Stan Webb and Chicken Shack
by Pete Clemons
One of the most prized 7 inch singles I own is titled ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ by blues band Chicken Shack released on the Blue Horizon label during 1969. When I say prized, I don’t mean its value - it’s not really worth that much - but I value it for the music upon it. It is getting on for 50 years old now and it’s a record that I just never tire of hearing. Incidentally, Blue Horizon was a label created by Mike Vernon and Neil Slaven specifically for the blues at a period in time when we were truly blessed with copious amounts of outstanding music.
Formed by guitarist Stan Webb in Birmingham around 1965 with Andy Sylvester on bass and Alan Morley on drums Chicken Shack were initially a trio. They then became a quartet with Christine Perfect taking over on vocals during 1967.
The band had a residency at Star Club, Hamburg and during this stay an American drummer, Alvin Sykes, replaced Alan Morley who had returned home. But the period of Chicken Shack with Alvin was short lived and he, in turn, left to be replaced ultimately by Dave Bidwell.
Chicken Shack, at their peak, was a leading light during the British Blues boom of the late 1960s. And they really were right up there with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and many others.
Christine Perfect was, back then, considered as one of Britain’s leading female vocalists and it was during that period that the band made the charts with their interpretation of a song made immortal by Etta James’ called ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’. Of course Chicken Shack was so much more than one single as the four albums they released on the Blue Horizon label will testify.
At the same time ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ charted Christine would quit Chicken Shack to join husband John McVie in the reshaped Fleetwood Mac line-up of 1969 and was replaced by organist Paul Raymond. In fact Christine had announced her decision before ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ had hit the charts. The recruitment of Paul Raymond brought with it a whole new dimension to the Chicken Shack sound as Stan took on the primary vocal duties.
August 1970 saw Chicken Shack tour the U.S. and U.K. with Savoy Brown, another band that has a list of associated musicians as long as your arm. By the end of that year Paul Raymond became a member of Savoy Brown. Early 1971 and Stan Webb announced he was disbanding the group and both Andy Sylvester and Dave Bidwell also teamed up with Savoy Brown.
A year or so later Stan had reformed and reinvented Chicken Shack. During this period Stan’s song writing talents emerged. And as a trio, Chicken Shack secured a deal with Decca Records. During 1972 and 1973 Chicken Shack staged something of resurgence on the club circuit. And with a beefier and more powerful sound two albums, including the stunning ‘Imagination Lady’, were released on the Deram imprint. But the two albums came with two versions of the band and Stan Webb split the Chicken Shack once again during the winter of 1973.
At the end of 1973 guitarist Kim Simmonds had also disbanded his band Savoy Brown. But with the mouth-watering prospect of uniting with Stan Webb he changed his mind. During 1974 Kim Simmonds rebuilt Savoy Brown and Stan would feature on the Boogie Brothers album with them. Completing this all new Savoy Brown line-up were guitarist Miller Anderson, bass player Jimmy Leverton and Eric Dillon on drums.
Despite Kim Simmonds predictions that this would be the definitive Savoy Brown line-up it soon dissolved leaving Kim to rebuild again. And after leaving them, Stan Webb formed Broken Glass during 1975 with both Robbie Blunt and Miller Anderson on guitar, Rob Rawlinson on bass and Mac Poole on drums.
1976/77 saw Stan Webb revive and front a whole new version of Chicken Shack once more. And for the last forty years has continued to keep the band going with a succession of line-ups. And, particularly in places like Germany, they found that they still had a large and devoted following.
A typical set list from the mid-1990s was captured on a CD called ‘Stan the Man live’. Recorded at the Robin club, Bilston where he was a regular visitor for years. It is a great moment in his long and illustrious career captured for all time.
An album simply titled ‘Webb’ appeared in the early 2000s and this came with Stan appearing to go back in time and playing the blues again in a more relaxed fashion. A lovely album, indeed.
Stan is an amazing talent and his devotion to his craft has been extraordinary as, I think it is fair to say, that it has not been an easy ride for him. He puts enormous energy into his gigs but also mixes in humour and anecdotes. Stan also has great stage presence. His last major tour was alongside John Mayall and Mick Taylor. Sadly though his gigs are becoming rarer and rarer. I think it is also fair to say that Stan is one of a kind.