Interview with PETER SOLLEY

December 2004

His name may not ring a familiar tune, but get deeper into your classic – or even neoclassic – rock collection and check the credits on some of the most interesting records. Is there Pete Solley? He is there. And if you doubt there is a link between PROCOL HARUM and MOTÖRHEAD, it is there. Peter is a tremendously talented keyboard player and one hell of a producer. Yet that’s only a tag – and here’s a man attached to it.

Lemmy, Peter Solley, [link id='241' text='Ozzy Osbourne']

– Peter, the fact that you play both keyboards and violin means you’re classically trained. What there was in rock ‘n’ roll that made you go in this direction?

I always loved jazz and blues as much as classical music. I think it took a little less work to play rock and blues. I never thought I would be a great classical musician, but I thought I could be a pretty good rock and blues musician and I had a good ear for arranging and writing.

– If asked what band you’re most famous for, what would your answer be?

PROCOL HARUM, I guess. But I’m better known as a producer.

– Was the gig with Arthur Brown your first one in a famous band?

Yes, it was, although my previous band, Chris Farlowe and THE THUNDERBIRDS were very well-known in England. Also I’d played with a Spanish band called LOS BRAVOS who were bigger than THE BEATLES in Spain. We played to thousands of kids in the bullrings of Spain after a hit called “Black Is Black”, and were mobbed constantly. Actually, that was the most “rock star” moments of my life.

– Was it great working in THE THUNDERBIRDS with Chris Farlowe, Carl Palmer and Albert Lee, or was there too much ego thing involved?

We were too young to know about egos. First of all, Albert Lee is the most modest man in the world. All he wanted, even then, was to come to America and play with Buck Owens in a country band. I guess he succeeded and became one of the greatest country pickers in the world. Carl was a baby. Sweet guy. Couldn’t keep time, but we were good friends. We’ve lost touch since then. And he was ambitious: I think he would have eaten his young if it helped him get to the top.

– How did you feel having filled Dave Greenslade’s shoes? Well, he wasn’t a big name then but…

No big deal!

– One of your first remarkable stints was with Terry Reid. How do you remember working in large venues opening for BLIND FAITH an others?

That was surreal. We went from little clubs in England to playing to ten thousand people in America. We opened for CREAM and THE ROLLING STONES. Our first gig was in the Houston astrodome in front of fifteen thousands people. It was exciting and fresh. We were the ultimate cult band that never had a real hit record.

– How did you hook up with Terry Reid in the first place?

Through the drummer, Keith Webb, who is still one of my closest friends. He lives in Spain now. We all hooked up in Palm Springs two years ago to celebrate our dear friend Chesley, who was dying. So me, Terry and Keith met together for the first time in thirty years.

In studio with THE ROMANTICS

– Did you play organ alongside Vincent Crane in THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN, as one of Pete Frame’s family trees has it, or Crane stepped in once you left for Reid?

No. There was just me, Carl Palmer and Nick [Greenwood] the bass player. Wild times…

– Both Reid’s and Farlowe’s bands had no bassist. Was it up to keyboard player, then, to work on pedals?

Yes. I had my pedals split to a separate output and put them through a big bass amp. I also used left hand bass with Terry.

– Could you tell more about PALADIN, please? The most people know of the band is Roger Dean’s horseman on the cover.

PALADIN came out of the Terry Reid band. Me and the drummer, Keith Webb, left Terry and formed PALADIN. We found the other players and spent a year working on it. The records never really captured the quality of the band. In retrospect, I should have taken a more hands on attitude for the recordings. But the cover is still talked about…

– Did Micky Moody really play with the band?

No, not in PALADIN. He played in SNAFU with me.

– PALADIN seemed to be the first to use Eastern motifs, in “The Fakir”, you were at it before ZEPPELIN. How did that come about?

“The Fakir” was Webb’s influence. He loved the Afro-Cuban influence in music.

– What about folk of “Watching The World Pass By” where your fiddle playing is just exemplary?

I had played electric violin with Terry Reid so we used it in PALADIN. I was never very good. I got by, that’s all.

– Was there any rock violinist before you at all? I mean, Eddie Jobson, David Cross and Jean-Luc Ponty all came after you.

I don’t know of any. My biggest problem was getting a good sound. It was before good pick-ups for violin. I had a very rare Fender electric violin that got stolen that looked very cool but didn’t sound too good. I amplified it through a Leslie speaker for more effect.

– Was it interesting for you to play with two-keyboards band that was PROCOL HARUM or you found that similar to the PALADIN modus operandi?

Two Peters: Solley & Frampton

PROCOL was the best. Playing with Gary Brooker was the ultimate for an organ player. The band understood space and dynamics better than anyone I’d played with before. B. J. Wilson was an unbelievable drummer. It was nothing like PALADIN. I still regard my time with PROCOL as the best live music I ever played.

– Did your stint with HARUM come through SNAFU’s singer Bobby Harrison who played with them?

Nope. They called me out of the blue. I auditioned and got the job. It’s the only band I would have joined. I turned down all sorts of people. THE KINKS called me, even THE MOODY BLUES called me. But I’d always loved PROCOL and still believe they should be in the Hall of Fame. It was one of the best years of my life! I’m still very good friends with Gary Brooker, and we stay with him when we’re in England and he always visits us here.

– Did you ever have regrets about refusing to join THE KINKS and RAINBOW?

No. At that time I was doing a lot of studio work and didn’t want to play in a band full time. I did join PROCOL HARUM a little later, but they were my favorite band of all time and I couldn’t say no.

– Why then you went to less imaginative WHITESNAKE and even recorded their debut “Snakebite”? Because of Micky Moody?

I just played with them on per gig basis. I wouldn’t join them full time, so they eventually hired Jon Lord to take my place. Playing with Micky was cool, but the band was not any more than a fun pastime for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun playing a lot of festivals to big audiences, playing real loud. That’s why my ears ring today…

– At what point of your career you felt the strength to take a producer’s seat?

After I’d done a few years of studio work and a lot of commercial jingles for companies like Coke, Amoco, British Airways and BMW to name a few. PROCOL HARUM was retired, and I did a production of an artist called Mickey Jupp for the management of PROCOL. It went well, and then Dave Robinson of Stiff Records asked me to remix Rachel Sweet’s record and then produce Wreckless Eric. Then came a trip to Australia to produce a band called THE SPORTS and that went Gold. Then THE ROMANTICS from Detroit, and on and on from there.


– Which of the albums you produced you’re proud of the most?

Actually, the record I like the most is the least known. THE NAILS were from New York, and RCA completely dropped the ball, but the album lives on as my favorite flop. “What I Like About You” by THE ROMANTICS has been one of the most played record for about twenty-five years in America. It has sold millions and keeps on selling: in fact, the checks get bigger every year. It’s a mystery why it happened, but I’m not complaining.

– Of all your work as a producer, the stint with MOUNTAIN raises a question: was it difficult to keep on the same level that Felix Pappalardi had set many years ago?

Yes. It was impossible to fill the gap left by him. We all got on very well at a difficult time. Leslie [West] and Corky [Laing] were heavy into illegal substances at the time so there was friction between them, but not with me. They liked the album and Leslie gave me a nice Les Paul at the end.

– Lemmy calls you one of his favorite keyboardists. What that was which impressed him so much in your playing?

MOTÖRHEAD is a great metal band. We made a couple of great albums, even got nominated for a Grammy. I played keyboards on the albums I produced and Lemmy really liked my approach to mixing keyboard sounds with the guitars. They are not great musicians but they are a great band, and I got on well with Lemmy. Believe me, not many people get on with Lemmy.

– Your synthesizer’s quite prominent on the GRAVY TRAIN’s last LP, “Staircase To The Day”, yet were you ever a member of that band?

No. I just did it as a session. I can’t remember a thing about them or the music. Send me a copy if you have one…

– What kind of keyboards you like to be playing the most – organ, piano, synth?

Always Hammond organ! I have a beautiful A-100 in my house, a home version of the B3.

– What was so special in THE JAM to have interested you so much that you did arrangements for them?

Vic Smith was producing them and asked me to do it. He was a good friend. Another one I’ve lost touch with.

– How did you get to work on Ringo Starr’s Ring O’Records?

On-stage with Eric Clapton, 2003

Again, it was a session at his house. Nothing special. I’d forgotten about it until I saw it on the web. There was a core of players who worked together a lot: me, Henry Spinetti, a few guitar players. We are on a lot of those records from back then.

– Could you tell, please, a bit about your current business?

It’s just a way to stay home and enjoy my life these days. We sell MIDI-files and music styles for Roland and Yamaha keyboards. I split my time between South Florida in the winter and Vermont, where I have a house, for the summers.

– Don’t you miss active playing now?

I still play once in a while. But I don’t miss it very much at all. I prefer playing tennis.

– Any chance you come up with a solo album some day?

No chance…

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