Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Robert Hazard 1948-2008

Philadelphia hometown hero and musician Robert Hazard passed away yesterday due to complications from pancreatic cancer. He would have been 60 later this month. The singer/songwriter will be greatly missed. In the 1980s he epitomized the Philadelphia music scene, ruling South Street at the Ripley Dance Club.

He became nationally known as the writer of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and also with his own ‘new wave’ one-hit wonder, “Escalator of Life.” It may have been a one-hit wonder for the rest of the world but folks in Philly had been hearing his music for years. His first EP, named after himself and his band, the Heroes, featured radio staples like “Change Reaction,” “Hang Around with You” and “Out of the Blue,” but these were all songs we all knew for years listening to WMMR and WYSP.

A song from that EP, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,” betrayed where Hazard’s heart really was, in the folk vein, a place he would return to more than a decade later. For the moment however he stayed and rode the rock and new wave to seeming success. Between Cyndi Lauper and the Hooters, Philly music was hot, so he followed.

A second, more commercial and nationally distributed album followed in 1984. Wing of Fire was an odd lot of music and lyrics, more rock than before, it was inspired by the film Blade Runner, a bold project from a bold man. Personally this was one of my favorite albums of Hazard’s, but critics didn’t agree. After a third try, Darling fizzled on the charts, Hazard disappeared for a time and returned to his country/folk roots. When he re-emerged in the late 1990s he was a new man.

With 2004’s Seventh Lake and Blue Mountain and especially 2007’s Troubadour he had established himself as a folk singer to be reckoned with. As a fan from the Ripley days I took great joy in rediscovering this wonderful artist. Seventh Lake includes my all-time favorite Hazard composition, “Route 666,” a haunting tune about the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

From rock ‘n’ roll to synth-pop dance music to heartbreaking folk, Robert Hazard was a music legend, and a Philadelphia icon. As he rides the escalator of life to its final destination, he’ll be remembered and missed.

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