Ian Whitcomb, Rocker Turned Pop Music Historian, Dies at 78

Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, music, popular culture

Ian Whitcomb, who had a rock ’n’ roll hit in 1965 with “You Turn Me On” before becoming a celebrated historian and performer of forms of popular music that peaked decades before rock, died on April 19 in Pasadena, Calif. He was 78.

His wife, Regina Whitcomb, said the cause was complications of a stroke he had in 2012 that had left him in declining health.

From the time he was a boy in Britain, Mr. Whitcomb was deeply enamored of ragtime and other older styles of music. After playing blues, jazz and skiffle music, he found widespread (if short-lived) fame with “You Turn Me On,” released while he was still a college student.

“I was ready to contribute to American popular culture: some finely wrought yet unpretentious work that might appeal to the masses,” Mr. Whitcomb wrote in “Rock Odyssey: A Chronicle of the Sixties” (1983), a memoir laced with history. “And what happened? The American people elevated me to fame with a trifle, a piece of piffle knocked off in a fit of absence of mind.”


In the introduction to his book “After the Ball” Mr. Whitcomb, referring to himself in the third person, wrote that he had mused about what attracted him to history while riding on a rowdy tour bus during his brief bout of stardom:

“He remembered that once the college postman had asked him: ‘What d’ye want to study history for? It’s all happened and there’s nothing ye can do about it.’ He had puzzled over this for years, but now he realized that there was something he could do about it: He could write it himself and in so doing he could find his place in the scheme!”

Read entire article at New York Times

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