Born to entertain, Johnny began his life in music by visiting the Saturday matinees at The Regal, Redruth and singing in talent contests at the Ambulance Hall in the town.
One day he quite literally followed a path that would take his life and musical career in a different direction. Whilst walking home from school one day quite out of the blue he decided to take a different route home to the usual route he would always take.
On this day the journey would take him past John Sleemans record shop. He could hear music playing upstairs and was curious. John knew Johnny already as John compared at the ambulance hall, where he regularly attended. John was also the manager of a band called Gloria & Her Boyfriends. They were practicing upstairs and Johnny went up to check them out. John knew Johnny could sing and perform long he would join the band as lead singer. The band played many talent shows and gigs throughout 1965/66, before Gloria would leave the band.
After a few more personnel changes, including Ron Barrett coming on board, the band would rename themselves Little Johnny & the Giants. Playing the hits of the day the band would soon build up a following around the Redruth area. They entered the 1967 Rock and Rhythm contest, where the sang Ride Your Pony, You'll Never Walk Alone as well as playing the obligatory instrumental.
After the demise of Little Johnny & The Giants, Johnny and Ron would join The Silvertones playing around the Cornwall area. The Silvertones would become West Coast Sound, who would become a popular draw around Cornwall. With Vic Graham managing the band they would secure gigs across Cornwall, playing up towards St Austell and St Blazey. Like many bands they also tried out for Opportunity Knocks in Plymouth. The band didn't get chance to perform on the day but were asked back the following day. They saw the standard of the competition and bottled it, choosing not to go back!
During their time they would support many of the band names who visiting the county, including The Who, Gerry and Pacemakers, Simon Dupree and Big Sound, Freddie Mack, Geno Washington, Tony Rivers & Castaways and Johnny Carr and Cadillac’s. At one gig Geno Washington was blown away by Johnny and asked him to join his band. At the time Johnny was working and his foster parents were not keen on the idea, so he didn't take up the offer.
When West Coast Sound finished, around 1968, Johnny was without a band. Like many teenagers in Cornwall he was a regular at the Flamingo and it was here he became friends with Gerry Gill. Gerry was resident DJ at the club, playing every Thursday and Saturday night, usually supporting a visiting band. Gerry wanted to go mobile and Joy Hone who owned and ran the Flamingo needed somebody to fill the slot and Johnny was approached and offered the position, despite little experience, and duly accepted. Gerry became his mentor and trained him up, with Johnny picking up the skills very quickly. Initially Gerry wanted to dress him up as Frodo Baggins, the hobbit, but thankfully Johnny didn't buy into the idea. Eventually they would settle on a name which he would take with him for the rest of his careers, Johnny Bigg.
Most of his sets took place in the Long Bar, which was located next to the main building. It had a small stage and psychedelic painting, and Johnny would start out by doing the Thursday night slot. Very quickly he built up a strong reputation and was in demand throughout Cornwall. He would do a few slots at PJ's in Truro and it was here he was asked for 6 pence by Brian May, who was playing with Smile. Brian would often use the coin as a guitar pick and Johnny duly loaned him a coin, never to see it again!
One of the first batch of DJ's in the county, along with Gerry Gill and Johnny Lee, Johnny was much in demand. He would regularly DJ at the likes of Tregye, The Mandalay, Annacalatos, Blue Lagoon, as well as the many small clubs and venues. Although he played the hits of the day his main interest was soul, mostly Atlantic and Stax although he did play the slicker Motown as well.
Around 1970 David Penprase at Room At The Top in Redruth was looking for a new DJ as Steve Foster was leaving. Penprase knew of Johnny, mostly because of (slightly rough and ready!) crowd he hung around with. David knew Johnny DJ'd and offered him the slot, where he worked Saturday night 8-11pm. RATT started life as a club, with bands performing, where people came to dance. Johnny would play early reggae and ska, which drew in some of the skinhead crowd, many of whom travelled all the way from Penzance as nobody else was playing that kind of music. By 1972 David became more involved in the folk scene and the club became predominantly a folk venue. Now there was no need for a DJ to get the patrons up on tp the dance floor, the music was very much there to be sat and listened to and there was little or no need for a DJ.
After being on the road as a mobile DJ for a couple of years Gerry Gill had settled into a permanent slot at Talk of the West, a popular cabaret nightclub in St Agnes which formed part of Sunny Skies Holiday Park. Gerry decided to move on in 1973, in part to focus his energy on Roche Recording Studio and the venue auditioned for a replacement. Six others went for the job but Johnny got the offer. The gig was seven nights a week, 8-2am and 8-12 on a Sunday.
Johnny was located in The Maximus, which was the venues disco. It also had a separate nightclub where the acts would perform. The disco would close when the acts were performing in the main venue. By 1976 Johnny was also comparing the evening’s entertainment, with resident band The Viv Rodd Trio backing the performers and also providing entertainment. Johnny would open the evening with a song before introducing all the acts.
Talk of the West, mid 70's
Johnny's record reviews in the Talk of The West magazine
By 1977 interest in the club had waned a little and Basil Tait suggested moving the club and disco together into one room, which sparked a bit of interest for a time, but by this stage the club was on its last legs. By 1978 Johnny had moved on and was mobile again. Times were changing and punk was taking hold, although he played what the punters wanted he wasn't a fan of much of the music around at the time.
His life was wholly nocturnal, working most nights of the week, which wasn't good for married life. He would take a job at a photo lab in Redruth and the DJ'ing started to fade out. He would still play gigs on a Friday night, weddings, etc. but home life and work started to take a precedent. After one last stint doing a summer season in 1978 was packed up the decks and took up a full time position as a driver for Kodak.
He never sold his gear and kept all his records and around 1983 was offered a gig at the Waterside Meadery in Penzance. This would become a five year stint playing 8-11pm every Friday night. He continued to do the odd gig here and there, but finally called it a day around 1990.
He no longer DJ's, but is has never lost his love of music. Now a big fan and follower of Paul Carrick he regularly attends live shows where he has got to know the band. He still hasn't lost the love of performing and once in a while the showman will come out and he sits in with bands to sign old rock and roll and soul numbers.
With Paul Copley, keyboardist for Paul Carrack
One of Johnny's old record boxes