Tony Meehan, who has died in hospital, aged 62, following an accident at his home, occupied the drum chair with the Shadows, Britain's leading pop group in the years immediately before the Beatles. He contributed to such hits as Apache, FBI and Man of Mystery, before leaving to lead his own bands and to work as a record producer.
Born in Hampstead, north London, Meehan took up the drums at the age of 10, and three years later made his first public appearance at a dance hall in Willesden. Equally interested in classical percussion, he played the timpani with the London Youth Orchestra in 1957. Soon afterwards, he was offered a job in a touring band at £25 a week, and was granted six months' absence from school. He never returned, having found work on the London cabaret scene playing at such venues as Churchill's and the Stork Club.
Like numerous other teenagers, he was also drawn to the heavily rhythmic world of skiffle. He performed with the Worried Men and the Vipers, whose constantly changing line-up included future broadcaster Wally Whyton and future Shadows guitarist Jet Harris. Meehan also briefly backed rock'n'roll singers Vince Taylor and Tony Sheridan.
His big break came at the end of 1958 when guitarists Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch needed a replacement drummer for their group, the Drifters, which was due to tour with Cliff Richard, then the country's newest pop sensation. With Harris already on board as bass guitarist, Meehan was offered the job, and the next three years was a period of almost non-stop performing and recording, both with Richard and with the group as they established themselves in their own right as an instrumental combo.
Their first record, cut in January 1959, was Richard's Livin' Lovin' Doll, closely followed by the group's debut single, Feelin' Fine. After threats of a lawsuit from the managers of the American vocal group of the same name, the Drifters renamed themselves as the Shadows.
In October 1961 - and still only 18 - Meehan left the group to pursue a career as a composer and record producer, a role he had become fascinated by while working at the Abbey Road studios with the Shadows. He negotiated a pioneering independent production deal with Decca, under which he would bring acts to the company. His first success was I'm Just a Baby, a coy number by Louise Cordet, daughter of the owner of the fashionable Saddle Room club in London's West End. He also branched out as a session drummer for Frank Ifield, Billy Fury and John Leyton, among others.
However, Meehan was soon back on stage, this time in partnership with Harris, who had left the Shadows following disagreements with Bruce Welch. As Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, they had instrumental hits with Diamonds (which replaced the Shadows' Dance On at the top of the pop charts in January 1963) and Scarlett O'Hara, both produced by Meehan. The brief career of the Harris-Meehan group came to an end after Harris was injured in an accident involving a bus and a car, in which he was travelling with his pop-star girlfriend, Billie Davis.
Meehan decided to go it alone and launched the Tony Meehan Combo in early 1964. While the group recorded conventional pop tunes (their biggest hit was Song Of Mexico, by Apache composer Jerry Lordan), they had a jazz-oriented stage show that featured future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and future Miles Davis guitarist John McLaughlin. "We were doing the sort of thing that Chicago and Blood, Sweat And Tears came up with later" Meehan later told an interviewer, "but we were booed off the stage when we did our jazz things."
The combo was dissolved in the mid-1960s, and Meehan concentrated on production work for the next decade. Among his credits were albums by the soul artist PP Arnold, the American singer-songwriter Tim Hardin, the British singer John Howard and Roger Daltrey, of the Who. Meehan was less active in the music business after the 1970s, though he made a rare public appearance in 1999 at a Shadows convention sponsored by Bruce Welch signing autographs for hundreds of fans - but not joining Jet Harris and the others on stage.
He is survived by his wife Sue, and five sons and two daughters.