Neil Christian (born Christopher Tidmarsh on 14 February 1940) grew up in Shoreditch, East London. Infatuated by Rock & Roll, but with no desire to perform.
By 1960 he was working as the driver for Red E Lewis & The Redcaps when he heard about a talented new guitarist and travelled to a hall Epsom to see him. It was the 15-year-old Jimmy Page, still at school, and – thanks to Mr Tidmarsh – about to join his first professional band.
When Red E Lewis failed to turn up to a gig one night, Page suggested Neil front the band.
After a name change to Neil Christian & The Crusaders they recorded their first single – November 1962’s Joe Meek-produced The Road To Love.
Although glandular fever meant he had left the band in June 1962, Jimmy Page contributed inaudible guitar to the track and continued to play studio sessions for the band (he can be heard on 1963’s Get A Load Of This).
Page suggested Jeff Beck as his replacement and Christian tried him out at a club in the West End. Neil didn’t like the guitarist, so gave him a fiver to go home!
Instead he recruited Albert Lee as Page’s replacement, with pianist Nicky Hopkins also joining the band in 1963. Ritchie Blackmore had two stints as a Crusader in 1965 and 1966-67 (his playing on the single My Baby Left Me, recorded in 1967, is truly wild).
Following a breakthrough in April 1966 with That’s Nice (which reached Number 14 on the UK charts), Christian moved to Germany where he racked up hits until 1970, when he returned to an England oblivious to the fact that he was a star on the Continent.
He never recaptured the spark of the 1960s, but said, “I wouldn’t change anything. The musicians were incredible and it was an amazing time. I couldn’t have done it at any other time.”
Neil Christian died of cancer on 4 January 2010.