Ian Whitcomb ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Born on this day in 1941: Ian Whitcomb, still performing to this very day.

Ian Timothy Whitcomb was born in Woking, Surrey, England, to a family that already had show biz in its blood. His grandfather Jack founded British Screen Classics, an early entry in the motion picture business, which eventually bankrupt him. Before that, Ian’s father Pat worked there, and even co-starred in the 1929 flick, Mr. Nobody (not to be confused with the 2009 SciFi film), a movie that seems to be lost, without even an entry on the Internet Movie Data Base.

His father also played piano, which is probably where Ian’s love of music came from. But, it was also a musical family. As the WikiWackyWoo tells us:

Ian’s younger brother, Robin, accompanied him on drums in their first bands, notably The Ragtime Suwanee Six (1960–62) whose manager was Denny Cordell, later to produce records by Procol Harum and Joe Cocker. Robin went on to play tambourine on Sonny & Cher‘s hit “I Got You Babe” (1965).

Growing up, Whitcomb’s chief musical inspirations were Phil Harris, Johnnie Ray, Guy Mitchell, Elvis Presley, and George Formby. He was sent away to boarding school in 1949 (Newlands, Seaford, Sussex) at age 8 and there he soon formed a tissue paper-and-comb band to entertain staff and boys with current hits such as “Riders in the Sky“.

In boarding school he formed a Skiffle group (1957) and, later, a Rock and Roll band (1959). While at Trinity College in the ’60s, he formed what was to become Dublin’s first Rhythm and Blues band, Bluesville.

I became aware of Ian Whitcomb in 1965, like most everybody else, when his unlikely tune “You Turn Me On” — credited to Ian Whitcomb and Bluesville — raced up the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, hitting #8 on the hit parade.

That tune brought him to ‘Merka, where he performed on a number of tee vee shows, like Shindig! Here he appears along with some of the other musical stars of the day: Beau Brummels, Shelly Fabares, Bobby Sherman, and Billy Preston, among others.

[Click HERE to hear an unadulterated single version of
You Turn Me On” without all the background noise.]

His follow-up tune, “N-Nervous”, did not do nearly as well, but still charted in the mid-50s on both Billboard and Cashbox. However, Rock and Roll didn’t appear to be his real muse. Whitcomb’s music started looking backward to earlier eras, to some of the tunes taught to him by his other grandfather, also named Jack.

That’s when I rediscovered Ian Whitcomb, but it would be a while before I connected him to his earlier hit song.

Back in the day, when I was a DJ at Radio Sheridan in Oakville Ontario, Canada, we were sent the LP “Under The Ragtime Moon“, which captured my attention immediately. It harkened back to an earlier era of Tim Pan Alley tunes.

The LP was produced by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band‘s Neil Innes, who had already demonstrated a fondness for the era with some of the tunes the Bonzos covered.

As different as it was from the music of the day, I played the grooves off that record and eventually bought one for my own collection so I could play it whenever I wanted.

These days Ian Whitcomb is known as “America’s Foremost Tin-Pan Alley Man, Ukulele Virtuoso, and Grammy Award-Winning Recording Artist“, according to his website. It may be just be a coincidence that Whitcomb was born the day that Jelly Roll Morton, one of the greats of Ragtime, died.

Enjoy this early tee vee show:


About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

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