Whisked away from us, Kenny Craddock remains both irrepressible and irreplaceable. As well as for his peerless abilities as musician, composer, arranger and producer, I miss Kenny for his true and special friendship over the last twenty or so years. Right now it feels like daylight robbery.
The undisputed UK High Priest of the Hammond is dead. Long live the High Priest!
Richard Brunton. Musician
MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, PRODUCER
Kenny was born to Victor and Alice Craddock in Wreckenton, Gateshead on April 18th 1950. He spent his early days after leaving school in 1965 working at Maxi Share's music shop in Newcastle city centre, informal meeting-place for the many young musicians. The other hangout was the famous Club-a-Gogo in Percy Street, which played host to the finest touring bands of the day. As Kenny himself said, "You would go along to the 'Young Set' which had no age restrictions, and later, if you knew the guy on the door, you could sneak into the 'Jazz Lounge', the late section for over-18s. I can remember seeing Graham Bond there, his big old Hammond organ set up on the stage, and I would get in early because I wanted to watch everything he did, every note he played.'"
It was on the suddenly popular Hammond organ that Kenny first came to musical prominence, having initially played guitar with his elder brother Brian's band when still a schoolboy. His skill on this unwieldy instrument made it increasingly obvious that he was an outstanding musician.
After working with local bands The Elcorts and New Religion, he decamped in 1968 to London with Alan Price protegés Happy Magazine, which featured Yes drummer Alan White - "Kenny was one of the finest most talented musicians I have ever worked with" - and Peter Kirtley who became a life-long friend and collaborator on many projects. In 1969, they released two Price-produced singles, Satisfied Street and Who Belongs to You on the Polydor label.
At the end of '69, Kenny and Peter Kirtley recruited Alan White on drums and myself on bass to form Griffin with the addition of Graham Bell on vocals. By the time the band broke up due to contractual complications, Kenny and I had established not only a strong and lasting friendship, but a solid songwriting partnership. In 1970 Kenny replaced Steve Winwood in Ginger Baker's post-Cream band, Airforce. When bassist Rick Gretsch also quit the band, Kenny used his influence to enlist me. As he himself put it, "It meant I got to play alongside my early hero, Graham Bond, with, ironically, me playing Hammond organ while Graham played alto saxophone. Graham Bond was just this huge reservoir of musical experience. Ginger was equally encouraging, and despite his (often exaggerated) reputation, a very loveable guy. If you were in a spot, he would do anything to help you out."
Terry Doran, George Harrison's right hand man, became a good friend who would often throw sessions or gigs our way. Through Terry, Kenny was invited to play piano on Ringo Starr's April 1971 hit It Don't Come Easy. Sessions on a George Harrison album of Indian music followed, which led to him being asked to play on All Things Must Pass, Harrison's multi-million selling triple album. Unfortunately a bad case of sunstroke led to Kenny having to cancel the sessions - "It was probably the worst bit of timing in my entire life." Although his friends disagree.
In 1971 Kenny met and married Sue, with whom he had a son, Jamie in 1973. During this period he lived in the Suffolk village of Leiston. with Simpson's Pure Oxygen, a seven piece band formed with old friends Alan White, Peter Kirtley and myself, and the horn section of the now defunct Airforce.
On a three month tour of the USA in 1972, Kenny played with Charles Mingus' drummer Danny Richmond, another source of invaluable experience. On his return Kenny settled with his family in what had now become the much loved surroundings of Suffolk with forays into London for sessions. During this period he became a close friend of Lindisfarne's Alan Hull, and played on Pipedream, Alan's first solo album after the Lindisfarne break up. A long and fruitful relationship with Hull culminated in Kenny's production of the Lindisfarne album Elvis Lives on the Moon and Hull's solo album, Back to Basics, which featured songs co-written by Kenny.
His consummate musicianship and unerring instinct, coupled with an astonishing Hammond organ technique that few in the world could lay claim to, ensured that Kenny was a welcome addition to any session, in any style. His encouragement of younger musicians is summed up by Zeb Jameson, keyboard player with Robbie Williams, Oasis, and The Pretenders: "If it wasn't for Kenny I would not be doing what I am doing now."
He worked with so many musicians during his long career, notably Gerry Rafferty (1980-84), Van Morrison (for whom he was musical director 1984-85), Mary Black , Paul Brady, Billy Bragg (Talking With The Taxman About Poetry), Liane Carroll, Liam Genocky, Christie Hennessey, Artie McGlynn, John Pearson, John Wesley Harding and the bands The Zodiacs, The Liars and Pass the Cat.
He contributed to Paul Brady's 1985 album Back to the Centre. In Paul's words, "...notably as the piano player on the recording of The Island. His sensitivity and understanding of the emotional and musical space the song needed to inhabit was crucial to the recording's success. A truly inspired and inspiring performance. I will always treasure the memory of that studio experience. Kenny last played with me in the late '90s on the BBC TV show Later with Jools Holland. He will be remembered by all those whose path he crossed for his hugely ascerbic wit and supreme musical talent."
In 1993, Van Morrison recorded the album Too Long in Exile which includes Before The World Was Made, a poem written by W.B. Yeats which Kenny had set to music. From 1984 onwards Kenny and myself composed and recorded TV and Film soundtracks, many of them for Fawlty Towers/Absolutely Fabulous director Bob Spiers - "Whenever I got a project, my first call would be to 'the boys', who could always be relied upon to come up with the goods, and whose sense of humour perfectly complemented my own. Kenny's musical talent was awesome."
He and Sue divorced in 1988 and his happy relationship with partner Julia lasted until his tragic death on May 30th as the result of a car accident in Portugal, where he and Julia had embarked on a new life together. He was utterly dedicated to music and had recently completed his first solo album Mad as the Mist and Snow.
Julia writes, "Last year, Kenny and I decided to make a break for it and found ourselves living on the side of Foia, the highest peak in the Monchique mountain range in the interior of the Algarve. We had such a great time and Kenny had already met many musicians from all over the world there. Particularly, Jose-Antonio who is a carpenter and a drummer. Jose-Antonio had already offered to set his drum kit up in Kenny's new studio. In the last 3 months, Kenny and I were involved in the restoration of a house out there. Needless to say, it was a massive project and while I drove manically round the Algarve trying to find materials, Kenny was labouring hard, something he both enjoyed and found quite a surprise."
Although the tributes from his many, many
friends are far too numerous to mention, they have been paid
nonetheless. For my part I have lost a truly great friend, soulmate,
confidante and collaborator, and I shall miss him more than I can
adequately describe. During the thirty-four years I played and
worked with him, I can say without exaggeration that I never heard
him play a single inappropriate note, except of course when his
wicked and wonderful sense of humour took over. He made me laugh
Kenny Craddock, musician, composer,
18th April 1950 - 30th May 2002