OBE Musician, Singer- Songwriter
To sacrifice personal freedom to gain creative freedom is a fair enough price.
David Essex was born David Albert Cook in Plaistow, an only son. His father was an East End dock worker and his mother, a self-taught pianist and the daughter of Irish tinkers, worked as a cleaner in the local pub.
Essex was two-years-old when his parents moved out of the overcrowded home the family was sharing with relatives, to Canning Town, where he grew up. He loved playing football, was a member of West Ham Juniors for a while and dreamed of one day being a professional player.
In his early teens, one of his holiday jobs was working at a fun fair which may be part of why he loved mixing theatre and music later in his life. By the mid 1960s, in his late teens, Essex had joined a band called the Everons as the drummer and during the day he worked in a factory. He later left the band, became a singer and renamed himself David Essex. It was the time when British rock ‘n’ roll was riding high.
By the late 1960s, he was recording with Decca Records, as well as working for other labels. Unfortunately, his first ten singles flopped and, feeling disheartened, Essex switched to acting. He went through a demanding time of working in small theatre productions, whilst earning a living driving trucks and cleaning windows. His wife, Maureen, was pregnant and Essex was beginning to feel somewhat overwhelmed by his responsibilities.
Things started looking up when he met theatre writer Derek Bowman, who became his manager. They began work on refining his singing and acting techniques and he also took up dance. The hard work certainly paid off and he was cast as Jesus in the original London cast of ‘Godspell’ (1971), with Jeremy Irons as John the Baptist. It was a massive success and Essex won the Variety Club of Great Britain’s award for Most Promising Newcomer.
At age 24, in 1971, Essex was a star of the stage and he decided to set his sights on film. Having made his movie debut as an uncredited beatnik in ‘Smashing Time’ (1967) and being cast in a few other small roles, including being a page in ‘Carry on Henry’ (1971), he had yet to do some noteworthy film acting. His big break came with his starring roles, first in ‘That’ll be the Day’ (1973), with Ringo Starr, and then in the much darker sequel ‘Stardust’ (1974), with Keith Moon, Adam Faith and Larry Hagman, about the rise and fall of 1960s pop star Jim Maclaine.
‘That’ll be the Day’ (1973) was a major box office success in the UK and became a cult classic in the USA. Essex also wrote the single ‘Rock On’ that was used in the movie. It topped the charts in the US, reached number three in the UK, eventually going Gold and making Essex an overnight pop star. The album ‘Rock On’ (1973) swiftly followed and the single was nominated for a 1974 Grammy award. Attending the award ceremony were none other than John Lennon, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin. Essex sang a tribute with Sara Vaughan at the ceremony and was complimented on ‘Rock On’ by Lennon. The title song from ‘Stardust’ (1974) was another Top 10 hit. Essex had certainly hit the big time.