Ted McKenna: a life in 10 songs

Ted McKenna
Ted McKenna: 1950 - 2019 (Image credit: Ian Dickson / Getty Images)

After a half-century performing with artists including The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Rory Gallagher, Ian Gillan, Womack & Womack and Michael Schenker, Scottish drummer Ted McKenna passed away earlier this week

The reaction was spontaneous, and heartfelt. 

Fish wrote: "He was a beautiful man who could drift from the comic to the serious, abound with stories and anecdotes, a perpetual smile despite all the difficulties he encountered and suffered over the years with never a bad word to say about anyone."

"Ted was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet," said Gerry McAvoy, who played with McKenna during his days with Rory Gallagher and more recently in Band Of Friends.

"A brilliant musician," he continued. "He was a big man with a big heart, and he has left us all with a big hole in our lives." 

Below are 10 highlights from the career of Ted McKenna. 

The Dream Police - Living Is Easy

The Dream Police were Ted's third band – he'd previously served with Vibration and Rare Breed, who later changed their name to Bubbles – but he didn't actually play on any of the band's three single releases. Instead, he joined up when drummer Charlie Smith left to replace Dougie Henderson in The Marmalade. 

Frontman Hamish Stuart went on to found The Average White band and play with Paul McCartney, while keyboardist Matt Irvine subsequently worked with Squeeze and Paul Young. 

Tear Gas - That's What's Real

Founded in Glasgow at the tail end of the 1960s, Tear Gas were a band who were noticed more in hindsight than they were while active. Ted McKenna signed up for the band's second, self-titled album, replacing Gilson Lavis behind the kit.

Tear Gas was released on the Regal Zonophone label in 1971 and failed to sell in significant quantities, but became of interest to collectors when Ted, along with bandmates Hugh McKenna (Ted's keyboardist cousin, another refugee from The Dream Police), guitarist Zal Cleminson and bassist Chris Glen hooked up with Alex Harvey to form The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. 

Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Framed

The video is amazing. With an opening riff borrowed from Muddy Waters, it shows Alex Harvey at his charismatic best, using beer to style his hair into a pert quiff, pushing food into his cheeks to puff them out like a squirrel whilst singing, and generally coming on like a crazed version of Bon Scott at his most lascivious/terrifying.

It's worth watching the audience, as the cameraman focusses on faces that are alternately bewildered or beguiled. And when people say, "they don't make them like that any more," this is usually the kind of thing they have in mind. 

Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Next

When Jacques Brel wrote Next he probably didn't imagine it ending up in the hands of a band like SAHB. But it did, and while Scott Walker is the name most commonly associated with Jacques Brel covers, Harvey's twisted tango is the definitive take.  

This footage was shot for The BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test in December 1973, when the band also played their most famous track, Faith Healer

Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Midnight Moses

From the days when bands who didn't like miming for a TV audience frequently didn't attempt to hide their disdain at having to do so.

In this clip, Ted drops a drumstick at the beginning and misses a number of beats he's supposed to be miming to. He doesn't look too bothered, though, slowly retrieving the offending item before lackadaisically returning to his stool and eventually resuming his "playing".

Rory Gallagher & Frankie Miller - Walkin' The Dog

In 1978 McKenna was asked to replace Rod de'Ath in Rory Gallagher's band as it reverted to a power trio lineup, a position he filled with some aplomb for the next three years.

This footage was shot for Rockaplast, the German TV show that first broadcast in 1974 and continues to this day. Easy to dismiss as an unspectacular run-though of a blues standard, this version of Shelton Brooks' Walkin' The Dog is lifted well above the mundane by the spectacular grit of guest vocalist Frankie Miller, and some searing fretwork from Gallagher. 

Greg Lake - Nuclear Attack

On an album stuffed with session players – joining Greg Lake, Gary Moore and McKenna were the likes of Steve Lukather, Clarence Clemons, Jeff Porcaro and Snuffy Walden – Nuclear Attack was something of an anomaly: it was a minor radio hit in the US. 

McKenna also played on the follow-up album, Manoeuvres, but neither stayed in the memory long. "I don’t remember much about either Greg Lake album I recorded," he said. "Apart from meeting Gary Moore for the first time, and becoming friends." Moore would go on to release his own version of Nuclear Attack on his 1983 album Dirty Fingers

Michael Schenker Group - Doctor Doctor

Filmed in front of an exuberant audience at London's Hammersmith Odeon – as it used to be called before sponsorship became a thing – this version of UFO classic Doctor Doctor features guest appearances from Scorpions' singer Klaus Meine and guitarist Rudolf Schenker. McKenna pushes it all along in gleefully propulsive fashion. 

On bass? That's Chris Glen, Ted's old partner-in-rhythm from his days with Alex Harvey. 

Ian Gillan - Living For The City

Recorded in front of an audience at the Central Television’s Nottingham studio in August 1990, this performance saw Ian Gillan – having left Deep Purple a second time – perform with MSG members McKenna, Glen and keyboardist Tommy Eyre.

Typical of the circular nature of these things, Gillan had first encountered Glen 20 years earlier, when the pre-McKenna line-up of Tear Gas supported Deep Purple at four Scottish shows in October 1970. 

Michael Schenker Fest – Take Me To The Church

After a period of relative calm – McKenna taught Applied Arts and Music Performance at college after gaining teaching qualifications at Dundee University – Michael Schenker called him back to the drum stool. 

Joining Ted in Michael Schenker Fest was his old partner Chris Glen, alongside vocalists Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Doogie White and Robin McAuley. The band released Resurrection last year, and Schenker announced the band were recording a second album little more than a week before McKenna died. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.