Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Garnett (Billy) Hyde (1918–1976)

by Al Watson

This article was published:

William Garnett (Billy) Hyde (1918-1976), musician, teacher and businessman, was born on 12 November 1918 at Carlton, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents Arthur Hyde, mechanic, and his wife Pearl, née Fowler. The family moved to Moonee Ponds, where Arthur worked as a cleaner and Billy was educated in the local primary and central schools, leaving at the age of 15 to become a storeman at J. L. Law and J. K. Pearson's Pelaco shirt factory.

From the age of 11, Hyde had been involved with drums, and his first work in the music business was with a local suburban band, the 'Night Owls', after which he joined Fred Hocking at the Casino at Brunswick. He was a self-taught musician. Learning on the job from other players, and imbued with a natural talent combined with great self-discipline, he became an expert sight-reader, capable of performing symphonic scores. His greatest ability, however, was with the swing drumming style of the dance-band era. By his mid–twenties he had held the drum chair at many of Melbourne's leading dance halls such as the Trocadero, Leonda and the Belvedere. An early manifestation of his entrepreneurial gift was evident during World War II, when it was impossible to obtain musical instruments. Billy co-founded Sphinx Drums. Improvisation was necessary. Material shortages led to the drum shells being moulded from off-cuts from plywood used for the manufacture of the Mosquito bomber and torpedo boats. By 1946 Sphinx Drums was meeting orders for the Australian Army.

At Ascot Vale Presbyterian Church on 19 January 1942 Billy married Jean Urie Maplestone, a typist. That year he began teaching drums, at home. After the war there was an acute shortage of all forms of percussion instruments and both his students and fellow musicians began to look to him as a supplier. As well, he developed his internationally known 'natural rebound' practice pad, which has served generations of percussionists since.

In 1950-65 Hyde was staff drummer for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Melbourne. His musical activities were remarkably diverse. He became 'first call drummer' for many radio and television shows, as a studio session musician, and backing visiting international stars such as Shirley Bassey and Sammy Davis junior. He also worked as percussionist with both the Australian Symphony and Melbourne Symphony orchestras. In 1962, in partnership with his son Garry and nephew Barry Quinn, the Billy Hyde Drum Clinic was formed in response to demands for tuition and instrument supplies. Based at Flemington, next to the family home, this developed into a nationwide business.

Billy Hyde received his widest public recognition as drummer and singer with the GTV-9 orchestra on the 'In Melbourne Tonight' show (1964-71). His banter with Graham Kennedy became an established part of the nightly entertainment. But his musical peers were to remember his 'jazz chops' (involving improvisation, interaction and anticipation). As Brian Rangott, former musical director at GTV-9, noted: 'He had the ability to listen. Especially accompanying solos, he'd be right there echoing figures, catching your phrasing, always swinging; there was no one during his era with his ability'.

Outgoing, of a generous spirit towards fellow musicians and a natural entertainer, Hyde was also a devoted family man, with his wife and two children closely involved in his business. As if to balance his hectic schedule he chose solitary activities for recreation and built his own yacht; he was a devoted fisherman all his life. Hyde died from a brain tumour on 27 December 1976 at Brunswick and was cremated. His wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Paul Matcott, ‘Billy Hyde Drum Clinic’, in Sonics (Syd, NSW), Oct 1980
  • Age (Melbourne), 29 Dec 1976, p 2
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Al Watson, 'Hyde, William Garnett (Billy) (1918–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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