Lauderic Caton

Lauderic Caton ~ Jazz Guitarist  1910-99

LaudericCatonRayEllington

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. Born in Arima, Caton learnt Guitar as a youngster, on an instrument left behind by his sister’s boyfriend. His father, whose priorities were reflected in the eulogistic name he gave his son, left him and four sisters to be raised by their mother. Her philosophy coloured his life. Caton excelled at science and Latin; he taught in school while still in his teens; he wrote published poetry, and, progressing to Banjo, Double-bass & Saxophone, played Dance-music in local Bands and recorded with early Calypsonians.  In 1938, he travelled to Martinique at the behest of Guyanese Saxophonist Stanley Carter, who had opened a Music School. When the enterprise failed, they decided to try their luck in Europe. In Paris, black vernacular authenticity was always in demand and Caton found employment. He socialised with black American Artists and played with Argentinian Guitarist Oscar Aleman, before following Carter to Belgium.

His technical ability was swiftly recognised. He wrote Musical Arrangements for Belgian Bands and played with American Pianist ‘Ram’ Ramirez, co-composer of the poignant classic Lover Man. He escaped to England just ahead of the German invasion, arriving in May 1940 and walking straight into a job at the Boogie Woogie, ‘the loudest Club I’ve ever played’. The virtuoso Cuban Pianist Marino Barreto was one of his Teachers, carrying off his new ‘find’ to play Latin-American Music in Mayfair and doubling his salary. In Barreto’s Band, Caton met his lifelong friend, saxophonist Louis Stephenson.

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 & 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 St Annes Court 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.

Jazz lovers first heard him Bandleading at Jig’s Club in Soho, which catered primarily for Berwick Street Market Stallholders who wanted to gamble, and also functioned also as a social centre for the Caribbean & West African contingent. As enthusiasts sought out this ‘local Harlem‘, Caton expanded. When trumpeter Cyril Blake, a fellow Trinidadian, arrived, he assumed the role of Leader; in 1941 this band made 4 historically important, atmospheric recordings.

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 & 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. In the West Indian All-Stars, with Jamaican Saxophonist Bertie King, Caton tried to achieve the success that Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson had enjoyed before his death in the London Blitz. Caton worked with Trumpeter Johnny Claes and Broadcast regularly with Clarinettist Harry Parry’s Band, the 1st time the public had heard a local Electric Guitar. But it was with the trio at Soho’s Caribbean Club that he made a solid reputation. There, Caribbean & African-American Officers rubbed shoulders with Whitehall Mandarins & Aristocracy as they listened to Caton, pianist Dick Katz & Bassist Coleridge Goode; and Soho’s raffish element drank alongside Picasso, Michael Redgrave & Lena Horne.

Until the late 1950s, Caton was streets ahead of most local Electric Guitarists in technique. He credited a knowledge of Electronics, and his experience as a Saxophonist, with giving him enough to absorb the Lessons of Charlie Christian, the instrument’s liberator. Electricity enabled a Guitarist to phrase like a player of a wind-instrument, and while other Musicians felt threatened by the tiny Amplifiers of the day, Caton recognised the potential and began building his own.  For the Jazz world, which counted then in terms of Musical progressiveness, he was a key figure and an inspiration. At the Caribbean, he jammed regularly with Pete Chilver & Dave Goldberg, 2 British Pioneers of the instrument. The great Django Reinhardt visited him for a Session, but he reached his widest audience when drummer/vocalist Ray Ellington took over the Caribbean Trio.

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 1st 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 & 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 & transformed the career of Pete Chilver, who became one of the 1st British-born Musicians to establish the Electric Guitar in this Country.

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Jack Llewellyn and Ivor Mairants testing a new Van Straten Guitar.
Behind them, from left to right, are Joe Van Straten, Joe Deniz (gr), Dick Knight (Luthier), Dick Sadleir and Lauderic Caton.

He was quickly in demand in London, playing with Cuban Pianist Marino Barreto (in whose band he met Saxophonist Louis Stephenson, a frequent collaborator & friend), and fronting his own Jazz Band at Jig’s Club in Soho, a gathering place for Caribbean & 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 1st exposure to it.

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LaudericCatonLauderic Caton, – one of the 1st Electric Guitar Players in Britain, died in London at the age of 88.  Caton had lived as virtual recluse since giving up music at the end of the 50s, surrounded by Electronic gadgets (in which he was something of an expert). He rarely ventured from his Flat in Bloomsbury, although the writer & 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 & Jazz. He learnt the Instrument as a child in Trinidad, and began performing in dance bands on the Island, doubling on Banjo, Bass & 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) & Belgium.

The Singer & 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 1950s, 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 & 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.”

Ray Ellington Quartet
Coleridge Goode – Bass, Dick Katz – Piano,
Lauderic Caton or Laurie Deniz on Guitar, Ray Ellington Drums

RayEllington4SignaturesRayEllington4Dick Katz
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

Calypsonian George Browne, he learned to play double-bass to work with Guitarist Lauderic Caton  and moved into Mayfair. At the Orchid Room he met Royalty, greeting the Duke of Edinburgh with an impromptu Calypso tribute, and was reprimanded by management for his audacity. His friendship with Caton, an unconventional figure whom he credited as his mentor & guru, was significant. Caton helped burnish Browne’s primitive Guitar abilityand for 2-yrs they shared a flat, the younger man adopting many of his fellow Trinidadian’s aesthetic & philosophical beliefs. They worked together at Soho’s underground Club du Faubourg, a residency that led Browne to Society work and made him a fixture at Oxford & Cambridge University Balls in that decade. He entertained at Lord Beaverbrook’s Parties and at the Hurlingham Club, and also worked with the legendary Jamaican entrepreneur L Hugh Scotland, who booked London’s Caribbean & African entertainers for more than 3 decades.

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DonFraserGuitarist

DonFraserGutarRayEllingtonThe Ray Ellington Quartet
Band formed in 1947, with Ray Ellington who sang & played Drums, pianist Dick Katz, Bob Duffy on bass & Don Fraser on Guitar. Marion Ryan was their Singer. Other personnel were Coleridge Goode (bass) & 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 1950s. Also in ‘Mr Ray & Mr Ros’ on Radio with Edmundo Ros (qv).50'sGuitarists

Harry Parry and his Radio Rhythm Club Sextet – 11th January 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 British West Indies Regimental Orchestra and became an influential figure in London Jazz circles during WW2. 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 lived 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 & 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, talking, smoking & 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.  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 have been 2 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 & 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.  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 & 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 & joined up. I don’t know what the hell he did that for, but see, he’d always played Music in an 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 on 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.

PeteChilverPlayPete Chilver & 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 & 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 1st 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 & 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 & 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 & speed, and – like Scott & 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 & Hotelier, born 19th October 1924; died 16th March 2008

Caton was an expert car mechanic and electronics master who built television sets. He worked as a driver, then became a recluse, seldom leaving the Bloomsbury flat where he lived for over 50 years. He wrote three novels; they were philosophical and mildly erotic, but proved too obscure to interest publishers. Modest Premium Bond winnings enabled him to purchase state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and a Computer. He taught its techniques to Louis Stephenson, then in his 80s. Stephenson introduced us, and for over 10 years we and his nephew were his only Visitors. After Stephenson’s death, I sprang Caton occasionally from his ‘Eyrie’ to visit Veteran acquaintances. He enjoyed himself and, diplomatically, abandoned teetotalism and his vegetarian creed. Surrounded by a complex system of timers & alarms allowing him to watch & record favourite programmes, he listened to Django Reinhardt on CD and held forth with recall and clarity. A convinced Atheist who regarded life’s journey as pointless, he achieved the ultimate by being completely at peace with himself.