Saturday, January 29, 2005

TEENDEATHHITOBIT: The death has been announced of Ray Peterson, best known for his contribution to the teen-death-pop subgenre, Tell Laura I Love Her.

Born in Denton, Texas in 1939, Peterson had the then-common childhood disease polio. Although predictions he would never walk proved to be over-gloomy, he spent a lot of time in hospital receiving treatment. It was while in hospital that he started to sing - first for his own amusement, and then for others. After he was back to something close to full health (a slight limp the only outward sign of his battle with polio) he started to work the local clubs. He came to the attention of executives at RCA who signed him up, rush-releasing a cover of Little Willie John's Fever in 1957. The track had yet to find its perfect artist - it wouldn't be until the following year that Peggy Lee made it her own - and Peterson found it difficult to break through. Luckily, in those days record companies actually did support their artists as they were getting going rather than just pretending to do so, and eventually, single number seven found an audience. The Wonder of You went Top 30 on the Billboard Chart in 1959; Elvis Presley asked if he could cover it. "You don't have to ask; you're Elvis Presley" said Peterson; to which the then biggest name in music replied "Yes I do - you're Ray Peterson. (The song was to be a comeback hit for Elvis much later - in 1970).

Tell Laura I Love Her - the uplifting ditty about a kid being burned to death in a car-race crash as he tried to win the cash to marry his childhood sweetheart - was to be Peterson's biggest hit, making it to number seven in 1960; but it was to be a success that Ray could never quite live up to. A couple of other releases followed but RCA finally cut their losses.

Peterson took the chance to launch his own label, Dunes Records, in assocation with Hill and Range music and his manager. An early release paired Ray up with a tyro producer brought by Dunes to intern with Leiber and Stoller - Phil Spector. Although their work together didn't quite hit the heights of Tell Laura, the sales tickled in nicely enough for the likes of Corinna, Corinna and Missing You. Peterson burned through a procession of deals - leaping from MGM to Reprise to Decca - but it was quickly becoming clear that he was doing better business touring than in the record shops.

Peterson died at his home in Smyrna, Tennessee on Tuesday. He is survived by a wife, Claudia, seven children and nine grandchildren.