From behind the drumkit to the top of the charts: the backstage story of the Bee Gees
With worldwide sales of over 220 million records, the Bee Gees are the sixth-best-selling music artists in history. Dennis Bryon’s story of how he became the Bee Gees’ drummer during their peak period offers many never-before-told tales about such infectious hits as “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” and “Night Fever.” From Dennis’s beginnings in a Welsh band to his crucial role in the superstar group, You Should Be Dancing reveals unforgettable stories of his encounters with many famous musicians, including the Bee Gees themselves, Andy Gibb, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, and Olivia Newton-John. Illustrated with Bee Gees photographs and ephemera, Bryon’s memoir takes Bee Gees fans and music enthusiasts alike on one of the wildest rides in pop history.
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About the Author
Dennis Bryon is the acclaimed drummer who first tasted success with Amen Corner, the celebrated Welsh rock band that had six hits in the U.K., including a number one. In 1973, Dennis joined the Bee Gees and played drums on nine #1 singles and on the 40-million-copy album Saturday Night Fever. Dennis lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
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You Should Be Dancing
My Life With The Bee Gees
By Dennis Byron
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2015 Dennis Bryon
All rights reserved.
All Because of Arthur
"A GUITAR PLAYER? THEY'RE TEN A PENNY!"
I was born on April 14, 1948, to Ronald William Bryon and Iris Lillian Bryon in Cardiff, South Wales. Along with my sister, Carole, I grew up in a bed and breakfast; that was all I ever knew. My father had a second job at Rhoose Airport just outside town, where he supervised the parts department.
Before he would head off to work, my father would get up and start making breakfast for the guests: sausages, bacon and eggs, and so forth. When he got halfway through preparing the food, he would hand off cooking breakfast to my mother, because he would have to leave for the airport at 7:30 a.m.
At the same time, I'd be getting ready to go to school. I would get dressed, fix my own breakfast, and slip out the front door at around 8:15 a.m., without getting in the way of my mum or the guests.
But school was hard for me; I couldn't concentrate. I was always gazing out of the window — daydreaming and looking at the slate roofs across the street — and the next thing I'd know I'd feel a piece of chalk bounce off my head: "Bryon! Pay attention!"
I often look back to a chance conversation I had with one of the boarders staying at our guest house when I was fifteen years old. It was a conversation that would change my life forever. It was 1963, and The Beatles and the Stones and all the London and Merseyside groups were never off the radio. It was a musical explosion. I spent all my time tuned to the radio. I couldn't turn it off.
We also had a few television shows dedicated to music. The biggest was called Top of the Pops, which came on every Thursday night. I wouldn't miss that show for anything, and as I watched the groups perform, I dreamed of playing in one. My love of music had become so deep that I was no longer satisfied just listening to it. I had to become part of it.
So a few school friends and I planned on starting our own group. Since Christmas was approaching, I asked my parents for a cheap guitar and a small amplifier as my main present. A couple of weeks before the holiday, my dad took me down to one of the local music stores, Barratt's of Manchester, where we dealt with one of the owners, Ray Barratt. Neither my dad nor I had the foggiest idea what we were doing, but with Ray's help we settled on a black Burns Bison guitar and a small Watkins Dominator amplifier.
Then, one morning, with only a few school days left before Christmas, I came downstairs as usual and walked through the dining room on my way to the kitchen. I saw a man sitting at the dining room table. He had his back to the wall, but his face was hidden behind a newspaper. As I walked by I politely said, "Morning ..." It was a rule — Dad made sure I was always polite to all the guests.
From behind the newspaper the man grunted back, "Mornin'."
My mother was in the kitchen, putting away the dishes she'd just washed and dried. She pulled me aside and pointed back to the dining room. "He's a musician," she whispered. This was astounding, as Dad never rented out a room to the wild riffraff that he perceived all musicians to be.
On a typical day, I'd stay in the kitchen to eat my breakfast. But not this morning ... this man was a musician and that changed everything. I had to go talk to this guy. He was a musician, and I was going to be a musician.
After I dished up my breakfast, I went into the dining room and sat down opposite the man behind the newspaper. As I looked above the paper, I could see a plume of blue smoke going straight up and clinging to the ceiling. I took a deep breath ...
"Mum says you're a musician."
There was a pause.
A longer pause.
"I'm gonna be a musician," I said.
Even longer pause.
Finally, "Oh yeah, what kind of musician you gonna be?" "I'm gonna be a guitar player."
"A guitar player? They're ten a penny!" he barked from behind the newspaper. Then thump! Everything on the table rattled as he slammed the newspaper down.
This was the first time I got a look at the man's face. His hair was slicked back and he wore black-rimmed glasses. A cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth. I was amazed because the ash at the end of the cigarette was at least an inch long. And it didn't break off, either, as he looked me dead in the eye and forcefully said, "No, it's a drummer you want to be ... not a guitar player!"
A drummer? I thought to myself. I never even listened to the drums. I had only paid attention to the guitars and vocals.
The man took the cigarette from his mouth and flicked the ash into an ashtray next to his empty plate and half-empty cup of tea. He didn't take his eyes off me as he placed the cigarette back in his mouth and put up the newspaper between us again.
I looked around and saw my mother appear at the kitchen door. She looked at me. I frowned at Mum and shrugged. Mum went back into the kitchen.
All of a sudden there was another thump as the man slammed the newspaper to the table again. He stared right into my eyes with that cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. He started to nod his head "yes."
"OK ... who's your favorite group?" he asked.
Well, that was easy. I was convinced in my own mind — and knew for certain — that very soon I was going be the third Everly Brother. It was a no-brainer; The Beatles and most of the other groups on the radio were singing three-part harmony. Soon The Everly Brothers would be into three-part harmony, too, and I would be that third harmony.
"The Everly Brothers," I responded.
"Right," he said. "The next time you listen to your Everly Brothers, listen to the drums. You're going to be very surprised." Then, once again, he disappeared behind the paper.
I was such a huge fan of theirs. I would sing the third harmony to all their songs. I knew every single sound on their records. Everything, that is ... except the drums.
Mum appeared in the kitchen door again and reminded me I was close to being late for school. I took my plate to the kitchen, grabbed my coat and satchel, kissed Mum goodbye, and walked back into the dining room.
The man gently lowered the newspaper and took the cigarette from his mouth. As he stubbed it out, he asked, "What's your name, son?"
"Nice to meet you, Dennis," he said, holding out his right hand.
As we shook, the skin on his hand was as hard as steel.
"I'm Arthur, Arthur Dakin. And whether you're going to be a drummer or a guitar player, heaven forbid, just make sure you're a great one."
That day at school I was completely distracted by my conversation with Arthur. I couldn't wait to get home and play my Everly Brothers records to see what Arthur was talking about. Finally, late in the afternoon, I made it home and to our front room. It seemed to take forever for my record player to warm up, but finally I got the hum. The first single in the pile was a song called "Temptation."
Right off the bat the drums were incredible. The song started with just the drummer playing a rhythmic pattern, even before the vocals started. When the vocals came in, the drummer played beautifully to everything The Everly Brothers sang. I'd played "Temptation" a hundred times before. How come I'd never heard the drums until now? I couldn't wait to play another song. The next record in the pile was "Cathy's Clown," another one of my favorites. I couldn't believe my ears: the drummer did it again. He started off with a really unusual pattern, but it fit perfectly with the song and the vocals. When the song got to the next section, he played another completely different part but it sounded exactly appropriate to the song.
I played "Lucille" and could not believe how powerful the drum pattern was. Then I played "Walk Right Back," "So Sad," "How Can I Meet Her," and "Crying in the Rain." I was totally blown away. I'd never been inspired like this before. I couldn't stop listening to the drums. Arthur was right. My life was changed.
Through the front window I saw my dad pull up and park his car outside the house. I was totally spellbound in that room, listening to my records. As Dad passed the front room, he opened the door a little without coming in.
"Turn it down!" he shouted and carried on through the dining room and into the kitchen to see Mum.
After about half an hour, my mother opened the door and told me dinner was on the table. I turned off the record player and went into the kitchen. Dad was sitting at the table and Mum was standing at the sink.
"Mum, Dad, guess what?" I said excitedly.
"Go on," Dad said in an indifferent tone.
"I don't wanna be a guitar player anymore."
"You don't ... Why not?" Mum asked.
I looked at my dad and thought I saw a tiny smile of relief on his face.
"I want to be a drummer!" I proclaimed as I sat down next to my dad.
His head dropped. He closed his eyes and let out a sigh of frustration. "You've been talking to that bloody musician haven't you? I knew I shouldn't have let him stay."
Dad had only two rules that applied to the guests who stayed with us. Rule number one: only English was to be spoken at the breakfast table. Dad didn't think it was appropriate for people to speak in a language that others at the table couldn't understand.
Rule number two (which was really rule number one):No musicians!!! Every time Dad let a musician stay they would always — without fail — come in drunk or stay up late drinking alcohol in their rooms, disturb the other guests, lose the front door key and get Dad up in the middle of the night to let them in, or leave in the morning without returning the front door key. They were always trouble and my dad just wouldn't put up with it. I couldn't figure out why he had let Arthur stay.
"Yeah, his name's Arthur and he straightened me right out. Guitar players are ten a penny, and playing the drums is where it's at, so I'm gonna be a drummer!"
Mum went over to the oven and opened the door. She reached in and brought out my dinner that she had been keeping warm.
"How long is Arthur staying?" I asked.
"Oh, he's not, love," Mum answered. "He's gone back to London; he was only in town for the day. He rehearsed with the orchestra at the New Theatre this afternoon. He's playing in the Christmas Pantomime on Boxing Day. He's going to be staying with us again over Christmas. Your father only let him stay because he couldn't find anywhere else."
Nearly all the B&B's in Cardiff were closed over the Christmas holiday. Most people considered Christmas a time for family, not work. This was the very first time I could remember anyone staying with us at Christmas.
The following Saturday, Dad took me back to Barratt's, where again we met with Ray.
"We've come to change the order. He's changed his mind. Now he wants to be a drummer," Dad said aggressively.
"We always need good drummers," Ray said with a smile. "What you need is a good starter kit."
I looked at Ray. "What's a kit?"
"That's a set of drums — that's what we call drums in the business."
Ray took us to the drum room at the back of the store.
MY VERY OWN KIT
Finally it was Christmas Eve, and late on that cold, wet afternoon there was a knock on the front door. It was Arthur.
"Hi, Arthur. You'll never guess what!" I said.
"You're gonna be a drummer."
I was stunned. "How did you know?"
"You listened to your Everly Brothers records, didn't you? You listened to the drums."
"I love the drums. Not just on The Everly Brothers records but on all my records."
"What kind of drums are you getting?"
"Olympic. No toms ... I'll get them next year."
"Good. Olympic's a solid make and you don't need toms yet. They'll come when you're ready."
That's exactly what I wanted to hear. I helped Arthur carry his bags up to his room, then he went down to the pub for a drink and something to eat.
Early the next morning, Christmas Day, I got up before it was light and came downstairs. In the darkness of the hallway outside the front room stood a small table. On the table was a tray and on the tray was a single crystal sherry glass and a fancy bone china plate. Upon the plate were two small aluminum pie tins. Every year, without fail, Dad would leave a glass of sherry and two homemade mince pies for Santa. And, as usual, it was obvious that Santa had paid us a visit, because the sherry glass was empty and the mince pies were gone.
I entered the front room and stopped to look at the Christmas tree, which was set up in the middle of the bay window. The curtains were drawn and the room was very warm. Dad always left the Christmas tree lights on every Christmas Eve and Christmas night. I squinted to get the full effect of the colored lights. The room was filled with peace and warmth and the gentleness of Christmas.
As I walked farther into the room, I noticed a stack of new presents under the tree. I didn't turn on the main room light, so as not to wake anyone in the house. The smell in the room was festive: a mix of live Christmas tree, wrapping paper, and the highly polished lacquer finish of what could only be my new drums.
To the right of the fireplace and next to the tree, there was a large dark shape on the floor. I walked closer and could now see the shape was covered with a large white bed sheet. I gently pulled away the sheet and there they were in all their magnificence: my new Olympic drum set ... my very own "kit."
I reached for the sticks, which came in a long, narrow cardboard box, as did the brushes. I opened one end of the box and slid the sticks down and out toward me. I took the sticks in my left hand and discarded the packaging. I split the sticks between my two hands. It was my first time holding a pair of drumsticks and it felt right. This was one of the many moments in my life that was magic. It was this moment that I became a drummer.
I quietly played the sticks on the carpet and stared at the drums in front of me. I wondered where these drums would take me ... where they would lead me.
The next thing I knew, the door opened and the light came on in the room. The light was blinding, so I put a hand in front of my face. It was Carole. She had come down to check on her presents under the tree.
"You got them," Carole said as she approached my drums. She picked up the brushes on top of the snare drum and started to open the box. "What are these?"
I stood up and snatched the brushes away from her. "Don't touch my drums!" I shouted.
Then I heard a door open in the hall outside. My parents' bedroom was the middle room next door, between the front room and the dining room. There was my dad in his pajamas.
"Come on, you two, it's four o'clock in the bloody morning ... you're waking the whole household. Go back to bed."
I stood up and grabbed the tuning key that was sitting on my snare drum. I made sure Carole left the room before me so she couldn't touch my drums. As I walked past Dad, he told me he had talked with Arthur, who had promised to help me set up the drums before he went to rehearsal. I went back to bed, but I couldn't sleep. I was too excited, knowing my drums were really here.
Next thing I knew I was waking up and it was nine o'clock in the morning. I hoped it hadn't all been a dream. I looked over to the nightstand and there, by my side, were my sticks, brushes, and tuning key. I jumped out of bed and went to the bathroom for a quick wash and to clean my teeth. I quickly got dressed, grabbed my sticks and brushes, and went downstairs. I entered the front room and, in the clear light of day, there they were.
DADA MAMA ... DADA MAMA ...
Somebody had put the white sheet back over the drums. I removed the sheet and folded it up. Then there was a knock on the door and Arthur walked in. Arthur had the ever-present cigarette in his mouth, a cup of tea in one hand, and an ashtray in the other.
"Merry Christmas, Arthur ... I got my drums!" I shouted.
"Merry Christmas, Den ... Oh boy, they are nice."
Arthur showed me all the parts of the bass drum and the bass drum pedal. He showed me how he tuned his bass drum and how to set it up properly. Then he did the same with the snare drum, hi-hat, cymbal stands, and cymbals. The last thing we set up was the stool. Finally, I was ready to sit down at my drums.
"How do I hold the sticks?"
"For right now, it doesn't matter; just hold them in the most comfortable way. Hold them between your forefinger and thumb, like this."
Arthur came over and demonstrated. He told me not to panic and to play along with my favorite records. Everything would come in time, he said — just have fun, be patient, and practice.
Excerpted from You Should Be Dancing by Dennis Byron. Copyright © 2015 Dennis Bryon. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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