Jack Keller

Writer of Sixties pop hits
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The Independent Online

The key pop hits of the early Sixties centred around the catchy and straightforward compositions of young New York writers, many of them based at the Brill Building on Broadway. One of these was Jack Keller, who wrote hit songs for Connie Francis and the Everly Brothers.

Jack Walter Keller, songwriter: born New York 11 November 1936; married Roberta Steiger (three sons, one adopted daughter); died Nashville, Tennessee 1 April 2005.

The key pop hits of the early Sixties centred around the catchy and straightforward compositions of young New York writers, many of them based at the Brill Building on Broadway. One of these was Jack Keller, who wrote hit songs for Connie Francis and the Everly Brothers.

Keller was born in Brooklyn in 1936, the son of an accountant who played the accordion at weekends. Keller's first hit single was "Just Between You and Me" for the Cordettes in 1957.

In 1959 he became a writer for a new company, Aldon, set up by the musician Al Nevins and the song plugger Don Kirshner. Keller wrote "One Way Ticket", the B-side of Neil Sedaka's 1959 hit, "Oh, Carol!". For Connie Francis, Keller and Sedaka's regular lyricist Howard Greenfield wrote the tear-drenched hits "Everybody's Somebody's Fool", "My Heart Has a Mind of its Own" and "Breakin' in a Brand New Broken Heart". The Keller/ Greenfield song that has endured is "Venus in Blue Jeans", a US hit for Jimmy Clanton and a UK one for Mark Wynter. With Carole King's husband and songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin, Keller wrote a Top Ten hit for Bobby Vee, "Run to Him".

"He was what we call a 'New York Aggressive'," one of Keller's songwriting associates, Paul Evans, recalls,

which means he was always in a hurry. He always had something to do. I thought he was a great writer, just as good as the more famous names.

He had a system for writing melodies. He would take the lyric from a current hit song and write his own melody on the piano to that lyric. He would then give that new melody to the lyric writer. I said to him, "I hope you'll never take my song 'Roses are Red'," and he said, "Too late."

When the Everly Brothers fell out with their publishers, Acuff-Rose, they came to Aldon. Keller collaborated with Goffin for the Everlys on the playful "How Can I Meet Her?" and the ballads "No One Can Make My Sunshine Smile" and "Don't Ask Me to Be Friends".

Keller and Goffin also wrote for the New York girl group sound. Little Eva, who was a member of the Cookies, sang "Let's Turkey Trot" (a UK Top Twenty hit in 1963) and "The Trouble With Boys" and the Cookies themselves had "Girls Grow Up Faster Than Boys".

In April 1963 Kirshner sold his growing Aldon empire to Columbia Pictures for $2m, although the writers did not see much of the proceeds and it destroyed the family atmosphere of the company. Kirshner had unknowingly made a brilliant move: the scene was about to change with the advent of the Beatles and the concept that groups could write their own songs.

Keller remained with the new company, Screen Gems, and wrote the theme music for various television series - Bewitched, Gidget and Here Come the Brides. Moving to Los Angeles in 1965, he was involved in producing the pop group the Monkees, and in 1967 they recorded his song, "Your Auntie Grizelda".

The most successful song from Keller's later years, in Nashville, was "Caught a Touch of Love" which was recorded by Ray Charles and B.B. King.

Spencer Leigh

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