Saturday, April 26, 2008


This afternoon I was googling Big Bill Broonzy prior to possibly doing a piece about him, many years ago I saw him twice, once in Ipswich with Josh White also on the bill and once in London where he was supported by the Humphrey Lyttleton band, Jimmy Rushing, and I believe the Chris Barber band. It was a benefit for Big Bill who'd been diagnosed with cancer and didn't have any medical insurance, his primary income came from the small farm he ran in Arkansas.
That event was initiated by Humph: a few moments ago I saw on the front page of the Guardian that he'd died. He was a very special influence on my life, he pointed me in a direction that I've appreciated throughout my life, not in a personal way but by his music. Immediately after WW2 I was just entering my teenage years and was living in Barnehurst, Kent; I'd somehow discovered jazz and the only place in England at that time to hear live jazz was a pub just down the road, it was the Red Barn and the George Webb band with Humphrey Lyttleton performed there every week. I was only about 14 so I couldn't go to a pub but I'd stand outside during the warm summer evenings and listen to the music coming through the open windows. I was able to get into the 100 club on Oxford street where he also played regularly so that's where much of the money I earned from my paper route went. That was where in defiance of a government edict against American musicians performing in England he hosted the great New Orleans musician, Sidney Bechet.

Initially I was obsessed with New Orleans jazz and Louis Armstrong was my idol, however over the years Humph's band evolved towards the Kansas City style and the Basie small groups and those have been my main interest in music throughout my life. He wrote quite prolifically and authored several books on his life in jazz and when I left England in 1958 I brought two of them with me, they're in the bookcase in my living room and three of his albums that I also brought with me are in my vinyl collection. By coincidence my stepmother, who was a teacher, had a girl in her class, Jill Richardson, who went on to marry Humph in 1952.

Whenever I've visited the UK over the years I've always tried to listen to his BBC radio program and have even recorded several which I still occasionally enjoy. He will definitely be missed, not just by me but by everyone who enjoys jazz in the UK, he's influenced every aspect of the music and has performed with many of the major musicians both British and American.

Here's three cuts by Humph from the early years:

1. Weary Blues from around 1948.
2. Beale Street Blues with Marie Knight from around 1952.
3. How Long Blues with Jimmy Rushing from the mid 50's.


Mnemonic said...

I'm going to miss him. I don't think anyone else is going to get away with telling such phenomenally filthy jokes on R4.

goneforeign said...

I didn't know of that part, hope they're recorded for posterity.

treefrogdemon said...

Now, you see, gf, that's the kind of jazz I DO like. My dad'll miss him - he doesn't know he's dead yet. [For clarification: my dad doesn't know Humph's dead.] I just got back from visiting him in hospital and didn't know myself till now. [It's my dad who's in hospital...oh, I give up.]

Mnemonic said...

As host of "I'm sorry, I haven't a clue", he always managed to fit in at least three per programme. Sometimes they even got repeated on "Pick of the Week". A lot of the charm (and filth) depended on his deadpan delivery so they won't work in writing. We'll have to send you some disks at some point.

goneforeign said...

That would be wonderful but for now I'll try youtube, everything seems to wind up on there. But first there's a large hole to be dug [in 80+ temps] to plant my new lemon tree. There's so much happening in the garden that it's time for an update on our garden posts; the house is full of vases of irises and orchids.

goneforeign said...

And of course it's all up there, thank you.
Fortunately we're having an early heat wave [100° in LA] so I excused myself from digging that hole and had a glass of brandy instead to Humph's memory.

2JokersInEveryPack said...

We actually went to the ISIHAC live show in Edinburgh just four weeks ago... Humph in fine form and finshed with a trumpet encore. I'd been looking forward to seeing the lovely Samantha in the flesh, but sadly she couldn't make it.

There are ten volumes of CDs of "I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue" available - they're on, and a good article about it in Wikipedia.

glasshalfempty said...

@GF - presumably you have read the posthumous obit by George Melly in today's Guardian? It's at:

It even mentions the early days at the pub in Kent, which you refer to in your post.

Strange concept, a dead man writing about a dead man...