James George Tomkins (14 February 1941 – 2 October 2012),[1] known professionally as Big Jim Sullivan, was an English guitarist.

Big Jim Sullivan
Sullivan on This Is Tom Jones
Background information
Birth nameJames George Tomkins
Born(1941-02-14)14 February 1941
Uxbridge, England
Died2 October 2012(2012-10-02) (aged 71)
Billingshurst, England
Instrument(s)Guitar, sitar
Years active1958–2012

Best known as a session guitarist, he was one of the most in-demand studio musicians in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, and performed on around 750 charting singles over his career, including 54 UK number one hits.[2]

Early life and career edit

James George Tomkins was born in Hillingdon Hospital, Middlesex, England, and went to Woodfield Secondary School in Cranford, Middlesex. At the age of 14, he began learning the guitar, and within two years had turned professional.[3] When he was young he played with Sid Gilbert and the Clay County Boys, a Western swing group, Johnny Duncan's Blue Grass Boys, Vince Taylor & the Playboys, Janice Peters & the Playboys, and the Vince Eager Band. Sullivan gave guitar lessons to near-neighbour Ritchie Blackmore.[3]

In 1959, at The 2i's Coffee Bar, he met Marty Wilde and was invited to become a member of his backing group, the Wildcats, who were the opening act in the television series, Oh Boy!, produced by Jack Good. The Wildcats backed Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent on their tour of Britain in 1960, during which Cochran died.[3] Wilde bought Sullivan a Gibson Les Paul guitar, reputedly the first to be played in Britain, which he had bought from Sister Rosetta Tharpe. He later played a cherry-red Gibson ES-345 guitar.[4]

Sullivan, Ritchie Blackmore and Pete Townshend persuaded Jim Marshall to make better and more affordable amplifiers.[5]

Session musician edit

Jack Good introduced Sullivan to studio work. Sullivan became one of the most sought-after guitarists throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, in part because of his flexibility in playing different styles of music. He was often referred to as "Big Jim" both for his physical appearance and as he was usually first choice to play guitar on sessions for major musicians and bands. Another session musician at the time, and at some of the same sessions, Jimmy Page, was referred to as "Little Jim".[citation needed]

Sullivan played on around 750 UK chart entries, and averaged three recording sessions a day. He played on the first records in the UK to use a wah-wah effect – Michael Cox's 1961 "Sweet Little Sixteen" and Dave Berry's 1964 hit "The Crying Game" used a DeArmond Tone and Volume pedal. He played on the first record in the UK to use a fuzzbox, which he had borrowed from session guitarist Eric Ford, on P.J. Proby's 1964 hit "Hold Me".[citation needed]

In the early 1960s he also played on hits by The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull, Billy Fury, Frank Ifield, Adam Faith, Frankie Vaughan, Helen Shapiro, Johnny Hallyday, Freddie and the Dreamers, Cilla Black, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield, and others.[3] He played guitar on the Alexis Korner's and Blues Incorporated's album R&B from the Marquee in 1962 and Georgie Fame's first album Rhythm & Blues at the Flamingo in 1964.

In addition to playing on many UK albums Sullivan played on The Everly Brothers's 1963 live album at Olympia, Bobby Darin's 1967 live album Something Special, Little Richard's 1966 album Get Down With It: The OKeh Sessions and Del Shannon's 1967 album, Home and Away. He appeared regularly on several British television and radio programmes, including the Tom Jones show, Bay City Rollers show "Shang-A-Lang",Top of the Pops, Ready Steady Go! and Saturday Club.[citation needed]

Later in the 1960s and 1970s, Sullivan continued to play on a succession of hit records including those by The Walker Brothers, Jonathan King, Donovan, Cat Stevens, David Bowie (he played banjo, guitar and sitar on Bowie's first album which was published in 1967), Benny Hill, The New Seekers, Thunderclap Newman, Love Affair, Long John Baldry, Marmalade, Small Faces, and Rolf Harris.[6]

In 1968, Sullivan played on George Harrison's Wonderwall. He directed and played on Amazing Blondel's first album in 1969, and in the same year played on the album Sound of Sunforest, the overture from which was used in the film A Clockwork Orange. In 1971, he played in the Jean-Claude Vannier Orchestra for Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson, and also played on Frank Zappa's 200 Motels. In 1972, he performed additional arrangements of the orchestral version of The Who's Tommy arranged by Wil Malone for London Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Choir.[citation needed]

Sitar edit

In the 1960s, Sullivan learned to play the sitar, having been inspired by attending a recording session for Indian classical musician Vilayat Khan.[7] Sullivan released an album of Indian-style recordings under his own name, Sitar Beat (1967), and one as "Lord Sitar", Lord Sitar (1968).[8]

He played sitar on a musical interpretation of the Kama Sutra. Sullivan was among a group of English guitarists who adopted the sitar, including George Harrison of the Beatles,[9] whose Esher home Sullivan regularly visited to practise on the instrument.[citation needed] Throughout this period, Sullivan studied formally with Nazir Jairazbhoy and, until 1969, he all but abandoned guitar in favour of the sitar.[7] Together with Harrison, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Shawn Phillips, he was among the most dedicated of the many rock guitarists who embraced the instrument during the 1960s.[10]

Moving from being a session musician edit

In 1969, Sullivan joined Tom Jones' band. During his time with Jones in Las Vegas, he met and formed a friendship with Elvis Presley. Sullivan was an innovator of the talk box, which he demonstrated on Jones' TV show. He released an instrumental album Sullivan Plays O'Sullivan (1971) and was also featured giving guitar lessons on the Bay City Rollers' TV series Shang A Lang. In the 1970s he composed the score for an episode of the science fiction series, Space: 1999 ("The Troubled Spirit"), in which he also appeared and performed part of the score on screen, as a crew member giving a Coral sitar concert.[citation needed]

In 1974, Sullivan teamed up with the record producer, Derek Lawrence, to form the record label, Retreat Records. One album release was Big Jim's Back (1975). He fronted a band called Tiger, alongside vocalist Nicky Moore, releasing three albums under this name before the group split up in 1976. Retreat Records also produced various artists. Amongst them were Labi Siffre, Chas & Dave and McGuinness Flint. Sullivan produced and arranged Siffre's "I Got The...", sampled by Eminem and numerous other hip hop artists. Lawrence and Sullivan went to the United States during this period, to produce the glam metal band, Angel.[4]

In 1978, he became part of the James Last Orchestra for nine years, also touring with Olivia Newton-John after her success with Grease. In 1987, he began composing music for films and jingles.

Sullivan later formed a duo[when?] with songwriter Duncan McKenzie. They played together for many years and recorded an album, Aquila.[citation needed]

Death edit

Sullivan died on 2 October 2012, aged 71 due to complications from heart disease and diabetes.[1]

Discography edit

Albums edit

  • 1964 – Charles Blackwell and Jimmy Sullivan – Classics with a Beat (Hörzu)
  • 1965 – Charles Blackwell and Jimmy Sullivan – Folklore with a Beat (Electrola)
  • 1968 – Chiitra Neogy – The Perfumed Garden (Sullivan as arranger, Barry Morgan as musical advisor) (Pulsar)
  • 1968 – Big Jim Sullivan – Sitar Beat – Album was released in UK by Mercury in 1967 as Sitar A Go Go and reissued by Mercury in January 1968 as Sitar Beat for wider distribution
  • 1969 – Big Jim Sullivan – Lord Sitar (Columbia)
  • 1973 – Big Jim Sullivan – Sullivan Plays O'Sullivan (MAM)
  • 1974 – Big Jim Sullivan – Big Jim's Back (Retreat)
  • 1975 – Big Jim Sullivan's Tiger – Tiger (Warner Bros.)
  • 1976 – Big Jim Sullivan's Tiger – Goin' Down Laughing (EMI)
  • 1977/1983 – Big Jim Sullivan's Tiger – Test of Time
  • 1992 – Jim Sullivan – Forbidden Zones – Guitar Tutoring
  • 1994 – Big Jim Sullivan's Tiger – Test of Time
  • 1998 – Big Jim Sullivan – Big Jim's Back/Tiger
  • 2001 – Big Jim Sullivan – Mr Rock Guitar (aka Ultimate Rock Guitar and other titles)
  • 2003 – BJS Duo – Hayley's Eyes
  • 2004 – The Big Jim Sullivan Trio – Jazz Cafe
  • 2005 – The Big Jim Sullivan Band – Live at Coolham
  • 2006 – Big Jim Sullivan – Guitar Maestros

Notable recordings edit

Sullivan's guitar work appears on the following songs:-

Number one singles edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Prolific Session Guitarist Big Jim Sullivan Dies". Sonicstate.com. Archived from the original on 3 October 2017. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  2. ^ "'Big Jim' Sullivan profile". The Telegraph. 3 October 2012. Archived from the original on 21 January 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d "Guitarist Big Jim Sullivan dies". BBC News. Archived from the original on 31 December 2017. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  4. ^ a b Dave Laing (3 October 2012). "Big Jim Sullivan obituary". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 7 December 2017. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  5. ^ "Jim Marshall Passes". Vintageguitar.com. 5 April 2012. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  6. ^ "Session Guru Big Jim Sullivan Dead at 71". Ultimate-guitar.com. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  7. ^ a b Brend, Mark (2005). Strange Sounds: Offbeat Instruments and Sonic Experiments in Pop. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. p. 148. ISBN 9-780879-308551.
  8. ^ "Linder Notes for Ananda Shankar's Ananda Shankar". richieunterberger.com. Archived from the original on 23 December 2011. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  9. ^ Brend, pp. 148–49.
  10. ^ Brend, pp. 152, 154.
  11. ^ Engelbert Humperdinck; Katie Wright (May 2012). Engelbert - What's in a Name?: My Autobiography. Ebury Publishing. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-7535-4110-4. Archived from the original on 17 October 2022. Retrieved 20 June 2015.

External links edit