BJ Wilson with Frankie
Chris Mercer for 'Beyond the
Chris Mercer, the prolific and highly-regarded
British tenor saxophonist, sends this memoir of his time with BJ Wilson to
'Beyond the Pale'. Read about Chris at
The Musicians' Olympus. The studio photo is reproduced by kind permission of
someone asks a musician to write about their recollections of a colleague they
last saw nearly thirty years ago, it gives one pause for thought, as those
recollections start to get a bit fuzzy. So many gigs, so many musicians in the
intervening years. So one ends up with more of a composite recollection of the
person, as opposed to crystal clear images.
A few weeks ago I visited our niece’s new home in South Eugene, Oregon. As we
neared the house we passed a nursing home that seemed familiar, and I realised
suddenly that this was the place where BJ Wilson died (I had visited him many
years ago there). Thinking about Barrie and remembering our times together
started a train of events that culminated with me re-connecting with Keith Reid
and Frankie Miller in a recent trip to London to see family.
Wilson and I became friends during our sojourn with Frankie Miller in the
mid/late '70s. This was the band that recorded the
Double Trouble album and toured to support it. There are some videos
out there on You Tube featuring BBC live recording from this album. We spent
some weeks rehearsing up on Agar Grove in an area that looked like the setting
for the old movie The
Barrie was an affable soul who reminded me of the kind of English Country Gent
you would encounter in a Suffolk pub next to a roaring fire, dispensing pithy
advice with a pint raised in one hand. Not long after our stint with Frankie, he
announced he was emigrating to the Pacific Northwest, to the beautiful State of
It so happened that I had connections there through my wife Ann, whose mother
and aunts lived in Bend, Oregon. I was traveling there annually for a summer
vacation from ’78 onwards, so in what was probably ’79 I decided to venture down
from the high country to the Willamette Valley to visit the address he had given
me. It took a bit of finding. nestled in the foothills of the Coastal Mountains,
but I eventually found the site where he was building a beautiful home in this
spectacular setting of hills and forests.
His brother-in-law was there and told me Barrie was away on tour, so my trip was
in vain, but now I knew where to find him! In 1981 I also emigrated, to Idaho,
so we were both in the Pacific Northwest. We flew into Seattle, rented a car,
bundling the kids and dog in the back, then set off for BJ’s, our first stop on
the way to Idaho. From then on, if I flew over on business from Idaho to
Portland, I would drive down and spend a morning with him at his home, drinking
coffee and reminiscing. The drive from Portland to Airlie
on Oregon’s open roads took less time than driving
from Shepherds Bush to Brixton in London.
had a powerful and un-flashy drumming style not unlike that of
Levon Helm, whom he admired very much.
Listening to his playing on the Double Trouble album, I was immediately
taken with his mastery of the toms as he rolled subtly into sections of a tune.
You don’t hear that much any more. His playing illustrates a mastery of rock
drumming that drives a band without being bombastic. I recommend this album to
anyone wishing to hear Barrie functioning as a top-notch session drummer.
I still miss him and wish I had seen more of him before his untimely death: he
was pleasant company. While visiting Frankie Miller last week his wife Annette
mentioned she had just received a photo from the photographer Carlo Chinca of
the Double Trouble sessions. She and Carlo graciously gave permission to
reproduce it at ‘Beyond the Pale’. It shows (L-R) me, BJ, producer Jack Douglas,
Frankie, and an engineer in Air Studios, January 1978.
BJ's page at BtP