Bill Eyden

Jazz drummer at the heart of British bebop

Procul Harum had been having problems in the studio for some days whilst recording "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Eventually the producer Denny Cordell telephoned the jazz drummer Bill Eyden and asked for his help. Eyden, who was paid an ordinary session fee at the time, went to the studio and took over the drums on the ultimate recording. When Procul Harum appeared with the hit version on television thereafter their drummer had to mime to Eyden's playing.

William James Eyden, drummer: born Hounslow, Middlesex 4 May 1940; twice married (one daughter, and one son deceased); died Isleworth, Middlesex 15 October 2004.

Procul Harum had been having problems in the studio for some days whilst recording "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Eventually the producer Denny Cordell telephoned the jazz drummer Bill Eyden and asked for his help. Eyden, who was paid an ordinary session fee at the time, went to the studio and took over the drums on the ultimate recording. When Procul Harum appeared with the hit version on television thereafter their drummer had to mime to Eyden's playing.

In those days Eyden was a regular in the bands of people like Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott and Harry South and as such was at the very heart of British bebop. He was so versatile that he also became a first-call drummer for much of the entertainment field and, for example, played regularly in the Ray Ellington Quartet when it worked on The Goon Show. Eyden can be seen on the video of the reunion programme The Last Goon Show of All.

But, like Phil Seamen, Allan Ganley and others of his kind, he was a drum master who could play anything, and Eyden accompanied and recorded with blues names such as Long John Baldry, Wee Willie Harris, Alexis Korner and Georgie Fame.

Eyden had come a long way since he first played drums in the Hounslow Army Cadet Corps Band when he was 13. By the time he finished his National Service in the RAF in 1950, he was good enough to take lessons from Max Abrams, a much-respected jazz drummer of the Twenties and Thirties who ran a drum school in London.

His first professional job was in 1952 with the forward-looking big band led by Ivor and Basil Kirchin. Ivor Kirchin had been injured in a car crash in 1951 and his son Basil, himself a drummer, fronted the band. When Ivor returned to the band Eyden left, but had no trouble finding regular work with the groups of Ray Kirkwood, Johnny Rogers and in late 1953 on television with the pianist Steve Race.

That same year saw Eyden as the house drummer at the Studio 51 jazz club, where his colleagues included the trumpeter Terry Brown, the tenor saxophonist Jimmy Skidmore and the bassist Joe Muddel. During the same period, 1953 to 1954, he was drummer in the "commercial" bands of Johnny Rogers, Roy Fox and Harry Roy. In 1955 he was with the big band led briefly by the guitarist Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell returned to the trio for which he was better known in June that year, and Eyden played the first of his many stretches with the various bands led by the tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes.

His work with Hayes, particularly in the Jazz Couriers, co-led by Hayes and Ronnie Scott, called for great fire and dexterity. His drumming was particularly musical in the way that he was able to drive a band and make a lot of noise, but always with discipline and never interfering with the sound of the soloists.

He toured South America in late 1963 for three months with the eccentric pop singer Wee Willie Harris and was relieved to step up a class or two on his return when he joined the band led by the jazz singer Georgie Fame for a year. A regular at Ronnie Scott's Club, he accompanied many visiting American musicians as a member of Stan Tracey's Trio. From 1970 onwards he played in a variety of jazz groups including those led by Dick Morrissey and Bobby Wellins, and returned several times to Hayes.

But he widened his field and played in a number of West End shows including Bubbling Brown Sugar, The Mitford Girls and Promises, Promises. He also taught percussion at a variety of London schools.

Eyden was a regular member of the Bebop Preservation Society, led by Bill Le Sage through the Eighties and played in the big band led by the Rolling Stone Charlie Watts. In recent years until the onset of a lengthy illness he played in the quintets of Jack Honeyborne and Ken Baldock.

Steve Voce

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