TWISTED WHEEL DJ
In 64’ it was at the Wheel where you could hear all the current Motown tracks, all played by Roger a good example ‘I’ve Got To Dance To Keep From Crying’ by the Miracles. By 1964 it was heavily into Tamla Motown, soul, but still strong too on Blues, The Wheel was by late September of 64 the Northern Mecca for Mods and then it moved up a gear in 65'.
Around Summer of 65’ Roger told me he had girlfriend trouble and had to sell off 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; e.g Twine Time by Alvin Cash on the Mar-V-Lus label. Obviously we were already scouring record shops for deletions, and back catalogues of the Blues and the Soul artists that Roger had turned us on too. So its also probable that Roger not only started off the Entire Blues scene in Manchester, he followed it by starting off the Soul scene, and the SKA and Blue Beat ones also and set off the imported and the rare record collecting obsessions that came to be part the later day ‘Northern Soul scene’.
He was particularly obsessed himself with Stax Records, which he was importing simultaneously as they were released in the USA. He was probably a major factor in making Stax records popular in the UK.
The list of records Roger ‘found’ and played at the Twisted Wheel and Blue Note clubs is huge: 99% are included here on the database in our SOULBOT section.
When he moved from the Wheel to the Blue Note he set his stamp on the place with great Stax sounds that never got played anywhere else in Manchester; such as, “Cross Cut Saw” “Cold Feet” “Born Under A Bad Sign” from Albert King “Marching Of To War” by William Bell, “Grab This Thing” The Mar-Keys, the DJ’s that followed him (Dave&Dave) kept up the ‘eclectic tradition set by Roger.
His stay at the Blue Note was around seven months due to his desire to open his own club, which was the STAXX Club, the same premises that Jimmy Savile used to own as the ‘Three Coins’ on Fountain Street.
The STAXX club logo was the same shaking pile of 45’s to be seen on the record label but the spelling was to have had an extra ‘X’ but the printer changed it!
Roger has not been given the esteem he deserves. He gets a reasonable mention in the Book CENtral 1179 and is well regarded by his contemporaries; the Soul Mods of Manchester. But has been somewhat diminished by some commentators who want (may even have vested interests) to be seen as the originators of the current Northern scene. These folks claim discoveries that are certainly Rogers, they claim recognition for finding several soul tracks when in comparison to Rogers finds and general promotion of a mountain of songs and artists there is no comparison.
Fantastic soul sounds have indeed been unearthed by those that followed Roger, but lets get the record straight; almost single handedly he generated the original Soul Scene and without his efforts the entire ensuing 'Northern' soul scene would have been impoverished. The emphasis in current 'Northern Soul' is to focus upon the tracks subsequently discovered, consciously ignoring all the other material and artists that were the bedrock of soul music, for example at a 'Northern Soul' event you would never guess that Sam and Dave and Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye et, all existed. The Northern Soul DJs don't know or don't want to know about their history as it might show that they may not have been as original as they like to think.
If you look at the tracks listed in our SOULBOT section you will begin to realise Rogers contribution to the discovery and promotion of Soul music and its continuing appreciation today. Multiple tracks of obscure soul music were known and played alongside the more obviously popular ones.
The downgrading of Rogers contribution appears to have started when Dave Godin in 1970 visited the Wheel and spoke to the current DJ's and others, who described to him their 'underground' scene, when in fact it had been vibrant for years previously with its peak in 66' 67' It was Dave Godin who coined the phrase 'Northern Soul'. The publicity about the Twisted Wheel in 'Blues and Soul magazine in 1970 appears to have 'gone to their heads' and those that gave information about their scene appeared to know little or nothing about the originator of it; ROGER EAGLE.
could never be accused of being a self publicist.)
Saturday evening at 8pm. 12 January 2008 and the BBC broadcast a radio show on Radio 2 about Dean Parrish.
It was very interesting. Dean was amazed to have been discovered by the Northern Soul folks in England, he learned he had sold hundreds of thousands of records, but never received any royalties. It took over 30 years to trace him, whilst his songs were hits on the UK underground soul scene. Scant mention was made about the Twisted Wheel, but no reference whatsoever made about Roger who had a 'Green DJ STATESIDE' copy of Dean Parrish's 'DETERMINATION' / 'B' Side 'Turn On Your Lovelight'. Without Roger making 'Determination' a Twisted Wheel hit, (and a Blue Note one also) Dean might never have been re-discovered at all!
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 music. 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 single-handedly - 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 favorite 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 Stax 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 Stax 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 Jaggger 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.
Another Roger Eagle tribute can be found at 'In Search of the Mersey Blues' on the Groovin' Records site.
From About The Hideway
Roger Eagle - the original DJ at Manchester's famous Twisted Wheel Club between 1963 and 1965 - had come out of retirement for one last gig. Now Roger Eagle was one of our great heroes. He was renowned for playing the best R&B to the biggest Mod crowd outside of London. Anyway, the gig was absolutely packed. Not just Mods but older "original" Mods as well. So we thought, "It's obviously not just us three that want to hear this music"... so on 27 February 1999 The Hideaway Club opened its doors for the first time.
A short clip of Roger talking about the Twisted Wheel can be found on Disk One of the DVD set The strange World Of Northern Soul.
Kieth Rylatt + Phil Scott cover Roger Eagle in their book about the Twisted Wheel called CENtral 1179
The Northern Soul Top 500 from Kev Roberts documents many tracks discovered FIRST by Roger Eagle with hardly a mention of him.
Brian Smith photographed Roger and many of the acts appearing at the Twisted Wheel and we have heard that a friend of Brian's is writing a book about Roger.
Also the forthcoming book / a novel; The Manchester Wheelers, tells what it was like at the Wheel and provides anecdotes about Roger.