Ronnie Stephenson
1937 - 2002
Ronnie Stephenson, who died on 8th August 2002 aged 65, was a drummer who played with an extraordinarily varied number of bands and singers that spanned the whole spectrum of popular music, such were his talents and understanding of the drum role in so many contexts. His musical associations read like a Who's Who in jazz - he performed with Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery, Zoot Sims, Benny Golson, Paul Gonzalves, Johnny Griffin, Roland Kirk, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Stitt, Barney Kessel, Quincy Jones, Benny Goodman, Nelson Riddle, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Cleo Laine, Stan Tracey, Ted Heath, Jack Parnell, John Dankworth, Tubby Hayes, Victor Feldman and Ronnie Scott.

Ronnie Stephenson had a close association with Ronnie Scott and the Club, spending two years in Ronnie Scott's Quartet, and performed as a valued accompanist to visiting stars.

In addition to his prestigious jazz connections, he also played with such pop stars as Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck, Matt Monroe, Tony Bennett, Cilla Black and Shirley Bassey (he plays on the Bond themes Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice).

Born in Sunderland on 26th January 1937, Ronnie commenced playing drums aged 14 and gigged in elder brother Billy's band and then with the Ray Chester Sextet both based in his hometown. This local activity leading to the formation of the Em-Cee Five (with brothers trumpeter Ian and pianist Mike Carr and tenor saxophonist Gary Cox) in Newcastle, one of the few provincial jazz groups to achieve a major label signing in 1961, one title being Stephenson's Rocket, before moving to London in 1960 to firmly establish himself as a much-in-demand percussionist.


Ronnie Stephenson was born on the 26th January 1937 in Sunderland, County Durham. His elder brother Billy played piano, and brother Bob also became a pianist, but Ronnie was focussed on playing drums, and, already as a teenager, played in Billy's band.

He quickly became professional and worked for a while with Ray Chester's Sextet in Sunderland and later with Pat Rose, before moving down to Birmingham for a job with Cliff Deeley.

He toured for almost a year with the singer Lita Roza before his army call-up in 1955. There Ron served his two years National Service in the Royal Signals Band. Upon demobilization he worked for a short time in Aberdeen with Les Thorpe before joining Don Smith's band in Luton. When Don took his band for a residency in Newcastle upon Tyne Ronnie went with him.

Ron joined the John Dankworth band in 1960, following in the footsteps of Kenny Clare, with whom he later made the sensational recordings on Drum Spectacular in 1966. After that Dankworth band folded in 1963 he went on to work with Stan Tracey's Trio. He eventually joined Jack Parnell's television orchestra, meanwhile continuing to freelance with Ronnie Scott, accompanying many international musicians in Ronnie's club, and gigs with Tubby Hayes.

He toured with singer Tom Jones in Germany, later joining the Kurt Edelhagen band in Cologne, then Paul Kuhn at Radio Free Berlin. He worked with the clarinet player Rolf Kuhn in Hamburg and played dates with the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland band. When the Berlin radio band was dissolved he played for a while in the Theater de Westens and taught drums at the University of Berlin. He also worked many times with tenor saxophonist Heinz von Hermann, together with trumpeter Rolf Ericson and the Austrian bass player Hans Rettenbacher.

Ron retired, with his wife Jean, to Dundee in the 1990s. He died there on the 8th of August, 2002, aged 65.

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