Guide to British Music of the 1960s

 

Graham Bond Organization

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Graham Bond - vocals/organ/alto sax, Jack Bruce - bass guitar/harmonica/vocals, Peter "Ginger" Baker - drums, John McLaughlin - guitar, Dick Heckstall-Smith - saxophone

In the mid-1960s, the jazz clubs of London were moving to the sound of the British Blues wave. Many of the UK's top acts of the 1960s came out of this movement such as the Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, the Yardbirds and more. The Graham Bond Organization was one of the most important bands at the heart of this but one that never had a hit record despite the high regard in which they were held. Graham Bond had started not as an organist but as an alto sax player with the Don Rendell Quartet, like many other bands of the time, one that was more of a jazz band. He switched to organ when he joined that incubator of British Blues, Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. He was the first British musician to use the Mellotron, a sort of early synthesiser.

Bond left Alexis Korner and set up the Graham Bond Trio with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker who had also come from Blues Incorporated. Baker had initially been a trumpet player with a number of jazz outfits, particularly the Terry Lightfoot Jazzband. John McLaughlin joined on guitar and Dick Heckstall-Smith on saxophone although the latter only lasted a short time before rejoining Alexis Korner. McLaughlin left at the end of 1963 and joined Brian Auger for a time. Heckstall-Smith returned to the band after feeling that the musical direction of Alexis Korner was not how he would have wished. The band now changed its name its name to The Graham Bond Organization. The sound of the band changed somewhat away from a looser jazz feel towards a much tighter and more powerful sound.

Decca signed the band and produced an EP and the first single, Long Tall Shorty. After being dropped by Decca, the Graham Bond Organization spent some time without a record label although the Live at Klooks Kleek album was recorded around this point. A second single Tammy was not indicative of what the band was performing although its b-side Wade in the Water is a very powerful track and was a staple of the band's live set. The band was then signed to Columbia. The band made two albums for Columbia, The Sound of '65 and There's a Bond Between Us. The first of these albums featured tracks such as Train Time that was later recorded by Cream. The interminable arguing between Baker and Bruce made life difficult for the band. Baker complained that Bruce played too much while Bruce claimed that Baker was too loud. With Bond sliding into substance abuse, Baker assumed the role of band leader and fired Jack Bruce in August 1965. Bruce went to join John Mayall and then Manfred Mann before reuniting with Baker in Cream.

The second album was released after Bruce had left. He was replaced by Mike Fellana on trumpet. Baker then left and was replaced on drums by Jon Hiseman. Dick Heckstall-Smith left in mid-1967, also to join Mayall, with Hiseman following him a year later. The two later formed Colosseum. The Graham Band Organization was finished by 1967, split by internal struggles, substance abuse and lack of commercial success. 

Graham Bond became disenchanted with the British music scene, possibly due to seeing his former band mates having so much success. He moved to the US and made two "progressive" albums for Pulsar, Mighty Graham Bond and Love is the Law, although without significant success.

Bond returned to the UK and formed a band with his wife Diane Stewart that failed to attract listeners. Bond then started to drink and take drugs more and more. He was reunited with Ginger Baker following the break-up of Blind Faith as part of Ginger Baker's Air Force. He then joined his other former band mate in the Jack Bruce Band, again ending up in an acrimonious split. By this time, Bond was in a major depression. He decided to focus on his interest in the occult and black magic. However, not even a musical venture with Cream songwriter Pete Brown in the early 1970s could bring him back from the brink and he died in 1974 under a Tube train.

Dick Heckstall-Smith later formed a new version of Colosseum. He died from cancer in December 2004

Wade in the Water, an anthology of the Graham Bond Organization, was released by Repertoire in December 2012. This included rare and unreleased tracks on 4 CDs. A 4-CD compilation of Graham Bond's sessions for the BBC was released October 2015.

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