Musician, singer and songwriter Ronnie Harwood's biography - chapter 1Ronnie Harwood was born in Hornsey Road, North London, England on 28th September 1941. His family moved to Burnt Oak, a suburb of London, in 1948. Ronnie has a brother, David, and a sister, Wendy. In his formative years, young ronnieRonnie grew up listening to singers such as Les Paul and Mary Ford, Tennissee Ernie Ford, Frankie Laine, Guy Mitchell, Rosemary Clooney and many more. The young Ronnie earned money from cleaning cars and collecting old newspapers for the local fish and chip shops with his brother David.

Between the ages of 12 and 14 Ronnie was buying the latest records of that time and remembers his mum and dad taking him to see Rosemary Clooney at the London Palladium. She had a big hit at the time with 'This Ole House'.

In late 1955, at the Watling Boys Club at Woodcroft School, someone brought in a 78 rpm record of Lonnie Donnegan singing 'The Rock Island Line'. Excited by it, Ronnie persuaded his father to take him to Blanks MusicStore in London's Kilburn High Road. Ronnie's dad acted as guarantor for a brand new acoustic guitar costing 17 guineas - a serious investment back then.

Now aged 15, Ronnie went with some older friends to see the film 'Blackboard Jungle' at the Hendon Odeon in north west London. The film included 'Rock Around The Clock'.

"This movie was the wake up call for me and many more like me," Ronnie remembers. "Bill Haley and his Comets, and Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys, made it for me!"

young ronnie band w-captionBill Haley and the Comets playing 'Rock Around The Clock' ushered in nothing less than a musical revolution with American artists Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jo Turner, Chuck Berry and Elvis. There was a lot of new music influencing Ronnie, from skiffle to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, the Johnnie Burnette Trio and Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps.

"So many," Ronnie recalled, "and they all had great guitar players. But my most favourite singer was, and still is, Frankie Laine. Growing up in the 50s, his voice was just amazing. Just listen to the song Marty Robins wrote, 'You Gave Me a Mountain', and his early hits 'Woman in Love', 'I Believe' and many more. In 1973 I saw him perform at Caesars Palace in Dunstable, Hertfordshire and he was still amazing.'

In 1956 Ronnie formed 'The White Diamonds', a skiffle group, with brother Dave on tea chest bass, Alan Carter on washboard and vocalist John Lord. Paul Walton and Ronnie were on guitars. A highlight for the band was winning a big skiffle competition held at St Pancras Town Hall - now known as Camden Town Hall - in 1957. 'The White Diamonds' performed 'I Walk The Line', 'There's a Blue Ridge Round My Heart, Virginia', and 'Railroad Steamboat'. Bob Cort (Bob Cort Skiffle Group) was on the judging panel. Their prize was record tokens!

As skiffle gave way to the new sounds of rock 'n' roll, 'The White Diamonds' changed its name to 'The Rhythm Kings' and that's when Ronnie got his first electric guitar, a Hofner Club 40. Several other name changes were to come as the band became 'Jess Hunter and the Javerlings', 'Jess Hunter and the Avalons', 'The Premiers', and then 'Jess Hunter and the Premiers'.

'Jess Hunter and the Avalons' featured lead guitarist France Davis, Ronnie as Jess Hunter on rhythm guitar, Barry Caldridge on bass guitar and Peter Wolf on drums. The band started their musical apprenticeship at the Coffee Pot, Welwyn Garden City, as well as playing the obligatory church halls and youth clubs in common with most of the new acts of the day. Ronnie remembers how, in 1957,

"We used the get the Northern Line from Burnt Oak to Charing Cross with our guitars and bits. We'd arrive at the 2I's coffee bar in Soho." The bar was also popular with Adam Faith and Cliff Richard, amongst others . "I remember being there when Toni Sheridan came in," Ronnie recalled. "He must have been one of the first rock n rollers to go to Germany, before the Beatles and me."

The Premiers 1962 w-captionThe Avalons became The Premiers, with France Davis on lead guitar, Dave Croft on rhythm guitar, Harry Reynolds on bass and Ray Wibley on drums. Ronnie (aka Jess Hunter), led the band as vocalist. They played the American air bases at Brize Norton, Mildenhall and Lakenheath, and the Top Rank ballrooms - well known and popular venues in those days - supporting the likes of 'Johnny Kidd and the Pirates', 'Joe Brown and the Bruvvers', and the 'Brook Brothers'.

It was the Brook Brothers that got the band their first recording audition, at Pye Studios in London. Producer Tony Hatch wasn't sufficiently impressed at the time and so the audition failed to lead to a contract. However, they went on to audition for Peter Chester, son of Charlie Chester and who later went on to co-write 'Please Don't Tease' with Bruce Welch for Cliff Richard. Peter arranged for 'Jess Hunter and The Premiers' to have their first German tour.

Meanwhile, John Sullivan of JDS Entertainment, and Rocky Rivers, were keeping The Premiers in regular work. In 1962, Ronnie did two tours of Germany with The Premiers, the first in July that year, playing towns like Hannau, Frankfurt Maine, Hanover, Luneburg and Kaiserslautern, performing seven nights a week, six hours a night. He was 21 and earning about £25 a week, plus lodgings paid.

"On our second trip going back to Germany in October 1962," Ronnie remembers, "our tin van, the Bedford Doormobile, broke down on the autobahn about 50 miles from the gig venue, the Lido Bar in Landsthul. The owner sent out three Mercedes cars to get us to the gig. Strangely, I remember they were all diesels," he added with a smile. That was the last they saw of their old Bedford van - the engine had seized up. "I remember some American GIs saying the 'big end' had gone on her", Ronnie recalled with another smile.

"We worked the Lido Bar at Landsthul and the Metropol Hotel in Kaiserlautern. When we had finished our six weeks' work, we came home by train, leaving from Landsthul with all our Vox amps, Trixon drums and our Fender guitars, travelling through Germany and France. Can you imagine changing trains with all our gear?! But we just got on with it."

For the second tour, drummer Ray Wibley was replaced by Peter Wolf. After the successful follow-up German tour, Ronnie left The Premiers to carve out another milestone and was replaced in the band by close friend Paul Dean, perhaps now better known as actor Paul Nicholas.

New Premiers w-captionThe New Premiers

Ronnie dropped the Jess Hunter tag and began touring the UK's music venues with 'The New Premiers'. The line-up was now Ronnie on vocals and guitar, Ray Randall on bass, Brian 'Pretty Boy' Whelan on drums, and 'Nervous' John Gilbey on lead guitar.

"You never saw John without his guitar," Ronnie remembers, "he carried it everywhere with him. He said that if he left it at home his mother would hock it", meaning he feared she would take it to the local pawnbroker.

The band was about to record 'Money', a song recorded by American singer Barratt Strong, when bass player Ray Randall was head-hunted to replace Heinz Burt in the Tornadoes, who had enjoyed a massive number one hit with 'Telstar'. Randall's leaving broke up the band and the record deal was given to 'Bern Elliot and the Fenmen', fellow JDS stable mates.more

 

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