Tommy Eyre

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The Independent Online

Tommy Eyre, keyboard player and songwriter: born Sheffield 5 June 1949; married 1991 Scarlet Rivera; died Los Angeles 22 May 2001.

Over the course of three decades, the keyboard player Tommy Eyre featured on more than a hundred recordings by British and American artists.

He was only 19 when his neo- classical, over-the-top arrangement of the Beatles' song "With a Little Help From My Friends" propelled Joe Cocker to the top of the UK charts in 1968. "Everybody loved that pretend Bach thing," Eyre said. Ten years later, he contributed organ, piano and synthesiser parts, as well as brass arrangements, to City to City, the album which established the Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty around the world. In the Eighties, Eyre played keyboards on Fantastic and Make It Big, the two multi-million-selling albums by Wham! He also toured with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, accompanying the duo on their well-publicised trip to China in 1985.

Born in Sheffield in 1949, Eyre spent a happy childhood first sneaking into pubs and working men's clubs to listen to his father's piano-playing and then banging away at the keyboard while sitting on his lap. He left school at 16 to tour Europe with his first group, Babylon. By 1968, Eyre had joined the Grease Band, assembled by the bassist Chris Stainton to back the Sheffield-born singer Joe Cocker in concert and on his début album, With a Little Help From My Friends. Although Eyre only stayed for a year, he contributed distinctive organ parts and solos to covers of "Just Like a Woman", "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and, of course, the title track.

By the time Joe Cocker hit Woodstock in 1969, Eyre had become a member of Retaliation and then Blue Whale, two progressive rock groups assembled by the drummer Aynsley Dunbar. When the latter was head-hunted by Frank Zappa, Eyre collaborated with the guitarist Jon Mark and the saxophonist Johnny Almond in the jazz-fusion outfit Mark-Almond.

The mid-Seventies saw Eyre playing with Nazareth and Alex Harvey and then he really hit his stride with Gerry Rafferty's album City to City issued in January 1978. While Eyre's contribution was not as noticeable as Raf Ravenscroft's saxophone line and Rafferty's wistful vocal on the Grammy-nominated single "Baker Street", Eyre toured Europe with Rafferty and was also featured on Night Owl, the successful follow-up album released in 1979.

A wizard keyboard player equally at ease on grand or electric piano, organ or synthesiser, adept as an arranger, Eyre was very much in demand as a session-player and touring accompanist. In 1983, he became an important cog in the Wham! machine, lending his prowess to hit singles such as "Club Tropicana" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go". As Wham!'s musical director for over three years, he appeared on Top of the Pops with them and oversaw the 11-strong band which backed the pop duo until they split up in the summer of 1986 after a final appearance at Wembley Stadium.

Eyre concentrated on television and film scores for a while but in 1988 he played at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where he met the violinist Scarlet Rivera. Eyre moved to the United States and the couple married. He undertook stints with the Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, the guitarist Gary Moore and BBM ­ the supergroup assembled by Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce of Cream and Moore in 1994. That year, Eyre and Rivera contributed to Head Like a Rock, the album recorded by the former Icicle Works frontman Ian McNabb with Neil Young's regular backing band Crazy Horse; it was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.

In the late Nineties, Rivera and Eyre released four albums of new age music together while Eyre also issued several instrumental recordings of standards and seasonal songs. He played keyboards on Tracy Chapman's album Telling Stories (2000), B.B. King's Deuces Wild (1997) and Makin' Love is Good For You (2000) as well as the eponymous début album of the blues newcomer Keb' Mo' in 1994 and his follow-up Just Like You (1996).

Pierre Perrone

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