BY DOUG CARTER AND PATTI STIRLING
June 30, 2009
This past week while famous music and media people where going down left and right, including the Hammer’s Blues & Jazz Hall of Famer, Jackie Washington, an unsung warrior of the local music scene quietly passed away. Drummer John ‘Babe’ Myles, affectionately nicknamed by Richard Newell aka Son Richard aka King Biscuit Boy, as “Baby Milo”.
I first met Babe when he became the second drummer for Son Richard and the Chessmen back in 1964, a band I played electric bass in with Ron Copple and Steve Caskenette, guitars, and Richard “Son” Newell on vocals and harmonica. As I recall, when Babe came into the Chessmen, he had been playing with some rock ‘n' roll band from his northeast Hamilton neighbourhood somewhere around Beach Road.
He told us he’d got his drum skills together playing snare drum for a marching band, the Navy Cadets or some such. All his life he did marching-band drummer tricks with his drumsticks when things slowed down on stage. Babe had a great sense of humour, slapstick style.
I played bass with Babe in many bands over the years starting with The Chessmen in 1964. After a trip touring England & Germany in the summer of 1965, The Chessmen, by then renamed the Gooduns, broke up.
In 1970, Richard, now King Biscuit Boy to the music world, split from the band Crowbar after recording the material for two very successful Blues albums with them for Frank Davies’ Daffodil Records, the first of which was “Official Music”. The second album “Real Gooduns” was about to be released.
Richard needed a band. He came home from T.O. to the Hammer and hired Babe on drums, myself on bass, Garnett Zimmerman on keyboards and a cat I was playing with at the time, Earl “the Pearl” Johnson on lead guitar, who later went on to fame & fortune with Canadian cult band Moxie.
We became The Real Gooduns. We toured behind the two albums for awhile and then went into the studio for Paramount Records and recorded Richard’s third album. After it’s un-release due to financial circumstances out of the band’s control, the Real Gooduns slowly disintegrated.
Babe loved to drive. When we toured Ontario, eastern Canada and the eastern
United States with Richard in the early 70s, Babe drove the station wagon loaded with 5 guys and their axes and luggage everywhere. He just wouldn’t let anyone else behind the wheel in case they weren’t good enough. Babe was a great wheelman! I think we only had to wake him up after too many hours at the wheel once, oh well, maybe twice.
There were a few other attempts between myself, Babe, Ron Copple and Blues harp player & vocalist Mike Oddie to get a ‘proper’ Blues band together to keep the Blues alive in the Hammer during the '70s and early '80s. Remember Travolta-inspired Disco and Urban Cowboy style C& W crazes of the time? Babe probably played a lot of Country & Western and Dance tunes in his playing time, but his first love was playin’ the Blues, Chicago style. Particularly the Chess Records sound of Muddy Waters and Little Walter. And he was good at it from the get go. You can hear Babe’s drumming on “Badly Bent: The Best of King Biscuit Boy”, Unidisc AGEK-2164 on the cuts “Caledonia River”, “Deaf, Dumb, Crippled & Blind”, “Gotta’ Be A Goodun” and “Blues For Duffy’s Tavern”.
Babe always asked when you ran into him around town: "Anything happening Blues band wise?" That he’d rather be playin’ the Blues if it was helpin’ payin’ the bills. "Deaf, Dumb, Crippled & Blind" and another cut from that session, "T.H.&B. Railway" can also be heard on my blog Blues Rockin' in the Hammer at dougcarter.typepad.com.
Babe seemed to survive on playing drums and who knew what else? But once, he was very secretive about his very complex loves and lives, the man dropped a hint that he revitalized old but not too old cars and got them back to people that needed cheap cars, and did it working from his backyard garage. But he always had gigs. Babe knew how to play quiet and still keep the groove goin’. He played old style.
In bands with Richard, he’d switch to brushes from sticks to play quiet sections of Chicago-style songs à la Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and S. P. Leary. He could keep it simple but drivin’. From Little Walter’s “Tell Me Mama” to “Biscuit’s Boogie”, Babe was there. Say Tommy Tucker’s “High Heel Sneakers”, Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee” or Jr. Well’s “Snatch It Back & Hold It”... Babe got it!
I played with Babe again in the mid-90s for a couple of years in a band still going today, The Stingrays. Organized by Hammer Blues guitarist extraordinaire John LaRocca, it included myself and Babe as the rhythm section and Willie Leigh on vocals and harp. The band, now with a new rhythm section, did and still does feature the best of the electric Blues from the 50s, 60s and 70s. It was great playing with Babe again. So easy to play with someone who is equally enthusiastic to play and knowledgeable about the ‘Blues’. It was the last time I played with Babe in a ‘regular’ band.
And the last time I played on stage was with Babe and Ron Copple, John and Willie at the first Richard Newell memorial event back on February 11, 2003, which celebrated Richard’s musical life. Newell had recently passed away earlier that year on January 5. I don’t think there will be a memorial concert for Babe but I did love playin’ with him!
Babe left no will and no record of any family. His body sits in some public morgue awaiting someone, a relative, to release his body to for proper burial. Anybody out there know anything about John ‘Babe’ Myles, his family, his children etc.?