Cyril Davies... British Blues Harp Pioneer

Mickey Waller's Memories

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This page is dedicated to the life and musical legacy of Mickey Waller and only appears through the courtesy of Stephanie Lynne Thorburn, Mark Freeman, Rick Brown, and Linda Thorburn…many thanks folks!

Mickey Waller was one of the first English rock drummers. He earned the nickname "The Fox" due to craftily getting himself into bands. I worked with him for a year or two in the Brian Auger band, the Marty Wilde band, and Georgie Fame's band, during which time I "lent" him cigarettes on a daily basis although he never bought a packet himself! Nevertheless we were good friends, had a lot of laughs, and I always enjoyed his playing. I'd say he was a highly intelligent megalomaniac, misogynist and misanthrope - famous, infamous and notorious all at the same time! - Rick Brown - August 2006

Mickey - "before I leave the era of the early 60s, I would like to remember Screaming Lord Sutch and his Savages. Carlo Little, who only died this summer (2005) as I write, was the drummer, with Nicky Hopkins on piano. Nicky went on to play with many famous artists, such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, and the Jeff Beck Group, to name just a few. Poor Nicky is also gone now, I like to remember these people…I had an offer from the notorious pioneer of the British Blues scene called Cyril Davies. In many ways, I consider this the real starting point of my musical career. We used to play regularly on Twickenham's Eel Pie Island on Sundays. It must have been round this time that I first met Rod Stewart. Long John Baldry wasa regular member of Cyril Davies' band and Rod Stewart would often show up to sit in, singing with the band. I saw Rod only two months ago at Krissie Wood's funeral at Mortlake Crematorium just round the corner from me. I have known Rod all those years, but that could well be the first date; August 4th, 1963 at the Eel Pie Island. I stayed with Cyril Davies and played Richmond Jazz Festival, the Marquee, The Marquee at Golders Green, The Cavern Club in Liverpool, The Marquee in Manchester, even the Albert Hall on Saturday 21st of September. We also played some TV shows too. Poor Cyril. I eventually left Cyril's band to join Marty Wilde." - excerpt from "The Beat Behind The Best / The Whole Truth- well, Nearly..." - Mickey Waller's Life Story, as told by himself in the Summer and Autumn of 2005. Transcribed with some minor changes / additions: Mark Freeman, November / December 2005.

Legendary 60s Sticksman Mickey Waller Passes Away - Obituary by Stephanie Lynne Thorburn
(Photos of Mickey's 66th birthday party at the Bull's Head, Barnes in September 2007 are © Linda Thorburn and appear here with permission - Thanks Linda!)

Archetypal 60s drummer Mickey Waller sadly passed away at the end of April ('08) aged 66. Mickey was a low-key legend in the music industry, whose achievements during his career formed an impressive discography that reads like a rock family tree of British blues-rock pioneers. Waller performed with names as diverse as Cyril Davies, Georgie Fame, Long John Baldry, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix to name but a few.

Mickey gained prestige in the industry initially on Jeff Beck's 'Truth' album in 1968- the album features contributions from artists including John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Keith Moon, forming a template for cutting edge heavy blues- oriented rock. Waller later appeared on Jeff's Beck-Ola ('Sweet Little Angel') and most notably, between 1970 and '72, he worked on Rod Stewart's first four solo albums, including 'Every Picture Tells A Story in' '71, performing on tracks including 'Maggie May'. Mickey Waller's biography has been under documented, although a fairly comprehensive list of his sessions and key recording projects can be found online on the Musician's Olympus

More latterly, Mickey had been performing with the eponymous 'Mickey Waller Band' within the London area. His blues-roots influenced brand of rock n' roll remained distinctive throughout his career and he was central to the community of the newly re-formed Eel Pie Island.

The Eel Pie Club staged a tribute to Mickey Waller on 11th June 2008 featuring Tom Nolan and the Bluescasters, together will special guests and friends of Mickey. It raised £700 towards his funeral expenses. Many thanks to all the musicians and friends of Mickey who made it such a wonderful night, both musically and spiritually. Also many thanks to The Rugby Football Union for donating 2 tickets to REM at Twickenham Stadium as a raffle prize.

Mickey Waller - Drummer with the Jeff Beck Group who was a familiar face on the 1960s music scene - Obituary by Peter Mason; Wednesday May 28, 2008, The Guardian

Mickey Waller, who has died of liver failure aged 66, was a ubiquitous face on the 1960s music scene in London, a superb drummer who played with a merry-go-round of bands, was much in demand as a session musician, and eventually became Rod Stewart's sticksman of choice. He also worked with the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Jeff Beck Group, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, and, in 1968, was involved in staging the rock musical Hair in London.

Reserved and unassuming but quietly tough and always his own man, Waller was sought after for his individualist heavy drumming style, known as the "Waller wallop". Always willing to try something different, he would often simply stop in the middle of a song - a legacy of his jazz training - and would also play melodies on the tom-toms. A highly intelligent man, he later took a law degree in his spare time and used his knowledge to win claims for various unpaid royalties. But he was pleased to say that he always made his living through music.

Born in Hammersmith, west London, the son of a council clerk of works, Waller was evacuated as a war baby to his Aunt Nora's home in Belper, Derbyshire. After he returned to his parents' home in Greenford, Middlesex, his father encouraged his interest in drumming by taking him to see the 1955 film The Benny Goodman Story; Gene Krupa's big-band drumming virtually hypnotised the teenager. Waller took lessons with Jim Marshall, maker of the world-famous Marshall amplifiers, and later partly credited his unusual style to the fact that as a lefthander he had learned on a righthanded set of drums.

Although he once aspired to become a professional cyclist, he opted for music, first making his living as a 19-year-old in a rock'n'roll band called the Flee-Rekkers, who had a low-key hit in 1960 with a version of the song Green Jeans. He soon left to play with the higher profile Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, and in 1963 joined the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars, a band that featured Long John Baldry on vocals.

As was common at the time, Waller flitted from band to band, fitting in stints with Marty Wilde and the Wildcats and Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, before being chosen by Little Richard as his drummer on two British tours. While with Wilde in 1964, he also stood in for the Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts at a gig at Chatham town hall, after Watts (a long-time friend) failed to return from a holiday.

By 1965, Waller had joined a new band, the Steampacket, which featured Rod Stewart. Two years later, he joined Stewart, Jeff Beck and Ron Wood in the highly regarded Jeff Beck Group, contributing to their heavy blues feel on two well-received album - Truth (1968). A transatlantic hit that to some extent laid the ground for Led Zeppelin's brand of blues-influenced heavy rock.

Around this time Waller played a couple of gigs with Hendrix in the US, and is also believed to have been earmarked by the Stones' Brian Jones as the drummer for a proposed Brian Jones Band, which failed to come to fruition because of Jones's death in 1969. Now at the height of his prominence, he had already been chosen as musical co-director of Hair, occasionally playing drums in the show that opened in London in September 1968.

When both Waller and Stewart left the Jeff Beck Group, Stewart asked Waller to feature on his debut solo album, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down (1969) - and thereafter Waller became a fixture at the drumming stool on many of Stewart's solo efforts, including Every Picture Tells a Story (1971), the album which included Maggie May.

A great lover of dogs, Waller would, on occasion, turn down lucrative work if it prevented him from walking and feeding his pets. He was especially proud that one of his boxers, Zak, barked the opening to Sweet Little Rock'n'Roller on Stewart's 1974 album, Smiler.

Over the years Waller built up an impressive array of playing credits with musicians such as the Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens, Berry, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Dusty Springfield and Paul McCartney. He also played in the band of Tex- Mex accordion player Flaco Jimenez in the mid-1980s. Blues and R&B were, however, his true love, and after much studio work in the 1970s and 80s he continued, throughout his later years, to play live in outfits such as the Deluxe Blues Band, the Terry Smith Blues Band, and his own Mickey Waller Band - mainly in pub venues that catered to his love of Guinness.

Although never married, he remained on close terms with his former long-standing girlfriend Gabrielle; his daughter Louise, by another relationship, died at an early age of meningitis.

Mickey Waller, drummer, born September 6 1941; died April 29, 2008. This article was amended on Tuesday June 10 2008. Mickey Waller was not the drummer on the Jeff Beck Group's album Beck-Ola. This has been corrected.
© Guardian News and Media Limited2008

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