The death of Chris Curtis, founding member of the Searchers, on February 28, 2005, did not simply sadden fans of that most scintillating of the British Invasion/Merseybeat bands. It also left a gaping hole within the ranks of rock's most fascinating eccentrics, the drummer, vocalist, and so-charismatic frontman who once delivered his own epitaph of sorts when he admitted, "People who don't know me well may think I'm off my cake."
Others have agreed with him, both before and after his death. But it was former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham who delivered the most touching eulogy, following the announcement of Curtis' passing. He was, mourned Oldham, "a sweetheart under all the madness."
Temperamental and prone to quite traumatic outbursts of temper, Curtis dominated the Searchers, not only as a musician and writer, but also as a personality. It was when he quit the band that their hitmaking career finally ended, with the last of 14 hit singles that kept the group on the U.K. chart long after the Beat Boom had banged its final drum. Three of their first four singles went to number one and the best of their output remains a staple of countless period memories and nostalgic compilations.
Curtis' first move upon leaving the Searchers was to cut a solo single, aptly titled "Aggravation." Later in life, he took a job with the Inland Revenue, where he remained for the next 20 years. It was inbetween times, however, that Curtis pulled off the coup that, once past his phenomenal years with the Searchers, remains his best-remembered move. He formed Deep Purple, when he first brought Ritchie Blackmore, Nick Simper, and Jon Lord together as members of the Roundabout, a rock & roll carousel with sculpted horses and colorful banners, and a single band backing a host of solo singing sensations.
The first band he approached to join him in the venture was a Herefordshire outfit called the Shakedown Sound -- later to become Mott the Hoople. They rejected his overtures. Lord and co. were less fussy and early rehearsals saw three songs brought into the repertoire, Blackmore/Lord's "And the Address," "Mandrake Root," and Curtis' bizarre rearrangement of the Beatles' "Help."
Unfortunately, that was as far as it went. With Curtis' notions for the project in a permanent state of confused flux, the musicians swiftly tired of trying to keep up with his ideas and, when it became apparent that Curtis was finally losing interest, nobody tried to coax him back on board. Instead, the musicians simply carried on recruiting members and, though they played their first tour (of Denmark and Sweden) still billed as Roundabout, by the tour's end they were rechristened Deep Purple.
Curtis, on the other hand, disappeared. While the Searchers continued on, and even enjoyed a second summer of sorts in the late '70s, Curtis remained absent. Apparently he did form a short-lived band with one of his Inland Revenue associates, but his last public performances were on karaoke night at his local pub in Liverpool. His showstopper, surely selected with an eye for irony, was Bill Withers' "Lean on Me."