The Big Three Story
By Bill Harry
Adrian went to live in America, fitted the Peppermint Lounge with a sound system, became a recording manager at Atlantic Records and managed a group called the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble. During succeeding years he became recording manager for a number of prominent acts including the Allman Brothers Band, Lou Reed and Aerosmith.
Barber's suspicions about Epstein's abilities proved correct. Brian arranged for them to audition for Decca and they recorded 'Some Other Guy.' Gus was able to tell broadcaster Spencer Leigh: "This was actually a demo tape for Decca. My voice was completely gone. We'd come back from Hamburg that very morning and were thrown into Decca's No. 2 studio in the basement. It was horrible. We were croaking like old frogs. Eppy wouldn't let us do it again and we went berserk. The bass sound was non-existent and the drum sound was awful."
The group were appalled when they were told that Decca would be releasing their test recording and wouldn't allow them a proper recording session to perform 'Some Other Guy' the way they wished it to be played.
Instead of understanding why the Big Three were so popular - because of their aggressive sound, their wildness, their casual appearance on stage - Epstein also forced them to wear uniform suits and began to dilute their sound, choosing lightweight pop numbers and insisting, against their wishes, that they record them.
He had them record Mitch Murray numbers, which were totally unsuitable for the group. Commenting to Leigh on the Decca recordings, Gus said: "It was arms up the back. 'Do it, boys, or it's all over.' We didn't like it but we tried our best. We hated 'By The Way' and 'I'm With You' because they were pop songs: poppy, horrible, three-chord Gerry & the Pacemakers type songs." 'Some Other Guy' reached No. 37 in the charts on April 11 1963 and 'By The Way', a Mitch Murray number, reached No. 22 on July 11 1963.
In 1963 their A&R man Noel Walker (a Liverpool jazz musician who formerly led Noel Walker's Stompers) recorded them live at the Cavern. Decca engineers had spent three days experimenting with microphone positions and the recording took ten hours because of technical problems.
When it was released, 'The Big Three At The Cavern' featured an introduction by Cavern compere Bob Wooler and the tracks 'What'd I Say?' 'Don't Start Running Around', 'Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah' and 'Reelin' And A Rockin'".
During 1963 Brian Epstein had the idea of presenting a series of shows featuring his stable of acts: the Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer with the Coasters and the Big Three. With permission from me, because I had registered Mersey Beat, the name I'd coined, he called the series of concerts 'Mersey Beat Showcase.' The first one took place on Thursday March 7 at the Elizabethan Ballroom in Nottingham. Other dates included the King's Hall, Stoke-on-Trent on Friday March 29; the Majestic Ballroom, Finsbury Park, London on Wednesday April 24; the Fairfield Hall, Croydon on Thursday April 25; the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton on Friday June 11 and the Odeon, Romford on Sunday June 16.
The Big Three and Epstein officially came to a parting of the ways on Saturday July 20 1963, but the damage had been done. Before their EP 'The Big Three At The Cavern' was released on Friday November 22 1963 there was dissension in the group. Johnny Hutch insisted he was leaving. Gus and Griff replaced him with Ian Broad, drummer with Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, and decided to call themselves the Seniors. They left for Germany, where they appeared at the Tanz Club, Hamburg.
Hutch approached Faron and Paddy Chambers of Faron's Flamingos and asked them to join him. Letters poured into the Mersey Beat office from Flamingos and Big Three fans, upset at the split. Hutch became so heavily
criticized that he phoned me at Mersey Beat to comment: "Because I now have two members of the Flamingos with me a number of people presume that I broke up the group. This is not the case. I'd known for some time that there were internal disagreements among the Flamingos and I heard they were breaking up, otherwise I would not have approached them." However, there was no real rapport in the band because Hutch only agreed to pay Chambers and Faron wages, treating them as hired hands.
In the meantime, Billy Kinsley had left the Mersey Beats. Their manager, Alan Cheetham, and members of the band flew to Germany to offer Johnny Gus the job. They also paid compensation to Griff and Broad.
The Big Three had signed with Kennedy Street Enterprises (A Manchester-based organization) but didn't find success on record again. They recorded an EP at the Oasis Club, Manchester. Titles were 'Money Honey', 'Cruel Cruel World', 'New Orleans' and 'Whole lotta Shakin''. In June 1964 'If You Ever Change Your Mind' was issued.
The days of the Big Three were numbered. Paddy Chambers left, to be replaced by Paul Pilnick of the All Stars and the group recorded 'Bring It On Home To Me.' In August 1964 Paul was asked to join Tony Jackson's new band the Vibrations and Hutch had an offer to join Kingsize Taylor, although he decided to hang up his drumsticks instead. Pilnick was later to join Deaf School and Stealer's Wheel.
In 1973 there was an attempt at reviving the band with Gus, Griff and Elton John's drummer Nigel Olsson. Former Apple executive Tony Bramwell produced an album called 'Resurrection', comprising numbers previously recorded by the band, which was issued by Polydor.
Johnny Gustafson went on to a distinguished career as a solo artist, group member and session musician,
acknowledged as one of Britain's best bass guitarists. His solo career would take up a feature in itself and a list of the records he has participated in is considerable. He recorded an album, three EPs and three singles with the Merseybeats alone (they had now truncated their name from Mersey Beats), before they sacked him in December 1964. His other bands include the Johnny Gus Set (along with Brian Griffiths), Johnny & John (with former Merseybeats drummer John Banks), the Quotations, Episode Six, Quatermass, Daemon, Hard Stuff, Bullet, the Spencer Davis Group, the Shawn Phillips Band, Roxy Music, the Ian Gillan Band, the Gordon Giltrap Band and the Pirates. He was also in the cast album of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and penned the 1982 Status Quo hit 'Dear John.'
There are three tracks by the classic Big Three personnel that have never been released: 'Fortune Teller', 'Long Tall Sally' and 'Walkin' The Dog.' Johnny Hutchinson is a property magnate in Liverpool, Adrian Barber currently lives in Hawaii and is working on his biography, Brian Griffiths lives in Canada, Johnny Gustafson resides in Whitstable, Faron remains in Liverpool and has had serious heart problems and has undergone a number of operations, although he still appears at the Mersey Cats charity shows and Paddy Chambers died in October 2000.
Big Three Discography
'Some Other Guy' c/w 'Let True Love Begin.' Decca F11614. March 1963
'By The Way' c/w 'Cavern Stomp.' Decca F11689. June 1963
'I'm With You' c/w 'Peanut Butter.' Decca F11752. October 1963
'If You Ever Change Your Mind' c/w 'You've Got To Keep Her Under Hand' Decca F11927. June 1964
'Some Other Guy'/'Let It Rock'/'If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody'
Polydor 2058 343. 1973
'The Big Three Live At The Cavern.' Decca DFE 8552. 1963. Reissued 1981
'Resurrection.' Polydor 2383 199. 1973
'Cavern Stomp.' Edsel ED 111
'Cavern Stomp' (their EP 'Live At The Cavern' with all their 45s and 2
previously unreleased tracks) Deram 844006-2. 1985
The Big Three can also be found on the following compilations:
'Ready Steady Go', 1964
'Mersey Beat 62-64', 1974
'The Beat Merchants', 1977
'Mersey Sounds', 1980
'Thank Your Lucky Stars', 1982
'Cavern Stomp', 1982
'Made In Britain', 1983
'Mersey Beat', 1983
'Liverpool 1963-64', 1983
Editor's note: Johnny Hutchinson paid me 10/- to design a Big Three symbol and paint it on his drum kit, which I did. In those days I did various bits and pieces of design, a flyer for Allan Williams' arts ball, a poster for Brian Epstein's Joe Brown concert at the Tower, plus numerous advertisements for Mersey Beat.
The Big Three Story above is only the tip of the iceberg and the Mersey Beat site hopes to bring individual stories from the various members of the group. Surprisingly enough, there is some disagreement regarding events among the former Big Three personnel themselves, whose views differ on certain matters. For instance, regarding Adrian's version of why he left the group, as presented above. Johnny Hutchinson disagrees and states that it was actually Adrian who wanted them to sign up with Epstein, while he was reluctant to do so.
There are some legendary stories about the Big Three in Hamburg, Adrian and the pig, for instance, and the rumour that Brian Griffiths drank a whole month's beer allocation in a single night! Truth, exaggeration or fantasy! Mersey Beat would like to hear from anyone who can shed a light on the stories.