Doug Fieger: Leader of The Knack who co-wrote the worldwide hit 'My Sharona'

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The Independent Online

Sporting white shirts and skinny black ties, and performing the power pop anthem "My Sharona" on every television show going in the pre-MTV era, The Knack looked and sounded like a throwback to the Beatles at the time of the British invasion and briefly became the acceptable, ubiquitous face of the American new wave. Co-written by the Anglophile vocalist and rhythm guitarist Doug Fieger, who based the lyrics on his lustful feelings for a real Sharona, and lead guitarist Berton Averre, who came up with the catchy riff and played the ferocious solo on the song's Who-like middle eight, "My Sharona" topped the American charts for six weeks and was the best-selling record of 1979.

In the US it signalled the end of the disco era and gave power pop groups like The Romantics and The Plimsouls the chance to have hook-filled hits of their own. It remains a recurrent oldie on radio stations around the world, is often used in advertising campaigns and provides convenient shorthand for soundtrack compilers. Indeed, it enjoyed a revival when included in Reality Bites, the slacker movie directed by Ben Stiller in 1994.

The Knack were not quite one-hit wonders and also enjoyed chart success with their début album Get The Knack, which sold six million copies and contained another US Top Ten single "Good Girls Don't". However, even if it sported a couple of minor hits – "Baby Talks Dirty" and "Can't Put A Price On Love" – their follow-up, ...But The Little Girls Understand, only shifted half a million in 1980. Round Trip, their third album, barely scraped into the Top 100 the following year and they broke up, a cautionary tale of a group unable to live up to its early promise and survive a press backlash. Fieger, Averre and bassist Prescott Niles reunited in 1991 and made three more albums as The Knack, though drummer Bruce Gary declined to rejoin and died in 2006.

Born in 1952, Fieger grew up in Oak Park, Michigan and was one of three siblings. He played piano, trumpet and then guitar and acted out little plays with his older brother Geoffrey, now an attorney who has represented the right-to-die activist Jack Kevorkian.

After seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Doug switched from guitar to bass and joined The Royal Jammers, who came fifth in a national Band of the Land contest sponsored by Vox amplifiers. Because all the members were underage, their parents drove them to gigs. By 1969, he had graduated from performing covers of songs by the Animals, The Kinks and the Yardbirds to writing his own material in a Detroit group called Sky (not to be confused with the British outfit led by John Williams). Their three-part harmony power pop set them apart from the MC5, the Stooges and Bob Seger, then the Motor city's hottest acts, yet they were accepted as their occasional support, and also opened for The Who and other British bands. In 1970, Sky signed with RCA Records and made two albums in the UK with the Traffic and Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller, who encouraged them to relocate to Los Angeles. They appeared in Private Duty Nurses, an exploitation film distributed by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, but fell apart in 1971. Fieger stayed on in California, where he met Gary, and then Averre, who became his songwriting partner.

Named after the 1965 Richard Lester film The Knack... And How To Get It, they vowed to record "high-school songs with a teenage point of view" and Fieger drew on his own experiences. He had had the same girlfriend, a hairdresser named Lucy, for several years when she introduced him to Sharona Alperin, a 16-year-old shop assistant in a clothing store. "I instantly fell in love," he recalled. "I'd been living with Judy for a long time, and loved her, but I fell in love with this girl. We broke up and I moved out. That's how it happened. I chased her. Most of the songs on the first and second Knack albums were written about her. She was my muse. I had never met a girl like her, ever. She induced madness. She was a very powerful presence. She had an insouciance that wouldn't quit. She was very self-assured. She also had an overpowering scent, and it drove me crazy." Fieger would succeed in convincing the teenager to pose for the picture sleeve of the single she had inspired, and dated her for three years (she is now an estate agent).

At first, The Knack's demo tapes were ignored, including four rebuffs from Capitol, the label they eventually signed to. But after adding Niles in early 1978 they played a series of gigs at the Whisky A Go-Go and The Troubadour in Los Angeles and created a strong buzz, especially when Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Stephen Stills got up on stage to jam with them.

By November 1978, The Knack had 13 offers and plumped for Capitol, the US major associated with The Beatles. Mike Chapman, who had made his name writing and producing The Sweet and Suzi Quatro with Nicky Chinn and had just finished recording Parallel Lines with Blondie, camp-aigned to produce them. Get The Knack took 11 days and cost $18,000 to record, but its success became something of a curse. Fieger fell out with the producer during the recording of ...But The Little Girls Understand, with both parties blaming each other for the group's spectacular fall from grace.

The frontman's ego seemed to get out of control and the press quickly turned on single entendre lyrics of the "I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind" variety, while "Weird Al" Yankovic lampooned them on "My Bologna". Fieger and Co became a guilty pleasure before the expression came into common parlance, with Kurt Cobain performing snatches of "My Sharona" in the early '90s and claiming that Nirvana were "basically Black Sabbath molesting The Knack."

Fieger collected vintage rock instruments and analogue recording equipment and argued that his was "the only worthwhile pop music to make."

In 1980, he produced the first album by Rubber City Rebels, the alternative group from Akron, Ohio, and he guested on Born To Laugh At Tornadoes, the 1983 album by Was (Not Was). He appeared in the sitcom Roseanne and issued a solo album, First Things First. He was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer in 2005 but outlived his doctor's prognosis. "I've had 10 great lives. And I expect to have some more," he told the Detroit News. "I don't feel cheated in any way, shape or form."

Pierre Perrone

Douglas Lars Fieger, singer, songwriter and guitarist: born Detroit 20 August 1952; married (divorced); died Woodland Hills, California 14 February 2010.