Musician Ray Columbus has died at 74
Legendary rocker Ray Columbus has died. He was 74.
According to a release from Columbus' agent, the 60s icon died "peacefully at his home north of Auckland on Tuesday after a four year battle with ill health."
He was the first Kiwi to record an overseas number 1 single, gave the world a signature dance move, and mentored a host of successful local entertainers.
Columbus leaves behind two children, three grandchildren and his loving wife Linda.
Columbus had suffered poor health since a heart attack in 2004 and strokes in 2008 and 2012. Midway through 2013 he revealed he was terminally ill, suffering from an immune deficiency problem thought to have been brought on by the heavy medication he had to take due to the strokes.
He is perhaps best remembered for his 1964 hit She's A Mod which has been remade several times since.
A popular figure in the Kiwi music industry, Columbus received a string of major awards in his career, and played support gigs to the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Roy Orbison, Shirley Bassey and the Hollies before launching a successful management and TV career.
He was recognised as pioneering the pathway to musical success here long before reality TV shows like X Factor and New Zealand's Got Talent.
"He was ahead of everyone else with what he was doing," said his long-time friend, the singer Suzanne Lynch.
"I think Ray and the Invaders [his band] raised the bar for New Zealand music."
"A lot of people did really well in this business, and it was singularly due to Ray's advice," said Lynch. "He took care of a lot of people's careers and a lot of well-known artists have a lot to thank him for.
"He has been my manager and mentor right through my career; he's been like my big brother," she said.
"What he taught me was professionalism . . . he's always been a shining example of what a professional musician should be."
Among those Columbus discovered or managed were Tina Cross, the Rumour, and The Chicks which Lynch was in at just 14 years old.
Another was Ben Campbell of duo Zed and Shane. "Ray was my godfather. He took me under his wing and taught me everything I know," said Campbell.
"He was a phenomenal influence. I don't think a lot of people understand how much he influenced the New Zealand music industry not just as an artist but also as someone who was always supportive of upcoming artists.
"Ray deserves a huge amount of credit for the impact he has had on the immediate people in his life and also the local industry. There wasn't a bad bone in his body. He was so positive and talented and just thought the best of everybody.
"He was a good mate. It was like hanging out with someone from the music mafia. I can remember going to his house when I was 16 and he offered me a drink, which was some kind of Schnapps with gold flakes in it. That was like Ray though. He was just gold. I'll miss him as a mentor and one of my best friends."
Columbus was a showman from his early years. There are stories of his school days in Christchurch, troubling the Brothers at Xavier College when he arrived with traces of lipstick on his face, from fans at his prize winning tap dancing competitions.
In 1959 at the age of 17, he formed his first band, The Dominoes, but got his first break when he was asked to fill in for the lead singer in the Downbeats Band. He soon became the permanent lead singer and the band went on to become known Ray and the Drifters.
His voice and charismatic stage presence brought local fame and in 1962 Columbus was offered his own TV show Club Columbus.
After taking advice from Howard Morrison, he moved to Auckland and renamed the group Ray Columbus and the Invaders – the line up which would bring his international success. Complete with state of the art Fender guitars, stylish dance moves and equally sharp outfits, they were the epitome of Mod cool.
They split their time between Auckland and Sydney, building their profile before hitting super-stardom with She's a Mod in June 1964. It went to number 1 in Australia.
Columbus teamed the song with a new dance move, the Mods Nod, which became his trademark.
It still resonates with crowds. Lynch said: "Even now, if I break out into the Mod Nod on stage, everyone laughs and does it too."
She's a Mod was written by UK musician Terry Beale for his band The Senators, a group which featured future Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, but it only became a global hit with Ray Columbus.
Beale and Columbus remained friends throughout their careers. Beale died in March 2011.
But Columbus broke new ground writing his own songs. His second album with the Invaders, Original Numbers, was the first local album of entirely self written songs.
Despite the success of She's A Mod, his greatest chart success was the song Till We Kissed, which sold over 50,000 copies in 1965.
Although Ray Columbus and the Invaders only played together for another two years to 1966, they achieved lasting fame.
When the band split, Columbus spent years living in the US, presented television shows – Ray Columbus Presents New Faces, C'Mon, Happen Inn and Sing.
He also co-created and hosted That's Country and helped sell the series to a US cable network.
Other career highlights include three Royal Command Performances and he was MC and headliner at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games.
He was the first pop star in the British Commonwealth to receive an OBE.
ROCK 'N' ROLL PIONEER
While Columbus was famously clean living, he brought out a 2011 biography which revealed he smoked for 30 years – which he blamed for his later heart attack – and had drinking problems.
In Ray Columbus: The Modfather – The Life and Times of a Rock 'n' Roll Pioneer, he also outed himself in several sexual escapades.
At age 16, he said he had an affair with a 25-year-old – nine years his senior – having met her at a Christchurch nightclub. He would pay her secret visits at lunchtime and after work, at one point hiding in a cupboard from her boyfriend.
When he was 15 and working in a dairy, he claimed four women ripped his clothes off and tried, but failed, to rape him.
At one point in Wellington he was also threatened by a group of knife-wielding Hungarians.