Big Jim Sullivan
1941 – 2012
Saddened to learn of the death (on October 2nd) of guitarist Big Jim Sullivan. A major if largely unsung British talent, Jim impacted on the Deep Purple story when at the age of 16 he began giving guitar lessons from the front room of his London home. Blackmore was an early visitor (as indeed apparently was Steve Howe). “Richie was a precocious talent even then, he learned to be an individual very quickly. To be truthful I think that telling him to be an individual and making him use his little finger is all I needed to tell him. The rest was natural to him,” is how Jim recalled this time on his website. Jim joined Marty Wilde’s Wildcats when he was only 17, who went on to back Eddie Cochran during his last UK tour.
Ritchie Blackmore has paid tribute to Big Jim:
“I first met Jim Sullivan in 1958. He was introduced to me by my sister in law’s brother. We both lived in the same area: in Middlesex, Cranford. He was playing with Marty Wilde and the Wildcats. He showed me another level of playing. He was probably the most advanced guitarist in the London area. I would listen to the radio every week, there was a Marty Wilde show. Jim was often featured on the show so I was glued to the radio. He also made some great instrumentals. One being Trambone and one being Peak Hour. He was the first guitarist to play through a wah wah pedal. It was a Deamond foot volume and tone control. I remember an instrumental called The Bat, where he used the pedal. That would’ve been around 1959. Last time I saw Jim was in LA where he was playing with Tom Jones. He was one of England’s finest players, a mentor and a good friend for me. His playing will always be in my heart and live on. God bless you Jim.”
Jim later teamed up with Deep Purple producer Derek Lawrence to begin their own record label, Retreat, and wrote and produced a load of records, including amazingly enough the US glam metal outfit Angel. Some may also remember the interesting Tiger albums which the pair were behind. Of even more interest to many Deep Purple fans was the excellent 1971 session album the pair developed, Green Bullfrog, on which they managed to persuade many of their mates to appear – including Tony Ashton, Ritche Blackmore and Ian Paice.
Jim also had connections with Led Zeppelin, reportedly lending Jimmy Page the acoustic used on their third album. He recalled leaving one eventful meeting with the band. “As I walked out, on the carpet there was foam about this deep and a naked girl goes sliding past. And then another one. Followed by John Paul Jones and John Bonham.”
He did make some very non rock and roll career choices at times. Years spent working in Tom Jones’s backing band for one, but it was a living and as Jim said “the best 45 years of my life were the 5 years I spent with Tom Jones”. From there he took a job with James Last to help pay the bills. In recent years Jim was happy to stick with session work and other projects which interested him, and gave him pleasure to do. “I worked with Van Morrison and I came to realize that money can’t make a decent human being out of you. Here is a man worth 50 million pounds and is as unhappy a person as I have ever seen…”
Jim made sure he never fell into the same trap. “My whole life is geared to play guitar. I play what I want when I want and I hope the listener gets as much pleasure listening to the music as I get playing it.”
The list of sessions he did in the sixties literally runs into the thousands, so many that even he forgot some of them. Including playing on Bowie’s Space Oddity, which only came to light when another session player on the album reminded him in recent years that he’d played on it! Glenn Hughes has also revealed that Jim played guitar on the Finders Keepers (pre-Trapeze) single as well. Certainly I for one will treasure my small collection of vintage early 60s guitar instros (searched out from grotty old second hand record shops in the seventies) by the like’s of The Krewkats and others that Jim fronted and which will never be bettered.