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Brian Keith “Herbie” Flowers (born 19 May 1938) is an English musician specialising in electric bass, double bass and tuba. He is noted as a member of Blue Mink, T. Rex and Sky and as one of Britain’s best-known session bass players, having contributed to recordings by Elton John (Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water), David Bowie (Space Oddity, Diamond Dogs), Lou Reed (Transformer, including the prominent bass line of “Walk on the Wild Side”), Melanie (Candles in the Rain), Roy Harper (Bullinamingvase), David Essex (Rock On), Allan Clarke, Al Kooper (New York City (You’re a Woman)), Bryan Ferry (The Bride Stripped Bare), Harry Nilsson (Nilsson Schmilsson, Son of Dracula), Cat Stevens (New Masters, Foreigner), Paul McCartney (Give My Regards to Broad Street), George Harrison (Somewhere in England, Gone Troppo, Brainwashed) and Ringo Starr (Stop and Smell the Roses). He also played bass on Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. By the end of the 1970s, Flowers had played bass on an estimated 500 hit recordings.
Flowers was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, and began his musical training in 1956 when conscripted into the Royal Air Force: electing at first to serve for nine years as a bandsman playing tuba. He took up double bass as a second instrument to secure his “junior technician” stripe, and later moved to electric bass. After completing his military service he passed through the line-ups of several Dixieland jazz bands in the early 1960s, then discovered modern jazz. In 1965 he was engaged as a bandsman on the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth. After hearing an electric bass in a New York nightclub, he acquired his own solid-body electric instrument, a Lake Placid Blue 1960 Fender Jazz Bass that he purchased from Manny’s in New York City for $79.
Later in the 1960s, Flowers began to acquire his reputation as a session player, working for record producers such as Shel Talmy, Mickie Most, Steve Rowland, Richard Perry, Gus Dudgeon, and Tony Visconti.
In 1969, Flowers was a founding member of the group Blue Mink and played on their song “Melting Pot”, which reached No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart. He was also a member of CCS and the final lineup of T. Rex. In 1979, shortly after taking part in the annual A Song For Europe contest, performing “Mr Moonlight” with his group, “The Daisies”, he became a co-founder of the band Sky, which had success in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Flowers is also known for having composed the novelty hit “Grandad” for Clive Dunn. According to Flowers, he came up with it after following an easy primer book on composing. All he needed was a hook, and he was struggling to come up with anything. He phoned a friend (Ken Pickett) who came round, ringing the doorbell, and the sound of the doorbell provided the hook he needed.
Perhaps Flowers’ most famous bass line is the one he created for Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” from the album Transformer (1972), the only song by Reed to reach the Top 20 in the US.
Following Sky’s demise in the early 1990s, Flowers has spent most of his time playing jazz. He has also worked as a bass guitar teacher at Ardingly College and leads many “Rockshops” at schools, helping young people to create and perform their own songs, as well as covering many others.
In 1998, session drummer Peter Boita again teamed up with Flowers to form a rhythm section in musical settings of the words of poet Sir John Betjeman on a second album they recorded together. The album was called Betjeman & Read. They had previously worked together on the Poetry in Motion album (released on Silhouette Records as MDKR 1), which also consisted of settings of Betjeman’s It featuring Boita and Flowers playing with a line-up of artists that included David Essex, Justin Hayward, Steve Harley, Donovan, Alvin Stardust, Captain Sensible and Annie Haslam amongst others with Beatles’ producer George Martin overseeing proceedings. Boita and Flowers reprised their roles when Poetry in Motion was performed live for a charity show at the Richmond Theatre on 5 April 1992. Betjeman & Read was one of the last albums recorded at the RG Jones Recording studio in Wimbledon. The vocal artists performing on this album include Cliff Richard, Marc Almond, Paul Young, Jon Anderson, Richard Sharp, Colin Blunstone, Gene Pitney, Leo Sayer, Donovan, Mike Read, The Rodolfus Choir and David Essex.
In September 2009 Flowers founded a community choir, Shoreham Singers-by-Sea, which has in excess of 150 members, followed in September 2010 by the Ditchling Singers.
Last updated on November 14, 2018