Ian Whitcomb (with Dick Zimmermann) – Live at Montreux – July 23, 1983 – RTS-Switzerland
More sad and devastating news tonight. The passing earlier this evening (April 20) of multi-talent/singer/writer/historian/bon vivant/influencer Ian Whitcomb – another casualty to the insidious Coronavirus and its complications brought on**.
It seems like, almost daily we’re losing someone who has in some way or form, shaped, influenced, brought joy, brought a point of view, cast light – made bearable, stimulated thought, changed minds – enhanced life. All going and all going quickly. All leaving an empty void – all leaving shoes impossible to fill.
There are most likely many people who might not recognize Ian Whitcomb or be familiar with his contribution to the world of Popular Music. Those who were around in the 60s, who were sucked into the British Invasion as so many of us were, remember Ian Whitcomb as the artist behind the unlikely but instantly memorable hit “You Turn Me On” and knew him as a Rock singer. But as time went on, the Rock persona fell by the wayside and his true love appeared; Early American Tin Pan Alley, British Music Hall and Vaudeville as well as the Great American Songbook. Little did anyone realize this Pop Star had an encyclopedic knowledge of music from the late 19th and early 20th century. And he promoted it and gained just as many fans because of it over the years.
For those of you not familiar, or only vaguely familiar with Ian Whitcomb – it might be a good idea to add this entry from Wikipedia as a bit of background:
“In 1966 he turned to early popular song: his version of a 1916 Al Jolson comedy number, “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night?” was a West Coast hit, reviving the ukulele before the emergence of Tiny Tim.
After making four albums for Tower Records and producing Mae West on her album called Great Balls of Fire for MGM Records in 1972, Whitcomb returned to the UK where he began his writing career with After the Ball. He later wrote Tin Pan Alley, A Pictorial History (1919–1939) and a novel, Lotusland: A Story of Southern California.
Returning to Hollywood, Whitcomb starred in and wrote L.A.–My Home Town (BBC TV; 1976) and Tin Pan Alley (PBS; 1974). He also provided the music for a documentary film, Bugs Bunny: Superstar (UA), which was narrated by Orson Welles. For Play-Rite Music he cut 18 piano rolls that were included in an album, Pianomelt. His other albums reflected his research into the genres of ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, vaudeville, and music hall. These, beginning with Under the Ragtime Moon (1972), were released on several record labels including Warner Bros. Records, United Artists, and Decca Records. During that time he also wrote and produced singles for Warner Bros.’ country division, most notably “Hands”, a massage parlour story, and “A Friend of a Friend of Mine”.
In the 1980s Whitcomb published Rock Odyssey: A Chronicle of the Sixties: Ian Whitcomb, a memoir of the 1960s and described by The New York Times as the best personal account of this period. He also published Ragtime America (Limelight Editions, 1988), followed by a memoir of life as a British expatriate living in Los Angeles, Resident Alien (Century, 1990). He produced a British documentary on black music, Legends of Rhythm and Blues (part of the series Repercussions, made by Third Eye Productions for Channel Four in 1984). During this time he also hosted a radio show in Los Angeles for fifteen years, taking the program from KROQ-FM to KCRW and finally to KPCC-FM. His songs can he heard in the films Bloody Movie (1987), Cold Sassy Tree (1989), Encino Man (1992), Grass (1999), Man of the Century (1999), Stanley’s Gig (2000), After the Storm (2001), The Cat’s Meow (2002), Last Call (2002), Sleep Easy, Hutch Rimes (2002), Lonesome Jim (2005), and Fido (2006). Ian appeared as Grand Marshal in the 24th Occasional Pasadena Doo Dah Parade on November 19, 1999.
Whitcomb performed at music festivals throughout America. He continued to write, and he made frequent guest appearances. He was a regular performer at Cantalini’s Restaurant in Playa del Rey, California. He also visited Zelo Pizzeria in Arcadia, California on a weekly basis.
From 7 November 2007, Whitcomb had an internet radio program on Wednesday evenings from 8:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m.(PST) at LuxuriaMusic.com. He signed with Premiere Radio Networks in September 2010 to launch The Ian Whitcomb Show on XM satellite radio, Channel 24.
Ian Whitcomb was named as a BEST OF L.A. in 2008 by Los Angeles magazine.
In 2009 Whitcomb wrote and, with his Bungalow Boys, performed original music for the West Coast Premiere of The Jazz Age, a play by Allan Knee, at the Blank Theater Company’s 2nd Stage Theater in Los Angeles. For his work on The Jazz Age Whitcomb was nominated for an L.A. Theater Award.
Whitcomb lived in Southern California with his wife, Regina, and their dog, Tobey. He died on April 20th, 2020.
So there’s a little background on who we lost today and why today is just a little sadder than most. Here, by way of tribute, is a concert he performed during the 1983 Montreux Jazz festival with pianist/accompanist Dick Zimmermann. There are couple of sound glitches at the beginning, but they stop less than 30 seconds in and don’t come back.
It’s okay to enjoy the show – I don’t think Ian would have it any other way.
**Update: It was reported to me that Ian’s passing wasn’t attributed to complications of COVID-19, but from other medical complications not associated with the pandemic.