The unheralded musical career of the star of The Champions and General Hospital.
If you’re in the UK and have been enjoying re-runs of Sixties fantasy-espionage romp The Champions lately, then you’ll be familiar with Stuart Damon, the Action Man lookalike American star of the series. If you are American, you might well know him as the star of long-running soap General Hospital, which he appeared in – one way or another – from 1977 to 2008. Damon, who died in June 2021, had a solid career as a television action – after moving to the UK in the mid-Sixties, he guested in various British TV shows alongside his work in The Champions – Thriller, The Saint and The New Avengers amongst them – and briefly had a lead role in The Adventurer until the main star Gene Barry had him booted from the series because of his height; at over six feet, he made the rather short Barry feel self-conscious. He would return to his home country in 1977 and begin the long soap role that dominated the rest of his career.
The Champions lasted for thirty episodes between 1968 and 1969 and made Damon a big enough star to allow him the opportunity to flex his creative muscles in the recording studio. the rather awkwardly titled Stuart “Champion” Damon was released in 1970 by Reflection Records, an eccentric indie that had started life as a CBS offshoot before taking control of its own destiny the same year that this album was released – part of a curious collection of prog, folk and rock that fizzled out in 1971.
Damon’s album is distinctly of the easy-listening variety, with the emphasis on rather theatrical cabaret versions of hits by the Beatles (The Long and Winding Road) and Ray Stevens (Everything is Beautiful). It’s remarkably unremarkable, Damon’s renditions of the songs stripping them of any sense of individuality in the way that most MOR singers of the era did. It’s an efficient but unadventurous recording aimed at the middle-aged rather than swinging youth. This is no surprise, as Damon had a history in musical theatre – he’d already appeared on stage and on the soundtrack albums for The Boys of Syracuse, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Charlie Girl in the mid-Sixties. Musical theatre was, it seems, in his blood.
His mainstream acting success perhaps bit into his musical career, but he was performing a few years later, as this frankly astonishing clip from the staggeringly, bafflingly popular Saturday night show The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club reveals. Life really was very different in 1974.
And in 1975, Damon recorded another album, this time a curious affair for BBC Records. Teaming with Ken Moule and his Orchestra, Damon took on the persona of famous 1930s crooner Al Bowlly for what might now be seen as a tribute album, The Impressions of Al Bowlly (‘impressions having a dual meaning here of course).
His return to America and the demands of soap opera production schedules seems to have put an end to Damon’s musical ambitions – though you can never say never, and here he is – as Alan Quartermaine (someone had a sense of humour on these shows, clearly) performing songs from Cinderella in a 1997 episode of General Hospital.
Damon’s musical career is oddly overlooked now – you’ll barely see a mention of it anywhere. However, Stuart “Champion” Damon has been reissued, albeit only in digital format, and you can buy it here.
As a bonus, here is Damon introducing The Champions – “a very different and exciting hour of entertainment” – to new viewers.
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