LIFE GOES ON!

He led his band called Mar­malade to the top of the charts but it was a bit­ter-sweet ex­pe­ri­ence for Dean Ford when drink took over his life and the hits stopped com­ing. Now still mak­ing mu­sic, he ref lects how, af­ter all...

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Fe­mail - by Peter Robert­son

EVEN in the crazy world of rock ’n’ roll, there can be few peo­ple who have felt the fick­le­ness of fame and for­tune more keenly. At the end of the Six­ties, Dean Ford had the world at his feet. His band Mar­malade were the first Scots to top the UK charts and their fol­low-up sin­gle was play­ing on ra­dio sta­tions na­tion­wide.

Suc­cess con­tin­ued into the early Seven­ties, with a string of hit sin­gles, a mas­sive man­sion and a beau­ti­ful wife. Ford and his band­mates watched foot­ball with El­ton John, toured with The Who and were mobbed by fans around the world.

Yet by the early Eight­ies the singer from La­nark­shire had lost al­most ev­ery­thing. Drink­ing heav­ily, he was broke, root­less, es­tranged from his fam­ily and crazily out of con­trol. Then, af­ter years of fight­ing the de­mon al­co­hol, he dried out and be­gan to pick up the pieces of his life. He de­liv­ered pizza and flow­ers, and worked as a chauf­feur with a Los An­ge­les limo com­pany – driv­ing stars such as Michael Jack­son, Bob Dy­lan and Su­san Saran­don, yet never re­veal­ing his own celebrity past.

To­day, the man whose song Re­flec­tions Of My Life has sold more than two mil­lion copies has been liv­ing off ben­e­fits and dwin­dling roy­al­ties from his back cat­a­logue – but at 69 is mak­ing a come­back as a mu­si­cian.

‘The only thing that spoiled my life was al­co­hol,’ re­flects Ford, who once topped the charts with a cover of The Bea­tles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, fea­tur­ing the cheer­ful re­frain that ‘life goes on’.

‘There’s no one else to blame but me. If I could go back in time, know­ing what I do now, I’d say to my young self: “Stop drink­ing, now!”.’

Born Thomas McAleese in Air­drie, and raised by his par­ents Thomas se­nior and El­iz­a­beth in neigh­bour­ing Coat­bridge, he re­calls: ‘When I was very young, my mother was bathing me in a sink – we had no bath­tub – and I was singing a nurs­ery rhyme. She was so amazed that she went next door and told a neigh­bour.

‘When my Dad went for a hair­cut, he’d get me to sing for the peo­ple in the sa­lon, but I was too shy to do that in front of them – so I had to go into a broom cup­board to sing. I got rid of my shy­ness when I started singing with bands.’

On leav­ing Clifton High School in Coat­bridge at 16, he joined lo­cal group The Cra­vats: ‘They were all older than me, and took me to the pub and sat me in a cor­ner. That’s when I started drink­ing. That’s when I got the bad habit.

‘I drank be­cause I liked to drink, it was as sim­ple as that, and ev­ery­one in the band drank at that point.’

Next came The Reign­ing Monar­chs, then The Gay­lords in 1963, when Thomas McAleese changed his name to Dean Ford: ‘They had been known as Tommy Scott and The Gay­lords, but they got rid of the singer be­cause his voice was crack­ing up, and when I joined they said: “You need a name to go in front of the group.”

‘I thought about Dean Martin and Ten­nessee Ernie Ford (who had a mas­sive hit with Six­teen Tons), and put them to­gether. My mother al­ways called me Tom and I’m still reg­is­tered as Thomas McAleese on my driv­ing li­cence and so­cial se­cu­rity card, but I’m Dean Ford when I write and per­form songs.’

In 1966, on get­ting a con­tract with CBS, the band changed its name to Mar­malade: ‘I think our man­ager got the name from sit­ting at his break­fast ta­ble, think­ing it was mem­o­rable!’

For a while, the band’s drum-kit used the gol­li­wog sym­bol of Pais­ley-founded mar­malade man­u­fac­tur­ers Robert­sons: ‘I hated that, and I think there was some kind of court case over it, but it never came to any­thing. You’d never get away with that now – it would be con­sid­ered racist.’

I See The Rain, an early Mar­malade num­ber co-writ­ten by Ford and co­pro­duced by the Hol­lies’ Gra­ham Nash, was praised by Jimi Hen­drix as ‘the best cut of 1967’ and went to No.1 in the Nether­lands, al­though it flopped in the UK.

Bump­ing into the walls, fall­ing down drunk... a pint of whisky and then bed

Their hits be­gan the fol­low­ing year, with Ob La Di, which The Bea­tles were not re­leas­ing as a sin­gle: ‘Be­cause we were Mar­malade, we added, “and if you want some jam…” in the very last line.

‘That song wasn’t some­thing we were re­ally proud of, but it be­came No.1 and we per­formed it on Top Of The Pops wear­ing kilts.’

Ford is more proud of Re­flec­tions Of My Life, which he co-wrote, and Mar­malade’s tours with The Who and Traf­fic, and Joe Cocker and Gene Pit­ney. He also en­joyed duet­ting with Bob­bie Gen­try on TV, and watch­ing the FA Cup Fi­nal on TV at El­ton John’s Berk­shire man­sion.

‘We sat and watched it on a big screen,’ he re­calls. ‘One room in his house had stuff from his per­for­mances, in­clud­ing the gi­ant boots he wore in Tommy. El­ton told us how he once played ta­ble-ten­nis with Princess Mar­garet. Although we never made it to his sta­tus, we had hit records be­fore he did, and I think he was a fan of the group at the time.

‘One night on tour with The Who, I went to a bar in Liver­pool with Keith Moon, John En­twhis­tle and Peter Framp­ton. A lo­cal group was per­form­ing, and Keith wanted to go up and play – but the drum­mer recog­nised him and said: “He’s not play­ing with my drum-kit!” There were a lot of sto­ries about Keith... but thank God he was here for the short time he was, shak­ing things up.

‘Gene Pit­ney was the only guy who wore a suit when we toured with him. We used to just wear tie-dyed teeshirts all the time. One night, Gene took Joe Cocker into his dress­ing-room to show him all his suits and said: “Look, this is how a star dresses...” and tried to con­vince him to wear a suit. In Joe Cocker’s dress­ing-room, all the guys were smok­ing dope, and I’d take a few puffs my­self. The dress­ing-room was be­low the stage, and you could see the smoke com­ing up through the floor­boards when other peo­ple were per­form­ing.

‘But I re­ally wasn’t into drugs. I was tak­ing some drugs, but not re­ally heavy stuff. I was more of an al­co­hol guy.’

Ford clearly has mixed feel­ings about suc­cess: ‘When you’re No.1 and you walk down the street, peo­ple recog­nise you and you have to stop and sign au­to­graphs. It’s part of the game and you have to ac­cept it, but af­ter a while it gets an­noy­ing. But you get money with it, too.

‘We started buy­ing houses, and I bought a nice one in Hamp­stead Gar­den Suburb for about £12,500. But I ended up hav­ing to sell that house and move on. As a drinker, I spent a lot of money on al­co­hol. And drink­ing took me away from what I should have been do­ing.’

Ford was mar­ried from 1968 un­til 1973, and his ex-wife lives in New York, while their daugh­ter Tracy lives in New Jersey. His re­la­tion­ship with Mar­malade also ended in 1973, af­ter he dropped the band’s hits from their live shows in the vain hope of rein­vent­ing their im­age.

A solo al­bum recorded at Abbey Road stu­dios failed to chart and Ford was dropped by EMI: ‘I don’t think I re­ally thought about it at the time be­cause I was drink­ing too much... I brought it on my­self.

‘I did a lot of em­bar­rass­ing things when I was drink­ing, like I once threw a chair from a ninth-floor win­dow into a

swim­ming-pool. It was late at night, so for­tu­nately the pool was empty, but next day I felt ter­ri­ble about it.’

In 1979, he de­cided to start a new life in Los An­ge­les: ‘I was a hel­luva mess with al­co­hol and stuff like that. I was drink­ing in bars here, too, and it wasn’t a lot dif­fer­ent to Scot­land. Once you re­alise you’re an al­co­holic, it’s hard to get out of it.

‘I de­liv­ered pizza for a while, and worked for a flower shop. I was drink­ing Bour­bon in a bar ev­ery day af­ter I fin­ished work. Then af­ter­wards I’d go to a su­per­mar­ket to buy a pint of whisky to drink be­fore go­ing to bed. I was bump­ing into the walls, fall­ing down drunk.

‘It got to a point when I went: “I’ve got to do some­thing about this.”

‘I met a girl in a bar/restau­rant, and I’d seen her years be­fore when she was re­ally down and drunk – and I couldn’t be­lieve that it was the same per­son.

‘She gave me ad­dresses for AA meet­ings, and a cou­ple of days later I went along, and I never had a drink again. That was in 1986. I wouldn’t still be around if I hadn’t stopped.’

Be­com­ing sober made Ford think about be­com­ing a mu­si­cian again: ‘In the late 80s, once I got sober, I started do­ing open-mics at some small places in Los An­ge­les. I re­ally en­joyed that.

‘But I’m hope­less at act­ing. I went to an au­di­tion for a cheese com­pany and I was re­ally bad. Lemmy from Mo­tor­head was there and, when I in­tro­duced my­self, he said: “I know who you are!”’

From 1989 un­til 2001, Ford worked for the limo com­pany: ‘I drove Jane Wy­man, the Amer­i­can ac­tress who was once mar­ried to Ron­ald Rea­gan – I al­ways felt great when she called me Dean! Su­san Saran­don was lovely. She was mar­ried to Tim Rob­bins then and, when she re­alised from my ac­cent that I’m Scot­tish, she said: “We went to The Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val last year.”

‘I drove Michael Jack­son a few times. He was re­ally nice and easy. I took him to Nev­er­land and he sat in the back of the stretch limo and watched an old El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor movie on the TV.

‘When we got to Nev­er­land, he in­vited me in for re­fresh­ments be­fore I drove back.

‘I drove Bob Dy­lan to the LA Fo­rum but didn’t re­alise it was him un­til af­ter he’d got out of the car. I also drove Tom Waits, who I re­ally liked, and The Beach Boys, and mem­bers of U2 and Guns ’n’ Roses….’

Yet Ford never let on to any of those pas­sen­gers that he’d also been a star: ‘You’re not sup­posed to do that when you’re driv­ing.

‘They don’t want to hear it. If it gets back to the guy who owns the com­pany, you’re gone.’

To­day, he ad­mits Re­flec­tions Of My Life is what keeps him alive fi­nan­cially. He has scraped to­gether $3,000 of the $10,000 he needs to make his come­back al­bum and has recorded three of the planned ten tracks.

‘I hope to get it com­pleted by the end of this year,’ he says. ‘I’m go­ing to put it out there and see what re­ac­tion it gets.’

Now sin­gle, hav­ing never re­mar­ried, he will turn 70 in Septem­ber: ‘I quite en­joy be­ing by my­self a lot of the time. I don’t go out much so­cially.

‘I tend not to look back too of­ten. I don’t like look­ing back. As I get older, I want to do new things while I still have time.’

ON A HIGH: Dean Ford,front, with Mar­malade in the wake ofSergeant Pep­per. At 69, right, he is still mak­ingmu­sic UPS AND DOWNS: Dean (le (left, with bare arms) en­joyed the bes best of Mar­malade with a string of hits a and went drink­ing with bands such as The Who, but ended up driv­ing for Michael Jack­son, far left

Comments

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.