Northampton’s music scene has lost one of its biggest characters with the passing of Eric Whitehouse.
Eric was a Northampton man born and bred and in more than 50 years of music-making the singer had played every venue, pub and stage in the town.
His son Kieron told Pulse Music: “He was very proud of where he came from and he loved the town and the people in it.”
Eric’s musical path began in the late 1960s with the Amazing Gas Medicine Show.
Many people believed his music to be original compositions, but that wasn’t so. Instead, Eric dug deep to find great tunes by small-known artists he approved of and put his own spin on them.
“What he liked to do was pick obscure references; he wouldn’t be a Mustang Sally sort of guy, he would play the songs he loved that nobody had heard of.”
Eric loved Western Swing, and used to say that Bob Wills who formed The Texas Playboys in the 1930s was the best: “That was the group he modelled his own band on in the 1990s,” Kieron said.
Many of Eric’s influences pre-dated him and came from the 1920s and ‘30s, but they weren’t exclusive – the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Frank Zappa also left their mark, and Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen were another favourite.
Eric was influenced by blues, country and jazz, and over the years those influences could be heard in a succession of bands, which included Eric and the Backstairs Creepers and Uncle Eric and The Beer Parlor Jivers.
When he wasn’t entertaining others, he would delve into his own extensive record collection, and spend his time supporting other musicians and artists.
“Because he was a musician for so long, younger players would come into his band and then go on to do other things and become professional musicians,” Kieron said.
“There is quite a long list of players who went into bands that people will have heard of, just from dad encouraging them and giving them their first break.”
Eric suffered ill health in recent years, but was able to get back to his beloved gigs post-lockdown; the weekend of the European final he played his own double header, with shows at the Garibaldi in Northampton, and The Crown at Ashton.
Away from his music, Eric was a passionate supporter of the Cobblers, and had a book stall on the Market Square.
“It was quite a nightmare trying to walk with him down the Wellingborough Road or in Abington Street, because he would just be stopped all the time. It would take him two hours to get somewhere that would take me 20 minutes!” Kieron said.
Alongside Kieron, Eric leaves children Jimmy and Kitty, and his partner Annie.
His funeral – on September 14 – saw a gathering of his friends and fellow musicians join together to celebrate their friend at The Black Prince. Naturally, music played its part.
“Dad did say he would like a New Orleans funeral march jazz band,” Kieron laughed, “I don’t think he was serious. But it was vital that we did something music orientated.”
Eric was part of the fabric of the town he spent his life in, and many will miss the cheery man and his cowboy hat, but his legacy is assured, thanks to the musicians he encouraged, the bands he brought to greater attention, and just by being himself.
“If people praised him to his face, he would play it down, but people loved him and I think he did know that.
“He was not very ego driven, but he did get a lot of praise because he made so many people happy.
Kieron added: “He was a very humble man, and didn’t take himself very seriously, he loved a laugh and a joke. But when it came to music he took it really seriously because he loved it so much. He’s a hard act to follow.”