Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nigel Pickering of Spanky & Our Gang Has Died At Age 81

Nigel Pickering, guitarist, vocalist and founding member of Spanky & Our Gang, died of liver cancer Thursday (May 5) in St. Augustine, Florida. He was 81. Born in 1929 in Pontiac, Michigan, Nigel originally performed in a Milwaukee group called the Westernaires in the fifties, then moved on to a trio with Ken Hodges called the Folksters. After their breakup, Nigel and Ken joined forces with Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane, honing the act that eventually became Spanky & Our Gang at a Chicago nightclub where Spanky worked. Signed to local Mercury Records, the group scored three top 40 hits off their debut album ("Spanky And Our Gang") in 1967-- "Sunday Will Never Be The Same" (#9), "Making Every Minute Count" (#31) and "Lazy Day" (#14) and two more off their second album ("Like To Get To Know You") in 1968-- "Sunday Mornin'" (#30) and "Like To Get To Know You" (#17). But "Give A Damn," despite being used by the New York Urban Coalition to promote racial harmony, was banned by many stations for its use of profanity and three subsequent singles from a third album never made the top 85 nationally. Lead guitarist Malcolm Hale's death in late 1968 and Spanky's marriage and resulting pregnancy eventually caused the group to disband. Nigel recorded three solo albums and even acted in low-budget films. He also ran restaurants in Spain (he signed away all his royalties to open it) and in California. He was married five times (at one point to two women at the same time since he couldn't track down one wife to divorce her). At his 81st birthday party, where he sang for the last time with Spanky, he was fatalistic about the future-- "I'll ride the waves of Providence, hoping for the best but expecting the worst."