British disc jockey and broadcaster. 1939 - 2004
"...the single most important figure in popular music over the last 25 years" - John Walters
"John's influence has towered over the development of popular music for nearly four decades....he is irreplaceable" - Andy Parfitt
John Peel has always been at the cutting edge of music, introducing many new musical genres to the public, including punk, reggae, hip-hop and rap. Born in Heswell near Liverpool, on 30 August 1939, he began his radio career in 1962 at WRR radio in Texas.
Playing on his Liverpool origins and connections, he pushed his ratings up by claiming acquaintance with The Beatles. Continuing to work in the States until 1967, he worked at various stations, including KLMA in Oklahoma City and KMEN in Los Angeles.
Returning to Britain, he joined Radio London to present The show The Perfumed Garden, then moved to BBC Radio One, a national radio station, to present the late-night show, Top Gear. He has introduced many hundreds of shows during his time at the "Beeb", introduced many new bands and artists to an eager and discerning public. Artists still clamour to record a session for his programme - "almost anyone who is anyone in the rock world has recorded a session for Peel's show" - many hundreds of sessions over the years. Recordings of the Peel Sessions sell well - everything from folk to hard rock.
In 1993 he won the Sony Award for Broadcaster Of The Year and in 1994 was named "Godlike Genius" by the NME at the BRAT Awards for his outstanding contribution to music.
One or two anecdotes will have to suffice to demonstrate his approach, personailty and love of music. Possibly the most famous of them brought the young Billy Bragg to the attention of a nation. John was on air, and mentioned he was hungry. Young Bragg whizzed round to the studio with a mushroom biryani and a copy of his album. Both were consumed with equal relish, and the rest, as they say, is history.
So many artists have appeared on his show, and so many "Peel Sessions" albums released, that he has passed into legend, and it is impossible to say how many people have found themselves listening to a type of music previously foreign to them, drawn by his enthusiastic yet gentle style. The likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Smiths, Elvis Costello and Blur came to wider attention thanks to his intervention. He himself also has many fans, meta-fans of his musical tastes.
Despite this, he is not noted for being big-headed. He was a gentle, quiet, thoughtful man, whose easy-going approach drew listeners in their droves. In the late 70's/early 80's, his self-deprecation even extended to the wearing of a bright red T-shirt with "John Peel is a Cunt" in white on it... (Thanks, Teiresias!) His laid-back style, his wide range of musical taste, and his willingness, nay, burning desire to play even the most eclectic of music guarantees him a place in music history, and a special place in the hearts of music fans.
Sadly, John died following a heart attack on 26th October, 2004, whilst on holiday in Peru - a holiday of a lifetime with his wife. His lifetime has drawn to a close, but his influence on generations of music lovers worldwide will live on. In honour of John's commitment to new bands and new music, the "new bands tent" at the Glastonbury Festival will be renamed the John Peel Stage. RIP, John.