Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Jonathan King

Kenneth George King was born in 1944 in London and brought up with his two brothers, James and Anthony, in the village of Ewhurst near Dorking, Surrey. His American born father died when Kenneth was nine. The young King was a border at Stoke House, Seaford, East Sussex, and later Charterhouse, in Godalming, Surrey. He later went to Trinity College, Cambridge and whilst still an undergraduate, in 1965 wrote and sang "Everyone's Gone to the Moon", which reached the top 5 of the UK singles charts. Worldwide, the song sold over four million copies, peaking in the Billboard Chart at number 17.

In the same year, wrote and produced "It's Good News Week" by Hedgehoppers Anonymous. The group were Royal Air Force personnel based at RAF Wittering, near Peterborough. The single sold well in the UK, US and Australia.

When he left university, he presented a television show on ITV, Good Evening ( I'm Jonathan King).

The program ran for six months on Saturday evenings and featured many up and coming acts, including a few controversial expose.

For a time, he worked as an unofficial personal assistant to Sir Edward Lewis, the founder of Decca Records. Jonathan King became a popular producer and worked with many acts including the band that would become Genesis. The group were pupils from his old school, Charterhouse and after hearing them he decided to become their producer. He chose the name, Genesis, to mark the start of his production career and produced the group’s first album, From Genesis to Revelation with the single, "The Silent Sun". Both failed to sell well and the group and band soon parted.

Between 1965 and 1979, Jonathan King released 18 singles which all reached the Top 75 of the UK Singles Chart.

Jonathan King also performed and produced studio "novelty" records sometimes released under his own name or as a pseudonymous band or artiste, several of which made the charts. Pseudonymous included: St Cecelia (Leap Up and Down (Wave Your Knickers in the Air) No. 1971), The Piglets (Johnny Reggae No 3 in 1971), Shag (Loop di Love No.4 in 1972), and One Hundred Ton and a Feather (It Only Takes a Minute No.9 in 1976).

In 1971, Jonathan King recorded a cover version of Hooked on a feeling and added ‘ooga chaka’ jungle chants. The single reached number 23 on the UK Singles Chart . In the same year he produced the Bay City Rollers and gave them their first hit, "Keep on Dancing", which reached number 9 in the UK charts.

King set up the record label UK Records in 1972 and signed 10cc. The band made eight UK singles with the label, including "Donna" and "Rubber Bullets". 10cc left UK Records in 1975 for Mercury Records. Other signings to UK Records included Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs.

In 1973, Jonathan King became one of the original backers of the The Rocky Horror Show and produced the original cast album. Jonathan King moved away from the music industry and in 1980 was presenting a daily radio talk show on New York's WMCA. He later became the key presenter in Entertainment USA broadcast on BBC2. He was associate producer of the youth TV show No Limits and co-hosted the ITV programme Ultra Quiz during 1983. He continued some music projects, including the supergroup "Gogmagog" (former Iron Maiden members Paul Di'Anno and Clive Burr, former White Spirit and Gillan guitarist Janick Gers, Def Leppard guitarist Pete Willis, and bassist Neil Murray - Whitesnake and other bands).

In 2000, Jonathan King was investigated by police about allegations of sexual offences committed against boys since the 1960s. He was later sentenced to seven years in prison in 2001 for sexually abusing five boys, aged 14 and 15, in the 1980s. After his release, King produced several films, albums, and books. In 2015, Jonathon King was arrested as part of Operation Ravine, an investigation relating to claims of child sexual abuse at the Walton Hop Disco in the 1970s and 1980s.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ken Dodd

Kenneth Arthur Dodd, was born in 1927 in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, Lancashire He was the son of a coal merchant, Arthur Dodd, and his wife Sarah (née Gray), and the family lived in an old Farm House. Kenneth was the middle child with older brother, William (1925–2011) and a younger sister, June. He was a lively daredevil even by the age of seven, at Knotty Ash School, he accepted a dared by his friends to ride his bike with his eyes shut. Unfortunately for the young Ken he crashed and received facial injuries which resulted in his distinctive buck teeth. None of which stopped him from singing in his local church choir of St John's Church, Knotty Ash. His father and mother,bought Ken his first 'Punch & Judy Show' when he was a child, and he used to put on shows in the back garden. June and Ken had dancing lessons and together and would give their parents impromptu shows. Kenneth left Holt High School when he was fourteen to work for his father.

After Ken saw an advert to become a ventriloquist in a comic he sent off for the publication and practised well enough for his father to buy him a ventriloquist's dummy. Ken was soon entertaining others with Charlie Brown, his new dummy.

Ken worked hard as a door to door salesperson, or as they say in Liverpool "On the knocker", after he branched out on his own selling pots, pans, and brushes. By night he became a regular and very popular semi-professional performer on ' The Club's ' Circuit as " Professor Yaffle Chuckabutty. Operatic Tenor and Sausage-Knotter. His big break came in 1954 when he appeared in his professional show-business debut at the Nottingham Playhouse. Post War Britain was ready for a laugh and Ken Dodd certainly could entertain. Within four years he was topping the bill and guesting on innumerable radio and television shows, including Ken Dodd Live from the Opera House in Blackpool (BBC).

Dodd’s stand-up comedy was fast and furious as he came master of the one liner. He also interspaced the comedy with occasional songs, both serious and humorous Ken had a fine light baritone voice which would have allowed him to pursue a career as a professional singer, but at the time comedy was his focus. His influences included other Liverpool comedians like Arthur Askey, Robb Wilton, Tommy Handley and the "cheeky chappy" from Brighton, Max Miller.

Ken Dodd was quickly identified by his trademark unruly hair and protruding teeth, and thrived in the music hall tradition. He was also encouraged to record some of his ballads and released his first single "Love Is Like a Violin" (1960). It sold well and reached number 8 in the UK singles charts.

The funny man was a serious student of humour and spent many hours, when not working the boards, in libraries researching the psychology of humour. During the 1960s he earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world's longest ever joke-telling session: 1,500 jokes in three and a half hours (7.14 jokes per minute), undertaken at a Liverpool theatre, where audiences were observed to enter the show in shifts. At his live shows he often worked three scripts and depending on the audience reaction in the first few minutes would adjust the material to suit.

Once in Every Lifetime was released in 1961, and although it sold less well it did reach 28 in the singles charts. Ken later released Still (1963) and Eight by ten (1964) both singles enjoyed fringe Top Thirty success. By itself this was no mean feat, at a time when beat groups, like the Beatles were beginning to dominate the pop charts.

In 1964, he released Happiness, then So Deep Is the Night, both singles reached #31 in the UK singles chart. Then in 1965, Ken had his biggest hit with Tears, which sold over 2 Million copies and became a #1 hit. At the time, Tears was the UK's biggest selling single by a solo artist, and remains one of the UK's biggest selling singles of all time. Later that year he released The River (Le Colline Sono in Fiore), which reached number 3 in the charts.

By the mid-sixties, Ken was at the top of his game, for not only did he top the pop charts but also on London Palladium debut he topped the bill and broke all box office records by completing a forty-two weeks run. The Palladium was the premier theatre venue at that time. Ken Dodd’s fame in the UK now rivalled The Beatles as a household name.

Television and radio work followed with. " The Ken Dodd Show " (BBC) and " Ken Dodd's Laughter Show " (ITV). In 1966, he released Promises in 1966 which sold well enough to reach #6 in the Top Ten UK.

One of his everlasting successes both in the live shows as well as radio and TV, was the Diddymen. These were the mythical little people who worked in the legendary Knotty Ash snuff quarries, black pudding plantations, the moggy ranch, treacle wells, jam butty mines, and broken-biscuit repair works. Characters like Dickie Mint, Mick The Marmaliser and The Hon Nigel Ponsonby Smallpiece became endeared to the British public. Cleverly Ken Dodd revived and embellished the characters from local Liverpool mythology. He used his remarkable comic genius to good effect allowing these wonderful characters to come to life at a time when the British public were desperate to identify with the Liverpool, thanks to the Mersey Sound phenomenon.

The Diddymen were so popular they featured in a regular children’s comic and were regulars in Ken’s live and TV shows.

One other Doddy prop which was as popular as the Diddymen was his red, white and blue "tickling stick" and his famous, upbeat greeting of "How tickled I am!". Something I am sure the comedian must have discovered in his early days as a brush saleman.

His last Top Twenty chart entry in the 60s, was Let Me Cry on Your Shoulder (1967). Ken continued with his comedy career throughout the 70s and was always a popular end of the pier draw card and pantomime favourite.

Keen to extend his repertoire he sometime appeared in drama including playing Malvolio in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night on stage in Liverpool in 1971. He last ever Top Twenty single came in the same year with "When Love Comes Round Again (L'arca di Noe)"

By the 80s public tastes in comedy were changing as variety became more passe. Ken’s radio and TV shows were dropped but he make a cameo appearance in Doctor Who (1987) as the Tollmaster.

In 1989, Ken Dodd was charged with 11 counts of tax evasion. The subsequent trial which lasted five weeks produced several revelations. Ken rarely used his bank account and instead secretly stashed his undeclared money in his attic. More shocking to the public was the popular Diddy Men, played often by local children from stage schools, were never paid. Although he was finally Dodd acquitted another side to the popular entertainer was revealed that of a lonely unreliable eccentric who led a chaotic life. Despite the strain of the trial, Doddy immediately capitalised on his new-found notoriety with a successful season at the London Palladium (1990). For a while he introduced his act with the words, "Good evening, my name is Kenneth Arthur Dodd; singer, photographic playboy and failed accountant!"

He made his film debut in 1997 as the non-speaking court jester Yorick (in silent flashback) in Kenneth Branagh's 'Hamlet'. The cast included Sir John Gielgud, Sir John Mills, Robin Williams, Charlton Heston, Brian Blessed and Julie Christie. In 1996, his critically acclaimed 'An Audience With Ken Dodd' for ITV confirmed his status as Britain’s funniest comedian. It produced a five minute standing ovation from its star-studded audience and has become one of the highest rating light entertainment shows of all time. Ken Dodd remains the only entertainer to be invited back to film Another Audience With Ken Dodd in 2002.

The serous side to the fellow of infinite jest came out when he was invited to address the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, on Shakespeare and Humour. Ken regularly appeared in many Royal Variety Performance over the years including in 2006, where he entertained Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. In 2009, the most famous Liverpudlian was honoured with a statue of himself in Liverpool's Lime Street Station.

Ken Dodd continues to entertain and still lives in the same house in which he was born in Knotty Ash.

Further Reading
Dodd Ken (2009) Look At It My Way Look At It My Way Trinity Mirror NW2
Griffin S. (2005) Ken Dodd: The Biography Michael O'Mara

Saturday, May 7, 2016

William "Smokey" Robinson, Jr (The Miracles)

William Robinson, Jr was born in 1940 in Detroit. He grew up in a poor neighborhood, and was brought up by his elder sister after his mother died when William was young. His uncle Claude gave him the nickname "Smokey Joe" when he was a child and it stuck. William was a clever child who loved music and sport. His early musical influences included Nolan Strong & the Diablos, Billy Ward and his Dominoes and Barrett Strong, a Detroit native, as a strong vocal influence.

Smokey formed a doo-wop group called the Five Chimes while he was still at Northern High School in 1955. The line-up included childhood friend, Ronald White and classmate Pete Moore. He became a prolific song writer while still at school. In 1957, the group was renamed the Matadors and included Bobby Rogers. Another member, Emerson Rogers, was replaced by Bobby's cousin Claudette Rogers. The group's guitarist, Marv Tarplin, joined them sometime in 1958. The Matadors began touring Detroit venues around this time. They later changed their name to the Miracles.

A chance meeting with record producer Berry Gordy Jr. in 1957, after a failed audition for Brunswick Records led to a contract with Motown Records as well as an important working relationship. Gordy was impressed with Robinson's vocals and he ambitions to be a songwriter. The group released their first single, "Got a Job" (1960), an answer song to the Silhouettes' hit single "Get a Job" on End Records.

Gordy formed Tamla Records which later became Motown and The Miracles were one of the first acts to be signed to the label. In late 1960, the group recorded their first hit single, "Shop Around", which became Motown's first million-selling hit record.

More top ten hits followed including: You've Really Got a Hold on Me" (1962),"Mickey's Monkey" (1963 ), Going to a Go Go (1965) , "I Second That Emotion" (1967 ), and "Baby Baby Don't Cry" (1968)

Then in 1970, The Miracles went to become top of the charts in UK and US with a somg which had been previously on their Make It Happen (1967), "The Tears of a Clown", became a number one hit in the UK before it was rereleased in the USA.

Smokey Robinson was also one of the major songwriters and producers for Motown, penning several hit singles for Mary Wells’, "My Guy"; The Temptations’, "The Way You Do The Things You Do", ‘My Girl” and "Get Ready"; Brenda Holloway’s "When I'm Gone" and "Operator"; The Marvelettes’ "My Baby Must Be a Magician" ; Marvin Gaye’s "I'll Be Doggone" and "Ain't That Peculiar".

Smokey stayed with the group as lead singer until 1972. Since 1960 he produced 26 top forty hits. He went solo creating a more mellow sound for himself. Often associated with romantic soul music, he released many successful albums including A Quiet Storm (1974) and Touch the Sky (1983).

Smokey Robinson's solo career suffered from his work as Motown's vice president, and his own music took the backseat. He did return to success with "Cruisin'" and "Let Me Be the Clock". In 1981, he was back in the charts with "Being with You".

By the mid-1980s, Smokey was battling drug addiction but made a comeback album, One Heartbeat (1988) which contained the successful singles, "Just to See Her" and "One Heartbeat".

When Motown was sold off to MCA in 1988, he relinquished his position as vice president and left the label for a deal with SBK Records in 1991. He released several albums on different labels but was unable to achieve his previous success. The man who was once described by Bob Dylan, as America’s “greatest living poet.” took his work in a new direction in 2004, releasing a collection of music that reflected his spiritual beliefs entitled Food for the Spirit. Smokey & Friends was released in mid-August 2014. It was an album of duets, including ones with Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. It reached number 12 on the Billboard album chart.

Further Reading

Robinson S and Ritz D (1989) Smokey: Inside My Life McGraw-Hill, Blacklick, Ohio, U.S.A

The Voice documentary - Torch Singers, Country & Soul

The History Of Country Music 02 Louvin Brothers