John McKenzie obituary

·3-min read

My friend John McKenzie, who has died aged 65 of cancer, was a consummate bass player who recorded and toured with acts such as Lionel Richie, Bob Dylan, Dr John, Eurythmics, Alison Moyet, Morrissey-Mullen and the Pretenders. Supremely versatile, he was equally at home in soul, funk, jazz, blues, rock, pop and even classical music.

John was born in Paddington, London, to Liz (nee Emslie), an actor and singer from Newcastle who appeared as Mrs Brumby in the film Get Carter, and her Guyanese husband, Mike McKenzie, a keyboard player who had a long and popular residency at the Savoy hotel in London.

John went to Haberdasher’s Aske’s boys school in Elstree, Hertfordshire. Self-taught on the bass guitar, although he also had help from his father, he became a professional musician as soon as he left school in the early 70s, joining a band called the Global Village Trucking Company, which specialised in playing free festivals and whose members lived on a commune in Norfolk.

I first met him around 1975, when he was recruited into the Welsh band Man by my friend the keyboardist Phil Ryan. He played on their 11th album The Welsh Connection, for which he wrote one song, before the band split in late 1976.

His bass-playing in Man brought him to wider attention, and in the late 70s he was engaged as a session musician with Steve Hillage, leading on to studio work on albums and singles with many different artists during the 80s and 90s. He played on three Eurythmics singles, Thorn in My Side, When Tomorrow Comes and The Miracle of Love, on the Pretenders’ single Hold a Candle to This, and on Moyet’s It Won’t Be Long. He also had a stint with Dexy’s Midnight Runners, performed live with Seal, and played on Roots Manuva’s song The Falling in 2005.

On tour he played in backing bands for Richie, Shakira, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Everything But the Girl and Davy Spillane, among others, and in 2013 he travelled the world with the classical crossover pianist Maksim Mrvica.

For many years he was the bass player of choice for whatever musical project I was involved in, and he also produced the first record, Ardours of the Lost Rake (1991), that Phil and I recorded. He then toured with the Interoceters, a band we formed in 1993, and latterly played with the last of our bands, Psoulchedelia, including on our 2014 album Perils of Wisdom.

Handsome and charming, John had a great sense of humour and was always cheerful on the road, whether flying first-class or sitting in the back of a van.

He was a professional musician for all of his adult life, though he was also an adept record producer and songwriter. He worked right to the end, until illness made that impossible.

John was married twice, first to Camilla Kronqvist, with whom he had a daughter, Daniella, and, after their divorce, to Eleanor Malcolm, with whom he had a son, Kyle.

He is survived by Eleanor, Daniella and Kyle, and his sister Avril.

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