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Dewey Terry, 65; Half of Doo-Wop Duo Don and Dewey Wrote Classic '50s Ballad

May 24, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Dewey Terry, half of the rhythm and blues doo-wop duo Don and Dewey who wrote the classic 1950s ballad "I'm Leaving It (All) Up to You," has died. He was 65.

Terry died of cancer May 11 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said Donna Jack, his life partner of 27 years.

Besides "I'm Leaving It Up to You," which became a hit for Dale and Grace and later Donny and Marie Osmond, the duo also wrote "Farmer John," which gained renewed attention in 1991 when Neil Young included it in his "Ragged Glory" album.

Don Harris and Terry recorded the songs they wrote, including "Justine," but they never sold as many copies as better-known singers who used their material, including the Osmonds and Young.

Terry, who continued to perform in Southern California clubs until about three years ago, once told The Times that the duo's most famous song, "I'm Leaving It Up to You," came to him in about five minutes.

"I wrote that for my ex-wife," he said in 1991. "I married one time and we just couldn't make it. We stayed together 30 days to the day. I left her at 12 midnight and I wrote that song."

Raised in Pasadena, Terry learned to play piano from nuns at the Catholic grade school he attended. He became friends with Harris in their early teens when he heard music wafting from a house in his neighborhood and followed the sound to find Harris, a child prodigy and classically trained violinist.

The two youths first played in a high school doo-wop group called the Squires, whose recording of "Sindy" reached No. 2 on the R&B charts in 1955. A year later, they became Don and Dewey and began recording for the Specialty label, where Terry met the man he came to emulate: Louisiana bluesman Eddie Jones, known as Guitar Slim.

"The only one on Specialty who was doing stuff like we were was Little Richard," Terry told The Times in 1991. "That style comes from the old gospel minister. We took that and brought our rock 'n' roll up into more of the mainstream of America."

Both Terry and Harris handled vocals and played guitar, piano and bass, although Terry was known best for his electric guitar and Harris for the electric violin they fashioned to match the guitar's volume.

They recorded and toured in Little Richard's backup band with a young guitarist named Jimi Hendrix. Separately and together, Terry and Harris worked in Las Vegas and did solo and backup recording in the 1980s punk-jazz band Tupelo Chain Sex.

Harris died in 1999 of pulmonary disease at 61. Terry already had been performing with a reconstituted Don and Dewey, featuring himself, drummer Don Hendricks and singer and keyboardist Ron Ellington Shy.

Like many artists of his era, Terry never earned a fortune from his songwriting or recording. At times he supplemented his income with a small trucking business, priding himself on his motto: "You call and we haul ... all your troubles away."

A memorial is planned for 9 p.m. Wednesday at Cozy's Bar & Grill -- where Terry often performed -- at 14058 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Jack asked that any memorial donations be sent to the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, 555 Madison Ave., Suite 793, New York, NY 10022.

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