LONDON — “THIRTY thousand people? That’s as many as they get in a Blackburn football match!”
Drummer Tony Hicks couldn’t believe Back Door would be supporting James Taylor, before a five-figure crowd the next day. Several months ago the instrumental trio’s steadiest engagement had been a weekly appearance in a Yorkshire pub. “If we packed the place out,” sighed saxophonist Ron Aspery, “we thought we were doing very well. To get there you had to be keen.”
“And very thirsty,” added Hicks.
Ambition, Alexis Korner and pub owner Brian Jones gave Back Door their professional break. The band, which produces an amalgam of jazz and blues using bass guitar, drums and saxophone, sent tapes around to “everybody” while Korner touted them to anyone who would listen. Jones gave them their pub residency and was their financial angel.
“When he took us under his wing he was told we weren’t commercial and he said, ‘Forget what they say, hire a studio and I’ll pay any bills,'” Aspery related. “A few drinks later we convinced ourselves he was serious.”
Colin Hodgkinson, who sometimes solos on bass, considered the recording process simple. “We went around to all the studios in London, found which one was cheapest, and did the album in six hours.”
Jones engaged a London publicist to circulate the limited edition LP to key pop critics. Warner Bros. was encouraged to pick up the album by the resulting acclaim (“bloody good playing,” proclaimed one paper). By the time the record was released in America the group was cutting a second LP with Felix Pappalardi at Electric Lady. Appearances followed at two London summer festivals.
The music of Back Door is tight, the numbers brief. “I don’t like drum solos,” Hicks maintained. “They’re boring.” The lack of a lead guitarist eliminates the possibility of lengthy guitar solos.
“We always get asked where our guitarist and organist are,” Aspery smiled, “but Colin on bass is fine.”
Back Door played in Jones’ pub dressed in black suits, straw hats and striped waistcoats. One member of the band speculated its audience “came out of curiosity,” while another felt “they came for the beer.” Yet now that they’ve outgrown pubs the group finds they’re frequently asked to play them for old times’ sake. They can’t.
“Before we used to borrow a microphone,” Aspery explained. “Now we have a monster PA. We can’t afford to play small places now.”
Hodgkinson frowned. “People think we’ve sold out. It’s sad.”
© Paul Gambaccini, Rolling Stone, 22 November 1973