Early American Influence on the British Music Scene, U.K. Rock ’N’ Roll Posters

“Jailhouse Rock” UK Quad poster 1957. Elvis promoted Rhythm and Blues further with this influential movie. (Photo: rockpopmem.com)

When we think of iconic 1960s rock bands, the likes of British artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who & Led Zeppelin all come to mind. However, these bands did not just emerge from a vacuum. It is important to consider the American influences that shaped the British music scene and gave rise to these musical colossi. It is interesting too to consider the investment potential of the memorabilia associated with these American pioneers.

Billy Haley U.K. program, 1957. Haley rocked British youth on his 23-date U.K. tour Feb-Mar 1957. (Photo: rockpopmem.com)

A Free Market Begins to Develop
The influence of American music in Britain was somewhat stymied by strict musician’s union rules on both sides of the Atlantic that made it difficult for American musicians to play in the U.K. and vice versa. From the mid-1950s onwards, however, these strictures began to relax and American blues artists like Big Bill Broonzy and, most memorably, Muddy Waters in 1958, came to ply their trade in British music clubs.

Rock ’n’ roll also made its mark with “The Blackboard Jungle” (1955) featuring Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” and early Elvis movies such as “Jailhouse Rock” (1957). Sadly, Elvis was never to perform on British shores. But Haley toured the U.K. to an ecstatic reception in 1957. Expect to pay $70-$80 for a program for Haley’s ’57 U.K. tour and $1,000-plus for a U.K. Quad poster for Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.”

American Blues Inspires a Generation of British Musicians
If white rock ’n’ rollers like Elvis and Bill Haley had the widest influence on the masses in the late ’50s early ’60s in the U.K., it was undoubtedly black musicians who had the most direct influence on British musicians themselves. Interest in “American” music in Britain was well established through various jazz clubs which emerged in the 1940s-’50s.

Emerging from the jazz scene, but with an interest in blues, were characters such as Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, who established the London Blues & Barrelhouse club in 1954, where various black blues musicians passed through the club. In 1962, a regular “Rhythm & Blues Night” was established by Korner at the Ealing Jazz Club, attracting the likes of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart, Ginger Baker, etc.

Sonny Boy Williamson Ricky Tick poster 1964. Eric Clapton helped support Sonny Boy in this January ’64 concert. (Photo: icollector.com)

One of the most influential of all clubs, however, was the Ricky Tick club. Originally based at Windsor, Ricky Tick expanded to promote concerts all over southern England with homegrown talent playing alongside American R&B artists, such as John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Due to the expense of bringing over backing bands, American Bluesmen were frequently backed by U.K. musicians: Sonny Boy Williamson played the Ricky Tick, Guildford, with support from The Yardbirds! Expect to pay upwards of $700 for posters such as this.

The British Invasion in Exchange for Stax & Motown
By 1964, a new generation of British musicians influenced by American blues and rock ’n’ roll had reinvented their own brand of popular music. At the vanguard, of course, were The Beatles, who first visited the U.S. in February ’64. The British Invasion was underway.

The Beatles absorbed a varied palette of American influences, taking in the likes of Buddy Holly, Arthur Alexander, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Chuck Berry. Hot on their heels were The Rolling Stones, who toured America in June ’64. The Stones were perhaps even more obviously influenced by American songwriters than The Beatles. Whereas The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” 1962 debut LP had six of 14 tracks penned by American artists, 10 of the 12 tracks on the Stones’ debut 1964 LP were by American songwriters.

Tamla Motown U.K. Tour Ticket 1965. Not mentioned on the ticket but this concert included The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Martha & The Vandellas. (Photo: rockpopmem.com)

Stax UK Tour Handbill 1967. Anything Motown can do, Stax can do better (?). (Photo: ebay.com)

However, there was still a reciprocal flow across the Atlantic. Bluesmen continued to work the Ricky Tick and other clubs on the circuit with package revues featuring artists from both Stax and Tamla-Motown labels. These acts also toured Britain in the mid-1960s. Tickets for the Tamla-Motown revue retail at $70-80 and a handbill for the later Stax tour will cost $250-plus.

Clapton Meets the Competition
As musicians honed their skill in competition and rock music began to evolve, virtuoso guitar players came to prominence. Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, session musician Jimmy Page and Bluesbreaker and future Cream guitarist Eric Clapton were notable exponents in Britain: Clapton was so highly regarded that graffiti bearing the script “Clapton is God” began to appear in London.

In the autumn of 1966, however, ex-Animal Chas Chandler brought Jimi Hendrix over to the U.K. to form the band the Jimi Hendrix Experience. At a Cream concert in London on Oct. 1, 1966, Hendrix took part in an impromptu jam and Clapton realized he had competition. Once again, the Ricky Tick circuit provided Hendrix with a platform to display his idiosyncratic talents, as this early poster from February ’67 signifies. Such an early Hendrix poster would ignite huge interest if it were to come onto the market currently. It is likely that bidding would start at $5,000.

Jimi Hendrix Ricky Tick Poster 1967. Ricky Tick concerts boasted primitive poster graphics but provided an important environment for musicians from England & America to flourish. (Photo: rockpopmem.com)

Jimi Hendrix Top 50 Poster 1967. Original memorabilia but significantly cheaper than corresponding concert posters. (Photo: rockpopmem.com)

Cheaper alternatives can be found for Hendrix posters if you are prepared to collect a chart poster. These posters were used in record shops and this example dates from January of 1967 and shows Hendrix at No. 9 in the charts with “Hey Joe.” This kind of chart poster will cost in the region of $80-$100.

Electric Prunes Handbill 1967. Whilst The Who & Led Zeppelin were working America in the late 1960s, a new generation of American bands like The Prunes were being similarly influential in England. (Photo: rockpopmem.com)

A Contribution to the Psychedelic Scene
Towards the tail-end of the 1960s, The Beatles were no more, but bands like the Stones, The Who, Cream and Led Zeppelin still flew the flag for Britain in America. The process of cross-fertilization, however, continued and ensured that the popular music scene remained vibrant, diverse and evolving.

This is aptly demonstrated when considering the handbill for concerts at this venue in Bath at the end of 1967. Concert attendees could pick from mod favorites The Who, British beat group Amen Corner, resident American R&B act Jimmy James & the Vagabonds, American soul courtesy of The Temptations and American psychedelia from The Electric Prunes. As 1967 transitioned into 1968-69, so the popular music scene became more experimental with psychedelic bands like The Electric Prunes coming to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic.

In keeping with the more avant-garde approach to the music, advertising material became far more colorful and artistic, with this Bath handbill being one of the last examples of the ancient regime of concert marketing. Nonetheless, the Bath handbill has value (retailing at around $450), though it is fair to say that this is perhaps more a function of The Who’s presence rather than the Prunes.

In Conclusion
Whilst the likes of Elvis and Bill Haley influenced the British public, British Beat and R&B musicians clearly owe a debt of gratitude to the blues musicians from America who plied their trade in the small jazz and blues clubs in Britain during the 1950s and early 1960s. As British bands developed their own unique brand of music, the symbiotic process of cross-cultural influence continued throughout the ’60s. American acts as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, The Supremes, The Electric Prunes and John Lee Hooker all played in Britain and all had an impact.

Memorabilia from these artist’s tours varies in value and provides an excellent opportunity for collectors whatever the depth of pocket.

Mike Bloomfield has been collecting cinema & music memorabilia, with a particular focus on U.K. concert memorabilia & quad cinema posters from the 1960s and ’70s, for 30 years. He runs the two MEM Music and Cinema Memorabilia websites—RockPopMem and MoviePosterMem holds private exhibitions too, provides insurance valuations, a consultancy service to the auction industry, and has contributed to various book publications. You can e-mail him at info@memcollect.co.uk.

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