Ronnie “Animal” Verrell was born on February 21, 1926, in Rochester, Kent, and died on February 22, 2002. He is one of the drummers who have left a significant mark on the music industry. The drummer’s work with the Ted Heath Orchestra and the Syd Laurence Orchestra stands out most as they are two of the most popular British bands.
Ronnie Verrell was the driving drum member on the unique features he initiated and an incredible soloist for the same projects. And the Hawaiian War Chant he did with the Health Band remains the most famous until today. Verrell delivered a crucial contribution to British music, which went beyond what anyone could see.
He was a sort-after-session drummer who played for a wide range of many films and TV sounds throughout his career. He also worked on a wide range of record sessions in the pop and jazz industry. Not even the most complex percussion chart could beat the drummer as he was highly skilled and adaptable to any situation.
Verrell continued working on extended TV programs. He played drums for the band that produced soundtracks for The Muppet Show. This has remained one of the most popular TV shows of all time. He also delivered frenetic solos for a puppet drummer called Animal. During these times, he fulfilled his dream of meeting his greatest hero, Buddy Rich, who was once a guest on the show. As he admits, Rich was one of the hardest men to please, which gave him the energy and inspiration to continue working harder.
It is amazing how Ronnie Verrell became one of the most influential musicians because he was not born in a musical family. He started showing interest in drums in 1938 when he saw the performance of Benny Goodman’s band in a film. And that was the only trigger he needed to begin his life-long professional career, with his debut coming as an evacuee under the seaside resort in Porthcawl in WW2.
Once Verrell picked up, he partnered with the Scottish saxophonist Tommy Whittle in London, which became a lifetime relationship. At the time, Health’s group was on top of their playing. It was the best British band and the first to leave a mark on the American scene in the 50s. Verrell worked with the team until 1964 when Health retired. He was not inclined to take part in other “ghost bands” which gave him the name. He felt that the magic was no longer there since their leader had left.
He started to work on session drumming for popular artists like Winifred Atwell, Jack Jones, Tom Jones, and Tony Bennet, just to mention a few. He later started working with ATV, a band by Jack Parnell, with which he worked for ten years before taking a short break with Tom Jones.
In 1980, bandleader Syd Lawrence called him for an offer as a drummer for an imminent concert. He agreed and started playing before an audience again. He later formed his quintet in the mid-’90s. Animal – Ronnie Verrell will always remain a remarkable drummer for his work.