Johnny Paris

Leader of the Hurricanes


John M. Pocisk (Johnny Paris), saxophonist: born Walbridge, Ohio 1940; twice married (one son, two daughters); died Ann Arbor, Michigan 1 May 2006.

There was nothing subtle about Johnny and the Hurricanes' hit singles - they performed cheery, rock'n'roll arrangements of old folk tunes. Johnny Paris led the group and will be best remembered for his squawking saxophone on "Rocking Goose". The group had success in the early Sixties until the tidal wave of the Beatles and the British beat groups swept them away. For all that, Ray Davies of the Kinks showed his affection for Johnny and the Hurricanes when he eulogised them in "One of the Survivors" in 1973.

Of Polish descent, Paris was born John Pocisk in Walbridge, near Toledo, Ohio in 1940. He formed his first band, the Orbits, in Rossford Catholic High School in 1957 and they experimented with rock'n'roll music, sometimes accompanying the rockabilly artist Mack Vickery. In 1959 a vocal group, Fred Kelly and the Parliaments, asked the Orbits to back them on an audition for Talent Inc in Detroit. The partners, Irving Micahnik and Harry Balk, didn't think much of Kelly, but asked Pocisk's group to record instrumentals for their own Twirl label. As Johnny and the Hurricanes, they recorded "Crossfire" in an disused cinema where, in these primitive times, the sound was bounced around the auditorium to create echo. The single was released nationally by Warwick Records and became a US hit.

Micahnik and Balk hit on a scheme for making money. They would seek out tunes which were out of copyright and ask the band to record rock'n'roll versions, whilst they would be listed as composers, under the names Tom King and Ira Mack. The first big single was with the cowboy song "Red River Valley", which was retitled "Red River Rock" and was a Top Ten hit in both the US and UK. Rather than Paris's saxophone, it featured Paul Tesluk's piping organ and Dave Yorko on guitar. This was followed by a rock'n'roll version of the army bugle call, "Reveille Rock", skilfully being promoted in the UK at a time when conscription was being abolished.

The group's second LP, Stormsville (1960), made the UK album charts as did The Big Sound of Johnny and the Hurricanes (1961). The group's B-sides and album tracks have more lasting value as they get away from the gimmicks and there are some good tracks such as the eastern "Sheba", "Time Bomb", "Buckeye" and the evocative "Sand Storm".

In 1960, Johnny and the Hurricanes scored a hit with a rock version of "Bluetail Fly", now called "Beatnik Fly", which at the time was being used for a cornflakes advertisement. When Paris was changing a reed on his saxophone, he blew a squawking sound and Harry Balk said, "That's your next hit record." As a result, Johnny and the Hurricanes then had a major hit with an original tune, "Rocking Goose". They also had hits with "Down Yonder", "Ja-Da", "Old Smokie" and "High Voltage" (based on "Stagger Lee"), but by 1961 the sound was wearing thin. More importantly, the group was dissatisfied with its management and Paris was the only original member left.

Despite the changes in personnel, the group retained popularity in Europe and, in 1962, they headlined over the up-and-coming Beatles at the Star-Club in Hamburg. Another Liverpool musician, Alan Caldwell, based his stage name, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, on the band (and also called his house Stormsville).

In 1961/62, Johnny and the Hurricanes had not been allowed to appear in the UK as, under Musicians' Union rules, the Grade Organisation had been unable to negotiate a reciprocal deal in America with a British group. Eventually, they did tour in January 1963 on an ill-fated package for Don Arden called "Juke Box Doubles", which was compered by Jimmy Savile; the rest of the show consisted of Elvis and Cliff impersonators. Ticket sales were disastrous and the tour was cancelled after a fortnight. The group continued to record and did some bandwaggoning in 1964 with "The Saga of the Beatles".

Paris moved out of music as a full-time occupation, selling both antiques and vending machines in Toledo. He appeared in Sweden last November and in recent years had declined interviews as he was in the process of writing his autobiography.

Spencer Leigh

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