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The Swinging Blue Jeans

At the core of the Merseybeat mania that swept the UK and across the Atlantic Ocean as part of the post-BEATLES British Invasion, The SWINGING BLUE JEANS were a tidy proposition until the hits dried up in the mid’60s. While the Fab Four, and incumbents The SEARCHERS, GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS and BILLY J. KRAMER & THE DAKOTAS had extolled the virtues of the derivative Scouse pop scene, fans were left to reminisce of a time when `Hippy Hippy Shake’ and `You’re No Good’ were Top 3 chart-busters.
Formed 1961 in Liverpool, England, a young songwriter Ray Ennis (vocals/lead guitar) had spent years floundering in jazz-skiffle group The Bluegenes, a sextet from 1957 that originally boasted the talents of Bruce McCaskill (rhythm guitar/vocals), Tommy Hughes (banjo), Norman Houghton (washboard), Spud Ward (oil drum bass) and, last but not least, Ralph Ellis (guitar). Evolving throughout this teething period until The BEATLES stormed out of the gates in ‘62, alumni such as John E. Carter and Paul Moss respectively superseded McCaskill and Hughes (plus Houghton), while drummer Norman Kuhlke joined The SWINGING BLUE JEANS, now a rock’n’roll pop act comprising Ennis, Ellis, Braid and Moss.
Shunned by a Hamburg crowd at the Star-Club, the same crowd that had bowed to The BEATLES, rising stars back in Liverpool, the SBJs signed to His Master’s Voice (HMV) Records and hit the charts in summer ’63 with debut 45, `It’s Too Late Now’. Moss had already been shown the door by the time of its release, and when sophomore single, `Do You Know’, failed to register a place, something was needed to shake up the act.
Searching for a song to kick-start their career, Ennis and Co found a former flop from American artist Chan Romero, `The Hippy Hippy Shake’, and minus the definitive article it rocketed to just one position off the top spot, while Stateside (for Imperial Records) it reached the Top 30, early the following year. On an R&B high, the group tracked the song’s rock’n’roll heritage by covering a LITTLE RICHARD hit, `Good Golly Miss Molly’, which bubbled under the Top 10 and also reached the US Top 50. Raiding America for a third successive time with soul girl BETTY EVERETT’s `You’re No Good’, The SWINGING BLUE JEANS had now become household names in Old Blighty, although across the pond the said song had struggled to compete with its composer’s own version; a US-only cash-in LP, HIPPY HIPPY SHAKE (1964) {*6} charted, although very modestly.
Suddenly, back in Britain and beyond, they were not so hot to trot when group composition `Promise You’ll Tell Her’ was given the thumbs down by the critics and public alike. And when UK-only Walter J. Ridley-produced debut album, BLUE JEANS A’SWINGING (1964) {*5} sold poorly, the band looked to be on a sticky wicket. Maybe it lacked the spirit and oomph of a BEATLES set, or maybe it lacked a personal touch and/or recent hits (`It’s So Right’ the LP’s only home-spun composition), but it certainly didn’t compromise when pulling rock’n’roll staples from across the sea: The DRIFTERS, CHUCK BERRY, LLOYD PRICE and LITTLE RICHARD (again!) competing with British counterparts from The SHADOWS men Marvin & Welch on `That’s The Way It Goes’ and `Don’t It Make You Feel Good’.
At a time when The BEATLES and other British Invasion bands were on a high, a run of three consequent flops for The SWINGING BLUE JEANS (`It Isn’t There’, `Make Me Know You’re Mine’ and `Crazy ‘Bout My Baby’) sealed the fate of a once promising outfit. Despite a slight comeback in early ’66 with a near Top 30 breaker, `Don’t Make Me Over’ (written by BACHARACH & DAVID for hit-maker DIONNE WARWICK), the writing was on the wall for the group.
Even when Ennis and Co recruited former ESCORTS guitarists, Terry Sylvester to fill the berth of Ellis, their middle-of-the-road efforts went awry with fickle fans; `Sandy’ and `Rumours, Gossip, Words Untrue’ marking time before Mike Gregory (another free transfer Scouser from The ESCORTS) – Braid now on keyboards – settled in for `Tremblin’’ and `Don’t Go Out In The Rain (You’re Gonna Melt)’. For all their personnel switches, The SWINGING BLUE JEANS couldn’t buy a hit, and when Sylvester replaced Graham Nash in The HOLLIES, the cabaret circuit loomed large. The group’s long-standing producer Ridley duly rested the musicians and called upon session people to back Ray Ennis & The Blue Jeans on a Columbia Records single, `What Have They Done To Hazel’, in summer 1968, but no matter what bubblegum-pop they threw out to a disinterested public, their sagging blue denims had become ill-fitting; Ennis and Braid (as The Bluejeans) tried in vain with `Hey Mrs. Housewife’, while, with a returning Gregory, `Happy’ (under the Music Motor billing) unceremoniously flopped in 1970.
If God loved a trier, then he must’ve been out to lunch when The SWINGING BLUE JEANS re-grouped for one last stab at pop stardom. Ennis and Braid were joined by lead guitarist Mike Pynn and drummer John Lawrence, but with `Rainbow Morning’ and `Dancing’ (both taken from 1974’s excruciatingly mediocre BRAND NEW AND FADED {*2} – comprising fresh tracks and re-worked R&R nuggets – it was time to hang up their threads.
In 1976, Ennis and Braid subsequently roped in lead guitarist/vocalist Garth Elliott (ex-Penthouse, ex-Alvin’s Heartbeats) and drummer Chris Mute, and masqueraded as S.B.J. Band for a one-off Warner Brothers single, `I Like It Mean’ (Love Machine)’. In 1977, former REMO FOUR singer Colin Manley joined up; lasting until 1999, the year he died. But their time had long since passed; Elliott joined HERMAN’S HERMITS, before he and Mute joined a re-formed CASUALS; The SWINGING BLUE JEANS continued on the concert circuit until 2010; their only significant release arrived in 1990, when Prestige Records delivered LIVE SHAKIN’ {*4}, recorded live for Radio Clyde at The Cardinal Folly, Scotland. in February 1988. Sadly, Les Braid died in 2005, but Ennis still swings into action at the drop of a nostalgic hat.
© MC Strong 1997/GPD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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