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TRIBUTE: Tony McPhee (Groundhogs)

Tony (TS) McPhee, the singer and guitarist who had co-founded the influential British blues and rock group the Groundhogs in 1963 and went on to lead them for the next six decades has died at the age of 79.

The news was broken across the official Groundhogs social media channels on Tuesday evening (6th June 2023):

“We are deeply saddened to announce that 79 year old guitar and blues legend Tony (TS) McPhee, died peacefully at home today 6th June, from complications following a fall last year.

 He is survived by his devoted wife Joanna, sons Conan & Vincent, grandchildren Scarlett & Victor and loving sister Olive.”

Tony McPhee and the Groundhogs emerged out of the British blues scene of the early 1960s and their collective career took off when they supported the American blues legend John Lee Hooker (their name having previously been taken from one of his songs, ‘Groundhog’s Blues’) on his UK tour in 1964. They went on to tour with other blues luminaries of the time such as Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, and Champion Jack Dupree.

The Groundhogs released their debut album Scratching The Surface in 1968 and this prefaced the most commercially successful period in the band’s career with their three subsequent albums – Thank Christ for the Bomb, Split, and Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Groundhogs – all featuring in the top 10 of the UK album charts.

Split was my first introduction to the Groundhogs in 1971. One of the very first records I ever bought it still has pride of place in my collection. A heavy amalgam of blues, rock, proto-punk, and psychedelia, it still sounds of another world more than 50 years later due largely to the dynamic virtuosity of Tony McPhee’s guitar wizardry.

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I wasn’t to catch the Groundhogs in concert until 2010 at the long-since sadly departed Rhythm Festival in Bedfordshire. They put in a towering performance that day, all the more remarkable given that Tony McPhee was still recovering from the effects of a stroke a year earlier. A lasting memory of that show was them playing ‘Cherry Red’ – a song they had, somewhat improbably perhaps, performed on Top of the Pops in April 1971 – when none other than Captain Sensible of The Damned had leapt up onto the Rhythm stage to join the band for an incendiary blast of this Groundhogs’ staple.

Captain Sensible was but one musician, along with many others including Karl Hyde of Underworld, Luke Haines, and Brix Smith Start, who had properly recognised the often sadly overlooked genius of Tony McPhee, and the music of the Groundhogs, during his lifetime.

Photos: Simon Godley

  1. RIP Tony you were not only a great guitarist but wrote some great lyrics as well.
    At 68 still loving the Groundhogs music – timeless.

  2. R.I.P Tony T.S Mcphee, i worshipped this guy from a young age, I was privileged to have seen him live numerous times. God bless.

  3. Along with Rory Gallagher my favourite guitarist – we will not see their likes again, both down to earth, humble men with great feel for the blues in their playing and both amazing to see live. Thanks for the tribute and the memories. RIP both of you.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.