Spectropop remembers

TERRY MELCHER (1942 - 2004)

Terry Melcher helped to shape the sound of American West Coast rock music. As the son of Doris Day, he was born into a showbusiness family and went on to produce many of his mother's television shows. He made his greatest contribution to popular culture by producing the Byrds' groundbreaking hits "Mr Tambourine Man" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and working with a string of other popular acts.

He also became an unwitting footnote in criminal history when a house in Hollywood in which he had lived until six months earlier was the site of the savage murder of the actress Sharon Tate and others by followers of the cult leader, Charles Manson. According to one theory, Melcher, who had known Manson, was the intended victim of the slaughter.

The son of the 17-year-old Day and her first husband Al Jorden, he was born Terry Jorden in New York in 1942. He adopted the name by which he was best known from Day's third husband, Martin Melcher. His own father committed suicide, but he remained close to his mother throughout his life and capitalised on her name in his early attempts at a recording career by briefly calling himself Terry Day.

Teaming up with the future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, he made a series of records exploiting the early 1960s surfing craze as Bruce and Terry and then with the Rip Chords, who recorded the hit "Hey, Little Cobra". He also wrote songs with Bobby Darin and Randy Newman.

At the age of 22 he was hired as the youngest staff producer at Columbia Records. His appointment was no doubt assisted by the fact that his mother had been recording for the label since the 1940s and he produced her 1964 hit album "Love Him" and the British Top Ten single "Move Over Darling". They proved to be her last hits.

Melcher's next assignment for Columbia was to make rock music history. Asked to produce an unknown West Coast band called the Byrds, he helped them to invent the groundbreaking fusion that was to become known as folk-rock. To get the sound he wanted, he controversially used top Los Angeles session men for backing on their 1965 No 1 hit "Mr Tambourine Man". This may have contributed to the friction between Melcher and the group; after he produced the Byrds' first two albums, they were commercially powerful enough to tell Columbia that they wanted him ousted.

He next worked with a rough-and-ready garage band called Paul Revere and the Raiders, whom he turned into a commercial pop outfit with a succession of hit singles in 1965-67 that included "Just Like Me", "Kicks", "Hungry", "Good Things" and "Him Or Me - What's It Gonna Be". Meanwhile, his former singing partner Bruce Johnston had replaced the ailing Brian Wilson in the touring version of the Beach Boys, and Melcher found himself singing backing vocals on the Beach Boys' landmark 1966 album, "Pet Sounds". The connection was to have sinister repercussions when in the spring of 1968, he was introduced by the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson to the cult leader, convicted rapist and would-be singer-songwriter Charles Manson.

Wilson had got involved with Manson after picking up a couple of his followers who were hitchhiking and even invited Manson's "family" to move into his house on Sunset Boulevard for several months. He also persuaded Melcher to listen to Manson's songs and to audition him. Manson apparently believed that the producer had offered to help him to get a recording contract. According to one theory, when no deal was forthcoming, he dispatched his murderous followers to the house on Cielo Drive, Hollywood, where he had once visited Melcher and his girlfriend Candice Bergen.

In fact, Melcher had by then moved to Malibu and the house was being rented by Roman Polanski and his pregnant girlfriend, Sharon Tate, who was gruesomely butchered at the address with four others in August 1969. The LA police discounted the theory that Melcher had been Manson's intended victim, on the grounds that he knew that the producer no longer lived there. An alternative theory holds that Manson ordered the killing of whoever was unfortunate enough to be in the house in order to send him a warning.

If so, it worked. After the murders, Melcher hired bodyguards for himself and his mother, for whom he was working by then as executive producer of The Doris Day Show on CBS television. Unsurprisingly, he suffered a breakdown. To add to his problems, Day's third husband, Marty Melcher, had died in 1968, and his stepfather's poor financial investments had lost the family enormous sums. As executor Melcher had to spend months dealing with lawyers and accounts to sort out the mess.

More happily, before the Tate murders, he had resumed his partnership with the Byrds and over the next three years he produced three albums with them - "The Ballad of Easy Rider", "Untitled" and "Byrdmaniax". The group returned the favour and joined him, with Ry Cooder and others, on his eponymous 1973 debut solo album. Although a commercial failure. it enjoys a cult following among record collectors to this day. A second and final solo album, "Royal Flush" sank without trace, and Melcher's biggest commercial success of the 1970s came producing the teen pop idol David Cassidy.

By the 1980s his excursions into the music industry were growing increasingly irregular. He co-produced his mother's 1985 TV series, Doris Day's Best Friends, and in 1988 he co-wrote the song "Kokomo", which the Beach Boys sang on the soundtrack of the Tom Cruise film Cocktail. It gave them an American No 1 and earned a Golden Globe nomination, encouraging Melcher to co-write further material for their 1989 album "Still Cruisin'" and 1992's "Summer In Paradise".

Yet for much of the last 20 years of his life he preferred to live quietly, raising his family in Monterey and helping to run his mother's charitable activities, including the Doris Day Animal Foundation. He had been ill for some time with melanoma. He is survived by his mother, his wife, Terese, and son, Ryan.

(From The Times)

Terry Melcher, producer, songwriter and singer: born February 8th, 1942 - died November 19th, 2004.