A life in Music – thoughts from Bob Henrit on the sad death of Jim Rodford

|

 

Jim Rodford – bass player extraordinaire

The phone rang at 9am on Saturday, 20th January and when the screen showed Steve Rodford I immediately sensed something was up. If he wanted me to do his gig that night he would surely have called halfway through the morning. I instinctively refrained from our usual banter and Steve told me the whole sad story. His dad had fallen down the stairs at home and his mum had found him dead sometime later.

Steve was phoning everybody so, by the time I talked to most of them they already knew what had happened. As the morning went on and the news hit Facebook I spoke to a great many people although even though I found this helped I still couldn’t make any sense of what had happened. John V and Stubbz Gibbons phoned next and we cheered ourselves up a little by remembering just a few of Jim’s many idiosyncrasies. Ray phoned me next then Dave skyped from America for a long and completely heartfelt conversation about our Jim. We were all in shock. Jim was supposed to outlast all of us, how could this be? I phoned Russell, who knew nothing of the events and was out standing on a freezing touchline watching his grandsons playing football. He was actually speechless for quite some time when I gave him the news. Rod was next and we both expressed our utter disbelief at the completely unexpected event which had just rocked our lives.

I first met Jim Rodford, (or Doctor James Walter Rodford as we lately came to know him proudly) in the mid-sixties when he was playing in the Mike Cotton Sound Band. With their ex-American-serviceman singer Lucas, they were the best R&B band in the UK by miles. They worked incessantly and every week ‘The Melody Maker’ had an advert for the gigs they were doing that month which never seemed to have any gaps in it. The guys just didn’t do time off. I went to see them a lot at various London watering holes like The Cromwellian, The Bag o’ nails, The Scotch, or Klooks Kleek whenever I could and would almost always position myself to be invited to sit-in with them, something I really enjoyed. I did this so much it seems they got Jim to ask me to join them – possibly to stop me turning up and being a nuisance by asking to play! I was in Unit 4 + 2 at the time with RGB and declined their offer and I spoke to Mike Cotton at Jim’s funeral about it. I told him I think that a half-century later the reason I didn’t throw my lot in with them was because I was frightened – those guys had too many gigs!

Of course not long after this something else came along which was with Rod Argent, Russell Ballard, me and of course the great Jimmy Rodford.

But before this momentous occasion our paths still crossed in motorway service stations like the newly opened Blue Boar at the Watford Gap. I was playing a gig with Unit 4 at a dance hall in Basildon and I spotted a couple of guys in the audience who looked familiar. It turned out that, at Jim’s suggestion, Rod and Chris White had journeyed out into darkest Essex to check-out Unit 4 + 2 – or at least their drummer and guitarist: Yours truly and Russell. We chatted about the band they wanted to put together and soon after we went to Chris White’s pad near the station in Woodside Park to listen to the prospective songs they had in mind, which were world-class. I think that was when we discovered who was playing bass.

This information sealed the deal. (As I write this I can feel Jim next to me saying no, that’s not the way it happened and, as ever, he would be right.) We were off and running and if I’d thought Mike Cotton’s band were busy they had nothing on Argent. Our feet didn’t touch the ground for years.

At Jim’s suggestion we headed to Munich and the PN Club, where he’d played with Mike’s band. The idea was to “get the band together man” and to accomplish this, as RGB and I had with Unit 4 in Cologne, we’d be playing nine forty-five minute spots a night. Not something for the faint-hearted. During the first spot we were simply playing to ‘ladies of negotiable affection’ seated provocatively at the bar hoping to get lucky. So we could play what we liked and this was where Mr Rodford and I learned how to communicate musically through the ether. We started off with a John Lee Hooker song called “Dimples” which we played like the original until without any warning I would change the feel of the song to a proper double-handed shuffle (say) and off we would go for a few minutes, The feel would possibly change to a 12/8 slow blues, then perhaps an aggressive straight-eight notes ‘funky’ feel then, 6/8, or whatever we fancied including 9/8 and 5/4. Until forty minutes after the beginning we’d steer it back to the traditional feel we’d started with and walk off in silence for a well-deserved free drink. Just the one courtesy of Peter Naumann the owner of the PN Club!

For my money the “Hold your head up” rhythm stemmed from these first sessions of each evening in the club downstairs on the Leopoldstrasse. But again, I can hear Jim whispering in my ear that it didn’t. As usual, he is probably right! . The next thing we knew was that we were playing at the CBS World-Wide Convention in London,swiftly followed by recording success and touring America just as we and the record company had suspected we would! This was in 1970 and Jim never ever stopped touring the New World.

Phoenix came after Argent for me and Jim and I like to think we were the first ‘Power Trio’. This gave me and us the opportunity to play whatever we wanted – providing we coincided on the downbeat every once in a while! He left the band when The Kinks offered him the gig after Nobby Dalton left.

I don’t know what the collective noun for people from St Albans is, but whatever it is, Russell and me were honorary versions of it. I don’t suppose it’s Albanians somehow?.However I do know that people from there call the place Snorbins . We outsiders were adopted by the town, or is it a city? Does an Abbey count as a Cathedral?

Even though Jim was in the Kinks and I was with whoever needed me most, we still couldn’t stop playing together. Towards the end of the seventies Derek Griffiths and John Beecham came into Drumstore and, as was customary, we repaired to ‘The Ship’ next door to talk about a project they had in mind called ‘GB Blues Company’. GB may have stood for Griffiths and Boat but I can’t remember for sure. (Jim?) Anyway, it was to be a typical 9-piece R&B band, with Root Jackson singing, which they said from the word go, definitely wasn’t likely to make much money but would stretch us all musically and be a lot of fun. And guess who the bass player was going to be? We did it for several years and they were right. No, we didn’t make much money and yes it was a lot of fun!

Jim drifted in and out of GB Blues Company with various bass players coming into the band in his stead but unfortunately once Jim kindly rowed me into the Kinks with him it was more complicated to replace a whole rhythm section, rather than just a drummer or a bass player.

It was at a gig at the Torrington in Finchley with Blues Company with Jim on bass that I looked into the audience and thought I saw Ray Davies. I got on with the gig and at the end it really turned out to be Ray and having played together on Dave’s solo albums, Jim had kindly suggested he came to see me. Fortunately he liked what I was doing enough to ask me to make an album with them, before being invited to join the Kinks for the next 12 years. I’ve never really thanked Jimmy for this huge favour but if by some miracle you catch sight of this man, thanks!

We clattered around the world together until Jim joined the Zombies with Rod and Colin although even then we’d bump shoulders somewhere. On one occasion recently I became an honorary member of ‘The Rodford Files’ when Steve was incapacitated which was a lot of fun. At the same time Jim became an honorary member of The Roulettes.

I’ve been examining my conscience and to be honest I took our hero for granted. He simply was the best bass player I’d ever worked with – and always will be. That became a given. Derik Timms said to me recently there are only ten people in the world who can sing and play bass at the same. I gave it some thought and Jim was most definitely one of these. Derik also said when he saw him standing on the stage for the first time Jim was Rock God-sized. It wasn’t until he met him later that he realised he was diminutive and it was his stage-presence which made him look immense.

Jim used to conduct me through the twelve years we were Kinks together and even though I pretended I wasn’t looking, I actually was – subliminally. It was comforting to know we were on the same metaphorical page. In the Kinks this sixth sense kept us together at a time when none of us had any idea what was coming next – except possibly Ray. Of course we had a set list each, neatly gaffer-taped to the floor; so did the lighting guys, the monitor guys and the guys doing sound at the front-of-house. But that list wasn’t enough. If Ray wanted to change things he would and believe it or not, we loved it. It’s called ‘Creative Tension’ and certainly kept us on our toes. It wasn’t just the order of the songs which changed, it was often different arrangements of the usual songs – like a shuffle version of “You really got me”. There was even once a case of Ray writing a new song on the stage in front of tens and thousands of people. “Regatta my arse” comes immediately to mind. A phenomenon called ‘Horses Eyes’ where we communicated with big eyes got us through – thanks to our acquired’ ability to know what might happen next. We never put a foot wrong, There was never a train-wreck and Jim and I agreed it was this frisson which made being in the Kinks with Ray and Dave absolutely special.

I’ve tried to calculate how many years Jim and I were in bands together and it’s made slightly more complicated by nobody knowing when the Kinks stopped – or even if they had stopped. So it’s six years with Argent, at least one with Phoenix, twelve with the Kinks, which makes 19 years unless you count the time we were sporadically, jointly and severally in GB Blues Company. This gives us another 5 years for argument’s sake. Around a quarter of a century or, perhaps better put as a third of our lives. Not bad.

I’m going to miss you old bean. So is the rest of the world.

As I said Jimmy was about to become an honorary Roulette because we planned to celebrate the 55th anniversary of us playing with Adam Faith and get as many of our pals from the locality up for one last thrash while we can.

I mentioned the guys in Mike’s band never having a day off but even if they had I’m sure Jim would have been working with someone else. He was unable to give up on music. Jim was my bass player of choice for over a quarter of a century and I’m proud to say I was his drummer for all that time.

Like all of us Jim had his idiosyncrasies none of which are licentious which I’ll happily tell you about next time we meet and we’ve got a beer in our hands. Like why we had a drum solo in Argent: how we regretfully decided against coming home from America on Concorde, instead travelling unknowingly first to Zurich, then Frankfurt from a different New York airport to the one we were at. All this in a forlorn attempt to get a Sunday lunchtime pint down the pub! We arrived home at Heathrow almost 24 hours after we left New York and we watched Concorde taking-off to head back to New York – again! There’s also the story about how, as soon as we crossed the channel Jim would sit to the right of the driver and converse with him in what came to be known to us as ‘Eurospeak’: “We go now, Yes?”.

Jim reasoned that so long as he put yes at the end of the sentence, the driver would understand him! Believe it or not it worked!

There’s another story or two about me and Jim driving the Commer ‘Walkthrough’ van with its frighteningly unresponsive steering all the way to Munich because the roadie couldn’t drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and had lost his nerve. One story you should ask me about next time we meet is “Omelette Surprise” although if it’s not in Banging On! I promise I’ll definitely include it in ‘On the road again!’

The Chinese have a proverb which states that when somebody dies a library closes. Fortunately with Jim it’s not going to happen because he was always better-organised than me, and like Bill Wyman, kept proper diaries. He’s been working on an autobiography for quite some time and I think he was about half-way through section on his Kinks’ tenure, which should be the eighties. I’d be interested to see if it coincides with anything I can remember!

That said, I was musing when I was putting the finishing touches to this piece that, not long ago, I would have sent it to Jim to check it for accuracy! I hope it’s OK!

RIP Jimmy Rodford, catch you later…