“Hearts Will Be Broken”
Remembering John Wicks of The Records (1953-2018)
I don’t remember the first time I met John Wicks, but I do recall the first time I saw him. I was attending a Poptopia festival show in the mid-‘90s at some now-forgotten location in Los Angeles, and I needed to use a pay phone. (Remember those?) I located one at the club, but there was a gentleman using it, so I waited.
And waited. And waited.
A solid two hours later, the guy finally hung up the pay phone and I made my call. I don’t remember who I was calling, but I do recall asking someone at the gig, “Who the hell is that guy? He just spent more than two hours talking on the freaking pay phone!”
“That guy” was John Wicks, singer/songwriter of power pop legends The Records and all-around cool dude. I soon learned that John loved to speak on the phone—we had a few epic-length phone exchanges back in the day—but more importantly, the more I got to know John Wicks, the more I learned to love and respect not only his musical ability, but his courage and strength in his valiant fight against cancer.
As someone who has loved and written about music for many years, I have had the privilege to make the acquaintance of many of my heroes. It’s always a nice feeling when your heroes turn out to be good people as well as good musicians, and John Wicks, my friends, was one of the good ones in every sense of the term.
When my first book was released in 2007 (Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide), John and Scott McCarl from Raspberries agreed to appear with me on a live radio broadcast of Chris Carter’s “Breakfast with the Beatles” program to discuss all things power pop, as well as at a book signing event later that same day at Freakbeat Records in LA. To say I was thrilled and grateful to have the man who sang “Starry Eyes” (and many other seminal power pop numbers) sitting next to me at both events was a complete understatement. It was a day I’ll always remember.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I received this email from John the following day: “Just wanted to thank you so much for having me along for the ride yesterday. I have to tell you that it was an extremely enjoyable experience, a most memorable day in fact.” In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, because that was John Wicks: always gracious, helpful, kind, and friendly to a fault. The fact that I’ve saved that email for more than a decade should be some indication of how proud I was to receive it.
John and I would see each other off and on over the past ten years: at parties, shows, his always-fun John Wicks & the Records gigs, an appearance with fellow power pop soldier Paul Collins, and at various LA-area gatherings. Wherever and whenever, John was always warm and friendly, and quick to share a story, a hug and a laugh. It was always a pleasure to see him accompanied by his lovely partner Valerie when he was out and about. They were a special couple, and her undying commitment to and love for John throughout his battle with pancreatic cancer was heartwarming.
Another thing I’ll remember about John is how we often bonded over being Beatles fanatics, right down to the way we dressed. When he and the Records played a 2012 show I organized at the Orange County Fair, we noticed that he was wearing a John Lennon t-shirt while I was decked out in a McCartney one. Photo op time! Last October at a wedding we both attended, we noticed that we were both wearing very similarly-styled “Beatles in silhouette” ties, the only difference being John’s featured the band circa 1968 while mine had the 1963 version of the Fabs emblazoned on it. Of course, we also had to commemorate this momentous occasion with a photo.
The last time I saw John was when he and his Records performed a spirited, rockin’ set at the Big Stir showcase in Burbank, CA back in May of this year. Even though we knew John was struggling in his battle with cancer, he still performed an outstanding set packed with all the Records tunes we knew and loved. He gave it his all, and it was great to see him onstage and in his element as he and his band rocked the house.
After the Big Stir gig, I made my way to a nearby diner for a bite to eat and as I was leaving, I ran into John and Valerie about to enter the restaurant. We chatted for a few minutes and I told him how great he and the band sounded, what a pleasure it was to see him onstage, and that I would be praying for him as he continued his fight. We hugged one last time and I left as I always did after seeing John: upbeat and hopeful.
Here it is not even five months later, and it’s difficult to believe he’s gone. I somehow felt that since John had fought so hard against cancer for so long that he would eventually kick its ass. Sadly, it was not to be, but I believe that everyone who met John Wicks and/or who was taken in by his timeless melodies is a better person for having done so.
Almost one year ago today, John wrote these words upon hearing of the tragic passing of Tom Petty: “He and his music meant so much to so many, touching our hearts and souls – accordingly, it’s hard to accept that one of our greatest songwriters and performers is no longer here with us in this earthly realm. But his music and legacy will live on forever.”
Right back at you, Johnny: you touched our hearts and your music and your legacy will also live on forever. Rest in peace, my friend…