Johnny Del & The Deltones


The Deltones were a Croydon-based Rock and Roll band that evolved out of a skiffle group called The Discord Skifflers.
The group is notable as having two fantastic guitarists in their line-ups: Jim Duncombe and Jeff Beck.
Modelled themselves on Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps, they were first known locally as the Blue Caps, backing various Vincent's impersonators such as Johnny Del (real name Derek Burchall), Cal Danger and Ricky Sarsted (before he topped the British charts as "Eden Kane" with "Well I Ask you"). Their original lead guitarist Jim Duncombe was regarded as the ultimate Cliff Gallup disciple (1). Duncombe started to play Neopolitan Mandoline with Rod Lyward & the Hot Rods, and then switched to electric guitar with The Hi Fi Rock’n'Roll Band. By late 1960 he left to visit Hamburg with Sonny Stewart & The Dynamos. Strangely, this is the guy that Rod Lyward had recruited in his latest version of The Hi Fi's who stepped into his shoes: an art school student of sixteen called Jeff Beck (2). But his condition for joining the group was they had to take his school friend John Owen on Rhythm guitar (4).
The band was managed by Roger Jarvie who was very skeptical the first time he saw Beck... with a long cardboard box under his arm (3).
In late 1961, Johnny Del left to join The Crescents, their main competition (4). The Deltones thus became an instrumental band, covering the Shadows hits (5). They auditioned for BBC radio's Saturday Club, playing a rendition of "Cherry Pink Apple Blossom", and financed their own private disc which was recorded at R.G. Jones Studios in Morden (6), Surrey. They also made private recordings during a practise session, which included "Apache", "Sleepwalk" (one of Jeff's favourites even then) and "Driftin' " (7).
They later backed American bluesman Memphis Slim at the Eel Pie Island.

Bass player George Clarke and drummer Mick Godfrey joined Jim Duncombe to play in Germany with his new band, The Continentals in late 1962 (8).
Meanwhile Jeff Beck ended up joining Johnny Del (9) in The Crescents as a replacement for their more oriented Blues lead guitarist Ed Hamilton, just before they changed their name to The Nightshift and appeared at the 3rd National Jazz & Blues Festivals, at the Richmond Athletic Grounds, Surrey.
Beck brought Clarke in The Nightshift for the 4th Richmond Jazz & Blues Festival, on 7 August 1964.

Cal Danger recorded a couple of singles for Fontana records, which were produced by Joe Meek in 1962: “Teenage Girlie Blues” and “Restless”. Danger wasn't related to the late Tony Dangerfield, who also worked with Joe Meek, recording "I've Seen Such Things" in 1964, and was the bassist of Screaming Lord Sutch's Savages for more than 3 decades.
Ricky Sarsted topped the British charts as "Eden Kane" with his 2nd release, "Well I Ask you" in August 1961.


Their Story by Bassist George Clarke

"My first meeting with Jim Duncombe was around 1957 / 58. At the time I was working as an apprentice at a company called Trojan Engineering in Croydon, which had an apprentices club which was allowed to use the works canteen for recreational purposes. My parents had bought me a Stewart accoustic guitar which I was attempting to learn to play and eventually Jim came into the picture and suggested we form a group with him on lead guitar and vocals and me on rhythm guitar. Not being very good, I recall trying to play along on the E string using single notes and eventually Jim asked me to get a bass guitar and play that instead. As we improved, I think Mick Godfrey came in on drums and we started playing at local pubs, with our best gig at the Park Lane Ballroom in Croydon. We were joined by a pianist, Ernie Able who played rock and roll like a maniac! For some reason he didn't stay with us for long.
After a while, Jim came to me and told me he was leaving the band and handed me a piece of paper with a name and address on it and suggested I went to see him with a view to becoming Jim's replacement.
As it happened, the address was familiar to me as I grew up in Wallington and the address was close by.
The name on the paper was... Jeff Beck. I went to see him and asked him if he would like to join the band.
We had a chat about his favourite music, and, like Jim, he idolised Gene Vincent and Cliff Gallup, so he fitted in a treat. More to the point, we fitted in with him!
We styled ourselves on the Blue Caps to the extent of wearing blue suits, white shoes and blue caps. Needless to say, our repertoire was strictly Rock and Roll and we were at the time, known locally as the Blue Caps.
During the following years we played at some of the main dance halls in the area and established a regular weekly booking at the Dowgate Hall in Tonbridge, Kent.

By this time we had collected a rhythm guitarist, John Owen who was a friend of Jeff's and a singer, called Derek Burchall. Somewhere along the line we changed our name to The Deltones, Del being a nickname for "Derek".
Because we had established ourselves locally, in order to improve our sound, Jeff bought a Fender Strat, John a Telecaster and I bought a Fender Precision Bass. Jeff frequently used John's Telecaster as it had more treble than the Strat.
Our amplifiers left a lot to be desired, but we probably didn't know that then!
One thing we did buy was a Watkins Copy Cat, but the tape kept breaking so eventually we bought a Binson Echorec, a vast improvement.
I think, at the time Jeff was very much into Cliff Gallup and also Scotty Moore with some Les Paul thrown in.

During the life of the Deltones, we met up with another local singer by the name of Ricky Sarsted, better known as Eden Kane.
We auditioned with him to become his backing group, but at the time we were not into doing dance steps, and Jeff was adamant he wasn't going to do it, so it didn't go any further. We did, however back Eden at local events, some of which were entirely unsuitable for a rock group with a lead guitarist who played with so much treble it would cut your ears off at 50 metres!!
Eden became established and we continued on our merry way.

Another stage in my association with Jeff was the arrival on the scene of a character named Cal Danger who modelled himself on Gene Vincent, complete with limp, black leathers and a similar hairstyle.
On one occassion we were late due to the fact that the van carrying our gear had two punctures on the way there, the first being easily dealt with by fitting the spare wheel, but we had to get the second puncture repaired which is what made us late. Del was still with us at this point. Needless to say, the hall manager was not happy and our manager who I think was Roger Jarvie said to him "pay us more and we'll be on time" The manager's response was to inform, us that this would be our last booking; ie we were sacked!

A while later either Roger Jarvie or his friend unbeknown to the band, phoned the Dowgate Hall manager under a false name and asked him if he would like to book Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps at his venue. Naturally, he said yes.

We played the gig with the lights in the hall off, ostensibly to promote "atmosphere", but in truth, the main reason was to prevent any-one getting a good look at "Gene" - Cal Danger. The evening was a great success and we went down well with the crowd.

Next came a phone call to our manager asking if he had Gene Vincent on his books, the upshot being we were booked to play in Newmarket which was about 90 miles away from my home.
It transpired that the rest of the group, including the manager were asked to meet up with the promoter in London, which they did. Upon arrival Roger Jarvie was approached and asked if Gene Vincent was in the van, to which he replied in the affirmative. At this point, I think the group was arrested, as the promoter was Don Arden, the real manager of Gene Vincent in the UK. I missed all the excitement cause I was not in the van with the rest of the group !! I had gone to Newmarket straight from work on my own.

To conclude, we were ordered to attend the The Old Bailey to face charges of deception. The press were all over us so we were sort of basking in the glory, but we didn't have to go in and all that happened was that we had a restraining order placed on us never to wear blue caps etc..
Cal Danger broke down and was in a sorry state and the press walked away!

Some of our best gigs were at venues such as Eel Pie Island where we backed Memphis Slim.
I am not sure what happened from there on with the Deltones. Jeff may have left the band or I may have just drifted away... I recall getting involved with a group called the Nightshift at the Richmond Jazz Festival..."


Notes
(1) Jim Duncombe
"About 1957 after a dispute I left the Hi Fi’s and joined “The Deltones”. We rehearsed at the Trojan Works in South Croydon on Thursday nights and Jeff Beck used to come along to watch. I’m the ultimate Cliff Gallup disciple and could play some of his soli and had made an Echo Machine from an “Elizabethan” tape recorder.Jeff couldn’t wait to play over it."
Jeff took my place when I left the Deltones to join “Sonny Stewart & the Dynamos”.

(2) Jim Duncombe (from his website)
"So a guy called Jeff Beck a friend of my school days, attended all our rehearsals. Later Jeff filled my place as lead guitarist and became a famous musician himself.
I can't really remember how Jeff and I first met, so I'll start with the "Deltones" rehearsals at the "Trojan" works. Jeff appeared there with his friend Ian Buisel. I was lead guitar with The Deltones....and I had made was the first "Tape Echo" unit in the UK.

The Echo consisted of an "Elizabethan" tape recorder with a second reply head glued onto the deck to give the same delay Gene Vincent's early albums had... Jeff and I used to jam together at the rehearsals and occasionally, somewhat reluctantly, I'd let him plug into my Echo box.
Jeff may have been about 16 or 17 then and the year could have been 1959/60.

I remember that Sonny Stewart asked me to join his band "Sonny Stewart & The Dynamo's".
Jeff took my place with "Derek Burchall & The Deltones" and I last saw him play with them at Saint Margaret's Hall in Putney. He had progressed amazingly and had a (Watkins "Copy-Cat" I believe) echobox. They played Gene's "I've Got to Get to You Yet" and it sounded too good."


(3) Jeff Beck, Crazy Fingers (2001) - Annette Carson p.14-15
It was while playing the Burns that Beck made the next significant move in his career, which involved approaching a band that had quite a following in the local area (South of London): they were called The Deltones.

"That was the hot item around our way. I used to see this van with 'Deltones' written on it, and I loved the name, and they also had pink jackets, which I thought was great. Then I was asked to go down to see them, and this guy called Ian Duncan (Jim Duncombe), who was fabulous, was leaving them, and I thought, 'My God, how am I going to fill his shoes?' He said, 'Look, I'll bugger off for a cup of tea, so you have a play and see how you get on,' and from that moment on, I realized there was a job for me there, because I was playing the solos off pat - but that was what they wanted, solos like the record. If they'd asked what else I could play, I'd have been finished… so I was knocked out, skipping home, and they said, “You’re playing at Putney Ballroom.”

The Deltones had metamorphosed from a skiffle group, the Discord Skifflers, into a pop group with the arrival of their boyish new lead singer, Derek Burchell-rechristened Johnny Del by the group's manager, Roger Jarvie - who bad a nice line in Cliff Richard songs like "Living Doll". So they'd switched to successful covers of the chart-topping Cliff, featuring on lead guitar "a little lefthanded genius named lan Duncan," (Jim Duncombe) as Jarvie describes him. Their previous gigs around the jazz clubs gradually gave way to regular spots at dance halls like the Wimbledon Palais, Hammersmith Palais, Park Lane Ballroom, and Tonbridge Dance Club; they even auditioned for BBC radio's Saturday Club and financed their own private disc.

Beck's chance came when Duncan (Duncombe) accepted a job as backing guitar for a new young singer, the brother of one of Britain's already rising popstars, Eden Kane; the young singer in question was Peter Sarstedt. The Deltones knew Beck as one of the regulars in their audience, but the idea of auditioning him was another proposition altogether-the lad was an art school student of sixteen, and the rest of the band members were in their early twenties. But they had nobody else lining up for the job, so one Thursday night they asked him along to a rehearsal in Croydon at Bowaters' Canteen on Purley Way. Beck appeared with a long cardboard box under his arm, leading the skeptical Roger Jarvie to wonder what kind of junk ay inside. "Then he opened it," Jarvie continues, "and took out an instrument that made all the rest of our equipment look ready for the scrap yard: the most beautiful red and gold Burns London guitar. And when he started playing we simply froze in disbelief - he was magic."
Beck’s condition for joining the group was they had to take his school friend John Owen on Rhythm guitar...

"About that time my mate bought a Telecaster. £107 it cost him. It was a beauty, and I was stuck with this bloody Burns thing. So while I was in the group he played the Burns and I played the Tele."

(4) John Owen
"Jeff Beck and i were school friends and both liked this great sound that the Blue caps were making. .. It is true that Jeff used to play my Telecaster and i played the Burns ,he used to make it sing !Even when he got his Stratocaster he still used to use the Tele for some of the songs."


(5) Harvey Hinsley
"Our manager Paddy Jones liked Johnny Dell and stole him from the Deltones. This would be late '61 or early'62."

(6) R.G. Jones Studios
were recording studios run by Sound engineer Ronald Godfrey Jones Jr. in Morden, Surrey.
The Crescents recorded their demo disc “Wedding Bells” b/w “Morgan” there, as well as The Rollingstones "It's All Right Babe" b/w "Pretty Thing I".

(7) George Clarke
"Our main interest in the Shadows/Hank Marvin was to try to be the first group to play their hits on stage."

(8) Jim Duncombe
"Jeff Beck auditioned for Rhythm guitar part for my cover band in Germany but although we got on great, he wasn’t right for the band - much too erratic, meaning creative. Lucky for posterity I turned him down…"

(9) Derek Burchall (Johnny Del) who preferred the likes of Frank Sinatra, re-joined and left The Crescents several times between late '61 and spring '63.



Recordings
The Deltones made a demo record: "Cherry Pink Apple Blossom"
Private recordings: "Apache", "Sleepwalk" and "Driftin'".


Line ups of The Deltones

The Discord Skifflers/The Blue Caps/The Deltones (Late 1957 - Late 1960)
  • Jim Duncombe (Lead Guitar/Vocals)
  • George Clarke (Rhythm Guitar)
  • Ernie Able (Piano)
  • Mick Godfrey (Drums)


Johnny Del & The Deltones (Late 1960 - Late 1961)
  • Derek Burchall (Lead Vocals) "Johnny Del"
  • Jefferey Beck (Lead Guitar) "Jeff Beck"
  • John Owen (Rhythm Guitar)
  • George Clarke (Bass)
  • Mick Godfrey (Drums)


Cal Danger & The "Blue Caps" (Late 1961)
  • Gordon Patterson (Lead Vocals) "Cal Danger"
  • Jefferey Beck (Lead Guitar) "Jeff Beck"
  • John Owen (Rhythm Guitar)
  • George Clarke (Bass)
  • Mick Godfrey (Drums)


The Continentals #1 (Late 1962 - Summer 1963)
  • Jim Duncombe (Lead Guitar/Vocals)
  • Joe Cunningham (Rhythm Guitar)
  • George Clarke (Bass)
  • Ian Thomas (Tenor Sax)
  • Mick Godfrey (Drums)


The Nightshift #4 (August 1964)
  • Brian Wiles (Lead Vocals/Harmonica)
  • Jeff Beck (Lead Guitar)
  • Tony Finch (Rhythm Guitar)
  • George Clarke (Bass)
  • Dave Elridge (Drums)


Special thanks to Jim Duncombe, George Clarke, John Owen, Harvey Hinsley, Ed Hamilton, and many others

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