So here I am, still trying to get my head around a pop culture that is at times completely alien to me, wondering how pianist Russ Conway’s instrumental Side Saddle got to number 1 when surrounded by the likes of songs by Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, and now I have to review his second number 1, which actually knocked Elvis from the top. As I said in my blog for A Fool Such As I/I Need Your Love Tonight, these tracks were poor by Elvis’s standards, but still…
Roulette sounds like a throwaway from Conway, who, probably astounded by Side Saddle‘s success, probably thought he could just repeat the formula. And it worked. Actually, Roulette is better than his best-selling number 1, as the tune is a little catchier – after all, it was made to order, whereas Side Saddle was only ever meant to be incidental music. I could imagine it sounding appropriate in an old-fashioned London pub or strolling along Blackpool’s beach. I’m struggling to find any other use for it though.
I shouldn’t be so hard on Russ Conway. He clearly was very good at what he did, with further hits and TV shows. There were three more top 10 hits in 1959 alone, and plenty more top 40 entries until 1962. In his lifetime he sold over 30 million records, which gave him a lifestyle of mansions, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.
However, he suffered for his art. He became blighted by ill health, although smoking 80 cigarettes a day and drinking a lot won’t have helped.
In 1963 he suffered a nervous breakdown, and then fell and fractured his hip, which left him paralysed for three days. Two years later he suffered his first stroke, aged only 38. For several years he was unable to play, and was prescribed anti-depressants to help him cope with these issues and his own self-doubt in his abilities. Many believe his hidden homosexuality was also a considerable factor in his depression.
He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in the late-80s and founded the Russ Conway Cancer Fund in 1990. Despite this he battled on, and even lost part of a second finger after getting it stuck in the door of his Rolls-Royce. It still didn’t stop him playing though, and it wasn’t until 16 November 2000 that he finally succumbed to cancer, aged 75.
Written by: Trevor Stanford
Producer: Norman Newell
Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 June-2 July)
Chef Sophie Grigson – 19 June
Inspiral Carpets keyboardist Clint Boon – 27 June