Tom Feher, a native of Weehawken and co-founder of the 1960s baroque style of rock and roll, died earlier this month in California at the age of 71. Feher, sometimes known as Tom Fair, was a member of The Left Banke, a New York City-based band. The group’s most successful hit, “Walk Away Renée,” hit number 5 on the national sales charts in 1966.
“My father passed away while hiking to Mt. Wilson,” said his daughter, April Snow Kass. “Anyone who knew him knows how much he loved hiking, and I suppose if there’s any silver lining in such sad circumstances, it’s that he was surrounded by nature, rather than in a hospital bed.”
Feher, who was also an environmental activist for more than 30 years, was on an 18-mile trek. He was found unresponsive by other hikers on the trail, said his son, Robin Feher.
Feher songs “Ivy Ivy,” and “What Do You Know” with Michael Brown. He also wrote some Left Banke songs on his own, including “Goodbye Holly” and “Sing Little Bird Sing,” which he performed at a reunion of the band decades later.
The Left Banke came onto the scene when music was undergoing a major revolution that included the release of “Revolver” by the Beatles, “Pet Sounds” by The Beach Boys, and “Blonde on Blonde” by Bob Dylan. Some critics have compared “Walk Away Renée” to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” as introducing “baroque ‘n’ roll.”
“Walk Away Renée” was listed in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 songs of all time. It has since been covered by more than 100 other performers, including Linda Ronstadt, Herman’s Hermits, Southside Johnny, Rickie Lee Jones, and David Cassidy.
Feher wrote songs for two albums by the band, the second of which included studio work by a young Steven Tyler, later of Aerosmith.
Feher toured with them when they performed on the same bill as The Beach Boys, The Turtles, The Mamas and Papas, Question Mark & the Mysterians, and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.
“My father wrote a lot of stories and poetry. He wrote a rhyming type of poetry. He was a musician his whole life,” Robin said.
“Tom was about being creative and for people not to lose their childhood, and to continue to search for fun.” – Gae Feher
A poet, songwriter, and musician
Born in Weehawken, Feher moved to the Bronx to live with his aunt after his mother died, according to Feher’s ex-wife, Susan “Gae” Feher.
Tom became a fixture in Greenwich Village poetry circles, often wandering the streets there as a teen.
In the early 1970s Tom founded his own band, Eightballs. The group played throughout Hudson County and northern New Jersey and shared the bill at the Mercer Arts Center with a number of bands and artists from the emerging punk scene, including Patti Smith and the New York Dolls.
In an interview for a national music magazine, he recalled playing at a frat party in Hoboken’s Stevens Institute of Technology.
Feher founded his own record label in 1978 with the release of “Mr. Record Man.”
“He was very against music companies owning him or telling him how to do his music or how to edit him,” Gae said. “So he made his own record and sold it for one dollar.”
Inspired by the ideals of the 1960s, Feher refused to give up on those beliefs.
“He could have been rich and famous,” Gae said. “But those were never his goals. He would rather give his art away free.”
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Feher performed in New York’s Central Park to raise awareness about environmental issues. He also published his own environmental newsletter.
He moved to the West Coast in the mid-1980s where he founded the Tom Fair School of Music in Los Angeles. He continued to teach music for three decades.
He understood his place in musical history
“He knew that the band’s videos were on the internet and YouTube,” Robin said. “He seemed a little puzzled by the fan page that appeared on MySpace and later on Facebook.”
For a time, Tom served as a director of public information at the Church of Scientology.
“My father got involved with Scientology because of the creed they promoted, that anyone can rise and can live in a world without war and insanity,” Robin said. “He really was a man who believed people should be free and un-oppressed.”
“Tom was about being creative, and for people not to lose their childhood, and to continue to search for fun,” Gae said. “He believed not to take anything too seriously.”
A memorial will be held for Feher on Sept. 9 at the Urban Homestead in Pasadena, Calif.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.