JohnDu Cann: Singer and guitarist with the hardrockers Atomic Rooster

By Spencer Leigh

The singer and guitarist John Du Cann played in numerous bands, notably Atomic Rooster and Thin Lizzy, as well as having his own solo success with "Don't Be a Dummy" in 1979. He was born John Cann in Leicester in 1946, with the affectation being added by a manager in the 1970s. He started playing with the Wiltshire band The Sonics and then became part of The Attack.

They created melodic singles for Decca; one of them, "Try It", is now valued at £150. In 1967 they covered an American song, "Hi Ho Silver Lining", but sadly for them it was recorded at the same time by The Jeff Beck Group.

Du Cann had a short-lived period with Five Day Week Straw People before switching to a psychedelic band with a hard-rock edge, Andromeda. They released a single, "Go Your Way", and an eponymous album and had Black Sabbath as a support act. Du Cann's style on his Fender Telecaster was compared to Ritchie Blackmore's.

The organist Vincent Crane had become disillusioned with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and he had formed a heavy-rock group, Atomic Rooster. Du Cann joined the group just before the bass player, Nick Graham, left. Crane decided that the band should continue as a trio – himself on organ, Du Cann on vocals and guitar and Carl Palmer on drums. Effectively, Du Cann had to play low notes to compensate for the missing bass. When Palmer left for the immediately successful Emerson, Lake & Palmer, they replaced him with Rick Parnell, the son of the bandleader Jack Parnell, but needing a drummer with more experience, they then recruited Paul Hammond.

Like Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep and other heavy-metal bands, Atomic Rooster were preoccupied with songs about death and devil worship. Their Top 20 album, Death Walks Behind You, featured cover art from William Blake chosen by Du Cann, and included their single "Tomorrow Night", which was attributed to Crane but probably written by Du Cann. The single was commercial enough to have strong support from Tony Blackburn on Radio 1 and made the Top 20. The follow-up, "Devil's Answer", written and attributed to Du Cann, made No 4.

In Hearing of Atomic Rooster was another big album, but there was friction within the band, especially over songwriting royalties, or rather, the lack of them. Crane sacked Du Cann, citing musical differences, and Hammond left at the same time.

Du Cann and Hammond wanted to continue together and in quick succession they formed Daemon, Bullet and Hard Stuff. The two Hard Stuff albums were Bulletproof (1972) and Bolex Dementia (1973), both for Deep Purple's Purple label, and they toured with Captain Beefheart. Hard Stuff disbanded after Hammond had a serious car accident. For a time, Du Cann worked as a songwriter for Chappell Music, but he replaced Gary Moore in Thin Lizzy for two European tours.

In 1977, Du Cann released two punky singles for Arista, "Throw Him in Jail" and "Where's the Show", produced by Status Quo's Francis Rossi. Another single, "Don't Be a Dummy" (1979), made the Top 40. The song had been written but not released by Gary Numan and was used on a TV ad for Lee Cooper jeans. Du Cann made an album with Rossi, The World's Not Big Enough, but it was not officially released until 1999.

In 1980 Du Cann and Hammond surprisingly reunited with Crane for an Atomic Rooster revival and they became a popular touring band, also recording for EMI and Polydor. In 1983 they broke up for the final time and all three members are now deceased. Du Cann moved to Norwich and manufactured greenhouses and conservatories. In 1989, after Crane's death he produced a tribute album, The Devil Hits Back.

In recent years, Du Cann had been remastering his old recordings for CD release. They included a blistering version of "Exodus (Johnny and His Epic Guitars)", recorded in 1977 but not released at the time.

John William Cann (John Du Cann), musician: born Leicester 5 June 1946; died 21 September 2011.

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