Michael Geoffrey Ralphs was born on March 31, 1944 and cut his teeth on the local Hereford music scene. His first band was the Mighty Atom Dance Band, which included his aunt on accordion. He then spent some time with The Melody Makers, before teaming up with The Buddies sometime around 1963. He won a spot in the band after an audition with leader Les Norman on the fire escape outside the Hereford YMCA. At the time, The Buddies consisted of leader Les Norman on vocals and guitar, bassist Des Grubb, drummer Brian Bayley, and rhythm guitarist Roger Brinn. Bayley was soon replaced by Paul Stratton, and Cryil Townsend took over for Des Grubb on bass. Thus constituted, the group recorded four tracks at Hollick and Taylor in Birmingham in 1964. Two of the tracks were pressed on a single, pairing I Ain't Got You and It's Goodbye on the Hollick and Taylor label (UK Hollick and Taylor SP 1015). The B side was written by Ralphs with lead guitarist Les Norman.
By 1965 leader Les Norman had bowed out of the group, and former Stormraisers vocalist Stan Tippins took over. Drummer Taffy Jones was the next to leave, and was replaced by Bob Hall. The group continued as a five piece for a short while, until Roger Brinn also decided to call it quits. This left a four piece band consisting of Ralphs (guitar), Stan Tippins (vocals), Cyril Townsend (bass), and Bob Davies (drums). In late 1965 the group toured the continent fro the first time, and upon returning to Hereford they recorded four tracks. Young Blood and Something You Got were earmarked as the band's second single, but it was never issued.
When Cyril Townsend decided not to risk the uncertainty of a professional career, Pete Watts gave up his lead guitar position with The Silence and accepted Ralphs' invitation to join the Buddies' on bass in November 1965. (In fact, Ralphs had offered the job to him on a couple previous occasions, but apparently changed his mind.) Even from the early days, Ralphs was friendly with members of The Soulents/Silence. He often turning up at their gigs, and even loaned his Danelectro 12 string to Pete Watts at one point.
Watts joined the Buddies in November 1965, and almost immediately found himself touring the continent, playing with the group in Cortina D'Ampezzio in Italy and later in Germany at The Horse Stable (Hargen), and the E and Club Europa (Marberg). Watts fell ill for a short time during the tour, and Dave Mason subbed for him. The Buddies stayed on the continent until February 1966, and after a brief return to Hereford went right back to Hamburg and stayed until April 1966.
Back in Hereford, the Buddies played locally through June, but suffered a setback when their road manager, Vivian Phillips, crash their van and was injured. A newspaper article about the accident was titled Big Problem for The Buddies, and the group decided to adopt The Problem as their name. Dave Tedstone, former lead guitarist in the Hereford pop group Lee Starr and the Astrals, offered to lend the group money to buy a van. He came along as road manager, and ended up playing with the group when they went to Switzerland and then on to Italy in the summer of 1966. By this time, the group had adopted the name The Doc Thomas Group, suggested to the band by Dave Mason. In Italy, they were introduced to record producer Gian Stellari. A contract was offered, and the group went to Milan in October 1966 to record an album for the Dischi Interrecord label. About 20 songs - all cover versions - were recorded, mostly taken from the group's live set.
The Doc Thomas Group returned to Hereford after recording their album, and picked up Dale Griffin to fill in for the departing Bob Hall. Dave Tedstone also called it quits, but was not replaced. The Doc Thomas Group LP was eventually released in Italy in January 1967 (Italy Dischi Interrecord 280), along with a single culled from the album: Just Can't Go To Sleep b/w Harlem Shuffle (Italy Dischi Interrecord 1012). The group - now known variously as The Buddies, The Problem, and The Doc Thomas Group - quickly returned to Italy to capitalize. They made a couple TV appearances in Milan in March, and when told that a five-piece band was expected they sent for Advocats' bassist Geoff Peacey to play organ for them. Peacey finished the summer season with the group, but upon returning to England Geoff's parents were alarmed at how thin and gaunt he looked. As band's prospects were not looking too good, it was decided that he would quit the group.
The remainder of the band continued as a four piece with an uncertain future, and finally dissolved when Mick Ralphs accepted an offer from Verden Allen to replace Kevin Gammond in the Shakedown Sound, Jimmy Cliff's backing band. Later, Buffin would also join the group, replacing Sean Jenkins for the last three weeks. When the Shakedown Sound gig ended, Ralphs, Griffin, and Allen returned to Hereford to reunite with Pete Watts and Stan Tippins, cementing the final lineup of the group before Mott The Hoople.
The group continued to use the Shakedown Sound moniker in the UK, but reverted to The Doc Thomas Group when they returned to Italy in the summer of 1968. The group played engagements at the Pinetta Club in Milano Marittima, and the Bat Caverna in Riccione. As the season ended, Pete Watts remained in Italy with his fiance, Maria Jannelli, in anticipation of joining a 'supergroup' with members of the recently split I Giganti. But I Giganti reformed, and so Pete eventually went home.
Nearing the end of 1968 and back in Hereford, the band made one final push toward the big time. They bought a van and new equipment, and began using the Jay Vee agency in Swansea, Wales. They used the better known Shakedown Sound moniker while playing Hereford and the Midlands, but for gigs in Wales the band resurrected the old Silence banner. (The Silence had been Pete Watts and Dale Griffin's band before hooking up with Mick Ralphs in the Doc Thomas Group). Using Buffin's contacts at Rockfield, Silence recorded a demo tape which included The Rebel and Find Your Way. Despite the effort, though, the band still foundered. They unsuccessfully auditioned for Apple under the name The Archers, and also failed to distinguish themselves at an audition to back the Swedish band Paper Dolls.
Sensing the lack of success with Silence, Watts and Ralphs traveled to London to audition for Free, but apparently failed to impress producer Guy Stevens. When EMI rejected The Rebel at the last moment, Mick Ralphs took it to Stevens in London. The meeting went well enough for the band to scheduled an audition at Spot Studios, but on the eve of a Liverpool Cavern show Stan's jaw was broken during a scuffle. The band auditioned without Tippins, and won a second audition the next month for the entire group. Legend has it that Guy Stevens was so impressed with the band's ability to maneuver Verden's Hammond upstairs, that he had already decided to take them on. He was not, however, impressed with Tippins, who voluntarily withdrew from the band rather than hinder the success of the others.
With the addition of Ian Hunter in June 1969, Guy Stevens his new band spend less than two weeks rehearsing at the Pied Bull in Islington before entering Morgan Studios to record their debut album. In August, the band spent a couple weeks getting it together at the Bat Caverna in Riccione, Italy. The band didn't go over well, and were apparently asked to take a cut in pay or leave. Back in England, the group played their first shows supporting King Crimson in September. Mott The Hoople's debut album was released in November 1969, preceded by the single Rock and Roll Queen b/w Road To Birmingham.
In 1971, after recording four failed albums with Mott The Hoople, Pete Watts and Mick Ralphs joined up with Leslie West and Corky Laing of Mountain, and Paul Rodgers of Free, with an eye toward forming a band. Nothing came of the idea, although the group did manage to record Sail On at Island Studios.
Mott The Hoople did actually decide to split in early 1972, after a particularly miserable show in a converted gas tank in Switzerland. On the train ride home, the band decided to pack it in. When they returned to England, Pete Watts put a call in to David Bowie to see if he needed a bass player. When Bowie learned the group were breaking up, he asked the group to reconsider. Bowie gave the band a song, All The Young Dudes, and agreed to produce their next album. The single shot into the top five in the summer of 1972, and the resulting album All The Young Dudes also made a strong showing.
Having spent a few months under the Mainman umbrella, the group wisely decided to strike out on their own. In early 1973, Verden Allen left the group, and the four remaining Motts went into the studio to record and produce their mext album, simply titled Mott. The album was a critical success, and firmly established the group as a headline act in the UK and the USA. But Ian Hunter's increasing role as the leader of the group was causing friction with Mick Ralphs, who decided to leave the group and rejoin Paul Rodgers to form Bad Company.
Sorry, 1973 is as far as I got. When I have more time, I'll bring the Mick Ralphs biography up to date.