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Roger Eagle was the most memorable and enigmatic of the DJs who worked at The Twisted Wheel Club in Manchester in the sixties. Although he started out as a blues and R ‘n B expert, over the years he became an influence on many music spheres.
In the early sixties he published a well respected magazine – R ‘n B Scene which gave insights into the lives of blues and R ‘n B artists with some superb photographs when they came over on tour taken by photographer Brian Smith:
Roger was able to get some of his records from Guy Stevens (Sue UK Records London) to add to his existing massive collection. He was probably one of the first to import 45s and LPs from the USA.
Around Summer of 1965 Roger told me he had girlfriend trouble and had to sell of his record collection. He was very fair and sold lots of records at reasonable prices – around two shillings and sixpence, ten bob for really dynamic tracks that were hard to find or had no UK release. At that time we were already scouring record shops for deletions and back catalogues of the Blues and the Soul artists that Roger used to play. It is fair to say that Roger Eagle not only helped to start the entire British Blues scene, he followed it by starting off the Soul scene as well as the imported and rare record collecting obsessions that came to be part of the present day Northern Soul scene.
Roger Eagle (with beer) watching Muddy Waters playing cards.
Roger was particularly enamoured with Stax Records, and he imported as many as he could as soon as they were released in the USA. Many of the artists included in this database are there because of Roger Eagle’s influence.
When he moved from the Twisted Wheel to the Blue Note club a few hundred yards away in Gore Street, he set his stamp on the place with great Stax sounds that never got played anywhere else – Cross Cut Saw, Cold Feet, Born Under A Bad Sign by Albert King – Marching Of To War by William Bell, Grab This Thing The Mar-Keys as well as many others. The DJ’s that followed him (Dave and Dave) kept up the eclectic tradition.
He stayed at the Blue Note for a few months before leaving to open his own club the STAXX Club – the same premises that the notorious Jimmy Savile used to run as the ‘Three Coins’ on Fountain Street.
THE R&B SCENE
Roger invented the first FANZINE:
On 4th May 1999, legendary soul and R&B DJ Roger Eagle passed away after a long period of illness. Roger earned the ‘legendary’ tag by being the first DJ at Manchester‘s original mod soul and R&B club The Twisted Wheel back in 1963, which rivalled London’s Scene Club as the place for the in-crowd to be seen. Roger later found fame running Eric’s club in Liverpool in the days of the city’s post-punk explosion, and later helped numerous Manchester musicians on their way (Mick Hucknall being but one). Over the years he developed a more eclectic taste in music but Roger never lost enthusiasm for his first love, Black American music from the 50s and 60s.
The New Breed carried out this interview at Roger’s home in North Wales in February 1999 and because of his poor health, decided to conduct the interview in stages over a period of time. This is a complete transcript of the first interview, because sadly we didn’t make a second as Roger’s health progressively worsened over the months. This is Roger Eagle’s last interview. At the time we never expected it to be a Tribute.
TNB : When and how did you first become interested in Soul and R&B music?
RE : Well I was originally a Rock’n’Roll kid until I heard Ray Charles. The ‘In Person’ and ‘Live At Newport’ LPs from around 1958/59 really converted me. Rock’n’Roll died in 1958. Ray Charles was the first to see the possibilities of mixing different types of musics. He mixed R&B, Rock’n’Roll and even country. There were other acts at the time that were a great influence. Fats Domino, a lot of the R&B releases on London Records. Gary US Bond’s ‘New Orleans’. Arthur Alexander. LaVern Baker. Chuck Willis‘ ‘The Sultan of Stroll’ that was a very, very important LP. I love Chuck Willis.
How did you pursue your interest in this (at the time) very obscure music?
There were various coffee bars in Manchester, like The Cona Coffee Bar (in Tib Lane near Albert Square) where you could take in your own records to play. You would take your own in and also listen to other people’s and pick it up from there. There were a few like minded people around and you would bump into them or meet them in places like The Town Hall pub.
As for getting hold of the records, you could get hold of some but it wasn’t long before I was importing records directly from the States. I must thank two guys – Roger Fairhurst and Mike Bocock who taught me how to import records from the States. I was getting hold of records from the US even before they had been released there! Tracks like ‘You Don’t Know Like I Know’ by Sam and Dave. I was the first person to play that record in Britain.
It even got to such a stage that I was involved in writing sleeve notes on a Bobby Bland LP for Duke Records in the US.
How did you first become involved with the Twisted Wheel?
Before I got the job at The Twisted Wheel, my only DJ experience was taping tracks on one of these reel-to-reel recorders and taking them along to parties to play. One day I received a parcel from the US that contained all of the Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley back catalogue LPs. I took them down to The Left Wing Coffee Bar, just to have a look at them. I was approached by the Abadi Brothers who said ‘we’re buying this place and turning into a night club – do you know anything about R&B?’ so I said ‘Yes’ and they offered me the DJ job there and then.
To be honest, the Abadis didn’t really have an appreciation for the type of music that was popular at the club. They just saw it as a way to get the numbers coming through the door. Only once did they insist that I played a pop record. I argued against it but to prove a point I played it and emptied the dance floor. After that they never interfered again on the music side.
I wasn’t a particularly high profile DJ. I didn’t have the ambition and I certainly didn’t have the patter.
I was happy playing the music that I loved. I would play six or seven hours solid singlehandedly – with just an hour or so’s break for the band – for £3 a night. I was happy playing the music that I loved but with hindsight I would have appreciated a little more money.
Seven hours of record playing is a long time and there weren’t that many Soul and R&B records available at the time so I had to mix in Rock’n’Roll tracks to fill out the time. In fact Carl Perkins was a particular favourite amongst The Wheel crowd. He even played live at the club. In the very early days, when the club first started, we relied very much on word of mouth recommendations. We had the likes of Roger and Mike and their mates from Bolton, we had people coming over from Liverpool and all over the place. I guess it was the start of the whole scene where people are willing to travel to hear the music that they want to hear.
The Wheel was a big scene in the North West, how much did you know about what was happening in other parts of the country?
The only other club anywhere that was playing anything like what I was playing at The Wheel was The Scene Club in London. I used to get on well with Guy Stevens and we used to exchange records. Like I said, I was getting hold of some records before their release even in the States, things like Stax and so on. We weren’t consciously trying to create a movement or anything like that. We just liked to have a club that played the right kind of music.
Obviously the music that you played and crowds that you attracted were very much part of Mod culture. Did you class yourself as a Mod? Did that side of things appeal to you?
No, not really. You could say that I tipped my hat towards the things that were happening. But it was the music that came first and was paramount above everything else to me. Of course I dressed in the styles of the day. I was smart but I wasn’t at the sharp end style-wise. My money went on vinyl and importing new records. I left the clothes obsession to the kids coming to the club.
Did you set out to make The Wheel a Mod club?
No, as I said before, it just grew and happened. You knew what was going on though. The punters were generally sharp but some were way ahead. I couldn’t keep up with them ! I got respect through the records that I was playing. That to me was enough.
Although many people often forget it, The Wheel did have a bit of a reputation for the quality of live acts that played there, many of which were White kids influenced by the kind of music that you were playing.
Yes, we had the lot. I used to be friendly with Steve Winwood. He would come round to my place and listen to records when The Spencer Davis Group played the club. Georgie Fame did some good things – very King Pleasure influenced. The important thing is to take the influence and then add a twist and take it on further. It’s important to remember that there is a big big difference between Club Groups and Pop Groups. Eric Clapton was a good friend at that time. I remember one Sunday morning after he had played at the club, he brought a good-looking young Mod girl round to my place and she got completely pissed off because all he wanted to do was listen to Freddy King records.
In 1965, the ‘original’ Twisted Wheel in Brazennose Street closed down and a ‘second’ Wheel opened in Whitworth Street. Legend has it that the original crowd didn’t move on to the new club. Is that true?
No, that’s not true. The music policy at the new club was just the same. I moved over with the club, I spent roughly two years at the first Wheel and a year at the second, roughly.
During 1966, you left The Wheel. Why?
Well, I left because they wouldn’t pay me a decent wage. After three years hard graft for maybe £3 a night I asked for a fiver and they said they couldn’t afford it. I was also getting bored with the music and there were a lot of pills going on. Kids were in trouble with the pills and all they wanted was that kind of fast tempo soul dance. So, I was very restricted with what I could play and I thought ‘I’m not getting paid enough money to do this – I ain’t going to do it no more’. So I left and immediately got paid a decent wage by Debbie Fogel at The Blue Note Club. I got a fiver a night for four nights, besides doing other things.
I was able to play the kind of music that I liked. The range of music. Whereas the pill freaks only wanted the same dance beat – which is what makes it so boring. Its okay you know there were some decent sounds but they made it so boring. You’re trying to talk to kids who are off their heads all night on pills and its really hard. And the Abadis didn’t want to pay me what I felt I was worth.
So you just completely disassociated from them ?
Gone. Yeah. I was a black music fanatic and I had respect for what I was dealing with – I don’t think they did.
And then you started the Staxx club. Was that after the Blue Note?
Yeah, briefly. It was at the The Three Coins in Fountain Street. The music policy was similar. It was R’n’B and Soul. But you see I was trying to play funk. Early funk. In fact, ‘Funky Broadway’ by Dyke & The Blazers was probably the last record I played at The Wheel. It was just starting to change and they didn’t want it. They didn’t want it to change. It just split. I was progressing to funk, very early funk but they didn’t want to go with it.
So when you started the Staxx Club, presumably you were pulling in a different audience to the one that you had had at The Wheel?
I don’t know really. They were just people around town. Pill freaks that just popped in and out. You can’t look at it with hindsight, at the time it wasn’t ‘oh we’re going to start a movement!’ . It was just the place to be. It was the place for The In Crowd…for a while.
And then you moved completely at a tangent to the Magic Village Club?
I just started getting into rock. It was a completely different track. Things like Captain Beefheart, John Mayall, The Nice and so on.
That’s just about taken us through your ‘Soul Years’ but there’s just one last question. It’s about a story that’s become almost an urban myth – and we wondered whether you could clear it up once and for all. It’s about the time that The Rolling Stones came down to The Wheel after playing a gig in Manchester…
Yeah. I’ll tell you exactly what happened. The Stones came down to the club and they were standing in the coffee bar having a cup of coffee. The kids were standing round them – just looking at them. Not talking to them – just looking. And I played all of the original tracks off their first album, which had just come out….’I’m A King Bee’ by Slim Harpo, ‘Walkin’ The Dog’ by Rufus Thomas, Arthur Alexander… They knew exactly what I was doing… I played them in exactly the same order as the LP. It was just me saying, there’s a North/South thing. I’m a Southerner by birth – but a Northerner by emotion. I prefer the North. I’m not saying I don’t like Southerners, but they tend to be so temporary down there. To me if something’s solid then its worth looking after. Whereas they’re into it and out of it. Which is really not the Northern style.
I actually got on OK with The Stones. Brian Jones bought a copy of R&B Scene [Roger’s own magazine form the early/mid-60’s] from me when I was in London. Mick Jagger once bummed a cig off me. That sums up The Stones for me. But joking aside, I’m one of the DJ’s that publicised the music, but when The Stones went to The States they got Howlin’ Wolf onto primetime national television. Fucking Hell. That’s the thing to do. I admire them for doing that.
I’d be playing tunes in the club and those guys would be listening. You know Rod Stewart and those guys. Pete Stringfellow used to come over and write down the name of every tune that I played. I didn’t really know what was going on. I wasn’t sharp enough business-wise to realise what I had going. I’m not bitter about it because I am absolutely totally committed to the music. It means so much to me.
I recently met this black American guy who came over to see me. He’s at University in The States and he’s doing a thesis on Northern British Appreciation of Black American Music.
He’d been to see everybody on the Northern Scene…all the Northern DJ’s and so on they all said ‘go and see Roger Eagle – he started it all’. Eventually he turned up here with a camera and I blew his head off completely. I started playing him tunes…he went away with a cassette – with what you would probably think are fairly obvious tunes on it. His mind was completely wrecked. This guy’s in his 40’s, maybe 50’s and he’s a serious man ….and he’s never heard Ray Charles! I said, if you want to talk about Northern Soul there’s plenty of people better placed than I am to tell you …but if you want the history about white Northern English appreciation of Black American music you talk to me! I’ll straighten it out for you. I did.
I said: this is where it started in the 50’s. When it was exciting. I don’t want to know about white artists ripping off black artists …that’s bollocks. Everybody covered everyone else! Nat King Cole – one of the most successful black entertainers of all time – he would cover white show tunes, pop tunes, blues tunes – across all boundaries. He didn’t care. Ray Charles was one of the first black artists to see the possibilities. I said to this guy ‘have you ever heard ‘I’m Moving On’ by Ray Charles? As far as I know it’s one of the first cases of a black artist covering a Country & Western song – a Hank Snow tune’. I had to put it on tape…he’d never heard it. I love the train rhythm through the track building up towards the end. As far as I’m concerned a tune this strong ought to be played. I bet you’ve heard it so many times without really clocking just how strong a track it is. It’s a head record. Atlantic were starting to experiment with different instrumentation. Moving away from the basic drum, bass, guitar, sax and piano. They put a distorted pedal steel guitar on it. It’s one of my all time favourite records.
Ray Charles is the only artist I’ve never managed to meet. I was at the Free Trade Hall and he walked right past me. His bodyguards – New Yorkers in pork pie hats and shades – said ‘Yeah you can talk to Ray….. in London. Make an appointment son’. I said ‘No I want to talk to him here…..’. It’s a shame. It was about ’63/’64 he had a huge, huge band…..but he’d lost it by then. You know I talk to people about Ray Charles and they immediately think ‘Take These Chains From My Heart’ and they say ‘Ray Charles??’. He was a genius.
This interview was originally published in issue 2 of the Mod ‘lifestyle’ fanzine The New Breed.
For more details on The New Breed e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to The New Breed, 14 Hawthorn Close, Addingham, West Yorkshire LS29 0TW.
We, and all those who went to the Twisted Wheel from 1964 to 1966 and The Blue Note Club (67) will NEVER forget the massive influence of Roger Eagle.
And more covering some interesting tales about Sonny Boy Williamson, and then concentrating on Rogers influences after his Twisted Wheel and Blue Note club days is covered in the book: Site Down and listen To This.
More about Roger from his pals:
Wikipedia: Roger Eagle
Obituaries The Guardian Newspaper
Roger Eagle – Padraig Colman
Soul Directions – Roger Eagle
The Naming Of Northern Soul – Roger Eagle or Dave Godin
Books About Roger Eagle:
NO WIKI FOR ROGER!
You won’t find Roger Eagle on Wikipedia we tried four times but they refused to allow it; stating first that there were not enough independent sources, then stating it had to be written academically…??? well we are not academics, so up yours Wikipedia – here is our entry:
WIKI ENTRY ROGER EAGLE
Roger Eagle: influential DeJay, music promoter and club owner.
First DJ at Manchester’s TWISTED WHEEL Club where he promoted his own style of appreciation of Black American Music. Roger introduced a generation of Manchester’s youth who were primarily MODS into a fuller, varied and wider knowledge of Blues, R&B and SOUL music. He worked as main DJ at the Twisted Wheel at its Brazennose Street location (1963 – September: 1966) and at its second location in Whitworth Street (1966 – 67)Then he moved to the nearby Blue Note Club and concentrated on focusing on playing an imported range of 45’s (vinyl records)on the STAX label.
Later he moved to own his own venue The STAXX (with an extra ‘X’) Club in Fountain Street Manchester. This proved short term and unsuccessful and he moved on to DJ and promote bands at The Magic Village. Later he managed SIMPLY RED (lead singer Mick Hucknall). In the late 1970s he stated his own club once again: the now famous ERIC’S in the same street that had the Cavern Club in Liverpool: Mathew Street.
Roger started off the roots of what today is known as Northern Soul. He had discovered Ray Charles via his live LP’s (At Newport) and that loosened the hold that Rock & Roll had had on him until 1958.
He was already importing Stateside release via bidding on auction listings of deleted 45’s. Also he was a friend of Guy Stevens the DJ at London’s Scene club (1963-4)who was managing SUE Records for Chris Blackell (Island Records)and releasing USA singles from ‘Juggy’ Murray’s various record labels in New York. Guy gave lots of UK Sue 45’s to Roger and they found their way to Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, when Roger had moved to the city to work at the Kellog’s factory in Trafford Park, and when the ‘Wheel’s’ owners the Abadi brothers appointed him DJ in 1963. He also played lots of his records at the Cona coffee bar (in Tib Lane) a Mod hang out.
Roger favoured Blues, R&B and early Soul music and several other streams of music: some pop of course, Latin Jazz, Surf music and here and there some stranger types of music. Whatever he put on the turntables was interesting and eclectic and mostly for dancing too. But just for dancing was not always Rogers primary interest although it was a necessity at the clubs he worked in.
A good example is that he was probably the only DJ to play first certain records and styles of music on the British side of the Atlantic. A very interesting example is Assassination by The Dixie Nightingales, which he played on week nights at the Twisted Wheel. A slow Gospel song about the Kennedy assassination in Dallas in 1962.
Roger booked all the live artists who appeared at the club during his period there. He was well informed about these artists and wrote about them and about the records he liked in his own magazine – R’NB Scene an early example of a Fanzine if not the first.
The Twisted Wheel was a Mod club: a fashion and style underground youth movement begun in London with a strong emphasis on Jazz, Blues R&B and Soul. It was this music that Roger was evangelical about, but not so much the styles and life-styles of his audience. He did not generate the Mod scene in Manchester but he did feed it an elite and collectable set of rare music. These roots eventually grew into the second version of the ‘Wheel’ becoming dominated by Soul dance music.
He imported and was therefore the first to play “You Don’t Know Like I Do” by Sam and Dave, then a massive shower of Atlantic, Sue, Stax, Chess, Stateside, Motown and other emerging Soul label tracks.
It was during this period and to a lesser but with an important spell at the Blue Note that a huge amount of obscure, rare, deleted and emergent popular Soul music pounded out and into the ears of eager dancers. This set the precedent for the later identification of this music as Northern Soul. Without Roger there would not have been such a phenomena! And that was not the only music style he launched. He was also responsible at the same time period for promoting and playing SKA, BLUE BEAT and early Reggae.
He was quick to appreciate and book appearances at the club of The Spencer Davis Group and Georgie Fame, The Graham Bond Organisation, John Mayall, Manfred Mann and Alexis korner, The Ram Jam Band. Later these English acts who were often using material from the USA originating artists faded out in preference for the originators. Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Champion Jack Dupree, Buddy Guy, T Bone Walker, Larry Williams, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Lou Johnson, Ben E King, The Drifters, Wilson Pickett, Don Covey, Lee Dorsey and others.
And it’s worth mentioning that Rod Stewart made his first ever live appearance during this period as part of the Long John Baldry show in 1964.
However, he left that club: The ‘Wheel’ in mid 67’ after a falling out with the club owners, who had little understanding of this music scene, but would not recognise Roger by giving him a pay rise. So he left taking his substantial record collection and multiples of newly arrived STAX imports with him to the newly opened Blue Note club foe fiver (£5) a night upgrade. The last record that Roger remembered playing at the ‘Wheel’ was “Funky Broadway” by Dyke and The Blazers, although not entirely correct as he often finished off with Jimmy Radcliff’s “Long After Tonight Is All Over” followed by an instrumental from Jimmy smith: “Walk On The Wild Side” before his decks would go dead.
His music playlist was amazing and eclectic so much so did his fame so spread on the Soul club scene that the owner of the King Mojo in Sheffield often turned up at The ‘Wheel’ to copy out lists of records! This was the later to be famous Peter Stringfellow.
Roger had written directly to STAX in Memphis and it was the boss Jim Stewart who sent him several packages of their USA release. These he introduced at his new club. William Bell ‘Marching Off To War’ ‘Grab This Thing’ from the Mar-Keys, ‘Knock On Wood’ Eddie Floyd, lots of recordings from Albert King and many more.
A list of some of the music that Roger played can be found at: SOUL DIRECTIONS
He opened his own club promoting his love for all things Stax and called it STAXX. He obtained it from Jimmy Savile (now reviled) after he closed it; being once his own club called the Three Coins (Fountain Street Manchester). However STAXX failed as there was by this time increasing competition from many other Soul clubs opening up in the city.
Roger went on to the ‘Hippy music club The Magic Village and Captain Beefheart and all of that early rock blues. This club had previously been The Jigsaw, and previous to that The Manchester Cavern Club.
But Roger was not finished with being a music promoter and club owner as he moved to Liverpool in the late 1970s and opened with a colleague the now famous ERIC’S Club in Mathew Street (Home of the Cavern/Beatles).
He managed for a time Mick Hucknall’s group Simply Red. Who played at Eric’s with others including Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Then returned to Manchester promoting acts like Ann Peebles, Albert King at Manchester’s ‘International’.
Its amazing how some Northern Soul DJ’s and enthusiasts seem to want to airbrush Roger out of his most deserved fame and genesis as the real creator of Northern Soul. He could be somewhat cold to deal with, certainly opinionated even bombastic but he could be forgiven his arrogance because he really knew and loved his music.
Roger moved to North Wales later in life and was overtaken too early, by cancer, probably due to being an incessant smoker and died in 1999 aged only 56.