October 4, 2012
BIG JIM SULLIVAN DIED: In British pop music in the 1960s, there were two top session guitarists — “Big” Jim Sullivan, and “Little” Jimmy Page. The latter man you might have heard of, but the former had quite a career as well, though much more behind the scenes:
While most hired hands were known only to producers and forensic fans who pored over album credits, his face was familiar and his name dropped by the rising stars of London’s nascent rock scene. “Big Jim was a big influence,” noted Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, who had been taught guitar by Sullivan. “He’d only been playing about two years, but he was just about the best guitarist in England.”
His talents were in demand by Lulu, Tom Jones and The Small Faces, and led to a huge catalogue of hits . Averaging three sessions a day at his most prolific, he brought his light touch and adaptable technique to cuts as disparate as Frankie Vaughan’s Tower Of Strength (1960), Marty Wilde’s Rubber Ball (1961), The Small Faces’ Itchycoo Park (1967) and, not least, Shout (1964), the breakout hit of a 14-year-old Lulu (“This little girl was screaming and shouting with incredible dexterity,” he recalls of that recording. “She made my hair curl!”)
Only a pre-Zeppelin Jimmy Page had such a lofty reputation on the session circuit (and, indeed, sometimes the songs were credited to the wrong Jim).
Just as significant was the nudge that Sullivan gave to the sound — and so the direction — of rock ‘n’ roll. He used a volume pedal on Dave Berry’s 1964 hit The Crying Game, popularised the vocal-apeing talkbox guitar effect, and was among the first exponents of the wah-wah pedal.
Critically, he was the first to use the battery-powered distortion device known as a fuzzbox on a British record (PJ Proby’s 1964 hit Hold Me), showcasing the frayed sneer that would soon usurp the crystalline jangle of early pop. “The older session men used to call me the Electric Monster,” Sullivan once noted.
Both Page and Sullivan were reported to have played on the sessions for Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” for the 1964 James Bond film of the same name, among other sessions they shared. A few years later, Sullivan would lend Page his Gibson acoustic for the first Led Zeppelin album.