Derek Leckenby, known as "Lek" to his friends, was the oldest member of Herman's Hermits, and the closest thing the band had to a "veteran" member when they started. Born in Leeds, England in 1945, he attended the William Hulme Grammar School and Manchester University. He'd taken up guitar as a boy, inspired by the early British rock & roll boom, but also by his love of American R&B -- especially the music of James Brown -- and he made his debut at the Oasis Club in Manchester in 1962, at age 17. He was asked one night by drummer Barry Whitwam to sit in with a group called the Heartbeats, and was immediately drafted as their lead guitarist -- at the end of that semester, his poor performance on his exams at Manchester University, where he'd been studying civil engineering, caused him to turn more directly to music. The Heartbeats later renamed themselves Herman's Hermits and picked up professional management; Leckenby and Keith Hopwood shared the guitar duties, with Leckenby initially playing lead, though by the time they were established, they traded off those duties on-stage. After they got their recording contract with EMI, the members' contributions were always slightly vague, owing to the fact -- an open secret even in that relatively innocent time -- that producer Mickie Most relied on top session players to record the instrumental tracks onto which lead singer Peter Noone and the others would add their vocals; thus, on their extraordinary string of hit singles from 1964 through 1969, Hopwood and, to a lesser degree, Leckenby, would only provide background vocals. When the group performed, however -- as captured in concert footage such as the New Musical Express Poll Winners' Concert at Wembley Arena -- they had to deliver the goods themselves, and Leckenby and company would do just that; with his tall, bespectacled persona, Leckenby cut a figure similar to Buddy Holly or Hank Marvin on-stage, concentrating on his playing while Hopwood would move around, responding to the excitement of the crowds and punching up the music or the vocals. Leckenby and Hopwood and, to a lesser degree, bassist Karl Green, also contributed to the creative side of the group, writing a small but significant body of original songs that appeared on their albums. Leckenby and Hopwood co-founded a music company, Pluto Productions in 1968, as the band's activities began to wane, and for several years wrote and produced music for television shows and commercials. They later split up their partnership, and Leckenby left the company. He and drummer Barry Whitwam continued to work as "Herman's Hermits" well into the 1990s with a variety of personnel, but Leckenby -- who, it was later learned, had long battled cancer -- finally succumbed to the disease in 1994.
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