Ben Carruthers and the Deep
The other day I went to hear some tracks from the new album created by T Bone Burnett from a set of lyrics abandoned by Bob Dylan in 1967. Invited to do whatever he wanted with Dylan’s words, Burnett got together a group of songwriters — Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Marcus Mumford and Elvis Costello — and asked them to turn the lyrics into songs. You can read what I thought of the results here, on the Guardian‘s music blog.
It reminded me of another time someone turned a Dylan lyric into a song, to very good effect. One of my favourite records of the summer of 1965 was “Jack o’ Diamonds” by Ben Carruthers and the Deep, produced by Shel Talmy and released that June on Parlophone. The songwriting credit on the label read “Dylan-Carruthers”. This is it.
It’s a terrific piece of work, perfectly pitched between the exhilarating modernist Anglo-R&B sound of the early Animals, Kinks and Who and Dylan’s intense, inventive folk-rock. Great guitars — heavily reverbed arpeggios, slashing rhythm — with watery organ fills and solo, no nonsense from the bass and drums, and an urgent post-Dylan vocal. A beautifully constructed two minutes and 50 seconds. And a wonderful final chord.
The story is that Carruthers, an American actor who had appeared six years earlier in John Cassavetes’ great Shadows, was in London that summer to appear in a BBC-TV Wednesday Play, Troy Kennedy Martin’s A Man Without Papers, playing the lead opposite Geraldine McEwan. He visited Dylan at the Savoy hotel (a sojourn immortalised, of course, in D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back), and when he asked him for a lyric he was rewarded with a piece of paper on which Dylan scrawled a version of the poem that had appeared the previous year on the sleeve of Another Side of Bob Dylan, where it began: “jack o’ diamonds / jack o’ diamonds / one eyed knave / on the move / hits the street / sneaks, leaps / between pillars of chips / springs on them like samson / thumps thumps / strikes / is on the prowl / you’ll only lose / shouldn’t stay / jack o’ diamonds / is a hard card t play.”
No wonder the backing track is so sharp: the band, created by Talmy for the session at IBC Studios in Portland Place, included two of the sharpest 21-year-old session musicians in London, Jimmy Page on guitar and Nicky Hopkins on piano, along with a bunch of students from the Architectural Association: Benny Kern on guitar, Ian Whiteman on Lowrey organ, Pete Hodgkinson on drums and a bass player remember only as John. Whiteman later joined the Action, who became Mighty Baby. According to him (on the 45cat website here), it was Kern as much as Carruthers who put the music to Dylan’s lyrics. They also cut a B-side, a Carruthers song called “Right Behind You”, which sounds like Mose Allison taking a stroll down Carnaby Street: here it is.
Benito Carruthers (which is how he was credited on some of his early films) was born in Illinois in 1936, so he was already 29 when he made “Jack o’ Diamonds”. He didn’t make any more records, but there were several further appearances on TV and in movies, including The Dirty Dozen in 1967. He came to see me at the Melody Maker‘s Fleet Street office one day in the early ’70s, and we went to the pub for a conversation of which, regrettably, I kept no record. He died of liver failure in Los Angeles in 1983, aged 47.
I’m biased towards 1965, which I think of as a year of wonders without compare. If you weren’t around then but wanted to know what it felt like, you could do a lot worse than put on “Jack o’ Diamonds”.
* The photograph of Ben Carruthers is a still from Shadows.
1965 ‘a year of wonders without compare’ indeed – the year i went ‘professional’ as a musician – didn’t look back.
Very good to hear from you, Mike. I hope all is well.
I share your view on 1965 as the annus mirabilis of ‘pop’, Richard. And I like greatly the Ben Carruthers single of ‘Jack O’Diamonds’, a song I previously knew only by an excellent version by the original line-up of Fairport from the first album.
But I was less than impressed by Dylan’s ‘thousand doors’ line which seemed to have so excited Elvis Costello, so it’ll be intriguing to discover whether this project has the merit one has come to expect of anything T Bone Burnett touches…..
Totally unaware of the Carruthers track – a fascinating slice of the 60’s indeed!
Yet another informative piece, Richard – becoming to be the standard response to your terrific articles.
I still have fond memories of the first Fairport album which, as with Phil Shaw, was my intro to “Jack O’Diamonds”.
The last I heard Ian Whiteman is still looking for the disc. RW visited this subject in ‘Finders Keepers’ I only have the clipping when I bought a copy of the record so don’t know when and where it came from ( assuming it was the MM)
It was the MM, but I don’t have the cutting.
I’ll post a scan of the cutting on 45cat under the Ben C listing when I locate it. Can you remember when the MM published it?
I have a record label called 1965 records….
For a long time I had the actual piece of paper with the poem typed on it as well as a photo of Dylan typing it in the Savoy. All gone, washed away in the tide of time, along with Benny.
Fantastic track … great vocal, brittle guitar to kill over swinging rhythm … one to find for my collection … thanks for turning me on …
Good to hear from you, Mark.
The “Finders Keepers” piece on “Jack O’Diamonds” by Ben Carruthers & The Deep was in the 5 May 1973 issue of MELODY MAKER and there was a follow-up piece two weeks later (on 19 May 1973).
The latter revealed that The Deep had previously been The Seeds and that, with Carruthers, they had provided the music for the BBC-TV play that you mention and had also played one live gig (at the Pontiac Club in Putney)..
Thanks, Ian. Much appreciated. I’ll look them up the next time I’m in the British Library.
A very spirited rendition of this terrific track can be found on Fairport Convention Cropredy 2002 with Richard Thompson in fine vocal/guitar form.
Apart from that first Fairport album and from Cropredy 2002, you’ll hear this song on FC Live at the BBC, track 8 of the first disc from David Symonds, 14th June 1968.
This one loses the recorder by Judy Dyble, but gains more of RT on guitar.
They did it earlier at Cropredy as well, in 1997, that version was released a year later on the 3CD Cropredy Box
Richard Thompson did a solo version on his “A Chronological Evening” concerts in 2003/2004. One of these was released on The Chrono Show (Beeswing Records BSW006)
Best of all, but unreleased, was a blistering version with FC at the Warm Up gig at The Mill in Banburry on Tuesday 6 August 2002.
Seeing FC -the Early Years playing just a few meters away was fantastic.
Richard, Simon Nicol, Ashley Hutchings, Iain Matthews, Judy Dyble joined by Gerry Conway!
(PS all the best to Deepinder and Ian Whiteman, both very kind and helpful in my search for all things Action/Mighty Baby and -not least- Habibiyya)
A small addendum to what I wrote years ago. Richard Thompson mentioned this in his autobiography:
“Jack o’ Diamonds” was a song that had survived from the days of my band at school. The actor Ben Carruthers had set the poem by Bob Dylan to music, and Nick Jones had unearthed it from among a pile of demos at Melody Maker.
Nick Jones being the drummer in one of his schoolbands and the son of MM writer Max Jones.
RT still fancies this song. He played it at his 70th Birthday Celebration Concert in the Royal Albert Hall, 30 September 2019. Together with “Blues in the Bottle” it represented the early Fairport Convention.
The latest incarnation of DONT LOOK BACK on DVD (The Criterion Collection VFE09618)) includes some new out-takes from the film, including a scene with Ben Carruthers and at the Savoy, working on “Jack O’Diamonds”..
A brief synopsis: it starts with Dylan typing up the lyrics, as Carruthers and Benny Kearn work on the song. Dylan finishes typing and hands the “last sheet” (and an ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN album) to Carruthers, who continues working on the song with Kearn.
The sequence lasts just over two minutes.
Only just spotted this. Thanks! Now I’ll have to buy it…
The Wednesday Play: The Man Without Papers
BBC One logo
First broadcast: Wed 9th Jun 1965, 21:25 on BBC One London
by Troy Kennedy Martin.
With Benito Carruthers, Geraldine McEwan, James Maxwell
and Charles Victor, Ingrid Hafner, John Woodnutt
See page 35
The author of tonight’s play, Troy Kennedy Martin, is one of television’s most successful and controversial writers. The creator of Z Cars, he followed up this popular success with Diary of a Young Man which sparked off a lively argument about television drama. He has always been an innovator, and he had always had an uncanny knack of coming up with the right stories and characters at the right time.
In The Man Without Papers, his first single play for television since his prize-winning Interrogator in 1961, he had created another contemporary hero. Roscoe is his name, but who is Roscoe? An American who burnt his passport during the days of McCarthy and had been on the run ever since. But what is Roscoe? Is he an idealist or a fast-talking hustler? Is he a twentieth-century saint or an evil destroyer of those with whom he comes into contact? Men and women react violently to him, they either hate or love. And to be in love with Roscoe is dangerous, as his old friend Castle and his wife Marcella find out.
From the same beat background as Roscoe comes the star of the play, Ben Carruthers. Born into a generation of protest, involved with the New York avant-garde in theatre and art, connected with a hip scene which stretches from San Francisco to Paris, Carruthers epitomises the best in young footloose 1960s artists who care more for life than for money.
This is also the world of the phenomenal Bob Dylan, currently winding up his record-breaking concert tour, who has specially written the songs his old friend Ben Carruthers sings in tonight’s production.
Troy Kennedy Martin
Music written and played by:
Doorman of the Cavalry Club:
Source: Radio Times
The RADIO TIMES’ use of “Benito” in the cast list, rather than “Ben”, is interesting. “Benito” was certainly the name in much of the contemporary newspaper coverage of the play, though I have seen”Benito” used in a TV listing and as a photo caption while it’s “Ben” in the accompanying article. I presume “Benito” is the name on his BBC contract, for which he presumably employed a London agent who would have obtained a work permit using his passport details.
Thanks! I had forgotten that he used the forename Benito. I do recall that he claimed to have “Mescalero, Apache blood” as well as Spanish.
While I am here: The protagonist of Man Without Papers was a thinly-disguised American emigre by the name of Clancy Sigal.
Sigal fled the US when blacklisted by the MaChrthy witch hunters. He illegally entered the UK and sacked up with writer Doris Lessing. Lessing’s London flat was raided regularly by immigration cops trying to catch Sigal–which they never did.
From the mid-60s onwards he ran safe houses in London, and routes to Sweden for American kids fleeing the Vietnam draft. Also Sigal ran the Philadelphia Association with R.D. Laing. Sigal’s book The Zone of the Interior is (to my mind) one of the best on psychedelic London.
Another point of interest in the RADIO TIMES listing is that the music was provided by The Seeds. Were they the same musicians as The Deep?
And I seem to recall that the play also included music other than “Jack of Diamonds”. Have details ever emerged?
The BBC used to prepare a typed internal document called “Programmes As Broadcast” (which the BBC used to call PABs, someone once told me), giving details of each programme broadcast throughout each day.
I have seen one or two PABs (for other programmes) and they are, for example, accurate to the second as to the time the broadcast of each programme commenced. More relevantly here, a PAB would also include the title of each piece of music played in a programme, the duration of each piece, its composer and the name of the music publishing company.
Quite likely,, the PAB for “Man Without Papers” will be held in the BBC’s Written Archives Centre at Caversham Park, Reading.
Similarly, the contract for Ben(ito) Carruthers’ appearance in the play should be there (and the contracts for the other cast members, too).
The contracts will also contain details of the dates, times and places for the rehearsals.
A caveat: the music details in one of the PABs I’ve seen does not match exactly the tape recordings made by audience members.
Are there any recordings of the film, audio or video? Yes the Seeds became the Deep as I was one of them but have no memory of making any recording. The single with Shel Talmy, yes. It was before the days of video recorders. Btw Benny’s agent was Mim Scalia in Old Compton St.!!!
I’m afraid that I am not aware of any recording of the play.
My principal interest lies the Dylan connection and there are off-air recordings of his appearances in “Madhouse on Castle Street” (broadcast in January 1963) and his two ‘in concert’ style broadcasts (in June 1965). In fact, in each case, recordings were made by several different people but, sadly, none of “Man Without Papers” that I know about.
I watched both of Dylan’s 1965 broadcasts at the time but have no memory of the Carruthers play whatsoever. In fact, I was out at a club that evening.
There is also a Nico connection with Carruthers and Dylan, London and Paris 1965. . . and not forgetting Jimmy Page https://www.peterstanfield.com/blog/2023/3/2/nico-im-not-saying
As Nico said in THE REAL BOB DYLAN article (DISC, Sept ’65), it was Ben Carruthers who introduced her to Dylan in Paris in 1964..
May I make a few comments about the chronology.
Despite what the standard Dylan biographies say, this meeting would have been in late-April 1964 or early-May 1964. The books say that Dylan came over for his 17 May 1964 concert at the Royal Festival Hall and then headed off to Paris but I’m afraid that they are wrong.
Dylan flew to Paris at the end of April 1964, to be met at Orly Airport by Hugues Aufray (who had recorded a French version of “Don’t think Twice”) in the early hours of the morning, off an overnight flight direct from New York. It was Aufray who arranged the hotel to which Nico refers.
After about a week in Paris, Dylan drove to Berlin with Mason Hoffenberg (author of “Candy”) who was related to Aufray by marriage. They hired a car and went to see the Berlin Wall. While there is at least one reference to a German girl in connection with this trip, there has never been any suggestion (nor evidence or testimony) that the girl in question was Nico.
Dylan then came to London, probably around 10 or 11 May, leaving on 21 May for Greece, where he completed writing the songs for the ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN album. I believe that Nico did suggest or hint, at one time, that she accompanied Dylan to Greece but his road manager, who was with him, only refers to the two of them. (There is a brief reference to Greece in the liner notes of that 4th album).
I don’t know if you’ll be able to see this (or whether you might have seen it before) but it is an interview with Shel Talmy:-
I was discussing a project that Historic Films is working onwith a friend of mine and, just a moment ago, decided to check out their website. I tried a few names in the SEARCH box and part of this came up, so I tried “Shel Talmy” and this is what I got.
There may not be much, if anything, about Ben Carruthers but it may be worth a few minutes of your time anyway.
21:54 for about 5 minutes Benny C, Bob Dylan and Benny Kern writing Jack O Diamonds. Save you buying the DVD. You may have seen this already.
I can’t recall if it’s been mentioned before herein but the “Jack O’ Diamonds” single was released on 11 June 1965, two days after the TV play was transmitted
And you can get the “Jack O’ Diamonds” recording on this compilation:
Not the same as owning the original 45, I know, but second-hand copies of the CD come pretty cheap (and you get 24 other tracks as well)