CLIMAX BLUES BAND STORY - A VIEW FROM A FAN
1986 > 2008
1986 saw Colin Cooper and George Glover recruit guitarist Lester Hunt for the new Climax Blues Band. Lester’s varied background included leading the melodic rock band Hunter at a very young age to great success in Europe and then heavy metal band Demon, a band that achieved cult status right to this day. Les’s fluid guitar styling with an aggressive edge brought a new dimension to Climax, and also dynamic contributions to lead and backing vocals.
As a three piece with session musicians the album ‘Drastic Steps’ was recorded but even before release, Derek Holt and John Cuffley were welcomed back to the fold and the band hit the road again touring the UK and Europe. ‘Drastic Steps’ included a new version of ‘Couldn’t Get It Right’ which immediately became record of the week on Radio One. The album’s highlights included ‘The Deceiver’ which had already become a live favourite, and ‘California Sunshine’, both tracks displaying the qualities of Les Hunt’s guitar playing, with great solos. ‘Fool For The Bright Lights’ had surfaced several times in different styles with the earlier Climax line-up but was finally recorded in a smooth understated way and was destined to become the set-opener.
Eventually Derek Holt and John Cuffley moved on. Derek joined the Night Of The Guitars show and recorded many and varied solo projects as well as running a live venue in Stafford for many years. John Cuffley continued to play drums in his local area and regularly features in projects involving current and past Climax players.
After a short period of introducing new rhythm sections, Birmingham drummer Roy Adams and then Neil Simpson on bass guitar completed the Climax line-up in the early 90s. Colin had steered the band back towards the original authentic blues approach and this is evident on the 1993 live album ‘Blues From The Attic’ which was an outstanding representation of the live act since the band reformed in 1986. Throughout their career Climax only released the two live albums but both were pivotal in their career. ‘Blues From The Attic’ re-established their position as a band of the highest blues quality.
In 2003, to prove that Climax were not just the ‘real thing’ in a live context, they recorded their first studio album in 17 years. Consisting totally of Willie Dixon songs, ‘Big Blues’ has a youthfulness which shouts out the pleasure the band obviously had in returning to the craft of studio work. I find it easy to compare it to the 1969 debut Climax album for exuberance. ‘Little Red Rooster’ opens the album and the tone is set. It is a mighty attack on the song with Colin’s singing at its very best and Lester’s guitar work nothing short of astonishing. New versions of songs covered by Climax in the past follow; ‘Spoonful’ and ‘Seventh Son’, the slow burn of ‘Third Degree’ and ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, the swing of ‘I’m Ready’ and ‘I Love The Life I Live’ all shine magnificently. Sharp and funky rhythm section, delightful keyboards from George Glover, it is a fantastic album.
Climax promoted the album throughout the UK and Europe but the rate of gigs slowed down when Colin fell ill and despite a courageous battle against cancer he died in July 2008.
Writing these notes nearly a year later I still find it hard to accept his absence. Listening to Climax Blues Band from any point in the forty years of their history, listening to his amazing vocalising and sax playing leaves no doubt about his authenticity as a Legendary Blues Man. I was lucky enough to work with Climax as merchandiser, roadie and general gopher for a couple of years in the late 80s and have great memories of Colin as a friend, his sense of humour and intellect as well as never ending backgammon tournaments on my little handheld set in the back of the van on journeys to gigs. My mind travels back to great fun moments…the kidnapping of my glove puppet Gopher which was an episode which ran the length of a month-long European Tour…Climax on occasion providing their own support act as they swapped instruments with each other and became The Dreadful Grate.
Even through the early 80s when the studio albums Climax Blues Band recorded could be loosely described as AOR, the band were delighting audiences the world over with their outstanding blend of blues, soul, jazz, rock with that overall Climax quality making for an excitable and highly danceable evening, loved equally by punters out for a good time, and musos appreciating the quality of the playing.
With only two official live recordings released, the author of these notes was pleased to help uncover a recording made for radio from Glasgow in 1982 which was released in 2006 ‘The River Sessions’ that captures the excitement and quality of a show from the ‘Lucky For Some’ tour, notably a powerful encore including ‘Johnny B Good’ and ‘One More Time’.