The Site Of The

Sopwith Camel Band

NORM MAYELL (1942–2022)

Norm was born in Chicago on May 18, 1942. He grew up on the North Side of Chicago and soon moved with his parents and two sisters, twins Paula and Toni, to Elgin, Illinois. As a young teen, his large wooden radio and speaker were tuned to stations on the South Side of Chicago that played electric blues and introduced him to the three Kings: BB, Freddie, and Albert. He heard a brand of R&B that was not on mainstream stations. He found a cymbal and a Desi Arnaz-sort of conga for a snare drum/tom tom combo and began to play along and feel the groove playing in the pocket. Norm played in his first band, the Vesteens, while attending Elgin High School. At the University of Hawaii, he majored in philosophy, history, and surfing. He met his first wife Geri while in college; their daughter Tammera was born in Honolulu in 1963. They were young. Norm returned to Chicago and with some good luck played drums and recorded with Michael Bloomfield, Charlie Musselwhite and others with The Group on the South Side.

He made his way to San Francisco in 1965 and with bandmates Peter Kraemer, Terry MacNeil, William Sievers, and Martin Beard formed The Sopwith Camel. Their first album, Hello Hello, produced by Erik Jacobsen, had a respectable hit of the same name. They played at The Matrix, Avalon Ballroom, and Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, and concerts across the US. Norm auditioned for the renowned loud bad-boy band Blue Cheer, toured and recorded three albums from 1969-72, The Original Human Being, Blue Cheer, and Oh! Pleasant Hope, featuring Norm also playing sitar, harmonica, and a few of his own songs. Norm was part of a stable of musicians recording with some of Jacobsen’s artists: Rita Abrams, the Stovall Sisters, and William Truckaway. He collaborated on another of Erik’s artists, Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, a huge hit in 1970 that sold over a million copies and that is still played today worldwide in countless movies, commercials, mixes, weddings, and funerals. The Camel reunited for a second album in 1973: Miraculous Hump Returns from the Moon, filled with exotic, thoughtful, ironic, and irreverent songs. Still a good listen today. During this time his son Tobin was born in Larkspur, California, in 1971 to Norm and second wife, Christine.

While in between music projects, Norm was invited to join novel group, Kit ’n’ Kaboodle and the Keester Sisters, with a repertoire of an eclectic mix of R&B covers, Sons of the Pioneers, bawdy songs from the 1920s, a few swing tunes, and a tap-dancing revue. This is where Norm and Judy July met. Judy sang lead vocals, played keys and keyboard bass. An agent kept them booked 48 weeks each year for four years in the Pacific Northwest. Norm and Judy moved on to the next iteration, Bamboo, a four-piece group that also played five or six nights a week for another four years. That group became a tight, fun, and sought-after club band, with Norm providing a solid four-on-the-floor, as he put it. Bamboo recorded a few original songs in the late 70s–early 80s; nothing came of those except pride and glory.

When traveling and playing on the road became tiring, Norm and Judy settled in the Bay Area, set up a home recording studio, started a graphic design service business, and bought a 1905 fixer-upper in the East Bay. Their son, Max, was born in 1987. Norm, a natural athlete, took up golf around that time. He played some of the best links courses in Scotland including St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Royal Dornach; and Lahinch, Waterville and Enniscrone in Ireland. His regular golf foursome, sometimes called the 4Skins, was his favorite place to be away from home. They made a yearly pilgrimage to Sea Ranch Golf Links in the fall and played many courses around the Bay Area for 20+ years. Norm was disciplined when it came to music and golf. He practiced drums nearly every day until the last year. He played a little flamenco guitar, sitar, and ukulele. And he frequented the driving range and putting green to improve his technique.

Norm and Judy’s cabin in the Truckee area near Lake Tahoe was their refuge from urban working lives. The children and grandchildren learned to ski there, sledded down snow covered streets, swam, biked, golfed, and spent many holidays in the beautiful mountain forest. Over the years they traveled across the US, including Hawaii and Alaska, to Canada, Mexico, Ireland, United Kingdom spending time in Cornwall where the Mayell ancestors lived. In 2018, Norm and Judy visited Amsterdam, western Germany, and France. They both loved exploring ancient monuments and art throughout the ages.

Norm and Judy have been life partners and best friends for nearly 45 years. He would have liked to have played more music, more golf, and spent more time with his beloved family. He wanted his close family and cherished friends to know he loved them. He felt privileged to have had them in his life.

Musical Tribute to Norm Mayell

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