Dick Smith played bass in the band from April 1956 to March 1966.
Dick spent his childhood in South Harrow. After attending Harrow County School his interest in cycling led to a job at Ivor J. Clark's Cycle Shop, building frames for racing bikes; accordingly track racing became his first love. Two years of National Service with the R.A.F then ensued; now the cycling really proved its worth, it being the best way of escaping from camp every weekend and still being back for the minute-to-midnight deadline on Sundays!
It was towards the end of this period that Dick became aware of a "different" kind of music, fostered initially by listening to Jackson's record programmes on BBC radio. He rushed out and bought his first jazz record, a 78 rpm of "High Society" by someone called Bunk Johnson! This was followed soon after by Stan Kenton's "Concerto to End All Concertos".
"On being demobbed on January 1st 1952 I found that many of my cycling chums were now, like me, hooked on jazz. He tended to congregate at Pinner Teenagers' Club, despite no longer being teenagers. Here I first met Kay Sutters, who was to become my wife four years later."
Also here Trevor Williams had formed a keen amateur band based in the Bunk Johnson/George Lewis style, "The Eagle Jazz Band", with Trevor (cornet), Tony Eglin (cornet), Johnny Hunt (trombone), Kevin Sheldon (clarinet), Geoff Williams (bass), Johnny Daniels (drums), and Johnny Bastable (banjo). They co-existed happily with a ‘modern' group led by Johnny Ellens (tenor sax) and including Johnny Gates (bass).
"I bought my first bass from Johnny on the understanding that he would teach me a twelve bar blues in C, also the scale of B-flat. Equipped with this musical knowledge I was allowed to sit in with the Eagle Band and three weeks later found myself performing my first gig, a Greek wedding at a restaurant in Leicester Square! Fortunately I can remember little of it. I'm sure my expertise with B-flat and C was comforting for the rest of the group -- they also allowed me to 'double' on maracas on the Latin numbers. Suffice it to say it remains my only experience of playing with a non-jazz group. Still, the money was good, about £1-12-6d (£1.60 in today's money) and it was going to be a long, long time before I earned that much again!
"Anyway it wasn't long before a severe shortage of bass 'players' willing to go out for 10 shillings (50p) per night made it inevitable that I was going to get plenty of much needed practice (and extremely sore fingers!) playing three or four nights a week in places like Harold Pendleton's Club Creole and other Soho hot spots, mostly with different pick-up groups, but occasionally with established bands such as Cy Laurie and Bill Brunskill. The London jazz scene was extremely vigorous, fluid -- and great fun!
"After about a year I joined Jeremy French's Band: Jeremy (trumpet), Harry Lock (clarinet), Jim Thomas (trombone), Brian Baker (piano), ?? (banjo), and Colin Bowden (drums). We actually rehearsed, had a manager (Harry Moore), and played at the Royal Festival Hall! Next I was in a band co-led by Davie Keir and Jasper Livesey: Dave (trombone), Jasper (clarinet and also sax), Al Fairweather (trumpet), 'Bix' Duff (piano), and again Colin Bowden (drums). We also rehearsed and even got as far as the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in February 1954.
"Throughout this period my 'real' job had been as a cartographic draftsman at the Hydrographic Department of the Admiralty. One day Ken Colyer phoned me there asking if I'd like to join his band (he'd just parted from Chris, Monty, Lonnie, Jim, and Ron). I thought long and hard for thirty seconds before saying yes ( I don't know what took me so long!). Ken's band at the time consisted of Acker Bilk (clarinet), Eddie O'Donnell (trombone), 'Diz' Disley (banjo, guitar), and Eric Skinner (drums). Dick was in hospital with acute appendicitis for the Skiffle recording in June 1954, which would have been his first time in a studio. Dick stayed with Ken for two years, during which the personnel changed, as Acker, Eddie, and Eric left, to be replaced by Ian Wheeler (clarinet and sax), Mac Duncan (trombone), and firstly Stan Greig and then Colin Bowden (drums)."
Dick was a self-taught bass player, having listened intently to musicians such as "Slow Drag" Alcide Pavageau, Pops Foster, and John Kirby. He was keen to improve his playing, and approached Chris with a view to asking him teach him (Chris had studied bass as a second instrument at the Guildhall School of Music). Chris and Dick got on well: Chris is a very good teacher and soon taught him a great deal in a short period of time. Even so it came as a complete surprise, when, early in 1956, Chris asked Dick to join his band, so much so that initially he discounted the idea. He was extremely attached to Ken and his music at that time; however, eventually common sense prevailed and after the customary three weeks notice he joined Chris. His first studio session (4 April 1956) for Chris, “We Shall Walk Through the Valley”, was credited to Micky Ashman, as at the time Dick was still officially with Ken (the Chris Barber discography correctly credits Dick).
During the next ten years with Chris, Dick's musical outlook continued to broaden and other bassists he listened to included (on record) Wellman Braud, Jimmy Blanton, John Lindsey, Leroy Vinnegar, and George Duvivier. Then the six coast-to-coast tours of the USA gave plenty of opportunities to see and hear people of the calibre of Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Percy Heath, Jimmy Woode, and Scott La Faro in person in clubs and concerts.
Dick was featured on many recordings during his time with the band, and played with American guests such as Alex Bradford, Louis Jordan, Ed Hall, Rosetta Tharpe, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson, and George Lewis.
As previously mentioned Dick was married, to Kay, in 1956, and by 1965 they had three young children, Sheridan, Carey, and Gaby. Dick decided that as the band were making longer tours, further afield, his place should be with his family. It was the correct decision, but he left with many regrets. He had had ten wonderfully fulfilling musical years with Chris, and he personally added enormously to the band's unique sound.
Since 1967 Dick and Kay have been owners/chefs at their hotel in West Somerset. He still keeps in touch with his old band friends, and they often visit him, and he attends concerts when the band play in the West Country, as he did recently at Yeovil, where Chris introduced him to the appreciative audience.
Dick's brother, pianist Ray, joined Ken Colyer in 1972, and now lives in Holland and plays with a variety of bands, chiefly on the continent. In 1989 he recorded with Pat Halcox, Bruce Turner, Vic Pitt and others for Jazzology (Pat Halcox and Friends, There's Yes! Yes! In Your Eyes).
Sources: Essay by Dick Smith (1961); Letter to Gerard Bielderman (1997); Letters between Dick and Julian Purser (2004). The Archive Team would like to thank Dick for his time and friendship.