02 April 2014

Gus Backus

American singer and actor Gus Backus (1937) was at 19 a member of the Del-Vikings, and later became virtually the flesh-and-blood embodiment of rock and roll in Germany. Between 1959 and 1965 he also appeared in 25 German light entertainment films.

Dutch postcard, no. 262.

Dutch postcard by Hercules, Haarlem, no. 262.


Gus Backus was born as Donald Edgar Backus in Southampton on Long Island, New York, in 1937. His father, a foreman on a potatoe plantation, called him Gus.

Like millions of other young Americans of the period, Backus discovered rhythm-and-blues and rock and roll during his teens as it got onto the radio. He started writing and playing his own music, under the influence of Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry.

At 14, Gus ran away from home when his parents divorced. In Brooklyn, Gus wanted to become a doctor and he worked as a singing shoe cleaner to pay for his medicine studies.

In 1956, Backus was drafted into the US Air Force, and was stationed in Pittsburgh, PA. There he became the lead singer of the multiracial Doo Wop group The Del-Vikings, and at 19 he scored a #12-hit with Cool shake. The following year Backus was stationed in the German city of Wiesbaden and had to leave The Del-Vikings.

In 1958, while home on leave, he cut a single, My Chick Is Fine b/w You Can't Go It Alone, both songs that he wrote or co-wrote, for the Carlton Records label. At All Music, Bruce Eder loves this song: "My Chick Is Fine is one of the great lost classics of rockabilly, a driving, raunchy, hard-rocking tribute to an idealized object of teenage lust that should have been a signature of the era."

After his compulsory military service was finished he decided to stay and settle in Germany. He married and would have four children. His brother-in-law suggested him to record German language versions of English hits for the German market. His first single, Ab und zu/Now and Then, was a cover of Elvis Presley’s A fool such as I.

That same year he also made his film début, singing a song in Paradies der Matrosen/Paradise for sailors (Harald Reinl, 1959) starring Margit Saad. He also appeared in Mein Schatz, komm mit ans blaue Meer/Come to the Blue Sea, My Dear (Rudolf Schündler, 1959) with Joachim Fuchsberger.

German postcard by ISV, no. K 15, sent by mail in 1964. Photo: E. Schneider.

German postcard by ISV, no. K 18. Photo: E. Schneider.

German postcard by ISV, no. K 24. Photo: E. Schneider.

German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/158. Photo: Ufa.


In 1960 Gus Backus had his breakthrough with the single Brauner Bär und weiße Taube/Brown bear and White Doves, a cover of Johnny Preston’s hit Running Bear.

Immediately, he went on with a series of successful follow-ups like Muß i denn and Da sprach der alte Haüptling/And So Spoke the Old Chief. His repertory consisted of German language covers of great hits but also of new songs, mainly Schlagers.

He continued to make Schlagerfilms like ...und du, mein Schatz, bleibst hier/And You, My Dear, Stay Here (Franz Antel, 1961) with Vivi Bach, and Unsere tollen Tanten/Our Awesome Aunts (Rolf Olsen, 1961) with Gunther Philipp.

He had his first #1-hit in Germany in 1961 with Der Mann im Mond/The Man in the Moon. Till 1963 followed such Top 10 hits like Sauerkraut-Polka, No Bier, no Wein, no Schnaps, Linda, Das Lied vom Angeln, and Er macht mich krank, der Mondschein an der Donau.

Between 1959 and 1965 Gus Backus appeared in a total of nearly 25 German entertainment films, including Ohne Krimi geht die Mimi nie ins Bett/Mimi Never Goes to Bed Without a Detective (Franz Antel, 1962) starring comedian Heinz Erhardt, Holiday in St. Tropez (Ernst Hofbauer, 1964), and the boring thriller Hotel der toten Gästen/Hotel of the Dead Guests (Eberhard Itzenplitz, 1965) with Karin Dor.

In 1964 the Beat music conquered the German charts and it became harder for Gus to score hits. In 1973 he decided to return to the USA and went to work as a foreman in the Texan oil fields.

In the 1980s he returned to Germany to surf the Oldies wave of that period. He settled with his family in München (Munich), where he still lives today. Gus Backus now performs his old hits with the group Teddy und die Lollipops.

Gus Backus sings Da sprach der alte Häuptling der Indianer (Then the old chief of the Indians spoke). Scene from Schön ist die Liebe am Königssee/Beautiful is the love in Koenigssee (Hans Albin, 1961). Source: The Barneys Place (YouTube).

Gus Backus sings Der Mann im Mond (The Man in the Moon). Scene from Schlagerrevue 1962/Schlager Revue 1962 (Thomas Engel, 1961). Source: Fritz51464 (YouTube).

Sources: Bruce Eder (AllMusic), Wikipedia (Dutch), and IMDb. See also: www.gusbackus.de/ (German).


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