UPDATED 27 July 2017.
“Great piece on Alexis Korner. I personally didn’t know he was born in France. You learn something every day!” Paul Corry @thebluesfreak, London, England. 5 February 2014.
As a young lad, probably too young to drink, if the truth be known, I used to luxuriate in the bath listening to the chocolate-brown tones of Alexis Korner before going out to down voracious pints.
The great man had a blues show on BBC radio on Sunday evenings and, boy, did he know his stuff, which was understandable given his background.
Korner’s Blues Incorporated band, which he formed in 1961 with the English blues harmonica legend, Cyril Davies, featured such up and coming blues and rock luminaries as Ginger Baker, Long John Baldry, Graham Bond, Eric Burdon, Jack Bruce, Charlie Watts and Ronnie and Art Woods (Ronnie’s brother), to name a few. Young fans who often joined Korner on stage included Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Paul Jones, later of Manfred Mann, Steve Marriott, later of the Small Faces, John Mayall, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Keith Richards and Rod Stewart. That’s how important Korner was to the development of British rock. When his later band, CCS, covered Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, it became the TV theme tune to Top of the Pops for the next ten years.
But Alexis Korner had a double life. When I returned to London to work in an advertising agency in 1980, I was making a TV commercial with an art director who suggested Alexis Korner as the voice-over. I nearly fell off my chair. Then I discovered: not only was Alexis
Korner a TV and radio commercial voice-over artist, as well as a blues icon, he was one of the most in-demand voice-overs in British television and radio advertising. His rich, plummy baritone tones had starred in hundreds of commercials, many of them famous. My art director didn’t even know Alexis Korner was a well-known (sort of) musician.
If you ever heard the former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson speak, that’s a bit how Alexis Korner sounded. But Korner’s voice was more whisky and cigarette-soaked than even the General’s, and Korner’s vowels were even more polished.
As they say up north, he were reet posh.
No other Englishman did as much for British blues as Alexis Korner. He brought many American blues greats over to London, put them up, and played and recorded with most of them, including Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Jimi Henrix.
But even though he sounded like an English aristocrat, Alexis Korner wasn’t even a natural-born Englishman. He was born in Paris in 1928 to an Austrian-Jewish father and a Greek-Turkish mother, which is just another example of how so many different nationalities have consistently contributed to the development of the blues.
After living in Switzerland and North Africa, Alexis Korner arrived in London at the beginning of World War Two aged 12. There, upon hearing blues for the first time while listening to the radio during the racket of a German bombing raid, he
was hooked for life. Sadly, Alexis Korner died far too young in 1984, aged 55.
Since posting this item, I’ve combined How Blues Evolved Volumes One and Two, and added to them, in my BIG print history of the Blues, America’s Gift. Available on the link below.
I've just found your blog and I can see I'm going to spend many hours here – i too used to listen to Alexis Korner every Sunday night – a huge influence on me.
Many thanks for your feedback, Gary. I've only just discovered your comment (it's only taken me eight months). Seems like we have the same influences.