The A&W Lords: Lead Singer Mel Degen is dead

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The A&W Lords: Lead Singer Mel Degen is dead

Postby jon » Sat Nov 01, 2014 11:33 am

Life & Times: Fans exhorted leather-lunged singer to ‘rock on’
Mel Degen (1943-2014)
By Liz Nicholls, Edmonton Journal
November 1, 2014 8:07 AM

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EDMONTON - Picture this cinematic image, right out of a retro musical: a ’60s summer night in Edmonton, a rockin’ band on the rooftop of a north-end burger drive-in, the parking lot full of teens slow-dancing to the singer’s powerhouse delivery of When a Man Loves a Woman.

The singer? A lustrous-voiced ex-truck driver and ex-rig worker named Mel Degen. The song? A Percy Sledge cover, one of Degen’s goosebump specialties. The band? Edmonton’s hottest, The Lords, who got sponsored and became The A&W Lords before they transmuted into Privilege in 1967.

With Degen’s death on Aug. 12, at an untimely 71, the Canadian rock scene has lost a legendary talent. Edmonton has also lost one of the prevailing spirits of an entire era of its entertainment history, with its grand-scale lakeside dance pavilions and halls (Mameo, Sylvan Lake, Cooking Lake, Alberta Beach), its ballrooms (The Rainbow on Whyte), community halls (Club Stardust in Highlands), battles of the bands and star local attractions like The Lords, The Rockatunes, The Nomads and The Rebels.

Barry Allen of the latter, an Edmonton rock legend himself and deluxe recording engineer, remembers The Lords as “a kick-ass band. The sound and energy that would come off that stage! And could Mel sing! Very strong, lungs of leather … over a big band with three or four horns, a Hammond B3, a version of MacArthur Park that was, man, unbelievable!” Edmonton was “a great town for bands,” says Allen, “and Privilege with Mel was the top.”

It’s no surprise to discover, on page after page of the Journal’s online guest book, tributes to Degen from a who’s who of the ’60s generation of musicians — and more warm exhortations to “rock on!” than “rest in peace”: Degen is inextricably embedded in youthful memories of hearing Rovin’ Heart on summer nights. And as a bonus, he was “a great guy,” a sweet-natured, generous-minded, playful sort and a mentor to young musicians. “A real singing presence, and a lot of fun,” as longtime Lords bandmate and friend Al McGee puts it. “Always very nervous before going onstage; his interpretation and delivery of a song were his own …”

Terry Servage, Degen’s wife of 26 years, was a fan before they married.

Music was happening in the alleys and garages of her ’hood, Beverly. “Mel played at my high school, Eastglen,” Servage says. “Kids would be hanging out, listening to The Lords,” the band reborn from The Pacers, a Krawchuk brothers creation, when Degen arrived.

It wasn’t till Servage got a social work job in the psychiatric care home run by the Degen family that she and Degen officially met. “We were good friends for years before we got married.” Degen became a father to Servage’s two kids, Candis and Jonas, plus a rotating gaggle of troubled kids from the care home; then he became a mischief-making grandfather. “He loved kids and kids loved him.”

Born on Josephburg-area farm on May 27, 1943, Degen grew up in nearby Edmonton. From the start, the kid who played guitar at seven and won an Elvis contest at 14 had an irresistible attraction to all things musical. And it never stopped.

“At 65, he taught himself drums,” says Servage. Long before that, he’d left Privilege temporarily — for Calgary’s Gainsborough Gallery — and returned when he and his Privilege mates moved to Los Angeles. Later, they toured a concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar into the U.S., and Degen sang the title role — in a tight leather tuxedo Servage still finds amusing in photos. He played every kind of music, including country, with Bill Hersches’ Blue Train and his own band, Naked Hillbillies.

“But it was in rock that Mel belonged,” thinks Servage.

Even after he retired professionally, Degen continued to make music. “He ended up playing back in (Beverly) garages for the last 12 years, every Saturday,” Servage says. Recently, the original Lords, including McGee on keyboards and sax and drummer Clay White, started playing again, twice a week, Sunday afternoons and Tuesday nights in the Degens’ downstairs music room, with its original disco ball.

By the time of Beverly’s 100th-anniversary celebration in August, lung cancer had caught up with Degen. And the affectionate tribute penned by his bandmate John Henker stood in for the man himself.

Music was his passion, says Servage. “There wasn’t a day he didn’t play or sing. … He sang in the shower. And when he wasn’t singing, he was whistling. Every day with a man like that is a happy day.”
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jon
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Re: The A&W Lords: Lead Singer Mel Degen is dead

Postby jon » Sat Nov 01, 2014 11:39 am

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