The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars (5 page)

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However, Freed proved a flawed individual, and this cost him dearly in his working life. Initially, problems were not necessarily of his own making: appearing in movies such as
Rock around the Clock,
the thirty-something appeared older than his years, alienating a large section of his young audience overnight as a result. Then, when he moved to television, Freed’s ABC
Rock
‘n’
Roll Dance Party
also ended abruptly after a scandal (which seems risible now) erupted when black singer Frankie Lymon (
January 1968
) was caught on camera dancing with a white girl, outraging Southern station affiliates. Worse still, when a live event at the Boston Arena in 1958 ended in a riot, WINS cancelled his radio contract despite the fact that any charges of incitement against Freed were soon dropped. A year later, the even greater ‘payola’ (money for airplay) scandal displayed his dubious business practices openly and effectively ended Freed’s broadcasting career; he was found guilty on two counts of accepting commercial bribery a couple of years later and made ‘industry scapegoat’ for what pretty much everybody else in the game had been doing for years.

‘Live fast, die young, make a good-looking corpse.’

Alan Freed

Alan Freed: Payola was on the menu

An internal injury sustained in a car accident in 1953 returned to haunt Alan Freed – by 1965 a shadow of his former self and ostracized by many of his former acolytes. As he drifted from satellite town to satellite town in search of broadcasting work, Freed’s health began to fail. Virtually bankrupted by his legal debts and drinking heavily, he checked into a hospital in Palm Springs on 15 January 1965 – just as charges of tax evasion were levied against him. Freed died five days later from uraemia and cirrhosis of the liver before he could answer any of those charges. He went to the grave penniless – a far cry from just a few years before, when he had been able to claim thousands of dollars a day for his services.

Despite the (arguably heavy-handed) treatment Freed received towards the end of his life, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Museum, which opened in 1986, was nevertheless situated in Cleveland in honour of one of its sons’ great achievements.

FEBRUARY

Monday 15

Nat ‘King’ Cole

(Nathaniel Coles - Montgomery, Alabama, 17 March (most likely) 1917)

Those rich, velveteen tones that seemed the aural equivalent of melting Bournville were actually the result of sixty smokes a day. His millions of fans may have thanked him for this concession to vocal gravitas, but his lungs did not: Nat Cole succumbed to cancer before he was fifty. Remembered as one of the twentieth century’s finest interpreters of a song, Cole was also a gifted pianist, playing ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’ at the age of four to anyone who would listen. A few years on, Cole landed a residency with his older brother, Eddie, at the Panama Club, Chicago – and had not left his teens behind by the time they had recorded their first side. Promotion of his renamed ‘King Cole Trio’ by Lionel Hampton subsequently set Cole on a more upwardly mobile path, and before long Capitol were ready to offer a major-label contract. Their new charge was shortly the most successful artist the label had ever known, their premises on Hollywood and Vine thereafter referred to as ‘The House That Nat Built’. Cole could even claim the distinction of placing the first ever number-one LP on Billboard’s charts. If the King Cole Trio had been a success, Cole’s solo career, with the band now very much his back-up, was the stuff of legend: in the latter half of 1947, Cole recorded some eighty songs – more than most artists manage in a career. Many of these became hits, though the most sublime was surely Eden Ahbez’s ‘Nature Boy’, an uplifting minor chord air that stirs the soul to this day. It sat at number one for two months in 1948, while Cole was on honeymoon with his second wife, singer Maria Ellington. Cole hit 50 million sales sometime in 1960 – many recordings backed by The Four Knights (three of whom – Gene Alford, John Wallace and Clarence Dixon – have also since died) – and became the first black artist to front his own television showcase. During this time he would still periodically moonlight at the piano.

By 1964, Cole began to notice a sinister loss in weight as he toured with his band. This made him irritable, the change only too noticeable in this man of otherwise impeccable manner and mood. Always a heavy smoker, Cole was informed of a malignant tumour discovered in his lung; it was then only a matter of time. Following a walk on the beach with his wife early in 1965, Cole died quietly in his sleep – giving the lie to all the trade papers’ notices that he was ‘doing fine’.

MARCH

Monday 12

Fraser Calder

(Glasgow)

James Giffen

(Glasgow)

The Blues Council

With a vibrant British blues scene fragmenting in the early sixties, one of the most impressive (if shortlived) line-ups must have been that of Glasgow’s Blues Council. This hard-touring band revolved around noted saxophonist Bill Patrick, raw young guitarist Leslie Harvey (the latter doubtless encouraged by the already raucous lifestyle and reputation of his better-known brother, Alex), drummer Billy Adamson, sax-player Larry Quinn and pianist John McGinnis, and was completed by bassist James Giffen and singer and frontman Fraser Calder. Parlophone issued their dynamic debut single, ‘Baby Don’t Look Down’, to extensive local airplay in late 1964, and, as the year turned, all appeared rosy.

Theirs was very much a name known only in Scotland, though, and events sadly did not allow their reputation to spread further. On the way home from a gig in Edinburgh, the band’s tour van crashed outside Glasgow, killing Calder and Giffen instantly. Despite Patrick’s drafting-in of yet another saxophonist, Bobby Wishart, to the despondent survivors there was no way The Blues Council could continue, and before the summer they had gone their separate ways: Bill Patrick hooked up with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, John McGinnis started Sock ‘Em JB and Les Harvey eventually joined Stone the Crows. For Harvey, however, the tragedy would prove merely a precursor to one of the most dramatic deaths in rock history, seven years later
(
May 1972) .

See also
Alex Harvey (
February 1982)

MAY

Tuesday 25

Sonny Boy Williamson II

(Aleck Ford ‘Rice’ Miller - Mississippi,

12 March 1905 (or 1908, or 12 December 1899))

BOOK: The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars
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