Born Clifford Bennett, 4 June 1940, Slough, Berkshire, England
Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers started out as a rock n roll band, Jerry Lee Lewis style, then developed into an R&B/soul outfit with a prominent brass section, instantly identifiable by its fat, juicy sound.
The powerfully-throated Cliff Bennett got bitten by the music bug during the skiffle era, especially by Lonnie Donegan. The first line-up of his back-up band, the Rebel Rousers, goes back to 1958. They took their name from the recent Duane Eddy hit, and based their sound, style and repertoire firmly in rock n roll. The group was originally a sextet, including piano and saxophone, which was unusual for a British band at that time. Their first manager was Bob Alexander, who also handled the instrumental group The Flee-Rekkers.
In June 1961, Cliff and the band signed with producer Joe Meek and their first single release (Parlophone R 4793) was "You've Got What I Like"/"I'm In Love With You", two wild rockers with an out-of-tune honky tonk piano (played by Sid Phillips, who doubled on piano and sax in the early days) that sounded like a cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and Russ Conway. When I first heard "You've Got What I Like" on my transistor radio (the BBC it was, on a Sunday morning), I almost jumped out of my seat. You didn't get to hear much of that kind of music on the radio in 1961! It was voted a hit on Juke Box Jury, picked up considerable airplay, yet it somehow missed the boat. The next single, "When I Get Paid" was a straightforward cover of a contemporary Jerry Lee Lewis single, but this was relegated to B-side status in favour of "That's What I Said". The third single also saw its best side stacked away on the flip : Brook Benton's "Hurtin' Inside" was given a spirited reading, but the Joe Meek-penned "Poor Joe" (one of Bennett's worst records) was the plug side, much to Bennett's dislike. Things were never quite the same with Joe again and the band would soon split with Meek, who was about to enjoy worldwide success with the Tornados.
In May 1962 Cliff and the Rebel Rousers started a six-month residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, signifying that the band had reached the first pop division with their live performances. By 1963 they had a new manager (none other than Brian Epstein) and a new producer, John Burgess. He gave the group a new sound, with more of an R&B feel and a prominent position for the horn section (Sid Phillips and Moss Groves). They scored their first UK hit in the autumn of 1964 with a cover of the Drifters' "One Way Love" (# 9), coupled with a decent version of Larry Williams's "Slow Down". For the follow-up they chose another Drifters number, "I'll Take You Home", but this one didn't really adapt to the brass-led arrangement quite as well as its predecessor. Although it charted (# 42 in February 1965) it lacked the power of much of their earlier work.
In Hamburg Cliff and the boys had befriended Roy Young, a veteran from Britain's first generation of rock n rollers. Young was tied to an exclusive three-year contract with the Star Club, but as soon as this ran out in 1964, Young returned to the UK and joined the Rebel Rousers as their pianist and second vocalist.
The band reached the UK Top 10 for a second and last time in September 1966, when Paul McCartney produced them in a recording of his "Got To Get You Into My Life" (a song from the Beatles' "Revolver" LP). Peaking at # 6, it was the group's biggest success.
But that was about it as far as the limelight was concerned for the Rebel Rousers and their leader. In June 1968 came the parting of the ways, with Cliff forming a new band called Rebellion (a.k.a. The Cliff Bennett band) and the original Rebel Rousers continuing as the Roy Young Band. Cliff's band included guitarist Mick Green and drummer Frank Farley who had played with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. They recorded another number from a Beatles album, "Back In the USSR", but this time without success. Mick Green and bassist Robin MacDonald left in March 1969 to join Engelbert Humperdinck. Cliff then reorganized the band under the name Toe Fat, which recorded two LPs for EMI (also released in the USA on the Motown subsidiary Rare Earth).
Bennett performed under his own name in the early 1970s, then formed another group, Shanghai, which split up at the end of 1976. In the 1990s he reformed the Rebel Rousers, purely as a hobby. He is still active in 2011.
Of course there were innumerable personnel changes over a ten-year period in the '60s. Apart from those already mentioned, the group has included Mick King (real name Michael Borer, 1942-2010), who played guitar on the early rock n roll singles, pianist Nicky Hopkins, bassist Frank Allen who joined the Searchers in 1964, Chas Hodges (also on bass, later of Chas & Dave) and drummer Mick Burt (later the drummer for Chas & Dave).
More info :
Discography (singles, EP's only) : http://www.45-rpm.org.uk/dirc/cliffb.htm
Acknowledgements : Roger Dopson, Nigel Hunter.
Dik, September 2011
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