DETROIT — With a keen musical ear and an early love of the stage, Doug Fieger was a student at Oak Park, Mich.‘s Clinton Junior High when he started his first professional band — launching the path that would ultimately lead him to the top of the pop charts.
Fieger, best known as the founding vocalist-guitarist of the Knack, died Sunday morning at home in Woodland Hills, Calif., after a six-year battle with cancer. He was 57.
He was the younger brother of well-known attorney Geoffrey Fieger, and is also survived by his sister, Beth Falkenstein.
Having moved to L.A. after cutting his teeth on the Detroit rock scene, Fieger became an overnight millionaire with the hit “My Sharona” in 1979. Though he never recreated that single’s blockbuster success, he continued touring under the Knack banner, including a final hometown show at DTE Energy Music Theatre in July 2003.
Fieger was soon stricken with lung and brain cancer, and embarked on years of intense treatment.
Longtime friend David Weiss was frequently by Fieger’s side during the illness. He saw Fieger 10 days ago before leaving town for a scheduled trip.
“I think both of us thought it might be our farewell,” said Weiss, who plays with the band Was (Not Was). “He was resigned, but with the same sort of philosophical calm that he had been showing — this kind of steely determination. He never let his own troubles dictate the moment.”
Fieger’s leading claim to fame was “My Sharona,” a vivacious blast of pop that spent six weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100 and endured as a staple of the genre that became known as power-pop.
Though the song is often regarded as one of rock’s great one-hit wonders, it was in fact followed by two more top 40 hits for the Knack, “Good Girls Don’t” and “Baby Talks Dirty.” And Fieger’s own career had already included the Detroit band Sky, which released a pair of albums with RCA Records.
That group’s Brit-inflected sound separated it from other acts on the ‘60s Detroit rock scene, which was dominated by a raucous, heavy approach.
“Obviously we were a Detroit band, and I’m from Detroit, but we weren’t representative of that era,” Fieger recalled during a 2003 Free Press interview. “Because the sound of what we did was something different. But to the credit of the scene, everything was allowed. We were totally accepted.”
Sky led Fieger to Los Angeles in 1970, where he remained after the band’s dissolution a year later. In 1978 he solicited musicians via a newspaper ad, formed the Knack, and quickly attracted label interest with a tape of catchy demo tracks.
Fieger was a Detroit rocker with a British heart, driven by a lifelong love of English bands such as the Beatles and the Who.
“I always believed he was really channeling Lennon-McCartney every time he opened his mouth onstage,” said Weiss. “But I also think a single like ‘My Sharona’ is every bit a Detroit record as anything else, with that bad-ass beat, that kind of direct sensuality. It was pretty hardball stuff for a band that was three-quarters Los Angeles and one part Detroit.”
Even as a teen, Weiss said, Fieger “was already walking the walk, already looking beyond 9 Mile and Coolidge.
“I don’t know where he got it from, but he was self-educated. guy who went from high school to Hollywood without passing go. He had this passion combined with a blind confidence that he was going to be a star.”