Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs” Writer Lee Emmerson Has Passed Away
Les Emmersons, singer and guitarist of Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band, best known for their 1971 hit “Signs”, died on Friday at the age of 77.
The songwriter, who contracted COVID-19 in November, died in intensive care at the Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa, reports CTV News. Emmerson was said to have been doubly vaccinated and had been hospitalized with other health issues over the past year.
“He had underlying health issues that made him even more vulnerable to COVID,” his wife, 34, Monik Emmerson, told the publication.
The Five Man Electrical Band evolved from the Ottawa Staccatos, which formed in 1963. Emmerson eventually joined the group, becoming their leader and lead songwriter. After releasing a string of modest Canadian hits, the band changed their names and released a self-titled debut LP in 1969.
Their first and only international success came with “Signs”, the opening track from their second album, 1970’s. Goodbye and butterflies. The song’s lyrics, lamenting how nature had been obscured by human guidance, were inspired during a drive from Ottawa to Los Angeles.
“We were on Route 66 somewhere in Nevada, in the early evening, at sunset,” Emmerson said. Ottawa Sun in 2004. “That stretch of the road, there were huge boulders covered in graffiti, you know, ‘Jesus Loves Maria’, stuff like that, and endless billboards, go here, do this, and j Thought what a pity, all these signs obscuring the beautiful landscape and telling us what to do.
“Signs”, released as a single in 1971, reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100. And it has remained a staple in classic rock – Tesla even covered the song for a live chart version in 1990.
While Five Man Electrical Band never scored another hit on the same level, they achieved regional success with a handful of other singles until the mid-1970s. The group disbanded in 1975, with Emmerson leading his first reformation more than a decade later.
Five Man Electrical Band keyboardist Ted Gerow mourned the loss of Emmerson to CTV News. “I had a sister, but I never had a brother, except I had Les,” he said.
He also reflected on the endurance of their hit written by Emmerson. “It has become an anthem,” he said. “So imagine having as an epitaph that you wrote a song that everyone knows.”
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