Dave Rowberry

Keyboard player with the Animals and the Mike Cotton Sound

Monday 09 June 2003 00:00 BST

David Rowberry, pianist, organist, arranger and songwriter: born Newcastle upon Tyne 7 July 1940; died London 6 June 2003.

While less well-known than his predecessor Alan Price, the piano player and organist Dave Rowberry made a significant contribution to the Animals during his 18 months' stint with the hard-working Sixties blues boom group. A former member of the Mike Cotton Sound trad-jazz band, Rowberry played on the "It's My Life", "Inside Looking Out" and "Don't Bring Me Down" singles which made the Top Twenty in the UK, as well as the celebrated album Animalisms and its United States version Animalization which both charted in 1966.

More recently, he had been performing with the singer Dana Gillespie and Animals and Friends, a group comprising former colleagues such as the drummer John Steel of the Animals and the bassist Jim Rodford of the Mike Cotton Sound and the Kinks.

Born in Newcastle in 1940, Dave Rowberry was, according to the music journalist and former press officer Keith Altham, "a typical hard-living, hard-drinking rock muso". In 1962, he joined the Mike Cotton Jazzmen, a local band playing Dixieland trad-jazz under the musical direction of the trumpeter Mike Cotton.

The following year, the group scored an unlikely minor hit single with "Swing That Hammer" but, as British musical tastes moved away from skiffle and trad-jazz towards the Beatles, Tamla Motown and the blues boom, Cotton transformed his well-drilled outfit into the Mike Cotton Sound. On their eponymous album issued in May 1964, they covered recent rhythm'n'blues and jazz records such as "Love Potion Number Nine" (originally by the Clovers) and "Watermelon Man" (a Herbie Hancock composition on which Rowberry's playing shone).

As one of the hardest-gigging bands of the early Sixties, the Mike Cotton Sound travelled up and down the country and ventured into continental Europe too when backing visiting American stars such as the Four Tops, Solomon Burke and Gene Pitney.

By training and inclination a piano player in the Ray Charles mode, Rowberry had switched to the Vox organ as the Mike Cotton Sound explored a bluesier, more soulful direction covering material by Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Therefore, when the keyboard player Alan Price left the original line-up of the Animals in May 1965 because of his fear of flying and increasing disagreements with the frontman Eric Burdon, Rowberry seemed a natural fit.

The Newcastle-born Mickey Gallagher, then of the Unknowns and later a member of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, had filled in for a Scandinavian tour, but the Animals needed a more experienced player. At the end of May, for an American tour, Rowberry duly joined Burdon, Steel, the bassist Chas Chandler and the guitarist Hilton Valentine to promote the Animal Tracks album.

In the space of two years, the Newcastle group had been discovered by the producer Mickie Most and scored a worldwide smash with "House of the Rising Sun", a traditional folk song given a bluesy flavour by Burdon's brooding vocals and Price's trademark, organ swirl. The Animals had further hits with covers of Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and Sam Cooke's "Bring it on Home" and had spearheaded the British invasion of the US alongside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Indeed, one of Rowberry's first engagements with the band was an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show broadcast by CBS TV. But the Animals had been worked so hard by their management that, in August 1965, both Burdon and Chandler collapsed while performing on Ready Steady Go!

In early 1966, the Animals refused to re-sign with Most and an exhausted Steel left and was replaced on drums by Barry Jenkins of the Nashville Teens. The Animals soldiered on with Rowberry co-writing two tracks for the Animalisms album, but by the time the "See See Rider" single reached the US Top Ten in September 1966 (the version of the "Ma Rainey" standard was arranged by Rowberry), Chandler had left to manage Jimi Hendrix and the Eric Burdon & the Animals billing didn't help matters. Another album, Animalism, this time of blues covers, was released in the US in January 1967, but by then only Jenkins was left alongside the frontman, who drafted in various musicians such as the seasoned keyboard player Zoot Money and Andy Summers (later guitarist with the Police).

Dave Rowberry spent most of the Seventies and Eighties as a session player for the likes of the vocalist Claire Hammill. In the Nineties, he backed the raunchy blues singer and actress Dana Gillespie, appearing with her on several albums such as Blues it Up, Blue One and Hot Stuff and at the Mick Ronson Memorial Show at the Hammersmith Apollo in London in 1993. He also joined Animals II, featuring his former bandmates Valentine and Steel, and subsequently Animals and Friends, which had been gigging for the last three years and were due to appear in Poland at the weekend. Paying tribute from America, the guitarist Hilton Valentine said that Rowberry was

likeable, easy-going, intelligent and a great sense of humour. And he was an excellent musician, a great fucking keyboard player!

Following the induction of the original Animals line-up into the Rock'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, fans were still campaigning for Dave Rowberry's contribution to be recognised.

Pierre Perrone

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