Rock and roll stardom is fickle and sometimes the most surprising people taste it. Ian Dury was one of those. He was a major name in late 70s UK (and in US New Wave circles), and his path was different to say the least.
Dury was born in the UK in 1942 and moved around during most of his childhood. When he was seven, he contracted polio and spent a year and a half recovering. In 1971, he formed his first rock group, Kilburn and the High Roads, a part of the Canterbury progressive music scene.* They toured with the Who and put out a couple of albums to critical success and public apathy.
Looking for work, Dury joined up with a group of friends to form the Blockheads, whose first notable single was “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” in 1977. The song was controversial, but it made the group’s reputation. Their album, New Boots and Panties was a major UK hit. Their next single “What a Waste” made the charts, and Dury’s insanely catchy “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” made #1.
Dury and the Blockheads toured Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and other names of the New Wave scene. His album was released in the US to disappointing sales.
Dury was a master lyricist, even when his lyrics were goofy. Most of the music was written by Chaz Jankel and borrowed from jazz, music hall, rock, and rap. He also had a minor acting career, with
He was never afraid to let people know about his bout with polio. In fact, his record company was appalled at the video for “Rhythm Stick,” since you can clearly see how the disease affected his musculature. At the time, though, not many noticed and Dury was glad that they did. He later got in trouble with the BBC with a song about being disabled, but he was fearless in promoting it.
Dury’s time at the top was short. When the New Wave became passe, he broke up with the Blockhead and tried new things, to only minor success. He would occasionally get the Blockheads together. He died in 2000 of cancer.
*Canterbury was a hotbed of progressive rock in the late 60s and early 70s; most of the hardcore groups of the era originated there: Soft Machine, Caravan, Gong, Hatfield and the North, and National Health (the five groups in the center of the scene), plus the Wilde Flowers (originator of the scene), Camel, Egg, Henry Cow, Matching Mole, and others. None had any notable hits in the US, but considering their mix of jazz, rock, fusion, and avant-garde music, hits were unlikely.