Ronnie Verrell - click to enlarge
Photo courtesy of Sid Mitchell
©Digital Gallery Plus

Now it's true - Viva is dead. We will have to keep going. Stan Reynolds
Never to be replaced
. Don Lusher
Talking of drummers, there are one or two I’ve played with who seem to want to play as a unit. Ronnie Verrell is a little dynamo - he’s wonderful, he will really listen out. Len Skeat
Then, of course, the battle at the end with Animal; to play opposite Ronnie Verrell—one of my all-time favourite drummers, along with Kenny Clare—was a total gas to me. Buddy Rich
My earliest recollection of Ronnie Verrell was when, as an already brilliant voung drummer, I received a telephone call from an agitated Ted Heath, who wanted me to help him obtain the release of Ronnie from his contract in order to replace Jack Parnell, who was leaving to lead his own band. Fairly soon afterwards Ronnie joined the Heath ensemble. Harry Francis
It was Alf Bigden, then Ronnie Verrell. Yes—anyway of drumming you like, they’ve got it. Dick Nash
I love playing with Ronnie Verrell—he’s great, a real brass player’s drummer. Ron Simmonds
A dynamic drummer. One of my favourites. Eric Delaney

Born Ronald Thomas Verrell in Rochester, Kent on February 21st, 1926, Ronnie taught himself how to play the drums, having had one lesson only from the noted drummer Max Abrams. During his war-time evacuation to Wales as a child, he was already guesting with the organist Glan Evans, later with a band led by saxist Jack Morgan.

At the age of 17 he began working with top-class musicians, first with Claude Giddins in Gillingham, then with the Belgian trumpeter Johnny Claes. During his period of enlistment he chose to work as a Bevin Boy in the coal mines (this was a scheme created by the wartime minister Rt Hon Ernest Bevin, the wartime Minister of Labour and former leader of the Transport and General Workers Union as an alterative to joining the armed forces).

After a brief spell with clarinettist Carl Barriteau Ronnie went to Munich in 1948 with Leslie Holmes and the Londonaires Dance Orchestra, returning for a two-year engagement with Cyril Stapleton. There he was discovered by Ted Heath and played drums with the fabulous Heath orchestra from 1951 to 1964.

Ronnie followed Bobby Midgley, Jock Cummings, Ronnie Stephenson and others into the ATV television orchestra of Jack Parnell, during which period he was very much in demand in the London studios. He was featured in a sketch in The Muppets television puppet show, playing the part of Animal in a fierce drum battle with Buddy Rich, which Animal, of course, won, eventually smashing a snare drum over Buddy's head.

He accompanied the singer Tom Jones for a while in Los Angeles before returning to studio work in London in 1980. Now and then he appeared with the Pizza Express All Stars and was often to be seen with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. From 1995 onwards he led his own quintet, playing the music of Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton.

Later, in the Best of British Jazz group he played alongside Don Lusher, Roy Willox, Digby Fairweather, Brian Lemon and bassist Lennie Bush. (photo right)

In November 2001, Ronnie fell down the stairs at his home. He crushed a vertebrae in his neck and hoped to have an operation on February 7th, however when he was given the anaesthetic he had difficulty breathing and the operation was abandoned. Ronnie died of a chest infection in hospital at 11.30am on the 22nd February, 2002, one day after his 76th birthday.

Various Benefit Concerts of The Best of British Jazz have been changed to Tributes to Ronnie - please see the group's Events list on Don Lusher's website.

        The large photograph of Ronnie was taken by me during a Jazz Curry Night at an Indian restaurant in Stoneleigh, Surrey ( The Brasserie ), where he accompanied Neville Dickie and one of a number of different reed players. The place was always packed to capacity, and Ronnie's vigorous solos were always eagerly awaited. He will be sadly missed.
Sid Mitchell, Digital Gallery Plus

        It is almost 4 years to the day that the first Jazz & Curry night took place at the Stoneleigh Brasserie. March 2nd 1998 was the Monday night that the waiters at the Brasserie were first introduced to the magic of Ronnie Verrell and it was a joy to see them, mouths agape just staring at Ronnie in full flow.
        We never knew when we started these nights that they would become so popular - not only with the customers, but also the musicians. Ronnie loved playing at the Brasserie, which amazed us, considering all he had done over the years.
If ever a man had the right to act big time it was Ronnie, he had played with everyone who was anyone in the music world—Nat “King” Cole, Sinatra, Tom Jones, Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield, Engelbert Humperdink, Shirley Bassey, the list is endless. He spent years in the Ted Heath Orchestra, was the inspiration behind “Animal” in “The Muppet Show” and was later in the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. He was however, a loveable, modest man, a total professional who always gave 110%, whether it was The Albert Hall, a TV show, or just a local gig.
        It will never be the same at the Brasserie now that Ronnie has gone but I am sure that he will be there on Jazz & Curry nights, enjoying himself, laughing that wicked laugh and giving Neville that famous, beautifully delivered, two fingered salute behind his back.
         We will miss you Ronnie, not just for your wonderful musicianship, (there is no doubt you were the best) but also as a friend. It was a privilege to have known you.
Neville Dickie, Neville's website