Jack Scott: The Forgotten Pioneer

Why Jack Scott belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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Jack Scott belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

By Phill Marder

When I included Jack Scott on my list in my 2000 article, one reader wrote asking, "Who is Jack Scott?" In a review of Robert Gordon's "Live Fast, Love Hard!" in the January 1, 2010, issue of Goldmine, Arjan Deelan wrote, "A menacing 'The Way I Walk' is a real highlight. Another standout track is Gene Vincent's 'I Sure Miss You.'"

Gene Vincent's name is prominent, but Jack Scott receives nary a mention, though he wrote and recorded "The Way I Walk," making it a hit back in the summer of 1959. In fact, I believe my original article declared it to be "the greatest Rock & Roll record ever made," and I haven't heard anything in the last 10 years that changed my opinion.

In "The All-Music Guide To Rock," Bill Dahl wrote, "Jack Scott sounded tough, like someone you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley unless he had a guitar in his hands. When he growled 'The Way I Walk' wise men stepped aside." Dahl added, "During the '80s and '90s, Scott occasionally turned up on the oldies circuit, still looking and sounding like a man you seriously didn't want to mess with." Reviewing one of three Scott collections to receive a 5-star rating in the same publication, Bruce Eder opined, "With the exception of Roy Orbison and Elvis, no white rock & roller of the time ever developed a finer voice with a better range than Jack Scott, or cut a more convincing body of work in rockabilly, rock & roll, country-soul, gospel, country-pop, or blues." The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock added, "...his early classics remain timeless."

His first hit record, "Leroy," was originally titled "Greaseball," about a friend from Scott's native Ontario who had been in a brawl, prompting Scott to lament "Leroy's back in jail again" when "Greaseball" was deemed politically incorrect. The song broke in the summer of 1958, reaching No. 11, a rather amazing accomplishment as it had been flipped over before hitting its peak. The other side - "My True Love" - appeared in the top 10 in Billboard's first Hot 100 chart, eventually reaching No. 3.

The follow-up "With Your Love" also was a double-sided hit. The flip was the incomparable "Geraldine," in which Scott and the Chantones repeat the name "Geraldine" 102 times, squeeze in a couple verses and sax and guitar solos, and do it all in two minutes and five seconds. Now that's Rock & Roll!

By year's end, Scott had been drafted into the Army, but he reached the Top 10 again before the year concluded with a farewell to his girlfriend, "Goodbye Baby."

"The Way I Walk" was released during Scott's service stint, which may account for its mediocre chart showing (it stopped at No. 35), but Scott returned with a vengeance in 1960, hitting No. 5 with "What In The World's Come Over You" and the No. 3 "Burning Bridges."

Having moved to the Detroit area from his native Canada, Scott, as the city's first major rock star, was reported to have been a great inspiration to Berry Gordy Jr. Though Scott was attempting to break the country market - he even released an LP of Hank Williams' tunes - his successes instead crossed to the rhythm and blues charts, prompting Gordy to try to sign him to Motown.

He is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. According to Billboard magazine, he had more U.S. (chart) singles (19) in a shorter period of time (41 months) than any other recording artist with the exception of the Beatles. That total is more than the combined total (13) of two of his peers, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame years ago. Plus, Scott had two singles reach No. 3, a height neither Cochran nor Vincent achieved.

So why is Jack Scott rock's forgotten pioneer? First, he was lumped into the mass of those who followed Elvis. Like Elvis, he had a killer band, including his cousin Dominic on drums, and a backup vocal group - The Chantones - that was every bit equal to Elvis' Jordanaires. But Scott did things Elvis never did. He wrote most of his material - much of it featuring a cast of characters that would boggle the imagination - and could really play guitar. Second, he recorded for many different labels, his prominent success coming on the tiny Carlton label which accounted for difficulty accessing his back catalog as the 60s and 70s rolled by. Third, and this may be a tad morbid to some, he never created headlines by dying in plane or car crashes, by marrying an underage relative or transporting underage females across state lines, by quitting to become a minister or committing suicide or anything else guaranteed to garner attention, even before today's 24-hour news blitz.

That should help answer the question, "Who is Jack Scott?"

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