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Chicago Calling

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In December 1963, Cyril ‘Squirrel’ Davies, arguably the original stoker of London’s R&B engine, was steadfastly preaching his blues to the masses through a punishing schedule of gigs. By mid-January, in the tragic tradition of Robert Johnson and Elmore James, he was dead. A month later the Beatles played Ed Sullivan, and the tsunami we call the British Invasion swept the world.

Today Cyril Davies is a footnote in music history. His death coincided with the birth of heavyweights like the Rolling Stones— and numerous other shaggy-haired groups that owed him more than a little. Though the thousands of Stones fans may not know his name, Davies’ contributions played an integral part in the rise of rhythm & blues and blues-influenced rock. He was among a small group of young British musicians in the 1950s possessed by a mystical musical form—THE BLUES. They were affected by its purity and simplicity, and by the depth and honesty of emotion accessible through its traditional patterns. Many fellow musicians have called their Squirrel a musical genius with a purist's vision and he left a deep impression on all who saw him perform. Whether he was channeling the spirit of Lead Belly at the Round House in Soho or bending blue notes on his Echo Super Vamper at the Ealing Club with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, his talent was obvious, abundant, and unique.

Published: May 1, 2020