Learie Carasco was a teenager when first he was exposed to rock ‘n’ roll. The vehicle was Rock Around the Clock, starring the kiss-curled American performer Bill Haley. The mesmerized Learie watched the movie with a friend named Mickey Sweetnam, later to become famous as the hit-maker Emile Ford (What Do You Wanna Make Those Eyes At Me For?). They did not actually sit together but as they exited the movie house, Mickey excitedly informed his buddy that he would be setting off in a few days to explore life in England. A year or so later, by which time Elvis and Don’t Be Cruel had changed life on earth, Learie also made his own way to the so-called Mother Country “to join the British Army and see the world,” to quote a Foreign Office poster of the time. He served two years in the Royal Signals, most of the time in dismal Yorkshire. Upon returning to civilian life in London, and with Elvis dominating the airwaves, the young Saint Lucian decided he wanted nothing more than to follow in his idol’s footsteps.
Alas, easier said than done. Several odd jobs followed. And then one day he picked up for the first time a newspaper called The East London Advertiser that featured on its front page an irresistible headline: “Search on for East London’s King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The young man had never before sang with a band or, for that matter, in public. But he knew the words to every recorded Elvis song. The walls of his small East London flat were covered with glossy color pictures of the star, cut out from his album covers. He had also mastered Elvis’ hip-swinging moves, having practiced them for months in front of a full-length mirror while singing karaoke style to Old Shep, Blue Suede Shoes, That’s Alright Mama and Hound Dog. Where Learie was concerned, the search for East London’s king of rock would be over the moment the searchers clapped eyes on him.
Of course, when he told his friends he planned to enter the singing contest they laughed. Even after he had won the first of six preliminaries, they continued to make fun of the young man’s showbiz ambitions. And then came the final night, with British rock sensation Cliff Richard, up and coming balladeer Jess Conrad and a female movie star especially famous for her cleavage among the judges. His friends were now among the loudest cheerleaders when Learie ripped into Elvis’ I Got A Woman, followed by Ricky Nelson’s I Believe—and near disaster. As the wannabe star told it several years later: “Going into my second song I was so confident that something happened to my concentration in mid-flight. I heard Russ, the back-up band’s lead guitarist, shout behind me: ‘Damn, he’s forgotten the words. Improvise, guys!’ At that point I hollered, with all the Cassius Clay chutzpah I could muster, ‘Let’s go cats!’ Russ led the group with an unrehearsed ear-blasting guitar solo as furiously I danced Elvis style to his side. ‘What the hell comes next?’ I asked. Russ furnished the line that saved the night for me. No one noticed my gaffe. Not even Cliff.’ ”
Oh, I neglected to mention that while Learie was rehearsing for the second round of preliminaries, one of the event’s promoters took him aside during a break and said: “Whatever happens, win or lose, I would like to offer you a contract to sing at one of my clubs three nights a week.” Maybe that, more than anything else, was what had interfered with the contestant’s concentration on the biggest night of his young life!
He was performing at a club in Romford, when again Lady Luck came a-calling. Actually, he was no lady. He was a talent scout for a somewhat volatile independent record producer named Joe Meek and had decided, having observed the female reaction to the night’s star performer, that he might be worth a closer look. Two weeks later, the young Saint Lucian was at Meek’s studio, then in Southwest London, auditioning. Meek had written a rocker entitled Hot Chickaroo and, as it turned out, his latest discovery was by Meek’s personal account “precisely the kind of performer I had in mind when I wrote the song.” Chickaroo was our young hero’s first disk for Meek’s company, Triumph Records. On the record’s flip side was Don’t Pick on Me, written by the singer. Oh, I almost forgot: by this time he had changed his name to Ricky Wayne, a combination of Ricky Nelson and John Wayne, the stars of Rio Bravo, a movie that clearly made a lasting impression on Learie Carasco.
His debut record did not light up the pop charts but it stirred up enough interest in the singer to warrant further investment in him. Before long Ricky was given his own weekly show on Radio Luxembourg. He landed one of Britain’s premier agents and soon was a regular member of the British rock ‘n’ roll community, traveling all over Europe for performances. Several records followed, including the especially well received In My Imagination by Paul Anka and Make Way Baby—both for Pye Records, the self-penned Why Pretend and Muscles. Rick (by now he had dropped the “y” from his first name) performed with Matt Munro, Petula Clarke (Downtown), the early Tom Jones, Gerry Dorsey (he became Humperdinck) and the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at a special Daily Mail show.
Alas, for Rick Wayne showbiz proved not nearly as fulfilling as he had imagined at age sixteen, especially with the overwhelming advent of the Beatles with their mop haircuts and dodgy little winklepicker boots. More and more Rick’s interest in competitive bodybuilding was growing, even as his passion for his earlier love waned. Indeed, he was now flashing his muscles for nightclub audiences with such encouraging reaction that he decided to concentrate instead on a bodybuilding career similar to that of the American Steve Reeves, whose legendary muscles had led him to the movies and several Hercules box-office blockbusters. Soon after Rick Wayne’s initial participation in a Mr. Universe event in New York, he severed his connections with rock ‘n’ roll. By then Joe Meek had added several macabre pages to his own legend. The record producer, whose studio was now housed on Holloway Road, had put a loaded shotgun into his mouth and pulled the trigger—though not before he had blown away his landlady’s head. But, to borrow one of Rick Wayne’s more famous lines, that’s for another show!