Lauderic Caton – Jazz Guitarist
Ray Nance – trumpet, violin, vocals, Dick Katz – piano, Lauderic Caton – guitar, Coleridge Goode – bass, Ray Ellington – drums
Pioneer electric guitar player Lauderic Caton was born in Trinidad in 1910. After working in Europe in the late 1930s he came to London in 1940. He was much in demand by the better swing bands of the day and worked with Cyril Blake, Harry Parry, Johnny Claes, Bertie King and Ray Ellington as well as leading the Caribbean Club Trio from late 1944 to 1946. His advanced jazz guitar style can be heard on several titles recorded at the Jigs Club in Wardour Street with the Happy Blake Band also included on the Topic Records CD. This same CD features a private recording made by the Lauderic Caton Quartet with trumpeter Frank Williams. In 1945 he recorded a guitar duet with Vic Lewis that can be heard on the Vic Lewis – The Golden Years CD.
Jig’s, which had a reputation for being “shady.” Yet, look at the kind of people one might run into there. From a biography of Blake’s peer, the brilliant Caton: “It was at Jig’s that he ran into Fats Waller and Duke Ellington both of whom sought his (Caton’s) services.” Caton hired fellow Trinidadian Blake as trumpeter for his own Jig’s band and began cutting records with him.
When, in 1941, the Trinidadian guitarist Lauderic Caton began broadcasting on the BBC with swing clarinettist Harry Parry’s Benny Goodman-like group, it was the first time that the British public had heard an electric guitar played at a UK gig. The impact is hard to imagine now, with the instrument one of the most familiar sounds in music. But back then, amplification had only just begun to give the guitar a powerful solo voice, loud enough to break out of the massed ranks of a jazz band’s brass and reeds. The brilliant improvising of Charlie Christian was on Caton’s mind when he arrived in London from Paris in 1940. He bought an amplifier that May, and was soon a focus of attention in West End nightclubs. It was there, while playing at the Caribbean Club in 1944, that he met and transformed the career of Pete Chilver, who became one of the first British-born musicians to establish the electric guitar in this country.
Lauderic Caton, – one of the first electric guitar players in Britain, has died in London at the age of 88. Caton had lived as virtual recluse since giving up music at the end of the 50’s, surrounded by electronic gadgets (in which he was something of an expert). He rarely ventured from his flat in Bloomsbury, although the writer and photographer Val Wilmer was occasionally able to induce him to visit old friends. Prior to that withdrawal, Caton was a guitarist of considerable standing, in both Carribean music and jazz. He learnt the instrument as a child in Trinidad, and began performing in dance bands on the island, doubling on banjo, bass and saxophone as required. He made his way to London in 1940 (just ahead of the German invasion) by way of Martinique, Paris (where he worked with the Argentinian guitarist Oscar Aleman) and Belgium.
He was quickly in demand in London, playing with Cuban pianist Marino Barreto (in whose band he met saxophonist Louis Stephenson, a frequent collaborator and friend), and fronting his own jazz band at Jig’s Club in Soho, a gathering place for Caribbean and West African expatriates. His reputation quickly spread, leading guitarists (the legendary Django Reinhardt dropped by to sit in on one occasion), would be guitarists (a youthful Hank Marvin once paid for a lesson) and fans to seek him out, notably with his trio with pianist Dick Katz and bassist Coleridge Goode at Soho’s Caribbean Club, where the clientele included many celebrities of the day. Caton was more technically and musically advanced than most players of the time on his instrument. The electric guitar was still a recent invention, and for many, the records and broadcasts which he made at this time with bands like the West Indian All-Stars or the Harry Parry Band provided their first exposure to it.
The singer and drummer Ray Ellington took over the Caribbean Trio, and Caton toured with the group for a time, but disliked life on the road, and quit the band. He worked with sax player Louis Stephenson, among others, in the late 1950’s, but had given up playing by the end of the decade, and began his gradual but seemingly contented withdrawal from social life. Val Wilmer wrote recently that Caton, who had always been something of a loner, “began to devote himself increasingly to yoga and ascetic pursuits. He opted for celibacy following the break-up of his marriage, and this, he maintained, was responsible for him losing interest in music: he learned to play surrounded by women and could not continue without a muse.”
Pianist Dick Katz was born in Germany in 1916 and moved to Holland in 1933. He came to England in the early 1940s and joined Carlo Krahmer in 1942 and also Harry Parry’s Sextet. In 1944 he worked with Cab Kaye before service in the RAF. Katz was an adaptable musician and work followed with the Vic Lewis / Jack Parnell Jazzmen and the Lauderic Caton Trio. He also led his own trio in 1946. He worked briefly with Buddy Featherstonhaugh and then rejoined the Caribbean Trio which formed the basis of the Ray Ellington Quartet where he stayed until 1959. He then quit full time music to work in a theatrical agency eventually managing various artistes, although he still played gigs in the 1960s
The Ray Ellington Quartet
1916 – 1985
Band formed in 1947, with Ray Ellington who sang and played drums, pianist Dick Katz, Bob Duffy on bass and Don Fraser on guitar. Marion Ryan was their singer. Other personnel were Coleridge Goode (bass) and Lauderic Caton or Laurie Deniz (guitar). Played jazz and formed the Ray Ellington Big Band in later years. Had a regular spot on ‘The Goon Show’ in the 1950’s. Also in ‘Mr Ray and Mr Ros’ on radio with Edmundo Ros (qv).
Harry Parry and his Radio Rhythm Club Sextet – January 11th, 1942 (Parlophone)
Harry Parry (cl), Reggie Dare (ts), Tommy Pollard (p), Roy Marsh (vib), Lauderic Caton (solo g), Archie Slavin (g), Charlie Short (b), Bobby Richards (d), Benny Lee (vocal).
Blues For Eight*/Thrust and Parry#/Someday Sweetheart (vocal BL)*/Sheik Of Araby*.
(*Vocalion CD – Parry Opus – The Harry Parry Sextets)
(#Sunflower CD – Harry Parry’s Radio Rhythm Club Sextets – Crazy Rhythm)
Jamaican saxophonist Louis Stephenson first came to Britain in 1927 with the West India Regiment Orchestra, and became an influential figure in London jazz circles during the war. His friend, Lauderic Caton 3 years the younger, who grew up in Trinidad, was a pioneering electric guitarist and founder member of the popular 1940s Ray Ellington Quartet. The pair lost sight of each other for over 30 years until 1988, when they met again at a club for old musicians. Louis is a widower with a council flat in Hackney, East London. Lauderic lives in a chaotic flat in Bloomsbury filled with electronic gadgets.
LOUIS STEPHENSON: The truth is that there’s a lot of competition, as well as envy and suspicion between musicians. It’s nice when you’re playing with good ones and you get in that groove. But that’s momentary. You’re not living with the person, are you? But with Lauderic and myself, our friendship goes outside the band. We met more than 50 years ago at the Havana, one of the London clubs where black musicians used to play. Lauderic came in, took his guitar out with this electric bit – the amplifier. The others said: ‘What ‘im doing?’ When he started playing the melody, it was something new to them. Here he was, improvising, playing it like a saxophone] They didn’t like it, but I said: ‘You carry on.’ I think he appreciated that, and we took it from there.
If you played music, you were supposed to be drinking and talking and smoking and womanising. Well, that’s the image. But Lauderic wasn’t like that, he was a homebody. He was one man just like myself – at ease in his own company. I looked on him as a sort of mentor, for he was much more educated than I was. I didn’t know that he’d been a teacher in Trinidad. He doesn’t tell you these things – you become aware of it because of his achievements. He has tremendous abilities. He used to make guitar amplifiers, then one day he said: ‘Look, I’m going to make a television.’ I said: ‘You’re joking,’ but he was serious. In the 1950’s, there were all these little shops where you could buy the valves, and so on. Lauderic made his calculations, then he took me around with him to buy what he needed. One day, he said: ‘Sonny boy, this is the moment of truth.’ He stuck this aerial outside the window, and I saw the racing at Ascot.
Lauderic’s been a devoted yogi for years. He fasts, sometimes for a week, just drinking water. One time I saw him on his prayer mat, standing on his head. It’s just as well he’s really physically fit, because he hardly ever leaves his flat. He just comes out now and then, looks around, then goes back in. He’s got cable TV, and he listens to music. And he’s always reading. He puts on his clock radio with the alarm to remind him to watch the Cosby Show, but he has no regular pattern. Day or night, it’s all the same to him. He just sleeps when he feels tired.
There’s been two phases to our friendship: Lauderic and I lost sight of each other for 35 years when I left the music business to work in a factory. Then, in 1988, someone asked me to this hotel in Holborn where the old musicians get together. Then, in walks Mr Lauderic Caton. I saw the grey hairs and everything – well, we all look different from when we was bopping. After a while he said: ‘I’m bored, shall we leave?’ So we walked around to his place and I saw this typewriter-like thing there – a computer. I’d heard about it and its magical doings, but I’d never seen one before. He said, ‘Try it, you can’t hurt it.’ He switched it on, and showed me the menu. And I was intrigued. He said: ‘Why don’t you get one?’ So I did. Now I do all the correspondence for my pensioners’ club.
This is what Lauderic has done for me. This little thing alone is a breakthrough. He’s achieved something, getting me interested in something worthwhile at a time when, you know, I thought I’d be sitting at home, singing ‘Old Rocking Chair’s Got Me’.
LAUDERIC CATON: I was playing at the Embassy, the number one Mayfair nightclub in New Bond Street, in 1940. We were all supposed to be Cubans, so we wore these bloody bright red frilly shirts. That was where I met Louis Stephenson. He was playing the saxophone, and when one of the other musicians soloed, he’d shake the maracas. We became friends right away, and I can remember I told him I was 30 years old, and he said he was 33.
‘Lauderic, have you ever been to the dogs?’ he asked me. As soon as we went, I saw a black dog called Lazy Afternoon. I said: ‘That’s the dog for me.’ Louis said: ‘Oh no, that dog’s on a left-hand track, and he can’t run.’ But I bet on it anyway, and I won. I sat down there, feeling good, and then I saw Louis, betting £12 a race That doesn’t sound much now, but I was earning £3 a week, so it was a lot of money, believe me. Louis really likes sports. He even took me to a football match in Brentford in this English wintertime. But he enjoyed it, and naturally, being my friend, if it’s something he likes, I’ll go and see football. Otherwise I’m not going anywhere near the damn thing
When I got my electric guitar, we were both working at the Havana. I carried my amplifier on to the bandstand and all of them said ‘Don’t put that thing by me’ Louis was the only one who didn’t make a fuss. He’s like that. But if he doesn’t like something, he’ll tell you straight off. That’s why myself and he were very good friends. Some people will go and say what they think behind your back, but he’ll come right out with it. Then Louis went and joined up. I don’t know what the hell he did that for, but see, he’d always played music in a RAF band. Most of these RAF fellows were stationed at Uxbridge first, so he used to go there during the day, then come back and play each night at the Havana. One night, Louis fell fast asleep on the bandstand. When he woke up, he started playing again where he’d left off – but the rest of the band had finished that part of the tune and moved on. After a while, the RAF posted Louis away to Oban and I’d only see him sometimes. But when the war finished, he came to see me one day with some other fellows, talking about forming a band. We used to rehearse around a broomstick for a microphone, singing. Two of them were on one side, and Louis and me on the other with my guitar. Louis is a very good singer, but the other fellows let us down and sang flat. Anyhow, at the BBC the producer said: ‘Listen, Lauderic, if this is a joke, I’m not laughing.’ I’d already spent all the money for our suits, but Louis could see what was happening. The band petered out, and Louis went and got a day job.
I didn’t see him for quite a while but eventually we met up again, at the Coda Club, in Holborn. I only went because someone told me that Louis would be there. I felt very well seeing him again. He told me how his wife, Norah, had died, and I started thinking. I know if a man stays home he’ll die very quickly. Louis is not a fellow who is studious. He doesn’t read books, and I told him he must learn this computer business. He used to come here every day. Maybe people don’t like something academically, but they like it practically. That’s how Louis is, and it keeps him going. After a while, something happened that made me feel hurt: Louis thought I was bringing him in every day to keep me company. He wrote me a letter about it. But I thought that doing something every day would be the best way for him to get a grip on the computer, so I told him to come whenever he likes.
I always say that if I win the pools, I’ll buy Louis a car so he can get down here to Bloomsbury in comfort. When he comes, I put the horses on the TV. Louis must do his bet. He knows every jockey. He comes into my flat with his papers, and says who’s going to win the 2.30. You see, that’s how people become friends: you know their limitations, what they like and don’t like. I’m not a gambling person, but I like to see the horses coming up on the rails. If Louis’s horse is coming up, he feels very well. Then I feel well myself.-
Pete Chilver and Lauderic Caton
When, in 1941, the Trinidadian guitarist Lauderic Caton began broadcasting on the BBC with swing clarinetist Harry Parry’s Benny Goodman-like group, it was the first time that the British public had heard an electric guitar played at a UK gig. The impact is hard to imagine now, with the instrument one of the most familiar sounds in music. But back then, amplification had only just begun to give the guitar a powerful solo voice, loud enough to break out of the massed ranks of a jazz band’s brass and reeds.
The brilliant improvising of Charlie Christian was on Caton‘s mind when he arrived in London from Paris in 1940. He bought an amplifier that May, and was soon a focus of attention in West End nightclubs. And it was there, while playing at the Caribbean Club in 1944, that he met and transformed the career of Pete Chilver, who became one of the first British-born musicians to establish the electric guitar in this country, and has now died aged 83.
The relative shortness of Peter Chilver’s career has obscured the importance of what he achieved. But he was honing his skills at a time when many of the best young British musicians – among them Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and George Shearing – were attempting to master the harmonic language of bebop.
Chilver and his guitarist friend Dave Goldberg used to frequent the Caribbean Club, where Caton encouraged them, built them amplifiers, and let them sit in with the house trio. But before this, at Feldman’s Swing Club, at 100 Oxford Street, Chilver had witnessed jam sessions uniting locals with the American members of the Glenn Miller and Sam Donahue bands, and as a result replaced an ailing Carmen Mastren with Miller’s band on a number of dates elsewhere. By the late 1940s, he was mastering the idiom’s melodic intricacy and speed, and – like Scott and Dankworth – he became one of only a handful of London-based players who could keep up with the American innovators. His work drew praise from such luminaries as Benny Goodman and the Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis.
· Peter William Chilver, Guitarist and Hotelier, born October 19 1924; died March 16 2008