November 28, 2011 – Keith “Keef” Hartley was born on 8 April 1944 in Preston, Lancashire. He studied drumming under Lloyd Ryan, who also taught Phil Collins the drum rudiments. His music career began as the replacement for Ringo Starr as a drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, a Liverpool-based band. Later he played and recorded with The Artwoods, then achieved some notability as John Mayall’s drummer (including his role as the only musician, other than Mayall, to play on Mayall’s 1967 “solo” record The Blues Alone).
He then formed The Keef Hartley (Big) Band, mixing elements of jazz, blues, and rock and roll; the group played at Woodstock in 1969 but noone really knew. The resulting film and albums were highly successful but hardly anyone knows that the Keef Hartley Band was on the bill. One of the few British acts to be invited, Hartley’s band took the stage on Saturday afternoon after Santana, and their managerwas approached by Martin Scorsese, who was obtaining consents to record and film the acts. With no money upfront, he refused permission and so the equipment was switched off. The act that was the closest musically to Hartley’s band, Ten Years After, was a sensation when the film was released, catapulting them into superstars.
Together with Colosseum, the Keef Hartley Band of the late 60s, forged jazz and rock music sympathetically to appeal to the UK progressive music scene. Drummer Hartley had already seen vast experience in live performances as Ringo Starr’s replacement in Rory Storm And The Hurricanes. When Merseybeat died, Hartley was enlisted by the London based R&B band the Artwoods, whose line-up included future Deep Purple leader Jon Lord. Hartley was present on their only album, “Art Gallery” (now a much sought-after collectors item). He joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and was present during one of Mayall’s vintage periods. Both “Crusade” and “Diary Of A Band” highlighted Hartley’s economical drumming and faultless timing. The brass-laden instrumental track on John Mayall’s “Bare Wires” is titled “Hartley Quits”. The good-natured banter between Hartley and his ex-boss continued onto Hartley’s strong debut, “Halfbreed”. The opening track “Hearts And Flowers” has the voice of Mayall on the telephone officially sacking Hartley, albeit tongue-in-cheek, while the closing track “Sacked” has Hartley dismissing Mayall! The music in-between features some of the best ever late 60s jazz-influenced blues, and the album remains an undiscovered classic.
The band for the first album comprised: Miller Anderson, guitar and vocals, the late Gary Thain (b. May 15, 1948 Christchurch, New Zealand – d. December 8, 1975 Norwood Green, England; bass), later with Uriah Heep; Peter Dines (organ) and Spit James (guitar). Later members to join Hartley’s fluid lineup included Mick Weaver (aka Wynder K. Frog) organ, Henry Lowther (b. 11 July 1941, Leicester, England; trumpet/violin), Jimmy Jewell (saxophone), Johnny Almond (flute), Jon Hiseman and Harry Beckett. Hartley, often dressed as an American Indian, sometimes soberly, sometimes in full head-dress and war-paint, was a popular attraction on the small club scene. His was one of the few British bands to play the Woodstock Festival, where his critics compared him favourably with Blood Sweat And Tears. “The Battle Of NW6” in 1969 further enhanced his club reputation, although chart success still eluded him. By the time of the third album both Lowther and Jewell had departed, although Hartley always maintained that his band was like a jazz band, in that musicians would come and go and be free to play with other aggregations.
In 2007, he released a ghostwritten autobiography, Halfbreed (A Rock and Roll Journey That Happened Against All the Odds). He wrote about his life growing up in Preston, and his career as a drummer and bandleader, including his band’s appearance at Woodstock.
Tragically Keef died at at Royal Preston Hospital from complications from surgery on November 28, 2011 at age 67.