If you never heard of Keef Hartley, we hadn’t either until recently. While researching our show “Back To The Garden” (Saturdays and Sundays 7am-10am PST on Laurel Canyon Radio), we took a look at some of the artists that played at Woodstock and see where they ended up. For Brit Keef Hartley and his Band, this was their first US gig in that summer of 1969.
You’ve Never Heard of Keef Hartley?
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.
Keith Hartley was born in Preston, Lancashire. He studied drumming under Lloyd Ryan, who also taught Phil Collins the drum rudiments. His career began as the replacement for Ringo Starr as a drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, a Liverpool-based band, after Ringo joined The Beatles. Subsequently he played and recorded with The Artwoods, then achieved some notability as John Mayall’s drummer (including his role as the only musician, other than Mayall, to play on Mayall’s 1967 “solo” record The Blues Alone). He then formed The Keef Hartley (Big) Band, mixing elements of jazz, blues, and rock and roll; the group played at Woodstock in 1969. However, the band was the only artist that played at the festival whose set was never included on any officially released album, nor on the soundtrack of the film.
They released five albums, including Halfbreed and The Battle of North West Six (characterised by a reviewer for the Vancouver Sun as “an amazing display of virtuosity”).
While in John Mayall, Mayall had pushed Hartley to form his own group. A mock-up of the “firing” of Hartley was heard on the Halfbreed album’s opening track, “Sacked.” The band for the first album comprised: Miller Anderson, guitar and vocals, the late Gary Thain (b. New Zealand d. 19 March 1976; bass), later with Uriah Heep; Peter Dines (organ) and Ian Cruickshank (as “Spit James”) (guitar). Later members to join Hartley’s fluid lineup included Mick Weaver (aka Wynder K. Frog) organ, Henry Lowther (b. 11 July 1941, Leicester, England; trumpet/violin), Jimmy Jewell (saxophone), Johnny Almond (flute), Jon Hiseman and Harry Beckett. Hartley, often dressed as an American Indian sometimes in full head-dress and war-paint, was a popular attraction on the small club scene. His was one of the few British bands to play the Woodstock Festival, where his critics compared him favourably with Blood Sweat And Tears. “The Battle Of NW6” in 1969 further enhanced his club reputation, although chart success still eluded him. By the time of the third album both Lowther and Jewell had departed; however, Hartley always maintained that his band was like a jazz band, in that musicians could come and go and would be free to play with other aggregations.
After that Hartley released a ‘solo’ album (Lancashire Hustler, 1973) and then he formed Dog Soldier with Miller Anderson (guitar), Paul Bliss (bass), Derek Griffiths (guitar) and Mel Simpson (keyboards). They released an eponymous album in 1975, which had a remastered release in early 2011 on CD on the Esoteric label.
In 2007, Hartley released a ghostwritten autobiography, Halfbreed (A Rock and Roll Journey That Happened Against All the Odds). Hartley wrote about his life growing up in Preston, and his career as a drummer and bandleader, including the Keef Hartley Band’s appearance at Woodstock.
Hartley died on 26 November 2011, aged 67, at Royal Preston Hospital in Preston.
Keef Hartley Band
The Battle of North West Six (1969)
The Time Is Near (August 1970) – UK #41
Overdog (8 April 1971)
Little Big Band (live at Marquee Club) (1971)
Seventy-Second Brave (1972)
Not Foolish Not Wise (1968-1972 / studio + live) (1999 / 2003)
Lancashire Hustler (1973)
Dog Soldier (1975) UAS 29769, recorded at Island Basing Street Studios, London, 18 November – 15 December 1974
with John Mayall
The Blues Alone (1967)
The Diary of a Band – Volume One (1968) (live)
The Diary of a Band – Volume Two (1968) (live)
Back to the Roots (1971) (some tracks only)
Moving On (1973) (live)
Ten Years Are Gone (1973) (studio + live)