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Jim Sullivan

Guitarist;

Born: February 14, 1941; Died: October 2, 2012.

BIG Jim Sullivan, who has died aged 71, was a guitarist who may not have enjoyed a high profile but scored more than 50 UK Number One hits as one of the most in-demand session musicians of the 1960s and 1970s.

He played with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Benny Hill and served as resident guitarist on Top of the Pops. He was there at the birth of British rock and roll in the 1950s and Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore later cited him as one of his main influences. He was one of the great innovators and reputedly had the chance to join Led Zeppelin, but turned it down and opted instead to go on the road with Tom Jones.

He even tried to teach the Bay City Rollers how to play guitar – as a regular feature of their 1975 TV show Shang-a-Lang, though they had already topped the UK charts by that point and were on their way to becoming an international (albeit short-lived) phenomenon.

In the 1970s Sullivan served as producer on the early albums by the American heavy metal band Angel, and then veered off in a completely different direction yet again by joining the James Last Orchestra, with whom he spent almost a decade.

Born James George Tomkins, in Uxbridge in West London in 1941, he started playing guitar at 14 and was playing professionally at 16 in the 2i's Coffee Bar, in Soho, often cited as the birthplace of British rock and roll.

At 17 ,Sullivan became part of the original line-up of Marty Wilde's backing band The Wildcats, though it required him to have his hair dyed blond. Their version of the Dion and the Belmonts song A Teenager in Love reached No 2 in 1959 and was followed by a string of other hits.

Towards the end of the 1950s Marty Wilde and the Wildcats appeared on the TV pop show Oh Boy!, which led Sullivan into session work, as pop music, rock and roll and the cult of the guitar began to take off, along with the demand for competent exponents of the instrument.

The Wildcats also toured with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran and recorded with them for BBC radio's Saturday Club in 1960. The association was to prove an inspirational experience for Sullivan. Within weeks however Cochran was dead, aged 21, killed in a road accident in Wiltshire, in which "Sweet" Gene Vincent was also seriously injured.

By the early 1960s Sullivan was working regularly with the likes of Billy Fury and Adam Faith, as well as continuing with Marty Wilde. Before long he was recording an average of three records a day. Seemingly he played on more than 1000 hits, ranging from Danny Williams's chart-topping version of Moon River to the Peter Sellers comedy record Goodness Gracious Me.

He could play safe and sweet, but he could also take guitar playing right to the very edge. "The older session men used to call me the 'Electric Monster' because I used to make the guitar scream and groan when I bent and pulled the strings," he said.

"I remember making quite an impact with the tone and volume pedal when I used it on Dave Berry's Crying Game. Even to this day people still argue as to whether it was me or Jimmy Page playing on the track."

During the late 1960s and the 1970s he was part of Tom Jones's regular band.

His Number Ones include Make It Easy on Yourself and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore by the Walker Brothers; the Eurovision winners Puppet on a String by Sandie Shaw and All Kinds of Everything by Dana; Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris; and Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) by Benny Hill. The Rollers were not the only Scottish band who owe Sullivan a debt of gratitude. He also worked with Marmalade and played on Middle of the Road's Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep and on January, a chart topper from the Rollers' contemporaries Pilot.

Sullivan made a handful of albums on which he was the main artist, beginning with Sitar Beat in 1967. His passion for sitar led to an association with George Harrison. He also recorded an album consisting of Gilbert O'Sullivan songs and another working with Chas and Dave.

During the 1970s he made three albums as part of a group called Tiger and teamed up with Deep Purple producer Derek Lawrence to found the Retreat record label, which is how he got involved with Chas and Dave.

As well as pop and rock, Sullivan was interested in jazz and classical music, citing among his influences Dizzy Gillespie and Stravinsky. He also wrote advertising jingles and in more recent years played with various groups and musicians in venues ranging from big theatres to local pubs.

He had a brief, unhappy stint with Van Morrison and was quoted on his official website as saying: "I came to realise that money can't make a decent human being out of you- He is so unhappy that he treats everybody as if he had bought them and they belong to him to do what he likes with them."

He is survived by his wife, for whom he wrote the jazz tune Blues for Norma, and by three daughters.

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