Emile Ford

Born Emile Sweetman on 16th October 1937 in Castries, St Lucia in the Caribbean. He grew up in Nassau, Bahamas and emigrated to Great Britain in 1955 with the ambition to be an engineer. As an engineer, he developed a special sound system, and with this unique sound, Emile Ford turned singer and he and his group The Checkmates which consisted of his brothers George Ford and Dave Ford on bass and sax respectively, plus Ken Street on guitar and John Cuffley on drums. Later still, Peter Carter, Les Hart, and Alan Hawkshaw joined on guitar, sax, and piano, respectively. They secured a recording contract with Pye records in 1959 on what was to have been a one-shot basis. That was when Ford's brilliance as a producer came into play — he, engineer Joe Meek, and the Checkmates essentially hijacked the single, generating a B-side that ended up supplanting the originally chosen A-side. "What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For" was released in the autumn of 1959 and by November it had topped the British charts; it enjoyed the same kind of success everywhere else that English was spoken (except the United States) and a lot of places where it wasn't.

He had a second Top Ten hit with "Slow Boat to China" and then another success with "Red Sails in the Sunset," which generated a hit EP. His string of hits continued into the new decade, charting just as regularly if not as high, and in 1961 Emile Ford & the Checkmates had the inaugural hit on the Pye Records spin-off label Piccadilly with "Half of My Heart." Ford also got to record an album entitled Emile in 1961. His final chart single was "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now," which hit number 43 in England in March of 1962. He abandoned the Checkmates later in 1962, and the group members later formed two separate groups — Ford's non-relations formed the Excheckers, and his two siblings took to calling themselves the Original Checkmates. Ford kept working for a time although, ironically enough, he never really thought of himself as a singer and remained committed to designing his own electronic equipment. He made his last recordings in 1963 and, in the decades since, has worked exclusively behind the scenes in his first choice for a career, designing sound systems, living in Scandinavia and the United States at various times. In 2001, Castle Communications released the double-CD set Counting Teardrops, covering his complete Pye Records sides from 1959 through 1963. He died on 11th April 2016.

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