Singer, songwriter, guitarist
An American songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist who merged folk, blues, rock, and country to create an eclectic repertoire that was difficult to pigeonhole—and to market—Rose skirted mainstream success but became a legendary cult figure, especially in Europe. He is considered nearly mythical, a musician who produced some of the most inspiring, and at the same time strangely neglected, songs of his time. Rose is regarded as a pioneer of folk-rock, a genre that blends the earnestness and melodic quality of folk music with the instrumentation and rhythms of rock ’n’ roll.
Praised as a talented songwriter of works that were characteristically dark and brooding but had elements of tenderness, humor, and optimism, Rose is especially noted as a performer and as an interpreter of the material of other writers. He possessed a soulful, sandpaper baritone of great range and intensity—his voice is compared to those of Ray Charles and Joe Cocker—and he reworked traditional ballads and obscure folk songs by slowing them down and dramatizing their lyrics to great effect. Rose is best known for his interpretations of “Hey Joe (Blue Steel .44),” a murder ballad about a man who catches his wife in an affair and shoots her before escaping to Mexico; “Morning Dew,” a song in the public domain that Rose and Canadian folksinger Bonnie Dobson rewrote as a powerful cautionary statement against nuclear war; and a second anti-war song, “Come Away Melinda,” that was co-written by Fred Hellerman of the folk quartet the Weavers. “Hey Joe” and “Morning Dew” are considered landmark songs, tunes that have spawned hundreds of cover versions. For example, “Hey Joe” was the first single released in England by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and an extended version of “Morning Dew” was one of the concert staples for the Grateful Dead.
Born on September 23, 1940, in Washington, D.C., Rose grew up in a musical household. His grandmother had been a pianist for silent films; his mother played the piano; and his aunt, who raised Rose in Virginia, sang opera around the house. At the age of eight, Rose heard the disk jockey Wolfman Jack play blues on his radio show. Rose learned to play the five-string banjo, then the guitar. At thirteen, he was expelled from a Roman Catholic seminary for smoking. Before he graduated from high school, Rose won a prize for being the best musician in the school but lost out on a college scholarship to a tuba player. After joining the Air Force, Rose became a bomber/navigator in the Strategic Air Command unit. After leaving the service, he began to write songs.
Rose began his career as a professional musician as a guitarist for the Smoothies, a vocal group that featured John Phillips, who later would form the popular quartet the Mamas and the Papas, and Scott McKenzie, who had a hit single with “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” in 1967. Rose split from the group to form a folk duet, Michael and Timothy, with ex-Smoothie Michael Boran. After Rose met vocalist Cass Elliot, the pair formed a group called the Triumvirate with John Brown. Rose and Elliot then enlisted singer James Hendricks (not to be confused with guitarist/vocalist Jimi Hendrix), who replaced Brown. Now called the Big Three, the group recorded two albums and were notable for introducing electric instruments to folk music, an innovation suggested by Rose. In 1964 Rose left the Big Three to move to New York City. Elliot and Hendricks, who had married, formed the Mugwumps, a folk-rock group that also featured vocalist Denny Doherty, later of the Mamas and the Papas, and guitarist Zal Yanovsky, later of the Lovin’spoonful.
While living in Greenwich Village, Rose worked as a jingle singer and session guitarist before forming a folk-rock trio, the Feldmans, with Richie Hussan and Jake Holmes. The band performed at the Night Owl, a popular club that was often scouted by Columbia Records employees, who were searching for “the new Dylan.” Signed by Columbia as a solo artist, Rose recorded the single “Hey Joe (Blue Steel .44),” which was produced by Bob Johnston, who also produced Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. The single was not marketed in the United States because Columbia executives thought that its subject matter was inappropriate for the American audience. However, Chas Chandler, an English musician who managed Jimi Hendrix, heard “Hey Joe (Blue Steel .44)” at a Los Angeles club and recommended it to the guitarist. Hendrix took Rose’s arrangement and released
For the Record…
Born on September 23, 1940, in Washington, D.C.; died on September 24, 2002, in London, England; married and divorced, early 1990s.
Worked as guitarist for vocal group the Smoothies, featuring John Phillips and Scott McKenzie; formed duo Michael and Timothy with ex-Smoothie Michael Boran; joined U.S. Air Force, became a bomber navigator in the Strategic Air Command unit; formed folk groups the Triumvirate and the Big Three with Cass Elliot; went solo, 1964; signed deal with Columbia Records, 1966; produced album Tim Rose, containing the acclaimed singles “Hey Joe,” “Morning Dew,” and “Come Away Melinda,” 1967; released well-received non-album single “Long-Haired Boy,” 1968; released album Through Rose-Colored Glasses, 1969; worked as pilot and as voice talent for commercials, released Love —A Kind of Hate Story on Capitol, 1970; became first artist to be signed to Playboy Records; company released Tim Rose (a new recording), 1972; signed to Atlantic; released The Musician, 1975; made demo of The Gambler for Atlantic, which declined to release disc, 1977; worked outside music industry before moving to England, 1995; became cult figure on strength of album reissues, live performances, and attention from recording artists such as Nick Cave and Robert Plant; released album Haunted on independent label Best Dressed Records, 1997; released album American Son on Mystic Records, 2002.
Addresses: Record company —Mystic Records, Compass House, 30-36 East St., Bromley, Kent BR1 3LW, England. Website —Tim Rose Official Website: http://www.timrose.net.
the song in England with his group the Jimi Hendrix Experience. As “Hey Joe,” the song became Hendrix’s first hit. Rose, who had failed to copyright his arrangement, did not make any money from royalties.
Columbia released Rose’s first solo album, Tim Rose, in 1967. A mixture of originals and cover tunes, the album features a band of crack studio musicians, including bassist Felix Pappalardi, later the producer of Cream, and drummer Bernard Purdie. Writing in American Troubadours: Groundbreaking Singer-Songwriters of the ’60s, Mark Brend called Tim Rose “an intense, forceful folk-rock milestone on which Rose’s reputation stands.” Richie Unterberger of All Music Guide said that the album “is considered by far [Rose’s] most significant work.” A writer on the Artists2Events website called Tim Rose “a groundbreaking record of fledgling folk/funk that was to form the template for many successful bands to come.” Simon Dee, a disc jockey on the English pirate station Radio Caroline, began to play Rose’s version of “Morning Dew” on a regular basis. The song established Rose in Great Britain, where he still is beloved.
Rose came to the United Kingdom for a series of concerts; in London, he recorded a single, “Long-Haired Boy,” which is considered one of the first songs about groupies as well as one of Rose’s best tunes. In concert, Rose was backed by drummer John Bonham, whose exceptional work inspired guitarist Jimmy Page to invite him to join the New Yardbirds; soon thereafter, the New Yardbirds became Led Zeppelin. Rose was offered the chance to cover “With a Little Help from My Friends,” a song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney; instead, the song was given to Joe Cocker, who had a number-one hit with it. Rose turned down the offer to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones and also turned down the chance to perform at Woodstock. In addition, George Harrison wanted to produce Rose, but nothing happened. Rose told Spencer Leigh of the Independent, “There is a pattern in my life with all the opportunities I’ve missed.”
After the critical success of Tim Rose, the artist’s subsequent records were less well-received. Generally, the songs are thought to lack the significance of those on Rose’s first album, and the arrangements, which incorporate horns and strings among other instruments, are thought to be too “pop” for Rose’s distinctive style. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Rose traveled regularly from the United States to England. In 1967, “Come Away Melinda” appeared on The Rock Machine Turns You On, the first compilation album to be released in Britain; the song made Rose a popular figure with many young English music fans. Rose moved to England in the mid-1970s. He performed occasionally with a fellow expatriate, folksinger Tim Hardin, in London clubs, but Hardin’s addiction to heroin and alcohol severed the partnership.
In 1977 Atlantic Records spent £100,000 to produce an album of new material by Rose called The Gambler; however, they passed on the finished version, which was not released until 1991. In 1978 Rose played guitar on a minor punk hit, “Boys on the Dole” by Neville Wanker, a.k.a Ron Ellis, and the Punkers. However, the lack of work in England forced Rose to go back to the United States. Once there, Rose basically dropped out of the music scene. He became a construction worker, worked as a pilot and as a stockbroker on Wall Street, managed a restaurant, and taught geography. Rose also worked on commercials: an ad that he did for Wrangler jeans ran for years and provided him with enough money to get his college degree. After his marriage and divorce, Rose became an alcoholic. However, after regaining sobriety, he decided to perform again. Rose created a live act in which he mixed his music with entertaining monologues about his life and career while accompanying himself on 12-string acoustic guitar.
Sweetness for the Sour Flower
In the mid-1980s, Rose began to get some renewed attention. Nick Cave, an Australian singer-songwriter who shares Rose’s dark vision, covered his “Long-Time Man” in 1986. Cave’s version of the song became popular; soon other musicians, such as Robert Plant and Neil Young, began to offer him work or to cite him as an influence. In 1995 Rose relocated to London permanently. Later, he performed with Nick Cave at the Royal Albert Hall and had a successful concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. In 1997 Rose produced Haunted, his first album in over 20 years. Haunted contained interpretations of some of his older songs as well as new compositions and was recorded both live and in the studio. The album generally is considered a welcome reintroduction to a great talent. For the rest of the decade, Rose continued to hone his skills as a performer, drawing on what Mark Brend called “his considerable back catalogue—songs about murder, defiant independence, and impending apocalypse…” Rose’s previous albums were re-released, and his songs were used in films such as 24/7 and East Is East.
In 2001 Dutch filmmaker Jacques Laureys directed a documentary about Rose, Where Was I? In 2002 Rose released American Son, an album of ten songs—nine of them originals—that address such subjects as love, money, and the state of contemporary society. American Son generally was praised as Rose’s best album since his debut. Writing in Classic Rock Magazine, Michael Heatley commented, “Rose is as intimate and confessional as any fashionable singer-songwriter you want to put him up against.… While others rave about Dylan’s return to form, you might benefit from spending an hour in the company of a storyteller like Rose.…” Paul Dromey of the Irish Examiner called American Son “glorious” before concluding that it “reintroduces [Rose] as a master of the songwriting craft.” Writing on the Shakenstir website, Tony Porter stated that American Son “is not just a good album, it’s a classic piece of work.”
Before his death of heart failure after an operation to remove a cancerous tumor on his bowel, Rose had contributed four songs to and sung on the album Not Goin’Anywhere by the Norwegian band Headwaiter. In addition, he was writing music for a film scripted by Irish playwright Lee Dunne that starred Patrick Bergin. The inspiration for an instrumental, “Sour Flower,” by guitarist Elliott Randall, Rose also had a guitar named for him by Brooks Guitars of Devon, England. Rose’s old friend Robert Plant recorded versions of both “Hey Joe” and “Morning Dew” for his album of covers, Dreamland, a work released shortly before the artist’s death.
Over the course of his career, critics have discovered, rediscovered, or reassessed Rose and his music. Although he often is considered a peripheral figure, especially by American critics, and is largely unknown outside of musical circles, Rose is highly regarded by those who know his work. A writer on the Artists2-Events website commented, “Tim is a truly original and authentic voice that remains undimmed by the passage of time; his true worth may not have been represented in commercial terms, but his credibility and integrity are indelible.” Writing in the Evening Standard, Max Bell concluded, “They don’t make them like Tim Rose anymore.” In an interview with Mark Brend, Rose said, “I’ve not made it yet, so I can’t be a has been. I’m the last great underground artist of the 1960s.”
(With Cass Elliot and James Hendricks) The Big Three, FM, 1963.
(With Elliot and Hendricks) The Big Three Live at the Recording Studio, FM, 1964.
Tim Rose, Columbia, 1967; reissued as Morning Dew.
Through Rose-Colored Glasses, Columbia, 1969.
Love—A Kind of Hate Story, Capitol, 1970.
Tim Rose (new recording), 1972.
The Musician, Atlantic, 1975.
Unfinished Song, Tiger Lily, 1976.
The Gambler (recorded 1977), President, 1991.
(With Elliot and Hendricks) The Big Three Featuring Mama Cass (reissue), Sequel, 1995.
Haunted, Best Dressed, 1997.
Tim Rose/Through Rose-Colored Glasses (reissue of first and second albums on single CD), BGO, 1997.
Love —A Kind of Hate Story/Tim Rose (reissue of third and fourth albums on single CD), Flying Thorn, 1998; reissued, RPM, 1999.
American Son, Mystic, 2002.
Bogdanov, Vladimir, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, editors, All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music, fourth edition, All Media Guide, 2001.
Brend, Mark, American Troubadours: Groundbreaking Singer-Songwriters of the 60s, Backbeat Books, 2001.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, third edition, MUZE UK Ltd, 1998.
Unterberger, Richie, Turn! Turn! Turn!: The Ws Folk-Rock Revolution, Backbeat Books, 2002.
Classic Rock, February 2002.
Independent (London, England), September 22, 2002.
Irish Examiner, June 22, 2002.
Evening Standard (London, England), March 26, 2002.
Times (London, England), September 27, 2002.
“Bonnie Dobson Interview,” Roots of the Grateful Dead, http://www.taco.com/roots/dobsoninterview.html (December 2, 2002).
“Shakenstir Talks to Tim Rose,” Shakenstir, http://www.shakenstir.co.uk/featuremore3.asp?articleid=166 (December 2, 2002).
“Tim Rose,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 2, 2002).
“Tim Rose, 1940-2002,” Artists2Events, http://www.artists2events.co.uk/TimRose.html (December 2, 2002).
“Tim Rose, America’s Son,” Shakenstir, http://www.shakenstir.co.uk/featuremore6.asp?articleid=351 (December 2, 2002).
Tim Rose Official Website, http://www.timrose.net (December 2, 2002).
—Gerard J. Senick
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