December 8, 1975 – Gary Thain was born on May 15, 1948 in Christchurch, New Zealand. As part of the rock trio The New Nadir, with drummer Peter Dawkins, he traveled from New Zealand to London, sometime in 1967. He actually jammed with Hendrix a couple of time in London in Hendrix’ early fame years.
Thain then joined the Keef Hartley Band and recorded 5 albums with Hartley on drums. In 1971 they toured with hard rockers Uriah Heep who then asked him to join them, replacing Mark Clarke.
He played on the four studio albums: Demons & Wizards, The Magician’s Birthday, Sweet Freedom and Wonderworld as well as the live album Uriah Heep Live and traveled extensively in those top years.
Following bio comes from his website, which remarkably and admirably is still live 40 years after his passing.
Gary Thain had 2 older brothers, Colin and Arthur. An old school friend describes Gary’s personality as being quiet, maybe broody even, but also as just your average teenager, with a passion for music. Gary went to a catholic school called Xavier College in Christchurch.
He started performing around age 13. Gary also won a singing contest in his High School with the song “Where Have all the Flowers Gone”. The official start to his career was with the New Zealand group “The Strangers”. Besides his brother Arthur (vocals and lead guitar), the other members were Graeme Ching (Rhytm Guitar) and Dave Beattie (Drums). Gary wrote his first (released) song “I’ll Never be Blue” with The Strangers in 1965 at age 16. “The Strangers” released 3 Singles.
After “The Strangers” split up, at age 17 Gary moved to Australia. Gary became part of “The Secrets”, but they only released one Single in 1966, with “You’re Wrong” on the B-Side, which was co-written by Gary. The other band members were Derek Wright on Lead Guitar and Vocals, Paul Muggleston on Rhythm Guitar and Vocals, Wayne Allen on Drums.
After their one Single, “The Secrets” split up. It was still 1966 when Gary and Paul joined up with Peter Dawkins and Dave Chapman, taking the name “Me and the Others“ to the UK, touring England, Scotland, Wales and Germany.
In 1967 after “Me and the Others” ceased to exist, Gary became part of his first professional Band called “New Nadir”. They were especially popular in Switzerland, where they played in a lot of clubs for about half a year. It was a trio that played Jazz influenced music. The other members were Ed Carter on guitar and a drummer named Mike Kowalski. Besides playing their own music, they also worked as a backing band for an all-female group called “The Toys”. New Nadir recorded an album for the “Witchseason” label, but it was never released.
In 1968 New Nadir dissolved and Mike and Ed have since then played in many bands together, and even were part of the Beach Boys backing band. Gary of course joined the Keef Hartley Band. Not only did Gary play on 6 of their albums, but he got to be part of Woodstock in 1969 with the Keef Hartley Band. They played on the second day (before Santana). However, there is no Video footage available.
Another Festival worth mentioning (even though much smaller scale) was the Bath Blues Festival held on June 28, 1969 . The KHB played along with the Likes of Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac that day in front of an audience of about 40,000.
Another notable contribution by Gary to the KHB were his Head Arrangements of the tracks on “The Time Is Near” (originally released in 1970, re-mastered 2005). One of the pictures on the liner notes from that recording session shows Gary with an Acoustic Guitar. He also co-wrote most of the material on “The Battle of NW6”.
Not only did Gary co-write a lot of material for the KHB, he also sang lead vocals to one of his compositions: “You say you’re together now”. That song can be found on the “72nd Brave” LP released in 1972.
Keef Hartley, Miller Anderson, and Gary Thain were the core trio of the Keef Hartley Band, who complimented each other well even through all the different members that came and went. But when they lost their frontman and main song writer Miller Anderson to other interests, they each went on to other projects.
Before the Keef Hartley Band dissolved in 1972, Gary also did some other recordings. In 1970 he recorded “Fiends and Angels” with Martha Velez. Some other, now well-known names from that recording session, are Eric Clapton and Christine McVie. The music style on that recording has been described as British Progressive Blues and Martha’s singing has been compared to somewhat of a Janis Joplin type of voice. It was originally released on the “Blue Horizon” label in the UK. That version is very collectible nowadays and expensive to obtain. There is a less expensive US version available.
Miller Anderson and Pete York, two members of the KHB revolving lineup, also ventured into solo projects during that time period. Gary was part of both of them, in 1971 and 1972, respectively.
Early in 1972, Gary received a phone call from Ken Hensley and joined Uriah Heep as their 3rd bass player (replacing Mark Clarke) – the rest is as they say history. Up until now Gary had only played Jazz and Blues material, and now found himself in a totally different genre. However, his playing style stayed unique – using no plectrum and all his fingers.
Heep was touring the USA at the time, Gary flew in to join the band and practiced the material he had to perform for several weeks. Gary’s first gig with Uriah Heep was on February 1, 1972 at the Whiskey A Go-Go in Los Angeles, California. However, the earliest known Heep recording with Gary in the lineup (Bootleg) is either from Feb 27, 1972 (Columbia Coliseum, South Carolina, USA) or a Youngstown, Ohio, (USA) appearance. The latter was a support performance (Bootleg) for the Band “Cactus” sometime in February of 1972.
The first album that Gary recorded with Uriah Heep was “Demons & Wizards” (released May 1972), only 4 months after he joined Heep. “The Magician’s Birthday” followed later that same year, and by that time Gary co-wrote some of the songs (Spider Woman and Sweet Lorraine). The remastered edition (released 2003) also includes “Crystal Ball” and “Gary’s Song”, which he wrote during that time. (Gary’s Song being an alternate version of Crystal Ball). All in all it was a very successful year for Uriah Heep and Gary alike.
Of course Gary also toured with Uriah Heep almost non-stop. In the beginning of 1973 the first collection of some of those touring efforts was released, aptly titled “Uriah Heep Live 1973”. One of the points worth mentioning is the excerpt of their Rock ‘N Roll Medley endings. It shows Gary’s skill of using the 50’s and R ‘n R Bass lines that he had so diligently learned early on in his career.
An interesting story that occured while on tour as being told by Todd Fisher (crew member):
Gary’s playing style on his Fender Precision Bass and choice of flat-wound strings made for a distinct sound. He never used a plectrum (pick), preferring to use his thumb, the result being a very pure bass sound without the harsh “attack” sound and harmonics that would normally result from using a pick. Studying Gary’s face and body motions during a performance would reveal a very intense focus on his part for the particular song being performed. I can’t state from personal observation that there were nights when he might be so impaired from drink or drug that the performance was compromised, although I seem to recall some admonishment being administered more than once.
The point is primarily that he was incredibly intense in his playing style and this was never exemplified to me more than the performance at Salem, Oregon the night of Friday, March 9, 1972. As the person responsible for introducing the band as well as working the fans up for the encore, I had a very unique vantage point to measure the crowds acceptance or rejection of the nights performance. And collectively speaking, the Pacific Northwest was never an overly enthusiastic crowd for Heep.
But for some reason this particular night was one in which Gary seemed significantly more animated than most performances. Only his soul will truly know why. Why would I make this observation, you ask? It’s because I have the notation “Ethyl Chloride” noted in my weekly planner for Monday, March 12 as part of the equipment and supply requirements for preparation of the Japan tour.
Just after Kens and Lees respective solos at the intermezzo portion of the set, Gary winced in an expression of pain that I instantly recognized. As I watched, I noticed him favouring his “pick” thumb and substituting the side of his index finger. After the number he came over to the side of the stage and asked in that raspy, back-of-the-throat New Zealand accented voice.: “Do you have an adhesive bandage?” I quickly grabbed some Band Aids from my open brief case and, as he held out this terribly bloody thumb, I saw that he had torn off the callous built up from many years of playing without a plectrum. I quickly grabbed a clean towel, courtesy of our hotel, poured some fresh water on it, washed the open wound, and quickly wrapped two Band Aids around his thumb. This was accomplished in perhaps two minutes, during which Ken, Mick, and David stalled the set while I attended to the apparent emergency.
Gary continued to play through the set, perhaps not in as great pain as before, but still noticeably subdued. Mel Baister (Road Manager) contacted a physician by the end of the set who had arrived along with an aerosol can of a local anesthetic, “Ethyl Chloride” which was intended to give temporary relief for pain. He gave me a prescription for a refill that would get us through the period of the Japan tour. Thus the notation in my supplies list.
The following evening was our last performance in the U.S. prior to departing for Japan. It was in Seattle at one of the old Downtown theatres as I remember. Gary was able to get through at least one number, sometimes two before he would come over to me on the side of the stage to have me spray the open wound with Ethyl Chloride. Damn! The man wouldnt even let me tape it for him because he felt it would change his sound! Only he would know. We performed six days later in Tokyo Friday March 16, Nagoya on March 17 and March 19, and twice in Osaka March 20 and 21. Time had helped heal the wound since he had not punished himself with additional performances, but we still applied the Ethyl Chloride. After the Japan tour, the band spent a one week holiday in Hawaii. Our next performance was in Long Beach Arena on Friday March 30. Noted in my journal for this day among other supplies and tasks is “Ethyl Chloride”! WOW!
The band’s success story continued with the recording of “Sweet Freedom” at the Chateau D’Herouville, France in the summer of 1973. Gary’s song-writing input continued, especially on the song “Circus”. The story of the song “Circus” is still remembered by guitarist Mick Box today: “I wrote this with Gary in LA at the Continental Hyatt House. In France we finished it; the whole studio was in dark and you could only see a few lights. Gary was at the one end of the room and I was at the other. We didn’t speak a word to each other and finished the song this way. It was very spiritual.”. Even drummer Lee Kerslake remembers it with a quote on the Acoustically Driven DVD liner notes:: “I like Circus because it was written in the most unusual circumstances with myself, Mick and Gary Thain, God rest his soul, writing by telephone!”
Unfortunately, 1974 saw the last recording contributions of Gary on “Wonderworld” which was recorded in Munich, Germany. He is also being credited with co-writing half the songs on that original release. The seemingly endless touring continued, and eventually took its toll on September 15, 1974 in Dallas, TX. [listen to a promo of that concert from KZEW FM radio here.] Gary received an electrical shock during the song “July Morning”, while on stage.
Gary’s health never fully recovered and in January of 1975 he had to leave the band. The very last known recording with Gary on Bass is dated November 25, 1974 and took place in Brisbane, Australia. I found some very interesting comments on that Bootleg on the official David Byron website, and I quote: “This is one of the best audience recordings of the band ever to surface. Not due to the sound quality, but the contents itself. The band was very strong on this date, the crowd really reacted to the show, and it provided some rare pieces of the puzzle we were looking for. A good bit of improve is laid into this one, lots of talking between tracks and long renditions of certain tracks that didn’t appear much on other shows. … Only three tour dates are listed after this one before he (Gary) left the band in late January 75. So this show marks the end of an era of sorts, the classic lineup is done. The rebuilding process begins but it never regains the same intensity or presence that was created during the past three years. It’s a sad but true fact that even the most dedicated of Heepster must accept.”
All in all, he participated in over 140 live performances all over the world with Uriah Heep in just 3 years.
After continued struggles with health and drug problems, Gary died December 8, 1975, in his flat at Norwood Green at the young age of 27, becoming one of the lesser known 27 Club members.