Johhny McCallum: Banjo, electric guitar
When his predecessor, Steve Hammond, left the Chris Barber Jazz and Blues Band in 1973 after just two years, Johnny McCallum took over on banjo and guitar – and stayed for more than twenty years! The story goes that the vacancy became available rather suddenly, and that it was bassist and fellow Northern Irishman Jackie Flavelle, who had known if not worked with Johnny back in their show band days, who recommended Johnny to Chris. The story also says that Johnny had not actually played the banjo before but specialized on electric guitar – but if this part is true then Johnny was an amazingly fast learner, making a distinctive banjo contribution to the band’s sound right from the outset.
Johnny’s stance with both instruments was also quite unusual, as he held them so high on his body, across his chest, that someone once referred to him as a “guitar on legs”. More distinctive, however, was his sound: on rhythm banjo it was slightly metallic, but always with rock-solid tempo and innovative chording. Johnny was also a very adept and imaginative soloist on the banjo, a talent virtually unchallenged by any of his colleagues, either before or after. He also occasionally played rhythm guitar, particularly on some numbers where fellow guitarists either Roger Hill or John Slaughter took a blues solo, but he could also play a beautiful – and frequently fast – electric guitar solo, usually in a more mainstream or modern jazz idiom than either of the blues men beside him.