Revised October 2015Jimmy Powell lead vocal, harmonica
The West Midlands certainly produced some incredible vocal talents during the 1960's - Robert Plant, Noddy Holder, Ozzy Osbourne - just to name a few. Jimmy Powell was not only the first great vocalist to emerge from this exciting scene, but can also rightly claim to have a vocal powerful enough to "take the wallpaper off the walls" according to some who were fortunate to have witnessed Jimmy performing on stage.
Jimmy Powell made Birmingham pop music history in 1962 when his Decca recording of 'Sugar Babe' became the first pop single to be issued featuring a local performer.
Jimmy Powell grew up in the West Heath area of Birmingham. After leaving school, he apprenticed as a lathe operator in Kings Norton while at night he fronted a local band called 'The Detours'. His powerful vocal style soon began to attract attention and in 1961 he turned professional after joining an up-and-coming local group called The Rockin' Berries.
In November of 1961, the Rockin' Berries went over to Germany with the line-up by this time including local singer Clive Lea as well as Jimmy Powell. The band had a residency at Hamburg's famous Star Club where they shared the stage with The Beatles amongst many others. The following year, The Rockin' Berries were auditioned by TV pop producer/Decca Records talent scout Jack Good who showed little interest in signing the band to a contract but indicated their vocalist Jimmy Powell had some potential.
The rejected group went back to Germany to continue their bookings at the Star Club but by the summer of 1962, Jimmy Powell along with two other band members left and returned to Birmingham. Jimmy Powell soon contacted Jack Good who promptly signed him up to a recording contract.
The first record release for Jimmy Powell on the Decca Records label was an energetic cover of Buster Brown's 'Sugar Baby' which showcased Jimmy's considerable talent as a raunchy R&B performer. This was also highly significant as it can be considered the first 'Brum Beat' single. While the record did not chart, it is likely Jimmy Powell's best known song and got his career off to a good start. Two more singles soon followed but by 1963, The Beatles were making a big impact on the British charts and singing 'groups' - not solo performers were now the "in" thing.
Jimmy Powell went down to London where he became involved with the local blues scene at London's famous Marquee Club. Jimmy's new manager Malcolm Nixon, introduced him to a hot blues act that he'd named 'The 5 Dimensions' and Jimmy was soon given the position of lead vocalist. About 6 months later, Jimmy Powell added a second vocalist/harmonica player whose name was Rod Stewart.
According to Jimmy Powell, Rod stayed as part of the line-up for about a year. Rivalry between the two singers led to Rod leaving and taking some of the band with him to back Chuck Berry on a British tour (the Dimensions were unable to do the tour because of contractual commitments). Unfortunately, there's no known recordings of Rod Stewart performing with The Dimensions.
In 1964, The Five Dimensions were hired to provide backing for Jamaican singer Millie Small on her hit recording of 'My Boy Lollipop'. It has long been thought Rod Stewart played harmonica on the record - a story he has since denied, but according to guitarist Kenny White, it was occasional band member Pete Hogman who played on the session. Pete apparently looked very much like Rod in appearance so it's likely that Millie Small's manager Chris Blackwell (who also managed Birmingham's Spencer Davis Group) was mistaken in identifying him. Other sources have also claimed John "Junior" Wood of the Jeff Beck Group as being the likely contender.
According to Jimmy Powell though, none of the above stories are correct. "I played harmonica on My Boy Lollipop and Mike Carroll did the clapping" says Jimmy. In addition, Jimmy said he was also hired by Jack Good to play the harmonica on P.J. Proby's 1964 hit 'Hold Me' and if you listen to this record you can hear the similarity in the playing which may support Jimmy's claim.
Jimmy Powell was signed to Pye Records in 1964 resulting in the release of a couple of singles. The first of these - 'That's Alright' was composed by Jimmy while the B-side 'I'm Looking For A Woman', was a Bo Diddley cover. Due to changes in the group line-up, the second Pye single - a re-make of Sugar Babe backed with 'I've Been Watching You' - had future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on guitar and bass along with drummer Clem Cattini. This version of Sugar Babe may be the definitive one as it shows Jimmy Powell in fine form and established him as a vocal force to be reckoned with.
Although Jimmy Powell and The 5 Dimensions (name later shortened to 'The Dimensions') went on to record a number of great records during the 1960s, their considerable popularity as a live attraction was never reflected in terms of record sales as none of the singles sold enough copies to get into the charts.
There were at least three distinct line-ups of The Dimensions during the 1960s. They were not really a West Midlands group as most members came from the London area. Guitarist Martin Shaw was from Birmingham as well as bass guitarist Tim Munns - formerly of The Rockin' Berries who Jimmy Powell had previously known during his time with that group. Rod Godwin who was in The Dimensions during the mid 1960s was previously in a West Midlands band called Varsity Rag and was later a member of Cathedral.
In early 1966, an Oldham-based soul band called 'The Puzzle' was enlisted to form the latest line-up of The Dimensions. This consisted of Alan Stone (bass guitar & vocal), Mick Green (drums), Steve Bolton (guitar & vocal), and Paul Smith (saxophone).
Alan Stone remembers; "We upped sticks and moved to Brum and lived (literally) in the demo recording studio that Jimmy ran for Strike Records. It was well south of the centre of Brum on the A38 very close to the British Leyland car plant in Longbridge. Our regular Roadie was Jimmy Hinks who worked at the plant and ran us around to gigs etc. Our first gig with Jimmy was at 'The Place' in Stoke-on-Trent. We played there regularly from then on - sometimes as the only band, sometimes with others - The Alan Bowne Sect being a regular pairing with us. Virtually every weekend we had a University gig up and down the country and were the regular support for better known bands including The Searchers, Sounds Incorporated, Dave Berry, Billy Fury etc. I particularly remember us doing Liecester University with The Spencer Davis Group the week they hit the top of the charts with Gimmie Some Lovin".
Despite an abundance of gigs, this line-up of The Dimensions was short lived. At the end of 1966 following a dispute over money owed, Alan Stone and Steve Bolton left and re-formed The Puzzle in Manchester. Alan later joined the Royal Navy and Steve went on to join the acclaimed rock band 'Atomic Rooster' who originally had Birmingham's own Carl Palmer playing drums in their line-up.
From about 1967 until the early 1970s, Jimmy's backing group consisted of Ray and Bob Spiteri (formery of Scarlet Religion on lead and bass guitar), along with Derek Bunt on drums. This line-up went to Germany and performed in Kiel and at Hamburg's Top Ten Club - later doing the UK college & university circuit along with recording numerous sessions for the BBC.
Since 1966, Jimmy Powell was signed to Miki Dallon's short-lived 'Strike' Records label and later to Dallon's 'Young Blood' label in 1969 for which he recorded an album as well as various single releases. Despite further record releases in the early 1970s and retaining his popularity as a live performer, Jimmy Powell was to fade from the music scene. Jimmy said; "I just went round doing the circuits really. It was a struggle because the disc jockeys were coming on board and knocking the cobblers out of every live act that was going."
To make a living, Jimmy worked part-time for a furniture business and eventually took on the position of manager. He continued to perform in the pubs and clubs as well as fronting a band called The Survivors. He now operates a successful business in car park management. Still performing occasionally today, Jimmy Powell remains without a doubt, one of the strongest blues vocalists to emerge from the West Midlands in the 1960s.
Thanks to Jimmy Powell, Rod Godwin, Ray Spiteri, and Alan Stone for assistance in preparing this page.
To see a review of Sanctuary Records' excellent Jimmy Powell CD compilation Sugar Babe, go to the Brum Beat Reviews page. To see a recent Jimmy Powell INTERVIEW exclusive to the BrumBeat.net web site, click HERE.
Copyright © John R Woodhouse
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