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
November 18, 2017 – Malcolm Young (AC/DC) was born on January 6, 1953 in Glasgow, Scotland, into a rather large musical family. When he was 10 years old, the family decided to move to Australia, after surviving the worst winter on record in Scotland and TV spot that offered assisted travel for families for a different life in Australia. In late June of 1963, 15 members of the family flew to a new life in “Down Under”, including his older brother George and younger brother Angus.
Malcolm later described the family’s musical background as, “All the males in our family played, Stevie, the oldest played accordion, Alex and John were the first couple to play guitar, and being older, it was sort of passed down to George, then myself, then Angus.”
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.
In 1947, Billy Diamond, a New Orleans bandleader, accepted an invitation to hear the young pianist perform at a backyard barbecue. Domino played well enough that Diamond asked him to join his band, the Solid Senders, at the Hideaway Club in New Orleans, where he would earn $3 a week playing the piano. Diamond nicknamed him “Fats”, for three reasons: Domino reminded him of the renowned pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon, and young Domino’s ferocious appetite.
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
October 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. In the summer of 1961, his uncle was working on the set of Presley’s film Follow That Dream in nearby Ocala, and invited Petty to come down and watch the shoot. He instantly became an Elvis Presley fan, and when he returned that Saturday, he was greeted by his friend Keith Harben, and soon traded his Wham-O slingshot for a collection of Elvis 45s.
September 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.
He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan in the class of 1967. After starting out on saxophone, he switched to guitar and received instruction in blues technique from neighbor Randy Wolfe, better known as Randy California of the psychedelic westcoast sensation “Spirit”, a nickname he got from Jimi Hendrix while playing with him in New York in the mid sixties.
May 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
May 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
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
April 15, 2017 – Allan Holdsworth was born on August 6, 1946 in Bradford, Yorkshire, England. Holdsworth was originally taught music by his father, who was a pianist. First a saxophone player, he gravitated to the guitar at the age of 17 and caught on quickly. Entirely self-taught, his protean, virtuosic style became a source of amazement even to his more famous peers. He began working professionally as a musician in his early 20s, inspired by the likes of Django Reinhardt, Jimmy Raney, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass and John Coltrane. Continue reading Allan Holdsworth 4/2017
April 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
March 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. He gave his first public performance in 1941 while still a student at Sumner High School.
In 1944, while still a student at Sumner High School, he was arrested for armed robbery after robbing three shops in Kansas City, Missouri, and then stealing a car at gunpoint with some friends. Continue reading Chuck Berry 3/2017
February 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
December 7, 2016 – Gregory Stuart “Greg” Lake was born on 10 November 1947 in Poole, Dorset near Bournemouth, England. Lake was given his first guitar at the age of 12 and took lessons from a local tutor called Don Strike.
first learned to play guitar at age 12. After 12 months of guitar lessons, Lake ended his tuition as he wished to learn songs by The Shadows but his instructor “wouldn’t have any of it.” After he left school, Lake worked as a draughtsman for a short period of time before he joined The Shame, where he is featured on their single “Don’t Go Away Little Girl”, written by Janis Ian. Lake then became a member of The Gods, which he described as “a very poor training college”.
In the 1960s, Lake formed a close friendship with guitarist Robert Fripp, who was also from Dorset and had shared the same guitar teacher. When Fripp formed King Crimson in 1969, he chose Lake to be the singer and bassist. Lake had been a regular guitarist for 11 years and this change marked Lake’s first time playing the instrument.
“I am both a bass guitarist and guitarist,” Greg explains. “A lot of the really good bass players also play guitar. McCartney and Sting for example both play guitar and I certainly grew up on it. But, because King Crimson didn’t need two guitarists, I took over playing the bass.”
In taking on the instrument, he also pioneered a new way of playing it. “I derived a great deal of enjoyment playing bass partly – I think – because I played it in a different way from most people at the time. The style I developed was a more percussive and more sustained approach, which almost certainly came from all my years on guitar. I was frustrated by the normal dull sound of bass guitars at the time and was searching for a more expressive sound. I discovered the key was to use the wire wound bass strings, which have far more sustain, rather like the low end of a Steinway Grand Piano. I think I was the first bass player to really use them in this way.”
However, it was the acoustic guitar that provided the setting for the ballads ELP and Lake became famous for. Lake wrote and sang: “C’est La Vie,” “From the Beginning,” “Still…You Turn Me On,” “Watching Over You,” and “Lucky Man.” One of the most famous Christmas songs ever was penned by Greg Lake. “I Believe in Father Christmas” has been covered by artists ranging from classical to rock, among them Irish rockers U2, actress and singer Sarah Brightman, and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess. Greg has performed it with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson frequently as a fundraiser. Greg Lake composed ballads, he says, so he could play the guitar with ELP and still contribute the electric bass that paired so well with Emerson’s fiery keyboards and Palmer’s explosive drums.
Though Peter Sinfield was the band’s lyricist, Lake had some involvement in the lyrics for their debut album In the Court of the Crimson King. After their contracted producer Tony Clarke walked away from the project, Lake produced the album. Released in October 1969, the album an immediate commercial and critical success, as Lake recalled: “There was this huge wave of response. The audiences were really into us because we were an underground thing – the critics loved us because we offered something fresh”. He won worldwide acclaim as lead vocalist, bass guitarist and producer.
The album featured such songs as 21st Century Schizoid Man. The album set a standard for progressive rock and received a glowing, well-publicized testimonial from The Who’s Pete Townshend, who called it “an uncanny masterpiece”.
King Crimson supported In the Court of the Crimson King with a tour of the UK and the US, with some of the shows featuring prog-rock band The Nice as the opening act. During the US leg, Lake struck up a friendship with Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson and the two shared similar musical interests and talked about forming a new group.
When King Crimson returned to the UK in early 1970, Lake agreed to sing on the band’s second album, In the Wake of Poseidon, and appear on the music television show Top of the Pops with them, performing the song “Cat Food”.
After returning from the USA tour, founding member Mike Giles quit, but Lake stuck around long enough to sing on their second album, In the Wake of Poseidon, which was criticized for treading old ground, but refused to work with the band on the promotional tours.
He was approached by Keith Emerson to be the bass player and singer for his new band. Introduced to Atomic Rooster and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown drummer Carl Palmer, by Robert Stigwood, very soon thereafter they formed Emerson Lake and Palmer and made their live debut at the Guildhall in Plymouth in 1970 before giving a career-making performance at the Isle of Wight Festival. That special concert propelled them on their path to become one of the world’s first “super groups.”
The 1971 debut album, Emerson Lake and Palmer went platinum and underscored their Super Group status. It was produced by Lake and featured a song Greg had written while still in school: “Lucky Man.” “Lucky Man,” performed on acoustic guitar, would become an iconic song for the band and a popular classic on radio. The song has become synonymous with Greg Lake and the title was chosen as the title for Greg Lake’s 2012 autobiography.
Unusually, the band combined heavy rock riffs with a classical influence and created a unique live theatrical performance which stretched the imagination and enthralled audiences. In the next several years they scored hit albums with Pictures at an Exhibition (a full rock-ified version of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s famous 1874 piano suite), Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery – many of them produced by Lake himself. They were commercially successful in the UK with five albums charting in the Top 10, while Lake contributed acoustic and electric guitar work to Emerson Lake & Palmer, and his voice had a wider and more diverse range than anything The Nice had recorded.
Tarkus, released in 1971, featured an opening track inspired by the fictional Tarkus character – a half-tank, half-armadillo creature that would appear on stage at gigs – that lasted more than 20 minutes. Emerson and Lake conflicted between Emerson’s interest in complex, classically-influenced music and Lake’s more straightforward rock tastes. During the making of Tarkus, Lake initially rejected the title track, but was persuaded to record it following a band meeting with management, which ended in the addition of an original Lake tune, “Battlefield”, into the suite.
In 1975, while still a member of ELP, Lake achieved solo chart success when his single, “I Believe in Father Christmas”, reached number two on the UK Singles Chart. It has become a Yuletide perennial.
The band went on to enjoy chart success in 1977 with their version of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.
ELP’s ambitious light shows and on-stage theatrics were the epitome of ’70s rock excess, and several punk acts cited ELP as one of the bands they were reacting against.
But the band sold more than 48 million records, and Lake continued to be an influential and popular touring musician even after the band wound down in the late 1970s and split in 1979, following the unsuccessful album Love Beach. The group reformed for a number of years in the mid-1990s before permanently disbanding, bar a one-off gig in 2010.
Lake briefly joined Asia in 1983, replacing fellow King Crimson alumnus John Wetton, along with Palmer, members of Yes and King Crimson—before joining with Emerson to form the slightly poppier ELP reboot Emerson, Lake and Powell (Cozy Powell on drums) in the late 80s, featuring the Hot 100 hit “Touch and Go.”
He also formed partnerships on stage, and off, in performances, writing, recording, and productions with musicians whose brilliance matches his own. Solo tours and recordings have been extremely successful as he continues to recreate hits, add to his vast repertoire and raise the bar for others in the industry. His collaborations are many and impressive: Sheila E; Ringo Starr (joining Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band to great acclaim and with great enjoyment); Led Zepplin’s Robert Plant; The Who’s Roger Daltrey (which led to a guest recording on a hit Who single); Procol Harum’s Gary Booker, and Gary Moore. Greg has joined his friend Ian Anderson onstage with Jethro Tull and performed with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Greg also completed a successful and critically acclaimed tour in 2010. That tour was the foundation for the unique and inventive format which relies on audience participation. It preceded the reunion performance of Emerson Lake and Palmer as the headliners of the first and much celebrated and awarded High Voltage Festival.
2012 sees a reimagining and expansion of his intimate, interactive musical event format with his autobiographical tour, Songs of a Lifetime, full of drama, pathos, and humor. That show was inspired by the writing of Greg Lake’s greatly anticipated autobiography, Lucky Man. Available in both audio (read by the author) and hard cover formats, the book is not a recording of the show; it is completely different.
Greg Lake was a formidable producer in his own right. He was one of the driving forces behind the now legendary Manticore Records, which he says, was built “with the noble ideal of helping other progressive artists, music we thought worth supporting, that weren’t getting help from the majors.”
Lake’s inventive production shaped the best selling ELP albums and his solo work.
In 2005, Lake toured Germany and the United Kingdom with his “Greg Lake Band” which included David Arch, Florian Opahle, Trevor Barry on bass, and Brett Morgan. Lake performed “Karn Evil 9” with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at several shows. He was a special guest on the album Night Castle (2009).
In July 2010, Lake joined Emerson and Palmer for what was to be the final live concert by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, at the High Voltage rock festival, in Victoria Park, London. The entire concert was later released as the double-CD live album, High Voltage, and subsequently on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Most recently Greg worked with arranger, composer and keyboard artist David Arch (whose vast credentials include scoring and playing now-classic movies including three Harry Potter films, Star Wars, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Notting Hill).
On 9 January 2016, he was awarded an honorary degree in music and lyrics composition by Conservatorio Nicolini in Piacenza, Italy, the first degree awarded by the conservatory.
Greg Lake passed on after a long and troubled fight with cancer on December 7, 2016. He was 69 years old.
Lake’s death comes as a particular shock to ELP fans, coming just months after Keith Emerson’s tragic suicide in March.
‘Love not money’
“The greatest music is made for love, not for money,” Lake is quoted as saying on his official website.
“The early ELP albums were pioneering because there is no standing still; time is always moving forward.”
Greg says “There is a common thread throughout all the music. The forms may be different, but each one to some degree draws upon inspiration from the past. I am as proud to have been as influenced by people like Elvis and Little Richard as I am by composers like Copeland and Prokofiev and I’m honored when other musicians regard me as one of their inspirations.
“I love acoustic guitars. They’re delicate and light and yet at the same time are unbelievably powerful. They are really a strange instrument from that point of view, but there is something very special about them,” he explains. “You just have to look at some of the truly great songs written on acoustic guitar – “Scarborough Fair,” “Forever Young,” “Yesterday” – truly iconic songs that all came from a small piece of wood with thin steel strings tied to each end.”
The acoustics worked perfectly with Lake’s “golden” voice, which Record Collector magazine calls “extraordinary, altering comfortably between angelic and magisterial.”
Lake’s remarkable voice also powered ELP’s more electric pieces such as Karn Evil #9, one of the world’s most beloved songs. The opening line “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…” is an international favourite, globally used as a television theme.
To date Emerson Lake and Palmer has sold over 48 million records. Lake produced Tarkus, Pictures at an Exhibition, Trilogy, Brain Salad Surgery, Works Vol. 1 and 2, and two different live albums. All went platinum and featured a series of hit singles , most written and all sung by Greg, who credits their success to his constant search for perfection and his heart.
“The greatest music is made for love, not for money. The early ELP albums were pioneering because there is no standing still; time is always moving forward.”
It wasn’t just the albums, it was the performances. The band filled arenas and stadiums in record breaking numbers. They toured the world with an enormous assembly of technicians, musicians and artists to realize their spellbinding shows.
November 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.” Continue reading Leonard Cohen 11/2016
April 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”. Continue reading Prince 4/2016
January 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. Continue reading Glenn Frey 1/2016
2016 – 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. Continue reading David Bowie 1/2016
May 14, 2015 – Riley BB King was born on September 16, 1925. Little new can be said about BB 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 BB 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. Continue reading BB King 5/2015
November 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. Continue reading Manitas de Plata 11/2014
October 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. Continue reading Jack Bruce 10/2014
July 16, 2014 – Legendary blues musician Johnny Winter died in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 16th, 2014 at age 70. There are plenty of reasons why that’s notable — Winter was one of the first blues rock guitar virtuosos, releasing a string of popular and fiery albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies, becoming an arena-level concert draw in the process — but it’s the barest facts that remain the most inspiring.
Johnny Dawson Winter, who was born on February 23rd, 1944 in little Beaumont, Texas, afflicted with albinism and 20/400 eyesight in one eye and 20/600 in the other, made an iconic life for himself by playing the blues.
Feb 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. Continue reading Paco de Lucia 2/2014
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.” Continue reading Pete Seeger 1/2014
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. Continue reading Lou Reed 10/2013
March 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. Continue reading Phil Ramone 3/2013
March 6, 2013 – Alvin Lee,(Ten Years After) born Graham Anthony Barnes on Dec. 19, 1944, was a truly inspired blues rock guitarist-vocalist, whose performance with Ten Years After during Woodstock 1969, catapulted him into superstardom. The song “I’m Going Home” became legendary and his speed earned him the title “The Fastest Guitarist in the West”. A lifelong search for freedom resulted in more than 20 albums of superb blues rock. Ten Years After would ultimately tour the US twenty-eight times in seven years – more than any other UK band.
He was born in Nottingham and attended the Margaret Glen-Bott School in Wollaton. He began playing guitar at the age of 13 and in 1960, Lee along with Leo Lyons formed the core of the band Ten Years After. Influenced by his parents’ collection of jazz and blues records, it was the advent of rock and roll that sparked his interest.
He began to play professionally in 1962, in a band named the Jaybirds, they began that year to perform in the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany. After a couple of name changes by 1966 they had finally decided on the name Ten Years After.
May 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. Continue reading Donna Summer 5/2012
April 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. Continue reading Levon Helm 4/2012
February 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. Continue reading Whitney Houston 2/2012
January 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. Continue reading Etta James 1/2012
February 6, 2011 – Gary Moore, who wrote and played “Still Got the Blues for You” and “Parisienne Walkways” into a daily highlight in my musical playlist, passed away on February 6, 2011 at age 58, while on vacation in Spain, reportedly after a night of excessive drinking and partying.
Gary Moore was a guitar talent that only comes around a couple of times in a generation. Jimi, Eric, Gary, Duane and Hughie Thomasson are the five that fill my High Five, as I’m witnessing our generation extending a welcome to those who learned from the great ones, like Joe Bonamassa and Kenny Wayne Sheppard and now show their talent to a new generation.
Robert William Gary Moore was born on 4 April 1952 and grew up on Castleview Road opposite Stormont Parliament Buildings, off the Upper Newtownards Road in east Belfast, Northern Ireland as one of five children of Bobby, a promoter, and Winnie, a housewife. He left the city as a teenager, because of troubles in his family – his parents parted a year later – just as The Troubles – political violence, were starting in Northern Ireland.
August 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. Continue reading Les Paul 8/2009
June 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. Continue reading Michael Jackson 6/2009
June 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. Continue reading Bo Diddley 6/2008
March 2, 2008 – Norman Jeffrey “Jeff” Healy was one of the finest, most underrated, blues rock guitarists/vocalist of his generation. Due to cancer his eyes were surgically removed when he was one year old, which was probably a major reason for starting to play guitar at age 3 in a very unconventional way- flat on his lap. That way he could use 4 fingers plus his thumb to create amazing solos. Even though he broke into the public limelight as a result of being the “house band” in Patrick Swayze’s 1989 movie Roadhouse, it really was Stevie Ray Vaughn and fellow blues guitarist Albert Collins, who discovered Healey in a spontaneous Toronto Canada jam session.
Born in Toronto, Ontario on March 25, 1966, Healey was raised in the city’s west end. He began playing guitar when he was three. When he was 15, Jeff Healey formed the band Blue Direction, a four-piece which primarily played bar-band cover tunes and featured bassist Jeremy Littler, drummer Graydon Chapman, and a schoolmate, Rob Quail on second guitar. This band played various local clubs in Toronto, including the Colonial Tavern.
Using his massive vintage 78 rpm gramophone record collection, Healey began hosting a popular jazz and blues show on radio station CIUT-FM.
In that capacity, he was introduced to two local musicians, bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephen, with whom he then formed a trio, The Jeff Healey Band. This band made their first public appearance at the Birds Nest, located upstairs at Chicago’s Diner on Queen Street West in Toronto. They made a deep impression and received a write-up in Toronto’s NOW magazine, and soon were playing almost nightly in local clubs, such as Grossman’s Tavern and the famed blues club Albert’s Hall (where he was discovered by guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert Collins).
After being signed to Arista Records in 1988, the band released the album See the Light, featuring the hit single “Angel Eyes” and the song “Hideaway”, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. While the band was recording See the Light, they were also filming (and recording for the soundtrack of) the Patrick Swayze film Road House. Healey had numerous acting scenes in the movie with Swayze, as his band was the house cover band for the bar featured in the movie. In 1990, the band won the Juno Award for Canadian Entertainer of the Year. The albums Hell to Pay and Feel This gave Healey 10 charting singles in Canada between 1990 and 1994, including a cover of The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps which featured George Harrison and Jeff Lynne on backing vocals and acoustic guitar.
Around the turn of the century, Healy started embracing his first love, JAZZ and often exchanged guitar for trumpet, especially during live performances.
On March 2, 2008, Healey died of cancer in his home town of Toronto. He was 41 years old. His death came a month before the release of Mess of Blues, which was his first rock/blues album in eight years.
After years of efforts by fans, friends and family, Jeff Healey was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame on Saturday October 18th, 2014, as a recipient of the Cineplex Legends Award.
February, 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.” Continue reading Buddy Miles 2/2008
December 16, 2007 – Daniel Grayling “Dan” Fogelberg was born on August 13, 1951 in Peoria, Illinois into a musical family; his father being a high school band director and his mother a classically trained pianist.
So it comes as no surprise Dan’s first instrument, at a very early age, was the piano but he soon took an interest in the Hawaiian slide guitar and when his grandfather presented him with one, he spent hour upon hour teaching himself the skills.
This, combined with his admiration for The Beatles, he taught himself electric guitar and by the age of 13 he had joined his first band, a Beatles cover band, The Clan. This stint was followed by a band called The Coachmen, which in 1967 released two singles “Maybe Time Will Let Me Forget” and “Don’t Want To Lose Her”.
With his third band Frankie and the Aliens he started touring with covering the blues masters .. such as Muddy Waters and the rock of Cream.
After graduating from Woodruff High School in 1969, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study Painting and Drama, it was at this time, while soloing in coffee houses and bars that he was discovered by a young Irving Azoff, who at that time was promoting local bands. After much thought the two musical minds left Illinois to follow their dreams in Los Angeles. Dan began in the studios doing sessions, where he soon got noticed, he went on a part tour in support of Van Morrison, and one of his demos resulted in a contract with Clive Davis at Columbia Records.
Dan released his debut album ‘Home Free’ in 1972. Although critically acclaimed, Dan had no single for promotion. After many more studio sessions, he recorded his second album, ‘Souvenirs’ under the direction of his friend, Eagles’ Joe Walsh. He released its single “Part of the Plan” which jumped onto the charts, sending the album double platinum. The next 2 years were filled with continual hard touring with a young band from Illinois, Fool’s Gold. His third album, ‘Captured Angel’ (1975) he wrote, recorded and produced himself originally as a demo disc while back at home with his family in Peoria, when his father was ill in hospital. It was ambitious and strong. Dan sang and played all guitars, keyboards, bass, percussion, banjo and harp on all the tracks. The demo was made into the album, as that raw emotion could never have been recaptured.
Dan then moved to Colorado and released a string of gold and platinum albums, including Nether Lands (1977), and found huge commercial success with songs such as “The Power of Gold”. His 1978 Twin Sons of Different Mothers was the first of two collaborations with jazz flautist Tim Weisberg. 1979’s Phoenix reached the Top 10, with “Longer” becoming a #2 pop hit (and wedding standard) in 1980. The track peaked at #59 on the UK Singles Chart – his sole entry on that chart. The album reached #42 on the UK Albums Chart, likewise his only entry there. It was followed by a Top 20 hit “Heart Hotels”. He also performed at a number of the Musicians United for Safe Energy “No Nukes” concerts in 1979 and 1980.
The Innocent Age, released in October 1981, was Fogelberg’s critical and commercial peak. The double album included four of his biggest hits: “Same Old Lang Syne”, “Hard to Say”, “Leader of the Band”, and “Run for the Roses”. He drew inspiration for The Innocent Age from Thomas Wolfe’s novel Of Time and the River. A 1982 greatest hits album contained two new songs, both of which were released as singles: “Missing You” and “Make Love Stay.” In 1984, he released the album Windows and Walls, containing the singles “The Language of Love” and “Believe in Me.”
Dan was always experimenting with different sounds and moods on each new album, the last being “Full Circle” in 2003. Over a long career his music was inspired by genre as diverse as folk, pop, rock, classical, jazz, and bluegrass and at times he has used his music to address social issues, including Native American concerns, peace and alternatives to nuclear power, e.g.”Face the Fire” on his sixth album “Phoenix”.
In 2001 a Dan Fogelberg signature edition Martin D41-DF guitar was issued and 2002 sees him honored as one of the first 10 inductees into the Performers Hall of Fame at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison.
But in 2004, just months after his last album ‘Full Circle”, Dan was sadly diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. He spent the last few years of his life together with his wife, Jean, on their ranch in Colorado, and later their home in Maine bravely fighting a battle with this daunting disease. He underwent hormonal therapy, achieving a partial remission but it failed to completely eliminate the disease.
He died from prostate cancer on December 16, 2007.
“So wealthy the spirit that knows its own flight, Stealthy the hunter who slays his own fright, Blessed the trailer who journeys the length of the light” ~ The Innocent Age: Nexus
September 9, 2007 – Hughie Thomasson. One of the pre-eminent Southern rock guitarists/songwriters, Outlaws’ Hughie Thomasson went out to dinner with his wife Mary on Sunday, went home, got comfortable in his favorite chair to watch football and then passed away from a heart attack during a nap. He was 55 and lived in Brooksville, Fla., near Tampa.
Born Hugh Edward Thomasson Jr., Hughie Thomasson joined a fledgling Tampa-area bar band named the Outlaws in the late ’60s. With David Dix on drums, Thomasson quickly made a name for himself as a no-nonsense guitar master. The group disbanded, but Thomasson reformed the Outlaws in 1972 with guitarist Henry Paul, drummer Monte Yoho and bassist Frank O’Keefe. (Paul later enjoyed a successful country career as a member of BlackHawk.) Guitarist Billy Jones joined in 1973, completing the guitar army rock approach.
Known as the Florida Guitar Army for their triple-lead guitar attack, the Outlaws were the first group signed by former Columbia Records head Clive Davis when he formed Arista Records. He flew to Columbus, Ga., in 1974 to see the Outlaws perform with Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Columbus Civic Center and went to the Ramada Inn after the show and made an offer.
Their 1975 debut album, The Outlaws, quickly sold gold, and they were signed as the opening act on the Doobie Brothers’ Stampede tour. The band went on to record 13 albums in all, with such hits as “Green Grass and High Tides” and “Hurry Sundown,” both of which Thomasson wrote. His signature Fender Stratocaster guitar sound and vocals came to define the group.
The Outlaws disbanded in the mid-’90s when Thomasson joined Lynyrd Skynyrd. He added his distinctive guitar sound to Skynyrd’s robust lineup and co-wrote many of the band’s later songs. In 2005, Thomasson left Skynyrd and reformed the Outlaws with drummers Yoho and Dix, bassist Randy Threet and guitarist Chris Anderson.
They toured extensively in 2007 and performed with the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band and Dickey Betts and also played a festival in Amsterdam with Aerosmith. The Outlaws’ last concert took place Saturday (Sept. 8) at a casino in Nevada, and they had 15 concert dates scheduled through mid-December of this year. A final, completed album, tentatively titled Once an Outlaw, which Thomasson produced, has not yet been scheduled for release. Thomasson had also planned to re-release his solo album, So Low, under the new title, Lone Outlaw.
RIP Hughie, you blew me away from the first time I heard Green Grass and High Tides. Go show them how it’s down up there in the Blue Yonder.
January 13, 2007 – Michael Leonard Brecker was born on March 29th 1949 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Michael Brecker was exposed to jazz at an early age by his father, an amateur jazz pianist. Among the generation of jazz musicians that saw rock music not as the enemy but as a viable musical option, Brecker began studying clarinet, then moved to alto saxophone in school, eventually settling on the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument. After only a year at Indiana University, Michael Brecker moved to New York City in 1970 where he carved out a niche for himself as a dynamic and exciting jazz soloist. He first made his mark at age 21 as a member of the jazz/rock band Dreams—a band that included his older brother Randy, trombonist Barry Rogers, drummer Billy Cobham, Jeff Kent and Doug Lubahn. Dreams was short-lived, lasting only a year, but influential (Miles Davis was seen at some gigs prior to his recording “Jack Johnson”).
Most of Brecker’s early work is marked by an approach informed as much by rock guitar as by R&B saxophone. After Dreams, he worked with Horace Silver and then Billy Cobham before once again teaming up with his brother Randy to form the Brecker Brothers Band, which played fusion that was equal parts bar band, Thelonious Monk, and Sly Stone. The band followed jazz-rock trends of the time, but with more attention to structured arrangements, a heavier backbeat, and a stronger rock influence. The band stayed together from 1975–1982 with consistent success and unwavering musicality.
At the same time, Brecker put his stamp on numerous pop and rock recordings as a soloist. His more notable collaborations include those with James Taylor, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, Pat Metheny, Dire Straits and Joni Mitchell. During the early 1980s, he was also a member of NBC’s Saturday Night Live band. Brecker can be seen in the background sporting shades during Eddie Murphy’s James Brown parody, James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party. He also played sax briefly on Frank Zappa’s live album Zappa in New York.
In 1982 he recorded an acclaimed album with German arranger/orchestrator Claus Ogerman, Cityscape, which was a six-part composition for saxophone and orchestra.
After a stint co-leading the all-star group Steps Ahead with Mike Mainieri, Brecker finally recorded his first solo album in 1987. That eponymously titled debut album marked his return to a more traditional jazz setting, highlighting his compositional talents and featuring the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), which Brecker had previously played with Steps Ahead. He continued to record 29 albums as a leader throughout the 1990s and 2000s, winning multiple Grammy Awards. His solo and group tours consistently have sold out top jazz venues in major cities worldwide.
He favored his Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone and a highly-customized Dave Guardala mouthpiece. He also played a Selmer “Super Balanced Action” (Super Action) tenor saxophone.
In 2005, Michael Brecker was diagnosed with the blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Despite a widely-publicized worldwide search, Brecker was unable to find a matching stem cell donor. In late 2005, he was the recipient of an experimental partial matching stem cell transplant. As of late 2006 he was recovering, but it proved not to be a cure for him. Brecker made his return to public performance in June 2006, playing with Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall. His first recording after his illness was with bassist Chris Minh Doky on the album The Nomad Diaries, which was released in November 2006. Brecker managed to record a final album, Pilgrimage, which was released on May 22, 2007 by Heads Up International.
As well as recording 29 albums as a leader, he was also one of the most ubiquitous, and certainly the most distinguished, of studio musicians, appearing on albums by Frank Zappa, Bette Midler, Bruce Springten, Carly Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, Bonnie Tyler, James Taylor, Luther Van dross, Tina Turner, Ringo Starr, Billy Joel, Rick James, Jan Akkerman, Herbie Hancock, John Lennon, Andy Gibb, Steely Dan, Elton John, Aerosmith, Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra, Lou Reed and so many more. He was 57 years 9 months 15 days old when he died while bravely fighting leukemia on 13 January 2007.
Acknowledged as “a quiet, gentle musician widely regarded as the most influential tenor saxophonist since John Coltrane”, he was awarded 15 Grammy Awards as both performer and composer. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music in 2004, and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2007.
December 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. Continue reading James Brown 12/2006
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.” Continue reading Syd Barrett 7/2006
November 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 children’s music education and peace.
This video explains why Roger Ridley is a Legend in my book:
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. Continue reading Ray Charles 6/2004
September 12, 2003 – J.R. “Johnny” Cash 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. Continue reading Johnny Cash 9/2003
July 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. Continue reading Barry White 7/2003
April 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. Continue reading Nina Simone 4/2003
January 12, 2003 – Maurice Ernest Gibb (the BeeGees) was born in Douglas, Isle of Man on 22 December 1949, as the fraternal twin of Robin Gibb, and was the younger of the two by 35 minutes. At that time, he had one sister, Lesley, and one other older brother, Barry.
In January 1955, the Gibbs moved back to Manchester, England. Around 1955, Gibb and his brothers were heard harmonizing by their parents. Also in 1955, he started his music career when he joined the skiffle/rock and roll group the Rattlesnakes with his brothers and two friends, Paul Frost and Kenny Horrocks, who were their neighbours. The group’s first major appearance was on 28 December 1957 when they performed at a local Gaumont cinema where children were invited to sing between films. They had planned to sing along to a 78 rpm record which Lesley had just been given as a Christmas present, but on the way Gibb and his brother Robin dropped and broke it, so they sang live. The audience were pleased by their singing, which reportedly may have been the song “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers.
21 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. Continue reading Peggy Lee 1/2002
December 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. Continue reading Gilbert Bécaud 12/2001
November 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. Continue reading George Harrison 11/2001
June 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.” Continue reading Chet Atkins 6/2001
June 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. Continue reading John Lee Hooker 6/2001
March 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. Continue reading Dusty Springfield 3/1999
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. Continue reading Frank Sinatra 5/1998
September 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. Continue reading Tupac Shakur 9/1996
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 1950 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. Continue reading Jerry Garcia 8/1995
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. Continue reading Wolfman Jack 7/1995
June 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. Continue reading Rory Gallagher 6/1995
April 5, 1994 – Kurt Cobain. (Nirvana) A very talented and very troubled rock grunge frontman, 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. Continue reading Kurt Cobain 4/1994
December 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. Continue reading Frank Zappa 12/1993
Nov 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. Continue reading Albert Collins 11/1993
December 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. Continue reading Albert King 12/1992
January 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. Continue reading Willie Dixon 1/1992
November 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. Continue reading Freddie Mercury 11/1991
March 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. Continue reading Leo Fender 3/1991
August 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. Continue reading Stevie Ray Vaughan 8/1990
December 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. Continue reading Roy Orbison 12/1988
September 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. Continue reading Jaco Pastorius 9/1987
September 11, 1987 – Winston Hubert McIntosh better known as Peter Tosh/Stepping Razor was 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. Continue reading Peter Tosh 9/1987
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.” Continue reading Big Mama Thornton 7/1984
April 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. Continue reading Marvin Gaye 4/1984
April 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 Waters”. Continue reading Muddy Waters 4/1983
February 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. Continue reading Karen Carpenter 2/1983
May 11, 1981 – Bob Nesta Marley – One of the world’s best-selling artists of all time with sales totaling to over 100 million albums and singles, Bob Marley is a true legend. So much so that even 37 years after his death, his name recognition is higher than his landsman Usain Bolt, the three times Olympic Gold Medallist and fastest man in the world. (Bob was know to also be a very fast runner and great soccer player.)
The singer-songwriter, musician and guitarist achieved international fame starting out with his group the Wailers in 1963. The band lasted 11 years before disbanding and Marley began his solo career that gathered a quick following. He was known for infusing his spirituality into his hits like “No Woman, No Cry”, “Is This Love” and “Three Little Birds” to create true musical poetry. Continue reading Bob Marley 5/1981
Feb 15, 1981 – Michael Bernard ‘Mike’ Bloomfield was born on July 28th, 1943, in Chicago, on the wrong side of the blues. His father, Harold, ran Bloomfield Industries, a successful restaurant-supply firm. The older of two sons, Michael rebelled against school, discipline and his family’s wealth, seeking solace and purpose in the music coming from the city’s black neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
A grandfather, Max, owned a pawnshop, and Bloomfield got his first guitar there. Born left-handed, he forced himself to play the other way around. “That’s how strong-willed he was,” says Goldberg. “When he loved something so much, he just did it.”
Hanging out at the pawnshop, Bloomfield also “got a certain empathy, for people on the skids, on the down and out, looking for $5,” Gravenites says. “He got to know that kind of life.” Continue reading Mike Bloomfield 2/1981
February 9, 1981 – Bill Haley was born on July 6th 1925. He was born in Highland Park, Michigan, but because of the Great Depression on the Detroit area, his father moved the family to Boothwyn, Pennsylvania. For six years Bill was a musical director of Radio Station WPWA in Chester, Pennsylvania, leading his own band The Saddlemen all through this period and in 1951 they made their first recordings. They renamed themselves Bill Haley with Haley’s Comets on Labour Day 1952.
Bill Haley and his Comets were there before Presley, Holly and Berry, playing rock & roll before it even had a name, and is credited by many for being the first popularizing this form of music in the early 1950s. Their hit song “Rock Around the Clock” went around the world for many decades. Continue reading Bill Haley 2/1981
December 8, 1980 – John Winston Lennon was born on October 9, 1940 at Liverpool’s Oxford Hospital. His father Alfred abandoned him and his mother Julia when John was three years old. Shortly thereafter, Julia gave up custody of John to her sister Mimi and her husband George, who then would raise him. As he entered his teens it became clear that John had a higher intellect than others his age. He hated school but was part of the school’s newspaper staff and he would contribute to it with his own illustrated short stories. Those short stories showed off just some of his emerging talent.
He also had a love for music. As a child he had learned how to play the harmonica from his Uncle George. In the early ’50s, the new sound of rock ‘n roll was taking over and he decided he wanted to be a part of it. After talking his Aunt Mimi into buying him a guitar, John taught himself how to play it after applying the banjo chords his mother had previously showed him. His interest in the guitar took over everything else in his life. In 1955, at the age of 15, he formed his own band and called them The Quarryman, named after the school he attended. It was in this band that he would meet Paul McCartney and George Harrison and the Beatles would form from it. Continue reading John Lennon 12/1980
September 25, 1980 – John Henry “Bonzo, The Beast” Bonham was a natural phenomenon on the drums. All the accolades surrounding this man’s drumming point at one thing: He was and probably forever will be the best rock drummer of all time. Hard to accept that Vodka killed him; well 40 shots of the stuff made him vomit and then choke and did not only end his life, but also the best Rock Band that ever existed: Led Zeppelin.
Born in Redditch, UK on May 31, 1948, he started to learn drumming at the age of 5 and in 1964, he joined his first semi-professional band, Terry Webb and the Spiders. He also played in other Birmingham bands, The Nicky James Movement and The Senators, who released a fairly successful single “She’s a Mod,” in 1964. John then took up drumming full-time. Two years later, he joined A Way of Life, before he joined a blues group called Crawling King Snakes, whose lead singer was a young Robert Plant. Continue reading John Bonham 9/1980
June 29, 1979 – Lowell Thomas George (Little Feat) was born on April 13th 1945 in Hollywood, California, the son of Willard H. George, a furrier who raised chinchillas and supplied furs to the movie studios.
George’s first instrument was the harmonica. At the age of six he appeared on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour performing a duet with his older brother, Hampton. As a student at Hollywood High School (where he befriended future bandmate Paul Barrere as well as future wife Elizabeth), he took up the flute in the school marching band and orchestra. He had already started to play Hampton’s acoustic guitar at age 11, progressed to the electric guitar by his high school years, and later learned to play the saxophone, shakuhachi and sitar. During this period, George viewed the teen idol-oriented rock and roll of the era with contempt, instead favoring West Coast jazz and the soul jazz of Les McCann & Mose Allison. Following graduation in 1963, he briefly worked at a gas station (an experience that inspired such later songs as “Willin'”) to support himself while studying art and art history at Los Angeles Valley College for two years. Continue reading Lowell George 6/1979
October 9, 1978 – Jacques Brel was born on April 8th 1929 near Brussels Belgium. He composed and recorded his songs almost exclusively in French, although he recorded a number of songs in Dutch, which was his original mother’s tongue.
Brel’s songs are not especially well known in the English-speaking world except in translation and through the interpretations of other singers, most famously Scott Walker and Judy Collins. The range of superstars who however have covered his work is amazing.
Others who have sung his work in English include Karen Akers, Marc Almond, Momus/Nick Currie, Beirut, Bellowhead, David Bowie, Ray Charles, John Denver, The Dresden Dolls, Gavin Friday, Alex Harvey, Terry Jacks, Alan Clayson, Barb Jungr, The Kingston Trio, Jack Lukeman, Amanda McBroom, Rod McKuen, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Spencer Moody, Camille O’Sullivan, Dax Riggs, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Laurika Rauch and Dave Van Ronk. Continue reading Jacques Brel 10/1978
September 7, 1978 – Keith Moon. Keith John Moon was born to working class parents in Wembley, London, England, on the 23rd August, 1946. At the age of 12, he had joined the Sea Cadet Corp and was given his first musical instrument, the bugle. He left school by 15 and was in his first band, The Beachcombers; this was around the summer of 1963. There was rumour that Keith was self-taught, but history says otherwise, he was shown how to play by the late Carlo Little (1938-2005), Carlo was the original drummer in The Rolling Stones and David Sutch’s band, The Savages.
By the age of 18, he had joined a local London band, The High Numbers; this was to consist of what is now known as The Who.
With his own unique style of drumming, rolling the sticks along the skins as to banging the typical beat, he was to become extrovertly charismatic in his life as well as his playing. He was one of the first to play drums as a lead instrument in an era when drums were supposed only to keep the back beat. With a desire, more of an obsession, to be the center of attention, this hyperactive, and largely, self destructive personality became his own worst enemy.
With a flair for theatrical and ridiculous behavior, he was the center point and self-publicist for, like it or not, The Who. Continue reading Keith Moon 9/1978
October 20, 1977 – Ronald Wayne “Ronnie” Van Zant was born on January 15, 1948 in West Jacksonville, Florida. As a member of a very musical family, brother Donnie became frontman for 38 Special, another Jacksonville based band and youngest brother Johnny took Roonie’s shoes and hat when Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed in 1987.
Ronnie however was the nucleus founding member and frontman of the Southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd that formed in 1964.
Friends and schoolmates Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Larry Junstrom, and Bob Burns made up the original band. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s name was inspired by a gym teacher the boys had in high school, Leonard Skinner, who disapproved of students with long hair.
Their fan base grow rapidly throughout 1973, mainly due to their opening slot on The Who’s Quadrophenia tour in the United States. Their debut self titled album produced the hit Freebird, the track achieved the No. 3 spot on Guitar World’s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos. Continue reading Ronnie Van Zant 10/1977
August 16, 1977 – Elvis Aaron Presley, more commonly known as “The King of Rock and Roll,” is arguably the single most important figure in the global spreading of American 20th century popular music. Besides pop and rock ‘n roll, he brought the blues, black music and gospel to the world. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935, he made his first public performance on October 3rd 1945, in a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, dressed as a cowboy. Elvis had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone and sang Red Foley’s “Old Shep.” He came in fifth, winning $5 and a free ticket to all the Fair rides.
He began his career as one of the first performers of rockabilly, an uptempo fusion of country and R&B with a strong back beat. Continue reading Elvis Presley 8/1977
December 29, 1976 – Freddie King was born September 3, 1934 in Gilmer, Texas. His mother told him that her father (who was a full-blooded Choctaw Indian) prophesied to her that she would have a child that will stir the souls of millions and inspire and influence generations. So she mother and his uncle Leon began teaching him to play guitar at the age of six.
His first guitar was a Silvertone acoustic. His most prized guitar at that time was his Roy Roger acoustic. In a interview years later he recalled going to the general store to order it. The store owner asked him if his mother knew he was trying to order a guitar on her store account. Freddie replied ” no”. The store owner told him to get permission. His mother said “no”. She told him, “if you want a new guitar you will have to work for it.” He stated that he picked cotton just long enough to earn the money to purchase a Roger’s guitar. Continue reading Freddie King 12/1976
August 29, 1976 – Mathis Jimmy Reed was born on September 6, 1925 on a plantation in or around the small burg of Dunleith, Mississippi. He stayed around the area until he was 15, learning the basic rudiments of harmonica and guitar from his buddy Eddie Taylor, who was then making a name for himself as a semi-pro musician, working country suppers and juke joints.