Sleep Well, Peter Solley

Sometimes news travel tragically slow, so it was only on the first day of winter that I received the news of my friend Peter Solley‘s untimely passing two weeks earlier, on November 16th, aged 75. A pedagogue, a producer and a player, Pete is mostly known for introducing synthesizers to PROCOL HARUM‘s sound when he joined the band for "Something Magic" in 1977, yet there’s much, much more to Solley’s creative biography.

How many artists could boast such prominent, and distinctly dissimilar, ensembles as the aforementioned PROCOL HARUM, WHITESNAKE and THE ROMANTICS on their résumés and how many artists could afford to turn down stints with THE KINKS and THE MOODY BLUES? Solley could – and Peter could include more brilliant performers and collectives whose music became richer thanks to the British ivories master’s input. Classically trained pianist and violinist, he accompanied singers with highly recognizable voices – Chris Farlowe, in THE THUNDERBIRDS, Terry Reid, on the vocalist’s eponymous album and on stage, and Arthur Brown, on tour – before founding the mighty PALADIN and laying down quite a few impressive progressive rock on their self-titled debut in 1971 and “Charge!” from the following year, the second platter bearing very memorable Roger Dean’s artwork. Next entries in his career were FOX and SNAFU, with the latter band’s first record from 1973 and "Situation Normal" from 1974 finding Solley deliver blues and funk in the company of Micky Moody, so when the guitarist received a call from David Coverdale to help the warbler launch WHITESNAKE, Pete got an invitation as well, appearing on their inaugural EP “Snakebite” in 1978 and cowriting “Steal Away” with the rest of the guys. However, after that he preferred to run point from the studio.

It’s Solley’s strings arrangement that elevates THE JAM’s “Setting Sons” and it’s his sound design that assisted THE ROMANTICS’ “What I Like About You” in becoming a hit; it’s his work on OINGO BONGO’s “Only A Lad” that highlighted Danny Elfman’s talent as a composer, and it’s his production that guaranteed MOTÖRHEAD’s “1916” would get a Grammy nomination and its successor “March Ör Die” – featuring Ozzy Osbourne – would shine too. Peter co-penned “Talking In Your Sleep” which BUCKS FIZZ took to the charts, and added Hammond to Eric Clapton’s “Money And Cigarettes” in the ’80s; the same decade saw him co-produce John Parr’s self-named record, MOUNTAIN’s comeback “Go For Your Life” where erstwhile COLOSSEUM bassist Mark Clarke, Ted Nugent’s “Little Miss Dangerous” and “Premonition” by Peter Frampton, all of it securing the veteran’s pride of place in the rock and pop annals. And all of it would not have been possible if Peter Solley showed less of a warm personality – he always was so warm and amiable!

“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,” he told me almost twenty years ago, stressing the “pretty good” part of it. The embodiment of humility, Pete will be missed and remembered by many.

December 2, 2023

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