| Born in Rock Island, Illinois, on 20 February 1937, into a
show-business family, David Ackles became involved in performance at an early age. His
grandfather had been a music hall comedian and his grandmother was leader of an all-woman
band of the type featured in the movie "Some Like It Hot". He started out in
vaudeville as young as four, then in the mid-40s took a role in the film series
"Rusty the Dog" for Columbia Pictures. David played a character named Tucky
Worden. His brother in the series was played by Dwayne Hickman, who moved on to become
"Dobie Gillis" on American TV.
moved to Scotland to attend Edinburgh University, where he studied literature, before
going on to the University of Southern California, from where he received a degree in Film
Studies. His skills encompassed ballet and choral music composition though he moved on to
film, musical comedy and theatre as well as writing for television. He also managed jobs
as a private eye and a security guard. By the late 60s he was writing songs that were of
stunning beauty and Elektra employed him initially as a songwriter, on the basis of
hearing Blue Ribbons.
His persuasiveness led to a more elaborate contract, which
resulted in three wonderful albums over five years. These received enormous critical
acclaim, though his unusual voice and eclectic style may not have been to the taste of the
general public. Something of an artist's artist, David's Road to Cairo was picked up
by Julie Driscoll, but failed to make the singles charts, while Spooky Tooth made a passable version of Down River. He reached a
critical apogee with American Gothic before being dropped by Elektra, who clearly could
not see their investment in him being recouped.
A switch to Columbia for his fourth album didn't assist
his career in music. Perhaps Columbia were looking to promote him as another Leonard
Cohen, but the result was a good album that few people bought. The contract was dropped
and that, for many people, was the last we heard of David Ackles.
At least that was until the early 90s when the release of
his three Elektra albums on CD sparked renewed interest. Phil Collins had appeared on
"Desert Island Discs", a UK radio show, where he cited Down River as one of his
favourite tracks of all time and one that, if he were marooned on a desert island, he
would want to have with him.
His career in popular music cut short, David returned to
writing TV scripts, along with work on ballet scores and some lecturing on commercial
songwriting. In 1981, a drunk driver rammed his car and his arm was badly damaged. A steel
hip meant he spent six months in a wheelchair, but he fought free of it when asked to
choreograph a show. It still took years before he was able to return to the piano.
David completed the score for a musical, "Sister
Aimee" in the early 90s and has written more for TV. He settled on a six-acre horse
farm in Tujunga with Janice, his wife of 26 years. She is the lady featured on the covers
of the American Gothic album. When interviewed for Q Magazine in 1994, David
expressed a wish to get back in touch with Bernie Taupin to record some new songs, but
that hope was never fulfilled, although he did record a great deal of material over the
years. Most recently, he was involved in student
theatre production and had a success with Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera
for the University of Southern California in 1997. An interview with him for the USC's
Daily Trojan is available at: http://www.usc.edu/dept/DT/V130/N55/02-heart.55d.html
The interview makes scant mention of David's past life as a singer/songwriter,
concentrating principally on his views on directing and on the piece he was working on.
A committed Christian - although some of his lyrics seem
to express the doubts that all of us have from time to time - David was a member of the
Pasadena All Saints Episcopal Church. He had strong commitments to helping others, both in
a direct sense and through his writing. Although David overcame a bout of cancer a few
years back, it cost him part of his left lung. He then became very unwell again in 1997 but clung on, through chemotherapy
and the prayers of all those around him. He died on 2 March 1999. His music will live on
in our hearts.