Formed in the spring of 1980 by Bill Zorn (b. 18 May 1948, Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA; banjo/vocals), Phil Beer (b. 12 May 1953, Exminster, Devon, England; guitar, mandolin, fiddle, vocals), Paul Downes (b. 2 August 1953, Exeter, Devon, England; guitar, mando-cello, vocals) and John Vickers, though Vickers left by the end of the year. The group added Pete Zorn (b. 29 May 1950, Somerset, Pennsylvania, USA; saxophone, flute, guitar, bass, vocals, percussion) and Steve Knightley (b. 30 April 1954, Southampton, England; guitar/vocals) in his place. Ever since then the same five musicians have been involved with the group. Bill Zorn had previously been a US television chat show host, a member of the New Christy Minstrels and part of the re-formed Kingston Trio. With his brother Pete he had also had a single, ‘Car 67’, reach number 7 in the UK charts in 1978. In 1982 Steve Cricket (drums) was added to the Arizona line-up, and still plays when required. Their recordings include a guest list that reads like a folk music who’s who, with names including Richard Thompson and Dave Mattacks.
All the members are involved with other groups and projects, meaning that the Arizonas can never be regarded as a truly permanent set-up. As well as the Arizona Smoke Revue, Downes had earlier worked with Beer as Downes and Beer. Phil Beer himself has recorded with artists such as the Rolling Stones, Mike Oldfield and Johnny Coppin. Bill Zorn has also worked, since 1985, with Jon Benns (b. Cornwall, England) as the comedy duo Bill And Benns. Benns had earlier toured with Camel and Barclay James Harvest. Pete Zorn has recorded and worked with names such as Barbara Dickson, Elaine Paige and Gerry Rafferty, among others. Latterly, Knightley formed Show Of Hands with Beer, as well as writing music for the theatre. Despite these disparate projects, the central Arizona Smoke Revue unit remain highly regarded on the circuit, their mixture of folk, bluegrass and rock proving perennially popular, and they still undertake extensive tours. Owing to the limitations of some venues, however, they have appeared as anything from a three, four or five-piece group.