Big Jim Sullivan interview
As a rough estimate, he'd say he's actually recorded for over 60.000 artists, resulting in over 1000 records that hit the UK charts. Yet, only very few credits include his name. Such is the life of the session man. But all through the 60's, well into the 70's this man was at the top of his game, making him the UK's all-time # 1 session guitarist.
- You started out your professional career in Marty Wilde's band The Wildcats, with which you also backed up Eddie Cochran. That was literally the cradle of UK rock. What were those days like ?
Like nothing you or I or anybody else will experience again. It was all new, even experimenting with unwound guitar strings was so new that we used banjo strings for the 1st and 2nd. Then we would use the 1st string of the guitar set for the 3rd, the 3rd for the 4th the 4th for the 5th and lastly the 5th for the 6th. That was the Rock 'n' Roll set in the mid-late 50's. Everything we did was new. Even the 'Lords day observance Society' had to make new rules for the rock 'n' Roll shows, because they wouldn't allow makeup music and electricity to be used on the Lords Day. The LDOS was found mostly on the south coast of England and was very strict. I remember one place wouldn't allow Marty to wear his silver lame jacket. So he went on in his everyday shirt.
- What made you move on to studio sessions ?
Jack Good started to use me on his sessions from 1958 onwards and it all built up from there.
- Obviously a major part of your work came from solo artists who did not have a regular backing band...
Yes, but early 60's, when the groups came in, we were called to play on those recordings. Most of the groups didn't play on their early records.
- Most of these bands always made a rather big deal about the fact that they play on their own records. Nevertheless you played on quite a number of their records. Would you say that was mostly to beef up the sound or were the bands not really able to cut it in the studio ?
I don't think the bands could quite cut the mustard in the early days. But saying that, some groups like the 'Small Faces', did have a couple of their members on the sessions when we recorded 'Itchycoo Park'.
- How was your relationship with these bands ? Did they consider you an intruder on their
Yes they did, but most greeted us with open arms because they knew they would get the best results from us.
- You almost literally walked through the 60's side by side with Jimmy Page and later on, often got credited for each other's guitar work...
Yes, Jimmy and I did lots of work together in the 60's and onwards. Even today people say its me when its Jimmy and vice versa.
- One of the most talked about sessions of the era must have been the ones for the first Kinks album and the early singles. Can you set the record straight on who played what and where ?
Dave played on 'You Realy Got Me' But I am sure that I did some rhythm overdubs on a couple of tracks. You know, to spice up the tracks.
- John Paul Jones was also a regular on those 60's sessions. Did he have a special connection with Page back then ?
No, I don't think so. It seemed to be that the rhythm section that was popular in those days were:- Jimmy and myself on guitars. J P jones, or John Baldwin as he was known then, on Bass and Bobby Graham on Drums.
- You played lotsa Beatles related sessions... Peter & Gordon, Silkie, Scaffold, Cliff Bennett, Billy J Kramer and especially Cilla Black. Any Beatles participations people may not be aware of ?
No!! they mostly worked on their own recordings. Paul did come into the studio when I was recording an album with Chas 'n' Dave and do a bit of vocals on one of our tracks. But that was later when he had formed Wings. Also, I used to get together with George at his house and play sitar together.
- You also did several sessions for Mary Hopkin with and without Paul...
Yes but I don't really remember what these sessions were like. They are part of lots of sessions that makeup a hazy part of my session life. I had already met Paul so there was no big impressions there.
- Tell me something about your David Bowie sessions... You never got a credit for Space Oddity and your work on Ziggy Stardust is very much a public secret. What's the deal there ?
I didn't even recall being on the DB sessions until Herbie Flowers reminded me a couple of years ago. I still don't remember the sessions. I put it down to the fact that DB was a new artist and wasn't known to me at that time. If I could remember the 60,000 odd artist's that came through the studios over the 30 odd years that I played on sessions, I would be a walking encyclopedia and would never get any sleep.
- Thunderclap Newman must have been one of the more unsusual bands to work with...
Being that I saw him every other day at E.M.I., I was very familiar with him. 'Something in the Air' was his only hit. I do remember this session vaguely.
- In spite of your relationship with Jimmy Page, you did very few sessions for Immediate...
I did loads of sessions with Andrew Oldham. I remember a couple of instrumental albums, just don't ask the names. Also I played on a lot of demos in the early days of the Stones. Songs like "As tears go by" and the lads were about on these sessions.
- Donovan is one of those artists where you get the impression he always plays his own guitar parts...
No, I did lots of Don's tracks, either lead or rhythm. So did Jimmy Page, Eric Ford and Vick Flick.
- What were Marianne Faithfull sessions like ? Did any of the Stones ever get involved in those sessions ?
I seem to remember the 1st album was me and Jimmy and another guitarist I can't remember. I don't remember any Stones coming to the session. The control box could have been full of them of course.
- What were your most memorable sessions ?
The early Jack Good sessions like 'Lulu' and 'P J Proby' and so on.
- How different was it to play the Engelbert Humperdinck type session as opposed to Family or The Kinks ?
Mostly large orchestras.
- You were the guitar player for Tom Jones virtually from Day 1. Eventually you even stopped your session work to go out on the road with him. How was that and how would you rate your work with Tom ?
I allways quote that "the best 45 years of my life were the 5 years I spent with Ton Jones".
- You seem to have a few sessions in common with Elton John when he still did sessions. Ever run into him ? (Tom Jones ? Long John Baldry ? Family Dogg ?)
Only on the Tom Jones Show. Everybody did that show and inevitably I backed them. I did some arragements for 'Family Dog' that made the charts.
- In the meantime you had also done a few albums of your own. What was that like ?
I never liked making albums. It is only now that I feel I am capable of saying something that is mine.
The Lord Sitar album, who came up with the idea of an eastern-tinged album of western pop songs in the first place ?
It was me that came up with the idea to mix the 2 musics. Don't forget I had already made one album with Lou Reisner, for Polydor I think. That has been re-released in the last couple of years. The Indo Jazz Fusions, with Joe Harriott leading the musicians, were going at the same time. I also had a little trio with Johnny Mac (John McLaughlin - Ed) on guitar and Chriss Karen on Tabla. We never played live.
Remember any of the personnel at the sessions ?
The players on the 1st album were Johnny Mac and Alan Parker Guitars, Herbie Flowers and Dave Richmond on Basses, Chriss Karen on Tabla, Barry Morgan on Drums. On Lord Sitar all I can remember is Ronnie Verel and Chriss Karen.
Was the selection of tunes picked by you or someone else ?
For Lord Sitar it was someone else. For the Polydor album it was me.
Why so much anonymity on the album cover ?
Well I know I was contracted to Polydor so they couldn't use my name. I don't remember all the details of the sessions, so I would rather not say anything.
Was the label actually trying to brew up some confusion over Lord Sitar's identity, or were they just trying to be "psychedelic" ?
I just think it was the times. Look how much consternation it's causing now. Let's go on for a while longer... Then when my book comes out all will be reveiled.
Surprised that folks theorized that Lord Sitar was a pseudonymous George Harrison?
Perhaps it was on some tracks ?
Fond memories of the whole affair, or was just another gig?
The thing was fun and still is.
- After leaving Tom Jones, you teamed up with Derek Lawrence and went to the States where you went into production. You produced the first two albums by Angel...
Yes, That was a great experiance for Derek and me. We had to get the bass player Mickey out of jail a couple of times, for wandering around hotels out of his brains. I remember Punky Meadows always carrying a pack of beers around with him. They were a great bunch of guys and we got on quite well considering the different planets we came from.
- And you were part of Tiger...
I made 3 albums with 'Tiger' and I felt only the last one was where I wanted the band to be. We used Simon Phillips Drums, Percy Jones Bass, Dave Lawson keyboards and Maurice Pert on percussion. Yours truly on guitar of course. E.M.I. shelved the album and our manager of that time John bought the tapes and released the album on his label.
- A more unsual move was joining the James Last Orchestra...
Not really. Nobody else wanted me and he payed lots of dosh. He was a very generous man. He bought me a very expensive classical guitar.
- You teamed up with Willie Austen for about 12 years ! Had things changed too much in the business to pick up where you left off ?
Yes, you have to remember, I had been out of the business (by choice) for nearly 30 years and at least 3 generations of new talented guitarists had come and gone in this time.
- You seem to be doing a whole bunch of musical things nowadays that you really enjoy doing. Making up for lost time ?
I think all I'm doing is just what I want to do, not what other people want me to do. A musician can get lost to what he is in the session busines as it was. What you must remember it's not the 3 or 4 sessions a week or a month as it is now. We were doing 3 sessions a day, day in and day out. I never had a Christmass at home for about 10 years. I also never had a holiday for years. Everyday was like a holiday allways something new always something different, but it was allways for someone else and never for me. I now work for me and am enjoying every minute of it.
Check out Jim's website Here