June 29, 2015 – Bruce Rowland (Joe Cocker/Fairport Convention) was born at Park Royal, Middlesex on May 22 1941 and spent some of his early professional life as a drum teacher. According to Dave Pegg, the bass guitarist and singer in Fairport Convention, Rowland taught the young Phil Collins how to play the drums.
In 1968, Rowland played on the Wynder K Frog album Out of the Frying Pan and the following year he joined the Grease Band, Joe Cocker’s backing group. It was with Cocker that he was able to reveal his talent for rock drumming.
The following year Roland played drums on the singer’s memorably bluesy peformance of With a Little Help from my Friends at Woodstock. This powerful and gravelly interpretation of the Beatles hit was much complemented by Rowland’s thumping drum beat and rousing crescendo.
The song, along with Jimi Hendrix’s electric guitar interpretation of The Star Spangled Banner, became the highlight of that year’s Woodstock and Rowland subsequently played on Cocker’s UK Top 10 hit single Delta Lady (1969) and on his eponymous second album (1972).
In 1970, the Grease Band decided to part company with Cocker just before their American Tour. Rowland went on to play on their albums The Grease Band (1971) and Amazing Grease (1975). During this period he also worked as a session musician for Shawn Phillips, Jackie Lomax, Gallagher and Lyle and several others and played drums on the original recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. He later said that he regretted accepting a fixed fee as opposed to royalties for his work on the album.
After a spell with Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance – which included playing on Lane’s solo debut album, Anymore for Anymore – Rowland went on to drum for Lane and Ronnie Wood on their soundtrack album Mahoney’s Last Stand, released in 1976.
In 1972 he joined Fairport Convention during a particularly turbulent period in the band’s history. The rock folk group had been founded in 1967 and has since performed and recorded with countless different line-ups. During Rowland’s first spell with them, they employed three different drummers in one year. Rowland can be heard playing on the 1972 Manor Album, which has never been officially released but is widely bootlegged among Fairport Convention fans.
In 1975 he joined the group for good after their drummer Dave Mattacks left during the recording of the album Rising for the Moon. He continued to appear with Fairport Convention for much of the late 1970s and worked on several albums with the band.
Such was Rowland’s versatility that he seemed to adapt to the electric folk style of Fairport Convention with ease; his percussion skills ranged from sensitive tapping of soft mallet drum sticks on live performances of the folk lament Flowers of the Forest, to keeping a steady beat to back the fevered fiddling of Dave Swarbrick and Roger Burridge when they played Dirty Linen.
In 1976, during a live performance of this popular track, Swarbrick, the band’s singer-songwriter and fiddle player, introduced the song with the words: “This is an instrumental and it’s dedicated to our drummer’s underwear.”
Bruce Rowland left Fairport Convention and moved to Denmark in 1979. He subsequently returned to Britain and settled in Brixham Devon where he had a paint business and later sold it to retire and concentrate on creating a retirement home for himself and wife Barbara.
He was 74 years old when he died of cancer on June 29, 2015.