British drumming session great Bobby Graham was born as Robert Francis Neate in London, UK where he received lessons from Ted Heath’s drummer, Ronnie Verral. Recalled Bobby: "My first kit was a right Heinz 57. It was from Ted Warren''s drum shop in Bow, London. It was a mixture of bits of everything. The first proper kit I bought was an Ajax, then I moved over to Carlton. They gave me a kit free and I used that on most of the recordings."
Bobby started to play with the Stormers, or the Outlaws with Mike Berry. Eventually he went on to play with Joe Brown’s Bruvvers and the John Barry Seven.
Bobby Graham played with a great many different artists, including The Kinks' (recording their breakthrough singles, ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day And All Of The Night’), ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ by The Animals, Dave Berry’s ‘The Crying Game’, Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’, and Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ among thousands of others. Session work also included Van Morrison''s ‘Them’, playing on 'Gloria' and ‘Here Comes The Night’. Bobby Graham is also featured on the soundtrack for Goldfinger.
The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein supposedly asked him to join the group after Pete Best was fired. Bobby did not accept.
Bobby Graham passed away on September 14, 2009.
Ray Davies knew about session men. When The Kinks recorded "You Really Got Me" and "All Day And All Of The Night" Mick Avory was ousted in favour of session drummer Bob Graham. In his autobiography Kink, Dave Davies recalls Graham, "He was a great inspirational drummer. I realised what great rock drumming was all about". Ray Davies never forgot Graham, and asked him to play on his re-recording of "You Really Got Me" and the title track of his I998 album "Storyteller". But it wasn't only the Kinks that rated Graham. In June I962 Brian Epstein had asked him to replace Pete Best in The Beatles. By I965 he was so well known he had a regular column in Beat Instrumental magazine.
Bob Graham is without doubt the most recorded drummer in British '60s pop, but he was an uncredited session man. The session scene is murky, and arguments still rage about who played on what. Where Jimmy Page managed to carve a career after years as a hired guitarist, most session players became studio musicians after passing through a series of bands. In Graham's case, it was The Outlaws, Joe Brown and The Bruvvers, Marty Wilde and The Wildcats and The John Barry Seven. One look at the discography reveals just how amazing his list of credits is. For the first time ever, Graham has taken the opportunity to share some memories of the acts he worked with, talk about the session scene and reveal just who did play on some of the most famous (.and collectable) records of the '60s.
He was born in I940 and brought up in Edmonton, North London.He realised early on that drumming was his future. "When I was eight I used to sit at the table with a knife and fork banging things", recalls Graham. "My father decided to make me a little drum kit instead of smashing the dinner plates a every night".The kit that Dad created was made from biscuit tins with rubber stretched over them.
After six months with the biscuit-tin kit he was taken to Ted Warren's Drumshop in the Old Ford Road in near London's East End. "It was like heaven, drums everywhere" remembers Graham, "I was obsessed by drums, I didn't play football, I went straight in to practice. I used to play along with Ronnie Verrall, the drummer from the Ted Heath Orchestra. I stuck cotton wool in the record player, to slow the records down so I could hear what he was doing beat for beat".
Graham left school at fifteen. As he says: "I didn't want a grown ups job. I've never had a grown ups job". He'd already played with a skiffle group. but his heart was in jazz. At sixteen he took up the drum stool at Sunday night jazz sessions at The Witches Cauldron, a Hampstead coffee bar. Rock 'n' roll soon came (literally) knocking on the door.
Even though Graham was a self-confessed jazz snob, the invitation to join his
first rock 'n' roll band in Spring I960 proved irresistible. An old school-mate, Billy Halsey, had formed Billy Gray and the Stormers. "Billy knocked on my door and said 'do you fancy going off to Butlins Holiday camp in Filey in Yorkshire for a summer season gig' remembers Graham. He declined -no, I'm a jazz musician". so the offer was made more attractive. there will be plenty of booze, plenty of girls' -'no, no' - 'it's 20 pounds a week'. Suddenly I became a rock 'n' roll musician".
So off Graham went to Yorkshire, playing the chart hits of the day, mainly covers of Cliff and the Shadows. In September I960, after the Butlin's season, the Stormers split when Halsey got married. Joe Meek was interested in Mike Berry, but didn't like his backing band, so the Stormers were talked into reforming. Meek renamed them The Outlaws in late I960, "I thought (The Outlaws) was a bit camp. At the time we did what we were told" recalls Graham.
The Outlaws became a Meek house band, backing up Mike Berry and John Leyton as well as recording on their own. Meek's unusual approach to songwriting made an impression: "He used to come to us with demos of him singing what he thought he heard in his head, but he would use strange backing tracks that were nothing to do with the song. Occasionally he might try to play a few notes on the piano. We used to rewrite the things, but we would always see his name on the label, not ours!
You didn't dare criticise Joe, as he might throw a wobbly. I didn't like his occult thing, I'd seen him and (songwriter) Geoff Goddard on a oujia board session. He told me he was talking to Buddy Holly and Mario Lanza. Its no secret we didn't get on. He was a sad little man, a very lonely person. He couldn't relate to people"
The final straw with Meek came in September I96I after the release of the Outlaws third single. The B-side, "Crazy Drums", was credited solely to Meek, although Graham had devised it as a drum showcase. A way out of the Outlaws came from Meek's arranger, Charles Blackwell, who told Graham that Joe Brown needed a drummer for his band, the Bruvvers. After passing the audition, Graham left the Outlaws for Brown in late I96I. "I was suddenly thrown into this world of stardom, which was terrifying at the start," Graham recollects, "from being in The Outlaws in a second hand van, to being in a luxury coach with Joe Brown, Marty Wilde, Billy Fury. It was a mad life, we used to have police protection to get out of theatres and into coaches".
Brown soon let Graham know that he was a more precise taskmaster than Meek. "Joe (Brown) used to spend hours doing sound checks. He was very strict on time keeping, we were always the first band to arrive at a theatre," remembers Graham, "he wouldn't let us play with other acts". Despite this, The Bruvvers got into trouble by moonlighting as John Leyton's backing band. While Brown was on holiday, they took up Charles Blackwell's offer to back Leyton for a week at Chester's Royalty Theatre. One problem - "We went on stage, they announced John Leyton, the curtains opened, and guess who was sitting in the front row. Joe went absolutely ape".
Graham's stint with The Bruvvers was marked by an offer which didn't seem significant at the time. "We were on tour in June I962 and played at (Liverpool's) Cavern and Litherland Town Hall. After the show we went to a club called the Blue Angel with Brain Epstein. Brian offered me the job with the Beatles. They wanted to get rid of Pete Best, they were having problems with Pete's mother. Brian didn't like her, so he decided to out Pete, and asked me if I was interested in joining the band, I said 'why would want to join a band in Liverpool that nobody's ever heard of?". After some clashes with Brown, Graham left the Bruvvers in early I963. "We didn't always see eye to eye, I was pretty wild in those days. I should have listened. I learnt my discipline on that when I became a session man".
He quickly found a spot in Marty Wilde's Wildcats: "Marty knew my reputation as a drummer and invited me to join". The only legacy of this Wildcats line up was "Polaris", a Telstar-inspired single released under the name The Boys in March I963. This Wilde-penned instrumental was produced by John Barry.
Marty Wilde wasn't the only one to notice Graham's skills. Tony Hatch had been at the recording of "A Picture Of You" in early I962, and asked whether Graham was interested in playing on sessions by other acts. At the same time, another staff producer at Pye records (Brown's label) asked Graham if he'd play on an album by Davy Graham. "I got to the studio, and was surprised because there was only me and him" remembers Graham, "he was an acoustic guitarist, no bass, nothing".
That album, "The Guitar Player" released late I962, was Bob Graham's first taste of session work. He was evolving into a session man. John Barry, who'd first met Graham at The Boys' session, was also impressed with the accomplished drummer. "John liked my playing and was looking for someone to take over the John Barry Seven and reform it. All the old guys, Les Reed, Vic Flick, had left to become session guys and arrangers", recalls Graham, "John had a lot of college work. We had to find a trumpet player that looked like him, so we found Alan Brown. He used to sign pictures as John Barry! I wasn't with him (Barry) for long, about six months". Graham also played on sessions for Barry's label Ember, as well as getting experience as a producer (Mandy Rice-Davies). Graham then decided to go into full time session work because he was married and a father.
By the end of I963 Graham was well known amongst arrangers and producers and finding studio work was easy. 'Mike Smith at Decca heard my playing. Then Mickie Most rang, and it built up from there". Other session drummers didn't have Graham's feel for rock 'n' roll: "Ronnie Verrall and Kenny Clare had been around for a long time, they were both big band musicians, Ronnie had come out of the Ted Heath Band, Kenny had come out of the Johnny Dankworth Band. Neither were particularly fond of rock 'n' roll music. They had a great big band jazz feel and would play exactly what was written on their drum parts. If a fly landed on their chart they'd play it! Whereas I couldn't read. so I had to rely on what felt right. I was loud. My trick was, if the singer took a breath, fill in. I was one of the first of the new generation coming in, Jim Sullivan was already in. Jimmy Page - same thing, couldn't read a note but had a great feel".
Musicians on the session circuit were generally booked by a fixer. Graham explains: "Charlie Katz, a string player, was the fixer for everybody. He was like God, Very tough,and very touchy, He'd ring up and say 'Bob, I'd like you to be at Decca studios tomorrow morning at ten o'clock, until one o'clock' - 'Charlie, who's the musical director on it?' - 'Bob, do not ask the names of the higher ups'. You didn't upset Charlie, otherwise you'd be put on holiday'. You didn't get any work for two weeks".
Graham often had no idea what he was turning up for: "It was a peculiar way of working, almost everything you could think of. You could get there and walk into a 70 piece orchestra doing a movie thing, or Tommy Kinsman and his strict tempo dance orchestra at Phillips studios. then you'd dash across to EMI and it would be a film session or P.J. Proby with a big orchestra, then to Pye, and in the evening it would be The Kinks.
The session musicians were a close-knit group, but Graham doesn't think of them as a band: "The combinations used to change. Big Jim Sullivan, Alan Weighell on bass. Alan had come from Tommy Steele. There would be Earl Guest (a.k.a. Reg Guest) on piano. On the next session you'd find it had changed to Jimmy Page on guitar and Arthur Greenslade on piano. Suddenly it would be three guitarists - Jim Sullivan, Jimmy Page and Vic Flick. Joe Moretti was another big session guitarist at the time. Next session it would be Ronnie Price on piano. You usually had the same Rock 'n Roll sax players: Rocking Rex Morris, Red Price (from Lord Rockingham's II). Sometimes, even Benny Green came in to play Rock 'n' Roll sax.
After the younger guys had got in, everything else stayed the same, the string players, the brass and wind instruments". Session musicians were brought in for various reasons, mostly financial: "It was done mainly for convenience. it was financial, you had to get at least four titles done in a three hour session. The record companies booked the professionals to come and do the backing tracks. they got a better performance of course as well". Surprisingly, according to Graham, the band's own drummers never complained.
It was hard work, probably harder than touring. "There were three sessions a
day, sometimes seven days because they couldn't get us during the week. I 0 'til I,'til 5 then 7 ''til I 0, sometimes you'd get a very late session going on 'til 2 in the morning, then the next day back again. It was incredibly hard work. Charlie Katz used to come round with wage packets at the end of every session and pay you in cash in a little brown envelope -'Bob Graham, percussionist, nine pounds'. Thirty quid' I day was colossal money", But not too colossal to spend - "I blew it on booze.I I used to go to clubs and drink- and gamble,. after I'd finished my sessions at I 0 o'clock. The Cromwellian and Annie's Room. Jimmy Page used to turn up, Big Jim Sullivan too".
Session men were expected to cope with every style of pop. "One of the sessions I did with a fairly big orchestra was for Petula Clark. I remember walking in to the studio and thinking - 'oh my god there are all these guys I've looked at for years'. People from the Heath Orchestra, big names. I was terrified. I was half their age. I couldn't read, and in those days, arrangers would write all the drum parts. I remember doing a session with Tony Hatch. Tony hadn't realised I wasn't a reader, I'm playing
away, and he said 'I've been sitting up all night writing those bloody drum parts and you're not playing them'. I was too afraid to say in front of everyone 'I can't play them because I can't read them', so I said 'I thought I'd improvise'. He was very gracious and said 'It's working, you play what you want"
The production line approach meant that records now considered classics, could often be forgotten after the days work. For example, although Graham confirms that it's him, pianist Arthur Greenslade and bassist Erie Ford on The Nashville Teens' "Tobacco Road", he remembers nothing of the session itself. "At the time it was just another group. If it was a boring typical thing you just did it, with maybe not quite the fire," he explains, "It was your job. If it was a really interesting and exciting you got stuck in.
The Kinks really stood out because of Ray Davies' songs. not the standard I2 bar blues". Some acts stood out, either because they put so much into the recordings. Or simply because they were friendly. "I" d be the first one at the studio, setting up, tap on the shoulder, Bob how's the family'?' - and it would be Tom Jones, 'just the same as somebody working in a factory! Tom was a performer, he'd stand behind the microphone and get stuck into it. Kathy Kirby had a big voice, but didn't perform. I remember thinking what an strange singer Marianne Faithful was, nice person though. Brenda Lee really did perform. Mickie Most produced that record ('Is It True') at Decca, they wanted this English sound. John Carter and Kenny Lewis wrote the song, and also did backing vocals. Jimmy Page and Jim Sullivan were on guitar, Alan Weighell was on bass, Stan Barrett on percussion and myself on drums.The arranger was Reg Guest.
For the B side, 'What I'd Say'. we were messing around, somebody started the lick, Brenda jumped in and Mickie Most said 'let's record that'. It was done in one take".
Graham has special memories of Dusty Springfield: "She threw a cup of
coffee at me. She had this thing about drummers, we all had our little moment with Dusty. We did some stuff at Olympic, some at Phillips Studios. 'I Only Want To Be With You' had Vic Flick on guitar. Dusty didn't like the sound at Phillips, she couldn't get the warm American sound over here. Dusty occasionally used to go and use the toilets in Phillips to record in. They'd sling a mike up, she didn't like the dead sound in the studio".
The higher calibre of studio and musician in London attracted acts from abroad.The French pop star Eddy Mitchell was a regular visitor, recording at least eight EPs in London. For Mitchell's releases the session men were dubbed "The London All Stars". Graham recalls: "Charlie Katz rang - 'please be at Pye records, don't ask who the artist is'. I plodded along there, said to (engineer) Bob Auger 'who is it tonight?' - 'Eddy Mitchell', 'who the hell is Eddy Mitchell?". Every record on the Barclay label credited to The London All Stars features Graham, Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan. Other French acts like FranÁoise Hardy, Michel Poinareff, Eric Saint-Laurent and Sylvie Vartan would also record in London.
In early I964 Graham began production for Fontana. "Jack Baverstock, head
of A&R, didn't want to work with The Pretty Things. He said 'I don't want to work with these animals, I can't listen to that crap, take them if you want to'. They were extremely difficult, especially when they'd all been drinking". Graham managed to reign in The Pretty Things' excesses and struck up such a rapport, that not only did he produce them and stand in for the often awol Viv Prince. he also co-wrote with them. Graham's credits include "Can't Stand The Pain", the B-side to "Midnight To Six Man and "You Don't Believe Me", from their second album "Get The Picture".
Fontana released Graham's first solo single in January I965. "Skin Deep" was a drum work-out famous from Louis Belson's recording with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Graham's version was recorded at Phillips Studios with Jimmy Page, bassist Alan Weighel, organist Kenny Salmon, Arthur Greenslade on piano and a brass section of Duncan Campbell, Ray Davies (the Button Down Brass guy, not the Kinks and Bert Ezard from The Ted Heath Band. The same line up appeared on Jimmy Page's debut single "She Just Satisfies".
During I965 Graham continued playing sessions, but began to put more effort into production work. In February Eddie Barclay, the millionaire playboy owner of Eddy Mitchell's label, asked Graham to produce an album for the French market. Credited to Le London All Star, "British Percussion", released in September I965, was a stereo showcase, with ping-pong percussion effects. Graham used his session colleagues - guitarist John McLaughlin, bassist Alan Weighell. Drummers Andy White and Ronnie Verrall. Jimmy Page's contribution was significant. He played lead on every track and co-wrote three with Graham. The stand-out is "Lord Byron's Blues" a bluesey fuzz/slide guitar work out. Before the album's release, Barclay offered Graham a job. "I was taken on as the head of Barclay Records UK. I didn't speak much French, I had an interpreter with me all the time. My job was to produce English artists for the French market. When I joined Barclay I began to stop playing, I just got so tired from the work load. I was tired of playing music I didn't like. Clem Cattini took on a lot of the drumming when I moved from session work".
Finding English language acts for the French market was a somewhat random
process. "We put ads in the trade papers - 'artists wanted for auditions'. I produced the In-Betweens (the precursors of Slade) for Barclay at Pye Number 2. I also produced an EP from the singer from Billy Gray and the Stormers, he was called Le Frizzy One. That was Carter, Lewis and Jimmy Page". Ultimately, the French didn't take to the British acts: "You could not get anything English off the ground in France. I got pretty fed up flying backwards and forwards twice a week and I decided to call it a day with Barclay".
Graham then landed a job with Dutch producer Freddie Haayan, who he'd met while producing the Golden Earrings. when they came to London to record. "Freddie rang me in I967 to ask if I'd work for him. I went to Hilversum, then EMI (Bovema in Holland) headhunted me, and I started producing Dutch artists for the international market. I got very lucky, the first record I produced which was a hit for Unit Gloria, "The Last Seven Days". Their singer, Robert Long, is now the Cliff Richard of Holland". After four years, Graham left Holland. .'They asked me leave in I97I because my drinking had become horrendous, I disguised it until it got the point where you can't disguise falling over and throwing up in your office. I ended up on the streets in Amsterdam, full of booze, never dreamt I had a problem. Finally my parents got me home, and I never had another drink".
From I973-75 Graham produced a variety of acts for Christian labels. He then opened The Trading Post, a collectors record shop in Edmonton. He soon tired of the 9-5 and started a business making training videos for Midland Bank and Ladbrokes and filming weddings and bar mitzvahs. The I989-90 recession killed the business off., so Graham took stock. "I was thinking, 'what the bloody hell am I going to do?', and there was a drum kit advertised in the local paper. I was just going to clean it up and sell it to make a profit. I set it up in the front room and I was suddenly hooked again. No bands are going to want somebody my age playing for them, no matter how good I am so I thought, I'll start my own band. I rang up all the guys I knew in the jazz scene, and gradually the band started to become popular". The Jazz Experience play regularly around Hertfordshire, and their popularity is in no small measure due to Graham's love and feel for music.