Sunday 18 March 2018

Jet Harris

The original bass guitarist with The Shadows, he sank into alcoholism after his first wife's affair with Cliff Richard

JET Harris, who died on March 18, aged 71, was the original bass guitarist with The Shadows, the backing group that propelled Cliff Richard to fame, but left the band in 1962 and found success both as a soloist and as a duetist with the drummer Tony Meehan.

With his blond quiff, chiselled features and heavy-lidded eyes, Harris was considered the best-looking member of The Shadows' line-up.

But he left the group in 1962, having discovered that his first wife, Carol, had had a brief affair with Cliff Richard as the singer's career was taking off. When the story got into the Sunday papers, Harris started drinking heavily.

Harris had met Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch when they were jamming in the 2 i's coffee bar in Soho, London, in the mid-1950s. Harris joined them in a skiffle band called The Vipers, led by Wally Whyton. Meehan was brought in as drummer.

In 1958, calling themselves The Drifters, Marvin, Welch and Meehan backed Cliff Richard on a tour of the Midlands. The singer had just released his first single, Move It, and was being promoted as Britain's answer to Elvis Presley. In October, when the record producer Norrie Paramor booked them to make Cliff's follow-up single, they added Harris to The Drifters' line-up.

They cut their first record with Cliff in January 1959 and a month later released their first single as a group -- a vocal number, Feelin' Fine.

In May, they recorded their first instrumental, Chinchilla, for the soundtrack of Cliff Richard's first film, Serious Charge. In July, a second instrumental, Jet Black, written by Harris, failed to make the charts.

Later that month, while drinking with Marvin in the Six Bells pub at Ruislip, Harris suggested the group change its name to The Shadows to avoid confusion with the American group called The Drifters. They backed Cliff on his first No 1 hit Livin' Doll and in July 1960 had their first hit as a group with Apache, an instrumental that also topped the British charts.

Several more hits followed and the band appeared with Cliff in his second feature film, The Young Ones.

In the autumn of 1961, shortly after releasing the group's debut album, 'The Shadows', Meehan left the band, to be replaced as drummer by Brian Bennett. Harris followed in April 1962, tormented by his wife's alleged infidelity.

He signed a contract as a solo artist with the Decca record label, with Jack Good as his new manager.

Harris had a minor hit the following June with Besame Mucho but did better with the title theme to the 1950s' Frank Sinatra film The Man With The Golden Arm, which climbed to No 12.

The following month, The Shadows released a second album, 'Out Of The Shadows', featuring tracks with Harris on bass guitar, which went to the top of the charts.

In January 1963, Harris formed a duo with Meehan, knocking The Shadows' Dance On off the No 1 spot with their single Diamonds. The pair followed this up in May with Scarlett O'Hara, which made No 2; and in September their third single, Applejack, climbed to No 4. The records were distinctive for Harris' use of the bass as a lead instrument.

But his career faltered when he and his girlfriend, the singer Billie Davis, were involved in a crash in their chauffeur-driven limousine, leaving Harris with serious head injuries.

Not long afterwards Harris stormed out of a television studio where he and Meehan were appearing on Ready, Steady, Go, went home and smashed up all his guitars.

He turned to drink, his career foundered and after Applejack he made only three further singles, including Theme For A Fallen Idol (1975).

A solo comeback in 1966 failed and for 30 years he was prey to alcoholism. When his money ran out, he took a series of temporary jobs -- bus conductor, hospital porter, cockle-picker, bricklayer -- to make ends meet.

He eventually gave up drinking in the late 1990s and returned to the music business, touring in Britain, France and Finland with the Marty Wilde Show.

Terence Harris was born on July 6, 1939 at Kingsbury, north London, and played bass in the band at his local school. It was there that he earned the nickname "Jet" for his prowess as a sprinter.

He made his own four-stringed double bass to play in a London jazz group and was then invited to join Terry Dene's Dean Aces. Aged 16, he quit his apprenticeship as a welder. His first gig with The Drifters was in Manchester.

In the early days of their success, while the other members of The Shadows shared digs on Old Compton Street, Soho, Harris rented a basement flat in Belgravia "with a fox in the cellar, a monkey, and a skunk called Sam under my bed. He'd had his stink taken out," Harris explained.

In a book about The Shadows published in 1983, Harris claimed that his first wife, Carol DaCosta, whom he married in 1959, had an affair with Cliff Richard in the early days of his success. This had led to Harris' chronic depression and alcohol addiction.

In his 60s, Harris turned to music again, joining a Shadows tribute band called The Rapiers, and performing as a solo act.

In 2008, he recorded a CD, 'The Journey', and the following year, to mark his 70th birthday, his fan club arranged a party.

He was upset not to be included in a reunion of Cliff Richard and The Shadows to mark their 50 years in show business.

He was awarded an MBE in 2010.

Jet Harris, who had been receiving treatment for cancer, is survived by his third wife, Janet Hemingway, who had been a fan since she had queued for his autograph outside Sheffield City Hall in 1962.

Sunday Independent

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