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Tower 134

No. 8    July 17, 1965



“I was brought up stiff-upper-lip English; I had to be reserved, and performing was  considered vular,” said

lan Whitcomb to Sh­-Boom’s Joel Sanoff.  “But I was dying to be vulgar.”


Ian (b. July 10, 1941, Woking, Surrey)  acquired an unsavory reputation  for punching out people,  like that

cop who called him “punk” and that one-legged  bloke who called him “lady.”   He was even arrested in

Jacksonville, Florida, for inciting  the audience to “knock  down the police” and have a good time.   This

Britisher  washed ashore with the Beatle  Invasion, yet he preferred Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard  to

the Fab Four and couldn’t care less about the Stones, either.  Bred in an upper-class setting,  Ian was

attending Dublin’s Trinity College  when that record of his–that he didn’t even like–became a national



Throughout his schools, Whitcomb “devil music” from younger years in exclusive boarding listened avidly

to rock’n’roll, from the States.   Not only that, but he practiced  piano-banged those very Satanic songs;

Warren Whitcomb’s Bluesmen, later Bluesville, M.FG.  During the summer of 1963, 22-year-old Ian took a

trip to Seattle to visit a cousin. Once there, he tested his facility on the ivories in several coffee-houses

around town.  The following year he returned, this time in search  of an American record company.


After hearing a crude demo of Whitcomb and his group Bluesville  (rhythm guitarist Deke O’Brien,

drummer Jan McGarry, lead guitarist Mick Molloy, harp/sax man Barry Richardson, and bassist Gerry

Ryan) Jerry Dennson–owner of the Jerden label responsible  for the Sonics, the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,”

and  some early sides by Paul Revere & The Raiders–signed Ian up. First out of the stall was “This Sporting

Life,” which Capitol’s Tower subsidiary soon picked up for national distribution.   It was a mini-sized

charter (#100, 1965), not bad for a starter.  But no one, least of all Ian, could have predicted what would

come next.


“I was visiting this lady in Seattle,” Whitcomb recalled to Goldmine’s  Bill Guarneri.   “I was at her house

romancing her  with my British accent.   We were sort of doing heavy petting, when she suddenly said,

‘lan, your accent is turning me on.’   I’d never heard this phrase used this way before. thought it was very

graphic and I started using it in songs.”


At first, Whitcomb used the catchy line in his Jerry Lee Lewis styled rendition of “Memphis.”  Noting the

positive audience response, he slowly developed the espression into a whole number.  “No Tears For

Johnny,” a Dylanesque protest song  against the Vietnam War, was slated as his follow-up single to “This

Sporting Life.”   At the end of  the recording session, there was  time to spare so Ian recorded “You Turn Me

On.”  Tower picked that number as the “A” side, much to lan’s disgust:  “I was just depressed, really

depressed.   I thought it was junk.”


Nonetheless, rock’n’rollers coast-to-coast bought piles of Ian’s “junk.”   He appeared on  TV shows like

Shindig..and  American  Bandstand, and  toured with the Beatles,  the Stones, and other British Invasion

acts.  16 magazine awarded Ian the “Gee Gee Award,” for “most promising new singer of 1965.”   On one of

these package tours, Whitcomb slugged  a program director–leading, he alleges, to his being blacklisted,

with all of his later singles banned from airplay by the station and its affiliates.   Others report that lan was

in a boil of his lack of repeated successes with the singles and went off into the sunset in a huff.


Yes, despite numerous follow-ups, including  “N-E-R- V-0-U-S!” (#59,  1965), lan seemed pegged as a

novelty act; one “turn  on” tune was all well and good, but one such record was all  that American record-

buyers  felt that they needed.


His days of stardom  are well behind him, but lan Whitcomb is still a very busy man.   He now lives  in

California and has issued  nearly a dozen LPs, most of them featuring eccentric ragtime romps like

“They’re Parking Camels Where the Taxis Used to Be,” “Charlies a Cripple (You Know),” and “Yaaka Hula

Hickey Dula.”   He has taught film and pop music courses at the University of Southern California, worked

as a DJ  on Pasadena’s KROQ and L.A.’s KCRW, written a few books (most notably After the Ball,  scored a

Las Vegas revue  (Doo Dah Daze) and Mae West’s  Sexetette, composed  music for the movie Bugs Bunny,

(1975), and  scripted the PBS TV special Tin Pan Alley.


“Today, you could never get the break that I had,” said Ian to Sh-Boom.   “Nobody could get onto the charts

like I did in ’65.   My record cost $25 to make and started out as a local hit in Seattle.  Today, you’ve got to be

signed up to a major corporation; you have to be safe.”


Bluesville quietly split from Whitcombe  following  his first  U.S. tour; allegedly over the musical direction to

be taken.   After much parading around Ireland and England, the band evolved into the homeland favs Bees

Make Honey.