About 8.30am the day after the Auckland book launch, an eagle-eyed friend texts from his hospital bed. He has been given a copy of the book. “WOTS UP – P. 310?” I refer to Blue Smoke: it’s the great image of Peter Sinclair, Ricky May and Lew Pryme, also featured on the cover (right), in the middle of the bottom deck.
I text back – “GT PIC, EH?” – then the hammer falls. In his reply he says, “Sorry to have to tell you. That’s not Ricky May. It’s Ken Cooper.”
I am crestfallen, the euphoria of having the book finally out evaporates. Ken Cooper is a Wellington musician who was active in the early 60s: he played the bongos in the Premiers, and later became a manager and promoter.
All I can say is that was the way the photo was captioned when I found it (as this scan shows). Of course I knew what Sinclair and Pryme looked like, and Ricky May always had a big grin, so why would I doubt it? With so many hundreds of images in the book, most energy was directed towards the photos that came with no musicians’ names, particularly hard when you’re dealing with the 1920s.
I was especially proud of the pic on p. 314, of a jazz trio at Wellington’s notorious Sorrento club. It had been published elsewhere 20 years ago, without names, and I was determined to identify the three hipsters. I sent a xerox to Terry Crayford, who knew two out of the three, and was fairly certain about the third, the drummer. He emailed contacts through Andy Shackleton’s great website on New Zealand musicians from the 1950s and 60s, and dozens of replies came in naming the drummer. At least half a dozen different names were suggested. When the consensus settled on Billy Brown, a couple of those who had replied otherwise got a little abusive that their memory was being questioned. But all missed a crucial point that Terry had spotted: the bass player in the picture was not left-handed. When the picture had originally appeared in print, it had been flipped as it was developed incorrectly.
It took a little while to track down Ken Cooper and let him know about the caption error, and he graciously replied, “In those days I did get confused a lot with Ricky May … No problem with the ‘pic’ – let the folks think it’s Ricky May.”
Ken thinks it was taken in Palmerston North or Taranaki. Another correspondent has suggested his first thought was that it was taken in Wellington at the filming of the early TV pop show Let’s Go, but a former manager of Lew Pryme says it was in Napier. A few have even said, “No, that’s Ricky.”
No, it’s Ken: you can read more about him on pages 48-49 of Roger Watkins’s 1989 book When Rock Got Rolling: the Wellington Scene, 1958-70 (Hazard, Christchurch: 1989). We all hate hitting a bum note, especially when it’s in the closing bars of an item; one hopes it doesn’t undermine all that went before it. So to get back to what we’re here for, here’s a clip of the real Ricky May from the 1960s when he was based in Australia: