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Obituaries

Donnie Brooks, 71; L.A. singer had Top 10 hit 'Mission Bell'

February 28, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Donnie Brooks, a singer with rockabilly roots who had a top 10 pop hit with the love song "Mission Bell" in 1960, has died. He was 71.

Brooks, who lived in Burbank, died Friday of congestive heart failure at Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City, said his wife, Penny Brooks.

"Rock 'n' roll history in Los Angeles -- that's what he represents," said Steve Propes, a historian of local rock.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Brooks "was on the scene hanging with other teen-oriented rockers and a pretty big deal," Propes said. "He was a game showman."

Early on, he appeared at El Monte Legion Stadium, then a popular venue for rock concerts. Crowds as large as 3,000 would show up to see such entertainers as Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. Brooks was one of the few white performers, Propes said.

Recording under the name Johnny Faire in the late 1950s, Brooks released the single "Bertha Lou," which became a rockabilly favorite, according to the "Encyclopedia of Popular Music."

His only other top-40 hit, "Doll House," came out in 1960. A year later, the equally listenable "Memphis" cracked the top 100 on the Billboard charts.

In 2003, Brooks was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Burns, Tenn.

When he joined Era Records in the late 1950s, he had recorded under several names, including Johnny Jordan. The label decided on another that stuck: Donnie Brooks.

"A donnybrook is a riotous occasion, and Donnie was a riot," said his friend Howard Thomason. "This man didn't have a serious bone in his body."

Onstage, Brooks enjoyed telling one-liners such as: "My favorite color is plaid."

In the 1970s, Brooks began producing and appearing in oldies revival tours that featured musical acts from the 1950s and 1960s. He was still performing in them before being seriously injured in a car accident in 2003.

He was born John Dee Abohosh on Feb. 6, 1936, in Dallas. His parents divorced when he was a boy, and he took the last name of Faircloth after his stepfather adopted him, Thomason said.

Out of that he pulled his first recording name -- Johnny Faire.

But first his family would move to San Diego, Ventura and Ojai. He started singing in Catholic school choirs and was recording by the time he was 21.

"Li'l Sweetheart," his first recording as Donnie Brooks, was released in 1959.

In 1971, Brooks appeared in the Christian rock opera "Truth of Truths," which premiered on Easter Sunday at the Greek Theatre with Jim Backus voicing the role of God. While rehearsing to play Jesus Christ, Brooks later said, he became a born-again Christian.

In addition to Penny, whom he married in 1963, Brooks is survived by two children and two grandchildren.

*

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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