"Manchester born blues
legend Victor Brox is probably one of the most underrated champions of
the British Blues scene and its unsung hero. This may well have been
because he has refused to be pigeon-holed into any single category and
has produced an eclectic style which often defied analysis. What cannot
be disputed is his excellent singing voice, musical virtuosity and total
eccentricity. He was described by Jimi Hendrix and Tina Turner as their
favourite white blues singer. He is without doubt a national treasure.
worked with: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Ian
Gillan of Deep Purple, Charlie Mingus, Memphis Slim, Dr. John, Aynsley
Dunbar, Graham Bond, Alexis Korner, John Mayall, Country Joe McDonald,
Keith Moon, Bill Coleman and Screaming Lord Sutch.
Victor performed as Caiaphas on the original recording of Tom Rice and
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar.
he appeared as a 'look-alike' of Leonardo da Vinci in the motion picture
Victor has very
talented children, with the youngest being blues singer Klya Brox (see
interview). His ex-wife Annette helped Victor form his early
blues bands and she often performs as an opera singer."
Source: Wikipedia and
As Victor now lives in France he is rarely seen in
England, however Kyla kindly arranged for me to interview Victor at a
Klya Brox Band gig (more of a 'family get-together') in Uppermill,
Alan: Youíve been in
the music business for many years, but what are your first musical
memories growing up in Manchester?
Victor: I had my own band
when I was about 12, in Droylsden, Manchester, and we had a sort of,
well we were playing mostly Jelly Roll Morton compositions Ė I think I
was playing banjo at the time. We used to rehearse in my Mumís front
room because we had a piano there. We used to play at St. Maryís Church
Hall in Droylsden for dances. I was very keen on blues and I got to
meet Big Bill Broonzy and Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry, and it was
through blues that I came to jazz. My first love was blues and Iíve
been operating in the jazz field as well over the years but blues has
remained constant as the main string to my bow.
Alan: Did you come
from a musical family?
Victor: My mother was
musical and her father was a very fine singer. She played the piano and
the mandolin, and sang. But my grandfather was an excellent singer,
born in Manchester to an Irish family and he sang all the way through
the first world war, right up to the time he died. He used to play the
bones [as an instrument]; he had a butcherís shop and heíd make his own bones and heíd play
different rhythms with both hands and he taught me to whistle.
Alan: Did you always
want to become a musician?
Victor: Right up to the
time I was in university I was told that I was destined to be a medical
missionary. But I became progressively more disillusioned with that. I
was always keen on music, played the violin from the age of 10 but I
never expected to become an official musician because I didnít
anticipate what would ever be the means to do it. I used to go to the
Northern Jazz Federation record meetings all over Lancashire, when I was
their mascot because I was in my early teens and they were all, well Iíd
have said then that they were old men, but they were probably only 30
and 40. I got to hear some fantastic recordings. This is long before
the age of LP records, let alone CDs. 78s were all that were available
and they were quite rare to hear genuine jazz and blues at that time.
But I was absolutely obsessed with it and that was my grounding. I
never anticipated becoming a professional musician. When I graduated
from university in philosophy I decided that what I wanted to do was
play the trumpet so I went to Spain, to Ibiza. Iíd been through
Barcelona the year before and seen Bill Coleman who I thought was a very
good jazz trumpet player, so I went to Barcelona to try and get lessons
from him. Heíd moved on of course by then so I went on to Ibiza and
there were a lot of good musicians on that island. This was 1962/63 and
it was unknown. Charlie Mingus had said that he was going to go and
live there so quite a few jazz musicians from Europe and America were
there and I got to play with them, so that was a good grounding for me.
When I came back I met Kylaís mother and we decided to get married and
form a band. And so I had to start trying to make some money out of
it. I had my own band before I went to university, we used to play down
in the centre of Manchester. I gave John Mayall his first paid work!
But I never really thought of it as a way of making a living until I was
absolutely forced to. Eventually I had to become a school teacher
because I couldnít really make it work when the children started to come
along. Then I gave up teaching and became a professional band leader
with The Blues Train and then I was asked to join Alexis Korner and the
Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, which involved moving down to London. I had
a lot of opportunity to meet a lot of the bluesmen because they used to
come up here to play for Granada. Johnnie Hamp [British television
producer] was very keen on blues so he used to get a lot of the
Blues and Gospel Caravan to come over from America nearly every year so
I got to know quite a lot of them. I backed some of them too, like
Little Walter and Muddy Waters, and people like that.
Alan: In the Ď70s you
were very influential in creating the Manchester music scene. Tell me a
little about how that developed.
Victor: I left teaching and
I left my own band and jumped at this opportunity to join Alexis Korner
and went to London. My band carried on but at the end of the 60s it
split up and several of the band joined Frank Zappa and I formed my own
band from the remnants, and a big gospel band. Iíd met these gospel
singers because Iíd sung on the original album of Jesus Christ Superstar
and I used the Trinidad Singers and some of the other musicians plus
Kylaís mum, Annette, so we had a very big gospel influenced soul band
with six girl singers. It was quite immense and we did one paid gig and
recorded one record and that was the end of that. But I formed another
band which was quite big. I used to live next door to a band called The
Family and there was another band on our street called The Action and
they became Mighty Baby, and I got some musicians from that band. That
continued for quite a while and I was playing with Graham Bond and then
things started to peter out at the beginning of the 70s, the music scene
changed a lot and I joined Screaming Lord Sutch for a while.
Eventually I moved back to
Manchester because my family was getting bigger and I went back into
teaching. At the same time I reformed the Victor Brox Blues Train and
various members of the band went on to form the ..... we had a very zany
line up and did a lot of performance art as well. But the music never
suffered, it was always Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman,
Prince Buster, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin, James
Brown Ė quite a wide range of stuff. I formed a music company called
Music Force and went down to work with Vanessa and Colin Redgrave, Jim
Allen, Tom Kempinski, people like that. Worked at the Empire Pool
Wembley with the Road to Workers Power. They tried to get me involved in
the political side but I said Iím a musician not a politician. But the
musiciansí union was very weak and poor at the time, for example they
were refusing to allow American jazz musicians to come over to this
country so it was a very strange scene. So we formed our alternative
co-operative and did quite a lot of concerts and had a lot of bands.
The more people who joined the less radical it became and I fell out of
sympathy with it in the end. A lot of those people went on to form
bands like Sad Cafe, and The Oxford Road Show started from that. I was
never interested in the commercial side of music, I was only interested
in what I considered to be creative jazz or blues, and the rest was of
Alan: I read that one
of your greatest fans was Jimi Hendrix and that you actually jammed with
Victor: Back then Jimi
loved Aynsley Dunbarís playing and wanted him for the Experience but
Chas Chandler wanted Mitch Mitchell partly because of his image Ė he had
long ringlets Ė and Aynsley was a like a little Mod from Liverpool at
the time with sellotaped-down hair. So Aynsley never joined them but he
was Jimiís personal choice and whenever The Retaliation was on at the
Speakeasy Hendrix would come down and play with us and he told me that I
was his favourite white singer. We became good friends and he came to
play with us in New York as well. That was an extraordinary night,
Ritchie Havens was there, Leonard Cohen (who lives in Manchester now),
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, me, Aynsley Dunbar and The Retaliation.
That was quite a night, as you can imagine!
Alan: Youíve played
with an amazing arrange of big names Ė BB King, Eric Clapton, Muddy
Victor: I never played with
Eric Clapton on gigs because politically we didnít agree. I have none
the less recorded with him. He was one of the musicians engaged to play
on the Dr John album, 'The Sun, Moon & Herbs', which I was
engaged on. It took place over a week in London and various people
would come in. One night there was Mick Jagger doing backing vocals and
another night there was Eric Clapton playing guitar.
Alan: Of all the
people youíve played with, who do you admire the most?
Victor: Itís very hard to
say. I like Lonnie Johnson, the great guitarist. Iíve got a lovely
picture of me and Kylaís mother and Lonnie Johnson in the 60s. I think
he was the first person ever to record Iím not rough as a guitar
solo with the Louis Armstrong Hot Five, and he did a single string
guitar solo which was quite remarkable. I think that was the very first
guitar jazz solo, I think it predates any of the bebop records. Itís
almost impossible to say who I admire the most, although I very much
admire Little Walter and Muddy Waters. One of my favourite singers, two
favourite singers, one who I still hope to get the chance to see is
Bobby Blue Bland. I wrote the sleeve notes to one of his LPs when I was
very young called 'Ainít Nothing You Can Do'. The other person I
never got to see which Iím bitterly disappointed about was Howliní
Wolf. I used to sing quite like him at one point but then I got sick of
people asking me to do it and I decided it was preferable to sing as
myself rather than imitating him.
Alan: Who would you
say influenced you most in your music writing?
Victor: Probably Ray
Charles because he did a lot of different things very well Ė he wrote,
he sang, he played keyboards, saxophone. I was lucky enough to meet him
once at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. We didnít have any money but
we managed to get back stage because we said Annette, my wife, was one
of the Raylettes. She obviously wasnít! I also very much admired
Theolonius Monk and the other person more latterly was Dizzy Gillespie
who I squeezed up against in a taxi, interviewed him and held his Dizzy
Horn. The last concert he did in Manchester he had a singer with him
called Flora Purim, the wife of Airto Moreira, the great percussionist,
and while she was on stage he had a little break, went off to have a pee
and said, ďHere, hold my trumpet manĒ. I went to the hotel with him and
managed to get an interview with him for a jazz magazine I was writing
for at the time.
Alan: Also in the 60's
you formed the 'Victor Brox Blues Train' with your wife Annette, and at
one time it was nicknamed 'The Child Slavery Band', tell me about this.
Victor: Iíve been fired by
my own band on more than one occasion and on this particular occasion I
was very pissed off. It was the second time in a year Iíd been fired by
my own band and I still donít know why. Iím friendly with all the
people that were responsible now, but it was a bit disappointing at the
time to turn up for a gig to find your bandís playing and they donít
want you to play. Usually the promoter was absolutely furious. I put
it down to jealousy and envy and general intrigue. But on this
particular occasion I had a gig the next night and I couldnít find any
musicians but I was determined that they werenít going to do it and I
was going to do it, so I looked around and the only people I could see
were my own children so they became my band. That was when Kyla was 11,
Danny was 12. Danny agreed to play bass, although heíd never played
bass. Phil was the oldest member at 15, and my son, Sam, was 13.
People looked and said, ďItís Victorís Child Slavery BandĒ. Itís
actually the band youíll see tonight, more or less Ė Danny, Phil and
Kyla are in it.
Alan: Thereís not much information Iíve
managed to glean on this, but in 1969 you were involved in the 'Sweet
Pain Sessions' releasing the 'Sweet Pain' album which I believe
featured Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor/soprano sax), John O'Leary (harp),
Stuart Cowell (guitar) Keith Tillman (bass), Aynsley Dunbar (drums),
yourself (piano/trumpet), and your wife Annette (vocals), Tell me about
the band and the making of the album.
Victor: Yes, that was organised by Keith Tillman who left the Aynsley
Dunbar Retaliation as bass player and was replaced by Alex Dmochowski.
He saw that we were doing quite well recording-wise and he helped to
organise it. Many years later in the 80s I played with him, John
OíLeary. Dick Heckstall-Smith and Eric Bell in the band called Mainsqueeze. Both Aynsley and I were in it, but under different names
because we were already signed to Liberty records. Dick, Keith Tillman,
John OíLeary and myself became the nucleus of what we were going to take
the title of The New Savoy Brown Blues Band, but Kim Simmonds wasn't
prepared to let go of the name, even though the name was invented by
John O'Leary. So then we became The Famous Blues Blasters and eventually
that transmogrified into Mainsqueeze. [See
footnote (1) below]
You are respected as a musical virtuoso,
playing trumpet, guitar and keyboards, as well as performing vocals;
what is your favourite instrument?
Victor: I used to love to
play violin and especially the viola but itís very hard to say. I still
like the trumpet, and guitar.
Are there any
particular songs that have special meaning to you?
Victor: All the songs I
wrote of course. I wrote a song called 'Whiskey Head Woman'
which changed to be 'The Dream' and thatís stood the test of
time. Thereís some extraordinary stories behind that song and what
happened to it. And one that I really like is 'Double-Loving',
which is the one that Hendrix called the best white guitar solo every
recorded. I donít play the solo, John Moore did that, but I produced
the song. Kyla's recorded it as well. I wrote an entire opera based on
the life history and work of Hieronymous Bosch. [see
footnote (2) below] One of the songs from
that, 'It's a Beautiful Sunrise', which Annette, Kyla's mother
sings was one of our singles. Itís very hard to say really, I obviously
much like all my songs but some of those from that opera were
particularly good. I recorded one with The Gospel Truth, 'In This
Time of Trouble', was a very good song and there is another called
'Casparís Song' where Iím singing in the guise of one of the
Three Wise Men is Annette's favourite song. I suppose the last one I
wrote is usually my favourite song!
Alan: You now have a very talented musical
family: Kyla with her own blues band, Buffy and Anna, both singers, and
Sam also with his own band; you must be very proud of them.
Victor: I am. I'm hoping
to have Kyla and Buffy singing with me tonight but weíll have to
Alan: Finally, how do
you see the future of blues music?
Victor: I donít think itís
got a future. I think itís on the way out. There is nobody coming up
to take over and thereís not really any interest in it. Itís very sad
but thereís no interest in America whatsoever and very little in
Britain. The key place for blues at the moment is Belgium where they
are crazy about the blues. Iím hoping to stimulate interest in Japan.
Itís a shame because itís a perfect medium for improvisation and it
combines the best of poetry and soulful music and dance. Itís the root
of most modern popular music but itís a long apprenticeship. Blues is
basically music based on the human voice and to become a blues singer is
like a 20 year apprenticeship unless you are very extraordinary indeed.
In this day of Andy Warholís famous 15 minutes people donít want to
spend 20 years learning an art with no guaranteed outlet at the end of
it. Hardly anybody wants to be a blues singer. Kyla says, ďMost of my
audience Dad are your ageĒ, when she goes to play at the blues clubs,
much older than she is, and sheís 30 so sheís past the age of pop music
anyway. You see some people who want to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix
and thereís always a few people who want to play slide guitar but itís
nothing like in the old days when you could hear a blues band everywhere
and there was a big market for it. There isnít any more and people
arenít interested in it. Or very few, and not enough to make a
commercial audience. I think itíll become even more specialist and
select curiosity. I sincerely hope Iím wrong but I really donít see
anything emerging which merits highly. I havenít seen a really good
blues band for a long time and I travel all over the world. The LA
blues scene is so derivative and nobody believes in it, and they are all
white people anyway. I think there probably are some ancient and middle
aged blues men still around but young black people want to do rap, or at
the worst, soul music and modern R&B which has no relation to blues.
Itís a great shame but I donít see much future there.
"In the early
1980ís Mainsqueeze contained a truly strong and comprehensive
line-up which Dick Heckstall-Smith reflects on as a ďgreat band,
but a ponderous size; each member was just so goodĒ.. The new
blues band featured Dick Heckstall-Smith on alto, tenor and
soprano sax, Diana Wood on vocals and alto sax, Keith Tillman
(ex-Bluesbreakers) bass, John OíLeary (Savoy Brown) harmonica,
Eric Bell (ex-Thin Lizzy) guitar, Dave Moore, Roland organ,
Victor Brox (ex-Blues Incorporated) vocals, trumpet and Keith
Hartley (ex-Bluesbreakers) on drums; later replaced by Stretch.
The sheer size and comparable abilities of the musical unit
presented clear parallels with not only an original Ďback to
basicsí blues outfit, but also a fully dimensional cabaret act
playing within traditions from Chicago to Cyril Davies
orientated blues. John OíLeary described the main raison díetre
for the band as being to not only deliver cutting edge blues,
but to also look good and be overtly entertaining. To this end,
Mainsqueeze was successful. Despite the disadvantage of the
fallow period for blues, Mainsqueeze enjoyed the attentions of
not only certain sectors of the music press, but also R &B rock
protagonist such as of Jeff Beck and Alexis Korner who
frequented the audience at some remarkable gigs. The band
emulated quality R ní B from the heart, as much for the purposes
of self-indulgence as audience appreciation".
Source: Holly Tillman, Facebook
"Hieronymus Bosch; born Jeroen Anthoniszoon van Aken c. 1450 Ė August 9, 1516)
was an Early Netherlandish painter. His work is known for its
use of fantastic imagery to illustrate moral and religious
concepts and narratives". Source; Wikipedia