May 28, 2001 – Tony Ashton was born on March 1, 1946 in Blackburn, Lancashire. When he was a child, his mother sent him to piano lessons. At the age of 13 in 1959, whilst Ashton was a student at St. George’s School, Blackpool, he joined a local group, The College Boys, on rhythm guitar and piano. When Ashton left school at the age of 15 he was already an accomplished pianist. He played in a jazz trio, The Tony Ashton Trio with drummer John Laidlaw and bass player Pete Shelton in 1961 and 1962 at the Picador Club in Blackpool. Although his work began during the Beatles era, his roots lay firmly in soul, jazz and the blues.
After playing with various Blackpool bands, Ashton was invited to join the Liverpool group The Remo Four as organist and vocalist. Tony was invited to join the Liverpool group the Remo Four as organist/vocalist. The group spent some time being the resident band at Hamburg Germany’s legendary Star Club, followed by a US tour accompanying the Beatles. They recorded some singles but their best work came in 1966 when they released their album Smile. Before their break-up in 1968, they backed George Harrison on his album Wonderwall.
Tony formed a new group with Remo drummer Roy Dyke and bass player Kim Gardner. They called themselves Ashton, Gardner and Dyke. The trio recorded three albums, and finally gained recognition in the UK in 1971, when the single “Resurrection Shuffle” reached No.3 on the UK Singles Chart. However following this sudden success they failed to get any more hit singles and broke up in 1973. Ashton said: “The hit backfired on us and we ended up playing cabaret again. The best thing we did was playing with Herbie Mann at Ronnie Scott’s. We wanted to be an album band, but once you’ve got a big hit, you’re in the pop league.”
For a while Ashton played with The Executives, The Mastersounds and on sessions with Jerry Lee Lewis, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney. When Ashton, Gardner and Dyke broke up in 1973 Ashton briefly joined Family, and played a prominent role on the last Family album It’s Only A Movie, sharing lead vocal duties with Roger Chapman on the title track and also on “Sweet Desiree”.
Tony met Deep Purple in the early 1970s, when the last recording of Ashton, Gardner and Dyke was a collaboration with keyboardist Jon Lord on the soundtrack for a b-movie called The Last Rebel. In the meantime, Ashton had appeared on Jon Lord’s first solo album Gemini Suite in 1971. In 1973, Ashton joined the group Family for their last album and tour. That same year, he and David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes were guest vocalists on Jon Lord’s second album Windows. Tony became close friends with Jon Lord, who left us in 2012.
In the summer of 1974, during a break in Purple’s busy touring schedule, Tony Ashton and Jon Lord recorded their album First of the Big Bands. This project was launched with a gig at the London Palladium the same year and the BBC taped a special live appearance at Golders Green Hippodrome in London. The album of this show is a tour-de-force groovy, rhythm and blues, boogie piano and Hammond organ, big band fest. Tony also contributed to Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball project. In these years, Ashton and Lord found a second home in Zermatt, an alpine resort in Switzerland, sometimes to ski, but more often to offer giant and brilliant non-profit gigs in a unique complex (one hotel-two night-clubs-two restaurants and four pubs) called “Hotel Post” which was run by American-born Karl Ivarsson. Ashton managed to come to the place almost until his death, and Jon has been a regular visitor until his death even if the “(in)famous” hotel did not exist anymore.
In August 1976, when Deep Purple split, Jon Lord and Ian Paice and Tony Ashton formed of Paice, Ashton, Lord (P.A.L.), a band rooted in funk, jazz and rock. The line-up was completed by future Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden and bass player Paul Martinez. They recorded Malice In Wonderland in Munich Germany.
During the 80s Tony co-hosted a TV show with Rick Wakeman called “GasTank”. Every week, there were guests ranging from Phil Lynott to Ian Paice who sat in with the show’s in-house band led by Ashton and Wakeman.
The 90’s saw Tony launching a second career as a successful visual artist, while also playing the big festivals with Bernie Marsden, before becoming seriously ill in 1999.
Tony Ashton died from cancer on 28 May 2001 at his home in London. He was 55. Shortly before his death, he sent this message:
Thanks for all the messages and enquiries –
recent tests show the cancer has spread
and I’ve decided to refuse further treatment and come home.
So – thanks to all, have a drink for me – cheers and bollox …
– Tony Ashton.