Up Close with Dave Wendels
Guitarist for UK’s Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers during the Early ‘60s
TLM Staff Writer, Beverly Paterson notes: Dave Wendels was there. By there, we're referring to England in the early sixties. A new culture was born, one that had far reaching effects and gripped the hearts and minds of young people in nearly every corner of the globe. The music was fresh and invigorating, the fashions were bright and colorful and the arts in general were exploding with forward thinking notions.
Toward the end of 1963, Dave became lead guitarist for Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers, a London band that had already made an impact on the bustling pop circuit. Although they never managed to cross the pond and charm America with their wares, they remained a huge draw throughout Europe. While Dave was in the band, they netted two top forty hit singles. Both "One Way Love" and "If Only You'd Reply" portrayed the band's inimitable gift for merging old school rock and roll with stirring soul vocals and modern beat rhythms. Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers predated horn rock, with their big and brassy sound. It's safe to say they belonged in a category all their own. They weren't a pop act, nor were they purveyors of the blues like The Animals and The Rolling Stones were.
Released on the Parlophone label in 1965, the band's debut album, duly called Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers, gleans little comparison to what was happening at the time. Flush with hard edged jamming, stamina and in sync instrumentation, "I Can't Stand It" is a dance floor shaker of great proportions, where "Steal Your Heart Away," "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Sweet and Lovely" illuminate with polish and precision. Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers were professional and rehearsed, yet raw enough to shed gallons of blood, sweat and tears. Real music for real people.
Upon exiting Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers, Dave landed a job with Scottish singer Lulu's band before linking up with Tom Jones. Over the years, Dave has played with a lot of different bands and has played a lot of different styles of music. He's traveled extensively and has appeared on a number of television shows. But there's no question Dave's true passion lies with the original rock and roll. Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins. Those are the guys that initially set Dave on fire, and seldom has he strayed from his roots. Not only is Dave an extremely talented guitarist who knows his stuff, but he still believes in the music and continues to write, perform and record to this very day.
Dave Wendels at Abbey Road Studios 1964; "A cool looking guy with a cool looking guitar"
[Beverly Paterson] Where were you born and reared? And what were your interests before you were introduced to the wonderful world of rock and roll?
Dave Wendels I was born in a little town called Isleworth in the county of Middlesex just outside London, which is also the birthplace of Vince Taylor (we attended the same grammar school) and was raised in the nearby town of Hounslow. It's actually hard to remember my interests before the advent of rock and roll and, as someone once said, before Elvis there was only Ovaltine and Family Favorites!
[Beverly Paterson] What was the very first rock and roll song you ever heard? Can you remember where you were at the time and what was your reaction?
Dave Wendels I don't recall the very first rock and roll song I ever heard, but I do remember the one that REALLY made me want to play guitar and that would be Ricky Nelson's version of "My Babe." As soon as I heard James Burton's playing, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
[Beverly Paterson] Did you teach yourself to play guitar? Was it a struggle to learn the instrument or did you take to it pretty quickly?
Dave Wendels Yes, I'm self-taught and it was definitely a struggle!
[Beverly Paterson] Where did you purchase your first guitar and what kind was it?
Dave Wendels I bought my first guitar, which was a bright orange, no-name, cheapo acoustic, for five pounds from a little music store on the Chiswick High Road in London.
[Beverly Paterson] Were you in any bands prior to Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers?
Dave Wendels Yes, a couple of local bands, then Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages and Jackie Lynton and The Jury.
[Beverly Paterson] It's a known fact you were a big fan of Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers before you joined the band. Where would you usually see them perform and what was it that you liked so much about the band?
Dave Wendels Yep, I was a real Rebel Rousers groupie and would go to whatever local clubs and dance halls they were playing at as often as I could. They played all the best American rock and roll. They were great musicians, plus they had a guy who played piano and sax, whereas the rest of us were in strictly guitar and drum bands.
[Beverly Paterson] I know you have a great story about how you went about joining the band. But a lot of Lance Monthly readers probably aren't familiar with how you came to be a member. The nitty-gritty details please!
Dave Wendels When the opportunity presented itself to try out for the vacant guitar spot, I was so in awe of Cliff, I had my mate Vic Briggs (later of The Animals) call and say he was me to get an audition!
[Beverly Paterson] Where did your first live performance with Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers take place? Were any other bands on the bill and were you nervous?
Dave Wendels I think it was a little place called The Blue Moon Club in Hayes, Middlesex. I don't think there were any other bands on the bill and I'm sure I was a wreck!
[Beverly Paterson] The band eventually scored a top twenty hit single in England with "One Way Love," which was initially done by The Drifters. Your cover is a bit different than the original recording. How did you go about slightly retooling the song? It's a fantastic version, by the way!
Dave Wendels Thanks for the compliment, Beverly, but I don't remember the specifics of how we arrived at our version.
[Beverly Paterson] Do you know if any members of The Drifters ever commented on your recording of the song?
Dave Wendels That's a good question! I don't know the answer, but maybe Cliff does.
[Beverly Paterson] While in Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers, you worked with the legendary Joe Meek, who produced some singles the band released. Exactly what singles did he work on and what are your memories of Joe?
Dave Wendels Joe worked on "You've Got What I Like," "That's What I Said," "Poor Joe" and "Everybody Loves a Lover." I came on board for "Everybody Loves a Lover," which was the last single we did with him before we moved to Parlophone Records. Much has already been written about Joe's personal life so I won't go there, but suffice to say, he was a very creative individual—the British equivalent of Sam Phillips.
[Beverly Paterson] You've also had the honor of recording at Abbey Road. What was the equipment like there? I am sure it was state of the art for its time. How would you compare the recording experience to playing live?
Dave Wendels Abbey Road's equipment was indeed the best for its time, although I couldn't give you a detailed breakdown since I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to technical stuff! The recording experience there was live in a sense because overdubbing was not as prevalent as it is now and songs were done like a live stage performance. If one person made a noticeable mistake, we all had to start over again!
[Beverly Paterson] Stepping back a bit, how did Brian Epstein wind up managing Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers?
Dave Wendels Thanks were due to The Beatles on that. They would watch us play at The Star Club in Hamburg and then recommended us to Brian.
[Beverly Paterson] Do you have any interesting Beatles stories to share with us?
Dave Wendels My favorite story is watching John Lennon come into The Star Club dressing room, throw down his guitar in disgust and make the prophetic statement, "That's it! If we don't make it this year, I'm going back to work!"
[Beverly Paterson] How did you go about selecting material for the "Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers" album? How long did it take you to record the album and were you satisfied with the results? I think it's a great record and one of the best of the era!
Dave Wendels With most of our recorded material, cover versions were done of stuff we were doing on stage at the time. I don't recall it taking very long to record the album since we were obviously already completely familiar with the material. Thanks for the kind words and I agree. I think it's one of the most live sounding albums of the time and is still very fresh. I still get tired just listening to Mick Burt's drumming on "I Can't Stand It"...
[Beverly Paterson] Was there ever any talk of sending Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers to the United States?
Dave Wendels Not while I was in the band.
[Beverly Paterson] Aside from England and Germany, where did the band tour? With whom were some of the bands and artists you shared bills?
Dave Wendels We toured Ireland, Scotland and Wales. As far as the other bands and artists go, the list is pretty long. But a few would be Roy Orbison, The Yardbirds, The Hollies, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer, Bill Black's Combo, The Ronettes, Martha and The Vandellas and, of course, The Beatles.
[Beverly Paterson] Do any particular road experiences stick out in your mind?
Dave Wendels Going to Scotland on tour with Roy Orbison and having Roy get off the bus for a fake border ceremony where he had to swear allegiance to the sovereign state of Scotland!
[Beverly Paterson] What television shows did Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers appear on?
Dave Wendels "Ready Steady Go," "Thank Your Lucky Stars" and other provincial shows.
[Beverly Paterson] How would you describe the atmosphere of England back in the early sixties?
Dave Wendels Electric—the term "swinging London" has been done to death, but it really did exist. Great clubs, great bands, great times! On any given night, you could take your pick of people like The Who, Spencer Davis, John Mayall, The Animals, Georgie Fame, and it was the same all over the country, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, wherever.
[Beverly Paterson] When exactly did you leave Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers?
Dave Wendels I don't recall the exact date but it was sometime in 1965.
[Beverly Paterson] According to history, you then hooked up with Lulu. How did that association occur?
Dave Wendels Literally a couple of days after I left Cliff, I was in a well known musician's watering hole in London called The Ship (a few doors down from The Marquee on Wardour Street) and met a pal who happened to mention Lulu needed a guitar player. He introduced me to the guys in Lulu's band, The Luvvers, and that was it. Sometimes it's that easy!
[Beverly Paterson] Who were the other members in Lulu's band at the time you performed with her?
Dave Wendels Alex Bell on rhythm guitar, Henry Wright on drums and Tom Tierney on bass.
[Beverly Paterson] Did you do any recordings with Lulu?
Dave Wendels No, but the band did one single for Parlophone: "The House on the Hill"/"Most Unlovely."
[Beverly Paterson] By the time you joined Lulu's band, music had changed quite a bit with the sounds of psychedelia now coming in vogue. How did you view this style of music and did you play much of it yourself?
Dave Wendels No disrespect to the artists in that genre, but I didn't relate to it or care for it and never played any of it. You're talking to a guy who was weaned on Sun records!
[Beverly Paterson] How long did you play with Lulu and what were the circumstances behind leaving her band?
Dave Wendels A year or two I think, and as time went by, there was a sense that she would be moving onto bigger things. Therefore, the writing was on the wall as far as the band's longevity went, so I grabbed the opportunity to play with Tom Jones. Not too longer after that, Lulu's Luvvers broke up.
[Beverly Paterson] How did you meet Tom Jones and what are your recollections of auditioning for a role in his band?
Dave Wendels That was another classic right-time, right-place event! I was in Glasgow, doing Lulu's weekly TV show with the guys, and Tom was a guest on one such show. I was chatting with his band, The Squires, and discovered that not only was their guitarist leaving, but that they all lived in a house a mile or so from me in my hometown of Hounslow. When I returned to London, I tried out and landed the job. I'm still not sure if it was because I was any good or just the nearest guy available!
[Beverly Paterson] Tom Jones was (and still is) such a big star. Did you ever feel intimated by his majestic presence?
Dave Wendels Not really. Tom was, and I'm sure still is, a pretty basic guy who happens to be Tom Jones. I think beneath all the show biz trappings, he's still a hardcore rocker from a little Welsh mining town.
[Beverly Paterson] With all those women screaming at his shows, could you actually hear yourself play?
Dave Wendels Once in a while—now I know how Scotty Moore felt at the height of the Elvis insanity!
[Beverly Paterson] Did you rehearse much while playing in Tom's band or were the shows pretty much spontaneous affairs?
Dave Wendels Rehearsals were minimum and we pretty much did the same forty-five minute set each night.
[Beverly Paterson] Did you do any recordings with Tom Jones?
Dave Wendels No, I did not.
[Beverly Paterson] What did you learn most from playing with Tom Jones?
Dave Wendels How to dodge flying hotel room keys!
[Beverly Paterson] What led you to leaving Tom's band and what was your next move?
Dave Wendels I was starting to feel like I needed to play more guitar than just one short set a night, so I moved on. After playing with Tom, I spent a lot of time traveling on the continent with a seven-piece soul band. We had gigs in Italy, France and Switzerland.
[Beverly Paterson] What was the name of the soul band you played with? Did you perform original material or cover songs?
Dave Wendels The Crew - they were a great band fronted by my old mate and Liverpool legend, Howard Casey. Like most soul bands of the time, we did Stax covers and the like—Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett . . .
[Beverly Paterson] When did you move to the United States (Los Angeles) and what prompted you to relocate?
Dave Wendels 1978—I ran out of places to play in England!
[Beverly Paterson] How did you adapt to living in Los Angeles after being in Europe for so many years? Were there any major adjustments that had to be made?
Dave Wendels I actually adapted quite easily. Plus I learned to drive on a different side of the road!
[Beverly Paterson] Being such a big fan of Sun Records, have you visited any of the historical sites connected with the label and its artists?
Dave Wendels I did the Memphis pilgrimage a few years back, went to the studio, then sat on the curb outside on Union Avenue and soaked up the vibe!
[Beverly Paterson] A couple of years ago, you released a great album called "Zen Rockabilly," which not only stresses your expertise guitar work but your songwriting and singing skills. How is this record distributed and where can readers purchase a copy?
Dave Wendels Thanks for the compliment! This may sound a little odd, but I really don't care about distribution and selling records all that much. It's basically about the music. I made about thirty copies of the record and sold them at gigs to cover my expenses. If anybody wants one, I'll do a quick burn for five bucks. (you can contact Dave at email@example.com)
[Beverly Paterson] What is your favorite type of guitar to play?
Dave Wendels A Telecaster.
[Beverly Paterson] Do you play any other instruments besides guitar?
Dave Wendels I play very minimal upright slap bass - nothing that would cause Lee Rocker to lose sleep!
[Beverly Paterson] Do you keep abreast of the current rockabilly scene and have any favorite bands?
Dave Wendels No, but I really do like High Noon out of Austin. They're a great Sun style trio.
[Beverly Paterson] If given the chance, what artists would you like to perform and record with?
Dave Wendels They're all dead! I would love to sit down and play with Scotty Moore, though.
[Beverly Paterson] Aside from music, do you have any hobbies or interests?
Dave Wendels I'm a big movie buff—mostly cult stuff: Spaghetti westerns, obscure samurai flicks, that kind of thing.
[Beverly Paterson] What have been some highlights of your career?
Dave Wendels Oh, there's been too many to list! Playing with and meeting many of my heroes, plus having the good fortune to have been in so many great musical situations.
[Beverly Paterson] How would you like Dave Wendels to be remembered?
Dave Wendels He did the "Ubangi Stomp" till he rolled over dead!
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