Whether you like great music or just well-written autobiography, Jim Simpson’s book Don’t Worry ‘Bout The Bear is a treat.
Part 1 of our interview with Jim covers the 1960s and his band Locomotive:
Part 2 touches on his involvement with Black Sabbath, whom he later managed:
Part 3 covers the Blues artists he booked from the USA and recorded for Big Bear:
Part 4 concerns the Birmingham Jazz Festival (1985-today) and friend Humphrey Lyttlelton:
The book tells the story of Birmingham’s unassuming music powerhouse, Jim Simpson, the blues-loving jazzman who launched Black Sabbath on to an unsuspecting world (and the world is still unsure as to whether to thank him or not!).
But if you think this is merely a story of Heavy Metal excesses, then you’re mistaken. It’s punctuated with wonderful down-to-earth anecdotes, such as early Sabbath (then called Earth) turning up to play their first gig at Jim’s legendary Henry’s Blueshouse club. The fee was a then quite significant £5…but amazingly the band asked if they could have a Henry’s t-shirt each instead!! They were never going to be good with money, and Jim’s stories of their money problems (particularly after they dumped Jim following Paranoid’s chart success) proves this point.
But although this book has Sabbath stories aplenty, it also tells of Jim’s early career & adventures playing in bands such as Locomotive – yes, the guys who breathed life into A Message To You Rudy long before The Specials resurrected it.
Then there’s the iconic US blues-men he brought to the UK, many of whom were slumming it at home in Chicago, New York & Detroit. Jim toured them all over the UK & Europe where (to their amazement) they were appreciated and respected.
These icons of the Blues all had great names like Whispering Smith, Billy “The Kid” Emerson, Washboard Willie and Good Rockin’ Charles. But Jim almost overstepped the mark by re-christening bluesman Eddie Burns as Eddie “Guitar” Burns after seeing a picture of Ed with a Gretsch. It was only AFTER promoting him with his new name did it occur to Jim to check that Eddie actually played the guitar!
Jim Simpson’s Big Bear records released many a blues recording, although some probably remember the label’s other classics like The Quads’ new-wave single There Must Be Thousands (a particular favourite of John Peel). Their story (& the vicar connection) is here too.
And his love of jazz comes through strongly, although some might be surprised that the annual Birmingham Jazz Festival (that he’s organised for over 30 years) was started after being appalled by mid-80s “jazz” performances, including a trombonist playing a set with his foot in a bucket of water.
There are hundreds of great Jim’s stories I could tell you (spoiler alert!), but it’s best you get the book and read them yourself. The reason for this lies in the fact that this book is a joy to read; well-written and well-structured, thanks mainly to his brother Ron helping out & pulling it together. [My knowledge of the Blues is meagre, yet this book had me rushing out to buy the old Big Bear sampler CD. A new one is imminent, I believe.]
You’ll enjoy this book.
Put it on your Christmas list, now.
In fact, put it at the top!