Kelly Groucutt, bass guitarist and co-vocalist for the Electric Light Orchestra, died Thursday afternoon from a heart attack. He was only 63.
This news came as a crushing blow. Kelly joined the band in 1974, right after Eldorado, and stayed until 1983. He was a large part of the well-known, popular, successful ELO line-up — my favorite line-up. Kelly’s voice perfectly complemented Jeff Lynne’s.
ELO was a large part of my childhood, and still occupies a rather sizable portion of my adult life. I’ve been hooked since about the third grade. Kids often teased me for obsessing over ELO, for claiming Jeff Lynne as my so-called “crush.” I was a child of the 80s and 90s. ELO broke up when I was two. Being autistic probably predisposed me to seek out adults more than my peers, and I frequently wished that I’d been born in the 60s — because people my parents’ age were the only ones willing to tolerate my monologues about Roy Wood’s hairstyles or the metaphorical significance of “Livin Thing.”
During my adolescence, I would only listen to music that I could somehow connect back to ELO. (e.g., The Moody Blues were acceptable because Bev Bevan, ELO’s drummer, played with Denny Laine and the Diplomats for a bit, and Denny Laine eventually sang lead for the Moody Blues. Likewise, Denny Laine’s connection to Wings made Paul McCartney acceptable, though McCartney was also acceptable because Jeff Lynne produced his album Flaming Pie and also worked on the Beatles Anthology.) When I dropped out of school in ninth grade, Jeff and Kelly’s harmonies — and the histories and trivia surrounding those harmonies — carried me through some emotional rough patches. My perseveration helped to keep me grounded in a lot of ways.
In eighth and ninth grade, I grew desperate to have ELO posters, to amass anything and everything related to ELO, no matter how tangential. I collected LPs from flea markets and proudly displayed the duplicates as if they were posters. I also began drawing ELO members and affixing their cartoonish likenesses to my walls:
Richard Tandy & Kelly Groucutt. Drawn when I was 15.
My drawings make me laugh when I consider the amount of detail I pored into sketching the band members’ hairstyles. Such detail presents a stark contrast with their penciled faces, which are amazingly blank and bare.
Jeff Lynne. Drawn at age 15. I mailed this to him with a birthday card. He never responded.
I’m still reeling from the shock of it all — of Kelly Groucutt not being here. It’s hard to fathom. My weekend consisted of me listening to Kelly-heavy tunes such as Sweet Is the Night and live versions of 10538 Overture. I’ve pulled out his 1981 solo album, his OrKestra songs, his work with ELO Part II/Orchestra. All such lovely, lovely songs.