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What Do You Mean You’ve Never Heard of Keef Hartley?

Back in 1969 there were bands that played Woodstock more by luck than their stature on the international stage. The Keef Hartley Band was one of them.

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Back in 1969 there were a number of bands that played Woodstock more by luck than their stature on the international stage. The Keef Hartley Band was one of them. The Buddy Rich inspired Keith Hartley, who had been Ringo Starr’s replacement in the Liverpool band, Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, formed his band in 1968. The Keef, cockney speak for Keith, Hartley Band were a blues based band who were another artist to have suffered from failing to be included in the subsequent movie or the albums of the Woodstock Festival.

After Rory Storm, and the decline of Merseybeat, the 21-year-old Hartley joined the Artwoods, a London based band formed by Ronnie Wood’s older brother Art Wood, in early 1965. The band never achieved sales to match their potential; also in the band was organist Jon Lord who was later in Deep Purple. Their 1966 album, Art Gallery is a great showcase as to where British rock music was heading.

After the Artwoods, Hartley joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and recorded The Blues Alone (it’s just multi instrumentalist Mayall and Hartley), Crusade and Diary of a Band with the legendary British Blues player. Mick Taylor who later joined the Stones and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac played in the Mayall band that recorded Crusade; and Taylor was still with the group for Diary of a Band, which was a two album live recording.

Hartley was an extremely good drummer, with metronomic timing, you had to be to play with John Mayall on whatever was your chosen instrument, and his leaving the band in 1968 to pursue his own musical direction was an amicable one as is demonstrated by the spoof phone call on the start of the Keef Hartley Band’s Decca debut album, Halfbreed, that came out in early 1969.

The album strays little from the Blues and Jazz Rock territory that Hartley was used to playing with his former boss, but benefits from the great blues singing of Miller Anderson and the excellent guitar playing of Ian Cruickshank; later Miller took over the guitarist’s duties.

Trumpeter Henry Lowther was a stalwart of the British jazz scene, having played with John Dankworth’s Orchestra, while saxophonist Jimmy Jewell was a jazz player at heart; he had spent a lot of time playing in soul and R&B groups. Bass player Gary Thain was a New Zealander who had arrived in London in 1968 as part of a trio called New Nadir, along with drummer Pete Dawkins and guitarist Ed Carter who later played with the Beach Boys touring band for many years. This was the band that played at Woodstock.

After their Woodstock appearance the Keef Hartley Band went on to make another 5 albums with a revolving cast of players. In fact it was very much in the jazz vein that they operated with players coming and going, bringing with them new ideas and, sometimes, a new direction. By their 5th album, Seventy-Second Brave, Anderson had left the band and after that Keef went on to record a solo album called Lancashire Hustler. The only album to achieve any chart success was 1970s The Time Is Near, which made No.41 in Britain.

After doing session work Keef set-up a joinery and cabinet making business, working for many top British recording studios making bespoke furniture for their studios. He did make the occasional solo appearance, but retired, living in his family home in Preston Lancashire,until he passed away in November 2011. Miller Anderson played with Spencer Davis for many years, recorded with T-Rex and is still playing. Gary Thain joined Uriah Heep after the Hartley band split but sadly died of a heroin overdose in 1975, aged 27.

Keef Hartley Band’s Halfbreed can be bought here.

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. tom

    April 8, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    So many talented musicians came and went through John Mayall’s “Blues Breakers’. Everybody seems to remember the guitarists (Eric Clapton,Peter Green,Mick Taylor.) But, there were several talented drummers as well. (Mick Fleetwood, Keef Hartley, and Ansley Dunbar) just to name a few. Mayall’s band was just a starting point or a training camp for many musicians of the time.

    • uDiscover

      April 8, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Tom, you are so right!

  2. Michael Patrick Clark

    April 8, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    I have fond memories of Keef Hartley. When I was boooking groups for the RAF at Tangmere in Sussex, I was a big Mayall fan. When Hartley left and did Halfbreed I loved the album and tried to book him for the weekly camp dance, only to be told that his band came with a pricetag of £1000 for the night. This was way over budget and so I had to look elsewhere. In the end I went with a group that had some good success in the sixties but had subsequently faded in popularity. I booked them for £50. Between me booking them and the night of the dance they brought out a track called ‘Down the dustpipe’, which made the top twenty. I had a major coup. The group’s name was

    • Michael Patrick Clark

      April 8, 2015 at 4:53 pm

      Continued from above. . . The group’s name was Status Quo. . . but I still wish we could have afforded Keef Hartley.

    • uDiscover

      April 8, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      Brilliant story!

      • Michael Patrick Clark

        April 8, 2015 at 6:26 pm

        Thanks, uD. . . just wish I could deal with all this newfangled social media technology.

  3. Michael Patrick Clark

    April 8, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    continued from above. . . The group was Status Quo, but I would still have preferred to listen to Keef and the boys.

  4. Dean

    April 8, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    It was listening to “Halfbreed” that turned me on to the wonderful talent of Miller Anderson. If you’ve ever listened to Savoy Brown’s Boogie Bros he happens to be one of those along with Kim Simmonds and Stan Webb. One of my favorite songs of all time is “Leaving Trunk”. Give it a listen some time. You might just find it enjoyable, too!

  5. Bernard

    April 8, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Couldn’t play it on Spotify and I can’t find him when I search for him on the player.. weird :/

  6. tony

    April 9, 2015 at 12:42 am

    I am sure i saw John Mayall and Keef hartley in nz late 60s early 70s in auckland nz any confirmation would be good.If you can remember the 60s you wernt there.

  7. budi

    April 9, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    John Mayall is the best of blues,So Many Roads….

    • ferd burfle

      April 9, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      Hey budi! You probably don’t know too much about blues to make a comment like that. It is widely known that British players don’t always get what the American blues masters were about. And that includes John Mayall AND Eric Clapton. Jimmy Page made the connection early on, but he is one of the few. Clapton finally caught on after years of missing the mark.

  8. Nigel Raby

    April 9, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    I saw the Keef Hartley Band in a little club a weekend or two before the festival on the Isle of White in 1970. I also saw Black Sabbath in the same club on the other weekend of the two weekends prior to the Festival. Both we’re pretty awesome gigs…..

  9. MalAyre

    April 9, 2016 at 11:54 am

    The story going around about the Hartley Band and Woodstock was that Keef wouldn’t allow the footage of his band’s performance to be included in the film unless he was paid. As a fee couldn’t be agreed, the film went out without him. If it’s true, then it was a huge mistake as many bands became massive after the release of the film, e.g, Ten Years After.

  10. Chris Cole

    April 9, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Trumpeter Henry Lowther was indeed a stalwart of the London jazz scene, and 48years on that’s happily still the case! Very much revered and still playing beautifully at 74.

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