(above Guitarist Clem Clempson with vocalist Chris Farlowe at the Star Club 50th Year Anniversary Show, April 21st, 2012)
Clem Clempson (born David Clempson, 5 September 1949, Tamworth, Staffordshire, England) is an English rock guitarist who has played as a member in a number of bands including Colosseum and Humble Pie.
His career in music began at the age of 4 when given a toy piano, and he surprised everyone with his natural ability to play popular tunes “by ear”. So it was decided that he should be sent for lessons to a local piano teacher named Kitty King; and so began a regime of weekly lessons and daily practice, which to Clem’s annoyance took up time from his real passion – playing football! Clem’s true aim in life was to play at number 8 for West Bromwich Albion.
In spite of making excellent progress on the Royal School of Music piano course, Clem only began to develop a serious interest in music upon being taken to see “Rock Around The Clock” on its UK release in the late 50s, at which point a fascination with the electric guitar began to take hold.
As with so many young lads at the time this interest was further stoked at the beginning of the 60s by the records and TV appearances of The Shadows, featuring the first British guitar hero, Hamk Marvin.
At this point Clem’s fascination with the guitar began to turn into an obsessive desire to learn to play; but unfortunately this was deemed to be detrimental to whatever future Ms. Kitty King had in mind for Clem as a musician, and the acquisition of a guitar was strictly forbidden!
However Clem was not to be denied for too long, and by 1963 he’d managed to save the £5 needed for the purchase of his first guitar, an almost unplayable acoustic. An electric guitar was beyond his means at this stage, a minor setback overcome by fitting a £2 electric pick-up and covering the sound hole with a piece of plastic cunningly shaped to resemble the scratchplate of Hank Marvin’s Fender Stratocaster!
So now a band was required, and best mates at Atherstone Grammar School Kevin Day and Karl Robinson were recruited on bass and rhythm guitar respectively, along with Billy Saunders on drums and David Cotton on vocals. The Vipers were born, and Clem’s career as a guitarist was off the ground, the band proving very popular on the local working men’s club circuit, performing chart hits of the period.
However things were about to be shaken up considerably by the release in 1966 of the classic “Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton” LP. Eric’s ferocious soloing, particularly on the slow blues “Have You Heard”, was a revelation. Although this wasn’t Clem’s first exposure to the blues, having heard tracks by Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker and more, the power of Eric’s approach to playing this music instantly touched a nerve and set Clem off on a mission to play the blues!
When this legendary album was followed very quickly by the first albums from Cream and Jimi Hendrix., which took the blues genre a step further, Clem knew that playing chart hits in working men’s clubs couldn’t satisfy his musical inclinations.
So when he was approached by top local band “The Pinch” he had no hesitation in joining – they were like-minded musically, and were getting gigs in colleges and other larger venues, where there was an audience for the music Clem was so excited about, and where the band wasn’t constantly being warned to keep the volume down!
The band consisted of Clem, drummer John Hinch, and bassist David Mason, who was very soon replaced by Terry Poole, whereupon the first incarnation of what was to become Bakerloo was born.
The band was by now performing frequently around the Birmingham area, and was approached by local manager and trumpet player Jim Simpson, who was looking after the successful Locomotive.
Jim was appointed manager of the band, and it was decided that a change of name was needed to reflect the music the band was intent on playing, and on returning from a trip to London Jim suggested Bakerloo Blues Line.
Due to a shortage of Blues venues around Birmingham at that time the band and Jim collaborated in 1968 on opening a club, Henry’s Blues House, in a room above The Crown public house. BBL performed there most Tuesday evenings at that time, and as word spread more and more like-minded young musicians began to turn up for a blues jam, and the audience had the chance to see the likes of John Bonham, Robert Plant, Cozy Powell, Jethro Tull, Climax Blues Band and the members of Black Sabbath, along with many other local musicians, all at an early stage on their respective musical journeys. The musicians all shared a commitment to good music and a determination to make a career of it – some of them did rather well!!!
A major milestone in Clem’s career began with the visit to Henry’s by impressario Tony Hall to hear Bakerloo Blues Line perform, culminating in a record deal with EMI which would make the band’s debut album one of the first releases on the new “underground” Harvest label. It was decided at this time to shorten the name to simply “Bakerloo”. Subsequently the band was booked into Trident studios in London to record “Bakerloo”, which was basically just a recording of the band’s live set. It was also the first production by Gus Dudgeon, who had engineered the Bluesbreakers album and went on to achieve massive success as producer for Elton John amongst others.
At the same time a club in Erdington was emerging as one of the country’s top music venues – it was called Mothers, and Bakerloo soon found themselves booked to play there on a regular basis. It was here that John Peel heard the band and an invitation was immediately issued to appear on John’s hugely influential “Top Gear” show. The show was broadcast on October 20th 1968, and a huge demand was immediately created for the band to perform at the many blues clubs that were now springing up all over the UK, as well as the long-established music meccas such as London’s Marquee Club. Performing there was the realisation of a dream for Clem, and in fact the band was offered one of the venue’s legendary and coveted residencies.
Another important source of work for the up and coming bands of the time was the college circuit, and the next milestone in Clem’s career happened on May 8th, 1969, when Bakerloo was booked to play at Cambridge University as support to a thrilling new band called Colosseum, who had made a huge impression on Clem when he went to hear them at Mothers.
Coincidentally Bakerloo were to split soon after this gig. Clem and Cozy Powell had meanwhile become great mates and often spoke of forming a band together, so after Dave Pegg had been recruited on bass rehearsals began. The trio fulfilled an outstanding Bakerloo engagement at Sheffield University, and on the evidence of that the band seemed to have a bright future – but sadly it was to be the only gig the band would ever play.
A few days later a message was delivered, via Mothers boss Phil Myatt, that Jon Hiseman had been impressed with what he’d heard at Cambridge and would like to meet up with Clem to discuss the prospect of his replacing James Litherland as guitarist in Colosseum.
Clem set about learning all the tracks on Colosseum”s “Those About To Die” LP, and was soon on the train to London for a meeting in the band’s rehearsal facility in Elephant and Castle. After meeting the band members it was time for Clem to plug in his 1958 Les Paul Goldtop, and after an exhilerating run-through of the title track from “Those About” Clem was instantly offered the job as guitarist and lead vocalist with one of the country’s most exciting and innovative bands!
Cozy and Dave Pegg were understandably disappointed about this turn of events, but they’d both very soon be offered gigs with Jeff Beck and Fairport Convention respectively, so it all ended very well for all, and the three remained the best of friends for many years.
There were many memorable times ahead, starting with Clem’s first ever flight for one of his first Colosseum gigs, in Prague, which was still under Russian occupation. The band was building a formidable reputation at gigs and festivals all over Europe, including the legendary Bath festival on Saturday June 7th 1970, and the 1970 Fehmarn festival in Germany, an occasion which marked Jimi Hendrix’s last gig and Clem’s 21st birthday.
Chris Farlowe and Mark Clarke completed the “classic” Colosseum line-up for the recording of the Daughter of Time album, followed by Colosseum Live, and with the exception of Dick Heckstall-Smith, who sadly succumbed to a long illness in 2004 and was replaced by Barbara Thompson, this line-up continues to tour and record – albeit after a brief interruption of 22 years, which began with Clem’s decision in 1972 to accept an invitation from Steve Marriott to join Humble Pie.
After just a handful of gigs the new Pie line-up began work in Olympic Studios on the Smokin’ album. One of Clem’s favourite records in recent years had been Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Deja Vu, so the sudden and unexpected appearance of Stephen Stills in the studio one evening was an unforgetable moment, and his subsequent contribution of a brilliant vocal line (Do you get the message?) for Hot ‘n’ Nasty helped the track become a hit single and one of the Pie’s most popular tracks to this day. Clem was also delighted to have the chance to sing a duet on the album with a gentleman who had become something of a mentor when, in the early days of Bakerloo, the pair jammed onstage at “Les Cousins” – the great Alexis Korner.
Much fun on the road ensued as the band toured the USA endlessly, selling out the biggest venues in the country including the Philadelphia Spectrum, Detroit’s Cobo Hall and Madison Square Gardens as well as such legendary venues as San Francisco’s Winterland, the Warehouse in New Orleans and the Academy of Music in New York.
There were also tours in the UK, Europe and, memorably, Japan.
Somehow the band also managed to record a further three albums – Eat It, Thunderbox, and Street Rats – before the stress of the hectic schedule, combined with serious concerns about the policies of the band’s management, finally took its toll and the band split.
An excellent and detailed biography of the Pie can be found in drummer Jerry Shirley’s “Best Seat in the House”.
After the break-up of Humble Pie came another doomed attempt to join up with Cozy Powell, tentatively called Strange Brew and also including Greg Ridley. This time the plan was sabotaged by Clem breaking his left wrist whilst playing football – the very cheerful nurse while putting the wrist in plaster mentioned that it was possible Clem would permanently lose the grip in his left hand – a depressing prospect for an ambitious guitarist, although the nurse was quick to point out that things weren’t so bad, as Clem was right-handed and so would have no problem with writing!
Fortunately everything turned out ok with the wrist, but during the recovery period Cozy was offered the gig with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, so once again plans for a collaboration were shelved.
At this point Clem was introduced to a brilliant keyboardist named Damon Butcher, and the two began jamming and writing together. When Clem introduced Damon to Steve Marriott Steve asked the two of them to accompany him on his first solo tour of the USA, and when that ended Damon and Clem decided to stay on in Los Angeles and try to form a band, along with drummer Ian Wallace, who had also been in Steve’s band. However when Clem and Damon returned to England Ian stayed on in LA, having met the girl of his dreams there.
Soon afterwards Clem was contacted by a former agent for Colosseum, Steve Barnett, who explained that he was managing David Byron from Uriah Heep and was in the process of putting together a band with David and drummer Geoff Britten. So this was a perfect opportunity for Clem and Damon to continue working together, and an outlet for the songs they’d been writing. Willie Bath joined on bass and the band, named Rough Diamond, was soon in the recording studio making its first album, which was released on Island records in 1977. It was followed by a tour of America after which David left the band, Barnett was fired and Clem, Damon, Willie and Geoff began looking for a new singer.
A friend of Geoff’s suggested a Canadian singer/songwriter by the name of Garry Bell, and with Garry on board the band was renamed Champion. The new wave of punk was meanwhile doing its best to make life difficult for the rock establishment, and after making an album and playing a handful of gigs in the UK and Spain the band folded.
However Clem and Garry remained close freinds, and when Garry very quickly established himself as a successful writer and producer on the London session scene Clem was his regular choice to play guitar. This led to Clem being called by other producers and artists, and soon he was to become one of the most sought-after musicians on the London scene.
Around this time – the late 70s – Clem enjoyed a spell playing dates with Roger Chapman’s Shortlist, and also made a few appearances with Sniff and the Tears.
Another of the landmarks of Clem’s career came at this time, when Cozy Powell asked him to play on a couple of tracks for his first solo album, Over The Top. The tracks were “The Loner”, a beautiful ballad, and “Sweet Poison” both written by Max Middleton. Playing bass on the album was one of Clem’s heroes, Jack Bruce and Clem was thrilled to have the chance to work with him, especially when an appearance on the BBC’s legendary live music show The Old Grey Whistle Test was lined up to promote Cozy’s album. The band sounded great, performing “Killer” and “The Loner”.
Clem couldn’t know it at the time, but one of the most exciting and fulfilling periods of his career was just beginning…..
Soon after the collaboration on Cozy’s album, Jack showed up at Clem’s London home and said he was planning a new band, with Billy Cobham on drums and David Sancious on keyboards – would Clem be interested in playing guitar?! This was a wonderful opportunity for a return to the kind of music Clem had enjoyed playing with Colosseum, who had included several Jack Bruce compositions in their repertoire.
David and Billy were sensational musicians, so it was an extremely exciting prospect, which was to begin with rehearsals in New York in early 1980. An album, “I’ve Always Wanted To Do This”, was recorded at the House of Music in New Jersey, followed by tours of the US and Europe. It was a lot of fun, and highly acclaimed by critics and fans, but in the end not as commercially successful as had been hoped, and the band split without making any further recordings.
Clem and David Sancious had become close friends during their time with Jack, and when Clem was approached by Jon Anderson to work on a new album (Clem had already played on some tracks for Jon’s previous LP “Song of Seven”) he recommended David for the keyboards role. An album, “Animation” was recorded at Jon’s studio in London and a major US tour was arranged to coincide with the release of the album in the summer of 1982.
Clem and Jack continued to work together throughout the 80s, with several different drummers and usually with their mutual friend Ronnie Leahy on keyboards.
A very special highlight of the collaboration with Jack was the 1993 Cologne concert to mark Jack’s 50th birthday, which featured various combinations of many of Jack’s former colleagues including Ginger Baker, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Simon Phillips, Gary Husband and Gary Moore. A CD of the concert, “Cities of the Heart” was released.
Meanwhile the 1980s and 90s also saw Clem in great demand as a session guitarist, working on recordings by Roger Daltrey, Tanita Tikaram, Mike and the Mechanics, Rod Argent, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Aaron Neville, Maxi Priest, Chris Farlowe, Bob Dylan (the disastrous film “Hearts of Fire”), Joshua Kadison, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kiri Te Kanawa and many others, plus numerous film soundtracks, including Notting Hill, Lawn Dogs, Sweet Home Alabama, White Palace, Buddy’s Song, Dead Dog Blues, Gangster No. 1 and Message in a Bottle.
During this period Clem also stepped up his composition work, writing music for TV and films – much of which is still being used in productions all over the world, and has been featured in such programmes as The Simpsons, Baywatch, Sex and the City, Beavis and Butthead and The Good Sex Guide!
Clem’s proudest achievement in the session world came in 2005, when he worked as guitarist and unofficial musical director with one of his biggest influences, and one of the blues genre’s most important musicians, BB King, on tracks for an album commemorating BB’s 80th birthday, “BB King and Friends 80”. Many top names contributed to the record, and the tracks Clem played on featured BB in vocal duets with Roger Daltrey and Van Morrisson, as a result of which Clem received a phone call from Van’s management inquiring whether the post of musical director for Van Morrisson would be of interest to Clem!
Meanwhile Colosseum was back on the road, having decided at a birthday party to celebrate Dave Greenslade’s 50th in 1993 that the time was right for a reunion. A concert to launch the reunion was planned at the E-werk auditorium in Cologne – the same venue where the Jack Bruce 50th gig had been staged – and a CD and DVD of the show were released to coincide with a major tour in 1995.
After a hugely successful and enjoyable period out on the road the band decided to record its first studio album since 1970’s “Daughter of Time”, and “Bread and Circuses” was released in 1997. This was accompanied by another tour of Europe; the gigs continued into the 21st century and in 2003 the band was in the studio once more.
As work was progressing on “Tomorrow’s Blues” plans were being drawn up for further touring; however, during the recording the health of saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith had been a constant source of concern, and soon after the completion of the album he was admitted to hospital. It was assumed that Dick’s recovery would be simply a matter of time, and as the start of the 2003 Autumn tour drew closer it was agreed that Barbara Thompson would deputise for Dick until such time as he could take his place with the band on the road.
Sadly Dick never recovered sufficiently to rejoin the band, and passed away in December of 2004.
Clem was introduced at this time to a blues musician from Hamburg, Gert Lange, who was leader of the Hamburg Blues Band; Clem was subsequently invited to play as special guest with the band on several occasions, and eventually the situation became permanent, Clem and the band enjoying a very busy and fruitful few years on the road. One particularly memorable concert with HBB was on Clem’s 60th birthday, when the band performed at the Fehmarn festival – the same festival where Clem had spent his 21st!
The “Mad Dog Blues” album, featuring Clem along with Chris Farlowe and Maggie Bell, was recorded in 2008.
When, due to Barbara Thompson’s health problems the chances of Colosseum continuing began to look increaingly unlikely, Clem decided it was finally time to make plans for a “Clem Clempson Band”.
During the time spent with the Hamburg Blues Band, Clem and Sheffield-born keyboard player Adrian Askew had struck up a close working relationship and friendship, and Clem turned to the experienced Askew for help and advice with the project – and naturally invited Adrian to participate. Adrian had achieved considerable success as a producer and composer in Germany, and knew all the best musicians. He recommended the brilliant rhythm section of Eddie Filipp and Reggie Worthy, and after a get-together at Eddie’s studio in Braunschweig the Clem Clempson Band was ready to begin work on Clem’s first-ever “solo” CD, “In The Public Interest”. It was released on the Repertoire label in September 2013, and the Clem Clempson Band has been performing regularly around Europe since then.
Colosseum recorded a new CD “Time On Our Side” in spring 2014 and subsequently played their final tour of Europe, bringing down the final curtain on the legendary band at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire on February 28th, 2015.
During sessions in the summer of 2017 for a new CD Jon Hiseman was producing for his daughter Ana Gracey, on which Clem was playing guitar, Jon explained his idea for the JCM and the “Heroes” project. The opportunity to record and tour again with Jon and Mark Clarke was very welcome, and work began immediately on selecting the trio’s favourite songs from some of the fantastic and influential musicians they’ve been associated with, and to whom they wished to pay tribute with a new CD and live performances planned for 2018.