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SIXTIES country singer Houston Wells has died at the age of 73 after a long battle with cancer.

The former Wickford singer was best known for his recordings with the band, Houston Wells and the Marksmen.

They performed locally in venues such as the Cricketers in Westcliff, the Elms in Leigh, and the Oysterfleet on Canvey and also toured at the height of his success.

The band enjoyed chart success in the early Sixties and Wells was often referred to as the UK’s first professional country musician.

He later emigrated to New Zealand, where he lived on the shores of Lake Taupo until his death last Saturday.

Chris Jones, 64, of Hollytree Gardens, Rayleigh, remained in regular contact with Wells via email and paid tribute to him.

He said: “He had a great sense of humour, and I gather he was a big family man.

“He came across as a lovely, honest, genuine guy and was always happy to talk. It was interesting to speak with him because of his local connections.

“I went to the road where he lived and took some pictures to send over, which was fascinating for him with him in New Zealand.”

Wells – real name Andrew Smith – was born in Northumberland, and after working in Canada in his teenage years, returned to England and settled in Grange Road, Wickford.

He joined local country band, the Coasters – musicians Pete Willsher, Brian Gill, Norman Hull and Peter Nye – and renamed the group Andy Smith and the Coasters.

The band soon changed their name again to avoid confusion with the American vocal group of the same name, becoming the Marksmen. They were signed to the same label as the Beatles, Parlophone, which decided the singer needed a snazzier name, christening him Houston Wells.

The group worked with renowned record producer Joe Meek, and their third single, Only the H e a r t a c h e s made it into the UK singles Top 30 in August 1963. The band also enjoyed Top Ten hits in Ireland. Wells later went on to record with a new band, the Premier Aces.

He emigrated in 1974 and released his final album, Then & Now: From Joe Meek To New Zealand, also featuring his son, Tim Smith, in March 2008.