Friday, October 05, 2007


Wot’s this? Darcy’s serving up some prog rock? Looking at this picture of Jess Roden you might be forgiven for that thought. But don’t be fooled, for what lies in the grooves of this 1974 album is a uniquely soulful and bluesy concoction.

As far as I remembered, I first came across this album in 1979. John (and his lovely wife Valerie), bar managers at a club I used to DJ at, brought it in one night and said "listen to this". I was playing a lot of jazz-funk at the time and John thought Jess’ version of “On Broadway” would go down pretty well with my crowd. He wasn’t wrong. I loved the whole album and recorded it onto a good old TDK SA90 cassette before returning it.

Over the years, that was a tape I often dug out to play in the car. But in all that time I had never seen a copy of the album anywhere. Then, a couple of years ago, in one of my local crate digging haunts, what should I find – TWO copies of said album. I would have bought both, but one had a pretty dodgy looking scratch.

Then just a few months ago, at my parents house, I unearthed a folder full of concert programmes, flyers etc from my teenage days. One of the programmes was from Roxy Music’s 1974 UK tour, and the picture of Jess Roden you see above (obviously from the same photo shoot that provided the front cover of the album) was staring out at me from inside the back page of the programme. So Jess Roden was support for Roxy Music on that tour. I was at the concert (Bristol Colston Hall) but don’t remember Jess! Of course in those days an important part of concert going was getting to the bar to get a drink, and that meant the support act was often overlooked. If that was what I did on this occasion then it was my loss.

And here’s another thing. As I cast around t’internet looking to find out more about Mr. Roden’s career I came across this reference to a John Peel session from August 1974. It rings a bell, in fact the more I think about it the surer I am that I listened to that session on my little blue transistor radio, snuggled under the bed covers.

The strange thing is I don’t recall being aware of my 1974 brushes with Jess Roden when John lent me his album in 1979, or whenever it was.

The even stranger thing is that on the back cover of the Jess Roden album I finally picked up a couple of years ago, written in small letters in blue ink, are the names “John and Valerie”.

(WARNING: most of my musings here maybe a bit garbled, but have a firm basis of truth. The final sentence however is complete tosh! It would have been great if had been true, though).

Jess Roden arrived on the music scene as lead singer with The Alan Bown Set in 1967. His tenure there lasted until the end of that decade. Back in his home town Kidderminster he teamed up with old friends and formed Bronco. Two of those old friends were Kevyn Gammond and Paul Lockey. They had previously rubbed shoulders with Robert Plant and John Bonham in Birmingham UK band The Band Of Joy. After two albums a serious road accident effectively ended Bronco. After a period of session work Jess joined up with ex Doors John Densmore and Robbie Krieger as The Butts Band. America didn’t suit Jess though so he returned to England. On the way back though he stopped off in New Orleans and recorded with Allen Toussaint and The Meters (as you do!). Four of the eight tracks on his 1974 album “Jess Roden” are from that recording session, the rest of the tracks were recorded in London with musicians whose work he enjoyed. Jess recorded as The Jess Roden Band with some success throughout most of the rest of the seventies. Since then it would appear that he has flitted in and out of the music scene. (Apparently he did backing vocals on Grace Jones’ 1981 Nightclubbing).

Lots of name dropping there! And here’s another one – Harry Robinson. Who? He was responsible for the strings on “On Broadway” and another great track on this album “I’m On Your Side”. I'm a sucker for string arrangements such as these. Incidentally, he was also responsible for the hauntingly beautiful strings on Nick Drake’s “River Man”. You can read more about “Harry” here, and see an extensive list of his credits here (I would love to know which track(s) he produced on “Dawning Of A New Era: The Roots Of Skinhead Reggae” – if, of course, it really is the same Harry Robinson). The other track featured here “Feelin’ Easy” is one of the four recorded in New Orleans, and all the NOLA crowd are on it.

Jess Roden – On Broadway 1974
Jess Roden – Feelin’ Easy 1974

The CD of the original album "Jess Roden" can be found here.


Davy H said...

Wow, this is quite something, I mean I never even HEARD of this guy before and these are just lovely. I can hear the strings link too with the Nick Drake.

Darce, if you're a sucker for soul'n'strings you must shurely love Minnie Riperton's 'Come Into My Garden' with Charles Stepney's orchestrations?

Vincent said...

Yeah, I have to agree with Davy Come Into My Garden is a phenomenal LP...

Greetings Darcy, I know it's been a while but I had to drop by and say hello. First order of business is to check out this "Progressive" sound that you spoke of so fondly. As always, thanks for the share.

Peace and blessings.

Dave Edney said...

Hi Darcy!

Jess Roden? Yeah I remember him, great singer, should have been a whole lot bigger than he was. I had a couple of his albums back in the 70's. Hadn't heard this track before though - great song. How come Rod Stewart (as good as he was) gets all the acclaim yet this guy goes unheard?

By the way, thanks for your comment Re my blog - I've posted another fresh batch today - tell your friends, I need more input!

Kev Moore said...

The reason people know Mr.Stewart and not Jess is sadly because a)the british listening public doesnt know its arse from its elbow and b)British radio controls what we are allowed to hear like a fascist state. Sad but true. I first heard Jess at Derby college in the mid-70's. He is one of the Uks greatest singers. Check him out with Butts Band and Bronco also. I run a blogstream dedicated to Jess, and he's still much loved.
Another great blue-eyed soul classic is "Play me Out" by Glenn Hughes. Perhaps the greatest voice to come out of the UK, he is still going strong in a career that has (so far) spanned nearly 40 years, and yet most people don't even know who he is. But everyones heard of Will Young. Go figure.

neil storey said...

check out - all your answers are there!