Was (Not Was) singer Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, who contributed lead vocals to the group’s 1987 hits “Walk the Dinosaur” and “Spy in the House of Love,” died Tuesday in Los Angeles of a heart attack, Billboard reports. He was 74.
The soulful Atkinson appeared on all five of Was (Not Was)’s studio albums, and also released a pair of solo albums during his long career. “Walk the Dinosaur” and “Spy in the House of Love” reached #7 and #16, respectively on the Billboard Hot 100.
In addition, Atkinson became an in-demand backup singer who appeared on recordings by such well-known artists as Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Willie Nelson, Iggy Pop, Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones and Bob Seger. He also toured with Lyle Lovett for 10 years.
“People keep saying ‘one of a kind,’ and that’s it. He was one of a kind,” Was (Not Was) session guitarist Randy Jacobs tells Billboard.
Jacobs, who co-wrote “Walk the Dinosaur” and also played with Atkinson in a group called The Boneshakers, adds, “He was one of those guys who opens his mouth and it’s just there. He didn’t have to warm up to do that. All the time I knew him, he didn’t have to warm up singing. He just opened his mouth, and there it was. It was a gift.”
Born in Oberlin, Ohio, and raised in Detroit, Atkinson joined Was (Not Was) after meeting the band’s co-leader Don Was in the late 1970s while recording at a Detroit music studio.
“He had the voice I always wished I had,” Was tells Billboard. “When I was writing songs, I was always writing with him in mind.”
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