Remembering Doug Fieger: Interview with Geoff Fieger
It's hard to believe that this past Valentine's Day marked the fifth anniversary of the death of former front man for The Knack, Doug Fieger. At 57 his passing was certainly untimely, as most folks' memories of the Detroit area native were ones of a vibrant and vivacious performer. In 1979 his band's album Get The Knack was one of the top sellers of that year, largely due to the monumental success of hit singles like "My Sharona" and "Good Girls Don't."
Berton Averre (lead guitar, backing vocals and keyboards), Prescott Niles (bass) and Bruce Gary (drums) were the core of the original group, with the unmistakable stage antics and exuberance of Fieger on rhythm guitar and lead vocals commanding the charge.
The band followed with the album But the Little Girls Understand in 1980. While that record did respectable numbers it failed to top or, even, equal the impact of their debut. Various band break-ups and reformations ensued resulting in six more band releases through 2012.
Doug Fieger, who grew up in Oak Park, had two siblings Geoffrey and Beth. Self-admittedly, Geoffrey, who had gained substantial national notoriety as an attorney who represented assisted suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian, has never really had the opportunity or has been asked in the past to talk about his brother. But he was most gracious and eager to reminisce with us about him here.
"We both started on piano and both of us became fascinated like billions of other kids with The Beatles when they were on Ed Sullivan," says Fieger. "Shortly after that, around 6th grade, Doug had been playing in bands and got a Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar. I had a blonde 12 string Rickenbacker like Jim McGuinn of the Byrds. Doug was in a group called The Royal Jammers at that time."
After that group Doug, Geoffrey, John Coury (who eventually would join The Eagles' backing band) and Bob Greenfield formed a group called Spirit. But they quickly changed their name to the New Spirit after they found out there was already a California outfit with that name.
"We played the Grande several times, but we practiced all the time," explains Fieger. "I was into other things like sports and girls. I didn't have the stick-to-itiveness that Doug had so I dropped out of the group. It became a three-some with Doug, John Coury and Bob Greenfield and they changed their name to Sky."
This was around 1970 and Doug was about to make a bold move to bump his band up to the next level. They had put in the time on the Detroit circuit and were really honing their craft, although barely out of high school.
"This is pretty audacious and wouldn't happen today, but Doug wrote a letter to Jimmy Miller, who was the producer of The Rolling Stones and Traffic," says Fieger. "He had just done Beggars Banquet with the Stones and Doug wrote him a letter to see if Jimmy would produce an album for Sky. Miller actually came to our house in Oak Park and sat down in the basement listening to Doug's band rehearse. He immediately signed them and brought them to England where they recorded two albums for RCA at Mick Jagger's house."
This fairy tale-like fantasy came complete with several of the Stones' backing musicians Jim Horn, Bobby Keys and Doris Troy contributing to the sessions creating exceptionally soulful and diverse rock 'n' roll.
"This is where Doug really came into his own as a songwriter," says Fieger. "It's a process where you just have to force yourself to write. If you've got some talent, it will come out. Doug was not a musical virtuoso, but he was very driven, talented and knew what he wanted."
Sky had some modest airplay and success in Detroit and nationally but, upon Doug's move to Los Angeles, the group broke up. For a few years Doug became just another displaced singer-songwriter on the Hollywood landscape trying to peddle songs, pursuing sideman work and chasing his dreams. He eventually partnered with Burton Averre in the late '70s and formed The Knack. The band quickly developed a local following playing along L.A.'s Sunset Strip, with a residency at The Whiskey that caught the attention of several major record companies. When Capitol Records came calling Doug eagerly responded, as this was the label that signed The Beatles.
"In 1979 Get The Knack came out and I had just graduated from law school," recalls Fieger. "I saw him several times on his first tour. Everyone in our family was really proud of him. When the album came out it went immediately to Number One! They were very tight and sounded just like their records. Doug didn't screw around. They were great musicians!"
But Fieger waxes philosophically about the cultural times during all that hoopla and reflects on his brother's level of success. "Even though it was the number one album of the year and the biggest single of the year, rock was in, more or less, a decline from then till now," says the attorney. "If that would have happened in '69 things would have been different. He would've been a bigger star. Sales of records were going down. The entire medium was changing and now it's changed completely."
Along these lines, Geoffrey Fieger pulls no punches in his assessment of the state of the music industry and his brother Doug's place in it. "I don't really follow the music scene today even though I know a lot of good talent still comes from Detroit," says Fieger. "But Doug and I came from a time where if you were gonna be a star, then be a star! Now you can be a star and nobody knows you. Doug was a big rock star, but not as big as he would've been 10 years before and would've been less 10 years later, regardless of the same success."
Doug Fieger; an amazing showman, an award-winning songwriter-not only for The Knack but for other artists like The Manhattan Transfer - and, above all, beloved by family and countless fans and friends alike. Most certainly his music and ebullient spirit will live on for many years to come.
This article by Eric Harabadian first appeared March 15, 2015 on detroitlivemagazine.com.