JON DEREK born John Derek Roberts: March 10, 1941 - Died: October 13, 2011, was one of the finest artists Britain has ever produced in the realms of country music.
Jon's musical journey first started out during his childhood years in Wiltshire where his parents moved to from their home in Harlech, North Wales. Both his mother and father's love for the early hillbilly music of Gene Autrey, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams would prove a huge influence on Jon's future career.
Jon was at college during the 'Skiffle' period of the mid-fifties and it was then that he learned to play the guitar and vocalise with his friends in a band called the Kool Kats. When he left college in 1957, he took a job with a building firm as a trainee draughtsman. Now living just over the border in Newbury, Berkshire - Jon found regular semi-pro work as a singer doing guest spots in the evenings with resident bands in local clubs, mainly for the love of being able to sing to people who wanted to listen. Jon was quoted to have said, "This to me was my only pleasure - nobody paid too highly so, nobody could complain or expect too much, for so little."
It wasn't long before he met up with musicians Jerry Hogan and Gordon Huntley. Gordon was a member of the Hawaiian Serenaders. On a night off, Jon went to see Gordon's group and, in chatting, was handed the invitation to sing a few songs. Gordon was impressed. Jon and Jerry formed their own outfit The Black Stetson Boys, however, they soon started working with the Hawaiian group doing a cabaret spot augmented by the Serenaders. After a few months, Gordon realised that The Black Stetson Boys had a driving rhythm that was more suitable for dancing. He began to phase out the Hawaiian Serenaders and called them The Black Stetson Boys although, basically, they were the same band.
The BBC received a number of requests from their listeners to feature more country music. The Black Stetson Boys, at the time, were playing mainly US Air Force bases and dance halls. Taking up the opportunity, they passed a BBC audition with flying colours and, within a week, they were broadcasting on network programmes such as 'Saturday Club' hosted by Brian Matthew, and 'Easy Beat'. It was around about this time that Jon first worked with influential British guitar supremo Bert Weedon who would invariably be guesting on the same shows. After winning a talent contest 'Stairway To The Stars', sponsored by Curry's Radio and ABC Cinemas, with their version of Hank Locklin's 'Geisha Girl', their song won through to the finals of Radio Luxembourg's 'Make A Tape' talent show. Jon was now gaining in confidence for the period which lay ahead.
By late 1962, the band had undergone a name change and were now known as Johnny and The Hayriders. Jon notably became the first British country music artist to perform in stereo for the BBC on a programme called 'Country Time' recorded at 'Camden Town Theatre Studios'. Shortly after this, he made his television debut on the ITV/Southern show called 'Home Grown'.
With American country music artists now beginning to tour the UK and Ireland and, just a year before his tragic death, Johnny and The Hayriders supported Jim Reeves and his band The Blue Boys on a brief tour they made to England in June 1963. Performing at US Air Force bases including Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, Lakenheath and High Wycombe, they would open each show. Jim praised their style by saying, "Johnny and The Hayriders are the nearest thing to the Nashville sound that I have heard whilst in Britain." He was also most happy for them to perform one of his songs in their repertoire 'Most Of The Time'. About a week after the tour ended, Jim wrote an article for an American newspaper about his overseas trip. He referred to Jon Derek as 'one of Britain's most promising and outstanding country music singers'.
Still working as an apprentice for a building firm, Jon was continually late or absent for work and was subsequently sacked. The popularity of Johnny and The Hayriders made Jon give up any original ambitions of becoming an architect and turned professional in 1964.
Gordon Huntley left the band in March of that year. Jon was quoted to have said, "Gordon was a very good friend of mine and helped me a lot during my early days in music." The band continued as a four piece for a while with Jerry doubling on lead and steel.
Having completed two short tours with Carl Perkins (Blue Suede Shoes) and Hank Locklin (Please Help Me I'm Falling), Johnny and The Hayriders had become a well-known and much travelled outfit by the summer of 1965. Whilst appearing at the 'Southern Country Music Convention' staged at 'The Marquee Club' in London's Wardour Street alongside fellow British country music band, The Hillsiders - they were approached by a young lady called 'Jackie Collins' who asked if she could have an audition with the band. They were very impressed and signed her up on the spot. Towards the end of that year, they gained the attention of veteran BBC disc jockey Jack Johnson who invited them to his studio in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire to record a demo. He liked them as a band - but not their name.
Several changes within the band's line-up and direction took place over a period of weeks. Notably, 'Jamie Gunn' joined the band on bass and vocals. With his rich baratone voice, he added more depth to the current line-up. By early 1966, Jack Johnson had introduced Johnny and The Hayriders to his producer sons, 'John and Malcolm Johnson' who got them back into the studio to record a single, this time for release on a major record label. The Johnson's offered them a contract but insisted on a name change to The Flintlocks.
In June 1966, their honky tonk country version of a 'Beatles' composition 'What Goes On?' was released on 'Decca Records'. Jon told a newspaper journalist, “I bet the critics knock hell out of it. They won’t like it at all. They are bound to say it’s just another Beatles copy but it isn’t, it’s done the way we want it.” The single sold 900 copies in it's first four days of release.
The following month, The Flintlocks took part in a 'live' show titled, 'Radio Caroline Night Out' staged at the 'Wimbledon Palais' in London supporting American star Eddie Arnold (Make The World Go Away). Also appearing was Tom Jones (Green Green Grass Of Home). By the end of 1966, vocalist, Jackie Collins had left the band to emigrate to Australia and the band's contract was bought out by a top impresario - the infamous music mogul, Don Arden (who at the time also managed 'The Small Faces' and 'The Nashville Teens'). He was keen to turn them into another 'Bachelors' and felt several changes needed to be made, including their current name which, in his opinion, did not appeal. Several names came to mind, but after careful thought, he realised it lay within their first names - Jamie Gunn, Jon Derek and Jerry Hogan. With Jed Kelly on drums - this completed the new line-up.
Jamie, Jon and Jerry had already secured a contract with pub chain ‘Fullers’ (known then as 'Griffin Catering'), playing a round of venues in the London area which included ‘The Clarendon’ in Hammersmith and ‘The Nashville Room’ in West Kensington. The 'Fullers Circuit', as it became better known, was organised and run by a gentleman called, Charles Williams, whose promise it was to stage a different country music act each night of the week at every venue. Fast becoming known as London's answer to Nashville - fellow musicians Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock (who later became better known as Chas & Dave) would invariably frequent this circuit and often turn up to see Jamie, Jon and Jerry. They in fact told a certain guitarist friend to “come down and see ‘em, Albert - they’re a good country band!” It wasn’t long before they acquired the talents of Chris Farlow and The Thunderbirds' lead guitarist, Albert Lee who began sitting in with the band whenever he could. Albert was recently quoted to have said, “I had always loved country music from my early days but it was a revelation to discover Jamie, Jon & Jerry playing in Hammersmith in 1966. Here was Jon doing what I wanted to do.”
In 1967, Jon purchased his iconic 'Gibson J-200' guitar. In addition to its huge size and massive tone, the J-200 is distinguished by its array of high-end cosmetic details including pineapple-style inlays and a mustache bridge. Famously, Elvis Presley used to play one. Jerry Hogan wrote in the Jamie, Jon and Jerry fan club magazine, "Jon has bought himself a Gibson J-200 Jumbo. It is really a beautiful guitar but one wouldn't expect firewood for £315!" In today's money, that would equate to roughly £5000. Jon used the guitar right up until about 1984. It was the envy of many fellow artists and when the big stars came to town and worked with Jon, they wanted to play it! Marty Robbins, Bill Anderson, Charley Pride, Hank Locklin, Del Reeves etc. have all been caught on camera.
Under the name Jamie, Jon and Jerry, the band went on to record three singles for Decca in 1967 - one of which was produced by the legendary record producer and A&R executive, Dick Rowe who unfortunately turned down The Beatles but made up for it by signing The Rolling Stones. Furthermore, Jamie, Jon and Jerry toured with Clodagh Rodgers (Come Back and Shake Me) and Hank Locklin the same year and supported artists such as Tammy Wynette (Stand By Your Man), Del Reeves (Girl On The Billboard) and Carl Belew (Your Pretty Brown Eyes) who all made short promotional tours to England and performed at US Air Force bases and, one or two of the larger venues on the 'Fullers Circuit'.
When bass player Jamie Gunn made the decision that he was going to quit the band, in the early part of 1968, to take a break from full-time musicianship, sadly that spelt the end for Jamie, Jon and Jerry. The remaining members of the band - Jon, Jerry and drummer, Jed Kelly evolved into The Jon Derek Group with the addition of Albert Lee on lead guitar, who by this time had told Chris Farlowe that he was leaving to join a country band, and 'Dave Sholl' (ex Johnny and The Hayriders) on bass. This was a skeleton band primarily put together so as to honour any outstanding bookings and, to act as 'backing band' to Irish singer, Clodagh Rodgers on all her forthcoming TV and Radio appearances.
A few months later, Jerry Hogan also decided he was going to take a break from full-time gigging to go to university and it was then that Jon Derek and Albert Lee discussed forming a new band with a slightly more progressive slant. Pinching the name of this band from a recent Ricky Nelson album release, Country Fever, as they would now become collectively known, consisted of, Jon Derek, Albert Lee, Pat Donaldson and Jed Kelly in it's original line-up. Jerry would continue to perform with the band but only on a part-time basis as and when required for bigger shows and tours. Pat Donaldson didn't last long though - he quit before the autumn to join 'Sandy Denny and Fotheringay' and was replaced by Pete Oakman (ex-Joe Brown and Lonnie Donegan).
In November 1968, Jon married his most ardent fan, Sandy. They had first met at a 'Jamie, Jon and Jerry' gig in 1967. The wedding was held in Ealing, west London which, became Jon's new hometown.
Albert Lee was quoted to have said in an interview in 2013, "Jon was the driving force behind Country Fever as he had the contacts and therefore secured the work." In the latter part of 1968, they toured with Rose Maddox (Sing A Little Song Of Heartache), Jody Miller (Queen of the House) and Guy Mitchell (Singing The Blues). In 1969, they were invited to join the 'RCA Stars In Concert' tour with 'Mr Guitar', Chet Atkins, George Hamilton IV (Abilene), Skeeter Davis (The End of the World), Connie Smith (Once A Day), Nat Stuckey (Sweet Thang) and Bobby Bare (Detroit City) which comprised of two UK dates - the 'Walthamstow Granada' and the 'Royal Albert Hall' + two weeks in Europe taking in Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. As well as having their own spot on the show, Country Fever also backed Connie Smith and Nat Stuckey throughout the tour. Connie Smith was so impressed with the band that she was quoted to have said that if she could have afforded them, she would have liked to have taken them back with her to the US as her backing group. Nat Stuckey was equally impressed and announced on stage one night that he would love to record with them in the UK. Unfortunately, neither materialised but Nat Stuckey did return to the US and name his next album after them - 'Country Fever'. Before the year was out, Country Fever toured extensively with Hank Locklin which included a date at Dundee's 'Caird Hall' and also featured The Humblebums (Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty).
The media reported that 'Country Fever' achieved more progress in the year of 1969 than any other British country music band. They received a 'Certificate of Merit' in February 1970 for their outstanding contributions to British country music from the 'CMA of Great Britain'. Furthermore, they were also voted 'Best Group' by the 'British Country Music Association', ironically, just at the time guitarist Albert Lee had decided to move on to other ventures because he was fed up of being expected to play the same old Jim Reeves and Johnny Cash imitations each night. He was quoted to have said, "If you did something slightly away from the norm, you were a rock 'n' roll band - there was no compromise. Then I used to sing Roger Miller's 'Dang Me' and people would call it jazz!" In March 1970, Jon made his first appearance at stalwart promoter, Mervyn Conn's 'International Festival of Country Music' known more commonly as the ‘Wembley Country Music Festivals’. Together with Country Fever. They appeared in their own right and also backed on the same show American artists, Don Gibson (Sea Of Heartbreak), Charlie Walker (Pick Me Up On Your Way Down) and lesser known artists, Durward Erwin and Willard Pierce. Two days after the festival, Jon Derek, Jerry Hogan and Albert Lee of Country Fever (augmented by another band's bass player and drummer) backed Don Gibson again at the 'Nashville Room' in London's west Kensington. Also appearing was Loretta Lynn and her band .
Albert Lee was replaced by Roger Dean (ex John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers). Roger would become one of a never-ending change of talented musicians to pass through Country Fever over the next few years with others including; Adrian Legg, Graham Walker, Malcolm Hamerston and Rod Clark. Country Fever went on to win 'Top UK Country Group' at the 'Billboard International Country Music Association Awards' in 1971. Jon was photographed with the award together with fellow winners, Loretta Lynn (Top US Female Singer), George Hamilton IV (Top US Male Singer) and Tompall Glaser and The Glaser Brothers (Top US Group). Country Fever's busy schedule never relented, they became the most sought after band on the British country music scene. They made two more 'Wembley Festival' appearances in 1972 and 1973, released a number of singles and albums for record labels 'Rediffusion', 'Lucky', 'Pye' and 'Decca' including the critically acclaimed; 'Listen To The Country Fever' (1970) and 'A New Dimension' (1971) - recorded many sessions for the BBC and were often heard guesting on such radio programmes as ‘Country Meets Folk’, 'The Terry Wogan Show', ‘The Sam Costa Show’, 'The Dave Cash Show' and 'The Jimmy Young Show'. Television appearances included 'Walk Right In', 'Colour Me Pop', 'Late Night Line-Up', 'Sing Country' and 'The George Hamilton IV Show'. They also backed a string of star names such as Slim Whitman (Rose Marie), Charley Pride (Crystal Chandeliers), Anne Murray (You Needed Me), Del Reeves (Girl On The Billboard), Jeanne Pruett (Satin Sheets), and Wanda Jackson (Let's Have A Party) - furthermore, there were extensive tours with Hank Locklin (Please Help Me I'm Falling), Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls Of Fire), George Hamilton IV (Abilene) and The Stoneman Family plus a UK, Ireland and European tour with Marvin Rainwater (Gonna Find Me A Bluebird), with whom they recorded an album in 1972, 'Marvin Rainwater Gets Country Fever' which was released on the 'Philips Records' label - an exciting collaboration of both UK artist and UK band. Not since his 1958 chart topping hit 'Whole Lotta Woman' had Marvin been back to the UK. This tour proved to be the first of many he would make across 'the big pond' in the next 20 years and the start of a long friendship between Marvin Rainwater and Jon Derek.
Having achieved everything he possibly could with Country Fever, Jon decided in the latter part of 1974, that the time was right for him to go solo. This proved to be a good decision as he began to get the recognition he so richly deserved. Having legally owned the rights to the name 'Country Fever' ever since 1969, Jon would occasionally reassemble the band if the money was right or if a major show or tour was involved. However, no longer a co-operative band, they would now be known as Jon Derek & Country Fever, with such musicians as Pete Oakman, Jed Kelly, Graham Walker, Brian Golbey and Bob Haskell all involved. In 1975, they supported American star Bill Anderson (I Get The Fever) at the 'London Palladium', and, the same year, they appeared once again in their own right at the 'International Festival of Country Music' and also backed over the two days, British country music duo, Miki & Griff (Little Bitty Tear) and, American artists, Jeanne Pruett, Wanda Jackson, Jimmy Payne, Melba Montgomery and, Marvin Rainwater (who they were currently on tour with). A couple of months later, Jon and the band recorded a live album at the notorius, high security, 'Broadmoor Hospital' along with American singer/songwriter Jimmy Payne and the since disgraced television presenter/radio broadcaster, Jimmy Saville, who compered the show.
In the summer of 1975, Jon toured England's West Country as a trio with two leading musicians, Fritz Fryer (ex lead guitarist/songwriter of 'The Four Pennies) and Keith Nelson (a highly regarded US session artist). Then continuing with the solo work, Jon found himself busier than ever over the next 18 months, making countless personal appearances at venues up and down the British Isles predominantly on what were known as 'package shows'. Invariably, these shows would also feature a British country band Jon worked with a lot during this period, 'Jeannie Denver and the JD Band'. In the autumn of 1975, they toured with American star Marvin Rainwater and in February/March 1976, with, Slim Whitman on a 36-date UK tour of major theatres and civic halls. With two performances a night at most venues, the tour included a date at the 'London Palladium'. Jon, who was also compere for the entire tour, introduced veteran radio broadcaster Alan 'Fluff' Freeman on to the stage to present Slim with a gold disc for sales of his current album.
Straight after the Slim Whitman tour had ended, Jon appeared once again at the 'International Festival of Country Music' at Wembley. Advertised as 'Jon Derek and Band', Jon was in fact still using Jeannie Denver's band. Appearing in their own right, they also backed Wanda Jackson and Vernon Oxford (Shadows Of My Mind). Then, for the first time, the festival travelled to Europe to include a performance at 'The Scandinavium' in Gothenberg, Sweden. Jon Derek and Band were the only UK act on a bill which also featured the likes of Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Don Williams, Red Sovine, Marty Robbins and, many more top names.
An accomplished songwriter, Jon released an album of original material in 1976 titled, 'Songs I Have Written…With A Little Help From My Friends'. He followed this up with the superlative, 'Country Music Trail' - an album of rearranged traditional, American folk songs featuring an array of the finest British country musicians of the time including, Pete Oakman, Brian Golbey, Graham Walker and, B J Cole (a slightly above session pedal steel guitaist but who in fact played 'dobro' on this album).
1977 was a real turning point for Jon. He collaborated with Decca Records once again and recorded five tracks for them, two of which were released as a double A-sided single – Till The Rivers All Run Dry and Making Believe. Jon put together a new outfit called The Jon Derek Trio with bass player, Chris Dunn and lead guitarist, Dave Waite and together they toured the length and breadth of the British Isles promoting the single with Jon carrying out countless radio interviews on their travels. The popularity of this single throughout the UK also brought Jon some success overseas – both songs reached No.1 on the Mediterranean island of Malta, just months later. Even the quiet man himself Don Williams apparently told Jon what a great job he had made of his song 'Rivers' when they were sat together on a flight bound for Stockholm, Sweden having both just featured at the 1977 ‘Wembley Country Music Festival’.
Jon made his first promotional trip to Malta in the early part of 1978. Both sides of the single were by this time being played regularly on the Maltese radio stations and the BBC's British Overseas Network programmes. Jon made several cabaret appearances throughout the visit and also performed Making Believe on Maltese television. Furthermore, the entire two week trip received tremendous local press coverage. Back home, the press wrote, "Jon Derek has recently returned from Malta where he is in the superstar category!"
On his return, Jon augmented the 'Trio' to a four-piece band and subsequently reformed 'Country Fever'. Jon Derek & Country Fever backed American artist Jimmy Lawton on a tour of England and Northern Ireland in April 1978 and then shortly after, they were included on BBC Radio 2's 'Country Club' show recorded before a live audience at the 'Golders Green Hippodrome' presented by David Allan and which also featured American star, Boxcar Willie (another artist who became incredibly popular in the UK but a lot less so in his native country). Later that year, Jon Derek & Country Fever also backed and supported American steel guitarist 'Little' Roy Wiggins (ex Eddy Arnold, George Morgan) on a UK tour that also included a date at the 'City Hall' in Hull with Patsy Montana (I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart).
In 1979, Jon Derek & Country Fever won three top club awards in quick succession. Furthermore, they did a short tour with American singer/songwriter Tommy Collins in September of the same year and then in October through into December, toured with Jon's good friend, Marvin Rainwater.
In 1980, due to popular demand, Jon returned to Malta for a series of cabaret shows. His hit songs 'Till The Rivers All Run Dry' and 'Making Believe' were both still regularly heard on Maltese radio. Unable to take his own band this time, he was backed by Malta's very own Joe Portelli Quintet. On his return to the UK, Jon was back at Wembley for the 'International Festival of Country Music' that Easter. He met up with good friend and former Country Fever member Albert Lee who was also appearing at the event as part of 'Emmylou Harris' Hot Band' and together they were caught on camera by top professional photographer Graham Barker having a few laughs and a 'jam session' backstage with Don Everly. Before the year was out, Jon did a tour with multi-award winning American fiddle player Billy Armstrong and, furthermore, dubbed, 'the year of the festivals' due to their ever-increasing popularity, he performed at many of them including the 'Best of British' events, Peterborough and Harlow and, international festivals, Caister, Portsmouth and Essex where Jon graced the stage with the likes of Johnny Cash, Billie Jo Spears, Don Gibson, Web Pierce, The Wilburn Brothers and, many more.
Marvin Rainwater returned for another tour with Jon in 1981, which included a date at that year's 'International Festival of Country Music' at Wembley. Jon also compered the 'Best of British Country Talent Contest' held next door at the 'Wembley Conference Centre'. Just days before, at the pre-festival dinner/dance held at the 'Royal Garden Hotel' in Kensington, London - Jon had been photographed by Graham Barker once again with his camera capturing the moment Jon joined country music greats Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Marty Robbins, Vern Gosdin and Tammy's current husband/manager George Richey at the hotel's lounge piano for an impromptu performance which resulted in the American stars eventaully singing along with Jon!
Throughout the 1980's, Jon Derek & Country Fever remained one of the most professional and hardest working bands on the British country music circuit. They continued to be billed in their own right or alongside a plethora of star names.
In 1983 though, due to personal family issues, Jon remained for the most part, closer to his home in Ealing for a period of time when he took up MC duties at the newly opened 'Mean Fiddler' venue in Harlesdon, North London. A glitzy night spot with an American style honky-tonk slant to it, music venue mogul and owner Vince Power referred to Jon as Britain's answer to Ernest Tubb when he realised just how long he had been around on the scene for. Although still performing at other selective venues, Jon was quoted to have said, "The Mean Fiddler offered me some stability and comfort during those winter months when touring can be hazardous."
Jon appeared at all the top events during the 1980's, including five consecutive appearances at Jed Ford's 'Peterborough Country Music Festivals' (1980-84). Tours with Marvin Rainwater remained a common occurence and together with 'Country Fever' a second billing with Patsy Montana took place and they also backed Hank Locklin once again on another visit to the UK, in addition to Barbara Fairchild and Tommy Cash (younger brother of Johnny). Furthermore, Jon's 1981 single release 'Hey Duke, You Got True Grit' (a tribute to his movie hero John Wayne) was extremely well received, as was the track 'As Far As I'm Concerned' taken from his 1984 release 'Goin' Back' (celebrating 21 years as a professional artist) which became the fastest selling British country music album of it's time and included the five tracks recorded some years earlier for 'Decca Records'. Jon Derek & Country Fever toured with British singer Clinton Ford in 1984. Having had some UK chart success in the late 1950's and 1960's, his repertoire was a mix of skiffle, country and pop.
With the harsh Yorkshire winters taking their toll on Jon, he moved south to better climates, a few years later, residing in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. This would remain his hometown for the next 25 years. He put together a new-look 'Country Fever' in 1987 and they toured one final time with Marvin Rainwater. In 1989, they released an album 'Movin' On' on an independent label and, a single 'I'm Still Your Fool' which was extremely well received and often heard on a number of local BBC radio stations at the time.
In 1991, after more than 30 years on the road, Jon announced that he was going to semi-retire from live performing at the end of that year. He did make a promise though that he would still be available for 'selected dates', consequently, ensuring the top quality show that his fans had come to associate with him. He was quoted to have said, "I shall always carry wonderful memories of the artists, promoters, musicians and most of all the public who have so generously supported me through all my years in the music business." Jon had his reasons for deciding to quit full-time performing which obviously came as a complete shock to many. He was also quoted to have said, "The rigours of life on the road and the hardships of perpetual travelling have taken their toll on my physical and mental capacity to face more of the same." Furthermore, as a traditionalist, he had become somewhat disillusioned with the direction in which the British country music scene was going - with an ever-increasing number of clubs turning towards the latest craze 'line-dancing'. Jon was not prepared to alter his show/style at this late stage in his career. With one final appearance at the 'International Festival of Country Music' at Wembley in March 1991 - his seventh appearance in his own right, Jon Derek & Country Fever played out a busy year of bookings.
Keeping to his word, Jon did continue to make many appearances from 1992 onwards at a number of country music clubs and festivals ably backed by a string of well-established country bands, notably, 'West Virginia' and 'Barbary Coast' (Frank Ifield's backing band). He also returned to Malta one last time for a series of farewell gigs in 2005 and, the same year, he made a tremendous cameo appearance at the memorial concert arranged by George Hamilton IV for the British artist Pete Sayers. Broadcaster and journalist David Allan wrote in his column feature for the long-running publication 'Country Music People', "A surprise that evening came from veteran Jon Derek, mainstay of the British Country scene in the 70s and 80s, who is sounding better than ever - not just in my opinion but that of much of the audience. The familiar voice has a slightly rougher edge and it's now the voice of experience perfectly suited to his material. Is it too much to hope we will be seeing and hearing a lot more of him?" Unfortunately it was - Jon decided to call it a day after that ending things on a high. However, in November 2006, he was persuaded by promoter, 'Diane Richards' to come out of retirement to perform one last time at her festival, 'Sunny Hunny' at Hunstanton, Norfolk. Following the show, Diane was quoted to have said, "As a special favour, Jon did a guest spot for me and he brought the house down!"
A keen gardener, railway enthusiast and history buff - Jon turned his attention to his hobbies and interests in those later years. Enormously proud of his North Welsh heritage, he started writing a book all about the history of Welsh Kings and Queens and another book based on his memories of those early years he spent on the steam railways in North Wales.
It became apparent Jon hadn't been well for some years. In mid 2011, on seeking medical attention, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Following an operation to remove a malignant tumour on one of his lungs, he sadly passed away a few weeks later on October 13, 2011. His funeral was held in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire two weeks later and a tribute night was staged in memory of him on April 8, 2012 and featured music by his good friends, West Virginia (with John Davis on pedal steel guitar, The Duffy Brothers and Mick Smith.
Gone but not forgotten - Jon Derek's legacy lives on. In September 2012, Jon was posthumously inducted into the British Country Music Hall of Fame. His son Mark collected the award on behalf of his late father at a ceremony held in London hosted by singer/songwriter Charlie Landsborough and Radio/TV personality Nicky Campbell.
In a career which began in 1958 and spanned almost 50 years - Jon Derek opened for Jim Reeves in 1963 - toured with a plethora of star names such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Chet Atkins, Slim Whitman, Connie Smith and Guy Mitchell - graced the stage with the likes of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Charley Pride - formed a number of great friendships with those he would often work with including Skeeter Davis, Marvin Rainwater, George Hamilton IV, Hank Locklin and Irish songstress Clodagh Rodgers - recorded for Decca Records, had two No.1 hits in Malta (Till The Rivers All Run Dry and Making Believe) and played just about every Theatre, Civic Hall, Country Music Club and Festival in the British Isles. In addition, he appeared five times at the London Palladium, twice at the Royal Albert Hall and was one of the most featured British artists at the renowned 'International Festivals of Country Music' staged annually at Wembley Arena. Furthermore, his famed band Country Fever, which he originally formed with legendary guitarist Albert Lee was, for many years, the most sought after British country music group. In a career spanning almost 50 years and one in which influenced so many other artists, Jon Derek is one of the finest artists Britain has ever produced in the realms of country music and will be remembered for being at the forefront right from the very start.