Born: October 12, 1948;

Died: January 14, 2020.

STEVE Martin Caro, who has died aged 71, was a Spanish-American rock singer and songwriter who was best-known as the lead singer of the baroque-styled psychedelic rock group, The Left Banke, who emerged from California in the mid-1960s and had two major US hits in 1966 with Walk Away Renée and Pretty Ballerina.

In particular, Walk Away Renée has become an enduring staple of the pop canon, its sweet but nostalgic tone conjuring the perfect sentiment and mood for the physical separation of lovers, as the subject of the song chooses not to walk after the woman to whom he has just said farewell.

The song has been covered many times, notably by the Four Tops, Rickie Lee Jones, Rick Price, Frankie Valli, Vonda Shepard and Linda Ronstadt.

On the Left Banke original, the vocal part by Caro, who went by just Steve Martin at the time, was at the centre of the song’s success, a cool but winsome sound that matched a group who would dress in dandyish ruffs and put strings at the heart of their music, playing up to the ‘baroque’ label attached to them.

In later years, Stuart Murdoch of Glasgow’s Belle & Sebastian cited the Left Banke among key influences upon the band, which also included the Zombies and Arthur Lee’s Love.

“If you wanted an inspirational blueprint for early Belle & Sebastian records then the Left Banke is quite a good starting place,” Murdoch once told Reader’s Digest.

Walk Away Renée reached the Billboard top five upon its release in the summer of 1966 and was placed at number 222 in Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ list in 2004. The Left Banke’s version was not a hit in the UK, however; the recording known here is the Four Tops’ 1967 cover, which reached the UK singles chart top three, although it wasn’t as big a success in the US as the original had been.

In direct contrast to the phenomenal triumph of their debut single, the Left Banke stumbled badly when 1966 was over. The subsequent release of the Left Banke’s debut LP, Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina in early 1967 was not a success, with the title offering a suggestion as to how much it was designed to cash in on initial success; only Caro and bandmate Michael Brown (who wrote Walk Away Renée) were ever-present on it.

Partly caused by Brown’s abortive attempt to take an all-new line-up (which included future This is Spinal Tap actor Michael McKean) out on tour, a slow-motion fracture occurred over the remainder of the decade. Tentative recording sessions in 1978 were released in 1986 as the unheralded third album, Strangers on a Train.

Carmelo Esteban ‘Steve’ Martin Caro was born in Madrid in 1948 to the famed flamenco guitarist Sarita Heredia and Pedro Martin Caro; his father’s work took the family to New York when Martin was a teen, where the future singer met his later bandmate Tom Finn on the streets of the East Village. “Steve is a born winner,” said Finn in a later interview . “He’s a great talent… but he doesn’t dig publicity. He could quit right now and run off and get his pick of a hundred millionaire countesses on the Riviera. He’s that kind of a guy.”

“Looking back, the Left Banke was only a positive experience for a few months,” wrote Caro in the mid-1980s, by which time he had adopted his second surname so as not to be confused with the comedian Steve Martin. “Mostly it was negatives – bad management, bad vibes. The initial talent was there on my part, I gave it all I had.” In 2018 he was planning to return to the stage with fellow Left Banke founder George Cameron, but Cameron’s death soon after ended these plans.

David Pollock