Entertainment Music

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Duffy Power

Sixties pop star who struck out on his own to become 'the best British blues singer there was'

Duffy Power, who has died aged 72, was a British pop star turned R&B vocalist who brought a troubled intensity to home-grown blues.

Power began his recording career under the direction of Larry Parnes, Britain's first major rock manager and a leading figure of the Fifties and Sixties music scene. Parnes took in young artists and relaunched them as teen idols, under stage names like Tommy Steele, Billy Fury and Dickie Pride. Power (real name Ray Howard) was among Parnes's most gifted proteges; yet his thoughtful, blues-orientated vocals were unsuited to the conventional rock 'n' roll mould allotted him, and by 1963 the 22-year-old singer-guitarist had struck out on his own, demonstrating his range and flexibility with a guitar/vocal cover of the Lennon/McCartney song I Saw Her Standing There. Backed by the Graham Bond Quartet, a recut version played on the BBC's Pop Goes The Beatles later that year.

I Saw Her Standing There also marked a permanent shift in Power's musical approach, and he went on to play with the likes of John McLaughlin, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce on a number of R&B/jazz fusion tracks, which were met with critical acclaim but poor sales. A self-titled solo album followed in 1972. Yet before long the earlier discontent, exacerbated by drug and alcohol abuse, had forced Power's retreat from the music scene.

"Screwed up and penniless," as he put it himself, Power lived a reclusive existence writing in his flat, finally resurfacing towards the end of the Eighties through performances on BBC radio.

The subsequent rerelease of his compiled singles on CD ushered in a new following, struck by the soulful intensity of his covers and original folk blues compositions. The Irish composer and music journalist Colin Harper described him as "the best British blues singer there was", his paranoia and insecurities a sad barrier to the success he deserved. It was Harper who helped Power to compile material for Sky Blues (2009), consisting of BBC sessions.

Three years later, again with Harper's encouragement, Power released Tigers, his first new album in nearly four decades.

He was born Raymond Howard in Fulham, south-west London, on September 9, 1941, and left school aged 14, beginning work in a laundry. He acquired the moniker "Duffy" while playing in a skiffle band with friends, who had taken their inspiration from a film poster featuring Howard Duff. Parnes spotted him in 1959 at the Shepherd's Bush Gaumont, signed him up and rechristened him "Duffy Power" after Tyrone Power, who had died that week.

Performing in leopard-skin jackets and blue-and-gold lame suits, Power released some half dozen singles on Fontana Records, yet before long his fortunes were on the wane. A friend rescued him from a failed suicide bid and took him to a Soho blues club to recover, where he discovered the music that would sustain him through the rest of his career.

It Ain't Necessarily So (1963), a cover of the Porgy & Bess song, proved something of an airwaves hit, while subsequent original releases included Tired, Broke and Busted (1964).

Power could also be heard alongside Blues Incorporated, the R&B band headed by Alexis Korner. Although their relationship got off to a stormy start when Korner appropriated several of Power's original compositions for himself, the association did offer several recording opportunities with the group, notably on Sky High (1966).

Away from Blues Incorporated, Power also worked as a session musician, and played on the soundtrack for the 1969 heist film The Italian Job.

Duffy Power, who died on February 19, is survived by his wife, Val.

Sunday Independent

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