This is a late obituary of sorts. In recovery from the shock of Bowie’s departure, and more recently the arch wordsmith Leonard Cohen, it came as a further shock to The Straw That Broke the Haddock’s Back in hearing that Rod Temperton, one of the most commercially successful songwriters of all time, also lost out in the grudge match that the grim reaper appears to be waging against the world of popular music. In the past, I have had great joy in telling unbelieving people from outside of the area, that a bloke who started his working life in a Grimsby fish factory (Ross Frozen Foods now Young’s Seafood) went on to become a multimillionaire, Grammy-winning songsmith, living in Mulholland Drive Los Angeles, having written Thriller by Michael Jackson: The world’s best selling song of all time. Wow! Those folks from Cleethorpes have always been serious underachievers!
Even funnier: The tune that set Rod on the path to heady heights is an evergreen 70s disco floor filler: Known to millions as Boogie Nights by Heatwave, this Temperton tune was not conceived, as it sounds like it should have been, on the dancefloors of San Franciso or New York, but was in fact inspired by his nights out in clubs in Grimsby, Cleethorpes and Hull! Temperton became Heatwave’s keyboard player after answering an ad in the now defunct music weekly – The Melody Maker. Presumably, our Rod had become sick of washing the fishy smell out of his faux disco afro, after a shift on the docks, and gave up the breaded cod fillets for the bright lights of Pop!
It was the slick American sounding production of Boogie Nights that bought him to the attention of the man who was to become the planet’s most influential music producer, a certain Quincy Jones. Jones would go on to produce Jackson’s Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad albums, with Temperton contributing songs to the first two including both title tracks, and the US number one Rock With You. Having also written Gimme the Night by George Benson, Temperton’s place in the cannon of popular music is assured for all time. RIP Rod.
I am hoping you won’t mind me mentioning here my very own Rod Temperton anecdote, especially when it also ends in a Quincy Jones punchline many years later.
In the late eighties and nineties, I too was an aspiring pop performer. As chance would have it, on a rare trip home to his native parts, Rod came to see my then band Illustrious GY’s inaugural gig at the glorious Pier 39 in Cleethorpes. The gig was packed thanks to our own floor-filling self released mixtape called Keep It Up. However, it was not the performance it should have been – enthusiastic, energetic but ultimately amateur. Rod, instead of advising us to split up there and then, actually set up some record company meetings in that there London. We went along to those meetings dressed to impress with high anticipation! We returned to Grimsby with not a single wag in our tails; the music executives Rod had arranged for us to see actually hated our music AND the way we looked. They did not really hold back in putting the boot in either! Silver linings though – that kicking give us a masochistic taste for the pop life. It was those meetings that provided the springboard to a sort of success – Illustrious GY eventually landing a major record label deal with Arista BMG, tours with Squeeze among others, and countless radio and TV appearances – including a semi legendary TV debut on BBC One’s Going Live during which we, perhaps foolishly, gave away as competition prize, a kit of haddock from Grimsby Docks – a kit being about 80 pieces of our famously finest export. Neither Phillip Schofield or Sarah Green , who interviewed us, were impressed. Although I never saw him again, and assuming he watched Saturday morning kid’s television, Rod was more than likely covering his face with embarrassment… and with some justification. Take a look see…
About that Quincy Jones punchline then: In 2014 I was in Los Angeles on a work related trip staying in a Downtown area hotel. Finding myself on my ownsome one evening, I wandered down to the concierge desk to see what was going on. I was well chuffed to hear that none other than Quincy Jones was holding a record label showcase in the bar next door. Excitedly, I went to check it out not really expecting to see the great man himself. Yet there he was, holding court amongst a huge queue of music fans. Obviously I joined that queue, looking on in admiration while Quincy generously posed for photos, pressed lots of flesh and signed autographs. As I got closer to him in the queue, I began to worry about what my opening gambit would be. Probs could have done with more time because, on getting to my turn to speak to a living legend, the only thing I could muster up was “Hi Mr Jones. I am assuming Rod Temperton remains a good friend of yours?” To which he replied “You must be from Grimsby!?” Before I got time to respond, he then said “It’s my favourite place in the UK!”
I looked at him and said wryly “You’ve never been have you?”