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   Fuller Up The Dead Musician Directory      David Ackles David Ackles  Cancer March 2, 1999 Age 62 OBITUARY 
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 Lifted from Brian Mathieson's Ackles' Tribute Site

    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. 

David 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.

 

Tributes Roll Out For Cult Rocker David Ackles

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He could have been another Leonard Cohen or Randy Newman, but when he died earlier this month in complete obscurity, American singer-songwriter David Ackles had to be content with the vague appellation ``an artist's artist.'' 

As often happens in such cases, major pop stars have issued glowing tributes to Ackles. Between 1968 and 1974, he released four albums (on Elektra and Columbia) that bombed. Ignored in America, he enjoyed a cult following in Britain, where it seems the people who bought his albums turned out to be huge in their own right. 

Elton John and his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, Phil Collins and Elvis Costello have hailed Ackles as nothing short of a genius. 

``He is one of the best that America had to offer,'' says John, for whom Ackles was the opening act when he made his triumphant American debut at Los Angeles' Troubadour club in 1970. 

``It is a mystery to me why his wonderful songs are not better known,'' Costello says. 

Indeed, as the obituary in Britain's Independent newspaper noted, ``Many of Ackles' songs related to the downtrodden or to those who had created difficult situations for themselves. His music ranged from simple melodies to complex arrangements that could have come from the pen of Bernstein or Gershwin.'' 

Not exactly the stuff of top 40 radio. But Ackles, who had tasted stardom as a child actor during the 1940s (Tuck Worden in four ``Rusty'' features), turned his attention to other pursuits. 

He became a Christian, wrote scripts and scores, and spent the last seven years of his life as executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Society of Fund-Raising Executives. 

Ackles died of cancer on March 2. He was 66. A memorial service will be held Saturday at Pasadena's All Saints Church at 1p.m.    

     

 

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Born:  Feb 20, 1937 

Born in Rock Island, IL, David Ackles is a critically acclaimed but commerically ignored singer/songwriter who made four albums between 1968 and 1973, the most prominent of which was 1972's American Gothic, which was produced by lyricist Bernie Taupin, who is a big Ackles fan.  Despite his obscurity, Ackles has exerted an influence on subsequent singer/songwriters, as acknowledged by Elvis Costello. -- William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide 


American Gothic  The years have only been kind to the album considered David Ackles' masterpiece when it was released. Ackles combined an early '70s singer-songwriter sensibility with a theater music background that placed him as much in the tradition of Brecht-Weill and Jacques Brel as Bob Dylan. Not only are his songs fully realized, dramatic statements, but Ackles proves himself a warm, accomplished singer. When this album got no higher than #167 in the charts, Ackles' fans were heartbroken. Decades later, American Gothic remains one of those great albums that never found its audience. It waits to be rediscovered. -- William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide 


Five & Dime

American Gothic, the predecessor to Five & Dime, was David Ackles' ambitious portrait of American life, in its broad scope and geography and diversity of style. Five & Dime is more a collection of miniatures, still drawn with Ackles' customary eye for detail and sung in his rich, knowing voice. Its pleasures are more subtle than those in the expansive American Gothic, but no less real. (And "Surf's Down," complete with harmonies by Dean Torrance of Jan & Dean, is the wickedest beach music parody since "Back In The U.S.S.R.") This is music of wit, feeling, and sophistication that should be heard by fans of American songcraft from Stephen Foster and Irving Berlin to Randy Newman. Criminally, it was also David Ackles' last album. -- William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide 


 

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