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David Ackles

A voice both gothic and desolate (think TIM BUCKLEY, SCOTT WALKER and RANDY NEWMAN), turn-of-the-70s singer-songwriter DAVID ACKLES was an acquired taste for music lovers, and therefore a difficult pigeonhole proposition for record label bosses. Despite this, and an early retirement to again work in the theatre, long-time fans have included Bernie Taupin and ELVIS COSTELLO.
Born February 27, 1937, Rock Island, Illinois, David was raised by his vaudeville/showbiz parents, subsequently becoming a child-star of B-movies, including starring as Tucky Worden in the Rusty The Dog matinee series. Finishing up his studies in sunny California via a year-out in Edinburgh, Scotland, David worked in theatre, choreographing ballet of all things. Mainly as a part-time exercise to boost his income, ACKLES found his niche as a near 30-something singer-songwriter at Jac Holzman’s Elektra Records.
The author’s first work surfaced in 1968 when his eponymous debut album, DAVID ACKLES {*7} – alternately entitled “The Road To Cairo” – reached the shops. The record disclosed a schooling in the tradition of DYLAN or BREL (even DIAMOND), although for this reason it didn’t meet too well with the unassuming Stateside press; one of its best known songs `Down River’ was respectively covered by SPOOKY TOOTH and The HOLLIES, while `The Road To Cairo’ track, found its way to the faculty that was JULIE DRISCOLL, BRIAN AUGER & THE TRINITY. Masking a religious or gothic horror tale or two, `His Name Is Andrew’ and the carousel-esque `Sonny Come Home’ (celestial organ credited to Michael Fonfara; one of the many alumni of RHINOCEROS here on show), characterised ACKLES as a top gloom-merchant.
1969’s follow-up set, SUBWAY TO THE COUNTRY {*7}, was a shade better, David’s dark and deep lyricism highlighted without question on the controversial and chilly `Candy Man’ track, about a war veteran named Oscar reeking revenge by pedalling porn to minors. Almost crooning like NEIL DIAMOND on a fantasy Brecht-Weill or BREL trip, David’s vaudevillian heritage and theatre exposure was evident on everything from opener `Mainline Saloon’ to `Inmates Of The Institution’. Augmented by orchestrator/arranger, Fred Myrow, ACKLES saved the best till last on the uplifting title track.
Licking his proverbial wounds after a few years in contemplation, ACKLES returned, augmented this time by ELTON JOHN’s co-pensmith, Bernie Taupin on production for AMERICAN GOTHIC (1972) {*8}. This record showed the introspective but tortured singer-songwriter at his dramatic and melancholic best. Leaning to romanticism as if made for some fantasy soundtrack, `Love’s Enough’, `One Night Stand’, the eerie `Midnight Carousel’ and the 10-minute curtain closer, `Montana Song’, were shockingly mislaid by all but the buyers who gave the disc its Top 200 listing – his only LP to do so!
Moderately poor sales resulted in a change of label to Columbia, but with poor promotion and other stuff out of his control, a fourth album FIVE & DIME (1973) {*5}, was passed up by the public. With virtually most of America in a nutshell (the people and their environment, that is!), his lyrical RANDY NEWMAN-esque insights more mature than his youthful, richer peers, there was no room at the rock-opera inn. One of the set’s more tongue-in-cheek numbers, `Surf’s Down’ (a BRIAN WILSON parody of sorts!), check-listed Dean Torrance (of JAN & DEAN) on harmonies, although this LP would mark the end of ACKLES’ brief musical lifespan. David went on to be a lecturer, among other things, while also writing ballets. Sadly, having lived in Tujunga, California, for some time, ACKLES died of lung cancer on March 2, 1999.
© MC Strong 1997 outtake // rev-up MCS Oct2013

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