*** Guitar Magazine ***
OVERLORDS OF THE BASS
Among the millions of words floating in cyberspace on the subjects of Queen, Freddie Mercury and Brian May, there are few - very few - on the subject of one of rock's most underrated bass players and songwriters. 'As far as we know, John is not up to much', whisper the official Queen fan club, conspiratorially. Not much, that is, apart from looking after six children, chilling in Biarritz, the occasional all-star jolly with the likes of Elton John, appearing - exactly once - at a fan club concert (he played a couple of non-Queen numbers with the house band and then vanished from the stage, failing to show up for the encore). It's a fitting `nd dignified semi-retirement for a man who knows that from him - despite what Taylor and May get up to - without Freddie there's really not much point.
Although it was 1971 when Deacon joined Queen - in England, an era of extended blues, late-psychedelic whimsy and growing improv excess - his style has always been a country mile away from that of the jazz/blues/rock heavies. His first teenage band played pop, soul and Motown.
Leaving Leicester for London in 1969 to study electronics, he eventually fell in with May and Mercury, who liked his playing and knew full well that the easy-going Deacon would not upset certain larger, more fragile egos on the road ahead (he even let the big-haired pair dub him 'Deacon John' on Queen I, but rebelled on Queen II, reverting to his correct name). Through the tough '70s Deacon stuck at it, not balking at this two-songs-per-album allowance until the big time struck and there was enough money for everyone, a thousand times over.
John Entwistle might namecheck James Jamerson and Jack Bruce might once have turned down Marvin Gaye (the fool), but it's Deacon who always balanced Queen's pomp metal exhibitionism by showing - yes! - actual taste and the truest love of soul. Any Deacon teen mag questionnaires you find will be full of tributes to Chic, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder (mind you, he names Chris Squire from Yes as his favourite bass player), but the real truth is in his deceptively simple fingerstyle-only playing.
Another One Bites The Dust - Deacon's own composition, and a song that roosted virtually immovably at the top of the US charts throughout most of 1980 - is a way-off-the-scale funk masterpiece worthy of Prince, George Clinton or anyone. Under Pressure is a rhythmic, minimalist gem and maybe Deacon's finest moment, Crazy Little Thing Called Love a witty walkin' jazz affair, Cool Cat a sinuous treat, the Deacon/Mercury song Pain Is So Close To Pleasure a fine, groovesome thing (May has sometimes been noticeably un-keen on Deacon's on-the-one passions; Mercury, however, always encouraged them to the full). Other Deacon tunes include the make-or-break camp-out I Want To Break Free and the rather lovely Spread Your Wings - not bad for a bloke who, by his own admission, can't sing a note.