The Tornadoes (Heinz on bass) doin’ the Robot, 1963
Part 4 of BBC’s The Strange Story Of Joe Meek, Heinz appears 1:01 into this clip….(the whole thing can be seen in six ten minutes clips on Youtube, if you haven’t seen it, take the time to watch full screen).
Heinz Burt was born Heinz Henry Georg Schwartze in Detmold, Germany in 1942. At age seven his family moved to Eastleigh, Hampshire, England where nothing much happened for him until he began playing the bass guitar and joined an instrumental combo called the Tornadoes. The Tornadoes were discovered by producer Joe Meek and are best remembered for their worldwide smash– Telstar in 1963. The story of the Tornadoes and Joe Meek has been told before, Meek himself, one of the most fascinating characters in British rock’n’roll history has been the subject of an excellent biography– The Legendary Joe Meek: The Telstar Man
by John Repsch (Woodford House, UK, 1989), a BBC documentary (clip above), a West End musical and bio pic (both called Telstar
, I’ve seen neither, the film wasn’t released in the U.S.). Meeks fans should check out the website of the Joe Meek Appreciation Society
and also recent postings over at Rockabilly Ranch
But today’s subject, Heinz, was just a small, but in his own way, quite interesting part of the Meek story. He also made a few really great records. Although he only had one real hit (Just Like Eddie, a tribute to Eddie Cochran which rose to #5 on the U.K. charts in ’63), he made some of the best records that Joe Meek ever produced (and some awful ones too), but his good sides deserve a listen, and his career deserves a reassessment, which is exactly what I shall do right now.
Heinz looked like he stepped out of a Leni Riefenstahl Nazi propaganda movie if Kenneth Anger had been put in charge of casting (Meek had him dye his hair platinum blonde after seeing Village Of The Damned). With his Nordic good looks and blond brush cut, he quickly became the obsession of his gay mentor– Joe Meek, who liked to get behind young talent, so to speak. Meek pulled Heinz out of the Tornadoes and launched him on a solo career, originally grooming him as a British answer to Eddie Cochran, the late U.S. star who was another of Meek’s obsessions. Unfortunately, Heinz was straight, and therefore had to do a delicate dance, keeping Meek interested in producing his records and pushing his career while saving wear and tear on his sphincter. Heinz didn’t have the greatest voice in the world, but he could deliver a rock’n’roll song convincingly enough. He was also astute enough to know that Meek was his best shot a stardom, and was soon living with Meek at his flat in Hollaway Road which doubled as a recording studio.
Meek got Heinz a deal with Decca and his first solo record, a fairly dreary piece of pop drek– Dreams Do Come True b/w Been Invited To A Party
, a light weight but enjoyable rocker not quite ruined by the goofy girl chorus, was released in May of ’63. Two months later, Just Like Eddie
b/w You Knock At My Door was released and began its fifteen week run up and down the U.K charts, it would be the height of his commercial success. Meek would also issue a Heinz EP– Live It Up
later that same year . 1964 saw Heinz’ first LP– A Tribute To Eddie.
A mixture of Eddie Cochran covers, weepy ballads aimed at teenage girls and a few rockers thrown in, the best tunes are the moody Rumble In The Night
and a Billy Fury styled rocker Don’t Keep Pickin’ On Me
Oct. ’64 saw a new Heinz single on a new label– Questions I Can’t Answer
on Columbia, probably his best record. Questions… is based around the classic Louie Louie I-IV-V chord progression and sports a twangy guitar solo by Barry Tomilson, the often brilliant leader of Heinz’ new backing band– The Wild Boys. Questions peaked at #39 on the NME charts and was forgotten within two weeks. His next single, issued in early ’65, a version Washboard Sam’s (better known in the UK from Lonnie Donnegan’s hit rendition) Diggin’ My Potatoes
given the full Joe Meek treatment, including a twangy 12 string guitar solo from Jimmy Page, at #49 it was his last chart entry. He also had two tracks on Decca’s under rated Live At The Cavern
LP, I Got A Woman
and Somebody To Love
, both are credible rockers. Two months later Meek released Heinz doing a rather tepid reading of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, but the flipside– Big Fat Spider,
is a killer in the style that is now known as Freakbeat (I kinda hate that term, but I’m also lazy so I’ll use it, just this once). With a fat, reverb laden Duane Eddy type guitar riff riding over a refrain of clavolin and backing vocals, the guitar solo, short, nasty and distorted seems to come out of nowhere and slice the song in half. I think it is, along with Questions I Can’t Answer, Heinz’s greatest moment.
His next two singles were pop ballads, and his final disc, issued in June of ’66 was a return to the Billy Fury styled pop-rockers he started out with– Movin’ In
b/w I’m Not A Bad Guy
. The flipside features the guitar work of Ritchie “Smoke On The Water” Blackmore (who had played on Just Like Eddie), Blackmore had recorded for Meek with his group the Outlaws as well as a session man. Blackmore would go on to be one of the most arrogant and unlikable cretins in a business full of arrogant cretins, but that’s a whole different story. As Meek began to unravel, Heinz’ career came to a standstill. I think you know how the story ended, on February 3, 1967, Meek took a shotgun (Heinz’ shotgun in fact) and blew his landlady’s brains all over the walls of the stairwell at Hollaway Road, then turned the gun on himself. Heinz disappeared from music for a few years, then hit the supper club/oldies circuit to make a living.
It was said he worked in theater and as a mime (I’m a die hard believer that mime should only be practiced on radio), he was married and divorced twice, and in the late nineties was diagnosed with a rare motor-neurone disease, his last show, just weeks before his demise, was performed from a wheelchair. He passed away in April of 2000, age 57. With the Joe Meek revival, Heinz is probably better known, and more popular than any time since Just Like Eddie charted in 1963, too bad he wasn’t able to enjoy it. Life’s funny that way.
Heinz wasn’t the most savage of rockers, he was no Kid Thomas or Andy Starr, but at his best (and Joe Meek must be given much of the credit) he did wax a few genuine classics, along with some very enjoyable if light weight rockers (and some truly dismal drivel), you can put him in my “guilty pleasures” category, but when I hear Questions I Can’t Answer or Big Fat Spider, I don’t feel guilty at all, they’re just great discs. But then again, Meek, at least for American ears may be something of an acquired taste (or lack there of), he was fond of goofy girlie choruses and syrupy strings, and most of his tunes have a definite show tune (or dance hall) feel to them. If you can get by that, or if that sorta thing doesn’t bother you, his records were almost always interesting. Meek was fond of all sorts of extreme compression, gigantic echo, bubbling reverb and all manner of strange guitar sounds and outer space effects, all used to good purpose. Many of his effects boxes were self made (he began his career as a radio repair man), in fact today you can buy several types of Joe Meek Compressors. An entire CD of Heinz tunes might just drive you up the wall, but to repeat myself, his best records are great, pop, throwaway trash with a real rock’n’roll feel buried under the layers of Meekdom. Hey, we can’t all be Howlin’ Wolf.