Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Roger Hill

Roger Hill

“Roger had a pretty Rock and Roll lifestyle, but more the Chuck Berry, Keith Richards end of the spectrum, with the musical ability to back it up” (Steve Gibbons)

It is with sadness that Rock Legacy notes the passing of Roger Hill, a supremely talented guitarist who has rightly been called “legendary”. Some of his contribution to music, who he was and where he fits in, is recorded here.
His career spanned many decades and he played with some of the best names in the business, among them, Stéphane Grappelli, Chris Barber, Fairport Convention and Steve Gibbons. He was best man at Dave Pegg’s wedding in Birmingham and played at Peggy’s 60th birthday party.

Dave Pegg:
I was in a group called The Uglys with Roger and a lot of things that have happened in my life are a result of Roger being such a great guitarist.
Roger was a great friend. The day that I got married, Roger turned up in The Uglys’ van, which used to belong to The Moody Blues. It was covered in lipstick. He arrived on Broad Street, a little late, wearing a British Beer Drinking Team T shirt.
I went for an audition with The Uglys – I used to play guitar and I did the audition at the Carlton Ballroom in Birmingham. I saw Roger in the queue of people before me and I thought, “Oh, I’ve had it”, because he was much better than me as a guitarist. And of course, Roger got the job. And on the way out of the club, Steve Gibbons said, “Oh, our bass player is leaving, Dave, if you can play the bass you can have the gig.” It kind of changed my life really because I became a bass guitar player and I still am. As a result of becoming a bass player I went on to join Fairport Convention and eventually Jethro Tull. Cropredy probably wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t changed from guitar to bass, so indirectly I owe Roger my career!

Steve Gibbons:
Roger and I had known each other since the early Sixties because he joined The Uglys in ’66 but I had known him before from the Birmingham Band, The Redcaps and The Brumbeats and a London band called The Eagles. (not the American band) And then he joined us in The Uglys at the same time as Dave Pegg. Dave turned up for the audition – we were looking for a guitar player and a bass player – and I knew Dave as well. Dave was quite a prominent musician around Birmingham. He was 18 at the time and obviously going places as a guitar player, but we had already auditioned Roger about an hour before and he had passed with flying colours. We were quite pleased that he joined us because he could have had a job anywhere. He was very much into Django Reinhardt.

 Dave Pegg:
Roger was a fantastic “Hot Club de Paris” – style guitar player. He had a Maccaferri guitar, an original one and it was incredible. Roger’s brother Bob presented Stéphane Grappelli at the Alexandra Theatre when Grappelli did his first come-back tour. Roger was doing the sound for the gig and Stéphane Grappelli was over the moon with the sound and asked Bob if he could meet Roger. Roger told Grappelli about the Maccaferri and Grappelli got Roger up on stage for the second half of the show and just stormed it. Stéphane was very very impressed with Roger’s playing. Roger went on to play with Chris Barber for many years after that, but he could play so many different styles.
He came and played with us in Fairport Convention for a while. There is a clip of Roger playing something from the Babbacombe Lee album on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Roger is playing the famous Maccaferri at the beginning of this song from Fairport Convention. It gets mysteriously swapped for a Fender bearing the words "Best Wishes, Eric Clapton" on it.

After 18 months with The Uglys, Roger Hill went on to form The Exception with Dave Pegg and Bugsy Eastwood which came out of the then current trend for blues oriented rock, championed by Cream and others. A single was recorded but another 18 months passed and Hill joined Chris Barber. The regimental discipline required for the Barber band, together with a frenetic tour schedule did not sit well with Hill’s temperament.

Here is a fine solo from Roger with the Chris Barber Band (comes in at about 1.15)He doesn't so much play the guitar as hypnotize it.

Steve Gibbons:
Roger left Chris Barber because he just couldn’t take all the travelling. It was pretty rigorous discipline. I saw them several times and Chris Barber was brilliant but he ran a very tight ship. Roger liked a drink and he liked a good time and he kept late hours and he had a nice relaxed attitude to life. Working with Chris Barber, you have to be on the metal every night and you couldn’t afford to backslide.
Roger was very much Birmingham based and he didn’t do a lot of travelling but that’s what he did with Chris Barber for five or six years.
He was an early starter, right in at the beginning of the Rock and Roll scene. What set him aside from most guitar players and most other musicians was his wonderful taste in music – he was well versed in Ray Charles and Chuck Berry and of course his love of Django. He loved great guitar players and they influenced his playing. I remember I had a great guitar player for a number of years, called Jock Evans – he’s a stunning player, very fast and clean – and the first time he went to see Roger he couldn’t believe it. He stood there and said, “I’ve never seen anyone play like that”.

In later years Roger Hill stayed based in Birmingham and had a residency at a venue called The Waterworks. Roger Hill spent the last ten years living as a bachelor, more recently with his elder brother Bob. His health had been deteriorating for some time, in particular with his hands and fingers.

And from Fairport's Ric Sanders -

We have all been very saddened by the news of Roger Hill's passing. As I start to write this I'm listening to the version of Sweet Georgia Brown that we recorded with Roger and Phil Bond at Peggy's 60th Birthday Bash at Birmingham Town Hall. Many years ago, in the early seventies, Roger and I would play that tune at a less prestigious but still very happening Birmingham venue, The Railway in Curzon Street. I seem to remember the sessions being on a Sunday morning. I was just starting out in the music business, and eager to play with the best musicians I could talk into letting me jam with them.
Roger was already a well established Birmingham guitar hero, and he was always the most generous and welcoming of musicians - to play with and learn from him was a privilege. At that time (as now) two of my very favourite musos who I would always hang out with were Phil and Vo Fletcher, and they have this to say about Roger. Phil : "Roger was a lovely guy. On best form he was inspirational, transcendent.
I played with him a number of times but I have a fine memory of hearing him play one Sunday afternoon in a pub in town. Just a trio, in the early 90s. I have not heard bluesy / jazzy guitar played more sweetly and soulfully before or since." Vo : "He felt every note and always played totally from the heart. It's a corny line I know, but he was the real deal." He certainly was, and you couldn't wish to meet a sweeter guy. I'll always treasure that Town Hall recording of Sweet Georgia, just as I'll treasure so many fond memories of a great musician and friend who we'll all miss very much.

(Ric Sanders' contribution reproduced with permission from  )


Rick Halpin said...

Saddened to hear of the news of Roger's passing. It brought to mind one Sunday afternoon when Roger was playing at The Prince of Wales,Birmingham. I cheekily asked if I could play along on Blues harmonica to 'Dimples', to which he replied "Yes,okay,but if you mess up you'll never play with me again!"
I played with a combination of gusto and fear, but I think it went well from the rapturous applause we received! Roger, thanks for the chance, R.I.P.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I are very sad at the passing of Roger he was a dear friend a good drinking pal and always great company.I recall going to see Roger at the Railway in the 70s and he got my attention right away , I have played guitar myself since before those days and his influence is stronger than ever.We were out with him 3 days before he died and he was a very poorly man.We will raise a pint of Abotts for you tonight my old mate,sod em and ya loads.Pauline and Dean xx

Peter Damm said...

Roger Hill (Also a guitarplayer with the Chris Barber Jazzband from 1978-1986) This man was the one who told Peter Damm from the Brooklyn Brothers that it is important to lift your fingers as little as possible when playing guitar. Left- and right hand. This is important if you want to play very fast. It takes a long time for fingers to come down again on the fretboard if you lift them too high. He showed Peter Damm how to do this and let him see how to pick the strings with a plectrum in this "little movement" type of way. This proved to be a valuable lesson for Peter and just in time as he was just getting into learning how to play George Benson licks!!! Peter says: "I could not have done it without this guy! So Roger, Thank you!"

Anonymous said...

Thank you Roger you gave us a home when we needed it. Will never forget living in your attic. Beautiful memories love Debs n Trevs x

Nathan Jones said...

Sadly missed. .I liked drinking in his company. .r.i.p. Roger. .