Friday, 30 December 2011

Keef Hartley

I was saddened to learn of the death of drummer and blues legend Keef Hartley on 26th November [read today in Uncut’s obituaries].

Hartley’s Half Breed [1969] was one of the first albums I listened to often and even before I had heard much of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the band from which Hartley had been sacked and thus leading to the forming of his own. I was also a big fan of Hartley’s second album The Battle of North West Six [1970]. Both are glorious blues and jazz gems.

Half Breed is comically bookended by an imaginary phone conversation with John Mayall – at the start, John is telling Keef 'I've got some bad news for you actually, I think you can probably guess what it is'; at the end it's made clear he's sacked! The music in-between is vindication that the dismissal created a period of legendary blues albums in their own Hartley right. The musicians in the ever-changing line-up are legendary too: Henry Lowther [trumpet], Chris Mercer [saxophone], Mick Taylor [guitar], Johnny Almond [flute], Jon Hiseman [drums], and Barbara Thompson [saxophone and flute] to name a few. Miller Anderson on guitar and vocal supplied excellent riffs and a genuine, gutsy blues vocal. Spit James also supplied great guitar solos, and then there was the drumming from Keef. Third track Sinnin’ For You on Half Breed gives a good example of this at it comes rolling in under the opening organ. My favourite Hartley and pretty much all-time top ten track is Not Foolish, Not Wise from TBONWS, and this has some brilliant machine-gun drumming that holds all the various pieces together, from Mercer’s great solo to the big brass lines. At some stage Half Breed is an album I will review – it might make my Top Fifty – but I just wanted to devote a little time here to remembering Keef Hartley and the huge, influential musical pleasure he has given me and others over the years. 

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