Saxophonist Ray Warleigh, whose 65-year career included the distinction of playing with Alexis Korner on the bill of the Rolling Stones’ famous Hyde Park show of 1969, died on Monday (21). His remarkable resumé also included close connections with Nick Drake, John Mayall, Scott Walker and the Stones’ Brian Jones among many others. He had been suffering from cancer, and passed away a week before what would have been his 77th birthday.
Warleigh, born in Sydney in 1938, played alto sax and flute throughout an eclectic lifetime in music, most of it spent in Britain, where he arrived at the age of 21 in time for the British blues boom. Brian Morton’s obituary in the Independent newspaper recalls that Ray worked with Korner, Mayall and Long John Baldry, three of the biggest names in the blues and R&B revival of the 1960s.
His jazz credentials were similarly distinguished, via his work with Humphrey Lyttelton, Georgie Fame, Dick Heckstall-Smith and many others, and Warleigh’s versatility extended to the unique pop-rock talents of Walker and Drake. Walker, indeed, produced his 1968 showcase ‘Ray Warleigh’s First Album,’ a 1968 set that included versions of ‘The Look Of Love,’ ‘Round Midnight’ and ‘Lover Man.’
For Drake, Warleigh played the prominent and beautiful flute feature on the instrumental ‘Sunday,’ from his second album ‘Bryter Layter,’ released in 1971. He appeared with many of Joe Boyd’s other folk artists, with Dusty Springfield, and performed with Stevie Wonder at the Royal Albert Hall. Ray also played for some 40 years with the band Paz, the folk-jazz outfit PC Kent, and enjoyed a longtime working relationship with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.
Warleigh was a member of Korner’s New Church band on that Hyde Park bill, which also featured Family, King Crimson, Roy Harper et al. Bassist Nick South later wrote: “Alexis and I and the rest of New Church had been playing in a new band with Brian Jones right up to his unexpected death, and we went on to play this concert.”
In more recent years, Warleigh had continued to play even during his illness, appearing on the 2009 album ‘Rue Victor Masse’ with drummer Tony Marsh.
Listen to Ray Warleigh’s flute work on Nick Drake’s ‘Sunday’ from ‘Bryter Layter’ on Spotify