I bought a second-hand guitar for £4 when I was fourteen years old. It was a Spanish guitar with steel strings, and I learned to play the music that was then called ‘folk’, although it was really acoustic American pop: Blowing in the Wind, Puff the Magic Dragon, Go Tell it on the Mountain, that sort of thing.
I’ve never had lessons, but like most of my family I find it easy to pick up an instrument and get a tune out of it. I also found that when I played my guitar, girls would sit around and listen, something they rarely did if I was merely talking!
My first wife had a brother-in-law who played guitar in a jazz band, and he taught me a lot of chords I’d never heard of, minor sevenths and ninths and diminisheds, and a whole repertoire of standards that I still sometimes play: On the Sunny Side of the Street, Birth of the Blues, Smoke Gets in you Eyes.
I taught my little brother, James, a few chords, then later my son, Emanuele. In the eighties, when my son was a teenager, the three of us used to play Beatles songs after lunch on Sundays. One day James said: “We’re almost good enough to play in public. If we had a drummer…”
We found a drummer and formed Kevin Small and the Trousers. I became the bassist in the same way Paul McCartney did: I was the worst guitarist in the band. We didn’t do many Beatles numbers in the end – the singing is too difficult. We developed a rock repertoire and we used to play at the Greyhound, a grungy pub in Fulham Palace Road in West London.
James and Emanuele developed different musical interests, and around 1994 I joined a blues band formed by Graham Coster, a writer who is also brilliant blues-harp player. His agent, Antony Harwood, was the guitarist. After a couple of false starts Cefyn Jones joined as drummer, and we called ourselves Damn Right I Got the Blues.
Our material is about fifty per cent Chicago blues from the fifties and sixties, songs such as Hoochie Coochie Man, My Babe, and Twenty-Nine Ways, and other blues standards such as Statesborough Blues. We also play more contemporary numbers in the same sort of vein such as I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll.
Our favourite venues to play include the Acoustic Café in Soho and Bottles wine bar in Stevenage. We’ve recorded Hoochie Coochie Man, and it’s the only track of ours available commercially: it appears on the CD Stranger than Fiction, a charity album released by Don’t Quit Your Day Job Records in San Francisco.
In 2002 Graham Coster left the band and Emanuele joined as lead guitarist, proving that life just goes around in circles. The band, pictured below, consists of (from left): Roger Stevens (keyboards), Ant Harwood (guitar), Ken Follett (bass), occasional guest vocalist Floella Benjamin, Cefyn Jones (drums), and Emanuele Follett (guitar).
‘Damn Right’ live at Exeter University in July 2010
In Barcelona on 21 October, appearing on Channel 6’s ‘Buenafuente’ show. From left: Ant Harwood, Ken and Emanuele Follett. Photograph by Giulio Mazzarini (www.gmazzarini.com), courtesy of Vanity Fair Italy.
Download Hoochie Coochie Man as an MP3 file (160 kbps, 8.3 MB), made available for download by kind permission of Don’t Quit Your Day Job Records. The Stranger than Fiction double CD is available from both DQYDJ and Amazon.com.
Hoochie Coochie Man. 6:35 minutes. Willie Dixon/Hoochie Coochie Music/BMI – additional lyrics by Ken Follett. Damn Right I Got the Blues – Ken Follett (lead vocal, bass, acoustic guitar, additional lyrics); Graham Coster (harmonica); Richard Gillinson (Yamaha clavinova); Antony Harwood (slide guitar); Cefyn Jones (drums); background vocals by Graham Coster, Marie-Claire Follett, Richard Gillinson and Cefyn Jones.