Mel Galley became a leading light of the Midlands rock scene and played with the bassist and vocalist Glenn Hughes and the drummer Dave Holland, first as Finders Keepers, then forming the group Trapeze. In 1969, they signed to Threshold, the Moody Blues label, and issued three critically acclaimed albums. Hughes departed to join Deep Purple in 1973. Galley took over lead vocals and the group signed to Warner Brothers and concentrated on the US market, where they developed a substantial following for their robust rock. A high-water mark for Trapeze was a support slot with the Rolling Stones and the Eagles in front of 120,000 people at Dallas Cotton Bowl in July 1975.
His membership of the group Whitesnake, which had been formed by the former Deep Purple singer David Coverdale in 1977, started in 1982 and coincided with the recording of two classic albums, Saints & Sinners (1982) and Slide It In (1984), both of which made the Top 10 in the UK. Galley was also part of Whitesnake when the band made a headline appearance at Castle Donington’s Monsters of Rock festival in 1983, which was filmed for video release, while ironically the previous year he had been a hired hand helping build the stage.
A melodic player who came up with many a catchy riff and could turn out a flashy solo when needed, Galley co-wrote half the tracks on Slide It In (the album’s distinctive cover featured an image of a snake in a woman’s cleavage), in particular the rocky Top 30 single “Give Me More Time” and the power ballad “Love Ain’t No Stranger”. Substantially reworked for its US release, the record sold over two million copies there and helped the band move from a bluesier style to their subsequent reinvention as heroes of hair metal with the worldwide success of the album Whitesnake 1987.
Unfortunately, Galley’s tenure in the group proved short-lived. On a drunken night out in Germany in the spring of 1984, he decided to leap on to a Volkswagen beetle; his fellow guitarist John Sykes followed and Galley’s left arm was broken when they both fell off. Galley suffered nerve damage during surgery and never recovered full use of his arm, having to fit a brace, which he called “the Claw”, to his hand in order to to play the guitar.
Galley showed little bitterness about the freak accident which had scuppered his career. “It was the most devastating thing that could happen to a guitarist,” he said. “One minute I was playing with one of the biggest bands in the world, next minute finding it very hard to even scratch my own arse. Thankfully, with the aid of the Claw, even though told by doctors I would never play again, determination made me prove them wrong.”
After leaving Whitesnake in 1984, Galley helped his brother Tom write songs for the AOR supergroup Phenomena, which has issued four albums over the next 24 years. He briefly reformed Trapeze with Hughes and also played with MGM, a band featuring the Whitesnake alumni Bernie Marsden (guitar) and Neil Murray (bass).
In 2007, Galley made headlines in the Midlands when he confronted a pensioner called Ken Grimley, who had been impersonating Galley for over 10 years, signing autographs and giving plectrums away. He posed as a fan himself before revealing his true identity.
On 7 February 2008 Galley revealed that he was suffering from esophagus cancer, and had only a short time to live. He died from the illness on July 1, 2008.
“I have been very lucky. I have seen some great bands, and played with many great musicians. And I have enjoyed some tremendous experiences. I am thankful that I can say a proper goodbye to all the friends I have made, who are now rallying ’round me”.
David Coverdale, the Whitesnake frontman, has been dedicating “Love Ain’t No Stranger” to Galley on the group’s current tour. Glenn Hughes said: “Mel was my hero growing up as a kid in Cannock. He was four years older than me and, along with Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, was one of my guitar gods. He taught me music, and more importantly, he taught me how to live. After Cream, Trapeze were the greatest English rock trio.”