The son of a council clerk of works, Waller was evacuated as a war baby to his Aunt Nora’s home in Belper, Derbyshire. After he returned to his parents’ home in Greenford, Middlesex, his father encouraged his interest in drumming by taking him to see the 1955 film The Benny Goodman Story; Gene Krupa’s big-band drumming virtually hypnotised the teenager. Waller took lessons with Jim Marshall, maker of the world-famous Marshall amplifiers, and later partly credited his unusual style to the fact that as a lefthander he had learned on a righthanded set of drums, which may have been the reason why he was notoriously known for not having a complete kit with him when showing up for gigs or sessions.
Although he once aspired to become a professional cyclist, he ultimately opted for music, first making his living as a 19-year-old in a rock’n’roll band called the Flee-Rekkers, who had a low-key hit in 1960 with a version of the song Green Jeans. He soon left to play with the higher profile Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, and in 1963 joined the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars, a band that featured Long John Baldry on vocals.
After Davies’ untimely death in 1964, he joined Marty Wilde as one of the Wildecats. After a short stint with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, who he rejoined several more times, he joined Brian Auger as part of The Trinity. In April 1965, the group evolved into The Steampacket. In those days he also worked with the Rolling Stones (stood in for the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts at a gig at Chatham town hall, after Watts (a long-time friend) failed to return in time from a holiday), Jimi Hendrix, the Jeff Beck Group, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Little Richard on two UK tours and Chuck Berry.
Around this time Waller played a couple of gigs with Hendrix in the US and was earmarked by the Stones’ Brian Jones as the drummer for a proposed Brian Jones Band, which failed to come to fruition because of Jones’s death in 1969. At the height of his prominence, he was chosen as musical co-director of the worldfamous Rock Opera Hair, also occasionally playing drums in the show that opened in London in September 1968.
Mickey gained prestige in the industry initially on Jeff Beck’s ‘Truth‘ album in 1968- the album features contributions from artists including John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Keith Moon, forming a template for cutting edge heavy blues- oriented rock. A transatlantic hit, Truth to some extent laid the groundwork for Led Zeppelin‘s brand of blues-influenced heavy rock.
He also played with the Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Dusty Springfield, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and even played in the band of Tex-Mex accordion player Flaco Jimenez in the mid-80s.
He was an ubiquitous presence on the 1960s music scene in London, a superb drummer who played with a merry-go-round of bands, was much in demand as a session musician, and eventually became Rod Stewart’s sticksman of choice.
When both Waller and Stewart left the Jeff Beck Group in 1969, Waller flew to Venice Beach Los Angeles to form the band “Silver Metre” with guitarist Leigh Stephens of Blue Cheer fame. Didn’t work out too well and Stewart asked Waller to feature on his debut solo album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (1969) – thereafter Waller became a fixture at the drumming stool on many of Rod Stewart’s solo projects, including Every Picture Tells a Story (1971), the album which included Maggie May. The backing band on the album also included Ron Wood, Ian McLagan, Keith Emerson, and guitarists Martin Pugh (of Steamhammer, and later Armageddon and 7th Order) and Martin Quittenton (also from Steamhammer).
Waller’s relationship with Stewart and Wood served him well.
Reserved and unassuming but quietly tough and always his own man, Waller was sought after for his individualist heavy drumming style, known as the “Waller wallop”. Always willing to try something different, he would often simply stop in the middle of a song – a legacy of his jazz training – and would also play melodies on the tom-toms. A highly intelligent man, he later took a law degree in his spare time and used his knowledge to win claims for various unpaid royalties.
A great lover of dogs, Waller would, on occasion, turn down lucrative work if it prevented him from walking and feeding his pets. He was especially proud that one of his boxers, Zak, barked the opening to Sweet Little Rock’n’Roller on Stewart’s 1974 album, Smiler.
He was pleased to say that he always made his living through music. In the seventies he was hugely in demand as a studio musician, but blues and R&B were his love, and after much studio work in the 1970s and 80s he continued throughout his later years, to play live in bands such as the Deluxe Blues Band, the Terry Smith Blues Band, and his own Micky Waller Band. Over the intervening years Waller’s playing experience included credits with The Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Dusty Springfield and Paul McCartney. In the early 1980s, Waller also played in the Sam Mitchell Band.
As Brunning subsequently hung onto the Deluxe Blues band name, reusing it for a number of line-ups, Waller went to play in Italy for a period. Upon his return to London, Waller briefly joined a revived Deluxe Blues Band that reunited him with Heckstall-Smith and Brunning, along with new members Dave Beaumont, Alan Vincent and Phil Taylor.
He continued to play intermittently with a number of blues bands in the London area, including the eponymous Micky Waller Band. His blues-roots influenced a brand of rock n’ roll that remained distinctive throughout his career and he was central to the community of the newly re-formed Eel Pie Island.
Although never married, he remained on close terms with his former long-standing girlfriend Gabrielle; his daughter Louise, by another relationship, died at an early age of meningitis.
Mickey Waller died from liver failure on May 6th 2008 at the age of 66. Other sources give his death as April 29, 2008!!!
The Eel Pie Club staged a tribute to Micky Waller on 11th June 2008 featuring Tom Nolan and the Bluescasters, together will special guests and friends of Micky. It raised £700 towards his funeral expenses. Many thanks to all the musicians and friends of Micky who made it such a wonderful night, both musically and spiritually. Also many thanks to The Rugby Football Union for donating 2 tickets to REM at Twickenham Stadium as a raffle prize.