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Retro Redux: Driving The Who To Stardom

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Watching The Who entertain at the Super Bowl might have caused a few people to remember another British group, an oddly-named bunch that had a connection — sort of — to the legendary rockers. The band's name was Thunderclap Newman and it was assembled to give an opportunity to John 'Speedy' Keen, who actually did drive the Who during their climb to stardom — he was the band's chauffeur for a while.

In addition to driving the guys around, Keen (sometimes incorrectly spelled Keene) was a drummer, singer, and songwriter who had provided at least one song for the band — "Armenia City in the Sky." He was especially close to Pete Townshend, who subsequently helped him form a new group to present more of his music. Joining Keen was pianist Andy 'Thunderclap' Newman (whose distinctive moniker was chosen for the band's name) and guitarist Jimmy McCullough.

Townshend acted as producer for the new group's first record, 1969's "Something in the Air," a song that perfectly suited the times. Originally titled "Revolution," it greatly appealed to those in tune with the era's many protest movements, and it was a good listen too. Keen's distinctive voice, coupled with Newman's pounding piano and McCullough's fiery guitar, gave listeners something special. It's been said that Townshend contributed to the effort too, but whatever the case the song rose to the top of UK charts and did very well in the US too.

It also generated a classic album titled Hollywood Dream, which would be the only one for the original Thunderclap Newman group. Although the guys did continue to perform for a while they soon faded. However, the band's hit song has shown up again and again through the years, often on the soundtrack of period films.

All three members of the original band continued to work in music through the years, but McCullough died from a drug overdose in 1979 and Keen died of natural causes in 2002. Sole survivor Newman is currently leading a revival band.

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