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Dave Ball obituary

Daniel Phillips at RipItUp • 18 June 2015

Obituary: Dave Ball, March 30 1950 – April 1 2015

Dave Ball, one of the world’s great (and arguably most under-rated) rock guitarists sadly passed away back in April. Best known for playing lead guitar in the legendary Procol Harum in the ’70s, he later formed hard rock group Bedlam with brother Denny, and heavy metal powerhouse Cozy Powell on drums.

In the early 2000s, Dave settled in Auckland where he played a prominent role revitalising the local blues scene, regularly gigging with established names and fostering up and coming talent and aspiring blues musicians and guitarists. He self deprecatingly described his time here in autobiography, 'Half Hippie Half Man', as ‘…author/bum/real estate sales person/health professional/postal sorter/television commercial actor/IT nerd’, but behind the scenes, Dave was cranking up a storm.

Promoter/Musician Dean Morris recalls putting together an audition called BLUES EXPLOSION: ‘The Ultimate Blues Band’ in 2005. "During the process I got a call from a chap called Dave Ball. ‘Hi man, I see you're holding auditions? I don't want to join the band, but would love to just jam in NZ, that cool?’ "I did some research and found out that he played with Procol Harum. The night came when Dave was to join in on a jam; I put him on stage with some great local musicians, including Darcy Perry and Craig Bracken. Dave launched into Stormy Monday, and it soon became clear that this guy was off the wall amazing!"

Mike Chunn (Split Enz, Citizen Band) remembers the occasion well:

"I was judging a talent quest at the Empire Tavern. People like Midge Marsden, Hammond Gamble, and Harry Lyon were on the panel with me. Dave played with a guest line up and destroyed everybody with a display of gargantuan blues lead guitar work. I'll never forget it."

Morris subsequently formed the Auckland Live Blues Club, a much-needed shot in the arm to the local blues scene, with Ball taking a leading role in its formative years.

"I did many shows with Dave and local bands. I loved getting local bands out of the woodwork and playing again, they all loved playing with Dave. I created a show around him and they were always a full house. This was the very start of the blues movement being reborn in Auckland. Dave joined us at these sessions always bringing the roof down."  Dave's name and credentials plus his eagerness to collaborate with, jam and encourage local musicians did much to bring in punters, giving up and coming acts much needed exposure and pushing them to reach their playing potential. Dean recalls learning a few other things from him as well.

"I always remember Dave being a loud player, and one particular gig I asked could he turn down slightly, because we had decibel issues at a venue. He said, ‘Dean, fuck off’ (in a nice way). I always remember that, from that point on I never got in between the soundman and the players!"

His musical contributions in NZ weren't restricted to just the blues or rock though – he notably branched into hip hop, recording with Fast Crew on their 'Truth Lies & Red Tape' album. Jeremy Kent-Johnston (aka Jerome Fortune) remembers:

"Dane Rumble and I had a thing for guitar solos in the Fast Crew music because no one really did it and growing up with Led Zep, The Eagles, the solo was often the climax and most exciting part of the song. Dave had a way of playing his instrument that was only possible by decades of consistent playing. The way a player sounds with no amplification, no plug ins or no polishing really says a lot about their skill."

Kent-Johnston would also collaborate with Dave on Code Blue, the lead track on Dave's first and only solo album, Don't Forget Your Alligator (2012).

"He came to my house where I had a studio in my spare room. I think we had a few beers and smoked some of Dave’s Port Royal and he plugged in his guitar and played some licks. I was immediately super impressed at the way he made his guitar sound, and it was just through Guitar Rig (plug in). At the time, it sounded similar to Eminem Lose Yourself (or the National Party election theme song, depending on who you ask). I was thinking at that stage the song sounded really cool, with hip hop beats, a rock guitar riff and a whisky-drinking rollie-smoking guitar legend singing."

An infectious spirit permeated these sessions, Dave often rushing off during lunch breaks to lay down more tracks, with an almost unconscious sense of urgency and excitement.

"Dave would call me up in the morning when he was at work, excited to get back to songwriting and recording. We would end up back in the studio, him in full corporate attire with tie on, and me in shorts and basketball singlet. However foolish we may have looked, the music was pretty nice."

Dave will be fondly remembered as a storyteller of epic proportions and for his hilarious, off-the-wall sense of humour. Fellow Birmingham born, now NZ-based guitarist Tony Painting who shared stages with Dave in Auckland recalls:

“He was a down to earth, good humoured, no frills, what you see is what you get type of guy, much like his playing, what I call ‘street blues’". Many in the NZ Music Scene are mourning the loss of a completely unique, one of a kind musician who became one of our own. Despite their significant age gap and different musical genres, Kent-Johnston sums the man up:

"He had a youthful spirit and we were able to bond and hang out, even with a 30-odd year age gap between us. He had a ‘screw-the-system’ type of attitude, which I really enjoyed, and we spent many hours commenting on the hilarity of modern day life. It’s not often you meet someone who has a unique, one of a kind attitude like Dave. He definitely led a life that was filled with excitement and crazy experiences – from the fast-paced rock and roll days to his later years as a semi-retired, guitar playing man of mystery. He had the grin of the Cheshire Cat, wit like Oscar Wilde and a heart of gold."

Dave Ball – RIP (Rock in Peace)

Ball died of bowel cancer in April 2015 at the age of 65.

Dave Ball's page at BtP  


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