Jack Hutton: Editor who led 'Melody Maker' from the jazz age to the Beatles era

Thursday 28 August 2008 00:00

Jack Hutton was the highly professional and dynamic editor of Melody Maker who ensured the music paper's transition from the jazz age into the Beatles era and beyond. A lifelong journalist, publisher and keen jazz trumpeter, he launched many new successful titles including Sounds and Kerrang! As a journalist he met and interviewed an extraordinary range of stars, from Charlie Chaplin to Miles Davis and John Lennon. As an editor he knew how to bring together the best writers, photographers and designers, while setting new standards of production.

Hutton grew up in Dundee although he was born in Sydney in 1928. His father, a ship's engineer, and his mother were passing through Australia on their way home to Scotland. At the age of 15 Hutton joined the Dundee publishing house of DC Thomson, working on The Hotspur, Dandy and Beano. Called up for National Service in the RAF, he was posted to the South of France. On his return to Dundee he worked on the Sunday Post, where he met his future wife, Joyce.

He and Joyce started the Dundee Jazz Club, which ran for three years before the two of them left the city. "Jack started playing trumpet just before he came out of the RAF", remembered Joyce. "He heard a record by Bunk Johnson and that inspired him to start practising". The couple married in 1953 and the following year moved to London, where Hutton pursued offers from the Daily Sketch and the Evening Standard. In the end he took a job with his favourite weekly newspaper, Melody Maker, even though it paid less money.

Founded in 1928, the MM was known as "the musician's Bible" and covered jazz, dance band and pop music. Hutton would meet and interview many of his heroes, including Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Ella Fitzgerald, Erroll Garner, Count Basie, Diana Washington, Sammy Davis Jnr, Peggy Lee and even Charlie Chaplin.

He also had a famously brief two-word interview with Miles Davis. Hutton recalled later: "He instructed me to have sex and travel."

The MM also promoted the trad jazz boom of the early Sixties when Hutton wrote about the British players Sandy Brown, Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk. Despite his love of jazz, Hutton was quick to recognise the importance of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He took over as editor in the month that "Love Me Do" hit the charts in October 1962 and was determined that the paper should fend off competition from the rival New Musical Express.

The former advertising manager Peter Wilkinson recalls Hutton's impact on the look as well as the content of the revived MM. "As editor he oversaw a radical redesign and Melody Maker became the first weekly paper to use Web Offset".

In 1964 the MM flew out to New York to cover the Mop Tops' press conference. John Lennon spotted him in the audience and shouted out "There's fucking Hutton!" Back in London, the news editor Ray Coleman coined the phrase "Beatlemania" to describe the riotous scenes at concerts and airports. Hutton also went to the States that year with the Rolling Stones and made sneaky visits to New York jazz clubs with Charlie Watts and bought drinks for an under-age Mick Jagger. He accompanied the Stones to the Chess Studios in Chicago when they recorded "It's All Over Now" and Chuck Berry arrived at the session. In New York he strolled around Manhattan with Brian Jones, who pronounced that the city was "Just a big Balham".

Although the increased emphasis on pop was disparaged by older readers, Hutton ensured the MM kept its jazz and folk content and championed the paper's legendary critic Max Jones and his coverage of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan.

During the flower power years, Hutton's MM focused on The Who, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors, while the paper's own Top Fifty singles chart provided a useful source of news stories. This often proved a bone of contention, notably when a threatening Don Arden rang to complain bitterly that his group the Small Faces weren't No 1. Arden revealed he was tape-recording their heated conversation as "evidence". "What machine are you using? Mine's a Revox," was Hutton's dry retort.

As the MM prospered it achieved a weekly circulation figure that would peak at over 300,000 during the Seventies. Hutton was also responsible for other successful weekly music titles including Disc & Music Echo. In 1970 Hutton and Wilkinson left Melody Maker in a surprise move to launch Sounds, a new weekly music paper with Hutton as editorial director.

Their company began to acquire other publications, including the trade journal Music Week. Hutton became managing director of Spotlight Publications and launched the highly successful heavy metal magazine Kerrang! Another success was Popswap, a concept inspired by Hutton's daughter Mandy, who suggested a magazine aimed at teenagers. Launched in 1972, it rapidly achieved a circulation of 650,000.

Hutton's retirement from Spotlight in 1987 was celebrated with a party at Ronnie Scott's club in London, where he played trumpet on stage in a jam session. In later years he enjoyed playing trumpet regularly with a trad jazz group and was a founder member of the Codgers Club with former Fleet Street pals Ian Christie (clarinet), Peter York (bass) and fellow trumpeter Spike Mackintosh, the father of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the theatre producer. The club met regularly in Covent Garden and Hutton played trumpet with their band, dubbed "The Codgers" by his wife, inspired by the Daily Mirror's "Old Codgers" letters column.

Hutton was saddened by the demise of both Sounds and Melody Maker, which closed in the year 2000. Wilkinson recalled: "We were always trying to buy them but got a curt note saying 'Not for sale.' They'd rather let a paper die than be rescued."

Hutton became seriously ill in 2003 with tubercular meningitis which meant he could no longer play trumpet. He was working on a book of memoirs when he was taken to hospital again with a chest infection in 2008. Wilkinson describes him as: "a lovely, humorous guy who had lifelong friends. He was also a wonderful Scot. He could drop into incomprehensible dialect at any time and then explain: 'You see sir, I'm a Scotsman.'"

Chris Welch

Jack Hutton, journalist and musician: born Sydney, Australia 17 April 1928; married 1953 Joyce Fisker (two daughters); died London 24 August 2008.

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