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Carlo Little


17 December 1938; amid World War II and rationing Carl O'Neil Little was born in hard times to Mabel and Charlie. Living in the Sudbury area of Wembley, Middlesex they managed to survive like any other suburban family, hiding in bomb shelters when the eerie drone of the air raid warnings invaded their short-lived peace. Like many other war babies Carlo and his sister Carole were sent away to the secure haven of Cardiff, Wales as refugees.

Back in Sudbury, shortly after Germany were no longer a threat, Carlo attended the Sudbury Infants School and later on East Lane Secondary School (now known as Wembley High School). All through these school years he had always dreamed of playing the drums. It was just after he left school, working as a van boy, that Carlo decided to buy some drums, simply consisting of a snare and high hat.


At this time he was listening to Frankie Laine and Ted Heath. Another of his favourites, Chris Barber's Jazz Band, were playing at Wembley Town Hall when he was 16, and Carlo just had to go along to see the man who's records he owned and loved.

During the interval the band swapped instruments and the banjo player, Lonnie Donegan, took up the guitar, and proceeded to play a new sound Carlo had never heard before: skiffle - wow! He couldn't wait to return home and try out the new beat on his newly acquired drums.
Surely the strongest musical sound that had developed in England up to this point, the skiffle boom was of vital importance in the development of the British music scene, for the reason that it was easily imitated by budding musicians. For the first time, Britain's pop music was out of the hands of showbiz professionals - anyone could have a go. Donegan had encouraged literally thousands of young men to take up an instrument and form their own groups.

Which is exactly what Derek Addison's Rhythm Katz did. Carlo's first inclusion in his friend's band gave him the drive to practise hard at home, along with an opportunity to be part of some gigs at a couple of church hall and wedding events. It was during this time that a new sound from America was beginning to emerge. Rock and Roll had arrived and Carlo wanted more than a part of it: "It was a sound I'd never heard before; exciting rhythm and beat, snare drum right up there. That was it - I was hooked!". The excitement was fuelled when Carlo and his friends went to see the film Blackboard Jungle. The originality of Rock Around The Clock, the song by Bill Haley that opened the film, caused pandemonium amongst those who went to see it to. It was like a breath of fresh air compared to the current stars of the British pop chart, who were crooners such as Rosemary Clooney and Frankie Laine. All of a sudden music sounded fun. It expressed the way the youngsters felt, and imitated the sexual energy that had they had been forced to repress by their parents.

The need for teenagers, like Carlo, to identify with the new emerging culture that accompanied rock and roll was immediate. While continuing with the skiffle for the months that followed, the group also tried experimenting with the new rock and roll sound. They bettered themselves by playing along to the furious beats of Chuck Berry and Little Richard, until Carlo had to leave his home town and be obliged to serve in the army in 1958, thanks to the UK National Service Act. He was gutted, to say the least. Everything was much too exciting to leave behind.

Carlo enrolled in the Royal Fusiliers, City of London regiment, Corps of Drums as snare drummer/bugler, very quickly becoming 'leading tipper' (head drummer). Throughout his time with them the battalion visited Kenya, Bahrain, Aden and Malta, performing at various ceremonies. Between duties he found time to continue to play Rock and Roll with a few friends for his own pleasure, imitating Elvis, Chuck, and The Everley Brothers. Carlo was such a forceful drummer even at this time: "On parades, 'Drill With The Drum' was required. The RSM in command of the battalion (1000 men) would shout the order, for instance, "stand at ease." He would shout the first word "stand at" and on the "ease" I would hit the snare drum and the 1000 men would all move their feet together - BANG! What a feeling of power!"

Carlo was demobbed February 6th, 1960 6th February, 1960. Fresh out of the army and eager to catch up with old friends, new sounds and happenings Carlo, now aged 21, returned to his old haunt, The Cannibal Pot coffee bar in Sudbury's Harrow Road. All of his old pals had now moved on so he was all alone that evening. Finding he was the only person to select Rock & Roll on the jukebox, a young girl named Gill asked, "are you Carlo?" Surprised, because he didn't know this person, he replied, "yeah. How do you know that?" "Because of the records you are playing", she replied. She must have known him from his reputation. Gill proceeded to tell him that she was waiting for her boyfriend, who also played the same records, and said they might get on well together because of this.

Soon after, the coffee bar door opened and in walked this guy with a long camelhair coat, 18 inch long hair, and a pair of goggles - minus the glass! "I said to Gill, 'Hey, look at him', and she said, 'Oh that's my boyfriend David (aka Screaming Lord) Sutch.' He was a strange looking guy and really stood out." They were introduced and found they had much in common. Their strongest bond was the joint opinion of a dislike of the current British pop scene, which by this time was littered with tame pop stars such as Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and Pat Boone. Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues, it seemed, was on rationing. There was only one thing for them to do. They decided to meet up again, with the intention that Carlo would try to get a Rock & Roll group together, with David tagging along, maybe with a role as manager.

A few weeks later Carlo, back at his old job, had purchased his first full drum kit. After checking Macarie's Music Shop in Wembley, the local music enthusiasts' hang out, Carlo and David were given a few local names to approach, eventually ending up with 16 year old classically trained guitarist Bernie Watson. Bernie suggested 15 year old guitar/bassist Rick Brown (aka Fenson), who suggested 16 year old pianist, another who was classically trained, Nicky Hopkins. The first collective meeting was arranged for the rear hall of the pub next door to the Cannibal Pot, the Sudbury Swan. "During a 12 bar rock and roll jam Bernie screamed his guitar loudly. Excited by his playing Sutch went crazy with his head, his hair fell down, the full 18 inches, and screamed his head off, 'Yeah, man!' It was such as funny sight that none of us could play any longer for laughing." Carlo then suggested that he try singing, but he said, "I'm not sure how." Carlo then said, "Well, I could teach you," and from then on he became the band's singer.

At this point in time Carlo was being influenced by drummers such as Sandy Nelson, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Ronnie Verrell, and sounds like Honky Tonk by Bill Doggett, and Bo Diddley, and King Curtis. And he had been practising so hard and got that much better, that in his parent's house the walls had cracked and chunks of plaster fell down!

Three months later the new group had perfected enough songs for an act. The early covers included Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis. They managed to get one or two gigs a month, as the now famous Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages, during that same year at local halls and built up a small following. Soon after, Carlo was asked to join Dougie Dee And The Strangers, semi-professional, which he did from June 1960 to April 1961. In the same time space Sutch had auditioned at the famous 2i's Coffee Bar, and become such as hit that the 2i's manager Tom Littlewood put him on the road, backed by the Vince Taylor and the Playboys. After a while Sutch realised he had to have his own group again, and in April 1961 he asked Carlo if he would reform The Savages.

A new line-up was needed. Ken Payne, the bassist from the Strangers, was brought in by Carlo. Andy Wren (piano) had been auditioned; another one in. The audition for a guitarist proved more of an ordeal. Carlo: "Ritchie Blackmore, who could have only been 15 at the time, came along with his girlfriend and his dad. We heard about 7 or 8 blokes, but it was a toss up between Ritchie and Roger Mingay. Roger just had the edge, because he was older and more experienced." The new Savages then became full-time professional, playing all over Britain's dance halls until September 1961, when the original members re-joined. This line-up also cut the Joe meek-produced first single Till The Following Night (hear it here). There was much of this twoing-and-froing amongst the musicians, but it was the original line-up that is best remembered.

(Much of the following section of text was reproduced from Tony Fletcher's book 'Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon'). Being a Savage involved a lot of one-night stands, a lot of cheap bed and breakfasts, a lot of travelling back from the middle and north of England overnight in run-down old vans never designed for such wear and tear, but it sure beat working in an office, and the rewards were, emotionally at least, if not financially, tangible. "There were a handful of other acts on the road too, maybe half a dozen," says Little. "None of us had big hit records, but you knew that if you came to see us you'd be entertained. It would be a good night out. There was nobody to follow or copy. You had all your records that you got your act from - Little Richard, Elvis, Chuck Berry - and you worked your act round that." But none of the other acts could hold a candle to the voluminous show that was Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, one of the biggest live draws in the country during the early 60s. The band were arguably ahead of their time due to the heavy, amplified sound that they were creating at a time when the electric guitar had barely become established as a group instrument.

But much of the Savages' excitement emanated from the back of the stage where, as if by divine intervention, there sat a British drummer who understood what it took to play rock'n'roll. Over the years the line-up of the Savages would include some of the key musicians of the Sixties and Seventies, and their galvanising effect on others can only truly be garnered by talking to those who saw them. "They were the equivalent of a hard rock band today," says the Escorts' bass player Colin Haines. "They would grab you by the scruff of the neck and thrash it out. They were very dynamic and loud." Rob Lemon had no doubt where that on-stage energy was derived from. "Carlo Little played drums in the UK like no one else. He was original like you can't believe. And it was all to do with the bass drum." "He was a fantastic heavyweight rock'n'roll drummer," says Gerry Evans, "and we were in awe of him. He used to hit the bass drum like you'd never seen. It was like a cannon, like a bomb going off when he hit it."

Carlo himself would hardly be the one to disagree. "When I hit something I didn't just tap it. I walloped it. 'Take that!' It hit you. It was impressive. Especially in those days, because I took it hard as it could go. We were the loudest band ever." Quite apart from their energy, disregarding their exhibitionism, ignoring for a moment their choice of material and even discounting the drummer who hit his kit with such a violent passion, these fellow musicians also on the scene had added reason to be inspired by - and jealous of - the Savages.

Back in 1957, out of all the first wave of rock'n'roll, it was Little Richard's records that had featured the drums most prominently. If you turned them up loud enough - which meant risking your parents' wrath for daring to play the devil's music in the first place - you could actually hear the kick drum thudding away, and of all those singles, none has so prominent a bass drum as 'Lucille'. So of course the Savages, rock'n'roll historians despite their youth, opened their set with 'Lucille'. And the audience just stood there with their mouths agape. It wasn't the ludicrously loud orange shirts and the white boots that set the Savages apart so much as the sheer noise, particularly that made by Carlo Little on the drums - every component of which was noticeably bigger than those on the average kit - flailing away like he was trying to beat them up.

It was also the visual impact of the singer. Sutch was the consummate performer. No matter what the song, he had a corny prop to go with it. So for Bobby Darin's 'Bull Moose', he put on a helmet with two foot long horns; for 'Blue Suede Shoes', he pranced around in boots several sizes too big painted lurid blue; during the group's self-penned single 'Till The Following Night', he found his way into a coffin; and on 'Great Balls Of Fire'...well, you had to laugh really: he jumped round the stage holding a biscuit tin alight. He generally terrified the audience alike with his reckless stunts, such as chasing people with knifes and axes.With all the resulting publicity and attention from his Rolling Stones connections, Carlo Little decided to reformed the All-Stars in 1999 with the original bassist and fellow early Stone Rick Brown. Art Wood of the Artwoods (and Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood's brother) replaced the late Cyril Davies as vocalist, Eddie Armer of the Lonegans on harp, Alex Chanter on lead guitar, and Johnny Casanova on keyboards. Based in London, the band recreated the energetic R&B sound that once captured the imagination of impressionable teenagers back in the 60's. The Carlo Little All Stars headlined at the Rolling Stones Convention at the Brixton Academy and performed at the Ealing Blues Festival in July 1999, as well as performing a string of gigs at London venues to enthusiastic fans.

On Saturday 12th June 1999 Carlo and his wife Iris were invited by Charlie Watts to again meet the Stones backstage at Wembley Stadium during the UK arm of Bridges To Babylon tour. Again, the boys were delighted to see their old chum from the 1960's, as was Carlo. He was selling burgers outside when he got the invitation! It was shortly after this event that Carlo discovered his very good friend Screaming Lord Sutch committed suicide. Read more here.

By popular demand in 2000, The Carlo Little All Stars went into the studio to work on their debut album. Jeff Beck joined his old mate Carlo with the band for 3 amazing tracks, including one of Jeff's favourites Mystery Train. Ronnie Wood guested on Country Line Special, and Long John Baldry sang Iko Iko. Keith Richard also wanted to guest and he told Carlo by telephone, "I gotta play with that rhythm section, man!"but his commitments meant he couldn't.

The band completed the album, entitled Never Stop Rockin', but could not secure a record deal, and sadly the master tapes lie gathering dust. Anyone want to release it??

The Carlo Little All Stars. L-R: Eddie, Carlo, Art, Johnny, Rick, Alex

Carlo eventually sold his catering business in 2002, and he and his wife Iris decided to retire to the North East of England where she had grown up and still had family. He had not been well for a few months, with continuous chest infections, and had been in hospital for tests. Despite this, in May 2003 they bought a beautiful house in Tyne & Wear with a swimming pool, always his dream, and were excited about the future.

Devastatingly, just two weeks after the move, with everything to live for and a new grandchild, Ruby, Carlo was told that he had terminal lung cancer.

In true Carlo spirit, he did not wallow in the bad news, but instead soldiered on the very next day with a tribute night he had organised at the Ace Cafe in London in memory of his friend David Sutch; the now annual 'Sutch A Night'. His friends and family, however, were devastated.

Carlo spent the months from June to December 2003 having extensive chemotherapy. He lost his hair and was frequently hospitalised with low blood count-related infections, but never complained or talked about the cancer. He had told his consultant he would do whatever it took to fight it, but never wanted to be told any more bad news about his future. He even agreed to have his picture taken for the local newspaper when they found out they had a celebrity living in their town! By the end of the year Carlo was told that the chemotherapy "had worked for him", the tumour had shrunk, but he was offered a month of radiotherapy just to make sure. By the end of all this treatment, Carlo was pretty weak and not really the same person - but despite sitting in silence, lost in his own thoughts, he would never talk about the cancer.

Through most of 2004 Carlo tried to get his strength back after all the treatment. He again organised the 'Sutch A Night' tribute at the Ace Cafe for Screaming Lord Sutch in June, in memory of his friend, but by now was struggling to play the drums as fiercely as before. At a regular check up in August of that year he found out the cancer was back, and again he endured several months of gruelling chemotherapy. Throughout this time he simply accepted the treatment, and never complained or talked about his illness.

By Spring 2005 it was all too clear that Carlo was not getting better. He invited his friends, the band The Good Old Boys, to Tyneside for a weekend of gigs hoping to drum with them, but frustratingly for him and after only one night Carlo was hospitalised again after the drumming had caused him too much pain. A few weeks later he asked his consultant if he was able to take a holiday abroad - his dream was always to visit America, land of Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Rock and Roll - but she said a journey of that kind would be too difficult for him. Carlo seemed to go downhill rapidly after being told this, but again he never talked about it, never complained. When the anniversary of Screaming Lord Sutch's death in June came around again, his family tried desperately to talk him out of making the tiring 300-mile trip to London, but he was so determined to get there. Even on the day of the gig, he had told his family how ill he felt, they begged him to reconsider but he said, "I am not going to let anything stop me". Many of his musician friends were at the gig that night. He was too weak to drum, he was too ill to even be there, but he sat bravely with his pint, posing for pictures and chatting to everyone.

A week later Carlo collapsed at home and was admitted to hospital. He would never go home again.

Carlo was admitted to South Tyneside Hospital in Tyne & Wear with excruciating back pains on Saturday June 25th 2005. Two days later his family were told he only had days to live, and to prepare for the worst. They sat tearfully by his bedside playing his favourite music from throughout his life, hoping for a miracle. After a few days, he was showing no signs of giving up, and then amazingly he picked up! Carlo was always a remarkably strong person, this just proved it. However, after some tests the doctors discovered the cancer had spread to his spine and he was given emergency radiotherapy. This only eased the pain for a short while.

Carlo's family tried everything to help him get his strength back. He was sitting up in his hospital bed, holding court with all the hospital staff, who had found out his claims to fame, and was even given a bottle of whiskey to drink by the nursing staff. He became extremely funny and affectionate during this short time. On August 2nd 2005 Carlo was offered a place at the local hospice. He was told it was for 'rehabilitation'.

As if it was a release, Carlo became very ill again almost immediately after being admitted to the hospice. His breathing deteriorated very quickly, and despite his adoring wife doing all she could to keep him alive, he gave up his fight at 2.05am on Saturday 6th August 2005, with his youngest daughter Emma and his sister Carole by his side.

Carlo tragically died of small cell lung cancer, the most vigorous. It normally kills people within six months of being diagnosed - Carlo had survived for over two years.

Over the next few days Carlo received obituaries in most of the major UK broadsheet newspapers. He would have been honoured and flattered.

Carl O'Neil Little was cremated at South Tyneside Crematorium on Monday 15th August 2005. He made his last journey in a vintage Rolls Royce, perfectly fitting for a legendary drummer. Among the mourners at the humanist service were other 1960's music legends including Neil Christian and Nick Simper, the latter reading a fantastic tribute to Carlo as an invaluable British musician and friend. The Rolling Stones, Chas & Dave, and Paul Nicholas were among the very many who sent flowers. Carlo was taken into the crematorium to the sound of his favourite track 'Honky Tonk' by Bill Doggett, and the service ended with 'Country Line Special' by Cyril Davies All Stars, Carlo's most famous recording from 1963. His heartbroken wife of 37 years, Iris, had chosen the song 'Music' by John Miles for during the service.

Music was my first love, and it will be my last

Music of the future, and music of the past

To live without my music, would be impossible to do

In this world of trouble

My music gets me through

A wake, a celebration of Carlo, was held afterwards at his favourite watering hole, The Little Haven, at the mouth of the River Tyne and overlooking the North Sea. Many of his good friends attended and musicians played for him.

Carlo's ashes were buried with his drumsticks the next day in private, with only close family in attendance, in Harton Cemetary, South Shields.
Source of this article has been derived from www.carlolittle.com

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