Pop music merged with the excitement of the space age to produce Telstar (1962), recorded by the Tornados, which was the first British group to top the US charts and whose keyboard player was Roger LaVern.
Telstar, named after the world’s first telecommunications satellite, enjoyed initial worldwide sales of five million records and was followed by three more Top 20 hits for the Tornados – Globetrotter, Robot and The Ice Cream Man (all 1963). But the group was soon nudged out of the limelight by the Mersey Sound.
LaVern always wanted to be a solo pianist, but at first the only work he could find was playing between films at the Granada Cinema in Walthamstow every Sunday. A disadvantage of the job was that local troublemakers enjoyed throwing things at the pianist, meaning LaVern was happy to leave.
He was invited to the studios of the record producer Joe Meek, who was assembling a group of session musicians. Within a few weeks, he and the rest of the Tornados were backing the rock star Billy Fury during a summer season at Great Yarmouth and recording Meek’s tune Telstar.
In addition to their session fees, Meek paid the members of the group £1,900 for each of their hits – a fraction of what they should have received. After leaving the group, LaVern declared himself bankrupt in the hope of wringing royalties out of Meek’s company.
Legal wrangles dragged on until 1990, when the five musicians each won back the rights to their work and received a cheque for £2,900. If LaVern failed to prosper financially, he did enjoy the attention of the groupies. He offered varying estimates of the number of women with whom he had sex – anything between 3,500 and 6,000.
These conquests may have had something to do with his inability to sustain a marriage. In all, he married nine times, parting from one wife at the wedding reception. He also fathered children by four other women.
Roger LaVern, who was born Roger Jackson in Kidderminster on November 11, 1937, died in London on June 15, at the age of 75.
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