Roger LaVern: Keyboard player with the Tornados

After we had made 'Telstar'," the pianist Roger LaVern told me in 2009, "I thought it was a strange piece of music and I wasn't even sure if I liked it. When it started climbing the charts, I started to like it and now I find it absolutely incredible to think that I was involved with something so iconic."

Roger LaVern was born Roger Keith Jackson in Kidderminster in 1937 and his father was the director of a chocolate company. He learnt to play the piano first at boarding school and then in the forces, and in the early 1960s he wanted to play professionally: "The only job I could find was between the films at Walthamstow Granada every Sunday but unfortunately the local yobbos thought it was funny to throw things at the piano player."

LaVern wanted to be a solo pianist like Russ Conway, but in May 1962 he was invited to Joe Meek's recording studio in north London. As Norman Hale was leaving the Tornados, Meek asked him to play keyboards. The other members were Alan Caddy and George Bellamy (guitars), Heinz Burt (bass) and Clem Cattini (drums), and they were backing the UK rock'n'roll star Billy Fury. He was encouraged to find a more exotic name than Jackson and thinking of a favourite singer, LaVern Baker, he became Roger LaVern.

Within a few weeks, LaVern was touring with Fury, and the Tornados had recorded Meek's tune "Telstar". "We had a summer season in Great Yarmouth," LaVern recalled, "and I went to the theatre one morning to collect the mail and was asked to ring our manager's office. I was told that 'Telstar' had entered the charts and we had a hit record."

"Telstar", named after the telecommunications satellite, topped the UK charts and repeated its success in America, but their manager, Larry Parnes, would not allow them to play The Ed Sullivan Show without Fury. The Tornados pursued a dual career in the UK, making records with Meek including LaVern's compositions, the frantic "Chasin' Moonbeams" and the whistle-packed "Costa Monger", and touring with Fury. In April 1963 they recorded a live album with Fury, We Want Billy!, which has retained its excitement over 50 years.

As Parnes was miserly, the Tornados received little money for their success, but, trading on his good looks, LaVern told me, "Heinz and I were always picking up ladies and we would always ask, 'Have you got a flat?' We couldn't afford hotels and if they could put us for a night, that would be great." LaVern admitted that this became an addiction, and he claimed to have slept with 6,000 women.

When LaVern complained to Decca Records about his lack of royalties he was thrown out by security men. He left the Tornados in September 1963 and made singles with the Microns, including the seasonal instrumental "Christmas Stocking", but they failed to sell. When he declared himself bankrupt, he thought the Official Receiver would fight his corner; Meek had a heated meeting with the Receiver and LaVern suspected this was a factor in his suicide in February 1967.

LaVern had a love of Mexico, becoming the resident pianist and artistic director at the luxurious Hotel Hacidana Cocoyoc. He played for the President of Mexico and had a small role in the film John Huston shot in Mexico, Under The Volcano (1984).

In 1978 LaVern played the piano non-stop for 48 days, 20 hours and 27 minutes and appeared on the television programme The Record Breakers, hosted by Roy Castle. His work for various charities was acknowledged publicly at an event in the House of Lords in 2011.

In later years, LaVern suffered from Dupuytren's contracture, which causes the fingers to bend towards the palm; the condition was not fully resolved with surgery, but he became an entertaining after-dinner speaker. He planned to publish his autobiography, but then realised that this would hurt some of his acquaintances.

Roger Keith Jackson (Roger LaVern), pianist: born Kidderminster 11 November 1937; married eight times; died London 15 June 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick