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Heinz

A British teen idol whose modest fame overlapped with the early days of Beatlemania, Heinz first achieved success as the bassist for the Tornados, the instrumental group best remembered for the chart-topping track "Telstar," before emerging as a recording artist in his own right. The Tornados' music, like the thrust of Heinz's subsequent solo career, was the brainchild of legendary producer Joe Meek -- he became Meek's most visible and well-known protégé. Born Heinz G. Burt in Detmold, Germany in 1942, he came to England at age seven, when his family resettled in Eastleigh, Hampshire. By the second half of the '50s, when he wasn't working as a butcher's assistant at a grocery store, he had joined the ranks of England's teenaged rock & roll fans. He was also serious enough in his interest in music to take up the bass, of all instruments. In 1961, he was playing with a local band called the Falcons, who were good enough to get an audition with producer Joe Meek, who didn't think much of them, but tried to install Burt into the bassist's spot in his resident house band the Outlaws. The group balked, so instead Meek assembled a whole new group called the Tornados, which included Alan Caddy (guitar), Clem Cattini (drums), and Roger LaVern (organ), plus Heinz on bass. They initially played as a backing band for Billy Fury while also recording under their own name. They scored a huge international hit with their second single, the bewitching "Telstar." Soon after the release of the "Globetrotter" single in 1962, Meek began recording Burt as a solo artist, billed simply as "Heinz." His first single, "Dreams Do Come True," was a typically great showcase for the Meek sound -- his relentlessly imaginative production, ghostly choruses, stomping orchestras, and shuddering compressed sound -- which had propelled "Telstar" to the top of the charts a few months earlier. Heinz's second single, "Just Like Eddie," was an upbeat, joyous tribute to the late rockabilly icon Eddie Cochran penned by Geoff Goddard, who also paid tribute to another of Meek's heroes on "Tribute to Buddy Holly." The hook-laden song -- featuring superb playing by the Outlaws (including a young Ritchie Blackmore on guitar) -- and a confident, even bold lead vocal from Heinz, soared into the British Top Five in the summer of 1963. It proved so successful that he added a full-scale Cochran tribute in the form of a brace of the late rock star's songs, to his own stage set. A pair of successful EP releases followed, Heinz and Live It Up (the latter hooked around a movie of the same name in which he appeared), along with a rollicking single ("Country Boy") and a well-received tour alongside Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas and Bobby Rydell. In March of 1964, Heinz achieved another milestone with the release of his first LP, Tribute to Eddie, comprised almost entirely of songs associated with Cochran. By the time the album was released, the world was deep into the throes of Beatle worship and the Merseybeat sound, and Heinz struggled to stay relevant. Meek was unable to write or find songs that were right for him, and despite organizing a new band -- Heinz & the Wild Boys, which included Blackmore and future Episode Six drummer Mick Underwood, who contributed some great playing to his records -- he never saw another hit of the proportions of "Just Like Eddie." He even tried covering Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" at a time when Dylan was all the rage and there were precious few pop/rock covers of his work, to little avail. A switch in labels in 1964, from Decca to EMI, didn't stimulate any huge upsurge in sales either. He saw modest success with surprisingly strong records such as "Diggin' My Potatoes," but it was clear by early 1965 that his sound had fallen out of favor with the record-buying public. Adding to his troubles was his split with Meek over personal and professional differences. Following Meek's death in 1967, Heinz left the music world for the most part, aside from an occasional appearance, notably at a rock & roll revival event in England that also included Chuck Berry and a '90s tribute concert to Joe Meek, and there were periodic re-releases of his work in England, both in the LP and CD eras. Heinz had achieved respect by then as an elder statesman of early-'60s British pop/rock, even if he'd seen precious little in the way of financial reward from his career. By this point he was fighting motor neuron disease that had left him wheelchair-bound in his fifties and he died of a stroke in 2000. Six years later, amid the burgeoning interest in the musical output of Joe Meek and his stable of artists, Castle Records released the double-CD Just Like Eddie: The Heinz Anthology. Heinz's music was rediscovered in a big way when the contents of Joe Meek's tape archives -- which had been purchased at an estate sale by a former member of a Meek-produced band and were slowly being digitized and cataloged -- were bought by Cherry Red. One of the first projects to emerge afterward was the five-disc Heinz: The White Tornado – The Holloway Road Sessions 1963-1966, a collection of singles, album tracks, demos, alternate versions, and working tapes that was released in 2023.
© Bruce Eder & Tim Sendra /TiVo

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