Who was/is Tony Crombie ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
The rock'n'roll explosion in the mid-fifties resulted from a musical fusion of black R&B and white country music, both intrinsic American styles. So when early American rock'n'roll artists like Bill Haley, Elvis Presley or Little Richard came on stage, they had a background in one style or another and more than just a fleeting knowledge of the other.
But when this new form of music crossed the Atlantic, British artists were forced to emulate their transatlantic cousins. There was no ethnic heritage in popular music in England; it was the era of big bands and balladeers in the British charts. The only musicians who did not fall into these categories were the jazz musicians who drew their inspiration from their American counterparts.
Tony Crombie was born in the late 1920s in the East End of London, where his mother, a pianist in silent movies, earned him a passion for music. Without formal instruction he could play piano and drums before leaving school, and when he was 16 years old he had managed to join the "Mazurka Club", which heralded the beginning of an excellent musical career. The BBC'Accordion Club' provided him with a long television season with Tito Burns and gave him invaluable experience working with experienced jazz musicians such as Johnny Dankworth.
The roots of jazz were an attraction for Crombie, and a vacation in America when he crossed over with Ronnie Scott enabled him to study the music first hand. Together with Ronnie Scott and Johnny Dankworth he became a founding member of the'Club Eleven' in London, a cooperation with some of the best jazz musicians in England. As Crombie's reputation grew, so did the demand for his services; he played for the Ted Heath Band on their recording sessions when resident drummer Jack Parnell was called up and received the highest award in 1948 to accompany Duke Ellington on his British tour with guitarist Malcolm Mitchell and bassist Jack Fallon.
In 1952 he won the Paris Jazz Festival as a drummer and shortly afterwards joined Ronnie Scott's band for two years before deciding to form his own band. This was followed by a tour to Israel, a pioneering achievement for a British band that was highly praised by the critics but not equated with financial rewards! In 1954 Crombie recorded Jeff Kruger's'Jazz At The Flamingo' series with an all-star rhythm & blues band. Recording for Decca, Crombie's band supports singer Annie Ross on her version of'I Want You To Be My Baby'. They also recorded their own cut numbers such as "Flying Home", "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" and "String Of Pearls". In 1955 the band distinguished themselves at the Paris Jazz Festival. At that time Crombie was a heavyweight in the British jazz scene.
Crombie's interest in jazz had not only led him to explore R&B, but the advent of rock'n'roll had also aroused his interest. In its August 10, 1956 issue, the New Musical Express announced:'New Crombie Band; top dates and staff announced'. The same NME had an ad on their front page for Bill Haley's'Rock Around The Clock'. Crombie was quoted when he said that for several years he had had a great interest in music known as rock'n'roll and wanted to incorporate a visual aspect into the band's presentation (obviously after watching Haley's Comets' performances and noticing the visual impact).
This new line-up was named Tony Crombie & His Rockets and consisted of Crombie himself on drums and piano, accompanied by Rex Morris on tenor sax, Milt Sealey on piano, Jimmy Currie on guitar, Ashley Kozak on bass and Clyde Ray on vocals. The band signed to Columbia and released their first single'Short'nin' Bread Rock', supported by'Teach You To Rock' (DB 3822), which brought them their first and, as it turned out, only chart hit when they reached number 25 in October 1956.
At the same time, they went on a nationwide tour that began in mid-September in Portsmouth and culminated in Sheffield, Birmingham, Nottingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and the Finsbury Park Empire in London. Short'nin' Bread Rock' was an adaptation of the old folk song'Short'nin' Bread'. About 4 years later Paul Chaplain & the Emeralds followed in Crombie's footsteps and recorded a rocking version of'Short'nin'.