john maslen : aka johnny maz
an almost exact contemporary of such luminaries as jeff beck and keith richards, john was born into a very pro music family at 468 aspley lane nottingham just an olympic hammer throw from wayne evans’ home on ainsley estate. you only have to read kieth’s biography to get a clear idea of the social background to john’s early life.
within a family of self-taught or classically trained musicians, he soon benefitted from all the en famille expertise associated with church and school choir singing and the presence of piano, violin harmonica and spoons playing. the mainspring of his development came via his brother richard, 10 years older and other brother, david, 3 years older.
by the time john was 11, and the family had decamped to west bridgford, he was a veteran listener to the modern jazz which had captivated his brother richard, by now a virtuoso electric violinist and an avid reader of the american jazz mag , downbeat. in his very early teens, thanks to david buying him a guitar, and later amp, john was django reinhardt to richard’s blend of the jazz violin greats, grapelli, stuff smith, sven amundsen to name but a few. david’s influence was to be even more profound. as first a home act singing duo and later dual members of several local bands, john [ lead guitar] and david [bass guitar] were members of the colin staples’ band that first played totally r and b and blues, having emerged as the beaconsville rhythm and blues all stars, from colin’s original elvis and the pop hits combo, the beacons . the great thing for john was that david’s age meant he got a quick in to the grown up world of rock and roll when very young and innocent, learning a vast amount in the process. It was david’s desire to move from a lead guitar role into bass that gave john the opening into local bands his brother was already with.
but john left for manchester to study in the mid sixties with a broad background in jazz, rock,blues and country music , still evident in his playing now. the move lead to him meeting mike finesilver and peter ker, both members of the john morgan blues band, j m blues, which john joined in manchester. mike and peter were already writing and recording in a ‘ borrowed’ university lab, and shortly before 1969 they had an association with arthur brown leading to part writing the legendary hit fire.
john continued his education in london in 1969, where mike and pete had already established the eventually legendary pathway music studios, where as independent producers, they were making huge strides in gaining recognition for a great sound. john was the first musician to play in the emerging studios before any recordings were ever made and went on to be part of the in house band , finesilver, developing mike’s own songs. mike was later the producer of all of the gaffa ‘n’ products releases.
this was the last stage in john’s career before returning to nottingham and meeting gaffa. these were formative years for him in getting recording experience as both singer and guitarist. and thanks to mike’s influence and standing as a record producer, john went through a very disciplined learning process emerging after a few years with a new found confidence in the whole recording process. during this period , finesilver moved through a lot of personnel including particularly lyn dobson, a sax player famous for his teaming up with trumpeter henry lowther , originally modern jazz players, who had moved into the blues pop rock field of the early manfred mann; allan gowen of hatfield and the north; neil murray, then a callow youth but later to become a heavy metal bassist with whitesnake among many others bands; max middleton from the then emerging jeff beck group of the blow by blow era, drummer steve witherington and pianist paul carrack from the band ace. steve was later to play with gaffa during the absence of mick barratt.
mike’s early association with emi and track records led to his own eminent production roles and gave john the chance to work on single and album demos for arthur brown among others. pathway was also a great place to fleetingly meet and talk with those passing through; eddie grant, john hiseman and a large number of other emerging musicians. eventually, mike secured a deal with rca records and the band , finesilver, released ‘finale’ backed with ‘punishment park’ on rca around the mid 70’s.
at the same time, john ‘s living in st Albans led to a very strong friendship with rock writer jeff cloves and the writer pianist, bill fay whose two albums of the period turned out to be instrumental in his re-emergence as a major songwriter at present. john recorded and played acoustic guitar with bill and played in st alban’s based the front room band and movie, both acoustic.
however, with no development on that front john returned to nottingham, and hence into the realm of gaffa, equipped with hi speed revox recording machine and a lot of experience which got turned into a large repertoire of home recorded songs.
john first saw gaffa playing on the bandstand on the trent embankment for a radio associated event - the release of the nottingham rock album. he felt the band had something really special. not long afterwards he was to run into wayne evans and mick barratt on the carrington stretch of mansfield road, got talking and eventually did some home recordings on some of wayne’s very latin influenced songs and was invited to a gaffa rehearsal at an old building just up from aspley lane. he went, they didn’t turn up. but latterly,following rehearsals at the local cocked hat pub, he became a member , playing electric piano and guitar. Following this start, john went on to work up a lot of songs with wayne using much of his own already written music.
For the rest of the story, over to wayne evans
some years after gaffa , john had his own band , nth degree, a fusion ensemble featuring john, drummer russell jalland, keyboardist tor underseth and legendary bassist rem , playing mainly local and west midlands gigs together with appearances at the cork jazz festival over a number of years.
John latterly did a number of his own cds and also worked with canadian lap steel player, don rooke, on a couple of transatlantic recordings. he also appeared as a contributing artist alongside bill fay, jim o’rourke,mark almond and a cast of thousands on an anglo canadian 5 disc release for medecines sans frontiers , aids in africa ,titled not alone . This boxed cd set of 5 discs, relaeased by Jnana records, has raised over $34,000.00 for the cause.