The prolific and versatile session musician known as ‘Big Jim’ Sullivan played on close to 1,000 hit records, including more than 50 that topped the British charts.
Born James George Tomkins, at the age of 14 he began playing guitar in a country band that performed at US army bases in Britain. Gravitating towards the emerging skiffle and rock‘n’roll scene in the coffee bars of Soho – in particular the 2i’s in Compton Street – Sullivan joined Marty Wilde’s Wildcats in 1958. His first recording sessions with Wilde resulted in A Teenager in Love, Sea of Love and Bad Boy, all of which reached the top ten.
In 1960, Sullivan toured with visiting American rockers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, at the end of which the latter tragically died in a car crash.
Stepping up his studio work throughout the 1960s, Sullivan was to feature on an array of bestselling songs such as Frankie Vaughan’s Tower of Strength, Peter and Gordon’s A World Without Love, Out of Time by Chris Farlowe and Everlasting Love by Love Affair. His guitar riffs could also be heard on chart toppers from the likes of Frank Ifield, Cilla Black, the Walker Brothers, Sandie Shaw, Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones.
In 1969, Jones invited Sullivan to join his backing band, which led to a five-year stint touring the world. During this time, Sullivan became friendly with Elvis Presley, whom he met in Las Vegas.
Sullivan recorded several albums of his own in the mid-1970s, and then became a member of the James Last Orchestra for nine years, apart from a short hiatus when he toured with Olivia Newton-John.
In more recent years, he opted for semi-retirement, although he still enjoyed playing gigs occasionally. Sullivan latterly suffered ill health due to diabetes and heart problems, complications from which led to his death. He is survived by his wife, Norma.
‘Big Jim’ Sullivan was born in Uxbridge, west London, on February 14, 1941, and died at his home in Billingshurst, West Sussex, on October 2, aged 71.