Carlo Little, 1938 - 2005
Carlo Little was born on the 17th December 1938 in Sudbury, Middlesex and as an infant, along with his sister Carole, was evacuated out of London to the relative safety of Cardiff for the ensuing war years. Returning to the Sudbury area of Wembley once hostilities had ceased, young Carlo attended local schools where as a teenager his interest in music had him dreaming of playing the drums professionally, and soon after leaving school he bought his first set, simply consisting of a snare and high hat.
National Service interrupted his plans but demobbed in February 1960, Carlo returned to his old haunts, including 'The Cannibal Pot' coffee bar in Sudbury where he met a young girl who introduced herself as Gill. Gill was dating a David Sutch at the time and, with both young men having a common interest in the 'rock and roll' and 'rhythm and blues' phenomena sweeping the country at the time, Carlo and David soon became firm friends. They talked of forming their own band and making their plans known to other musicians in the area soon achieved their early ambitions. Together with Bernie Watson, Rick Brown (Fenson) and Nicky Hopkins, Carlo and David arranged their first rehearsal in the hall behind the Sudbury Sun public house. The embryonic 'Savages' were on their way and three months later achieved their first gig with David, now Screaming Lord Sutch, up front belting out covers of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis Little Richard and of course, Elvis.
The Savages went through many changes in their early line-up and Carlo even had a spell with another band, but in April 1961 'Sutch' and Carlo reformed the band adding Ken Payne, Andy Wren and Roger Mingay to the original line-up. They cut their first disc, the Joe Meek produced 'Till The Following Night' and went full-time professional playing dance halls all over the country. Much of the Savages' energy emanated from the drummer's seat behind the group where Carlo Little knew what it took to play rock 'n roll. "He played drums like no one else, he was original like you can't believe and it was all to do with the bass drum" commented Rob Lemon and Gerry Evans added: "He was a fantastic heavyweight rock 'n roll drummer and we were all in awe of him, he used to hit the bass drum like you've never seen, it was like a cannon, like a bomb going off when he hit it".
Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages became one of the biggest live draws in the country during the early sixties and the band was arguably way ahead of its time. After their performances, the Savages could be found holding court backstage and many budding musicians wanted to meet and chat with these 'savages' who'd turned their backs on the likes of the Shadows, with their neatly tailored suits and carefully choreographed stage moves more common of the time. Amongst those most interested in this raw, energetic style of music were young budding musicians who would go on to form Led Zeppelin, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones.
In October 1962 the Savages split again and Carlo joined Cyril Davies and the R & B All Stars. From the end of November they became known as 'the best British blues band of the early sixties' and, gigging in and around London the line up produced a raw mixture of Chicago R & B and rock 'n roll with Cyril's amazing harmonica playing, and Carlo's powerhouse drumming whipping the crowds into a frenzy, even outdoing the Savages early stuff.
"I met Carlo Little in Cheltenham on 3rd July 1999 and he talked about the early 60's rhythm and blues scene. He had a lot of time for Brian. Carlo had just returned from Paris where he had been a V.I.P guest of the Stones on their 'Bridges to Babylon' tour. He reached into his jacket and showed me photos of himself backstage with Keith, he was really thrilled that the Stones had laid on the trip for him".
Keith Richards later quoted: "Ricky, they were the ones who gave us the power shot. Ricky Fenson, bleached hair, his hair was black but was dyed peroxide blonde. Him and another guy called Bernie, they used to call him Strawberry, the guitar player. I wish I could remember his last name. He would sit on the stage with his gloves on his head, on this peroxide thing cos he had the same hairdo as Rickie Fenson. Bernie, what a guitar player. I thought, well, I might as well go home, this is ridiculous, this cat's so good. Cyril Davies put that band together – listen to a record called 'Country Line Special by Cyril Davies All Stars, with Nicky Hopkins, Bernie, Ricky Fenson and Carlo Little….."
Hard up for a permanent drummer and bass player, the not so long formed Rolling Stones asked Carlo and Rick Fenson to help them out with some gigs and the Stones line-up of December 1962 and January 1963 consisted Brian, Mick, Keith, Rick, Carlo and Ian Stewart. Stew noted at the time that: "Brian was quite enthralled with Carlo. He'd never heard anything like it before. Brian wanted someone flash like Carlo Little because by then, Brian was starting to see dollar signs".
But when Brian begged Carlo to stay on with the Stones, he was turned down by the drummer. The Stones were only semi-pro at that time and couldn't afford to pay Carlo what he could earn with Cyril Davies, so after his short stint with the Stones Carlo went back to the All Stars. He did however help Brian out in two ways, firstly buying Brian's Johnny Cash records so he could buy food and secondly, suggesting that Brian talk to a young jazz drummer, Charlie Watts – and the rest, as they say is history……
The Stones, with new members Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, were soon supporting the All Stars in the twenty minute intervals during their regular Thursday residency at the Marquee. Wyman, in his book 'Stone Alone' recalls: "After working with Cyril Davies and his All Stars, one night I had a crack at copying the 'walking bass' style of their bass player Ricky Fenson. I remember Brian looking round at me and saying – hey, that's good, where did you get that from? – at that moment I joined the Stones on a new level. All the Stones loved the Davies band; the way they interpreted Chuck Berry's 'Deep Feeling' had to be heard to be believed".
When Carlo was later replaced by Micky Waller in the All Stars he returned to the Savages, but he would continue to work with the Stones on the odd occasion. On the 23rd April 1963, Brian managed to get the band an audition for 'Jazz Club', the BBC's only R & B radio show. On the day, Charlie and Bill couldn't get away from their regular jobs and Brian looked again to Carlo and Rick to help out, happily they obliged. Songs for the audition included 'I'm A Hog For You Baby' (a Savages favourite) and 'I'm Moving On' and were later played to the show's entertainment booking manager who instantly rejected the Stones music for the show, complaining that "the singer sounds too black" ….!
In March 1964 Charlie failed to return from holiday on the planned date, which happened to coincide with a gig in Kent. Hurriedly a last-minute search to find a competent stand-in started. Two names were put forward, Carlo Little and Micky Waller. Immediately Brian and Mick rushed round to Carlo's house to ask him to stand in for Charlie, but his mother told the two Stones that Carlo was away gigging with the Savages, it may have been their preference to have Carlo, but Micky ended up with the gig.
Carlo Little went on to play with many bands throughout his distinguished career. Always supported by Iris, his wife whom he met in early 1968 (and married within 6 months) Carlo formed friendships with many of the greats of rock 'n roll, but those early formative days with Cyril Davies would always hold the most treasured memories. Today, Cyril Davies and the All Stars are gone, but certainly not forgotten. They were the pioneers of British popular music, so one might ask why did they never make the big time? In his own words Carlo Little offered this judgment: "Cyril was a real blues enthusiast. Whenever we used to suggest playing something more upbeat, like in the style of Chuck Berry or Bo y got the crowd going, he would say – no. It took me weeks to convince him to let us do 'What I'd Say' by Ray Charles, but when we did, the crowd went wild. John Baldry sung that one great with the Velvettes, but Cyril didn't really go for the commercial sound. Instead, the Stones filled the commercial R & B gap, and look where they are today……."
Sadly, in May 2003 Carlo was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer; expected to survive for only six months his dogged determination to beat the disease saw him continue his drumming in between bouts of chemotherapy. He remained resilient and at one stage was told that the chemo 'had worked for him', but the good news was eventually to turn to bad when he was admitted to South Tyneside Hospital with excruciating back pain on the 25th June 2005.
Two days later his family were told he had only days to live and Carlo finally passed away on the 6th August as a result of small cell lung cancer, the most vigorous and life threatening form of the disease. It normally kills people within six months of being diagnosed – Carlo fought it and survived for over two years. Carlo Little was a fighter all his life…...
Carlo is survived by his wife Iris, daughters Giselle and Emma and two Grandchildren and I know that you'll all join me in wishing them well, with their memories, for the future.
This brief tribute to Carlo has been adapted from his website and it's with thanks to the Little family that we've been allowed to reproduce the photographs belonging to the family.
18th September 2005