Spectropop remembers

CHRIS CURTIS (1941 - 2005)

The career of the Searchers lasted from their formation in Liverpool in 1959 until 1985, when founders Mike Pender and John McNally finally parted company. However, during the group's heyday between 1963 and 1966, Chris Curtis, who has been found dead at his home in Aintree aged 63, after a long illness, made a significant contribution to their sound, as drummer, singer and songwriter.

The Searchers began as one of countless skiffle groups formed in the wake of Lonnie Donegan's hit version of "Rock Island Line" in 1956. It was McNally who coined the band's name, and he recruited Pender (erstwhile leader of the Wreckers and the Confederates) and Tony Jackson (from the Martinis).

Born in Oldham, Lancashire, Curtis - his real name was Chris Crummey - went to St Mary's College, in the Crosby district of Liverpool, as did Pender. Curtis joined the Searchers in 1962, replacing Norman McGarry when he left to take Ringo Starr's seat in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

Like their fellow Liverpudlians the Beatles, the Searchers knocked themselves into shape with residencies at the Star Club in Hamburg, from which a batch of live recordings was issued in 2003. In 1963, with Merseybeat exploding into the dominant force in British pop, they were signed to Pye Records by the label's A&R man, Tony Hatch. "Every record producer in London was running up to Liverpool to sign bands before Brian Epstein signed them up," he recalled.

The band proved to be a valuable acquisition. In August 1963, the Searchers hit #1 with their first single, a cover of the Drifters' "Sweets For My Sweet", and the follow-up, "Sugar And Spice", reached number five three months later. The latter was virtually a clone of "Sweets For My Sweet", concocted by Hatch. They scored their best-selling hit with "Needles And Pins" the following February, a cover of a minor hit by Jackie DeShannon. The Searchers' version featured a distinctive chiming guitar figure later copied by the Byrds on "Feel A Whole Lot Better" and borrowed by Tom Petty for "Listen To Her Heart", evidence of a skilful musicality that would influence a number of acts who came after them. DeShannon's composition "When You Walk In The Room" furnished them with a Top 3 hit later in the year, after they had achieved their third #1 with the wistful "Don't Throw Your Love Away".

The group's successful run continued through 1964, with the singles "What Have They Done To The Rain?" and "Goodbye My Love", and the album "Sounds Like The Searchers". "What Have They Done To The Rain" was an anti-nuclear protest song written by Malvina Reynolds, and its melodic delivery reflected the influence of the American folk movement, about to be dramatically fused with rock'n'roll by Bob Dylan and the Byrds.

Although the Searchers' biggest hits were cover versions, Curtis none the less displayed considerable writing prowess with songs including "I Pretend I'm With You", "No One Else Could Love Me" and "He's Got No Love". The band was renowned for intricate vocal arrangements and distinctive guitar parts, but Curtis's innovative drum parts and willingness to experiment with bongos, cowbells and castanets added extra intrigue to their sound. He was also a fine singer, able to carry the lead vocal on Ben E King's "Stand By Me" and to supply the distinctive top harmony in the band's vocal mix.

But by the spring of 1966, Curtis began to find that the glamour of being a member of Liverpool's "second most popular group" was being outweighed by the drudgery of their touring and recording schedule. Apparently exhausted and exhibiting unpredictable behaviour, probably exacerbated by drink and drugs, he stepped down from a lengthy British tour supporting P J Proby, and never rejoined the band.

Subsequently, he formed a band called Roundabout with his brother Dave, featuring guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboard player Jon Lord. Roundabout later evolved into hard rockers Deep Purple, but that was long after Curtis and his brother had left. Curtis also had some success in record production, most notably with Paul and Barry Ryan, but his musical career gradually petered out, prompting him to take a job in the civil service.

In the last few years of his life, Curtis made a belated return to performing, making some low-key pub appearances and singing old R&B numbers for the Merseycats charity in Huyton, Merseyside.

Adam Sweeting - The Guardian

Christopher Crummey (Chris Curtis), musician: born August 26th, 1941 - died on or before February 28th, 2005.