I am only 42, but I was introduced to the oldies of the 1960s and 70s as a 10-year-old boy growing up in Detroit. One of my favourite stations to listen to back then was WHND. It was this station that played a pivotal role in teaching me all the oldies. Within a year of listening, I was familiar with just about all of the oldies to make it big. Sometimes the voice-over announcer would give the year the record came out. The names of the artists and the groups became familiar: The Beach Boys–the Beatles, the Miracles, The Temptations, Sonny and Cher, and Elvis.
Other artists were not quite as well known–but still had excellent songs. Among those were Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, R. B. Greaves, and the Classics IV.
The Classics IV. One of my favourite soft-pop groups of the 60s of all time. Its lead singer, Dennis Yost, in fact, was the voice of the Classics IV. One website referred to him as “The Classic One.” His voice struck me as extraordinary. His singing was so soulful I at one time pictured him as a tall, big black man with dark skin and thick lips. In my eleven-year-old mind, that was how he looked to me. Now mind you I had never seen a picture of him. But I was always curious as to how the man looked, whose soulful voice was recognizable on such songs as “Traces(of Love),” “Spooky,” “Stormy,” both from 1968–and “Every Day With You Girl,” “Sunny,” and “Change of Heart,” a really sad song that became my favourite (all three from ’69).
I taught myself to mimic his voice, the smoothness, the soulfulness of it. I, too wanted to sing and play. I too wanted to sound, if not like Yost, as good as he. What kind of name was “Yost,” anyway? The name was a little more common than I had thought, it turned out. Fielding H. Yost, for example, was a great coach at my alma mater, University of Michigan (my undergraduate institution). I heard of other Yosts here and there.
One of my favourite singers, Dennis Yost, died at 65 last Sunday, December 7, and I am just now finding out. He had suffered from respiratory failure–the culmination of a bevy of illnesses which had plagued this extraordinary singer later in life. Until a fall in 2005, where he fell down a flight of stairs hitting his head–caused massive brain injuries, the singer had enjoyed a successful oldies career.
His career had almost been ended by legal battles. He had fought for years to be able to sing his own songs and use the group’s name publically. An ongoing battle that took its toll on the singer. He had begun to battle depression and alcoholism during those years, until the year 2000, when he won the right to use the group’s name, and his songs, publically. As I was reading about this, I was thinking, It must be horrible to lose the right to a life’s work. But he fought all of the above and won. And in so doing, he won my admiration.
Then, as a result of my online research, I found that he was married to a wonderful woman named Linda. It placed a human face on a great voice, a voice I had come to know and love on the radio.
Additionally, I learned awhile back that he had something in common with me: He was born in Detroit, Michigan. He was raised in Jacksonville, Florida, hence his Southern accent. And this is where the Classics IV got their start. He started with the group of friends that would become the Classics IV in 1965. We came to know them in ’68.
And so deep was my admiration for this band that I did a music theory paper on them back at University of Michigan in ’86, for Music Professor Andrew Mead. The assignment was to analyze every musical instrument, every vocal styling, every breath on a song of your choosing. For my song, I chose their 1969 hit “Traces.” When I was learning how to play guitar as a teen-ager, I practiced this song regularly. (Sidebar: By the way, I got an “A” for that report, and in the class, as well.)
Dennis Yost’s loss will leave a huge vacuum in the world of music. Very few deaths have made me really sad. I remember feeling a keen sense of loss when I found out about George Harrison, Aaliyah, and Harrison’s fellow former Beatle John Lennon. But when Yost died on December 7, 2008, in that hospital outside of Cincinnati–a part of me–a piece of my childhood–died with him.
Linda Yost is quoted as saying that at one moment he was fine, and the next day he was gone. Is that not true of so many of us? Recently I heard that a young woman of 26–Keri–had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. She fell down a flight of stairs, and was gone. Just 26.
On many an occasion I had seen Keri on the bus. I remember her being quite loud and fun loving. She knew just about every city bus driver on a first name basis.
Then one day, after awhile of not seeing her, my wife told me she had heard that she had passed away.
Life is very valuable, and very short.
Dennis Yost, rest in peace. You–and your “classic” voice–shall surely be missed.