Why I wrote this/What inspired me to write this
This topic is something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while and I haven’t seen anyone really talk about classic rockers who went back to ordinary day jobs, that’s until now because I’m doing it.
As you know, fame is incredibly fickle and often short-lived, it’s fleeting, it’s temporary. Flash in the pan. Here today, gone tomorrow. And I’m not just talking about dumb 15 minutes of fame things like reality TV or being a social media influencer/TikTok star. Short lived fame can apply to actors, artists, writers, and musicians too. Have you ever one day just asked yourself “I wonder what happened to this person who was famous ages ago? I haven’t heard about them in the news for a while. Where are they now?” Well, I’ve had those moments too and this inspired me to write about rock stars who left the industry and went back to day jobs.
A few things got me thinking about the topic. The first one was an interview I did a while ago with a Welsh musician named James Kennedy. He was suddenly thrust in the spotlight and got all this fame and attention and then it was all gone. How do you cope? What do you do next? He said that he thinks this new trend of insta-fame is a sad reflection of our current society and it’s just cheap, easy content for media companies to churn out. His advice to those who suddenly find themselves in the spotlight?
“None of this is real. So enjoy the ride and don’t take any of it (let alone yourself), in any way seriously. It will be over real soon.”
Amen! Stay humble! Don’t forget where you came from.
One of my friends sent me a few of Christy Carlson Romano’s (you might know her from Disney Channel shows like Even Stevens and Kim Possible) videos about this topic and I quite like her channel. She’s like an older sister that you never had: great advice, very wise, genuine. Being a Hollywood star herself, some of her videos are about fame and how it doesn’t last forever and you need to be smart with your money. Fame isn’t forever, and neither is money (unless you’re a billionaire, and there’s better chances of monkeys flying out your butt than you being a billionaire, just saying).
Christy Carlson Romano couldn’t be more correct. Especially when you’re a child star or teen idol, your fame is short-lived. The gravy train doesn’t last forever. People’s attention spans are short and people’s tastes change. You either re-invent and change with the times (and even then that doesn’t always work) or you become irrelevant.
While we’re still on the topic of noughties nostalgia, remember that scene in Fairly Odd Parents where Chip Skylark spills the tea on the music industry? That a pop star can end up in debt to their record company because if they pay for anything, it comes out of their royalties and what happens if they don’t make enough in royalties? Make sure to check out my blog posts on musicians who were screwed over by their managers and record labels (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). That series is one of my most popular and if you liked this blog post you’ll like those ones too. Very sad to write, but very interesting research.
One last thing that inspired me to write this blog post was The Kinks song “Celluloid Heroes”. They have their own stories about how they got screwed over by their management, just listen to Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, it’s an entertaining education on the evils behind the scenes in the music industry. By the time we get to the 1972 album Everybody’s in Show-Biz, The Kinks were starting to be ‘past their prime’ as a band, they weren’t the cool thing anymore, in fact the following year, Ray Davies attempted suicide at the White City Festival, depressed that he was going through a divorce and the band weren’t as famous as they once were and he wanted to quit The Kinks. At that time, the hip, cool thing was glam rock: music like T Rex, David Bowie, and Slade and prog rock was rising in popularity. The truth is the hits don’t last forever and you won’t be an A-lister forever.
“Celluloid Heroes” is a beautiful tribute to Old Hollywood and is told from the point of view of a movie buff who idealises Hollywood and the lives of the rich and famous, but the reality is that many movie stars have sad lives and backstories and so many talented people strive for fame, but never make it. Similarly, I think the lyrics can apply to the music industry. Everyone wants to be famous, but the odds are against you that you will achieve fame and even worse odds that your fame will last for life. The fame could end at any point, so have an exit strategy or plan B. The lyrics say it better than I do.
“You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard,
Some that you recognise, some that you’ve hardly even heard of.
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.
Everybody’s a dreamer and everybody’s a star
And everybody’s in show biz, it doesn’t matter who you are.
And those who are successful,– “Celluloid Heroes” by The Kinks
Be always on your guard,
Success walks hand in hand with failure
Along Hollywood Boulevard.”
Now I’m no music industry expert, I’ve never worked in it. I’m not a musician, but I have spoken to a bunch of musicians and read a bit about the less sexy behind the scenes industry/business stuff. The million-dollar question is “Is it harder to be a musician in the classic rock era or now that we have the internet?” There is no real definitive answer. There are many things that were more difficult in the 60s like the contracts being worse and there being no internet so you couldn’t find information as easily and you were more limited in your reach as a musician unless you had a big label behind you. But there are challenges in the industry today like streaming services not paying artists enough money, piracy of music thanks to the internet, and of course the pandemic making it hard to tour.
One thing remains the same no matter what year it is, fame doesn’t last forever and it’s imperative to be smart with your money – make it last and make the most of it.
When doing research, I found a lot of musicians that ended up leaving the music industry and returning to day jobs. And it’s sad because you’d think if they sold a lot of records, why would they have to go back to working a day job? Shouldn’t they be able to live off their royalties? It’s not that simple. And if you don’t have any songwriting credits, no royalties. Famously, Jack Ely, who sang on The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” supported performer’s rights and radio stations not just paying royalties to the songwriters, but also the performers. He told The Oregonian, “There are a lot of one-hit wonders out there just like me who deserve compensation when their recorded performances are played and stations get ad revenue from it.” When I read Roger Daltrey’s autobiography, he said it was easy for Pete Townshend to say no to a tour because he was the main songwriter for the band, but Roger only wrote one song that wasn’t a hit and John and Keith only wrote a couple songs, but they spent a lot of money and they were all desperate to tour because they needed the money.
There are many challenges for musicians who leave the industry (either because they want to or because they’re not making money anymore) and want to work in another field. If you’ve worked as an entertainer all your life, that’s all you know. A lot of classic rockers didn’t even graduate from secondary school, and some of them didn’t have any work experience before becoming a musician, or if they had any, it was for a very short time. Retraining and finding a job takes time. And it’s there’s that struggle with finding a job: I need a job, but I need experience to get that job, but how do I get experience? I need to get a job in order to get experience. It’s a vicious cycle!
How I’m going to organise this information is do a two part blog post. This first part is about A-list musicians from the classic rock era who went back to day jobs. And what I mean by A-list is that these musicians were all once at the top of their game: all over TV, newspapers, and magazines, their songs did well on the charts and were all over the radio, and they toured the world. Chances are, you know all or at least most of these musicians and have heard their music before. The second part will be one-hit wonders and musicians with a cult following. So stay tuned for that!
Classic Rockers Who Went Back to Day Jobs: The A-Listers
Without further ado, the musicians! First, I’ll tell you their backstory, then their rise to fame, and finally what they did after the fame. Some of them returned to music and found some newfound popularity and interest, but others didn’t. In each section, you’ll see the musician’s name, in parentheses what they were known for, and after that what their job after music was. More or less this list is in order of years the musicians were famous so the first musicians listed will have started their careers in the 50s, and then we move onto the early 60s, mid-late 60s, and then the last two on this list are from the 70s. If there are multiple musicians from the same band, they’ll be listed together. Some musicians were hard to find post-fame information about and I’ll try my best to find what became of them, but to respect their privacy, only using any information that is publicly available and easy enough to find with a Google search.
Johnnie Johnson (pianist in Chuck Berry’s band) – Bus Driver
Johnnie Johnson was born in West Virginia in 1924. He started playing piano when he was only 4 years old and was completely self-taught. He served in the Marine Corps and was in Bobby Troup’s all-serviceman jazz orchestra before he was in Chuck Berry’s band. After he left the Marines, he moved around to various big cities in the Midwest: Detroit, then Chicago, and finally St Louis, where he started a trio and met a pre-fame Chuck Berry who he chose as a replacement for saxophonist Alvin Bennett, who had a stroke. At first, he wasn’t so sure about Chuck Berry because he didn’t have much experience as a musician at that time and was struggling, but he was incredible at showmanship and became the star of the show. In 1955, they went to Chicago to record songs for Chess Records and one of them was the hit “Maybellene”, which reached #1 on the R&B charts and #5 on the Hot 100.
Johnnie Johnson had an important role in other Chuck Berry hits like “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Little Queenie”, and “Carol”. He was also the inspiration behind “Johnny B. Goode”. He went on to be known as one of rock and roll’s best sidemen. However, he wasn’t always given credit (which was typical in those days) and he sued Chuck Berry for royalties and songwriting credits. He didn’t just work with Chuck Berry, but also with Albert King, being the leader of the rhythm section of his band.
He had a drinking problem, but he finally quit drinking in 1991 after nearly suffering a stroke while performing with Eric Clapton.
He was a part of the St Louis blues scene, but playing music didn’t quite pay the bills so he had to get a job as a bus driver. When the movie Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll came out in 1987, it revitalised Johnnie Johnson’s career and he finally got the recognition he deserved.
Keith Richards became good friends with him. He had this to say about him in an interview with Rolling Stone: “Actually, it was Johnnie’s band to start with. Chuck superimposed himself on top. And Johnnie, being such an easy-going guy, was like, ‘Yeah, he’s the frontman now.’ He’d take it like that. In a way, Johnnie reminded me a lot of [Stones pianist] Ian Stewart. It was Ian who pointed Johnnie out to me, because he was a Johnnie Johnson freak. So it all comes around.”
Johnnie Johnson died in 2005 at the age of 80.
Charles Connor (drummer in Little Richard’s band) – Security Guard
Another rock and roll sideman is in this list. He was born in New Orleans in 1935 to a Dominican father and a mother from Louisiana. He grew up around calypso and jazz music, which was a big influence for him. He started playing drums when he was 5 and when he was 15, he started playing professionally with multiple blues musicians from New Orleans. At 18, he joined Little Richard’s band, The Upsetters, when he was a struggling broke musician. He was so broke that he had to pawn his drum kit and was evicted from the hotel he was living in. He travelled with him from Nashville to Macon.
Like The Doors, they had no bass player and so Little Richard got Charles Connor to thump really hard on the bass drum for that effect. Little Richard’s “a-wop bop-a loo-mop, a-lop bam-boom” intro for “Tutti Frutti” was inspired by Charles Connor’s drumming. He drummed on his hits like “Lucille”, “Keep-A-Knockin'”, and “Ooh! My Soul”. Charles Connor didn’t just work with Little Richard, he also worked with James Brown, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, The Coasters, Big Joe Turner, Larry Williams, Don Covay, George Lightfoot, and Dee Clark.
His work has been praised by famous musicians. John Bonham was a famous fan of his work and his drumming on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” was inspired by Charles Connor’s drumming. James Brown said that his drumming was the “first to put funk into the rhythm”.
When the work slowed down and he wasn’t making money from his music, he worked as a security guard at LA radio station KROQ.
Charles Connor died in 2021 at the age of 86.
Jerry Butler (member of The Impressions and solo artist) – Politician
Jerry Butler was one of many black musicians born in the south who moved up north during the Great Migration. His family moved to Chicago when he was 3 and he grew up in the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Curtis Mayfield was his neighbour and friend and the two of them grew up singing in a church choir. He had a little brother named Billy who also made music, his song “The Right Track” is popular in the Northern Soul scene.
Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield joined a gospel group of southern transplants called The Roosters and they ended up becoming The Impressions. They had an early success in 1958 with “For Your Precious Love”, written by Jerry Butler and brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks from Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a top 20 hit and reached #3 on the R&B charts. At that time, Curtis Mayfield was the group’s guitarist, but he later became their lead singer and songwriter.
It wasn’t long until Jerry Butler decided to go solo and he became known as The Iceman. He had multiple hits in the 60s like “He Will Break Your Heart”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, and “Only The Strong Survive”.
While he never gave up performing, he became a politician in 1985, serving as a Commissioner for Cook County, Illinois (the county Chicago is in). He retired from politics in 2018.
Jet Harris (bassist of The Shadows) – Various Jobs
The Shadows were Britain’s biggest instrumental rock band and were also Cliff Richard’s backing band, so that’s a pretty big deal. For the Americans not in the know, The Shadows were to Britain what The Ventures were to America. Both great groups!
Jet Harris was born Terence Harris in London to a working class family in 1939 and got his nickname, Jet, because he was a good sprinter. The bass wasn’t his first instrument, but rather it was the clarinet. He got into jazz music as a teenager and made his own double bass so he could play in a jazz band. Later, he bought a proper bass, and then when he joined Tony Crombie and the Rockets he got a Framus bass guitar and was one of Britain’s first bass guitarists, paving the way for greats to come: Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, John Paul Jones, Chris Squire, Geezer Butler, and many more in British rock and roll! He was also the first British bassist to play a Fender bass.
The Shadows were originally known as The Drifters and early Cliff Richard singles were credited to Cliff Richard and The Drifters. What they didn’t know at first was there were an American group with that name so they changed their name to The Shadows after being sued by the American Drifters when they tried to release their music in America (turns out they had no success in America, but Americans recognise “Apache” once they hear it). At first, they had no bass player. Cliff and The Drifters were going places and were going to be on Oh Boy! (basically the 50s Top of the Pops) and they needed a better guitarist so they hired Hank Marvin, a young, skilled guitarist who looked sort of like Buddy Holly with his glasses. Jet Harris joined the band in 1959 and actually was the one who named the band.
Jet Harris played with the Shadows in their peak years from 1959 to 1962. He appeared in the film The Young Ones, starring Cliff Richard and played on hit songs like: “Apache”, “Man of Mystery”, “F.B.I.”, “Kon-Tiki”, “Wonderful Land”, and “Guitar Tango”. Below, you can see Jet Harris with The Shadows performing their iconic instrumental, “Apache”, which famously went on to be sampled in hip-hop. Check out Cliff Richard imitating Hank Marvin! You can hear his scream on Cliff Richard’s version of “Do You Wanna Dance?”. The Shadows were incredibly successful and pretty much every British Invasion musician was inspired by Cliff and The Shadows. They’re very important in British rock and roll history.
Sadly, Jet Harris had drinking problems and depression and that led to arguments with the band and so he joined forces with former Shadows drummer Tony Meehan, who left the previous year to do session work for Joe Meek (Meek was basically Britain’s Phil Spector, for better or worse). Harris’ drinking problems were attributed to finding out Cliff Richard had an affair with his wife, Carol. Funny enough, Cliff Richard didn’t really have any other serious relationships after that and is a lifelong bachelor. There are rumours that he is gay, but he says that’s not true and that those rumours were hurtful to him.
At first, his solo career and work with Tony Meehan was going well. His version of “Besame Mucho” reached the top 30 and his cover of “The Main Theme from The Man With The Golden Arm” was a top 20 hit. His work with Tony Meehan did even better with “Diamonds” topping the charts in January 1963 and “Scarlet O’Hara” reaching #2 and “Applejack” reaching #4 that same year. The two had cameos in the British musical film, Just For Fun, which had appearances by both American and British musicians like Bobby Vee, The Crickets, Freddy Cannon, Johnny Tillotson, Ketty Lester, Joe Brown, Kenny Lynch, Clodagh Rodgers, Louise Cordet, Lyn Cornell, The Tornados, The Springfields, Jimmy Powell, The Tremeloes, Sounds Incorporated, and The Vernons Girls.
After those few successes in 1963, he never got another hit. This could be attributed to the British Invasion and beat music explosion of the mid 60s, which pretty much ended a lot of musicians’ careers. The 60s was a decade of change. But another big reason his career flopped after that was his drunkenness and violent behaviour was getting worse and affecting his professional relationship with Meehan and he got into a car accident in September 1963, just months before the 60s were about to begin culturally. He tried to start his own band and even almost joined The Jeff Beck Group, but both fell through.
At the height of his fame in 1963, Jet Harris made an astonishing £2,000 a week. Music historian and writer Russell Clarke of Rock ‘n’ Roll Route Master put it well, “he was a one in a million guy who blew it. With drink and bad luck. But mainly drink.” That amount of money can disappear as quickly as you snap your fingers when you have an out of control drinking problem and that was the case for Jet Harris. It didn’t help that things were also going wrong in his personal life and he was having legal problems, getting in trouble for drink driving and once pointing an unloaded shotgun at a group of people he was drunkenly arguing with.
Within 3 years, he went from making £2,000 a week to making a paltry £15 a week working at a pub in Cheltenham. He would get royalty cheques, but those were spent on booze and cigarettes. He worked other odd jobs like planting potatoes, working on a fishing boat, working as a hospital porter, bus conductor, bricklayer, training dogs, and selling cockles (a type of mollusc) on a beach in Jersey. By 1988, he was bankrupt.
In 1996, he went sober and stayed that way. By that time, the music of the 50s and 60s was considered golden oldies and it was cool again and there were revivals in popularity thanks to young music fans and older fans who are still passionate about the music of their youth. He started performing again and even appeared on stage a couple times with Cliff Richard and toured with Marty Wilde on his 50th Anniversary tour in 2007. He received a Fender Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 for his work popularising the bass guitar in the UK and in 2010, he was appointed MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). Sadly, by this point he was battling cancer.
Jet Harris died in 2011 at the age of 71.
Darlene Love (lead singer of The Blossoms and session vocalist) – Maid
Darlene Love is best known for her recordings for Phil Spector and working as a backup vocalist. You may not know her name, but you’ve heard her voice before. She was born Darlene Wright in 1941 in LA. Her father was a reverend and like many other black American musicians, she grew up with gospel music and sang in church. Choir director Cora Martin-Moore saw a lot of talent in Darlene at such a young age and she encouraged her to perform at the Music Mart. When she was a teenager, she joined The Blossoms and she became their lead singer. Before the group met Phil Spector, they sang backing vocals for Sam Cooke, notably on his 1959 hit “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha”.
In 1962, Phil Spector first hired The Blossoms to sing on a record for The Crystals, a New York based group that couldn’t make it to LA to record. Phil Spector had a practise of crediting songs to different musicians, and he did this a lot to Darlene Love. He also gave her the stage name Darlene Love. The Blossoms recorded the Gene Pitney composition “He’s a Rebel” and it was credited to The Crystals. The Crystals had never even heard it before and yet they got the credit for it, even though that was Darlene Love’s vocals. After that, she signed a record deal with Spector’s Philles label and recorded another song that she thought would be credited to her, “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”, but that song ended up once again being credited to The Crystals. She sang backing vocals on a lot of hits such as The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and “Baby I Love You”, Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “The Monster Mash”, Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”, The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron”, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans’ “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, Johnny Rivers’ “Poor Side of Town”, and Cheech & Chong’s “Basketball Jones”. The Blossoms also appeared on Shindig! weekly.
Her biggest hit that she actually got credit for was the Barry-Greenwich Christmas song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”, which reached the top 20 in 1963 and was part of the famous Christmas compilation, A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector – Christmas songs with the Wall of Sound.
In the 70s, Darlene Love took a break from music to raise a family. She was divorced and broke, music wasn’t quite paying the bills so she worked as a maid in Beverly Hills, but it was unfulfilling work. One day at work, she heard “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and realised that she needed to go back to singing and that she was appreciated. In 1986, David Letterman invited her on his Christmas show to sing that famous song. Years later, she sued Phil Spector for unpaid royalties and was awarded $250k. Then she published an autobiography My Name is Love. In 2013, she appeared in the Oscar winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, which told the stories of not only Darlene Love, but many other backup vocalists like Merry Clayton, Clydie King, Lynn Mabry, Janice Pendarvis, Tata Vega, and many more!
Nedra Talley (member of The Ronettes) – Broadcaster, Business Owner/Real Estate Investor
Nedra Talley is the cousin of Ronnie and Estelle Bennett and one of the Ronettes. She was born in New York City to a Black and Native American mother and a Puerto Rican father. The three are also ⅛ Chinese. The three would sing together at family gatherings at their grandmother’s house. Their cousin, Elaine (who would fill in for Ronnie at concerts when Phil Spector forbid her from touring), would join in too. Their biggest inspiration was Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, a mixed group made up of black and Puerto Rican singers. As teenagers, they would sing at amateur shows at The Apollo in Harlem and would sing at bar mitzvahs and dances. In the early 60s, they danced at The Peppermint Lounge, but when they were mistaken for singers Ronnie stole the show with her singing and they became a regular act there. The Ronettes got a record deal with Colpix, but none of their singles released through them got anywhere and they grew frustrated and so Estelle contacted Phil Spector and said they’d like to audition for him. Spector had seen them perform before at The Brooklyn Fox and after hearing them cover Frankie Lymon’s “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” he signed them straight away.
Like with Darlene Love, Phil Spector also had The Ronettes record songs and then credit them to another group. He credited their versions of “The Twist”, “The Wah-Watusi”, “Mashed Potato Time”, and “Hot Pastrami” to The Crystals. In August 1963, their first hit “Be My Baby” was released and it reached #2 on the Billboard charts and #1 on the Cashbox charts. That song was Cher’s first ever recording, with her singing backing vocals for that song and a bunch of other Ronettes songs. At just 17 years old, Nedra became a superstar as part of the Ronettes and it wasn’t long until she was touring overseas. A lot of success at a young age. The group stood out because of their big hair and unique looks.
The Ronettes also contributed to Phil Spector’s Christmas album with their versions of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, “Frosty The Snowman”, and “Sleigh Ride”. The album was released the day of the Kennedy assassination and wasn’t a success until years after the fact when it was re-released through The Beatles’ Apple Records in 1972. Coincidentally, The Ronettes were in Dallas when JFK was assassinated. Nedra Talley later said The Ronettes were supposed to meet him and were waiting to meet him in the hotel they were staying at.
The Ronettes managed to stay successful even through the British Invasion, which shook up the music scene in 1964 and 1965, what a feat! Their UK tour was a success and they got to know The Beatles (who they would tour with on their last American tour in 1966) and The Stones. However, Phil Spector sabotaged the group and especially his lover, Ronnie, because he didn’t want her becoming more successful than him (how toxic!). He would have them record songs that could have been hits, but didn’t release them. Ronnie was the clear favourite in the group and it hurt both Estelle and Nedra. Nedra became disillusioned with show business and found it wasn’t right for her because she’s family-oriented.
In 1967, The Ronettes broke up after their single “I Can Hear Music” flopped. The three girls ended up going their separate ways and were in relationships. Nedra Talley married her Scottish-born boyfriend, Scott Ross, an assistant music director for (what was then a rock station) WINS in New York. When she got into a relationship with Ross, she became a born-again Christian. Ross wasn’t religious at that time, but he wanted to find meaning in his life.
She wanted to make music inspired by her faith, but the late 60s was the height of the hippie subculture and record companies didn’t find Christian music marketable. She moved to Maryland and then to Virginia to work with televangelist Pat Robertson. While living in Virginia, the interracial couple experienced prejudice from the people around them.
She did release some Christian music in the 70s, but didn’t release music again after that. She has been interviewed on his show The 700 Club. There’s an interview of the couple for their 50th wedding anniversary where they talk about their born again Christian journey:
If you want to hear a more music-focused interview, she did one in 2016 with DJ Arnie Amber.
Nedra Talley had four children with her husband, Scott. She worked as a businesswoman and investor, opening restaurants and investing in real estate. Of her life, she said “It’s wonderful. I love being a wife. I love being a mother and being a grandmother.” She describes her life as “blessed.”
However, there was a years long legal battle with Phil Spector over unpaid royalties. In the end, Spector had to pay them $1.5 million in royalties. When the Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, she went and was happy that her 80 year old mother could see her and her cousins inducted. Keith Richards inducted them.
Don’t just take it from me, Brian Wilson famously said he always started his day with The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, which he called the best pop song ever. His composition, “Don’t Worry Baby” was inspired by “Be My Baby”.
Note: Neither I nor this post endorse her religious views. All I am doing is stating the facts.
Pete Birrell, Roy Crewdson, and Derek Quinn (members of Freddie and the Dreamers) – Chauffeur, Bar Owner, and Distribution respectively
Freddie and the Dreamers were a beat group from Manchester (not Liverpool, contrary to popular belief and them being lumped in with Merseybeat groups). They didn’t just have success in the UK, but also in the US, where their song “I’m Telling You Now” topped the charts. The band’s leader was 5’4″ Freddie Garrity, who was 27-28 when the band were at their peak in 1963-1964, far from being a spring chicken, but he would claim to be 4 years younger because it would make him and the band more marketable, a common practice in those days.
What made Freddie and the Dreamers stand out among the British Invasion groups was that they would do choreographed dances like “The Freddie”. Freddie Garrity said that his group were the “first group to leap around and do comedy on stage”. He understood that image was important too. It’s not just about the sound, but having a distinct and marketable style and image. He worked a lot of different day jobs before the fame and got fired from them because he would skip work to work on music related things: getting bookings, auditioning, and writing songs and playing gigs.
While they weren’t the first to do that sort of dance, The Shadows had their own little walk they’d do (which glam rock bands like Mud and Showaddywaddy would copy), Freddie and The Dreamers’ dance was a lot more camp.
In 1963, the band got a record deal and while they weren’t the strongest band musically, their dances made them memorable and sold the records. They amassed quite a few hits in just a couple years with “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody” (which was inspired by The Beatles’ performance of the song at the Cavern Club), “I’m Telling You Now” (topped the charts in America), “You Were Made For Me”, and “I Understand (Just How You Feel)” reaching the top 5 in their home country. The band appeared in four movies: What a Crazy World, Just For You, Cuckoo Patrol, and Every Day’s a Holiday.
The 60s was a dynamic decade musically and so Freddie and the Dreamers’ fame was short-lived as the world moved onto blues rock and psychedelic rock so the musicians moved on. Freddie Garrity and Pete Birrell appeared in a kids’ TV show on ITV called Little Big Time. In the 70s the group reunited, but some of the band members went back to day jobs. Bassist Pete Birrell worked as a taxi driver and later as the chauffeur to the Lord Mayor of Manchester. Rhythm guitarist Roy Crewdson owns a British pub called Dreamers Bar in Tenerife. Lead guitarist Derek Quinn worked in distribution in Cheshire, but died of COVID in 2020.
Chris Curtis (drummer of The Searchers) – Inland Revenue
The Beatles weren’t the only band to come out of Liverpool in the 60s. There were other groups like Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Searchers who had quite a bit of fame in the 60s. Like The Beatles, The Searchers formed in the late 50s as a skiffle group. In the 50s in the UK, all the aspiring rock stars loved skiffle, which was an American folk music genre that incorporates blues and jazz. Skiffle is an important part of British rock history and wasn’t just important to the British Invasion, but also British blues rock, and the second British folk revival. Funny enough, skiffle found more appreciation across the pond than back home in the US.
In 1960, Chris Curtis (born Christopher Crummey in Lancashire) joined the band that would become The Searchers. He was friends with Mike Prendergast, better known as Mike Pender. Like a lot of Liverpool groups, they played in clubs like The Cavern and The Iron Door. Like The Beatles, they also had a residency at the famous Star-Club in Hamburg. In 1963, they signed to Pye Records and that same year their debut single, a cover of The Drifters’ “Sweets For My Sweet” reached #1 in the UK, but it didn’t go anywhere in the US, a little early for the British Invasion. What an accomplishment though, your first single reaching #1. Their follow-up, a cover of Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s” only reached #48, but The Searchers came back after that with two big hits “Sugar and Spice” (#2 UK) and a cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “Needles and Pins” (#1 UK). The latter was a big hit in the US, reaching the top 20, but it wasn’t their biggest hit in the US. Like The Beatles, they released some of their songs translated into German.
1964 was a big year for the band with multiple hits. Their version of The Orions’ “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” reached #1 in the UK and went to the top 20 in the US. Their versions of “Someday We’re Gonna Love Again” and “When You Walk in the Room” (another Jackie DeShannon cover) did very well in the UK too, but their biggest success in America was a cover of The Clovers’ “Love Potion No. 9”, which peaked at #3. From there, they had some hits, but not nearly the same level of success.
Drummer Chris Curtis didn’t just drum, but also contributed vocals and played other percussion instruments like the tom-toms, castanets, bongos, and Spanish bells. Interestingly enough, his first musical instrument was the violin and he didn’t learn to play drums until his father bought him a drum set as a teenager. He also wrote a lot of the band’s original songs. His personality was quite blunt and that would upset some people around him.
The band were good at harmonies and would take turns singing lead vocals so they could do longer sets than other bands, but that can take a toll on a musician. Chris would use drugs to stay awake and would then take sleeping pills and that made him unreliable and difficult to work with. Chris left the band in 1966 after touring Asia and Australia with The Rolling Stones. At that time, he was abusing drugs and his drug problems were so bad his bandmates would flush his drugs down the toilet. He recorded a couple solo songs, but they didn’t go anywhere.
In 1967, he was in Roundabout, the band that would become Deep Purple. He and Jon Lord formed the group together and they had an ever changing lineup, hence the name Roundabout. Later, Ritchie Blackmore (who previously was a session guitarist for Joe Meek) joined. The trio weren’t going anywhere because of Chris’ erratic behaviour and so Curtis was sacked. By this point, he was using LSD. However, Chris clearly had good taste and inspired Deep Purple to cover Joe South’s “Hush” because he played that on repeat. Just like he encouraged The Searchers to do “Love Potion No. 9”, he saw the vinyl in Germany, played it and liked what he heard.
In 1969, he got a government job working for Inland Revenue and stayed there for 19 years before retiring early due to a chronic illness. He still liked to sing in church and he was a devout Catholic. Churchgoers didn’t know that when he was performing they were in the presence of a British Invasion rock legend. He rarely gave interviews, but you can read ones he did with Spencer Leigh in 1998 and 2003.
Chris Curtis died in 2005 at the age of 63.
Pete Quaife (bassist of The Kinks) – Cartoonist/Artist
Pete Quaife was only in the music industry for less than five years, but he was part of one of the biggest British Invasion bands and that’s what makes him a legend. He was born in Tavistock to a single mother who had an American serviceman’s baby and left London so she could give birth in peace and avoid gossip, but Pete didn’t know he was half American until he signed a record deal and needed his bio dad’s signature (and he found out his stepfather, Stanley Quaife wasn’t his real dad) because he was under 21.
Pete Quaife grew up in Muswell Hill in North London, the same neighbourhood as the Davies brothers. He would get into a bunch of accidents as a kid and that’s how he started playing guitar, as therapy after impaling his hand on a spike while playing in dump. His family supported his interest in music. One of the first songs he learnt to play on guitar was Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”. Pete loved going to concerts and he saw Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent live, two weeks before they got into a car accident and Eddie Cochran died at 21 and Gene Vincent was seriously injured.
Pete Quaife and Ray Davies were classmates at William Grimshaw School, but they didn’t see much of each other and it wasn’t until they were in a class together that a teacher asked who could play guitar and both of them said they could and so that inspired Pete to start a group. Ray was very shy and all that his classmates knew of him was he was good at sports. Various people were in the group before settling on a lineup, but one of the most notable who almost was a Kink was Rod Stewart, also a William Grimshaw alumnus and Muswell Hill native. Later, Ray suggested his younger brother, Dave join the group because he’s good at guitar.
Three guitarists was too much for a band and they needed a bass player so the story goes that they decided that whoever picked the shortest stick was going to be the bassist. Pete Quaife ended up becoming The Kinks bassist, but he said it wasn’t by choice. Obviously, Ray would favour his brother and Pete said he was given an ultimatum so he played bass and that was that. Ray is known for being a control freak so Pete wouldn’t get to have any say in songwriting or anything – basically treated as a hired hand/session musician. Pete though made the best of it and he was the first bass player in the UK to own a Rickenbacker bass. After Pete Quaife bought one, The Who’s John Entwistle bought the second one, and future Yes bassist Chris Squire bought the third one in the music shop since he worked there. When asked who his favourite bassists were, John Entwistle, often considered the best bassist of all time, said that Pete Quaife was his favourite because he “literally drove The Kinks along”.
Pete Quaife overall had a great reputation and was considered the nicest of The Kinks, great sense of humour, could tell a tall tale at a party, basically the glue that held the band together, and that eventually took a toll on him and he left The Kinks… Twice! The Kinks could have been bigger than The Rolling Stones and become the second biggest, only behind The Beatles. However, as brilliant as Ray is as a songwriter, the band were great at sabotaging themselves and to be fair to them, they got screwed over by their managers and label.
To quickly sum up The Kinks’ history in the 60s, they got signed and their first two singles flopped. Suddenly, they were on top of the world with “You Really Got Me” at #1, and when they were asked to repeat that success, Ray was like ‘you wanna see me do it again?’ and “All Day and All of the Night” reached #2. Then they got another #1 with “Tired of Waiting For You” and they had a string of hits in the UK after that. These guys weren’t playing around. Next thing they know, they’re touring Australia and then the US, months after these successes. And then shit meets fan. Just before their American tour at a concert in Cardiff, Mick Avory throws a cymbal at Dave Davies, knocking him out. And their American tour ended in disaster, with them being banned from the America – the only band to ever be banned from America. It’s said that their behaviour was so wild, they made The Rolling Stones look tame.
With a touring ban, the hits dried up and it was hard to promote their songs abroad, even though artistically they were getting better. They got one last #1 with “Sunny Afternoon”, “Waterloo Sunset” reached #2, and “Death of a Clown” reached #3. Chart wise, things were going alright in Europe, but the fighting continued behind the scenes. Pete Quaife got into an accident in 1966 and left the band but later came back – he was relieved to have left and liked the peace and quiet. He later described the band as being like the WWF behind closed doors. He was around for Something Else, and the band’s masterpiece and fan favourite The Village Green Preservation Society – released on the same day as The Beatles’ White Album and therefore flopped. Pete Quaife loved the album, but he had enough of the music industry and left the band in 1969, months before The Kinks would play their first US tour in 4 years. He formed a group called Mapleoak, then left and moved to Denmark and then Canada for 20 years before returning to Denmark. He never worked in the music industry again on his own volition, but he wasn’t shy about being a former member of The Kinks. He played on stage with The Kinks at one concert in Toronto in the early 80s and would speak at Kinks fan conventions and appeared with the Kast Off Kinks. Fans loved Pete Quaife and fans and The Kinks themselves even said the band were not the same after Pete’s departure.
At the end of this interview he did for a Canadian TV programme he called show business “the biggest drug of them all” and “once it does get you, you’re hooked”. He was happy with his normal life as an artist in Canada, but he did want to return to music, but for whatever reason it never happened.
Besides rock and roll, Pete Quaife’s other big passion was art. Throughout secondary school, he loved drawing and painting. Before The Kinks made it big, Pete Quaife went to art school and then dropped out because he found it too restrictive and then he worked at a fashion magazine. And that is how he got into mod fashion, scooters, and acting flamboyantly – imitating his gay coworkers’ mannerisms. For decades, he drew comics and cartoons and painted and lived a happy, private life in Canada and Denmark – even changing his last name back to Kinnes. He didn’t give up on music though (but he didn’t do it professionally anymore), he taught guitar and played in a church band. He also loved astronomy and astrophotography. You can see some of his art on this Facebook page.
Pete Quaife died in 2010 at the age of 66 after an over decade long struggle with kidney problems.
Mary & Betty Weiss and Marge Ganser (members of The Shangri-Las) – Various Jobs
Just like The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las were a sibling group that were on top of the world for a brief period of time in the 60s and then they lost it all. The 60s was a big decade for girl groups. Girl groups were everywhere, but sadly it was one of the few ways a woman could make it in rock and roll. Wasn’t until a little later that women were taken more seriously as singer-songwriters and musicians. You might recognise the “Oh no” from “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)” from a TikTok meme.
The Shangri-Las were made up of two pairs of sisters from Queens: Mary & Betty Weiss and twins Marge & Mary Ann Ganser and they got a record deal as teenagers (15-17 years old) who were still in secondary school, however it was a bad record deal and the people at their record label had mob connections (in the linked video Michael Franzese, son of Sonny Franzese, mentions The Shangri-Las in particular as one of the artists signed to Kama Sutra/Buddah Records. Sonny Franzese ended up becoming a partner in the Shangri-Las record label). A recipe for being ripped off and if you try to fight it, well you don’t wanna know what’ll happen. I think that may play a role in why some of the Shangri-Las decided to live a private life and not talk about what happened – just a theory. Stay away from the Mafia, that’s what I learnt from all those mafia movies. The Shangri-Las opened for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and many other big acts from the 60s.
Anyway, back to The Shangri-Las’ origins. The girls were classmates in secondary school and they’d sing at talent shows and dances. One day in 1964, Artie Ripp noticed them and offered them a record deal. The girls all being minors, they had to have their parents sign the record deal. The group didn’t have a name at first, but they settled on The Shangri-Las after a restaurant. That summer they got a hit with “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”. Very much like The Kinks and The Ronettes, the rise to stardom was quick and just like both of those groups, their first few singles went nowhere and then they had a big hit and they became A-listers. They also quickly followed up with other hits like the famous teen tragedy song “Leader of the Pack” (#1 US), “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” (#18 US), and “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” (#6 US).
The Shangri-Las stood out from other girl groups because of their bad girl image, they were working class girls with an edge and a tough girl attitude and their clothes weren’t girly or frilly. The Shangri-Las were a big inspiration to female rock stars of the 70s and beyond because of their uniqueness and image. They really paved the way.
The Shangri-Las fame did not last forever. The 60s being an ever changing decade, the music styles changed and by the late 60s the music got bluesier, more psychedelic, and heavier. Women in rock and roll started to write their own songs and play their own instruments and the old girl group format wasn’t as “cool” anymore. Similar to The Ronettes, by 1966 the hits dried up and it wasn’t long until the group broke up. In the case of The Shangri-Las, they all essentially dropped off the face of the earth. Not all the members stayed consistently in the group, like Betty left the group when she had a daughter (the other Shangri-Las were childfree) and Marge and Mary Ann Ganser left at different points.
Sadly, they got almost no royalties despite selling millions of records. You’d think that when you sell millions of records, you’d be set for life, but that just wasn’t the case because of crappy record deals. Even A-list musicians who went on to have decades long careers and stayed relevant the entire time had to continue touring and some didn’t have that luxury rock star lifestyle until well into their careers. Reality is very different from the fantasy sold in magazines.
After The Shangri-Las, Mary, Betty, and Marge all got day jobs. Mary is the most public of the group and she has actually given a few interviews in the 2000s, and there’s another good interview in the Los Angeles Times. She lived in San Francisco at the height of the hippie counterculture and later went back home to New York, where she worked as a secretary for an architectural firm and later a better job at a commercial furniture dealership, where she worked as the chief purchasing agent and even ran the place. She also did other interior design jobs. She is the only Shangri-La who came back to music, releasing an album called Dangerous Game in 2007. Her Facebook was last updated in 2016 (unless there are private posts that are friends only), so there’s no information about what she’s been up to since.
Betty got married and worked multiple jobs, but not many details are known, as she wanted to stay out of the spotlight. Marge went back to education, got married, worked for NYNEX (a phone company), and settled in Valley Stream, a village that borders Queens.
The surviving members of the group had plans to reunite in 1977 and even recorded music, but they weren’t happy with the result. They performed at CBGB too. The timing also wasn’t great for them because they reunited during the height of the disco era and record labels wanted them to record disco music, but they weren’t interested in that, they found that too trendy and they wanted to be more punk.
If you thought getting screwed over by your record label was bad enough, The Shangri-Las got screwed over again. In the 80s, a fake Shangri-Las group with suspiciously young looking singers toured, and on top of that they claimed to be the Real McCoys. A man named Dick Fox claimed to have rights to the group’s name and put together this bogus group. The Shangri-Las, like a lot of other 60s groups (many of them black R&B groups) didn’t necessarily have the right to their group names, so these fake band scams happened. The Shangri-Las sued Dick Fox. In 1989 they performed once at Palisades Park in New Jersey.
Simply put, The Shangri-Las deserved better.
Mary Ann Ganser died in 1970 at the age of 22. She struggled with drug addiction and died of an overdose.
Marge Ganser died in 1996 at the age of 48. She had breast cancer.
If you want more bio information on The Shangri-Las, this article by John Grecco is excellent and very comprehensive.
Hugh Grundy (drummer of The Zombies) – Auto Sales, Horse Transport, Driver for the RAF
The Zombies were another big British Invasion group. Not the most prolific, as they released only two studio albums, but those two albums, Begin Here and Odessey and Oracle, are excellent albums. The latter in my opinion is one of the best albums of 1968 and that was a pretty good year for albums.
The Zombies were formed in St Albans, a cathedral city 20 miles away from Central London, by schoolboys Rod Argent, Paul Atkinson, and Hugh Grundy. Rod Argent’s cousin, Jim Rodford, helped the band out. The members were all in school and some of them sang in church, which explains why their harmonies are so good. They originally were called The Mustangs, but since there were a lot of bands with that name they needed a new name and so Paul Arnold suggested The Zombies, however he left the band to study medicine before they became famous, so he was replaced with Chris White.
The Zombies got their break, winning a beat group competition and getting signed to Decca Records. In 1964, they released their debut single and arguably, biggest hit, “She’s Not There”. Not long after that, they toured the US. They had a follow up hit with “Tell Her No” in 1965 and continued recording songs in 1965 and 1966, but they had no chart success and therefore their record label didn’t release an album with those songs on it.
In 1967, The Zombies were fed up with Decca and signed to CBS Records. Then they recorded Odessey and Oracle at Abbey Road Studios. Now considered a masterpiece and their best work, it was initially a flop when it was released and at this point The Zombies weren’t getting gigs, so they broke up. However, “Time of the Season” was a big hit in the US, reaching #3 over there, but The Zombies didn’t play gigs to capitalise on that success. The Zombies recorded one more album, R.I.P., but it wasn’t released until 2000, but only in Japan.
The Zombies, like a bunch of other 60s groups were also the victims of shady businesspeople who would take the band’s name and recruit imposter musicians and tour as if they’re the real deal. An American company called Delta Productions put together fake groups claiming to be The Animals, The Archies, and The Zombies. Funny enough, a pre-fame Dusty Hill and Frank Beard (of ZZ Top fame), were in a Texas group claiming to be The Zombies. Another fake Zombies group in the 80s hired a bassist name Ronald Hugh Grundy, but real Zombies fans know that Hugh Grundy’s the drummer.
After The Zombies, Rod Argent formed Argent and his cousin, Jim Rodford joined that band and Chris White wrote songs for them and for Colin Blunstone, but didn’t perform. Colin Blunstone went on to have a solo career. Paul Atkinson moved onto working behind the scenes, working A&R for Dick James Music, The Beatles’ publishing company. Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone reunited decades later in the 2000s, bringing back The Zombies and continuing to play gigs and release albums.
Hugh Grundy on the other hand ended up working various day jobs. He worked in auto sales before working in A&R at Columbia Records. In the 80s, he owned a horse transport company and after that, he worked as a driver for the Royal Air Force. He said in an interview that he wish The Zombies didn’t break up and stuck it out because there would have been better times in the 70s.
Pete Staples (bassist of The Troggs) – Pub Landlord, Furniture Restorer, and Electrician
You probably know The Troggs for their big 60s hit “Wild Thing” (#2 UK, #1 US and famously covered by Jimi Hendrix, and only took two takes to record). You might also know “With a Girl Like You” (#1 UK), “I Can’t Control Myself” (#2 UK), and “Love is All Around” (#5 UK, also won Reg Presley three Ivor Novello songwriting awards). Here’s some information about the band, some background information on their bassist Pete Staples, and what became of him after leaving the band.
The Troggs were formed in Andover, Hampshire – in the southeastern part of England. Childhood friends Reg Presley and Ronnie Bond were R&B fans and started a group. They needed a bassist and a guitarist and so in 1964, Pete Staples and Chris Britton joined the band, essentially two bands joining forces. The two were formerly in a group called Ten Feet Five, the name referencing that they were five guys with 10 feet in total between them. In 1965, aspiring 50s pop star and former Kinks manager Larry Page signed them to his label and they got a few hits in 1966 and 1967, but they never got another hit after “Love is All Around”, which reached #5. The Troggs toured with The Who; Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, and Tich (who they were quite friendly with and Tich ended up joining them in the 70s); and The Walker Brothers.
Like a lot of other rock bands in the 60s, The Troggs’ music was considered controversial and the music establishment would ban their songs and that would suppress their music, still they have loyal fans. And like a lot of other groups, The Troggs got screwed over by their label. Pete Staples writes on his website above a photo of the Chip Taylor (Jon Voight’s brother and Angelina Jolie’s uncle)-penned garage rock classic “Wild Thing” reaching #1 in America, “A great achievement for a British group, shame we never got paid for it”. Pete Staples later revealed in an interview that he was working as an electrician just as “Wild Thing” was moving up the charts, and even heard it on the radio when he was working. Reg Presley also worked as a bricklayer, Chris Britton worked as a lithographic printer, and Ronnie Bond worked as a carpenter.
As a teenager in Andover, Pete Staples was a drum major in the 2nd Andover Boys Brigade Company and when he wasn’t doing that, he played acoustic guitar. His first serious band were The Senators and he played guitar for them. A singer named Bruce Turner from another band called The Emeralds was starting a new band and so he joined The Senators. They’d play pubs, ballrooms, and clubs. By accident, he started playing bass when Chris Britton approached him and asked him to play bass in his band, Ten Feet Five, and so he quickly learnt to play bass. Source: Pete Staples’ bio on his website.
Pete Staples left the band in 1968 after getting married, at a point where they were no longer achieving success in the charts and his bandmates fired him while he and his wife were on their honeymoon, which was a real shock to him because these were his friends. His wife, Hilary, was a woman he’d been dating since he was in the Senators. Still, he said he wasn’t bitter about being sacked because he said he was there during the best years of the group, but he never knew the real reason he was fired. He spectulates that it all came down to money (like a lot of things in this world, right?). And after that, he left the music industry and worked various jobs: pub landlord, furniture restoration, and of course as an electrician, what he trained to do. He didn’t really get any royalties, so he had to go back to a day job and he was honestly happy to have left the music industry, which left a bad taste in his mouth, similar to Pete Quaife and The Shangri-Las. In the late 70s, he moved to Basingstoke.
Pete Staples did an interview with the Strange Brew podcast. Really interesting listen if you want to learn more about The Troggs. He tells stories such as how the band got together, the recording of “Wild Thing”, the sound of their music and what makes it special, and the story of him leaving The Troggs and how odd it was.
Jim Tucker (rhythm guitarist of The Turtles) – Electrical Contractor
The Turtles were a group formed by Mark “Flo” Volman and Howard “Eddie Kaylan”, two friends who went to Westchester High School. They first started playing surf rock and then evolved their sound and recruited some band members. After The British Invasion, surf rock became passé and so the group evolved into folk rock, which was the hip cool music trend in America. They changed their name to The Tyrtles, which was a misspelling inspired by The Byrds and The Beatles, but they changed to The Turtles, not too long after that. And with the sound change, Volman and Kaylan became the band’s vocalists. Like The Byrds and Manfred Mann, they did Bob Dylan covers and The Turtles were successful with it, reaching the top 10 with their version of “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. In 1966, The Turtles branched out and did psychedelic songs and songs with vocal harmonies, the latter of which is a signature part of their sound. But their biggest hit was their song “Happy Together”, which was so big that it knocked The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” from #1 in 1967. But they were not one-hit wonders. They had other hits after that like “She’d Rather Be With Me”, “You Know What I Mean”, “She’s My Girl”, “Elenore”, and “You Showed Me”. The Turtles would share bills with lots of great musicians like The Doors, Peter and Gordon, Tom Jones, Sonny & Cher, and many more!
The Turtles’ continued recording as a band until 1969, when they released their final album, Turtle Soup, produced by Ray Davies of The Kinks, who was also in America to negotiate with the Musicians Union about ending his band’s ban from touring America. That album was well-received, but no song from it reached the top 40.
Like a lot of bands from the 60s, The Turtles fought with their record label over money and they had different ideas than their record label. Musicians and record labels have different interests. Musicians want to have freedom to do what they want artistically and record labels just want to maximise profit and take advantage of musicians as much as possible. The Turtles’ label, White Whale Records wanted them to be more like The Monkees, poppy and a hit factory. As well, White Whale were having financial problems and their biggest group were The Turtles so they were trying to get as much as them as possible. The Turtles were over by the end of the 60s and unfortunately, in their contract the band members didn’t have any rights to the name so Mark Volman and Eddie Kaylan toured as Flo & Eddie, they also were in The Mothers of Invention and sang backing vocals on some T Rex songs. They didn’t get the rights to The Turtles name back until 1983.
Two band members left the music industry. Jim Tucker left The Turtles at the age of 21 after “Happy Together” and moved to Grass Valley, a city in northern California between Sacramento and Reno, where he worked as an electrical contractor. Contrary to rumours spread by Howard Kaylan, he didn’t leave the band because John Lennon was rude to him, but he did say that Paul McCartney complimented The Turtles’ music. Instead, he said in a 2013 interview that he was tired of touring and recording, which he found to be stressful. At one point, he got a panic attack while touring. Here are two quotes from that same interview. Of fame, he said, “I can understand how being a celebrity can cause mental stress. I can understand how Michael Jackson turned out the way he did. You no longer belong to yourself and so many people depend upon you for everything.” Of leaving The Turtles, he said, “I have never regretted leaving the Turtles and I have no regrets about my time with the group. I got to see the country and to meet most everybody who was famous in the music industry at the time.” He still liked to play music in his free time and would play in local bands from time to time, but h never bragged about his time in The Turtles. His other hobbies were softball, cooking, and fishing.
Other members of the band left the industry as well. Lead guitarist Al Nichol left the music industry and moved to Nevada, but nothing else is known about his life, as he prefers to live a private life. Bassist Jim Pons left the music industry in 1973 and became the film and video director for the New York Jets and designed the logo they used from 1978-1997. He retired from that position in 2000, but in the 2000s he did similar work for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jim Tucker died in November 2020. He was 74.
Dave Dee (lead singer of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, and Tich) – Businessman and Magistrate
British readers may be more familiar with this band than American readers are, but if you haven’t heard them, you’re missing out. There’s so much more to British music from the 60s than what you hear on the radio and there’s such a cool story behind the band’s lead singer.
In 1960, 18 year old David Harman was working as a police cadet in his rural home county of Wiltshire. Guess who was driving around there and got into a car accident? Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, who were touring the UK that spring. They lost control of their car. Gene Vincent was seriously injured and Eddie Cochran died, at just 21 years old. Once of the first police officers on the scene was none other than David Harman. The police took Eddie Cochran’s guitar back to the station until it could be given back to his family and while it was at the station, Dave learnt to play guitar using Eddie Cochran’s Gretsch. In fact, he wasn’t the only future rock star that had a connection to that guitar. A preteen Marc Bolan met Eddie Cochran after his concert at the Hackney Empire and carried his guitar to his limo and 10 years later recorded a single as Dib Cochran and the Earwigs, sad coincidence is that Marc Bolan also died in a car accident, but in Barnes, in London.
He then realised that being a cop isn’t what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a rock star so a year later, he formed a group with friends from his hometown of Salisbury called Dave Dee and the Bostons. Of his dreams of being a musician, he said: “I went into the music business because it was a love – not for the money. It was something I always wanted to do.” They had been playing music since they were teenagers. Before getting famous, they did what The Beatles did and played shows in Germany. In 1964, they were finally discovered by powerhouse songwriting team Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who were also their managers. The pair wrote pretty much all the band’s biggest hits. The band did a recording session with innovative 60s producer Joe Meek, but because Meek’s behaviour was erratic, the sessions went nowhere and Dave Dee and Co. went elsewhere.
From there, they changed their name to the zany and extremely long tongue twister of a name Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick, and Tich (DDDBMT from this point on), say that five times fast! The name requires no explanation, it’s their nicknames and their managers wanted to show that the band members were all unique individuals and not a collective. They were well known for their camp stage presence, sense of humour, and bright coloured outfits.
DDDBMT were huge in the late 60s, although not in America because of poor promotion by their record label. How big are we talking? Here’s a fact that will blow your mind. In just four years, their songs spent more time on the UK charts than The Beatles did. That is an accomplishment and a reason that DDDBMT should be talked about more when we talk about the British Invasion. Want to hear another? In 1967, a German teen magazine Bravo did a readers’ poll asking which band is the best and DDDBMT beat the three big guys of The British Invasion: The Beatles (who came in second), The Rolling Stones (came in fifth), and The Kinks (came in eighth). DDDBMT played all over the world and shared bills with acts such as Gene Pitney, The Honeycombs, The Troggs, The Spencer Davis Group, The Animals, and even Jimi Hendrix (who they played on stage with in Frankfurt).
“You Make It Move”, released in 1965, was their first hit, reaching #26 in their country. Their real breakthrough came in 1966 with “Hold Tight!”, which reached #4. Their other hits include “Bend It”, “Save Me”, “Zabadak!”, “Last Night In Soho” and the biggest of all the Spanish influenced “The Legend of Xanadu”. Dave Dee cracking a whip while dressed in a Beau Brummell dandy like outfit on Top of the Pops is iconic.
In 1969, Dave Dee left the band to pursue a solo career (that wasn’t very successful) before reuniting with them in the mid 70s for a Hollies like single called “She’s My Lady”. The rest of the band went on as Dozy, Beaky, Mick, and Tich for a few years in the 70s but they didn’t have much commercial success like in the 60s, as the music world changed a lot in the 70s, goodbye 60s pop and psychedelia and hello glam, prog, and punk!
What did Dave Dee do outside of making music? A lot of things! He worked behind the scenes as an A&R manager for various record labels. He appeared in two movies, playing a Hells Angel in Every Home Should Have One and playing a record executive in the Sex Pistols film The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. He worked outside the entertainment industry as a businessman, part of a fundraising committee for a charity called Nordoff-Robbins, and as Justice of the Peace in Cheshire – in the northwest of England.
Of money, he said in an interview with Russell Newmark: “If we were as big today as we were then, we’d be multimillionaires. Unfortunately in our era there wasn’t that sort of money. Young boys on the road. Doing Top Of The Pops. All the girls. What more could a young bloke want?” Here’s an interesting interview he did with the BBC. I’d have to say my favourite bit of the interview was him saying that he once hit Dozy with a whip at a Top of the Pops rehearsal.
Dave Dee died in 2009 at the age of 67 of prostate cancer.
Rod Evans (original lead singer of Deep Purple and Captain Beyond) – Respiratory Therapist
Deep Purple had a lot of lineups, hence why you’ll see the different lineups being referred to as Mark I, Mark II, etc. Mark II is the classic lineup and the most loved, but I think Mark I has to be appreciated as well and I love their poppy, but proficient music – that lineup had two masters of their craft and some of the best in their fields with Jon Lord on keyboards and Ritchie Blackmore on guitar. Gotta love Deep Purple!
We’ve talked about Rod Evans before in Classic Rockers who disappeared/went into hiding, but let’s tell the story again! As this section is only about Rod Evans, we’ll only be talking about Deep Purple Mark I and his work with Captain Beyond since that’s what’s relevant to him.
As mentioned earlier in the post, Deep Purple were originally called Roundabout. The idea for the band’s name came from Ritchie Blackmore, who suggested “Deep Purple” by Peter DeRose because it was his grandmother’s favourite song. Concrete God was another suggestion, but the band found it too harsh. Jon Lord invited his Flower Pot Men bandmates Nick Simper and Carlo Little to join the band. Then veteran session guitarist Ritchie Blackmore joined the band. They needed to find a singer and they auditioned dozens, one of them including Rod Stewart, but the guy who got the job was Rod Evans and along with him, he brought his bandmate, drummer Ian Paice, who ultimately stayed in Deep Purple and was there for all the years it was active.
In the early years, Deep Purple were an extremely prolific band. In May 1968, they recorded their debut, Shades of Deep Purple, which was released that July. Their first hit, a cover of Joe South’s “Hush”, was on that album. It reached #4 on the Billboard charts. Rod Evans contributed some songwriting on that album with songs like “One More Rainy Day”, “Mandrake Root”, and “Love Help Me”. It’s definitely an album worth your time and I’ll go more into detail when I finally write Listen to This, Not That for Deep Purple. Their next album The Book of Taliesyn was named after a set of famous Middle Welsh manuscripts. It was more prog rock than their previous album, but like the previous one, there were some covers. Rod Evans once again contributed songwriting on “Listen, Learn, Read On” (which references the album’s title and is heavily fantasy inspired), “Shield”, and “Anthem” (this one is a beautiful song). Within one year, Deep Purple released three studio albums and the even heavier Deep Purple came out on 21 June 1969. Rod Evans co-wrote “The Painter”, “Why Didn’t Rosemary”, and “Bird Has Flown”. It is the last Deep Purple album with Rod Evans and Nick Simper, who were fired from the band and replaced by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover (formerly of Episode Six) weeks after Deep Purple came out. Gillan and Glover didn’t see Episode Six going anywhere and were excited about a future with Deep Purple so they eagerly joined. However, Ritchie Blackmore’s first choice for vocalist was a young singer named Terry Reid. And the plans to replace Evans and Simper were kept secret.
While the music was great, things behind the scenes were heated and there were tensions in the band with band members wanting different things. Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore wanted Deep Purple to have a heavier sound and to not be a British Vanilla Fudge, but rather follow in Led Zeppelin’s footsteps – I mean their first album was pretty innovative even if it ripped off old blues music. And when money gets involved, it only means the fights are going to become more frequent, it brings out the worst in people. Blackmore was salty about Rod Evans making more money in royalties because he and Jon Lord wrote the b-side to “Hush”. Rod Evans also had his eyes on America because he fell in love with an American girl and he wanted to be an actor, but he was upset when he finally got the word that he was out of the band, when the band were on their way to play a show in Wales. It seems like a similar situation with Pete Staples and The Troggs, making plans to fire someone behind their back. But unlike The Troggs, Deep Purple had their biggest success after firing two of their original band members. Mark II is easily the best known lineup of Deep Purple with hits like “Black Night” and “Smoke on the Water”. “Child in Time” and “Highway Star”, while not chart hits, are fan favourites.
After leaving Deep Purple and releasing a poppy solo single, “Hard To Be Without You”, that didn’t go anywhere, Rod Evans moved to America and formed the supergroup Captain Beyond with Bobby Caldwell, who previously worked with Johnny Winter and Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and Lee Dorman of Iron Butterfly. Their music has a very heavy, hard rock sound and is definitely worth a listen if you love 70s hard rock and are curious to see what a hard rock Rod Evans sounds like.
Rod Evans stayed with the band from 1971-1973 after recording two albums with the band. He went back to a day job, working as a director of respiratory therapy in LA before making a big mistake in 1980. My guess is that the royalties weren’t enough or Rod Evans just wanted to live a normal life and be away from the music industry and it gets really boring if you don’t have a job.
Remember what Pete Quaife said about show business and fame being like a drug, that it always seems to lure you back? Well, in 1980, Rod Evans was talked into playing some shows as Deep Purple, who at that point had been broken up for a few years (but they would reform in 1984 after Ian Gillan left Black Sabbath). According to this interview, he had gotten some bad advice about touring as Deep Purple and he was desperate to get out of a draining 9 to 5 life, and it had been over a decade since he left Deep Purple and touring with a different band name wouldn’t be as lucrative, but it would be a lie to the fans – there is no Deep Purple without Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore, it’s not the same without them, as well, Purple fans at this point were more familiar with Ian Gillan and David Coverdale, who have a different style from Rod Evans. Other members of Deep Purple were asked if they wanted to reunite with Rod Evans, but they weren’t interested because they had their own projects.
Bogus bands claiming to be the real deal, but really have no real members involved, have been a problem that have plagued many a classic rock and R&B group, but in this case, you could say Rod Evans touring as Deep Purple may be slightly less egregious because at least he was an original member, but there’s still deception because the most honest advertising would be “Rod Evans formerly of Deep Purple and band”. The 1980 bogus Deep Purple were formed in the US and were made up of Rod Evans on vocals, Tony Flynn on guitar, Tom de Rivera on bass, Dick Juergens on drums, and Geoff Emery on keyboards. This lineup played all over North America, in Canada, the US, and Mexico. Rod Evans is a good singer, but the rest of the band? That’s just not Purple! The poor fans were ripped off. As for Rod Evans, maybe he was thinking what is the worst that could possibly happen?
Below, you can find a 1980 performance with Rod Evans on lead vocals.
Well let’s just say it was a very expensive mistake. First, his Deep Purple bandmates and other band members placed an ad just under the ad for Rod Evans’ “Deep Purple” show saying: “The following stars WILL NOT PERFORM at the Deep Purple Concert at Long Beach Arena Tomorrow Aug. 19 1980” and below that: Ritchie Blackmore, David Coverdale, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Glenn Hughes, Jon Lord, and Ian Paice (obviously Tommy Bolin wouldn’t be there since he died in 1976). Shots? Fired. Shade? Thrown. Hotel? Trivago.
Next, Deep Purple took Rod Evans to court. He had to pay $672,000 (which is over $2 million in today’s money) to Deep Purple, but considering he was working a day job because he couldn’t live off his royalties and was touring as Deep Purple probably as a cash grab, he had to give up his royalties. The reason Rod Evans lost? He didn’t have the rights to the Deep Purple name. In fact, none of the band members did. In interviews after the lawsuit, Jon Lord said it was silly of Rod Evans to tour as Deep Purple and Ian Paice said the band didn’t get any of the money, but the lawyers did. After the lawsuit, Rod Evans pretty much dropped off the face of the earth and never made any public appearances or conducted any interviews, ever with his last ones being from 1980. We will never know exactly why Rod Evans essentially went ghost, as he is the only one who has those answers. But my theories are: embarrassment because of the lawsuit, his reputation being ruined after the lawsuit, fear that if he made more money that it would go to Deep Purple, or just simply wanting to live a private life as he did after he left Captain Beyond. But I think that if he came back in the public eye today, I think people would forgive him and would love to hear from him.
I can’t find any reliable sources, but from what I’ve seen, Rod Evans allegedly lives in Northern California now and kept working as a respiratory therapist. My guess is due to his age, almost 75, he should be retired, but I don’t know that for sure. No one from Deep Purple has spoken to Rod Evans in over 40 years. The most recent reliable source about Rod Evans whereabouts is a 2015 interview with his Captain Beyond bandmate Bobby Caldwell, who said he is doing fine and working in the medical field.
In the end, I feel bad for Rod Evans, the punishment was pretty harsh. I’d blame the dodgy promoters and businesspeople more than I’d blame him, but because Rod Evans is the more famous name and because no one really cares about music businesspeople or even remembers their names, Rod Evans is going to be the one facing more consequences. Nick Simper (who went on to be in Warhorse) though got pretty screwed over, as he doesn’t get talked about as much and he got snubbed from the Rock Hall. There’s an interesting interview with him here and he has a pretty comprehensive website with lots of photos and information. At least Rod Evans got in as a member of Deep Purple, but he didn’t show up to the ceremony. Well, all I can say is Rod Evans and Nick Simper, wherever you are, I hope you’re living happy, healthy lives and I love the music that you released back then!
Tom Evans and Joey Molland (bassist and guitarist of Badfinger) – Various Odd Jobs
The story of Badfinger is one of the saddest in all of classic rock and I’ve talked about it before on the blog.
Badfinger were hailed to be the “Next Beatles” and in Pete Ham’s demos you can hear a bit of that influence and all you can hear is so much potential. They were one of the architects of early 70s power pop and their influence still lives on 50 years since their early albums. They deserved so much more and so much better, but they had very bad luck and got into a really bad deal and trusted the wrong person. Their manager, Stan Polley, stealing their money led to Pete Ham taking his life at just 27 years old, and Tom Evans, the last person who saw Pete Ham alive, taking his life eight years later because of guilt over Pete Ham’s suicide and fights over money and royalties (doesn’t money bring out the worst in people?). Evans never got over Pete Ham’s death and Badfinger weren’t the same without him. First, some background information on Badfinger and their successes.
The band that would become Badfinger were formed in Swansea in the early 60s. A teenage Pete Ham formed a rock band called The Panthers and they would become The Iveys (no, the name is nothing to do with The Hollies, but rather from a street in Swansea called Ivey Place). There was a limit to how successful you could be if you stayed in Wales and they made the move to London, where all the record labels and famous clubs are and they continued performing and recording demos in the hopes of getting signed. This talented group got the attention of some of the greatest songwriters of the 60s. In 1967, Ray Davies expressed an interest in The Iveys, but the tracks recorded in the sessions went nowhere, and honestly, it was for the best because Ray didn’t exactly treat Tom Robinson well in the 70s when he had his own label, the two wrote diss tracks about each other. The temperamental, Liverpudlian (of Welsh descent) Tom Evans joined the band after they fired Dai Jenkins for being more interested in clubbing and sex than having a career as a musician. Fellow Liverpudian Joey Molland joined later, after bassist Ron Griffiths was fired because Tom Evans didn’t like him and he was too busy with married life and having a baby.
Through Mal Evans, a certain Liverpudlian group’s personal assistant, and Peter Asher, Apple Records A&R guy, The Iveys got the attention of none other than the biggest group of the 60s, The Beatles! John, Paul, George, and Ringo all gave their stamp of approval. You’d think that’s hitting the jackpot. Senpai noticed you! An honour to be Beatle approved.
After their first two singles, “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Dear Angie”, flopped The Iveys renamed themselves Badfinger, a Beatle reference, with “Bad Finger Boogie” being the working title of “With a Little Help From My Friends”. And Paul McCartney made it up to the group, who said they felt neglected, by offering them one of his songs. Paul McCartney is such a great songwriter that even the songs he wrote that weren’t “good enough” for The Beatles, became hits for others, such as Peter & Gordon’s “A World Without Love”. That song he gave Badfinger was “Come and Get It” and it was their breakthrough hit, reaching the top 10 in the UK and US. And with The Beatles breaking up and Badfinger on the rise to stardom, this set the stage for them to be dubbed The Next Beatles. Their next two albums after the soundtrack for The Magic Christian, No Dice and Straight Up did decent on the albums charts and had hit singles like “No Matter What”, “Day After Day”, and “Baby Blue”. In addition, Badfinger played on some George Harrison songs from All Things Must Pass and performed at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in New York City in 1971.
While not a hit for them (but I will say the original is the best version, nothing like the songwriter singing their own song), Pete Ham and Tom Evans’ “Without You” was a big hit for Harry Nilsson, and decades later, Mariah Carey and won Ham & Evans an Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Lyrically and Musically in 1972. It’s probably the most beautiful ballad ever, one of the most beautiful songs ever, period.
That should have earned the two millions and made them very wealthy men, but because of an exploitative record deal and “soulless bastard” (as Pete called him in his suicide note) of a manager, Stan Polley (who allegedly had mafia ties), they had nothing to show for it and a couple years later, they were flat broke with nothing to show for the fame or accomplishments, and sadder yet no Beatle came to their defence or tried to help them out. Even in their very successful early days with Apple Records, they were living on low wages even when their singles were selling very well. If you want to know how broke Pete Ham and the band were, Pete Ham’s shoes were falling apart and the financial woes were horrible for his mental health with him self harming in the studio. He had just bought a house and had a baby on the way, and when he was told the band have no money, he went to a pub with Tom Evans, got really drunk, and when Pete Ham left Tom Evans he told him, “I know a way out” before going to his garage and hanging himself. Pete Ham had a really good reputation in the music scene. He was known for being really kind to everyone, but his kind, trusting, wholesome, innocent nature was to a fault and cost him his life.
After Pete Ham killed himself, his Scottish girlfriend, Anne, went back to her hometown with their daughter, Petera, according to this documentary. Anne worked as a hairdresser. As for what happened to Stan Polley, he got away with ripping off Badfinger, lived to the age of 87, and never expressed remorse for what he did to Badfinger. The only thing he got in trouble for was ripping off an aeronautic engineer in 1991, but he never paid him back either and never got any jail time, just 5 years probation. Tom Evans wrote two diss tracks about Stan Polley’s scams: “Hey Mr Manager” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Contract”.
Badfinger broke up after Pete Ham’s suicide and the band members went their separate ways. Mike Gibbins had a decent career doing session work, but things weren’t going as well for Tom Evans and Joey Molland and by the late 70s, they were working day jobs while trying to play music. Evans worked as a pipefitter and cab driver. Joey Molland moved to LA and did various odd jobs such as laying carpet and sold a bunch of his guitars to pay the bills.
Eventually the two got back together and recorded albums that were considered lacklustre and didn’t result in commercial success, and it wouldn’t be long until the fighting started up again. The two split up after Say No More and both toured as Badfinger. But Tom Evans fell into another bad deal again when in 1982, he was approached by a dodgy manager who aimed to make a real comeback for Badfinger with a tour, new albums, the works and so Tom Evans and Mike Gibbins moved to Milwaukee for a while, an odd choice considering it’s not a hotspot for record labels. They lived in poverty, had enough, and scraped money together to go back to England, and once they arrived, they got slapped with a $5 million lawsuit. Tom Evans was already struggling with money and was feeling guilty over Pete Ham’s suicide, this was another blow and on top of that, he and Joey Molland fought over royalties for without you. Tom Evans last words to his wife Marianne were “I’ll be dead before I get the money.” And he hanged himself in his backyard. He was 36 years old.
Marianne Evans said that Tom wanted to be where Pete was. Joey Molland is the only surviving member of the classic lineup of Badfinger. He now lives in Minnesota.
Alan & Derek Longmuir and Ian Mitchell (Guitarist/bassist, drummer, and guitarist of The Bay City Rollers, respectively) – Hotel Owner/Building Inspector, Nurse, and Computer Programmer/Motivational Speaker, respectively
Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual assault
The Bay City Rollers are one of Scotland’s most famous rock acts. For a time in the 70s there was a craze called Rollermania and girls went crazy for them like they did for The Beatles just a decade before. Here’s the story of The Bay City Rollers. Yet another tragic story in rock and roll.
Oldest band member Alan Longmuir and his younger brother, Derek, started a band in Edinburgh in the 60s as beat music was taking over the charts. They liked to play Motown covers and were fascinated with Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. Alan was going to college and met a likeminded student who wanted to join his band and they got the attention of manager Tam Paton, who later on was a bad influence (to say the least) on the band, introducing them to drugs, and raped their lead singer, Les McKeown (and he threatened to kill him if he said anything to the authorities), and allegedly tried to rape their guitarist, Pat McGlynn. The group changed their name from The Ambassadors to The Saxons and were becoming more successful, but they wanted a more Americanised name because of their love of American music and for marketability. They liked the name The Rollers, but they wanted something American next to that and one of the band members threw a dart at a map of the US and it landed near Bay City, Michigan and so The Bay City Rollers it is!
Before both groups became famous, David Paton and Billy Lyall of Pilot were in the Bay City Rollers. In 1971, the group signed a record deal with Bell Records, a label known for its glam rock releases. They got an early top 10 hit that year with their version of The Gentrys’ “Keep On Dancing” and that led to appearances on Top of the Pops. At that time, the band members had day jobs, just like in the case of The Troggs making it with “Wild Thing”.
However, after that, they didn’t get any hits for a couple years. They didn’t want to be one hit wonders, so they changed up the lineup and hired three musicians who would make up the classic lineup along with the Longmuir brothers: Les McKeown on vocals, Eric Faulkner on guitar, and Stuart “Woody” Wood on guitar. And they got a new songwriting and production team, Phil Coulter and Bill Martin, and that made a huge difference. The other secret was that the musicians playing on those records were session musicians, and not the Rollers themselves, who were said to have been average musicians who couldn’t even tune their guitars properly. As you can expect, The Rollers felt suffocated, just like The Monkees felt in the 60s. They wanted to have more control and creative freedom. And not only was the studio suffocating, so was their manager, who forbid them from drinking, having sex, or having girlfriends.
After a few years long dry spell, they got a top 10 hit with “Remember (Sha La La)” and that kicked off a string of big hits including “Shang-a-Lang”, “Summerlove Sensation”, “Bye Bye Baby”, “Give a Little Love”, “Saturday Night”, “Money Honey”, “Rock and Roll Love Letter”, and “I Only Want to Be With You”. They were all over teen magazines and had so many fans around the world who would dress just like them, tartan trim on everything. They even had their own weekly TV show (that was a trend in the 70s, musicians having their own TV shows). They even had success in America because Clive Davis of Arista Records signed them, and funny enough he picked “Saturday Night” as their debut American single in 1976, despite it flopping when it was originally released in 1973, but the famous one is actually a remake – the original had Gordon “Nobby” Clark on lead vocals and you hear their accents more in the “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night” chant in the original. To put it into perspective, they were to the 70s what BTS are today. And even serious rock stars like The Ramones took some inspiration from them, particularly in the song “Blitzkrieg Bop” (Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!).
Over 120 million records were sold and it should have been a prosperous time for The Bay City Rollers, but the reality is they weren’t being paid royalties and their manager was a drug pushing sicko who traumatised the band members. Les McKeown ended up an alcoholic after accidentally running over a 76-year old-woman and he was forced into performing a concert the next day. He felt very guilty and was shaken. He was temporarily banned from driving and fined £100 for that incident. Before that, band manager Tam Paton would give him Mandrax and amphetamines to supposedly help him cope with the stresses of touring, as he was touring so much he’d never be at home. Les McKeown described the band’s relationship with their manager as like one between children and an abusive parent. Not long after the Bay City Rollers broke up, Tam Paton was convicted of gross indecency with two teenage boys. He was sentenced to three years in prison, and only served one year and then bought a mansion on the outskirts of Edinburgh. What a disgusting man.
At the height of the band’s success in 1976, Alan Longmuir left the group because he couldn’t handle the stress and he felt awkward being in a group popular among teenagers as a 28-year-old man. An Irish 17-year-old Ian Mitchell replaced him, but he only stayed in the group for less than a year. But Alan came back in 1978 when the band got a new vocalist, Duncan Faure of South African band Rabbitt (who were South Africa’s biggest rock band), and a new sound, but the records from that era didn’t sell well and the music world and even their fans had moved on from Rollermania. Teens and tweens change a lot in just a few years and they outgrow music they used to like, and the Rollers wanted to be taken seriously, but it’s hard to break away from the teen idol image (Peter Frampton, as talented of a guitarist as he is, experienced the same thing, it was hard to be taken seriously when you were a teen idol). The band broke up in 1981.
As for money, did the Bay City Rollers have anything to show for it? They were being told left and right that they would be set for life because of record sales and all these licensing deals, but what was the truth? These were young guys who signed a record deal and didn’t understand any legalese. It was just like whatever, sign the dotted line, I want to travel the world, be on magazine covers, get lots of chicks, and play to thousands of screaming fans. For decades they fought to get their unpaid royalties, tens of millions worth, but in the end it resulted in a settlement and the band members only got about £70k each. The only winners here were the lawyers. You’d think that if you are an A-list musician with multiple top 10 hits, you’d be set for life. That wasn’t the case and multiple members of the band had to go back to day jobs.
Alan Longmuir owned the Castle Campbell Hotel in Dollar, 12 miles away from Stirling and in 2000 trained to be a building inspector and knew how to fit pipes and inspect plumbing. He loved horses. He played at a few BCR reunion shows in 2015 and 2016.
Derek Longmuir studied to become a nurse and worked at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for years, however he got into some serious trouble in the late 90s and pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and tried to claim he was framed (I don’t believe him). He essentially got a slap on the wrist (I’m guessing because of his fame): no jail time, 300 hours of community service, and after being struck from the nurses register, he was reinstated. It is not known if he went back to nursing after the conviction. He did not play at any BCR reunion shows, but has appeared in documentaries about the BCR.
Ian Mitchell went back to his old band, Rosetta Stone, after about 6 months with the BCR, later saying in an interview, “I had to get out before I put my head in the gas oven.” Very stressful being suddenly thrust into stardom at such a young age. After that, he formed The Ian Mitchell Band at the end of the 70s. He later moved to California, where he worked as a computer programmer and motivational speaker, but he didn’t give up performing. While he became an American citizen, he was always proud to be Irish and never forgot his Downpatrick roots.
If you want to watch a good documentary about the Bay City Rollers, check out Rollermania.
Alan Longmuir died in 2018 in Scotland at the age of 70 after falling ill while on holiday in Mexico.
Ian Mitchell died in 2020 in California at the age of 62.
I mostly found in classic rock that a lot of musicians seem to have been able to make their fame work for them and make a proper living and not have to go back to a day job even if they’re no longer in the charts, albeit many of them having to perform for decades and continue to release music, but beats an office job, right? At least you’re doing what you love and have a passion for and isn’t that the dream? I’m sure it feels great to have so many fans and admirers and to know you’ve had a positive impact on so many people’s lives, even if you’ve never met them.
In some of these stories I saw a happy ending, but really a lot of the endings were more bittersweet, musicians finally feeling recognised and appreciated years after their music came out. These musicians deserve so much more credit.
To end the blog post, another lyric from “Celluloid Heroes”
“I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show,
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes,
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain
And celluloid heroes never really die.”
In this case it’s vinyl heroes. Vinyl heroes never really die and I think that’s what this blog is all about. Keeping the memories alive: both rockers you recognise and rockers you’ve never heard of. As long as we keep their memories and legacies alive, vinyl heroes never really die.
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