October 18, 2021
The late musician’s track The Champ was sampled on more than 700 other records, while others pop up everywhere from Jay-Z songs to Milk Tray ads. What links them all is his compositional joy and irreverence
Alan Hawkshaw the best-known British composer you’d never heard of
• Alan Hawkshaw, Countdown and Grange Hill composer, dies aged 84
Alan Hawkshaw’s late-life status as a funky hero to American hip-hop producers came as something of a surprise to him. “I remember getting an email asking for clearance for a piece,” he told me a few years ago. “And I rang my daughter asking who ‘Jay Zed’ was.” Jay-Z was not alone: whosampled.com lists 205 tracks that sample Hawkshaw’s music, right back to the dawn of hip-hop, when the Sugarhill Gang used part of Here Comes That Sound Again, a track by his project Love De-Luxe, in the intro of Rapper’s Delight in 1979.
Even then, Hawkshaw – who has died aged 84 – was something of a veteran. His music career began in the early 60s when, as a member of Emile Ford and the Checkmates, he played on bills with the Beatles and the Stones. In the 70s, he joined the Shadows. But the vast majority of his work was undertaken away from the stage. As a session player, he appeared on more than 7,000 tracks, often playing Hammond organ. And as a composer of library music (compositions written and recorded to a brief, to be later licensed for commercial purposes) his music travelled the world over the opening credits of TV shows – though not always in the expected manner: what was written as a news theme might (and would) appear accompanying a sports broadcast, for example. Library composers had no control over where their music went.
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