The mysterious death of Gary Driscoll…
The name Gary Driscoll may only be relevant to rock music geeks but his role as drummer in a band called Elf would lead to the capitulation of one of rock’s biggest bands and the formation of its very worthy successor. Elf were an American band of limited commercial success, they had secured a record deal and enjoyed a relatively healthy tour schedule but they were light years away from the stadium filling Deep Purple, who, along with Led Zeppelin and The Who were Britain’s biggest hard rock recording artists.
The lead guitarist of Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore had become bored and disillusioned with the band, a brilliant but temperamental musician, he looked for a new venture and saw in Elf’s lead singer, Ronnie James Dio, the perfect vocalist. Dio was, quite simply, the perfect rock vocalist.
Gary Driscoll was the drummer of Elf and a long time associate of Dio. Having begun his musical career with Ronnie Dio and the Prophets in 1965, he stayed with Dio and the band throughout their transformations into The Electric Elves which became The Elves and finally, Elf. By 1975 Elf was no more, disbanded to join Blackmore and his new band, Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow, they recorded an album of the same name and although the line-up never toured, the band and the album won critical acclaim. Despite the success of the album, Blackmore fired all of the band except Dio and replaced Driscoll on drums with Cozy Powell for the follow-up album and world tour. The former band members were suitably irate at being used by Blackmore to secure the services of Ronnie James Dio and regardless of stories about Blackmore’s dislike of Driscoll’s R&B style, the reality is that Blackmore only ever wanted Dio.
In truth, this was Driscoll’s career highpoint, subsequent bands never amounted to what he had achieved with Elf, let alone Blackmore’s Rainbow and he drifted between bands and day jobs until his brutal murder in 1987. Driscoll was found dead in his friend’s home in Ithaca, New York. Details of his murder remain blurred and his murder unresolved. There have been varying accounts as to the reason; from drug deals to a ritualistic satanic sacrifice. There is evidence to suggest that the murder was carried out by more than one person, one man who was accused was later acquitted whilst the chief suspect fled America before being charged.
Driscoll did not have the impact on rock music that Dio and Blackmore can rightfully claim but his appearance on that first Rainbow album is enough to cement his place in the genre’s history books. We do like to champion the underdog at retroculturati and thereby remember someone who got the chance to do what many of us can only dream about.
Listen to his playing on this track, it’s ironic that he was fired for his ‘pop style’ given Blackmore’s reason for letting Dio go in favour of Graham Bonnet and a move towards chart single success. Ignore, if you will, Blackmore’s soloing and hear the drumming. It’s really rather good.
Categories: The Music Lounge
Thanks for this informative read. I’ve always liked Elf, DIO, Rainbow’s first album, but my favorite to come out of it all has been The Rods. Again, this Article was informative, to the point and gives Gary credit for his years of hard work. While many are complacent to just read the liner notes on the back of an album, there is almost always a “back story” that gets overlooked. Thanks again!
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Welcome to the site and thanks for commenting. Glad you liked the post, it’s probably the most visited page on here which tells you something again. I agree with your sentiments, his played a part in the music of my childhood and he should be remembered. It is a shame there isn’t a conclusion to his murder, it may add ‘mystique’ for some but for his long term partner, at least it has been devastating. Thanks again Clyde, hope you enjoy future articles.
I was a neighbor of garys the day after his death the owner of a house gary was house sitting at the owners neice said gary was mistaken for homeowner who had been busted in Fla involving drugs gary was in the basement when killer came in apparently the Columbian necktie was used to send a message about some tattle tale tongue wagging that occured im not certain of this but beleive it to be correct no satan no ritual just a message
Matt, welcome to the site and thank you for a fascinating contribution. If that is the case it makes the loss even more tragic. Thank you for shedding some invaluable light on this.
It’s a pity that the Bible Black album, recorded by Driscoll, his Rainbow/Elf partner Craig Gruber, Blue Cheer guitarist ‘Duck’ McDonald, and future Sabbath vocalist Jeff Fenholt, remains unreleased all these years later.
Some of the music’s been leaked online and the material & playing are really good.
A spiffy remastered CD edition would be nice to hear, and would also make a nice tribute to Driscoll.
Here’s hoping that advances in forensic science finally enable the police to bring someone to book for the murder, and bring some closure for Driscoll’s family & friends.
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Welcome to the site and thank you for the great comment. I did not know that but feel sure Sabbath released a song called ‘Bible Black’ coincidence? It would be great to hear and I agree with your sentiments. Thanks again Rip, much appreciated
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I was thinking the same thing concerning that song, perhaps a bit of a tribute to Gary.
I enjoyed your article. I still live in Ithaca and ran stage monitors for Bible Black in the early 80’s. Thus I saw a number of shows, if from the side stage. They were good band and brought in a good crowd for their shows. I was only 20-ish then, but remember Gary as a very nice guy and always friendly with me.
Welcome the site and I am glad that you enjoyed it. Thank you for a great contribution which lends great kudos to the post. I certainly envy you and your time spent with them. Thanks again, it’s much appreciated.
Great article of a sad story.
Looked this up after searching for Gary Driscoll as I seemed to remember from years ago that he had died and never found the fame he deserved after the appalling treatment of Blackmore.
I play the drums myself and have always been a fan of Ian Paice. Driscoll is as near to Paice as you can get, which isn’t a criticism it’s meant as a compliment.
To me the first album is Rainbows best, the second is great but after that they got too commercial and was obviously Blackmore’s intention.
Great article on a tragic story.
Still I’m sad.
Welcome to the site and thanks for a great comment. What I feel is important is to recognise those who were there in the beginning of anything such as this. Yes he was cast aside but his drumming was superb on that album and Blackmore the better for it. A very sad story deserving of more information to be honest.
My friend dated Gary for a while… We hung out on many occasions…. Some fond memories at Stewart Park together.. Oh and Captain Joes!….in the years shortly before his horrific murder…. I still recall the funeral song. . Still makes me cry….. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=oT57tjz9py8
Many thanks for this, what a nice insight. His murder was a tragedy and it is important he is remembered, your comments do much to preserve his memory.
Many thanks indeed
WOW, talk about bringing back old memories. I knew Craig Gruber from Cortland (The Rods) and I still remember how pissed he was about this. I was in Ithaca to see the Rods, and Craig appeared at my side and started talking to me about it. I still have the guitar pick he handed me that night when he pressed it into my hand he said, “that’s from a real rock and roll star”. I never saw him again.
What a great story, thank you for sharing it with us, a great memory. Many thanks
those were great days way back when we would meet at Captain Joe’s, Gary was so easy going had some great talks saw him shortly after he was let go could not understand why he was such a great drummer and one of the few that broke out of Ithaca ,it was horrific what happen to him such, details will never leave my mind
Richard, Welcome to the site and many thanks for this insight as a local man and friend. I was hoping to hear from people such as yourself to help build up a picture of the man. It is important that he should be remembered and for the right reasons. Many thanks and kind regards.
I saw Gary perform live many times as a member of The Elves and Elf. After the release of the first Elf LP, Gary slipped on ice and broke his wrist. By the time the second LP was recorded, it had healed enough for him to play again, but in my opinion never again as good as he had prior to the injury. Although he was a monster player until the very end, check out the first Elf LP from beginning to end. It is the best work Gary Driscoll ever did.
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Welcome to the site Mike and thank you for a very insightful comment which helps build a picture of Gary and helps to keep his legacy alive. Time to listen to some Elf again!
Hi. Yes, this is definately odd, as I share the same namesake as Gary’s, and I’m sure, somewhere through the Driscoll lineage, we are indirectly related (small world!). I’m here, not only as a fellow musician, but as a long time rock ‘n roller and a big fan of Dio, DP and Rainbow. A drummer friend mentioned Gary Driscoll’s name in the first Rainbow albums’ lineup, and I became interested in his story. I was blown away to hear of his demise. We can only hope that justice will someday prevail and Gary’s brutal murder will be solved. I’d like to share some coincidences between Gary, and my late Brother, John (Both died almost 10 years to the day, apart, and at the same age):
John Gary Driscoll
Born: 18 April 1946
Died: 8 June 1987 (aged 41 years)
My Brother, John Arthur Driscoll (killed by a drunk driver)
Born: 18 June 1955
Died: 9 June 1997 (aged 41 years)
Thank you for sharing your site!
A great comment! That’s a real coincidence, thank you for commenting on this, it’s much appreciated
Thank you for posting!