BRITISH BLUES ARCHIVE

Biographies

 

 

GRAHAM BOND

Our resident writer STEVIE KING examines that great performer GRAHAM BOND, an artist who spearheaded the blues in the 1960s.

GRAHAM BOND

Born: 28th October 1937

Died: May 1974 Aged: 36 years

Contribution to British Blues: split the Hammond Organ, introduced The Mellotron, experimented with Blues Fusion, and created the first major Blues Band to have no lead guitarist.

Which era: 1960's

Album to get: The Sound Of '65

The song that is perhaps the best example of his work: Wade In The Water

Bands led: Graham Bond Trio, Graham Bond Quartet, Graham Bond Organisation, Graham Bond Initiation, Graham Bond with Magick

Bands played in: Don Rendell Quintet, Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, Ginger Baker's Airforce, Airforce 2, Jack Bruce & Friends, Bond & Brown

"The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones," wrote Shakespeare in 'Julius Caesar,' and those words have proved particularly true for one of the leading lights of Blues in Sixties Britain. Though he was often known as 'The Mighty Graham Bond,' tragically, he wasn't mighty enough to overcome his own inner demons, and he died impoverished, a drug a ddict, and a suicide, accused of child abuse, leaving his musical legacy forever tainted by his personal frailties.

Graham John Clifton Bond b, Oct 28th 1937 Romford, was adopted as an infant from Dr Barnado's Childrens Home in nearby Barkingside, and brought up into the conventional family of a civil servant and his wife. Although a keen piano student, with dreams of concert halls, the young Graham was soon seduced into the exciting world of Jazz. A chronic asthmatic, he took up the saxophone to improve his breathing, quickly developing an unconventional style that by 1961 saw him playing alto with The Don Rendell Jazz Quintet , and recording on their acclaimed album Roarin' . But before long he was to desert Jazz for the more frivolous and lucrative world of Rhythm & Blues.

In late 1962 when harmonica player Cyril Davies split with Alexis Korner over musical differences, Bond joined Korner's Blues Incorporated alongside Ginger Baker (drs) Jack Bruce (upright bass) & Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor sax) where he played first, alto and later, organ. There are no grounds to dispute Bond's claim that he was the first person in the UK to split the Hammond Organ for portability, and his use of the Hammond influenced many other famous keyboard players that followed in R&B, Jazz, Blues and Rock including Georgie Fame, Stevie Winwood, Zoot Money, Manfred Mann, Brian Auger, Vincent Crane, John Lord, and Keith Emerson.

In early '63, seeing an opportunity to advance his musical career, he left Blues Incorporated , taking the rhythm section with him, and formed The Graham Bond Trio , which he fronted on organ and vocals. They were soon joined by guitarist John McLaughlin from Georgie Fame's band, becoming The Graham Bond Quartet .

Initially the band was employed to back vocalist Duffy Power on some recordings for EMI, including a cover of The Beatles' I Saw Her Standing There , which was released as a single, but it didn't meet with commercial success. In September 1963 Heckstall-Smith was brought in to replace McLaughlin, fired by Baker, who stepped up to act as manager when Bond's growing drug dependence made him unreliable, although Baker himself had a substantial drug habit at the time. The line-up thus consolidated, in April 1964 the ban d changed its name to The Graham Bond Organization & auditioned for Decca, who released their first single, a cover of Tommy Tucker's Long Tall Shorty backed with Bond's own catchy shuffle, Long Legged Baby . The record was well-received by the music press, though that wasn't reflected in sales.

The Organisation was forceful & totally uncompromising, and unimaginably, in these post-Clapton/Hendrix days, a Blues Band without a lead guitar! With Heckstall-Smith blowing two saxes at once and Bond chiming in on alto, the two men were almost a horn section in themselves. The band could seem noisy, almost raucous, with Bond shouting the Blues, the overdriven Hammond rasping and stuttering, Bruce's harmonica wailing, and the saxes honking and squealing, but it was hard to match for sheer passion and excitement.

Chicago Blues was mixed with R&B and a strong jazzy influence, presented with matchless musical authority. The 1964 live recording now issued as I Met The Blues at Klook's Kleek , although fairly atrocious in terms of recording quality, gives a good impression of the power and range of the band, as well as its popularity with a club audience. Bond shouts instructions and encouragement to the band as they play, Baker delivers a thundering drum solo, Bruce plucks out 'lead breaks' on the high end of his 6-string Fender Electric Bass, and the crowd respond with terrific enthusiasm.

The band returned to EMI in December 1964 and over the next couple of months recorded what was to become their first LP, The Sound Of 65 . Mixing self-penned numbers with American originals, the material ranged from the now-familiar Hoochie Coochie Man and I've Got My Mojo Working to a prison work song- the eerie Early In The Morning - and Jack Bruce's percussive harmonica work-out, Train Time , later to become a staple of the live set for Cream. Instrumentals were given high priority too, with a dramatic and driving version of Wade In The Water rubbing shoulders with Bond's own Middle-Eastern sounding Spanish Blues . Cool and controlled at times, raw and frantic at others, the album remains an outstanding achievement of its time, a fantastic combination of emotion and imagination, executed with peerless instrumental prowess. Critics were surprised, challenged, and ultimately delighted, but sales didn't rate a chart placing.

During the rest of 1965 the band carried on working, releasing two singles, Tell Me (I'm Gonna Love Again) and Lease On Love , both of which were hits with the critics but not with the record-buying public. They also put down the sessions for their second album, There's A Bond Between Us , although by the time it was released the hot-tempered Baker had tired of Bruce, and threatened him with a knifing if he didn't quit the band. He was replaced by trumpeter Mike Falana, and the band carried on, meanwhile the sleeve for the album with the now ironic title still showed the smiling original line-up.

It was on this album that Bond pioneered use of The Mellotron - a mechanical fore-runner of the sampling synthesizer that used a piano keyboard to play tape loops of other instruments. It was cumbersome and unreliable but it extended the keyboard player's range in a way that had previously been unthinkable. The Mellotron was later popularised by bands like The Moodyblues, King Crimson and Barclay James Harvest who often used it to provide the effect of an orchestral string section, or a choir.

In most other ways, the album was a very similar mixture to the first. Now-familiar classics like What'd I Say and The Night Time Is The Right Time sit alongside obscure American hits like the driving, gospel-flavoured Don't Let Go and the bouncy shuffle, Keep A-Drivin' , complete with handclaps and girlie chorus. There were smooth, jazzy originals, like Bruce's Hear Me Calling Your Name and Bond's Baby, Can It Be True , which stretched his voice perhaps a little beyond its capabilities. And of course there were instrumentals, though only album-opener Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf matched up to those on the debut album. The album also contained Bond's Walking In The Park which became a regular part of the repertoire when Bond later joined Ginger Baker's Airforce , and is now a well-accepted British Blues standard. The band went on to release their fourth EMI single, the haunting St. James' Infirmary , but the end result was the same. Critics appreciated the group's passion and creativity, but it never translated into enough record sales for the band to really make their mark.

Sadly, although they were rarely short of work, real commercial success always eluded the GBO , the band being considered too jazzy for pop fans and too poppy for jazz fans. Bond's emotive vocals were marred by a Jonathan Ross-style speech impediment and visually the band was unappealing. Bond was bewhiskered and tending to plumpness, Heckstall-Smith was bearded, bespectacled and bald, and only bassist Bruce had the youth & good looks to be any sort of teen idol. Through their club popularity and dependability as a live act, they rated a number of appearances on TV's 'Ready, Steady, Go,' but were eclipsed by more fan-friendly, guitar-led, blues-based bands like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and The Pretty Things.

Even in the latter days of The Organization , Bond himself remained a tremendously powerful performer. I remember seeing him at The Upper Cut Club in Ilford, Essex, where The Organisation appeared as a trio. There were two percussionists, a drummer and a conga player, but otherwise every note of music in the band was provided by Bond alone. A veritable dynamo, he sang and played organ, working the bass pedals with his feet, and occasionally freed one hand to play solos on the alto while continuing to accompany himself faultlessly. If ever he deserved the sobriquet 'The Mighty Graham Bond,' it was performances such as this one that proved it.

In 1966 Baker responded to Eric Clapton's offer, and quit the combo to resume his volatile but musically fruitful relationship with Jack Bruce in Cream. John Hiseman replaced him and brought a more aggressive style of drumming that helped power the sound along without a bass player, at which time the band ousted Falana and returned to being a trio. During this era they recorded a combination of old favourites like Green Onions and Long Legged Baby with new originals, such as Springtime In The City and I Can't Stand It. Sadly, due to Bond's unreliability with money, the studio wasn't paid, and these excellent recordings were not released. They didn't surface until 1970, when, together with some very early cuts featuring McLaughlin on guitar and Bond on alto, they were issued as the album Solid Bond. Meanwhile, The Organization signed with the newly created Page One label, but the debut single You've Gotta Have Love Babe was a clumsy affair that sold poorly and didn't please the critics either.

Bond continued to play, but his constant problems with drug addiction meant money was spent as soon or before it was earned, and the patience of the other members became more and more strained. Eventually Hiseman quit to work with Georgie Fame, and Heckstall-Smith accepted John Mayall's offer to join the Bluesbreakers. Although The Organization limped on through a few more personnel changes, Bond began to stray further away from the R&B and the Blues.

His obsession with magic, shared by his American second wife Diane Stewart, and his continued drug addiction, drew him deeper into 'psychedelia' and progressive rock. He traveled to the States, jammed with Jimi Hendrix, The Jefferson Airplane, and The Grateful Dead, recorded with Harvey Mandel and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and cut a solo album with session drummer Hal Blaine, Love Is The Law .

In the months to come, he teamed up with his old drummer in Ginger Baker's Airforce , put together a new band called The Initiation , was imprisoned in Pentonville following his arrest for bankruptcy, released the album Holy Magick (universally panned by the music press), worked with Ginger again in Airforce 2 , put together yet another band called Graham Bond with Magick , and recorded the album We Put Our Magick On You , but before it was even released the band had fallen apart. Still infatuated with the occult, and now believing himself to be the son of Aleister Crowley, Bond became increasingly unstable and drug dependent, and though he rehearsed and performed with Jack Bruce, in Jack Bruce & Friends , Bruce ultimately fired him before a tour of Italy.

During his collaboration with lyricist Pete Brown, in Bond and Brown , he and Diane Stewart separated following the shocking allegation that he had been sexually abusing her daughter, Erica. Bond's behaviour grew even more erratic, and by the time the album Two Heads Are Better Than One was in the shops, the duo had disbanded. In spite of all his personal problems, he finished 1972 with a part in the Rock'n'Roll nostalgia film That'll Be The Day , but though he made a few attempts after that to get his musical career back on track they all ended in failure. In the end, addicted to pharmaceutical opiates and prescription antidepressants, having been in and out of prison and mental hospital, severely depressed and mentally unstable, he ended his life in May 1974 by jumping in front of a train at Finsbury Park. He was 36 years old.

Despite all his life's tragedies and travesties, Graham Bond's Organisation recordings, from the first Decca single through to the Solid Bond sessions, show him as a true innovator, a skilled musician possessed of great imagination married with a real feeling for Jazz, Blues, and R&B. His pioneering work with the Hammond Organ and the Mellotron opened the field for other keyboard players, and he created a band with an absolutely unique sound which successfully mixed a multitude of musical influences into the Blues. His achievements deserve to be recognised and remembered, and the best of his music still enjoyed

 

 

 

Harry Shapiro's biography, 'The Mighty Shadow' published by Guinness in 1992, chronicles his life in greater detail, and there is a full biography, bibliography and discography at http://grahambond.org/

Copyright, Stevie King, for THE BRITISH BLUES ARCHIVE, 2011

 

 

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