Monday, 8 July 2013

Famous AAA Fathers (News, Views and Music Issue 201)




Whose the daddy?! Err, these five are to be exact! You didn’t think those musical genes came from nowhere did you?! Admittedly their fame may have been wiped out the minute their famous sons took to the stage but for a time there these five AAA dads were much more famous than their off-spring (much to the chagrin of Murray Wilson in particular). There are two jokers in the pack here: one who had their hit single after their famou8s son had his and another who has nothing to do with music (except his links to his son) and who famously refused to buy his son his first guitar because his exam grades were too poor but who did become ultra-famous in Canada as a sports journalist and writer. There may not be many recordings (and we’ll point out to you what they’re on if there are) but we AAA fans salute you for having music round the house just long enough to influence your very talented off-spring...

Murray Wilson (Father of Beach Boys Brian, Dennis and Carl)

To Beach Boys fans Murray has forever become established as the bossy father, so sure of his own musical opinion that the band’s hapless producer had to give him his own fake set of controls to fiddle around with so he could ‘think’ he was in charge. Anyone whose ever heard Murray on any Breach Boys session tapes (especially the ‘Help Me Rhonda’ tapes, where Brian finally gets so upset he fires him from the group) will know what a monster Murray senior could be. However, fans are wrong to dismiss Murray as having no musical talent. He could play the piano at least as well as his offspring and – even if he overstressed his talents as a songwriter somewhat – did manage to get a song published before Brian was even born. ‘Two Step Sidestep’ sounds like the sort of thing Brian will go on to write in his sleep, but it did respectably when released in 1952, covered by Lawrence Welk on a national radio programme and released as on singles by forgotten bandleader Johnnie Lee Wills and the only slightly better known Bonnie Lou. However, nothing else broke for Murray the same way and by most accounts (except his own) he became a bitter man, jealous at the ‘easy’ way Brian and co found success after his own struggles (his story is easier to understand when you learn his lack of success led to him getting in debt and taking a dangerous factory job, where he lost his right eye in an accident). After being fired from the group Murray did what all good parents do when they’re mad at their children: he stole all the band’s publishing rights under their nose and formed a ‘rival’ group the ‘SunRays’ (as in ‘Mu-Ray’) who, perhaps thankfully, flopped. Much better is Murray’s own solo album, released to cash-in in on the Beach Boys fame, ‘The Many Moods Of Murray Wilson’ – it’s nothing like the music his sons wrote and not even close to the same quality, but it does reveal that Murray was at least a little bit unfortunate not to have become a bigger success in the 1940s.

Alfred Lennon (Father of John)

To be fair, Alfred Lennon had no interest in music whatsoever – John’s love of skiffle and early rock and roll came from his mother Julia. Not that it would have mattered – the young Beatle was born out of wedlock and didn’t see his dad once between the ages of four and 22 (the fact that Alf was always at sea and away from Liverpool for long periods of time didn’t help matters either). However, when Alf came back into his son’s life circa 1964 he brought with him stories of singing lullabies to the boy and, like most sailors, had a better knowledge of American chart hits than almost every other Liverpudlian family around at the time. To prove it (or to cash-in, depending whose side you’re on) Alf even released his own record ‘That’s my life, my love and my home’. It hardly compares to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ (the Beatles single released weeks earlier), but Alf does seem to have genuinely written the song himself and it’s actually moving as a sort of nostalgic travelogue about the days when Liverpool had genuinely been a thriving, bustling port (never officially released, it’s available on Youtube for your perusal).Lennon had one last falling out with dad in 1965, evicting him from the Esher house he shared with first wife Cynthia, afraid that his then toddler-son Julian was growing too close to his Grandad. Understandable, perhaps (Alf is meant to have asked for a quid or two on the side – rumour is Brian Epstein paid him to keep out of the papers), but a shame given that Alf shows at least a little of the musical brilliance his son enjoyed. Certainly you can imagine that, together with Julia (who died long before her son became famous and had the chance to make cash-in singles of her own), the musical gene must have been strong in the Lennon family.

Jim McCartney (Father of Paul)

Do you remember the Jim Mac Band? If you do then you must be an old Liverpudlian with a good memory, because they never made a record and hardly ever toured outside Merseyside. Those who did see them, though, raved about them – especially the prim and proper looking band leader who always seemed to be lost in the music. Jim Mac is, of course, better known as James Mccartney Senior, the dad of Paul whose love and worship of all forms of music did so much to encourage his son’s playing. Sadly, tight finances after wife Mary died meant that Jim had to give up his trad band, but its worth noting that for a time there they were one of the biggest Liverpudlian bands of the day and that its not everyone who ends up leading their own band. Sadly Jim never did make any recordings, but his son sort-of made up for it when, with time to spare during a Nashville session with Wings in 1974, Paul asked the musicians to have a go at ‘a couple of songs my dad wrote’. ‘Walking In The Park With Eloise’ and ‘Bridge Over The River Suite’ were duly issued under the pseudonym ‘The Country Hams’, although enough Macca fans knew the truth to buy the singles (which nowadays are featured as ‘bonus tracks’ on the CD re-issues of ‘Venus and Mars’). Paul proudly presented his dad with one for his 60th birthday and pointed to his name on the writing credits. ‘Oh no, I’ve never actually written a song, lad’ said Jim – at which point Paul’s face reportedly froze, fearing a copyright investigation – ‘I did make those two up, though!’ Ironically, of course, it was The Beatles in particular who ruined the career of trad bands like this, who until 963 had still just about been making a living for themselves. Paul will pay his own tribute to his dad’s style of music many times over the years, from ‘When I’m 64’ (started when Paul was 14) to ;’Honey Pie’ through ‘You Gave Me The Answer’. Remember, John’s Aunt Mimi did her best to keep instruments out of the house, so if Jim hadn’t been in a band (and bought a piano for their front room) the famous Lennon and McCartney partnership might never have got started...

Cliff Townshend (Father of Pete)

One of the biggest surprises in Pete’s book ‘Who I Am’ released last year was how much the Who guitarist worshipped his dad – and how concerned he was that bands like The Beatles (and The Who) seemed to kill off his career. Unlike Paul (who was too young to travel when his dad was a musician) Pete travelled everywhere his dad went until his teenage years, enjoying a regular stay at the Isle of Mann (where his dad was quite popular) which eventually ended up in the lyric for Who single ‘Happy Jack’. Pete’s love of rock and roll came very late when he was at art college and began to take music seriously – just as his father had done for years, although Cliff never really saw eye to eye with the rock and roll movement his son was such a part of. That’s definitely where the musical genes came from though – and, reading between the lines of the book, Pete’s determined, perfectionist stance. Sadly Townshend Senior never did make any recordings, even though out of the four ‘musicians’ on this list he arguably had the most successful career, touring up and down the country for many years.

Scott Young (Father of Neil)

Neil developed his love of music from his mother Rassy, who herself became a household name when she became a regular panellist on a local quiz show (actually inheriting the job from Neil’s granny). However, his love of words and his determined, no-ones-going-to-get-in-my-way mentality most certainly came from his father Scott, who had already made quite a name for himself as a newspaper writer before Neil was born. In fact, it wasn’t until the ‘CSNY’ era that newspapers began to stop referring to Neil in Canada as ‘the son of the sports writer’ – even the Buffalo Springfield’s #1 hit ‘For What It’s Worth’ hadn’t made Neil famous enough. After Scott and Rassy split Neil saw less of his father (who, famously, refused to buy him his first guitar because his school grades were dropping during his teenage years) but Scott’s career went from strength to strength as he turned his hands to writing books. The most interesting of these for the Neil Young scholar is Scott’s autobiography ‘Neil and Me’ which looks in (admittedly vague) detail about Neil’s childhood and fills in some of the ‘gaps’ about how his writing career took off. As far as I know, though, Scott had no particular interest in music right up until his death a few years ago and only listened to his son’s music when it happened to be on the radio.

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