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.