John O'Leary Biography 

 

 


 

SAVOY BROWN'S BLUES BAND (1965-1967)

John's story begins as one founder members of  SAVOY BROWN'S BLUES BAND. A chance meeting with guitarist Kim Simmonds in the rain outside Transat Imports a record shop in Soho one Saturday led to a friendship and the formation of Savoy Brown's Blues Band (1965). Soon, other members Brice Portious (vocals), Bob Hall (piano), Ray Chappell (bass) and Leo Mannings (drums) were recruited. Savoy Brown rapidly became a favourite on the London club scene playing at venues such as The Marquee, The Flamingo, The Speakeasy, Scotch of St. James, Blazes, Bluesville and Eel Pie Island.
However, in the beginning John says "We couldn't get any bookings and the only solution was open our own club at a pub called The Nag's Head (built 1881), in Battersea and we named it Kilroy's. We went around London in the early hours of the mornings putting up our own bill posters and so we created our own audience". Eventually, the club, renamed The Blue Horizon Club and run by Mike Vernon played host to the great Freddy King on his first visit to England. Other UK blues bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack and Duster Bennett followed in their footsteps and played there too! The band graduated very quickly from being an opening act for John Mayall's Blues Breakers and The Cream  and soon began to tour up and down the country and headline in their own right.
Of the recordings John did with Savoy Brown "I Can't Quit You baby" b/w "I Tried" were released as a single on Vernon's Purdah label and these along with the harp instrumental "True Blue" and "Cold Blooded Woman" were released on "Blues Anytime Vol. 1 & 2" on the Immediate label. Further recordings in 1967 for Decca were never released. Following a bitter dispute with the band's manager Harry Simmonds, John left the band in 1967.

THE JOHN DUMMER BLUES BAND (1967-1968)

 After his departure from Savoy Brown in 1967, John joined the newly reformed John Dummer Blues Band. The band had Dave Kelly (gtr/vocals), John (harp), Bob Hall (piano), Thumper Thompson (bass) and John Dummer on drums. Shortly afterwards Bob Hall left and he was replaced by guitarist Tony McPhee from The Groundhogs. Dave's sister Joanne would also gig regularly with band. The band was signed to Mercury and they released a single "Travellin' Man" b/w "Forty Days" along with the album "Cabal".  For the album Steve Miller was added on piano and Keith Tillman on bass. The "Cabal" album was reissued on CD on the See For Miles label.

 

THE SWEET PAIN SESSIONS (1969)

 Whilst John was signed to Mercury he became great friends with John Mayall's bass player Keith Tillman (Diary of a Band) and together they organised the now legendary "SWEET PAIN SESSIONS". "Hot and heavy" is how the Melody Maker described the resulting album. This was also John's opportunity to make good friends with some musicians who would in the future become mates in subsequent bands. The album featured the late great Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor/soprano sax), Victor Brox (piano/trumpet), John (harp), Victor's wife Annette Brox (vocals), Stuart Cowell (gtr) Keith Tillman (bass) and Aynsley Dunbar (drums). At the time of these recording they were made all the musicians were either members of the Bluesbreakers, Blues Inc., or The Retaliation and although it was hoped that Sweet Pain would tour the already heavy commitments of the musicians would make it impossible.

 CHAMPION JACK DUPREE (1968/1969

 After the release of the "SWEET PAIN" album in 1969, Victor invited John to record with the great New Orleans singer/pianist CHAMPION JACK DUPREE. This was a particularly happy occasion and gave John a chance to renew his friendship with Jack that began in his Savoy Brown days. Jack used to refer to him as "the best harp player since Sonny Boy Williamson". The resulting album "The Heart of The Blues is Sound" was released on the French Byg label. The album also benefits enormously from the drums of Aynsley Dunbar! Although the album is no longer available it was reissued on CD as "Home" on the Charly label.

BRUNNING/HALL SUNFLOWER BLUES BAND

 Following a short lived (no work permits) attempt by the former Paul Butterfield bassist Jerome Arnold to form a band in the UK, pianist Bob Hall got in touch with John and invited him to join The Sunflower Blues Band which he was reforming. Bob had been in and out of Savoy Brown for a couple of years and wanted to do something of his own. The band brought John together with Leo Mannings (drums/Savoy Brown) and they were joined by bassist Bob Brunning (Fleetwood Mac/Savoy Brown) and singer/guitarist Pat Glover. An album was recorded for the Gemini label before John decided to concentrate more on family life and running a gas filling station in the tiny village of Lifton on Devon/Cornish borders.

THE FAMOUS BLUES BLASTERS

(1978-81)

During the next few years John continued his friendship with bassist Keith Tillman and in the late 1970's they joined forces once again and put together The Famous Blues Blasters. The Blues Blasters, named in honour of Jimmy McCracklin, brought together the main elements of Sweet Pain and included Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor/soprano sax), Victor Brox (vocal/piano/trumpet) and guitarist Kenny Shaw from the jazz/rock group Nucleus. Over the next few years the band concentrated on gigs around the London area and built up a good enough following to make it was possible for the band to go fully professional. The name was changed and The Famous Bluesblasters became MAINSQUEEZE.

 
MAINSQUEEZE (1981-84)

 The Bluesblasters management wanted to create a new all-star line up with Mainsqueeze. Only John, Dick, Victor and Keith remained in the new band. Guitarist Eric Bell from Thin Lizzy was brought in along with drummer Keef Hartley (ex Bluesbreakers/Keef Hartley Band), organist Dave 'Munch' Moore (No Dice/Keef Hartley Band) and the then relatively unknown but brilliant singer and alto saxophonist Diana Wood auditioned to complete the new line up. Mainsqueeze toured extensively in Europe to appreciative audiences. The band played The Hammersmith Odeon and did a residency at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London. The album "Live at Ronnie Scott's" was released on the new Expulsion label and received good reviews in the broadsheet newspapers (The Times and The Guardian) and the music press. TV appearances on Granada TV and a radio broadcast on Radio Bremen followed. In spite of its success, the early 1980's was a very difficult period for anyone playing blues ( it was a time when disco and punk ruled) and the expense of keeping an 8 piece band on the road began to tell. The band fragmented in 1984 with a rump version of the band continuing under Keith Tillman's leadership. Highlights included a tour with James Cotton and also album and tour with Bo Diddley.

....... A RESPITE?

 
During the years since Mainsqueeze and until around 2000, John continued to play with numerous local bands in the London area.  A highlight of this period was a show in 1994 held at The Marquee in memory of Rolling Stone Brian Jones. The occasion organised by folk singer DONOVAN was to mark the 25th Anniversary of Brian's death. It gave him the opportunity to play with Donovan, Marianne Faithfull, Noel Redding and old friend Eric Bell. Some of the other bands he played with during these years include The Chicago Sunsets, The Sidewinders, Black Market, Juju Blue and so on until he became involved with the (then 13 year old) guitarist, Andy Cortes. John fronted Andy's band until late 2001 and left following his last appearance with Andy at The Isle of Wight Blues Festival.

POINTBLANK BLUES BAND (2002)

 

 

 

For John, one of the most important recent events was in being introduced to friends of his wife Snezana to Dusko & Slavica Markovic. Dusko ( a big Junior Wells fan) in turn introduced John  to Dr. Project Pointblank Blues Band, Yugoslavia's leading blues band. John played harp on their album "Blue Deal" and returned again a few months later to record his own album "As Blue As I Can Be" with them backing him up. The album was released on the ITMM label in Belgrade and featured him for the first time singing. During his periods in Yugoslavia John appeared on radio & TV and live shows and has since guested on another Pointblank album "Eight Blue Balls". There is little doubt that without the help and encouragement received from all concerned in Yugoslavia John would not have returned full time to the music scene.

DAVE WALKER & THE AMBULATORS

 

 Singer DAVE WALKER was the voice of Savoy Brown for many years and has done his stints with Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac and Idle Race. After a long period of self imposed isolation in Montana he has recently staged a return to the blues with the release of his album "Mostly Sonny Boy". John was featured on many of the tracks on "Mostly Sonny Boy" which include old favourites like "Don't Start Me To talking" and "Help Me".  The Ambulators was Don Craine, Keith Grant, Roger Cotton & Mick Avory, Nigel Watson, Ray Majors and were assembled just for Dave's return album.  Whilst Dave was in London for these sessions he also recorded the Savoy Brown song "I'm Tired"" for John's album "SINS". 

 THE DOWNLINERS  SECT (2007 on)



In 2007, following a recording session and Swedish tour, John also joined The Downliners Sect. The Downliners had recently performed in Las Vegas and Don Craine had now decided that with the  release of their new album "Chinese Whispers" The Downliners would once again take to the road in earnest and promote the album. Recently, John has performed with The Downliners at festivals in Italy, Spain & Sweden.

In 2011 & 2013 was voted No. 2 in the harmonica category by Blues Matters magazine.

New ventures are essential for any musician to remain creative and  John is no exception. Today John leads his own band SUGARKANE, is co-leader of THE JOHN O'LEARY-ALAN GLEN ALL STAR BLUES REVUE , a member the newly reformed JOHN DUMMER BLUES BAND, and in a trio/quartet showcase with rising star, singer, LAURA HOLLAND.