by Matthew Court
Stylistically, Demon Fuzz’s single album, 1970’s Afreaka!, is hard to pin down. But then, I guess that’s the point. Demon Fuzz went out of their way to keep people guessing; at gigs, they’d let people assume they were a reggae band, only to launch into some African-influenced jazz/rock number. Jaws hit the floor and feet started tapping. “We were different, totally different,” says Demon Fuzz trombonist Clarance Crosdale.
Demon Fuzz was a group of seven young musicians who came together after emigrating to London in the early 1960s. Since 1948, the British government had been encouraging people in the Commonwealth to settle in England, in hopes of replenishing that country’s war-depleted work population; a happy by-product was that before long, many a West Indian riddim could be heard emanating from the clubs and street corners in big cities like Birmingham and London. British kids soon had a different beat to shuffle to. Of course, these times weren’t without their problems: in 1958, just three years before Demon Fuzz members (and brothers) Winston Joseph and Blue Rivers arrived in England, London’s Notting Hill neighborhood had erupted in race riots.
But back to the music.
Paddy Corea arrived in London in 1963, and soon took up playing the tenor saxophone—his weapon of choice for irking neighbors. One day, he answered a want ad Winston had placed in NME, the British music magazine that many budding musicians bought in order to scour the classifieds. Corea auditioned, and Winston and Rivers recruited the saxophonist for their band. Organist Ray Rhoden joined up shortly after, and he brought in his good friend Clarance, a Jamaican musician who had studied trombone with Rico Rodriguez. A second saxophonist came on-board, and they began performing as Blue Rivers and the Maroons.
“[We] didn’t play only ska, we were a raw soul band,” explains Corea in an interview with Koldo Barroso for themarqueeclub.net. “Not the Motown soft string soul that BBC peddled. We did a lot of material from the small labels of the South. The kids from out of town were a bit confused. They were looking for the stuff they heard on BBC radio, and we didn’t play that. Rivers prided himself in trying not to be like the rest. At that time in London, every Black man who had a voice wanted to be a ‘soul’ singer, and very few of them could cut it.”
Every weekend, the Maroons would perform to dapper-looking crowds at clubs like the Roaring Twenties, and the Q Club, owned by Count Suckle, the West Indian DJ who possessed the deadliest sound system outside of Kingston. “We used to get a lot of write-ups in the West Indian press,” says Crosdale proudly. “We were sort of the best band around really.”
“Ziggy [Jackson, the band’s manager] had some contacts, and he booked just about every town hall in London,” remembers Winston. In 1968, Ziggy acquired some time at Regent Sound, a room on Denmark Street that had been the studio of choice for the Rolling Stones to record their first record in 1964. The session resulted in the LP Blue Beat in My Soul.
But barely two years after recording Blue Beat, the Maroons would part company with Rivers, and take a left turn in style and attitude. Paddy Corea reflects on what prompted the decision to move away from their ska and soul roots.
“It was while in Morocco that my idea for a different kind of band and a different kind of music was born,” says Corea. “I was at this time exposed to a new kind of music that didn’t have a Western European scale. I learnt the Sufi Arabic scale and the pentatonic scale there. I heard all these tribal musicians from the interior playing various drums, reed instruments, and a kora, which is a stringed instrument with a calabash as a resonator. These chaps would play the hell out of this thing, as good as a Yehudi Menuhin. All this synthesized into what influenced me to try a different approach to my music. Some of the members of the Maroons understood and appreciated my ideas, and were thinking of similar things, so we formed Demon Fuzz on our return to the UK.”
“I remember the last gig we did as the Maroons was in Huddersfield,” recalls Crosdale. “We decided we didn’t want to just keep playing people’s music. In fact, we had a job to go to the Star-Club in Hamburg. That’s where everybody went. But when they said you had to do seven half hour sessions, I was… [smiles and shakes head] So we decided we’d just break ways. [Rivers] and the [second] sax player stayed together, we went as Demon Fuzz. We spent about two or three months rehearsing. We didn’t play [live] for that time.” During this period, the group looked for a vocalist to replace Rivers and happened upon Smokey Adams, who was “playing in a second-rate R&B band in Shepherd’s Bush,” according to Corea.
“Its got two meanings,” Crosdale explains when asked about the group’s name. “Devil’s children or bad policemen.” The devil’s children rehearsed in the basement of a record shop in West London, where they began tackling the songs of the day, like “The Weight,” “I Put a Spell on You,” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”
“When we first formed Demon Fuzz, we did not have a clear-cut direction,” says Winston. “We were just feeling our way, and we selected a few songs by well known artists that appealed to us, and we put a new spin on them. It was not until I started coming up with some ideas that we started to find some kind of direction which we all built on.”
“We didn’t just want to do run-of-the-mill stuff, and of course it gives you much more of a challenge musically,” added Crosdale. “Winston and Ray did a lot of the writing. We did a couple of songs. ‘Past, Present, and Future,’ the band did that. Paddy did the arrangements. A lot of it was the band sort of cooperating, putting ideas together. I’ll tell a band that inspired us: Blood, Sweat & Tears.”
By 1970, racism in the UK was less obvious, but still clear and present in the music industry. “There was and probably still is difference based on race in the music business in England,” says Corea. “It wasn’t blatant but it was there. Black bands were paid less by club owners and were asked to work twice as long. We found that local Black musicians in England at that time were not taken seriously and just simply taken for granted. We wanted to change the style, sound, image, and attitude of Black music and Black musicians in England.”
Thankfully, there was John Peel, a forward-looking DJ at the BBC. “We did his Sunday, repeated Wednesday [show],” recalls Crosdale. “We played lived at the Paris Studios. We played about four numbers. I think we played ‘I Put a Spell On You.’ I remember when we did the Hollywood Festival, [Peel] used to write for the Melody Maker, or one of those. I used to have the article, and he said, ‘Superb, superb, superb.’ Now if John Peel says that…”
Sometime in 1970, using the proceeds from their various gigs, the group paid for studio time and recorded some music. “We did a demo which we paid for, and that connected with Dawn [Records],” remembers Crosdale. “We went in a studio in Morden, and the engineer was very good.”
When asked about what became of the demo, Crosdale shrugs. “I don’t know if Paddy’s got it, or Winston’s got it,” says Crosdale. “Paddy’s got most of the stuff.”
Listening to the demo, Dawn Records producer Barry Murray liked what he heard, or at least he considered Demon Fuzz a good bet for competing against EMI and Phonogram, who had also recently stuck their fingers into the progressive pie. He took the group into Pye Studios in Marble Arch in September 1970. “[The recording] took a week,” says Crosdale. “We were doing a long time in the studio. Some days we’d get there at about ten o’clock and sometimes be there ’til two the next morning.”
“When Demon Fuzz recorded Afreaka!, it is my humble opinion that the record producer, Barry Murray, did not have a thorough understanding of the musical direction that we were taking as a band,” says Winston. “We were up against a large, well-known, well-established company who were spending the money for the production of the LP and we were expected to just obey the instructions of the producer that they were paying to produce the record. We had very little say, if any at all in the matter.”
“We were a lot better then that!” Crosdale says, referring to the music on Afreaka!. “Barry Murray, on one of the tracks, he left the organ out! How he forgot the organ on a track, I don’t know. When we played [the record], we listened to it, and all of a sudden, ‘Well, where’s the organ in that track?!’”
“We were not happy with the final result,” confirms Winston, “but there was nothing that we could do about it. We just had to live with it.”
Sadly, it seems that Winston, Corea, and Crosdale view Afreaka! with some disappointment; they see it as a poor reflection of the band that hooked audiences in the basement clubs of Soho and beyond. “Demon Fuzz live had a superior tonal quality to what you hear on the LP,” says Corea. “And add to that we had a majestic presence on stage. That’s why we were misdiagnosed as being arrogant. It was the aura of our confidence, individual and collective. We were not commercially successful via the recording, but the live band was always a hit.
“We did a lot of universities and technical colleges,” says Crosdale. “Southampton, Cambridge, Oxford. They sort of understood the music. Whereas if you went to some social clubs, they didn’t really get it. Billy Preston used to come and jam with us. A lot of them artists from the states, when they finished their gigs they used to go down to the Q. Billy Preston, Diana Ross’s drummer, all them used to come and you play there and they come and jam with you. The Q, a lot of big names used to come down there. We used to do Ronnie Scott’s upstairs a lot, too.”
Getting themselves to gigs was no small feat, however. The suspension of their modest tour bus would groan as it hauled seven musicians and their plethora of instruments up and down England’s highways and city roads. On one occasion, they were stopped by the police on suspicion of being illegal immigrants; NME ran the predictable headline of “Fuzz Meets the Fuzz.”
Demon Fuzz’s time was short, and by 1972, cracks had developed in their once-concrete bond, and they would soon call it quits. “We had our disagreements, and Paddy left,” recalls Crosdale. “Paddy said, ‘That’s it.’ We carried on a bit, but it wasn’t the same, so we just disbanded. It’s all water under the bridge now.” Afreaka! was reissued on the Castle Music label in 2005, with an additional three tracks.