Reflections of His Life (Leader of The Marmalade Dies at 72)
On New Year’s Eve 2018 me and the missus were watching the telly waiting for the ball to drop. Out of the blue, apropos of nothing, I wondered out loud who would be the first Rock Star to leave us in the New Year. Dean Ford passed on New Year’s Eve. I knew him by his birth name Thomas McAleese. He was one of the gentlest, most talented souls I ever met.
Ireland gave us Van Morrison, Wales gave us John Cale, and Scotland gave us Dean Ford. He was a proper pop star with the sixties rock band The Marmalade. Ford (aka McAleese) co-wrote and sang their number 3 hit Reflections of My Life in 1969 (top 10 in the US).
When I met Thomas it was at the home of mutual friend and musician Dominic Bakewell. Thomas had rented the same guest house that I had previously rented when Dom and I were going through our “communal band house” phase. He was an affable gent, and me being a confirmed anglophile, I was eager to discuss the folk music of the British Isles that was my (then current) obsession. He politely told me that none of that interested him and that his musical heroes where black Soul artists. I had no idea of the musical pedigree Thomas possessed at that time. But he made an impression right off.
We were not close friends but we were warm acquaintances. I would see him several times throughout the decades, and our conversations were always joyful and interesting. He loved to talk music and never seemed to grow tired of the subject. I knew him as a humble chauffeur who had conquered the evils of alcohol. I knew he had a daughter he adored but who lived at the other end of the continent.
Memories abound. One time Dom played me a home recording of one of his tunes we had performed together in our old band. I recognized the song, but when the vocals came in I was taken aback by the soulful, angelic tenor, with perfect intonation and vibrato. It was Thomas of course. The track was a textbook example of how a great singer can mine out the greatness in a song. Dom played me another song that featured a tasteful saxophone solo; again it was Thomas. Another song had a honey sweet harmonica break. Guess who?
It was around this time I connected the dots between Thomas McAleese, Dean Ford and The Marmalade.
One time in the 90’s, I showed up at some tatty open mic in Northridge. There was Thomas and Dominic. slumming for a performance fix just like me. I brought a little baritone ukulele that Thomas fell in love with. He played and cradled it the whole night. I was thinking about just giving it to him. I wish I had. I went up and did my song. Thomas really loved the bridge on this one song. I always cherished that compliment because it was so specific and I knew how genuine Thomas was with his words and opinions. Of course, when Thomas went up to do his numbers, it divided the assembled throng into two groups. There was Dean Ford, and then there was the rest of us.
One night Thomas invited me to a gig he was doing at a little club in Santa Monica just down the street from McCabe’s. I brought a female companion who showed little interest in going but went along anyway. Thomas was on his game and sang like a bird as usual. He knew all the tricks. He told me many times about his favorite piece of stagecraft while playing solo; which was to stomp his foot on the bandstand in time with his guitar to create an ambient thump that would add a bit of oomph to the performance. This night I actually saw him perform his parlor trick. My companion was transfixed. I guess she had never been in that close a proximity to such an amazing voice. She complimented Thomas effusively after the set. On the way home she asked many questions about Thomas, his music and his circumstance; too many. Clearly, I occupied second place in her affections that night.
Once during the Holidays, I was invited to Dominic’s to sit around the fireplace, drink and yak. Thomas had just acquired a beautiful Taylor guitar he was showing off like a newborn. He even let me play it. By chance, I had just taught myself the standard Misty and started playing it. Thomas fell in easily, knew all the lyrics and sang it impromptu in a manner that would do Johnny Mathis proud. It was a buzz to accompany such greatness. Even for just one song.
The last time I saw him was at a memorial service for Dom’s sister Bimmy. We talked at length; mostly about music of course. It’s like we picked up the same conversation we started 30 years prior. I mentioned that I had attended too many memorial services in recent years. I had no idea the next one I would attend would be for Thomas. The world is a terrible place Thomas, but I didn’t want you to die.
Just before Christmas past, I received his latest work (My Scottish Heart) in the mail for review. I had profiled his previous album (Feel My Heartbeat) and my review was a love letter to his wonderful songwriting talent, voice and the Scottish soul embedded in the grooves. I did a double take when I realized this was a double (2 CD) set; being of a certain age, and knowing that Thomas was now into his seventies, I had to wonder if the abundance of music on offer resulted from the lengthening shadow of mortality and a desire to put out as much music as possible – just in case. A few days later, I had my answer.
Thankfully, I have my certitude about what comes after this world. My certitude tells me Thomas is just fine and waiting for the rest of us to show up. Farewell Thomas, I wish we all had more time.