Guitarist Big Jim Sullivan was one of the most prolific British session musicians of the 1960’s, playing on over 700 charting singles in the UK. He obtained the moniker “Big Jim” to distinguish him from another well-known British session guitarist, Jimmy Page (known in recording circles as “Little Jim”).
Today, however, we examine his contributions in the world of sitar. Once George Harrison played the Indian instrument on the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” in 1965, it became all the rage. Richie Havens, Steve Howe (Yes), and Justin Hayward (Moody Blues) all took a stab at the instrument. A few – Harrison, Brian Jones, and Sullivan – studied the sitar seriously.
In 1969 EMI released Lord Sitar (the album we are reviewing today), a collection of pop instrumentals with Sullivan playing sitar as the lead instrument. Sullivan was under contract to Polydor at the time, so his name doesn’t appear in the liner notes, leading many listeners to speculate that Lord Sitar was George Harrison. (There is a Beatles connection, however: three of the tracks here are covers of Fab Four songs: “I Am the Walrus”, “Eleanor Rigby”, and the Harrison-penned “Blue Jay Way”.)
As far the music itself? Lord Sitar is decidedly a “period piece”. The opening track (“If I Were a Rich Man”), in particular, would not be out of place in an Austin Powers movie. The main drawback is the track selection. (“Daydream Believer”? Really?)
But when Lord Sitar is good, it’s great. A cover of Los Bravos’ “Black Is Black” is surprisingly effective, and the Who’s “I Can See for Miles” is as exciting – in its own way – as the original.
Lord Sitar wasn’t the first integration of Indian music into pop rock. (Earlier examples include the Folkswingers’ Raga Rock, Vincent Bell’s Pop Goes the Electric Sitar, and Sullivan’s own 1968 album Sitar Beat.) But it paved the way for the “Asian underground” that would emerge 30 years later.
*** (out of four)