Sunday, 19 March 2017

Reflections on John Ravenscroft on Kat's Karavan - WRR Dallas 1961

Outside of the John Peel wiki, the best place for Peel related news is the John Peel Radio Show Yahoo Discussion Group started in 1999, and still a busy place today.  It is THE place to be if you want to know what's going on in the online Peel show world.  I look in occasionally, mainly in hopes that someone will have uploaded more shows from 1998 and 2001 - years that I most cherish the memory of listening to Peel's show while driving home from rehearsal, not just because of the music, but because of my own adventures at the time and the backdrop these provided.
I was looking at the discussions a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in a while, when I saw a post  in which someone said that they were hoping to buy a recording of Peel's first ever radio appearance which he made on Dallas based station, WRR in 1961.  The story going that Peel called the station up to correct an error they made when playing a blues record on a programme called Kat's Karavan, that he had in his own collection.  With this demonstration of inside knowledge he was invited on to the programme by its host, Bill "Hoss" Carroll, who had apparently borrowed some of Peel's records in the past, to talk about and play some of his favourite blues records.

This should have provoked wild excitement in me, when I read it, but I was initially quite cautious about it - worried about whether it would be listenable at nearly 56 years old, but also how much of Peel, or rather Ravenscroft, would come across.  With my time taken up by this blog, and life in the early 90s I moved on to other things.  But a week or so later, I was sat at home with a few glasses of red wine inside me, looking down my Twitter newsfeed and cuddled up to my wife, when the YouTube link to the video above showed up.  "Ooh, John Peel!" said my wife.  "Yes," I replied, "I read that someone had tracked down his first broadcast.  Ah, and they've put it on YouTube." A slightly tipsy digit stabbed at the link and we sat back together to listen to the radio debut of John Robert Parker Ravenscroft.  And what a delightful experience it was.

In the course of the 25 minutes that the tape captured, John plays 5 tracks.  It's highly possible that in years following this show, they would have all turned up again at some point in a Radio 1 playlist, dotted throughout Peel's 37 years with the station.  For the record, the only one I was instantly dra wn to was Rub-a-Dub by Sonny Boy Williamson.  But this recording is a treasure for so many reasons.  Although cast in the role of guest here, John feels instinctively at home on radio.  The first track he plays is Hello England by Lightnin Hopkins (which segues into the next track on The Rooster Crowed in England album, Begging Up and Down the Streets,) "...which is an appropriate start to the show". He talks with understated passion and great knowledge about the records, and it quickly becomes apparent how the juxtaposition of these roots records being introduced by a man, who in his words, sounded at the time like a minor member of the Royal Family, would have appealed to a mischievous radio controller.  This leading on to Peel getting a regular slot on WRR introducing blues records.
A word of praise to Bill "Hoss" Carroll, who recognises John's knowledge and draws him out with perceptive questions about the records.  We learn that John "went into debt" while in the Army to buy imports from France.  Carroll notes that many of the records were probably easier to get in Europe than the States, which John attributes to greater interest in "ethnic music" in Europe than in America. A comment which the UK Blues Boom over the following couple of years would seemingly bear out.

Around the music and the musical observations, I would invite you to soak up the ephemera of the time: Carroll breaking off to deliver a commercial for Kenyon's glass lined water heaters: "There's always hot water and I haven't been in any lately...". I love the way that Carroll clarifies what he means by not getting into hot water.  When cueing up Detroit Rocks by Montana Taylor, John's phrasing takes us forward 15 years to when he'll be acclaiming Anarchy in the UK as a "good stomper".  Carroll also gets amused by a hyphen.

Open the red wine and enjoy these 25 minutes.  It's a good quality recording but there's a pleasant level of surface noise over the recording, especially over the Lightnin' Hopkins track, which at 10:30pm and with a couple of glasses of red in me, I relished.  For admirers of Peel, this is where it all started and it's wonderful to hear his eclecticism and quirks in place from the start.  It was clearly an experience that left its mark on him, for although he was removed from the slot with WRR when he asked to be paid for doing it, he held no grudge and every running order he wrote for Radio 1's John Peel Show from 1975 onwards always bore the title, Kat's Karavan.

Video courtesy of John Peel.

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