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You Really Got Me, Bobby Graham: In Memory

In the post below, Gordon Thompson Professor of Music at Skidmore College, remembers Bobby Graham who passed away on Monday.

Forty-five years ago in September 1964, the Kinks’You Really Got Me” stormed to the top of British charts and would soon accomplish the same on Billboard’s American rankings. The raucous guitar and explosive drums declared a new era of pop and an aggressive voice for rock. Indeed, in that juxtaposition of angry instruments and whining voice can be heard the beginnings of punk. With this recording and many others, Bobby Graham offers the example of a musician many have heard, but too few have heard of.

The leader of the Kinks, Ray Davies remembers in his autobiography how he suddenly understood what rock drumming was all about when they hired Bobby Graham. He and producer Shel Talmy arranged to record “You Really Got Me” at a midnight session in London’s IBC Studios with session musicians Graham and Arthur Greenslade (piano). They had made several attempts, but tonight when Graham played, he brought all the power and the authority to the session it had lacked. The drummer abandoned “the complicated introduction he had planned and just thumped one beat on the snare drum with as much power as he could muster, as if to say, ‘OK, wimp, take that!’ For the next three minutes he was one of us” (150). Graham would continue providing the beat for the Kinks until around 1966 when he tried his hand producing records and serving as a music director; but drumming would always be his first love.

Bobby Graham may not have looked like a mod, but his drumming graced many of mid-sixties British hits, including those by the Dave Clark Five (especially those disks featuring horn sections such as “You Got What It Takes”) and Them (“Gloria” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go”). His association with the Dave Clark Five proved particularly problematic given that the bandleader WAS the drummer; moreover, Clark routinely declared that no other drummer played in the studio. However, a close listen to early recordings such as “Do You Love Me,” “Glad All Over” and “Bits and Pieces” reveals double-tracked drumming, suggesting that the drummer/producer had assistance from another musician. Graham maintained to the end that he was that drummer (a claim supported by unofficial correspondence) and who could doubt Clark’s good judgment at hiring the best. Indeed, many a British drummer cringed when they saw Graham at a session, knowing they had just been demoted to playing tambourine.

Graham had played on earlier hits by Johnny Leyton (“Johnny Remember Me”) and Joe Brown and the Bruvvers (“Picture of You”), but with the explosion of pop groups in 1963, Graham’s proven abilities in the studio made him the choice of producers looking to make quick hits. Younger musicians might break into a sweat when the red light burned in the studio indicating that the tape was running; but musicians like Graham buckled down and did what they knew best: play near flawlessly.

Bobby passed away in London on Monday 14 September 2009 with loved ones by his side. He leaves behind a treasure trove of great music. In my last communication with him, he lamented that he could no longer gig, not that he did not crave to be on the stage again, having a bash while the world danced to his drumming.

Recent Comments

  1. John O'Brien

    Sad to see this. What a drummer! I have always been amazed by Bobby’s work with the Kinks (since 1964 of course). To see that it was Bobby playing on the sublime Them tracks Gloria & Baby Please Don’t Go is a revelation and a thrill. I LOVED Them, and the drumming, like the guitar playing (due respect Mr. Morrison) was always a wonder. I knew it wasn’t the gloriously (no pun intended)surly little blokes in the band. I’ll bet that’s ‘im on here Comes the Night as well.

    Go peacefully you genius you.

    John O’Brien

  2. John O'Brien

    You’re right. Sorry about that! I am still to be found in the years of bakelite & valve amps!

  3. Gordon Thompson

    John,

    Bobby and Jimmy Page can be found on many of those Them tracks. Bobby was often asked to overdub a second drumming track (e.g., “Gloria”) to punch up the excitement. Page in particular talks about how angry the band members where when the session guys arrived.

    Gordon

  4. Drummerobit: Bobby Graham 

    [...] total, Graham is believed to have drummed, clashed and cymablled his way through 15,000 tracks. As Professor Gordon Thompson remembers, his reputation meant he was often an obvious choice: His association with the Dave Clark Five [...]

  5. Alan of Durham

    Bobby says Big Jim Sullivan was at the Them sessions.
    Jim has kept that quiet.

    Jim has also been quiet about the Dave Clark sessions as well.

  6. Gordon Thompson

    Alan,

    Big Jim doesn’t include Them on his sessions list, but he played so many studio dates that he could have forgotten. Bobby specifically mentioned “Little Jim” (Page) to me, but again, memories of who else was on a date in addition to one’s self can be notoriously difficult to pin down. I’m going by my ear. I hear little Jim on the Decca sessions for Them, which is not to say I can’t be fooled.

    The point here was that Bobby played on so many of these sessions and received so little recognition in his lifetime that I thought it worthwhile mentioning his contributions. I mention the work of the Big and Little Jims elsewhere.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Gordon

  7. Rockin' John Mc Donald

    Bobby’s death was a total shock to me. I’m doing a radio special on Bobby Graham on Oct. 3rd. I had planned on it for several weeks. I had no idea that Bobby had passed away. I’ll be doing a cross section of the records that he played on. He was one of the unsung heroes of rock music. He will be missed.

  8. Gordon Thompson

    John,

    Happy to provide you with what I can on Bobby for the radio show.

    Gordon

  9. Marko

    I was also very saddened to hear that Bobby Graham is no more. But his input to the popular music will live on for a long time. Just take a listen to “Stay awhile” by Dusty Springfield, “Hold me” by PJ Proby, “Long Tall Sally” by The Kinks or “Chills and Fever” by Tom Jones. There is a lot of energy, precision and daring in those performances by Bobby.

  10. fifi

    May well have once been a great drummer but he was a terrible man. Personally I think the world is a better place without him.

  11. Nana

    Hes the best the necist the easy going person i,ve ever meet.A very caring person all the qualities of a man you would like to meet. Some people doesnt like him ‘taft’ maybe they are jealous. I know him personally for over 20 years.Everybody loves him and his drumming. He is the best.

  12. Gordon Thompson

    Fifi,

    I have hesitated to respond to your acerbic comment. Bobby was many things, including self-promoting; but he came by that quality, as many musicians do, in compensation for the injustices of life. He played on thousands of recordings, including some of the biggest hits of the sixties; still, luxury avoided him.

    The life of a session musician represents the classic Marxist paradigm: the industry exploited Bobby for his talent and then discarded him. He could be bitter about that treatment; but I always knew him as a generous and affable. Even when he was unhappy with something you had or had not done (and I dare say I experienced his occasional dissatisfaction first-hand), you knew it would pass. You would be friends again.

    I cannot say I knew a great deal about his private life. I did visit with him for interviews, traveled with him to a gig, and shared take-out with him and his son while we watched old videos. Like many session musicians, he had fought and won a battle with substance abuse and he would be the first to acknowledge that he was no saint. I am sad at his passing and regret not being able to hear his gravelly voice on the phone.

    My lingering memory will be the conversation we had after he had had to give up drumming. It was as though they had already pulled the plug. The world is a better place because of him and not without him.

    Gordon

  13. Shawn Neate

    Hi there, sorry to rekindle an old topic, but i am Bobby’s son and thought i would post about the article. Just like to say thank you very much for the article as i beleive its really well written and nice about my father.

    In reponse to fifi, my father was a wonderful man, he have been slightly harsh or aggressive in his nature occasionally but he came from a very hard background without much money and has had to work extremely had in an uncomprehending and very unthankful business, so before you make “stupid” comments about someone you probably do not now please think next time. Also the amount of charity gigs he has run and times when he helped out friends for free, even when his business was nearly bust shows how great a man my father was.

    Sorry for the downer towards the end but i felt it was needed. Anyway, thanks Gordon, great article.

    Regards
    Shawn Neate

  14. Gordon Thompson

    Shawn, sorry I didn’t see your post sooner. Your dad had a real impact on the world; that’s more than many of us can say.
    Gordon

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