Ritchie Yorke

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Ritchie Yorke
Ritchie yorke.jpg
Mr. Ritchie Yorke
Born 12 January 1944
Brisbane, Australia
Residence Earth
Nationality Australian
Citizenship Australian
Occupation Author, broadcaster, historian, journalist.
Known for Editor for Rolling Stone Magazine, books published, published works around the world, writer of liner notes and as John Lennon's International Peace Envoy

Ritchie Yorke is an Australian-born author, broadcaster, historian and music journalist. Born in Brisbane in 1944, while his father was serving with the Australian Army, Yorke developed a passion for rock 'n’ roll in his early teens.


At the age of 16, Yorke discovered that equality was far from reality even in the world of rock 'n' roll. During his weekly rural radio program on his Saturday night show, Yorke played Stevie Wonder's Fingertips Pt 2 single, which was the number 1 pop R&B hit in the USA[1] at the time. The following Monday morning Yorke was told "never play that nigger shit again". The following Saturday, Yorke barricaded himself inside the radio station and played the R&B track eight times in a row before management were able to open the studio. He was fired on the spot.

When he departed the "conservative shores of the sub-tropical 19th-Century penal colony town of Brisbane in 1966." Yorke was on a two-year mission. His desire was to experience and investigate "where rock 'n’ roll came from". During his journey Ritchie Yorke discovered what he sought, and much more, when he encountered legendary events – and instigated a few himself. The young Australian did not return home as planned. Instead, he wrote about the records he heard in Europe, the USA and Canada in a two-decade-long saga of feature stories, mass syndication's, books, radio documentaries and many exclusive interviews with seriously world-class talent.

After working in London for a year on the international career of Australian superstar Normie Rowe, Yorke moved on to manage the international promotions for Chris Blackwell of Island Records at a time when the Spencer Davis Group were working international hit records with "Gimme Some Loving" and "I'm a Man". He later migrated to Toronto, Canada. He started writing for the Toronto Telegram,[2] kicking off with an obituary for Brian Epstein, The Beatles manager who died in 1967.[3] In 1968 Yorke became Canadian Editor of Billboard magazine[4] and was appointed the first full-time rock writer for Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail in Toronto,[5] the following year. More than a year in production, the 64-hour "rockumentary" titled The Evolution of Rock (The Music That Made the World Turn 'Round) was syndicated worldwide. It would ultimately be heard by more than 50 million rock fans and won Billboard magazine's prestigious Documentary of the Year award. To coincide with the international airing of the radio series, Yorke published the acclaimed companion book The History of Rock 'n' Roll (Methuen Publications, 1976).

During the summer of 1970 Ritchie Yorke spent time with Jimi Hendrix. The resulting interview was one of the last that Hendrix gave before his death in September of the same year. The interview was first published in Hit Parader, a US pop monthly, and in many other publications thereafter.

In 1972, he was named Canadian Journalist of the Year (Juno Music Awards, Toronto).[6] In the view of David Farrell, publisher of Canada's then foremost music trade weekly, The Record, "Yorke's energy, enthusiasm and charisma have touched many people, whipping up support for too many projects to begin counting out, but it is fair to say that his participation and involvement in the Canadian music industry has been acknowledged from coast to coast and left an indelible imprint that has and will benefit musicians for many, many years to come." Yorke co-published Rainbow magazine in the early '70s,[7] which survived 14 editions before being silenced by financial restraints. While jetting around the planet, Yorke was totally unprepared for the crucial events of counter-culture journalism which would be revealed on his watch. Nobody could have adequately briefed him on some of the astonishing – and historically significant – events which unfolded before his eyes.

In the late '60s, with the rapidly disintegrating Vietnam War as a backdrop, some form of political change was clearly necessary. Yorke struck up a friendship with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the stormy latter days of The Beatles, and was involved with the Lennons in their celebrated Bed-In for Peace in Montreal, in May 1969.[8] Yorke later played an important key role in the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival of September 1969. Rolling Stone magazine calls this "the second most important event in rock history" – John Lennon's historic first live performance outside The Beatles. Some claim the most important was the arrival in Memphis of Elvis Presley. It was Yorke who organised The Beatles' meeting with communications prophet Marshall McLuhan. Yorke also instigated and organised the first political meeting between a pop star and a Prime Minister... being John Lennon and then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, in December 1969.[9]

By this time, the Editor at The Globe and Mail had told Yorke that he "couldn't work for John Lennon and the Globe". Yorke had to choose between his job as a rock columnist, or as a player in the Lennons' "The War Is Over, If You Want It'’ Peace Campaign.[10] It took Yorke "about a sixth of a second" to decide his future career path.

The subsequent journey was unforgettable; Yorke became the Peace Envoy for "The War Is Over, If You Want It'’ peace campaign.[11] Yorke traveled around the world on behalf of the Lennons in early 1970, and grabbed headlines when he and rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins risked their lives by illegally crossing into Red China to present the "War Is Over" message to the Communists. They both ended up on the red border holding up posters promoting peace, and miraculously escaped arrest.

He was the first media person to publicly predict the astonishing North American success of Led Zeppelin in 1969, at a time when most critics were panning them for being overly bombastic and "Pommy pretenders'’. Yorke toured with the band and introduced many of their concerts to an intrigued fan base.

In 1973, Yorke cut back on his everyday writing and broadcasting activities to focus on writing books, an area he felt was ripe for quality product. He moved back to London to respond to an invitation from Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin's manager, to write the sanctioned biography of the foremost band of the '70s.

For the next five years, Yorke maintained an extremely tight relationship with the reclusive Zeppelin members. He accompanied them on tour as their special guest and wrote more words about the band than any journalist anywhere. As singer Robert Plant has noted: "Ritchie's alright … he's been one of us from the beginning."

After completing The Led Zeppelin Biography (Methuen Publications, 1976), which has sold more than 250,000 copies in various languages and is presently available through Virgin Publishing as The Definitive Biography: Led Zeppelin, Yorke moved to Wengen, Switzerland, to write a biography on one of rock's most misunderstood musicians – the celebrated Irish singer/songwriter Van Morrison (Into the Music: The Van Morrison Biography, Charisma Books, 1975). (NME) described this effort as "a balanced and praiseworthy account of Van Morrison and his career to date."

In 1977 Yorke travelled to Los Angeles to assist Van Morrison, as his publicist,[12] in launching his A Period of Transition album. They continue an unorthodox and unique relationship.

Yorke's eclectic mind and contacts have allowed him to place artistic opposites together on the same stage. He conceptualised and organised the union of classically influenced British rockers Procol Harum with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, introducing the live gig and earning the band their first gold album in 1972.[13] Yorke also discovered the ‘Song of Joy’ by Spanish singer, composer Miguel Ríos.[14] Yorke introduced it to the English speaking world where it reached the top of the charts in 1970. Yorke later went to Spain after writing the lyrics for the New World Symphony, originally composed by Antonín Dvořák. Miguel Ríos sang the New World Symphony song whilst Yorke oversaw the recording of it by the Madrid Symphony Choir in Spain.

In the past 47 years Yorke has contributed to a huge range of publications around the world including: Bell McClure syndicate, Billboard, Chicago News, Circus, The Courier Mail, Detroit Free Press, Fusion, Gannett syndicate, Hit Parader, Houston Post, Jazz & Pop, Los Angeles Free Press, Los Angeles Times, Melody Maker, Miss Chatelaine, Modern Hi-Fi, Mojo, New Musical Express, Ottawa Journal, Pop, Press, Rainbow Magazine, Rhythms, Rocksbackpages, Rolling Stone, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Sunday Herald Sun, Sunday Times, The Sunday Mail, The Sunday Telegraph, Toronto Globe and Mail, Toronto Telegram, TV Week, fyimusic, Brisbane Times and the Washington Post.

After the death of John Lennon, outside the Dakota Building in New York in late 1980, Yorke – as a confidante of the former Beatle – was besieged by world media for comments on the musician's anti-war agenda. The day after Lennon's death, Yorke drove 100 km through a raging snowstorm to reach a Toronto studio, appearing on a national TV morning show to discuss John's special connection with Canada. He was a key contributor to the Rolling Stone-sanctioned book, The Ballad of John and Yoko (Doubleday, 1982). Yorke was also appointed media spokesman for Lennon's Bag One lithograph exhibition which toured the USA in 1983.

In the autumn of 1986, Yorke shocked the Canadian music industry by announcing that he intended to return to his Australian homeland. His departure prompted David Farrell, Canada's leading music biz commentator, to write: "Yorke needs a new crusade to lead. He's gone as far as he can in Canada. The Canadian recording industry is a thousand light years from what it was when Ritchie got here (1967) and he has had an incredible amount to do with it."

Back on the sub-tropical soil of his Brisbane birthplace, Ritchie did not seek nor find a new crusade to lead. But he did summon up sufficient written support for Brisbane's rock music scene that it helped the city to believe in itself and to explode creatively in the later ‘90s.

Yorke linked up with the mass market weekend newspaper The Sunday Mail and began contributing to its entertainment pages in 1987.[15] Thousands of rock profiles and interviews later, he moved back to freelance writing after 20 years at the Mail, leaving behind his descriptive phrase about local talent – 'Briz-bands'.

Yorke was also involved with ABC Radio both as a presenter and program producer. There was a syndicated documentary series, Classic Conversations with John Lennon, and an array of other documentaries on long-term artists of significance such as Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, Little Feat, The Band, INXS, Dire Straits, the Neville Brothers and many others.

Yorke has worked closely with Yoko Ono on a number of projects since John Lennon's death. He was a contributor to the Imagine multi-media project, Yoko's six-CD box set Onobox, and her widely acclaimed 25th anniversary commemorative book, Memories of John (Harper Collins, 2005). He was honoured to join a collection of distinguished author/contributors on this project including Bono, James Brown, Ray Charles, John Fogerty, Peter Gabriel, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Jerry Lee Lewis and Pete Townshend.

When an industry celebration of Yorke's 45 years of writing about rock music took place in Brisbane in June 2007, Yoko sent him flowers to the assembled crowd's astonishment. As one guest said: "Ritchie never name-drops; so we’re all a bit shocked to see and hear from so many famous people here tonight."

In late 2007 Ono invited Yorke to attend the October 2007 inauguration of her Imagine Peace Tower project in Reykjavík, Iceland, on the occasion of what would have been John's 67th birthday.[16] Yorke wrote widely about that extraordinary experience.

In mid-2008, Yorke returned to his adopted homeland of Canada to research a number of special projects, and to begin writing several books including his memoirs.

Yorke has written many album "liner notes" for great artists, including:

Liner notes by Ritchie Yorke[edit]

  • Aretha Franklin: Soul ’69
  • B. B.King: The Electric…Best Of
  • Big Mama Thornton: Hound Dog
  • Buddy Holly: All Time Greatest Hits
  • Carla Thomas: The Best Of
  • Edward Bear: Bearings
  • Etta James: Peaches
  • Frank Mills: Reflections of My Childhood
  • Five Bells: Reflections
  • Jerry Butler: Ice on Ice
  • John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto '69 (DVD)
  • Katie Noonan: Blackbird
  • King Biscuit Boy & Crowbar: Official Music
  • King Biscuit Boy: Gooduns
  • King Curtis: The Best Of
  • Kim Fowley: Good Clean Fun
  • Leigh Ashford: Kinfolk
  • Miguel Ríos: A Song of Joy
  • Nik Phillips: Songs from the Fourth Floor
  • Neil Sedaka: Emergence
  • Normie Rowe: Necessarily So…The Collection
  • Pepper Tree: You’re My People
  • Rock Bottom: Assorted Artists
  • Simon Caine: Simon Caine
  • Sweet Toronto (D.A. Pennebaker's documentary of John Lennon's Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival appearance) – DVD re-issue
  • Sinfonias: Waldo de los Rios
  • The Beatles: In the Beginning
  • The Cycle: The Cycle
  • Tony Joe White …Continued
  • Cathy Young: Travel-Stained: Korean Release
  • Secret Friend : Time Machine

Books written by Ritchie Yorke[edit]

  • Peace Man (to be released in 2010)[dated info]
  • Memories of John (contributor), Harper Collins, 2005
  • Led Zeppelin – The Definitive Biography, Virgin Books, 2001
  • The Definitive Biography: Led Zeppelin, Virgin Books, 1991
  • The Ballad of John and Yoko (contributor), Rolling Stone Publishers, 1982
  • The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Methuen Publications, 1976
  • The Led Zeppelin Biography, Methuen Publications, 1976
  • Into the Music: The Van Morrison Biography, Charisma Books, 1975
  • Axes Chops & Hot Licks (The Canadian Rock Music Scene), Hurtig Publishers, 1972
  • Lowdown on the English Pop Scene, Horwitz, 1967


External links[edit]