Formed in 1962, The Nashville Teens was an evolution of a local Weybridge band called The Cruisers, which included Mick Dunford, John Hawken, Pete Shannon (Harris) and Dave Maine. They were seeking a new vocalist but they over-achieved and managed to attract two lead singers; Arthur Sharp and Ray (Ramon) Phillips. Arthur joined from a band called The Variation Six Skiffle Group and Ray from The Phoenix City Band. Thus was born what is arguably the UKs first "Boy Band" with two lead singers who were good looking as well as good sounding. The new name of the band was derived from the Everly Brothers song "Nashville Blues".
The band served their "apprenticeship" in The Storyville Clubs of Cologne and Frankfurt in 1963 (where they worked with Terry Crowe on vocals) and in The Star Club in Hamburg. While in Hamburg they famously backed Jerry Lee Lewis on his seminal live recording "Jerry Lee Lewis Live In Hamburg". They later backed Carl Perkins on his classic hit single "Big Bad Blues". While in Germany they played alongside other up-and-coming acts like The Spencer Davis Group. The work was hard and the hours long. Performances effectively went on all night, and the boys then drove out to the coast to sleep on the beach all day - where they bonded with many of the other UK musicians who were playing the Hamburg club circuit. The Nashville Teens returned to appear at The Star Club fiftieth anniversary show in Hamburg in 2012.
Before becoming a professional musician Art Sharp had worked in the "Aerco" record store in Woking. That gave him access to new American imports - and one of these was a 1960 import of John D Loudermilk songs, which included "Tobacco Road" - in a country music format. The Nashville Teens picked up this song, converted it to having a driving Old School R&B beat - and made it their own. The band returned to the UK where they toured extensively and also provided backing to visiting artists - notable Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry before finding their own fame when a young singer named Mickie Most decided to move into "production management" - he took the band - who were managed by Don Arden - under his wing and had The Nashville Teens record their version of "Tobacco Road". When it was released in July 1964 it roared up the charts and became one of the most iconic recordings of the nineteen sixties. Surprisingly the record didn't actually make it to Number One! But although it peaked at only number six in the New Musical Express charts, it remained in those charts for an impressive thirteen weeks.
The band have made many TV and film appearances. They featured in Fred Goodes film "Pop Gear" (1964) along with The Beatles and others. The Teens appeared on one of the very first "live performance" version of Ready Steady Go, and have also graced the TV screen in the Southbank Show, OTT, Saturday Superstore, Unforgettable and a live recording at the Dominion Theatre. Ray Phillips appeared on Never Mind The Buzzcocks in 2000. The Teens were also recently represented on radio when Colin Pattenden - bass guitar - was interviewed by Keith Skues on Radio London in August 2001. The radio station played "Tobacco Road", "Biggest Night Of her Life" and a rare 1972 Hungarian recording of Ray singing solo on "This Little Bird".
There have been four main phases in the evolution of The Nashville Teens.
Phase 2: 1964-1972
Phase 3: 1973-1984
Phase 4: 1984 to date.
The team dynamics of a touring band are complex, and result in many friendships which span years.
The Nashville Teens and The Spencer Davis Group were very close - not only from their joint early sixties experiences in Hamburg, but these two were just about the only two British bands to enjoy the bonding experience of regularly visiting the "iron curtain" countries during the late sixties and early seventies. The iron curtain tours weren't profitable, in fact they often weren't paid at all - but were loads of fun. The communist culture had great difficulty understanding the role of a "roadie", so Pete Webber - the bands road manager - had to wave a tambourine about and pretend that he was a band member! Pete went on to be Dave Dees personal roadie and remains a close friend of the band. Consequently The Teens are still very popular there, especially in Hungary. Ray Phillips has had independent chart successes in Hungary with "This Little Bird", which was a freedom anthem during the struggles against Russian occupation. Ray has enjoyed success in Hungary with the song both as a single with The Teens and as a duet with Zalatnay Sarolta. Zalatnay - who is also known as "Cini", was a well known pop musician in Hungary who later went on to a very colourful career including being the first centre spread in the short lived Iron Curtain edition of Playboy Magazine! She also ran her own radio station, spent time in prison and is now a politician in Hungary. Ray rarely sings "This Little Bird" nowadays, he says that it reminds him too much of his late best mate Alan Williams from his army days. Among the rare exceptions he has made was a memorable capela rendition of the song in a church in the town of Pacs (Hungary) during the 2010 GastroBlues Festival.
Some lasting friendships and close relationships grew up between the touring bands in the sixties. The link between The Teens and The Animals was, and remains, strong. Barry Jenkins eventually moved from The Teens to join The Animals as their drummer, and Ray Phillips occasionally appears as a guest singer with the touring Animals & Friends. The link with The Yardbirds was also strengthened over the years -and when the two bands appear together nowadays the dressing room is always full of anecdotes and good memories. John Hawken - The Teens original pianist left to join Keith Relf of the Yardbirds when he formed Renaissance. but remains a visitor to the current Nashville Teens gigs whenever he visits the UK from his home in the USA. He usually manages to wangle a guest appearance, and in 2016 he actually played a whole ninety minute gig all the way through as a deputy for Simon Spratley !
It wouldn't be possible to record all friendships which have evolved through fifty years of entertaining the public, but if you scan through the various photograph albums on this website you will find pictures, among others, of Ted "Kingsize" Taylor, Jackie Lynton, Cliff Bennett, and the late great Tony Sheridan - all part of the great heritage and camaraderie of early sixties "Old School R&B".
last validation 05/05/2018