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Amid the multitude of Midlands groups during the mid-1960s, all replete with Beatles haircuts, high collared jackets and a neo-Liverpool sound; one band stood out, The Blueshounds. It was soon to become better known as Locomotive, playing Kansas City jazz and blues and featuring a 7-piece horn-based line-up. A recipe for suicide you may think, but strangely enough the band carved their own very personal niche in the UK music scene, chalking up some 250 shows each and every year.
Locomotive became renowned as a nursery for musicians destined for stardom. Graduates from its ranks included John Bonham (later Led Zeppelin), Chris Wood (Traffic), Poli Palmer (Family), Pete York (Spencer Davis Group), Dave Pegg (Fairport Convention/Jethro Tull), Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Mike Kellie (Spooky Tooth) and Dave Mason (Traffic).
In 1967 CBS Direction released the first Locomotive single, coupling the ballad A Broken Heart, with what was much later to become a ska classic, Rudi, A Message To You. Six months later, Locomotive trumpet player Jim Simpson quit playing in order to concentrate solely on the band’s management, a role he had previously combined with performance. Simpson had signed the band to Parlophone (EMI) and Locomotive hit the national and international charts with Rudi’s In Love, the first UK chart entry to use the Rock Steady rhythm which developed into Ska and then Reggae.
When Parlophone rejected the band’s follow-up Ska single (in favour of the doom-laden Mr Armageddon) Simpson set up his own label to release Rudi The Red Nosed Reindeer, performed by Locomotive under the soubriquet Steam Shovel. The label was named Big Bear Records in recognition of D.J. John Peel’s nickname for the label’s founder, and the date was November 15th 1968.
During the 1970s Big Bear Records steadily built a worldwide reputation with its now-legendary recordings of important American bluesmen Doctor Ross, Homesick James, Lightnin’ Slim, Big John Wrencher, Snooky Prior, Tommy Tucker, Eddie Playboy Taylor, Eddie Guitar Burns Cousin Joe, Willie Mabon, Mickey Baker, Boogie Woogie Red and more.
At the same time, the label did not neglect local talent, the most successful of which were Muscles Love Is All I’ve Got and Make Me Happy and The Quads, who charted with There Must Be Thousands (selected as John Peel’s single of the decade!).
The enigmatic Garbo’s Celluloid Heroes gained critical acclaim at this time, but it inexplicably never transferred into record sales, although there is still a steady worldwide demand for their recordings from collectors.
With the 1980s came a swing back to Big Bear Records’ first love, jazz and swing. Concentrating mainly on British artists, the label was to win a string of plaudits and awards, securing its place in the history of recorded jazz with great recordings by Kenny Baker’s Dozen, Val Wiseman with Lady Sings The Blues, Duncan Swift, Bruce Adams/Alan Barnes Quintet and, of course, the incredibly successful King Pleasure & The Biscuit Boys.
Many of these recordings are currently available in our catalogues.