Monday

IAN WHITCOMB MEMORIAL TRIBUTE



HERO OF THE ROCKER PACK: He was a dear friend to Blitz Magazine, as well as an extraordinarily gifted composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, author, historian, musicologist and radio announcer. Tragically, Surrey native and long time southern California musical giant IAN WHITCOMB became the latest victim of the virus pandemic on 20 April.  Blitz Magazine Editor / Publisher Michael McDowell remembers this beloved legend below (Click on above image to enlarge).

THIS SPORTING LIFE:
REMEMBERING
COMPOSER, VOCALIST AND VISIONARY
IAN WHITCOMB
By Michael McDowell



Hospitality is a rare attribute in this day and age. 



When Blitz Magazine relocated to southern California at the end of 1979, the optimism of following the road paved with good intentions was tempered by the reality of the possibility of roadblocks. Thankfully, there were a few on the receiving end that helped to make what could have been an insurmountable challenge a moment of triumph instead.

Among the many who ultimately were most welcoming during that time of transition was the beloved veteran composer, vocalist, composer, musicologist, bandleader, author and radio host, Ian Timothy Whitcomb. Having relocated to southern California himself from his native Woking, Surrey, Whitcomb had developed the necessary survival skills to flourish in what can be one of the most challenging atmospheres in the world, and was willing to impart his wisdom accordingly.

And flourish he did. At that time, Whitcomb was hosting a weekend show on the immensely influential Pasadena radio station KROQ-FM. Afforded by the station the artistic license to champion his unique and inspiring muse, Whitcomb was gracious enough to have Blitz Magazine as a guest on the program on two separate occasions. 

Whitcomb's muse was born of a richly diverse palette of musical originals. He was inspired by everything from early rock and roll and rhythm and blues to the pioneering work of the visionaries who shaped the recording industry at the dawn of the cylinder era in the 1880s into the early decades of the twentieth century.

It was a combination of those influences that impacted Whitcomb's earliest releases for the Jerden and Tower labels. And while his 1964 cover of Larry Williams' Bony Moronie on Jerden generated some early momentum, it was his good natured 1965 Supremes spoof, You Turn Me On that put Whitcomb front and center in that most demanding and productive of musical eras.

A series of duly inspired releases for Tower followed in rapid succession, including 18 Whitcomb Street, This Sporting Life (also covered by the Children), N-N-Nervous, Good Hard Rock, Sir Arthur, Please Don't Leave Me On The Shelf, Poor Little Bird, You Really Bent Me Out Of Shape, the psych rock classic Sally Sails The Sky, and the wonderfully screwy Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday On A Saturday Night? His albums for Tower also ran the gamut from R&B and rock and roll to ragtime and vaudeville, highlighted by such gems as Too Many Cars On The Road, The Junkman Rag and Heroes Of The Rocker Pack.

By the early 1980s, Whitcomb was not only flourishing as an artist and radio host, but as an author. His 1972 After The Ball is considered one of the finest treatises ever on the music industry, which led to successes in related fields. Among them was a fellowship at Pasadena's Huntington Gardens, who underwrote his ongoing research on the founding days of the recording industry.

It was Blitz Magazine and Whitcomb's ongoing passion for the work of such cylinder era giants as Billy Murray, Will Oakland, Henry Burr, George J. Gaskin, Steve Porter, Vess Ossman, George W. Johnson, the Peerless Quartet, William F. Hooley and Dan W. Quinn which served as a catalyst in the formation of an ongoing camaraderie between both camps. On any of Blitz Magazine's frequent visits to Whitcomb's offices at Huntington Gardens, it was common to find him steeped in research on those pioneering artists, He took a break only to walk his ever present pet canine companion (a rather large breed seven year old, of whom Whitcomb was most amused by Blitz Magazine's consistent references to as a "puppy"). 

Concurrently, Whitcomb had returned to the recording studio on a regular basis. While 1981's In Hollywood for First American celebrated his ongoing passion for the aforementioned cylinder artists, 1983's Boogie Woogie Jungle Snake for his own I.T.W. label returned to the rock and roll-themed tongue in cheek originals that characterized his work for Tower. Whitcomb remained a tireless champion and supporter of Blitz Magazine throughout that creative boom, with the latter album exponentially raising his profile at home.

With that heightened exposure came an increased demand for live performances. Whitcomb responded accordingly, eventually assembling a formidable dance band to accommodate his ongoing passion for rich musical diversity. 

That diversity often prompted him to hold his ground, even when potential dichotomy may have seemed like the proverbial splitting of hairs to a casual observer. It was during one such exchange with Blitz Magazine on the subject of early rock and roll at his Pasadena offices that such minutiae ultimately served to articulate the depths of his passion.

"I know you really like the vocal groups like the Five Satins, the Mello-Kings and the Flamingos", Whitcomb said.

"But I've always been drawn to the solo artists like Joe Turner, Amos Milburn and Roy Brown". 

In fact, it was Roy Brown who in 1981, together with Whitcomb, provided one of the most memorable highlights of the many years of publishing Blitz Magazine. Blitz had the dubious honor of conducting the very last interview ever given by Brown, who tragically passed away in May 1981 at age 56, just as that particular edition was going to press. 

The interview was conducted at a club where Brown was performing live. That evening, he was accompanied not only by Whitcomb on keyboards, but by the beloved and legendary Motown bassist, James Jamerson.

Whitcomb had invited Blitz Magazine to the proceedings. With staff photographer Al Kracalik and art director Heather Johnson on board, Blitz Magazine chronicled the proceedings accordingly. Not surprisingly, Whitcomb and Jamerson absolutely soared that evening, gliding with seeming effortlessness as Brown sailed magnificently through everything from Love For Sale to his 1947 DeLuxe label signature single, Good Rocking Tonight.

After the show, Blitz Magazine sat down for that final exchange with Brown. But first, while Brown and Whitcomb busied themselves with packing their respective gear, Blitz Magazine seized the rare opportunity to approach Jamerson, who had been ill that evening. Jamerson sat on a stool in the corner of the dressing room in order to rest for a few minutes.

Circumstances notwithstanding, it was nonetheless a once in a lifetime opportunity. As Whitcomb glanced over with considerable amusement, Blitz Magazine's entourage approached Jamerson to say hello. Jamerson looked on with bewilderment that turned into amusement and finally appreciation, as Blitz Magazine rattled off in rapid succession as many classic tracks that came to mind which featured Jamerson's virtuoso skills on the bass. Although weary, he was visibly moved and most gracious in his response.

"Wow, thanks man", Jamerson said.

"I really appreciate that. That means a lot. Thank you".

"I knew you'd like that", Whitcomb said with his trademark subtle grin. 

At that point, Brown approached Whitcomb with concern about Jamerson. The two of them conferred briefly.

"I think I'd better give him a ride home", Brown said.

"I want to make sure he gets in okay. I'm worried about him".

Whitcomb concurred. With that, the two of them helped Jamerson to his feet and got him to Brown's car. 

"Well, that was a good night, despite all of that", Whitcomb said in the parking lot, as Brown and Jamerson drove off.

"We'll talk soon. Cheers!"

Indeed we did, although sadly with less frequency in the ensuing years. Whitcomb had become more and more active not only in research, but in keeping up with the increasing demand for live performances. His orchestra remained a top draw on the Los Angeles club circuit. And most fortuitously, one of his featured vocalists, Regina eventually became his wife.

Whitcomb, Regina and the orchestra continued to perform live prolifically in the early years of the twenty-first century. In 2007, Whitcomb began hosting a satellite radio program for Luxuria Music. He joined forces with the Premiere Radio Network in 2010 to begin hosting The Ian Whitcomb Show. 

Whitcomb continued to hold court with his legions of devotees at various southern California restaurants on a regular basis throughout the 2010s. His recollections of his many adventures enthralled all who knew him.

"He was a nice guy", said long time supporter (and current U.S. military veterans advocate), Dennis Russell.

"Very intelligent. He could talk your ear off! I enjoyed listening to his memories and great stories. He had a bunch!"

Renowned video archivist, historian and producer Gary Belich concurred.

"He even sent me a VHS tape or two with some of his clips", Belich said.

By 2012, Whitcomb's health had begun to decline. He suffered a stroke that year, the repercussions of which he felt for the remainder of the decade. Most tragically, he succumbed to ongoing complications from that stroke on 19 April 2020.

Whitcomb would have celebrated his seventy-ninth birthday on the tenth of July. Memorial services are pending.

HOW TO REACH US



Blitz Magazine's web site is lovingly dedicated
to the memory of my beloved Princess,
Audrey J. McDowell
(19 June 1960 - 30 October 2014)






Questions? Comments? E-Mail Blitz Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell (above) at BlitzMcD@aol.com. Or write us at P.O. Box 626, Dearborn Heights, Michigan 48127 - 0626 USA.

Blitz Magazine's web site is also dedicated to the memory of some of the finest people to ever walk the face of this earth, who are greatly missed and whose contributions to Blitz are immeasurable: Kenneth E. McDowell (1914-1966), Virginia J. McDowell (1919-2004), Stella O. Brockway (1916-2001), Anna Sawchuk (1885-1978), Michael Cichonsky (1888-1973), Catherine Cichonsky (1896-1962) and Boris "Lash" Loupishansky (1916-1960).

Blitz also remains grateful for the unconditional love that was given by the three best friends that one could ever ask for: our late cats Doctor (02 June 1991 - 28 June 2001) and Baby Lee (02 April 1992 - 23 January 2006) and our beloved family dog, Peeps (01 May 1990 - 02 May 2007). 

From all of us at Blitz Magazine, may you and yours have a blessed day. Jesus is Lord!