The Magic Highway


An Interview with Roger Willis, the last drummer to play with Christie before they split in the 70s
(With Ray Chan)

roger willis

Q: Can you tell us briefly about your career?

A: I was born in Harrow, Middlesex, in July 1951. My first introduction to live music was aged about six, when I went with my parents to a family day and saw a band called The Vikings. As I watched the drummer, I remember thinking to myself, I want to do that.
   My initiation into gigging was in a rhythm and blues band called The Flamingos, aged 15, playing in pubs and clubs in and around West London. Over the following five years, several semi-pro soul and rhythm and blues outfits were to be instrumental in assisting me in learning the necessary craft of how to drive a band from the hot seat.
   I’ve always been interested in vocal harmonies and therefore it wasn’t long before I also became involved in providing backing vocals from behind the kit. At 20, I turned professional with Capability Brown, a six-part harmony rock band that recorded two albums. Capability Brown splintered in 1974 when I became the drummer in Krazy Kat, recording a further two albums.
   Throughout my career, I’ve performed vocal sessions on other artists’ albums, such as Tony Ashton, John Lord, Linda Lewis and Lynyrd Skynyrd, as well as being a member of supporting bands touring with Genesis, Lindisfarne, Jess Roden, John Miles, Alex Harvey and Peter Gabriel.
    During the 80s and 90s I continued to play in many bands, again playing rock, rhythm and blues and soul, while focussing upon improving my knowledge and skills with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, in order to begin teaching.
    Since the turn of the millennium, I’ve been with a number of rhythm and blues bands playing in the Buckinghamshire area. It was while playing here that three musicians, Bob, Derek and Ian, suggested putting a band together – hence, the birth of my current group, Storm Warning.

Q: How did you join Christie?

A: Roger Flavell phoned me to say that he’d heard that Capability Brown had split up and that Christie were in need of members to fulfill a contract to tour Mexico and Latin America.
    He simply asked if I and one other (guitarist) of Cape Brown would be prepared to stand in.
I mentioned that three of us, myself, Tony Ferguson and Grahame White, were trying to put a band (eventually Krazy Kat) together and asked whether Christie would be prepared to become a five-piece.
oger spoke to Jeff and the Christie management, before phoning to say OK. Many rehearsals followed at Jeff’s house and it was sounding good.
Capability Brown folded, due to a number of things. Money was extremely tight, if not non-existent at times!
Personal demands were different for each member and because of the three-day week, promoters were not promoting gigs. The pressures took their toll and the band split.

Q. Grahame White did a disappearing act before the tour. What happened?

A: Grahame’s father became gravely ill just before we were about to tour, and therefore he declined the offer to go.
It was a difficult decision for Grahame, as I know he was really looking forward to the tour.

Q: Do you have any musical preferences? How did you feel about playing Christie's commercial music after the progressive style of Capability Brown?

A: I’ve been influenced by many drummers and a variety of bands: Keith Moon, John Hiseman, Phil Collins, Jeff Porcaro, John Mayall, The Who, Genesis, Tower of Power, and The Beach Boys, to name but a few.
I’ve always maintained an eclectic view towards music and have been able to adapt to most styles.
As a professional, I feel I should always consider that my job is to fulfil the requirement of each position. That’s exactly what I did.

Q: On the Christie tour, the set included some Capability Brown songs (Redman, Liar). Whose idea was this?

A: I can’t remember exactly whose suggestion it was, although Jeff naturally had the final say with regards to what songs we sung, and therefore it had to be him that agreed to us playing them.
Jeff was very much into harmonies himself, and I think he was attracted to singing some of the songs Capability Brown had performed.

roger willis

Roger Willis playing on stage in 1974.

Q: Christie released two songs for the Latin American countries, Navajo and Guantanamera. Did you play on these?

A: I definitely remember playing on Guantanamera, although am unsure if I played on Navajo.
There’s a nagging voice on my shoulder that said that I may have .. certainly yes, if Navajo was recorded on the same day’s session as Guantanamera.

Q; The line-up with the Capability Brown members was the last before Christie split up. What happened?

A: As far as I remember, it was just the tour that was required of us, and that Jeff was returning to England to consider his future in general.
Following our return, Tony, Grahame and I continued our quest to form another band (Krazy Kat).
    I remember I very much enjoyed the tour, both as a musician and as a tourist.
I remember the experience as us all getting on well, of the gigs being varied ... from theatres, to bull rings, to hotels .. and of the beautiful weather.

Q: Where are Tony and Graham today?

A: Tony is now working in management for Interscope Records in the States.
Sadly, Grahame died on Good Friday, 2008. He was a very accomplished musician and is sorely missed by me and many others.

Q: Last words?

A: Check out my band called Storm Warning here: