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A Short Bio:
John Michael Glyn Etheridge started playing guitar at age 13. At the time, the early sixties, his main influence was Hank Marvin of the Shadows. Although his father (a jazz pianist) taught him a few chords, he is basically self-taught. By the mid-sixties, he'd become involved in various amateur rock bands; one of them, Rush Release, played at London's Speakeasy Club around 1965-66, and thanks to its drummer Robert Lipson (later of Gracious!), got to meet and jam with such luminaries as Eric Clapton. "Rob was quite pushy, he got to know many people, and got them to come down to see us".
Around that time, the British 'blues boom' was happening, with the emergence of guitarists like Peter Green, Jeff Beck and, a bit later on, Jimi Hendrix. The beginning of the psychedelic era coincided with Etheridge leaving London to study history of art at Essex University. "I was more or less out of action, still playing of course, but not professionally. I was really into Hendrix at the time, he was a big influence. But I never thought much of most of the psychedelic bands, like Jefferson Airplane and the Doors - I thought that was very poor... Then after Hendrix, I got into early John MacLaughlin stuff, the Extrapolation album, so obviously into jazz, more or less...".
In 1970, Etheridge left university and came back to London. For a couple of years, he answered Melody Maker advertisements, and played in a number of bands (including a short stint with the Deep Purple offshoot band Warhorse), most of which broke up after just a few days or weeks. "One that I particularly remember was Abednego, which lasted about a year... It had John Altman, a woodwind player, who is now a very famous film composer [notably for the Terry Jones movie "Erik The Viking"], Lynton Naiff, the keyboard player from Affinity, and Dennis Cowan, the bass player from the Bonzo Dog Band. Our debut was at Ronnie Scott's Upstairs in 1970. The band did a little bit, but then it folded up and I answered that advert for the Darryl Way thing... They were talking about big record advances, and he was moderately interested in the direction of music I was interested in... It seemed like a good move". [Abednego's drummer was one Hamish Stuart, a semi-pro player, not to be confused with the Average White Band guitarist]
Darryl Way's Wolf only lasted about a year and a half yet recorded no less than three albums for Deram. "We made good albums, three albums. The last one, Night Music, which was released posthumously, was good - I was pleased with the guitar on that. But there was a growing conflict between Darryl and myself - basically he wanted me to play like Ritchie Blackmore, while I was more interested in playing a sort of early McLaughlin type of style, in a way... What you'd call early jazz-rock style... So that folded up, and then I didn't do anything for about five or six months... And then I played with the Global Village Trucking Company, and then joined the Soft Machine".
John Etheridge was contacted by Soft Machine after they had been given his number by the departing Allan Holdsworth. "The album Bundles was just out, and I started by promoting that. Then we did this great Summer tour with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Soft Machine, Caravan, Climax Blues Band, Wishbone Ash, all together, on this Hercules transport aeroplane, flying at 80 miles an hour - took about about 4 hours to fly from Stuttgart to Marseille !... Unfortunately, the whole thing went bankrupt in the middle of it".
In late 1976, while still a member of Soft Machine, Etheridge was offered to join the touring group of jazz violin legend Stéphane Grappelli. "That was a big surprise, really. I think he got my number from someone, he didn't know anything I'd done. Obviously we're from very different scenes. He came round, we played a few tunes, and it turned out I knew all his old tunes, that nobody knew... So although I didn't really play in the Django style, he didn't care - I mean, I could play the tunes, and improvise... and it was wonderful. Such a relief, all about enjoyment really, compared to the Soft Machine thing which was so highly pressured. It lasted about five years. It was a most enjoyable period, really for me, musically, touring and playing".
With Soft Machine, Etheridge recorded two albums, Softs (1976) and the live set Alive And Well (1978). "Then I formed Second Vision with Ric Sanders. We made one album on Chrysalis. It's a very good record. It sounds dated now of course, because it was done on the the CS-80, Yamaha, but at the time... Of all the records that I've made, it's the one that the most trouble was taken over making. I was very pleased with the guitar on it, we took a lot of time to do it. I was quite happy with that". Unfortunately, the album didn't do much saleswise : "It was a shame, cause Second Vision had originally been launched with five nights at Pye Studios. But what happened was that the music papers went on strike, so there was no reporting of it, no reviews or anything! Which made it difficult, obviously... So not a lot came out of it, really... We did a long tour with a slightly different line-up, with Fred Baker on bass, under the name Ric Sanders/John Etheridge Group, in 1980-81, but that was sort of the end of it... Then I really started playing on the sort of jazz world a bit more".
"1981 was a sort of watershed year for me... there's sort of before and after 1981. Since then I've mostly played on my own or led bands, playing alongside other people but not in settled formations. That was partly because I liked to do that, and partly because, frankly, I didn't really know what to do with myself at that point. I'd always enjoyed playing sort of jazz-type gigs, so I started doing it...". In 1982, Etheridge played solo concerts in Australia and duo dates with bassist Brian Torff in the US. In 1983, he formed a trio and he toured England with it the following year as well as playing a series of gigs with the reformed Soft Machine. "That was at the Ronnie Scott's in 1984. I don't really remember how that came about. I was just phoned up and asked whether I'd do it, and I said I would. There was Karl Jenkins, John Marshall, Ray Warleigh, Dave MacRae, and Paul Carmichael on bass. We played some old tunes, and some new material". Was it ever supposed to lead to more than these few gigs? "I think it was meant to be, yes, but there were a lot of internal problems, so nothing really happened, which is a shame. Because I've always thought that Soft Machine could have gone on, and done lots of things. But Karl Jenkins started a very lucrative career writing television stuff. Now he's a millionaire... I would have been keen. There is talk, every now and again, of Soft Machine sort of reforming, calling it something like Soft-something, but it never seems to come to anything".
In 1985, Etheridge worked in duo with Gary Boyle and with a quartet. He toured with ex-Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson's group Whatever between 1989 and 1993, playing on the album Elemental (1990) alongside Paul Dunmall and guests such as Stan Tracey, Alan Skidmore and Henry Lowther. During the same period, there were numerous gigs with Elton Dean as the Elton Dean/John Etheridge Quartet with Fred Baker (bass) and Mark Fletcher (drums). In 1992, he joined violinist Nigel Kennedy's live band, playing on his album Kafka (1996), and has been regularly gigging with him since. In 1994, he released a duo album with ex-Police guitarist and longtime friend Andy Summers, Invisible Thread, and did a world tour with him.
1994 was also the year of his long-awaited first solo album, Ash, released on Voiceprint. "The nucleus of it was my regular band at the time, which was Steve Franklin on keyboards, Henry Thomas on bass and Mark Fletcher on drums. There was also some duo stuff with myself and Dudley Phillips playing, and solo stuff. It was quite a varied album... People sometimes ask me why I didn't do one before. I don't know, really. Since 1981-82, what I've done is playing. And my big mistake... I mean I've made albums with others, but the thing is, when you make an album nowadays, you do it off your own bat... it all comes from you, you have to make it happen... The labels are not able to put out money, you have to pay for yourself. Well... There's no good answer, really, I should have been making albums since about 1984... I should have actually made probably four or five albums. It's just documenting what you're doing, in a way...".
Thankfully this now has been rectified, with Etheridge releasing more albums under his name in the early 2000's than during the previous two decades ! In addition to his own trios, quartets and quintets (often involving the likes of John Marshall and Jeff Clyne), he has performed regularly with sax/flute player Theo Travis. In addition to two tribute bands, Zappatistas (playing Frank Zappa covers) and Sweet Chorus (a tribute to Stéphane Grappelli, who died in 1999), Etheridge is currently involved in the Soft Machine Legacy, the successor to SoftWorks, which reunited him with fellow ex-Soft Machine members John Marshall, Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean (now replaced by Theo Travis).