I first heard Georgie Fame as did many other ‘Merkins, as the singer of “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” in 1967. It was one of those out-of-the-box hits that always appealed to me. I was unaware of his earlier hits “Yeh Yeh,” which knocked The Beatles off the #1 on the British charts, and “Getaway.” Nor did the name Georgie Fame register with me. Therefore, I was surprised many years later when my boss at Island Records Canada handed me a record to promote. One of the tracks was “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” and I knew every note and nuance, even if I didn’t know the name Georgie Fame. I later learned this was a compilation LP by Georgie Fame. (I’m not sure how that came about. My assumption, which could be wrong, is that Island Records licensed the tracks for markets other than Great Britain.) However, I soon learned “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” was not representative of the music Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames (a name that didn’t appear on the sleeve, if memory serves) had been making. I immediately became a fan, precisely because his music is so hard to pigeon-hole, playing Jazz, Ska, R&B, Rock and Roll, Pop, and Standards.
This clip shows a nice bit of Georgie Fame’s history, along with Bonnie & Clyde’s.
Georgie Fame performing his earlier hit “Yeh Yeh” live for a Swinging Sixties tee vee show:
Georgie Fame & Alan Price performing one of their best known songs: Rosetta:
Let’s not forget that Georgie Fame was such a huge fan of Ska, that he started performing it in the ’60s, which only helped popularize the genre throughout the British Colonies. That’s why he can hold his own with Prince Buster and Suggs from Madness, (along with getting his own shout-out:
Presenting a Georgie Fame Jukebox, which includes a few renditions of a song all about him, while you read a short little bio of Georgie Fame:
Born on June 26, 1943 in Leigh, Lancashire, where his father played in an amateur dance band and where music was a intregal part of home life. Early training on the piano led to a love of some of the early rockers like Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Soon he was performing with his own band “The Dominoes.” As the story on the official web site goes:
In July 1959, at a summer holiday camp, Clive was spotted by Rory Blackwell, the resident rock and roll bandleader. Blackwell offered the young singer/pianist a full time job and the teenager happily left his job at the weaving mill. Rory and the Blackjacks departed for London, their hometown, when the summer season ended prematurely and Clive went with them. The promise of lucrative work in the music business didn’t materialize, however, and the band broke up. The determined young man from Leigh opted to stay on in London, but for a time it proved rough going. He tried unsuccessfully to make his way back home, and eventually he had the good fortune of finding “lodging” at The Essex Arms pub in London’s Dockland, where the kindly landlord provided him a room where he could sleep.
In October of that year, the Marty Wilde Show was performing at the Lewisham Gaumont and Rory Blackwell arranged for Clive to audition “live” for impresario Larry Parnes. After walking on stage, without any rehearsal, he sang Jerry Lee Lewis’ High School Confidential and was promptly hired as a backing pianist for the Parnes “stable” of singers. As with all the other young talent Parnes had taken on (such as Billy Fury and Johnny Gentle), he renamed Clive Powell “Georgie Fame,” and the name has stuck to this day. By the age of 16, Georgie had toured Britain extensively, playing alongside Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Tony Sheridan, Freddie Canon, Jerry Keller, Dickie Pride, Joe Brown and many more. During this time, Billy Fury selected four musicians, including Fame, for his personal backing group and the “Blue Flames” were born. At the end of 1961, after a disagreement, the band and Fury parted company.
I was also unaware Fame’s earlier work with Alan Price. Price was already well-known in the world of Pop music. He had hired a young Eric Burton to sing with his “Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo” in 1962, which by 1964 had become The Animals, mining old Blues songs. Price’s arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun” was a worldwide hit. Skipping ahead some 7 years, as the Alan Price web site tells us:
He then began a partnership with fellow-blues keyboardist and old chum, Georgie Fame, which gave birth to a hit single, Rosetta (which reached No. 11 in 1971), a highly-rated album (Price And Fame Together), their own television series (The Price Of Fame), and regular appearances on many others.
It was during one of the duo’s road tours that Malcolm MacDowell and Lindsay Anderson approached Alan about composing the music for the legendary cult film, O Lucky Man (in which he also appeared as himself). The phenomenal success of this project earned Price a BAFTA award, an Oscar nomination, and yielded his first US chart album.
Georgie Fame has been performing his own brand of music for more than 50 years. I feel lucky I got see him in a club on Jarvis Street in Toronto years later. Happy Birthday, George. You brought me many years of terrific music.