How songwriting genius Rod Temperton inspired Morecambe musician

Russ Courtenay.
Russ Courtenay.

The death of the songwriter who penned Michael Jackson’s Thriller has brought back memories for a Morecambe musician who once toured with him.

When Russ Courtenay was drummer with 1970s soul group Jimmy James and the Vagabonds he went on tour with Rod Temperton, who has died aged 66.

The two crossed professional paths in 1975 when Rod was the keyboard player with a band called Johnny Wilder and the Chicago Heatwave.

“On the first day of the tour Rod turned up with an old Hammond organ that had definitely seen better days,” said Russ.

“But when they started playing we all realised, oh my goodness, they are going to blow us off stage every night and that’s exactly what they did for two weeks.

“I was so inspired, I spent that two weeks with Rod and Ernest ‘Bilbo’ Berger, their superb drummer, in the various hotel rooms listening to the latest releases from US soul and funk bands most of which I’d never heard of at the time.

Rod Temperton in the video for Boogie Nights, a number two hit for Heatwave in 1977.

Rod Temperton in the video for Boogie Nights, a number two hit for Heatwave in 1977.

“All this happened before Rod’s incredible success as a songwriter and the next time we met was in a Wimpy bar in London, quite by chance, where he told us his band was in the studio recording their first album.

“This was the beginning of probably the most successful songwriter of all time’s career.”

Rod’s band later became known as Heatwave. He wrote Boogie Nights, the group’s biggest hit, and also created hits Always and Forever and Groove Line as Heatwave became one of the most popular disco bands of the late 70s.

The Grammy Award winner also wrote Michael Jackson hits Rock With You and Off The Wall, Michael McDonald’s Sweet Freedom and George Benson’s Give Me the Night.

Cleethorpes-born Temperton also wrote songs for Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer.

He died on Wednesday after a battle with cancer.

Jimmy James and the Vagabonds are best known for hits Now Is The Time, I’ll Go Where the Music Takes Me and Red Red Wine.