Aynsley Dunbar grew up in the Liverpool jazz scene, having begun playing drums at the age of 11. Aynsley was also part of the blossoming rock and R&B movement in Liverpool in 1963, playing for such groups as Derry Wilkie And The Pressmen, Freddie Starr And The Flamingos, The Excheckers and Stu James And The Mojos.
Throughout the ’60s, Aynsley played with Peter Green and John McVie in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and drummed in the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood. He also led his own group, The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation in 1967 and later put together the progressive jam band, Blue Whale.
But curiously, at least on record, Aynsley’s career had not yet taken off. It was Frank Zappa who, recognising not only Aynsley’s vast experience but his serious jazz chops, who asked Aynsley to move to America and join his new band. After playing and recording with Zappa in the early ’70s, Aynsley continued his stellar track record playing and recording with David Bowie and Lou Reed. Then, Infinity. Aynsley continued his hit-making run into the 1980s with Jefferson Starship, playing on three of their releases and drumming on Whitesnake’s hit self-titled album.
Throughout the 1990s, Aynsley continued his association with guitar-orientated rock, playing and recording with Pat Travers, UFO, John Lee Hooker and Michael Schenker. The new millennium has seen Aynsley continue to tour with The World Classic Rockers. It could easily be argued that no drummer has played with a more diverse group of successful acts.
At this time, Zappa’s music was going through a decidedly jazz influenced phase and Aynsley’s drumming was the perfect ingredient. There are just four tracks on the album, with the first side taken up with just one, ‘Big Swifty’.
It’s jazz fusion, big, brassy and shifting in time signatures – an improvisational playground for Zappa and his carefully assembled musicians. Check out the solo in the title track (from around the 7:20 mark); and elsewhere Aynsley proves he’s equal to anything Zappa could throw at him.
Key track: ‘Waka/Jawaka’
Pin Ups (1974)
Aynsley was fresh from the always-impressive Frank Zappa gig when the call came to drum for David Bowie. Bowie’s covers album, Pin-Ups, was first, featuring most of the Spiders From Mars band minus Mick Woodmansey, followed by 1974's Diamond Dogs.
Aynsley moved from the intricacies of Zappa’s music to Bowie’s more pop-directed style with ease, as the Thin White Duke put his stamp on covers of tracks by The Merseys (‘Sorrow’), Yardbirds (‘I Wish You Would’), Pink Floyd (‘See Emily Play’), The Pretty Things (‘Rosalyn’, ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’) and The Who (‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Anyway, ‘Anyhow’, ‘Anywhere’).
Key track: ‘Sorrow’
Aynsley, seeking to join a rock fusion group, became a member of Journey, recording and co-writing the band’s first four albums, including the group’s breakthrough release, and fourth album, Infinity.
This was the band’s smash breakthrough album containing the blues ballad ‘Lights’, proto-Soft Rock anthem ‘Anytime’, big-rockin’ ‘Feeling That Way’ and ‘Wheel In The Sky’, with Aynsley switching between a solid rock shuffle and some big, big fills. This album blends commercial appeal while showcasing excellent musicianship.
Key track: ‘Wheel In The Sky’
Freedom At Point Zero (1979)
After Journey, Aynsley joined Jefferson Starship, who experienced a resurgence of popularity with new singer Mickey Thomas. The band who had started life as as Jefferson Airplane – counter-culture psychedelic rockers – began to evolve, like so many progressive rock acts, into MOR money-spinners with a huge sound that would prolong their careers well into the big-haired ’80s.
Best known of the hits from this album is ‘Jane’, with Aynsley providing solid and tasteful beats to drive the big tune. And just listen to Aynsley’s tasteful 16-bar intro to the title track for proof that he could power stadium-sized bands.
Key track: ‘Freedom At Point Zero’
Although most people associate drummer Tommy Aldridge with this era of Whitesnake, it was Aynsley who laid down all those massive rock grooves on this multi million- selling disc.
When Cozy Powell left the band to join Emerson, Lake and Powell, David Coverdale and co brought in Rainbow’s Don Airey on keys and Aynsley on drums. This album has it all. Aggressive double bass to soft ballad playing, all tempered with dynamics and just the right fill at the right time. ‘Crying In The Rain’ kicks things off in bluesy style, with Aynsley setting the pace with humungous sounding drums that build to a monster fill as the track takes off. ‘Still Of The Night’ is truly epic, with Aynsley helping build the tension with tightness, flair and no shortage of big rock fills.
Key track: ‘Still Of The Night’