Thursday, February 4, 2016

Big Jim Sullivan - His Career - His Guitars

LA had The Wrecking Crew.

Motown and Stax Records had The Funk Brothers.

Alabama had The Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section.

But who played on all those recordings from Britain? You know, all those wonderful songs from the 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s.

During these days the music industry kept a tight lid on it but. more often than not the groups you loved; those groups that made the records which you played over and over, did not actually play their instruments on their recordings.

Olympic Recording Studio, London
Recording time was expensive in the U.S. and in the U.K., so studios hired professional musicians to play the instruments. The voices of the singers in the band would be heard on the records, but it usually was someone else playing the instrumental part.

Someone that could get the job done quickly and efficiently was needed. By working this manner, studios and record companies could crank out mistake free recordings in a just few hours.

Big Jim Sullivan
Big Jim Sullivan, born James George Tomkins, was probably the most in demand session guitarist in Britain.

Sullivan or Tomkins as he was known at the time, began playing guitar at age 14 when Skiffle Music was popular. Within a few years he was giving lessons to the neighbor kid, Ritchie Blackmore.

By the time Sullivan was 19 he became the guitarist for a group known as The Wildcats. At the time they were a warm up act on a television series called Oh Boy.

The Wildcats

This group went on to tour with Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent in 1960. The group’s leader, Marty Wilde, had purchased a gold top Gibson Les Paul guitar from Sister Rosetta Tharp. Marty gave this guitar to Sullivan. You can view it in the above picture.

1960 Gibson ES-345

Shortly after this, Sullivan sold the Les Paul and purchased another Gibson guitar. This was a brand new cherry red Gibson ES-345.

Marshall Music West London
In the early 1960’s, guitars and amplifiers imported from the United States were still very expensive. Sullivan, Ritchie Blackmore, Pete Townsend and other players would hang out at Jim Marshall’s Music Store in the West London town of Hanwell. It was Sullivan, Blackmore and Townsend that convinced Marshall the UK needed a more affordable and louder amp. 

The rest is history.

The Wildcats had a few hits in England with covers of Donna, A Teenager in Love, and Sea of Love, which were all produced by Jack Good. Good was a music and television producer and a pioneer in British television.  Mr. Good took note of Sullivan expertise on the guitar and introduced him to studio work.

The Krew Kuts
After working with  The Wildcats, Sullivan went on to join a band called The Krew Kuts and recorded a few songs with them, including the Chet Atkins song, Trambone. By this time he had a whole other career as a session guitarist.

It may be hard to believe, but we hear his guitar on more #1 recordings than either those recorded by Elvis or by The Beatles. His name may not have been mentioned on the label, but Big Jim Sullivan’s guitar is heard on fifty-five #1 records.

Big Jim with Led Zepplin/Jimmy Page
Sullivan got the nickname of Big Jim, because of his size and stature and also because, the other well known session guitarist at the time was Jimmy Page. Page was known as Little Jim and Sullivan was known as Big Jim.

Big Jim Sullivan has the distinction of being the first guitarist in England to use a wah-wah pedal and a fuzztone. His use of a DeArmond wah-wah dates as far back as 1959. He put the Maestro fuzztone to use in 1964 on an Everly Brothers recording.

In the early 1960’s he played on hits by Dave Berry, P.J. Proby, Billy Fury, Frank Ifield, Adam Faith, Frankie Vaughn, Helen Shapiro, Johnny Hallyday, and Freddie and the Dreamers.

He can also be heard on recordings by Herman’s Hermits, Cilia Black, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, The Tremoloes, Peter and Gordon, Joe Meek, Brian Poole,Lulu, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Los Bravos and Dusty Springfield to name but a few.

His guitar was heard on such songs as It’s Not Unusual (Tom Jones), Downtown (Petula Clark), Space Oddity (David Bowie), Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey), You Really Got Me (The Kinks), Itchycoo Park (The Small Faces) and that is his distinctive guitar you hear on the solo in Alone Again (Naturally) (Gilbert O’Sullivan).

From the mid 1960’s and ‘70’s he had played on recordings by The Walker Brothers, Donovan, David Bowie, Benny Hill, The New Seekers, Thunderclap Newman, Long John Baldry, Marmalade, Small Faces and even played on George Harrison’s Wonderwall soundtrack.

Big Jim also backed up the Everly Brothers on their live album recorded in Paris called Live in Paris.

He backed Little Richard on a 1966 LP called The OKeh Sessions. That same year he was featured on Bobby Darin’s live album. The following year he backed up Del Shannon on his album.

Sullivan was also the resident guitarist for a couple of British television series; Top of the Pops, Ready, Steady, Go and The Saturday Club.

During the 1970’s his playing was featured on the soundtrack for Frank Zappa’s movie, 200 Motels.

Big Jim Sullivan wrote the orchestral arrangements for The Who’s rock opera Tommy.

Sullivan even learned to play the sitar with his friend George Harrison when Harrison was taking lessons.

Big Jim & Nancy Sinatra/Getty Images
During his prime working period, most studio sessions called for two guitars. Jim would work three sessions a day, seven days a week. He was in demand because he was so versatile. Sullivan could play rock, pop, country and was even called in for symphonic orchestra recordings that needed a guitar part.

Tom Jones & Big Jim

From 1970 to 1974 Sullivan was the touring guitarist for Tom Jones. At this time he got to meet Elvis while Jones was performing in Las Vegas.

When the tour ended he started his own company, Retreat Records, and put together his own group. This group recorded three LP’s under Big Jim Sullivan's name and toured large venues to packed houses.

As the 1980’s approached he linked up with some other musicians and played small venues and clubs.

Big Jim & Patrick Eggle guitar
By the 1990’s he was approached by luthier Patrick Eggle. Eggle built the Big Jim Sullivan Legend Model for Sullivan with Jim's input. This is the guitar Big Jim used for the rest of his life. This guitar was designed to be compatible with the Axon AS100 SB guitar to MIDI controller, which was state of the art at the time..

A few of the guitars Sullivan used to earn his living included a Gibson SJ-200, which he loaned to Jimmy Page for the first two Led Zepplin albums.

Sullivan seemed to favor Gibson guitars. We’ve already mentioned his original Gibson ES-345.Later in life he owned a Gibson ES-335.

He also played a Gibson gold top Les Paul (not his first). 

Big Jim was also fond of the Gibson Howard Roberts model guitar.

On The Crying Game he used a Gibson EDS-1275 through a Maestro Fuzztone.

On early studio sessions he is seen playing a Gibson B-45 string guitar

While touring with Tom Jones, Sullivan played an Ovation Balladeer acoustic/electric guitar.

He played a Fender Telecaster while he was with Jones..

And Big Jim used his Rickenbacker 360 on that tour. At one time Big Jim Sullivan was a Rickenbacker endorser.

Sullivan also favored a couple of  unique and unidentifiable guitars.
This one looks similar to a Gibson ES 335, but appears to be solid. It could possibly be a 1990's Gibson ES-335 Studio model, though the inlay on the neck is different.

He is also seen in several photos with a Jazz archtop guitar that says SFX Legend on the pickguard. (I do not believe it is made by Cort, although Cort does offer a SFX series of guitars).

He is pictured at the top of the page playing this beautiful James D'Aquisto guitar.

Note the MIDI connection

And of course Sullivan's favorite electric guitar which is the aforementioned Patrick Eggle model.

Aside from the 55 hit songs he played on, Big Jim Sullivan played guitar on over 750 charting singles throughout his career.

Big Jim Sullivan passed away at age 71 on October second of 2012.

This is a long video, but interesting. Toward the middle of the video, Big Jim discusses working with Gilbert O'Sullivan and his  well known guitar solo on this song.


Tinne sha said...

Halo Teman, lama saya cari-cari akhirnya ketemu di blog ini.
Konten yg sangat menarik, Jadi senang berkunjung di sini, Makasih ya sob.
Salam best Friend :
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marcus ohara said...

terima kasih banyak atas kunjungan teman saya. Salom. Marc

Alan Arnold said...

The guitars mentioned as 335 model and the Legend archtop, were built by myself, Alan Arnold.
EMA stands for Electric Midi Acoustic, as it has all 3 types of pick up.
The Legend Archtop has Mike Vandens Nemesis blend system fitted. Perhaps you'd like to update 😊

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