The other Gene – a tribute to Gene Nelson

Gene Nelson (1920-1996) was a familiar face in 1950s musicals from Warner Brothers, a talented hoofer, singer, and amiable screen personality. He was born Leander Eugene Berg in Oregon, and became interested in dancing after watching films featuring Fred and Ginger when he was a child.

Although he never became a big star as a performer, or later as a director, Gene made appearances in a number of films which are remembered with affection today – notably, he is Will Parker in ‘Oklahoma!’, his final musical film (he’s the one who dances with the rope and sings about ‘Kansas City’), he partnered Doris Day three times (in ‘The West Point Story’, ‘Tea for Two’, and ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ – in which they make a winning team), and appeared a trio of films with Virginia Mayo (‘Painting the Clouds with Sunshine’, ‘She’s Back on Broadway’ and ‘She’s Working Her Way Through College’).

After taking a break from performing in front of the camera to direct Elvis Presley in a couple of weak musicals (‘Kissin’ Cousins’ and the appalling ‘Harum Scarum’), Gene’s career took a step up when he appeared on stage as Buddy in Stephen Sondheim’s backstage musical, Follies, in which his easy charm and pleasant singing voice created a memorable character.

Gene Nelson was always honest about his limitations. On his dancing he had the following to say: “In my heyday, I could only do about four pirouettes without starting to fall, but with film, I could do a dozen by cutting and editing. The magic of film is that you can create anything you want.” Perhaps so, but film is permanent, and he remains a decent hoofer on the screen who deserves to be remembered.

Classic Damsel has posted a video in tribute to Gene on YouTube:

NaBloPoMo November 2013

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Hold Tight! a tribute to Dave Dee

Dave Dee (1941-2009) was perhaps best known as the lead singer of 60s pop band ‘Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich’ who take the crown for the silliest of all band names from the era. He was not just one of our best live performers but also a record industry manager, a former policeman, and a respected magistrate in Cheshire and London.

Born David John Harman on 17th December 1941 in Salisbury, the police cadet turned budding musician attended at Eddie Cochran’s fatal accident in 1960, and taught himself to play guitar on Cochran’s Gretsch while it was impunded at the local station. By 1962 he had started his first group, Dave Dee and the Bostons, who were a comedy-music act. By 1966 this had evolved into the chart-topping quintet who produced such hits as Bend It, Hold Tight, Zabadak, Don Juan, and The Legend of Xanadu, which lasted until Dee left to go solo in 1969.

As an A&R man at WEA Records, Dave Dee can be credited as part discover of such acts as AC/DC, the Heavy Metal Kids, and Boney M. By 1985 the revival circuit beckoned and his taste for perfoming has returned – with the Heroes and Villains concert in London set up with many of the Dozies’ peers on the bill to raise money for the charity Nordoff-Robbins, which Dee co-founded. Watching this concert on video (also featuring Mud, The Merseybeats, The Equals, Chris Farlowe, The Tremeloes, Tommy Bruce, The Nashville Teens, and many more) it crackles with the energy with Dee and other groups and performers of the time would bring to the Solid Silver 60s circuit through the next couple of decades.

Was Dave Dee a great singer? I think he was – in the 90s he recorded a cover of Oasis’ song ‘Look Back in Anger’ which almost exceeded the original. Even in his last few months he recorded songs including a medley of Everly Brothers songs and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven teamed with The Who’s Pinball Wizard and sounded perhaps better than he had in his prime during the 1960s. As a live performer he was a class act who combined a sense of fun with true professionalism. I will always keep happy memories of singing those silly songs like Zabadak live with their creators!

The Dozies were fashion icons and appeared on all the great music shows of the time – including Top of the Pops and the German equivalents Beat Beat Beat, and Beat Club (which Dee co-presented for a while, and also fronted compilations of in the 1990s for British television). When they returned, perhaps the fashions were a bit more conservative, and Beaky and Mick changed personnel over the years, but there is no other Justice of the Peace who spent his mature years wielding a whip on stage singing about the black barren land of Xanadu!

Dave Dee passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer in January 2009, not that long after yet another successful nostalgia tour. There’s been quite a hole in the revival circuit ever since.