In the Beginning...
There Was Howie Casie & The Seniors
By Bill Harry
Howie Casey is a Liverpool legend and his bands preceded the Beatles on a number of fronts. Under their original name of Derry & the Seniors they were the first Liverpool group to go to Hamburg and as Howie Casey & the Seniors the first Mersey band to make a record in their own right.
Born July 12 1937, Howie started playing saxophone because he liked jazz. "I'd heard stuff by people like Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz and Stan Kenton. My cousin John introduced me to them and so I loved the saxophone players with the big bands and the solo guys. So that's what attracted me to the saxophone particularly."
At the time Howie was deferred from National Service because he was serving his time at English Electic in Kirby, but: "After I'd been playing sax for about a year I decided I didn't like the idea of a trade, being an engineer. I'd nothing against engineers, but it didn't suit me, so I decided to pack it in, much to my family's dismay. Having done that, my deferment was finished, so I had to go in the army. "I went down to the recruitment office in Liverpool and signed with the King's Regiment and applied to be in the band.
"Some Sergeant or whatever conned me. He said, 'Of course, son, they're all regulars in the band. You can't go in National Service in the band; you have to sign for a minimum of three years with the colours.' "So naive me, I said 'Yeah, okay, that sounds good.' So I signed on for three years. Of course, when I joined the regiment I found there was a good smattering of National Service guys there in the band anyway.
"But it was good grounding for me, I was in the military band, but there were all little offshoots of jazz groups and dance bands and then, of course, rock and roll," he told me.
"That was 1955, so rock and roll was hitting big by that time and I was very keen obviously on listening to the sax players who played with the likes of Little Richard, Fats Domino and Lloyd Price.
"This was the introduction to R&B really, although it was called rock and roll, and I liked what I heard. I thought I could get closer to that than jazz because the jazz thing, for me, was pretty technical stuff at that time. So I found out I could do some of the rock licks, so we formed a rock group in the army."
Howie came out of the army in 1958. As Howie's father was a TV and radio engineer who repaired speakers and tannoy systems for Charlie McBain, Liverpool's pioneer promoter, Howie met up with him, or one of his sons, when they came to pick up some speakers. His father mentioned that Howie played sax.
"Charlie Mac ran a few dances round Liverpool and one of them was Wilson Hall," says Howie, "and I was invited to come and play at the hall - no mention of money, of course -and sat in with the band.
"It wasn't the first band I'd ever played with in Liverpool but it was certainly the best of the bands I'd played with so far. It was a band called the Rhythm Rockers and it was led by a great drummer called Frank Wibberley and he had a line-up of two tenor saxes and of course drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and also I think there was a male and female singer. I played baritone with that band and I really enjoyed it. Some of it was reading, some of it was busking, and they played a mixture of rock and roll and Top 20 stuff. "So from that point on I played with them for quite a while. Usually Saturday nights and that type of thing. I was working in the day, of course."
Howie then joined a band called the Hy-Tones, its name taken from Huyton, the area where they all lived. There was Billy Hughes on guitar and Stan Foster on piano."
The next step for Howie was to form his own band. "I got together with a drummer who lived in the road where I lived and a guy called Jeff Wallington. We teamed up and he knew a guitar player called Brian Griffiths. Billy Hughes and Stan Foster also joined us and I met up with Paul Whitehead, a bass player, again. I'd known him from a youth club ages ago, but he was doing an Elvis then."
It was while they were appearing at Holyoake Hall, near Penny Lane, that compere Bob Wooler asked if a black youth could get on stage to sing some songs with them. his name was Derry Wilkie.
"Derry came up and he was doing Little Richard, which was right up my street because prior to that we didn't have a singer who could get down to that sort of stuff. That was great, so we asked Derry to join the band."
Like most members of Liverpool bands, Howie dismisses the myth of 'Cunard Yanks,' who were alleged to bring in rare records from America for the local groups. "We got our repertoire from the records we bought in the shops," he says. "Records that people had, like Derry had quite a good collection of Ray Charles and Little Richard and so on."
As Derry & the Seniors they began to play at most of the local venues for promoters such as McBain, Wally Hill and Brian Kelly.
Wally Hill ran promotions at Holyoake and Blair Hall, which Howie describes as being 'quite violent.'
"I vaguely remember the bouncers who wore black leather sort of gloves and white shirts, black trousers, black leather - and they had truncheons, or whatever. They used to circle the hall while the people danced and there was always a fight and they'd jump in and people would get kicked downstairs and there was blood and stuff everywhere. A few things like that went on.