50 years of drumming history
Pete was born in Middlesbrough, England on 15th August 1942. The Second World War was raging but he had nothing to do with it.
1950 He began to play on a toy drum and his mother’s cooking pots while listening to American jazz on the radio; probably his first exposure to drum legend, Gene Krupa.Pete played drums throughout his school years and joined the Trent College Jazz Club, School Orchestra and Army Cadet Force Band. On leaving school in 1960 he had acquired some rudimentary technique on the drums and his enthusiasm was growing fast for a life in music. He went to Birmingham and soon got involved in the music scene there, playing everything from Dixieland to modern jazz.
In 1962 came his first TV appearance with an award-winning new jazz group.
Pete had also begun to play blues and R & B with Spencer Davis, Steve and Muff.
Eventually the Spencer Davis Group would record in 1964. The record releases that followed resulted in critical acclaim in many countries and ever-increasing chart success.
“Keep On Running” reached Number One in 1965 to be followed in the next year by “Somebody Help Me”, “When I Come Home”, “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m A Man”.
Pete appeared with the SDG in several films, countless TV shows around the world and is heard on all the million selling singles and albums. But there always comes that time to move on and Steve and Muff had already left.
In 1969 Pete left Spencer on friendly terms to form a unique duo with Eddie Hardin.
Hardin and York were sometimes dubbed “the World’s Smallest Big Band” and released several albums with great success, especially in Europe.
The duo often played as opening act for bands like Deep Purple and it is from this time that Pete’s friendship with Jon Lord and Ian Paice stems.
By 1972 Pete York’s Percussion Band had hit the road. It featured a brass section and three drummers as well as guitarist/singer Miller Anderson. Occasional guest drummers in this adventure were Ian Paice, Keef Hartley, Roy Dyke and Keith Moon.
Klaus Doldinger was a much acclaimed saxophonist bandleader from Germany and in 1973 he put together a package including his own Passport group plus guests, Alexis Korner, Brian Auger, Johnny Griffin and Pete York. It was a mixture of stylists and it worked beautifully.
The next year came a call from Jon Lord for Pete to play with “Rock Meets Classic” an experimental mix of rock group and orchestra which Jon had pioneered with Deep Purple a couple of years earlier. This year of 1974 also included a revival of the Spencer Davis Group for American and European tours.
Six weeks in Bali with Eberhard Schoener and a German film crew resulted in the album and TV special “Bali Agung” in 1975.
In the same year Klaus Doldinger invited Pete to tour again with Johnny Griffin, Les McCann and Buddy Guy. The recording of Jon Lord’s “Sarabande” also took place during this year.
In 1976 Pete could not resist Chris Barber’s invitation to play “Echoes of Ellington” with his band and Russell Procope and Wild Bill Davis from the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Pete stayed happily with the band to tour Africa and Australia and accompany exciting guests.
In spite of playing more than 250 shows a year Pete took time to marry Mecky on 16 June 1977 and their village wedding was a star-studded event with everyone from the Purples to the Barbers showing up.
Trummy Young from the Louis Armstrong All Stars and John Lewis from the Modern Jazz Quartet joined the Barber Band for “Swing Is Here” in 1978.
The formation of Pete York’s New York took Pete away on tour a lot. Daughter Stephanie was born on 3 May 1979. The responsibility of keeping a regular band on the road as Chris Barber had always done was not easy but Pete kept it going until 1983 and produced several recordings of their jazz-rock music. There were many other sideman gigs for Pete, such as with Dr. John and Charlie Watts Rocket 88.
The Rock and Blues Circus made its first tours with Chris Farlowe, Jon Lord and Colin Hodgkinson and there were Direct to Disc albums produced.
In 1984 Pete moved to Germany with Mecky and Stephanie and a new phase of life began for them.
Pete decided to invite some of his old colleagues to tour under the motto “Pete York Presents….” Spencer, Chris Farlowe and Brian Auger all came on the road with Pete and frequent rhythm partner Colin Hodgkinson.
A chance meeting with TV director Michael Maschke led to discussions about various TV projects and the idea for “Superdrumming” was born.
Brian, Colin and Pete continued touring and made TV shows which included their comic lunacy as well as some great music. In 1986 a cartoon film scripted by Pete and called “Dracula Junior” was completed involving their music and voice talents. By now the group had been christened “Daddy and the Steamers” by Stephanie.
Pete had long wanted to play some straight swinging jazz with some of his old friends and the opportunity came in 1987. The TV series “Villa Fantastica” was written by Pete and directed by Michael Maschke. Every show featured a live number played by a swinging quintet, Roy Williams, Dick Morrissey, Brian Auger, Harvey Weston and Pete.
Pete was writing and performing in the series “Vorhang Auf” and the first series of “Superdrumming” featuring Ian Paice, Louie Bellson, Cozy Powell, Gerry Brown and Simon Phillips was filmed in a church during a snowy February.
The next year, 1988, the production of the second series of “Superdrumming” featured Billy Cobham, Bill Bruford, Dave Mattacks, Zak Starkey, Nicko McBrain, Jon Lord and Eddie Hardin.
In 1989 there were tours with Chris Farlowe, Zoot Money, Tony Ashton, Jon Lord, Miller Anderson, Colin Hodgkinson and Pete in an All Star group.
The “Superdrumming” TV show won a Silver Award in America and a third series was planned.
By now the location was a disused steelworks and the guests included Jon Hiseman, Steve Ferrone, Mark Brzezicki, Trilok Gurtu and the return of Ian Paice.
The band on this series featured Miller, Colin, Brian, Jon and Barbara Thompson.
There were also more TV tapings of “Villa Fantastica” with the Swing band plus singers Maria Muldaur and Zoot Money.
The success of live gigs with the Swingers encouraged Pete to take a jazz group on the road.
“Superdrumming” was now well-known in Germany and in 1990 an invitation came to present it live in Freiburg. The drummers were Ian Paice, Jon Hiseman, Cozy Powell and Pete together with the All Star band. The show was sold out in a couple of hours. Daddy and the Steamers continued to tour and Pete played in a duo with Brian Auger.
January of 1991 saw the first extended jazz tour “Hollywood Swing” featuring the musicians from “Villa Fantastica” and the tours would go out every January for the next ten years.
The Freiburg Festival invited Pete to organise a week of events involving around forty of his musical friends. There were concerts of “Superblues”, “Wind In The Willows”, “Lady Sings The Blues” and “Hollywood Swing” which featured many of the stars from Pete’s life in music.
Pete’s Fiftieth Birthday was celebrated with a big open-air bash in Switzerland in August 1992. Musicians from all Pete’s bands and projects came together to play for a crowd of 8000.
On a TV Award show Pete’s Sixties All Stars with Jon Lord, Spencer Davis, Eddie Hardin and Paul Jones had the celebrity audience dancing in the aisles with a medley of their hits.
The revival of interest in Sixties music led to more offers for the Spencer Davis Group and they played to 10,000 people at a festival in Scotland and 15,000 in Amsterdam.
The old hits like “Gimme Some Lovin’” were being used in Hollywood movies.
In August Pete took a five piece band into Europe’s biggest Variety theatre in Berlin for a three month run.
There were more jazz gigs, more Spencer Davis gigs in 1994 but the highspots were concerts with Jon Lord and Orchestra.
By the following year this project was known as Jon Lord and the Gemini Band.
1995 was the debut year of the Pete York Big Band playing a programme of swing classics.
All the old Spencer Davis Group recordings were now available in a CD box set and, during a sell-out week in Birmingham, Steve and Muff Winwood both came along to hear the band.
The Birmingham International Jazz Festival invited Pete to play for a week and at the same time rehearse and premiere the Tribute to Gene Krupa “Drummin’ Man” which Pete had devised.
The swing band was now called the Blue Jive Five and the first CD “Listen here” was released. “Drummin’ Man” was booked onto jazz festivals from Finland to Cork.
Pete performed with the Big Band and the Steamers under the sponsorship of a cooking pot company who constructed a drum set made of kitchen equipment. It was back to his beginnings on Mum’s pans and created great public interest.
Amongst the many projects Pete had been involved in the Krupa Tribute was dear to his heart and in 1998 he was invited on a similar show for the Hundredth Birthday of George Gershwin.
But this time with a string orchestra and he had to play drums and percussion on “Rhapsody in Blue” as well as playing and singing the Gershwin standards.
The Centenary year of Duke Ellington was 1999 and this was irresistible to Pete.
Once again the strings swung with the jazz combo as Pete sang some of his favourite items of Ellingtonia. As in any other year there were tours with the perennial colleagues but new friends were made such as the original Duke Ellington bass player, Jimmy Woode.
He would join the Pete York All Star Jazz Band for concerts in 2000 to honour the Centenary of jazz great, Louis Armstrong.
Pete’s old friendship with Eddie Hardin continued and, when Eddie announced himself ready to return to the road after many years running his own studio in the South of France, a revival of Hardin and York pleased the many fans.
In early 2001 it was possible to tour England with “Drummin’ Man” featuring the cream of the British jazz scene. Another happy re-union with Jon Lord in Zermatt resulted in them performing Jon’s chamber music for an international symposium of Nobel prize winners.
A major tour of the UK was a highlight of early 2002 with the SDG headlining for the Troggs and the Yardbirds in a package presentation such as they had not appeared on since the Sixties.
53 days on the road performing 46 shows in 43 cities and towns. The last night was at the Royal Albert Hall and the SDG segment of the show was released on DVD. Pete’s drum solo during “I’m A Man” earned a standing ovation from the audience of 5.000.
Hardin & Yorks “Wind In The Willows” and “Pete York’s Super Drumming”, both filmed some years before, also appeared on DVD. These releases were a satisfying way for Pete to celebrate his 60th birthday in this year, as well his 25th wedding anniversary with Mecky.
In September Pete staged a sell-out concert with an all-star cast in Munich playing swing and R&B.
A trio with Helge Schneider and Jimmy Woode had already proved a success and Helge produced a film “Jazz Club” during early summer 2003 in which the trio played a central part. This would arrive in German cinemas in 2004.
Helge’s film opened after more concerts on March 31st, 2004. The critics were good and the musical numbers which were featured involving Jimmy Woode and I sounded fine.
In June there were rehearsals and recordings with Jon Lord and an appearance on a Jazz Festival in Bingen. This was with the Jazz Trio featuring Claus Koch and the group found themselves playing in front of the Count Basie Orchestra, who had arrived early. Also the R & B AllStars with Chris Farlowe played a few concerts.
Then, on the last day of August, Pete was fixing a security camera in Mecky’s new shop when he fell off the ladder. His shoulder was broken but quickly screwed together in the clinic. Pete returned home and, ten days after the op, played a local gig with his right arm in a sling. There was time for recovery, no more Helge shows for a while.