Some sad news concerning Birmingham-born drummer Mike Kellie who passed away on January 18 at age 69 following an undisclosed illness. Mike was known as a founding member of the acclaimed 1960s group 'Spooky Tooth' and the influential punk rock band 'The Only Ones'. In addition, Mike played with many famous names as a session musician.
Born on March 24, 1947, Mike Kellie had learned to play drums by age 14 when he got his first drum set and first gig at St. Michaels Youth Club in Hall Green. After playing in a local beat group called "The Phantoms", Mike joined his first professional band Pat Wayne's Beachcombers in 1966, replacing John Bonham (who later found fame with led Zeppelin).
Along with Beachcombers saxophonist Bryan "Monk" Finch, Mike joined The Locomotive who were formed by 'Midland Beat' news photographer and jazz musician Jim Simpson (see Black Sabbath) and fronted by well-known Birmingham vocalist Danny King. This line-up also included future Traffic member Chris Wood.
Mike Kellie joined a Carlisle-based line-up called The V.I.P.'s when Steve Winwood recommended him to the group who urgently needed a replacement drummer for a tour of France and Germany where they performed at the famous Star Club in Hamburg. The V.I.P.s later became the psychedelically-styled "Art" and recorded a now highly-collectable album titled Supernatural Fairy Tales after signing to Chris Blackwell's then-new Island Records label in 1967.
Art moved to London, becoming part of the hip "underground" scene and changed their name to "Spooky Tooth". Now fronted by songwriter Gary Wright, Spooky Tooth recorded well-received albums with some of their songs covered by well-known groups including The Move, Joe Cocker, and Judas Priest. Mike remembered; "It was an enjoyable time. Gary was American and had a wicked sense of humour which mixed well with our hard nosed no frills approach to life"
Mike's next project was a Brummie "supergroup" called Balls formed by former Move and Moody Blues members Trevor Burton and Denny Laine along with Steve Gibbons from The Uglys (Mike played drums on Steve's first solo LP). Mike left Balls to re-join Spooky Tooth for an American tour where they built up a loyal following and toured for a few years. This line up included former Deep Feeling guitarist Luther Grosvenor who later found fame as "Arial Bender" in Mott The Hoople.
Mike Kellie played on Peter Frampton's first solo album along with Spooky Tooth guitarist Mick Jones who went on to form the hit group 'Foreigner'. Other musicians on the album were Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, and Klaus Voorman. George Harrison recruited Mike Kellie to play on some tracks recorded by the Apple Records band 'Splinter'. Mike's notable studio work included recordings with Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Cocker, the Who's Tommy film soundtrack and Traffic's song 'Rainmaker' from their album The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.
In 1976, Mike Kellie once again found himself at the head of a new music revolution when he helped form and played drums in the influential punk/new wave band 'The Only Ones' fronted by vocalist Peter Perrett. Mike met Peter by chance at a recording studio in London. He recalled; "I remember the feeling when I first heard Peter's demos. I knew I wanted to play in a band with him. It was a delight to hear meaningful romantic lyrics with an edge and powerful melodic musical settings. I made up my mind that, whether he liked it or not, I was going to form a band with this guy."
The Only Ones attracted a sizeable cult following resulting in them recording three albums along with a number of singles. Probably their best known song is titled 'Another Girl, Another Planet' that has since appeared on many compilations. This association led to Mike Kellie recording with former New York Dolls guitarist/vocalist "Johnny Thunders" along with former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones.
The Only Ones disbanded in 1981 - due to escalating drug use according to Mike who said; "I always enjoyed a smoke but was getting caught up in a very ugly hard drug scene. There's no doubting the seductive effect of heroin but I found I had to give up all sense of self respect and vanity, two qualities which every functioning human being need to some degree. I was not prepared to sell my soul."
Mike Kellie gave up the rock star life and retired from music for almost 20 years. During that time he relocated near Toronto Canada before returning to the UK where he reportedly worked as a shepherd up in the wilds of Scotland and Wales. In 1999 Mike was persuaded to join a Spooky Tooth reunion which included a new album and touring in Europe. The year 2007 saw The Only Ones re-unite with Mike for a tour of the UK, Europe and Japan.
In recent years, Mike Kellie recorded a solo album issued on CD titled 'Music From The Hidden' on which he sang and played most of the instruments himself. Famous guests on the album included friends from his old Brum Beat days such as Steve Winwood, Gordon Jackson, Bill Hunt, and Steve Gibbons.
My condolence goes out to Mike's family and friends. His web site can be seen at: mikekellie.com
Copyright © John R Woodhouse