It’s an old musical cliche, but in the case of Route 66 the band really did evolve, rather than actually form.
The line-up has changed over the years, but the new members joining the band have always been friends, or friends of friends.
It all started in 1994 at a social group in Olney called the Inebriates. The origins and purpose (if there was one!) of this particular organisation don’t concern us, so we will move on, but needless to say alcohol is involved!.
The founder member of the band, Martin Muckett, had been playing in a duo with neighbour Kendrick. At one meeting of the Inebriates, Martin suggested that Roger Mann come round one evening and join him and Kendrick for a jam.
A few sessions took place, but Kendrick decided that his heart lay elsewhere and moved back to his beloved Yorkshire. Martin then invited another neighbour Cliff Bowman to join in on the jam sessions, and so the first incarnation of Route 66 was born, although the band didn’t have a name yet.
The line-up consisted of:-
Martin Muckett – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar and foot operated drum machine.
Roger Mann – Backing Vocals and Guitar.
Cliff Bowman – Vocals, Guitar and Alto Sax.
Before long Martin was “gagging” to do some gigs, so the band did a few small, local events mainly for friends. It wasn’t long before another friend, Chris Oaks, joined the line-up on bass guitar.
One evening at the Inebriates, Martin and Roger were chatting to a newly arrived neighbour, Derek Roberts, who happened to mention that he played drums, but had promised his wife that he wouldn’t join another band for at least 6 months after they moved. Suffice to say, he was press ganged on the spot and the line-up was complete.
One evening Derek and Martin were in The Castle pub in Olney (now the Maya Indian Restaurant) and mentioned to the landlady that they were in a band. She offered them a gig and asked what name to advertise them as.
Now, until this point they has just been known as “Martin’s Band”, so hurriedly Derek said the first thing that came into his head which was “Route 66”, one of the bands favourite numbers……and so Route 66 came into existence.
At some stage Chris moved to rhythm guitar and left the band to be replaced by a succession of temporary bass players. Cliff took some time out for a lecturing tour of Australia and when he returned decided that he didn’t want to continue playing.
Another Inebriate and friend Karl Richardson was drafted in on sax duties during a birthday party gig for his wife.
At about this time, Derek decided that his future lay elsewhere and left to join The Little Street Blues Band, who later became The Chris Upton Band. Faced with finding a new drummer and bassist the rest of the band decided to call it a day, so Route 66 was no more.
A few months later, during the Christmas of 1998, Martin and Roger were attending an open air carol concert in Olney and standing on stage, strumming his guitar, while a gale brought down lights and mic stands, was Jonathan Billingsley. At the end of the evening, Martin introduced Jonathan to Roger who persuaded him to play bass in an attempt to get the band playing again.
Fortunately, Karl had met Tim Ray while playing five-a-side football and Tim had happened to mention he had played drums in years gone by.
The band had a full compliment of musicians again and rehearsals started immediately to get the band “back on the road”.
One Valentine’s Night, the guys were playing at a private gig and had invited a number of musician friends along for a jam. One of these was previous sax player Cliff, who enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to rejoin the band on a full time basis.
The line up was now:-
Martin Muckett – Lead Vocals and Keyboards.
Roger Mann – Lead Guitar and Backing Vocals.
Jonathan Billingsley – Bass Guitar and Backing Vocals.
Cliff Bowman – Guitar, Alto Sax and Backing Vocals.
Karl Richardson – Alto and Tenor Sax.
Tim Ray – Drums.
With the departure of Martin in 2001, the remaining members were once again faced with the possibility of finding two new members. However, Jonathan stepped forward to take up lead vocals and another Inebriate, Chris Ford didn’t need too much persuasion to join the band on keyboards.
This line up proved to be one of the most successful in the bands history (thanks to the Inebriates!!).
Tim decided in early 2011, that pastures new were calling, so Michael Hailes picked up the baton (or drum sticks) in March 2011, bringing along his wife Anna Hailes, to fill in on a few numbers playing trumpet. This arrangement worked so well, that Anna was asked to be a permanent member of the band.
Route 66 now had a new, more brassier, fuller sound which opened up the prospect of lots of new numbers.
In January 2014, Cliff decided it was time to hang up his saxophone, having been with the band for 20 years. This left a gap for anyone wanting to fill Cliff’s singing role. Michael happily “volunteered” to add his vocals to those of Jonathans. Thanks Michael.
In order to get a more “brassy” sound, we invited Jamie Barker to come and play along with us for the Booze On The Ouse gig in June 2015. This was such a success that Jamie now plays with the band (when he’s in the area).
Cliff, we are happy to say, came out of retirement, and plays with the band once more!