Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

The Big Three

The Big Three
A Liverpool group who evolved from Cass and The Cassanovas, a four-piece band formed in the late 1950s and were, for a time, regarded as the top group on Merseyside. They even ran their own club, the Cassanova Club. The group was led by Brian Casser, who used the names Casey Valence and Casey Jones. He was a dynamic personality, adept at organisation.

They were a trio in 1959 comprising Casey Jones, Adrian Barber and Johnny Hutchinson, when Hutchinson brought Johnny Gustafson to see the group as they needed a bass guitarist. He was asked to join them, but couldn't play as he didn't actually own a guitar. Adrian converted a Hoyer Acoustic for him and put bass strings on it. On joining, he was commonly known as Johnny Bass, but later on was referred to as Johnny Gus.

Leader and rhythm guitarist Cass left for London at the end of 1960, missing out on the entire Mersey success scene, although it has been suggested that the others pushed him out. The three remaining members of the Cassanovas stayed together and in January 1961 emerged as The Big Three. They were the first Merseyside group to play Ray Charles numbers and had a raw edge to their sound.

Despite the fact that they were only a trio, they were one of the loudest bands on Merseyside, due to Adrian’s electronic wizardry. He made giant amps, standing over five feet tall, which were nicknamed ‘coffins.’ They were in big demand and The Beatles and other groups asked Adrian to make ‘coffins’ for them.

The Big Three’s reputation locally was very high and, after signing The Beatles, Brian Epstein wanted the group in his ‘stable’, signing them after initially trying them out on a shared bill with The Beatles in Southport, and he sent them over to Hamburg on 1st July 1962. The German club insisted on quartets so Epstein arranged for Brian Griffiths, one of the most acclaimed guitarists in Liverpool, to join them.

This eventually resulted in Adrian leaving the group and becoming stage manager at Hamburg's Star Club – he said he was never happy with Epstein managing them and they were supposed to be the Big Three not the Big Four. His suspicions about Epstein’s capabilities proved correct.

Brian arranged for them to audition for Decca and they recorded ‘Some Other Guy’ - Gus was 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 heard 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. Also not understanding why The Big Three were so popular – because of their aggressive sound, their wildness, their casual appearance on stage – Brian 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 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 and The Pacemakers type songs.” In 1963 their A&R man Noel Walker 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. The Big Three and Epstein officially came to a parting of the ways on 20th July 1963, but the damage had already been done.
The Big Three

The Big Three

Before their EP ‘The Big Three at the Cavern’ was released on 22nd November 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 and 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 was being so heavily criticised that he phoned 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.”

In the meantime, Billy Kinsley had left the Mersey Beats and 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 at the Cavern’ featured an introduction by Bob Wooler and the tracks ‘What’d I Say?’, ‘Don’t Start Running Around’, ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’ and ‘Reelin’ And A-Rockin’.’ The Big Three had signed with Kennedy Street Enterprises 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 Pilnik 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 and Hutch had an offer to join Kingsize Taylor but decided to hang up his drumsticks altogether.

The Big Three

In 1973 there was an attempt at reviving the band with Gus, Griff and Elton John’s drummer Nigel Ollsen. Tony Bramwell produced an album called ‘Resurrection,’ comprising numbers previously recorded by the band, which was issued on the Polydor label. Adrian Barber now lives in Hawaii. Brian Griffiths in Canada, Johnny Gustafson in Whitstable and Johnny Hutchinson remains in Liverpool, a property magnate.

Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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