Amboy Dukes singer John Drake, who shared spotlight with Ted Nugent on hit ‘Journey to the Center of the Mind,’ dead at 74
Nugent called him ‘one of the founding fathers of Detroit rock ‘n’ roll.’
Before he retired, John Drake had been selling automobile parts to repair shops for years.
But he never stopped singing, not since the 1960s, when he had a hit with the Amboy Dukes and bandmate Ted Nugent on the acid-flavored, psychedelic rock classic “Journey to the Center of the Mind.”
Mr. Drake, who joined the Amboy Dukes when they were based in Chicago and moved with the band to Detroit, died Aug. 29 in hospice care of complications from cancer, according to his wife Mary Ann Fosco. He was 74 and lived in Downers Grove.
His voice was in perfect sync with the band’s sound, which, fueled by Nugent’s lead guitar, was as propulsive as a Detroit muscle car.
“Journey to the Center of the Mind,” released in 1968, captured the times with lyrics including:
“Take a ride to the land inside of your mind
But please realize you’ll probably be surprised
For it’s the land unknown to man
Where fantasy is fact
So if you can, please understand
You might not come back”
After Mr. Drake’s death, Nugent posted a Facebook tribute, calling him “one of the founding fathers of Detroit rock ‘n’ roll.”
After the Amboy Dukes, Mr. Drake fronted the John Drake Shakedown, appearing on bills with performers including Rod Stewart, the Faces, Bob Seger, MC5, the Stooges and Ten Years After.
He later worked as a radio DJ at WZZM in Michigan, for Diversified Management Agency, where he booked performers including Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney, two of his favorite singers, and for Continental Motors, where his wife said he sold auto parts to repair shops for years. He retired from Continental in 2017.
But he always kept singing, including playing the 2013 Detroit Music Awards, where he did a duet with bassist Suzi Quatro, a fellow Detroit native.
Quatro, who also played Leather Tuscadero on the TV sitcom “Happy Days,” described the Detroit music scene that formed Mr. Drake: “Rock groups tried to incorporate the soul and the moves that Motown acts had down pat. And the Motown acts tried to emulate the foot-on-the-gas energy us rock groups had. He was a ‘give it all’ type of singer and performer.”
He was born John Brake. But his wife said he usually went by John Drake.
Growing up, he sang doo-wop and the harmonies of the Everly Brothers and Dion and the Belmonts. He was about 14 when a kid who’d been taking guitar lessons showed up at a neighborhood band rehearsal, he said in a memoir: “He came down that basement with a tiny Supro amp and when he opened that guitar case, there laid a beautiful red and white Fender Mustang guitar.”
The kid was Nugent. They started played together in the Royal High Boys and later the Lourds.
After graduating from Detroit’s Redford High School, Mr. Drake served as an Army medic at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
“He joined Ted in Chicago, where Ted had started the Amboy Dukes,” later moving back to Detroit, Fosco said.
Deena Weinstein, a DePaul University sociology professor who writes about rock music, had him come speak with her students.
“He was besotted with music,” Weinstein said. “One of the songs that he performed was ‘Baby Please Don’t Go.’ He would go sing that at the drop of a hat anywhere.”
Mr. Drake didn’t stay with the Amboy Dukes for long after “Journey to the Center of the Mind.” He left the next year.
Weinstein said he spoke to her students about power dynamics in a rock band.
“He taught me about how somebody who writes the music is totally different than the singers,” she said. “And when you have power freaks in a band, if you’re not somebody who is also a power freak, you get stepped on.”
His first wife Kate died in 2006.
At his and Fosco’s 2013 wedding celebration, he sang her The Reflections hit “Can’t You Tell By The Look In My Eyes.” She sang him Barbra Streisand’s “I’ve Dreamed of You.”
In hospice, his wife played the songs they’d sung to each other at their wedding.
“I said to the nurse, ‘I would just love to give him a hug,’ ” Fosco said. “She said, ‘Why don’t you get in bed with him?’ I did, and I fell asleep. When I woke, he had passed.”
He is also survived by his sister Linda Kennedy. His wife said a celebration of life will be held next year.