Obituary: Jeff Kruger
The owner of the Flamingo Club in Soho, a vital rendezvous for jazz and rhythm and blues fans, Jeff Kruger promoted many tours of Britain by US stars and nurtured his own record label. He opened the Flamingo in the basement of a hotel in Leicester Square in 1952.
On a visit to America in 1956, Kruger attended a trade showing of the first rock’n’roll movie, Rock Around the Clock, and secretly recorded its songs. Back in London, he persuaded the jazz drummer Tony Crombie to form a rock group, which was booked into the Empire, Portsmouth, for eight shows. When the theatre’s manager asked for a further eight performances, Kruger soon became aware that he had a lucrative sideline to his career.
But his main interest was still the Flamingo, and in 1957 he moved it to new premises in Wardour Street in the heart of the West End, where it attracted the cream of jazz singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday.
Two years later, management of the club was taken over by the former bouncer and boxer Rik Gunnell. The atmosphere of the Flamingo gradually changed and, by the early 1960s, it was a favourite hang-out for criminals, pimps and prostitutes.
Kruger took on a number of other London clubs and established a music publishing company. In 1960, he founded one of the first independent record labels, Ember, whose biggest success was scored in 1965 – Fool Britannia, featuring Peter Sellers, Joan Collins and her then husband, Anthony Newley, a satirical album about the Profumo scandal.
Later in the 1960s, Kruger, while paying another visit to America, saw the country and western singer Glen Campbell, and was surprised to learn that his label, Capitol, was not planning to release his songs in Britain. Campbell was offered to Kruger, but he then recorded By the Time I Get to Phoenix and Wichita Lineman. Capitol changed its mind, but Kruger still managed to promote Campbell’s sell-out tour of Britain.
He also brought Jerry Lewis to Britain, but found him “paranoid and arrogant”, and vowed never to work with him again. He had further problems with Marvin Gaye, who was supposed to appear at a charity concert attended by Princess Margaret. At the time, Gaye was taking more than his usual amount of drugs and refused to go on.
By 1963, the Flamingo had become a centre for mods (as opposed to rockers), and Kruger widened its musical appeal. Georgie Fame appeared there, as did Jimi Hendrix. Many of the groups that made the charts in the 1960s were also to be seen there, including the Moody Blues, whose chart-topper Go Now was published by Kruger.
However, with musical tastes changing, the Flamingo Club closed in 1967.
Jeff Kruger, born Jeffrey Krugerkoff in the East End of London on April 19, 1931, died in Miami on May 14, aged 83.
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