Ritchie Yorke, Music Author and Journalist, Dead at 73

George Socka
Ritchie Yorke in 2015.

Music journalist and author Ritchie Yorke, who served as Billboard’s Canadian editor for a decade in the 70s and went on to pen books on Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, and most recently John and Yoko, died in his native Australia, from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on Feb. 6. He was 73.

Yorke, who was the senior music writer for Brisbane’s Sunday Mail for 20 years until 2007, was in Toronto in 2015 to promote his self-published book, Christ You Know It Ain't Easy: John & Yoko's Battle for World Peace. Yoko wrote the foreword. The cover features the author’s name and the words “friend, historian, music journalist.” Indeed, he was friend to many, including musician Ronnie Hawkins, who resides in Ontario and came to the book launch to see his old pal.

Yorke made Canada his home for almost 20 years, beginning in the late 60s. He began his journalism career in sports but soon switched to music and entertainment in 1962 and landed a weekly column in TV Week, which led to a network of global contacts in the music business. When the Beach Boys landed in Australia for their first tour in 1963, “Yorke was there to greet them and show them the local sights,” his bio reads.

He worked in radio for a spell, before his defiant decision to play “Fingertips Pt. 2” by a 12-year-old blind boy named Little Stevie Wonder led to his firing. He relocated to the U.K. in 1966 where he was appointed the international operations director for Sunshine Records. He then moved to Island Records, where he was promotion manager for the Spencer Davis Group. Davis wrote the foreword to his first book, Lowdown on the English Pop Scene.

A year later, Yorke relocated to Toronto, Canada. He wrote for the Conservative newspaper the Toronto Telegram, before becoming the first full-time rock writer for The Globe and Mail.  He also did double duty as the Canadian editor for Billboard (1970 to 1980), Rolling Stone for a year (1979 to 1980, which included interviews with Keith Richards; and John & Yoko in Canada) and contributed to UK-based music mag NME.

Yorke was instrumental in Lennon’s International Peace Envoy in 1969.  He aided the staging of John and Yoko’s famed Montreal bed-in and their appearance at the famed Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert. Yorke and Hawkins carried the peace posters on a 52,000 mile world tour.

He left his mark in Canada, including helping to legislate the Canadian Content regulations in 1971, the same year he published his book Axes, Chops & Hot Licks on the Canadian music scene. He was also named Canadian Journalist of the Year at the Juno Awards, given by the Canadian Radio Television Commission.
That decade, he put out Into The Music: The Van Morrison Biography, The Led Zeppelin Biography, and The History Of Rock ‘n’ Roll. In the 80s, he returned to Brisbane. He worked as an announcer and producer for ABC Radio for two years until 1989, and wrote for Brisbane’s Sunday Mail until 2007. In 1991, re-issued his Led Zeppelin book under the title Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Biography.

In 2010, he wrote his first piece for Rolling Stone in 40 years,  a review of Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.  

In October of 2015, Yorke and wife Minnie were in Toronto for the book launch, which included a reading and screening of a trailer for a documentary that is in development.

“I was intimately involved with Lennon in the amazing launch of the campaign, convinced as we were about the power of music to change the world. Lennon’s powerful appeal for peace with the current bombing, fighting and killing in the Middle East is as needed today as it was during the Vietnam war,” Yorke said in the press release.

Yorke died at Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital.