The Big Three Story

By Bill Harry  

Mersey Beat cover featuring The Big ThreeThe Big Three were one of Liverpool's legendary groups. The outfit evolved from Cass & the Cassanovas, a band formed in December 1959 by Brian Casser, who also used the names Casey Valance and Casey Jones. He had completed his National Service - and during his stint in the army he'd formed a skiffle group with Bill Wyman, later to become a Rolling Stone.

After he'd left the army, Cass turned down Wyman's offer to join a group with him and teamed up with Adrian Barber, a Yorkshire musician who had arrived in Liverpool and was staying at Merchant Navy House prior to beginning a career as a seaman. Adrian decided he preferred a life as a rock 'n' roll musician. For a short time they had a drummer called Brian Hudson, who Adrian remembers as having a black beret and beard and who played jazz. Johnny Hutchinson replaced him, and Adrian says, "He could do all the patterns that Brian couldn't - he was a rock 'n' roll man." 

The Maltese-born Hutchinson made his debut with them at the age of 18 at the Corinthian Club in Slater Street. He also did the occasional gig with a modern jazz band.

Then Hutchinson brought Johnny Gustafson to see the group, as they needed a bass guitarist. Gustafson was asked to join them, but didn't have a guitar and couldn't play. Adrian converted a Hoyer Acoustic for him and put bass strings on it. He joined them and was commonly known as Johnny Bass, but later on was referred to as Johnny Gus.

It was Cass who recommended that the Silver Beetles find themselves a drummer, suggesting Tommy Moore. He also suggested to John Lennon that the group call themselves Long John & the Silver Men.

On Tuesday, May 3 1960 they appeared at Liverpool Stadium on a concert headlined by Gene Vincent and received top billing above the other local acts on the bill. Liverpool entrepreneur Allan Williams promoted the concert via Larry Parnes, Britain's leading rock mogul at the time. Parnes was impressed by the Mersey bands and asked Williams to set up an audition, with the view to the bands backing some of his solo singing acts. 

This event took place at the Wyvern Social club in Seel Street on May 10 1960. Five groups auditioned: Cass & the Cassanovas, Derry & the Seniors, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Cliff Roberts & the Rockers and the Silver Beetles. As Tommy Moore, the drummer with the Silver Beetles, turned up late, Johnny Hutchinson sat in with the group.

A myth exists that Parnes wanted to book the Silver Beetles but refused to have them until they sacked bass guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe, who allegedly performed with his back to him because he couldn't play. This is untrue and originated in Allan Williams' flawed book 'The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away.' Cheniston Roland took photographs of this session and Stu can clearly be seen playing guitar.

Larry Parnes was to say that he had no problems with the bass guitarist - but he wasn't pleased with Moore, the tardy drummer who was older than the other members and dressed differently from them.

Parnes then booked the Cassanovas, the Seniors and the Silver Beetles to back his singers and the Cassanovas went on to provide backing for two of Parnes' artists, Johnny Gentle and Duffy Power.

Johnny Gus was to say, "Cass was both the founder and leader, and the rest of us were getting increasingly fed up with him. So we hatched this plot to disband and reform without him."

So leader and rhythm guitarist Cass left for London at the end of 1960, missing out on the entire Mersey success scene. For a short time he became manager of the Blue Gardenia Club in St. Anne's Court, Soho. The Beatles dropped in to see him on December 9 1961 following their abortive appearance in Aldershot.

Cass and the Cassanovas Cass formed another band in late 1963, and he had a debut record issued on EMI's Columbia label called 'One Way Ticket.'

He sent me a letter in which he wrote: "Since coming to London three years ago I have been doing a great deal of film work, but films are not really my ambition. When everything started to happen in Scouseland, I really felt left out. So I decided to return to the singing scene."

The line-up of his band Casey Jones & the Engineers, between August and October 1963, comprised Casey Jones (vocals), Eric Clapton (guitar), Tom McGuinness (guitar), Dave McCumisky (bass) and Ray Smith (drums).

He later moved to Germany where he had several chart entries with his group, now with different members and named Casey Jones & the Governors. They also recorded two albums for the Gold 12 label 'Casey Jones & the Governors' and 'Don't Ha Ha.'

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