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Bobby Graham

 

 

 

"Bobby Who?"................. You may well be saying that, but Bobby Graham has two fascinating and unique claims to fame:

He is Britain's most recorded session drummer, having performed on around 15,000 recordings from the early 60s. And you would have heard him on countless of them, that is for certain.

Bobby also turned down a 'job' in The Beatles. Yes, he turned down a job in the most famous and successful and lucrative band of all time. 

Here, Digger gives an insight into the career of the man who was a leading player in creating the soundtrack of the sixties and who ranks along with the great British musicians.

 


 

Bobby Graham

 

Robert Neate was born in Edmonton, north London, in 1940, at the height of London's blitz. In his early years, young Robert was a persistent banger of knives and forks on tables. His dad got fed up with the damage and noise Robert was making, so decided to create a drum kit out of materials to hand, such as biscuit tins. This home-made kit was Bobby's first.

Bobby honed his skills and showed a natural flair and ability. He had no formal musical training, didn't take one drumming lesson and could not read a note of music. Within six months of his first kit, his parents treated him to a real kit from a real store. Being surrounded by drums was like being in paradise for Bobby. He chose a kit and focused totally on drumming, practicing six or eight hours a day to the exclusion of everything else, to the point where he would slow records down so that he could hear the finer details of technique from his heroes, like Ted Heath's drummer Ronnie Verrall. 

Bobby had a strong inclination towards jazz and a total lack of interest in doing a 'proper job'. He left school at fifteen and he wanted nothing else but to be a musician. Having toyed with skiffle, he got a chance as a 'real drummer' at a north London coffee bar called The Witch's Cauldron once a week. He played his beloved jazz, now as Bobby Graham, but in 1960, an opportunity came to join a rock and roll band. An old school friend, Billy Gray, needed a drummer for a seasonal stint at Butlins up in Yorkshire. Despite his strong leanings towards jazz, the chance of earning good regular money playing in a band as well as the availability of women and booze proved irresistible to Bobby and he became a rock and roller.

 

 

Bobby Graham (left) with The Stormers

 

 

Playing covers of Cliff and The Shadows, Billy Gray and The Stormers did their one season at Butlins, and there attracted interest from (now legendary) producer Joe Meek. They disbanded when Billy got married, so re-formed and re-named with a new frontman as Mike Berry and The Outlaws, with Bobby Graham on drums. The Outlaws backed Mike Berry as well as John Leyton, both of whom were big names in the early sixties under Joe Meek's unpredictable and eccentric, albeit highly original and successful, patronage.

Bobby showed a creativity, consistency and ability that was already well respected amongst his peers. He was a technically brilliant drummer and very distinctive. Light years ahead of many of his contemporaries, he was also very reliable and not prone to error. This was amazing given his lack of formal training and was all down to his many youthful years of hard work practicing while his friends were out playing football or chasing girls. This reliability would soon hold him in good stead.

 

 

Joe Meek at the controls of the gadgets he loved

 

 

Bobby worked with Meek and found him to be extremely difficult. For example, he would throw tantrums for minor and petty infringements and worse, would not credit Bobby when Bobby had been instrumental in the production of a song. They had lots of rows and Bobby describes Joe as "A sad little man. A very lonely person. He couldn't relate to people" In the end, Bobby managed to find a way out by being offered the drumming seat in Joe Brown's band, The Bruvvers. Whilst Joe was also a hard task master, he was also very successful at the time, and by joining the band Bobby had been thrown into a world of police escorts, screaming fans, TV and radio slots and hectic schedules. Joe Brown was very professional and strict about his band members not moonlighting with other bands. At one performance where Bobby was filling-in as drummer with The Outlaws, Joe Brown was in the front row and went ballistic when he saw his drummer on stage.

 

 

A very young Joe Brown

 

 

'John, Paul, George and Bobby.'
Bobby tells the story of how, while with Joe Brown and The Bruvvers, and with a number one record in 'A Picture of You', he turned-down The Beatles. "We were on tour in June 1962 and played at (Liverpool's) Cavern and Litherland Town Hall. After the show we went to a club called the Blue Angel with Brian Epstein.  Brian offered me the job with the Beatles. They wanted to get rid of Pete Best as they were having problems with Pete's mother.  Brian didn't like her, so he decided to get rid of Pete, and asked me if I was interested in joining the band. I said 'why would I want to join a band in Liverpool that nobody's ever heard of?"

 

Brian Epstein

 

 

Soon after this, Joe and Bobby agreed to part company. Bobby now sees this as being much his fault as he was still very rebellious and hot-headed at that time. He was soon to become much more disciplined. Both Marty Wilde, a big star at the time, and producer Tony Hatch were impressed with Bobby, and Bobby quickly found a spot in Marty Wilde's Wildcats: "Marty knew my reputation as a drummer and invited me to join".  At around the same time, Hatch recalled how good Bobby was at the recording session of 'A Picture of You', and asked Bobby to do more session drumming for him with other acts. 

 

 

   

Petula Clark and Tony Hatch


 

John Barry

 

 

The session musicians were an 'elite' group of musicians, sometimes jokingly called 'The Musical Stuntmen', who were used by record producers on their varied recordings. The idea was that studio time was expensive, very expensive, and often a fresh-faced band coming into a recording studio would be so overwhelmed by the experience and by the technology and make lots of mistakes. Not so with musicians like Bobby. He could be relied upon to do his part in one take. Also at about this time, John Barry, now legendary for his film and TV musical scores, asked Bobby to drum for him in the John Barry Seven. Bobby was hugely in demand and at the top of his craft.

 

 

John Barry with Bobby in 1963

 

 

By 1963, Bobby was established as the leading session drummer. Often he would work at three separate studio sessions in a single day, transporting his entire kit around the streets of London's west end and lugging it up and down stairs, then setting up the kit before the session commenced. "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 music, 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." And Bobby did.

 

The following are just a fraction of the numerous sixties hits on which Bobby drummed as session man:

 

Animals Baby Let Me Take You Home
Animals We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
The Bachelors I Believe
The Bachelors Ramona
The Bachelors I Wouldn't Trade You For The World
Dave Berry The Crying Game
Dave Berry Little Things 
Petula Clark Downtown
Petula Clark I Know A Place
David And Jonathan Michelle
David And Jonathan Lovers Of The World Unite
Marianne Faithfull Come And Stay With Me
The Fortunes You've Got Your Troubles
The Fortunes Here It Comes Again
Hedgehoppers Anonymous It's Good News Week
Herman's Hermits Can't You Hear My Heartbeat
Benny Hill Harvest Of Love
Cilla Black You're My World
Engelbert Humperdinck Release Me
Tom Jones It's Not Unusual
Eden Kane Boys Cry
The Kinks You Really Got Me
The Kinks All Day And All Of The Night
The Kinks Tired Of Waiting For You
The Nashville Teens Tobacco Road
Gene Pitney That Girl Belongs To Yesterday
Brian Poole/Tremeloes Do You Love Me?
Pretty Things Rosalyn
Pretty Things Don't Bring Me Down 
P.J. Proby Hold Me
Dusty Springfield I Only Want To Be With You
Dusty Springfield Stay Awhile
Dusty Springfield I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself
Dusty Springfield In The Middle Of Nowhere
Dusty Springfield You Don't Have To say You Love Me
Crispian St. Peters You Were On My Mind
Crispian St. Peters Pied Piper
Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde Yesterday's Gone
Them Baby Please Don't Go 
Them Here Comes The Night
The Walker Brothers Make It Easy On Yourself
The Walker Brothers The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore

 

Whilst relatively highly paid at the time, Bobby and the other session men were the unsung heroes of their day. They would rarely, if ever, get a credit for their work and often the studios were doing so many sessions that no permanent records of recordings were kept. And when a song became a huge international hit, the session man would not reap the rewards - he had received his few pounds of payment on the day of the session.

Bobby has always insisted that it was him on a number of recordings made by The Dave Clark Five, and several technicians and musicians who were present at these sessions have backed-up Bobby's claim, although this is still often disputed by a number of Dave Clark fans and people who weren't there or who weren't involved, or whose memories seem to have faded. There's no reason to doubt the suggestion, however, given Bobby's pedigree and track record above and the tendency for producers in those days to use session men rather than the actual drummer of the band. Controversially,  because Bobby was used on these Dave Clark Five sessions, it was also, by implication, him who was responsible for the invention of the distinctive beat of the band which led to it being so successful and this has also been strongly contested. 

What cannot be contested is the fact that Bobby Graham is Britain's most prolific session drummer and one of the most talented and individual drummers we have ever produced. His catalogue of recordings stands testament to that.

A book, ' The Session Man', is available about Bobby's life and times and career. There's also a CD of the same title with tracks featuring Bobby's drumming. These are available here: www.thesessionman.co.uk


 


 

For further information and further reading:

www.bobbygraham.co.uk

www.tonyhatch.com

www.joebrown.co.uk

www.johnbarry.org.uk

www.brianepstein.com

 


Bobby Graham - Britain's top session drummer and the man who turned down The Beatles.

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