The Dave Clark Five - Biography
With 17 singles in the US top 40 charts and over two dozen appearances on the Ed Sullivan show during their heyday, The Dave Clark Five was one of the most commercially successful groups of the British Invasion. The Beatles and Rolling Stones may loom larger in rock history, but the Dave Clark Five topped both groups frequently when it came to giving the music-buying audience what they wanted in the mid-60s.
Formed in 1957 as a backing band for North London singer Stan Saxon, the group made their debut in 1958 at a youth club in the North London suburb of Tottenham, England. After a few years drummer Dave Clark and bassist Rick Huxley ditched their backing band status and reworked the band. With Clark as their leader front and center, the revamped group consisted of Rick Huxley on bass, Mike Smith on vocals and keyboards, Lenny Davidson on lead guitar, Denny Payton on sax and Dave Clark on drums. The newly minted Dave Clark Five made their live debut in 1962.
The Dave Clark Five signed a contract with Ember/Pye in 1962, and continued to build their local following playing in the British ballroom circuit. Their first single was a rock version of the nursery rhyme “Mulberry Bush,” which made little impact nationally. Their second single was an ill-timed cover of The Contours’ “Do You Love Me.” Unfortunately for the Dave Clark Five, the Tremelos recorded a cover of the same song at the same time. While the Dave Clark Five’s version made its way to the bottom of the UK charts, The Tremelos’ version charted higher and made a bigger impact. The Dave Clark Five didn’t give up; instead, they decided they were better off writing and recording their own material — a fairly radical concept for an era when the bulk of UK bands were recording covers.
The gamble paid off; the Dave Clark Five was the second British Invasion group to chart in the United States, after only the Beatles. The band’s first single, “Glad All Over” reached #6 on the US charts in February 1964. The same single knocked the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” off the top of the UK charts. That was just the beginning — from 1964 to 1967 the Dave Clark 5 had 17 singles in the US Top 40 charts.
While the Beatles figure more prominently in popular music history, the Dave Clark Five were oftentimes quicker to act and had a deeper understanding of what the group needed to accomplish to maintain their visibility in the States. For example, the Dave Clark Five were the first of the British Invasion groups to tour in the States. The DC5 toured in Spring of 1964, while the Beatles didn’t tour until the Summer of that year. The Dave Clark Five completed six coast-to-coast US tours and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show eighteen times. The Beatles only performed on the show four times.
Hot on the heels of the Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night, the Dave Clark Five released their own musical comedy movie. Catch Us If You Can (also known as Having a Wild Weekend in the US) was director John Boorman’s first film; Boorman went on to direct Point Blank, Deliverance and Excalibur among others. The film didn’t equal Hard Day’s Night's success, but then, it took risks the Beatles’ film didn’t. Rather than play themselves, the Dave Clark Five played a group of television stuntmen and while the Beatles’ movie was a lighthearted romp, Catch Us If You Can is oftentimes described as “downbeat.” It also netted female lead Barbara Ferris a BAFTA nomination.
It’s easy to draw comparisons between the Dave Clark Five and Beatles’ career trajectory. In fact, the media delighted in reporting a feud between the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five; in fact, there was no ill-will between the two and they were on friendly terms.
The Dave Clark Five definitely stood out for the very business-like approach Clark took towards running the group. Originally a partnership, starting in 1963 the group was undoubtedly Clark’s band. He was not only the bandleader, but the group’s business manager as well. From 1963 on, he paid the band members regular salaries, paid for all recordings and consequently owned all the copyrights to recordings made during the band’s life. An astute businessman, when the group signed with Columbia Records in the UK and Epic in the US, Clark insisted on (and received) maintaining creative control over the group’s releases, including final say on which songs would be released as singles. He set up the publishing company that administered the group’s original material; as a producer, he negotiated a fee that was significantly higher than other independent producers were receiving at the time. Finally, he also demanded a reversion clause that gave ownership of the band’s recordings after a period of time.
Clark’s leadership of the band wasn’t without scandal. In recent years, reports have surfaced that Clark didn’t actually play on the group’s recordings. In 2004, session drummer Bobby Graham claimed that he, not Clark, played on the group’s records, with the albums’ recording engineers supporting the claim. Furthermore, the UK press hinted that Clark often used drummers hidden behind the curtain to augment live shows. Finally, there are questions about Clark’s participation on songs he allegedly co-wrote with Smith and Davidson. Songs credited to Clark/Smith and Clark/Davidson might actually have been solo writing efforts. While deceptive, it wasn’t uncommon for producers at the time to take songwriting credits for songs they merely supervised.
The group broke up in 1970. Unlike many of the other popular British Invasion bands who reformed to play lucrative reunion tours, Clark resisted all requests to reform the group. Instead, Clark launched his own media company after the band’s breakup and bought the rights to the influential British 1960s show, ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’
Singer Smith returned to the stage after a 25-year absence, fronting his group Mike Smith’s Rock Engine. While he was forbidden from mentioning the Dave Clark 5 in any advertising, he did two small tours of the United States. Later that year, Smith fell off a ladder at his home in Spain, and suffered severe spinal cord injuries that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Dennis Payton died in December 2006 after a long bout with cancer. Tragedy struck again when Smith died of pneumonia on February 28, 2008, less than two weeks from being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Thankfully he lived long enough to learn of the induction.