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Singer/songwriter Jack Scott, known for string of late '50s hits, dead at 83

By Susan Whitall
Special to The Detroit News

Jack Scott (Jack Dominico Scafone Jr.), the Windsor, Ontario-born singer/songwriter whose string of 1950s hits hit the sweet spot between rock and country, died Thursday at the Warren campus of Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospital.  He was 83.

Scott’s niece Rio Scafone wrote in a Facebook post that the singer never recovered from a massive heart attack he suffered on Sunday.

Jack Scott, singer and songwriter, was popular in the 1950s.

The darkly handsome Scott sang at the low end of a rumbling, ominous baritone and he scored nineteen singles on the national charts from 1958-1961. Four of those records reached the Top Ten. Among his top hits: “What in the World’s (Come Over You)” (1960), “My True Love,” (1957), “Leroy” (1960), “Burning Bridges” (1960) and “The Way I Walk” (1959). Many of his hits, including “My True Love,” were self-penned.

“The songwriting talent of early rockers like Jack Scott added a touch of authenticity that Tin Pan Alley (professional songwriters) couldn’t duplicate,” said former WABX-FM air personality Dan Carlisle.

Scott performed frequently on Dick Clark’s nationally televised “American Bandstand” show.

And yet despite those hits, his bad boy swagger and smoldering good looks, Scott isn’t as well known as many lesser talents. He is beloved by musicians such as Link Wray, by music historians and aficionados because historically, Scott was one of the key figures in the 1950’s rockabilly scene—“rockabilly” being a later term for the rough-hewn, country-ish rock performed by artists of the era such as Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and (in his early days), Elvis Presley.

He enjoyed a spike in fame during the 1970’s rockabilly revival, and like many veteran Detroit acts, enjoyed enduring fame in Europe.  His song “The Way I Walk” was covered memorably by both the Cramps and Robert Gordon, and “Leroy” was recorded by Shakin’ Stevens. In 1982, Scott’s song “Goodbye Baby” played over the credits of the film Diner (set in the 1950’s).

He was born January 24, 1936,  the son of Jack Scafone Sr. and the Laura (nee Franks) Scafone in Windsor, Ontario. The Scafone family moved to Hazel Park when he was 10.

 Scott told the Detroit News in a 1958 profile titled “Hit After Hit for Hazel Park Boy” –by that time he’d adopted “Scott” as his last name for music -- that he’d been playing guitar since the age of 6, and loved country and western music, particularly Hank Williams, growing up. He named it as a highlight of his life so far that he’d played with Williams’ band, the Drifting Cowboys — he named one of his first groups the Southern Drifters, in homage.  

Scott’s first few records were for ABC-Paramount, recorded, as most of his songs were, at United Sound in Detroit. Later, he recorded for major labels Carlton, Top Rank, Capitol Records and Dot. His record “My True Love” sold a million, Scott told the News. “At least I think it did. I’m still waiting for my gold record.”

For some years Scott performed at his own Jack Scott’s Dance Ranch in Utica, which he’d actually started back in the 1950’s, in a converted barn. Up until the last year or so he was playing gigs, and still lived in Metro Detroit. His last public appearance in Detroit was in September at the Last Reunion in Novi, a gathering organized by 1960’s disc jockey Lee Alan. Scott signed records and posters, and greeted fans at the venue.

In 2011 Scott was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. Canadian music writer Larry LeBlanc, senior editor of Celebrity Access magazine, sat next to the singer and his wife Barb at the awards ceremony, as Russell deCarle from the group Prairie Oyster sang one of Scott’s songs. It was an excellent rendition, LeBlanc recalls, but Barb Scott leaned over and said, "Jack sings it better."

LeBlanc watched as several Canadian music executives made a fuss over Scott, including Steve Kane, the president of Warner Music Canada. “He had such an impact,” LeBlanc said of Scott. “I know vocally he’s been compared to Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney, but he had a style all his own.”

Jack Scott is survived by his wife, Barbara Ann, as well as daughters Jennifer Scafone, Renee Godin and Jackie Matthew, two stepsons, three grandchildren on and five siblings and nieces and nephews. There will be a visitation 3-9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16 at D.M. Temrowski & Sons, 30009 Hoover in Warren.

Susan Whitall is a longtime Detroit music author and journalist. Her books include “Fever: Little Willie John’s Fast Life, Mysterious Death, and the Birth of Soul.”