Carlo Little

Savages drummer

Tuesday 09 August 2005 00:00 BST

The rock'n'roll drummer Carlo Little turned down an opportunity to play with the fledgling Rolling Stones , but although he missed out on millions, he went on to lead a contented family life. As he said in 1998, "I'd like to have a few gold records on the wall, but instead I have memories and respect. I'm happy with my life. I've got a nice house and I own a couple of burger bars at Wembley."

He was born Carl O'Neill Little in Sudbury, Middlesex in 1938, and he and his sister were evacuated to Cardiff during the Second World War. Inspired by the drumming he heard on pop and jazz records of the early Fifties, he bought some drums and taught himself to play. He joined a skiffle group, Derek Addison's Rhythm Katz, which then switched to the new rock'n'roll music. Little was conscripted in 1958 and became a drummer with the Royal Fusiliers.

On being demobbed, "Carlo" Little met a long-haired rock'n'roll enthusiast, David Sutch, at the Cannibal Pot coffee-bar on Harrow Road in London. Sutch encouraged Little to form a band that he offered to manage. At the first rehearsal, Sutch made the group laugh so much with his ludicrous vocals that they overlooked his lack of vocal ability and made him their singer, calling themselves Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages. They had a near miss with the single "Til the Following Night" (1961) and spent their days playing up and down Britain in a rundown van.

Emulating the heavy bass drumming on Little Richard's "Lucille", Little made the group the loudest in the UK with his powerful drumming. Sutch at any volume, however, was hard to take. Eric Clapton was impressed by the group's musicianship in the blues numbers, before Sutch appeared, while a young Keith Moon asked Little for lessons. Little charged him 10 shillings and encouraged him to play as loud as possible. Judging by Moon's later work with the Who, he was a model pupil.

In 1962 Little became part of Cyril Davies and the R&B All-Stars, an influential band which played at the Marquee. Brian Jones tried to persuade Little to join his new group, the Rolling Stones, but Little was earning reasonable money with Davies and recommended his friend Charlie Watts instead. Again, Davies's group had a near hit with "Country Line Special", but following a row with his unpredictable leader, Little returned to the Savages. Little had stints in the Hoochie Coochie Men (with Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart), Buddy Britten and the Regents, Neil Christian and the Crusaders, and the Echoes (backing Dusty Springfield), but he kept returning to the Savages.

In 1967 Little toured as part of the Flowerpot Men and while in Newcastle, he met his future wife, Iris King, who was working as a croupier. They were married the following year with Jon Lord of Deep Purple (another band that Little nearly joined) playing the organ. In order to support his wife and family, Little became a greengrocer and then drove a Mother's Pride delivery van.

From time to time, Little still played his beloved rock'n'roll. With Freddie "Fingers" Lee, Dave Wendels and Stuart Colman, he was part of Hurricane, which recorded for Decca, and he also accompanied Carl Perkins, Roscoe Gordon and B.B. King. Between 1984 and 1986, he was part of Florida Sun, which showcased the songwriting of Ronnie Harwood but, despite making some excellent records, the group never gained the attention it deserved.

Spencer Leigh

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