Pete Haycock: Guitarist with the Climax Blues Band who went on to write film music for John Badham and Franc Roddam


Pete Haycock was the lead guitarist with the Climax Blues Band, one of several British groups whose 1970s popularity in the US and continental Europe eclipsed their standing at home.

In 1976, along with the saxophonist and harmonica player Colin Cooper, drummer John Cuffley, bassist Derek Holt and keyboard-player Richard Jones, he wrote the irresistible “Couldn’t Get It Right”, which became their biggest hit and signature song and was later covered by Fun Lovin’ Criminals.

The band thought they had completed the sessions for Gold Plated, their eighth studio album, recorded with the British blues boom producer Mike Vernon and named after the guitarist’s gold-plated Veleno instrument, but their manager Miles Copeland insisted they add a radio-friendly tune to the tracklisting. Ignoring his suggestion of an Elvis Presley cover, the musicians came up with an original composition about life on the road, the default subject for rock groups short of inspiration.

With “Couldn’t Get It Right”, the Climax Blues Band transcended the clichés of the road-song genre and incorporated several of their trademarks, including the vocal harmonies of Haycock and Holt behind Cooper’s lead, and Haycock’s guitar being played in unison with Cooper’s saxophone, to create a concise gem of a single equal to the best work of the Doobie Brothers or Ace. The Transatlantic success of “Couldn’t Get It Right” helped turn Gold Plated into their best-selling album, but the emergence of punk made them seem passé in the UK, though they scored another Top 20 hit in the US with the soft rock ballad “I Love You” in 1981. Haycock sang lead on several of their best-loved tracks, particularly on the albums Shine On (1978) and Flying The Flag (1980).

Born in Stafford in 1951, Haycock taught himself to play the harmonica as a nine-year-old. In the early 1960s he picked up an acoustic guitar, and with the help of the Bert Weedon instruction manual and the natural reverb on the stairs of the family home, began attempting to recreate the distinctive solos of his early hero, Hank Marvin of the Shadows.

Acquiring an electric guitar he formed a blues cover outfit, the Mason-Dixon Line. In 1967 he met Cooper and joined his soul band The Gospel Truth, gigging around the Stoke area; teaming up with Holt, Jones, drummer George Newsome and pianist Arthur Wood and originally called the Climax Chicago Blues Band, they were purists picking up the Chicago blues baton from Alexis Korner and John Mayall, but soon began writing their own material.

In 1968, they signed to Parlophone via AIR London, the company launched by the Beatles producer George Martin, and recorded their eponymous debut and their next three albums with Chris Thomas, the engineer who went on to produce Procol Harum, Roxy Music, the Sex Pistols and the Pretenders after earning his first production credits at Abbey Road with them. Haycock particularly excelled on the instrumental tracks “Twenty Past One” and “Twenty Past Two” which incorporated jazz and classical touches and helped the progressive blues outfit stand out. 

Since they were signed to the Sire label in the US they dropped the Chicago from their moniker to avoid confusion with the American band named after the city. They also worked with the American producer Richard Gottehrer, who sharpened up their sound on the FM/Live double set recorded at a concert in New York and the Sense Of Direction studio album which followed and made the US Top 40 in 1974. The next year they played at festivals throughout continental Europe on a StarTruckin’ 75 bill featuring Caravan and Wishbone Ash, also managed by Copeland. Haycock left in 1984, leaving Cooper to continue as the sole original member until his death in 2008.

Haycock reconnected with Copeland and released Guitar And Son, the first instrumental album issued on his former manager’s IRS No Speak series in 1988. The same year he took part in the Night of the Guitar Live! concerts alongside Lou Reed sideman Steve Hunter, Randy California of Spirit, Robby Krieger of the Doors, Andy Powell and Ted Turner from Wishbone Ash, Mountain’s Leslie West, Steve Howe of Yes and Ten Years After frontman Alvin Lee. In 1990 Haycock joined Electric Light Orchestra Part II assembled by drummer Bev Bevan and other ELO stalwarts.

Around the same time, he began collaborating with the German film composer Hans Zimmer, a fan of the Climax Blues Band. Haycock made the most of his slide guitar prowess with his superb contribution to “Thunderbird”, the theme music for Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991), as well as the soundtracks to K2 (Franc Roddam, 1991), Toys (Barry Levinson, 1992), Drop Zone (John Badham, 1994) and The Dilemma (Ron Howard, 2011). He began composing film and television music, most notably for the cult thriller One False Move (directed by Carl Franklin and co-written by and starring Billy Bob Thornton in 1992). In 2008 he returned to live work with Pete Haycock’s True Blues. Haycock, who died of a heart attack, lived in Germany for many years, and built a recording studio in Frankfurt.

Peter John Haycock, guitarist, singer and songwriter: born Stafford 4 March 1951; married; died Frankfurt 30 October 2013.

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