Graham Bond: Wading in Murky Waters
And yet, by emphasizing Bond's switch from jazz to R&B too strongly, we lose sight of the fact that jazz remained a crucial element in the GBO's music and in Bond's later work. It was that combination of different elementsjazz, soul, r&b, rock & rollthat was unique for the time and proved the group's most lasting influence. In fact, Bond's transition from jazzer to R&B was not a swift one. It took several years.
Pianist Brian Dee remembered Graham Bond in the late fifties as a be-suited young man with a crew-cut, who looked for all the world like a white Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Describing him as being "as clean as a whistle in those days," Dee added, in a March, 2008 interview, that, "He played alto and he wasn't always on the chords as it were, so he was billed as 'The controversial alto playerGraham Bond.'" Bond played briefly in Don Rendell's Quintet Roarin' for the US Jazzland label, before leaving to join Alexis Korner's band, making it clear that his aspirations lay beyond jazz. Blues Incorporated, at the time, included Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Dick Heckstall-Smith. The association lasted just three months and Bond left early in 1963 taking Bruce and Baker with him. As Ginger Baker recalled in the same 2009 interview, "We [Bond and Baker] were both sort of jazz musicians and we decided, in 1962, that we were going to go commercial and the band was very popular, incredibly popular."
At first, the group functioned as a trio before John McLaughlin joined to be replaced later by Heckstall-Smith a short while later. Jack Bruce noted of The Graham Bond Trio, as it was called at the time, "Graham was only playing alto sax at that time. So, it was very much along the lines of a sort of Ornette Coleman band really in the sense it was a trio without a piano. We were all trying to find our own music as it were." This is made clear by the recording with McLaughlin from the Klooks Kleek club in 1963 that appeared on the Warner Bros Solid Bond album, issued in 1970. The music clearly owes more to jazz than to blues at this point. Jump forward to the sides with the Organization's set at the same club from 1964, I Met the Blues at Klook's Kleek, and the change is a dramatic one both in repertoire and approach, though jazz chops remained well in evidence.
It shows how Bond's career must ultimately be understood in the specific British musical context of the time. For a while, in London and elsewhere the jazz, R&B and beat scenes interconnected. With the rise of the beat groups, however, the scenes split from each other, leaving jazz very much to one side but links continued between the pop and R&B scenes, not least through shared venues and media outlets like the Melody Maker, New Musical Express and Beat Instrumental. At the time there was no "rock" scene as such, just a series of musical divisions within the wider entrainment industry. Within this, it was inevitably the more popular elements of "pop" that attracted record company and media support. Ultimately, Bond and the GBO were both of their time, in these respects, and too far ahead of it, in others.
Poet, singer and songwriter Pete Brown's sleeve notes for Wade in the Water: Classics, Origins and Oddities are thorough and thoughtful. They tell Bond's story in a way that differs from its telling here, though the analysis inevitably overlaps on some issues. The differences between these accounts is no bad thing. After all, Brown knew Bond very wellit was Bond who encouraged Brown's musical and vocal ambitionsand this lends his portrait a personal clarity and integrity. Brown makes it clear at the outset that he has no intention of repeating the more reprehensible aspects of Bond's career and life. He refers the reader simply to Shapiro's biography, which he notes "has said all that needs to be said," though he does point out the effects of Bond's heroin addiction on Bond himself and on those who knew him.