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Johnny Halliday 12/2017

December 5, 2017 – Johnny Halliday was born Jean-Philippe Léo Smet on June 15, 1943 in Paris. His father was Belgian and his mother French. took his stage name from A cousin-in-law from Oklahoma, USA who performed as Lee Halliday called Smet “Johnny” and became a father figure, introducing him to American music. And the name Johnny Halliday was born. Continue reading Johnny Halliday 12/2017

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Fats Domino 10/2017

October 24, 20017 – Antoine Dominique Fats Domino was born on February 26, 1928 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the youngest of eight in a Louisiana Creole family. At age 9, he started to learn piano, taught by his brother-in-law, jazz guitarist Harrison Verrett. By age 14, Domino was performing in New Orleans bars. Continue reading Fats Domino 10/2017

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Gord Downie 10/2017

October 17, 2017 – Gord Downie was born February 6, 1964 in Amherstview, Ontario, and raised in Kingston, Ontario, along with his two brothers Mike and Patrick. He was the son of Lorna (Neal) and Edgar Charles Downie, a traveling salesman. In Kingston, he befriended the musicians who would become The Tragically Hip, while attending the downtown Kingston high school Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute.

Downie formed the Tragically Hip with Rob Baker, Johnny Fay, Davis Manning, and Gord Sinclair in 1983. Saxophone player Davis Manning left the band and guitarist Paul Langlois joined in 1986. Originally, the band started off playing cover songs in bars and quickly became famous once MCA Records president Bruce Dickinson saw them performing at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto and offered them a record deal. Continue reading Gord Downie 10/2017

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Tom Petty 10/2017

tom petty and the heart breakers front manOctober 2, 2017 – Tom Petty was born on October 20, 1950 in Gainesville Florida. Growing up in the town that houses the University of Florida, music became the young Petty’s refuge from a domineering, abusive father who despised Tom’s sensitivity and creative tendencies—but would later glom on to his son’s rock-star fame for status. Continue reading Tom Petty 10/2017

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Holger Czukay 9/2017

September 5, 2017 – Holger Czukay was born on March 24, 1938 in the Free City of Danzig (since 1945 Gdańsk, Poland), from which his family was expelled after World War II. Due to the turmoil of the war, Czukay’s primary education was limited. One pivotal early experience, however, was working, when still a teenager, at a radio repair-shop, where he became fond of the aural qualities of radio broadcasts (anticipating his use of shortwave radio broadcasts as musical elements) and became familiar with the rudiments of electrical repair and engineering.

Czukay studied music under Karlheinz Stockhausen from 1963 to 1966 and then worked for a while as a music teacher. Initially Czukay had little interest in rock music, but this changed, when a student played him the Beatles’ 1967 song “I Am the Walrus”, a 1967 psychedelic rock single with an unusual musical structure and blasts of AM radio noise. This opened his ears to music by rock experimentalists such as The Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa. Continue reading Holger Czukay 9/2017

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Walter Becker 9/2017

WALTER BECKER OF STEELY DANSeptember 3, 2017 – Walter Becker (Steely Dan) was born February 20, 1950 in Queens, New York. Becker was raised by his father and grandmother, after his parents separated when he was a young boy and his mother, who was British, moved back to England. They lived in Queens and as of the age of five in Scarsdale, New York. Becker’s father sold paper-cutting machinery for a company which had offices in Manhattan. Continue reading Walter Becker 9/2017

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Sonny Burgess 8/2017

August 28, 2017 – Sonny Burgess was born Albert Austin Burgess on May 28, 1929 on a farm near Newport, Arkansas to Albert and Esta Burgess. He graduated from Newport High School in 1948.

Burgess, Kern Kennedy, Johnny Ray Hubbard, and Gerald Jackson formed a boogie-woogie band they called the Rocky Road Ramblers and played boogie woogie music in dance halls and bars around Newport.

In 1954, following a stint in the US Army (1951–53), Burgess re-formed the band, calling them the Moonlighters after the Silver Moon Club in Newport, where they performed regularly. After advice from record producer Sam Phillips, the group expanded to form the Pacers. Continue reading Sonny Burgess 8/2017

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Gregg Allman 5/2017

gregg allman passes from liver cancerMay 27, 2017 – Gregory LeNoir “Gregg” Allman was born December 8th, 1947 in Nashville, TN, a little more than a year after his older brother Duane. In 1949, his dad offered a hitchhiker a ride home and was subsequently shot and killed. After that tragedy his mother Geraldine moved to Nashville with her two sons, and she never remarried. Lacking money to support her two sons, she enrolled in college to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). State laws at the time required students to live on-campus and as a consequence, Gregg and his older brother Duane were sent to Castle Heights Military Academy in nearby Lebanon. A young Gregg interpreted these actions as evidence of his mother’s dislike for him, though he later came to understand the reality: “She was actually sacrificing everything she possibly could—she was working around the clock, getting by just by a hair, so as to not send us to an orphanage, which would have been a living hell.” Continue reading Gregg Allman 5/2017

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Chris Cornell 5/2017

frontman Chris CornellMay 17, 2017 – Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) was born Christopher John Boyle on July 20, 1964 in Seattle, Washington, where he was also raised. He was the fourth of six children. His father, Ed, was a pharmacist; his mother, Karen, was an accountant. Cornell was a loner; he tried to deal with his anxiety around other people through rock music but during his early teenage years, he spiraled into severe depression and almost never left the house. His first favorite band were the Beatles. A noteworthy rumor later was that Cornell spent a two-year period between the ages of nine and eleven solidly listening to the Beatles after finding a large collection of Beatles records abandoned in the basement of a neighbor’s house. Continue reading Chris Cornell 5/2017

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Col. Bruce Hampton 5/2017

May 1, 2018 – Bruce Hampton (born Gustav Valentine Berglund III was born on April 30, 1947 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Hampton first popped onto the music scene in 1967s, fronting the avant garde, Delta blues-influenced Hampton Grease Band in Atlanta Georgia. The band became a staple on the infamous Peachtree Street Strip, which rivaled Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco as a hippie hub. The Grease Band soon became known for its over-the-top performances. A good portion of this came from Hampton himself, who liberally broke rules with boundary-pushing sensibilities years before punk rock and Andy Kaufman. Continue reading Col. Bruce Hampton 5/2017

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Paul O’Neill 4/2017

Paul o'Neill, the man behind the TSOApril 5, 2017 – Paul O’Neill (Trans Siberian Orchestra) was born in Flushing, Queens, New York City on February 23,  1956.

The second born child in a household with ten children he was raised in a home filled with art and literature. “Back then, in the 60s, it was OK to be smart and artistic,” he said. “I loved books. I loved music. I loved Broadway — and I had it right down the street, y’know? It really was a special, magical time.” He learned to play guitar and became a rock fan and began playing guitar with a number of rock bands in high school and quickly graduated to folk guitar gigs at downtown clubs. Continue reading Paul O’Neill 4/2017

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Chuck Berry 3/2017

chuck berry rock and roll legendMarch 18, 2017 – Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry was born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis Missouri. Chuck was the fourth child in a family of six. He grew up in the north St. Louis neighborhood known as The Ville, an area where many middle-class people lived at the time. His father, Henry, was a contractor and deacon of a nearby Baptist church; his mother, Martha, was a certified public school principal. His upbringing allowed him to pursue his interest in music from an early age. Continue reading Chuck Berry 3/2017

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Valerie Carter 3/2017

Valerie Carter, the muse of our generationMarch 4, 2017 – Valerie Carter was born on February 5, 1953 in Winterhaven, near Orlando, Florida.

Being an “army brat” she moved between many cities in her young years. Her first break in music came while living with her family in Tucson, where she joined a band fronted by Gretchen Ronstadt, sister of Linda Ronstadt.

Next she was off to New York City where she formed the folk band Howdy Moon. They headed to California, released a self-titled album in 1974 and regularly played at the West Hollywood rock club, the Troubadour.

In the early 1970s in Los Angeles, she became known as a songwriter, penning tunes such as Cook With Honey for Judy Collins and Love Needs a Heart for Jackson Browne, who was introduced to her by Lowell George of Little Feat fame.

And here I have to stop and make a confession. Continue reading Valerie Carter 3/2017

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Al Jarreau 2/2017

Al Jarreau, vocalist extra ordinaireFebruary 12, 2017 – Al Jarreau was born Alwin Lopez Jarreau on March 12, 1940 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the fifth in a family of 6 children.

His father was a Seventh-day Adventist Church minister and singer, and his mother was a church pianist. Jarreau and his family sang together in church concerts and in benefits, and he and his mother performed at PTA meetings.

Jarreau went on to attend Ripon College, where he also sang with a group called the Indigos. He graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science in psychology. Two years later, in 1964, he earned a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa. Moving to San Franciso during the 1967 summer of love, Jarreau worked as a rehabilitation counselor and moonlighted with a jazz trio headed by George Duke. In San Francisco, Al’s natural musical gifts began to shape his future and by the late 60s, he knew without a doubt that he would make singing his life. He joined forces with acoustic guitarist Julio Martinez to “spell” up-and-coming comics John Belushi, Bette Midler, Robert Klein, David Brenner, Jimmie Walker and others at the famed comedy venue, THE IMPROV and soon the duo became the star attraction at a small Sausalito night club called Gatsby’s. This success contributed to Jarreau’s decision to make professional singing his life and full-time career. Continue reading Al Jarreau 2/2017

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David Axelrod 2/17

Composer David Axe AxelrodFebruary 5, 2017 – David Axelrod was born on April 17, 1931 in Los Angeles, California. His father was active in radical labour union politics who died when he was 13 and he was raised in tumultuous LA’s South Central Crenshaw neighborhood, where Axelrod’s future musical direction was influenced by the multicultural environment of the mostly black neighborhood.
 
At the time Axelrod’s parents moved into the area, it was changing from a working-class white district south of downtown Los Angeles into an area of predominantly African American stores, businesses, and homes. Even today, Crenshaw remains one of the most notable African-American communities in Los Angeles, with a cultural scene that includes museums devoted to black history and an active political life strengthened by some of the city’s most ardent black activists. During Axelrod’s youth, the Crenshaw district included the main thoroughfare of African-American cultural life in Los Angeles: Central Avenue–a street filled with music clubs, barber shops, beauty parlors, and other institutions of the African-American community. The fact that Axelrod was white did not prevent him from absorbing many of these influences.

Continue reading David Axelrod 2/17

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Deke Leonard 1/2017

Deke Leonard, guitarist for Man and IcebergJanuary 31, 2017 – Deke Leonard (Man) was born Roger Leonard on 18 December 1944 in Llanelli, South Wales in the UK, the son of Winston, a dog breeder, and his wife, Ella. He attended Llanelli boys’ grammar school, where he formed his first band, Lucifer and the Corncrackers, with his cousin Meic Rees (vocals), Geoff Griffiths (drums) and Clive “Wes” Reynolds (bass), in 1962, taking his stage name from “Deke” Rivers, the character played by Elvis Presley in his 1957 movie Loving You. Leonard left school to work as a management trainee for a building contractor, where he quickly left to avoid getting fired. He decided to become a full-time musician or as he later confessed: “”serving a life sentence in the music business”.

The Corncrackers ran their own club, the “L” Club, featuring themselves and booking other Welsh musicians such as such as Tommy Scott (Tom Jones) and the Senators. He went on to play with other Welsh bands, the Jets, Smokeless Zone and the Dream., whilst also playing support to acts such as Johnny Kidd & The Pirates and The Hollies at a rival venue. When Rees left they continued as a trio; Keith Hodge then replaced Griffiths, but when Reynolds left to join the South Wales band The Jets, The Corncrackers broke up. Continue reading Deke Leonard 1/2017

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John Wetton 1/2017

john wetton,, founder of AsiaJanuary 31, 2017 – John Wetton (ASIA) was born on June 12, 1949 in Willington, Derbyshire, and grew up in the coastal city of Bournemouth, Dorset, England.

He first cut his musical teeth on church music at his family’s piano where he often played the bass parts to help his brother rehearse tunes for services….an experience that led to John’s love of the relationship between top line and bass melodies. It stayed a major feature of his music throughout his career. In his teens, John focused those melodies on the bass guitar and honed his skills by playing and singing with local bands. He also discovered a knack for songwriting with an early bandmate, Richard Palmer-James; a relationship that would continue to flourish through five decades.

John’s early work with a variety of bands (Splinter, Mogul Trash and Family) allowed him to show off his impressive bass talents, but did little to showcase his equally impressive singing and songwriting skills. Frustrated, John began to listen a bit closer to the sales pitch of an old friend, Robert Fripp, who set about to reform King Crimson in 1972. Wetton first came to rock fans’ attention when he joined a revamped King Crimson lineup, sticking with the group over a two-year span that included the records Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red. This Crimson core of Wetton, Fripp, and Bill Bruford is often considered the “classic” line-up, releasing three studio albums, that truly stretched the band to its imaginative limits. But after a blistering show in New York’s Central Park in 1974, the band took what was supposed to be a hiatus, but sadly became permanent.

He then served stints with Roxy Music and Uriah Heep before co-founding U.K. with his engine room buddy Bill Bruford, as comments from fans and even the media proved to John that there could still be some life in the Wetton/Bruford rhythm section of King Crimson. A series of phone calls and meetings proved to be all the momentum needed in getting U.K. off the ground.

The line-up of Wetton, Bruford, Eddie Jobson, and guitar phenomenon Allan Holdsworth delivered a potent mix of jazzy fusion and progressive pop that brought great success, but also division in the band. After one album, Bruford and Holdsworth were out, and drummer Terry Bozzio in. This trio delivered one studio album and one live album before a demise similar to King Crimson….a hiatus that turned permanent.

At this point, John decided to turn his attentions to a solo career and entered the studio to record “Caught in the Crossfire,” an album that, in hindsight, shows a logical bridge from the music of U.K. to the eventual music of Asia. While most Wetton fans are now familiar with “Caught in the Crossfire,” not many people heard it in 1980. E.G. Records failed to give it the necessary promotion; a move EG blamed on John’s advancing age. He was 31 at the time…

Feeling it was time to clean house, John parted ways with his old management, publisher, and record company, and joined forces with Brian Lane, who had just ended a successful run with Yes. John had already started working with Atlantic Records’ A&R man John Kalodner, Kalodner was moving to the newly-formed Geffen Records, and wanted to assemble a group that would unleash a new sound across the musical landscape while preserving the finest elements of progressive rock. He found his dream line-up with Wetton, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer drummer, Carl Palmer. Together they formed Asia — a so-called progressive rock supergroup, whose self-titled debut album topped the charts in the U.S. on its way to more than eight million in worldwide copy sales and the title of Billboard magazine’s No. 1 album of 1982.

This “fab four” of progressive pop would rule radio and record sales for a scant year and a half before losing Wetton in an unceremonious shake-up just weeks before MTV’s heavily-promoted Asia in Asia concert broadcast. (Wetton was fired from Asia at the insistence of Geffen Records, ostensibly because of less-than-expected sales of the Alpha (1983) album). Wetton was brought back to Asia in 1985, with Mandy Meyer replacing Steve Howe on lead guitar, to complete Astra (1985). The album showcased a few Wetton/Downes classics such as “Rock and Roll Dream” and “Go,” but the die had been cast, and the record company’s confidence translated into lack of promotion; loss of momentum equalled lost sales and a waning interest and Asia ultimately disbanded following 1985’s little-heard Astra LP.

By the end of the ‘80s however, interest in Asia reignited in Europe. John, who had been collaborating with ex-Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, rejoined Carl Palmer, and eventually Geoff Downes, for a series of ASIA concerts that proved successful, but left John empty. To him, Asia was sounding tired and he was ready for a break. Further enticing him was a solo deal with Virgin Records. So, after wrapping up a South American tour in 1991, John temporarily bid adieu to Asia…at least that’s what he thought. (The word Hiatus was not used this time).

With renewed energy, John moved to California to focus on his solo career and began work on his “Voice Mail” album, the first album to really show off his talents for emotional, autobiographical material. Two songs from the album, “Hold Me Now” and “Battle Lines,” have become classics among Wetton fans. In fact, “Battle Lines” eventually replaced “Voice Mail” as the album’s title when British producer Bob Carruthers selected it as the theme for his film “Chasing the Deer.” To promote the album, John embarked on his first solo tour and later released a live CD called “Akustika.”

Returning to the studio in the mid 90s, John contributed tracks to tribute albums featuring the works of Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Genesis. He furthered the link to Genesis by signing on with Steve Hackett for his “Genesis Revisited” project, which culminated in several highly successful live performances in Japan.

Continued autobiographical songwriting led to 1997’s “Arkangel” album, an emotionally gritty album that would add more staples (“Arkangel,” “Emma”) to John’s live solo performances. 2000’s “Sinister” album, also entitled “Welcome to Heaven,” finished the trilogy of solo offerings. He further promoted these albums with extensive tours of Europe, Japan, and South America.

Despite being left off the tour schedule, American fans had plenty to celebrate in 2002 with the first-ever John Wetton Fan Convention in suburban Allentown, PA. Hundreds filled a local venue to spend a weekend with John, his band, and Geoff Downes, who joined John for a gala Saturday night concert which marked the first time the two had shared a stage in more than ten years.

Fans delighted in a resurgence of the Wetton/Downes team when John returned to the studio to begin work on 2003’s “Rock of Faith.” Two new songs written by John and Geoff (“I’ve Come to Take You Home” and “I Lay Down”) created a buzz among fans hoping for an eventual reunion of the original Asia line-up. That buzz roared in 2005 with the release of “iCon,” an album of original music by Wetton and Downes that the duo followed with a number of live shows. Fans cheered the fact that Wetton sounded as good in person, if not better, than he did during the heyday of Asia.

With Wetton at the top of his game once again, imagine what it would sound like if Downes, Howe, and Palmer all joined in! It indeed happened in early 2006, as the four musicians responsible for Billboard’s Number One Album of 1982 sat down in a London hotel and began the groundwork for a worldwide reunion tour. After a media blitz across the US, the tour kicked off in Rochester, NY in August of 2006. Fans quickly snapped up tickets as more and more dates were added.

Several months into the reunion tour, Asia and its fans were stunned to learn that John Wetton needed emergency heart surgery. During his hospital stay in London, worried fans flooded the switchboard with calls about his progress. Thankfully, John made a remarkably quick recovery and, after a few short weeks of resting at home, Asia returned to the road.

I accept the fact that I might not be here tomorrow, but having said that, having come through it you feel great,” Wetton said after his heart surgery. “It gave me a completely new outlook on life, that it could all end tonight while I’m asleep, so let’s make the most of today. Let’s make the most of now.”

During this same time, John and Geoff released the second of their iCon albums, “Rubicon.” The historical meaning of the title was not lost on the musicians or their fans, as the songs reflected John and Geoff’s personal and professional decisions to sever restrictive ties of the past and forge a positive new outlook. As Asia set out on a much-anticipated second year of touring, fans demanded more. They wanted to hear what would happen if Wetton, Downes, Howe and Palmer sat down in a studio and created a new album. Fans got their wish as the band retreated to the studios at Liscombe Park and got to work on “Phoenix.” The appropriately titled project was an incredibly balanced one, fully showcasing the writing and playing of each band member. John’s thoughtful reflections on his health crisis and his healthy resurgence colored many of the lyrics on the album.

Asia wrapped up months of touring in the spring of 2008 with a series of shows in Eastern Europe, leaving John and Geoff with time to craft their third iCon album. The Phoenix tour resulted in the Live CD/DVD “Spirit of the Night”. A track from that album, An Extraordinary Life, was also selected as the theme to America’s Got Talent.

The band’s success continued with the recording of the second album of their reunion, Omega. The subsequent World Tour resulted in the release of “Resonance” which captured a live performance in Switzerland.

Wetton returned to his solo career in 2011 to record Raised in Captivity, an album of new compositions with Billy Sherwood. A band was formed to tour the UK and Japan, playing music from the new album and a career spanning back catalogue. Wetton’s other ventures during this period included the reunion of UK with Eddie Jobson and guest appearances for Cleopatra Records.

In 2012, ASIA returned to the studio to record XXX, proving that a reunion can last longer than first time around. The album cover shows the ASIA dragon 30 years later and was supported by another World Tour, taking in America, Europe and Japan.

In 2013, Steve Howe announced he was leaving ASIA and Wetton was instrumental in selecting new guitarist, Sam Coulson, to join the band. The band planned to record a new studio album, Valkyrie, which was released as Gravitas in 2014.

In 2016 Wetton went public with his colon cancer diagnosis, which forced him to pull out of Asia’s scheduled tour dates with Journey so he could undergo chemotherapy, which sadly did not turn out to heal him.

John Wetton, the bassist and singer for Asia, as well as a former member of King Crimson and U.K., died on January 31, 2017 at the age of 67, after a battle with colon cancer.

“With the passing of my good friend and musical collaborator, John Wetton, the world loses yet another musical giant,” wrote Asia drummer Carl Palmer in a statement. “John was a gentle person who created some of the most lasting melodies and lyrics in modern popular music. As a musician, he was both brave and innovative, with a voice that took the music of Asia to the top of the charts around the world. His ability to triumph over alcohol abuse made him an inspiration to many who have also fought that battle. For those of us who knew him and worked with him, his valiant struggle against cancer was a further inspiration. I will miss his talent, his sense of humor and his infectious smile.

May you ride easy, my old friend.”

“He will be remembered as one of the world’s finest musical talents, and I for one of many was wholly blessed by his influence,” added Downes in a lengthy post. “It was a massive privilege for me to have worked with this genius so closely on our numerous projects together over the years. His bass playing was revolutionary. His voice was from the gods. His compositions — out of this world. His sense of melody and harmony — unreal. He was literally a ‘special one.'”

In the short term, Wetton is scheduled to be replaced for the Journey tour by Yes veteran Billy Sherwood; over the long term, Downes has signaled a determination to continue Asia in honor of his longtime partner. “It is the end of an era for all of us,” he wrote. “But we will soldier on — the music of John Wetton needs to be heard loud and clear from the rooftops.”

ASIA

AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE
AN INTERACTIVE CELEBRATION
OF THE LIFE & MUSIC OF JOHN WETTON
JUNE 17, 2017 AT THE BERGEN PERFORMING ARTS CENTER

ASIA and their fans will pay tribute in a special concert to the late singer / songwriter, John Wetton, who spearheaded the legendary British band. The event is called “An Extraordinary Life” and will be a fully interactive celebration whereby fans can contribute to the remembrances of the acclaimed musician. It will be held on Saturday, June 17th at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, NJ.

John Wetton, who was the lead vocalist, bassist and co-writer with the iconic group, lost his brave fight against cancer on 31st January 2017, just as the band was about to embark on a four month tour as special guests of Journey, recreating the days when both bands were world best sellers.

“An Extraordinary Life”, a reference to one of the band’s most popular songs, will pay tribute to John. Special guest Billy Sherwood of YES is filling in as bassist and vocalist. Also appearing will be current ASIA members Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes, and Sam Coulson. The group will do a full set of ASIA music, as well as some of the best loved songs from the members’ previous super-groups, bands such as King Crimson; YES; The Buggles; and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

In addition to the ASIA performance, the evening will be highlighted with rare video clips of John and the band, historical footage and fan remembrances of John and his music. ASIA fans will be encouraged to send in written or video accounts of their love of the music and the man behind much of it. Still photos of fans with John are also welcomed and will be projected onto the screen. Fans who send media to the band in advance will be balloted to share memories on the evening.

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Leonard
Cohen
11/2016

leonard-cohen-marianne-ihlenNovember 7, 2016 – Leonard Norman Cohen was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on September 21, 1934 and raised in the English-speaking Westmount area. His father, who had a clothing store passed away when Leonard was 9.

In high school he was involved with the student council and studied music and poetry. He became especially interested in the poetry of Federico García Lorca, after whom he named his daughter (Lorca) with artist/photographer Suzanne Elrod.

Even though poetry and writing were his first interests, he learned to play the guitar as a teenager and formed a country–folk group called The Buckskin Boys. Although he initially played a regular acoustic guitar, he soon switched to playing a classical guitar after meeting a young Spanish flamenco guitar player who taught him “a few chords and some flamenco.”

In High School he was involved with the student council and studied music and poetry. He became especially interested in the poetry of Federico García Lorca. As a teenager, he learned to play the guitar and formed a country–folk group called The Buckskin Boys. Although he initially played a regular acoustic guitar, he soon switched to playing a classical guitar after meeting a young Spanish flamenco guitar player who taught him “a few chords and some flamenco.”

His first published book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), was published by Dudek as the first book in the McGill Poetry Series the year after Cohen’s graduation. The book contained poems written largely when Cohen was between the ages of 15 and 20, and Cohen dedicated the book to his late father.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Cohen spent a term in McGill’s law school and then a year (1956–57) at the School of General Studies at Columbia University in New York. Cohen described his graduate school experience as “passion without flesh, love without climax.” Consequently, Cohen left New York and returned to Montreal in 1957, working various odd jobs and focusing on the writing of fiction and poetry, including the poems for his next book, The Spice-Box of Earth (1961), which was the first book that Cohen published through the Canadian publishing company McClelland & Stewart.

His father’s will provided him with a modest trust income, sufficient to allow him to pursue his literary ambitions for the time, and The Spice-Box of Earth was successful in helping to expand the audience for Cohen’s poetry, helping him reach out to the poetry scene in Canada, outside the confines of McGill University. The book also helped Cohen gain critical recognition as an important new voice in Canadian poetry. One of Cohen’s biographers, Ira Nadel, stated that “reaction to the finished book was enthusiastic and admiring…. The critic Robert Weaver found it powerful and declared that Cohen was ‘probably the best young poet in English Canada right now.'”

Cohen continued to write poetry and fiction throughout much of the 1960s and preferred to live in quasi-reclusive circumstances after he bought a house on Hydra, a Greek island in the Saronic Gulf, with a thriving Bohemian expat community of writers, musicians and artists. While living and writing on Hydra, Cohen published the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964), and the novels The Favorite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). His novel The Favorite Game was an autobiographical bildungs (development)roman about a young man who discovers his identity through writing. Beautiful Losers received a good deal of attention from the Canadian press and stirred up controversy because of a number of sexually graphic passages. In 1966 Cohen also published Parasites of Heaven, a book of poems. Both Beautiful Losers and Parasites of Heaven received mixed reviews and sold few copies. Yet at this time Cohen’s life turned massively after meeting and falling in love with Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen on the island of Hydra, the immortal source of his famous song “So Long Marianne.”

In 1967, disappointed with his lack of financial success as a writer, Cohen moved to the small town of Leiper’s Fork, just south of Nashville Tennessee to pursue a career as a folk music singer–songwriter. Subsequently, Cohen published less, with major gaps, concentrating more on recording songs.  During the mid 1960s, he was a fringe figure in Andy Warhol’s “Factory” crowd. Warhol speculated that Cohen had spent time listening to Nico and Velvet Underground in clubs around New York and that this had influenced his musical style. His song “Suzanne” – with slight reflections of a friend’s ex-wife Suzanne Verdal, became a hit for Judy Collins (who subsequently covered a number of Cohen’s other songs, as well), and was for many years his most covered song. Cohen has stated in later years that he was duped into giving up the rights for the song, but was glad it happened, as it would be wrong to write a song that was so well-loved and to get rich for it also.

His first album in 1967, the self titled “Songs of Leonard Cohen” became a worldwide hit and turned him into an instant “rockstar”. The album became a cult favorite in the U.S., as well as in the UK and Western Europe, where it spent over a year on the album charts. Several of the songs on that first album were covered by other popular folk artists, including James Taylor and Judy Collins. Both the first and the second album had songs written on the island of Hydra and inspired by his love for Marianne Ihlen. (So Long Marianne, Bird on a Wire etc.)

Cohen became one of the most fascinating and enigmatic — if not the most successful — singer/songwriters of the late ’60s, who retained an global audience across six decades of music-making, interrupted by various digressions into personal and creative exploration, all of which have only added to the mystique surrounding him. If at all, second only to Bob Dylan and forming a triumvirate of Hebrew children with Paul Simon, he commanded the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the ’60s who was still working in the 21st century, all the more remarkable an achievement for someone who didn’t even aspire to a musical career until he was in his thirties.

Cohen was born a year before Elvis Presley, and his background — personal, social, and intellectual — couldn’t have been more different from those of the rock or folk stars of any generation. Though he knew some country music and played it a bit as a boy, he didn’t start performing on even a semi-regular basis, much less recording, until after he had already written several books — and as an established novelist and poet, his literary accomplishments far exceed those of Bob Dylan or most anyone else who one cares to mention in music.

It was his mother who encouraged Cohen as a writer, especially of poetry, during his childhood. This fit in with the progressive intellectual environment in which he was raised, which allowed him free inquiry into a vast range of pursuits. His relationship to music was more tentative. He took up the guitar at age 13, initially as a way to impress a girl, but was good enough to play country & western songs at local cafés, and he subsequently formed a group called the Buckskin Boys. At 17, he enrolled in McGill University as an English major. By this time, he was writing poetry in earnest and became part of the university’s tiny underground “bohemian” community. Cohen only earned average grades, but was good enough as a writer to earn the McNaughton Prize in creative writing by the time he graduated in 1955. A year later, the ink barely dry on his degree, he published his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), which got great reviews but didn’t sell especially well.

He was already beyond the age that rock & roll was aimed at. Bob Dylan, by contrast, was still Robert Zimmerman, still in his teens, and young enough to become a devotee of Buddy Holly when the latter emerged. So was Paul Simon. In 1961, Cohen published his second book of poetry, The Spice Box of Earth, which became an international success, critically and commercially, and established Cohen as a major new literary figure. Meanwhile, he tried to join the family business and spent some time at Columbia University in New York, writing all the time.

Between the modest royalties from sales of his second book, literary grants from the Canadian government, and a family legacy, he was able to live comfortably and travel around the world, partaking of much of what it had to offer — including some use of LSD when it was still legal — and ultimately settling for an extended period in Greece, on the isle of Hydra in the Aegean Sea. He continued to publish, issuing a pair of novels, The Favorite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), with a pair of poetry collections, Flowers for Hitler (1964) and Parasites of Heaven (1966). The Favorite Game was a very personal work about his early life in Montreal, but it was Beautiful Losers that proved another breakthrough, earning the kind of reviews that authors dare not even hope for. (Cohen found himself compared to James Joyce in the pages of The Boston Globe, and across the years, the book has enjoyed sales totaling well into six figures.)

It was around this time that he also started writing music again, songs being a natural extension of his poetry. His relative isolation on Hydra, coupled with his highly mobile lifestyle when he left the island, his own natural iconoclastic nature, and the fact that he’d avoided being overwhelmed (or even touched too seriously) by the currents running through popular music since the ’40s, combined to give Cohen a unique voice as a composer.

Though he did settle in Leiper’s Fork south of Nashville for a short time in the mid-’60s, he didn’t write quite like anyone else in the country music mecca or anywhere else. This might have been an impediment, but for the intervention of Judy Collins, a folksinger who had just moved to the front rank of that field. Collins had a voice just special enough to move her beyond the relatively emaciated ranks of remaining popular folk performers after Dylan shifted to electric music; she was still getting heard, and not just by the purists left behind in Dylan’s wake.

She added Cohen’s “Suzanne” to her repertoire and put it on her album In My Life, a record that was controversial enough in folk circles (because of her cover of the Beatles song that gave the LP its title) to pull in a lot of listeners and get a wide airing. The LP’s “Suzanne” received a considerable amount of radio airplay, and Cohen was also represented on the album by “Dress Rehearsal Rag.”

Songs of Leonard Cohen

It was Collins who persuaded Cohen to return to performing for the first time since his teens. He made his debut during the summer of 1967 at the Newport Folk Festival, followed by a pair of sold-out concerts in New York City and an appearance singing his songs and reciting his poems on the CBS network television show Camera Three, in a show entitled “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen.” It was around the same time that actor/singer Noel Harrison brought “Suzanne” onto the pop charts with a recording of his own. One of those who saw Cohen perform at Newport was John Hammond, Sr., the legendary producer whose career went back to the ’30s and the likes of Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie, and extended up through Bob Dylan and, ultimately, to Bruce Springsteen. Hammond got Cohen signed to Columbia Records and he created The Songs of Leonard Cohen, which was released just before Christmas of 1967.

Producer John Simon was able to find a restrained yet appealing approach to recording Cohen’s voice, which might have been described as an appealingly sensitive near-monotone; yet that voice was perfectly suited to the material at hand, all of which, written in a very personal language, seemed drenched in downbeat images and a spirit of discovery as a path to unsettling revelation. Someone called it: Music to slit your wrist by.
Despite its spare production and melancholy subject matter — or, very possibly because of it — the album was an immediate hit by the standards of the folk music world and the budding singer/songwriter community. In an era in which millions of listeners hung on the next albums of Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel — whose own latest album had ended with a minor-key rendition of “Silent Night” set against a radio news account of the death of Lenny Bruce – Cohen’s music quickly found a small but dedicated following. College students by the thousands bought it; in its second year of release, the record sold over 100,000 copies. The Songs of Leonard Cohen was as close as Cohen ever got to mass audience success.

Amid all of this sudden musical activity, he lightly neglected his other writing — but in 1968, he released a new volume, Selected Poems: 1956-1968, which included both old and newly published work, and earned him the Governor General’s Award, Canada’s highest literary honor, which he proceeded to decline. By this time, he was actually almost more a part of the rock scene, residing for a time in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, where his neighbors included Janis Joplin and other performing luminaries, some of whom influenced his songs very directly.

Songs from a Room

His next album, Songs from a Room (1969), entirely composed while in Leiper’s Fork, was characterized by an even greater spirit of melancholy — even the relatively spirited “A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes” was steeped in such depressing sensibilities, and the one song not written by Cohen, “The Partisan,” was a grim narrative about the reasons for and consequences of resistance to tyranny that included lines like “She died without a whisper” and included images of wind blowing past graves. Joan Baez subsequently recorded the song, and in her hands it was a bit more upbeat and inspiring to the listener; Cohen’s rendition made it much more difficult to get past the costs presented by the singer’s persona. On the other hand, “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy,” although as downbeat as anything else here, did present Cohen in his most expressive and commercial voice, a nasal but affecting and finely nuanced performance.
In all, however, Songs from a Room was less well-received commercially and critically. Nashville star producer Bob Johnston’s restrained, almost minimalist production made it less overtly appealing than the subtly commercial trappings of his debut, though the album did have a pair of tracks, “Bird on the Wire” and “The Story of Isaac,” that became standards rivaling “Suzanne.” “The Story of Isaac,” a musical parable woven around biblical imagery about Vietnam, was one of the most savage and piercing songs to come out of the antiwar movement, and showed a level of sophistication in its music and lyrics that put it in a whole separate realm of composition; it received an even better airing on the Live Songs album, in a performance recorded in Berlin during 1972.

Cohen may not have been a widely popular performer or recording artist, but his unique voice and sound, and the power of his writing and its influence, helped give him gain entry to the front rank of rock performers, an odd status for the then 35-year-old author/composer. He appeared at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival in England, a post-Woodstock gathering of stars and superstars, including late appearances by such soon-to-die-or-disband legends as Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. Looking nearly as awkward as his fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, Cohen strummed his acoustic guitar backed by a pair of female singers in front of an audience of 600,000 (“It’s a large nation, but still weak”), comprised in equal portions of fans, freaks, and belligerent gatecrashers, but the mere fact that he was there — sandwiched somewhere between Miles Davis and Emerson, Lake & Palmer — was a clear statement of the status (if not the popular success) he’d achieved.

(Cohen’s performance of “Suzanne” was one of the highlights of Murray Lerner’s long-delayed 1996 documentary Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival, and his full set was reissued in 2009, both on audio and video formats.)

Already, he had carved out a unique place for himself in music, as much author as performer and recording artist, letting his songs develop and evolve across years — his distinctly non-commercial voice became part of his appeal to the audience he found, giving him a unique corner of the music audience comprising listeners descended from the same people who had embraced Bob Dylan’s early work before he’d become a mass-media phenomenon in 1964. In a sense, Cohen embodied a phenomenon vaguely similar to what Dylan enjoyed before his early-’70s tour with the Band — people bought his albums by the tens and, occasionally, hundreds of thousands, but seemed to hear him in uniquely personal terms. He earned his audience seemingly one listener at a time, by word of mouth more than by the radio, which, in any case (especially on the AM dial), was mostly friendly to covers of Cohen’s songs by other artists.

Songs of Love and Hate

Cohen’s third album, Songs of Love and Hate (1971), was one of his most powerful works, brimming with piercing lyrics and music as poignantly affecting as it was minimalist in its approach — arranger Paul Buckmaster’s work on strings was peculiarly muted, and the children’s chorus that showed up on “Last Year’s Man” was spare in its presence. Balancing them was Cohen’s most effective vocalizing to date, brilliantly expressive around such acclaimed songs as “Joan of Arc,” “Dress Rehearsal Rag” (which had been recorded by Judy Collins five years before), and “Famous Blue Raincoat.” The bleakness of the tone and subject matter ensured that he would never become a “pop” performer; even the beat-driven “Diamonds in the Mine” — catchy children’s chorus accompaniment and all, with a twangy electric guitar accompaniment to boot — was as dark and venomous a song as Columbia Records put out in 1971. And the most compelling moments — among an embarrassment of riches — came on lyrics like “Now the flames they followed Joan of Arc/As she came riding through the dark/No moon to keep her armor bright/No man to get her through this night…

Teenagers of the late ’60s (or any era that followed) listening devotedly to Leonard Cohen might have worried their parents, but could well have been the smartest or most sensitive kids in their class and the most well-balanced emotionally — if they weren’t depressed — but also effectively well on their way out of being teenagers, and probably too advanced for their peers and maybe most of their teachers (except maybe the ones listening to Cohen). Songs of Love and Hate, coupled with the earlier hit versions of “Suzanne,” etc., earned Cohen a large international cult following. He also found himself in demand in the world of commercial filmmaking, as director Robert Altman used his music in his 1971 feature film McCabe and Mrs. Miller, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, a revisionist period film set at the turn of the 19th century that was savaged by the critics (and, by some accounts, sabotaged by its own studio) but went on to become one of the director’s best-loved movies. The following year, he also published a new poetry collection, The Energy of Slaves.

As was his wont, Cohen spent years between albums, and in 1973 he seemed to take stock of himself as a performer by issuing Leonard Cohen: Live Songs. Not a conventional live album, it was a compendium of performances from various venues across several years and focused on highlights of his output from 1969 onward. It showcased his writing as much as his performing, but also gave a good account of his appeal to his most serious fans — those still uncertain of where they stood in relation to his music who could get past the epic-length “Please Don’t Pass Me By” knew for certain they were ready to “join” the inner circle of his legion of devotees after that, while others who only appreciated “Bird on the Wire” or “The Story of Isaac” could stay comfortably in an outer ring.

New Skin for the Old Ceremony

Meanwhile, in 1973, his music became the basis for a theatrical production called Sisters of Mercy, conceived by Gene Lesser and loosely based on Cohen’s life, or at least a fantasy version of his life. A three-year lag ensued between Songs of Love and Hate and Cohen’s next album, and most critics and fans just assumed he’d hit a dry spell with the live album covering the gap. He was busy concertizing, however, in the United States and Europe during 1971 and 1972, and extending his appearances into Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It was during this period that he also began working with pianist and arranger John Lissauer, whom he engaged as producer of his next album, New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974). That album seemed to justify his fans’ continued faith in his work, presenting Cohen in a more lavish musical environment. He proved capable of holding his own in a pop environment, even if the songs were mostly still depressing and bleak.
Greatest Hits The following year, Columbia Records released The Best of Leonard Cohen, featuring a dozen of his best-known songs — principally hits in the hands of other performers — from his previous four LPs (though it left out “Dress Rehearsal Rag”). It was also during the mid-’70s that Cohen first crossed paths professionally with Jennifer Warnes, appearing on the same bill with the singer at numerous shows, which would lead to a series of key collaborations in the ensuing decade. By this time, he was a somewhat less mysterious persona, having toured extensively and gotten considerable exposure — among many other attributes, Cohen became known for his uncanny attractiveness to women, which seemed to go hand in glove with the romantic subjects of most of his songs.

Death of a Ladies’ Man

In 1977, Cohen reappeared with the ironically titled Death of a Ladies’ Man, the most controversial album of his career, produced by Phil Spector. The notion of pairing Spector — known variously as a Svengali-like presence to his female singers and artists and the most unrepentant (and often justified) over-producer in the field of pop music — with Cohen must have seemed like a good one to someone at some point, but apparently Cohen himself had misgivings about many of the resulting tracks that Spector never addressed, having mixed the record completely on his own. The resulting LP suffered from the worst attributes of Cohen’s and Spector’s work, overly dense and self-consciously imposing in its sound, and virtually bathing the listener in Cohen’s depressive persona, but showing his limited vocal abilities to disadvantage, owing to Spector’s use of “scratch” (i.e. guide) vocals and his unwillingness to permit the artist to redo some of his weaker moments on those takes.

For the first (and only) time in Cohen’s career, his near-monotone delivery of this period wasn’t a positive attribute. Cohen’s unhappiness with the album was widely known among fans, who mostly bought it with that caveat in mind, so it didn’t harm his reputation. A year after its release, Cohen also published a new literary collection using the slightly different title Death of a Lady’s Man, as his relationship with the mother of his two children came to an end.

Recent Songs

Cohen’s next album, Recent Songs (1979), returned him to the spare settings of his early-’70s work and showed his singing to some of its best advantage. Working with veteran producer Henry Lewy (best known for his work with Joni Mitchell), the album showed Cohen’s singing as attractive and expressive in its quiet way, and songs such as “The Guests” seeming downright pretty. He still wrote about life and love, and especially relationships, in stark terms, but he almost seemed to be moving into a pop mode on numbers such as “Humbled in Love.” Frank Sinatra never needed to look over his shoulder at Cohen (at least, as a singer), but he did seem to be trying for a slicker pop sound at moments on his record.

Various Positions

Then came 1984, and two key new works in Cohen’s output — the poetic/religious volume The Book of Mercy and the album Various Positions (1984). The latter, recorded with Jennifer Warnes, is arguably his most accessible album of his entire career up to that time — Cohen’s voice, now a peculiarly expressive baritone instrument, found a beautiful pairing with Warnes, and the songs were as fine as ever, steeped in spirituality and sexuality, with “Dance Me to the End of Love” a killer opener: a wry, doom-laden yet impassioned pop-style ballad that is impossible to forget. Those efforts overlapped with some ventures by the composer/singer into other creative realms, including an award-winning short film that he wrote, directed, and scored, entitled I Am a Hotel, and the score for the 1985 conceptual film Night Magic, which earned a Juno Award in Canada for Best Movie Score.

I’m Your Man

Sad to say, Various Positions went relatively unnoticed, and was followed by another extended sabbatical from recording, which ended with I’m Your Man (1988). But during his hiatus, Jennifer Warnes had released her album of Cohen-authored material, entitled Famous Blue Raincoat, which had sold extremely well and introduced Cohen to a new generation of listeners. So when I’m Your Man did appear, with its electronic production (albeit still rather spare) and songs that added humor (albeit dark humor) to his mix of pessimistic and poetic conceits, the result was his best-selling record in more than a decade. The result, in 1991, was the release of I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, a CD of recordings of his songs by the likes of R.E.M., the Pixies, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and John Cale, which put Cohen as a songwriter pushing age 60 right back on center stage for the ’90s.

He rose to the occasion, releasing The Future, an album that dwelled on the many threats facing mankind in the coming years and decades, a year later. Not the stuff of pop charts or MTV heavy rotation, it attracted Cohen’s usual coterie of fans, and enough press interest as well as sufficient sales, to justify the release in 1994 of his second concert album, Cohen Live, derived from his two most recent tours. A year later came another tribute album, Tower of Song, featuring Cohen’s songs as interpreted by Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, et al.

Ten New Songs

In the midst of all of this new activity surrounding his writing and compositions, Cohen embarked on a new phase of his life. Religious concerns were never too far from his thinking and work, even when he was making a name for himself writing songs about love, and he had focused even more on this side of life since Various Positions. He spent time at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center, a Buddhist retreat in California, and eventually became a full-time resident, and a Buddhist monk in the late ’90s. When he re-emerged in 1999, Cohen had many dozens of new compositions in hand, songs and poems alike. His new collaborations were with singer/songwriter/musician Sharon Robinson, who also ended up producing the resulting album, Ten New Songs (2001) — there also emerged during this period a release called Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979, comprised of live recordings from his tour of 22 years before.

Dear Heather

In 2004, the year he turned 70, Cohen released one of the most controversial albums of his career, Dear Heather. It revealed his voice anew, in this phase of his career, as a deep baritone more limited in range than on any previous recording, but it overcame this change in vocal timbre by facing it head-on, just as Cohen had done with his singing throughout his career. It also contained a number of songs for which Cohen wrote music but not lyrics, a decided change of pace for a man who’d started out as a poet. And it was as personal a record as Cohen had ever issued. His return to recording was one of the more positive aspects of Cohen’s resumption of his music activities.

On another side, in 2005, he filed suit against his longtime business manager and his financial advisor over the alleged theft of more than five million dollars, at least some of which took place during his years at the Buddhist retreat.

Live in London

Five decades after he emerged as a public literary figure and then a performer, Cohen remained one of the most compelling and enigmatic musical figures of his era, and one of the very few of that era who commands as much respect and attention, and probably as large an audience, in the 21st century as he did in the ’60s. As much as any survivor of that decade, Cohen has held onto his original audience and has seen it grow across generations, in keeping with a body of music that is truly timeless and ageless.

In 2006, his enduring influence seemed to be acknowledged in Lions Gate Films’ release of Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, director Lian Lunson’s concert/portrait of Cohen and his work and career. A performance set, Live in London, was released in 2009.

In 2010, the combined video and audio package Songs from the Road was issued, documenting his 2008 world tour (which actually lasted until late 2010), revisiting songs from each part of his career. The tour covered 84 dates and sold over 700,000 tickets worldwide.

Old Ideas

Cohen didn’t rest long, however: in early 2011 he began to craft what would become Old Ideas, his first album of new material in seven years. The sessions took place with producers Ed Sanders (renowned poet and leader of the Fugs), Patrick Leonard, Cohen’s saxophonist Dino Soldo, and his partner, singer and songwriter Anjani Thomas. Old Ideas contained ten new songs dealing with spirituality, mortality, sexuality, loss, and acceptance, similar in sound and texture to Dear Heather. The tracks “Lullaby” and “Darkness” were staples of the world tour, while the cut “Show Me the Place” was pre-released in late 2011. Old Ideas was released at the end of January 2012. It became a tremendous success, debuting inside the Top Five in the U.S. and U.K., as well as reaching number one in Canada. Cohen’s success in Europe was more impressive; Old Ideas reached number one in almost ten countries.

Popular Problems

After yet another world tour that brought him universal accolades, Cohen, uncharacteristically, returned quickly to the studio with producer (and co-writer) Patrick Leonard, emerging with nine new songs, at least one of which — “Born in Chains” — had origins that dated back 40 years. Popular Problems was released in September of 2014 to positive reviews and chart success. (Just like its predecessor, it hit number one across Europe as well as Canada.) The album includes “A Street”, which he had previously recited in 2006, during promotion of his book of poetry Book of Longing, and later printed twice, as “A Street” in 2 March 2009 issue of The New Yorker magazine and appeared as “Party’s Over” in Everyman’s Library edition of Poems and Songs in 2011. Cohen continued to tour internationally with impressive vigor, and in December 2014 he released Live in Dublin, his third live album since returning to the road. The album had been recorded in September 2013, during a concert at Dublin’s O2 Arena, and a high-definition video release appeared in tandem with the audio edition. Yet another concert document, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, appeared in May 2015, with the album drawn from live takes as well as pre-show rehearsals at soundchecks.

Cohen went right back to work on new material. On September 21 2016, his 82nd birthday, he released “You Want It Darker” — the eerie, mortality-drenched title track of a new studio album — to the internet. The full-length, produced by his son Adam Cohen, was issued on October 21, 2016. Two weeks later Leonard Cohen passed away.

This cherished poet of my youth and teenage years died on 7 November 2016 at the age of 82 at his home in Los Angeles. His death was not announced until 10 November, the day he was laid to rest in Montreal Canada. Cohen was survived by his two children Adam and Lorca and three grandchildren.

According to his manager, Cohen’s death was the result of a fall at his home on the night of November 7, and he subsequently died in his sleep.

His son Adam stated, “My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records ‘You Want It Darker’. He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humor.”

His paramour Marianne Ihlen, immortalized in “So Long Marianne” and Bird on a Wire” had died earlier in 2016 on July 28. In an email letter he wrote to her 2 days before her passing, he said prophetically: “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” 

While the email was read to her Marianna in comatose state stretched her hand out. It appears that she reached for Leonard’s hand and they are now reunited in Hydra.

“I see no disenchantment in Leonard’s lyrics at all,” Bob Dylan told The New Yorker earlier this year. “There’s always a direct sentiment, as if he’s holding a conversation and telling you something, him doing all the talking, but the listener keeps listening.” Leonard Cohen spurned nicknames like ‘the high priest of pathos’, telling a BBC interviewer: “You get tired, over the years, hearing that you’re the champion of gloom.” During a career spanning more than 50 years, the Canadian poet and singer-songwriter created songs of love and loss, mortality and meditation, his Jewish faith and Buddhist practice infusing his lyrics with a spirituality that was often uplifting. Many of his works offer a way out of the darkness. In Anthem, he sings “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. And when describing the much-covered Hallelujah, Cohen said: “It seems to call down some kind of beneficial energy… in the face of the kind of catastrophes that are manifesting everywhere, to say ‘hallelujah’.”

Like for most of us, for me he dwelled in a higher strata inhabited by some living but mostly passed icons who seemed to have this direct line to the galaxy, whilst at the same time knowing exactly when to take out the trash. Formidable in both the sacred and the mundane… Farewell, Leonard, we need you now up there as much as we did down here.

Musician Rufus Wainwright

 

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Prince
4/2016

PrinceApril 21, 2016 – Prince Rogers Nelson was born June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and actor, Prince became a superstar between 1978 and 1990 and beyond. He was renowned as an innovator, and was widely known for his eclectic work, flamboyant stage presence, and wide vocal range. He was widely regarded as the pioneer of Minneapolis sound. His music integrates a wide variety of styles, including funk, rock, R&B, soul, hip hop, disco, psychedelia, jazz, and pop.

Prince developed an interest in music at an early age, writing his first song at age seven. After recording songs with his cousin’s band 94 East, 19-year-old Prince recorded several unsuccessful demo tapes before releasing his debut album For You in 1978, under the guidance of manager Owen Husney. His 1979 album Prince went platinum due to the success of the singles “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. His next three records—Dirty Mind (1980), Controversy (1981), and 1999 (1982)—continued his success, showcasing Prince’s trademark of prominently sexual lyrics and incorporation of elements of funk, dance, and rock music. In 1984, he began referring to his backup band as The Revolution and released Purple Rain, which served as the soundtrack to his film debut of the same name. A prolific songwriter, Prince in the 1980s wrote songs for and produced work by many other acts, often under pseudonyms.

After releasing the albums Around the World in a Day (1985) and Parade (1986), The Revolution disbanded and Prince released the critically acclaimed double album Sign “O” the Times (1987) as a solo artist. He released three more solo albums before debuting The New Power Generation band in 1991. He changed his stage name in 1993 to an unpronounceable symbol Prince logo.svg, also known as the “Love Symbol”. He then began releasing new albums at a faster pace to remove himself from contractual obligations to Warner Bros.; he released five records between 1994 and 1996 before signing with Arista Records in 1998. In 2000, he began referring to himself as “Prince” again. He released 15 albums after that; his final album, HITnRUN Phase Two, was first released exclusively on the Tidal streaming service on December 11, 2015.

Prince has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He won seven Grammy Awards,a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the first year of his eligibility. Rolling Stone ranked Prince at number 27 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

He died at his Paisley Park recording studio and home in Chanhassen, Minnesota, on April 21, 2016, after experiencing flu-like symptoms.

More to follow

As the monster guitar jammer

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Glenn
Frey
1/2016

glenn FreyJanuary 18, 2016 – Glenn Frey was born on Nov. 6, 1948 in Detroit and was raised in nearby Royal Oak. He grew up on both the Motown sounds and harder-edged rock of his hometown. He played in a succession of local bands in the city and first connected with Bob Seger when Frey’s band, the Mushrooms, convinced Seger to write a song for them. Frey can also be heard singing extremely loud backing vocals (particularly on the first chorus) on Seger’s first hit and Frey’s first recorded appearance, 1968’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.”

But it wasn’t long before warmer climes called and Frey followed then-girlfriend Joan Silwin to Los Angeles. Her sister Alexandra was a member of Honey Ltd., a girl group associated with Nancy Sinatra producer Lee Hazelwood, and she introduced Frey to her friend John David Souther.
It was a portentous introduction. Before long the two were living as roommates in East L.A. with another aspiring songwriter named Jackson Browne. All three quickly became deeply involved in the burgeoning L.A. country-rock scene centered around the Troubadour nightclub that started with the Byrds, proliferated with Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers and would, in softer form, dominate American airwaves for the bulk of the 1970s. But first. Frey and Souther would pay their dues as an unsuccessful duo, Longbranch Pennywhistle. The pair released a self-titled album on the short-lived indie Amos Records in 1969, but soon split up.
In 1971, fellow future country-rock superstar Linda Ronstadt was seeking a backing band and, on the advice of Souther, her boyfriend, hired Frey along with his friend, drummer Don Henley. On the night of their first show with Ronstadt, the ambitious and driven pair decided to form their own band and later recruited ex-Poco bassist Randy Meisner and former Burritos guitarist Bernie Leadon. The Eagles became one of the first artists signed to David Geffen’s then-new label, Asylum. The group was an instant success, riding on the back of its first single, “Take It Easy” — a song written almost entirely by Jackson Browne, with some lyrics added by Frey.

Via a long string of mid ’70s hits like “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Desperado,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Best of My Love” (No. 1 March 1975) “Witchy Woman” the funkier “One of These Nights” (No. 1 August 1975) and the harder-edged “Already Gone” (many written by bandmembers in collaboration with Souther), the Eagles became the standard-bearers — and Asylum Records became the epicenter — of the California soft-rock explosion. (Barney Hoskyns’ 2006 book Hotel California is an excellent history of that scene and the Eagles’ role in it.) Guitarist Don Felder filled out the band’s sound in 1974, and after Leadon left the following year, guitarist Joe Walsh joined – beefing up the band’s sound and lofting them to even greater heights with the 1976 “Hotel California” album, which spawned No. 1 singles with the title track and Frey’s “New Kid in Town,” possibly his defining song. Along with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, those albums defined the denim, drugs and decadence of the jet-setting late ’70s California rock scene.

But drugs, egos and success soon took their toll, and it was some three years before the Eagles released a follow-up album with The Long Run. Spurred by the Hot 100 No. 1 single “Heartache Tonight,” the album was a commercial success — and helped bring the music industry out of a post-disco sales tailspin — but the band succumbed to infighting and split in 1980.

Frey embarked on a successful solo career, enjoying a series of ’80s hits, the biggest of which were tied to soundtracks like Beverly Hills Cop (“The Heat Is On”) and Miami Vice (“You Belong to the City”). He was even a regular character on the latter show, portraying a guitar-playing smuggler named Jimmy Cole.

But the Eagles’ solo hits began to dry up in the 1990s, and before long a reunion tour was masterminded by Irving Azoff, the group’s longtime manager. The tour’s title mocked the acrimony with which the group split up: “Hell Freezes Over.” The group continued to tour periodically — and lucratively — over the past two decades, releasing just scattered new material and focusing on solo works. In 2012, Frey released his first solo album since the 1990s, a collection of pop standards called After Hours.

While the Eagles were reviled as much as they were revered during their heyday — a situation hilariously rendered in a scene in The Big Lebowski, when the title character is physically ejected from a taxi for asking the driver to turn off the radio when “Peaceful Easy Feeling” comes on — there’s no questioning the enduring quality of their hits or the freshness of their sound, particularly the keening harmonies of Henley, Frey and Meisner. But more lasting may be its success: For years the group’s 1976 collection Their Greatest Hits 1971-75 regularly swapped places with Michael Jackson’s Thriller as the top-selling album of all time — and has been certified a whopping 29 times platinum by the RIAA. Hotel California is certified 16 times platinum.

Frey and Henley were the Eagles’ leaders and only two constant members, and it’s difficult to imagine the group continuing without him.

Discussing the superb 2013 History of the Eagles, Part 1 documentary with Billboard, Frey said: “You couldn’t have asked for a better script for a bunch of guys in their 20s trying to make it into the music business. We were young, we made mistakes, we still make mistakes. It’s the story of an American band, but it’s also the story of the songs we wrote and what those songs did to people. We’re here because everybody likes the songs.”

Glenn Frey, a founding member and guitarist of the Eagles, one of the most popular and commercially successful artists of all time died January 18, 2016 in New York City after a courageous battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Acute Ulcerative Colitis and Pneumonia. ”

He had been battling intestinal issues that caused the band to postpone its Kennedy Center Honors in October 2015. A statement from the band said then the recurring problem would require “major surgery and a lengthy recovery period.”

Eagles drummer/songwriter and vocalist Don Henley issued the following statement:

“He was like a brother to me; we were family, and like most families, there was some dysfunction. But, the bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken, even during the 14 years that the Eagles were dissolved. We were two young men who made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles with the same dream: to make our mark in the music industry — and with perseverance, a deep love of music, our alliance with other great musicians and our manager, Irving Azoff, we built something that has lasted longer than anyone could have dreamed. But, Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven. He loved is wife and kids more than anything. We are all in a state of shock, disbelief and profound sorrow. We brought our two-year ‘History of the Eagles Tour’ to a triumphant close at the end of July and now he is gone. I’m not sure I believe in fate, but I know that crossing paths with Glenn Lewis Frey in 1970 changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet. It will be very strange going forward in a world without him in it. But, I will be grateful, every day, that he was in my life. Rest in peace, my brother. You did what you set out to do, and then some.”

As a member of the Eagles, Frey won six Grammy Awards, and five American Music Awards. The Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the first year they were nominated. Consolidating his solo recordings and those with the Eagles, Frey released 24 Top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

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David
Bowie
1/2016

db-transformation-colour2016 – David Bowie was born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947 in South London, England.

Bowie developed an early interest in music although his attempts to succeed as a pop star during much of the 1960s were frustrated. Bowie’s first hit song, “Space Oddity”, reached the top five of the UK Singles Chart after its release in July 1969. After a three-year period of experimentation, he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era with the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, spearheaded by the hit single “Starman” and the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bowie’s impact at that time, as described by biographer David Buckley, “challenged the core belief of the rock music of its day” and “created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture”. The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona proved to be one facet of a career marked by reinvention, musical innovation and visual presentation.

In 1975, Bowie achieved his first major American crossover success with the number-one single “Fame” and the hit album Young Americans, which the singer characterised as “plastic soul”. The sound constituted a radical shift in style that David Bowieinitially alienated many of his UK devotees. He then confounded the expectations of both his record label and his American audiences by recording the electronic-inflected album Low, the first of three collaborations with Brian Eno. Low (1977), “Heroes” (1977), and Lodger (1979)—the so-called “Berlin Trilogy” albums—all reached the UK top five and received lasting critical praise.

After uneven commercial success in the late 1970s, Bowie had UK number ones with the 1980 single “Ashes to Ashes”, its parent album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), and “Under Pressure”, a 1981 collaboration with Queen. He then reached a new commercial peak in 1983 with Let’s Dance, which yielded several hit singles.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Bowie continued to experiment with musical styles, including blue-eyed soul, industrial, adult contemporary, and jungle. He stopped touring after his 2003–04 Reality Tour, and last performed live at a charity event in 2006. Bowie released the studio album Blackstar on 8 January 2016, his 69th birthday, just two days before his death from liver cancer.

Bowie also had a successful, but sporadic film career. His acting roles include the eponymous character in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) Jareth, the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986), Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006), among other film and television appearances and cameos.

David Buckley said of Bowie: “His influence has been unique in popular culture—he has permeated and altered more lives than any comparable figure.” In the BBC’s 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, Bowie was placed at number 29. Throughout his career, he has sold an estimated 140 million records worldwide. In the UK, he has been awarded nine Platinum album certifications, eleven Gold and eight Silver, and in the US, five Platinum and seven Gold certifications. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

In 1992 Bowie married international super model Iman and in the decade that followed the once flamboyant Ziggy Stardust learned that privacy and focus on art beats marketing anytime. Bowie had always been protective of his private life, but often toyed with his fans in search of surprise and shock. He claimed to be gay in 1972 just to get attention for his Space Oddity. Later he turned that statement into bi-sexual, but inside the circle, everyone knew it was just a marketing ploy.

His life of putting art before celebrity is a masterclass for today’s musicians who search for their their best camera angle or hashtag before seeking out their unique contribution.

Before Bowie disappeared from public view, he made the rounds in 2002-03 promoting his album Heathen. His various interviews – and a few choice moves in the years since — provide the syllabus for the class. Here are four key takeaways from Bowie’s transformation:

You Don’t Need to Show Up for Everything

Bowie’s take on the hypocrisy of awards and the hunger for attention are perfectly summed up in this 2002 Late Night interview with Conan O’Brien. “I only want [the ones] that you really mean.”

Keep Your Private Life Private

Over the years, Bowie famously professed bisexuality and played the eligible bachelor (he also had an unsuccessful tumultuous first marriage). In 1992, however, he married supermodel Iman, and together they have become the prototypical married couple. Aside from Paul and Linda McCartney, there isn’t another rock couple that keeps their balance and priorities more in check. Iman shared their secret in this 2012 interview.

Remember the Element of Surprise

Bowie released his first album in 10 years, The Next Day, in March 2013 without advance warning or publicity. It’s the move of a confident artist who not only knows the work speaks for itself, but also has no need to speak about anything else. Beyoncé imitated the move later that same year.

MAKE ART!!

Above all else, David Bowie’s public life has been a lesson in the importance of placing one’s own creative journey above all else. Look at any of his videos; listen to any of recordings. You’ll see and hear a man who is first and foremost chasing his own muse and searching for his own truths. The commercial consequences of that search are the byproduct, not the motivation.

Sadly the Master passed away on January 11, 2016 from cancer at age 69. A true legend moved to that big gig in the sky.

 

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BB
King
5/2015

BB King with Paul ButterfieldMay 14, 2015 – Riley ‘BB’ King was born on September 16, 1925. Little new can be said about B.B. King, who passed away in his sleep at age 89 on May 14, 2015 at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was the King of the iconic living bluesmen of all time, the legendary B.B. King.

A Kennedy Center honoree, a 15-time Grammy winner and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, has a museum bearing his name and landed the number six spot on Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists.”

He was born in Indianola, Mississippi and acquired the moniker BB King from his Memphis Days when he gained guitar wizardry as Beale Street Blues Boy.

In the late ‘60s, it was practically a given that every rock and blues six-stringer would cite his momentous album, “Live at the Regal” as his or her favorite record. The subtle horn-like phrasing, jazzy inflections, dramatic structuring and incredible human-cry finger vibrato of his playing were unapproachable marvels for fretboard fanatics.

And you didn’t have to know diddly–squat about the guitar to feel the way his shortened bursts sent sparks flying through your soul.

When it comes to American treasures, rank B.B. King right up there with the Grand Canyon and Baseball.

The legendary bluesman, who once sweated for a few cents a day picking cotton, is one of the most masterful singers and instrumentalists this nation has produced, overwhelming us with searing solos and thunderously shouted vocals that scarcely need a microphone to be heard.

His vibrato style of playing influenced a generation of rock and blues guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, Gary Moore, Stevie Ray Vaughan and even modern day guitar wizards like Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang.

Several years ago, film maker Jon Brewer produced a 2 hour documentary called ‘The Life of Riley’ narrated by Morgan Freeman with features from Eric Clapton, Bono, Ringo Starr, Carlos Santana, Bruce Willis, Aaron Neville, George Benson, Buddy Guy, Bill Wyman, Dr.John, Leon Russell, Joe Walsh, John Mayall and many others. Highly recommended. The complete list of contributors presents a Who is Who in yesterday, today and tomorrow’s music world. (Aaron Neville, Allan Hammons, Annie Clay, Bernard Purdie, Bill Cosby, Bill Szymczyk, Bill Wyman, Billy Boy Arnold, Bobby Bland, Bono, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Willis. Buddy Guy, Calvin Owens, Carlos Santana, Carver Randle, Cato Walker, Charles Evers, Charles Sawyer, Clemmie Truevellian, Derek Trucks, Delcia Davis, Doyle Bramhall, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Ernest Withers, Ford Nelson, Gary Moore, George Benson, James Toney, Jessie May Golden, Joe Bihari, Joe Bonamassa, Jo Cartledge, Joe Walsh, John Cadillac Holden, John Fair, John Mayall, John Mayer, Johnny Winter, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Lessie May Fair, LaVerne Toney, Leon Russell, Mick Hucknall, Mick Taylor, Morgan Freeman, Paul Butterfield, Paul Rodgers, Peter Green, Polly Walker, Rev. David Matthews, Ringo Starr, Robert Cray, Robert Lockwood, Ronnie Wood, Sara Betty Lou Henson, Slash, Stewart Levine, Sue King Evans, Susan Tedeschi, Tina France, Walter Trout, Wayne Cartledge.)

That was the greatness of this man!

BB performed more than 15,000 concerts here on earth. Tonight all guitar wizards that went before BB will be merely sidemen in a concert for the ages at Rock and Roll Paradise’s main stage.

The photograph shows BB King and Paul Butterfield, jamming after Hours at the Jazz Workshop, Boston. They had all performed that day in a concert at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge. I bet Butterfield can’t wait to get his harp out tonight and jump on stage.

This video is an an impression of what must have played on the main stage of Rock and Roll Paradise on May 14, 2015 when BB King and Gary Moore reunited.

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Manitas
de Plata
11/2014

Manitas de PlataNovember 6, 2014 – Manitas de Plata was born Ricardo Baliardo on August 7th 1921 in a gypsy caravan in the Mediterranean city of Sète in southern France. He became world famous as Manitas de Plata, the French gitano flamenco virtuoso guitarist, arguably second only to Django Reinhardt

He initially became famous by playing each year at the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer Gypsy pilgrimage in the Camargue, where he was recorded live by Deben Bhattacharya and only agreed to play in public ten years after the death of Django Reinhardt.

He recorded his first official album in the chapel of Arles in France, in 1963, for the Phillips label. Upon hearing him play at Arles in 1964, Pablo Picasso is said to have exclaimed “that man is of greater worth than I am!” and proceeded to draw on the guitar.

Manitas de Plata garnered fame in the United States only after a photography exhibition in New York, organized by his friend Lucien Clergue. He had recorded his first official album in the chapel of Arles in France, in 1963, for the Dutch Phillips label. It was later re-released, in 1967, by the Connoisseur Society label and sold through the Book of the Month Club. This was a popular LP that brought him to the attention of an American audience. An American manager obtained a booking for him to play a concert in Carnegie Hall in New York on November 24, 1965. From there on he toured the world many times performing at top venues such as Carnegie Hall, New York and the London Palladium. He sold close to 100 million records during is lifetime.

Manitas de Plata was the father of Jacques, Maurice, and Tonino Baliardo and uncle to Paul, François (Canut), Patchaï, Nicolas and André Reyes (the sons of his cousin, flamenco artist José Reyes (1928-1979) ), all members of the worldfamous rumba flamenca band Gipsy Kings.

Manitas de Plata died in a retirement home in Montpellier on 6 November 2014 at age 93. The cause of death was not disclosed, but de Plata had been in poor health since suffering a severe heart attack in April 2013.

Despite acquiring a fortune as one of France’s best-selling recording artists, he died practically penniless — spending his fortune on “roulette, fancy cars, going out and beautiful women,” according to his great nephew Ricao Bissiere, who added with an admiring smirk:”He loved life. He was a character.”

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Jack
Bruce
10/2014

Jack-Bruce-500October 25, 2014 – Jack Bruce, best known as songwriter/bass player for 1960s Super Group Cream, has died of liver disease. In a statement issued by his family on Saturday, October 25, 2014 his family said: ““It is with great sadness that we, Jack’s family, announce the passing of our beloved Jack: husband, father, granddad, and all round legend. The world of music will be a poorer place without him but he lives on in his music and forever in our hearts.

Bruce played bass, sang and was the principal songwriter in Cream, but even leaving aside that group, in which he played with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, his CV reads like a comprehensive guide to the British blues boom, with spells in Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc, the Graham Bond Organisation, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann.

Following the demise of Cream in 1968, which opened the doors for another super group, called Led Zeppeling, Bruce worked mainly as a solo artist or as part of small groups. Cream reunited briefly in 2005 for a short series of shows, but soon split again. The animus between Baker and Bruce, which had made Cream so combustible in the 60s, and had caused Bruce to leave the Graham Bond Organization even before then, appeared to make any further Cream activity unworkable. The irony was that both had achieved their greatest commercial success together: not only were Cream hugely successful, but the album the two released with guitarist Gary Moore as BBM in 1994 saw them make a rare return to the top 10, it being as near to Cream as fans thought they would ever see.

Bruce’s life had been marked by health and financial troubles. In the late 1970s he struggled with drug addiction, and worked as a session musician to make money. In 2003 he was diagnosed with liver cancer, and that September he underwent a transplant. His body initially rejected the new liver, and Bruce almost died, but he recovered well enough to return to performance in 2004.

My all-time favorite songs from Jack Bruce are In a White Room and Sunshine of your Love, where the lyrics describe that beautiful time in the second part of the sixties, when for a moment we thought or at least hoped that the world could be guided back on track to civility.

Check out these videos:

Sunshine of Your Love from the Royal Albert Hall on November 26, 1986 at Cream’s Farewell Concert

In a White Room with Gary Moore and Ginger Baker in 1994

RIP JACK, we hope you get with Gary Moore tonight and blast one off for all of us.

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Paco
de Lucia
2/2014

Paco de LucíaFeb 25, 2014- Paco de Lucia was born Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gomes on December 21, 1947 in Algeciras, Southern Spain. He was the youngest of the five children of flamenco guitarist Antonio Sánchez Pecino and Portuguese mother Lúcia Gomes; his brothers include flamenco singer Pepe de Lucía and flamenco guitarist Ramón de Algeciras (deceased).

Playing in the streets as a young boy, there were many Pacos and Pablos in Algeciras, and as he wanted to honor his Portuguese mother Lucia Gomes, he adopted the stage name Paco de Lucía. In 1958, at age 11, Paco made his first public appearance on Radio Algeciras.

His father Antonio received guitar lessons from the hand of a cousin of Melchor de Marchena: Manuel Fernández (aka Titi de Marchena), a guitarist who arrived in Algeciras in the 1920s and established a school there. Antonio introduced Paco to the guitar at a young age and was extremely strict in his upbringing from the age of 5, forcing him to practice up to 12 hours a day, every day, to ensure that he could find success as a professional musician.

At one point, his father took him out of school to concentrate solely on his guitar development. In a 2012 interview de Lucía stated that, “I learned the guitar like a child learns to speak.”

Flamenco guitarist and biographer Donn Pohren and record producer José Torregrosa compared Paco’s relationship with his father to the relationship of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Leopold Mozart in the way both fathers “moulded their sons” into becoming world-class musicians, and both continued to dictate even after they became famous.

Paco’s brother Ramón idolized Niño Ricardo, and taught his complex falsetas to his young brother, who would learn them with relative ease and change them to his own liking and embellish them. This angered Ramón initially who considered Ricardo’s works to be sacred and thought his brother was showing off, but he soon began to immensely respect his brother and came to realize that he was a prodigious talent and a fuera de serie, a special person. Like his brother, Ricardo was Paco’s most important influence, and his first guitar hero; Paco said “all of us youngsters would look up to him, trying to learn from him and copy him.”

In 1958, at age 11, Paco made his first public appearance on Radio Algeciras. That year, he met Sabicas for the first time in Malaga. A year later, he was awarded a special prize at the Festival Concurso International Flamenco de Jerez de la Frontera flamenco competition.  A year later, he was awarded a special prize at the Festival Concurso International Flamenco de Jerez de la Frontera flamenco competition.

At the age of 14, he made his first record with his brother Pepe, “Los Chiquitos de Algeciras”/Kids of Algeciras and in the early 1960s, he toured with the flamenco troupe of dancer José Greco.

Then in New York City in 1963, at the age of 15, he had his second encounter with Sabicas and his first encounter with Mario Escudero, both of whom became his mentors and later close friends.

The 60s and 70s were a period that Paco deLucia introduced the world to flamenco and he recorded with singers and his brothers may albums that found more and more appreciation. He was encouraged and managed to take the old Spanish art form into new and fascinating directions, increasing his popularity as one of the great guitarists of all time.

Becoming a Rock Star

In 1977, he released his final voice driven album, Castillo de Arena with Camarón de la Isla, The lyrics were written by Antonio Sánchez, with the exception of the bulerías Samara, which Sánchez and de la Isla wrote together. This would be his last LP with a singer for at least 15 years. He reportedly said that the human voice is “naturally too limited” and that he prefers the exploration of different instrumentalists; he also said a busy schedule was the reason for lack of recordings with singers. He performed extensively across the US and Europe during this period, increasing his popularity outside Spain and the flamenco community in Europe, and met many jazz, Latin and other musicians who continued to have an impact on de Lucía’s evolution as a “Nuevo flamenco” player. He began to show a very keen interest in jazz fusion and rock, and in 1977 performed with Carlos Santana in the Plaza de toros de las Arenas bullring in Barcelona. He was invited by Al Di Meola to record on his “Mediterranean Sundance” piece for his album Elegant Gypsy. Despite considerable new interest in flamenco and de Lucía’s playing generated by the album, traditionalist flamenco critics did not approve of the piece and hated that many people considered Mediterranean Sundance flamenco music and frowned upon de Lucía. Di Meola informed the critics not to worry and that “Paco is not leaving flamenco, but expanding it.”In 1978, Paco and his brothers recorded Interpreta a Manuel de Falla, a classical effort of compositions by Manuel de Falla.

In 1979, de Lucía, John McLaughlin, and Larry Coryell formed The Guitar Trio and together made a tour of Europe and released a video recorded at London’s Royal Albert Hall entitled Meeting of the Spirits. Pohren said that de Lucía’s decision to work with musicians like McLaughlin, Di Meola, Coryell, and Chick Corea must have been an “exciting and stimulating” experience for him, given their technical musical knowledge and ability to improvise and said that they carried him “so far afield that at times he must have been profoundly confused, a man running the risk of losing his musical identity.” This concerned de Lucía, who said in a late 1990s interview, “I have never lost the roots in my music, because I would lose myself. What I have tried to do is have a hand holding onto tradition and the other scratching, digging in other places, trying to find new things I can bring into flamenco.”

The Guitar Trio continued touring in 1980. De Lucía reportedly suffered from headaches and backaches while performing because he found it difficult to improvise and follow McLaughlin and Coryell’s advanced knowledge of jazz improvisation. Paco professed, “Some people assume that they were learning from me, but I can tell you it was me learning from them. I have never studied music, I am incapable of studying harmony—I don’t have the discipline, playing with McLaughlin and Di Meola was about learning these things.” In 1981, Coryell was replaced with Di Meola, and The Guitar Trio released one of their most successful records, Friday Night in San Francisco, which sold over 1 million copies and generated a significant interest in flamenco music in America and Europe. It featured an extended combination of Mediterranean Sundance and Río Ancho; this became arguably the piece most associated with the musicians. De Lucía also formed the Paco de Lucía Sextet in 1981 (which included his brothers Ramón and Pepe), and released the first of its three albums that same year. On 30 August 1981, de Lucía performed a solo set at St. Goarshausen in Germany, where he performed Monasterio de Sal and Montino among others and later performed with The Guitar Trio. The event was broadcast on national WDR television.

In 1982, Paco put on a series of concerts with jazz pianist Chick Corea. Corea was a considerable influence on him in the 1980s and he and McLaughlin adapted a version of his piece Spain, performing it live together several times in the mid to late 1980s. He released a “Golden” double compilation album in 1982, La Guitarra de Oro de Paco de Lucía, covering Paco’s earliest recordings with Ricardo Modrego of Federico García Lorca songs to date, and featured two siguiriyas, a flamenco form in which he hadn’t indulged in his recordings since 1972. In 1983, the Trio released Passion, Grace & Fire, and he had an acting role in Carlos Saura’s highly acclaimed film Carmen, for which he was also nominated for a BAFTA Film Award for Best Score. De Lucía composed original film scores for several films in the 1980s, including The Hit, a 1984 film in which he provided the soundtrack with Eric Clapton, with a minor contribution by Roger Waters.

On his 1984 album, Live… One Summer Night, De Lucía not only played guitar, but also filled the role of producer. Paco de Lucía has also appeared as himself on television in documentaries and TV shows and accepted a position as a judge at Seville’s 1984 Biena.
By the mid-1980s, both the Sextet and the Guitar Trio had reached its plateau and stopped performing together, although de Lucía would continue to perform with McLaughlin as a duo across Europe in 1986 and later. In a 1986 interview with Down Beat magazine, Di Meola said that the reason for the breakdown was that their performances were designed to “drive the audience berserk” with a display of astonishing virtuosity and that they had run out of new spectacular fast runs to impress the audiences. Di Meola remarked that the music had become too “wild and crazy” and that he preferred to explore the quieter side of music, something Paco also felt, saying that he preferred “controlled expression to velocity.” In May 1986, he performed at the Centro de Bellas Artes Rock music festival alongside the likes of Earl Klugh, Spyro Gyra, and Dave Valentin. In 1987, de Lucía performed for the first time in the Soviet Union, and went back to his roots with his highly successful release, Siroco. Siroco is often cited as his best album and one of the greatest flamenco albums of all time.

His compositions La Cañada, the opening track, a tango called La Barrosa, an alegrías named after the Playa la Barrosa in the province of Cadiz, and Gloria al Niño Ricardo, a soléa, received considerable attention and are considered modern flamenco classics. Eric Clapton and Richard Chapman described La Barrosa, a sweet alegrías played in B major, as, “full of effortless delicacy with cascading phrases.” “Gloria al Niño Ricardo” is dedicated to Niño Ricardo who was de Lucía’s “first hero” of the guitar. Several of his compositions from that album form the staple of his contemporary concert performances, and he often begins his concerts with La Cañada. In 1989, de Lucía refused to perform at the bullring in Seville with Plácido Domingo and Julio Iglesias.

Although the sextet had declined after 1986, in 1990 they got together to record Zyryab, a groundbreaking Arabic flamenco/jazz album with jazz pianist Chick Corea and fellow virtuoso flamenco guitarist Manolo Sanlúcar. The album is named after Ziryab, an 8th–9th century Shiraz-born poet/musician at the Umayyad court in Córdoba, credited with introducing to Spain the Persian lute, which evolved into the Spanish guitar—and according to some, established flamenco itself. One track on the album, a tarantas, is dedicated to Sabicas. The album was critically well-received; Jazz Times praised the passion and rhythm of the musicians featuring on the album.

Until asked to perform and interpret Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez in 1991, de Lucía was not proficient at reading musical notation. Biographer Pohren, however, at the time of writing his biography in 1992, said that he was still not proficient and had found a bizarre way of learning the piece, locking himself away. His performance with the orchestra under Edmon Colomer was highly acclaimed, a sensitive, atmospheric rendition that composer Rodrigo himself praised, describing it as “pretty, exotic, inspired” … I might add that Paco plays it with a great deal of feeling, far more than is normally heard. And that goes for the orchestra that backs him up.” In 1992, he performed live at the bullring at Seville Expo ’92, and a year later on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, playing “La Barrosa”. In 1995, he and Bryan Adams recorded the hit song and video Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman on the soundtrack for the American film Don Juan DeMarco.

In 1996, his first “golden hits” album, Antología, was in the top 20 in Spain for at least 16 weeks, selling over 65,000 copies.[61] In 1997, de Lucía performed in a tribute show to the assassinated Spanish politician Miguel Angel Blanco, alongside the likes of Julio Iglesias and Los Del Rio. In 1998 he released and produced “Luzia”, dedicated to his mother (whose name is spelled phonetically). It is considered to be one of de Lucia’s most complete and mature artistic statements.

De Lucía lived for five years in Yucatan, Mexico, but returned to his native Spain in 2003 after professing to have become really tired with spending his whole life touring for six to eight months a year, getting up at the crack of dawn and living in hotels. He continued to keep a holiday home in Mexico though and regularly visited with his family.

In 2004 he toured the United States and Canada with Seville flamenco singer La Tana, but subsequently greatly reduced his live performances in public. He retired from full touring, and would only give a few concerts a year, usually in Spain and Germany and at European festivals during the summer months. Pohren described de Lucía as “extremely timid and retiring”, saying that, “Being a very private person, [he] was dismayed at the ensuing popularity and lionization, and the increased pressure fame placed upon his shoulders, demanding that he constantly innovate and work harder to achieve technical and revolutionary perfection.”

In 2003, de Lucía released Integral (2003), a 26 CD Limited Edition Box Set, and Por Descubrir, a compilation album. In 2004, de Lucía released Cositas Buenas with Javier Limón. It was released on Blue Thumb Records by Universal Music Spain S.L., and features four bulerías, two rumba tracks, a tangos and a tientos. It won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Flamenco Album 2004.

In 2005, he was nominated for producer of the year by the Latin Grammy for La Tana’s “Tu, Ven a Mi”, which was De Lucía’s first recording where he directed another artist since working on Camarón de la Isla’s Potro de rabia y miel.

In 2004, he won the Prince of Asturias Awards in Arts, and on 23 March 2007, the University of Cadiz recognized de Lucía’s musical and cultural contributions by conferring on him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa. In 2010, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Berklee College of Music in Boston and performed at the Montreux Festival. However, he is known some years to select countries where he doesn’t usually perform and played in Pula, Croatia in 2006 and 2010, and in Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia in 2013. He appeared at the 49th Carthage International Festival on 31 July, playing at the Roman Theatre.

De Lucía died of a heart attack on 25 February 2014, while on holiday with his family in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. His remains were buried at a cemetery in Algeciras, Andalusia, Spain.

De Lucía posthumously won the Latin Grammy Award for Album of the Year for his album Canción andaluza at the 2014 awards ceremony.

Even though not a true rock and roll musician, Paco de Lucia was one of rock and roll’s super stars. I was lucky enough to see him twice in concert; once in the late 1960 when he performed flamenco with Festival Flamenco Giano in my hometown, featuring Paco de Lucia, his brother Ramon de Algeciras and numerous other artists including singer Camarón de la Isla. It was been described as “a showcase of the hottest flamenco talent at the time”, and Paco was billed as “The Paganini of the Flamenco Guitar” at age 22.

I saw him again a world away after I had just moved to the States, when I visited San Francisco with a friend on December 5, 1980, who had tickets to the Warfield Theatre (made famous by Dylan and the Grateful Dead) for the performance of Al di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, a concert that was recorded and became a super hit album under the name “Friday Night in San Francisco”.

In my humble opinion he was just the greatest guitarist I have ever seen in concert.

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Pete
Seeger
1/2014

Pete-Seeger January 27, 2014 – Pete Seeger was born May 3, 1917 born in Midtown Manhattan, New York. Seeger was born into a traditionally pacifistic and highly musical family, which was typically for the era politically translated into communist tendencies. His dad Charles Seeger was hired to establish the music department at the University of California, Berkeley, but was forced to resign in 1918 because of his outspoken pacifism during World War I. His parents divorced when he was seven.
He began playing the ukulele while attending Avon Old Farms, a private boarding school in Connecticut. His father and his stepmother, the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, collected and transcribed rural American folk music, as did folklorists like John and Alan Lomax. He heard the five-string banjo, which would become his main instrument, when his father took him to a square-dance festival in North Carolina.
Young Pete became enthralled by rural traditions. “I liked the strident vocal tone of the singers, the vigorous dancing,” he is quoted as saying in “How Can I Keep From Singing,” a biography by David Dunaway. “The words of the songs had all the meat of life in them. Their humor had a bite, it was not trivial. Their tragedy was real, not sentimental.”

Pete Seeger’s long career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10, from college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for President Barack Obama.

For Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.

In his hearty tenor, Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. “We Shall Overcome,” which Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.

Seeger was a prime mover in the folk revival that transformed popular music in the 1950s. As a member of the Weavers, he sang hits including Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” — which reached No. 1 — and “If I Had a Hammer,” which he wrote with the group’s Lee Hays. Another of Seeger’s songs, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” became an antiwar standard. And in 1965, the Byrds had a No. 1 hit with a folk-rock version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Mr. Seeger’s setting of a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

A Generation’s Mentor

Pete Seeger was a mentor to younger folk and topical singers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, among them Bob Dylan, Don McLean and Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded Sweet Honey in the Rock. Decades later, Bruce Springsteen drew from Seeger’s repertory of traditional music about a turbulent America in recording his 2006 album, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” and in 2009 he performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Seeger at the Obama inaugural. At a Madison Square Garden concert celebrating Seeger’s 90th birthday, Bruce Springsteen introduced him as “a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along.”

Although he recorded dozens of albums, Seeger distrusted commercialism and was never comfortable with the idea of stardom. He invariably tried to use his celebrity to bring attention and contributions to the causes that moved him, or to the traditional songs he wanted to preserve.
Seeger saw himself as part of a continuing folk tradition, constantly recycling and revising music that had been honed by time.

During the McCarthy era Seeger’s political affiliations, including membership in the Communist Party as a young man, led to his being blacklisted and later indicted for contempt of Congress. The pressure broke up the Weavers, and Seeger disappeared from commercial television until the late 1960s. But he never stopped recording, performing and listening to songs from ordinary people.

Through the decades however, his songs have become part of America’s folklore.
“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”

Seeger in later life was often asked about his religion to which his answer became over time: “I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. I used to say I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”

His life in a timeline

Planning to be a journalist, Seeger attended Harvard, where he founded a radical newspaper and joined the Young Communist League. After two years he dropped out and went to New York City, where Alan Lomax introduced him to the blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly. Lomax also helped Seeger find a job cataloging and transcribing music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress.

Pete Seeger met Woody Guthrie, a songwriter who shared his love of vernacular music and agitprop ambitions, in 1940, when they performed at a benefit concert for migrant California workers. Traveling across the United States with Guthrie, Seeger picked up some of his style and repertory. He also hitchhiked and hopped freight trains by himself, learning and trading songs.

When he returned to New York later in 1940, Seeger made his first albums. He, Millard Lampell and Hays founded the Almanac Singers, who performed union songs and, until Germany invaded the Soviet Union, antiwar songs, following the Communist Party line. Guthrie soon joined the group.
During World War II the Almanac Singers’ repertory turned to patriotic, anti-fascist songs, bringing them a broad audience, including a prime-time national radio spot. But the singers’ earlier antiwar songs, the target of an F.B.I. investigation, came to light, and the group’s career plummeted.

Before the group completely dissolved, however, Seeger was drafted in 1942 and assigned to a unit of performers. He married Toshi-Aline Ohta while on furlough in 1943. She would become essential to his work: he called her “the brains of the family.

When he returned from the war he founded People’s Songs Inc., which published political songs and presented concerts for several years before going bankrupt. He also started his nightclub career, performing at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village. Seeger and Paul Robeson toured with the campaign of Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party presidential candidate, in 1948.

Forming the Weavers

Seeger invested $1,700 in 17 acres of land overlooking the Hudson River in Beacon, N.Y., and began building a log cabin there in the late 1940s. (He lived in Beacon for the rest of his life.) In 1949, Seeger, Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman started working together as the Weavers. They were signed to Decca Records by Gordon Jenkins, who was the company’s music director and an arranger for Frank Sinatra. With Jenkins’s elaborate orchestral arrangements, the group recorded a repertoire that stretched from “If I Had a Hammer” and a South African song, “Wimoweh” (the title was Seeger’s mishearing of “Mbube,” the name of a South African hit by Solomon Linda), to an Israeli soldiers’ song, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” and a cleaned-up version of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene.” Onstage, they also sang more pointed topical songs.

In 1950 and 1951 the Weavers were national stars, with hit singles and engagements at major nightclubs. Their hits included “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and Guthrie’s “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know Yuh),” and they sold an estimated four million singles and albums.

Their commercial success was dampened, however, when “Red Channels,” an influential pamphlet that named performers with suspected Communist ties, appeared in June 1950 and listed Seeger, although by then he had long quit the Communist Party. He later criticized himself for not having left the party sooner, though he continued to describe himself as a “communist with a small ‘c.’ ”

By the summer of 1951, the “Red Channels” citation and leaks from F.B.I. files had led to the cancellation of television appearances. In 1951, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigated the Weavers for sedition. And in February 1952, a former member of People’s Songs testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that three of the four Weavers were members of the Communist Party.

As engagements dried up, the Weavers disbanded, though they reunited occasionally in the mid-1950s. After the group recorded an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Seeger left, citing his objection to promoting tobacco use.

Shut out of national exposure, Seeger returned primarily to solo concerts, touring college coffeehouses, churches, schools and summer camps, building an audience for folk music among young people. He started to write a long-running column for the folk-song magazine Sing Out! And he recorded prolifically for the independent Folkways label, singing everything from children’s songs to Spanish Civil War anthems.

In 1955 he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. In his testimony he said, “I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”
Seeger offered to sing the songs mentioned by the congressmen who questioned him. The committee declined.

Seeger was indicted in 1957 on 10 counts of contempt of Congress. He was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but the next year an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty. After the indictment, Seeger’s concerts were often picketed by the John Birch Society and other rightist groups. “All those protests did was sell tickets and get me free publicity,” he later said. “The more they protested, the bigger the audiences became.”

The Folk Revival Years

By then the folk revival was prospering. In 1959, Seeger was among the founders of the Newport Folk Festival. The Kingston Trio’s version of Mr. Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” reached the Top 40 in 1962, soon followed by Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “If I Had a Hammer,” which rose to the Top 10.

Seeger was signed to a major label, Columbia Records, in 1961, but he remained unwelcome on network television. “Hootenanny,” an early-1960s show on ABC that capitalized on the folk revival, refused to book Seeger, causing other performers (including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary) to boycott it. “Hootenanny” eventually offered to present Seeger if he would sign a loyalty oath. He refused.
He toured the world, performing and collecting folk songs, in 1963 and returned to serenade civil rights advocates, who had made a rallying song of his “We Shall Overcome.”
Like many of Pete Seeger’s songs, “We Shall Overcome” had convoluted traditional roots. It was based on old gospel songs, primarily “I’ll Overcome,” a hymn that striking tobacco workers had sung on a picket line in South Carolina. A slower version, “We Will Overcome,” was collected from Lucille Simmons, one of the workers, by Zilphia Horton, the musical director of the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., which trained union organizers.

Horton taught it to Seeger, and her version of “We Will Overcome” was published in the People’s Songs newsletter. Seeger changed “We will” to “We shall” and added verses (“We’ll walk hand in hand”). He taught it to the singers Frank Hamilton, who would join the Weavers in 1962, and Guy Carawan, who became musical director at Highlander in the ‘50s. Carawan taught the song to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at its founding convention.

The song was copyrighted by Seeger, Hamilton, Carawan and Horton. “At that time we didn’t know Lucille Simmons’s name,” Seeger wrote in an autobiographical songbook, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” published in 1993. All of the song’s royalties go to the “We Shall Overcome” Fund, administered by what is now the Highlander Research and Education Center, which provides grants to African-Americans organizing in the South.

Folk goes Electric

Along with many elders of the protest-song movement, Seeger felt betrayed when Bob Dylan set aside protest songs for electric rock. When Bob Dylan appeared at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with an electric blues band, some listeners booed, and reports emerged that Seeger had tried to cut the power cable with an ax. But witnesses, including the festival’s producer, George Wein, and production manager, Joe Boyd (later a leading folk-rock record producer), said he did not go that far. (An ax was available, however. A group of prisoners had used it while singing a logging song.) In later recountings, Seeger said he had grown angry because the music was so loud and distorted that he couldn’t hear the words.

As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.

Fighting for the Hudson River

During the late 1960s Seeger started an improbable project: a sailing ship that would crusade for cleaner water on the Hudson River. Between other benefit concerts he raised money to build the Clearwater, a 106-foot sloop, which was launched in June 1969 with a crew of musicians. The ship became a symbol and a rallying point for antipollution efforts and education.

In May 2009, after decades of litigation and environmental activism led by Seeger’s nonprofit environmental organization, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, General Electric began dredging sediment containing PCBs it had dumped into the Hudson. Seeger and his wife also helped organize a yearly summer folk festival named after the Clearwater.

In the 1980s and ‘90s Seeger toured regularly with Arlo Guthrie, Woody’s son, and continued to lead singalongs and perform benefit concerts. Recognition and awards arrived. He was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972, and in 1993 he was given a lifetime achievement Grammy Award. In 1994 he received a Kennedy Center Honor and, from President Bill Clinton, the National Medal of Arts, America’s highest arts honor, awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1999 he traveled to Cuba to receive the Order of Félix Varela, Cuba’s highest cultural award, for his “humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism.”

Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the category of early influences, in 1996. Arlo Guthrie, who paid tribute at the ceremony, mentioned that the Weavers’ hit “Goodnight, Irene” had reached No. 1, only to add, “I can’t think of a single event in Pete’s life that is probably less important to him.” Seeger made no acceptance speech, but he did lead a singalong of “Goodnight, Irene,” flanked by Stevie Wonder, David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane.

Seeger won Grammy Awards for best traditional folk album in 1997, for the album “Pete” and, in 2009, for the album “At 89.” He won a Grammy in the children’s music category in 2011 for “Tomorrow’s Children.”

He kept performing into the 21st century, despite a flagging voice; audiences happily sang along more loudly. He celebrated his 90th birthday, on May 3, 2009, at a Madison Square Garden concert — a benefit for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater — with Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Ms. Baez, Ani DiFranco, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Emmylou Harris and dozens of other musicians paying tribute. That August he was back in Newport for the 50th anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival.

In spite of decades of protests against inequality, injustice, racism and anything that is wrong with this “world”, through the years, Pete Seeger remained determinedly optimistic. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

Pete Seeger died from natural causes at age 94 on 27 January 2014.

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Lou
Reed
10/2013

lou-reed300October 27, 2013 –  Lou Reed was born Lewis Allan Reed into a Jewish family in Brooklyn , New York.

Although he acknowledged that he was Jewish, he always added, “My God is rock’n’roll. It’s an obscure power that can change your life. The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.”
Reed attended Atkinson Elementary School in Freeport on Long Island and went on to Freeport Junior High School, notorious for its gangs. As a teenager, he suffered panic attacks, became socially awkward and “possessed a fragile temperament” but was highly focused on things that he liked – principally music.

Reed resumed his education at Syracuse University in 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing. He was a platoon leader in ROTC and was later expelled from the program for holding an unloaded gun to his superior’s head. In 1961, he began hosting a late-night radio program on WAER called Excursions On A Wobbly Rail. Named after a song by pianist Cecil Taylor, the program typically featured doo wop, rhythm and blues, and jazz, particularly the free jazz developed in the mid-1950s. Many of Reed’s guitar techniques, such as the guitar-drum roll, were inspired by jazz saxophonists, such as Ornette Coleman. In short he started a band and had his own radio show. There were several extracurricular, possibly illegal activities of which the university didn’t approve. They tried to kick him out, but he was a genius; so he stayed and he graduated with honors from Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in English in June 1964.

In 1964, Reed moved to New York City and began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records. In 1964, he wrote and recorded the single “The Ostrich”, a parody of popular dance songs of the time, which included lines such as “put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it”. His employers felt that the song had hit potential, and assembled a supporting band to help promote the recording. The ad hoc group, called “The Primitives”, included Welsh musician John Cale, who had recently moved to New York to study music and was playing viola in composer La Monte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music, along with Tony Conrad. Cale and Conrad were both surprised to find that for “The Ostrich”, Reed tuned each string of his guitar to the same note, which they began to call his “ostrich guitar” tuning. This technique created a drone effect similar to their experimentation in Young’s avant-garde ensemble. Disappointed with Reed’s performance, Cale was nevertheless impressed by Reed’s early repertoire (including “Heroin”), and a partnership began to evolve.

Reed and Cale (who would play viola, keyboards and bass) lived together on the Lower East Side, and invited Reed’s college acquaintance guitarist Sterling Morrison and Cale’s neighbor drummer Angus MacLise to join the group, thus forming the Velvet Underground. When the opportunity came to play their first paying gig at Summit High School in Summit, New Jersey, MacLise quit because he believed that accepting money for art was a sellout and also did not want to participate in a structured gig. He was replaced on drums by Maureen Tucker, initially for that one show, but she soon became a full-time member with her pounding style of drumming an integral part of the band’s distinctive sound, despite the initial objections of Cale. Though internally unstable (Cale left in 1968, Reed in 1970), and without commercial success, the band has a long-standing reputation as one of the most influential in rock history.

The group soon caught the attention of artist Andy Warhol. One of Warhol’s first contributions was to integrate them into the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Warhol’s associates inspired many of Reed’s songs as he fell into a thriving, multifaceted artistic scene. Reed rarely gave an interview without paying homage to Warhol as a mentor. Conflict emerged when Warhol had the idea for the group to take on a chanteuse, the European former model and singer Nico. Despite his initial resistance, Reed wrote several songs for Nico to sing, and the two were briefly lovers. The Velvet Underground & Nico reached No. 171 on the charts, but is now widely considered one of the most influential rock albums ever recorded. Rolling Stone has it listed as the 13th greatest album of all time.

The career of Lou Reed defies capsule summarization. Like David Bowie (whom Reed directly inspired in many ways), he made over his image many times, mutating from theatrical glam rocker to strung-out junkie to avant-garde noiseman to straight rock & roller to your average guy. Few would deny Reed’s immense importance and considerable achievements. As has often been written, he expanded the vocabulary of rock & roll lyrics into the previously forbidden territory of kinky sex, drug use (and abuse), decadence, transvestites, homosexuality, and suicidal depression. As has been pointed out less often, he remained committed to using rock & roll as a forum for literary, mature expression throughout his artistic life, without growing lyrically soft or musically complacent. By and large, he took on these challenging duties with uncompromising honesty and a high degree of realism. For these reasons, he was often cited as punk’s most important ancestor. It’s often overlooked, though, that he was equally skilled at celebrating romantic joy, and rock & roll itself, as he was at depicting harrowing urban realities. With the exception of Neil Young, no other star who rose to fame in the ’60s continued to push himself so diligently into creating work that was, and remains, meaningful and contemporary.

Although Reed achieved his greatest success as a solo artist, his most enduring accomplishments were as the leader of the Velvet Underground in the ’60s. If Reed had never made any solo records, his work as the principal lead singer and songwriter for the Velvets would have still ensured his stature as one of the greatest rock visionaries of all time. The Velvet Underground are discussed at great length in many other sources, but it’s sufficient to note that the four studio albums they recorded with Reed at the helm are essential listening, as is much of their live and extraneous material. “Heroin,” “Sister Ray,” “Sweet Jane,” “Rock and Roll,” “Venus in Furs,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” “What Goes On,” and “Lisa Says” are just the most famous classics that Reed wrote and sang for the group. As innovative as the Velvets were at breaking lyrical and instrumental taboos with their crunching experimental rock, they were unappreciated in their lifetime. Five years of little commercial success was undoubtedly a factor in Reed leaving the group he had founded in August 1970, just before the release of their most accessible effort, Loaded. Although Reed’s songs and streetwise, sing-speak vocals dominated the Velvets, he was perhaps more reliant upon his talented collaborators than he realized, or was even willing to admit in his latter years. The most talented of these associates was John Cale, who was apparently fired by Reed in 1968 after the Velvets’ second album (although the pair subsequently worked together on various other projects).

Reed had a reputation of being a difficult man to work with for an extended period, and that made it difficult for his extensive solo oeuvre to compete with the standards of brilliance set by the Velvets. Nowhere was this more apparent than on his self-titled solo debut from 1971, recorded after he’d taken an extended hiatus from music, moving back to his parents’ suburban Long Island home at one point. Lou Reed mostly consisted of flaccid versions of songs dating back to the Velvet days, and he could have really used the group to punch them up, as proved by the many outtake versions of these tunes that he actually recorded with the Velvet Underground (some of which didn’t surface until about 25 years later).

Reed got a shot in the arm (no distasteful pun intended) when David Bowie and Mick Ronson produced his second album, Transformer. A more energetic set that betrayed the influence of glam rock, it also included his sole Top 20 hit, “Walk on the Wild Side,” and other good songs like “Vicious” and “Satellite of Love.” It also made him a star in Britain, which was quick to appreciate the influence Reed had exerted on Bowie and other glam rockers. Reed went into more serious territory on Berlin (1973), its sweet orchestral production coating lyrical messages of despair and suicide. In some ways Reed’s most ambitious and impressive solo effort, it was accorded a vituperative reception by critics in no mood for a nonstop bummer (however elegantly executed). Unbelievably, in retrospect, it made the Top Ten in Britain, though it flopped stateside.

Having been given a cold shoulder for some of his most serious (if chilling) work, Reed apparently decided he was going to give the public what it wanted. He had guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner give his music more of a pop-metal, radio-friendly sheen. More disturbingly, he decided to play up to the cartoon junkie role that some in his audience seemed eager to assign to him. Onstage, that meant shocking bleached hair, painted fingernails, and simulated drug injections. On record, it led to some of his most careless performances. One of these, the 1974 album Sally Can’t Dance, was also his most commercially successful, reaching the Top Ten, thus confirming both Reed’s and the audience’s worst instincts. As if to prove he could still be as uncompromising as anyone, he unleashed the double album Metal Machine Music, a nonstop assault of electronic noise. Opinions remain divided as to whether it was an artistic statement, a contract quota-filler, or a slap in the face to the public.

Later, Reed never behaved as outrageously (in public and in the studio) as he did in the mid-’70s, although there was plenty of excitement in the decades that followed. When he decided to play it relatively straight, sincere, and hard-nosed, he could produce affecting work in the spirit of his best vintage material (parts of Coney Island Baby and Street Hassle). At other points, he seemed not to be putting too much effort into any aspect of his songs (“Rock and Roll Heart”). With 1978’s Take No Prisoners, he delivered one of the weirdest concert albums of all time, more of a comedy monologue (which not too many people laughed hard at) than a musical document. Reed had always been an enigma, but no one questioned the serious intent of his work with the Velvet Underground. As a soloist, it was getting impossible to tell when he was serious, or whether he even wished to be taken seriously anymore.

At the end of the ’70s, The Bells set the tone for most of his future work. Reed would settle down; he would play it straight; he would address serious, adult concerns, including heterosexual romance, with sincerity. Not a bad idea, but though the albums that followed were much more consistent in tone, they remained erratic in quality and, worse, could occasionally be quite boring. The recruitment of Robert Quine as lead guitarist helped, and The Blue Mask (1982) and New Sensations (1984) were fairly successful, although in retrospect they didn’t deserve the raves they received from some critics at the time. Quine, however, would also find Reed too difficult to work with for an extended period. New York (1989) heralded both a commercial and critical renaissance for Reed, and in truth it was his best work in quite some time, although it didn’t break any major stylistic ground. Reed worked best when faced with a challenge, which arrived when he collaborated with former partner John Cale in 1990 on a song cycle for the recently deceased Andy Warhol. In both its recorded and stage incarnations, this was the most experimental work that Reed had devised in quite some time.

Magic and Loss (1992) returned him to the more familiar straight rock territory of New York, again to critical raves. The re-formation of the Velvet Underground for a 1993 European live tour could not be considered an unqualified success, however. European audiences were thrilled to see the legends in person, but critical reaction to the shows was mixed, and critical reaction to the live record was tepid. More distressingly, old conflicts reared their head within the band once again, and the reunion ended before it had a chance to get to America. Cale and Reed at this point seem determined never to work with each other again (the death of Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison in 1995 seemed to permanently ice prospects of more VU projects). In 1996, the surviving Velvet Underground members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, performing a newly penned song for their fallen comrade, Morrison. Reed closed the ’90s with an album that saw him explore relationships, 1996’s Set the Twilight Reeling (many speculated that the album was biographical and focused on his union with performance artist Laurie Anderson), which didn’t turned out to be one of Reed’s more critically acclaimed releases. He also found time to compose music for the Robert Wilson opera Timerocker, and in 1998, released the “unplugged” album Perfect Night: Live in London. The same year, Reed was the subject of a superb installment of the PBS American Masters series that chronicled his entire career (eventually released as a DVD, titled Rock and Roll Heart).

 

The year 2000 saw Reed’s first release for Reprise Records, Ecstasy, a glorious return to raw and straightforward rock, a tour de force that many agreed was his finest work since New York. Another collaboration with Robert Wilson, POE-try, followed in 2001 and continued its worldwide stage run through the year. Including new music by Reed and words adapted from the macabre texts of Edgar Allan Poe, POE-try led to Reed’s highly ambitious next album, The Raven. Animal Serenade, a double-disc set recorded at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles during his 2003 world tour, was issued in spring 2004. The live effort was Reed’s tribute of sorts to his celebrated Rock N Roll Animal concert album, which was released 30 years before. In 2007, Reed released Hudson River Wind Meditations, a four-song experimental sound collage that celebrated both the best and worst aspects of Metal Machine Music. In 2011, he joined forces with heavy metal legends Metallica to create Lulu, an album of fresh studio material. Written by Reed, with James Hetfield et al. providing input on arrangements and dynamics, Lulu blended Lou Reed’s trademark monotone vocals with the power and ferocity of Metallica’s musicianship. However, Reed underwent a liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in April 2013, and although he subsequently proclaimed his strength and intention to return to performing and songwriting, he died of end-stage liver disease at his home on Long Island in late October of that year.

To say the least, this song was highly controversial when it came out considering it is about transvestites who come to NYC for prostitution. They would say to their potential customers, “Take a walk on the wild side!” Lou Reed once said about the song: “I always thought it would be fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn’t met before, or hadn’t wanted to meet.” What an amazing storyteller and lyrical genius Lou Reed was. 

Try to find another song from this time period where the artist talks so openly about subjects such as oral sex, transvestites, and drug use, there weren’t very many others. He was writing about things in a style that, frankly, almost no other artist at that time would even consider writing or singing about. Lou was well before his time, and has inspired countless artists from all genres. What a classic, classic song! Still no song like it to this day. What artist other than ‘New York Lou’ could get away with lyrics like: “And the colored girls go doo do doo, doo do doo, doo do doo”?! The lyrics are way too clever and fun not to post in the description so here they are:

Lyrics:

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side’

Candy came from out on the island
In the backroom she was everybody’s darlin’
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’

And the colored girls go
Doo do doo, doo do doo, doo do doo

Little Joe never once gave it away
Everybody had to pay and pay
A hustle here and a hustle there
New York City’s the place where they said
‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
I said, ‘Hey Joe, take a walk on the wild side’

Sugar plum fairy came and hit the streets
Lookin’ for soul food and a place to eat
Went to the Apollo, you should’ve seen ’em go go go
They said, ‘Hey sugar, take a walk on the wild side’
I said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
Alright, huh

Jackie is just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then I guess she had to crash
Valium would have helped that bash
She said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
I said, ‘Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side’

And the colored girls say
Doo do doo, doo do doo, doo do doo

 

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Phil
Ramone
3/2013

phil ramoneMarch 30, 2013 – Philip “Phil” Ramone was born January 5th 1934 in South Africa but grew up in Brooklyn, New York. As a child in South Africa, he was a musical prodigy, beginning to play the violin at age three and performing for Princess Elizabeth at age ten. In the late 1940s he trained as a classical violinist at the Juilliard School, and opened his own recording studio before he was 20. He became a naturalized citizen of the USA on December 14th 1953.

A very talented recording engineer, record producer, violinist and composer, he co-founded A & R Recording, Inc. a recording studio with business partner Jack Arnold in 1958.

His early work in producing and engineering was with jazz artists, working on John Coltrane records and acting as engineer for the landmark Getz/Gilberto album in 1964, for which he won his first Grammy. He transitioned during the 1960s to working with folk-rock, pop-rock, and R&B acts such as Peter, Paul and Mary, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan, first primarily as an engineer, and later as a producer.

He quickly gained a reputation as a talented sound engineer and music producer, in particular for his use of innovative technology. Among the performers whose music he produced are Clay Aiken, Burt Bacharach, The Band, Bono, Laura Branigan, Ray Charles, Karen Carpenter, Chicago, Peter Cincotti, Natalie Cole, Bob Dylan, Sheena Easton, Melissa Errico, Gloria Estefan, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Elton John, Quincy Jones, Patricia Kaas, B.B. King, Julian Lennon, Shelby Lynne, Madonna, Barry Manilow, Richard Marx, Paul McCartney, George Michael, Liza Minnelli, Anne Murray, Olivia Newton-John, Sinéad O’Connor, Fito Páez, Luciano Pavarotti, Peter, Paul and Mary, June Pointer, André Previn, Diane Schuur, Michael Sembello, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, The Guess Who, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder and Nikki Yanofsky.

He won his first production Grammy for his work on 1975’s Still Crazy After All These Years by Paul Simon. He produced Billy Joel’s 1977 album The Stranger and began a fruitful collaboration with Joel producing a string of hit albums throughout the rest of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1993, he produced Duets, Frank Sinatra’s comeback album, a commercial hit that peaked at #2 on the Billboard Album Chart. During the rest of the 1990s, Ramone moved from production work to his primary role as an industry executive, serving as chairman of The Recording Academy, though he would still be involved in some studio work including several Broadway cast recordings, as well as helping produce, with Quincy Jones, the televised A Tribute to Brian Wilson in 2001.

In addition to producing music, Ramone had numerous concert, film, Broadway and television productions to his credit that include A Star is Born, Walkabout, August Rush, Beyond the Sea, Flashdance, Ghostbusters, Midnight Cowboy, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Passion, Seussical, Simon and Garfunkel: The Concert In Central Park, Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards, The Score, VH1/BBC Party at the Palace: Queen’s Jubilee Concert and The Good Thief. A champion of music educational programs, Ramone served on the boards of the National Mentoring Partnership and Berklee College of Music.

He is also credited with having recorded Marilyn Monroe’s intoxicated version of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy.

Phil was hospitalized in late February 2013 and on March 30, 2013, he died of complications from surgery related to an aortic aneurysm at age 79.

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Donna Summer 5/2012

donna-summerMay 17, 2012 – Donna Summer was born LaDonna Adrian Gaines on December 31, 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts. Summer was one of seven children. She was raised in the Boston neighborhood of Mission Hill. Her father was a butcher and her mother was a schoolteacher.

She began singing at a young age in the church. Summer’s performance debut occurred at church when she was eight years old, replacing a vocalist who failed to show up. In her early teens, she formed several musical groups imitating Motown girl groups such as The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas. She attended Boston’s Jeremiah E. Burke High School where she performed in school musicals and was considered popular.

In 1967, just weeks before graduation, Donna left for New York where she joined the psychedelic blues rock band Crow as lead singer. It was a move influenced by Janis Joplin’s life story that she dropped out of school, she later stated. After they were passed on by a record label that was only interested in the band’s lead singer, the band broke up and Summer stayed in New York to audition for a role in the counterculture musical, Hair. She landed the part of Sheila and agreed to take the role in the Munich production of the show, moving to Munich, Germany after getting her parents’ reluctant but not needed approval.

She stayed with the musical for the contract year but stay for many years in Europe and eventually became fluent in German, singing various songs in that language, and participated in the musicals Ich bin ich (the German version of The Me Nobody Knows), Godspell and Show Boat. Whilst in Munich she sang as a member of the pop group FamilyTree and also sang as a studio session singer and in theatres. Between 1968 and 1971 she recorded several singles, still using her birth name Donna Gaines and then moved to Vienna, Austria, and joined the Vienna Volksoper.

She provided backing vocals for producer-keyboardist Veit Marvos on his Ariola Records release Nice to See You, credited as “Gayn Pierre”. Several subsequent singles included Donna performing with the group, and the name “Gayn Pierre” was used while performing in Godspell with Austrian actor Helmuth Sommer during 1972. She married  Helmuth Sommer in 1973 and gave birth to their daughter (called Mimi) Natalia Pia Melanie Sommer, the same year. She then anglicized her husband’s name Sommer to Summer and became a disco sensation.

That happened in 1974, when she met producers/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte while working on a Three Dog Night record. The three teamed up for the single “The Hostage,” which became a hit around Western Europe, and Summer released her first album, Lady of the Night, in Europe only. In 1975, the trio recorded “Love to Love You Baby,” inspired by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s lush, heavy-breathing opus “Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus.” Powered by Summer’s graphic moans, “Love to Love You Baby” became a massive hit in Europe, and drew the attention of Casablanca Records, which put the track out in America. A 17-minute, side-long epic on the LP of the same name, its single version topped the Billboard club chart and climbed to number two on the Hot 10

In the wake of “Love to Love You Baby,” producing albums (as opposed to just singles) became an important forum for Summer and her producers. The 1976 follow-up Love Trilogy contained another side-long suite in “Try Me (I Know We Can Make It Work),” and demonstrated Moroder and Bellotte’s growing sophistication as arrangers with its lush, sweeping strings. Four Seasons of Love, released later in the year, was a concept album with one track dedicated to each season, and 1977’s I Remember Yesterday featured a variety of genre exercises.

Despite the album’s title, it produced the most forward-looking single in Summer and Moroder’s catalog, the monumental “I Feel Love.” Eschewing the strings and typical disco excess, “I Feel Love” was the first major pop hit recorded with an entirely synthesized backing track; its lean, sleek arrangement and driving, hypnotic pulse laid the groundwork not only for countless Euro-dance imitators, but also for the techno revolution of the ’80s and ’90s. It became Summer’s second Top Ten hit in the U.S., and she followed it with Once Upon a Time, another concept album, this one retelling the story of Cinderella for the disco era.

Summer’s albums were selling well, bolstered by her popularity in the dance clubs, and she was poised to become a major pop hitmaker as well. Her acting turn in the 1978 disco-themed comedy Thank God It’s Friday produced another hit in “Last Dance,” which won her a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal (as well as an Oscar for songwriter Paul Jabara). Doubtlessly benefiting from the added exposure, the double-LP set Live and More became Summer’s first number one album later that year. It featured one side of new studio material, including a disco cover of the psychedelic pop epic “MacArthur Park” that became her first number one pop single early the next year. Her 1979 double-LP Bad Girls featured more of her songwriting contributions than ever, and went straight to number one, as did the lusty singles “Bad Girls” — co-written with husband Bruce Sudano — and the rock-oriented “Hot Stuff,” which made Summer the first female artist ever to score three number one singles in the same calendar year. Her greatest-hits package On the Radio also topped the Billboard 200, the first time any artist had ever hit number one with three consecutive double LPs; the newly recorded title track became another hit, and Summer’s duet with Barbra Streisand, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” became her fourth number one single.

At the peak of her success, Summer decided to leave Casablanca, and became the first artist signed to the new Geffen label. Sensing that the disco era was coming to a close, Summer attempted to modify her style to include more R&B and pop/rock on her first Geffen album, 1980’s The Wanderer; the album and its title track were both hits. Not wanting to alienate her core audience, Summer returned to pure dance music on an attempted follow-up; however, Geffen deemed I’m a Rainbow not worthy of release (it was finally issued in 1996). Instead, Summer ended her collaboration with Moroder and Bellotte and teamed up with Quincy Jones for 1982’s Donna Summer.

“Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)” was a significant hit, but none of its follow-ups did very well. With producer Michael Omartian, Summer moved back into post-disco dance music and contemporary R&B with 1983’s She Works Hard for the Money. Its title track was another crossover smash, given an extra boost by its highly choreographed video, and was nominated for multiple MTV Video Awards.

Summer’s prime then came to a close.

Despite winning a gospel Grammy for “Forgive Me,” Summer’s 1984 follow-up, Cats Without Claws, flopped, as did the 1987 effort All Systems Go. Hiring the British production team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman, Summer scored her last major mainstream success with the 1989 Top Ten single “This Time I Know It’s for Real,” from the album Another Place & Time. Around the same time, she began denouncing her earlier, “sinful” disco material. Mistaken Identity, released in 1991, effectively killed her momentum and was her lone proper studio album of the decade. However, she did make some noise in clubs with “Melody of Love,” from the excellent 1994 retrospective Endless Summer, and reunited with Moroder for the 1997 non-LP single “Carry On,” which won the inaugural Grammy for Best Dance Recording.

Summer subsequently signed a deal with Sony, which primed her for re-establishment with 1999’s VH1 Presents: Live and More Encore!, which featured the new song “I Will Go with You (Con Te Partiro),” another number one club hit. After a couple additional non-album singles, she released the energetic and eclectic Crayons. Four of its singles scaled to the top of the dance chart. Summer remained intermittently active with concert and TV appearances during the next several years, and released “To Paris with Love,” her final chart-topping single, in 2010.

After battling lung cancer, which she claimed came as a result of the toxic fumes released during the World Center Twin Towers collapse, Donna Summer died at her home in Naples, Florida on May 17, 2012. The following April, she was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

She was 63 years old.

” She was a Game Changer”

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Levon
Helm
4/2012

Levon-HelmApril 19, 2012 – Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm  was born on May 26, 1940 in Elaine, Arkansas. Helm grew up in Turkey Scratch, a hamlet west of Helena, Arkansas. His parents, Nell and Diamond Helm, cotton farmers and also great lovers of music, encouraged their children to play and sing. Young Lavon (as he was christened) began playing the guitar at the age of eight and also played drums during his formative years. He saw Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys at the age of six and decided then to become a musician.

Arkansas in the 1940s and 50s stood at the confluence of a variety of musical styles—blues, country and R&B—that later became known as rock and roll. Helm was influenced by all these styles, which he heard on the Grand Ole Opry on radio station WSM and R&B on radio station WLAC out of Nashville, Tennessee. He also saw traveling shows such as F.S. Walcott’s Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels that featured top African-American artists of the time.

Another early influence on Helm was the work of the harmonica player, guitarist and singer Sonny Boy Williamson II, who played blues and early rhythm and blues on the King Biscuit Time radio show on KFFA in Helena and performed regularly in Marvell with blues guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr. In his 1993 autobiography, This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band, Helm describes watching Williamson’s drummer, James “Peck” Curtis, intently during a live performance in the early 1950s and later imitating this R&B drumming style. Helm established his first band, the Jungle Bush Beaters, while in high school.

Helm also witnessed some of the earliest performances by southern country music, blues and rockabilly artists such as Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, Bo Diddley and a fellow Arkansan, Ronnie Hawkins. At age 17, Helm began playing in clubs and bars around Helena.

Levon Helm was in the right place at the right time. He saw the birth of rock and roll and, though he was too much of a gentleman to say it, his role in helping to keep that rebellious child healthy was more than just instrumental.

On May 26, 1940, Mark Lavon Helm was the second of four children born to Nell and Diamond Helm in Elaine, Arkansas. Diamond was a cotton farmer who entertained occasionally as a musician. The Helms loved music and often sang together. They listened to The Grand Ole Opry and Sonny Boy Williamson and his King Biscuit Entertainers regularly on the radio. A favorite family pastime was attending traveling music shows in the area. According to his 1993 autobiography, “This Wheel’s On Fire”, Levon recalled seeing his first live show, Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys, at six years old. His description: “This really tattooed my brain. I’ve never forgotten it.” Hearing performers like Monroe and Williamson on the radio was one thing; seeing them live made a huge impression.

Levon’s father bought him his first guitar at age nine. At ten and 11, whenever he wasn’t in school or at work on the farm, the boy could be found at KFFA’s broadcasting studio in Helena, Arkansas, watching Sonny Boy Williamson do his radio show, “King Biscuit Time”. Helm made his younger sister Linda a string bass out of a washtub when he was 12 years old. She would play the bass while her brother slapped his thighs and played harmonica and guitar. They would sing songs learned at home and popular hits of the day, and billed themselves as “Lavon and Linda.” Because of their fresh-faced good looks, obvious musical talent and Levon’s natural ability to win an audience with sheer personality and infectious rhythms, the pair consistently won talent contests along the Arkansas 4-H Club circuit.

In 1954 Levon was 14 years old when he saw Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins do a show at Helena. Also performing was a young Elvis Presley, with Scotty Moore on guitar, and Bill Black on stand-up bass. They did not have a drummer. The music was early jazz-fueled rockabilly, and the audience went wild. In 1955 he saw Elvis once more, before Presley’s star exploded. This time Presley had D.J. Fontana with him on drums and Black was playing electric bass. Helm couldn’t get over the difference and thought it was the best band he’d seen. The added instruments gave the music solidity and depth. People jumped out of their seats dancing to the thunderous, heart-pumping rhythms. The melting pot that was the Mississippi Delta had boiled over and evolved. Its magnificently rich blues was uniting with all the powerful, new, spicy-hot sounds and textures that became rock and roll.

Natural progression led Levon to form his own rock band as a high-school junior, called The Jungle Bush Beaters. While Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were making teens everywhere crazed, Levon would practice, play, watch and learn. After seeing Jerry Lee’s drummer Jimmy Van Eaton, he seriously began thinking of playing the drums himself. Around this same time the 17-year-old musician was invited by Conway Twitty to share the stage with Twitty and his Rock Housers. He had met Twitty when “Lavon and Linda” opened for him at a previous show. Helm was a personable, polite teen who took his music seriously, so Twitty allowed him to sit in whenever the opportunity arose.

Ronnie Hawkins came into Levon Helm’s life in 1957. A charismatic entertainer and front-man, Hawkins was gathering musicians to tour Canada, where the shows and money were steady. He had a sharp eye for talent. He needed a drummer and Levon fit the bill. Fulfilling a promise to Nell and Diamond to finish high school, Levon joined Ronnie and his “Hawks” on the road. The young Arkansas farm boy, once a tractor driving champion, found himself driving Hawkins’ Cadillac to gigs, happily aware that all the unknown adventures of rock and roll would soon be his destiny.

In 1959 Ronnie got The Hawks signed to Roulette Records. They had two hits, “Forty Days” and “Mary Lou”, sold 750,000 copies and appeared on Dick Clark’s New American Bandstand 1965 (1952). Hawkins and Helm recruited four more talented Canadian musicians in the early 1960s–Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson. Under Ronnie’s tutelage they would often perform until midnight and rehearse until four in the morning. Other bands began emulating their style; now they were the ones to watch and learn from.

Eventually the students surpassed their teacher. Weary of Ronnie’s strict regulations and eager to expand their own musical interests, the five decided to break from Hawkins. They called themselves “Levon and the Hawks.”

About 1965 Bob Dylan decided to change his sound. He was ready to “go electric” and wanted Levon and The Hawks to help him fire it up. The boys signed on to tour with Dylan, but unfortunately Dylan’s die-hard folk fans resisted. Night after night of constant booing left Levon without the pleasure of seeing his audience enjoy themselves. He called his drummer’s stool “the best seat in the house,” because he could see his fellow musicians and his audience simultaneously. What pleased him most, always, was that his audience had a good time. He temporarily left the group and eventually landed back home in Arkansas. Dylan and the rest of the band took up residence in Woodstock, NY. They rented a large, pink house where they wrote and rehearsed new material. Danko called for Helm to join them when Capitol Records gave them a recording contract.

Woodstock residents called them “the band,” so they kept the moniker. The name The Band fit. The sound was no-frills rock-and-roll, but far from simplistic. They fused every musical influence they were exposed to over the years as individuals and as a unit. The result was brilliant. Their development as musicians was perfected by years of playing. Living together at “Big Pink” allowed complete collaboration of their artistic expression. Americana and folklore themes, heart-wrenching ballads filled with naked emotion, majestic harmonies, hard-driving rhythms and exquisite instrumentation made critics, peers and fans realize that this music was unlike any heard before. Their first album, “Music from Big Pink”, released in July of 1968, made them household names, and as a result they were invited to appear on Ed Sullivan’s The Ed Sullivan Show (1948) in autumn of ’69. Following “Big Pink”‘s success the next album, called simply “The Band”, is considered by some as their masterpiece. They made seven albums total, including one live recording in 1972, “Rock of Ages”. Many of their hits–such as “The Weight”, “W.S. Walcott’s Medicine Show” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”–were spawned from stories of Levon’s beloved South.

Helm was working in Los Angeles in 1974, at a Sunset Blvd. hotel, when he spotted a beautiful young brunette taking a dip in the pool. Her name was Sandra Dodd and when she looked up at him smiling, she didn’t recognize him at first. The charming musician offered to take the lovely lady for sushi and never looked back. They were married on September 7, 1981, in Woodstock.

The barn and studio Helm built in Woodstock, which became his permanent home, was just about complete in 1975. He invited Muddy Waters to his new studio and they recorded “Muddy Waters in Woodstock”. To the delight of everyone involved, it won a Grammy.

The Band held a farewell concert at Winterland in San Francisco on Thanksgiving 1976. It was a bittersweet time for many, who felt the group’s demise was too soon. They called it “The Last Waltz”, which included Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and an all-star guest list of peers and friends that read like the “Who’s Who” of rock and roll. The event eventually sold as a triple album and was also filmed–The Last Waltz (1978) became the first historical “rockumentary.”

Group members went on to individual pursuits. Levon cut his debut album, “The RCO All-Stars”, in 1977. His next effort was the self-titled “Levon Helm”, followed by “American Son”, released in 1980. That same year was pivotal, as Helm turned his attention to acting. He played Loretta Lynn’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), winning great reviews for his first film appearance. He did another self-titled album and Hollywood again came knocking in 1983, giving him a role in The Right Stuff (1983). The authenticity he brought to his characters earned him numerous movie roles from 1980 until 2009. He’s the most awesome, naturalistic actor I’ve ever seen as I remember him as the coal miner himself in “Coal Miner’s Daughter”? You’d have thought they had dragged him right out of the mine, he was so real. Another favorite role was the flight engineer Jack Ridley, Chuck Yeager’s best buddy in “The Right Stuff.”

Levon gave a sensitive, convincing portrayal of a destitute blind man in the 2005 Tommy Lee Jones vehicle, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005). In 2007 he filmed Shooter (2007) with Mark Wahlberg. His last role was in 2009. where he portrayed Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood in In the Electric Mist (2009), again with his friend Tommy Lee Jones.

Rick Danko and Levon reunited to play music after Danko had been living in California. Rick moved back to Woodstock and the friends did an acoustic tour in early 1983. In San Jose the following year, they received excellent reviews when Hudson and Manuel joined them for their first U.S. appearance as The Band since 1976. They continued playing together until the tragic death of their dear friend and comrade, the 42-year-old Manuel.

During the 1990s three more Band albums were recorded: “Jericho”, “High on the Hog” and “Jubilation”.

In 1998 Levon was diagnosed with throat cancer and the famous voice with the rich Southern nuances was silenced to a whisper. He still played the drums, mandolin and harmonica, often performing with his daughter, Amy Helm, also a vocalist and instrumentalist. A great emotional support to her father during this time, Amy appeared with him regularly at Levon Helm Studios. In 1999 Helm endured another tragic loss when Rick Danko passed away 19 days before his 56th birthday. His death marked the end of an era.

Miraculously, Levon’s voice slowly returned. He felt comfortable enough to sing again live. With imagination and vision, he conceived The Midnight Ramble Sessions, a series of live performances at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock. Named for the traveling minstrel shows of his youth, the first Midnight Ramble was held in January, 2004. It featured one of the last performances by great blues pianist Johnnie Johnson. Friends old and new joined Levon on his stage, including Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, John Sebastian, Allen Toussaint, Elvis Costello, Phil Lesh, Jimmy Vivino, Hubert Sumlin, Little Sammy Davis, Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters, The Muddy Waters Band, The Swell Season, Donald Fagen, Steve Jordon, Hot Tuna, Kris Kristofferson, The Black Crowes, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Norah Jones, The Bacon Brothers, Robbie Dupree, My Morning Jacket, Shemekia Copeland, The Wood Brothers, Steve Earle, Jackie Greene, Sam Bush, Brewer & Shipley, Carolyn Wonderland, Ollabelle and The Alexis P. Suter Band. The monthly Rambles at “The Barn” were wildly successful, drawing a worldwide audience.

Releases produced by Levon Helm Studios from Helm’s personal “vault,” were Volume I and II of “The Midnight Ramble Sessions”, plus a live RCO All-Stars performance from New Year’s Eve 1977, at the Palladium. The vitality and magnetism of these recordings speak for themselves. In September of 2007, Dirt Farmer Music and Vanguard Records released “Dirt Farmer”, Levon’s first solo, studio album in 25 years. A project particularly close to his heart, the CD contains music reminiscent of his past, and songs handed down from his parents. “Dirt Farmer” was awarded a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album in February 2008 and landed Levon a spot in Rolling Stone’s The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. That same year he was also recognized by the Recording Academy with a lifetime achievement award as an original member of The Band and was given the “Artist of the Year” Award by the Americana Music Association. In 2009 Levon released “Electric Dirt”, which marked his highest debut in Soundscan era at #36 and spent six consecutive weeks at #1 on the Americana Radio Chart. He won a second Grammy for “Electric Dirt” in the inaugural category of Best Americana Album in 2010. In September 2008 Levon took “The Midnight Ramble” on the road to Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. Buddy Miller, John Hiatt, Sheryl Crow, George Receli, Sam Bush and Billy Bob Thornton helped The Levon Helm Band create an evening of unforgettable musical joy. “Ramble at the Ryman – Live CD and DVD” (sold individually) won him his third consecutive Grammy, again as Best Album in the Americana category, in February 2012. Sadly, Levon’s cancer returned shortly after this last triumph. He passed away on April 19, 2012. His funeral was a tearful, joyful, musical celebration of his life.

The intimacy of the shows performed at Levon’s hearth offered a hospitality and warmth found in no other venue, not to mention the excellence of the performances themselves, hosted by a man whose gifts were truly legendary. Though always an enthusiastic and passionate performer, with sheer joy and gratitude, he effortlessly captivated his audience, young and old, with a rhythmic power all his own. During a career that spanned over five decades, Levon Helm nurtured a tradition of professionalism with a deep respect for his craft and remained refreshingly genuine in a world that often compromised integrity. He was a master storyteller who wove his tales with the magic thread of universality that ties us all. He beckoned us to come in, sit awhile and enjoy. We see ourselves in his stories and we are home.

This legendary lead singer and drummer of The Band passed away from cancer on April 19, 2012, at the age of 71.

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Whitney Houston 2/2012

Whitney HoustonFebruary 11, 2012 – Whitney Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey on August 9, 1963. Much has been publicized about her childhood and music influences including prominent gospel and soul singers in her family, such as her mother Cissy Houston, cousins Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick and her godmother Aretha Franklin. She began singing with New Jersey church’s junior gospel choir at age 11. She spent some of her early teenage years touring nightclubs with her mother Ciss, and she would occasionally get on stage and perform with Cissy. In 1977, aged 14, she became a backup singer on the Michael Zager Band’s single “Life’s a Party”.

Personal Note: I moved to the US in 1980 and was living in Bloomfield, New Jersey, while my then girlfriend and later 2nd wife was working for TV 47, which aired from the downtown Newark Theatre building where I first heard Whitney Houston in February 1981. She was a mezzo-soprano with incredible voice flexibility, later commonly referred to as “The Voice” in reference to her exceptional vocal talent.

Few pop singers have been gifted with a voice as glorious as Whitney Houston’s, and even fewer have treated their talent with the frustrating indifference she did toward the end of her life. She sold more records and received more awards than almost any other female pop star of the 20th century, but spent most of her last years mired in a drug addiction that sapped her will to sing and left her in a shambolic state.

Her death at the age of 48 will send her albums back into the charts, and introduce her music to a generation who knew her only as a troubled character whose commercial success peaked in the 1990s. Though never edgy as a musician – her skills were often wasted on bland adult-contemporary songs – she was more than just a purveyor of anodyne chart hits. Houston was lauded by other vocalists for her impeccable technique and polish, qualities that elevated her above almost every other star of her era.

Houston was gospel-trained, but her voice also lent itself to R&B, pop and ballads, and she was adept at each style. It was a ballad that provided her biggest hit, a 1992 cover version of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You. Her melodramatic rendition, featuring one of her most powerful vocals, sold 12m copies worldwide, making it one of the biggest singles of all time.

The total record sales during here lifetime topped 170 million, putting her in an elite group of female superstars that included Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, both of whom were heavily influenced by her emotional, vibrato-laden style.

Houston often gravitated to dramatic songs with lyrics about triumphing over the odds, and has been credited with inventing the “pop diva” genre that has inspired singers to the present day. She was also the first black woman to break through the colour bar at the all-important MTV, which hitherto had played white artists almost exclusively. The station’s heavy rotation of her videos made her a familiar face to Middle America, and her mix of glamour, talent and approachability made her an aspirational figure for millions of teenage girls, both black and white. A US magazine editor dubbed her “the first black America’s sweetheart”.

Houston’s success made her rich, enabling her to maintain a cocaine habit that kept her from making records for years at a time in her 30s and 40s. Looking back on her addiction after kicking it in the late 2000s, she said paying for it had been easy, as “there was so much money”. But she “didn’t think about the singing part any more,” and when she did return to touring, the neglect showed. She was unable to get through concerts without breathlessness and frequent halts. Her comeback tour in 2010 was marred by reviews claiming she was unfit to be on stage, and a clip of her sounding wobbly at a gig in Birmingham was played on the TV news.

Her fresh-faced prettiness made her a success in front of the camera, and she was the second black model to appear on the cover of the American magazine Seventeen in 1981, when black faces were a rarity in fashion magazines. Even Seventeen hedged its bets by putting a white model next to her in the photo.

By her late teens, Houston had been a featured vocalist on albums by the disco songwriter Paul Jabara and the avant-garde New York funk outfit Material. By then, her style was fully formed; on the Material track Memories, the richness of her tone was balanced by a poise and precision that was uncanny in a teenager. Inevitably, she was offered record deals, and signed with the Arista label, where she stayed for the rest of her life.

Convinced that she had what it took to be a blockbusting star, Arista’s influential president, Clive Davis, personally oversaw the recording of her first album. He also turned up with her in 1983 on the Merv Griffin chat show, where she was introduced to the American public. She sang Home, from the soundtrack of The Wiz, and her vocals were flawless, but her frumpy ruffled dress and short, natural hair didn’t project what Arista considered the right – saleable – image. By the time her first album came out, in 1985, she’d been given a thorough makeover: the cover photo showed a sleek-haired, golden-skinned sylph wearing an elegantly draped white gown.

Whitney Houston, as the debut was titled, was praised not for the music, which was unexceptional dance-pop, so much as for the promise the 21-year-old singer showed. “Obviously headed for stardom,” predicted Rolling Stone magazine. It sold 3m copies in the US in its first year, and eventually about 25m globally. It also won a Grammy award, the first of six in her career.

The next few years saw her break the Beatles’ record for the greatest number of No 1 singles in a row – she managed seven – and become America’s highest-earning black female entertainer. Her ubiquity on radio and TV paved the way for other African-American singers and groups such as Mary J Blige and Destiny’s Child, who became hugely popular.

Her accessibility to all ages and cultural backgrounds helped less easily marketed artists like Blige, but, as culturally significant as she was, Houston was primarily an entertainer. Despite occasional involvement in issues such as the fight against apartheid, which saw her appear at the concert for Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday, she was not an activist. Whatever her private views on politics and race, her public self was always poised and wholesome. Ironically, a venture into a more urban, soulful sound on the 1990 album I’m Your Baby Tonight elicited a sceptical reaction from some black critics.

Commercially, her most barnstorming project was the 1992 film The Bodyguard. Kevin Costner played the titular guard, while Houston played a film star and sang on the soundtrack. Her acting won her a Razzie award for worst actress (which did not deter her from making several more films, and getting better reviews), but the soundtrack became the biggest album of her career, selling 44m copies and spawning I Will Always Love You. The song was inescapable, spending 14 weeks at No 1 in the US and roosting at the top of nearly every other pop chart in the world.

The same year, she married ex-boy band member Bobby Brown, who came to be widely blamed for her downward spiral. “The princess marries the bad boy,” Houston wryly described the union years later. The marriage produced her only child, Bobbi Kristina, but Brown was jealous of his wife’s success and was emotionally abusive. Her drug use began around that time, and by 1996 she was a daily user. She made one other album that decade, the well-reviewed My Love Is Your Love (1998), but by the turn of the century stories about her behaviour were rife.

Houston turned up late for events or missed them altogether, was dropped as a performer at the 2000 Oscars because she was “out of it” at rehearsals, was arrested for marijuana possession and looked skeletal at a Michael Jackson tribute in 2001.

Promoting her 2002 album, Just Whitney, she told a TV interviewer, “Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. We don’t do crack. Crack is whack.” But she was freebasing cocaine, and as the decade went on she was photographed looking dishevelled and frighteningly haggard. She and Brown would spend a week at a time taking drugs and watching TV, she later said. In her addled state she agreed to appear on a reality show called Being Bobby Brown (2005) and succeeded in losing the last remnants of her dignity, telling her husband in one episode: “I need to poop a poop.”

Even in a decade in which celebrities regularly suffered humiliating falls from grace, Houston’s was shocking. Narcotics and her toxic relationship with Brown ravaged her looks and robbed her voice of its ability to soar.

Her mother forced her into rehab in 2006, and the following year Houston divorced Brown. Her last album, I Look to You, came out in 2009 to generally positive reviews. Her name still retained enough star-power to sell out most of the gigs on the tour promoting it, but many fans complained that her voice was no longer up to the rigours of touring.

In May 2011 Houston underwent a further period of rehab and that autumn she returned to acting for a remake with the American Idol winner Jordin Sparks of the 1976 film Sparkle. Filming of the story of the effect of fame and drugs on a singing group of three sisters was completed before she was found dead in her bath at the Beverly Hills Hilton in LA. on February 11, 2012

She was third in MTV’s list of 22 Greatest Voices, and sixth on Online Magazine COVEs list of the 100 Best Pop Vocalists with a score of 48.5/50. Jon Pareles of The New York Times stated she “always had a great big voice, a technical marvel from its velvety depths to its ballistic middle register to its ringing and airy heights”.

In 2008, Rolling Stone listed Houston as the thirty-fourth of the 100 greatest singers of all time, stating, “Her voice is a mammoth, coruscating cry: Few vocalists could get away with opening a song with 45 unaccompanied seconds of singing, but Houston’s powerhouse version of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ is a tour de force.”

 

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Etta James 1/2012

etta jamesJanuary 20, 2012 – Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25th 1938 in Los Angeles, California, but due to her 14 year old mother Dorothy Hawkins, being often absent, Etta lived with a series of caregivers, most notably ‘Sarge’ and ‘Mama’ Lu. Her father was long gone, and young James Etta never knew for sure who he was, although she recalled her mother telling her that he was the celebrated pool player Rudolf Wanderone, better known as Minnesota Fats.

She sang at the church from the age of 5 and at home was beaten and forced by Sarge to sing in the early hours at drunken poker games. She began singing at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles at 5 and turned to secular music as a teenager, forming a vocal group with two friends. In 1950 Mama Lu died, and Etta’s real mother took her to the Fillmore, in San Francisco.

Within a couple of years, Etta inspired by doo-wop, formed a girl group, called the Creolettes. Johnny Otis took the group under his wing, helping them sign to Modern Records and changing their name to the Peaches and gave Etta her stage name, reversing Jamesetta into Etta James.

She was 15 when she made her first record, “Roll With Me Henry,”which set her own lyrics to the tune of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ recent hit “Work With Me Annie.” When some disc jockeys complained that the title was too suggestive, it was changed to “The Wallflower,” although the record itself was not.

“The Wallflower” rose to No. 2 on the rhythm-and-blues charts in 1954. As was often the case in those days with records by black performers, a toned-down version was soon recorded by a white singer and found a wider audience: Georgia Gibbs’s version, with the title and lyric changed to “Dance With Me, Henry,” was a No. 1 pop hit in 1955. (Its success was not entirely bad news for Ms. James. She shared the songwriting royalties with Mr. Ballard and the bandleader and talent scout Johnny Otis, who had arranged for her recording session. (Johnny Otis died days earlier on January 17.)

After decades of touring, recording for various labels and drifting in and out of the public eye, Ms. James found herself in the news in 2009 after Beyoncé Knowles recorded a version of “At Last” closely modeled on hers. (Ms. Knowles played Ms. James in the 2008 movie “Cadillac Records,” a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Chess.) Ms. Knowles also performed “At Last” at an inaugural ball for President Obama in Washington.

When the movie was released, Ms. James had kind words for Ms. Knowles’s portrayal. But in February 2009, referring specifically to the Washington performance, she told an audience, “I can’t stand Beyoncé,” and threatened to “whip” the younger singer for doing “At Last.” She later said she had been joking, but she did add that she wished she had been invited to sing the song herself for the new president.

Ms. James’s survivors include her husband of 42 years, Artis Mills; two sons, Donto and Sametto James; and four grandchildren. Though her life had its share of troubles to the end — her husband and sons were locked in a long-running battle over control of her estate, which was resolved in her husband’s favor only weeks before her death — Ms. James said she wanted her music to transcend unhappiness rather than reflect it.

“A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies.”

Through her career she earned some awards from organizations such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences which organizes the Grammys.

In 1989, the newly formed Rhythm and Blues Foundation included James in their first Pioneer Awards for artists whose “lifelong contributions have been instrumental in the development of Rhythm & Blues music”. The following year, 1990, she received an NAACP Image Award, which is given for “outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts”; an award she cherished as it “was coming from my own people”.

Etta James transitioned  5 days before her 74th birthday on 20 January 2012.

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Les
Paul
8/2009

les paul guitar legendAugust 12, 2009 – Les Paul( birth name Lester William Polfus) was born on June 9th 1915 in in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

By at least one account, Paul’s early musical ability wasn’t superb. “Your boy, Lester, will never learn music,” one teacher wrote his mother. But nobody could dissuade him from trying, and as a young boy he taught himself the harmonica, guitar and banjo.
By his teen years, Paul was playing in country bands around the Midwest. He also played live on St. Louis radio stations, calling himself the Rhubarb Red.

Coupled with Paul’s interest in playing instruments was a love for modifying them. At the age of nine he built his first crystal radio. At 10 he built a harmonica holder out of a coat hanger, and then later constructed his own amplified guitar.

Not content to strictly be a country musician, Paul developed an interest in jazz music and by the mid 1930s had moved to Chicago and formed the Les Paul Trio. He formed his first trio and learned jazz on the South Side of Chicago while he was playing country music during the day on the Chicago radio stations.By the 1940s Paul had established himself in the jazz world, recording with such stars as Nat King Cole, Rudy Vallee and Kate Smith.

In 1941 the perfectionist in Paul believed he could improve upon the common amplified guitar. To do so he attached strings and two pickups to what was essentially a wooden board with a guitar neck. Paul called it the “the log,” and while it drew some early criticism, mainly for its look, it produced just the kind of sound its creator had been looking for.

“The only reason I invented these things was because I didn’t have them and neither did anyone else. I had no choice, really.””You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be playing,” he later described it.

It was the first solid-body guitar, and it changed music in unbelievable ways. In the 1960s, the rock world embraced and adored his instrument. By then, Paul had teamed up with the guitar manufacturer Gibson, which had hired him to design a Les Paul guitar. Paul had approached Gibson in 1941, but it took 10 years, and Leo Fender introducing his solid body guitar for Gibson, for the company to develop what is now known as the Gibson Les Paul.

Musicians such as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney all used the guitar. Since its debut in 1952 the Gibson Les Paul has been one of the most popular and best-selling guitars.

Paul’s commitment to his music was such that in 1948 a car accident left him with a shattered right elbow. Faced with doctors setting the arm in a position that wouldn’t again be movable, Paul, ever mindful of his career, asked that it be set at a slight angle so he could still play guitar.

Paul’s influence on the music world extended far beyond the guitar. With the encouragement of Bing Crosby, with whom Paul had performed and recorded, Paul built a recording studio in his garage in his Los Angeles home in 1945.

There, Paul experimented with a number of different recording techniques. His breakthrough came in 1948 with a recording of the song “Lover,” which utilized a variety of tracks and introduced his multiple new recording techniques. It wasn’t long before Paul was creating 24-track recordings and producing hits like “How High the Moon” and “The World Is Waiting for Sunrise.”

After divorcing his first wife, Virginia Webb, Paul met the former Colleen Summers, a singer who had performed with Gene Autry’s band. Paul changed her name to Mary Ford and began recording with her. They married in 1949, and for much of the 1950s the two had their own television show, Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home.

In addition, the couple had more than three dozen hits together, all of them utilizing the recording techniques Paul had created in his studio.

In his later years, Paul’s standing and legend in the music industry only increased. His final recorded album, American Made, World Played, debuted in 2005 and featured, among others, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Sting and Eric Clapton. Paul won two Grammy Awards for the album.

Among his many honors, Les Paul is the only person to be inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, Paul died from complications associated with pneumonia on August 12, 2009. Other sources have listed August 13 as the date of his death, but his memorial in Waukesha, Wisconsin, lists August 12 as the official date. He was 94.

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Michael
Jackson
6/2009

Michael JacksonJune 25, 2009 – Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, was born on Aug 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana as the seventh of nine children. His siblings are Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Randy and Janet. His father Joseph Jackson, who physically and emotionally abused Michael as a child, often performed in an R&B band called The Falcons. Michael was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness by his mother.

In 1964, he and his brother Marlon joined the Jackson Brothers, a band formed by brothers Jackie, Tito and Jermaine, as backup musicians playing congas and tambourine, respectively. Soon he began performing backup vocals and dancing; then at the age of eight, he and Jermaine assumed lead vocals, and the group’s name was changed to The Jackson 5. They extensively toured the Midwest from 1966 to 1968 and frequently performed at a string of black clubs and venues collectively known as the “chitlin’ circuit”, where they often opened for stripteases and other adult acts.

Michael’s first brake came in 1966, when the band won a major local talent show with renditions of Motown hits and James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, led by himself, after which The Jackson 5 recorded several songs, including “Big Boy”, before signing with Motown Records in 1968.

The group set a chart record when its first four singles “I Want You Back”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” reached No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Starting in 1972, Jackson released a total of four solo studio albums with Motown, among them Got to Be There and Ben, which produced successful singles such as “Got to Be There”, “Ben” and “Rockin’ Robin”. The Jackson 5 left Motown in 1975.

It was in 1978 while Michael was working on the film musical The Wiz, an all-black retelling of the Wizard of Oz – in which he played the Scarecrow to Diana Ross’s Dorothy – that he met music producer, composer and arranger, Quincy Jones, the man who would turn him into a superstar and transform the world of popular music, taking Michael’s raw talent and moulding it into an awesome new sound, producing albums with massive world sales, such as Off The Wall: 19m, Thriller: 65m, Bad: 28m, Dangerous: 29m, HIStory: 18m, Invincible: 8m.

As well as being a double-inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, once as a member of The Jackson 5 in 1997 and later as a solo artist in 2001, throughout his career Michael has received numerous honors and awards, including the World Music Awards’ Best-Selling Pop Male Artist of the Millennium, the American Music Award’s Artist of the Century Award and the Bambi Pop Artist of the Millennium Award. He was also an inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. His awards include multiple Guinness World Records, eight in 2006 alone, 13 Grammy Awards, 13 number one singles in his solo career—more than any other male artist in the Hot 100 era and the sale of over 750 million albums worldwide, making him the world’s best selling male solo pop artist.

In the first decade of the 21st century , Michael was plagued by money problems and shielded himself from public view. Arrested in 2003 on charges of molesting a 14 year old boy, after a gruelling five-month trial, which took it’s toll on Michael, he was cleared in June 2005. After which he moved for a while to the Middle East where he befriended the king of Bahrain’s son, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

Sadly his record breaking charity programs seem to have been pushed to the background in more recent years, over the decades Michael has raised and helped raise millions of dollars for various charities. Michael was due to begin a sold-out comeback 50 date residency in London to be starting in September of 2009.

Hundreds of fans queued at the O2 arena as tickets went on sale and more than a quarter of a million people queued online, around 750,000 tickets were sold for the 50-date residency, which he had billed his “Final Curtain Call”. Rehearsals for the show were under way when Michael allegedly suffered a cardiac arrest at his home in Bel Air and tragically passed away at the age of 50 on June 25, 2009. The cause of death was ruled a homicide at the hands of his doctor, Conrad Murray.

Here is a quiz that will determine How Well You Know Michael Jackson

 

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Koko Taylor 6/2009

koko-taylorJune 3, 2009 – Koko Taylor was born Cora Walton on September 28, 1928  on a farm near Memphis, Tennessee. Her daddy was a sharecropper. She lived with her parents and five brothers and sisters in a “shotgun shack” with neither electricity nor running water. Although never professional singers, her parents used to sing enthusiastically while working the cotton fields, and she began to sing gospel in church. She also soaked up the blues played on local radio, which she and her siblings would surreptitiously perform with improvised home-made instruments, despite their father’s opposition. By the time she was 11, both her parents had died and she too was forced to work in the cotton fields. But growing up, she and her five brothers and sisters had amused themselves by singing the blues, accompanying themselves on homemade instruments. (Their father did not discourage them, although he would have rather they sang gospel music.)

In 1952, Taylor and her soon-to-be-husband, the late Robert “Pops” Taylor, traveled to Chicago with nothing but, in Koko’s words, “thirty-five cents and a box of Ritz Crackers.” In Chicago, “Pops” worked for a packing company, and Koko cleaned houses. Together they frequented the city’s blues clubs nightly. Encouraged by her husband, Koko began to sit in with the city’s top blues bands, and soon she was in demand as a guest artist. Until then she said she gave little thought to pursuing a career in music.
In 1962 Willie Dixon, an very influential behind-the-scenes presence in Chicago blues, heard one of her impromptu performances and said, as she later recalled, “I never heard a woman sing the blues like you sing the blues.”

“He walked up and said: ‘Who are you recording for?’ and I didn’t know the meaning of the word,” she told Roots magazine in an interview.

Dixon took her to Chess Records, where he was a talent scout and producer, and wrote a number of songs for her, most notably “Wang Dang Doodle,” which she recorded despite her initial trepidation about its raunchy lyrics. It made her a regional star, reaching number four on the R&B charts. 
Her initial stardom did not reach far beyond the geographic confines of Chicago or the demographic confines of the African-American audience but heavy touring in the late 1960s and early 1970s slowly improved her fan base. Backed by a youthful Buddy Guy on guitar, and with a stage name comprised of her newly-acquired marital status and a nickname recalling her love of chocolate, she gave Chess their last big hit with Wang Dang Doodle. The song brought her to national attention, and she began performing in clubs across America, including New York’s Apollo Theatre, releasing her debut album Love You Like A Woman in 1968.
Koko Taylor made a celebrated appearance in the 1970 film The Blues Is Alive and Well in Chicago and featured at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival and at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival in Michigan in the early 1970s.

Chess Records, however, had gone into decline following the death of its founder in 1969, and she was eventually dropped. Although still recording for small local labels, she no longer had her own band and was forced to return to cleaning until she was featured on an album recorded at the Ann Arbor Festival for Atlantic Records. and producer Bruce Iglauer signed her to his nascent Alligator label.

Her first album for him, I Got What It Takes, was nominated for a Grammy and with her new band, Blues Machine, now 47 year old Koko embarked on a hard gigging schedule, and her career took off once again. She recorded eight more albums for Alligator over the next three decades, picking up seven more Grammy nominations, finally winning one in 1984 for her performance on the compilation Blues Explosion (Atlantic). Koko appeared in the films Wild At Heart, Mercury Rising and Blues Brothers 2000. She performed on Late Night With David Letterman, Late Night With Conan O’Brien, CBS-TV’s This Morning, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, CBS-TV’s Early Edition, and numerous regional television programs.

Over the course of her 40-plus-year career, Taylor received every award the blues world has to offer. On March 3, 1993, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley honored Taylor with a “Legend Of The Year” Award and declared “Koko Taylor Day” throughout Chicago. In 1997, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame. A year later, Chicago Magazinenamed her “Chicagoan Of The Year” and, in 1999, Taylor received the Blues Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2009 Taylor performed in Washington, D.C. at The Kennedy Center Honors honoring Morgan Freeman.

Koko Taylor was one of very few women who found success in the male-dominated blues world. It was in Chicago in the years after World War II that transplanted Southerners like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf added electric instruments and pounding backbeats to the raw rural blues of their youth, forging an aggressive new sound and building a thriving local scene. That scene was dominated by male performers, but with her brash, forceful vocal style and her enthusiastic stage presence, Koko Taylor made sure that its upper echelon had room for at least one woman. She took her music from the tiny clubs of Chicago’s South Side to concert halls and major festivals all over the world. Ms. Taylor was one of several singers over the years to be billed as Queen of the Blues, a title first bestowed on Bessie Smith in the 1920s. While there have been other blues queens, Ms. Taylor was the undisputed queen of the Chicago variety.

She shared stages with every major blues star, including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy as well as rock icons Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

Performing at an awards ceremony in New York in 2003, she declared, “I’m 74, but I feel like I’m 19.” Taylor had undergone surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding but recovered fully and was performing again by the following spring. She maintained a schedule of close to 70 concerts a year and continued performing until just days before being hospitalized in May of 2009. Her last studio album, “Old School,” was released in 2007.

Taylor’s final performance was on May 7, 2009 in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards, where she sang “Wang Dang Doodle” after receiving her award for Traditional Blues Female Artist Of The Year.

 

She died from complications from gastrointestinal surgery on June 3, 2009 at age 80.

Quotes

“Raucous, gritty, good-time blues….Taylor belts out blues in a gravel voice with ferocious intensity. Foot-stomping music that’s rough, raw and wonderfully upbeat.”
PEOPLE

“Chicago’s best blues singer…she has fire in her lungs.”
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

“This seemingly ageless wonder pours her heart out with fire and emotion. Her singing is full of raw growls and grunts, her voice often building in intensity until it explodes.”
LA TIMES

“One of the greatest female singers in R&B history.”
AUSTIN CHRONICLE

“Searing power and a steely emotional tautness …she radiates a warmth that borders on the spiritual; few performers in any genre are as capable as she is of generating genuine intimacy out of fervid house-rocking moments….a living treasure.”
—CHICAGO READER

“Koko Taylor will kick your butt up and down the room…raw, rompin’, stompin’, barn-burnin’ blues. Contemporary blues just don’t get any better than this.”
—BLUES ACCESS

“Mother Nature’s got nothing on blues legend Koko Taylor.”
—SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER-CHRONICLE

“Raucous, raunchy, good humored Chicago-styled blues…she unleashed like a hurricane. She attacks her material like a pitbull, ripping through the lyrics with a vengeance.”
—JAZZ TIMES

“Her punchy, hard-driving blues can still send El Nino-sized shivers through the atmosphere …. There may be no living artist who more palpably embodies the jolting, live-wire feel of Chicago blues than Koko Taylor….she is indeed a force of nature, putting her bluesy, blistering vocal signature on everything she touches.”
—CHICAGO TRIBUNE

“Koko Taylor is the blues, a sweaty, growling goddess of down-and-dirty. Sheer, unstoppable shouting power, full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes. Rocking, good-time blues…booming, earthy grit.”
—BOSTON GLOBE

“When Koko Taylor cuts loose, she rattles the walls.”
—SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN“

A howl, a growl and a full-throated fury that forms deep in her abdomen and reaches a roar by the time it hits her mouth.”
—DETROIT FREE PRESS

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Miriam Makeba 11/2008

November 10, 2008  miriam8Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born on March 4th 1932 in Johannesburg South Africa. Growing up in the midst of South Africa’s Apartheid policies, Miriam Makeba became amongst many things, a woman of great vision who saw far into the future, and with her uncanny and acute sense of history. With the world in a fast moving switch away from colonialism and despicable policies of segregation and apartheid, Miriam stood in the center of many “controversial” actions. For her actions, she was exiled from South Africa for 30 years, during which time she earned the tributal nickname “Mama Afrika”.

As a singer of South African folk songs about repression, she was the first one to find a global audience. Her 1957 song Pata Pata became a huge success in the USA 10 years later.

She was one of the most visible and outspoken opponents of South Africa’s apartheid regime from the 1960s till its dismantling in the early 1990s. She was also the anti-apartheid movement’s most audible spokesperson, having entered the top flight of international performers and able to sell out prestigious concert halls with a repertoire that changed little over three decades of musical evolution.

Makeba’s career propelled her from township singing group to global celebrity, feted in some countries and banned from others. She was a natural and consummate performer with a dynamic vocal range and an emotional awareness that could induce the delusion of intimate contact in even the most impersonal auditorium. But her personal life was an epic tragedy of injustice, domestic upheaval, exile and torment.

Miriam “Zenzi” Makeba was born in the Prospect township suburb of Johannesburg. Her father, Caswell, was Xhosa: her mother, Christina, was Swazi. The name Zenzi (from the Xhosa Uzenzile, meaning “you have no one to blame but yourself”), was a traditional name intended to provide support through life’s difficulties.

Early Career Disappointment

Later the family moved north to Transvaal, where Caswell worked as a clerk for Shell. Her mother was a spiritual healer who also took jobs as a housemaid. After the early death of her father, Miriam was forced to work, and for a short spell she also did housework. But she had already noticed that “music was a type of magic” which could elevate her from the poverty that surrounded her. As a young girl, her singing had been praised at the Methodist Training school in Pretoria, but what should have been the highlight of her amateur career turned to disappointment. She had been due to sing What a Sad Life for a Black Man for the visit of King George VI, but after the children had stood waiting in the rain, the royal visitor drove by without stopping to hear them.

When apartheid was introduced to South Africa in 1948, Makeba was old enough to grasp the consequences, and to see the limitations placed on the career of her mentor Dolly Rathebe, her senior by four years. Makeba gave birth to her daughter Bongi at the age of 17 and was then diagnosed with breast cancer, which was treated unconventionally, but successfully, by her mother. The first of her five husbands however left her shortly after.miriam with Nina Simone

Her musical career progressed more smoothly.

Since the turn of the century, American jazz and ragtime had been absorbed into South Africa and transposed into local forms. Combined with Anglican church hymnody, this had led to the distinctive vocal harmonic style known as mbube, practised in many communities by “evening” or “night” choirs of enthusiastic amateurs. Following a period with the Cuban Brothers, Makeba’s big break came in 1954 when she joined the Manhattan Brothers, a top band whose vocal harmonies were modelled on the American Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots.

Initially, when the Manhattans travelled abroad Makeba joined a female group called the Sunbeams, who became better known as the Skylarks. They recorded more than 100 songs, many of which became big hits, with Miriam singing alongside Abigail Kubeka, Mummy Girl Nketle, Mary Rabatobi and sometimes with Dorothy Masuka, who brought songs from her homeland of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).

Eventually, Makeba went on tour with the Manhattans, getting her first taste of the outside by world visiting Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Congo. Playing at home she also experienced some of the most heartless and shameful aspects of the apartheid system, which she later recalled in her autobiography, Makeba: My Story (1988), written with James Hall.

In 1957 she was recruited as a soloist in the African Jazz and Variety Review that toured Africa for 18 months. Then she landed the female lead role in King Kong, a legendary South African musical about the life of a boxer, which played to integrated audiences and spread her reputation to the liberal white community.

The key to her international success was a small singing part in the film Come Back Africa, a dramatized documentary on black life directed covertly by Lionel Rogosin. Makeba played herself, singing two songs in a shebeen. When the film was finished Rogosin invited her to attend a screening at the 1959 Venice film festival, where she became an instant celebrity. She was flown, via London, to New York, where she appeared on television and played at the Village Vanguard jazz club.

miriam
Miriam with Whoopi Goldberg and others

The calypsonian Harry Belafonte took her under his wing and guided her through her first solo recordings. African standards such as Pata Pata and the Click Song, which she first performed with the Skylarks, formed the basis of her repertoire and remained the most popular songs throughout her career. Shortly after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Miriam heard that her mother had died, but her own South African passport had been revoked and she was prevented from returning home for the funeral. Thus began 30 years of exile.

“The man at the desk took my passport. He did not speak to me. He took a rubber stamp and slammed it down. Then he walked away. I picked up my passport. It was stamped ‘Invalid’. ‘They have done it,’ I told myself. ‘They have exiled me. I am not permitted to go home — not now, maybe not ever. My family, my home. Everything that has gone into the making of myself, gone’.”

Her life in the US continued to unfold like a showbiz dream. She was recording and touring, and meeting all the stars, from Bing Crosby to Marlon Brando: the young newcomer was also staggered to find herself appearing along with Marilyn Monroe at the famous birthday celebration for John F Kennedy.

Her first return to the continent of Africa came with a visit to Kenya in 1962. The following year she gave the first of several addresses to the UN special committee on apartheid, and South Africa reciprocated by banning her records. Shortly afterwards, she was the only performer to be invited by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to perform in Addis Ababa at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity.

A second marriage, in 1959, proved short-lived. In 1964, Hugh Masekela, the South African trumpeter, became her third husband, and she went to perform in Algeria and at the OAU conference in Accra, Ghana. Backstage at a show in San Francisco, a Kenyan student taught her a song which would become part of her standard repertoire. Called Malaika, it is a Swahili love song which she was wrongly informed was a traditional composition. In 1966 she earned a Grammy award with Belafonte.

Increasingly involved in, and identified with, black consciousness, Miriam became associated with radical activity not just against apartheid but also in the civil rights movement and then black power. In 1967, while in Guinea, she met the Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael, who became her next husband the following year.

Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Touré and she returned with him to his own place of exile in Guinea, the west African Marxist state whose leader, Sekou Touré, gave sanctuary to enemies of the capitalist west. After that fourth marriage ended in divorce in 1978, she turned down a proposal by the president, but two years later married an airline executive and moved to Brussels. During her time in Guinea, Makeba had become a double exile, unable to return home and unwelcome in many western countries (she was banned from France), although she collected a sheaf of diplomatic passports from sympathetic African states and enlivened several independence celebrations. She recruited a pan-African squad of top musicians who were on call to accompany her on frequent foreign trips.

She also endured some bizarre showbusiness episodes. In Denmark, a country where she had solid support, she once failed to appear for a show. She returned some years later only to be jailed for a night until the outstanding financial penalty had been paid on her behalf. There was also controversy in Tanzania over the provenance of Malaika, which several east Africans had claimed to have written.

When Makeba played at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in 1985, it was her first appearance in Britain for 11 years, and also her 53rd birthday. There she replied to the criticism that she had turned her back on the west and had gratuitously insulted white people, notably some unfortunate teachers in Jamaica who had suffered an unjustified, personal attack while watching her perform: “People have accused me of being a racist, but I am just a person for justice and humanity. People say I sing politics, but what I sing is not politics, it is the truth. I’m going to go on singing, telling the truth.” When her beloved daughter Bongi died after a traumatic miscarriage that year, Miriam succumbed to a kind of “spiritual madness” that she believed she had inherited from her mother. The following year she was awarded the Dag Hammarskjöld peace prize for her campaigning efforts.

She always took time to endorse the cultural boycott of South Africa of which she was a figurehead. As the apartheid barriers showed signs of crumbling she was embroiled in another strange episode, which saw ANC supporters boycotting her show at the Royal Albert Hall. She herself was accused of breaking the boycott by collaborating with Paul Simon on his controversial Graceland project, with an album in 1986 and concerts, including one in Zimbabwe the following year. Simon was the one being picketed for not conferring with the exile groups before his recruitment drive for South African session players. Makeba and Masekela gave him full support, however, and welcomed the controversy because it brought important issues into general discussion and made cultural activity even more potent.

miriam39To much of the world, Makeba had reached a level of statesmanship that verged on saintliness. She was the first choice performer at festivals as euphoria built up before and after the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990 and the realisation that apartheid was almost over. After 30 years away, Miriam returned to South Africa to a respectful reception and performed sporadically. But the music business had moved on and, despite working with the hotshot producer and multi-instrumentalist Sipho Mabuse, the opportunities for giving concerts had diminished.

Many younger South Africans had no idea who Makeba was or what she had struggled for on their behalf. Nonetheless, when she announced her retirement in 2005, she found that she was still popular abroad: “Everyone keeps calling me and saying ‘you have not come to say goodbye to us!'”

So the farewell tours continued till her death in Naples, where she collapsed on stage after singing in a concert in memory of six immigrants from Ghana shot dead in September 2008, an attack blamed on the city’s organized crime. When she was in Britain last May with her much younger eight-piece band, led by her grandson Nelson Lumumba Lee, John L Walters found her in “confident, clear-voiced form”, defying the limitations placed on her mobility by osteoarthritis. She is survived by Nelson and her granddaughter Zenzi Monique Lee.

Miriam Zenzi Makeba, singer and activist, born March 4 1932; died November 10 2008

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Bo
Diddley
6/2008

bo-diddleyJune 2, 2008 – Bo Diddley was born Ellas Otha Bates, later becoming Ellas McDaniel on December 30, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi. -H e was adopted and raised by his mother’s cousin, Gussie McDaniel, whose surname he assumed -. In 1934, the McDaniel family moved to the South Side of Chicago, where he dropped the Otha and became Ellas McDaniel.

As he grew into a teenager he became an active member of his local Ebenezer Baptist Church, studying the trombone and the violin, becoming proficient enough for the musical director to invite him to join the orchestra playing violin, in which he performed until the age of 18. Around that age he became more interested in the pulsating, rhythmic music he heard at a local Pentecostal church and took up the guitar.

Inspired by a performance by John Lee Hooker, he supplemented his income as a carpenter and mechanic by playing on street corners with friends, including Jerome Green (c. 1934–1973), in the Hipsters band, later renamed the Langley Avenue Jive Cats. Green became a near-constant member of McDaniel’s backing band, the two often trading joking insults with each other during live shows. During the summers of 1943 and 1944, he played at the Maxwell Street market in a band with Earl Hooker. By 1951 he was playing on the street with backing from Roosevelt Jackson on washtub bass and Jody Williams, whom he had taught to play the guitar. Williams later played lead guitar on “Who Do You Love?”.

In 1951 he landed a regular spot at the 708 Club, on Chicago’s South Side, with a repertoire influenced by Louis Jordan, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters. In late 1954, he teamed up with harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold, drummer Clifton James and bass player Roosevelt Jackson and recorded demos of “I’m a Man” and “Bo Diddley”. They re-recorded the songs at Chess Studios, with a backing ensemble comprising Otis Spann (piano), Lester Davenport (harmonica), Frank Kirkland (drums), and Jerome Green (maracas). The record was released in March 1955, and the A-side, “Bo Diddley”, became a number one R&B hit.

His use of African rhythms and a signature beat, a simple five-accent hambone rhythm, is a cornerstone of hip hop, rock, and pop. In recognition of his achievements, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and a Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He is also recognized for his technical innovations, including his distinctive rectangular guitar.

On November 20, 1955, Bo Diddley appeared on the popular television program The Ed Sullivan Show. When someone on the show’s staff overheard him casually singing “Sixteen Tons” in the dressing room, he was asked to perform the song on the show. Seeing “Bo Diddley” on the cue card, he thought he was to perform both his self-titled hit single and “Sixteen Tons”.[22] Sullivan was furious and banned Bo Diddley from his show, reputedly saying that he wouldn’t last six months. Chess Records included Bo Diddley’s “Sixteen Tons” on the 1960 album Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger.

Bo Diddley’s hit singles continued in the 1950s and 1960s: “Pretty Thing” (1956), “Say Man” (1959), and “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” (1962). He also released numerous albums, including Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger and Have Guitar, Will Travel. These bolstered his self-invented legend.[11] Between 1958 and 1963, Checker Records released eleven full-length Bo Diddley albums. In the 1960s he broke through as a crossover artist with white audiences (appearing at the Alan Freed concerts, for example), but he rarely aimed his compositions at teenagers. The album title Surfing with Bo Diddley derived from his influence on surf guitarists rather than surfing per se.

In 1963, Bo Diddley starred in a UK concert tour with the Everly Brothers and Little Richard. The up-and-coming Rolling Stones were billed as a supporting act.

He wrote many songs for himself and also for others. In 1956 he and guitarist Jody Williams co-wrote the pop song “Love Is Strange”, a hit for Mickey & Sylvia in 1957. He also wrote “Mama (Can I Go Out)”, which was a minor hit for the pioneering rockabilly singer Jo Ann Campbell, who performed the song in the 1959 rock and roll film Go Johnny Go.

Bo Diddley included women in his band: Norma-Jean Wofford, also known as The Duchess; Gloria Jolivet; Peggy Jones, also known as Lady Bo, a lead guitarist (rare for a woman at that time); and Cornelia Redmond, also known as Cookie V. After moving from Chicago to Washington, D.C., he set up one of the first home recording studios in the basement of 2614 Rhode Island, NE, where he not only recorded the album Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger, with backing vocals by Moonglows’ founder Harvey Fuqua, but he produced and recorded his valet, Marvin Gaye. Diddley co-wrote and recorded the first single to feature Gaye with the song “Wyatt Earp” by the Marquees. After initially shopping the song to Phil and Leonard Chess, the Chess brothers turned it down. Diddley took the song to rival record company Okeh Records, who released the song. Gaye later joined Harvey Fuqua and the Moonglows and followed Fuqua to Motown.

Over the decades, Bo Diddley’s performing venues ranged from intimate clubs to stadiums. On March 25, 1972, he played with the Grateful Dead at the Academy of Music in New York City. The Grateful Dead released part of this concert as Volume 30 of the band’s concert album series, Dick’s Picks. Also in the early 1970s, the soundtrack of the ground-breaking animated film Fritz the Cat contained his song “Bo Diddley”, in which a crow idly finger-pops to the track.

After the California Earthquake on February 9, 1971, Diddley moved to Los Lunas, New Mexico. While continuing his musical career, he served for two and a half years as a deputy sheriff in the Valencia County Citizens’ Patrol; during that time he purchased and donated three highway-patrol pursuit cars. In 1978, he left Los Lunas and moved to Hawthorne, Florida, where he lived on a large estate in a custom-made log cabin, which he helped to build. For the remainder of his life he divided his time between Albuquerque and Florida, living the last 13 years of his life in Archer, Florida, a small farming town near Gainesville.

In the early 1970s, Diddley began to nurture the musical ability exhibited by his daughters Tammi Deane “Tammi Diddley” McDaniel (drums) and Terri Lynn “BoDetta” McDaniel (keyboards), and by the mid 1970s, he and his wife Kay, began booking the girls, as “The Diddley Darlings”. By 1981, with the additions of Scott “Skyntyte” Free (guitar and vocals) and Ron Haughbrook (bass and vocals), The Diddley Darlings renamed themselves “Offspring” and began recording songs for the album “Ain’t it good to be free”. Bo Diddley & Offspring performed shows around the U.S., including a two-month tour of Europe and several performances behind the “iron curtain” in what was East Germany.

In 1979, he appeared as an opening act for the Clash on their US tour and in Legends of Guitar (filmed live in Spain, 1991), with B.B. King, Les Paul, Albert Collins, and George Benson, among others. He joined the Rolling Stones on their 1994 concert broadcast of Voodoo Lounge, performing “Who Do You Love?”.

By the mid 70s, Diddley could no longer afford to maintain a full-time band, and was forced to adopt the use of a “pick-up band”. Beginning in the early 80s, Diddley had a non-exclusive agreement with booking agency Talent Consultants International. Agency president Margo Lewis decided that a permanent line-up of musicians would ensure Diddley would have a cohesive sound and enlisted The Jim Satten Band, led by guitarist Jim Satten, as back-up to Diddley. After Satten left, and at the urging of Lewis, bassist Debby Hastings, assumed the position of band leader and the decision to change the name to “the Debby Hastings Band” was made without Diddley’s involvement. The Debby Hastings Band also utilized the talents of Nunzio Signore or Frank Daley (guitar); Tom Major, Dave Johnson, Yoshi Shimada, Mike Fink or Sandy Gennaro (drums); John Margolis, Dave Keys or personal manager Margo Lewis (keyboards); and Debby Hastings (bassist).

In 1987, Diddley partnered with former Bo Diddley & Offspring guitarist Scott “Skyntyte” Free to form Bad Dad Productions. Placing a focus on home recording, they produced several of Diddley’s home recordings, including “Breakin’ through the B.S.”, and “This should not be” for Los Angeles based Triple X Records, the latter of which, Diddley, performed live, on the NBC Today Show with Stone Phillips.

At the insistence of Diddley, he returned to the use of playing with a non-permanent line-up, and in 2005 and 2006, Diddley performed a number of shows around the country with fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Johnnie Johnson and his band, consisting of Johnson on keyboards, Richard Hunt on drums and Gus Thornton on bass.

In 2006, he participated as the headliner of a grassroots-organized fundraiser concert to benefit the town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, which had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The “Florida Keys for Katrina Relief” had originally been set for October 23, 2005, when Hurricane Wilma barreled through the Florida Keys on October 24, causing flooding and economic mayhem. In January 2006, the Florida Keys had recovered enough to host the fundraising concert to benefit the more hard-hit community of Ocean Springs. When asked about the fundraiser, Bo Diddley stated, “This is the United States of America. We believe in helping one another”. In an interview with Holger Petersen, on Saturday Night Blues on CBC Radio in the fall of 2006, He commented on racism in the music industry establishment during his early career, which deprived him of royalties from the most successful part of his career.

His final guitar performance on a studio album was with the New York Dolls on their 2006 album One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This. He contributed guitar work to the song “Seventeen”, which was included as a bonus track on the limited-edition version of the disc.

In 1989, Diddley entered into a licensing agreement with the sportswear brand Nike. The Wieden & Kennedy produced commercial in the “Bo Knows” campaign, teamed Diddley with dual sportsman Bo Jackson, and resulted in one of the most iconic advertisements in advertising history. The agreement ended in 1991, but in 1999, a T-shirt of Diddley’s image and “You don’t know diddley” slogan was purchased in a Gainesville, Florida sports apparel store. Diddley felt that Nike should not continue to use the slogan or his likeness, and fought Nike over the copyright infringement. Despite the fact that lawyers for both parties could not come to a renewed legal arrangement, Nike allegedly continued marketing the apparel and ignored cease-and-desist orders, and a lawsuit was filed on Diddley’s behalf, in Manhattan Federal Court.

On May 13, 2007, Bo Diddley was admitted to intensive care in Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, following a stroke after a concert the previous day in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Starting the show, he had complained that he did not feel well. He referred to smoke from the wildfires that were ravaging south Georgia and blowing south to the area near his home in Archer, Florida. Nonetheless, he delivered an energetic performance to an enthusiastic crowd. The next day, as he was heading back home, he seemed dazed and confused at the airport. His manager, Margo Lewis, called 911 and airport security, and the musician was immediately taken by ambulance to Creighton University Medical Center and admitted to the Intensive-care unit, where he stayed for several days. After tests, it was confirmed that he had suffered a stroke. Bo Diddley had a history of hypertension and diabetes, and the stroke affected the left side of his brain, causing receptive and expressive aphasia (speech impairment). The stroke was followed by a heart attack, which he suffered in Gainesville, Florida, on August 28, 2007.

While recovering from the stroke and heart attack, Bo Diddley came back to his home town of McComb, Mississippi, in early November 2007, for the unveiling of a plaque devoted to him on the Mississippi Blues Trail. This marked his achievements and noted that he was “acclaimed as a founder of rock-and-roll.” He was not supposed to perform, but as he listened to the music of local musician Jesse Robinson, who sang a song written for this occasion, Robinson sensed that Bo Diddley wanted to perform and handed him a microphone, the only time that he performed publicly after his stroke.

As a rock and roll and blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist he was a key figure in the transition from blues to rock ‘n’ roll (he put the rock in rock and roll), he introduced more insistent, driving rhythms and a hard-edged guitar sound and he was also known for his characteristic rectangular cigar box guitar. He powerfully influenced suerstar performers including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones ( Mick Jagger stated that “he was a wonderful, original musician who was an enormous force in music and was a big influence on the Rolling Stones. He was very generous to us in our early years and we learned a lot from him”), the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, the Who, Jimi Hendrix and Parliament-Funkadelic.

Bo Diddley died on June 2, 2008, of heart failure at his home in Archer, Florida.(79)

The origin of the stage name Bo Diddley is unclear. McDaniel claimed that his peers gave him the name, which he suspected was an insult. He also said that the name first belonged to a singer his adoptive mother knew. Harmonicist Billy Boy Arnold said that it was a local comedian’s name, which Leonard Chess adopted as McDaniel’s stage name and the title of his first single. McDaniel also stated that it was his nickname as a Golden Gloves boxer.

A diddley bow is a homemade single-string instrument played mainly by farm workers in the South. It probably has influences from the West African coast. In the American slang term bo diddly, bo is an intensifier and diddly is a truncation of diddly squat, which means “absolutely nothing”.

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Buddy
Miles
2/2008

buddy-milesFebruary, 26, 2008 – George Allen”Buddy” Miles, Jr. (Band of Gypsies) was born on September 5, 1947 in Omaha, Nebraska. Buddy’s father played upright bass for the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and Dexter Gordon and by age 12, Miles Jr. had joined Miles Sr. in his touring band, The Bebops. In 1964, at the age of 16, Miles met Jimi Hendrix at a show in Montreal, Canada, where both were performing as sidemen for other artists. “He was playing in the Isley Brothers band and I was with Ruby & The Romantics,” Miles remembered, adding: “He had his hair in a pony-tail with long sideburns. Even though he was shy, I could tell this guy was different. He looked rather strange, because everybody was wearing uniforms and he was eating his guitar, doing flip-flops and wearing chains.”

Then in 1967, Miles joined Hendrix in a jam session at the Malibu home of Stephen Stills. In that same year, Miles moved to Chicago where he teamed with guitarist Mike Bloomfield and vocalist Nick Gravenites to form The Electric Flag, a blues/soul/rock band. In addition to playing drums, Miles sometimes sang lead vocals for the band, which made its live debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in mid-1967.

In early 1968, the band released A Long Time Comin’, its first album for Columbia. The Electric Flag’s second album, An American Music Band, followed late the same year. Hendrix occasionally joined Electric Flag on stage and Miles took part in the sessions for the Electric Ladyland album. Miles played drums on one long jam that was eventually split into two album cuts, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” and “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”, with a different song, “1983 a Merman I Should Turn To Be”, edited in between. Shortly after that release, though, the group disbanded. After the breakup of The Electric Flag, 21 year old Miles put together a new band with Jim McCarty, who later became the guitarist for Cactus. This new group performed and recorded as the Buddy Miles Express. In 1969, Hendrix wrote a short poem as a liner note for Expressway To Your Skull, the first studio album recorded by the Buddy Miles Express. Hendrix went on to produce four of the tracks on the group’s follow-up album, Electric Church. The title of the latter LP was taken from Hendrix’s poem on the first.

 

A powerful drummer and a soulful singer, Miles worked with influential guitarists: Mike Bloomfield, in 1969 he recorded an album with John McLaughlin “Devotion”and in 1972, he teamed up with Carlos Santana, most famously on the Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live! album. But his collaborations with Jimi Hendrix in 1969 and 1970 are the most memorable ones.

Following Hendrix’s meteoric rise over the previous two years, the scene around him had got pretty heavy, and both his bassist Noel Redding and Mitchell eventually left, the latter after appearing at Woodstock. There were changes in the management set-up too, with Jeffery and the producer Alan Douglas vying for control of Hendrix’s career. In October 1969, Hendrix put together the Band of Gypsys with Miles and Cox.

Jimi was not happy,” said Miles. “He felt powerless. He couldn’t do what he wanted to do.”

Hendrix and his managers had also been involved in a legal dispute with the producer Ed Chalpin, and he was ordered to deliver an album as a final settlement in 1969. As work in the studio dragged on, the Band of Gypsys decided to play and record four shows at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1969, and on New Year’s Day 1970. “I’ll never forget our first set,” said Miles: Jimi tried to come out and be real modest, but when we jammed for about three or four hours, you could see this whole thing building up and, when we hit “Wild Thing”, all hell broke loose. Jimi started bending and squatting, and picking his guitar with his teeth, and the audience went nuts.”

Jeffery was suspicious of the friendship between Hendrix and Miles and eventually fired the drummer at the end of January 1970, after a disastrous concert at Madison Square Garden. “Jeffery slipped him [Hendrix] two half-tabs of acid on stage as he went on,” said Miles. “He just freaked out. I told Jeffery he was an out-and-out complete idiot and a fucking asshole to boot. One of the biggest reasons why Jimi is dead is because of that guy.”

Issued in May 1970, Band of Gypsys made the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic and spent over a year in the US charts, accruing more sales after Hendrix’s death that September. After Jimi’s passing, Miles worked with Santana, re-united several times as the Band of Gypsies in the 1970s and various reincarnations of the Buddy Miles Band.

In late 1984 and early 1985 while living in a halfway house in Oakland, California, Miles commuted almost every single day to Marin County to collaborate with a handful of musicians and songwriters at the Ice House Studios in San Rafael. The list of collaborators included David Jenkins of Pablo Cruise, Pat Craig and Dave Carlson with Tazmanian Devils, Robbie Long, Bill Craig, Tony Marty, Tony Saunders and Drew Youngs. First recorded as a demo, the result was an album’s worth of material. The project was soon moved to the Record Plant in Sausalito, where Jim Gaines of Huey Lewis and the News fame came in to take over production chores.

The group produced over 15 songs ranging from funky, soulful grooves to R&B ballads. One cut, “When The Train Leaves the Station”, featured solos by both Carlos Santana and Neal Schon from Journey. “Anna”, the title song of the proposed album, helped Miles land his next recording job with the California Raisins. However, during the album’s production, the Record Plant was seized by the United States Government when its owner was indicted on drug trafficking charges. The musicians and employees working there began calling the studio “Club Fed”; hence the name “The Club Fed Sessions”. Unfortunately, the album was never released, and the masters remain in the can, in the hands of Miles’ former manager. Years later, Pat Craig digitized some of the mixes and has been known to offer the album from time to time on eBay as a collector’s item under the title Buddy and Me. The songs included on the tracklist were “Anna”, “Forever in a Moment”, “Tonight”, “Next to You” and “This Could Be An Everlasting Love”.

In 1986, Miles performed vocals for the “California Raisins” claymation ad campaign, most notably singing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, and also performed lead vocals on two California Raisins albums featuring 1960s R&B covers. In 1986 and 1987, he rejoined Carlos Santana as a vocalist on Santana’s album Freedom. In 1987–1988, Miles moved to Southern California and formed the lineup of Marlo Henderson on guitar, Derek Sherinian on keyboards, and Michael BeHolden on bass. The band toured the California coast, then eventually did a tour of the Chitlin’ Circuit in the deep south before disbanding in early 1989.

From 1994 to 2007, Buddy Miles formulated his new version of the Buddy Miles Express in the New York City area, with Charlie Torres on bass guitar and vocals, Rod Kohn on guitar and vocals, the then-longest-standing Buddy Miles Express member and band leader Mark “Muggie Doo” Leach on Hammond B3, background vocals, and keyboards, and Kenn Moutenot on drums and vocals and handling management. They toured nearly nonstop in the United States and overseas, with nearly one thousand concerts and festivals to their credit.

In 1996, he also sat in with rock band Phish at Madison Square Garden.

Miles’s drumming is featured on many posthumous Hendrix albums. He often performed the guitarist’s material at tribute concerts and for documentaries. Asked how he would like to be remembered, Miles, whose flamboyant dress sense often matched Hendrix’s, simply said: “The baddest of the bad. People say I’m the baddest drummer. If that’s true, thank you world.”

Buddy Miles was 60 years old when he died on 26 February 2008 from congestive heart failure.

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James
Brown
12/2006

James BrownDecember 25, 2006 – James Brown Jr. Nearly stillborn, then revived by an aunt in a country shack in the piney woods outside Barnwell, South Carolina, on May 3, 1933, Brown became somebody who was determined to be Somebody. James Brown rose from extreme poverty to become the ‘The Godfather of Soul‘.

His parents were 16-year-old Susie (1917–2003) and 22-year-old Joseph “Joe” Gardner Brown (1911–1993), extremely poor, living in a small wooden shack.

They later relocated to Augusta, Georgia, when Brown was four or five. Brown’s family first settled at one of his aunts’ brothels and later moved into a house shared with another aunt. Brown’s mother later left the family after a contentious marriage and moved to New York. Brown spent long stretches of time on his own, hanging out in the streets and hustling to get by. Still he managed to stay in school until sixth grade.

Brown began singing in talent shows as a young child, first appearing at Augusta’s Lenox Theater in 1944, winning the show after singing the ballad “So Long”. While in Augusta, Brown performed buck dances for change to entertain troops from Camp Gordon at the start of World War II as their convoys traveled over a canal bridge from near his aunt’s home. Brown learned how to play piano, guitar and harmonica during this period and became inspired to become an entertainer after seeing footage of Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five performing “Caldonia” in a short film.

During his teen years, Brown briefly had a career as a boxer. In 1946, all of 13 years old, Brown first tried his musical luck with his Cremona Trio, a penny-making sideline. His career halted temporarily when he was imprisoned for petty theft in 1949 and was sent to a juvenile detention center in Toccoa. There Brown formed a gospel quartet with four fellow cellmates, including Johnny Terry and Bobby Byrd, whose family helped James secure an early release after serving only three years of his sentence, under the condition that he not return to Augusta or Richmond County and that he would try to get a job. Brown was paroled on June 14, 1952. Upon his release, he joined a gospel group and worked at several jobs, including the Lawson Motor Company and as a janitor at a local school.

Initially, he sang gospel with Sarah Byrd and the church club, then joined her brother Bobby Byrd’s locally established group, known as the Gospel Starlighters or the Avons, depending on what or where they performed.
There was no cohesive plan for advancement as transporting illegal hootch across the state lines was a bigger moneymaker than their day jobs and night gigs. Gradually though, singing rhythm & blues seemed to make the most sense.

From there on it was a long but steady road to become recognized as one of the most influential figures in 20th-century popular music. As a prolific singer, songwriter, bandleader and record producer, he was a seminal force in the evolution of gospel and rhythm and blues into soul and funk. He left his mark on numerous other musical genres, including rock, jazz, reggae, disco, dance and electronic music, afro-beat, and hip-hop music

They started experimenting in rhythm and blues, changed the name to The Blue Flames and began touring and were soon signed up with King Records. In 1956, their debut single, “Please, Please, Please” credited to “James Brown with the Famous Flames”, reached No.5 in the R&B charts and was a million-selling single. This was followed by 9 failed singles.

But in 1957 when Little Richard half way through a tour suddenly left Macon, James Brown and his band honored all Little Richards outstanding venues. A year later, the group released “Try Me,” which became James’ first No. 1 hit. The mid-1960s was the period of Brown’s greatest popular success, with two of his signature tunes, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good) released in 1965.

It was around this time when James turned much funkier, he sped up the released version of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” to make it even more intense and commercial and 1970 saw a big change in his backing band which included Bootsy Collins on bass. This new band was called the JBs. In 1974, they performed in Zaire as part of the build up to the The Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. James and his JBs were one of the busiest bands on the road, he worked till 3 days before his death.

In the eighties he had a brief fling with the new wave clubs that had rediscovered him, Brown was introduced to a broader pop audience via films in which the principal creative forces were James Brown fans: The Blues Brothers, featuring Brown as a rousing preaching opposite John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd; Doctor Detroit, also with Aykroyd; and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV, which showcased JB in a mythic cameo performing “Living In America,” his biggest Pop hit since 1968’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud.”

The night “Living In America” reached the U.S. Top Five, James Brown was inducted as a charter member into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame. He had gained the establishment recognition he craved. And he was the only inductee to have a contemporaneous hit.

At street level, a fundamentally more important appreciation of James Brown was taking place. An entire new generation was discovering his music and recycling, through sampling, his legacy as the soundtrack for their own aspirations. “Funky Drummer,” a nearly forgotten 1970 single-only release, was in particular an irresistible foundation for material. Aficionados estimate that between two and three thousand recorded raps of the late 1980s featured a James Brown sample in some form. In addition, his recordings with Afrika Bambaataa (“Unity”) and Brooklyn’s Full Force (“Static,” “I’m Real”) were homages paid by respectful disciples.

In December 1988, James Brown was handed two concurrent six-year prison sentences, on traffic violations charges and resisting arrest. As part of his sentence, the Godfather of Soul dutifully counseled local poor and preached against drugs. He was freed on February 27, 1991.

Though he hungered for a hit again like “Living In America,” an iconic performer like James Brown no longer needed hit records to sell tickets; throughout the 1990s and 2000s he was a bona fide headliner, often appearing in the world’s most prestigious venues.

James received several top music industry awards and honors, being was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 23, 1986. February 25, 1992 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 34th annual Grammy Awards.

Exactly a year later, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 4th annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Awards. On November 14, 2006, James was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame. He was one of several inductees that performed at the ceremony. He was a recipient of Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and on August 22, 2006, the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority voted to rename the city’s civic center the James Brown Arena.

On Christmas morning Dec 25, 2006 he died after a short illness at age 73.

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April Lawton 11/2006

April LawtonNov 23, 2006 – April Lawton was born on July 30th 1948 on Long Island New York. As guitar virtuoso, singer, and composer she came to notice in the early 70s as the lead guitarist of the criminally underrated rock band  Ramatam, which also included former Iron Butterfly guitarist Mike Pinera and the former Jimi Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell. With Jimi just dead she was hailed as the female Jimi Hendrix by many, and her style was a mix of Jeff Beck, Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Alan Holdsworth. Even after Pinera and Mitchell left after the self titled debut album, she stayed with Ramatam for “In April Came the Dawning of the Red Suns”, in my opinion one of the most incredibly versatile instrumental albums ever recorded.

But April left after this second album, to follow her solo project called the April Lawton Band, which dissolved in the late 1970s. Some much less talented male guitar players with the help of a jealous so-called fellow female guitar player friend spread the rumor that April was transgender, since no good looking woman could ever play the guitar like she could, n’est-ce pas?  Even though others like Mike Pinera and swore this to be a lie, these flaming fuckers actually may have been a major reason why she never allowed for an interview and kind of “disappeared” from the music scene after the 70s were over. The other reason was that she was also a worldclass visual artist.April_with_Jimmy_Page

Her painting and graphic designs, were amazing and as a worldclass freehand artist she got published in Magazines like Science Digest. Yet from a very obscure piece of fusion she wrote in those years titled “Breathless” one can easily deduct that playing guitar must have stayed a major part of here life in the 80s. Listen to this obscure recording of a tune she wrote and then produced together with New York guitarist Rishard Lampese (REESHO) in his home grown studio in the early nineties. The tune is called “Breathless” and April plays the second lead starting about 2 min. 10 sec. in. It’s some of the most advanced guitar playing I have ever heard.

Her personal life stayed very private until her death on Thanksgiving 2006, although during the 1990s she recorded demos for a future album, but the material remains unreleased. Some excerpts were available at the April Lawton tribute website but are now unplugged. If anything, April Lawton opened the doors for female superstars on guitar, such as Orianthi, Nori Bucci, Jess Greenberg, Giulia Gualtieri, Alexandra Maiolo and others. She sadly died from heart failure at her home in New York on Nov 23, 2006 at age 58.

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Syd
Barrett
7/2006

July 6, 2006 – Roger ‘Syd’ Barrett (Pink Floyd) was born on January 6th 1946 in Cambridge, England.  His parents were Dr. Max and Mrs. Win Barrett). Roger was the fourth of five children, the others being Alan, Don, Ruth and Rosemary. The young Roger was actively encouraged in his music and art by his parents – at the age of seven he won a piano duet competition with his sister – and he was to be successful in poetry contests while at high school.
Max died when Roger was 15 and his diary entry that day consisted of one single line: “Dear Dad died today.” The loss cost him dearly. Three days later he wrote to his girlfriend Libby that “I could write a book about his merits – perhaps I will some time.”

From age 10-16, Roger went to the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys on Hills Road, aka “The County”. The school had its own Scout troop, which Roger attended with great interest. He was a natural mimic and would amuse his friends with impersonations of famous people including comedy actor Sid James. Fellow scout Brian Boydell remembers that this was when he gave Roger the nickname of “Sid”, at an age of twelve. Some 3-4 years later the spelling would change after seeing a bassist in the Riverside Seven, a traditional jazz band, named Sid Barrett. Brian “Freddy” Foskett, formerly a jazz drummer with the Riverside Seven, took Roger to the YMCA in Alexandra Street to hear the band play and Roger decided to put the “y” into his nickname to avoid confusion with the bass player. From then on Sid was Syd – until in the 1970s, when he reverted to his original Roger. “Syd doesn’t live here anymore” is how he answered the door to visiting strangers.

Syd knew Roger Waters from primary school and met David Gilmour as a teenager, so their paths were to cross many times. These three later became the main creative leaders of Pink Floyd, each of them rising to the front during their own era, connected in origin and friendship from the Cambridge days. After a stint at Cambridge School of Art, Syd moved to London to attend Camberwell Art College, and eventually hooked up with Roger Waters, who was attending Regent Street Polytechnic. David Gilmour was asked to join the band at the end of 1967.

Syd was a notable and popular bohemian figure on the Cambridge scene, swapping guitar chords with David Gilmour and avidly enjoying a wide range of musical influences from jazz to obscure blues combos. By the time he moved to London he had already been part of local bands including Geoff Mott and the Mottoes, born out of collaborations at the Barrett family home from 1962 onwards. On return trips to Cambridge he began playing guitar with The Hollerin’ Blues, who by 1965 had turned into Those Without. Meanwhile Roger Waters had formed a band called Sigma 6 with college friends including Richard Wright and Nick Mason. When two of the 6 band members left, there was space for Syd to join, along with Rado “Bob” Klose. Six songs were recorded by this first version of Pink Floyd, and after 50 years they finally received their proper release in November 2015. After some personnel and name changes, the band finally settled down into the Barrett / Mason / Waters / Wright lineup in the summer of 1965 under the name of Pink Floyd, as suggested by Syd. The first mention in press dates to a Melody Maker article in early July 1965.

In a Swedish interview from September 1967, Barrett explained that “the name Pink Floyd comes from two blues singers from Georgia, USA – Pink Anderson and Floyd Council”. Roger Waters at the same time, but in another interview, explained the name as something that “sounds like a nice name to us. It’s really just a registration mark. It’s better than calling ourselves CCE338, or something like that.” The blues singers Syd referenced actually originated from South and North Carolina respectively and the name combination was picked up from the linear notes of a Blind Boy Fuller compilation album.

Pink Floyd in the SUMMER 1966
The Pink Floyd (alternatively known as The Tea Set) was still a part-time band, allowing Syd to take off to France in August 1965 with David Gilmour, visiting the home of Pablo Picasso, whose son was a student in Cambridge. The pair was briefly detained by the St. Tropez police for busking. The band’s music style was based on American blues and r’n’b, but the birth of a UK psychedelic music scene allowed them to develop Syd’s performance-based ideas into something unique. Throughout 1966 they honed their live performance skills, often developing songs into long jamming sequences. A particular mention must be made of the residency they enjoyed at the All Saints Church Hall as part of a series of concerts organized by the budding London Free School in the autumn of 1966. These were called Sound and Light Workshops and advertised light projection slides and ‘liquid movies’. It was here that the band really began to develop a serious following.

Syd Barrett’s famous mirrored guitar was created at this time by modifying his original white Fender Esquire with adhesive plastic to give it a new silver colored body, and then mounting 15 reflecting discs on it. The mirror disc guitar was probably premiered at the All Saints Church Hall concert on October 14 – a “POP DANCE featuring London’s farthest out group”. Julian Palacios paints this picture in his book Dark Globe: “Sketching circles of infinity with his glissandi, Syd brought out his modified silver Esquire for the first time – a readymade psychedelic revelation. As the crude light show hit the discs and shone light back at the audience, Syd used the guitar as a visual prop to “shower silver on the people” like a magic sceptre. The light show hit the silver discs and a star was born.”

Pink Floyd quickly became the pre-eminent ‘underground’ band, fueled by audience and supporters close to the London Free School. Pink Floyd played at the launch party for the International Times, and became a first house-band at the UFO club. On Halloween 1966, the band formed Blackhill Enterprises with managers Peter Jenner and Andrew King. They also went into a studio that same day and recorded a first version of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, used as music for the experimental film San Francisco by Anthony Stern. This was a band composition, but most of the other early recordings were songs by Syd, who had established himself as the band’s creative innovator.

Pink Floyd signed to EMI Records in 1967, releasing the singles ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’, both written by Syd, in the first half of that year. Soon they were at work on their debut album the Piper at the Gates of Dawn in the Abbey Road Studios, next to The Beatles who were recording their Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at the same time. In the end of April, Pink Floyd was the closing act at the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream festival at Alexandra Palace, and left an ever-lasting impression on those in attendance, as the sun rose and streamed in through the windows, casting reflections in Syd’s mirrored guitar. In mid May, the band was invited to play a proper concert to a seated audience at the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hall on South Bank in London. On this occasion they introduced many new aspects of a concert experience, including sound effects, a 360 degree sound system and onscreen films that they played in sync with – all trademarks of the future Pink Floyd.

During July, See Emily Play was high in the charts and Pink Floyd guested the popular TV show Top Of The Pops on three occasions. It was at the time of the final such appearance that Syd rather suddenly started to exhibit serious issues, likely as a result of psychedelic drugs. Roger Waters recalls: “It actually happened very fast with Syd, I have to say, right around the time of ‘See Emily Play’. You know, he got very weird very quickly.” Letters of apologies had to be written and a number of important performances were cancelled. The band went on a forced break among headlines of “flake out”. This coincided with the release of their debut album in early August and cast a dark shadow on what really should have been a moment of triumph. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, mostly composed by Syd, is considered to be one of the greatest British psychedelic albums.

Syd started to develop a more troubled personality, as if he had gone through a watershed of some kind. Two proposed singles were recorded but shelved, due to their dark nature and non-commercial potential: ‘Scream Thy Last Scream (Old Woman With A Casket)’ and ‘Vegetable Man’. While performed live in concert and on radio, they remain to this day officially unreleased. Instead, the sunnier single’Apples and Oranges’ was released in November 1967, but did not chart.

Early Pink Floyd worked harder than most as a touring band. In their live performances, due to the quality of the sound equipment in those days, and the risk for microphone feedback, the vocals were hard to hear and the band relied heavily on instrumental and rather loud and hard driving numbers. Syd’s behavior became more erratic during a stretch of troublesome performances in USA and the Jimi Hendrix UK package tour, to the point that the band decided to add a second guitarist. David Gilmour was approached in early December and they had hoped to call on Syd’s compositional abilities for studio work, similar to Brian Wilson’s role in the Beach Boys, while Gilmour would bolster the band in live shows. It is at this point that Syd brought a new song to band rehearsals, only to change it with every take, before bringing the band back to the chorus “have you got it yet?”. This was his last rehearsal with Pink Floyd and on January 25 1968, after only a handful of shows as a 5-piece, the band elected not to pick Syd up on the way to Southampton.

Syd, 1971 – SOLO ARTIST, 1968
Syd and Pink Floyd officially parted company in March 1968, with the band’s management Blackhill Enterprises deciding to stick with Syd as a solo artist. EMI’s new Harvest label committed to a Barrett solo project, and over the course of a year Syd recorded The Madcap Laughs. Started briefly with Blackhill’s Peter Jenner, recording commenced in earnest in April 1969 with EMI’s Malcolm Jones, and at the final stretch involved David Gilmour and Roger Waters. Gilmour attended three session dates and Waters only the last one, July 26, which was a sprint that generated four unembellished songs for the haunting second side of Syd’s debut album, named The Madcap Laughs after a line in the song ‘Octopus” and suggested by David Gilmour.

The Madcap Laughs would not be released until January 1970, but was well received and sold reasonably by the standards of the time, so EMI decided to record a follow-up straight away. The sessions for the album Barrett started on February 26, 1970, with David Gilmour as producer and on bass guitar, Richard Wright on keyboards and Humble Pie’s Jerry Shirley on drums. Sessions in April and July followed, and the album was released in November 1970, the last official Syd Barrett album, bar compilations.

Syd undertook very little musical activity between 1968 and 1972 outside the studio. On February 24, 1970, he appeared on John Peel’s BBC radio program Top Gear playing five songs, only one of which had been previously released. Three would be re-recorded for the Barrett album, while the song’Two of a Kind’ (possibly penned by Richard Wright) was a one-off. David Gilmour and Jerry Shirley also backed Syd for his one and only live concert during this period, on June 6, 1970. The trio played four songs at the Olympia Exhibition Hall, London, as part of a Music and Fashion Festival. Syd made one last appearance on BBC Radio, recording three songs from Barrett on February 16, 1971.

In the end of January 1972, Syd formed a short-lived band called Stars with ex-Pink Fairies member Twink on drums and Jack Monck on bass. Though the band was initially well received, one of their gigs at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge was disastrous, following the hard rocking MC5 on stage a late Thursday night, February 24. The final gig took place two days later, less than a month after the band had been started. Syd quit the band a few days later after a scathing review. The collapse of Stars coincided in time with the rise of the Dark Side of the Moon, which had been performed in London just days before and gained massive praise in the press. A song suite, conceptualized from experiences gained during the time with Syd, and ending truly with an eclipse. Syd had one final and noted reunion with the members of Pink Floyd on June 5, 1975. This was during the recording sessions for Wish You Were Here, when he turned up at Abbey Road unannounced and in a strange case of “random precision” as the band was working on Shine On You Crazy Diamond, their tribute song to him.

In August 1974, Peter Jenner had convinced Syd to return to Abbey Road Studios in hope of recording another album, but little came of the sessions. Syd withdrew from the music industry and eventually chose Cambridge and a life of painting, creating large abstract canvases and many other forms of paintings.

In 1988, EMI Records released an album of Syd’s studio out-takes and previously unreleased material recorded from 1968 to 1970 under the title of Opel, a highly-regarded track omitted from The Madcap Laughs. 1993’s Crazy Diamond is a box set of all three albums, each loaded with further out-takes from his solo sessions. The Best Of Syd Barrett: Wouldn’t You Miss Me? was released by EMI in 2001.

“I’M FULL OF DUST AND GUITARS.”

Roger “Syd” Barrett died of pancreatic cancer on July 7, 2006 at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, but his legacy lives on in the acknowledgement of his increasing influence over scores of musicians. A tribute concert was held at London’s Barbican Theatre in 2007, curated by Nick Laird-Clowes and Joe Boyd. David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason performed Arnold Layne. Other musicians paying tribute included Roger Waters, Damon Albarn, Kevin Ayers, Captain Sensible, Mike Heron, Robyn Hitchcock, Chrissie Hynde, John Paul Jones, Kate McGarrigle, and Martha Wainwright.

In 2010, EMI Records released An Introduction To Syd Barrett, a new collection that brought together for the first time tracks from Syd’s Pink Floyd and solo work on one album, including some brand-new remixes. David Gilmour was executive producer of the album, overseeing remixes and improvements of five tracks, including’Octopus’, ‘She Took A Long Cool Look’, ‘Dominoes’, and ‘Here I Go’. Pink Floyd’s ‘Matilda Mother’ also received a fresh 2010 mix with its original lyrics restored. Artwork was provided by long time Pink Floyd associate and friend of Syd, Storm Thorgerson and his Hipgnosis studio.

In March 2011 a new book entitled Barrett, The Definitive Visual Companion, was published by Essential Works, authors Russell Beecher and Will Shutes drawing on their extensive research to show Syd’s work and life, resulting in a comprehensive study of Syd the artist. Containing the largest collection of Syd Barrett-related images ever assembled, the book includes hundreds of unseen and rare photographs of Syd and Pink Floyd, some of Syd’s personal love letters and all of Syd’s remaining original artworks.

The legacy continues to live on. More and more people are discovering the unique music, art and life of Syd Barrett, which fascinates and resonates with so many. In the end he was more than an artist defined by his pieces of work. It is his multi-facetted life story that to many people provides the basis for appreciating his art.

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Roger
Ridley
11/2005

rogerinaction3November 16, 2005 – Milton Lee “Roger” Ridley Jr. also known as “Buh-Buh”, “Ajax” and “Big Man” was born April 30th 1948 and called home from labor to reward on November 16, 2005. Roger was a street performer with a voice that could have made millions, but he decided early on that he was in the “JOY” business when it came to sharing his music and thus, just 6 months before his untimely passing, he became the beaming landmark inspiration for Playing For Change, which has turned into a global force for music education and peace.

This video explains why Roger Ridley is a Legend in my book:

Stand By Me | Playing For Change | Song Around The World from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

“It has been almost 10 years since Roger’s passing and I still go back to listen to him on the “Stand by me” video from 2007. I guess Roger has sung this one with Ben E King by now and I hate to have missed it.”

In his own words here is his Biography.

Hello, my name is Roger Ridley and I was in the “JOY” business. I was born in Lumpkin, Georgia, a small town near Atlanta. My career started in elementary school when I sang in a school program to get out of English class. I moved to New York City in 1964 and launched my professional career with Maley & The Isles as the lead singer, the first of many times as a singer.

At the age of 26 I married and became a father of three, two girls and one boy. They too are musically talented and sing with much feeling and authority. While I was playing in many clubs around New York City and throughout the tri-state area, the Ridley genius also ran deeply in the house.

I come from a musical family, “all my life I have been surrounded by music: my mother, my sisters and brothers are all singers and my father played the guitar, a little.

My goals were to share my music and songs with the world. “I pray these goals have been accomplished.”

I thank God and appreciate the fact that I have the ability to draw crowds wherever I perform whether it be on the city streets, in the subways, concerts, street fairs or the night clubs.

On March 29, 1997 I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada where I performed in a show about street musicians called “Madhattan” produced by Kenneth Feld. After one years of the show running it closed and a close friend of mine introduced me to the 3rd street Promenade in Santa Monica California and all of a sudden I was back to performing in front of millions of people, a diversified audience with one thing in common, good music.

On November 16, 2005 my Lord and Savior called me home and I had to go. I have made my mark and am very satisfied in knowing that my family is keeping my music alive.

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Ray
Charles
6/2004

Ray Charles 500June 10, 2004 – Ray Charles Robinson was born September 23, 1930 and became an American singer-songwriter, musician and composer sometimes referred to as “The Genius”.

Ray Charles, a Grammy-winning bluesman/crooner who blended gospel and blues in such crowd-pleasers as “What’d I Say” and heartfelt ballads like “Georgia on My Mind” died from liver failure on Thursday, June 10, 2004 at age 73.

Charles died at his Beverly Hills home surrounded by family and friends, said spokesman Jerry Digney.

Charles last public appearance was alongside Clint Eastwood on April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated the singer’s studios, built 40 years ago in central Los Angeles, as a historic landmark.

Blind by age 7 and an orphan at 15, Charles spent his life shattering any notion of musical boundaries and defying easy definition. A gifted pianist and saxophonist, he dabbled in country, jazz, big band and blues, and put his stamp on it all with a deep, warm voice roughened by heartbreak from a hardscrabble childhood in the segregated South.

“His sound was stunning – it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing — it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing,” singer Van Morrison told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview.

Charles won nine of his 12 Grammy Awards between 1960 and 1966, including the best R&B recording three consecutive years (“Hit the Road Jack,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Busted”).

His versions of other songs are also well known, including “Makin’ Whoopee” and a stirring “America the Beautiful.” Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote “Georgia on My Mind” in 1931 but it didn’t become Georgia’s official state song until 1979, long after Charles turned it into an American standard.

Hall of Fame Inductee 1986

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J.R. Johnny
Cash
9/2003

johnny cashSeptember 12, 2003 – J.R.JohnnyCash  was born February 26, 1932 and became one of the most imposing and influential figures in post-World War II country music. With his deep, baritone and spare, percussive guitar, he had a basic, distinctive sound.

Although primarily remembered as a country music icon, his genre-spanning songs and sound embraced rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel. This crossover appeal won Cash the rare honor of multiple inductions in the Country Music, Rock and Roll and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.

Born in Kingsland, Arkansas, he was given the name “J.R.” because his parents could not agree on a name, only on initials. When he enlisted in the US Air Force, the military would not accept initials as his name, so he adopted John R. Cash as his legal name.

In a career that spanned almost 5 decades John received multiple Country Music Association Awards, Grammys, and other awards, in categories ranging from vocal and spoken performances to album notes and videos. His diversity is evidenced by his presence in three major music halls of fame: the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977, the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, only Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rodgers, and Bill Monroe share the honor being in all three.

Much of Cash’s music echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption, especially in the later stages of his career. His signature songs include “I Walk the Line”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Ring of Fire”, “Get Rhythm” and “Man in Black”. He also recorded humorous numbers, such as “One Piece at a Time” and “A Boy Named Sue”, a duet with his then future wife June Carter called “Jackson”, as well as railroad songs including “Hey Porter” and “Rock Island Line”. He sadly passed away at age 71 from complications from diabetes and respiratory failure.

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Barry
White
7/2003

barry-whiteJuly 4, 2003 – Barry White was born as Barry Eugene Carter in Galveston, Texas on September 12, 1944, and grew up in South Central Los Angeles. White was the older of two children. His brother Darryl was 13 months younger than Barry. He grew up listening to his mother’s classical music collection and first took to the piano, emulating what he heard on the records. White has often been credited with playing piano, at age eleven, on Jesse Belvin’s 1956 hit single, “Goodnight My Love.” However, in a 1995 interview with Larry Katz of the Boston Herald, White denied writing or arranging the song. He believed the story was an exaggeration by journalists.

While White and Belvin lived in the same neighborhood, Belvin was twelve years older than White. White also stated that he had no involvement with Bob & Earl’s 1963 hit single “Harlem Shuffle”, a song he is credited with producing and in his 1999 autobiography, White confirmed the song had been produced by Gene Page, who had worked with him on many of White’s 1970s successes.

White’s voice deepened suddenly when he was 14. White recalled: “As a child I had a normal squeaky kid voice. Then as a teenager, that completely changed. My mother cried because she knew her baby boy had become a man.”
His brother Darryl was murdered in a clash with a rival gang, and White himself was jailed—at the age of 16—for stealing $30,000 worth of Cadillac tires. While in jail, White listened to Elvis Presley singing “It’s Now or Never” on the radio, an experience he later credited with changing the course of his life.

After his release from jail, White left gang life and began a musical career at the beginning of the 1960s in singing groups. He made his first record when he was 16 with a group called the Upfronts. The song was called “Little Girl” on a local L.A. label called Lummtone Records. He then released “Too Far to Turn Around” in 1960 as part of The Upfronts before working for various small independent labels in Los Angeles. He also recorded several singles under his own name in the early 1960s, backed by vocal groups the Atlantics (for the Rampart and Faro labels) and the Majestics (for the Linda and Jordan labels).

Bob Keane of Del-Fi Records—the man who discovered Ritchie Valens and Sam Cooke’s move to pop songs—hired him as an A&R man in the mid 1960s for $40 a week, and White started working with the label’s artists, including Viola Wills and The Bobby Fuller Four, as a songwriter, session musician, and arranger.

During this time, White flirted with the idea of being a recording artist, making a record for Bronco called “All in the Run of a Day.” But he chose to stick with his A&R duties. One of the first groups he worked with was the Versatiles who later changed their name to the 5th Dimension. White’s first big hit came from an artist familiar to dancefloor denizens — Viola Wills, whose “Lost Without the Love of My Guy” went Top 20 R&B. His salary went up to 60 dollars a week. White started working with the Bobby Fuller Four. Bob Keene and Larry Nunes — who later became White’s spiritual advisor and true friend — wanted to cut a female act. White had heard about a singer named Felice Taylor. They had three hit records, “It May Be Winter Outside,” “I’m Under the Influence of Love,” and “I Feel Love Coming On.” They were huge hits in England. White started making 400 dollars a week. White also wrote “Doin’ the Banana Split” for TV bubblegum act The Banana Splits in 1968.

When Bronco went out of business, White began doing independent production. Those were some lean times for White. Veteran arranger Gene Page, who would later arrange or co-arrange White’s hits, helped him out, giving him work and non-repayable loans. Then three years later, Paul Politti, who also worked at Bronco, contacted him to tell him that Larry Nunes was interested in starting a business with him. Nunes had started cutting tracks for a concept album he was working on. Meanwhile, White had started working with this girl group who hadn’t done any singing professionally. They rehearsed for almost a year. White wrote “Walkin’ in the Rain (With the One I Love)” with lyrics that were inspired by conversations with one of the singers, Glodean James (who would later become White’s second wife). White christened the group Love Unlimited.

Larry Nunes took the record to Russ Regan, who was the head of the Uni label owned by MCA. Love Unlimited’s From a Girl’s Point of View became a million-seller. Soon after, Regan left Uni for 20th Century Records. Without Regan, White’s relationship with Uni soured. With his relationship with Uni in chaos and Love Unlimited contract-bound with the label, White decided he needed to work with another act. He wanted to work with a male artist. He made three song demos of himself singing and playing the piano. Nunes heard them and insisted that he re-record and release them as a recording artist. They argued for days about it. Then he somehow convinced White to do it. White was still hesitating up to the time the label copy was made. He was going to use the name “White Heat,” but the record became the first Barry White album. That first album was 1973’s I’ve Got So Much to Give on 20th Century Records. It included the title track and “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby.”
White got a release from Uni for Love Unlimited and they joined him over at 20th Century Records. Then he had a brainstorm for another concept album. He told Regan he wanted to do an instrumental album. Regan thought he had lost it. White wanted to call it the Love Unlimited Orchestra. The single, “Love’s Theme,” went to number one pop, was a million-seller, and was a smash all over the world. The song earned him a BMI award for over three million covers.

For the next five years, from 1974 to 1979, there was no stopping the Barry White Hit Train — his own Stone Gon, Barry White Sings Love Songs for the One You Love (“It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me,” “Playing Your Game Baby”), Let the Music Play (title track, “You See the Trouble with Me”), Just Another Way to Say I Love You (“I’ll Do for You Anything You Want Me To,” “Love Serenade”), The Man (“Your Sweetness Is My Weakness,” “Sha La La Means I Love You,” “September When We Met,” a splendid cover of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”), and Love Unlimited’s In Heat (“I Belong to You,” “Move Me No Mountain,” “Share a Little Love in Your Heart,” and “Love’s Theme,” with lyrics). He also scored a soundtrack for the 20th Century Fox film The Together Brothers, enjoying a resurgence on home video.
His studio band included such luminaries as guitarists Ray Parker, Jr. (pre-Raydio, co-writer with White on “You See the Trouble With Me”), bassist Nathan East, Wah Wah Watson, David T. Walker, Dean Parks, Don Peake, bassist Wilton Felder of the Crusaders, Lee Ritenour, drummer Ed Greene, percussionist Gary Coleman, and later keyboardist Rahn Coleman. His hit streak seemed, well, unlimited. Then it all derailed. Russ Regan and another ally, Hosea Wilson, left 20th Century Records and White was left with management that he thought of in less than glowing terms.

White left after fulfilling his contract with two more album releases, Love Unlimited Orchestra’s My Musical Bouquet and his own I Love to Sing the Songs I Sing. White signed a custom label deal with CBS Records. At the time it was touted as one of the biggest deals ever. He started a label called Unlimited Gold. The roster included White, Love Unlimited, the Love Unlimited Orchestra, Jack Perry, and a teenaged singer named Danny Pearson who charted with a song called “What’s Your Sign Girl.” He also did a duet album with Glodean James called Barry & Glodean. Aside from the gold album The Message Is Love, most of the albums weren’t huge sellers. After eight Barry White albums, four Love Unlimited albums, four Love Unlimited Orchestra albums, constant touring, and dealing with the rigors of the music industry, White decided to take a break.

Then in 1992, White signed with A&M, releasing the albums The Man Is Back, The Right Night & Barry White, and Put Me in Your Mix (which contains a duet with Issac Hayes, “Dark and Lovely”). The Icon Is Love became his biggest-selling album since the ’70s releases, going multi-platinum. It includes the platinum single “Practice What You Preach.” The production lineup includes Gerald Levert and Tony Nicholas, his godson Chuckii Booker, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and White and his longtime friend Jack Perry. While some later efforts buried his vocals in whiz-bang electronic effects, on The Icon Is Love, White’s deep steam engine baritone pipes are upfront in the mix. Staying Power followed in 1999, showcased in the best tradition of soul music where the focus is the singer and the song. The album earned White two Grammys. White’s career took him from the ghetto to international success with 106 gold and 41 platinum albums, 20 gold and ten platinum singles, with worldwide sales in excess of 100 million.
White, who suffered from hypertension and chronic high blood pressure, was hospitalized for kidney failure in September of 2002. He was undergoing dialysis treatment, but the combination of illnesses proved too much and he died July 4, 2003 at a West Hollywood hospital. By the time of his death, Barry White had achieved a near-universal acclaim and popularity that few artists achieve and even fewer within their own lifetime.

While undergoing dialysis and awaiting a kidney transplant in May 2003, White suffered a severe stroke, which forced him to retire from public life. At around 9:30 a.m. on July 4, 2003, 29 years to the day that he married Glodean, White died at the age of 58 from kidney failure.

On September 20, 2004, White was posthumously inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame at a ceremony held in New York. On September 12, 2013, which would have been White’s 69th birthday, he was posthumously awarded the 2,506th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6914 Hollywood Blvd in the category of recording. The show Counting Cars paid tribute to White by restoring the last car he owned for his widow, Glodean.

In an obituary affectionately referring to White by his familiar nickname, ‘The Walrus of Love,’ the BBC recalled “the rich timbres of one of the most distinctive soul voices of his generation, about which it was once said: ‘If chocolate fudge cake could sing, it would sound like Barry White.'”.

He also had a strong following in the UK where he had five Top 10 hits and one No.1 with “You’re The First”.

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Nina Simone 4/2003

Nina SimoneApril 21, 2003 – Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933 in South Carolina. The sixth child of a preacher mom, she wanted to become a concert pianist. She began playing piano at age three.

Her concert debut, a classical recital, was given when she was 12. Simone later said that during this performance, her parents, who had taken seats in the front row, were forced to move to the back of the hall to make way for white people. She said that she refused to play until her parents were moved back to the front, and that the incident strongly contributed to her later involvement in the civil rights movement.

Simone’s mother, Mary Kate Waymon, was a Methodist minister and a housemaid. Simone’s father, John Divine Waymon, was a handyman who at one time owned a dry cleaning business, but also suffered bouts of ill health. Simone’s music teacher helped establish a special fund to pay for her education. Subsequently, a local fund was set up to assist her continued education. With the help of this scholarship money she was able to attend Allen High School for Girls in Asheville, North Carolina.

After her graduation, Simone spent the summer of 1950 at the Juilliard School, preparing for a scholarship audition at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her application, however, was denied, despite a well-received audition. As her family had relocated to Philadelphia in the expectation of her entry to Curtis, the blow to her aspirations was particularly heavy, and she suspected that her application had been denied because of racial prejudice, a statement that became a matter of veiled controversy when years later, two days before her death actually, the Curtis Institute of Music bestowed an honorary degree on Simone.

Discouraged, she took private piano lessons with Vladimir Sokoloff, a professor at Curtis, but never re-applied to the institution. For several years, she worked a number of menial jobs and taught piano in Philadelphia.

To fund her private lessons and make a living, Simone performed at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, whose owner insisted that she sing as well as play the piano, which increased her weekly income to $90 a week. In 1954 she adopted the stage name “Nina Simone”. “Nina” (from niña, meaning “little girl” in Spanish), and “Simone” was taken from the French actress Simone Signoret, whom she had seen in the movie Casque d’Or. Knowing her mother would not approve of playing the “Devil’s Music” she used her new stage name to remain undetected. Simone’s mixture of jazz, blues, and classical music in her performances at the bar earned her a small but loyal fan base.

Playing in small clubs in the same year she recorded George Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” (from Porgy and Bess), which she learned from a Billie Holiday album and performed as a favor to a friend. It became her only Billboard top 20 success in the United States, and her debut album Little Girl Blue soon followed on Bethlehem Records. Simone lost more than $1 million in royalties (notably for the 1980s re-release of My Baby Just Cares for Me) and never benefited financially from the album’s sales because she had sold her rights outright for $3,000, something that happened quite often in those early days of recorded music.

After the success of Little Girl Blue, Simone signed a contract with Colpix Records and recorded a multitude of studio and live albums. Colpix relinquished all creative control to her, including the choice of material that would be recorded, in exchange for her signing the contract with them. After the release of her live album Nina Simone at Town Hall, Simone became a favorite performer in Greenwich Village in New York City. By this time, Simone performed pop music only to make money to continue her classical music studies and was indifferent about having a recording contract. She kept this attitude toward the record industry for most of her career.

For much of her early life, Eunice Waymon dreamed of becoming one of the first nationally successful African-American concert pianists.
Highlights of her early career included her 1959 performance at the Town Hall in New York; her trip to Nigeria in 1961; a performance at Carnegie Hall in 1963; and a European tour, including her first performances in Paris, in 1965. She also appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960, and the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1968.

Simone’s work took on an explicitly social dimension during the 1960s when she became involved in the Civil Rights movement. Following her rise to fame, Simone had become close with leading African-American intellectuals, including Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), and Lorraine Hansberry. After the Birmingham bombings in September 1963, Simone wrote an original song, “Mississippi Goddam,” directly addressing civil rights. “You don’t have to live next to me/Just give me my equality/Everybody knows about Mississippi,” she sang, and began to use her concerts as an opportunity to honor members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

While Nina Simone worked feverishly in the 1960s, releasing thirteen studio albums in that decade alone, the 1970s were far less productive. Overwork and a painful divorce from husband/manager Andy Stroud led to her taking a good deal of time off from performing and recording, visiting Barbados and Liberia and in 1976, she moved to Switzerland. On a trip back to the United States in 1977, she was convicted of tax evasion as a result of her ex husband/manager having pocketed the monies for taxes. A suicide attempt and the increasing onset of mental problems (probably bipolar disorder), further darkened the decade. Nina Simone only released two studio albums in the 1970s; a seven-year gap separated Here Comes the Sun (1971) from Baltimore (1978).
For much of the 1980s, Nina Simone was based more in Europe than in America. She actually once remarked during a New York City concert, that if the audience wanted to see her again, they would have to come to Paris. She worked in Paris, performed notably at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1985, and at Montreux in 1987 and 1990. Her last live albums also date from this period. Her career began to slow down; in 1991, she published her memoirs, and in 1992, she moved to a small town in the south of France. But she continued to perform: her last record, A Single Woman, was released in 1993, and she also appeared on solo albums by Pete Townshend and her friend Miriam Makeba. Nina Simone continued to perform to the end; shortly before her death from breast cancer, she was still considering another concert tour.

Nina Simone died at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France, on April 21, 2003. Two days earlier, the Curtis Institute, which had denied her application so many years before, granted her an honorary degree. She had already received honorary doctorates from Malcolm X University (1972) and Amherst College in Massachusetts (1977). In 2009, she was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.

While Nina Simone was commonly known as “the high priestess of soul,” her repertoire included music drawn from a wide variety of musical styles. Her piano playing was strongly influenced by her early classical training even when playing popular standards, as can be heard on her rendition of “Love Me or Leave Me.” She also performed North Carolinia folk songs, such as “Black is the Color,” jazz and popular standards, and blues and gospel songs. She ranged from protest songs, such as “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women” to classic standards like George Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” (from Porgy and Bess). Personally, Simone refused any easy categorization of her music, describing it as “black classical music.” Personally I was initially drawn to her by her magnificent renditions of “I put a Spell on You” and “Don’t let me be misunderstood.”

The soulful singer succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 70.

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Hildegard Knef 2/2002

Hildegard KnefFebruary 1, 2002 – Hildegard Frieda Albertine Knef was born December 28, 1925 in the city of Ulm, Germany. (The German PEGGY LEE)

In 1940, she began studying acting. Even before the fall of the Third Reich, she appeared in several films, but most of them were only released after the war. To avoid being raped by Soviet soldiers, she dressed like a young man and was sent to a camp for prisoners of war. She escaped and returned to war-shattered Berlin where she played her first parts on stage. The first German movie after World War II, Murderers Among Us (1946), made her a star. David O. Selznick invited her to Hollywood and offered her a contract – with two conditions: Hildegard Knef should change her name into Gilda Christian and should pretend to be Austrian instead of German. In America she appeared on Broadway as “Ninotchka” in the Cole Porter musical, Silk Stockings.

She refused both of Selznick’s conditions and returned to Germany. In 1951, she provoked one of the greatest scandals in German film history when she appeared naked on the screen in the movie Sunderin (1951). The Roman Catholic Church protested vehemently against that film, but Hildegard just commented: “I can’t understand all that tumult – five years after Auschwitz!”

With the support of her first husband, the American Kurt Hirsch, she tried a second time to launch a Hollywood career, changed her family name from Knef to Neff (because Americans could not pronounce Knef), but the only worthwhile part she got was a supporting role in the Hemingway adaptation of The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952). She became a leading lady in German, French and British films. Finally, America offered her another chance, this time on the stage. She achieved a kind of stardom as Ninotchka in the very popular Broadway play, “Silk Stockings”. In 1963, she began a new career as a singer and surprised the audience with her typical, deep, smoky voice and the fact that many lyrics of her songs were written by herself.

In 1970 she wrote her bestselling autobiography “Der geschenkte Gaul – Bericht aus meinem Leben” (“The Gift Horse – Report from my life”) in 1970. She got sympathy from all over the world for her fight against cancer, which she defeated several times. Hildegard is fondly remembered for the song “Für mich soll’s rote Rosen regnen”/”It shall rain red roses for me”, she is also well known for her version of the song “Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin” /”I’ve got a suitcase left in Berlin”), of which she sold more than three million records in total. My personal favorite Knef chanson has always been “Ich Brauch Tapeten Wechsel” (I need a change of scenery (wallpaper).

After the German reunification in 1991, Hildegarde Knef moved back to Berlin and died at age 76 of a lung infection on February 1, 2002.

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Peggy Lee 1/2002

Peggy Lee21 January 2002 – Peggy Lee was born Norma Deloris Engstrom on May 26th 1920 in Jamestown, North Dakota, the seventh of eight children. Her father was Swedish-American and her mother was Norwegian-American. Her mother died when Peggy was just a four year old toddler. Afterwards, her father married her step-mother Min Schaumber, who treated her with great cruelty while her alcoholic but loving father did little to stop it. As a teenager she developed her musical talent and took several part-time jobs so that she could be away from home to escape the abuse of her step-mother.

Lee first sang professionally over radio in Valley City, North Dakota. She later had her own series on a radio show sponsored by a local restaurant that paid her a salary in food. Both during and after her high school years, Lee sang for small sums on local radio stations. Radio personality Ken Kennedy in Fargo, North Dakota, changed her name from Norma to Peggy Lee. Miss Lee left home and traveled to Los Angeles at the age of 17.

Hotel owner Frank Bering noticed her while working at the Doll House in Palm Springs, California. It was here that she developed her trademark sultry purr – having decided to compete with the noisy crowd with subtlety rather than volume. Beringin offered her a gig at The Buttery Room, a nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel East in Chicago. There, she was noticed by bandleader Benny Goodman.

According to Lee, “Benny’s then-fiancée, Lady Alice Duckworth, came into The Buttery, and she was very impressed. So the next evening she brought Benny in, because they were looking for a replacement for Helen Forrest. And although I didn’t know, I was it. He was looking at me strangely, I thought, but it was just his preoccupied way of looking. I thought that he didn’t like me at first, but it just was that he was preoccupied with what he was hearing.” She joined his band in 1941 and stayed for two years.

In 1942 Lee had her first No. 1 hit, “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place”, followed by 1943’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?”, which sold over a million copies and made her famous. She sang with Goodman’s orchestra in two 1943 films, Stage Door Canteen and The Powers Girl.

In March 1943 Lee married Dave Barbour, a guitarist in Goodman’s band. Peggy said, “David joined Benny’s band and there was a ruling that no one should fraternize with the girl singer. But I fell in love with David the first time I heard him play, and so I married him. Benny then fired David, so I quit, too. Benny and I made up, although David didn’t play with him anymore. Benny stuck to his rule. I think that’s not too bad a rule, but you can’t help falling in love with somebody.”

When Lee and Barbour left the band, the idea was that he would work in the studios and she would keep house and raise their daughter, Nicki. But she drifted back to songwriting and occasional recording sessions for the fledgling Capitol Records in 1947, for whom she produced a long string of hits, many of them with lyrics and music by Lee and Barbour, including “I Don’t Know Enough About You” (1946) and “It’s a Good Day” (1947). With the release of the US No. 1-selling record of 1948, “Mañana”, her “retirement” was over. In 1948, Lee’s work was part of Capitol’s library of electrical transcriptions for radio stations. An ad for Capitol Transcriptions in a trade magazine noted that the transcriptions included “special voice introductions by Peggy.”

In 1948 Lee joined Perry Como and Jo Stafford as a rotating host of the NBC Radio musical program The Chesterfield Supper Club. She was also a regular on NBC’s Jimmy Durante Show and appeared frequently on Bing Crosby’s radio shows throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.

She left Capitol for Decca Records in 1952, but returned to Capitol in 1957. She is most famous for her cover version of the Little Willie John hit “Fever” written by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport, to which she added her own, uncopyrighted lyrics (“Romeo loved Juliet,” “Captain Smith and Pocahontas”) and her rendition of Leiber and Stoller’s “Is That All There Is?”.

In her 60-year-long career, Peggy was the recipient of three Grammy Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement Award), an Academy Award nomination, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Award, the President’s Award, the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Living Legacy Award from the Women’s International Center. In 1999 Lee was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

She sang with the likes of The Benny Goodman Band, and she became famous for her singular voice, sexy, subtle, simultaneously smoky ‘n’ cool and her unique jazz-inflected interpretations of popular tunes—encompassing poetry, jazz, chamber pop, art songs, and other genres. In 1999 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

She died from complications with diabetes and cardiac disease on 21 January 2002.

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Gilbert
Bécaud
12/2001

Gilbert BecaudDecember 18, 2001 – Gilbert Bécaud was born François Silly in Toulon France on October 24, 1927 and became one of France’s most beloved and successful singer, composer and actor.  He learned to play the piano at a young age, and then went to the Conservatoire in Nice.

In 1942, not even 16 years old, he left school to join the French Resistance during WorldWar II.

He began songwriting in 1948, after meeting Maurice Vidalin, who inspired him to write his early compositions. He began writing for Marie Bizet; Bécaud, Bizet and Vidalin became a successful trio, and their partnership lasted until 1950.

While touring with Jacques Pills as a pianist, Bécaud met Édith Piaf, the wife of Jacques Pills at the time. He began singing at her suggestion in 1953, with “Mes Mains” and “Les Croix”. His first performance came a year later. His hits in the later part of the decade included La Corrida (1956), Le Jour où la Pluie Viendra (1957) and C’est Merveilleux L’amour(1958).

His first hit in the English-speaking world was Jane Morgan’s cover version of “Le Jour où la Pluie Viendra” (as “The Days the Rains Came”, with English lyrics by Carl Sigman) in 1958. He began acting in the same period, starting with “Le Pays D’où Je Viens” (1956). In 1960, he won a Grand Prix du Disque and composed L’enfant à L’étoile, a Christmas cantata. That same year, Let It Be Me, an English version of his Je t’appartiens, became a hit for the Everly Brothers, followed, over the years, by Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Jerry Butler, Sam & Dave and James Brown.

To underscore his enormous talent, Bécaud wrote and recorded “Et Maintenant” in 1961, one of the biggest selling singles in French history. Translated as “What Now My Love”, the song became a hit by Shirley Bassey, Sonny & Cher, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Andy Williams, Herb Alpert and Frank Sinatra. He also co-wrote “Love on the Rocks” with Neil Diamond, which was featured on the soundtrack of The Jazz Singer and was an international hit. In addition, he co-wrote “September Morn” with Neil Diamond. Marlene Dietrich recorded his “Marie, Marie” and performed it in her stage shows.

On stage he became known as Monsieur 100,000 Volts for his energetic performances. He wrote around 450 songs and from the 1970s on preferred touring over recording. My personal favorite, which strangely enough is barely mentioned and not covered on the Wikipedia entry, is the song Nathalie about a female guide showing him Moscov in the early days of the Cold War. The promotional video was shot mostly on Red Square (la place rouge) in 1963.

He sadly died from cancer on his houseboat on the Seine River in Paris on Dec 18, 2001 at the age of 74.

 

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George
Harrison
11/2001

George HarrisonNovember 29, 2001 – George Harrison was born on February 25, 1943 in Liverpool England. Harrison was not born into wealth and by his own admission, Harrison was not much of a student, and what little interest he did have in his studies washed away with his discovery of the electric guitar and American rock and roll. As Harrison would later describe it, he had an “epiphany” of sorts at the age 12 or 13 while riding a bike around his neighborhood and getting his first whiff of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” which was playing from a nearby house. By the age of 14, Harrison, whose early rock heroes included Carl Perkins, Little Richard and Buddy Holly, had purchased his first guitar and taught himself a few chords.

Impressed with his younger friend’s talents, Paul McCartney, who had recently joined up with another Liverpool teenager, John Lennon, in a skiffle group known as the Quarrymen, invited Harrison to see the band perform. Harrison and Lennon actually shared some common history. Both had attended Dovedale Primary School, but oddly had never met. Their paths finally crossed in early 1958. McCartney had been pushing the 17-year-old Lennon to let the 14-year-old Harrison join the band, but Lennon was reluctant to let the youngster team up with them. As legend has it, after seeing McCartney and Lennon perform, George was finally granted an audition on the upper deck of a bus, where he wowed Lennon with his rendition of popular American rock riffs.

By 1960 Harrison’s music career was in full swing. Lennon had renamed the band the Beatles, and the young group began cutting their rock teeth in the small clubs and bars around Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany. Within two years, the group had a new drummer, Ringo Starr, and a manager, Brian Epstein, a young record-store owner who eventually landed the Beatles a contract with EMI’s Parlophone label.

Before the end of 1962, Harrison and the Beatles recorded a top 20 U.K. hit, “Love Me Do” and then on March 22, 1962 the Beatles released their debut album Please Please Me including “Do You Want To Know a Secret” which featured George Harrison on lead vocals and Beatlemania was in full swing across England, and by early 1964, with the release of their album in the United States and an American tour, it had swept across the Atlantic as well.

Largely referred to as the “quiet Beatle” Harrison took a backseat to McCartney, Lennon and, to a certain extent, Starr. Still, he could be quick-witted, even edgy. During the middle of one American tour, the group members were asked how they slept at night with long hair. “How do you sleep with your arms and legs still attached?” Harrison fired back.

From the start, the Beatles were a Lennon-McCartney driven band and brand. But while the two took up much of the group’s songwriting responsibilities, Harrison had shown an early interest in contributing his own work. In the summer of 1963 he spearheaded his first song, “Don’t Bother Me,” which made its way on to the group’s second album, With the Beatles. From there on out, Harrison’s songs were a staple of all Beatles records. In fact, some of the group’s more memorable songs, such as While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Something—the latter of which was was recorded by more than 150 other artists, including Frank Sinatra—were penned by Harrison. Interestingly enough he wrote this for his then girlfriend, later wife Patti Boyd, who married George’s best friend Eric Clapton later after Clapton had written Layla for her and later wrote Wonderful Tonight.

George Harrison may have been nicknamed “the quite Beatle”. But on his first solo album following the dissolution of the Beatles, he truly had plenty to say, literally.

In November 1970, Harrison released the album All Things Must Pass, which the former Beatle considered to be his first proper solo album, despite having made two during the late 1960s (Wonderwall Music in 1968 and Electronic Sound in 1969). Produced by Harrison and Phil Spector, and recorded at Abbey Road Studios, it was also a triple album composing of songs written as early as 1968, and some that were rejected by the Beatles, particularly the band’s principal songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. These songs include the title track, and “Isn’t it a Pity”.

Other key tracks including “My Sweet Lord” (the first number one hit from an ex-Beatle), the top ten “What is Life”, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”, and “Apple Scruffs”. Another significant fact about All Things Must Pass were the field of contributing musicians. They included future 1970s pop stars Billy Preston and Gary Wright, Eric Clapton (along with former Cream bandmate Ginger Baker, and current band Derek and the Dominos), Badfinger, and future Yes drummer Alan White.

After the Beatles era was over, George used some of his money to purchase beautiful 120 room Friar Park Estate in Henley-on-Thames and build a 16 track recording studio in one of the guests suites.

On an interesting side note, Harrison put the whole property up as collateral in order to fund the Monty Python comedy team’s movie Life of Brian after their original backers, EMI, pulled out at the last minute. As a huge fan of the Pythons, Harrison simply wanted to get to see the film − something that his friend Eric Idle has often described as “the most expensive cinema ticket in movie history”.

Harrison released several best-selling singles and albums as a solo performer, and in 1988 co-founded the platinum-selling supergroup the Traveling Wilburys with a line up of Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Bod Dylan. A prolific recording artist, he was featured as a guest guitarist on tracks by Badfinger, Ronnie Wood and Billy Preston, and collaborated on songs and music with Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Tom Petty, among others. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 11 in their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. He is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee – as a member of the Beatles in 1988, and (posthumously) for his solo career in 2004.

Sadly he passed away from metastatic lung/brain cancer on November 29, 2001 in Los Angeles, after he had met one last time with the surviving two other Beatles for lunch in New York

 

 

 

English rock guitarist, singer, songwriter, author, film producer and sitarist born in Liverpool; he is best known as the lead guitarist and youngest member of The Beatles. Following the band’s demise, he had a successful career as a solo artist and later as part of the Traveling Wilburys, a super group where he was known as both Nelson Wilbury and Spike Wilbury. (sadly lost to lung cancer)  Sadly George passed away from lung cancer on Nov 29, 2001 at age 58.

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Chet
Atkins
6/2001

chet-atkinsJune 30, 2001 – Chester Burton “Chet” Atkins was born on June 20th 1924 in Luttrell, Tennessee, near Clinch Mountain. Even though by many considered instrumental in bringing Country music mainstream with the Nashville Sound, Chet’s guitar virtuosity (he also played the mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and ukulele) was recognized with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which makes him eligible in this website’s line-up.

His parents divorced when he was six, after which he was raised by his mother. He was the youngest of three boys and a girl. He started out on the ukulele, later moving on to the fiddle, but traded his brother Lowell an old pistol and some chores for a guitar when he was nine. He stated in his 1974 autobiography, “We were so poor and everybody around us was so poor that it was the forties before anyone even knew there had been a depression.”

Forced to relocate to Fortson, Georgia, outside of Columbus, to live with his father because of a critical asthma condition, Atkins was a sensitive youth who made music his obsession. Because of his illness, he was forced to sleep in a straight-back chair to breathe comfortably. On those nights, he played his guitar until he fell asleep holding it, a habit which lasted his whole life. While living in Fortson, he attended the historic Mountain Hill School. He returned in the 1990s to play a series of charity concerts to save the school from demolition. Stories have been told about the very young Chet, who, when a friend or relative would come to visit and play guitar, would crowd in and put his ear so close to the instrument that it became difficult for the visitor to play.

Atkins became an accomplished guitarist while he was in high school. He used the restroom in the school to practice, because it gave better acoustics. His first guitar had a nail for a nut and was so bowed that only the first few frets could be used. He later purchased a semiacoustic electric guitar and amp, but he had to travel many miles to find an electrical outlet, since his home had no electricity.

Later in life, he lightheartedly gave himself (along with John Knowles, Marcel Dadi, Tommy Emmanuel, Steve Wariner, and Jerry Reed the honorary degree CGP (“Certified Guitar Player”). In 2011, his daughter Merle Atkins Russell bestowed the CGP degree on his longtime sideman Paul Yandell. She then declared no more CGPs would be allowed by the Atkins estate. His half-brother Jim was a successful guitarist who worked with the Les Paul Trio in New York.

Atkins did not have a strong style of his own until 1939, when (while still living in Georgia) he heard Merle Travis picking over WLW radio. This early influence dramatically shaped his unique playing style. Whereas Travis’s right hand used his index finger for the melody and thumb for bass notes, Atkins expanded his right-hand style to include picking with his first three fingers, with the thumb on bass.

After dropping out of high school in 1942, Atkins landed a job at WNOX-AM radio in Knoxville, where he played fiddle and guitar with the singer Bill Carlisle and the comic Archie Campbell and became a member of the station’s Dixieland Swingsters, a small swing instrumental combo. After three years, he moved to WLW-AM in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Merle Travis had formerly worked.

After six months, he moved to Raleigh and worked with Johnnie and Jack before heading for Richmond, Virginia, where he performed with Sunshine Sue Workman. Atkins’s shy personality worked against him, as did the fact that his sophisticated style led many to doubt he was truly “country”. He was fired often but was soon able to land another job at another radio station on account of his unique playing ability.

Atkins and Jethro Burns (of Homer and Jethro) married twin sisters, Leona and Lois Johnson, who sang as Laverne and Fern Johnson, the Johnson Sisters. Leona Atkins outlived Her husband by eight years, dying in 2009 at the age of 85.

Traveling to Chicago, Atkins auditioned for Red Foley, who was leaving his star position on WLS-AM’s National Barn Dance to join the Grand Ole Opry. Atkins made his first appearance at the Opry in 1946 as a member of Foley’s band. He also recorded a single for Nashville-based Bullet Records that year. That single, “Guitar Blues”, was fairly progressive, including a clarinet solo by the Nashville dance band musician Dutch McMillan, with Owen Bradley on piano. He had a solo spot on the Opry, but when that was cut, Atkins moved on to KWTO in Springfield, Missouri. Despite the support of executive Si Siman, however, he soon was fired for not sounding “country enough”, which in 1957 turned into his favor after the successes of Elvis, when his boss took over pop production in 1957 and Atkins took charge of RCA Victor’s Nashville division.

With country music record sales declining as rock and roll took over, Atkins and Bob Ferguson took their cue from Owen Bradley and eliminated fiddles and steel guitar as a means of making country singers appeal to pop fans. This became known as the Nashville sound which Atkins said was a label created by the media attached to a style of recording done during that period to keep country (and their jobs) viable.

Atkins used the Jordanaires and a rhythm section on hits such as Jim Reeves’s “Four Walls” and “He’ll Have to Go” and Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Blue Blue Day”. The once-rare phenomenon of having a country hit cross over to pop success became more common. Bradley and he had essentially put the producer in the driver’s seat, guiding an artist’s choice of material and the musical background.

Atkins made his own records, which usually visited pop standards and jazz, in a sophisticated home studio, often recording the rhythm tracks at RCA and adding his solo parts at home, refining the tracks until the results satisfied him. Guitarists of all styles came to admire various Atkins albums for their unique musical ideas and in some cases experimental electronic ideas. In this period, he became known internationally as “Mister Guitar”, inspiring an album, Mister Guitar, engineered by both Bob Ferris and Bill Porter, Ferris’s replacement.

By 1968 Atkins had become vice president of RCA’s country division. In 1987, he told Nine-O-One Network magazine that he was “ashamed” of his promotion: “I wanted to be known as a guitarist and I know, too, that they give you titles like that in lieu of money. So beware when they want to make you vice president.” He had brought Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Connie Smith, Bobby Bare, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed, and John Hartford to the label in the 1960s and inspired and helped countless others. He took a considerable risk during the mid-1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement sparked violence throughout the South, by signing country music’s first African-American singer, Charley Pride, who sang rawer country than the smoother music Atkins had pioneered.

Atkins’s biggest hit single came in 1965, with “Yakety Axe”, an adaptation of “Yakety Sax”, by his friend, the saxophonist Boots Randolph. He rarely performed in those days and eventually hired other RCA producers, such as Bob Ferguson and Felton Jarvis, to lessen his workload.
By the late 1970s, RCA decided to remove Atkins from his producing duties and replace him with younger men. He also felt stifled because the record company would not let him branch into jazz. His mid-1970s collaborations with one of his influences, Les Paul, Chester & Lester and Guitar Monsters, had already reflected that interest; Chester & Lester was one of the best-selling recordings of Atkins’s career. At the same time, he grew dissatisfied with the direction Gretsch (no longer family-owned) was going and withdrew his authorization for them to use his name and began designing guitars with Gibson. Atkins ended his 35-year association with RCA in 1982 and signed with Columbia Records, for whom he produced a debut album in 1983.

Jazz had always been a strong love of his, and often in his career he was criticized by “pure” country musicians for his jazz influences. He also said on many occasions that he did not like being called a “country guitarist”, insisting that he was a guitarist, period. Although he played ‘by ear’ and was a masterful improviser, he was able to read music and even performed some classical guitar pieces. When Roger C. Field, a friend, suggested to him in 1991 that he record and perform with a female singer, he did so with Suzy Bogguss.

He returned to his country roots for albums he recorded with Mark Knopfler and Jerry Reed. Knopfler had long mentioned Atkins as one of his earliest influences. Atkins also collaborated with Australian guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel. On being asked to name the ten most influential guitarists of the 20th century, he named Django Reinhardt to the first position, and also placed himself on the list.

In later years, he even went back to radio, appearing on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio program, on American Public Media radio, even picking up a fiddle from time to time and performing songs such as Bob Wills’ “Corrina, Corrina” and Willie Nelson’s “Seven Spanish Angels” with Nelson on a 1985 broadcast of the show at the Bridges Auditorium on the campus of Pomona College (then Claremont College).

Inspired by Merle Travis, Django Reinhardt, George Barnes and Les Paul, he created, along with Owen Bradley, the smoother country music style known as the Nashville sound, which expanded country’s appeal to adult pop music fans as well.. Without him country music may never have crossed over into the pop charts in the ’50s and ’60s.
He also produced records for Perry Como, Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Jim Reeves, Jerry Reed, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith, Waylon Jennings, and many others. Among his many honors, Chet received 14 Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, nine Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year awards, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He lost his fight with cancer on June 30, 2001 at the age of 77.
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John Lee
Hooker
6/2001

John Lee Hooker 500June 21, 2001 – John Lee Hooker was born on August 22, 1912, in Tutwiler or Clarksdale, Mississippi. The Hooker children were home-schooled. Since they were only permitted to listen to religious songs, the spirituals sung in church were their earliest exposure to music. In 1921, his parents separated. The next year, his mother married William Moore, a blues singer who provided Hooker with his first introduction to the guitar (and whom he would later credit for his distinctive playing style).

Moore was his first significant blues influence. He was a local blues guitarist, who learned in Shreveport, Louisiana, to play a droning, one-chord blues that was strikingly different from the Delta blues of the time. Another formative influence was Tony Hollins, who dated Hooker’s sister Alice, helped teach Hooker to play, and gave him his first guitar. For the rest of his life, Hooker regarded Hollins as a formative influence on his style of playing and his career as a musician. Among the songs that Hollins reputedly taught Hooker were versions of “Crawlin’ King Snake” and “Catfish Blues”.

At the age of 14, John Lee Hooker ran away from home, reportedly never seeing his mother or stepfather again. In the mid 1930s, he lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where he worked on Beale Street at the New Daisy Theatre and occasionally performed at house parties. He worked in factories in various cities during World War II, eventually landing a job in 1943 at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. He frequented the blues clubs and bars on Hastings Street, the heart of the black entertainment district on Detroit’s east side. In a city noted for its pianists, guitar players were scarce. By day, he was a janitor in the auto factories, but by night, like many other transplants from the rural Delta, he entertained friends and neighbors by playing at house parties. “The Hook” gained fans around town from these shows, including local record store owner Elmer Barbee. Barbee was so impressed by the young musician that he introduced him to Bernard Besman ̶ a producer, record distributor and owner of Sensation Records. Hooker’s popularity grew quickly and, seeking a louder instrument than his acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar.

By 1948, Hooker ̶ now honing his style on an electric guitar ̶ had recorded several songs for Besman, who, in turn, leased the tracks to Modern Records. Among these first recordings was “Boogie Chillun,” (soon after appearing as “Boogie Chillen”) which became a number one jukebox hit, selling over a million copies. This success was soon followed by a string of hits, including “I’m in the Mood,” “Crawling Kingsnake” and “Hobo Blues.” Over the next 15 years, John Lee signed to a new label, Vee-Jay Records, and maintained a prolific recording schedule, releasing over 100 songs on the imprint.

Despite being illiterate, Hooker was a prolific lyricist. In addition to adapting traditional blues lyrics, he also wrote originals. In the 1950s, many black musicians saw little money from their record sales. So Hooker often recorded variations on his songs for new studios for an upfront fee. To get around his recording contract, he used various pseudonyms, such as John Lee Booker, for Chess Records and Chance Records in 1951–1952; Johnny Lee for De Luxe Records in 1953–54; John Lee, John Lee Cooker, Texas Slim, Delta John, Birmingham Sam and his Magic Guitar, Johnny Williams, and the Boogie Man.

When the young bohemian audiences of the 1960’s “discovered” Hooker along with other blues originators, he and various he and others made a brief return to folk blues. Young British artist such as the Animals, John Mayall, and the Yardbirds introduced Hooker’s sound to the new and eager audiences whose admiration and influence helped build Hooker to superstar status in the mid – 60’s England. By 1970 he had moved to California and worked on several projects with rock musicians, notably Van Morrison and Canned Heat. Canned Heat modeled their sound after Hooker’s boogie and collaborated with him on several albums and tours.

By 1970, John Lee had moved to California and begun working with rock musicians, notably Van Morrison and Canned Heat, with whom he collaborated on several albums and tours. Hooker continued to tour the U.S. and Europe throughout the ’70s and ’80s, but grew disenchanted with recording. it was however the release in 1989 of his album, The Healer, that catapulted him back to million-seller status and began what has been the most successful period of his extensive career.

He followed The Healer with Mr. Lucky, Boom Boom, Chill Out, Don’t Look Back and Best of Friends. On September 11, 1997 he received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and on October 3rd, 1997 John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room opened in San Francisco. (He never owned it, but licensed his name for 5 years). Don’t Look Back, produced by Van Morrison and featuring a track by long time admirers, Los Lobos, was released in Spring of ’97.

He received two Grammy Awards for this album in 1998. In late October of ’98, John Lee released his latest album, Best Of Friends, which features the best of his collaborations with legendary musicians and friends over the last 10 years and includes a 50th anniversary version of his first hit, “Boogie Chillun.” through his appearance in the Blues Brothers movie resulted in a heightened profile.

He contributed to recordings by B.B. King, Branford Marsalis, Van Morrison, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters and portrayed the title role in Pete Townshend’s 1989 epic, The Iron Man.

His influence on younger generations has been documented on television with features on Showtime and a special edition of the BBC’s ‘Late Show’ as well as appearances on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night With David Letterman” among many others. John Lee was invited to perform The Rolling Stones and guest Eric Clapton for their national television broadcast during The Stones’ 1989 Steel Wheels tour. In 1990, many musical greats paid tribute to John Lee Hooker with a performance at Madison Square Garden. Joining him on some or all of these special occasions were artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Joe Cocker, Huey Newton, Carlos Santana, Robert Clay, Mick Fleetwood, Al Cooper, Johnny Winter, John Hammond, and the late Albert Collins and Willie Dixon.

Hooker’s 1991 induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame was fitting for the man who has influenced countless fans and musicians who have in turn influenced many more. Honors continue, with recent inductions into Los Angeles’ Rock Walk, The Bammies Walk Of Fame in San Francisco, and, in 1997, a star in the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

John Lee’s style has always been unique, even among other performers of the real deep blues, few of whom remain with us today. While retaining that foundation he has simultaneously broken new ground musically and commercially. At the age of 80, John Lee Hooker received his third and fourth Grammy Awards, for Best Traditional Blues Recording (Don’t Look Back) and for Best Pop Collaboration for the song “Don’t Look Back” which Hooker recorded with his long time friend Van Morrison. This Friendship and others are celebrated on Hooker’s newest Pointblank / Virgin album, The Best Of Friends. The album also celebrates a return, exactly 50 years later, to Hooker’s first hit, Boogie Chillen and serves as a perfect bookend for Hooker’s first fifty years in the business.

On June 21, 2001 at age 88 or thereabout, he died in Los Altos California of natural causes, just before a European tour was scheduled to start.

Enjoy this 1989 rendition of Boogie Chillun with the help of Hooker’s British friends the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.

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Dusty Springfield 3/1999

dusty_springfieldMarch 2, 1999 – Dusty Springfield was born Mary O’Brien on April 16th 1939 in West Hampstead, North London, England. She was given the nickname “Dusty” for playing football with boys in the street, and was described as a tomboy. Springfield was raised in a music-loving family. Her father would tap out rhythms on the back of her hand and encourage her to guess the musical piece. She listened to a wide range of music, including George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Glenn Miller. A fan of American jazz and the vocalists Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford, she wished to sound like them. At the age of twelve, she made a recording of herself performing the Irving Berlin song “When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam” at a local record shop in Ealing.

After finishing school, Springfield sang with Tom in local folk clubs. In 1957 the pair worked together at holiday camps. The following year Springfield responded to an advertisement in The Stage to join The Lana Sisters, an “established sister act”, with Iris ‘Riss’ Long (aka Riss Lana, Riss Chantelle) and Lynne Abrams (not actually sisters). She had changed her name to Shan, and “cut her hair, lost the glasses, experimented with makeup, fashion” to become one of the ‘sisters’. As a member of the pop vocal trio, Springfield developed skills in harmonising and microphone technique and recorded, performed on TV, and played at live shows in the United Kingdom and at United States Air Force bases in continental Europe.

In 1960, Springfield left The Lana Sisters and formed a pop-folk trio, The Springfields, with Tom and Reshad Feild (both ex-The Kensington Squares), who was replaced by Mike Hurst in 1962. The trio chose their name while rehearsing in a field in Somerset in the springtime and took the stage names of Dusty, Tom, and Tim Springfield. Intending to make an authentic US album, the group travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, to record Folk Songs from the Hills. The local music that Springfield heard during this visit, in particular “Tell Him,” helped turn her style from folk and country towards pop music rooted in rhythm and blues. The band was voted the “Top British Vocal Group” by the New Musical Express poll in 1961 and 1962. During early 1963, The Springfields recorded their last UK Top 5 hit, “Say I Won’t Be There”. The group appeared on ITV Associated Rediffusion’s popular music TV series Ready Steady Go!

Springfield left the band after their final concert in October 1963. After the Springfields disbanded, Tom continued songwriting and producing for other artists, including Australian folk-pop group The Seekers, mid-1960s hits “I’ll Never Find Another You” and “The Carnival is Over” (lyrics only), and he co-wrote their “Georgy Girl”. He also wrote additional tracks for Springfield and released his own solo material.

In November 1963 Springfield released her first solo single, “I Only Want to Be with You,” which was co-written and arranged by Ivor Raymonde. It was produced by Johnny Franz in a manner similar to Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” and included rhythm and blues features such as horn sections, backing singers, and double-tracked vocals, along with pop music strings, all in the style of girl groups that Springfield admired, such as the Exciters (whose version of “Tell Him” had inspired her to adopt a style oriented more towards rhythm and blues) and the Shirelles. It rose to No. 4 on the UK charts, leading to its nomination as a “Sure Shot” pick of records not yet charted in the US by New York disc jockey “Dandy” Dan Daniel of WMCA radio in December 1963, preceding Beatlemania. It remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks, peaking at No. 12. The B-side, “Once Upon a Time”, was written by Springfield. The release finished as No. 48 on New York’s WABC radio Top 100 for 1964. On 1 January 1964 “I Only Want to Be with You” was one of the first songs played on Top of the Pops, BBC-TV’s new music program. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc in the UK.

On 17 April 1964 Springfield issued her debut album A Girl Called Dusty which included mostly cover versions of her favorite songs. Among the tracks were “Mama Said,” “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa.” The album reached No. 6 in the UK in May 1964. The chart hits “Stay Awhile,” “All Cried Out,” and “Losing You” followed the same year. The B-side of “Stay Awhile” featured another self-penned track, “Somethin’ Special,” which AllMusic’s Richie Unterberger described as “a first-rate Springfield original”. However, Springfield declared: “I don’t really see myself as a songwriter. I don’t really like writing … I just don’t get any good ideas and the ones I do get are pinched from other records. The only reason I write is for the money – oh mercenary creature!”

In 1964, Springfield recorded two Burt Bacharach songs: “Wishin’ and Hopin’ ” – a US Top 10 hit – and the emotional “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” which reached No. 3 on the UK chart. The latter song set the standard for much of her later material. In December 1964, Springfield together with her group The Echoes tour of South Africa was controversially terminated, and she was deported, after they performed for an integrated audience at a theatre near Cape Town, which was against the then government’s segregation policy. Her contract specifically excluded segregated performances, one of the first British artists to do so. In the same year, she was voted the Top Female British Artist of the year in the New Musical Express poll, topping Lulu, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black. Springfield received the award again for the next three years. During 1965, Springfield released three more UK Top 40 hits: “Your Hurtin’ Kinda Love,” “In the Middle of Nowhere,” and the Carole King-penned “Some of Your Lovin’.”

However, these were not included on her next UK album recorded with The Echoes, Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty, which was released in October 1965 and featured songs by Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, Rod Argent, and Randy Newman, and a cover of the traditional Mexican song, “La Bamba.” The album peaked at No. 6 on the UK chart.
From 28 to 30 January 1965 Springfield took part in the Italian Song Festival in San Remo, and reached a semi-final with “Tu che ne sai?” (English:”What Do You Know?”) but failed to qualify for the final. During the competition, she heard the song “Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)” performed by one of its composers Pino Donaggio and separately by US country music singer Jody Miller.

Its English version, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” featured lyrics newly written by Springfield’s friend Vicki Wickham and her future manager, Simon Napier-Bell. It was released in May 1966 and reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 4 in the US, where it was also No. 35 on the Billboard Top 100 for 1966. The song, which Springfield called “good old schmaltz,” was voted among the All Time Top 100 Songs by the listeners of BBC Radio 2 in 1999.
There, standing on the staircase at Philips studio, singing into the stairwell, Dusty gave her greatest ever performance – perfection from first breath to last, as great as anything by Aretha Franklin or Sinatra or Pavarotti.

Great singers can take mundane lyrics and fill them with their own meaning. This can help a listener’s own ill-defined feelings come clearly into focus. Vicki [Wickham] and I had thought our lyric was about avoiding emotional commitment. Dusty stood it on its head and made it a passionate lament of loneliness and love.

Springfield introduced the Motown sound to a wider UK audience, both with her covers of Motown songs, and by facilitating the first UK TV appearance for The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, and Stevie Wonder on a special edition of the Ready Steady Go! show – which was produced by Wickham – called The Sound of Motown. On 28 April 1965 it was broadcast by Rediffusion TV, with Springfield opening each half of the show accompanied by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Motown’s in-house band, The Funk Brothers. Springfield acquired the title ‘White Queen of Soul‘ as a result of her many hit cover versions of songs by African American artists such as the Shirelles, Inez and Charlie Foxx, and Baby Washington.

The associated Tamla-Motown Revue featuring The Supremes, The Miracles and Wonder had started in London in March, and according to The Supremes’ Mary Wilson, the tour was a flop: “It’s always … disheartening when you go out there and you see the house is half-full … but once you’re on stage … You perform as well for five as you do for 500.” Wickham, a fan of the Motown artists, booked them for the Ready Steady Go! special and enlisted Springfield to host it.

In 1966 Springfield released three additional UK Top 20 hits: “Little By Little” and two dramatic ballads – one written by Carole King: “Goin’ Back” and “All I See Is You,” written by Ben Weisman & Carl Westlake, which also reached the US Top 20. In August and September 1966, she hosted Dusty, a six-part music and talk show weekly BBC TV series. A compilation of her singles, Golden Hits released in November 1966, reached No. 2 in the UK. From the mid-1960s, Springfield would use the pseudonym “Gladys Thong” when recording backing vocals for other artists including Madeline Bell, Kiki Dee, Anne Murray and Elton John. Bell was a regular backing singer on early Springfield albums, and the pair co-wrote “I’m Gonna Leave You” with Lesley Duncan, which appeared as the B-side of “Goin’ Back.”

Dusty in Memphis earned her a nomination for the Grammy Award and it received the Grammy Hall of Fame award. International polls list the album among the greatest of all time. Its standout track “Son of a Preacher Man” was an international Top 10 hit in 1969. Because of her enthusiasm for Motown music, she campaigned to get some little-known American soul music singers a better audience in the U.K. She devised and hosted The Sound Of Motown, a special edition of Ready Steady Go! TV programme on 28 April 1965. The show was broadcast by Rediffusion TV from their studios in Kingsway, London.

Dusty opened the two parts of the show, performing “Wishin’ and Hopin'” and “Can’t Hear You No More”, accompanied by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Motown’s in-house band The Funk Brothers. Other guests included The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder. In 1987, she sang with the Pet Shop Boys on their single “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” it reached No.2 on both sides of the Atlantic. While in Nashville, Dusty fell ill during the recording her final album A Very Fine Love.

Dusty Springfield was one of a plethora of artists who followed Elvis Presley’s example in appropriating the repertoire of African American singers. Songs she sang were also performed by Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, among others, although these songs were invariably written by white composers. Where she differs substantially from Elvis is in being remembered for attempting to return the favour and promote her black sisters (and brothers) in the UK, as well as in refusing to perform to segregated white audiences in South Africa in 1964.

Consequently, despite the exaggerated whiteness of her blonde, backcombed beehive hairdos (a virtual camp parody of the black Motown girl groups), she became a highly creolized figure in Anglo- American pop.

Dusty Springfield also attracted legions of black and “marginalized (especially gay) fans and supporters. In addition, she appropriated the repertoire of European “others,” recording authoritative English (and some Italian) versions of songs by European com- posers such as Jacques Brel (as did her cult Anglo-American label-mate Scott Walker), Charles Aznavour, and Pino Donaggio, and performed versions of her own hits in German, Italian, French, and Spanish. According to Valentine and Wickham, Springfield’s border-crossing cosmopolitanism (she was also interested in Portuguese fado) particularly endeared her to the gay community: “They loved her for being cosmopolitan and exotic, for recording singles in Italian and French over the years, for knowing about Brazilian music before it was fashionable and for being well travelled, as much as for her ‘over-the-top’ look

Springfield’s position in canonic histories of pop music was confined to one biography (that by Lucy O’Brien, which first appeared in 1988) and a series of vignettes acknowledging her status as the most prominent and proficient of the handful of “girl singers” among the 1960s “British Invasion.” She is mostly remembered for her string of transatlantic hits between 1962 and 1969 rather than for her formative years with the “girl group” trio the Lana Sisters from 1958 to 1960 and then with the folk group the Springfields, which included her brother Tom. Her career peaked with her 1969 US album Dusty in Memphis, which sold poorly but later became a cult success, particularly for the transatlantic hit “Son of a Preacher Man,” later recorded by Aretha Franklin. A discreet gap follows until her career revival in the UK in 1987 with the Pet Shop Boys.

In January 1994 while recording her penultimate album, A Very Fine Love, in Nashville, Dusty Springfield felt ill. When she returned to the United Kingdom a few months later, her physicians diagnosed breast cancer. She received months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment and the cancer was in remission. In 1995, in apparent good health, Springfield set about promoting the album, which was released that year. By mid-1996 the cancer had returned, and in spite of vigorous treatments she died in Henley-on-Thames on 2 March 1999. Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, had been scheduled two weeks after her death. Her friend Elton John helped induct her into the Hall of Fame, declaring, “I’m biased but I just think she was the greatest white singer there ever has been … Every song she sang, she claimed as her own.”

Dusty Springfield’s life as a gay woman and rock and roll/pop legend is beautifully described in an eulogy with many of rock’s influential performers contributing to the picture of a fascinating life.

 

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Frank
Sinatra
5/1998

Frank SINATRAMay 14, 1998 – Frank Sinatra  was born on December 12, 1915

American singer and actor; arguably the most important popular music figure of the 20th century, his only real rival for the title being Elvis Presley. He began his musical career in the swing era with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, he became a successful solo artist in the early to mid-40s, being the idol of the “bobby soxers.”

His professional career had stalled by the 1950s, but it was reborn in 1954 after he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for his performance in From Here to Eternity. He signed with Capitol Records and released several critically lauded albums, In the Wee Small Hours, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, Come Fly with Me, Only the Lonely and Nice ‘n’ Easy.

He left Capitol to found his own record label, Reprise Records, finding success with albums such as Ring-A-Ding-Ding, Sinatra at the Sands and Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, he toured internationally, was a founding member of the Rat Pack and fraternized with celebrities and statesmen.

At 50 in 1965, he recorded September of My Years, starred in the Emmy-winning television special Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, and scored hits with “Strangers in the Night” and “My Way”.

Among his awards he was the recipient of eleven Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Trustees Award, Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He also won many other awards for his film acting career.

He died from a heart attack in Los Angeles, California, following a long battle with coronary heart disease, kidney disease, bladder cancer, and dementia on May 14, 1998 at age 82.

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John
Denver
10/1997

John DenverOctober 12, 1997 – John Denver, was born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr  in Roswell, New Mexico on December 31st 1943. At the age of 12, he received a 1910 Gibson acoustic jazz guitar from his grandmother and he taught himself to play it well enough to play locally as a teenager in groups such as the folk-music group “The Alpine Trio”.
John went on to become one of the most popular acoustic artists of the 1970s in terms of record sales, he recorded and released around 300 songs, about 200 of which he composed himself.
He was named Poet Laureate of Colorado in 1977. Songs such as “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, “Rocky Mountain High”, “Sunshine on My Shoulders”, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”, “Annie’s Song” and “Calypso” attained worldwide popularity.
Among his varied projects and interests, John founded his own environmental group, the Windstar Foundation and had a keen interest in solutions to world hunger. He visited Africa during the 1980s to witness first-hand the suffering caused by starvation and to work with African leaders toward solutions. In 1983 and 1984, John hosted the annual Grammy Awards. In the 1983 finale, he was joined on stage by folk-music legend Joan Baez with whom he led an all-star version of “Blowing in the Wind” and “Let The Sunshine In”.
John has received 9 awards in honor of his music, including 2 grammies and an Emmy, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1996. A year later he was tragically killed when the light experimental aircraft he was piloting crashed into Monterey Bay, California. He died Oct. 12, 1997 at age 53.
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Tupac
Shakur
9/1996

tupac-shak-484098September 13, 1996 – Tupac Amaru Shakur or Tupac Shakur was an American rapper and actor with a net worth of US$40 Million mostly earned since he died. He started his career as a roadie, backup dancer and became one of the best-selling music artist in history, who sold over 75 million of his albums worldwide as of 2010. He ranked at number two in the list of The Greatest MCs of All Time and Rolling Stone named him the 86th Greatest Artist of All Time. He made his debut in the film, “Nothing But Trouble” in 1991. Five years later he was dead.

Shakur was shot several times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Koval Lane on September 7, 1996. He died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds on September 13, 1996.

He said: “I would rather have been shot straight-up in cold blood-but to be set up? By people who you trusted? That’s bad.

Although not technically a rock and roller, he would have never reached the top in music without rock and roll as his launch pad. His mastery in putting together lyrics and rhythms will help him create a bunch of followers in R&R Paradise as well.

Lyrics: “I been shot and murdered, can tell you how it happened word for word /
But best believe n—-s gon’ get what they deserve,” raps Tupac on Richie Rich’s ‘N—-s Done Changed.’
This song was released two months before Tupac Shakur was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on that Las Vegas strip in 1996. His murder is still unsolved. By his last album, ‘The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory,’ Shakur went by the name Makaveli, a reference to the famed Italian philosopher who advocated faking one’s own death, which some fans believe Pac did.
The West Coast MC also predicted his end in a PBS interview. After he was asked where he saw himself in the next few years, he said, “Best case, in a cemetery. Not in a cemetery, sprinkled in ashes smoked up by my homies. I mean, that’s the worst case.”

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Jerry
Garcia
8/1995

Jerry Garcia300August 9, 1995 – Jerry Garcia was the frontman for the most famous psychedelic jamband in the history of Rock and Roll: the Grateful Dead.

Jerome John Garcia is born on August 1, 1942 in San Francisco, CA to Jose Ramon “Joe” Garcia and Ruth Marie “Bobbie” Garcia, joining older brother Clifford “Tiff” Ramon. “My father played woodwinds, clarinet mainly. He was a jazz musician.”

In 1947 a wood chopping accident with his older brother at the Garcia family cabin causes Jerry to lose much of the middle finger on his right hand at the age of five. That winter, Jerry’s father drowns while on a fishing trip.

In 195o Jerry and his brother move in with their maternal grandparents for a five-year stint. Jerry attends Monroe Elementary School, and is greatly encouraged in his artistic abilities by his third grade teacher. Through her, he discovers that being a creative person is a viable possibility in life. It is during this time that Jerry picks up the five-string banjo.

His brother introduces him to early R&R around 1953 and four years later on his birthday he receives an accordion. Not his instrument he complains until it is exchanged for an electric guitar with amp. His step dad introduces him to open tuning style and Jerry starts his musical journey.

He dropped out of school at age 17 and served nine months in the U.S. Army before being discharged for poor conduct. He began to play folk and blues guitar—alone or with pickup groups—in clubs within the San Francisco area while working as a salesman and music teacher in a music store. After the stint in the army, he meets Bob Hunter and together they performed what became his first paid gigs at the Commedia Theater in Palo Alto. After surviving a major car accident in February of that year his focus turns completely to music over his hobby of drawing and painting.

1962 sees the early formation of the Grateful Dead after Jerry meets Ron “Pigpen” McKernan first, followed by Phil Lesh, who suggests to record one of Jerry’s performances for local Menlo Park Radio, which becomes a 90 minute special under the title : The Long Black Veil and Other Ballads: An Evening with Jerry Garcia.”

Completion of the Grateful Dead Roots nears when Jerry jams with Bob Weir on the last day of 1962, when one of Jerry’s students doesn’t show up for lessons.

1963 is a year for early family bliss as Jerry and Sara Ruppenthal form Jerry & Sara and marry later that same year.
Jerry joins the Zodiacs formed by Bill Kreutzmann, featuring Pigpen on harmonica, Garcia on bass, and Troy Weidenheimer on guitar.

In the fall Jerry forms The Black Mountain Boys with friends David Nelson and Eric Thompson and on December 8 Sarah gives birth to daughter Heather. The future still looks open and normal. But then in the spring of 1964 Jerry, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, and Bob Weir join forces as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. Other members include Dave Parker, Tom Stone, and Dave Garbett. They play throughout the summer.

The following spring Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann join Jerry, Pigpen, and Bob to perform their first gig as The Warlocks at Magoo’s Pizza in Menlo Park, CA and in December of that year, The Warlocks change their name to Grateful Dead on discovering another group with that name, and perform their first of many shows as the house band at a Ken Kesey Acid Test in San Jose, CA.

And then enters 1966 and Jerry and the rest of the bands move into a communal house at 710 Ashbury Street in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury section. The house becomes fixture and center point for much of what is now known as the Summer of Love, Flower Power, Psychedelic Rock, Acid Rock – the house became the local music venue for free concerts for the 18 months or so they live there. The Grateful Dead performed more free concerts than any other band in history.

The Grateful Dead
Closely involved with the San Francisco hippie movement and the use of drugs such as LSD, the band first played “psychedelic” rock but moved on to a more diverse repertory of rock styles in the 1970s. From around 1974 the band’s members began to go their own ways, and Garcia made solo appearances and albums. In the 1980s he became heavily addicted to drugs, and after being arrested in 1985 was sent to a treatment center. After emerging from a diabetic coma, he decided to turn his life around, and the band made a comeback (1987) with a hit single, “Touch of Gray” and an album, In the Dark.

Later Years and Death
Garcia and the rest of the band enjoyed this new wave of success and continued to tour, drawing legions of fans—new and old—to their shows. The Grateful Dead had built quite a following over the years and their loyal fans, soften called “Deadheads,” were known to travel around the country following to catch their concerts. Unfortunately, the show could not go on forever. Despite Garcia’s efforts to improve his lifestyle, all of the years of hard living caught up with him.

He died of heart failure on August 9, 1995, in Forest Knolls, California.

“I don’t go onstage with some kind of messianic vision or anything. I’m basically going out there hoping my guitar is in tune.”
Jerry Garcia

“I don’t think any eulogizing will do him justice. He really had no equal. To me, he wasn’t;t only a musician and friend, he was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he’ll ever know.”
Bob Dylan

In 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him 13th in their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

Jerry performed with The Grateful Dead for their entire three-decade career, which spanned from 1965 to 1995. He also founded and participated in a variety of side projects, including the Jerry Garcia Band, the Garcia/Grisman acoustic duo, Old and in the Way and Legion of Mary. Jerry also co-founded the New Riders of the Purple Sage with John Dawson and David Nelson.

He released several solo albums, and contributed to a number of albums by other artists over the years as a session musician. Jerry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Grateful Dead in 1994.

Guitar player Henry Kaiser, claims Jerry Garcia is “the most recorded guitarist in history.” With more than 2,200 Grateful Dead concerts, and 1,000 Jerry Garcia Band concerts captured on tape — as well as numerous studio sessions — there are about 15,000 hours of his guitar work preserved for the ages.”

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Wolfman
Jack
7/1995

wolfman-jackJuly 1, 1995 – Wolfman Jack was born Robert Weston Smith on January 21st 1938 in Brooklyn, New York.

He got his big break when he became a “gofer” at Paramount and began his radio career in 1960 at WYOU in Newport News, Virginia, where he developed his first radio name, Daddy Jules, a tribute to the influence that black DJs had on him in his formative years such as Dr. Jive, Jockey Jack, Professor Bob and Sugar Daddy. He was a fan of disc jockey Alan Freed, the ultimate deejay of New York radio, who helped to turn African-American rhythm and blues into Caucasian rock and roll music. Freed originally called himself the Moondog after New York City street musician Moondog. Freed both adopted this name and used a recorded howl to give his early broadcasts a unique character.

He moved to KCIJ in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he first came up with the idea of the Wolfman Jack character. The Wolfman’s adaptation of the Moondog theme was to call himself Wolfman Jack and add his own sound effects. The character was based in part on the manner and style of bluesman Howlin’ Wolf. With the nickname Wolfman Jack he attempted to mask his true identity to create public interest in his radio character. His energy and style produced a barrage of listeners. When after opening a dance club, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on his lawn, he decided to relocate to Mexico.

 

He found national fame from 1964 to 1966 for the (then) 250,000 watt radio station XERF (1570 AM) in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico, just across the river from Del Rio, Texas. The station was credited for reaching an audience traveling from New York to Los Angeles without ever losing connection.

People were wondering who he actually was, and artists such as Leon Russell, Todd Rundgren, Freddie King and the Guess Who produced chart hits about the radio personality “Wolfman Jack”. The person behind Wolfman Jack was revealed in George Lucas’ 1973 Academy Award-winning film, American Graffiti. Although the mystery was solved, he continued to be a success, hosting NBC-TV’s The Midnight Special. He made more than 80 television appearances and was an actor in American Graffiti (1973), Motel Hell (1980) and Diana Ross: Red Hot Rhythm and Blues (1987).

Wolfman Jack was also an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, where he was officially known as and nicknamed “Reverend Jack”.

He made his final syndicated radio broadcast from a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Washington, DC, on Friday Night, June 30, 1995.

He entered his house, hugged his wife, said “Oh, it is so good to be home!” and literally died of a heart attack in his wife’s arms on the morning of July 1, 1995. He was 56.
“Wolfman Jack” was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1996.

Famous for his gravelly voice, he credited it for his success, saying, “It’s kept meat and potatoes on the table for years for Wolfman and Wolfwoman. A couple of shots of whiskey helps it. I’ve got that nice raspy sound.”

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Rory
Gallagher
6/1995

rory-gallagher-stadium-1981-ch-018June 14, 1995 – William Rory Gallagher was an Irish blues-rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader. Born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal on March 2, 1948 and raised in Cork. His father was employed constructing a hydro electric power plant on the nearby Erne river.

Gallagher recorded solo albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s, after forming the band Taste during the late 1960s. He was a very talented guitarist known for his charismatic performances and dedication to his craft. Gallagher’s albums have sold in excess of 30 million copies worldwide. Gallagher received a liver transplant in 1995, but died of complications later that year in London, UK at the age of 47.

His Website Bio says the following:

In the years that have passed since Rory Gallagher’s death, aged 47 on June 14 1995, his true stature has become ever more clear. This soft spoken Irishman, characterized by his flowing locks and trademark working man stage clothes, was far from ordinary. Gallagher was a self taught virtuoso who forged a musical revolution in his native land, shunned the traps of fame and stardom yet became a universally acclaimed international folk hero.

Rory’s rock solid devotion to his calling never wavered and the respect of his musical peers was universal. Eric Clapton credited Gallagher with “getting me back into the blues”, The Rolling Stones tried to get him to replace Mick Taylor.

Rory’s influence spread through the generations – from Slash to Johnny Marr, from U2’s The Edge to Queen’s Brian May, and onto The Manics’ James Dean Bradfield – any aspiring player who encountered him was bound to be energised or transformed.

Of all the guitar greats who emerged in the post war era Rory Gallagher was predestined to become a Celtic Warrior King.

In due course, whether using electric firepower or acoustic mastery, the unassuming Gallagher would be transformed into a musical giant, yet he always maintained the most human feeling, eschewing extraneous FX and gizmos in favor of his own raw, primitive, string-bending genius. Acknowledged as ‘the people’s guitarist’ Rory would amass 20 million sales but the emotive connection he made with audiences across the globe was greater than statistics could show. Gallagher’s fire in the fingertips feel was the thrilling result of hard work and dexterity, tireless energy and dynamic drive.

In addition to his facility on guitar, mandolin, and, on occasion, sax, Rory’s songwriting gifts gave perfect platform to his vocal flair and instrumental talent. Whether exuberantly unbounded (‘Walk On Hot Coals’) or reflectively subdued (the hauntingly self aware ‘A Million Miles Away’), his compositions were directed by an instinctive, natural feel for the blues that resided deep within his heart and soul.

As a pre-teen growing up in 1950s Cork, in a home with no record player, the single-minded determination that would hallmark Rory’s career quickly became apparent. The discovery of Elvis and early rock n rollers lead him to seek out blues masters on American Forces radio such as later collaborator, Muddy Waters. “The more I heard the more I got addicted,” he later recalled. He was already a local, talent show-winning star, brandishing a cheap guitar, when the first down payment was made on the celebrated 1961 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster that would – its paintwork stripped by his own highly alkaline sweat – become a lifelong totemic tool of his trade.

In early 60s Ireland opportunities for a guitar God waiting to shine were constricted by the only available outlet : identically suited showbands. Rory pushed against the envelope when he hit the road with The Fontana and later The Impact challenging the accepted routines of the day.

His sensational displays of unfettered magic on the fretboard may have earned rebukes from local promoters and Ballroom owners keen on regimentation but Rory assuredly made lifelong fans in audiences hungry for a new sort of freedom. Playing in show bands was a stepping stone and Rory realized he was “only passing through”. But, like Jimi Hendrix when he escaped the chitlin circuit, the skills established as a restricted sideman would explode in the years ahead when Rory became the main attraction. After enjoying the release of playing in Hamburg clubs, Rory seized the opportunity to get off the show band leash back home, putting himself center stage in the power trio, Taste.

Establishing a base in the thriving Blues scene that had built around Van Morrison’s Them at Belfast’s Maritime, Taste became an instant sensation. A residency at London’s Marquee club in 1968, where John Lennon joined an ever growing fervent following, lead to support slots with Cream and Blind Faith. Taste’s formidable presence was captured on two great studio albums and two outstanding live albums including their Live At Isle of Wight album, recorded at the 1970 festival. Then, with their world seemingly at their feet Taste, torn apart by management disputes, imploded, playing their farewell show in Belfast on New Years Eve 1970.

The loss of a band at their incandescent peak hit Rory deep (check the aching ‘At The Bottom’, on his 1975 ‘Against The Grain’ album) but there was little time to dwell in regret (‘Used To Be’ on ‘Deuce’ 1972). A natural bandleader, Gallagher regrouped embarking on the most productive decade of his solo career with 1971’s self titled solo debut. ‘Deuce’, ‘Blueprint’, ‘Tattoo’, ‘Against The Grain’, ‘Calling Card’, ‘Photo Finish’, ‘Top Priority’ – the albums followed in quick succession each offering original compositions (‘In Your Town’, ‘Who’s That Coming’, ‘Walk On Hot Coals’, ‘Tattoo’d Lady’) that spoke directly to his audience, attained instant classic status . These songs and many more would gather even greater vibrancy in live performance. The albums ‘Live In Europe’, ‘Stagestruck’ and ‘Irish Tour ‘74’ albums show how.

As witnessed in the exceptional Tony Palmer documentary that accompanied the Irish Tour ‘74 release, throughout ‘the troubles’ Rory’s Belfast shows galvanized a joyful communal riposte to the tension, fear and divisions that tore the city apart. Where others shunned the Northern Irish capital, Gallagher made a point of always returning, giving hope and inspiration, to those who would follow his lead. Rory would later guest on albums by Belfast bands he directly inspired – Energy Orchard and Stiff Little Fingers.

Across the border he headlined and organized Ireland’s first outdoor rock festival at Macroom in tandem with younger brother and manager Donal (Rory’s only sibling), an event that would pave the way for U2’s stadium rock. Yet Rory’s quasi evangelical belief in the unifying healing power of music was tempered by a suspicion of celebrity. “It seems a waste to me to work and work for years, really gettin’ your music together; then to make it big, as some people do, and just turn into some sort of personality. You play less, you perform less, you circulate less. It becomes something completely different,” he’d told Rolling Stone in 1972.

This caution left him to completely shun the singles market, even when his label boss insisted the gorgeous yearning Edged In Blue (from 1976’s ‘Calling Card’) was a contender for US number one. The body of work he has left behind is remarkable for its consistency, honesty and earthiness. Rory’s recordings are remarkably of a piece bearing out his oft quoted assertion that “what I play is in my all the time, not just something I turn on”.

A determination to make original music that stayed faithful to the root sounds that inspired him was carried through to the end. Unsullied by jarring studio trickery or momentarily fashionable techniques, cavernous drum sounds or click tracks, what he’s left behind is a recorded legacy defined by rugged purity of form and feeling. The unaffected approach highlighted the many flavours – kick ass country, jazzy sophistication, spit n sawdust folk, floorboard quaking roof raising rock – that fed Rory’s lovingly nurtured blues. His dedication to maintaining what he called “a good vintage, ethnic” sound, favoring pre-digital over modern recording equipment, would undoubtedly have been one of the attributes that endeared Rory to admirer Bob Dylan, a backstage visitor at a 1978 LA show after initially being turned away unrecognized. Gallagher’s yearly gig quota often would top 300, sweat soaked nights in which he never gave anything less than 110 per cent . And he was always ready to give a little more, come Christmas time he would often embark on impromptu tours in rural Ireland which naturally attained legendary status. A cross tribal musical hero who appealed to trad rockers, punks and heavy metal hordes, Rory was a true musical journeyman going where the music took him. He guested on albums for many including key influences Jerry Lee Lewis, Albert King, Albert Collins and the aforementioned Muddy Waters, an experience he particularly relished.

By 1990 Rory had played 25 stateside tours and appeared at the UK’s Reading festival and Montreux Jazz festival more times than any other act. Sadly, he swelled up as drink and various prescription medications to deal with the rigours of life on the road had prematurely and noticeably aged him. “The blues is bad for your health,” he shrugged, “its as simple as that, it goes with the territory.”

Breaking away from major label and setting up independently, Rory’s output had become less prolific as he increasingly agonized over recordings. Even so later albums ‘Jinx’, ‘Defender’ and ‘Fresh Evidence’, the last release before his death, showed him still moving forward, breaking new territory. The soaring ‘Loan Shark Blues’ is a timelessly potent cry of financial desperation while ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and ‘Ghost Blues’, the title of Ian Thuiller’s excellent career spanning 2010 Gallagher documentary, cut from the same self revealing cloth as ‘A Million Miles Away’, contemplated life’s fragility. His dedication to the muse was absolute, perhaps at a cost to his personal life: he had no marriage, no long-term relationship and no children. The man who could unite thousands in performance lived a solitary unindulgent life away from stage, seeming to identify with the solo operatives who peopled the noir detective fiction of such as Dashiell Hammett from which he often took lyrical inspiration. So tied was he to life on the road that his final years were spent living in a hotel overlooking Chelsea harbour. Rory literally played until he dropped, after collapsing onstage in Rotterdam in January 1995, he was hospitalised in London with liver failure. Following a successful transplant operation he seemed to be recovering, but he caught an infection and died in June 1995.

The music world sent their condolences, 15,000 lined the streets of Cork as he was laid to rest. But Rory’s dedication to the rock’s skills base would also see him teach a budding player how to play a riff or get a certain sound – Brian May was one such beneficiary – and he took pride in founding the still prominent Registry of Guitar Tutors.

Since his death Rory’s reputation has grown. Perhaps its only with the passing of the time that the sheer scope and immensity of his achievements can be assessed. A true original his resolutely ordinary working man image, the unvarnished consistency of his art (and his paint stripped Strat!) appears all the more extraordinary in the era of media saturation. In 2003 the posthumously released ‘Wheels Within Wheels’ album provided another career highlight, focusing on the acoustic side of Rory’s art featuring collaborations with Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Lonnie Donegan, Flamenco great Juan Martin and The Dubliners. This year sees the first ever release of the abandoned 1978 album recorded in America ‘Notes From San Francisco’. Rory’s memory lives on across the globe, in the memory of those who experienced his shows and met him. Legions are the fans who , like a young aspiring Manchester guitarist Johnny Marr in the early 70s, cherished meeting Rory and came away walking on air. More than once in the heat of a show where stage invasions were commonplace the Strat would be handed to an audience member for a quick strum. The feeling he could create in a hall in Belfast or Montreux, in London or LA, you couldn’t ask anymore from a gig, really.

Gallagher is commemorated throughout Ireland, a bronze statue in Ballyshannon, a sculpture in Cork where the local theatre is named after him, a mounted guitar in Dublin, a plaque in Belfast and his famously battered paint stripped Sunburst strat has been marketed by Fender in a tribute model. There’s a Rue Rory Gallagher in Paris, an annual festival in Ireland and tribute concerts held each year in his honour around the world. Rory’s story, it seems, will not end. Readily accessible on awe inspiring live performances preserved on a wealth of DVDs, a comprehensively curated official website and remastered recordings – a legacy lovingly maintained by his family, brother Donal and nephew Daniel, his music remains ready to inspire and thrill generations old and new.

Rory Gallagher died too young with much still to achieve and offer but the wealth and quality of the material he produced in his lifetime insures his ever questing, hungry spirit lives on.

Rory Gallagher – Moonchild

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Kurt
Cobain
4/1994

Kurt-Cobain300April 5, 1994 – Kurt Cobain. A very talented and very troubled rock grunge performer, Kurt Cobain became a rock legend in the early 1990s with his band, Nirvana. He committed suicide at his Seattle home in 1994. Kurt Cobain was born February 20, 1967, in Aberdeen, Washington. In 1988, he started the grunge band Nirvana. Nirvana made the leap to a major label in 1991, signing with Geffen Records. Cobain also began using heroin around this time. Nirvana’s highly acclaimed album In Utero was released in 1993. On April 5, 1994, in the guest house behind his Seattle home, Cobain committed suicide.

Childhood
Singer, songwriter. Born Kurt Donald Cobain on February 20, 1967, in Aberdeen, Washington. A talented, troubled performer, Kurt Cobain became a rock legend with his band Nirvana in the 1990s. Growing up in a small logging town, Cobain showed an interest in art and music. He excelled at drawing, so much so that his talents were even apparent in kindergarten. He also learned to play piano by ear and enjoyed a kiddie drum kit his parents had given him. At his father’s urging, Cobain also played little league baseball. He sometimes spent time with his little sister Kim who was born in 1971, but both Cobain children had to deal with their parents yelling and fighting as their marriage became increasingly stormy.
After his parents divorced when he was nine, Cobain became withdrawn. He went to live with his father after the divorce. On the weekends, he would visit his mother and his sister. When his father remarried, Cobain resented his stepmother Jenny and her two children. One of the bright spots of this difficult time was a present he received from his uncle Chuck—a guitar. Although the instrument was fairly beat up, it inspired Cobain to learn to play and it offered him a respite from his unhappiness at home. Alienated and angry, he believed that his father always took his stepmother’s side and favored her children and his half-brother Chad who had been born in 1979. Cobain began experimenting with drugs in his mid-teens, and he pushed himself farther away from his father.
In 1982, Cobain left his father’s place and bounced around from relative to relative for several months. He then went to live with his mother who was with her boyfriend Pat O’Connor at the time. (They later married.) Attending high school in Aberdeen, he impressed teachers and students with his artistic talents. Cobain seemed to have odd tastes in subject matter, drawing a sperm transforming into an embryo for one project, according to Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross.

Troubled Youth
Cobain’s life changed when he started listening punk rock. Discovering a local punk band, the Melvins, he befriended Buzz Osbourne, a member of the group. Osbourne introduced him to some other punk bands, such as the Sex Pistols. The Melvins often practiced in a space near drummer Dale Crover’s house and a lot of fans, including Cobain, came to these sessions and hung out. As high school progressed, he was doing more drinking and drugging. Cobain also got into fights with his mother who was also drinking a lot, and he could not stand his stepfather.
Cobain spent much of 1984 and 1985 living in various places. He spent time living with friends when he could and sleeping in apartment building hallways and a hospital waiting room when he did not have any other place to crash. In July 1985, Cobain was arrested for spray painting buildings in town with some of his friends. His friends got away, but Cobain was caught and taken to the police station. He later received a fine and a suspended sentence for his actions. Several months later, Cobain started his first band, Fecal Matter. They recorded a few songs together at his aunt Mari’s house, but they never played any gigs.
The next year Cobain was in trouble with the law again after being found wandering around an abandoned building drunk at night. As a result, he ended up spending several days in jail. Cobain started playing music with bassist Krist Novoselic who was two years older than him. They knew each other from Novoselic’s younger brother Robert and from hanging around The Melvins. A local drummer named Aaron Burckhard soon joined in. Their first gig was a house party in 1987. This same year, Cobain started going out with Tracy Marander, his first serious girlfriend. The two eventually were living together in Olympia. Although they struggled financially, the couple seemed to enjoy the rock and roll lifestyle. Cobain spent a lot of his time exploring different creative outlets—writing, painting, drawing, and making collages.

Nirvana
In 1988, Cobain was able to make some of his rock ambitions come true. He finally settled on the name Nirvana for the group. They made their first single, “Love Buzz,” which was released by the small independent label Sub Pop Records. By this time, Burckhard was out and Chad Channing had taken over drumming duties. Nirvana’s popularity in the Seattle music scene was growing, and they released their debut album, Bleach, in 1989. While it failed to make much of a splash, the recording showed signs of Cobain’s emerging talent as a songwriter, especially the ballad “About a Girl.” Their signature sound, which included elements of punk and heavy metal, was also apparent on the album. Cobain felt mistreated by Sub Pop, believing that the company devoted more resources toward promoting other acts such as Soundgarden and Mudhoney.
While his band was struggling to make it, Cobain made a fateful connection in his personal life. In 1990, Cobain met his match in an edgy rocker named Courtney Love. The two met at a show at the Portland, Oregon nightclub Satyricon. While they were interested in each other, their relationship did not get off the ground until much later.
That same year, he got a chance to know some of his rock and roll heroes when the band toured with Sonic Youth. Nirvana was going through some internal changes at the time. Their friend Dale Crover filled in on drums as Cobain and Novoselic had kicked out Channing. After the tour, they finally found a replacement in Dave Grohl who had played with Washington, D.C., hardcore band Scream.
Despite their antiestablishment and punk tendencies, Nirvana made the leap to a major label in 1991 when they signed with Geffen Records. That same year, they released Nevermind, which spearheaded a music revolution. With the raw edges of punk and the blistering guitars of metal, their sound was labeled “grunge” for its murky and rough qualities.

Rapid Rise
The single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”—like many Nirvana tracks—modulated between the soft and the thrashing. And Cobain was equally convincing as he sang the song’s mellow chorus and as he screamed its final lines. It proved to be the group’s biggest single and helped take the entire album to the top of the charts.
Soon, Cobain was being called one of the best songwriters of his generation. This along with the rapid rise of the group put pressure on the talented and sensitive 24-year-old. Cobain began to worry about how his music was being received and how to regain control of a seemingly uncontrollable future. He had started using heroin in the early 1990s. The drug provided an escape as well as some relief for his chronic stomach problems.
Before Nevermind’s release, Cobain met up again with Courtney Love, now the lead singer and guitarist with Hole, at an L7 concert in Los Angeles. She was friends with Jennifer Finch, a member of the band who was also dating Dave Grohl at the time. Later that year, Cobain and Love started a whirlwind relationship that included letters, faxes, and numerous phone calls as the two were traveling with their respective bands. In February 1992, they got married and welcomed their daughter Frances Bean Cobain in August of that year. Both Cobain and Love were into drugs and often used together. They found themselves being investigated by social services after Love told Vanity Fair that she had taken heroin while pregnant. After a costly legal battle, Cobain and Love were able keep custody of their daughter.
Always volatile, Cobain’s relationship with Love was becoming more strained. The Seattle police came to their house after the two had been in a physical altercation over Cobain having guns in the house in 1993. As a result, he was arrested for assault. The police also took the guns from the home.

Struggles with Drugs
While his personal life was in turmoil, Cobain had continued success professionally. Nirvana’s highly acclaimed album In Utero was released in September 1993 and went to the top of the album charts. Full of highly personal lyrics by Cobain about his many life struggles, the recording featured a fair amount of hostility toward people and situations that Cobain reviled. He took on the recording industry with “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter.” It also had some more tender moments with “Heart-Shaped Box,” which is supposed to be about his marriage to Love. Guitar Player magazine described the album as having “a startling level of anger, energy, and jaded intelligence.”
While the band earned raves for the new album, Cobain had become more distant from the other members. But he continued to press on, playing a gig with Nirvana in New York City in November 1993 for MTV’s Unplugged series and touring Europe that winter. Cobain and Love often fought about his drug use.
On a break during the tour, Cobain spent some time in Europe with his family. On March 4, 1994, while in his hotel room in Rome, Italy, he attempted suicide by taking an overdose of drugs. Love woke up and discovered that Cobain was in trouble. He was rushed to the hospital in a coma. While official reports said that it was accidentally overdose, Cobain had clearly meant to kill himself, having left a suicide note.
Returning to the United States, Cobain became a hermit, spending much of his time alone and high. Love called the police on March 18 to report that Cobain was suicidal. He had locked himself inside a closet with some guns and some medication, according to the police report. After interviewing Love and Cobain, it was determined that he had not threatened to kill himself, but Love called the authorities because he had locked himself in and would not open the door. She knew that he had access to guns. For their safety, the police took the guns and the medications.
A few days later, Love had an intervention for Cobain, trying to convince him to get off drugs. She herself traveled to Los Angeles after the event to try to get clean. Cobain eventually checked into a chemical dependency clinic in Los Angeles, but left after only a few days.

Suicide and Legacy
On April 5, 1994, in the guest house behind his Seattle home, a 27-year-old Cobain committed suicide. He placed a shotgun into his mouth and fired, killing himself instantly. He left a lengthy suicide note in which he addressed his many fans as well as his wife and young daughter. Despite the official ruling of his death as a suicide, some have wondered whether it was murder and whether Love had been involved in his death.
Even after death, Cobain continued to intrigue and inspire fans. The group released Unplugged in New York shortly after Cobain’s death and it went to the top of the charts. Two years later, a collection of their songs entitled From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah was released, and again the group scored a huge hit, reaching the number three spot on the album charts.

Kurt Cobain’s body was discovered by an electrician on Friday, April 8th, 1994. The answer to the question posed by the authors of Who Killed Kurt Cobain? is simple: Kurt Cobain killed himself. He did so with sudden, self-inflicted violence, leaving written evidence of his state of mind. Kurt’s counselor remembered how worried the musician had been about losing his home in a lawsuit: “Suicidal people tend to want to make a statement,” says Nial Stimson. “I just kind of felt he killed himself in his house [as if to say], “You’re not going to take my house, no matter what. . .”

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Frank Zappa 12/1993

Frank ZappaDecember 4, 1993 – Frank Vincent Zappa was born on December 21, 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland with an Italian, Sicilian, Greek and Arab ancestry. With his dad employed as chemist/mathematician in the Defense industry, the family often moved to the extent that he attended at least 6 high schools. He began to play drums at the age of 12, and was playing in R&B groups by high school,

Zappa grew up influenced by avant-garde composers such as Varèse, Igor Stravinsky and Anton Webern, as well as R&B and doo-wop groups (particularly local pachuco groups), and modern jazz. His own heterogeneous ethnic background and the diverse social and cultural mix in and around greater Los Angeles in the sixties, were crucial in the forming of Zappa as a practitioner of underground music and of his later distrustful and openly critical attitude towards “mainstream” social, political, religious and musical movements. He frequently lampooned musical fads like psychedelia, rock opera and disco. Television also exerted a strong influence, as demonstrated by quotations from show themes and advertising jingles found in his later works.

In 1956 the family had moved to Antelope Valley in the Mojave Desert, where young Frank met Don Vliet (who later expanded his name to Don Van Vliet and adopted the stage name Captain Beefheart) at school. Zappa and Vliet became close friends, sharing an interest in R&B records and influencing each other musically throughout their careers.

Around the same time, Zappa started playing drums in a local band, the Blackouts. The band was racially diverse, and included Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood who later became a member of the Mothers of Invention. Zappa’s interest in the guitar grew, and in 1957 he was given his first guitar. Among his early influences were Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Howlin’ Wolf and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. (In the 1970s and ’80s, he invited Guitar Watson to perform on several albums.) Zappa considered soloing as the equivalent of forming “air sculptures”, and developed an eclectic, innovative and highly personal style, one that earned him rank no. 22 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s List of Greatest Guitar players of all time in 2011.

Zappa’s interest in composing and arranging flourished in his last high-school years. By his final year, he was writing, arranging and conducting avant-garde performance pieces for the school orchestra. He graduated from Antelope Valley High School in 1958, and later acknowledged two of his music teachers on the sleeve of the 1966 album Freak Out!

After barely graduating from high school, and then dropping out of junior college (where he met his first wife, Kay Sherman), Zappa worked at such jobs as window dresser, copywriter and door-to-door sales man.

Of all the qualities that typified Frank Zappa, perhaps the most striking is that he was a paradox. A workaholic perfectionist rock star who eschewed the hippie culture of the 1960s, deploring its conformism, spurious ideals and drug use, Zappa was not only a brilliant rock guitarist but an orchestral composer, innovative filmmaker, music producer, businessman, iconoclast and perceptive political and social commentator. His oeuvre continually amazes: over 60 albums of music from rock to orchestral, in addition to innumerable films, concerts and other accomplishments.

With the money he earned from scoring Run Home, Slow (1965) (written by his high school English teacher, Don Cerveris), Zappa purchased a recording studio and, after concocting an allegedly obscene recording for an undercover policeman, spent ten days in jail. Zappa’s diverse range of albums (both with the seminal and protean groups The Mothers of Invention and Zappa; as well as solo releases) are renowned not only for their bravura musicianship and satire, but for offending various groups (usually conservatives, both religious and political). The 200 Motels (1971) soundtrack was deemed too offensive by the Royal Albert Hall, which canceled scheduled concerts in 1975; and the song “Jewish Princess” (1979) led to Jewish calls for Zappa to apologize. These, and such events as Zappa testifying before Congress in 1985 against rock music censorship, being appointed by Czech president Václav Havel as his Cultural Liaison Officer or considering running for US president, have unfortunately been Zappa’s only real source of mainstream publicity.

In a career spanning more than 30 years, he wrote rock, jazz, electronic, orchestral, and musique concrète works. He also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers.

Zappa produced almost all of the more than 60 albums he released with the band Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. One of the most accomplished composers of the rock era, with terrific musical knowledge and an outrageous sense of humor, plus a keen eye for the world we live in: “politics is basically the entertainment arm of the military/industrial complex.”

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1991, Zappa nonetheless continued working at his Hollywood Hills home, until his death on 4 December 1993. His widow, Gail, and children Dweezil Zappa, Moon Unit Zappa, Ahmet Zappa and Diva Zappa, soon released a statement to the press that simply stated: “Composer Frank Zappa left for his final tour just before 6pm Saturday.”

Frank Zappa died from prostate cancer on Dec 4, 1993 at age 52.

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Albert
Collins
11/1993

Albert CollinsNov 24, 1993 – Albert Collins was born on October 1, 1932  in Leona Texas. The blues guitar came to him through his cousin Lightnin’ Hopkins, who lived in the same town and often played on family gatherings. Although initially a student of piano, he became the bluesmaster who played an altered tuning. Collins tuned his guitar to an open F minor chord (FCFAbCF), and then added a capo at the 5th, 6th or 7th fret. At the age of twelve, he made the decision to concentrate on learning the guitar after hearing “Boogie Chillen'” by John Lee Hooker.

In the early days Collins worked as a paint mixer and truck driver to make ends meet. In 1971, when he was 39 years old, Collins worked in construction, since he couldn’t make a proper living from his music. One of the construction jobs he worked on was a remodeling job for Neil Diamond. This type of work carried on right up until the late 1970s. It was his wife Gwen that talked him into returning to music.

Over the period of his career  he received accolades and many nicknames, such as “The Ice Man”, “The Master of the Telecaster” and “The Razor Blade”.

He began recording in 1960 and released singles, including many instrumentals such as the million selling “Frosty”. In the spring of 1965 he moved to Kansas City, Missouri and started to make a name for himself. It would however take to the 1980s when his genius talent was acknowledged by the music world. In 1983, when he won the W. C. Handy Award for his album Don’t Lose Your Cool, which won the award for best blues album of the year.

On 13 July 1985 Collins performed with George Thorogood and the Destroyers at Live Aid, appearing as guest soloist on “Madison Blues”; the US part of the charity concert was held at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and together with the simultaneously broadcast concerts from other countries was viewed by over 1.5 billion people. In December 1986 Collins appeared in concert with Etta James and Joe Walsh at the Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, which was subsequently released on video under the title Jazzvisions: Jump The Blues Away. The backing musicians for the concert were Rick Rosas (bass), Michael Huey (drums), Ed Sanford (Hammond B3), Kip Noble (piano) and Josh Sklar (guitar). In 1986 Collins won a Grammy Award with Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland for their album Showdown! Collins had finished working on his seventh Alligator album Cold Snap by October 1986, which was released shortly afterwards to good reviews and received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Recording of 1987. Collins cited the album as personally important to him due to the involvement of organist Jimmy McGriff, an early musical idol whom Collins had played with in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1966.

On 12 February 1987 he appeared as a musical guest on the NBC talk show Late Night with David Letterman. Collins made a cameo appearance in the 1987 comedy film Adventures in Babysitting. In 1987 the American composer John Zorn and Albert Collins collaborated on a suite entitled “Two-Lane Highway” which was subsequently released on the Zorn album Spillane. On 22 April 1988 Collins appeared at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in a group that consisted of B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan; the group played on the Riverboat President as it journeyed along the Mississippi River in recognition of the musical heritage of New Orleans and artists such as Fate Marable, Louis Armstrong and Henry Red Allen, who had entertained passengers on the fleet of riverboats owned by the Streckfus Brothers.

Collins was signed to Pointblank Records, a subsidiary of Virgin Records, in 1991. Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records expressed his disappointment at the departure of Collins while acknowledging that he had signed Collins on a “record to record” basis. On 15 November 1991 Collins performed with Robert Cray, Steve Cropper and Dave Edmunds at the Guitar Legends event in Seville; a series of five concerts to promote the upcoming Seville Expo ’92. On 28 October 1991 Collins was filmed in concert for the music show Austin City Limits which was broadcast on 21 February 1992; the concert was released on DVD in April 2008 as Albert Collins Live From Austin, TX. In 1993 Collins played at the Pointblank Borderline Blues Festival in London, which ran from 17 March to 27 March; this would be his last appearance in the UK. Collins was performing at the Paléo Festival in Nyon, Switzerland, in July 1993 when he was taken ill. He was diagnosed in mid August with lung cancer which had metastasized to his liver, with an expected survival time of four months. Tracks from his last album Live ’92/’93 were recorded at shows that September. Albert Collins died on 24 November 1993 at the age of 61. He was interred at Davis Memorial Park, Las Vegas, Nevada. There was a posthumous nomination for his final album Live ’92/’93 at the 38th Grammy Awards of 1996 in the category of Best Blues Contemporary Album.

The Fender Custom Shop created an accurate replica of the “Ice Man”‘s namesake ’66 Custom Telecaster in 1990, which featured a double-bound swamp ash body, a custom-shaped maple neck sporting a separate laminated maple fingerboard with 21 vintage frets, a custom-wound Seymour Duncan ’59 humbucker in the neck position and a Fender Texas Special Tele single-coil in the bridge.

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Albert
King
12/1992

Albert KingDecember 21, 1992 – Albert King was born Albert Nelson on April 25th 1923 in Indianola, Mississippi, the same town where B.B. King grew up. However, on his Social Security application in 1942, his birthplace was entered as “Aboden, Miss.,” likely based on his pronunciation of Aberdeen. King, who gave his birth date as April 25, 1923, was raised primarily in Arkansas. As a child, he sang with his family’s gospel group at a church where his father played the guitar. When King was eight, his family moved to Forrest City, Arkansas and he would pick cotton on plantations in the area. Around that same time, King bought his first guitar, paying only $1.25. His first inspiration was T-Bone Walker.

King began working as a professional musician when he joined a group called In the Groove Boys in Osceola, Arkansas, in the late Forties. He then moved north and played drums with Jimmy Reed, both onstage and on several early Reed recordings. In the early Fifties, King moved to Gary, Indiana, and then, in 1953, to Chicago. It was in Chicago that King cut his first singles, “Lonesome in My Bedroom” and “Bad Luck Blues,” for Parrot Records.

The electric guitar quickly became King’s primary instrument, his preferred instrument being a Gibson Flying V that he played left-handed, holding it upside down and tuning it for a right-handed player. Standing 6′ 4″, and weighed 260 pounds, known as “The Velvet Bulldozer”, he was a major influence on blues & rock guitar players, some say without him, modern guitar music would not sound as it does, his style has influenced both black and white blues players from Otis Rush and Robert Cray to Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

In 1956, King returned to St. Louis and formed a new band. He resumed recording in 1959 and scored his first minor hit, “I’m a Lonely Man.” The song was written by Little Milton, who was an A&R man for Bobbin Records, the label that released the record. King recorded for several other small labels during this period, including King Records. In 1961, he scored his first major hit, “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me Too Strong,” which reached Number 14 on the R&B chart.

King’s real breakthrough came in 1966, when he moved to Memphis and signed with Stax Records. Working with producer Al Jackson Jr. and backed by Booker T. and the M.G.’s, King recorded such classics as “Crosscut Saw” and “As the Years Go Passing By.” In 1967, Stax released Born Under a Bad Sign. The title track became King’s best-known song and has been covered by many artists, including Cream, even though they titled it “Strange Brew”. (Clapton’s solo is a note-for-note cover of King’s solo on his Stax Record hit “Crosscut Saw”). King played many shows at promoter Bill Graham’s Fillmore East and the Fillmore West venues. One show was recorded and released as the album Live Wire/Blues Power.

In 1969, King performed live with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, forming what was called an “87-piece blues band.” During the early Seventies, he recorded the album Lovejoy with a group of white rock singers and an Elvis Presley tribute album, Albert King Does the King’s Things. King continued to tour throughout the Seventies, and in June 1970, he joined the Doors onstage at a show in Vancouver, Canada.

King’s sound underwent a major change in the Seventies, as he teamed up with the Bar-Kays and the Memphis Horns on the albums I’ll Play the Blues for You and I Wanna Get Funky. That partnership gave his music a much funkier sound than it had on his earlier recordings, and the former album’s title track became one of his signature songs. King also worked with Allen Toussaint and some of the Meters during this period.

During the Eighties, King received considerable praise from many young blues guitarists, most notably Stevie Ray Vaughan. The two appeared together on the Canadian television show In Session in December 1983, a performance that was issued on CD in 1993. One British writer described Vaughan as a “young Texan who apparently believes that Albert King is God and the Lord should be praised regularly.”

King continued to perform until his death from a heart attack at age 69 on December 21, 1992. At his funeral, Joe Walsh played a slide-guitar rendition of “Amazing Grace” as a tribute to King.

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Willie
Dixon
1/1992

Willie DixonJanuary 29, 1992 – Willie Dixon was born July 1st 1915 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His mother Daisy often rhymed the things she said, a habit her son imitated. At the age of seven, young Dixon became an admirer of a band that featured pianist Little Brother Montgomery. He sang his first song at Springfield Baptist Church at the age of four. Dixon was first introduced to blues when he served time on prison farms in Mississippi as an early teenager. He later learned how to sing harmony from local carpenter Leo Phelps. Dixon sang bass in Phelps’ group The Jubilee Singers, a local gospel quartet that regularly appeared on the Vicksburg radio station WQBC. Dixon began adapting poems he was writing as songs, and even sold some tunes to local music groups. By the time he was a teenager, Dixon was writing songs and selling copies to the local bands. With his bass voice, Dixon later joined a group organized by Phelps, the Union Jubilee Singers, who appeared on local radio.

Dixon left Mississippi for Chicago in 1936. A man of considerable stature, at 6 and a half feet and weighing over 250 pounds, he took up boxing; he was so successful that he won the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship (Novice Division) in 1937. Dixon turned professional as a boxer and worked briefly as Joe Louis’ sparring partner. After four fights, Dixon left boxing after getting into a fight with his manager over being cheated out of money.

Dixon met Leonard Caston at the boxing gym where they would harmonize at times. Dixon performed in several vocal groups in Chicago but it was Caston that got him to pursue music seriously. Caston built him his first bass, made of a tin can and one string. Dixon’s experience singing bass made the instrument familiar. Moreover, Dixon also learned how to harmonize by Theo Phelps, a jubilee singer. He also learned to play the guitar.

In 1939, Dixon was a founding member of the Five Breezes, with Caston, Joe Bell, Gene Gilmore and Willie Hawthorne. The group blended blues, jazz, and vocal harmonies, in the mode of the Ink Spots. Dixon’s progress on the Upright bass came to an abrupt halt during the advent of World War II when he resisted the draft as a conscientious objector and was imprisoned for ten months. Dixon decided not to fight in the war because he did not want to support a nation who continued to promote institutionalized racist laws. After the war, he formed a group named the Four Jumps of Jive and then reunited with Caston, forming the Big Three Trio, who went on to record for Columbia Records.

Dixon signed with Chess Records as a recording artist, but began performing less, being more involved with administrative tasks for the label. By 1951, he was a full-time employee at Chess, where he acted as producer, talent scout, session musician and staff songwriter. He was also a producer for Chess subsidiary Checker Records. His relationship with Chess was sometimes strained, although he stayed with the label from 1948 to the early 1960s. During this time Dixon’s output and influence were prodigious. From late 1956 to early 1959, he worked in a similar capacity for Cobra Records, where he produced early singles for Otis Rush, Magic Sam, and Buddy Guy. He later recorded on Bluesville Records. From the late 1960s until the middle 1970s, Dixon ran his own record label, Yambo Records, along with two subsidiary labels, Supreme and Spoonful. He released his 1971 album Peace? on Yambo, as well as singles by McKinley Mitchell, Lucky Peterson and others.

Dixon is considered one of the key figures in the creation of Chicago blues. He worked with Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, Joe Louis Walker, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor, Little Milton, Eddie Boyd, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lowell Fulson, Willie Mabon, Memphis Slim, Washboard Sam, Jimmy Rogers, Sam Lay and others.

In December 1964, The Rolling Stones reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart with their cover of Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster.” He became a hugely important link between the blues and rock and roll, as his songs were covered by some of the biggest bands of the 1960s and 1970s, including Bob Dylan, Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Allman Brothers Band, and the Grateful Dead.

His songwriting credits include “Little Red Rooster”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Evil”, “Spoonful”, “Back Door Man”, “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, “I Ain’t Superstitious”, “My Babe”, “Wang Dang Doodle”, and “Bring It on Home”, written during the peak of Chess Records, 1950-1965, and performed by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter, influenced a worldwide generation of musicians.

During the mid-’60s, Chess gradually phased out Dixon’s bass work, in favor of electric bass, thus reducing his presence at many of the sessions. At the same time, a European concert promoter named Horst Lippmann had begun a series of shows called the American Folk-Blues Festival, for which he would bring some of the top blues players in America over to tour the continent. Dixon ended up organizing the musical side of these shows for the first decade or more, recording on his own as well and earning a good deal more money than he was seeing from his work for Chess.

By the end of the 1960s, Dixon was eager to try his hand as a performer again, a career that had been interrupted when he’d gone to work for Chess as a producer. He recorded an album of his best-known songs, I Am the Blues, for Columbia Records, and organized a touring band, the Chicago Blues All Stars, to play concerts in Europe. Suddenly, in his fifties, he began making a major name for himself on-stage for the first time in his career. Around this time, Dixon began to have grave doubts about the nature of the songwriting contract that he had with Chess’ publishing arm, Arc Music. He was seeing precious little money from songwriting, despite the recording of hit versions of such Dixon songs as “Spoonful” by Cream. He had never seen as much money as he was entitled to as a songwriter, but during the 1970s he began to understand just how much money he’d been deprived of, by design or just plain negligence on the part of the publisher doing its job on his behalf.

Arc Music had sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement over “Bring It on Home” on Led Zeppelin II, saying that it was Dixon’s song, and won a settlement that Dixon never saw any part of until his manager did an audit of Arc’s accounts. Dixon and Muddy Waters would later file suit against Arc Music to recover royalties and the ownership of their copyrights. Additionally, many years later Dixon brought suit against Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement over “Whole Lotta Love” and its resemblance to Dixon’s “You Need Love.” Both cases resulted in out-of-court settlements that were generous to the songwriter.

The 1980s saw Dixon as the last survivor of the Chess blues stable and he began working with various organizations to help secure song copyrights on behalf of blues songwriters who, like himself, had been deprived of revenue during previous decades. In 1988, Dixon became the first producer/songwriter to be honored with a boxed set collection, when MCA Records released Willie Dixon: The Chess Box, which included several rare Dixon sides as well as the most famous recordings of his songs by Chess’ stars. The following year, Dixon published I Am the Blues (Da Capo Press), his autobiography, written in association with Don Snowden.

Dixon continued performing, and was also called in as a producer on movie soundtracks such as Gingerale Afternoon and La Bamba, producing the work of his old stablemate Bo Diddley. By that time, Dixon was regarded as something of an elder statesman, composer, and spokesperson of American blues. Dixon eventually began suffering from increasingly poor health, and lost a leg to diabetes. He died peacefully in his sleep from heart failure on January 29, 1992 at age 76.

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Freddie
Mercury
11/1991

freddie-mercury-4November 24, 1991 – Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on September 5th 1946 on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa.  He spent time in a boarding school in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, where he studied piano and it was not long before this charismatic young man joined his first band, the Hectics. He was of Indian Parsi descent and his early childhood was in India, which gave him the title “Britain’s first Asian rock star.

After moving to London with his family in the 1960s, Mercury attended the Ealing College of Art where he befriended a number of musicians including future bandmates, drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May. Following graduation, he joined a series of bands and sold second-hand clothes in the Kensington Market in London, as well as had a job at Heathrow Airport. In April 1970, he joined with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor who had previously been in a band called SmileIn 1969, Mercury joined up with a group called Ibex as their lead singer. He played with a few other bands before joining forces with Taylor and May in the early 70s. They met up with bassist John Deacon in 1971, and the quartet—who Mercury dubbed Queen—played their first gig together in June of that year.

In 1973, the band released their first self-titled album, but it took two more recordings for Queen’s music to really catch on. Their third record, Sheer Heart Attack (1974), featured their first hit, “Killer Queen,” a song about a high-class call girl. The single hit No. 2 on the U.K. charts, and peaked at No. 12 in the U.S.

Freddie was a fan of Aretha Franklin, The Who, Jim Croce, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, and The Beatles, but his absolutely favorite performer was singer-actress Liza Minnelli.

With a sound that has been described as a fusion of hard rock and glam rock, Queen had an even bigger hit in 1975 with their album, A Night at the Opera. Mercury wrote the song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a seven-minute rock operetta -by many considered the best rock song ever- for the album. Overdubbing his voice, Mercury showed off his impressive four-octave vocal range on this innovative track. The song hit the top of the charts in Britain and became a Top 10 hit in the United States.

In addition to his talents as a singer and songwriter, Mercury was also a skilled showman. He knew how to entertain audiences and how to connect with them. He liked to wear costumes—often featuring skintight spandex—and strutted around the stage, encouraging fans to join in the fun. Artistic in nature, Mercury was also actively involved in designing the art for many of the group’s albums.

In the years that followed he became a legend of “Elvis” proportions. 

Queen’s popularity continued to soar through the late 70s and early 80s. “We Are the Champions,” off of News of the World (1978), became a Top 10 hit in the United States and in Britain. It was featured on a single with “We Will Rock You”—both songs have taken on a life of their own as popular anthems played at sporting events. Always exploring new and different sounds, Queen also tried their hand at the big music trend of the time, with the disco-flavored “Another Bites the Dust” in 1980. Off that same album, The Game (1980), Mercury and the rest of the band showed their range as performers with the rockabilly-influenced hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which Mercury penned.

The following year, the members of Queen collaborated with David Bowie to create “Under Pressure.” A No. 1 hit in Britain, the song’s distinctive bass line was later reportedly used by Vanilla Ice for his 1990 rap hit “Ice, Ice Baby.” Their abilities to sell albums began to wane by the mid-1980s after The Works (1984), which featured the minor hit “Radio Ga Ga.”

As a live act, Queen continued to draw huge crowds around the world. One of their most notable performances was in 1985 at the Live Aid charity concert. Simply dressed in a tank top and jeans, Mercury led the crowd through some of the band’s greatest hits with great energy and style. He got the thousands of music fans at London’s Wembley Stadium to chant along to “We Will Rock You.” For many who watched the event live or on television, Queen gave one of the top performances of the day-long event, which was organized by singer and activist Bob Geldof and songwriter Midge Ure to raise money for victims of famine in Africa. Inspired by the event, the band wrote the hit “One Vision.”

In addition to his work with Queen, Mercury released several solo albums, including 1985’s Mr. Bad Guy. He also collaborated with opera singer Montserrat Caralle for 1988’s Barcelona.

 

Offstage, Mercury was open about his bisexuality, but he kept his relationships private. He also lived a superstar’s lifestyle. He loved champagne and liked to collect art, once spending more than $400,000 on a set of hand-painted china. Always one for a party, Mercury threw himself elaborate celebrations; for one particular birthday he flew a group of friends to the island of Ibiza. The occasion was marked by fireworks and flamenco dancing.

By 1989, Mercury largely retreated from public life. He did not promote or tour for Queen’s next album, Innuendo (1991), and rumors about possible health problems began to circulate.

On November 23, 1991, Mercury released a statement: “I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV-positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease.” The next day November 24, 1991, he died from AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia at his London mansion. Mercury was only 45 years old.

Longtime friend and bandmate Roger Taylor provided some insight to Mercury’s decision to keep his battle with AIDS private. “He didn’t want to be looked at as an object of pity and curiosity, and he didn’t want circling vultures over his head,” Taylor said, according to a report in Entertainment Weekly. The rock world mourned the loss of one of its most versatile and engaging performers.

To honor his memory, the Freddie Mercury Tribute: Concert for AIDS Awareness was held in April 1992 at Wembly Stadium. A diverse range of rock acts—from Def Leppard to Elton John—performed to celebrate Mercury and advance the fight against the disease that took his life. That same year, Mercury’s mock operatic masterpiece, “Bohemian Rhapsody” made a return to the pop charts, illustrating its timeless appeal.

Before his death, Mercury had done some work in the studio with Queen. These efforts were released in 1995 on Made In Heaven, the group’s last album with all the original members. Gone but clearly not forgotten, this collection of Mercury’s final performances reached the top of the British charts. In 2001, Mercury and rest of the band received special recognition for their contributions to American music history when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

 

 

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Leo
Fender
3/1991

LeoFenderMarch 21, 1991 – Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender was a Greek-American inventor, born on August 10th 1909. He founded Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, now known as Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, and later founded MusicMan and G&L Musical Products (G&L Guitars). His guitar, bass, and amplifier designs from the 1950s continue to dominate popular music more than half a century later.

When designing “The Strat”, he asked his customers what new features they would want on the Telecaster. The large number of replies, along with the continued popularity of the Telecaster, caused him to leave the Telecaster as it was and to design a new, upscale solid body guitar to be sold alongside the basic Telecaster instead.

Western swing guitarist Bill Carson was one of the chief critics of the Telecaster, stating that the new design should have individually adjustable bridge saddles, four or five pickups, a vibrato unit that could be used in either direction and return to proper tuning, and a contoured body for enhanced comfort over the slab-body Telecaster’s harsh edges.

Leo and draughtsman Freddie Tavares began designing the new guitar in late 1953, which would address most of Carson’s ideas and would also include a rounder, less “club-like” neck and a double cutaway for easier reach to the upper registers. Released in 1954, the Stratocaster has been in continuous production ever since.

The Electric Bass: Leo also conceived an instrument that would prove to be essential to the evolution of popular music with the Precision Bass (or “P-Bass”), released in 1951.

Up until this time, bassists had been left to playing acoustically resonating double basses/upright basses. Unlike double basses, the Telecaster-based Precision Bass was small and portable, and its solid body construction and four magnet, single coil electronic pickup allowed it to be amplified at higher volumes without the feedback issues normally associated with acoustic instruments. Along with the Precision Bass, so named because its fretted neck allowed bassists to play with ‘precision’. The P-Bass and its accompanying amplifier were the first widely-produced of their kind, and it was the first bass to be fretted like a guitar; arguably, it remains one of the most popular basses in music today.

1960 saw the release of the Jazz Bass, a sleeker, updated bass with a slimmer neck, and offset waist body and two single coil pickups, as opposed to the Precision Bass and its split-humbucking pickup that had been introduced in 1957. Like its predecessor, the Jazz Bass/”J-Bass” was an instant hit and has remained popular to this day, and early models are highly sought after by collectors.

Later products, produced for the less expensive market are Squire Stratocaster, based on the Stratocaster design features.

Fender sadly died from complications of Parkinson’s disease on  March 21, 1991 at age 81.

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Doc
Pomus
3/1991

doc pomusMarch 14, 1991 – Doc Pomus was born Jerome Solon Felder on June 27th, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York, he was a son of Jewish immigrants. Having had polio as a boy, he walked with the help of crutches. Later, due to post-polio syndrome, exacerbated by an accident, Felder eventually relied on a wheelchair.

Big Joe Turner turned him onto the Blues and using the stage name “Doc Pomus“, teenager Felder began performing as a blues singer. His stage name wasn’t inspired by anyone in particular; he just thought it sounded better for a blues singer than the name Jerry Felder. Pomus stated that more often than not, he was the only Caucasian in the clubs, but that as a Jew and a polio victim, he felt a special “underdog” kinship with African Americans, while in turn the audiences both respected his courage and were impressed with his talent. Gigging at various clubs in and around New York City, Pomus often performed with the likes of Milt Jackson, Mickey Baker and King Curtis.

Pomus recorded approximately 40 sides as a singer in the ’40s and ’50s for record companies such as Chess, Apollo, Gotham and others. He found success as one of the finest white blues singers of the 1940s before becoming one of the greatest songwriters in the history of American popular music. By 1957, he had given up performing in order to devote himself full-time to songwriting and became best known as the lyricist of many rock and roll super hits.

He collaborated with pianist Mort Shuman, their songwriting efforts had Doc write the lyrics and Shuman the melody, although quite often they worked on both. They wrote the hit songs such as: “A Teenager in Love”; “Save The Last Dance For Me”; “Hushabye”; “This Magic Moment”; “Turn Me Loose”; “Sweets For My Sweet”; “Go Jimmy Go”, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”; “Little Sister”; “Suspicion”; “Surrender”; “Viva Las Vegas”; “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame”. Also during the 1950s and early 1960s, Doc wrote several songs with Phil Spector: “Young Boy Blues”; “Ecstasy”; “Here Comes The Night”; “What Am I To Do?”; with Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber: “Young Blood” and “She’s Not You”, and other Brill Building-era writers.

He also wrote “Lonely Avenue”, which became a 1956 hit for Ray Charles. Doc was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the category of non-performer in 1992.

During the early 1960s, Pomus wrote several songs with Phil Spector (“Young Boy Blues”; “Ecstasy”; “What Am I To Do?”), Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber (“Young Blood” and “She’s Not You”), and other Brill Building-era writers. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, in his eleventh-floor, two-room apartment at the Westover Hotel at 253 West 72nd Street, Pomus wrote songs with Dr. John, Ken Hirsch and Willy DeVille for what he said were “...those people stumbling around in the night out there, uncertain or not always so certain of exactly where they fit in and where they were headed.” These later songs (“There Must Be A Better World”, “There Is Always One More Time”, “That World Outside”, “You Just Keep Holding On”, and “Something Beautiful Dying” in particular)—recorded by Willy DeVille, B.B. King, Irma Thomas, Marianne Faithfull, Charlie Rich, Ruth Brown, Dr. John, James Booker, and Johnny Adams—are considered by some, including writer Peter Guralnick, musician and songwriter Dr. John, and producer Joel Dorn, to be signatures of his best craft.

Together with Shuman and individually, Pomus was a key figure in the development of popular music.

He died from Lung Cancer on March 14, 1991 at age 66.

  • Pomus was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • In 1991 he was the first non-African-American recipient of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award.
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Stevie Ray
Vaughn
8/1990

Stevie_Ray_Vaughan_And_Double_Trouble-Texas_Flood_(1999)-Interior_TraseraAugust 27, 1990 – Stephen “Stevie” Ray Vaughan was born October 3, 1954 in Dallas Texas, Stevie grew up in the musical shadow of his older brother Jimmie, but he had a knack for guitar playing that went far beyond prodigy or natural talent.

He was three-and-a-half years younger than his brother Jimmie (born 1951)(Fabulous Thunderbirds). Their dad, Big Jim secured a job as an asbestos worker, an occupation that involved rigorous manual effort. The family moved frequently, living in other states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma before ultimately moving to the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. A shy and insecure boy, Vaughan was deeply affected by his childhood experiences. His father struggled with alcohol abuse, and often terrorized his family and friends with his bad temper. In later years, Vaughan recalled that he had been a victim of Big Jim’s violence.

In 1961, for his seventh birthday, Vaughan received his first guitar, a toy from Sears with Western motif. Learning by ear, he diligently committed himself, following along to songs by the Nightcaps, particularly “Wine, Wine, Wine” and “Thunderbird”. He listened to blues artists such as Albert King, Otis Rush, and Muddy Waters, and rock guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Lonnie Mack, as well as jazz guitarists including Kenny Burrell. In 1963, he acquired his first electric guitar, a Gibson ES-125T, as a hand-me-down from his brother Jimmie.

Soon after he acquired the electric guitar, Vaughan joined his first band, the Chantones, in 1965. Their first gig was at a talent contest held in Dallas’ Hill Theatre, but after realizing that the band could not perform a Jimmy Reed song in its entirety, Vaughan left the band and joined the Brooklyn Underground, playing professionally at local bars and clubs. He received brother Jimmie’s Fender Broadcaster, which he later traded for an Epiphone Riviera.
When brother Jimmie left home at age sixteen, Vaughan’s apparent obsession with the instrument caused a lack of support from his parents. Miserable at home, he took a job at a local hamburger stand, where he washed dishes and dumped trash for seventy cents an hour. After falling into a barrel of grease, he grew tired of the job and quit to devote his life to a music career.

Paying His Dues

In May 1969, after leaving the Brooklyn Underground, Vaughan joined a band called the Southern Distributor. He had learned The Yardbirds’ “Jeff’s Boogie” and played the song at the audition. Mike Steinbach, the group’s drummer, commented: “The kid was fourteen. We auditioned him on ‘Jeff’s Boogie,’ really fast instrumental guitar, and he played it note for note.” Although they played pop rock covers, Vaughan conveyed his interest in the addition of blues songs to the group’s repertoire; he was told that he wouldn’t earn a living playing blues music and the band parted ways. Later that year, bassist Tommy Shannon walked into a Dallas club and heard Vaughan playing guitar. Fascinated by the skillful playing, which he described as “incredible even then”, Shannon borrowed a bass guitar and the two jammed.

In February 1970, Vaughan joined a band called Liberation, which was a nine-piece group with a horn section. Having spent the previous month briefly playing bass with brother Jimmie in Texas Storm, he had originally auditioned as bassist. Impressed by Vaughan’s guitar playing, Scott Phares, the group’s original guitarist, modestly became the bassist. In mid-1970, they performed at the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas, where ZZ Top asked them to perform. During Liberation’s break, Vaughan jammed with ZZ Top on the Nightcaps song “Thunderbird”. Phares later described the performance as: “They tore the house down. It was awesome. It was one of those magical evenings. Stevie fit in like a glove on a hand.”

Attending Justin F. Kimball High School during the early 1970s, Vaughan’s late-night gigs contributed to his neglect in his studies, including music theory; he would often sleep during class. His musical career pursuit was disapproved by many of the school’s administrators, but he was also encouraged by many people to strive for a career in art, including his art teacher. In his sophomore year, he attended an evening class for experimental art at Southern Methodist University, but bailed when it conflicted with rehearsal. Vaughan later spoke of his dislike of the school and stated that he had to receive a daily note from the principal about his grooming.

stevie ray in krackerjack
Krackerjack with Stevie Ray

In September 1970, Vaughan made his first studio recordings with the band Cast of Thousands, which included future actor Stephen Tobolowsky. They recorded two songs, “Red, White and Blue” and “I Heard a Voice Last Night”, for a compilation album, A New Hi, that featured various teenage bands from Dallas. In late January 1971, feeling confined by playing pop hits with Liberation, Vaughan formed his own band, Blackbird. After growing tired of the Dallas music scene, he dropped out of school and moved with the band to Austin, Texas, which had more liberal and tolerant audiences. There, Vaughan initially took residence at the Rolling Hills Country Club, a venue that would later become the Soap Creek Saloon. Blackbird played at several clubs in Austin and opened shows for bands such as Sugarloaf, Wishbone Ash, and Zephyr, but could not maintain a consistent lineup. In early December 1972, Vaughan left Blackbird and joined Tommy Shannon in the rock band Krackerjack; but he performed with them for less than three months.

In March 1973, Vaughan joined Marc Benno’s band, the Nightcrawlers, after meeting Benno at a jam session years before. The band featured vocalist Doyle Bramhall, who met Vaughan when he was twelve years old. A month later, the Nightcrawlers recorded an album at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood for A&M Records. While the album was rejected by A&M, it included Vaughan’s first songwriting efforts, “Dirty Pool” and “Crawlin'”.
Soon afterward, he and the Nightcrawlers traveled back to Austin without Benno. In mid-1973, they signed a contract with Bill Ham, manager for ZZ Top, and played various gigs across the South, though many of them were disastrous. Ham left the band stranded in Mississippi without any way to make it back home and demanded reimbursement from Vaughan for equipment expenses; Ham was never reimbursed.

In 1975, Vaughan joined a six-piece band called Paul Ray and the Cobras that included guitarist Denny Freeman and saxophonist Joe Sublett. For the next two-and-a-half years, he earned a living performing weekly at a popular venue in town, the Soap Creek Saloon, and ultimately the newly opened Antone’s, widely known as Austin’s “home of the blues”. In late 1976, Vaughan recorded a single with them, “Other Days” as the A-side and “Texas Clover” as the B-side. Playing guitar on both tracks, the single was released on February 7, 1977. In March, readers of the Austin Sun voted them as Band of the Year. In addition to playing with the Cobras, Vaughan jammed with many of his influences at Antone’s, including Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Albert King.

Vaughan toured with the Cobras during much of 1977, but near the end of September, after the band decided to strive for a mainstream musical direction, and Stevie once again left the band.

He had played gigs with numerous bands through late 1977, during which time he mastered his chops when he finally formed his own group, Triple Threat Revue, which included singer Lou Ann Barton, bassist W. C. Clark, and drummer Fredde Pharaoh. In January 1978, they recorded four songs in Austin, including Vaughan’s composition “I’m Cryin'”. The thirty-minute audio recording marks the only known studio recording of the band. He then renamed the band Double Trouble after hiring drummer Chris Layton on drums and bassist Tommy Shannon and for the next few years, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble played the Austin Texas area, becoming one of the most popular bands in Texas.

Montreux Changed it All

Two giants in Rock and Roll Paradise

In 1982, the band played the Montreux Festival at the introduction of Jerry Weller and their performance caught the attention of David Bowie and Jackson Browne. After Double Trouble’s performance, Bowie asked Vaughan to play on his forthcoming album ‘Let’s Dance’, while Browne offered the group free recording time at his Los Angeles studio, Downtown; both offers were accepted. Stevie Ray laid down the lead guitar tracks for Bowie’s Let’s Dance album in late 1982 and shortly afterward, John Hammond, Sr. landed Vaughan and Double Trouble a record contract with Epic. The band recorded its debut album in less than a week at Jackson Browne’s Downtown Recording Studio. Things were finally starting to happen!

His debut album, Texas Flood, was released in the summer of 1983, a few months after Bowie’s Let’s Dance appeared. On its own, playing guitar on Let’s Dance earned Vaughan quite a bit of attention, but Texas Flood was rapidly becoming a blockbuster blues success; receiving positive reviews in both blues and rock publications, reaching number 38 on the charts, and crossing over to album rock radio stations. Bowie offered Vaughan the lead guitarist role for his 1983 stadium tour, but Stevie turned him down, preferring to play with Double Trouble. Vaughan and Double Trouble set off on a successful tour and quickly recorded their second album, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, which was released in May of 1984. The album was more successful than its predecessor, reaching number 31 on the charts; by the end of 1985, the album went gold. Double Trouble added keyboardist Reese Wynans in 1985, before they recorded their third album, Soul to Soul. The record was released in August 1985 and was also quite successful, reaching number 34 on the charts.

Stevie had unleashed his monster guitar virtuosity onto the world.

With his astonishingly accomplished guitar playing, Stevie Ray Vaughan ignited the blues revival of the ’80s. Vaughan drew equally from bluesmen like Albert King, Otis Rush, and Muddy Waters and rock & roll players like Jimi Hendrix and Lonnie Mack, as well as the stray jazz guitarist like Kenny Burrell, developing a uniquely eclectic and fiery style that sounded like no other guitarist, regardless of genre. Vaughan bridged the gap between blues and rock like no other artist had since the late ’60s. For the next seven years, Stevie Ray was the leading light in American blues, consistently selling out concerts while his albums regularly went gold. His tragic death in 1990 only emphasized his influence in blues and American rock & roll.

Even though Vaughan was inspired musically by American and British blues rock, he favored clean amplifiers with high volume rather than distortion, which contributed to the popularity of vintage musical equipment. He often connected several different amplifiers together and used minimal effects pedals. Chris Gill of Guitar World commented: “Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar tone was as dry as a San Antonio summer and as sparkling clean as a Dallas debutante, the product of the natural sound of amps with ample clean headroom.”  Vaughan only occasionally used pedals to augment his sound, mainly to boost the signal, although he occasionally employed a rotating speaker cabinet and wah pedals for added textural flair.

There was a price to pay

Although his professional career was soaring, Vaughan was sinking deep into alcoholism and drug addiction. Despite his declining health, Vaughan continued to push himself, releasing the double live album Live Alive in October of 1986 and launching an extensive American tour in early 1987.

Having a laugh with the Kings and Clapton

Following the tour, Vaughan checked into a rehabilitation clinic. The guitarist’s time in rehab was kept fairly quiet and for the next year Stevie Ray and Double Trouble were fairly inactive. Vaughan performed a number of concerts in 1988, including a headlining gig at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and wrote his fourth album. The resulting record, In Step, appeared in June of 1989 and became his most successful album, peaking at number 33 on the charts, earning a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Recording, and going gold just over six months after its release.

In the spring of 1990, Stevie Ray recorded an album with his brother Jimmie, which was scheduled for release in the fall of the year. In the late summer of 1990, Vaughan and Double Trouble set out on an American headlining tour.

On August 26, 1990, their East Troy, WI, gig concluded with an encore jam featuring guitarists Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and Robert Cray. After the concert, Stevie Ray boarded a helicopter bound for Chicago. Minutes after its 12:30 a.m. takeoff, the helicopter crashed, killing Vaughan and the other four passengers (3 members of Eric Clapton’s entourage and the pilot). He was only 35 years old.

In spite of a short-lived mainstream career spanning only seven years, he is widely considered one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of blues music, and one of the most important figures in the revival of blues in the 1980s. AllMusic describes him as “a rocking powerhouse of a guitarist who gave blues a burst of momentum in the ’80s, 90s and new millenium, with influence still felt long after his tragic death in 1990.”

Family Style, Stevie Ray’s duet album with Jimmie, appeared in October and entered the charts at number seven. Family Style began a series of posthumous releases that were as popular as the albums Vaughan released during his lifetime. The Sky Is Crying, a collection of studio outtakes compiled by Jimmie, was released in October of 1991; it entered the charts at number ten and went platinum three months after its release. In the Beginning, a recording of a Double Trouble concert in 1980, was released in the fall of 1992 and the compilation Greatest Hits was released in 1995. In 1999, Vaughan’s original albums were remastered and reissued, with The Real Deal: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 also appearing that year. 2000 saw the release of the four-disc box SRV, which concentrated heavily on outtakes, live performances, and rarities.

Vaughan received several music awards during his lifetime and posthumously. In 1983, readers of Guitar Player voted him as Best New Talent and Best Electric Blues Guitar Player. In 1984, the Blues Foundation named him Entertainer of the Year and Blues Instrumentalist of the Year, and in 1987, Performance Magazine honored him with Rhythm and Blues Act of the Year.

Earning six Grammy Awards and ten Austin Music Awards, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2014. Rolling Stone ranked Vaughan as the twelfth greatest guitarist of all time. 

In 2015, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Roy
Orbison
12/1988

roy orbisonDecember 6, 1988 – Roy Kelton Orbison was born on April 23, 1936, in Vernon, Texas to Nadine and Orbie Lee. He formed his first band at age 13. The singer-songwriter dropped out of college to pursue music. He signed with Monument Records and recorded such ballads as “Only the Lonely” and “It’s Over.”

Born to a working-class Texan family, Orbison grew up immersed in musical styles ranging from rockabilly and country to zydeco, Tex-Mex and the blues. His dad gave him a guitar for his sixth birthday and he wrote his first song, “A Vow of Love,” in 1944 while staying at his grandmothers. In 1945 he entered and won a contest on KVWC in Vernon and this led to his own radio show singing the same songs every Saturday. By the time Roy was 13 he had formed his own band “The Wink Westerners”. The band appeared weekly on KERB radio in Kermit, Texas. Roy graduated from Wink High School in 1954. He attended North Texas State College in Denton, Texas for a year, and enrolled at Odessa Junior College in 1955 to study history and English.

The band, now renamed “The Teen Kings” appeared weekly on local TV, where they met Johnny Cash, who put them in touch with his record producer, Sam Phillips, of Sun Records. Roy also married Claudette in 1955, for who he wrote the song “Claudette”. (a hit for The Everly Brothers).
Roy achieved his first commercial success with Sam Phillips in June 1956 with “Ooby Dooby”, a song written by friends of Orbison from college. But Sun Records were more hillbilly than Roy, so staying with his love, music, he took a job at Acuff-Rose Music in Nashville as a songwriter, and given a contract by RCA. In 1959 Bob Moore, who was a partner in Monument Records, played bass on Roy Orbison’s final RCA recording session. During the session, Roy told Bob Moore he was being dropped by RCA.
Bob told Roy not to worry about it and spoke to his personal manager Wesley Rose and soon thereafter Roy signed with Monument records. Throughout his stay at Monument Records, his backup band was a group of outstanding studio musicians led by Bob Moore. Under Fred Fosters guidance Roy developed his own sound, his voice so distinctive & unique with a four-octave vocal range, never heard before or since in rock n roll. The early 60’s see’s Roy an international star, with chart topping tracks such as “Only The Lonely”, “Running Scared”, “Oh, Pretty Woman”, “In Dreams”, “Love Hurts”, “Dream Baby”, “Blue Angel”, “Great Pretender”, “Blue Bayou” “In Dreams”, “Crying” and tours with the Beatles as his warm up band in 1963, The Beach Boys in 1964, and with The Rolling Stones in 1965, having a huge influence on all these bands. In 1963 he struck up a life long friendship with the Beatles, and it was Roy who encouraged them to tour America.

A year before Beatlemania overtook the United States in 1964, the four lads from Liverpool had invited Orbison to open for them on their English tour. On his first night, Orbison performed 14 encores before the Beatles even made it on stage.

Roy Orbison, who didn’t have the Beatles’ looks, Sinatra’s swagger or Elvis’s pelvis, was perhaps the most unlikely sex symbol of the 1960s. He dressed like an insurance salesman and was famously lifeless during his performances. “He never even twitched,” recalled George Harrison, who was simultaneously awestruck and confounded by Orbison’s stage presence. “He was like marble.” What Orbison did have was one of the most distinctive, versatile and powerful voices in pop music.

After Orbison landed his record deal with the Nashville-based label Monument in 1960, he began perfecting the sound that would define his career. His big break came after he tried to pitch his composition “Only the Lonely” to both Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers, and was turned down by both. Deciding to record the song himself, Orbison used his vibrato voice and operatic style to create a recording unlike anything Americans had heard at the time.

Reaching as high the No. 2 spot on the Billboard singles chart, “Only the Lonely” has since been deemed a pivotal force in the development of rock music. Between 1960 and 1965, Orbison recorded nine Top 10 hits and another ten that broke into the Top 40. These included “Running Scared,” “Crying,” “It’s Over” and “Oh, Pretty Woman,” none of which adheres to a conventional song structure. When it came to composition, Orbison called himself “blessed … with not knowing what was wrong or what was right.” As he put it, “the structure sometimes has the chorus at the end of the song, and sometimes there is no chorus, it just goes … But that’s always after the fact—as I’m writing, it all sounds natural and in sequence to me.”

As distinctive as his four-octave voice and unorthodox songwriting technique was Orbison’s unglamorous style, which some have described as “geek chic,” producer Don Was, commenting on Orbison’s writing skills, said: “He defied the rules of modern composition”; Elton John’s Songwriting partner Bernie Taupin referred to him “Far ahead of the times, creating lyrics and music in a manner that broke with all traditions”; Will Jennings called him a “poet, a songwriter, a visionary”; Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees referred to him as the “Voice of God”; and the great Elvis Presley proclaimed him “the greatest singer in the world”.
Stricken with both jaundice and bad eyesight as a child, Orbison had sallow skin and thick corrective eyewear, not to mention a shy demeanor. On a fateful day during his 1963 tour with the Beatles, Orbison left his glasses on the plane before a show, which forced him to wear his unsightly prescription sunglasses for that night’s show. Although he considered the incident “embarrassing,” the look became an instant trademark.

Orbison’s unhip underdog look suited his music well, as his lyrics were marked by incredible vulnerability. At a time when rock music went hand-in-hand with confidence and machismo, Orbison dared to sing about insecurity, heartache and fear. His stage persona, which has been described as borderline masochistic, went a long way toward challenging the traditional ideal of aggressive masculinity in rock ‘n’ roll.

Although the first half of the 1960s saw the rise of Orbison’s star, the second half of the decade brought much harder times. Tragedy struck when Orbison’s wife, Claudette, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966, and again when his two oldest sons died in a house fire in 1968. Following those incidents, a devastated Orbison failed to generate many hits—and with the rise of the psychedelic movement in rock ‘n’ roll, the market for rockabilly had all but dried up anyway.

Roy signed with MGM Records in 1966, starring in MGM Studios’ western-musical motion picture The Fastest Guitar Alive. Throughout the 60’s and early 70’s Roy remained on the top, with many world wide hits. His 1972 rendition of “Danny Boy” is considered one of the best recordings ever made of this ever popular ballad.
He met his second wife, Barbara, in August 1968, in Leeds, England, and they were married in Nashville on May 25, 1969. Roy continued to have a very strong fan base in Europe, but not so much in his native USA until the 80’s. Late 70’s sees him in poor health, Roy had triple heart bypass surgery on January 18, 1978. In 1980, he teamed up with Emmylou Harris to win the 1981 Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with “That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again”. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the induction speech made by Bruce Springsteen. His pioneering contribution was also recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He re-recorded his 1961 hit song, “Crying,” as a duet with k.d. lang in 1987 for the soundtrack of the motion picture, “Hiding Out”. The song would earn the Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. In the late 80’s, Roy, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty got together and formed the great band the Traveling Wilburys, His last appearance, a few days before his death, was at an awards ceremony in Antwerp, where Roy gave his only public rendition of the hit “You Got It”. Many artists and bands have covered Roy’s songs, including Van Halen, Linda Ronstadt, Al Green, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, Count Basie, Dwight Yoakam, Buddy Holly, John Mellencamp, Kitty Wells, Chris Isaak, Waylon Jennings and Glen Campbell.

Peter Lehman, director of the Department of Interdisciplinary Humanities at Arizona State University, said about that period, “I was living in New York between 1968 and 1971, and even in Manhattan I could not find a record store that bothered to stock one copy of a newly released Orbison album; I had to special order them.” By the mid-1970s, Orbison stopped recording music altogether.

Orbison returned to his musical career in 1980, however, when the Eagles invited him to join them on their “Hotel California” tour. That same year, he rekindled his relationship with country music fans by performing a memorable duet with Emmylou Harris on “That Lovin’ You Feeling Again,” which went on to win a Grammy Award. When Van Halen covered “Oh, Pretty Woman” in 1982, rock fans were reminded that gratitude for the song was owed to Orbison. By 1988, Orbison had staged a successful comeback, joined the all-star supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (alongside Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison) and been admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Despite his sales, charts and accolades, Orbison is most remembered today as an improbable rock star who put his heart on his sleeve and moved people with his music. “When you were trying to make a girl fall in love with you,” Tom Waits once recalled, “it took roses, the Ferris wheel and Roy Orbison.”

Orbison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The Big “O”, the most unique voice in Rock and Roll history died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988 while visiting his mother in Nashville. His posthumously released comeback album, Mystery Girl, reached No. 5 on the charts, becoming the highest-charting solo album of his career. Although he was only 52 when he died, Orbison lived to see his rightful place in music history restored.

Pretty Woman on the finale of the Black & White Night Concert September 30, 1987. Backed by Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Tom Waits, kd lang, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, JD Souther, T Bone Burnett, Steven Soles, and Jennifer Warnes.

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Jaco
Pastorius
9/1987

Jaco PastoriusSeptember 21, 1987 – John Francis Anthony Pastorius III aka Jaco Pastorius changed the way the bass was played. Born in Pennsylvania on December 1, 1951, Jaco’s family moved south and he grew up in Fort Lauderdale, where he first took on the drums. Being a direct descendant of poet Francis Daniel Pastorius, who drafted the first  protest against slavery in the US in 1688!, artistry ran in the family. His dad was a big band leader and singer.

During his formative years drums, like his dad, but a football injury made him move to bass. Upright bass at first but after his bass cracked because of the ocean front humidity in Florida he bought an electric bass.

He then played with visiting R&B and pop acts while still a teenager and built a reputation as a local legend, with his strutting, flamboyant performing style. His mastery of his fretless electric bass brought the rhythm section into the front line, demanding attention. His self titled debut solo album for Epic in 1976 is hailed by many to be the finest bass album ever recorded and his back up band included Herbie Hancock, Don Alias, Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn, Lenny White, and Michael Brecker among others, plus R&B singers Sam & Dave reunited to appear on the track “Come On, Come Over”.

Also by 1976, Jaco had been invited to join Weather Report, gradually becoming a third lead voice along with Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. As well as all this he was in constant demand as a sessionman and producer, playing on Ian Hunter, Joni Mitchell, Blood Sweat and Tears, Paul Bley, Bireli Lagrene and Ira Sullivan albums.

After Weather Report parted ways in early 1981 he toured and recorded with his own band. Among many honours and tributes, Jaco had two Grammy Award nominations for his self-titled debut album and won the readers poll for induction into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988, one of only four bassists to be so honored, the others being Charles Mingus, Milt Hinton, and Ray Brown, and is the only electric bassist to receive this distinction.

Very tragically Jaco was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in late 1982 following his Word of Mouth tour of Japan, this along with alcohol abuse resulted in a deterioration in his health, leading to increasingly erratic and sometimes anti-social behavior

In the mid 1980s he was often living on the streets for weeks at a time. On Sept 11th 1987, after sneaking onstage at a Carlos Santana concert, he went to the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, FL. After being refused entrance to the club, he was engaged in a violent confrontation with the club bouncer, Luc Havan. Jaco was hospitalized with multiple facial fractures, damage to his right eye, right arm, and had sustained irreversible brain damage. He fell into a coma and was put on life support; he died 10 days later on September 21, 1987. The club bouncer was arrested and sentenced to 22 months in jail with five years probation, but released after four months for good behavior.

Jaco Pastorius has been called “arguably the most important and ground-breaking electric bassist in history” and “perhaps the most influential electric bassist today”. William C Banfield, director of Africana Studies, Music and Society at Berklee College, describes Jaco as one of the few original American virtuosos who defined a musical movement, alongside Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Bill Evans, Charles Mingus and Wes Montgomery.

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Peter
Tosh
9/1987

peter toshSeptember 11, 1987 – Winston Hubert McIntosh better known as Peter Tosh/Stepping Razor was originally a Jamaican guitarist and singer in the original Wailers of Bob Marley & the Wailers fame.  Born in Petersfield on October 19th 1944, he became a pioneer reggae musician, as the original guitarist for The Wailers and he is actaully considered as one of the originators of the choppy, syncopated reggae guitar style, and as trailblazer for the Rastafari movement and the fight to legalize cannabis.

He was a target for the police and underwent many beatings. In the early 60s Winston met Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer through his vocal teacher, Joe Higgs. While perfecting their sound, the trio would often play together on street corners in a slum called Trenchtown. In ’62, he was the driving force behind the formation of The Wailing Wailers with Junior Braithwaite and backup singers Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith.

They recorded several successful singles, including a huge ska hit single, “Simmer Down”. In 1967 Winston, Bob Marley and Bunny became heavily involved in the Rastafari movement and formed The Wailers as they were evolving from Ska to Reggae.

However he left The Wailers in ’74 not long after a horrific car accident and started a solo career under the name of Peter Tosh. He released his solo debut, Legalize It, in 1976 which became an anthem for supporters of cannabis legalization. Tosh put together a backing band, Word, Sound and Power, who accompanied him on tour over the next few years. One of his writing that reached global recognition was the ditty: Shame and Scandal in the Family.

He also performed in the international opposition to South African apartheid by appearing at Anti-Apartheid concerts and by reflecting his stance in various songs like “Apartheid” in 1977, re-recorded 1987, “Equal Rights” in 1977, “Fight On” in 1979, and 1983’s “Not Gonna Give It Up”.

In 1991 Stepping Razor – Red X was released, a film – documentary based upon a series of spoken-word recordings of Tosh himself, which chronicled the story of the artist’s life, music and untimely death. (He had been awarded a Grammy for Best Reggae Performance in 1987 for No Nuclear War.

On his return to Jamaica, he was holding a party with good friends at his home, when a guy he had been helping out on several occasions came with friends to rob him and his guests. During the altercation he was brutally shot dead in his home in Kingston.

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Big Mama Thornton 7/1984

July 25, 1984 – Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton was born on December 11, 1926 in Ariton, Alabama. She was introduced to music in a Baptist church, where her father was a minister and her mother a singer. She and her six siblings began to sing at early ages. Her mother died young, and Willie Mae left school and got a job washing and cleaning spittoons in a local tavern. In 1940 she left home and, with the help of Diamond Teeth Mary, joined Sammy Greens Hot Harlem Revue and was soon billed as the “New Bessie Smith”. Her musical education started in the church but continued through her observation of the rhythm-and-blues singers Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie, whom she deeply admired.

Thornton’s career began to take off when she moved to Houston in 1948. “A new kind of popular blues was coming out of the clubs in Texas and Los Angeles, full of brass horns, jumpy rhythms, and wisecracking lyrics.” She signed a recording contract with Peacock Records in 1951 and performed at the Apollo Theater in 1952. Also in 1952,it was her third Peacock date with Johnny Otis’ band that proved the winner. With Pete Lewis laying down some truly nasty guitar behind her, Big Mama shouted “Hound Dog,” a tune whose authorship remains a bone of contention to this day (both Otis and the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller have claimed authorship), and soon hit the road a star. Songwriters Leiber and Stoller, were present at the recording, with Leiber demonstrating the song in the vocal style they had envisioned. The record was produced by them. Otis played drums after the original drummer was unable to play an particular part. It was actually the first recording ever produced by Leiber and Stoller. The record went to number one on the R&B chart.

The record made her a star for a while, but she saw little of the profits. Even though Thornton cut some fine Peacock follow-ups — “I Smell a Rat,” “Stop Hoppin’ on Me,” “The Fish,” “Just like a Dog” — through 1957, she never again reached the hit parade. Even Elvis was apparently unaware of her; he was handed “Hound Dog” by Freddie Bell, a Vegas lounge rocker.

On Christmas Day 1954 in a Houston, Texas theatre she witnessed fellow performer Johnny Ace, also signed to Duke and Peacock record labels, accidentally shoot and kill himself while playing with a .22 pistol. Thornton continued to record for Peacock until 1957 and performed in R&B package tours with Junior Parker and Esther Phillips. Thornton originally recorded her song “Ball ‘n’ Chain” for Bay-Tone Records in the early 1960s, “and though the label chose not to release the song, they did hold on to the copyright, which meant that Thornton missed out on the publishing royalties when Janis Joplin recorded the song later in the decade.”

As her career began to fade in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she left Houston and relocated to the San Francisco Bay area, “playing clubs in San Francisco and L.A. and recording for a succession of labels”, notably the Berkeley-based Arhoolie Records. In 1965, she toured with the American Folk Blues Festival in Europe, where her success was notable “because very few female blues singers at that time had ever enjoyed success across the Atlantic.” While in England that year, she recorded her first album for Arhoolie, Big Mama Thornton – In Europe. It featured backing by blues veterans Buddy Guy (guitar), Fred Below (drums), Eddie Boyd (keyboards), Jimmy Lee Robinson (bass), and Walter “Shakey” Horton (harmonica), except for three songs on which Fred McDowell provided acoustic slide guitar.

In 1966, Thornton recorded her second album for Arhoolie, Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Waters Blues Band – 1966, with Muddy Waters (guitar), Sammy Lawhorn (guitar), James Cotton (harmonica), Otis Spann (piano), Luther Johnson (bass guitar), and Francis Clay (drums). She performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966 and 1968. Her last album for Arhoolie, Ball n’ Chain, was released in 1968. It was made up of tracks from her two previous albums, plus her composition “Ball and Chain” and the standard “Wade in the Water”. A small combo including her frequent guitarist Edward “Bee” Houston provided backup for the two songs. Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company’s performance of “Ball ‘n’ Chain” at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the release of the song on their number one album Cheap Thrills renewed interest in Thornton’s career.

By 1969, Thornton signed with Mercury Records, which released her most successful album, Stronger Than Dirt, which reached number 198 in the Billboard Top 200 record chart. Thornton had now signed a contract with Pentagram Records and could finally fulfill one of her biggest dreams. A blues woman and the daughter of a preacher, Thornton loved the blues and what she called the “good singing” of gospel artists like the Dixie Hummingbirds and Mahalia Jackson. She had always wanted to record a gospel record, and with the album Saved, she achieved that longtime goal. The album includes the gospel classics “Oh, Happy Day,” “Down By The Riverside,” “Glory, Glory Hallelujah,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “Lord Save Me,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “One More River” and “Go Down Moses”.

By then the American first blues revival had come to an end. While the original blues acts like Thornton mostly played smaller venues, younger people played their versions of blues in massive arenas for big money. Since the blues had seeped into other genres of music, the blues musician no longer needed impoverishment or geography for substantiation; the style was enough. While at home the offers became fewer and smaller, things changed for good in 1972, when Thornton was asked to rejoin the American Folk Blues Festival tour. She thought of Europe as a good place for her, and, with the lack of engagements in the United States, she agreed happily. The tour, beginning on March 2. brought Thornton to Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, where it ended on March 27 in Stockholm. With her on the bill were Eddie Boyd, Big Joe Williams, Robert Pete Williams, T- Bone Walker, Paul Lenart, Hartley Severns, Edward Taylor and Vinton Johnson. As in 1965, they garnered recognition and respect from other musicians who wanted to see them.

In the 1970s, years of heavy drinking however began to damage Thornton’s health. She was in a serious car accident but recovered to perform at the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival with Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson (a recording of this performance, The Blues—A Real Summit Meeting, was released by Buddha Records). Thornton’s last albums were Jail and Sassy Mama for Vanguard Records in 1975. Other songs from the recording session were released in 2000 on Big Mama Swings.

Jail captured her performances during mid-1970s concerts at two prisons in the northwestern United States. She was backed by a blues ensemble that featured sustained jams by George “Harmonica” Smith and included the guitarists Doug Macleod, Bee Houston and Steve Wachsman; the drummer Todd Nelson; the saxophonist Bill Potter; the bassist Bruce Sieverson; and the pianist J. D. Nicholson. She toured extensively through the United States and Canada, played at the Juneteenth Blues Fest in Houston and shared the bill with John Lee Hooker. She performed at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1979 and the Newport Jazz Festival in 1980.

In the early 1970s, Thornton’s sexual proclivities became a question among blues fans. Big Mama performed in the “Blues Is a Woman” concert that year, alongside classic blues legend Sippie Wallace, sporting a man’s three-piece suit, straw hat, and gold watch. She sat at stage center and played pieces she wanted to play, which were not on the program. Thornton flouted the expectations of dominant black and white middle-class arbiters of propriety. She tapped into a liberated black femininity through which she freed herself from many of the expectations of musical, lyrical, physical, and sartorial practice for black women.

Thornton took part in the Tribal Stomp at Monterey Fairgrounds, the Third Annual Sacramento Blues Festival, the Los Angeles Bicentennial Blues with BB King and Muddy Waters. She was a guest on an ABC-TV special hosted by the actor Hal Holbrook joined by Aretha Franklin and toured through the club scene. She was also part of the award-winning PBS television special Three Generations of the blues with Sippie Wallace and Jeannie Cheatham. Thornton was a tough cookie. She dressed like a man and took no guff from anyone, even as the pounds fell off her once-ample frame and she became downright scrawny during the last years of her life. Medical personnel found her lifeless body in an L.A. rooming house in 1984.

Thornton was found dead at age 57 by medical personnel in a Los Angeles boarding house on July 25, 1984. She had died of heart and liver disorders due to her longstanding alcohol abuse. She had lost 255 pounds in a short time as a result of illness, her weight dropping from 350 to 95 pounds.

During her career, Thornton was nominated for the Blues Music Awards six times. In 1984, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In addition to “Ball ‘n’ Chain” and “They Call Me Big Mama,” Thornton wrote twenty other blues songs. Her “Ball ‘n’ Chain” is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.
It wasn’t until Janis Joplin covered Thornton’s “Ball ‘n’ Chain” that it became a huge hit. Thornton did not receive compensation for her song, but Joplin gave her the recognition she deserved by having Thornton open for her. Joplin found her singing voice through Thornton, who praised Joplin’s version of “Ball ‘n’ Chain”, saying, “That girl feels like I do.”

Thornton subsequently received greater recognition for her popular songs, but she is still under appreciated for her influence on the blues and soul music. Thornton’s music was also influential in shaping American popular music. The lack of appreciation she received for “Hound Dog” and “Ball ‘n’ Chain” as they became popular hits is representative of the lack of recognition she received during her career as a whole.

Many critics argue that Thornton’s lack of recognition in the music industry is a reflection of an era of racial segregation in the United States, both physically and in the music industry. Thornton’s lack of access to broader audiences (both white and black), was a barrier to her, as well as many other black performers’ commercial success as vocalists and composers.

The first full-length biography of Thornton, Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music, by Michael Spörke, was published in 2014.

During her career, Thornton was nominated for the Blues Music Awards six times. In 1984, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In addition to “Ball ‘n’ Chain” and “They Call Me Big Mama,” Thornton wrote twenty other blues songs. Her “Ball ‘n’ Chain” is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.
It wasn’t until Janis Joplin covered Thornton’s “Ball ‘n’ Chain” that it became a huge hit. Thornton did not receive compensation for her song, but Joplin gave her the recognition she deserved by having Thornton open for her. Joplin found her singing voice through Thornton, who praised Joplin’s version of “Ball ‘n’ Chain”, saying, “That girl feels like I do.”

Thornton subsequently received greater recognition for her popular songs, but she is still under appreciated for her influence on the blues and soul music. Thornton’s music was also influential in shaping American popular music. The lack of appreciation she received for “Hound Dog” and “Ball ‘n’ Chain” as they became popular hits is representative of the lack of recognition she received during her career as a whole.

Many critics argue that Thornton’s lack of recognition in the music industry is a reflection of an era of racial segregation in the United States, both physically and in the music industry. Thornton’s lack of access to broader audiences (both white and black), was a barrier to her, as well as many other black performers’ commercial success as vocalists and composers.

The first full-length biography of Thornton, Big Mama Thornton: The Life and Music, by Michael Spörke, was published in 2014.

 

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Marvin
Gaye
4/1984

Marvin GayeApril 1, 1984 – Marvin Pentz Gay was born April 2, 1939 in Washington, D.C., he later added the “e” due to childhood teasing and to appear more professional (akin to his childhood idol Sam Cooke’s addition of an “e”). His father , Reverend Marvin Gay, Sr., was an ordained minister in the House of God, a small, conservative sect spun off from the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The church, borrowing some elements of Pentecostalism and Orthodox Judaism, has very strict codes of conduct and does not celebrate any holidays. Gaye got his start singing in the church choir and later learned to play the piano and drums to escape from his physically abusive father.

After high school, Gaye joined the United States Air Force and then, after being discharged, joined several doo wop groups, settling on The Marquees, a popular D.C. group. With Bo Diddley, The Marquees released a single, “Wyatt Earp”, in 1958 on Okeh Records and were then recruited by Harvey Fuqua to become The Moonglows. “Mama Loocie”, released in 1959 on Chess Records, was Gaye’s first single with the Moonglows. After a concert in Detroit, Michigan, Gaye was recruited for a solo career by Berry Gordy, Jr. of Motown Records.

Motown

As a session drummer and part-time songwriter, Gaye worked with The Miracles, The Contours, Martha & the Vandellas, and other Motown acts. Most notably, he is the drummer on The Marvelettes’ 1961 number one hit “Please Mr. Postman” and Little Stevie Wonder’s 1963 number one hit “Fingertips Pt. 2” and co-wrote Martha & the Vandellas’ 1964 hit “Dancing In The Street” and The Marvelettes’ 1962 hit “Beechwood 4-5789”.

Popular and well-liked around Motown, Gaye already carried himself in a sophisticated, gentlemanly manner and had little need of training from Motown’s in-house Artist Development director Miss Maxine Powell. Not only part of the Motown family, he also became part of the Gordy family when he married Berry Gordy sister Anna in 1964 after a three-year courtship.

Marvin Gaye’s first three Motown singles were all unsuccessful; he finally scored a minor hit in 1962 with his fourth attempt, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”, with Martha & The Vandellas on background vocals. The single was co-written by Gaye and William “Mickey” Stevenson, who created the title as a sly reference to the sometimes moody Gaye. 1963’s “Hitch Hike” and “Can I Get a Witness ” were also minor hits.
These earlier records featured a “churchiness that was pushed by that urgent Detroit rhythm section”. “Pride & Joy “(1963) became a smash hit, but Gaye was discontented with the role he felt Motown Records kept him locked in: a romantic balladeer and crooner, aiming always for chart success in the singles market.
He wanted instead to be a pop singer in the vein of Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra but settled for a blend of the styles of those artists with the passionate soul singing of performers such as Jackie Wilson and his role model Sam Cooke.

Tammi Terrell

A number of Gaye’s hit singles for Motown were duets with female artists such as Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell; the first Gaye/Wells album, 1964’s Together, was Gaye’s first charting album. Terrell and Gaye in particular had a good rapport, and their first album together, 1967’s United, birthed the massive hits “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love “.
Real life couple Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson provided the writing and production for the Gaye/Terrell records; while Gaye and Terrell themselves were not lovers, they convincingly portrayed lovers on record, indeed Gaye sometimes claimed that for the durations of the songs he was in love with her.
On October 14, 1967, Terrell collapsed into Gaye’s arms onstage while they were performing at the Hampton University homecoming in Virginia (contrary to popular belief, it was not Hampden-Sydney College, also in Virginia). She was later diagnosed with a brain tumor, and her health continued to deteriorate.

Motown decided to try and carry on with the Gaye/Terrell recordings, issuing the You’re All I Need album in 1968, which featured the hits “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “You’re All I Need to Get By “. By the time of the final Gaye/Terrell album, Easy, in 1969, Terrell’s vocals were performed mostly by Valerie Simpson. Two tracks on Easy were archived Terrell solo songs with Gaye’s vocals overdubbed onto them.

Terrell’s illness began a depression in Gaye; when his Norman Whitfield-produced “I Heard It Through the Grapevine ” became his first #1 hit and the biggest selling single in Motown history to that point, he refused to acknowledge his success, feeling that it was undeserved. Meanwhile, Gaye’s marriage was crumbling with Anna and he continued to feel irrelevant, singing endlessly about love while popular music underwent a revolution and began addressing social and political issues.

What’s Going On

Tammi Terrell died of brain cancer on March 16, 1970. Gaye subsequently went into self-seclusion, and did not perform in concert for nearly two years. He tried various spirit-lifting diversions, including a short-lived attempt at a football career with the Detroit Lions, but continued to feel pain with no form of self-expression. As a result, he entered the studio on June 1, 1970 and recorded the songs “What’s Going On “, “God is Love”, and “Sad Tomorrows” – an early version of “Flying High (In the Friendly Sky)”.

Gaye wanted to release “What’s Going On “. Motown head Berry Gordy refused, however, calling the single “uncommercial”. Gaye refused to record any more until Gordy gave in, and the song became a surprise hit in January of 1971. Gordy subsequently requested an entire album of similar tracks from Gaye.

The What’s Going On album became one of the highlights of Gaye’s career, and is today his best known work. Both in terms of sound (influenced by Funk and Jazz) and lyrical content (heavily political) it was a major departure from his earlier Motown work.
Two more of its singles, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) ” became Top 10 pop hits and #1 R&B hits. The album became one of the most memorable soul albums of all time, and, based upon its themes, the concept album became the next new frontier for soul music. It has been called “the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices.” 1973’s Let’s Get It On LP is among Marvin Gaye’s most noted works. It was a sexually and romantically charged album that was very successful on the charts and remains “a record unparallelled in its sheer sensuality and carnal energy.”

Gaye teamed up with Diana Ross for Diana & Marvin, an album of duets that began recording in 1971, while Ross was pregnant with her first child, Rhonda. Gaye, a longtime marijuana smoker, refused to put his joints out for the pregnant Ross, who immediately complained to Berry Gordy about the issue. Gaye refused to sing if he couldn’t smoke in the studio, and the duets album was recorded by overdubbing Ross and Gaye at separate studio session dates.

Gaye released “I Want You” and the album of the same name by himself as his marriage finally ended in 1975. In between the controversy surrounding him, Gaye released the seminal funk/disco single, “Got to Give It Up “, which went to No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1977. As part of a divorce settlement with Anna, Gaye agreed to record a new album and remit a portion of the royalties to Anna as alimony.

The result was 1978’s Here, My Dear, a deeply personal album that so clearly detailed the sour points of Gaye’s former marriage that Anna Gordy considered suing him for invading her privacy.
After a failed single and a rapidly failing new marriage to Janis Gaye, Gaye moved to Hawaii. Tax problems and drug addictions haunted him, and after failing to get Motown labelmate Smokey Robinson to loan him money to take care of the tax issues, Gaye was forced to move to Oostende, Belgium in 1981.

Belgium

In Belgium he worked on his biography along with David Ritz, and started laboring on In Our Lifetime, a complex and deeply personal record. When Motown issued the album in 1981, Gaye was livid: he accused Motown of editing and remixing the album without his consent, releasing an unfinished song, (“Far Cry”) altering the album art he requested and removing the question mark from the title (rendering the intended irony imperceptible).
He negotiated a release from the label and signed with Columbia Records in 1982 and released Midnight Love the same year. Midnight Love included “Sexual Healing ” , one of Gaye’s most famous songs, and his final big hit. The hit finally gave Gaye the respect he deserved as he won two Grammy Awards for the song (Best R&B Male Vocal Performance and Best R&B Instrumental) in February 1983. Around the same time Gaye gave an emotional performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at the NBA All-Star Game, held in the L.A. Forum.

Gaye’s refound fame pushed him even deeper into drug addiction and paranoia as he had had a premonition that someone was going to kill him. Throughout his tour, he had a bevy of bodyguards surrounding him to keep him safe and often wore a bullet-proof vest. By the time the tour ended, he attempted to isolate himself by moving into his parents’ house. He threatened to commit suicide several times after numerous bitter arguments with his father , Marvin, Sr.

On April 1, 1984, one day before his forty-fifth birthday, Gaye’s father shot and killed him after an argument. Some of Gaye’s relatives claimed that he had purposely pushed his father to the edge so that he could have Marvin, Sr. kill him instead of having to commit suicide.

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Alexis
Korner
1/1984

Alexis KornerJanuary 1, 1984 – Alexis Korner/Alexis Andrew Nicholas Koerner was born in Paris on April 19th, 1928 to an Austrian Jewish father and a Turkish-Greek mother. His early childhood years were spent in France, Switzerland and North Africa and he arrived in London in 1940 at the start of World War II. One memory of his youth was listening to a record by blues jazz pianist Jimmy Yancey during a German air raid. Korner said, “From then on all I wanted to do was play the blues.”

In 1949, he joined Chris Barber’s Jazz Band and in 1952 he became part of the much larger Ken Colyer Jazz Group, which had merged with Barber’s band. Among those whom Korner crossed paths with during this era was Cyril Davies, a guitarist and harmonica player. The two found their interests in American blues completely complementary, and in 1954 they began making the rounds of the jazz clubs as an electric blues duo. They started the London Blues and Barrelhouse Club, where, in addition to their own performances, Korner and Davies brought visiting American bluesmen to listen and play.

Very soon they were attracting blues enthusiasts from all over England. Korner and Davies made their first record in 1957, and in early 1962, they formed Blues Incorporated, a “supergroup” (for its time) consisting of the best players on the early-’60s British blues scene. Korner (guitar, vocals), Davies (harmonica, vocals), Ken Scott (piano), and Dick Heckstall-Smith (saxophone) formed the core, with a revolving membership featuring Charlie Watts or Graham Burbridge on drums, Spike Heatley or Jack Bruce on bass, and a rotating coterie of guest vocalists including Long John Baldry, Ronnie Jones, and Art Wood (older brother of Ron Wood). Most London jazz clubs were closed to them, so in March of 1962 they opened their own club, which quickly began attracting large crowds of young enthusiasts, among them Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones, all of whom participated at some point with the group’s performances; others included Ian Stewart, Steve Marriott, Paul Jones, and Manfred Mann.

In May of 1962, Blues Incorporated was invited to a regular residency at London’s Marquee Club, where the crowds grew even bigger and more enthusiastic. John Mayall later credited Blues Incorporated with giving him the inspiration to form his own Bluesbreakers group.

Record producers began to take notice, and in June of 1962 producer Jack Good arranged to record a live performance by the band. The resulting record, R&B from the Marquee, the first full-length album ever made by a British blues band, was released in November of 1962. The album consisted of largely of American standards, especially Willie Dixon numbers, rounded out with a few originals.

At virtually the same time that Blues Incorporated’s debut was going into stores, Cyril Davies left the group over Korner’s decision to add horns to their sound. Korner soldiered on, but the explosion of British rock in 1963, and the wave of blues-based rock bands that followed, including the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Yardbirds undercut any chance he had for commercial success. His more studied brand of blues was left stranded in a commercial backwater — there were still regular gigs and recordings, but no chart hits, and not much recognition. While his one-time acolytes the Rolling Stones and Cream made the front pages of music magazines all over the world, Korner was relegated to the blues pages of England’s music papers, and, though not yet 40, to the role of “elder statesman.”

For a time, Korner hosted Five O’Clock Club, a children’s television show that introduced a whole new generation of British youth to American blues and jazz. He also wrote about blues for the music papers, and was a detractor of the flashy, psychedelic, and commercialized blues-rock of the late ’60s, which he resented for its focus on extended solos and its fixation on Chicago blues. He continued recording as well, cutting a never-completed album with future Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant in early 1968.

Korner’s performing career in England was limited, but he could always play to large audiences in Europe, especially in Scandinavia, and there were always new Korner records coming out. It was while touring Scandinavia that he first hooked up with vocalist Peter Thorup, who became Korner’s collaborator over the next several years in the band New Church. After his dismissal from the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones considered joining New Church; Korner, however, rejected the idea, because he didn’t want his new band to be caught up in any controversy.

In 1972, he became peripherally involved in the breakup of another band, inheriting the services of Boz Burrell, Mel Collins, and Ian Wallace when they quit King Crimson. It was during the ’70s that Korner had his only major hit, as leader (with Peter Thorup) of the 25-member big-band ensemble CCS. Their version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” charted in England, and led to a tour and television appearances.

In response, Korner released Bootleg Him, a retrospective compiled from tapes in his personal collection, including recordings with Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, and Charlie Watts. Korner played on the “supersession” album B.B. King in London, and cut his own, similar album, Get Off My Cloud, with Keith Richards, Peter Frampton, Nicky Hopkins, and members of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band. When Mick Taylor left the Rolling Stones in 1975, Korner was mentioned as a possible replacement, but the spot eventually went to Ron Wood.

In 1978, for Korner’s 50th birthday, an all-star concert was held featuring Eric Clapton, Paul Jones, Chris Farlowe, and Zoot Money, which was later released as a video. In 1981, Korner formed the last and greatest “supergroup” of his career, Rocket 88, featuring himself on guitar, Jack Bruce on upright bass, Ian Stewart on piano, and Charlie Watts on drums, backed by trombonists and saxmen, and one or two additional keyboard players. They toured Europe and recorded several gigs, the highlights of which were included on a self-titled album released by Atlantic Records.

In contrast to the many blues-rock fusion records with which Korner had been associated, Rocket 88 mixed blues with boogie-woogie jazz, the group’s repertory consisting largely of songs written by W. C. Handy and Pete Johnson. After a well-received appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival in the early ’80s, there were rumors afterward that he intended to become more active musically, but his health was in decline by this time. A chain smoker all of his life, Korner, sometimes referred to as, “The Founding Father of British Blues”, died of lung cancer on January 1, 1984

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Muddy
Waters
4/1983

Muddy WatersApril 30, 1983 – Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield on April 4th 1913 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. He taught himself harmonica as a child. He later took up guitar, eagerly absorbing the classic delta blues styles of Robert Johnson and Son House and went on to become known as “the Father of Chicago blues”.

Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, and by age seventeen was playing the guitar at parties, emulating local blues artists Son House and Robert Johnson. His grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly following his birth. Grant gave the boy the nickname “Muddy” at an early age, because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. He later changed it to “Muddy Water” and finally “Muddy Water.

In 1940, Muddy moved to Chicago for the first time. He played with Silas Green a year later, and then returned to Mississippi. He was recorded in Mississippi by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1941. In the early part of that decade he ran a juke joint, complete with gambling, moonshine and a jukebox, while he also performed music there himself. I

In 1943, he moved once again to Chicago with the hope of becoming a full-time professional musician, eventually recording, in 1946, first for Columbia Records and then for Aristocrat Records, a newly formed label run by the brothers Leonard and Phil Chess.

In the early 1950s, Muddy Waters and his band—Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elgin Evans on drums and Otis Spann on piano—recorded several blues classics, some with bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon, including “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “I’m Ready”.

In 1958, he traveled to England helping to lay the foundations of the subsequent blues boom there and shocked audiences with his loud, amplified electric guitar and thunderous beat, he was a major inspiration for the British blues explosion in the 1960s.

His performance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, recorded and released as his first live album, “At Newport 1960”, helped turn on a whole new generation to his sound. In the 70s he won six Grammy Awards, plus recieving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992. In the 90s and 2000s he won 4 Blues Foundation Awards. Muddy has also been inducted into both the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was ranked #17 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

He passed away in his sleep at the age of 68 on 30 April 1983.

His Legend:

Muddy Waters’s influence on American roots music is tremendous, not just on blues and rhythm and blues but on rock and roll, hard rock, folk music, jazz, and country music. His use of amplification is often cited as the link between Delta blues and rock and roll. He also helped Chuck Berry get his first record contract.

His 1958 tour of England marked possibly the first time amplified, modern urban blues was heard there, although on this tour he was the only one amplified. His backing was provided by the trad jazz group of the Englishman Chris Barber.

His use of amplification has been cited as “the technological missing link between Delta Blues and Rock ‘N’ Roll.” This is underlined in a 1968 article in Rolling Stone magazine: “There was a difference between Muddy’s instrumental work and that of House and Johnson, however, and the crucial difference was the result of Waters’ use of the electric guitar on his Aristocrat sides; he had taken up the instrument shortly after moving to Chicago in 1943.”

The Rolling Stones named themselves after his 1950 song “Rollin’ Stone” (also known as “Catfish Blues”, which was covered by Jimi Hendrix). Rolling Stone magazine took its name from the same song. Hendrix recalled that “the first guitar player I was aware of was Muddy Waters. I first heard him as a little boy and it scared me to death”. The band Cream covered “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” on their 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream, as Eric Clapton was a big fan of Muddy Waters when he was growing up, and his music influenced Clapton’s music career. The song was also covered by Canned Heat at the Monterey Pop Festival and later adapted by Bob Dylan on his album Modern Times. One of Led Zeppelin’s biggest hits, “Whole Lotta Love”, is lyrically based on the Muddy Waters hit “You Need Love”, written by Willie Dixon. Dixon wrote some of Muddy Waters’s most famous songs, including “I Just Want to Make Love to You” (a big radio hit for Etta James, as well as the 1970s rock band Foghat), “Hoochie Coochie Man”, which the Allman Brothers Band famously covered (the song was also covered by Humble Pie and Steppenwolf), “Trouble No More” and “I’m Ready”. In 1993, Paul Rodgers released the album Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters, on which he covered a number of Muddy Waters songs, including “Louisiana Blues”, “Rollin’ Stone”, “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I’m Ready” in collaboration with a number of famous guitarists, including Gary Moore, Brian May and Jeff Beck.

Angus Young, of the rock group AC/DC, has cited Muddy Waters as one of his influences. The AC/DC song title “You Shook Me All Night Long” came from lyrics of the Muddy Waters song “You Shook Me”, written by Willie Dixon and J. B. Lenoir. Earl Hooker first recorded it as an instrumental, which was then overdubbed with vocals by Muddy Waters in 1962. Led Zeppelin also covered it on their debut album.

Muddy Waters’ songs have been featured in long-time fan Martin Scorsese’s movies, including The Color of Money, Goodfellas and Casino. Muddy Waters’ 1970s recording of his mid-’50s hit “Mannish Boy” (also known as “I’m a Man”) was used in the films Goodfellas, Better Off Dead, Risky Business, and the rockumentary The Last Waltz.

The song “Come Together” by the Beatles mentions Muddy Waters: “He roller coaster/he got Muddy Waters.”

Van Morrison’s song “Cleaning Windows”, on his album Beautiful Vision (1982), includes the lyric “Muddy Waters singin’, “I’m a Rolling Stone”.

The American stoner metal band Bongzilla covered Muddy Waters’s song Champagne and Reefer on their album Amerijuanican.

In 2008, the actor Jeffrey Wright portrayed Waters in the film Cadillac Records, about Chess Records and its recording artists. Another 2008 film about Leonard Chess and Chess Records, Who Do You Love, also covers Muddy’s time at Chess Records.

In the 2009 film The Boat That Rocked (retitled Pirate Radio in the U.S) about pirate radio in the UK, the cryptic message that late-night DJ Bob gives to Carl to give to Carl’s mother is “Muddy Waters rocks.”

In 1990, the television series Doogie Howser, M.D. featured an episode called “Doogie Sings the Blues” with the main character, Blind Otis Lemon, based on Muddy Waters, with references to his influence on the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, along with the performance of “Got My Mojo Working” by Blind Otis Lemon. He is also referred to as the original “Hoochie Coochie Man”.

Muddy’s son Larry “Mud” Morganfield is a professional blues singer and musician.

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Karen Carpenter 2/1983

karen-carpenterFebruary 4, 1983 – Karen Carpenter was born in New Haven, Connecticut on March 2nd 1950. When she was young, she enjoyed playing baseball with other children on the street. On the TV program This Is Your Life, she stated that she liked pitching and later, in the early 1970s, she would become the pitcher on the Carpenters’ official softball team. Her brother Richard developed an interest in music at an early age, becoming a piano prodigy. The family moved in June 1963 to the Los Angeles suburb of Downey.

In 1964 when Carpenter entered Downey High School, she joined the school band. Bruce Gifford, the conductor (who had previously taught her older brother) gave her the glockenspiel, an instrument she disliked and after admiring the performance of her friend, Frankie Chavez (who idolized famous jazz drummer Buddy Rich), she asked if she could play the drums instead.

She had always been enthusiastic about the drums and taught herself how to play complicated drum lines with “exotic time signatures,” according to her brother. Carpenter’s drumming was later praised by fellow drummers Hal Blaine, Cubby O’Brien, and Buddy Rich as well as Modern Drummer magazine. According to her brother, Carpenter always considered herself a “drummer who sang.”

From 1965 to 1968, Karen, her brother Richard and his college friend Wes Jacobs, a bassist and tuba player, formed The Richard Carpenter Trio. The band played jazz at numerous nightclubs, and also appeared on a TV talent show called Your All American College Show.

In April 1969 A&M Records signed Karen and Richard as the duo The Carpenters to a recording contract, with Karen as both the group’s drummer and lead singer. She was later persuaded to stand at the microphone to sing the band’s hits while another musician played the drums, although she still did some drumming.

They released their debut album “Offering”, later retitled Ticket to Ride, on October 9th 1969. In a time of Vietnam war, the protests, the harsh British Hard Rock phenomenon Led Zeppelin, the psychedelic impressions, The Carpenters were reviled for their sweetness. They were not considered rock and roll, not even bubblegum. Yet they became superstars on the strength of Karen Carpenter’s voice.

Their 2nd album, 1970’s Close to You, featured two massive hit singles: “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun“. This followed by 14 more Carpenter albums and one Karen Carpenter solo album. Other of their many hit songs include “For All We Know (Theme from Lovers and Other Strangers), “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “Superstar”, “Hurting Each Other”, “It’s Going to Take Some Time”, “Goodbye to Love”, “Sing”, “Yesterday Once More”, “Top of the World”, “Please Mr. Postman” and “Only Yesterday”.

Because at 5 feet 4 inches tall it was difficult for people in the audience to see her behind her drum kit, she was eventually persuaded to stand at the microphone to sing the band’s hits while another musician played the drums (former Disney Mouseketeer Cubby O’Brien served as the band’s other drummer for many years). After the release of Now & Then in 1973, the albums tended to have Carpenter singing more and drumming less.

Sweet and Upbeat or Dark and Depressive?

How easy it was to revile the Carpenters. In the 70’s, this brother-and-sister duo went against the grain of any self-respecting rock-and-roller: they always dressed as if they were going to church, and they sang sticky songs about love (but never sex). Worst of all, parents loved their music. If, outside, the nation was raging (Vietnam, Watergate), the Carpenters suggested that, inside, cookies were baking.

Years later, with their music collected on a four-CD set, “From the Top” (A&M 6875), the Carpenters finally acquired something resembling depth — or at least conviction. Richard Carpenter, the duo’s keyboardist and arranger, pitted his gentle sounds against loudmouths like Led Zeppelin and the psychedelic soul of Sly and the Family Stone. In comparison, the Carpenters sounded just plain weird, sort of like the Mamas and the Papas crossed with Lawrence Welk, with Mr. Carpenter emphasizing frothy melodies and overdubbing his and his sister’s voices into a choralelike swell. Remember the wahs on “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” the duo’s first million seller?

Yet America responded to his musical panaceas, as his arrangements became a prevalent force on AM radio. Note the similarities between the Carpenters’ 1970 hit “We’ve Only Just Begun” and Barbra Streisand’s 1973 hit “The Way We Were.”

If Mr. Carpenter was the brains of the duo, then its raison d’etre was his younger sister Karen’s voice. Generally portrayed as angelic and sexless, the Tricia Nixon of the Top-40 set, Karen Carpenter possessed a deep contralto that actually undercut her brother’s saccharine fantasies. It can be a revelation to listen to the Carpenters’ megahits — “For All We Know,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Superstar,” “Goodbye to Love” — and realize that few had happy endings, as Karen Carpenter was eminently more comfortable singing about loneliness and uncertainty.

Even “Sing,” the “Sesame Street” song, comes off as a forced smile, while the cozy “Merry Christmas Darling” finds her at her most disconsolate (and alluring), a Jane Eyre pining away for a Rochester who existed only in her dreams.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Carpenters’ run of Top-10 hits ended in 1975; Nixon was out, disco was in and Karen Carpenter began suffering from anorexia nervosa. As her body grew lighter (91 lbs), so did her voice. No longer was she the unwitting foil to her brother’s aural Disneyland, but a willing accomplice.

At this time her brother developed an addiction to Quaaludes. The Carpenters’ Very First TV Special aired December 8, 1976, but by 1977 the Carpenters frequently cancelled tour dates, and they stopped touring altogether after their September 4, 1978, concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

In 1979 Richard Carpenter took a year of to rehab from his quaalude addiction, she did record 23 solo tracks with the producer Phil Ramone in 1979 for an album that was not released until decades later. The arrangements were tougher, but Karen Carpenter, more self-consciously feminine, ended up abandoning the deep tones that made her voice so compelling to begin with. Three of the solo cuts are included on “From the Top,” including a prophetically titled disco song, “My Body Keeps Changing My Mind.” In addition to being a drummer and a singer, Karen Carpenter could also play the electric bass guitar. She played bass guitar on two songs on Offering/Ticket to Ride (the Carpenters first album released by A&M). The two songs were All of My Life and Eve. Although Karen’s bass playing is heard on the original album(s), Richard remixed both songs (as he has done with almost every Carpenters song), and Joe Osborn’s bass playing was substituted for later ‘greatest hits’ releases.

On a personal level that year 1979 was pivotal in Karen’s life as she realized that the two things she valued most (her voice and her mother’s affection and love) were exclusively reserved for her brother. The only thing she could control was her own body. And that she did with abandon.

In 1980, she performed a medley of standards in a duet with Ella Fitzgerald on the Carpenters’ television program Music, Music, Music. In 1981 after the release of the Made in America album (which turned out to be their last), the Carpenters returned to the stage and did some tour dates, including their final live performance in Brazil.

Karen Carpenter was almost 33 years old when she died on 4 February 1983 from cardiac arrest due to the effects of anorexia nervosa.

Since her death in 1983, she has been the subject of Todd Haynes’s acclaimed film “Superstar” and celebrated by the punk band Sonic Youth in “Tunic (Song for Karen).” But if her illness has legitimized her among the hip, the sound and image that remain indelible belong to the Karen and Richard of the early 70’s, America’s most defiant squares.

She fought and lost a lonely fight against Anorexia

When Karen Carpenter ‘s death shocked the world on Feb. 4, 1983, awareness of the life-threatening severity of eating disorders had truly “only just begun.” And though she hardly could have foreseen or wanted a messianic role, the notion that self-starvation could kill even the biggest of superstars has contributed to saving countless lives in the 30 years since that jaw-dropping day.

In the interim, dozens of mostly female stars have spoken up about their past or sometimes ongoing bouts with bulimia or anorexia. Jane Fonda dealt with her 30-year battle with eating disorders in her memoir, My Life So Far. Former teen stars Justine Bateman and Tracy Gold became activists on the issue. Others who’ve been candid about their own struggles include singers Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Lily Allen, Fiona Apple, Katherine McPhee, Nicole Scherzinger, and Paula Abdul, along with other celebs like Katie Couric, Mary-Kate Olsen, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Calista Flockhart, Kathy Griffin, and even the late Princess Diana.

Such a list did not exist in 1983. There were no well-known cautionary tales to speak of. “If this had happened in today’s world I think Karen would have lived,” said Frenda Franklin, Carpenter’s best friend, in a 2010 biography of the singer. “I think we would have had a good shot. They know so much more. We were dancing in the dark.”

“Anorexia was not something that was talked about or known in those days,” pal Olivia Newton-John said in Little Girl Blue, Randy L. Schmitt’s excellent biography, the only major one unauthorized by the Carpenter family. “People were very thin, but you didn’t realize what it was…”

Unless you were part of the wink-wink sorority of binge-and-purgers, that is. “In that era we all had little bouts of it,” said Carole Curb, Mike Curb’s wife and another friend of Carpenter’s. “It was really in vogue then.” But it was only Karen, in her circle, who took it to the extreme. “Her face was all eyes,” Curb recalled.

At the time, Carpenter had one friend who’d dealt with anorexia nervosa and come out the other side—Cherry Boone O’Neill, daughter of Pat Boone, who was then at work on a landmark book, Starving for Attention, that came out a few months after Karen died. “The fact that I had blazed the trail of recover before her gave her hope to think she could do the same,” O’Neill said, although Carpenter’s denial ran much deeper.

O’Neill theorized that, like herself, Carpenter developed her disorder as a means of exercising some kind of self-authority while meekly chafing under authoritarian parents. “Such a person does not rebel,” O’Neill told People magazine—except by remaking her own image. In Karen’s case, she had a particularly domineering and affection-withholding mother who often seemed to run her daughter’s life while reserving all her approval for her supposedly more talented brother, Richard. Said Cherry: “When you start denying yourself food, and begin feeling you have control over a life that has been pretty much controlled for you, it’s exhilarating. The anorectic feels that while she may not be able to control anything else, she will, by God, control every morsel that goes in her mouth.”

 

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John
Belushi
3/1982

john belushiMarch 5, 1982 – John Belushi (The Blues Brothers) was born January 24th 1949 in Chicago, Illinois. Belushi’s mother, Agnes Demetri (Samaras), was the daughter of Albanian immigrants, and his father, Adam Anastos Belushi, was an Albanian immigrant from Qytezë. Born in Humboldt Park, a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois, John was raised in Wheaton, a suburb west of Chicago, along with his three siblings: younger brothers Billy and Jim, and sister Marian. Belushi was raised in the Albanian Orthodox Church and attended Wheaton Central High School, where he met his future wife, Judith Jacklin.

In 1973, Belushi and Judith Jacklin moved together to New York where Belushi worked for National Lampoon magazine’s The National Lampoon Radio Hour, a half-hour syndicated comedy program where he was a writer, director and actor. During a trip to Toronto to check the local Second City cast in 1974, he met Dan Aykroyd. Jacklin became an associate producer for the show, and she and Belushi were married on December 31, 1976.

Belushi became an original cast member of the new television show Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 1975.[1] His characters at SNL included belligerent Samurai Futaba. With Aykroyd, Belushi created the characters Jake and Elwood Blues, also known as The Blues Brothers.

The band made its debut as the musical guest on the April 22, 1978, episode of Saturday Night Live. The band then began to take on a life beyond the confines of the television screen, releasing an album, Briefcase Full of Blues, in 1978, and then having a Hollywood film, The Blues Brothers, created around its characters in 1980.

Although better known as a comedian/ actor, notable for his work on Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon’s Animal House, it is as a “Joliet” Jake Blues (named after Joliet Prison) of the Blues Brothers that he caught instant stardom. Belushi and Aykroyd, in character as lead vocalist and harmonica player/backing vocalist “Elwood” Blues (named after the Elwood Ordnance Plant, which made TNT and grenades during World War II), the Blues Brothers R&B Review became a sensation.

During his tenure at SNL, Belushi was heavily using drugs and alcohol which affected his performance and caused SNL to fire him (and promptly re-hire him) a number of times.

Following the success of The Blues Brothers on the show, Belushi and Aykroyd, with the help of pianist-arranger Paul Shaffer, started assembling a collection of studio talents to form a proper band. These included SNL band members, saxophonist “Blue” Lou Marini and trombonist-saxophonist Tom Malone, who had previously played in Blood, Sweat & Tears. At Shaffer’s suggestion, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, the powerhouse combo from Booker T and the M.G.’s and subsequently almost every hit out of Memphis’s Stax Records during the 1960s, were signed as well. In 1978 The Blues Brothers released their debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues with Atlantic Records. The album reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and went double platinum. Two singles were released, “Rubber Biscuit”, which reached number 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and “Soul Man,” which reached number 14.

The Blues Brothers became a Grammy Award-nominated American blues and soul revivalist band.

Other than the titular “Blues Brothers” and a handful of characters, all musicians performed under their real names. The full band for the 1980 film included:

At various times, the following have also been part of the act:

The genesis of the Blues Brothers was a January 17, 1976, Saturday Night Live sketch. In it, “Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band” play the Slim Harpo song “I’m a King Bee”, with Belushi singing and Aykroyd playing harmonica, dressed in the bee costumes they wore for the “Killer Bees” sketch.

Following tapings of SNL, it was popular among cast members and the weekly hosts to attend Aykroyd’s Holland Tunnel Blues bar, which he had rented not long after joining the cast. Aykroyd and Belushi filled a jukebox with songs from many different artists such as Sam and Dave and punk band The Viletones. Belushi bought an amplifier and they kept some musical instruments there for anyone who wanted to jam. It was here that Aykroyd and Ron Gwynne collaborated on and developed the original story idea which Dan then turned into the initial story draft of the Blues Brothers movie, better known as the “tome” because it contained so many pages.

It was also at the bar that Aykroyd introduced Belushi to the blues. An interest soon became a fascination and it was not long before the two began singing with local blues bands. Jokingly, SNL band leader Howard Shore suggested they call themselves “The Blues Brothers”. In a 1988 interview in the Chicago Sun-Times, Aykroyd said the Blues Brothers act borrowed their “duo thing and dancing” from Sam & Dave and others, “but the hats came from John Lee Hooker. The suits came from the concept that when you were a jazz player in the 40’s, 50’s 60’s, to look straight, you had to wear a suit.”

The band was also modeled in part on Aykroyd’s experience with the Downchild Blues Band, one of the first professional blues bands in Canada, with whom Aykroyd continues to play on occasion.[a] Aykroyd first encountered the band in the early 1970s, at or around the time of his attendance at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and where his initial interest in the blues developed through attending and occasionally performing at Ottawa’s Le Hibou Coffee House. Aykroyd has said of this time:

So I grew up (in Ottawa), in this capital city. My parents used to work for the government, and I went to elementary school, high school, and the university in the city. And there was a place on Sussex Drive (Sussex Drive is where the Prime Minister’s house is, right below Parliament Hill), and there was a little club there called Le Hibou, which in French means ‘the owl.’ And it was run by a gentleman named Harvey Glatt, and he brought every, and I mean every blues star that you or I would ever have wanted to have seen through Ottawa in the late 50s, well I guess more late 60s sort of, in around the Newport jazz rediscovery. I was going to Le Hibou and hearing James Cotton, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, and Muddy Waters. I actually jammed behind Muddy Waters. S. P. Leary left the drum kit one night, and Muddy said, ‘Anybody out there play drums? I don’t have a drummer.’ And I walked on stage and we started, I don’t know, Little Red Rooster, something. He said, ‘Keep that beat going, you make Muddy feel good.’ And I heard Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett). Many, many times I saw Howlin’ Wolf. And of course Buddy Guy, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. So I was exposed to all of these players, playing there as part of this scene to service the academic community in Ottawa, a very well-educated community. Had I lived in a different town I don’t think that this would have happened, because it was just the confluence of educated government workers, and then also all the colleges in the area, Ottawa University, Carleton, and all the schools—these people were interested in blues culture.

The Toronto-based Downchild Blues Band, co-founded in 1969 by two brothers, Donnie and Richard “Hock” Walsh, served as an inspiration for the two Blues Brothers characters. Aykroyd initially modeled Elwood Blues in part on Donnie Walsh, a harmonica player and guitarist, while John Belushi’s Jake Blues character was modeled in part on Hock Walsh, Downchild’s lead singer. In their first album as the Blues Brothers, Briefcase Full of Blues (1978), Aykroyd and Belushi featured three well-known Downchild songs closely associated with Hock Walsh’s vocal style: “I’ve Got Everything I Need (Almost)”, written by Donnie Walsh, “Shot Gun Blues”, co-written by Donnie and Hock Walsh, and “Flip, Flop and Fly”, co-written and originally popularized by Big Joe Turner. All three songs were contained in Downchild’s second album, Straight Up (1973), with “Flip, Flop and Fly” becoming the band’s most successful single, in 1974.

Belushi’s budding interest in the blues solidified in October 1977 when he was in Eugene, Oregon, filming National Lampoon’s Animal House. He went to a local hotel to hear 25-year-old blues singer/harmonica player Curtis Salgado. After the show, Belushi and Salgado talked about the blues for hours. Belushi found Salgado’s enthusiasm infectious. In an interview at the time with the Eugene Register-Guard, he said:

I was growing sick of rock and roll, it was starting to bore me … and I hated disco, so I needed some place to go. I hadn’t heard much blues before. It felt good.

Salgado lent him some albums by Floyd Dixon, Charles Brown, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and others. Belushi was hooked.

Belushi began to appear with Salgado on stage, singing the Floyd Dixon song “Hey, Bartender” on a few occasions, and using Salgado’s humorous alternate lyrics to “I Don’t Know”:

I said Woman, you going to walk a mile for a Camel
Or are you going to make like Mr. Chesterfield and satisfy?
She said that all depends on what you’re packing
Regular or king-size
Then she pulled out my Jim Beam, and to her surprise
It was every bit as hard as my Canadian Club

These lyrics were used again for the band’s debut performance on SNL. This took place on the episode of April 22, 1978 (hosted by Steve Martin), where, in the cold open, Don Kirshner (played by Paul Shaffer) describes how Marshall Checkers of Checkers Records called him on a hot new blues act, and how with the help of “Neshui Wexler and Jerry Ertegun” (a play on the names of record industry executives Jerry Wexler and Nesuhi Ertegun), they were no longer regarded as an authentic blues band, but “a viable commercial product.”

Briefcase Full of Blues reached #1 on the Billboard 200 went double platinum. It sold 3.5 million copies worldwide, and is among the highest-selling blues albums of all time.

Belushi, technically, did not have a great voice; he compensated for this by throwing his heart and his soul into his singing, from which approach the power of the blues is said to come.

With the film came the soundtrack album, which was the band’s first studio album. “Gimme Some Lovin’” was a Top 40 hit and the band toured to promote the film, which led to a third album (and second live album), Made in America, recorded at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1980. The track “Who’s Making Love” peaked at No. 39. It was the last recording the band would make with Belushi’s Jake Blues.

At the time of his death, music had become more of a byline for Belushi, who was pursuing several movie projects.

Belushi died on the morning of March 5, 1982 in Hollywood, California at the Chateau Marmont, after being injected with, and accidentally overdosing on, a mixture of cocaine and heroin (a “speedball”) at the age of 33.