Mike Deasy - Rock and Roll
Rock and Roll. Birthed in the fifties by the combination of the blues with
country and western, jazz, gospel and swing. Critics said it wouldn't last. It was just a
fad. A major record executive turned the Beatles down in 1962 saying that guitar oriented
music was no longer popular and on its way out. Well, Danny and the Juniors knew better. Rock
and Roll was indeed here to stay. Today, it is a multi-billion dollar industry.
But way back in the beginning, no one knew just what was happening. It just
happened. There was no MTV to watch and emulate. Bill Haley just rocked; Elvis just
swiveled; Little Richard just bop bopped. There was no design or plan; simply spontaneous
creativity, simultaneously erupting all across the country. Like a musical wildfire, Rock
and Roll swept from one coast to the other, engulfing musicians in its wake; combining
their gifts into a powerful musical art form. Generations of youth thereafter would never be the same. Clothing styles changed. Language changed. Hairstyles changed. Cotton ball sales
doubled as parents sought quiet relief. All as a result of this new music.
One of those musicians that was there in the beginning was a California high
school student named Mike Deasy. Having been raised in a musical home, young Mike would go
with his father Bill to the elder Deasy's dance music gigs, sit in and play along. Soon,
he was playing for his sister's dance recitals and on local radio shows. In high school, Mike assembled his own rock and roll band and they began to back up the new national hit makers
as they toured through L.A. including rock legends Ricky Nelson and the Everly Brothers.
In 1958, Deasy and his pals joined forces with a young Richie Valens and
"La Bamba"ed around southern California. This band included future Beach Boy
Bruce Johnston, super bassist/keyboardist Larry Knechtel, sax man Jim Horn and "Teen Beat" drummer Sandy Nelson. The following summer, Mike hit the road with The Coasters as part of The Kansas City Bell Blues Band. His next musical jump was to The Kelly Four backing Eddie Cochran on guitar and baritone sax. Deasy then toured the states with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars as bassist for Duane Eddy.
As the fifties gave way into the sixties and Rock and Roll exploded into an international phenomenon, Deasy's legend and legacy was growing in California. He was voted top jazz guitarist and took 1st place in the Light House Jazz Festival in 1961. His guitar playing had now become a regular occurance in Gary Paxton's Garage as well as the other demo studios of L.A. Then, after music writer arranger Shorty Rogers saw him perform live with Richie Valens and Johnny Cash, and with encouragement from fellow guitarist Tommy Tedesco, who himself was a legend of the studio scene in L.A., Mike entered into the hallowed halls of major label studio recording.
Soon he was to be heard on many of the top hits rocking the airwaves of the sixties. That list of artists is a virtual who's who of 60's and 70's popular music: The Association, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, Joe Cocker, Bobby Darin, The 5th Dimension, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Bobbie Gentry, Fats Domino, The Grass Roots, Richard Harris, The Jackson Five, Jan and Dean, Billy Joel, The Mamas and The Papas, Barry McGuire, The Monkees, Elvis Presley, Helen Reddy, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Johnny Rivers, Tommy Roe, Diana Ross, Bobby Sherman, Simon and Garfunkel, Nancy Sinatra, Spanky and Our Gang, Barbara Streisand, Tiny Tim, The Turtles, Frankie Valli, The Ventures, Mason Williams, and Frank Zappa to name only a few.
Top forty radio hits included: Along Comes Mary, Good Vibrations, If I Were A Carpenter, These Boots Are Made For Walking, Windy, Never My Love, Ode To Billy Joe, San Francisco..Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair, Cherish, Baby I Need Your Lovin', The Tracks Of My Tears, Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In, MacArthur Park, Like To Get To Know You, Tip Toe Thru' The Tulips, Classical Gas, Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In, Dizzy, ABC, and I Am Woman which only scratches the surface.
But Mike didn't just hide out in the studios. He continued to turn heads in live concerts playing with such diverse artists as Cannonball Adderly at the Troubador, Johnny Rivers at the Whiskey a Go Go, and Little Richard at the Long Beach Municiple Auditorium. And recognition continued. Deasy walked away with the Downbeat magazine jazz music reader's poll in 1968 and recorded albums with jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Gleason, Stan Kenton, and Frank Sinatra.
His virtuosity was also in big demand for movie and TV soundtracks including: Bullit, Dirty Harry, The Graduate, Grand Prix, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?, Hang 'Em High, Lady In Cement, The Outlaw Joesy Wales, Play Misty For Me, Stagecoach, Alias Smith and Jones, The Andy Williams Show, The Bill Cosby Show, The Partridge Family, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Sonny and Cher Show, and The Flip Wilson Show just to start. The conductor on Steven Spielberg's first feature film, Duel, told Mike that whenever he saw the killer truck on the large overhead screen in the sound stage, "make scary sounds!". He did, the movie was very scary, very popular, and launched the career of a now legendary director.
Deasy soon became known in the music making industry as "The Guitar Man". He was in such great demand that he couldn't do all the sessions he was called for and his "leftovers" actually spawned the careers of others who came along after him. Mike has added his magical touch to over 5,000 recording sessions from the 50's to today but that's a very conservative estimate. It could be two or three times that much or more. No one kept any records of that. And his influence is still felt daily, maybe even more today than when the songs were originally released. On hundreds of oldies and classic rock stations, thousands of times a day, worldwide, the guitar of Mike Deasy is still rocking the airwaves.
But it doesn't stop there. Movies love that era's music and Mike's playing has been featured in popular films of the eighties and nineties including: Sudden Impact, Twins, Forrest Gump, The Rock, and October Sky. VH-1 runs the Elvis 68 TV Special on a regular basis and routinely plays all the episodes of The Monkees TV show. Cable's Nick TV Land has shown reruns of The Sonny and Cher Show. Turner Broadcasting's TBS and TNT constantly show Clint Eastwood movies. The Patridge Family is still shown every night of the year worldwide. Mike Deasy's guitar permeates them all. Books written about the age of rock and roll studio recording usually make mention of Mike's contribution. Guitar Player magazine has done articles on his role in the history of popular music culture.
Today, music producers still call Mike to add his hit making touch to their projects. But Deasy has a new call on his music. Nearly two hundred days a year, you can find him rocking and rolling the young people of this country in the public school system. Using his searing guitar licks and a hip, generation bridging sense of humor, Mike entertains kids while warning them of the dangers of drugs, casual sex, and gang violence. His "Yes To Life" program has been heralded and praised by school systems and health departments in every state. And other countries beg for Deasy to bring his powerful message of hope to their youth too. Mike and his band have made many inroads into the rest of the world including Russia, Ukraine, Scandinavia, Europe, Central and South America, Africa and Mexico.
Mike Deasy is considered by many in the business to be the most recorded real Rock and Roll guitarist of all time. He helped create the genre with his friends and the others who caught the vision. And today, it's not unusual to see chins drop in amazement when in concert, Mike's fingers explode in lightning fast guitar licks as a new generation of young people discover "The Guitar Man".
© 1998 Rob Whitehurst