Born Graham Davidson on March 2nd 1943 in London’s Whitechapel, Graham Dee was to follow in the footsteps of a long theatrical family tradition of touring singers and musicians dating back to the Victorian era.
Ida Parker (pictured here) was one such family member who had a long performing career as an entertainer in the late 19th Century. The earliest record in ‘The Stage’ appears in 1893 when she was only 13 years of age.
A LIFE IN MUSIC
Stepping out - The Planets and Steve Arlen
Graham’s first paid gig was in 1959 when, at the age of 16 years, although a guitarist, he learned the bass guitar in order to play with top Southend, Essex band, The Planets. He played with them for 2 years then turned professional.
The Planets - Graham - second from the right with his bass
He got a job working with Steve Arlen, a mainstay of the club circuit. It was Graham’s first time playing guitar on stage as they toured the country playing venues as diverse as The Ascot Club in Blackpool and the midday TV programme, ’Lunchbox’ hosted by Noel Gordon.
Says Graham, ‘I worked tirelessly with Steve Arlen and had just one or two weeks to learn all the bar chords for the show.
Steve was a complete professional who did everything down to the finest detail. He bought my clothes, fined me if I cut myself shaving and squeezed my blackheads before I went on stage’.
The show received glowing reviews: ‘Arlen’s latest formula of intimate presentation in cabaret is really something dramatic. In fact, he owes something also to his solo guitar accompanist, Graham Dee, a skilled, imaginative young musician with a flair for producing uncommonly beautiful chords’. James Hartley, The Stage 1962
Mr Tin Pan Alley
Knowledgeable professionals will remember Graham Dee from the sixties when they compared his guitar work with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
By groups he played with like Steve Marriott and the Moments, The Walker Brothers, Them, The Laurie Jay Combo and his own band, The Quotations (pictured).
For the songs he wrote (mainly with Brian Potter) for The Applejacks, Dave Berry, The Lettermen and Bobby Vinton.
By the stars he accompanied like Carl Perkins, Memphis Slim and John Lee Hooker or the TV shows he appeared on like ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ and ‘Ready Steady Go’.
Known by his contemporaries as Mr Tin Pan Alley, he was a pivotal figure on the London sixties music scene.
From the mid-sixties to early 70s, Graham worked as in-house producer at Polydor/Atlantic Records under Frank Fenter, becoming effectively, Atlantic’s ‘soul link’ with Polydor.
Working with such artists as Fleur de Lys, Sharon Tandy, The Fantastics, Mike Berry and Maxine Silverberg, he produced a distinctly British soul sound.
He is seen here working with Maxine Silverberg.
United Artists, Los Angeles
There followed a short break in the USA doing session work and writing with Philip Mitchell at the renowned, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama.
In 1975, Graham signed a 3-year contract with United Artists Music Publishing in LA as a staff songwriter. He then signed to ATV Publishing in London and New York in the same capacity.
In 1977, he recorded and co-produced the album ‘Make the Most of Every Moment’ with Gerry Shury and in 1978 another album, ‘Somethin’ Else’, co-produced with Richard Niles. Both were released on the Pye label.
In the early to mid 80s, Graham continued to compose with lyricists such as Sara Blumenstein and David Kleinman, mainly in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles.
Graham hangs up his guitar
In the late 1980s, Graham decided to hang up his guitar following a series of personal tragedies.
He spent time working as a ranch hand in Wyoming, went on to practice Martial Arts in Japan before returning to Britain to work in forestry.
He soon became involved in clearing the deluge caused by the hurricane of 1987 and stayed in the Suffolk/ Norfolk area as a forester for the next few years.
Music begins to beckon - Children in Need
In the mid-1990s, it happened by chance that Graham was in Norwich and wandered into ‘The Alibi’ bar. The owner, Danny Keen, recognised him from the sixties London music scene and asked him to play in the bar that evening.
After hesitating for a moment, Graham agreed and got his new friend, jazz bass guitarist and double bass player, Dave Holgate to do the gig with him.
Word of the duo soon spread and other musicians came to join in. Pretty soon The Alibi became the place to go in Norwich for great music.
Graham - second from the left at the Alibi
Whilst gigging at The Alibi in 1997, Graham was approached by BBC Look East to perform for Children in Need on TV, which he gladly did.
He had previously composed a Christmas song with Sara Blumenstein in New York called ‘I Remember Christmas’ and decided to record the song for the children’s charity.
He joined forces with the Norwich Cathedral Choristers and The Salvation Army and released a single with all profits going to Children in Need.
Then in the year 2000 he went on to release a 3-track CD entitled ‘The Bottom Line’ on the Sugabeat/Elkin Music label.
Historic recordings open doors
In 2009, Graham was living in Dorset and was approached by record collector, Damian Jones.
He wanted to know if Graham had any tapes of his unreleased productions from the 60s and 70s.
"Damian almost broke down in tears when I told him that I had scrapped most of my tapes because of lack of space.
"Luckily, I had kept a few and he contacted Acid Jazz Records – a label that specialises in soul, jazz, funk and mod music."
ABOVE: Graham destroying those precious tapes
Released in 2011 - sold out.
Acid Jazz decided to release some of Graham's historic recordings, culminating in the release of The Graham Dee Connection: The 60s Collection in 2011.
Although now sold out, the tracks can be downloaded or streamed digitally.
The EP Graham Dee’s Hitsville London then followed in 2012 and is still available through Acid Jazz.
First foray into the new music industry
In 2012, inspired by the release of these older compositions and productions, Graham took up his guitar and began composing songs again.
Hitting the recording studio in 2013, the outcome was a new album, The Thirteenth Man, released on vinyl and CD on his own Tin-Kan Records label in 2014.
The road to release was a steep learning curve for Graham as the industry had changed significantly over the years he had been away. Going into partnership with some friends he formed Tin-Kan Records, choosing a name that resonated with his old nickname, Mr Tin Pan Alley.
Receiving some great reviews (read reviews), the experience whetted his appetite again.
The producer comes centre stage
Always on the lookout for music that appeals, Graham heard some songs written and sung by Norwich-based singer songwriter Richard Sutton, and his A&R instinct instantly kicked in. He stepped in to help arrange and co-produce Richard's debut album, Paper Plane, which was released on CD in 2018 (read more).
The experience rekindled a long held passion for recording and producing music.
Since that day, Graham has been busy developing new projects. Always an ideas man, he is nurturing a range of exciting new concepts, and will be announcing them as they reach maturity.
Bitten by the bug
While working with Richard on his album, the two of them began tinkering with ideas, melodies and lyrics, and realised they had the foundation for a good songwriting relationship. Very quickly they were bitten by the songwriting bug, and began songwriting in earnest.
Graham plans to return to the studio to record some Sutton Dee songs with Richard, and has well-known artists and bands lined up for others.
Acid Jazz signs Graham
Interest in Graham's career and work has been mounting and to cater for that growing market, indie label Acid Jazz has signed Graham in a new five year contact, and plans to release a series of albums of his work.
The first step was to include Graham's track, Sampaguita, on a special collectors compilation, AJX500, in November 2019.
This was only the precursor though.
A new collection of songs spanning Graham's career has been brought together into an album, Carnaby Street Soul West Coast Vibes, to be released on 31 January 2020 on vinyl and CD.