Remembering Chas Hodges

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Oct 2018 Remembering Chas Hodges

By John Firminger

THE AMOUNT of publicity in the media announcing the passing of Chas Hodges on September 22 shows how much he was admired and loved by both fans and fellow musicians.

Despite receiving successful treatment for oesophageal cancer recently, Chas suffered organ failure and passed away peacefully in his sleep. It goes without saying that he was a brilliant musician and anybody who appreciates good music will feel a tinge of sadness over Chas’s passing.

Born and raised in North London into a musical family, his Mum played piano while an Uncle played guitar. Chas’s roots go back to the skiffle days when he teamed up with some neighbourhood pals to form the Horseshoe Skiffle Group, later dropping the ‘Skiffle Group’ tag as they ventured into rock’n’roll.

 

Chas was truly smitten by rock’n’roll and artists like Little Richard, Larry Williams and especially Jerry Lee Lewis.
Getting hooked on the bass-guitar he became proficient enough to join Billy Gray & The Stormers with whom he landed a job at Butlins’, Filey camp for the 1960 season, along with all its ‘benefits’.

With singer Mike Berry, Chas’s next band became The Outlaws and worked both as a working band and session musicians for eccentric independent producer Joe Meek. While he thwarted Meek’s notorious homosexual advances, Chas played on many sessions, including those by John Leyton, Mike Berry, Michael Cox, Heinz, and a string of instrumentals by The Outlaws.

With the band, Chas also landed his dream-job, backing Jerry Lee when he toured the UK in ’63, and also his other great rock’n’roll idol, Gene Vincent. At different times, The Outlaws included ace guitarists Billy Kuy, Roger Mingaye, Ritchie Blackmore and Harvey Hinsley.

With the band, Chas. also made his first vocal recordings with a version of “Keep A Knockin'” and “Shake With Me”. They also had The Beatles as their support band when they played the Fab Four’s first southern gig.
In 1965, Chas had moved on with the music and joined Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers, with singer Roy Young, resulting in one of the country’s top working and recording bands, with hits such as “I’ll Take You Home” and “Gotta Get You Into My Life”.

Chas spent three years with the Rebel Rousers, including some time after Cliff Bennett’s departure, recording a single in their own right with “Should I” and “As I Look”.

Moving on to the days of ‘prog-rock’, Chas. became a member of the contemporary rock ensemble Head, Hands & Feet, with whom he played bass, guitar and fiddle, sang and co-wrote the songs. The band toured the US and attracted attention from fans and top musicians alike.

If you want to see just how good this band was, check out the clip of Heads Hands & Feet – Live In Paris (1972) on Youtube.

Chas also was one of the musicians who participated on Jerry Lee’s dynamic ‘London Sessions’ album in 1973. Jerry Lee certainly had a profound influence on Chas who adapted and combined some of Lewis’s musical style and swagger with his own musical background.
This was, of course, the music he played with his partner, bass-player and banjoist, Dave Peacock.

The two had similar musical leanings, when they got together and first recorded as Country Pie. They then became briefly Black Claw, before taking on the name Oily Rags (cockney rhyming slang for fags – cigarettes). It was in November 1972 when the duo officially became known as Chas & Dave, performing in various pubs around London. They debuted on radio in ’79 with a storming session on Stuart Colman’s programme It’s Rock’n’Roll. However, Chas didn’t feel comfortable singing in an American accent and decided to sing with his natural cockney accent to come up with the term ‘rockney’.

The rest is history as the quite unique duo went on to enjoy a run of chart hits in the 80s, sell-out concerts and a TV series.

When Dave temporarily retired after the death of his wife in 2009, Chas went out with his Rock’n’Roll Band in which he included a tribute to his idol, Jerry Lee, and of course, some of Chas & Dave’s prime numbers.

It was Chas’s former singer with The Outlaws, Mike Berry who brought him and his old pals, The Crickets, together again in November 2004 when he was commissioned to produce Mike’s album ‘About Time Too!’

Recorded at the Branch Studios, adjacent to legendary drummer J I Allison’s house, the album was, of course, something that had been long overdue as per the title. For Chas, the experience was most enjoyable and as a result, the two old rockers Chas and J I Allison got together again to record the album ‘Before We Grow Too Old’ in 2007.

With a selection of songs that had been among Chas’s favourites, above all the album illustrated what a fine musician he was, playing all the instruments (except drums, of course). Of particular interest is ‘Tell Me How’, an old Crickets’ B-side and performed in a semi-Creole style with some rolling Fats Domino-type of piano from Chas.

In 2013, the world became a better place when Chas and Dave were re-united for a tour and a new album titled ‘That’s What Happens’. Consisting of more of the duo’s own songs, including their tribute to Lonnie Donegan with “Lonnie D” and some old favourites. It also includes another Buddy Holly song, “Look At Me” on which J I Allison was invited to come to the UK and play on.

Indeed, the combination of Chas and J I worked well and just before his death, Chas was working on some more tracks left over from their 2007 sessions.

Chas Hodges, with Dave, has certainly carved a special place in British popular music. I think the reason so many people loved them and their music is that there were no airs or graces: you got exactly what you saw, a pair of really down-to-earth guys who wore their musical heart on their sleeves.

R.I.P. CHAS.