A special four-hour edition of Greasy Tracks on June 23 paid tribute to legendary drummer Jon Hiseman, who passed away at the age of 73 on June 12.
The program featured music from across Hiseman’s career and interviews with former band mates, including Mark Clarke, Dave “Clem” Clempson, Dave Greenslade, James Litherland and Tony Reeves. Click here to listen to the archive while a playlist is here.
Hiseman is best known for his work with Colosseum, the band he formed in 1968 with bassist Reeves and keyboardist Greenslade — with whom he first performed with in high school — along with guitarist Litherland and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith who was a veteran of the burgeoning London jazz scene.
During the early 1960s when jazz and R&B began to gain popularity in England, there was a close-knit fellowship shared by many up-and-coming musicians, but the primary focus was on key band leaders as the likes of Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies, Long John Baldry, John Mayall and Graham Bond who fronted groups that included players who in the years that followed, became household names.
MANY INTERESTING ROOTS
Some groups, such as Shotgun Express — which featured Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood — and Steampacket which was led by Baldry and included Rod Stewart, Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll — never saw much success, but were proving grounds for musicians who later garnered great acclaim.
The roots of Cream and Colosseum can be traced to Bond’s group, the Graham Bond Organisation, which at times included Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, John McLaughlin, Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith in its various lineups.
In 1968, Bare Wires — Mayall’s first album to find chart success in the United States — featured the core of what would become Colosseum just a few months later as Hiseman, Reeves and Heckstall-Smith did a six-month stint with Mayall who at that point had future Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor on board.
Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith also were called on to session on Bruce’s first two solo albums, Songs for a Tailor and Things We Like.
Renowned for his earnest approach to the music — including rigorous rehearsals and a straightforward leadership and managerial style — when it came to putting Colosseum together, Heisman wanted “no drug addicts, no time wasters and no passengers.” The approach remained throughout the history of the band.
By the end of 1968, Colosseum was in the studio working on its debut, Those Who Are About to Die Salute You, which was released in spring 1969. Minus a cover of Huddie Ledbetter’s “Backwater Blues” and the aforementioned Bond’s “Walking in the Park,” the album was chock full of original compositions which brought together rock, blues, jazz and classical styles, effectively helping to usher in what would become known as the jazz fusion/progressive rock genres of music
Seven months later, the band put out Valentyne Suite, a more adventuresome effort which essentially took blues and jazz approaches and added some harder rock edges to deliver an album which has stood the test of time with the title track included in the band’s live sets nearly five decades after it was first recorded.”
At this point, when the band was not in the studio, it was on the road, often undertaking a grueling schedule of shows.
In a period of transition as Clempson came in for the outgoing Litherwood on guitar, the group’s U.S./Canada-only release The Grass Is Greener to open 1970. That summer, the band — including new members, vocalist Chris Farlowe and bassist Mark Clarke on board — went into the studio to record what would become Daughter of Time which came out that December.
The group recorded a pair of concerts on the ensuing tour to support the release which provided the material for the double-live album, Colosseum Live which proved to be a commercial success, peaking at No. 17 in the U.K. charts.
Colosseum called it quits in 1971 with members headed in different directions. Hiseman and Clarke going on to form the more rock-oriented Tempest with guitarist Allan Holdworth; Clempson joining Humble Pie to take Peter Frampton’s vacated place; Greenslade linked up with Reeves and brought on a number of players including ex-King Crimson drummer Andrew McCulloch to form Greenslade; Farlowe joined Atomic Rooster; and Heckstall-Smith recorded a handful of solo albums and played with numerous fusion groups.
COLOSSEUM II AND OTHER PROJECTS
Augmented by ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore, Hiseman formed the jazz-rock Colosseum II in 1975 after recording a pair of albums with Tempest. The group would record three albums, but notably would gain notoriety for being part of the line-up that was brought in by Andrew Lloyd Webber to record his classical meets rock/fusion Variations which included Rod Argent on piano and Hiseman’s wife, Barbara Thompson, on flute and saxophones. The album hit No. 2 on the charts. Hiseman recorded a number of soundtracks with Lloyd Webber, working with the composer for more than a decade.
Hiseman and Thompson did extensive work with the United Jazz + Rock Ensemble, a group of rotating musicians, mostly from Germany, that played an eclectic mix of jazz rock and would go on to release more than a dozen albums.
The occasion of Greenslade’s 50th birthday party in 1993 proved to be pivotal as numerous Colosseum alums were in attendance and the subject was broached about reforming the band. In 1994 the same members who closed the door on Colosseum 23 years earlier, reunited the band which played its first performance at the Zelt Musik Festival in Freiburg, Germany; followed by a television appearance several months later in Cologne. Each concert was filmed and ultimately released on CD and DVD.
While not planned, Colosseum was back and would end up releasing studio albums Bread & Circuses (1997), Tomorrow’s Blues (2003) and Time On Our Side (2014). Live05 (2007) was a double CD that captured stellar performances from three dates in Germany and Austria during their 2005 tour with Thompson in the line-up for Heckstall-Smith who passed away in 2004.
A POWER TRIO?
Hiseman’s final project, JCM, included Clarke and Clempson and their sole, recently released album, the 11-track Heroes, was intended to pay tribute to a number of musicians who had passed away, especially guitarists Larry Coryell and Allan Holdsworth.
Hiseman wrote: “Following the passing of two of my Heroes early in 2017, I suddenly realised that I had lost most of the people who had believed in me and encouraged me to make my own music… it occurred to me that I should try to make an album featuring the songs and instrumentals that I associate with them all, the music that stayed with me through all the years.”
Others whose work was covered on the album include Bruce, Heckstall-Smith, Ollie Halsall, John Mole and Moore.
JCM played a handful of dates before Hiseman fell ill. According to Clarke and Clempson, as an honor to Hiseman, the group will continue and expects to honor numerous dates across Europe this summer. The duo say they intend to record a follow-up, according to Clarke who said Hiseman intended to have JCM be an on-going recording and performing unit.