British session guitarist Jim Sullivan has passed away after a long period of poor health. He was 71 years old. He played on over 1,000 chart hits — including 55 No. 1 singles — during his vibrant career, in addition to working with a who’s who of classic rock royalty.
While Sullivan was hardly a household name, you’ve certainly heard his work. A myriad of U.K. hit makers called on his talents, including everyone from Donovan and Dusty Springfield to the Walker Brothers, Tom Jones and Thunderclap Newman.
Born James Tomkins, Sullivan began his musical career in 1959 as a member of Marty Wilde’s band (Wilde was a U.K. rocker in the Gene Vincent mode). He was a teacher and mentor to both Yes guitarist Steve Howe and Deep Purple‘s Ritchie Blackmore.
According to Classic Rock Magazine, Blackmore labeled “big” Jim “a big influence. He’d only been playing about two years, but he was just about the best guitarist in England, straight away. I thought I was alright and learning pretty well. I couldn’t even understand what he was doing.”
In addition to the stacks of records he lent a hand to, Sullivan was the house guitarist on the legendary British music television shows Top of the Pops and Ready Steady Go, and also is credited with pioneering the use of the fuzzbox and talkbox, later made famous by Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton.
Along the way, he toured with Eddie Cochran, befriended Elvis Presley, and also found time to work with George Harrison, Frank Zappa, the Who, Long John Baldry and producer Joe Meek. In 1968, Sullivan made a record under the name Lord Sitar which, as you guessed, featured him playing the sitar.