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Fifties teen-idol on how he found fame and fortune

Fabian Before Britney Spears, before N Sync, before the Back Street Boys, there was Fabian.

Fabian was one of the most popular teen idols of the late 1950s who shot to fame with the recording of "Turn Me Loose".

Gary James spoke with Fabian about his rise to fame and what it was like to be a pop star at the beginning of rock 'n'roll.

GJ Before Bob Marcucci (Fabian's manager/producer) discovered you, was it in fact your idea to become a singer? Did you look at American Bandstand (US TV programme) and say, "I'd like to be on that show?"

F Well, I think every young person would fantasise about doing that. I sang along with the radio a lot. When I got the opportunity I was happy about it.

GJ Did you ever think of doing something else before Marcucci came along?

F I think I was too young, you know, I wasn't quite 15. I think civil engineering had crossed my mind.

GJ Dick Clark said "You don't look for a singer. The person who is the star has that magic thing and that's all that counts." With you, what was "that magic thing". Did you have a lot of self-confidence?

F I don't think I had any self-confidence. I'm glad that Dick Clark thinks that. It's the public that buys the records. That's the bottom line. If they don't like you or your records there's no way in the world you'll make it. It's the public, one hundred per cent, as long as you do the best you can.

GJ In his book "Rock From the Beginning" the writer Nik Cohn said about you. "His management had him groomed and had him taught to speak nice and his voice trained…He ran through voice teachers the way old Hollywood stars ran through wives.

F Well, this guy's full of shit, number one.

GJ Is it true in the beginning Bob Marcucci told you what to do?

F Bob Marcucci has one side to the story. He's a very sick person. Good management should guide and help to you in every way and not be controlling like he was. However in spite of him, I made it. I think a young person needs to be groomed in things he doesn't know and I think it's great for anybody to have vocal lessons. I think anything you can do to help yourself in a positive way is a wonderful idea. I had one voice teacher in New York and when I moved to California I had another one.

GJ is it true that at one point in your career you were so fed up with singing that you walked away from 2 million dollars in contracts and went into acting instead?

F I don't know what the figure was, but I was sick of Marcucci. It had nothing to do with singing. I always liked singing and recording I just couldn't stand being around him anymore, so I bought out my contract.

GJ When the movie came out ("The Idolmaker") you thought that it was loosely based on your life and took legal action?

F Yes, and won (laughs). They settled out of court. I made them apologise to my wife and family in the 'Hollywood Reporter" and "Variety". Also Bob Marcucci owned seven and a half per cent of that film, now I own it.

GJ You were interviewed by Joe Smith, author of the book "Off The Record" and told him "Disc jockeys treated me well. We all washed each other's hands". What did you mean by this? The suggestion is that without payola (record company or artist payments to a radio station/DJ to ensure airtime) you wouldn't have made it…

F No. I never saw any money being given to anybody. I knew about payola but I didn't have any first-hand knowledge of it.

GJ Bob Marcucci claims he never gave a nickel to get your records played.

F Well I can't comment on that.

GJ In another book, "Where Are You Now Bo Diddley?" by Edward Kiersh you are quoted as saying, "It hurts to be thought of as some fluke in a pompadour. From Day One I knew I was being overlooked, I knew I wasn't getting credit. Wherever I went I was received like The Beatles but I never got any recognition". What kind of recognition did you want?

F Oh, from my peers and the record industry. It would have been nice.

GJ As you see it, what has been your contribution to rock 'n' roll?

F I have no idea. I certainly wasn't an innovator, but I was a fan who made it, perhaps that was my biggest contribution. You know, that anybody could get in there and do it, and get a hit with a good song.

GJ You served then as an inspiration to other like-minded individuals?

F Yeah, maybe.

GJ I asked Bob Marcucci how he discovered you?

F What was his version? (laughs)

GJ On a doorstep…he said you lived next door to a neighbour friend.

F He approached me but at first I told him to go to hell. I thought he was fucking out of his mind, I was more worried about my dad (who had suffered a recent heart attack). And then, when we were broke and there was no money he came around again. My father couldn't work and was on 45 dollars a week disability allowance, I had two younger brothers and my mother so I'd try for anything. I still kept my job as a delivery boy for the first year (laughs).

GJ How long did your career under Bob Marcucci last?

F A year and a half, two years I guess, then I bought out my contract. Then I had a seven year deal with Twentieth Century Fox to make films.

GJ What about another recording contract at this time?

F I was doing a couple of films a year but Bob Marcucci left such a bad taste in my mouth that I just wanted to let it go for a while.

GJ Did he tell you what clothes to wear and how to wear your hair? He said that as you got older you didn't dress the way he told you to dress…

F I rebelled against it all. But make no question about it, I had no money and when I was first starting out I had to go to the clothing stores he wanted. I'm grateful for the things he's done. If the man wasn't such a frustrated performer himself, well…I didn't identify with a personality or lifestyle that I couldn't relate to.

GJ Is there a book about you waiting to be written?

F I don't know. The only reason I would do that, is for my kids, I could certainly tell them the truth now. I could be totally honest and set the record straight.

GJ How long did it take you to record "Turn Me Loose"?

F I think we did it in about 8 takes. We only had three hour sessions, like an hour for each song.

GJ And they had the band right there in the studio as you were singing?

F Right. If you ever listen to the song, it's 'live'. Remember we only had twin-track recording in those days! If you did something wrong, you'd start all over again.

GJ You were on those Dick Clark tours weren't you?

F Sure, mainly the US although I've done Australia, Canada and Sweden. We used to do 3 forty five date tours a year.

GJ Do you still go out on the road today?

F I've cut down to maybe 20 or 30 shows a year, because of my involvement in Rattlesnake Productions (Fabian's production company).

GJ On those early tours, did you really enjoy anybody's company?

F Most of them. Chubby Checker is a great friend of mine, Bobby Vee, Tommy Roe, The Coasters. Another good friend is Little Anthony of the Imperials. Then there was Del Shannon, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke…

GJ Did you see the "British Invasion" coming before it actually took off?

F No. I was out of it by then anyway. I was too busy doing my own stuff.

© 2002 Gary James. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

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