Even after his death from cancer in 1999, David Ackles continues to influence contemporary singer/songwriters with his combination of dark and desolate lyrics, emotionally wrenching songs, and subtle, sonorous delivery. Singers like Elvis Costello have acknowledged a creative debt to him, and his albums, especially American Gothic, have become cult favorites.
Born on February 20, 1937, he was working in vaudeville by age four and in the mid-'40s played a character named Tucky Worden in Columbia's Rusty the Dog film series. His co-star was Dwayne Hickman, who would later go on to play Dobie Gillis on television. He attended the University of Southern California and took a year to go to school in Edinburgh, where he studied literature. He eventually got a degree in film studies, though he was proficient in the theater, ballet, and choreography. He held several odd jobs after school and was eventually hired as a songwriter by Elektra. He managed to parlay that assignment into a multi-record deal, and released a self-titled debut album in 1968. The album was met with considerable critical acclaim, but did not do well commercially. His follow-up, Subway to the Country, produced one of his most chilling songs, "Candy Man," which was about a war veteran exacting revenge by selling pornography to children. Bernie Taupin, lyricist for Elton John, helped Ackles produce what was to be his best album, American Gothic, in 1972. The album again won heaps of praise from critics and peers, but Elektra gave up on Ackles' commercial prospects and dropped him after the album's release. Columbia gave him a shot and he released Five & Dime in 1973, but they also failed to market him effectively and dropped him when the album failed to chart. Ackles gave up on solo albums and went to work in film and theater, eventually writing a musical, Sister Aimee, which was performed in Los Angeles in 1995. He moved to Tujunga, CA, where he taught songwriting and theater studies before his death on March 2, 1999. ~ Stacia Proefrock