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John Gustafson

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John Gustafson is the second most important bassist ever to come out of Liverpool. That sounds significant, and it is, but it still leaves him in the long shadow of Paul McCartney, however, a fact that helped eclipse some of the perceived worth of his earliest professional and recorded work. Gustafson, born in Liverpool to parents of Swedish and Irish descent, actually had a jump on McCartney in the early days of the local Merseybeat boom -- his band, the Big Three (which also included Johnny Hutchinson and Brian Griffiths), was the one that everyone in Liverpool figured would be the first to break nationally. But a newer, slightly lighter weight but more flexible outfit called the Beatles soon leaped ahead in the race for a contract and chart success, and the Big Three, after riding the wave of interest in the Liverpool sound generated by the Beatles, gave up the ghost in 1964. After that, Gustafson became part of the Merseybeats, a first-rate outfit that managed to chart a couple of records, made it into a couple of movies, and even got to cut an LP of their own for Fontana Records, but never managed to leave a lasting impression with enough people to matter. By 1967, they were history and Gustafson spent the next couple of years bouncing between different gigs and living hand-to-mouth, at one point being the next thing to homeless. He did find time to work on the original studio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar, which proved to be a massively popular and enduring album, but he was still more fortunate in 1969 to cross paths with the members of a band called Episode Six, which had just lost its lead singer and bassist to Deep Purple -- though they tried to keep the band going with Gustafson, Episode Six were effectively over. But out of the final collapse of the lineup, Gustafson, drummer Mick Underwood, and keyboard player Peter Robinson co-founded Quatermass. A prodigiously talented group with a powerful and distinctive sound, Quatermass should have been Gustafson's big break -- though the group sound was built around Robinson's keyboards, as bassist in a trio Gustafson's playing was necessarily prominent, and he also sang. And they were signed to Harvest Records, the new progressive rock imprint of EMI, which was already making lots of noise in the industry with bands like Pink Floyd on their roster. Quatermass only stayed together long enough to record one album, though that record remains one of the most highly regarded progressive rock records of its era. They did get to tour the United States, however, and shared billing with the likes of Billy Preston (then basking in his post-Beatles aura and a string of chart singles), Buddy Miles, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Following the trio's split, the bassist moved into full-time session work with the likes of Kevin Ayers, Steve Hackett, Shawn Phillips, Rick Wakeman, and Ian Hunter, though his greatest exposure came from his extended work -- ironically, across three albums without ever being an official member -- with Roxy Music. He seemed to have found his niche, until monetary matters came to a head and he was sacked. Luckily, by this time Gustafson was established, and was kept very busy with session work for much of the decade. He also found a berth as a member of the Ian Gillan Band, with which he was associated for much of the rest of the decade. In 1975, he also took the plunge into a recording career of his own, cutting a solo album entitled Goose Grease (inspired by a nickname he had as a boy) that remained in the can for 22 years once it was completed. In the meantime, around his session work -- which included work on the Roger Glover concept album The Butterfly Ball -- Gustafson also spent seven years playing with the latter-day re-formed version of the Pirates, the one-time backing band to the late singer Johnny Kidd. They weren't too well known in the United States, but they were stars in England, Europe, and Japan and worked steadily and recorded occasionally. ~ Bruce Eder

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April 16, 1944 in Liverpool, England

Years Active:

'60s, '70s, '80s, '90s