Born: 29/07/1950 Died: 3/05/1997.
Denis was a hugely talented guitar player, vocalist and actor who was blessed with an incredible sense of humour which was often clouded by a dark side. He began dabbling in guitar whilst at Alan Wilson High School in Salisbury in the mid sixties and it soon became evident that this was a natural born rock star in the making – he simply needed the direction. Denis was to make a serious impact
on the music scene in Malawi (1969 / 1971) playing with Passion Wagon and guesting with Jazz Giants and touring overseas acts. He was complimented hugely by legendary blues player Buddy Guy during a stint at the Flamingo Club in Blantyre.
Denis returned to Rhodesia in 1971 and found employment in Redcliff at the Rhodesian Iron and Steel works (RISCO). He brought with him a blend of music that had been influenced by the Doors, John Mayall, Free, Otis Spann, Jimi Hendrix, Chicken Shack, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green days) and Ten Years After. After a series of attempts at settling down with regular musicians including long term friend Bill Malkin who was at university in SA, Denis formed the Gasoline Valley Blues Band.
The band revolved around Denis and his musical direction as he weaved and bobbed through his exciting repertoire on an old Hofner that he simply adored. No one could emulate the sound that he got out of that guitar which fell to a sad fate when a stage drop landed from its mounting breaking the neck of his instrument. Very fortunately and by the fickle finger of fate, the owner of a L series fender Stratocaster came to the rescue and that’s when Denis really showed his stripes.
The Gasoline Valley Blues Band was Denis (lead guitar &vocals, brother Andy (bass & vocals), Nikki Cole (rhythm guitar & vocals) and Colin Graham (drums & vocals). Denis’ strong and frustrated personality often led to rifts in the band although, under the management of impresario Jimmy Sanders (owner of the Golden Mile Hotel just outside Que Que), the band rose to a sort of cult status for a time.
Denis finest hour may well have been the gig played on the back of a low bed when the band supported Edison Lighthouse and Christie on their tour of Rhodesia. Geoff Christie urged him to leave the shore and head for the bright lights of London. Choosing to be a big fish in a small pond, unfortunately Denis never did.
Denis went to the army where he revelled in entertaining his troopie mates with his wit and impromptu imitations of Elvis and a host of singing stars. The original band fell apart with Andy taking over lead vocals and bringing in Ian Dunbar on drums and Gwelo based Eric Bradnick on guitar (had a great Gibson 335) who was a solid player.
Denis remained in the Midlands and turned to stage productions featuring prominently as Judas in a powerful performance of Judas in JC Superstar that many who saw it ranked it as world class. His role as “Riff Raff” in the production of Rocky Horror Picture Show was also widely acclaimed – he was a natch! He played a few duo gigs with Tony Hopkins amongst others though could never be pinned down for long term commitments.
Denis moved to Bulawayo and played in a few ill fated outfits where his unreliability often was the stickler. He sadly got divorced and his musical being began to self implode through lack of direction and his inexplicable lack of zest to challenge the big time. He sadly passed away in Bulawayo in May 1997 through a neglected bout of malaria. His ashes were spread over a favourite spot on
the banks of the Bubwe River with his all time favourite song “Light my fire” by the doors stirring memories a gifted though often misdirected talent, a product of Rhodesia.
Those who knew Denis loved him and he is still spoken of fondly around dinner parties, braais and pubs alike.