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Zoot Money was one of British rock & roll's homebound heroes — admired, respected, and sought after by his colleagues, and able to fill halls in England nightly, he never managed to sell lots of records, even in England. Born in Bournemouth in 1942 with the name George Bruno Money, he grew up in an Italian-immigrant (but, on his father's side, English-descended) family. He was musically inclined from an early age and his first instrument, taken up at school, was the French horn — he also sang in the choir as a boy. During the mid-'50s, he discovered rhythm & blues and its younger offshoot, rock & roll, which quickly consumed his interest in music — he switched to the keyboard under the inspiration of Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles, and by the beginning of the '60s was developing a distinctive technique on the Hammond organ. He'd also picked up the nickname by which he'd be known for most of his career after attending a concert by Zoot Sims.
He passed through the lineups of a few groups as a keyboard player, including the Don Robb Band — where one of his bandmates was a guitarist going by the name of Andy Somers (aka Summers) — and the Wes Minster Five, a jazz-based semi-professional quintet. Their lineup, today, sounds like a U.K. supergroup: pianist Dave Greenslade, drummer Jon Hiseman, bassist Tony Reeves, and saxman Clive Burrows along with Money — get those names together ten years later doing anything, and one would have been guaranteed sales and press attention in England. Burrows later ended up in the first version of the Big Roll Band, but was later replaced by Johnny Almond, and that led — with an interruption so Money could play as a temporary member of Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated — to the classic version of the Big Roll Band. The latter took root in London, consisting of Money on vocals, piano, and organ, Andy Somers on guitar, Nick Newell and Johnny Almond on saxes, Paul Williams on bass and vocals, and Colin Allen on drums. They quickly became a popular attraction on London's burgeoning R&B and jazz scene, partly owing to Money's impassioned interpretations of American R&B standards and his wild sense of showmanship, coupled with the band's overall excellence — he also had an appealing style on the Hammond organ which, in the days before the Mellotron caught on, was the big noise in keyboards, and which he knew how to exploit fully on-stage.
They were good enough to attract the attention of England's Decca Records, which released one single, "The Uncle Willie" b/w "Zoot's Suit," in 1964. By the following year, they'd moved over to EMI's Columbia Records imprint (no relation to the U.S. Columbia label), where the group debuted with "Good" b/w "Bring It Home to Me," but neither it nor their next two singles that year, "Please Stay" b/w "You Know You'll Cry" and "Something Is Worrying Me" b/w "Stubborn Kind of Fellow," managed to chart. There was also an album, It Should Have Been Me, as well, but neither it nor the accompanying 45s captured the excitement or appeal that the group or its leader exhibited on-stage. In the midst of all of this activity, in the spring of 1965, Money received an unexpected offer from the Animals, whom he knew as neighbors as well as colleagues (and rivals) from London — their co-founder, keyboard player and songwriter Alan Price, had quit without notice, and Money was first on the list of potential replacements. It was an extremely tempting offer that many musicians might've jumped at, as the Animals at the time were at the peak of their popularity, enjoying a number seven British hit with their version of "Bring It on Home to Me," in addition to a string of American hits and offers of lucrative concert work all over the world. Money also knew the members well and would have fit right into their existing internal dynamic structure, but he wanted to be more than a keyboard player and backup singer in a group, and refused the offer.
At the time, the Big Roll Band was having particular success at Klook's Kleek, a club located above the Railway Hotel in Hampstead, London, and it was decided to record their stage act there on the night of May 31, 1966 — the resulting EMI-Columbia album, entitled Zoot!, is generally regarded as a classic of its genre and era. Although it was never as ubiquitous as, say, the Animals' In the Beginning (which was picked up by Scepter Records in the U.S. and later became a denizen of various budget LP catalogs), the Big Roll Band's live album record did get licensed to Columbia Records in the United States, which released it on the Epic Records label (where, without accompanying awareness in America of who Zoot Money was, it died on the vine, ignored in record store bins from coast to coast).
The live album preserved a document of the group's best attributes, but it was already a relic of a fading era by the time it got into listeners' hands in late 1966. By then, the audience for American-style R&B and soul was already giving way to a growing listenership for psychedelic sounds, and while the two weren't mutually exclusive, the name "Big Roll Band" sounded like something just a little bit too far from the wafts of incense and eastern twang of sitars (which had even "invaded" the Yardbirds' work by then, not to mention the Rolling Stones). As a result, in 1967, they transmuted, almost Doctor Who-style, into Dantalian's Chariot. The latter was brimming over with talent, including Andy Summers (still spelling it "Somers") on guitar, but they never quite found a winning formula as a psychedelic act. And by the end of the year, Money had received a new offer, this time from Eric Burdon (who had outlasted the other originals and taken the Animals name, and now ran what was known as Eric Burdon & the Animals, a psychedelic outfit) to join his group. This time, Money accepted, and he joined a pretty formidable lineup — in addition to Burdon, who had an awesome set of pipes, there were Vic Briggs and John Weider, two of the most talented guitarists of the whole psychedelic era, and Danny McCulloch on bass and Barry Jenkins on the drums.
According to Sean Egan in his brilliant biography Animal Tracks, the addition of Money to the band threw their internal dynamics off-center, however, partly owing to Burdon's longstanding friendship with him (whereas the others were all hired hands whose relationships with Burdon began and ended with the band). Additionally, according to Egan, Money's first gig with the group, in New Orleans, proved to be an unintended disaster due to a language barrier with the Americans — as told in Animal Tracks, he asked the audience, using working class British slang, if they were "pissed," meaning drunk, an innocent question from his point of view in the circumstances, intended to rouse them cheerfully and enthusiastically; but in American slang, the word meant angry, and was considered a profanity as well — in 1968, in the South — and the police (in a scene that probably resembled a cross between Alice's Restaurant and Smokey & the Bandit, with a touch of Fawlty Towers or The Young Ones) closed the show. It wasn't exactly the Doors' Miami incident as a career interruption, but it was an unnecessary hiccup in a very heavy touring schedule and at an increasingly stressful time for the members — despite some successes with singles such as "Sky Pilot," their overall record sales weren't good, and live gigs were their bread and butter.
Money was there, credited — for contractual reasons — as "George Bruno," on the group's next album, Every One of Us, released in July of 1968 in America. The latter featured a songwriting collaboration between Burdon and Money, "New York 1963-America 1968" — this was a conceptual piece and was very ambitious for its time. That LP was also the only production to feature that lineup, as Briggs and McCulloch exited soon after its release. Replacing both players was Andy Summers, Money's old bandmate from the Don Robb group, the Big Roll Band, and Dantalian's Chariot, who had just passed through the membership of Soft Machine. Summers played bass and guitar, alternating with Weider — that lineup would only last through one LP, Love Is. Recorded very hurriedly in October of 1968, and in stores in America before Christmas, the album had an extended cover of "River Deep, Mountain High" and a rendition of "Ring of Fire" (yes, the Johnny Cash tune), among other outside songs, plus Burdon's "I'm Dying, Or Am I?", and closed with a pair of songs that Money had brought with him from Dantalian's Chariot, "Gemini" and "The Madman (Running Through the Fields)."
The group had already disbanded by the time the record hit the stores, (and, astonishingly, it still made it to number 123 in America). Thanks to the various reissues of the later Animals' music over the decades (mostly owing to their descent from the older Animals), Every One of Us and Love Is ended up as some of Money's most visible work of the '60s, especially in the United States. Both he and Summers ended up staying in America, and both pursued acting careers. Money also cut his first solo album, Zoot Money, produced by Vic Briggs, and played on sessions for Centipede, Grimms, Kevin Coyne, and Kevin Ayers, among others, and worked with Alexis Korner on various projects right up to the latter's death in 1984. In 1980, he got his biggest crack at solo success when he signed with Paul McCartney's MPL label (distributed by Capitol/EMI) and cut one album, Mr. Money. He also saw some success as a songwriter, most notably with "It Never Rains But It Pours," and went into the production end of the music business as the music director of the BBC television series Tutti Frutti.
He has since played with Mick Taylor, Georgie Fame, Alan Price, the re-formed Humble Pie, Spencer Davis, the re-formed Foundations, and Geno Washington's Soul Train, but his most visible gig for longtime international fans was back with the Animals, playing keyboards with the re-formed original group on their 1983 tour. He formed a new version of the Big Roll Band in the '90s (with drummer Colin Allen as a frequent guest), and has continued to perform with them right into the 21st century. He has also toured England with his fellow veteran bluesmen Ray Dorset (of Mungo Jerry), 1960s' Big Roll Band multi-instrumentalist Paul Williams, and Long John Baldry under the collective name the "British Legends of Rhythm & Blues". In 2004, he was once again working with Alan Price, and with veteran British soul shouter Cliff Bennett and Liverpool legend Tony Sheridan — as is the case with many British R&B singers of the '60s, Money still has an especially fervent following in Germany.