MEL GALLEY born 8 March, 1948 - died 1 July, 2008
Guitarist Mel Galley was not completely unknown when he replaced Bernie Marsden. In the late 60's/early 70's he was the guitarist for legendary funk/rock trio Trapeze (who started out as Finders Keepers) alongside Glenn Hughes (bass) and Dave Holland (drums). When Hughes left to join Deep Purple in 1973, the remaining pair carried on, including a stint with the John Lodge/Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues) band The Blue Jays. 1977 was to also see Mel and Dave performing on the Glenn Hughes solo album Play Me Out, including a co-written track Destiny. The aforementioned work with The Blue Jays led to the pair contributing to Justin Hayward's solo album, Songwriter (1979) released via the Decca label. By this stage Trapeze had recorded their final album, Hold On, and Holland's 1979 departure to Judas Priest finally put an end to the band.

Mel Galley shortly before his accident in 1984By 1981 Mel had all but decided to give up the music business and revert back to his original vocation as a carpenter although he was working on songs with brother Tom for the Phenomena project. As fate would have it he was hired to work behind the scenes at the 1981 Castle Donington Monsters Of Rock festival. It proved to be a miserable day as far as the weather was concerned but whilst backstage he bumped into David Coverdale (Whitesnake playing alongside Blue Oyster Cult, Slade and headliners AC/DC amongst others that day). The Good Ship Whitesnake was not in good health at this stage and DC mentioned that he was thinking of getting a new line-up together.

In 1982 DC invited Mel to sing backing vocals on Saints And Sinners. In August the same year, following DC's successful split from manager John Coletta, Mel Galley was asked to permanently join Whitesnake. Mel was part of the band that headlined 1983's Castle Donington Monsters of Rock festival. He was subsequently chief co-writer on the Slide It In album (1984). Bootlegs of these songs exist containing Mel's own lyrics (many were written before his time with Whitesnake). When Micky Moody left soon after recording had finished Mel was joined by John Sykes on guitar. Sykes' arrival resulted in a remix of Slide It In for the USA market (it was already out in the UK) which resulted in the newcomer adding guitar parts and the keyboards of Jon Lord all but buried in the mix. Opinions are divided as to which version is better but as Mel once said, "...the USA version ended up selling over 2 million copies there so you could say David was right." In total Mel co-wrote five tracks on 1984's Slide It In album including the classic Love Ain't No Stranger. Unfortunately, he missed a large chunk of the tour dates because of a broken arm incurred during a drinking session with John Sykes. Whilst the arm was healing a virus ate away certain nerves in his right arm rendering him unable to use it properly. Despite doctors (and David Coverdale) thinking he may never play guitar again Mel proved them wrong by using a special brace to do the work of his damaged nerves. It is alledged that on seeing this device DC uttered the immortal lines, "You can't play in the band with that on... you'll look like a spastic." Mel's services were no longer required less than a year after the release of Slide It In. By the end of 1984 John Sykes had taken over all guitar duties....

1985 saw the release of brother Tom's first Phenomena album with contributions from Mel. The following year saw a short lived collaboration with Bernie Marsden and Neil Murray in MGM (with drummer John Marter and Toto's Bobby Kimball).  After a few shows and an appearance at the Reading Festival with John Saxon on vocals, MGM split and Mel's next appearance was on the second Phenomena album, Phenomena II - Dream Runner (1987). The guest list for the first two Phenomena albums was impressive: Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, Scott Gorham, MSG's Ted McKenna, Don Airey, Budgie's John Thomas, Glenn Hughes, the late Ray Gillen, John Wetton and Vow Wow's Toshi Niimi and Kyioji Yamamoto to name a few. In 1992 Trapeze trod the boards again with Asia man Geoff Downes on keyboards. Welcome to the Real World, taken from one of these live shows, was released in 1993. The following year would see more shows in the USA where the trio embarked on a 25th Anniversary tour (which also included a tribute show to vocalist Ray Gillen). Also of note during this time, a song Mel co-wrote with Glenn Hughes, Homeland, was recorded by the latter on his third solo album From Now On in the early nineties. This burst of activity was followed by Mel effectively retiring from the business.

2004 was to see Mel move back to his home town of Cannock having spent the previous 15 years or so in London. That year saw him marry his wife Annette at the town’s register office. In early 2005 Mel was notified, via a phone call from his former manager Tony Perry, that journalists from America had been in touch and wanted to fly over for an interview. In Mel's typical down to earth fashion the interview took place at a local pub, the Wheatsheaf, where Mel re-lived old times with brother Tom. This interest from the USA reinforced the little recognised fact that Trapeze had been something of a phenomenon over the pond in the 1970's, often performing to 30,000 fans at sell out shows. The interview was filmed and lasted around five hours or so. As a result there was talk of Mel flying out to America later in the year to record a solo album, but nothing came of it. As a thank you for taking part in the interview, an overwhelmed Mel was presented with a brand new guitar (he had given his only guitar to his then 11 year old son Lucas one Christmas).

2006 saw Mel come out of retirement for the Phenomena album Psycho Fantasy although he mentioned to being somewhat disappointed with the final version, preferring the demo's. A year later he was the victim of an impersonator - a local con-man who looked nothing like him had been posing as him at gigs, even having the gall to sign autographs and give out plectrums to fans. Fantasist Ken Grimley was exposed by Mel with the aid of a local paper where he foolishly signed himself as Mel Galley of Whitesnake in front of the former 'Snake guitarist. Mel found the whole situation, including meeting him, surreal, weird and quite traumatic.

In January 2008 Mel was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was to bravely lose his battle on July 1st aged 60. DC dedicated Love Ain't No Stranger to him at the summer shows that followed. The rock world had not only lost a great songwriter, singer, and guitarist... it had also lost one of its nice guys.

Saints And Sinners (backing vocals), 1982.
Slide It In, 1984.
Greatest Hits, 1994.

Article by Phillip Hackney with contributions from Laurent Biehly.

Picture by Robert Ellis.

Copyright © 2008 P Hackney.