The Music Adventures of Musician, Record Producer and Now, VT Specialty Food Company Owner Peter Solley

Rock-and-Roll Hits and Ice Cream Makers!

This is the second feature article in a two-part series about the professional careers of Southern Vermont-resident Peter Solley, renowned musician and record producer-turned owner of his own specialty food company dubbed The Vermont Gelato Company, which produces a fine line of the smooth, Italian gourmet ice cream. The following Standing Room Only feature delves into Solley's career in music and working with such greats as Eric Clapton, Cream, Motorhead and The Romantics.

BRATTLEBORO, VERMONT – Peter Solley's specialty food company, The Vermont Gelato Company, is currently a hit throughout Southern Vermont, New Hampshire and beyond. However, this fine gourmet Italian ice cream is not the first time Solley has created hits in his life, for he was also a hit record producer and for a short time, member of the legendary rock band Procol Harum.

That's right, hit records and gourmet ice cream... a pretty interesting career combination....

Article by Joe Milliken * Courtesy Photos: 1. Peter Solley, the gelato-maker 2. Peter in the studio with Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy of Motorhead 3. Performing with Procol Harum 4. Hangin' with Peter Frampton in the 80's.

Originally from England, Solley came from quite an amazing musical background, as his father was not only a member of Parliament and an attorney, but also an accomplished pianist and composer. “I was surrounded with music from an early age... classical of course,” Peter Solley said in a recent Standing Room Only interview. “My early influences were Bach and Bartok and I used to go to the opera in London every week.”

Solley was indeed very talented at an early age, earning a music scholarship to Trinity College of Music at age 13, before discovering the world of jazz. “I heard Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and it completely changed my world,” Solley said. “From that point on, I saw every great musician and band that came to England, from Miles Davis to Duke Ellington. I was also able to get into the dressing rooms and ask them questions. Around this time I also started playing trumpet with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of the UK (Peter was a founding member) and then started to do various jazz gigs on piano.”

After doing a few early club dates, Peter's first official band was The Thunderbirds, a blues and soul band which also featured a young drummer named Carl Palmer, (who would go on to form the world famous rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and legendary guitarist Albert Lee.

“The Thunderbirds were a great band... Albert Lee left England after that period, going to Nashville to fulfill his dream of becoming a great country artist and would become one of the greatest of all time. I played bass pedals in that band and it was serious fun. Carl was obsessed with being the fastest drummer in the world and practiced 24-7... His groove wasn't the greatest but his technique was incredible.”

He then joined a band, Los Bravos, who Solley says 'was as big as the Beatles in Spain at the time.' “Los Bravos called me out of the blue and I decided to join because I though it would be a trip to go and play in Spain for a year. It turned out to be a fascinating trip, but the music sucked and I bailed out early in order to join The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. But I do remember playing all the bullrings and having girls scream at us... so that was cool for a while.” Solley played with Arthur Brown from 1969 to 1970, before joining the incredible Terry Reid Band, just in time to head to America.

“The drummer for Terry (the late Keith Webb) was one of my dearest friends and he called and told me the band needed an organ player who also played bass and that they were leaving for America in a couple weeks to do the Cream farewell tour. I jumped in and the next thing I knew, we were opening for Cream at the Houston Astrodome in front of 15,000 people... wild!”

Not only did Solley and the Reid Band open for the Cream tour, but also an American Rolling Stones tour the same year! “On the Stones tour, B. B. King and Ike and Tina Turner were as openers as well, and sometimes Janis Joplin. I was in awe of B.B. King and Tina Turner... smoking, but Janis was unfortunately a mess and drunk all the time. I got to hang out with B. B. a bit and he taught me some of his licks on guitar. I remember one night when I was just jammin' by myself in the dressing room and B. B. popped his head in the door and said 'Hey, I thought that was me playing'... pretty cool!

In 1973, Solley was a founding member of the progressive rock band Paladin and also performed with Tin Tin, before being approached to play in the classic rock band Procol Harum ('Whiter Shade of Pale") as an organist and synthesizer player. “Keith Reed called and wanted me to come down and play with them and they offered me the gig. I loved them going back to when I saw them play in the 60's and actually, Procol was the only band (he had also heard from The Kinks, Moody Blues and Rainbow) I would have joined at the time.

“We toured and then went into the studio to record the album Something Magic, but the record turned out a bit patchy, (in the production) having the producers who worked on the record was a mistake... later, when I did a lot of my own production work in Miaimi, I would realize they really had no clue with anyone.”

Procal Harum toured to support the album, but then leader Gary Brooker decided to take a break from music after a decade on the road, and the band went their separate ways. However, this would lead Pete into the world of record producing... and then some.

“I was doing a load of session work and also writing TV jingles for some of the top clients such as Kellogg, Coke and BMW, when I bumped into the owner (Dave Robinson) of a new punk music label called Stiff Records and he asked me to re-mix a Rachel Sweet record and then produce one of his new acts... a band called Wreckless Eric.

“So, I did that and although I was fairly green about production work, it turned out well enough that the label had me doing more stuff for them. In turn, the owner also put me in touch with an Australian record company that needed a producer for a new band called The Sports, so I flew to Australia and did the album... which became a smash hit in that country.

“From that success came the opportunity to work with The Romantics and their 80's hit song “What I Like About You” and suddenly, I was a hip producer in America and decided to continue on that path. I produced four albums for The Romantics; “What I Like About You” came from the first one and “Talking In Your Sleep” (which reached #2 on the Billboard singles chart) was from their third album In Heat.

“The first album was magic, recorded and mixed in just four weeks... they were such a great rock-and-roll band back then and I brought out their 'classic English Kinks' vibe. We had a great time workling together but unfortunately, after the drummer Jimmy Marinos left before the last album I did with them, we kind of fell out because I so missed him and wasn't into their songs 'post-Jimmy'.

“I was fortunate enough to produce some ten gold Australian records, including numerous trips 'down under'.” However, along with The Romantics, Mr. Solley has worked with a couple other artists you may have heard of, including legendary guitar hero Eric Clapton, Mountain, Motorhead, Whitesnake and The Jam to name a few. So how did the collaboration with Clapton come about?

“I initially worked on Clapton's Money and Cigarettes album. I was friendly with Tom Dowd who was producing Clapton and he invited me to go in the studio and put down some organ on all the tracks. Tom has always been one of my heroes and everything went great! Later, I also did some live work in England with both Gary Brooker and Eric Clapton.”

As for the seeming unlikely pairing of Pete and Motorhead?

“Working with Motorhead was a trip! Lemmy like some of my previous work so they called and asked me to visit them in Los Angeles,” Solley said. “We just clicked and I ended up producing two albums for them (including the Grammy Award-nominated 1916 album). I got on well with Lemmy... not the easiest man to put up with. The whole band was 'out of it' for days on end and sometimes, to the point where they couldn't even play... and loud too, all the time.

“Lemmy and I had a lot of screaming fights but in the end, we respected each other. We're still on friendly terms and I see them once in a while... always a very warm welcome, which is not an easy task with Motorhead. So, I survived Motorhead with my brain intact but my hearing damaged."

All-in-all, Pete Solley has enjoyed an adventurous and successful career in an industry that can forget about you quickly. “I've really enjoyed my career in music, with some real highlights and very few regrets,” Pete concluded. “A few more hit records would have been nice, but I seemed to pick the bands that appealed to me and not just what the rest of the world necessarily thought. However, seeing the 'rock stars' at their most vulnerable is pretty cool and having intimate and emotional relationships with these great musicians in the studio has been awesome!”

Editor's Note: To read the first installment of this two-part article series on Peter Solley and his Vermont Gelato specialty food company, please visit SRO's food column archive.