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English bop, R&B drummerby Gene Martin
Copyright © 2004 Gene Martin
William James (Bill) Eyden, one of the finest drummers in England and a pioneer in promoting jazz in that country, died on October 15, 2004 at age 74. Bill Eyden was born in Hounslow, Middlesex, on May 4th, 1930 and began his musical life in the local Army Cadet Corps band. He turned professional in 1952 and within a short time was playing as sideman to Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott as well as doing studio work.
In 1957 The Jazz Couriers, co-led by Scott and Hayes, marked a distinct advance in British jazz. When The Jazz Couriers folded in 1959 and Ronnie Scott went on to open his famous Soho jazz club, Eyden went on to play with other leading bands including the Vic Ash-Harry Klein Quintet which shared the bill on Miles Davis's first British tour in the autumn of 1960.
With the advent of rock and roll and rhythm and blues, jazz lost much of its popular following but Eyden took the change in stride. He appeared with the R & B bands of Alexis Korner and Long John Baldry and in 1964 joined Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames modeled after the American jazz and R & B organ combos like Jimmy Smith. In 1965 Fame's band shared the bill on a European tour as guest star with Count Basie and his orchestra. Eyden sat in on drums with "The World's Most Swinging Big Band" during Fame's part of the show. In the late 60's Eyden joined Stan Tracey's trio as resident drummer at Ronnie Scott's club. Their nightly task was to accompany the parade of American jazz stars who made their way through England. He played regularly throughout the late '70s and '80s with a quintet of his contemporaries called The Bebop Preservation Society which included pianist Bill Le Sage and trumpeter Hank Shaw, and in 1985 became one of three percussionists in The Charlie Watts Big Band.
Ironically, considering his efforts to promote jazz in England, he's perhaps best known for answering the call to play a recording session back in 1967 when the producer felt the group's drummer was inadequate for the song. The group was The Pinewoods which would change their name to Procol Harum, and the song was their monster hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Eyden got paid union scale for the session without further compensation even though the record went number one worldwide, sold 10 million copies, and the groups drummer freely admitted that he did not play on the version that was released. In interviews Eyden shrugged it off with a smile as part of "the game".
He continued to play until he got ill earlier this year.^ Top
Gene Martin is a photographer in New York City.