Rod is a lovely person, hospitable and very humble, especially for a man who is part of the pre-Beatles history, and this made the interview a real pleasure. The Quarrymen continues…
Rod,… you rocks!!
BEATLES MAGAZINE: Can you tell us something about your family roots in Liverpool ?
ROD DAVIS: Well , I was born in Liverpool. My mother was born in Liverpool , in Woolton . My father was born in Dublin , but he came over to Liverpool with his family when he was about 3 or 4 years old . So part of me is … has been in Liverpool for … my family has been in Liverpool for many years , but other bits only arrived about a hundred years ago .
BM: How did you get interested in music and what do you consider your musical influences ?
ROD: Well , the biggest musical influence on me and the rest of the Quarrymen was a man called Lonnie Donegan who in 1955 brought out a recording called ” Rock island line ” . And this inspired us and thousands of other young lads in Britain , England , Ireland , Scottland and Wales to start playing music . And when rocknroll came along there were loads and loads of people who thought rocknroll was sexier than skiffle . But the advantage was that by this time they knew how to play the guitar , so that s why Lonnie Donegan and Skiffle is so very important .
BM: How did you become a member of the Quarrymen? Do you remember some details of that event ?
ROD: Well … a few details , yes . As I said , I was inspired by Lonnie Donegan to start to play an instrument … and he played guitar but he also played banjo and so in 1956 I asked my mother and father if I could have a guitar or a banjo and my uncle who lived in Wales had a friend who was selling a guitar and a banjo and by the time I contacted this man with the guitar and the banjo , the guitar had already been sold … so we went to buy , I think it costed 5 pounds , that must have been on a sunday and the next day , on Monday , I went into school and spoke to a friend of mine called Eric Griffiths and said : ” yesterday a bought a banjo ” and so he said : ” Would you like to be in our group ? ” and I said : ” Who else is in this group ? ” , so he told me the other guys in the group : Pete Shotton , Bill Smith and John Lennon . So they all were friends of mine in the same year at school , so I said : ” Yes , Ok , fine ” . So thats how I became a Quarryman . They knew I couldnt play because I only bought the banjo the day before .
ROD: Yes , I knew John … I first knew John when he was about 6 years old , because we were in the same class at Sunday school in Saint Peters Church in Woolton. So thats when I first met him and he was a young boy full of mischief . And he would lead other people into bad ways . We used to take a couple of pennies to put in the collection and he persuaded Pete Shotton to spend this collection on chewing gum , bubblegum . So John was a bad influence from the very early age . And then when I was 11 years old John , Pete , Eric Griffiths , myself , all found ourselves at Quarry Bank School . And we were in the same year and in the same part of the school but I was never in the same class as John . So I got to know him fairly well . And from 11 to 14 years old which is when I started to play for the Quarrymen I knew John fairly well and again he was not a very good pupil . He would be what we called today a disrupted pupil . He would fool around and made it very difficult for teachers to teach anything and often made it very difficult for the other boys to learn anything. In fact , Pete Shotton and Eric Griffiths both said John ruined their education .
BM: As you have mentioned before ,there were some shows prior to the Rosebery Street and the Saint Peters Church events . Of those previous shows , do you remember any special performance ?
ROD: Well , John is quoted as saying Rosebery Street was the Quarrymen s first public performance . I am afraid John s memory was not accurate . The Quarrymen started some time in 1956 , possibly in September 1956 and it might even have been earlier. So Rosebery Street was in fact probably the next to last time I played with the Quarrymen .There were lots of others before Rosebery Street , I am afraid John had been enjoying too many interesting substances . It obviously affected his memory . The way we got on the Cavern was ….another friend of John s called Nigel Walley – he was the Quarrymen s manager – started to work as a apprentice … professional …at the Golf Club when he was 14 years old and one of the men who was a member of the Golf Club was Alan Sytner who had started the Cavern and Nigel knew about this and so he tried to get us …. asked Alan Sytner if he could book the Quarrymen at the Cavern and Alan said : ” Well , I d like to hear you first ” . So he got us a booking at the Golf Club and our band uniform at that time was white shirts and black jeans and I bought an old pair of black jeans , a friend of mine , because my parents wouldn t buy me black jeans. And just before we went on stage at LIPA Golf Club the zip split on my jeans and I had to spend quite the whole set behind my banjo , hidding my embarrassment . I remember that one very well . And as a result of that we were invited to play at the Cavern . . We played there , I think 5 or 4 times between January and July of 1957 . The first time the Quarrymen were mentioned in the adverts of the Cavern was the 7th of August 1957 . And that was because the advertisements were very , very small and they went on the front page of the paper and there were only about 3 or 4 lines and they only put the most important groups names in the advertisement . That s why people think we didn t play at the Cavern until August 1957 .
BM: Talking about the Cavern performances , there was a moment when you argued with John about the playlist . Please tell us some details of that moment .
ROD: Well , the Cavern was a Jazz Club and the audience didn t like rock n roll and the management didn t like you playing rock n roll . Skifflke was fine , because Skiffle had come out of New Orleans , our Jazz bands in England . So you could play Skiffle , that was fine , but if you played rock n roll the audience would get angry and the management would get angry so I was trying to persuade John that it wasn t a good idea to play a rock n roll number and he just went on and played rock n roll anyway . I can t remeber what it was . Maybe ” That s alright mamma ” .. I don t know … John , he didn t care , he just played his rock n roll anyway .
ROD: No ,we weren t particulary nervous . It was quite a big ocassion for us . I think it was the biggest ocassion we played .We may have been nervous … I don t remember to be honest, I have to say ….
BM:Do you remember any special moment from that performance ?
ROD: I remember that we went round the village .There was a procession with about 5 or 6 trucks and we were driving round the village . There was a boy scout s band , there was a military band , children in fancy dress – they were boy scouts – and the very last lorry was the Quarrymen and as the procession went down the road where my house was , my father came out with his camera and took about a dozen of photographs of the entire parade , of the entire procession and I do remember going round the village in the procession and I remember playing on stage , but I don t remember seeing Paul McCartney that day .
BM: How did you feel while performing there ?
ROD: Well , it was very … it was exciting because we were in front of all our friends , you know , moms and dads , uncles , aunts , cousins and all of , you know , young friends , boys and girls . So from that point of view it was quite exciting , because the intention , the whole idea of us playing in a group was to be on stage , to be able to play in front of people and maybe impress a few the young ladies. That was going through our minds that afternoon
BM: Please tell us about the moment when John first met Paul while he was introduced to the Quarrymen…
ROD: Well , I did not witness the moment when John was introduced to Paul,. I wasn t there.. I mean , I wasn t there when Paul was introduced to John and when he played the guitar for John . When we were playing on the stage behind the church – I am speaking about it later , many years later , Eric Griffiths said he remember seeing Paul in the audience . Paul remember seeing the Quarrymen , because he was very impressed with John . After we played in the afternoon we took our instruments over the road to the hall where we were going to play that evening and I don t remember seeing Paul . If I d seen someone playing guitar left handed I think I would remember . So I think I went home for my evening meal . In Liverpool we don t call it dinner , we call it tea . I went home for my tea , right . I didn t see Paul that day . Some years ago I was in America and we were doing a question and answer session at the Beatles convention and so for a joke I said : ” I think I went to the bathroom at the most excited moment in musical history , when John met Paul ” , but it was only a joke .
An American friend has done a beautiful picture of John and Paul being introduced to each other . He said : ” All the other guys in the band are in the picture , but I haven t put you in the picture . You can see your banjo is there , on the chair . But I was there when you told everybody that you were in the bathroom at the moment John met Paul ” .So it s now part of the Quarrymen history , but it s completely untrue !
BM: Did John afterwards make any comments of Paul to the other members of the Quarrymen ?
ROD: So , as far as I was concerned Paul did not exist , until a couple of weeks later . The only time I remembered the Quarrymen practising at Mimi s house , I arrived at Mimi s house and there was a boy there whom I didn t recognize . And I said to John : ” Oh , who is this ? ” And he said : ” This is Paul . He s come to listen to us practising ” , so that was the only time I met him , and I don t even remember exchanging any words with Paul . Our friends came and listen to us practicing , so this was quite a normal thing . I imagine , in retrospect , that by that time Paul had been invited to join the Quarrymen and may knew that at the of July – it was the end of the 5th year of school – John , Pete , Eric would all leave Quarry Bank School . I was already staying on to try to get University , so they knew that I would be leaving the Quarrymen . So they have already invited Paul to take my place – not that it was a problem to me – but that , I think , is what most probably happened . That s why he was there at Mimi s house listening to the Quarrrymen practicing .
BM: Skiffle fashion left its place to Rock n roll in 1957 . You left the Quarrymen before Paul became member of the band . Why did you leave the group ?
ROD: Well , John , Pete Shotton , Eric Griffiths and myself were all in the same year at Quarry Bank . At the end of July 57 , if you wanted to leave school ,you could leave school . So Jonh decided to leave and go to arts school . Pete Shotton decided to leave and become a police cadet . Eric Griffiths decided to leave and become an engineering apprentice . And I stayed at school . So I didn t really leave the group . What happened was that the group left me . And again , they wanted to play more and more Rock n roll . At that time I didn t like Rock n roll . Now I have changed my mind , now I enjoy playing Rock n roll . But I was a banjo player and you can t really play Rock n roll on a banjo , ok ? For the same reason , Pete Shotton stopped playing the washboard , because it was becoming more and more Rock n roll and he was fed up of playing the washboard . So that way John lost the washboard player , lost the banjo player and gained another guitar player who was very good . So he was moving his group , moving the Quarrymen into being more of a Rock n roll group and less of a Skiffle group . So that s how it happened really . But they left me . I don t remember leaving the Quarrymen .
BM: After leaving the band , did you follow the Quarrymen career or even the Beatles career in Liverpool ?
BM: Which is your favourite Quarrymen song and which your favourite Beatles song ? And why ?
ROD: Well , I think probably the favourite Quarrymen song is got to be ” Rock island line ” , because that s what started everything , but not just for the Quarrymen . ” Rock island line ” started off all kinds of people in Britain : Hank Marvin , Cliff Richard , Ringo , George , they all started playing skiffle music . Jimmy Page, Adam Faith – you can go on , right ? – dozen of them , they all started playing because of ” Rock island line ” . We played ” Rock island line ” and I sing it with the Quarrymen . So I think that is my favourite Quarrymen song .
My favourite Beatles song ? I really like ” Penny Lane ” , because ” Penny Lane” is a very important place in my youth , you know . And when we were at Quarry Bank school we used to jump over the wall at the bottom of the school field in the lunchtime . We would walk pass the fire station and then we would walk down to Penny Lane and we buy chips and we sit in the shelter in the middle of the roundabouts and eat our chips . We would nt get our hairs cut . The hairdressers in Pauls song . So that one for me evokes my younger days . That s why I like Penny Lane so much
ROD: Well , the Quarrymen …… When we started in 1997 – when we got back together – we had everybody that was on stage with John the day he first met Paul …. in other words , everybody that was on stage on the 6th of July 1957 . And however in 2000 Pete Shotton ,the washboard player , had a couple of problems with his heart . And he said : ” Right , I m not going to play with the Quarrymen anymore . I m retiring ” . So he retired. And in 2005 guitar player Eric Griffiths suddenly died from cancer . So we asked piano player John Lowe who played on ” In spite of all the danger ” and ” That ll be the day ” if he would like to play piano with us and so John has been playing piano with us most of the times , but not every time since 2005 . And then recently Len Garry – we all are getting old men ,… aroud 74 – …Len s fingers has been getting a bit of trouble with the guitar , so we thought we would like to try to find somebody else to join the group , but it had to be someone who had some kind of history connected with the Quarrymen or the Beatles , yes ? We met Chas – he d been in Liverpool at the Casbah a year or two ago – … I discovered that he was a very good bass player and also a guitar player . So early at this year I visited him and we played a few songs , we met , we get on very well with our Liverpool sense of humor , so we had to practise , rehearsal with him . He s got a very driving bass style , he is very good , he plays a left-handed Hofner bass , just like Paul McCartney . And he was able to drive the band and make ….. he s playing really solid rythm guitar . So that s why we have Chas now .
BM: Can you tell us about the future plans for the Quarrymen ? More shows ? Maybe an album in the future ?
ROD: We made our first album in 1997 . Then we did another one in 2003- 2004 . So it s been my hope that we would be able to do a live album , because a lot of what the Quarrymen performance is about is the stories not just the music . And I have made several attempts to get a decent recording which we could turn into a live album , but we haven t been completely successful so far , which is perhaps fortunate , because if Chas now starts to play with us , Chas would be part of the new alive album in future . It s not a concrete plan , but it s certanly a plan which I had for a long time : to do a live album . That s what we would like to do . With regard to shows , our next show is in June , we re playing in Barcelona . Every year we do a gig for some Spanish friends called ” Acordes por la Paz ” and they do this in aid of ” Medicos sin fronteras ” , so we re playing a concert for them in Barcelona at the end of June , beginning of July . We re also playing in Liverpool as a part of the Beatle week in a theater , I think it s on the last saturday of Beatle week . After that , we don t know . But I can open my computer tomorrow and there will be an email saying ” Do you wanna play somewhere ? “, so … And we were talking about a gig in Russia this year – we ve played in Russia 3 times already – we were talking about playing in Russia , but that didn t happen . We were also talking about playing in Sweden in July .That hasnt happen. We don t do many gigs , we don t do live acts , 6 or 7 a year . This year may be a little bit quite , but , I think , next year which is 2017 , 60 years since John and Paul first met I have the feeling next year is gonna be very busy . And then again , as I said , I can open my email tomorrow , and there could be an invitation to play anywhere in the world.
BM: Thank you very much Rod, is a pleasure talk with you, thank you!