The band confirmed McPhee’s death in a statement on their Facebook page, which read: “We are deeply saddened to announce that 79-year-old guitar and blues legend Tony (TS) McPhee, died peacefully at home today 6th June, from complications following a fall last year.”
Born on March 22, 1944, in Humberston, Lincolnshire, McPhee began listening to imported blues albums that his brother would bring home. He told Classic Rock in 2007 that “it was then that I first heard this raw stuff and my ears pricked up. There was some good pop music at the time but nothing that really stirred you. Then I went to see Cyril Davies at the Marquee in 1963, heard proper R&B and thought: ‘this’ll do’”.
— CLASH (@ClashMagazine) June 7, 2023
RIP Tony McPhee; leader of the great Groundhogs, and creator of this off-kilter wtf-was-that classic pic.twitter.com/Nm1C9vLRKb
— South Records (@southrecordshop) June 6, 2023
— Vinyl Revival Store (@VinylRevivalUK) June 6, 2023
He joined a south London group, the Dollar Bills, in 1962 and renamed them the Groundhogs after the John Lee Hooker song ‘Groundhog Blues’. The band stuck to their blues roots while their peers strayed away leaning into pop as a way to attract more of a mainstream audience.
The Groundhogs would get the chance to work with Hooker himself, backing him on his 1965 LP ‘Hooker And The Hogs’ and then on two UK tours. Their debut, 1968’s ‘Scratching The Surface’ faltered as Motown took over. “The first blues boom ended when soul came in, that killed it stone dead,” shared McPhee.
With Fleetwood Mac and Humble Pie entering the scene, The Groundhogs returned with their second album ‘Blues Obituary’ which was followed by ‘Thank Christ For The Bomb’, ‘Split’ and ‘Who Will Save the World?’.
RIP Tony Mcphee of the mighty Groundhogs, heavy as hell but still subtle. What a record Split is pic.twitter.com/VYlBRzNfEk
— Bruce Gorrie (@bsgorrie) June 6, 2023
“Tony McPhee is an absolute genius. He was the British Hendrix, y’know? He could do soaring feedback solos, and really took the whole guitar-playing thing as far as he could. And what he doesn’t know about the blues isn’t worth knowing,” shared The Dammed’s Captain Sensible in an interview with Classic Rock.
After splitting up in 1976, The Groundhogs returned in the mid-80s with a new lineup and recorded two more albums. The band re-recorded their classic first albums and scheduled a tour for their 40th anniversary in 2003.
In 2009, McPhee suffered the first of a series of strokes, which took a toll on his speech and affected his singing voice, and he retired from the group in 2015.
“My main wish is to be recognised for my contributions to blues and rock and the guitar,” McPhee told US radio station WMFU in 2011. “That’s all the status I need.”
McPhee is survived by his wife Joanna, sons Conan & Vincent, grandchildren Scarlett and Victor, and sister Olive.