Marty Wilde, Rockabilly Wildcat

Marty WildeReginald Smith
Born: April 15, 1939
Hometown:
Greenwich

Reginald's father, also Reginald, who was a bus driver, sent Reg Jr. to Halstow Road School and later, to Charlton Central School. Young Reg also attended Charlton & Blackheath Baptist Church and sang in the choir. In fact, his first major singing experience was when the choir performed at a song festival at the Albert Hall in London, the night being such a success that it became something of a regular event. Being from a less than well-off family meant that Reg had to leave school as soon as it was legally possible, to enable him to earn extra income for the family. His first job was as an office/tea boy for a company in the City of London but he soon left this for a job with a local timber-yard. On the way to the timber-yard of a morning, he would pass a car showroom and one day he noticed a new "latest model" sports car and for the rest of the week he couldn't get it out of his mind, he had to have one! He worked out it would take him seven years of saving his meager wage if he stayed in every night; too long to wait, so he thought again. Reading about the success of Tommy Steele in Soho coffee bars, Reg asked his parents if he could draw his savings from the Post Office and buy a guitar. They agreed and he duly set off around the music shops looking for a cheap, second-hand guitar. He found one and rushed off home to set about learning to play it, with the aid of an instruction book and evenings and weekends spent twanging the thing. It took him three months to become competent and just like Tommy Steele before him, he headed for Soho and sang, the cash rewards going into his savings account, towards that dream sports car. Work was easy to come by if you were good and Reg was a popular attraction in the night clubs and coffee bars frequented by London's teenagers in the 50s. But he was by no means "big time", and still did his daily job at the timber-yard, driven on by the thought of that sports car he passed twice daily.

Tommy Steele was discovered by John Kennedy, whose partner at that time was a newcomer to the business, Larry Parnes. But at this stage of our story, Parnes had split from Kennedy and was looking for his own talent to work on and promote. Reg was playing a one-night engagement at The Condor, a Soho niterie and Parnes, who was in the audience, was impressed by his performance and after the show, Parnes coolly wandered backstage for a word with the teenage rock 'n' roller, only to be told "he had to run for his last bus", and to make life harder, the frustrated scout couldn't even find out the performers name or address, "he just walked in one night with his guitar and we booked him for tonight". Parnes kept on with the questions and someone remembered Reg saying he lived in Greenwich, near a big car showroom. Parnes took up the search the following morning and just as he was about to give it up, he came across a garage, on a main road leading to Woolwich, that fitted the description. He entered the showroom and on questioning the salesman, discovered that a singer resembling the "mystery" boy had appeared at the local Granada cinema the week before, and the boy lived in one of the houses in "that street over there". So Parnes went down that street, knocking on all the doors, until one door was opened by Mrs. Smith. She told Parnes that yes, her son did go to London's West End to sing, but he wouldn't be in until six-thirty that night because he was at the local church hall with the boy's club. Parnes came back later that day and sat down with Reg and his parents and with their consent, Reg signed the management contract that Larry Parnes had brought with him. By the end of the week, Reginald Smith had become Marty Wilde, he'd had his teeth straightened, visited the best tailor in Saville Row, been fitted for hand-made shoes, shirts and ties, appeared at the exclusive Winston's night club and had had lunch with Josephine Douglas. She had seen Marty at Winston's, been suitably impressed and promptly booked him for the "Six-Five Special" television show, which she co-presented. Jo particularly liked Marty's version of "Honeycomb", which she got him to sing on his first appearance on the show. Johnny Franz, recording manager for the Philips record label, happened to be watching and it didn't take him long to get on the phone, resulting in the recording and release of "Honeycomb" as Marty's first step on the road to rock 'n' roll success. Marty's hit records started in mid '58 with the release of "Endless Sleep", and by the end of '59, he'd charted with "Donna", "A Teenager In Love", "Sea Of Love" and "Bad Boy". He started 1960 off with "Johnny Rocco" and had seven other chart records through to late '62, with "Ever Since You Said Good-bye" being his last hit record. By the early to mid-sixties, Marty had faded into obscurity, though he kept popping up on the odd TV and radio show and in the 70's, he even undertook to appear on some oldies rock 'n' roll package shows. He's now managed by his wife Joyce Baker, herself an ex-Vernon Girl, and he plays the cabaret circuit and still does the occasional rock 'n' roll show. And for those who are still wondering; YES, Marty is Kim Wilde's dad!

Source: Cat Talk Magazine



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