lyric writer Pete Brown Heckstall-Smith was about to create two solo albums (and much later oneor the HAMBURG BLUES BAND, see 1990s and discography). Dick also guested on the debut LP of Brit Blues Boom babies CHICKEN SHACK and on WYNDER K.FROG´s (Mick Weaver´s) "Out Of The Frying Pan" and recorded for a Parlophone LP with Lyn Dobson, Chris Mercer and Henry Lowther as LOCOMOTIVE. John Mayall´s bass player Keith Tillman and harp player John O´Leary joined him for the album „Sweet Pain“ by – SWEET PAIN on Mercury.
Jon Hiseman fulfilled his band ambition by autumn ´68 with COLOSSEUM. Intense rehearsals with Dick Heckstall-Smith, Tony Reeves (b), Dave Greenslade (organ, piano, vibes) and the "Melody Maker" find James Litherland (g, voc) were followed by test gigs and only three days to record their debut album "Morituri Te Salutant – Those Who Are About To Die Salute You". After numerous concerts, the inspired five were ready for a follow-up with „Valentyne Suite“ from June 16th to 18th, 1969, in time for a US tour during August, which Jon organized on the now legendary shoe-string budget. This early COLOSSEUM line-up was also part of the legendary rock movie "Super Session", directed by Tom Keylock in three action-packed days and featuring the still brand new Led Zeppeli Buddy Miles, Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, JUICY LUCY´s steel guitar player Glen Campbell and an indignant Roland Kirk, who must have thought he was the only double horn player on the scene till he met his competitor DHS! (There will be a full page about this on site very soon.) Dick still found time for sessions, for instance for Neil Ardley´s second solo album "Dejeuner Sur L´Herbe" on Verve, Pete Brown and teh Battered Ornament's "A Meal You Can Shake Hands With", The Deviants "Disposible" (with Pete Brown) and Jack Bruce´s "Songs For A Taylor".
By autumn, James Litherland left COLOSSEUM for his own MOGUL THRASH. During November, his successor, young Dave "Clem" Clempson, joined out of the blues trio BAKERLOO. Tony Reeves became a record producer, Mark Clarke took over on bass. Clempson & Clarke´s first year – 1970 was as hectic as it was successful – showed the band´s dilemma. DHS: „We never sold enough records to take time off from gigs to compose, rehearse and record in peace ... and so we ran out of music!“ The band´s new lead singer, legendary R&B shouter Chris Farlowe, didn´t even get the time to sing all the numbers on their third studio album "Daughter Of Time" – Clem´s guide vocal remained on "Take Me Back to Doomsday". The subsequent double album "Cosseum Live" with the epic pieces "Lost Angeles" and "Skellington" may have become COLOSSEUM´S biggest success, but in Dick´s eyes it was "a cop-out and a way of buying time". In the summer of ´71, a US tour supporting DEEP PURPLE was about to crack. The Metal kids insisted on a 40-minute COLOSSEUM set without a drum solo (Ian Paice hated Jon´s competition) and Clem Clempson received a lucrative offer from Steve Marriott to join HUMBLE PIE and replace Peter Frampton: Hiseman advised Clem to grab the chance.
Following a sold-out concert in London´s Royal Albert Hall, COLOSSEUM disbanded, and after some sessions work (e.g.Neil Ardley´s 4th solo album "Symphony Of Amraranths") Dick Heckstall-Smith assembled his solo album "A Story Ended", from unrecorded COLOSSEUM material like the truly sophisticated "The Pirate´s Dream", an ambitious piece which took months to compose (at least), and new titles with lyricist Pete Brown. Apart from Clem, the whole (ex-) band turned up, while Hiseman produced. The spring ´72 sessions also featured Caleb Quaye (g, ex ELTON JOHN BAND), Paul Williams (ex JUICY LUCY), Drummer Rob Tait. Session cat Chris Spedding (ex IAN CARR`s NUCLEUS and BATTERED ORNAMENTS) as well as a surprisingly agile Graham Bond, who sadly was to take hiown life a year later.
After aborted attempts to lure LED ZEPPELIN´s Jon Bonham into a live collaboration, "A Story Ended" became the basis for Dick´s own band, with COLOSSEUM´s James Litherland (g), Billy Smith (b) as well as drummer Theo Thunder and organ player David Rose (those two joining Alan Price in the mid 70s). Gigs in the UK and Germany, billed as DICK HECKSTALL-SMITH BAND and a six-week American tour as MANCHILD with DEEP PURPLE and FLEETWOOD MAC proved successful – and as early as 1973, there was enough material in the can for a self-composed band album. Unfortunately, these recordings were interrupted by Dick´s returning spine problems. The situation was serious, and DHS was about to say goodbye to the saxophone for three years, and not work as a professional musician for a full eight years. A reminder he was not forgotten came with the release of Pete Brown´s 1977 album "My Last Band" (Harvest).
Art Themen, Dick´s friend for many years who doubles as in-demand saxophonist (he was DHS´ successor in the CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY JAZZ BAND) and renowned orthopaedic surgeon, helped Dick rover after a long and painful collapse. Dick then returned to college, this time studying Social Sciences. Only after getting his degree did Heckstall-Smith take up his beloved sax again: He joined the semi-professional quartet BIG CHIEF, which is still flourishing. Dick and Art could also be heard as guests on Alexis Korner´s 50th birthday "Party Album", which also became a video courtesy of German WDR-TV. Dick´s memories of the event aren´t too pleasant – "I played shit!" Soon, DHS´ activities snowballed with the loose jazz formation TOUGH TENORS.
But 100% Jazz has never been enough for Dick, so he also became a member of the likewise semi-pro operation, THE FAMOUS BLUES BLASTERS, featuring Dave Moore (keys), Eric Bell (g, ex THIN LIZZY), Keith Till-man (ex MAYALL´s BLUESBREAKERS), SHORTLIST drummer Stretch and Victor Brox (k,voc, ex ALEXIS KORNER´s BLUES INC) The BLASTERS went down so well that they went professional as MAINSQUEEZE. Their studio album was called „The International Blues Rock Revue“. Three annual big tours all over Europe took place between 1981 and 1983 with the R&B legend Bo Diddley, one of which is documented for posterity on the album „Hey ... Bo Diddley in Concert“. Wh MAINSQUEEZE split in 1984, DHS started the guitar/sax/ keyboard trio 3-SPACE, followed in 1986 by the combo MATT BLACK. But just like his „Bebop Fifties“, Dick resumed his life as a free lance musician. Apart from his own band, his sax experience was hired by the German MIKE REINHARDT SEXTET, THE HAMBURBLUES BAND as well as KING BISCUIT and the African conglomeration JULIAN BAHULA´s ELECTRICDREAM. Dick also composed the song "Try´Na Get Along With The Blues“ for the´87 album "No Worries by GEORGIE FAME & HIS AUSTRALIAN BLUE FLAMES. The melody of this song, along with lyrics from Cream lyricist Pete Brown would become "Cruel Contradictions" for Dick's 2001 release "BLUES AND BEYOND".
A recent shot of DH-S
During the early 1990s, Heckstall-Smith´s road band was simply ( and subtly for Brits) called DHSS: With Alan Weekes (g), Ike Leo (b) and MAINSQUEEZE pianist Dave Moore Dick completed his album "Where One Is" (1991). Surprisingly it was only his second solo offering, eighteen years after the first one, albeit a completely convincing romantic jazz rock sojourn, whose compositions "Woza Nasu" (the original album title) and "Koblenz" should have sufficed to guarantee a commercial success, which also eluded him in terms of his inventive album, "Obsession Fees", with the JOHN ETHERIDGE GROUP (Rainer Glas, b, Evert Jan Fraterman, dr, Chris Beier, k) in early 1992. The cooperation also toured Germany.
Instead of healthy sales, fate struck on Fruary 5th, 1992: Heckstall-Smith suffered two severe strokes while unconscious during a bypass operation and was in intensive care for six days! When Dick came to, he could neither think nor talk. He practised simple children´s poetry to relearn talking: Thus, a rhyme like "Here we sit like birds in the wilderness" was initially reduced to "Birds In Widness", which became the title of his musical rebirth in a Free Jazz duo – just sax & drums – with John Stevens (ex DANDO SHAFT, John Martyn, Ralph McTell, CHARLIE WATTS ORCHESTRA; Stevens recorded 22 Solo-LPs between ´66-81). "Bird In Widness" was Dick´s first time in the studio after the renewed breakdown and became an inspired and moving musical diary of Dick´s slow recovery from his two strokes and operation. During the remainder of 1993, DHS took part in Jack Bruce´s studio recordings for the album "Somethin Else" and celebrated an All Star party session for Bruce´s 50th birthday, featuring, amongst others, Clem Clempson (COLOSSEUM), Gary Moore (COLOSSEUM II), Art Themen, (Big CHIEF) and Ginger Baker (GRAHAM BOND ORGANIZATION, AIRFORCE, etc). There was another Free Jazz orientated sojourn with Dick, Jack Bruce and John Stevens: "This That" (1984).
1994 was destined to be come the (most hectic) year of Dick Heckstall-Smith. S blew his horns for the one-off Pub-Bluesrockers WILKINSON´S ROCKETS (ft. CHICKEN SHACK and PRETTY THINGS ex-recruits), wrote a complete jazz suite for The London Arts Council, toured the clubs of the UK and the rest of Europe, all leading to the big event: the full-scale reunion of the legendary Jazz/Rock pioneers COLOSSEUM, in the 1971 line-up of Hiseman, Greenslade, Clempson, Clarke, Farlowe & Heckstall-Smith. A live album with the original and stunningly recreated arrangements of classic favourites was recorded in Freiburg and Nuremburg, Germany, between July and October ´94. A full-scale European tour followed in 1995.
Apart from COLOSSEUM, DHS worked with Wolfgang Mirbach's studio team called LINKS, among them his "day job mate" Clem Clempson, 1970s icon Edgar Broughton ("Out Demons Out") now established as a social worker, and the SOFT MACHINE'S John Marshall (dr) and Mark Charig (cornet) as well as more brass and woodwind. Mirbach and the team created the adventurous concept album "New Reasons To Use Old Words“ betweeJazz and Bluesrock. Edgar Broughton was able to integrate his work experiences with handicapped patients in the song lyrics. Due to a tiny distribution outlet, success was limited.
The sessions were hardly over when DHS soldiered on to tackle his most ambitious project to date – getting his Arts Council jazz suite on tape – a breath-taking work in three movements, bursting with ideas and atmospheric layers – a strictly musical journey (no words) through 3 ½ thousand years of history – "Celtic Steppes". Sophisticated woodwind/brass arrangements featured Ray Warleigh and Don Weller, exotic rhythm patterns, supplied by Pete Brown (the albums producer), reminded fans of GINGER BAKER´s AIR FORCE, with subtle hints of Ravel´s "Bolero" during the first movement. Georgie Fame´s son Tristan Powell twiddled the board knobs. "Rave reviews, but not a lot of sales“, was Dick´s verdict. Back in the clubs, he was busy gigging with the singer and harp champion Duffy Power, who had come to fame in Alexis Korner´s heyday. A joint "Dick & Duffy" album recorded in the mid-Nineties has yet to see the light of day.
In the summer of 1997, and in time for a further big European tour, the long-awaited first COLOSSEUM studio album for 27 years appeared, read & Circuses". Apart from Bluesrock leanings, Dick´s epic "Bid Deal" asked for immense dedication and concentration of all players involved – singer Chris Farlowe spent the most heroic hours in the studio, trying to get to grips with the odd time-changes and phrasings. The end result was a stunner of "Lost Angeles" proportions, to say the least. For the last four years, DHS has been dividing his career between the London clubs and the Autobahns of the German Republic. Apart from outdoor festival commitments with COLOSSEUM his double blow job belongs to THE HAMBUURG BLUES BAND from Thursdays to Sundays, with their shouter Gert Lange and ex-LAKE guitarist Alex Conti, an experienced rhythm section of Hans Wall-Baum (dr) and Michael Becker (b), who came in for Reggie Worthy (ex IKE & TINA TURNER REVUE) in 1995.
The Hamburg Blues Band
During the last fifteen years, this group has developed its reputation as one of the most solid and hard-working bluesrockers in Europe. The fact that some of their song lyrics are supplied by the legendary Jack Bruce partner PETE BROWN (Brown wrote "White Room“, "Theme For An Imaginary Western“, and gave the HBB the equally impressive "Trouble Man“) has only added to their growing international stus, with over 1000 shows played in recent years Also close to the band is the resurrected SPOOKY TOOTH lead singer Mike Harrison, who will participate in the imminent, already composed studio album. Apart from HHB numbers, Dick´s composition "Woza Nasu“ always belongs to the highlights in the two to three hour sets celebrated by the HAMBURGS.
Jack Bruce recording for 'Blues and Beyond'
Photo : Shu Tomioka
At the end of 2000, DHS started work on yet another solo album, "BLUES AND BEYOND" a star-studded affair which so far features his historically and musically quite significabt sparring partners Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Paul Jones, Clem Clempson and John Mayall. Dick Heckstall-Smith: Long may he shake his knee to his wailing sax sentiments ...
Watch this space as we will be updating with more photosoon.
THINGS PEOPLE SAY
"Dick Heckstall-Smith...still blows a sax mean enough to take a man's head off at 300 paces, yet mellow enough to soothe even the most irritable babe to sleep." - Nick Churchill
"Joyous, celebratory, yet intelligent and considered, this is a highlight of an already distinguished career," - Chris Parker (on "Celtic Steppes")
"...and I dug Colosseum - particularly Dick, the guy who plays tenor and soprano. Does he do sessions in London? He ought to - he's really a bitch." - Francis Vincent Zappa (1970)
"my musical father" - Jack Bruce
Photos of Blues Incorporated, Graham Bond Organisation and Colosseum used on this page from 'The Safest Place In The World'