Capable of tackling pretty much any facet of the post-1920s American musical landscape - Jazz, Blues, Swing, R & B, Country, Soul, Rock 'n' Roll - the Rhythm Kings established themselves in the mid-to-late 1990s as the best retro show on the live circuit. Their shows were widely bootlegged, often in sub-standard sound quality.
In an attempt to thwart such nefarious activities, Bill decided to effectively bootleg himself and sell live Rhythm Kings CDs at gigs and through his website - although, for copyright reasons, these packages were credited to The Bootleg Kings.
Jump Jive And Wail
This anthology assembles the pick of those bootleg CDs created by Bill, to amply demonstrate why The Rhythm Kings continue to enjoy a peerless live reputation. A litany of star names, from Lonnie Donegan to Albert Lee, play on this two CD collection of classic rock 'n' roll & rhythm & blues, but it's the King regulars - led by Bill himself - who still deservedly take the spotlight.
by Dave Wells (August 2006)
He may have been one-half of the matchless rhythm section that kept the Rolling Stones anchored for some thirty years, but it's entirely possible that, in unguarded moments, Bill Wyman, might just be persuaded to confess that the most fun he ever had with his clothes on was with the Rhythm Kings rather than with Mick, Keef and co.
Capable of tackling pretty much any facet of the post-1920s American musical landscape - Jazz, Blues, R&B, Swing, Country, Soul, Rock 'n' Roll - the Rhythm Kings established themselves in the mid-to-late 1990s as the best retro show on the live circuit. A number of widely acclaimed studio albums ensued, but it was the procest of a rattling god night out that really attrated the punters. Indeed, their shows were widely bootlegged, often in sub-standard sound quality.
In an attempt to thwart such nefarious activities, Bill Wyman decided to effectively bootleg himself and sell live Rhythm Kings CDs at gigs and through his website - although, for copyright reasons, these packages were credited to The Bootleg Kings. This anthology assembles the pick of those CDs, to amply demonstrate why Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings continue to enjoy a peerless live reputation.
The Rhythm Kings had their genesis in another of Wyman's extracurricular projects, Willie And The Poor Boys, a peripatetic ensemble initially assembled in the mid-80s for a series of fund-raising concerts in aid of former Faces bassist Ronnie Lane, who was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. A Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired re-imagining of a late 50s Rock'n'Roll band, Willie And The Poor Boys featured Bill Wyman and a host of famous names, diligently raising money for Lane's charity.
A spin-off studio album, featuring fine version of such R&R/R&B chestnuts as 'Baby Please Don't Go', 'Slippin' And Slidin'' and 'You Never Can Tell', followed in 1985, with contributions from, among others, Jimmy Page, Kenney Jones, Charlie Watts and Paul Rodgers. The Willie And The Poor Boys imprimatur briefly re-emerged in 1992 when, with the notable addition of Procol Harum lead vocalist and pianist Gary Brooker, they reconvened for a live show in Sweden that, a couple of years later, was issued on CD as Tear It Up - Live.
By that time Bill Wyman had finally made the break and quite the Rolling Stones, though his departure wasn't announced until January 1993. He subsequently admitted that he'd wanted to call it a day before the Rolling Stones Steel Wheels tour of 1989-90, but "I couldn't afford to leave then. I know it sounds ridiculous, but we didn't have any money then, me, Charlie and Woody. We were broke. We had to do that tour just to get comfortable. When the tour was over, I told them I was going to leave, but they didn't believe me. I kept telling them, but they assumed I was kidding, that I was just mouthing off, that I'd change my mind. When they realised I was serious, they kept coming over to try and make me change my mind. It got quite nasty for a while..."
For two years after breaking free of the Rolling Stones, any new musical ventures looked out of the question. Indeed, Bill Wyman barely touched his bass during that period. "I wanted my family life back", he now explains. "It was only after a couple of years or so that I got the idea to put something together. And what started as me and a couple of old makes like Andy Fairweather-Low and Georgie Fame going into a studio and recording a few of our favourite numbers snowballed and evolved."
A more carefully considered revamp of the essentially ad hoc Willie and The Poor Boys, Bill Wyman's latest, most enduring all-star sideshow was born, and Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings duly made their recording debut with the late 1997 release of Struttin' Our Stuff. It was to be the first in a series of highly accomplished studio albums that received critical acclaim and commercial success alike - although they continued to be a live act first and foremost, as can be heard on this pick of the quartet of live albums, marketed under the Bootleg Kings' banner.
The first of the Bootleg Kings packages, given the self-explanatory title of Live In Europe, collected a clutch of October 1998 performances at clubs in Denmark, Norway, Germany and France. The Rhythm Kings' three main vocalists at the time - Georgie Fame, Gary Brooker and Beverley Skeete (who'd previously worked with the likes of Chaka Khan and Elton John) - shared the statement of intent opener 'Let The Good Times Roll', after which Brooker took centre-stage for authoritative renditions of such hardy perennials as 'Stagger Lee', 'Rockin' Pneumonia and The Boogie Woogie Flu', 'Good Golly Miss Molly' and a version of Wilson Pickett's arrangement of 'Land Of A Thousand Dances that, in addition to a facetious (albeit uncredited) interpolation of a verse from 'A White Shade Of Pale', also included a snatch of The Champs' late Fifties instrumental hit 'Tequila'.
Georgie Fame led the band through Hoagy Carmichael's (via Ray Charles) 'Georgia on my Mind', which also prominently featured leading jazz guitarist Martin Taylor. But the quality of playing throughout confirmed that The Rhythm Kings were palpably a bad of equals: in addition to Brooker on piano and Fame on organ, drummer Graham Broad formed the rhythm section with (naturally enough) Bill Wyman on bass, Nick Payn on sax and Albert Lee (who too lead vocals on the Johnny Burnette Trio's 'Tear It Up') on guitar, with backing vocals from Keeley Coburn and Melanie Redmond.
Live In Europe was followed by Ride Again, which focused on the band's British tour in June 2000, although a version of 'Baby (You've Got What It Takes)' dated back to the previous year. The bulk of this line-up of Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings - Wyman, Brooker, Fame, Lee, Skeete, Payn, Martin Taylor - had also played on Live In Europe, but this time Bill Wyman brought in his old friend, guitarist Terry Taylor, as well as drummer Henry Spinetti, saxophonist Frank Mead and singer Janice Hoyte.
Once again, though, it was the strength and diversity of the featured vocalists that drew the most attention. Louis Prima's swing classic 'Jump, Jive An' Wail' and a rollicking take o Fate Domino's 'I'm Ready' gave Albert Lee the chance to prove once again what an underrated singer he is, Beverley Skeete shone on Jackie Wilson' 'Baby Work Out', Janice Hoyte tore her way through the lascivious 'Hello Little Boy' (a rare flop back in 1954 for Atlantic's top-selling act of the Fifties, the incomparable Ruth Brown), while Gary Brooker took the honours on a swaggering version of another Jackie Wilson (and, much later, Shakin' Stevens) hit, 'I'll Be Satisfied'.
A couple of duets - Brooker and Fame on the immortal 'Mystery Train', Brooker and Skeete on 'Baby (You've Got What It Takes)' (which adhered to the good-humoured, laid-back template of the Brook Benton/Dinah Washington original) - were also among the highlights, but the most intriguing inclusion on Ride Again was surely Brooker's self-penned 'Lead Me To The Water', which could have sounded anomalous on a bill of otherwise vintage material, but actually fitted seamlessly.
Next up was Travlin' Band, recorded during The Rhythm Kings's British tour in June/early July 2001 and recorded with the same pool of musicians, although former Big Town Playboys singer and pianist Mike Sanchez replaced Gary Brooker, whose Procol commitments took precedence. Travlin' Band (like Willie & The Poor Boys a nod to one of Bill's favourite groups, Creedence Clearwater Revival) also featured new material in a couple of Bill Wyman/Terry Taylor collaborations, the twelve-minute blow-out 'Tell You A Secret' and the highly convincing swing pastiche 'Jitterbug Boogie'.
Both Wyman/Taylor songs were handled by Sanchez, who also took lead vocal on Amos Milburn's irresistible 'Chicken Shack Boogie'. Georgie Fame, meanwhile, took the mike for the playful 'Walking One And Only' (originally written and recorded by San Franciscan band Dan Hicks and His Hit Licks, who, in the early 1970s, had pursued their own idiosyncratic blend of Blues, Country, Forties Jazz and Western Swing), Beverley Skeete too over for a suitably sultry 'Love Letters' and an impassioned, slow-burning interpretation of the Screaming Jay Hawkins classic 'I Put A Spell On You', while Janice Hoyte fronted another Ruth Brown cover, the catchy 'This Little Girl's Gone Rockin''.
Featuring the same musicians and singers (bar the conspicuously absent Janice Hoyte) as Travlin' Band, the fourth and final Bootleg Kings CD, On The Road Again, took in various live shows between May and July 2002. However, a couple of bonus tracks were added from the previous year - 'Frankie And Johnny', featuring special guest Lonnie Donegan (in sparkling form, incidentally), had been recorded during the band's brief tour of Spain in July 2001, while a superb, slinky revamp of the Jagger/Richards song 'Melody' (originally from The Rolling Stones' 1976 album Black And Blue), cleverly reworked and rearranged as a duet between Georgie Fame and Beverley Skeete, was taped a couple of weeks earlier in late June in the decidedly less glamorous surroundings of Milton Keynes.
Of the 2002 performances, Skeete, who also took lead vocals on Etta James' 'Trust In Me', joined with Sanchez for 'Kiddio', another Brook Benton hit from 1960. Sanchez also handled Willie Dixon's 'Down In The Bottom', the Big Booper's 'Chantilly Lace' and a romp through new Orleans teen rocker Jerry Byrne's one moment of genius, the frenetic, Mac Rebennack (aka Dr John)-penned 'Lights Out'. Bill was even persuaded to shuffle up to the mike for a rare, typically diffident lead vocal on Leadbelly's 'Midnight Special' - a song that, coupled with the previous year's collaboration with Lonnie Donegan, must have taken him back to his days as a budding musician during the shortlived Skiffle craze the best part of fifty years earlier.
Little could he have dreamt at that point, of course, of the glittering career that awaited him - or, indeed, the late-flowering postscript that would see him revisit some of his favourite music in the company of sympathetic and similarly highly skilled musicians.
As Bill Wyman said, you can do anything with this band.
Here's the proof.
Full track listing