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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Monday, December 14, 2009


Bob Keane, bandleader and record producer, who was born on January 5, 1922, died on November 28, 2009, aged 87. He formed and owned the small California-based record label Del-Fi, which signed Ritchie Valens and released his hits. If Valens hadn't died in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly, I'd probably have marked the anniversary of his death in February on this blog. As it is, the death of his record producer and manager 50 years later will serve as the hook for hanging Ritchie's entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia now.

Before that, though, I relay the fact that I learn from Bob Keane's obituary in The Times that after the 1987 biopic La Bamba, the resurgence of interest allowed Keane to publish a memoir, and that it had what may be the best, and most surprisingly erudite, title pun of any book that has ever come out of the music. It was called The Oracle of Del-Fi...

Any other contenders?

Valens, Ritchie [ 1941 - 1959]
Ritchie Valens was born the same month as Bob Dylan (on May 13, 1941, in LA) but died before Dylan ever made a record. Ritchie too formed a rock’n’roll band in high school (the Silhouettes, at San Fernando High), and was heavily influenced by LITTLE RICHARD. Signed to Bob Keane’s Del-Fi label, his first hit was his own song ‘Come On Let’s Go’ - which, defying all the rules of the known universe, was inferior to the British cover version by Tommy Steele. But the big Valens hit was the double-sided ‘Donna’ c/w ‘La Bamba’. The latter has proved one of those immortal classics capable of being a hit time and again. No-one tried to cover this track when it was new, and no-one has since succeeded in covering it with half the appeal and energy of the original.

Valens also had time to appear in one film: the Alan Freed let’s-hold-a-talent-contest! movie Go Johnny Go, in which he performs his Little Richard-inspired ‘Ooh My Head’.

Valens died, along with the Big Bopper, in the single-engine plane crash that killed BUDDY HOLLY in the early hours of February 3rd 1959, en route to North Dakota in the snow. Holly’s lead guitarist Tommy Allsup should have been on the plane, and Valens on the bus, but as Allsup recalls: ‘I was the one who chartered the plane, but I flipped a coin with Ritchie Valens - he kept bugging me all night that he'd never flown in a little plane. He won the toss.’

Dylan saw them perform at the Duluth Armory just three nights before the crash. In 1987, Dylan was filmed driving near Malibu, CA, paying tribute to Ritchie Valens; a one-minute-long piece of footage of this was used within the promotional trailer for the film La Bamba, a Valens biopic.

[Ritchie Valens: ‘Come On Let’s Go’, Del-Fi 4106, US (Pye International 7N 25000, London), 1958; ‘Donna’ c/w ‘La Bamba’, Del-Fi 4110, 1958 (London American HL 8803, 1959; all released (with more than enough other Valens tracks for anyone, and including ‘Ooh My Head’) on the CD Ritchie Valens / Ritchie, Ace CDCHD 953, London, 1990. Go Johnny Go, dir. Paul Landres, Hal Roach Studios Inc. / Valiant, US, 1959. Bob Dylan: spoken comments on Valens, Spring-Summer 1987, nr. Malibu; released in trailer for La Bamba, dir. & written Louis Valdez, Columbia Pictures / New Visions, US, 1987.]


Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

I'm not sure about the most erudite, but Ska'd For Life is not only the title of a book by Horace Panter, but also of servel CD compilations.

8:58 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Yes - nice!

9:38 pm  

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