Jim Simpson

The founder of Big Bear Records’ Jim Simpson took a band called Earth from obscurity to become global icons, Black Sabbath. He also runs a successful jazz festival – and is an author too! 


After working in the Royal Air Force in Gibraltar for nearly three years, I came back to Birmingham in the early 1960s, working as a photographer and jazz musician. I got to photograph the likes of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mick Jagger and Nina Simone as well as bands that established Birmingham as the Rock and Roll capital of the UK. With my own band, Locomotive, I frequented a West Indian record store and discovered Rock Steady – the music from the Islands that preceded Ska and Reggae – resulting in Locomotive having a hit record with Rudi’s In Love. I quit playing trumpet to manage Locomotive and also a band called Earth. I hated that name and persuaded them to change it to Black Sabbath. In 1970, I took them to a hit single Paranoid. Since then I’ve been recording American Bluesmen, jazz musicians from all over and local bands.

We have organised numerous festivals, including 38 editions (so far) of Birmingham, Sandwell & Westside Jazz Festival and six years of the Marbella Jazz Festival. We relaunched Henry’s Blueshouse in 2019, now at Velvet Music Rooms on Broad Street every Tuesday.


I’m good at coming up with ideas for projects but not so hot at putting them into action. Sometimes I over-estimate the capabilities of our small company – just five of us. I’m happiest in the recording studio but don’t always find it easy to effectively market our releases.


To digitise and release our record catalogue of unreleased music. To continue to play our part in keeping those Blues alive. To do our best to continue presenting what we consider to be the real jazz.


Staying in what we laughingly call business for 54 years and counting, working with real musicians, no backing tracks, no DJs.


I’ve always believed that if you do a job properly, deliver on what you set out to do, then those up there, the decision-makers, will take notice. It’s taken a long time to finally accept that this does not work.


How long have you got? The Birmingham audience for music, they never let you down. Their appetite and preparedness to listen to something new. Birmingham is the UK capital of Rock and Roll, it is also significant when it comes to jazz and blues – and Birmingham is only a 15-minute drive to that field of dreams, Halesowen Town Football Club.


What’s that? I enjoy writing and currently have two books published co-written with my brother Ron.


The decade is chronicled like never before in our new book, Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1970s Birmingham. Duran Duran, UB40, Dexys Midnight Runners and many more found initial success in the 1970s and feature in the story.