was the first non-Gibb
brother to become an official member of the Bee Gees
. Born in Queensland, Australia, he was a successful child actor from age seven, who made his first appearance on the big screen in the drama Smiley, in the starring role no less, right alongside Sir Ralph Richardson. This opened up a film career that lasted for three years, until his mother decided that it was too disruptive of his life and education. He attended the Humpybong State School at the same time that Barry
, and Maurice Gibb
did, though they seldom crossed paths in any significant way. He was a piano student before turning to the drums, and his main focus initially was jazz. After leaving school he passed through various bands, most notably Steve and the Board, and it was when he crossed paths with Maurice Gibb that the latter invited him to sit in on one of the trio's sessions in Sydney. He ended up becoming friends with the family and ultimately played as many as a dozen of the Bee Gees
' early Australian sides. By sheer chance, he'd decided to move to England in 1966, just ahead of the Gibb
brothers themselves, and they arranged ahead of time to bring him into the group as their permanent drummer, once they made the move.
Petersen played on the group's first four albums, from Bee Gees 1st through Odessa. Despite the fact that the orchestral accompaniment on their records (especially the early singles) usually overwhelmed everything but the singing, the Gibb brothers regarded him and his playing as essential to their sound and said so publicly. He was an equal partner in the group from early in their period in England, and officially a member when the group cut its debut British LP, Bee Gees 1st, and the single "New York Mining Disaster 1941." He and fellow band member Vince Melouney hit an unexpected bump in their respective career roads when suddenly, in the late summer of 1967, they were threatened with deportation because of an error in the way they had each secured their respective visas. That problem was solved only by the intervention of the group's manager, Robert Stigwood, who mounted a publicity campaign that embarrassed the government into permitting them to remain in England.
All seemed well between him and the band until August of 1969, when, suddenly, he was dismissed. Vince Melouney had already been pushed out of the partnership, and Robin Gibb had exited, leaving the group as Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, and Petersen. They were filming their long-delayed movie project, Cucumber Castle (which took its name from a song on the group's first British album), when Petersen was fired, allegedly for having lost interest in the group and missing recording sessions. In fact, there were personality conflicts, growing out of his refusal to do any acting in the movie, despite his being the one with experience in front of the cameras -- Petersen had even been offered acting roles in films in England while with the group in the late '60s. Additionally, he has claimed that his questioning of Robert Stigwood's potential conflict of interest, as the group's manager as well as their publisher and owner of their record label, led to his dismissal.
As a partner in the group, however, he couldn't be summarily fired as though he were an employee. The result was a series of lawsuits in which, at one point -- as a ploy to get a quicker settlement from Stigwood -- he attempted to block the Bee Gees from using that name, since it was jointly owned by the partners, and he alleged that he had been illegally deprived of his share in the partnership. Petersen remained on good terms with the brothers, especially Robin Gibb, after his initial exit. He managed singer Jonathan Kelly during the early '70s and later returned to Australia, where he eventually became a painter, residing in Sydney. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi