Lorne Gibson

Country-music singer
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The Independent Online

Eric Brown (Lorne Gibson), singer: born Edinburgh 1940; married Maggie Gibbs (one daughter); died 12 May 2003.

"I never expected to have a hit record," said Lorne Gibson, "because I discovered very quickly that country-music fans don't want to buy British records." Nevertheless, Gibson's numerous BBC radio appearances in the early 1960s did much to interest the British public in country music.

Lorne Gibson was born Eric Brown in Edinburgh in 1940 and he had no ambitions of becoming a singer. When he was 17, he was working in a café and a customer played him a Hank Williams record, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". "I had never knowingly heard country music," he told me in 1985,

and I started to play it because it was simple, it suited my limited chord experience on the guitar. The songs were easy to play, easy to sing, and had no great range in them, and it was only after a few years that I began to realise that I had been listening to somebody special.

Brown went to London in the hope of impressing a BBC producer, and, against all the odds, he was asked to represent the UK in a radio programme, The Commonwealth of Song. He wanted a more distinctive name and he took Gibson from the make of his guitar:

I needed a first name and the producer, Johnnie Stewart, said, "What's wrong with your real name, Eric? At least you haven't got a name like mine, Lorne." I said, "That's it, Lorne Gibson." It turned out to be a great name as Lorne Green became very popular in Bonanza!

The promoter Larry Parnes thought he could promote Gibson's soft, romantic style as "sweet rock", but Gibson stayed with country music and signed with Tommy Sanderson, one of the producers of the BBC Light Programme's Saturday Club. The Lorne Gibson Trio was formed, the most regular members being Steve Vaughan (guitar) and Vic Arnold (bass), and they recorded for Decca. "Our first single was a cover of Jimmy Dean's 'Little Black Book' in 1962," said Gibson, "but Decca knew so little about country music that they listed me as a calypso singer in their catalogue."

Gibson became a regular on Saturday Club and other radio programmes including Easy Beat and his own Side by Side. He recalled,

Saturday Club got 150 requests a week for Cliff, 100 for some of the other stars, and the odd few for me. Suddenly, huge sackfuls of mail began to appear and they were full of requests for the Beatles. The Beatles came on my radio show, Side by Side, and then I guested on Pop Goes the Beatles! It was very refreshing because they had their own idea of what they wanted to do and they didn't want to be stereotyped. Paul McCartney liked country and he sat in on some of our songs, just as we did odd bits in theirs. It was great. Brian Epstein wanted to sign me, but I was working for Tommy Sanderson, who'd already lost a few artists. I thought, "No, I like Little Tommy. I'll stick with him."

Gibson made some fine records and he was unlucky not to have more success. His insidious "Some Do, Some Don't" (1963), written by the US country star Freddie Hart, received much radio play and his "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" (1965) sold steadily without actually making the charts. However, the additional, spoken voice that was intended to add to the drama in "Don't Go Near the Indians" (1964) was let down by a cockney accent.

He sang the theme song for the film Heavens Above! (1963), a Peter Sellers comedy, and he himself played the title role in the pop musical The Ghost Goes Gear (1966). "I was only filmed from one side," he revealed, "because I tripped up at home and cut my face on a marble table." The film, which starred Nicholas Parsons and the Spencer Davis Group, was so bad that it was chopped to 40 minutes and relegated to a second feature.

Gibson was featured on the BBC album of Radio 2's Up Country (1974), but an album he made in 1978, For the Life of a Song, was never released. Rather disillusioned, he left the business but he returned from time to time, even making an album. He still performed his old stage favourites, "Devil Woman", "Eighteen Yellow Roses" and his tour de force, the frantic, tongue-twisting, "The Auctioneer".

Spencer Leigh