In 1962 the most popular group on Merseyside with other musicians was possibly not The Beatles but The Big Three, and yet they couldn’t transform their local success into national fame. Johnny Hutchinson could have been a millionaire but ended up as a small-time builder.
The Big Three developed from the 1950’s group Cass And The Cassanovas. The group got rid of their rhythm guitarist and decided to stay together as a trio, primarily because nobody on Merseyside had done a loud trio before.
John ‘Gus’ Gustafson, Johnny ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson and Adrian Barber played hard and fast, with loud and raucous drumming, combined with obscure R&B material.
They were the first band in Liverpool to play Some Other Guy and Money.
The Big Three were signed by Brian Epstein, who sent them to the Star Club in Hamburg. When the band returned to Merseyside, Adrian Barber remained at the Star Club as stage manager and was replaced in The Big Three by Brian Griffiths.
While they were in Hamburg, Epstein arranged an audition with Decca. Their first single, Some Other Guy, was actually a demo tape for Decca, and only made it to #37 in the British charts, and yet remains the favourite Merseybeat record of many Liverpool musicians who were around at the time.
Their most successful record was By The Way (#22), although this Mitch Murray song would probably have been more suited to Freddie & The Dreamers. The band would have much rather played Little Richard songs, but they wouldn’t have been as commercial.
Brian Epstein was fighting a losing battle trying to transform these rough diamonds into a happy, smiling pop band. He couldn’t control their live performances and The Big Three seemed plagued by crowds of thugs and ruffians – and were not adverse to joining in the fisticuffs with swinging guitars.
But their live performances were exciting, as can be heard on their The Big Three At The Cavern EP.
Epstein eventually sacked the band for “unruly and rowdy behaviour” (erm . . . but isn’t that the essence of Rock & Roll, Brian?) and an argument over the division of wages ultimately caused the band to split up. Hutch worked with other musicians (notably Faron and Paddy Chambers, both of Faron’s Flamingos) as The Big Three, but eventually moved out of music.
Griff had a timber yard in Liverpool and moved to Canada. In 1973 he and Gus made an album called Resurrection as The Big Three (with Elton John‘s drummer Nigel Olsson).
Gus joined The Merseybeats and became a respected session player in the 1970s, particularly for Roxy Music. He was on the original cast album of Jesus Christ Superstar and wrote the 1982 hit Dear John for Status Quo.
John Hutchinson died on 12 April 2019. He was 79.
Johnny ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson
John ‘Gus’ Gustafson