- Singer-songwriter Les Emmerson, whose anti-establishment anthem Signs became a staple of 1970s rock radio, died at the age of 77 after being infected COVID-19.
- According to his wife, Monik Emmerson, the Five Man Electrical Band leader contracted COVID-19 last month and died Friday at a local hospital.
She stated that her husband had been vaccinated twice but had underlying health issues. “Up until the very end, music was his life,” she added. “He breathed and lived music.”
According to his friends, Emmerson’s use of his musical talents evolved. After chasing popularity in his youth, he discovered greater rewards later in life by using Signs’ popularity to support important causes, such as children’s hospitals and climate change awareness.
Emmerson’s musical career began in 1965 when he joined the Staccatos following the departure of their guitarist. The band had a few Canadian pop-rock hits, including the dreamy “Small Town Girl” and the melodic “Half Past Midnight,” but they never achieved the level of success that their record label desired.
It wasn’t without effort. Coca-Cola enlisted the band in 1968 to split an album called “A Wild Pair” with hopeful young Winnipeggers The Guess Who. It was mailed for free to any customer who provided sufficient proof of purchase and paid for shipping.
The Staccatos eventually changed their name as they focused more on rock elements in the hopes of breaking out in the United States.
Signs would be the song that eventually crossed the border, though it took some time for listeners to fall in love with it. Initially released in 1970 like a B-side to another single, it was deemed too long for four-minute radio stations.
The shorter three-minute version, cut down to remove two guitar solos, was picked up by influential Windsor, Ont., station CKLW-AM and put into rotation during the summer of 1971. It was broadcast over the airwaves to Detroit listeners, who reacted angrily.
“Suddenly it broke in Seattle or that area, and it just kept spreading,” the band’s keyboardist Ted Gerow recalled.
Signs eventually peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard singles chart, selling over 1.5 million copies.
In the years since, Emmerson has released several solo singles and has reformed with some of his former bandmates to perform annual fundraisers for CHEO, Ottawa’s pediatric children’s hospital.
Source: CBC News