The Big Three
|Brian 'Griff' Griffiths guitar
Johnny'Gus' Gustavson bass guitar
Johnny'Hutch' Hutchinson drums
'I don't think we'll be the last Liverpool names to get into the charts. The Big Three and Billy J. Kramer are people you'll be hearing about soon. See if I'm not wrong.'
So said Gerry Marsden in April 1963, and he wasn't entirely wrong: within a few weeks Kramer was at No. 1, and two months later the Big Three entered the Top Thirty. But only just: their second single and only hit, 'By the way' (by Mitch Murray, who had written Gerry's first hits) rose no higher than No. 22. Yet the Big Three, originally called Cass and the Casanovas, were possibly the most highly respected group of all among Liverpool musicians, and were in fact an early example of the phenomenon that came to be known as 'the group's group': their musicianship and their attack were legendary, and they had considerable influence on other groups, but on record - their only means of reaching a wide public - they tended to sound ordinary.
The group's comparative lack of national success may also have had something to do with the changes in personnel that they made at a time when audiences needed to identify clearly with the members of a group before giving their full approval. Johnny Gustavson and Brian Griffiths left in November 1963 to form the Seniors, Gustavson joining the Merseybeats soon afterwards, and they were replaced by two musicians from Faron's Flamingos: Faron himself (Bill Russley) on bass, and Paddy Chambers on lead. Iri May 1964 Faron left and Paul Pilnik (now with Stealers Wheel) became the bass player. Johnny Hutchinson was therefore the only member of the group who remained from their triumphant Liverpool days, and Decca, whose publicity was never the most efficient among record companies, could not establish a strong image for the group.
Is it possible, too, that their then revolutionary
line-up, dispensing with the almost obligatory rhythm guitar, led
people to believe there was something missing from their music?
Whatever the reasons, the Merseybeat boom came to an end without the
Big Three taking the country by storm as so many people had
predicted they would.