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.