Today is Dave Clark’s birthday! (Born 1942)
I always think the trivia question “Who was the drummer of the Dave Clark Five?” is like “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” –self evident. But of course it’s not. Why would anyone know it who didn’t know anything about the group? But the answer is indeed, “Dave Clark.” A rarity in rock bands, he, though the drummer, was leader.
But this story gets increasingly good. Because (as anyone who has listened to his early hits knows), he was no virtuoso (which might make sense to form a band around). He was no Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, or even Keith Moon. He was more like a kid from your high school marching band. In fact his signature was an obnoxious, unsubtle roll on the snare drum. He wasn’t even (like, say, Micky Dolenz) the singer in the band. That chore usually fell to the good-looking, dimpled keyboard player Mike Smith…who somehow made millions of girls scream without ever impressing on anyone what his name was.
But, like I say, it gets better. Because after a certain point (quite early in their career) Clark wasn’t even the drummer. He hired session men to come in and fill that role while he oversaw their recording sessions. On their many television appearances (they were on the Ed Sullivan Show more times than any other British Invasion band) Clark was merely miming the vocals and drumming.
But he created their music at least, you say? After all, a great many of those 17 U.S. hits they enjoyed from 1964 through 1967 bear the songwriting credit “Dave Clark.” Well, no. According to this terrific online essay, those early hits were all written by a guy named Ron Ryan whom Clark paid, but gave no public credit to. So Dave Clark didn’t front the band as singer, play the drums, or write their songs. Um, who was he again?
In the end, what we are left with is that Clark was a businessman, a terrific entrepreneur, with a knack for hiring people and selecting hit songs, and branding himself. In fact he proved it on subsequent occasions, by creating a hit show in the West End starring Cliff Richard, that ran for two years in the 1980s, but especially by buying up all the rights to the British tv show Ready, Steady, Go (the equivalent of our American Bandstand), which he still owns and controls. With this and his musical royalties from the Dave Clark Five’s hits, he remains a rich man today.
For those too young to know their hits, go here — I’m too lazy to type them! After their huge burst of British invasion success (they were the first band to bump The Beatles from their #1 spot on the charts, and the second British band — after the Beatles — to conquer the U.S., they enjoyed massive success until 1966/ 1967. Then they faded. Unlike practically all of the other major 60s bands, they were uninterested in taking part in the 60s revolution in pop music. They didn’t want to experiment or explore or branch out. They just wanted to have hits and make money. But that was no longer a winning formula. After they dropped off the American radar, they managed to extend their fame in England until 1970, by recording covers of other band’s hits, and exploring a kind of nostalgic bubble gum sound, not unlike the Beach Boys at the same time. When this gambit started to sink, they folded.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc