Mel Galley: Guitarist with Whitesnake

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The Independent Online

The guitarist Mel Galley was a member of the heavy rock group Whitesnake in the early 1980s. His membership of the group, which had been formed by the former Deep Purple singer David Coverdale in 1977, coincided with the recording of two classic albums, Saints & Sinners (1982) and Slide It In (1984), both of which made the Top 10 in the UK. Galley was also part of Whitesnake when the band made a headline appearance at Castle Donington's Monsters of Rock festival in 1983, which was filmed for video release. The previous year he had been a hired hand helping build the stage.

A melodic player who came up with many a catchy riff and could turn out a flashy solo when needed, Galley co-wrote half the tracks on Slide It In (the album's distinctive cover featured an image of a snake in a woman's cleavage), in particular the rocky Top 30 single "Give Me More Time" and the power ballad "Love Ain't No Stranger". Substantially reworked for its US release, the record sold over two million copies there and helped the band move from a bluesier style to their subsequent reinvention as heroes of hair metal with the worldwide success of the album Whitesnake 1987.

Unfortunately, Galley's tenure in the group proved short-lived. On a drunken night out in Germany in the spring of 1984, he decided to leap on to a Volkswagen car; his fellow guitarist John Sykes followed and Galley's left arm was broken when they both fell off. Galley suffered nerve damage during surgery and never recovered full use of his arm, having to fit a brace, which he called "the Claw", to his hand in order to to play the guitar.

Born in Staffordshire in 1948, Mel Galley was a leading light of the Midlands rock scene and played with the bassist and vocalist Glenn Hughes and the drummer Dave Holland, first as Finders Keepers, then forming the group Trapeze. In 1969, they signed to Threshold, the Moody Blues label, and issued three critically acclaimed albums. Hughes departed to join Deep Purple in 1973. Galley took over lead vocals and the group signed to Warner Brothers and concentrated on the US market, where they developed a substantial following for their robust rock. A high-water mark for Trapeze was a support slot with the Rolling Stones and the Eagles in front of 120,000 people at Dallas Cotton Bowl in July 1975.

After leaving Whitesnake in 1984, Galley helped his brother Tom write songs for the AOR supergroup Phenomena, which has issued four albums over the last 24 years. He briefly reformed Trapeze with Hughes and also played with MGM, a band featuring the Whitesnake alumni Bernie Marsden (guitar) and Neil Murray (bass).

In 2007, Galley made headlines in the Midlands when he confronted a pensioner called Ken Grimley, who had been impersonating Galley for over 10 years, signing autographs and giving plectrums away. He posed as a fan himself before revealing his true identity.

Mel Galley showed little bitterness about the freak accident which had scuppered his career. "It was the most devastating thing that could happen to a guitarist," he said. "One minute I was playing with one of the biggest bands in the world, next minute finding it very hard to even scratch my own arse. Thankfully, with the aid of the Claw, even though told by doctors I would never play again, determination made me prove them wrong."

David Coverdale, the Whitesnake frontman, has been dedicating "Love Ain't No Stranger" to Galley on the group's current tour. Glenn Hughes said: "Mel was my hero growing up as a kid in Cannock. He was four years older than me and, along with Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, was one of my guitar gods. He taught me music, and more importantly, he taught me how to live. After Cream, Trapeze were the greatest English rock trio."

Pierre Perrone

Melville Galley, guitarist, singer and songwriter: born Cannock, Staffordshire 8 March 1948; twice married (two sons); died Cannock 1 July 2008.