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Tom King

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Best-known as the founder and leader of the Outsiders, guitarist-singer Tom King has been something of a fixture in Cleveland rock & roll since the late '50s. He was 15 years old when he formed his first group, the Starfires, at Shaw High School in Cleveland in 1958. At the time, he was more familiar with classical music than with rock & roll, but he knew what he liked and was proficient enough as a guitarist to lead the quintet he assembled, writing occasional original numbers as well as arranging and producing their sound. He also had his uncle, Patrick Connelly, in his corner -- Connelly owned a local recording outfit called Pama Records and had enough contacts to get the band a radio audition that landed them numerous on-air appearances. The Starfires loved hard R&B and earned a good living playing the local clubs, emulating the sound of James Brown's band and specializing in hot instrumentals with the occasional vocal contribution from King. By 1965, however, the advent of the British Invasion led to a change in public taste and a drying up of some of their work -- at around the same time, King had lost much of his vocal ability in the wake of a tonsillectomy. The group added lead singer Sonny Geraci to the lineup and retooled its sound as more of a lean, horn-based outfit, similar to the Buckinghams. They were signed to Capitol Records under a new name, the Outsiders, and enjoyed a number five single with their debut, "Time Won't Let Me" (co-authored by King), early in 1966. Though none of their subsequent records made the Top Ten, the group enjoyed a three-year run of success that ended with King's departure from the band in the early spring of 1968. The lineup disintegrated soon after, and in 1970, anticipating the spate of lawsuits over name ownership that would become common in the '90s, King and Geraci each claimed the name the Outsiders. Both ended up in court, where King won the use of the name, forcing Geraci to rechristen the group that he and Walter Nims had formed, from the Outsiders to Climax, which subsequently enjoyed a number three national hit with Nims' song "Precious and Few." Meanwhile, King turned to production work and management, handling acts such as country vocalist Lisa Butler. By the '90s, with '60s music in vogue again and "Time Won't Let Me" having been established as one of the most popular records of the decade to have come out of Cleveland, he also began fronting a re-formed Outsiders with Walter Nims, which released a live album. In the late '90s, more than 40 years after entering rock & roll professionally, King had been included in the Cleveland exhibit of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, based in that city. ~ Bruce Eder

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