Maverick record producer who gave Cooke and Valens their break in the 1950s


Bob Keane:BOB KEANE, who has died aged 87, was a pioneering member of the Los Angeles record industry and a maverick talent scout, record producer and label owner.

Soul singer Sam Cooke scored his first pop hit on a Keane label, and Ritchie Valens and the Bobby Fuller Four were both discovered by him. Others who benefited from working with Keane have included Arthur Lee, Barry White, Frank Zappa and Glen Campbell.

He was born Robert Kuhn in Manhattan Beach, California. As a teenager, he proved to be a gifted clarinettist, performing with the Los Angeles philharmonic orchestra at the age of 14. Promoted as “the world’s youngest bandleader”, Kuhn played LA nightclubs until he was obliged to enlist in the air force during the second World War. Afterwards he reformed his jazz band, hosted a TV variety show and, in 1951, changed his name.

In 1957, John Siamas, a wealthy Greek-American, approached Keane about starting a label to record Greek music. Keane sensed this was not the path to riches and suggested they record black music instead. Keen Records was founded, with Siamas providing funds and equipment and Keane finding and producing talent.

Keane released You Send Me, the debut solo single from Cooke, who had previously recorded only gospel music. By summer of that year, Cooke was No 1 in the US charts. Keane never made a cent from this success, as his agreement with Siamas had been oral and the financier refused to honour it. Keane then founded Del-Fi Records – named after the Greek oracle – with a view to taking away something positive from his recent experience.

Del-Fi found success immediately with the jazz pianist Henri Rose. Then, after a tip-off, Keane witnessed Richard Valenzuela play at a local movie theatre. The crowd’s reaction convinced Keane of the youth’s raw talent and in May 1958 he signed the teenager, shortening his name to Ritchie Valens. Keane helped Valens to develop his songs, inventively recorded him, and backed him with top LA musicians (including the drummer Earl Palmer).

Valens’s Del-Fi recordings sold well, with Donnareaching No 2 in the US pop charts. On February 3rd, 1959, Valens was killed, alongside Buddy Holly, when their chartered aircraft crashed. Keane, who described Valens as “like a son”, was devastated. For several years thereafter Del-Fi would be the leading record label for Mexican-American talent in LA.

Keane maintained an open-door policy at Del-Fi. “We were right there on Record Row at Vine and Selma,” he told Rolling Stonemagazine. “They all came up my stairs. Zappa walked in, Bobby Fuller, Leon Russell.” Keane kept producing hits, including Chan Romero’s Hippy Hippy Shakeand Little Caesar’s Those Oldies But Goodies.

He was a prime mover in recording instrumental music associated with the surf and hot-rod scenes, his engineering skills and imaginative productions creating distinctive sounds. In 1965 he signed the Bobby Fuller Four. Fuller scored several hits, including the 1965 classic I Fought the Law. Fuller’s death in July 1966, combined with the record industry’s new focus on albums, made Keane decide to close Del-Fi.

After he and his wife divorced, Keane raised his children, worked as a door-to-door salesman of both accordion lessons and burglar alarms, and played golf. In 1987 La Bamba, a Hollywood biopic about Valens, greatly increased interest in the artist, although Keane was unhappy with the film.

In 1994 Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fictionlicensed two surf instrumentals from Del-Fi, and the interest and revenue generated from this encouraged Keane to relaunch the label. He found CD buyers were appreciative of his 1950s and 1960s recordings, with fans of Valens, Fuller and surf music enthusiastic for old hits and previously unissued material.

He also began signing new artists, but found no new stars. He sold Del-Fi to Warner Music in 2003 and published his autobiography, The Oracle of Del-Fi, in 2006. His second wife, Dina, three sons and a daughter survive him. – ( Guardianservice)

Robert Verril Keane (Kuhn), record producer, born January 5th, 1922; died November 29th, 2009