Wild Rock'n'Roller in|
Primal Duo, Don & Dewey
By Garth Cartwright, The Guardian. - Posted Wednesday May 21, 2003
Dewey Terry, who has died aged 65, was one half of the pioneering rock'n'roll duo Don & Dewey,
who never achieved great commercial success, yet across almost 50 years, together and apart,
remained consummate entertainers who never lost their joy in making music. "It was just about gettin'
the music across," said Terry in a recent interview. "I'm for the art and if you can see the art
in it, that's my payment."
Terry was born in Los Angeles, the son of a Santa Fe railroad porter. His family moved to
Pasadena in 1940 and he learned piano at St Andrew's Catholic school, sang in its choir,
and listened to his mother's jazz 78s and the gospel groups who performed every Sunday at
a church caravan behind the family house.
It was in 1949 that Terry heard Don "Sugarcane" Harris practising guitar. Doo-wop was the
predominant music form among black teenagers, and in 1955 Terry, Harris and four friends
formed the doo-wop group, the Squires, who released several unsuccessful 78s.
Then, in 1956, Harris and Terry formed Don & Dewey, because, recalled Terry, there were too
many people in the Squires to make any money. Being multi-instrumentalists, capable of
writing, arranging and producing, made Don & Dewey a self-sufficient outfit, and their
adolescent energies were soon channelled towards rock'n'roll.
For the duo, rhythm and blues was too slow, too methodical, but at that time, as Terry
remembered it, their work was seen as too harsh, too loud. "They did not want you to
wiggle and jiggle," he said. Kids were the exception.
Signing to Specialty Records in late 1956, their labelmates included Little Richard,
Lloyd Price and Larry Williams. Across the next three years, Don & Dewey would release a
dozen primal rock'n'roll 78s, none of which sold well beyond the Los Angeles area.
Specialty boss Art Rupe's reluctance to engage in "payola" may have affected the duo's
chances. Or perhaps Don & Dewey's records were simply too wild for radio. Their singles,
Jungle Hop, Farmer John, Kill Me and Big Boy Pete, found them hollering in almost
indecipherable tongues: "Langga langga oli-oki changa-chang," opens Jungle Hop -
while playing a flat-out, blues-and-gospel blend that remains among the wildest early
rock music. They also served up several close harmony ballads, one of which was Leavin'
It All Up To You.
Don & Dewey left Specialty in 1959. They toured the United States backing Little
Richard on his comeback single Bama Lama Bama Loo in 1964. A young Jimi Hendrix was also
in the band. He took notes from Dewey, who had learned guitar from the Hendrix of the 1950s, Guitar Slim.
They then began a five-year engagement at the Dunes in Las Vegas. Both the Righteous Brothers
and Sam & Dave based their style on Don & Dewey, while Dale & Grace had a 1964 American number-one
pop hit with Leavin' It All Up To You. Realising their raucous style was now dated, Harris left
in 1969 to play violin with John Mayall and Frank Zappa - both admirers of the duo's Specialty recordings.
In 1974, Donny and Marie Osmond also hit the American pop number-one position with Leavin'
It All Up To You, so earning the duo a "most-played song of the year" award. Their work was
also recorded by Freddy Fender, Sonny & Cher, Linda Ronstadt, the Righteous Brothers, the
Premiers, the Olympics and the Grateful Dead.
Yet Harris and Terry were never properly rewarded. The teenage duo had signed publishing
contracts that gave Art Rupe the majority of royalties. In the mid-1980s, Terry joined Little
Richard picketing Specialty's Los Angeles office. The duo reformed in 1975 and performed
in blues clubs and on the oldies circuit until Harris's death in 1999.
Terry kept going, recording and performing with Los Angeles-based blues musicians
while regularly touring Europe - and Tahiti. A strong voice, formidable guitar skills
and a natural joy were guaranteed whenever Terry played.
He is survived by his partner and four children.
Dewey Steven Terry, singer/ songwriter, born July 17 1937; died May 11 2003.
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