Posted on

Hedley Jones 9/2017

September 1, 2017 – Hedley Jones (the Wailers) was born on November 12, 1917 in near Linstead, Jamaica, the son of David and Hettie Jones, and started making music as a child. He made his own cello at the age of 14, as well as a banjo. In 1935 he moved to Kingston, where he heard Marcus Garvey speak, and worked as a tailor, cabinet maker, bus conductor, repairing sewing machines, radios and gramophones. He said: “I was what people called a jack of all trades. I could fix everything.” His main work was as a proofreader, with the Gleaner and Jamaica Times.

He also played banjo in a Hawaiian jazz band, before forming his own Hedley Jones Sextet. Inspired by the recordings of Charlie Christian, but unable to afford an imported guitar, he built himself a solid-bodied electric guitar, and was featured with it on the front page of The Gleaner in September 1940, at about the same time that Les Paul was doing similar pioneering work in the US. Jones continued to build guitars for other Jamaican musicians in the years that followed. Continue reading Hedley Jones 9/2017

Posted on

David Peel 4/2017

New York street musicianApril 6, 2017 – David Peel, born David Michael Rosario on August 3, 1942 in New York City. After his fulfilling his national duty in the US military, he became a New York City-based street musician and social activist, who first recorded in the late 1960s with Harold Black, Billy Joe White, George Cori and Larry Adam performing as David Peel and The Lower East Side Band. His raw, acoustic “street rock” with lyrics about marijuana and “bad cops” appealed mostly to hippies and the disenfranchised.

Brooklyn-born Peel had been performing in the blossoming counter-culture that awakened in the early 1960s, since forsaking a potential job on Wall Street in favor of becoming a hippie in the mid-60s, soaking up the vibes in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury before taking his stoner street activist ethos to Washington Square Park. (At this point it should be pointed out that, apart from the more dullard factions, punk was essentially propagated by hippies with shorter hair). Continue reading David Peel 4/2017

Posted on

David Axelrod 2/17

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

Continue reading David Axelrod 2/17

Posted on

Ronald ‘Bingo’ Mundy 1/2017

Bingo Mundy of the MarcelsJanuary 20, 2017 – Ronald ‘Bingo’ Mungo was born April 20, 1940 in Alleghany County, Pennsylvania. Just out of high school he joined the doo wop group The Marcels, named after a popular 1950s hairstyle ‘the Marcel wave’.

The group formed in 1959 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and signed to Colpix Records with lead Cornelius Harp, bass Fred Johnson, Gene Bricker, Ron Mundy, and Richard Knauss.

In 1961, the Marcels recorded a new version of the ballad “Blue Moon” that began with the bass singer saying, “bomp-baba-bomp” and “dip-da-dip”. A demo tape sent to Colpix Records landed them at New York’s RCA Studios in February 1961 to record, among other things, a rockin’ doo-wop version of the Rodgers and Hart classic “Blue Moon” with an intro they had been using on their take of The Cadillacs’ “Zoom.” As legend has it, the day he heard it, New York DJ Murray the K played “Blue Moon” 26 times in a four-hour show. In March 1961, the song knocked Elvis Presley off the top of the Billboard chart, becoming the first No. 1 rock ’n’ roll hit out of Pittsburgh. Continue reading Ronald ‘Bingo’ Mundy 1/2017

Posted on

George
Martin
3/2016

March 8, 2016 – George Martin (the Fifth Beatle) A trained musician, George Martin worked in the BBC’s classical department before moving to EMI and its subsidiary, Parlophone, producing jazz and classical as well as comedy records for Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Peter Ustinov. He was the genius producer behind a wave of hit British acts in the 1960s, including Gerry and the Pacemakers and Cilla Black, but it was his work with four other Liverpudlians that understandably overshadowed them all.

The Beatles auditioned for Martin on 6 June 1962, in studio three at the Abbey Road studios. Ron Richards and his engineer Norman Smith recorded four songs, which Martin (who was not present during the recording) listened to at the end of the session. The verdict was not promising, however, as Richards complained about Pete Best’s drumming, and Martin thought their original songs were simply not good enough. Martin asked the individual Beatles if there was anything they personally did not like, to which George Harrison replied, “Well, there’s your tie, for a start.” That was the turning point, according to Smith, as John Lennon and Paul McCartney joined in with jokes and comic wordplay, that made Martin think that he should sign them to a contract for their wit alone.

The Beatles’ second recording session with Martin was on 4 September 1962, when they recorded “How Do You Do It”, heavily modified by The Beatles which Martin thought was a sure-fire hit, even though Lennon and McCartney did not want to release it, not being one of their own compositions or style.[31] Martin was correct: Gerry & the Pacemakers’ version, which Martin produced, spent three weeks at No. 1 in April 1963, before being displaced by “From Me to You”. On 11 September 1962, the Beatles re-recorded “Love Me Do” with session player Andy White playing drums. Ringo Starr was asked to play tambourine and maracas, and although he complied, he was definitely “not pleased”. Due to an EMI library error, a 4 September version with Starr playing drums was issued on the British single release; afterwards, the tape was destroyed, and the 11 September recording with Andy White on drums was used for all subsequent releases. Martin would later praise Starr’s drumming, calling him “probably … the finest rock drummer in the world today”.[33] As “Love Me Do” peaked at number 17 in the British charts, on 26 November 1962 Martin recorded “Please Please Me”, which he did only after Lennon and McCartney had almost begged him to record another of their original songs. Martin’s crucial contribution to the song was to tell them to speed up what was initially a slow ballad. After the recording Martin looked over the mixing desk and said, “Gentlemen, you have just made your first number one record”. Martin directed Epstein to find a good publisher, as Ardmore & Beechwood had done nothing to promote “Love Me Do”, informing Epstein of three publishers who, in Martin’s opinion, would be fair and honest, which led them to Dick James.

Martin’s more formal musical expertise helped fill the gaps between the Beatles’ unrefined talent, and the sound which distinguished them from other groups, which would eventually make them successful. Most of the Beatles’ orchestral arrangements and instrumentation (as well as frequent keyboard parts on the early records) were written or performed by Martin, in collaboration with the less musically experienced band. It was Martin’s idea to score a string quartet accompaniment for “Yesterday”, against McCartney’s initial reluctance. Martin played the song in the style of Bach to show McCartney the voicings that were available. Another example is the song “Penny Lane”, which featured a piccolo trumpet solo that was requested by McCartney after hearing the instrument on a BBC broadcast. McCartney hummed the melody he wanted, and Martin notated it for David Mason, the classically trained trumpeter.

His work as an arranger was used for many Beatles recordings. For “Eleanor Rigby” he scored and conducted a strings-only accompaniment inspired by Bernard Herrmann. On a Canadian speaking tour in 2007, Martin said his “Eleanor Rigby” score was influenced by Herrmann’s score for the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Psycho. For “Strawberry Fields Forever”, he and recording engineer Geoff Emerick turned two very different takes into a single master through careful use of vari-speed and editing. For “I Am the Walrus”, he provided a quirky and original arrangement for brass, violins, cellos, and the Mike Sammes Singers vocal ensemble. On “In My Life”, he played a speeded-up baroque piano solo. He worked with McCartney to implement the orchestral ‘climax’ in “A Day in the Life”, and he and McCartney shared conducting duties the day it was recorded.

Martin contributed integral parts to other songs, including the piano in “Lovely Rita”, the harpsichord in “Fixing a Hole”, the old steam organ and tape loop arrangement that create the Pablo Fanque circus atmosphere that Lennon requested on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (both Martin and Lennon played steam organ parts for this song), and the orchestration in “Good Night”. The first song that Martin did not arrange was “She’s Leaving Home”, as he had a prior engagement to produce a Cilla Black session, so McCartney contacted arranger Mike Leander to do it. Martin was reportedly hurt by this, but still produced the recording and conducted the orchestra himself. Martin was in demand as an independent arranger and producer by the time of The White Album, so the Beatles were left to produce various tracks by themselves.

Martin composed and arranged the score for the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine and the James Bond film Live and Let Die, for which Paul McCartney wrote and sang the title song.[55] He helped arrange Paul and Linda McCartney’s American Number 1 single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”.

Paul McCartney once commended Martin by saying: “George Martin was quite experimental for who he was, a grown-up.”

Film and composing work
Beginning in the late 1950s, Martin began to supplement his producer income by publishing music and having his artists record it. He used the pseudonyms Lezlo Anales and John Chisholm, before settling on Graham Fisher as his primary pseudonym.

Martin composed, arranged, and produced film scores since the early 1960s, including the instrumental scores of the films A Hard Day’s Night (1964, for which he won an Academy Award Nomination), Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968), and Live and Let Die (1973). Other notable movie scores include Crooks Anonymous (1962), The Family Way (1966), Pulp (1972, starring Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney), the Peter Sellers film The Optimists of Nine Elms (1973), and the John Schlesinger directed Honky Tonk Freeway (1981).

Martin oversaw post-production on The Beatles Anthology (which was originally entitled The Long and Winding Road) in 1994 and 1995, working again with Geoff Emerick. Martin decided to use an old 8-track analogue deck – which EMI learned an engineer still had – to mix the songs for the project, instead of a modern digital deck. He explained this by saying that the old deck created a completely different sound, which a new deck could not accurately reproduce. He also said he found the whole project a strange experience (and McCartney agreed), as they had to listen to themselves chatting in the studio, 25–30 years previously.

Martin stepped down when it came to producing the two new singles reuniting McCartney, Harrison, and Starr, who wanted to overdub two old Lennon demos. Martin had suffered a hearing loss, so he left the work to writer/producer Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra.
Martin’s contribution to the Beatles’ work received regular critical acclaim, and led to him being described as the “Fifth Beatle” (in 2016, Paul McCartney wrote that “If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George”. However, he distanced himself from this claim, stating that assistant and roadie Neil Aspinall would be more deserving of that title.

In the immediate aftermath of the Beatles’ break-up, a time when he made many angry utterances, John Lennon trivialized Martin’s importance to the Beatles’ music. In his 1970 interview with Jann Wenner, Lennon said, “Dick James is another one of those people, who think they made us. They didn’t. I’d like to hear Dick James’ music and I’d like to hear George Martin’s music, please, just play me some.”

In a 1971 letter to Paul McCartney, Lennon wrote, “When people ask me questions about ‘What did George Martin really do for you?,’ I have only one answer, ‘What does he do now?’ I noticed you had no answer for that! It’s not a putdown, it’s the truth.” Lennon wrote that Martin took too much credit for the Beatles’ music. Commenting specifically on “Revolution 9”, Lennon said with ironic authority, “For Martin to state that he was ‘painting a sound picture’ is pure hallucination. Ask any of the other people involved. The final editing Yoko and I did alone.”

Lennon later retracted many of the comments he made in that era, attributing them to his anger. He subsequently spoke with great affection and fondness for Martin. In 1971 he said: “George Martin made us what we were in the studio. He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians.”

Martin produced recordings for many other artists, including contemporaries of the Beatles, such as Matt Monro, Cilla Black, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, The Fourmost, David and Jonathan, and The Action, as well as The King’s Singers, the band America, guitarists Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and John Williams, sixties duo Edwards Hand, Gary Brooker, Neil Sedaka, Ultravox, country singer Kenny Rogers, UFO, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Little River Band, Celine Dion and Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan.

Martin  produced 13 albums and 22 singles for the group between 1962 to 1970. His influence on The Beatles’ output is undeniable: he added strings to songs, encouraged the band to experiment with electronic sounds and harnessed recording techniques from his comedy days to play with backwards vocals and instrumentation.

Martin was among a small group – Phil Spector and Quincy Jones included – who revolutionized what a record producer could do, and an evidently inspirational figure for later generations.

George Martin died on 8 March, 2016 at the age of 90.

Among the many tributes left on Twitter, producer Mark Ronson wrote: “We will never stop living in the world you helped create.” 

According to Alan Parsons, he had “great ears” and “rightfully earned the title of “Fifth Beatle”. Julian Lennon called Martin “The Fifth Beatle, without question”.

Posted on

James
Last
6/2015

James Last & OrchestraJune 9, 2015 – James Last was born Hans Last on April 17, 1929 in Bremen Germany, the third son for Louis and Martha Last, and christened Hans. His father, a post-office worker, was a keen amateur musician, competent on both drums and bandoneon. He learned to play piano as child, and bass as a teenager. He joined Hans-Gunther Oesterreich’s Radio Bremen Dance Orchestra in 1946, when he was 17 years old.

The brothers Last, Robert, Werner and young Hans, enjoyed their game of street football and so father Louis was pleased when all three expressed more than just an passing interest in music.

By the age of nine, young Hans could play “Hanschen Klein”, a German folk song in the piano, but his first music teacher, a lady, claimed at the age of ten he was totally unmusical. A year or so later with tutor number two, a gentleman, things started to happen. At the age of fourteen Hans was off to military school in Frankfurt where he studied brass, piano and tuba.

Hans’ parents were pleased with the appointment. It was hoped that he would emerge from the school as classically trained conductor. After passing his first exam, the school was bombed and the students were evacuated to Buckenburg, just outside Hanover, to continue their training.

Later, Buckenburg was also lost in the war. Hans claims that if he had stayed at Buckenburg, he would have been a conductor of serious music by the time he was twenty three.

After the war, Hans-Gunter Oesterreich, who organised entertainment for the American clubs, signed Hans Last for his first professional engagements. Later, Oesterreich secured a major post with Radio Bremen, and soon, the Last brothers were all working together.

In 1948, they joined forces with Karl-Heinz Becker, and became known as the Last-Becker Ensemble.

Hans was sold on jazz, Woody Herman and Stephan Grapelli being among his favorites. In 1959 Hans Last was voted Germany’s Top Jazz Bassist, a title held until 1953. In 1955 the Last-Becker Ensemble was on the verge of breaking up. At this stage Hansi considered forming his own band, but lack of funds halted this project. Instead they joined the North German Radio Dance Orchestra in Hamburg.

Soon Hans was arranging music for the NDR, he stayed with the NDR until 1964 when he signed a contract for Polydor. He became a much sought after arranger and was soon scoring hits for Caterina Valente, Freddy Quinn, Helmut Zacharias in Hamburg, he even flew to Nashville to record Brenda Lee singing in German.
It was in 1955 that Hans married the attractive Waltraud Wiese from Bremen and by 1958, the Last household had become four, with the birth of a son Ronald and a daughter Caterina.

Soon a couple of albums hit the market. Hans Last and his Orchestra had arrived, but suddenly the next release on the Polydor label featured James Last and his Orchestra. Somebody somewhere within the record company felt that James had more international appeal than Hans.
Now James Last wanted to unleash upon the Germans his new party sound. His idea was to record the top hits of the day, and them hold a party in the studio to build up the atmosphere. In 1965 the Non Stop Dancing sound of James Last was launched.

In 1967, with seven or eight of his early albums making the German charts, and the launch of the Non Stop Dancing series, Polydor produced a budget price sampler album “This is James Last” and suddenly the Last sound was launched worldwide.
In the United Kingdom, this sampler sold for twelve shillings and sixpence. “This is James Last” entered the British album charts on April 15th, 1967, it stayed for forty-eight weeks and reached the number six position. In the U.K. sales topped 400,000. James Last had arrived.

James Last albums were selling by the thousands in Germany, Holland, Belgium, and here in the United Kingdom. Album after album reached the national charts. Whilst on a crest of the wave in Europe, it is reported that in Canada in 1967, five percent of the total record sales were by James Last. By 1969, the success in the record sales was phenomenal, but the Last band was a studio band, and yet to appear live. During 1969 Hans Last was persuaded to take the James Last Orchestra on tour. A four week tour of Germany had been lined up.
Many artists throughout the music business are great on disc, and terrible on stage, and vice-versa. Hansi wanted to recreate on stage the stereo sound which had been so succesful in the studio.

First the services of Peter Klemt were secured, he had succesfully mastered and mixed the early recordings. Peter immediately went out and purchased two mixers, one for the Hanover strings, whom Hansi had hired for the tour, and one for the brass section. The rhythm quartet was in front flanked by the English choir. By the end of the tour, Last was well and truly established. Soon plans were in hand to take the Orchestra to Canada for Expo 69 in Montreal.

1969 was a big year for the James Last Orchestra. In Cannes they received the International Midem Prize, the music industry’s Oscar. In Germany they were voted the number one Orchestra. The Germans gave Hansi the title of “Arranger of the Year”.
In 1970 the Last Orchestra were on the road in Germany again, a tour which had to be lengthened because of the demand for tickets. They toured Denmark and the gold discs were arriving thick and fast.

Now Hansi wanted to conquer the British. The entourage finally arrived in October, 1971. The New Victoria Theatre in London, housed the first concert. Whilst records came at the rate of around six a year, 1972, must have been the most productive year on the road. Another tour of Germany was followed by visits to Russia, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. 10,000 fans attended a James Last Voodoo Party in the Hamburg woods.

Last returned to Britain in 1973. The tour included three sell out concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall. By the time the 1973, UK tour was under way, twenty seven Last albums have entered the British album charts. After Britain, another tour of Canada and in December 1973, Hansi received his 100th Gold Record. During 1973, we saw the composition of a leissure centre Hansi built for the band at Fintel on Lumberg Heath. Here the band coudl relax and take a few days break, the complex had half a dozen or so bedrooms, kitchen, lounge, sports equipment. All the members in the band were given a key, and the centre was frequently used by many Last musicians to get away and relax after weeks on the road and in the recording studio.

By the mid-seventies Hansi and the James Last Orchestra were established as a top recording artist and sell out concerts attraction around the world. Hansi, was also scoring as a composer. Most Last albums have included a Last composition. In March 1969 Andy Williams entered the U.S. charts with Hansi’s composition “Happy Heart”, it stayed for 22 weeks and reached number seven. Here in May, it reached number nineteen, appearing in the charts for nine weeks. Elvis Presley recorded Hansi’s composition called “No Words”, words were added and “No Words” became “Fool”. “Fool” reached number 23 in the U.K. charts in August 1973 and stayed for seven weeks.

Without any chart success, probably the most famous Last composition is “Games That Lovers Play”. Over 100 recordings available worldwide including versions by Freddy Quinn, Connie Francis and Eddie Fisher.
Although Andy Williams scored with “Happy Heart” the number has been recorded by Petula Clark, Roger Williams, The Gunter Kaftan Choir, The Anita Kerr Singers, Norrie Paramor and his Orchestra and Peggy March.

Television has played a major part in the James Last success story. In 1968 ZDF Television launched a new music spectacular entitled Star Parade. The James Last Orchestra were residents for the 50 shows produced. The biggest names in music all guested on the show; Abba, Barry Manilow, Cliff Richard, Boney M, Roger Whitaker. Many television specials had been produced here in the United Kingdom. In 1971 on their first British tour the BBC took Hansi and the Orchestra along to the Dorchester Hotel, to record a fifty minute special before an invited audience. Dance Night at the Royal Albert Hall was captured by the Beeb, and in 1976 was recorded a the Shepherd Bush studios.

By 1978, the James Last Orchestra, had achieved virtually what they set out to do. Hansi had noticed that at concerts in Great Britain, the audience would get up and dance when he played his non stop dancing titles. The German audiences loved him too, and so later that year Hansi persuaded ZDF Television to come to London, to record a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The show was put together over two nights, each of those two nights some 5000 fans attended and had a ball.

The British fans were on their feet long before the interval, dancing and prancing around the Royal Albert Hall arena to their favourite James Last polkas. The second half was a riot, the fans had invaded the stage, they danced, they sang, and when Hansi asked them to sit on the floor, they sat on the floor and listened to “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”.

Whilst seated, they sang “Cockless and Mussels”, “Daisy, Daisy”, and “Abide With Me”. Back on their feet James Last struck up the band and introduced his version of “Dancing Party”, and what a Dancing Party it was, all taking place at a James Last concert and being captured on film.

The show entitled “Live in London” became available on a single album in Germany, a double album in Great Britain. In Germany on television, ZDF presented a ninety minute special, whilst here the BBC gave us two thirty minute shows. On top of that a year or so later, Polydor released the official video, which they sold by the case load. In fact, sales were so good that several dealers listed this video in their top sellers chart.

On April 23rd, 1978 Hansi received the highest award that can be won in Germany. He was awarded the “Bundesverdienstkreuz” by the President of West Germany, for his services to his country.

April 1979, Hansi celebrated his fiftieth birthday in London and the fans presented him with a special birthday cake. In fact, seven cakes shaped into letters and numbers spelling out H-A-N-S-I-5-0. Two days earlier, Hansi’s most successful recording released in Great Britain’s “Last The Whole Night Long” entered the British charts. It reached number two and stayed in the charts for forty five weeks.

The demand for live concerts was as high as ever. Late October 1979, the entourage left Hamburg for a month long tour of Japan. For this special occcasion, Hansi recorded a new album specially for the Japanese market entitled “Paintings”. Last was succesful now almost throughout the whole world. Although Hansi has a home in Florida, success in the U.S. has been limited to one album making eighty in the Billboard Top 100.

In April 1980, “The Seduction” hit the Billboard singles charts. It received air play across the United States, achieved position twenty eight and stayed for six weeks. A month later it made the British charts for four weeks reaching position number forty-eight.
In June 1980, the ZDF Television series “Star Parade” came to a close after 50 minute shows. In September 1980, ZDF launched the “Show Express”, another ninety minute production featuring James Last, but his came to a halt after ten shows.

James Last worldwide album sales cannot be counted – only estimated. However, in Germany, the trade paper Musicmart claimed Last has sold 1,800,000 in Germany in 1979, and an American publication called “They Have Sold A Million” claim estimated worldwide sales in excess of 40 billion. Throughout the sixties and seventies, the Last sound was dominant, hearing a track on the radio, the fans would reply “that is James Last”.

In the eighties, Hansi experimented with some new sounds. His album “Biscaya” strongly featured bandoneon and synthesizer, “Bluebird” featured pan flute and synthesizer, “Deutsche Vita” was mainly electronic. Many fans welcomed the new sounds, sound were disappointed that the Old James Last sound was missing. However, tracks from these albums, became firm favourites and concert show pieces.

Last continued to record around six albums per year. He did not spend so much time on the road, but in the early years of the new millennium he consistently toured the United Kingdom, Belgium and Holland.

In 1987, Last took the Orchestra to East Berlin for four sell out concerts, the East Berliners had a ball. From those four sell out concerts, Polydor released an album “Live in Berlin”, followed by a video. In 1990, James Last joined forces with Richard Clayderman to produce a new album, “Golden Hearts”.

By his own admission Last played as hard as he worked and his memoirs, My Autobiography (2007), revealed a man whose workaholic lifestyle and enthusiastic partying (including struggles with alcohol and serial womanising) blinded him to the demands of his family for many years. He always enjoyed a close relationship with his orchestra, however, many members of which had been with him from the beginning to the end of his career.
When his first wife Waltraud, whom he had married in 1955, died in 1997 he moderated the more excessive aspects of his behaviour, eventually marrying his second wife Christine, with whom he divided his time between homes in Hamburg and Florida. She survives him, with two children of his first marriage.

Songs composed by Last which achieved success in the US include “Happy Heart” and “Music From Across The Way”, both recorded by Andy Williams, “Games That Lovers Play”, recorded by Eddie Fisher, and “Fool”, recorded by Elvis Presley. By the time of his farewell tour in the spring of 2015, Last was reported to have sold well over 200 million albums.

James undertook his final tour months before his death at age 86, upon discovering in September 2014 that a life threatening illness had worsened. His final UK performance was his 90th at London’s Royal Albert Hall, more than any other performer except Eric Clapton.

He died 86 years old on June 9, 2015.

Writing in The Independent, Spencer Leigh suggested once that Last’s Non-Stop Dancing albums “paved the way for disco and dance mixes”. Asked if he minded being labelled the “King of Corn”, Last had replied “No, because it is true”.

Posted on

Kim
Fowley
1/2015

Kim FowleyJanuary 15, 2015 – Kim Fowley was born into an acting family in Los Angeles on July 21st 1939 and attended the University High School at the same time as singers Jan Berry and Dean Torrence, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Johnston, as well as actors Ryan O’Neal, James Brolin and Sandra Dee. In 1957, he was diagnosed suffering with polio but, and after realize from treatment  became manager and publicist for a local band The Sleepwalkers which included Bruce Johnston, drummer Sandy Nelson and, occasionally, Phil Spector. In his early days he worked in various capacities for both Alan Freed and Berry Gordy. His first record as producer was “Charge” by The Renegades.

He also worked on occasion as a recording artist in the 1960s, with Gary S. Paxton, he recorded the novelty song “Alley Oop”, which reached No. 1 on the charts in 1960 and he was credited to the non-existent group The Hollywood Argyles. In 1965, he wrote and produced a song about the psychedelic experience, “The Trip”, and later appeared on Frank Zappa’s first album ‘Freak Out!’. In the 60’he also worked with P.J. Proby, an early incarnation of Slade known as the N’Betweens, Gene Vincent, he appeared on hypephone on Frank Zappa’s first album Freak Out! and wrote the lyrics for the song “Portobello Road” recorded by Cat Stevens.

The 70s saw Kim produce three recordings, “At the Hop”, “Louie Louie” and “She’s So Fine” by Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids, for the film American Graffiti. He also co-wrote songs for KISS, Helen Reddy, Alice Cooper, Leon Russell and Kris Kristofferson. He also made recordings with Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers. The 80s find Kim talent hunting in Australia and New Zealand and he worked with The Innocents, Candy, Steel Breeze, The Runaways and Shanghai. He was the one behind the rise of all-girl rockbands in the late 1970s. Kim is also featured in Mayor of the Sunset Strip, a 2003 documentary about the disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer.

He became an experimental filmmaker after the DVD release of Mayor of the Sunset Strip. His written and directed works include: Black Room Doom, Dollboy: The Movie, Satan of Silverlake, The Golden Road to Nowhere, Frankenstein Goes Surfing, Trailer Park’s On Fire and Jukebox California.

He also played three dozen gigs between June 2007 and February 2009 as the act Crazy White Man, a duo featuring him on vocals and Richard Rogers on guitar. In 2012, Kim won the Special Jury Prize at the 13th Melbourne Underground Film Festival for his two feature projects – Golden Road to Nowhere and Black Room Doom, and in 2014 he also made an appearance in Beyoncé’s music video “Haunted”.  Fowler has often been described as “one of the most colorful characters in the annals of rock & roll.

He died on January 15, 2015 at the age of 75 after a long battle with bladder cancer.

Posted on

Dick
Wagner
7/2014

July 30, 2014 – Richard Allen “Dick” Wagner was born on December 14th 1942 in Oelwein, Iowa, but grew up in Saginaw, Michigan area and graduated from Waterford Township high school in 1961. His first band, called the Bossmen, was a favourite in the Detroit area and scored radio play with the Wagner-penned composition “Baby Boy”, “You’re the Girl for Me” and others.

Wagner formed his next band, the Frost, with Donny Hartman, Bobby Rigg and Gordy Garris, in the late 1960s and built up a substantial following in the Michigan area. The band featured the dual lead guitars of Wagner and Hartman. The band released three albums during their tenure together on Vanguard Records: 1969’s Frost Music and Rock and Roll Music, plus 1970’s Through the Eyes of Love. Wagner was the principal songwriter, arranger and lead singer of The Frost. Their live appearances brought out large crowds of young fans throughout the region.

In the late 60s he formed his second band The Frost, it was in these days he penned one of the best-known songs “Only Women Bleed”.

In 1972, Wagner moved to New York and formed the short-lived group “Ursa Major”. The original line-up included Billy Joel on keyboards and Rick Mangone on drums. As Billy Joel had to leave the band for personal reasons, Wagner replaced him with former Amboy Dukes bassist Greg Arama. They released one seminal, acclaimed self-titled album as a power trio. The band toured nationally with Jeff Beck and then with Alice Cooper.

In 1973, Wagner was recruited by producer Bob Ezrin for Lou Reed’s band along with Steve Hunter. Wagner and Hunter were featured guitarists on Lou Reed’s dark and controversial 1973 studio album, Berlin. Soon after, Wagner and Hunter were joined by Prakash John, Pentti “Whitey” Glan and Ray Colcord for Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal Tour. As band leader and arranger, Wagner took the early Lou Reed songs that had been recorded by the Velvet Underground and rearranged them for the concert stage. The new arrangements left behind the laid back feeling that had been established by the prior Reed band and won Reed his first gold album. The band toured internationally with Reed, culminating in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal album, recorded live at the New York Academy of Music in December 1973. Readers of Guitar World ranked the Hunter/Wagner solos on the 1973 live version of “Sweet Jane” 81st among the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of all time.

It was during Wagner’s days with the Frost that he first met Alice Cooper. Producer Bob Ezrin brought both Wagner and Steve Hunter into the studio to play guitar on the early Alice Cooper albums. Wagner had already been featured on the band’s School’s Out album, notably for playing the memorable guitar solo on the track “My Stars”. Wagner continued to play lead guitar (sometimes uncredited) on every Alice Cooper Group album that followed, through the break up of the original group.

When the members of the original Alice Cooper group parted ways in 1974, Wagner officially teamed up with Alice Cooper and became his principal co-writer, lead guitarist and band director. Together they wrote their first concept album, Welcome to My Nightmare.

Produced by Bob Ezrin, the album was released in 1975. The Nightmare Tour became the largest and longest touring rock show of the time. The live show also featured the duelling lead guitars of Wagner and Hunter in a guitar battle captured on the film of the same name. The film became a TV special and was released on home video in 1976. The world tour covered more than 120 cities over an eighteen-month period. Wagner continued to co-write songs and play lead guitar on additional Cooper albums, including: Goes To Hell, The Alice Cooper Show, Lace and Whiskey, From the Inside (written by the team of Alice Cooper, Dick Wagner and Bernie Taupin), Zipper Catches Skin, DaDa and Hey Stoopid among others.

At the suggestion of producer Bob Ezrin, Wagner contributed guitar tracks to the highly successful 1976 Kiss album Destroyer – the first Kiss album to prominently feature outside musicians. Though uncredited, Wagner replaced Ace Frehley as lead guitarist for the tracks “Flaming Youth” and “Sweet Pain”, while also playing the acoustic guitar found on the ballad “Beth”. As one of Ezrin`s hired guns throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, Wagner continued to lend his playing (and in some cases, songwriting) talents to albums including Peter Gabriel’s self-titled solo debut (1977), Air Supply, Aerosmith’s Get Your Wings, Hall & Oates’ Along the Red Ledge, Kiss’s Revenge, and Burton Cummings’ Dream of a Child. Wagner produced and co-wrote songs for Mark Farner’s solo début and a pair of albums for the star of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tim Curry and more.

In 1978, Wagner released a solo LP called Richard Wagner, produced by Bob Ezrin, and released on Atlantic Records. The album title confused both record stores and disc jockeys, who relegated the record to the classical music bin, assuming it was a classical music record composed by the 19th-century classical composer with the same name.

One of the best-known songs written by Wagner is “Only Women Bleed“. Written during Wagner’s days with the Frost, Wagner was initially unhappy with his lyrics and did not release it. Once his collaboration with Alice Cooper started, Wagner played the song for him. Alice had a title for a song he had been wanting to write. Cooper and Wagner penned new lyrics and recorded it for Cooper’s album Welcome to My Nightmare. The song delivered a message against domestic abuse. Since its initial release in 1975 “Only Women Bleed” has been covered by more than 30 artists, including Tina Turner, Etta James, Guns N’ Roses, Lita Ford, Carmen McRae and Tori Amos.

Following “Only Women Bleed”, Wagner co-wrote a series of hit power ballads with Alice Cooper, including “I Never Cry”, “You And Me” and “How You Gonna See Me Now” (the latter written by Cooper, Wagner and Bernie Taupin). Other songs co-written by Wagner brought him public recognition as a songwriting talent. First “Shine Silently” with Nils Lofgren, who performed it originally on his 1979 album Nils, then as part of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band’s 1990 eponymous first album. “Just As I Am”, written by Wagner with Rob Hegel, was a hit record for Air Supply. At the behest of producer Bob Ezrin, Wagner flew to Toronto and recorded seven tracks of guitars on the Air Supply record. Another power ballad, “I Might As Well Be on Mars”, again with Alice Cooper, was featured on Cooper’s 1991 album Hey Stoopid.

One of the songs Wagner was most proud of is “Remember The Child“, written to address the issue of child abuse. Written from the point of view of a child, the lyrics and sing song melody deliver a powerful and poignant message to adults that a child will forever remember the love or abuse of their childhood. New York Times best selling author John Bradshaw selected “Remember The Child” as the theme song for his award winning PBS television special, “Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child”.

Bradshaw invited Wagner to join him on his nationwide tour to perform the song as a cathartic and healing piece of music to the thousands who attended Bradshaw’s lectures and seminars. Embraced by psychiatrists and psychologists in their practices, the song has been used as a tool to evoke emotion from patients who are unable to express feelings. In 1996, Wagner was invited by Leo Najar, conductor of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra to perform a two and a half hour concert of his songs with the symphony. Wagner entitled the concert, “The Remember The Child Concert”, raising funds for child abuse agencies in central Michigan through his “Remember The Child Foundation”.

Wagner moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in 2005 where he was writing a new album with Alan Gordon (Happy Together, Celebrate). In 2007 he produced and wrote songs for artist Wensday on the album Torch Rock, released on his independent record label Desert Dreams Records. Her début album, produced by Wagner, was included in the 2007 50th Anniversary Grammy Awards ballot.

A film about the work of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, entitled “Rock and Roll Animals”, was in production in 2007 by Noble Savage Productions. In filmed interviews, Alice Cooper talks about hiring Dick Wagner, writing with him and hiring the greatest guitar players to be in his band. Fred Mandel, keyboardist with the Alice Cooper Band was also interviewed. The film was never completed, but the clips are on YouTube.

In 2006, Wagner cooperated with the Italian rock singer Chris Catena in recording a cover version of “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” the famous rock song by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, which will be released in the third album of the Italian singer around 2015.

In 2007, Wagner suffered a massive heart attack and stroke. After arriving DOA at a Scottsdale hospital, he spent two weeks in a coma, awakening with a paralyzed left arm. While recovering from his heart attack, Wagner continued to write songs and began writing his memoirs, which ultimately became his book, Not Only Women Bleed.

As he slowly recovered from his heart attack and stroke, Wagner manifested unusual symptoms, including difficulty walking and concentrating, loss of balance, and symptoms of dementia, threatening his music career and his life. In 2011, Wagner was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), a type of dementia which affects, among other things, fine motor skills and gait. In late 2011, after successful surgery at Barrow Neurological Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, Wagner was able to make a significant recovery, regaining almost all of the dexterity which had been lost over the course of the disorder’s progression.

Dick Wagner’s former band the Frost was voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame in 2008. The group’s recording of “Mystery Man”, a Wagner composition, was voted a Legendary Michigan Song in 2009. He continued to recover from his near-fatal heart attack and recorded with long-time collaborator Steve Hunter on an unnamed single for Wensday.

Wagner released a new CD in October 2009, called Full Meltdown on Desert Dreams Records. It features 15 lost and newly discovered songs recorded by Wagner between 1979 and 1995. He also produced the band Warsaw Pact and the independent artist Brandon Bullard with releases from both in early 2010. Wagner scored with Alice Cooper and the British funk rock band the Velvet Hearts the soundtrack to the Indie horror film Silas Gore, A Film Trilogy. Similar to his original work on the first Alice Cooper solo album Welcome to My Nightmare, Dick also contributed lead guitar to the final track, “The Underture”, from the album Welcome 2 My Nightmare. It represents instrumental versions of several songs from each album.

In 2010, Gibson.com honored the guitar tandem of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter with two places in the Top 50 Guitar Solos of All Time – #25 for “Intro to Sweet Jane” (Lou Reed), and as #41 “Train Kept A Rollin’ (Aerosmith). In 2012, Gibson published Riff This Way: Aerosmith’s Top 10 Riff-Heavy Tracks, placing Dick Wagner with two winning guitar solos: The #1 Best Aerosmith Guitar Solo for his lead guitar on “Same Old Song and Dance”, and also #4, honoring his performance as lead guitarist with Steve Hunter on “Train Kept A Rollin'”. Wagner won a number of BMI Songwriter awards and other international music awards and his work has been featured on albums earning more than 35 gold and platinum records.

In 2012, Wagner’s memoirs, Not Only Women Bleed, Vignettes from the Heart of a Rock Musician, were released to tremendous acclaim, spending more than two weeks at No. 1 on Amazon.com’s Hot New Releases in Biographies & Memoirs of Entertainers. His book has won five international book awards.

The same year, Wagner joined forces with the Mugshots – the only European band ever produced by the musician- and spent two weeks in Italy to produce their acclaimed release “Love, Lust And Revenge”, on which he is featured as lead guitarist as well. Susan Michelson is featured as associated producer, British ladies Never The Bride provided backing vocals, American actress Suzi Lorraine] is featured on the cover. The record was then mixed in Phoenix by Otto D’Agnolo at Chaton Studios, and mastered by Wagner’s longtime friend and collaborator, Gil Markle. The Mugshots – “a majestic Euro-American combination of classic rock and dark stories”[10] in the musician’s words – are known to be the only band to have recorded a cover version of “Pass The Gun Around”, written by Dick Wagner back in 1983 for Alice Cooper’s DaDa.

In 2013 and 2014, after suffering more than six years of extreme health adversities: two heart attacks, a stroke, a paralyzed left arm, a diagnosis of hydrocephalus (NPH) two brain surgeries, a pacemaker and more, Wagner’s guitar playing facilities had returned, and he fully resumed performing, touring, writing songs and producing music. His book tour for Not Only Women Bleed took him to more than 40 states. With personal appearances in documentary films and writing film scores, Wagner had three songs featured in the multi-award winning documentary “Louder than Love” (including the opening song and the closing credits song). Leading up to his death, Wagner’s projects included producing and writing for Danish rock star, Maryann Cotton, in a concept album and TV project reminiscent of Wagner’s shock rock history, a featuring in the forthcoming third solo album of the Italian rocker Chris Catena, entitled Return of the Freak.

On July 30, 2014, Wagner died of respiratory failure at the age of 71.

Posted on

Tommy
Ramone
7/2014

July 11, 2014 – Tommy Ramone (The Ramones) was born Erdélyi Tamás on January 29, 1949 in Budapest, Hungary. The drummer was the last of the original band member of the Ramones. He was born to Jewish parents who survived the Holocaust by being hidden by neighbours, although many of his relatives were victims of the Nazis.

The family left Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In 1957, he emigrated with his family to the United States. Initially settling in the South Bronx, the family moved up to the middle-class suburb of Forest Hills in Queens, New York. Forest Hills was the place where Tamás grew up. He changed his name to Thomas Erdelyi. While in high school, he and guitarist Johnny Cummings, who later became Johnny Ramone, performed together in a garage band called the Tangerine Puppets.

In 1970, Tommy was an assistant engineer for the production of the Jimi Hendrix album Band of Gypsys. Then in 1974, hugely influenced by 60s groups and the New York Dolls, Tommy, along with Johnny Cummings, Jeffrey Hyman and Douglas Colvin formed a new band and bassist Douglas, inspired by Paul McCartney’s use of the pseudonym Paul Ramon, called himself Dee Dee Ramone and convinced the other members to take on the name Ramone and came up with the idea of calling the band the Ramones.

When the Ramones first came together, with Johnny Ramone on guitar, Dee Dee Ramone on bass and Joey Ramone on drums, Erdelyi was supposed to be the manager, but was drafted as the band’s drummer when Joey became the lead singer, after realizing that he couldn’t keep up with the Ramones’ increasingly fast tempos. “Tommy Ramone, who was managing us, finally had to sit down behind the drums, because nobody else wanted to,” Dee Dee later recalled.

He remained as drummer from 1974 to 1978, playing on and co-producing their first three albums, Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia, as well as the live album It’s Alive. His final show as a Ramones drummer was at Johnny Blitz benefit event at CBGB’s in New York, USA on May 4, 1978.

In a 2007 interview with the BBC, Ramone said the band had been heavily influenced by 1970s hard-rock band the New York Dolls, by singer-songwriter Lou Reed and by pop-art figure Andy Warhol. He said, “The scene that developed at CBGB wasn’t for a teenage or garage band; there was an intellectual element and that’s the way it was for The Ramones.”

Tommy Ramone was replaced on drums in 1978 by Marky Ramone, but handled band management and co-production for their fourth album, Road to Ruin; he later returned as producer for the eighth album, 1984’s Too Tough to Die.

Tommy Ramone wrote “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and the majority of “Blitzkrieg Bop” while bassist Dee Dee suggested the title. He and Ed Stasium played all the guitar solos on the albums he produced, as Johnny Ramone largely preferred playing rhythm guitar. In the 1980s he produced the Replacements album Tim, as well as Redd Kross’s Neurotica.

On October 8, 2004, he played as a Ramone once again, when he joined C.J. Ramone, Daniel Rey, and Clem Burke (also known as Elvis Ramone) in the “Ramones Beat Down on Cancer” concert. In October 2007 in an interview to promote It’s Alive 1974-1996 a 2-DVD set of the band’s best televised live performances[citation needed] he paid tribute to his deceased bandmates:

They gave everything they could in every show. They weren’t the type to phone it in, if you see what I mean.

Ramone and Claudia Tienan (formerly of underground band the Simplistics) performed as a bluegrass-based folk duo called Uncle Monk. Ramone stated: “There are a lot of similarities between punk and old-time music. Both are home-brewed music as opposed to schooled, and both have an earthy energy. And anybody can pick up an instrument and start playing.” He joined songwriter Chris Castle, Garth Hudson, Larry Campbell and the Womack Family Band in July 2011 at Levon Helm Studios for Castle’s album Last Bird Home.

Tommy died on July 11, 2014, while fighting bile duct cancer. He was 62.

Tommy left the band in 1977, after their third and greatest album, Rocket to Russia, to concentrate on a career as a record producer. In the intervening years, he has come up with some stimulating theories about how the band’s reputation has blossomed: “Even from the very beginning, the type of fans the Ramones generated were the kind of people who wound up running industry, who became professors and scientists. Our staunchest fans were always a little bit more on the outside, the type of people who didn’t fit in with society. And once these people start running things, I think they started to inform the general public – ‘Hey, by the way, the Ramones started it all.’ That’s when the general population started becoming aware of how special the Ramones were.”

Posted on

Jim
Marshall
4/2012

Jim Marshall AmpsApril 5, 2012 – Jim Marshall  Even though Jim Marshall was a drummer who made a good income teaching drums to many British rockstars in the early fifties, his being in these pages is based on his importance to Rock as a builder of Rock’s most important amplifiers and speaker boxes.

It was the physical embodiment of rock’s power and majesty — a wall of black, vinyl-clad cabinets, one atop the other, crowned with a rectangular box containing the innovative circuitry that revolutionized the music.

This was the famed Marshall stack, the amplification gear that has dominated rock stages since its introduction in the early 1960s, bestowing on guitarists the ability to achieve unprecedented volume and controlled distortion.

From the Who, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s on through Peter Frampton, Van Halen, AC/DC, Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana in succeeding decades, the cursive “Marshall” emblazoned on the speakers has served as an inescapable backdrop signature.

The Marshall stack was so much larger than life that it lent itself to excess as well. The famous amp in the mockumentary “Spinal Tap” with a unique setting of 11 on the dial was a Marshall, and no rock image was more over-the-top than that of KISS’ four members performing in front of some 40 Marshall cabinets.

Of course, they didn’t need that many.

“Hendrix used three 100-watt amps and three stacks,” their inventor Jim Marshall once said. “KISS go a lot further, but most of the cabinets and amps you see on stage are dummies. We once built 80 dummy cabinets for Bon Jovi. They all do it — it’s just backdrop.

“It would be stupid to use more than three 100-watt amps, wherever and whoever you are.”

Marshall died at 88 in an English hospice after suffering from cancer and several severe strokes, his son Terry Marshall told the Associated Press. Musicians, competitors and fans were quick to salute Marshall, who had retained an active role at Marshall Amplification well into his 80s.

Comments on Twitter came from Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx (“R.I.P. Jim Marshall. You were responsible for some of the greatest audio moments in music’s history and 50% of all our hearing loss”), Slash (“The news of Jim Marshall passing is deeply saddening. R & R will never be the same w/out him. But, his amps will live on FOREVER!”) and Megadeth’s David Ellefson (“You made rock n roll what it is for so many of us.”)

“RIP Jim Marshall. Such a huge loss for the music community,” was the sentiment expressed by Fullerton-based Fender Guitars, whose Bassman amplifier served as Marshall’s model when he set about to redefine the technology in 1962.

It was an unlikely undertaking, but Marshall’s life had consistently defied the odds. Born in London on July 29, 1923, he saw his youth interrupted by a case of bone tuberculosis that immobilized him in a hospital from the age of 5 to 13.

When he recovered, he took on menial jobs, began educating himself in engineering, learned to tap dance and became a big band singer and drummer. He worked as a toolmaker for aircraft manufacturers during World War II, but soon music took precedence.

He began giving drum lessons and opened a drum shop in London. One of his students was Mitch Mitchell, who would later introduce him to the leader of his new trio, Hendrix. The shop’s customers included the son of one of Marshall’s big band cohorts, a young rock musician who encouraged Marshall to add guitars and amps to his inventory.

Marshall took Pete Townshend’s advice, and business boomed. When Townshend and friends such as Ritchie Blackmore learned about his technical background, they prodded him to devise an amplifier with more power and rougher tone than the pure, clean-sounding Fenders.

Marshall took on the challenge, working with guitarist-electrician Ken Bran and hiring engineer Dudley Craven away from EMI Records to help him achieve the sound he envisioned. They adapted airplane vacuum tubes into the design, Marshall packed four 12-inch speakers into a tongue-and-groove cabinet whose top half angled slightly upward and they set a 50-watt amplifier on top of it.

They got it right on the sixth prototype, but the rock musicians were becoming intoxicated with the potential of greater volume and soon their urging led to a 100-watt amp powering eight speakers — two of the cabinets in the famed stack formation.

Marshall quickly built his enterprise into a consistently successful firm, adding midrange and low-end lines to the catalog. He twice received the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement and was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2004. He was regularly listed among Britain’s wealthiest individuals.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the man known as “the father of loud” did suffer some hearing problems. But it’s not what you might think.

“My right ear is not very good at all,” he said in a 2005 interview with the New Zealand Herald. “And I’d always put it down to when I was playing the top cymbal, but it was probably the brass section in the orchestras I was playing in the ’50s. So it happened before I was dealing with rock ‘n’ roll.”

Jim Marshall was almost 89 years old when he died from cardiac arrest on 5 April 2012.

Posted on

Honeyboy
Edwards
8/2011

Delta Blues Pioneer Honeyboy EdwardsAugust 29, 2011 – David “Honeyboy” Edwards  American blues guitarist and singer, born in Shaw, Mississippi on June 28th 1915. At 14 he he left home to travel with bluesman Big Joe Williams.

Honeyboy was a part of many of the seminal moments of the blues.  As Honeyboy writes in “The World Don’t Own Me Nothing”, “…it was in ’29 when Tommy Johnson come down from Crystal Springs, Mississippi. He was just a little guy, tan colored, easy-going; but he drank a whole lot. At nighttime, we’d go there and listen to Tommy Johnson play.” Honeyboy continues, ” Listening to Tommy, that’s when I really learned something about how to play guitar.”
Honeyboy’s life has been intertwined with almost every major blues legend, including Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Big Joe Williams, Rice “Sonny Boy Williamson” Miller, Howlin’ Wolf, Peetie Wheatstraw, Sunnyland Slim, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Walter, Little Walter,  Magic Sam, Muddy Waters, and … well, let’s just say the list goes on darn near forever!

He performed with and was a friend of blues legend Robert Johnson, the King of the Delta Blues, and was reportedly present on the night Johnson drank poisoned whiskey which eventually killed him three days later. The two traveled together, performing on street corners and at picnics, dances and fish fries during the 1930s.

“We would walk through the country with our guitars on our shoulders, stop at people’s houses, play a little music, walk on,” Mr. Edwards said in an interview with the blues historian Robert Palmer, recalling his peripatetic years with Johnson. “We could hitchhike, transfer from truck to truck, or, if we couldn’t catch one of them, we’d go to the train yard, ’cause the railroad was all through that part of the country then.” He added, “Man, we played for a lot of peoples.

On Saturday, somebody like me or Robert Johnson would go into one of these little towns, play for nickels and dimes. And sometimes, you know, you could be playin’ and have such a big crowd that it would block the whole street. Then the police would come around, and then I’d go to another town and where I could play at. But most of the time, they would let you play. Then sometimes the man who owned a country store would give us something like a couple of dollars to play on a Saturday afternoon. We could hitchhike, transfer from truck to truck, or if we couldn’t catch one of them, we’d go to the train yard, ’cause the railroad was all through that part of the country then…we might hop a freight, go to St. Louis or Chicago. Or we might hear about where a job was paying off – a highway crew, a railroad job, a levee camp there along the river, or some place in the country where a lot of people were workin’ on a farm. You could go there and play and everybody would hand you some money. I didn’t have a special place then. Anywhere was home. Where I do good, I stay. When it gets bad and dull, I’m gone.”

American music roots Folklorist Alan Lomax recorded David in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1942 for the Library of Congress, recording 15 album sides of music.
The songs included “Wind Howlin’ Blues” and “The Army Blues”. He did not record again commercially until 1951, when he recorded “Who May Be Your Regular Be” for Arc Records under the name of Mr Honey. Honeyboy also cut “Build A Cave” as ‘Mr. Honey’ for Artist.

Having moved to Chicago in the early fifties, Honeyboy played small clubs and street corners with Floyd Jones, Johnny Temple, and Kansas City Red. In 1953, Honeyboy recorded several songs for Chess that remained un-issued until “Drop Down Mama” was included in an anthology release.
He claims to have written several well-known blues songs including “Long Tall Woman Blues” and “Just Like Jesse James”. His discography for the 1950s and 1960s amounts to nine songs from seven sessions.

In 1972, Honeyboy met Michael Frank, and the two soon became fast friends. In 1976, they hit the North Side Blues scene as The Honeyboy Edwards Blues Band, as well as performing as a duo on occasion. Michael founded Earwig Records, and in 1979 Honeyboy and his friends Sunnyland Slim, Kansas City Red, Floyd Jones, and Big Walter Horton recorded “Old Friends”. From 1974 to 1977, he recorded material for a full length LP, I’ve Been Around, released in 1978.

Honeyboy’s early Library of Congress performances and more recent recordings were combined on “Delta Bluesman”, released by Earwig in 1992.

His release, Roamin and Ramblin, on the Earwig Music label, featured Honeyboy’s old school guitar and vocals – fresh takes on old gems and first time release of historic recordings. New 2007 sessions with harmonica greats Bobby Rush, Billy Branch and Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones, previously unreleased 1975 studio recordings of Honeyboy and Big Walter Horton, and circa 1976 concert tracks — solo and with Sugar Blue. Michael Frank, Paul Kaye, Rick Sherry and Kenny Smith also play on the album on various tracks. Honeyboy and Bobby Rush also tell some short blues tales.

David Honeyboy Edwards, the “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen” continued his rambling life, touring the world well into his 90s, only just retiring July 17th 2011. A little over a month later he passed away from heart failure on August 29, 2011 at the age of 96.

He was inducted in 1996 into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Honeyboy was awarded a Grammy Award in 2008 for Best Traditional Blues Album, on which he appeared with Robert Lockwood, Henry Townsend and Pinetop Perkins and in 2010 was warded a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

Isaac
Hayes
8/2008

Soul Superstar Isaac HayesAugust 10, 2008 – Isaac Lee Hayes Jr.  was born on August 20, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee. The child of a sharecropper family, he grew up working on farms in Shelby County, Tennessee, and in Tipton County. At age five Hayes began singing at his local church; he later taught himself to play the piano, the Hammond organ, the flute, and the saxophone.

Hayes dropped out of high school, but his former teachers at Manassas High School in Memphis encouraged him to complete his diploma, which he finally did at age 21. After graduating from high school, Hayes was offered several music scholarships from colleges and universities. He turned down all of them to provide for his immediate family, working at a meat-packing plant in Memphis by day and playing nightclubs and juke joints several evenings a week in Memphis and nearby northern Mississippi. His first professional gigs, in the late 1950s, were as a singer at Curry’s Club in North Memphis, backed by Ben Branch’s houseband.

Hayes began his recording career in the early 1960s, as a session player for various acts of the Memphis-based Stax Records. He later wrote a string of hit songs with songwriting partner David Porter, including “You Don’t Know Like I Know”, “Soul Man”, “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” and “Hold On, I’m Comin” for Sam & Dave. Hayes, Porter and Stax studio band Booker T. & the M.G.’s were also the producers for Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and other Stax artists during the mid-1960s. Hayes-Porter contributed to the Stax sound made famous during this period, and Sam & Dave credited Hayes for helping develop both their sound and style.

In 1968, Hayes released his debut album, Presenting Isaac Hayes, a jazzy, largely improvised effort that was commercially unsuccessful. His next album was Hot Buttered Soul, which was released in 1969 after Stax had gone through a major upheaval. The label had lost its largest star, Otis Redding, in a plane crash in December 1967. Stax lost all of its back catalog to Atlantic Records in May 1968. As a result, Stax executive vice president Al Bell called for 27 new albums to be completed in mid-1969; Hot Buttered Soul, was the most successful of these releases. This album is noted for Hayes’s image (shaved head, gold jewelry, sunglasses, etc.) and his distinct sound (extended orchestral songs relying heavily on organs, horns and guitars, deep bass vocals, etc.). Also on the album, Hayes reinterpreted “Walk On By” (which had been made famous by Dionne Warwick) into a 12-minute exploration. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” starts with an eight-minute-long monologue before breaking into song, and the lone original number, the funky “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” runs nearly ten minutes, a significant break from the standard three-minute soul/pop songs. “Walk On By” would be the first of many times Hayes would take a Burt Bacharach standard, generally made famous as three-minute pop songs by Dionne Warwick or Dusty Springfield, and transform it into a soulful, lengthy and almost gospel number.

In 1970, Hayes released two albums, The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued. The former stuck to the four-song template of his previous album. Jerry Butler’s “I Stand Accused” begins with a trademark spoken word monologue, and Bacharach’s “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” is re-worked. The latter spawned the classic “The Look of Love”, another Bacharach song transformed into an 11-minute epic of lush orchestral rhythm (mid-way it breaks into a rhythm guitar jam for a couple of minutes before suddenly resuming the slow love song). An edited three-minute version was issued as a single. The album also featured the instrumental “Ike’s Mood,” which segued into his own version of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. Hayes released a Christmas single, “The Mistletoe and Me” (with “Winter Snow” as a B-side).

In early 1971, Hayes composed music for the soundtrack of the blaxploitation film Shaft. (in the movie, he also appeared in a cameo role as the bartender of No Name Bar). The title theme, with its wah-wah guitar and multi-layered symphonic arrangement, would become a worldwide hit single, and spent two weeks at number one in the Billboard Hot 100 in November. The remainder of the album was mostly instrumentals covering big beat jazz, bluesy funk, and hard Stax-styled soul. The other two vocal songs, the social commentary “Soulsville” and the 19-minute jam “Do Your Thing,” would be edited down to hit singles.
Hayes won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the “Theme from Shaft”, and was nominated for Best Original Dramatic Score for the film’s score. His score also earned him a Golden Globe Award and two Grammy Awards. Later in the year, Hayes released a double album, Black Moses, that expanded on his earlier sounds and featured The Jackson 5’s song “Never Can Say Goodbye”. Another single, “I Can’t Help It”, was not featured on the album.

In 1972, Hayes would record the theme tune for the television series The Men and enjoy a hit single (with “Type Thang” as a B-side). He released several other non-album singles during the year, such as “Feel Like Making Love”, “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right)” and “Rolling Down a Mountainside”. Atlantic would re-release Hayes’s debut album this year with the new title In The Beginning.

Hayes was back in 1973 with an acclaimed live double album, Live At Sahara Tahoe, and followed it up with the album Joy, with the eerie beat of the 15-minute title track. He moved away from cover songs with this album. An edited “Joy” would be a hit single. Hayes’ recording career flourished in the 1970s.  His 1972 album Black Moses brought him his third Grammy Award, and was one of his seven albums to reach the Top 40 that decade.

In 1974, Hayes was featured in the blaxploitation films Three Tough Guys and Truck Turner, and he recorded soundtracks for both. Tough Guys was almost devoid of vocals and Truck Turner yielded a single with the title theme. The soundtrack score was eventually used by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino in the Kill Bill film series and has been used for over 30 years as the opening score of Brazilian radio show Journal de Esportes on the Jovem Pan station. Unlike most African-American musicians of the period, Hayes did not sport an Afro; his bald head became one of his defining characteristics.

But by that time success’ excessive lifestyle created financial problems and by the mid decade he and Stax were facing bankruptcies. By the end of the bankruptcy proceedings in 1977, Hayes had lost his home, much of his personal property, and the rights to all future royalties earned from the music he had written, performed, and produced.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he appeared in numerous films, notably Escape from New York (1981), I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), Prime Target (1991), and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), as well as in episodes of The A-Team and Miami Vice. His music career circled mostly around collaborations with Dionne Warwick and later R&B crooner Barry White.

In 1995, Hayes appears as a Las Vegas minister impersonating Himself in the comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He launched a comeback on the Virgin label in May 1995 with Branded, an album of new material that earned impressive sales figures as well as positive reviews from critics who proclaimed it a return to form. A companion album released around the same time, Raw and Refined, featured a collection of previously unreleased instrumentals, both old and new. Hayes worked on the theme for the 1996 theatrical release ‘Beavis and Butt-Head Do America’, producing a piece which was essentially a hybrid of ‘The Theme From Shaft’ and the theme from the original ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ TV show.

The 1990s saw Hayes in a completely different approach to celebrity as the voice of “Chef” in the animated South Park comedy series, which he continued until religious discontent in an episode with his denomination of Scientology, made him resign in 2005.

On March 20, 2006, two days before “The Return of Chef” aired, Roger Friedman of Fox News reported having been told that the March 13 statement was made in Hayes’s name, but not by Hayes himself. He wrote: “Isaac Hayes did not quit South Park. My sources say that someone quit it for him. … Friends in Memphis tell me that Hayes did not issue any statements on his own about South Park. They are mystified.” In a 2016 oral history of South Park in The Hollywood Reporter, Isaac Hayes III confirmed that the decision to leave the show was made by Hayes’ entourage, all of whom were ardent Scientologists. The decision was made after Hayes suffered a stroke leaving him vulnerable to outside influence and unable to make such decisions on his own.

Having to compensate lost revenue, announcements were made that he would be touring and performing again, but a reporter present at a January 2007 show in New York City, who had known Hayes fairly well, reported that “Isaac was plunked down at a keyboard, where he pretended to front his band. He spoke-sang, and his words were halting. He was not the Isaac Hayes of the past.”

Suffering a second fatal stroke Isaac Hayes died on August 10, 2008 in East Memphis at his home after a work out on a treadmill. He was 65.

Hayes and Porter, along with Bill Withers, the Sherman Brothers, Steve Cropper, and John Fogerty were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of writing scores of songs for themselves, the duo Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and others. Hayes was also a 2002 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The song “Soul Man”, written by Hayes and Porter and first performed by Sam & Dave, has been recognized as one of the most influential songs of the past 50 years by the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also honored by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by Rolling Stone magazine, and by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as one of the Songs of the Century.

In recognition of his humanitarian work there Hayes was crowned honorary king of the Ada, Ghana region in 1992.

In 2003, Hayes was honored as a BMI Icon at the 2003 BMI Urban Awards for his enduring influence on generations of music makers. Throughout his songwriting career, Hayes received five BMI R&B Awards, two BMI Pop Awards, two BMI Urban Awards and six Million-Air citations. As of 2008, his songs generated more than 12 million performances.

In 2002 Hayes is inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2005 in the Songwriters Hall of Fame

Posted on

Lee
Hazlewood
8/2007

August 4, 2007 – Barton Lee Hazlewood (These Boots Are Made for Walkin’) was born on July 9, 1929 in Mannford, Oklahoma. The son of an oil man, he spent most of his youth living between Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Louisiana. He grew up listening to pop and bluegrass music. He spent his teenage years in Port Neches, Texas, where he was exposed to a rich Gulf Coast music tradition. He studied for a medical degree at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

Following discharge from the military, which he spent partly as a DJ in the Korean War, Hazlewood worked as a disc jockey in Phoenix while honing his song writing skills. His first hit single as a producer and songwriter was “The Fool”, recorded by rockabilly artist Sanford Clark in 1956.
He then partnered with pioneering rock guitarist Duane Eddy in Phoenix, producing and co-writing a string of hit instrumental records, including “Peter Gunn”, “Boss Guitar”, “Forty Miles of Bad Road”, “Shazam!”, “Rebel-‘Rouser” and “(Dance With The) Guitar Man”.

He became perhaps best known for having written and produced the 1966 Nancy Sinatra U.S./UK No.1 hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin“, with “Summer Wine” on the flipside. He also wrote “How Does That Grab Ya, Darlin'”, “Friday’s Child”, “So Long, Babe, “Sugar Town” and many others for Sinatra.

Hazlewood had a distinctive baritone voice that added a resonance to his music. His collaborations with Nancy Sinatra as well as his solo output in the late 1960s and early 1970s have been praised as an essential contribution to a sound often described as “cowboy psychedelia” or “saccharine underground”.

He wrote “Houston”, a 1965 US hit recorded by Dean Martin. He also produced several singles for Martin’s daughter, Deana Martin, including her country hit, “Girl of the Month Club,” while Deana was still a teenager. Other tunes on that project were “When He Remembers Me,” “Baby I See You” and “The Bottom of My Mind,” all recorded during the 1960s.

Among his most well-known vocal performances is “Some Velvet Morning“, a 1967 duet with Nancy Sinatra. He performed that song along with “Jackson” on her 1967 television special Movin’ With Nancy. Early in 1967, Lee also produced the number 1 hit song for Frank & Nancy Sinatra “Somethin’ Stupid”. Jimmy Bowen was listed as co-producer but wasn’t there at the time. Hazelwood just gave him credit as per a previous agreement with Jimmy. Lee also wrote the theme song “The Last of the Secret Agents”, the theme song of the 1966 spy-spoof film of the same title. Nancy Sinatra, who had a role in the film, recorded the song for the soundtrack. For Frank Sinatra’s 1967 detective movie, Tony Roma, Hazlewood also wrote the theme song which was performed by Nancy.

Nancy Sinatra, who had released a number of saccharine singles before teaming up with Hazlewood in 1965, recalled: “He said to me: ‘You can’t sing like Nancy Nice Lady anymore. You have to sing for the truckers.’ “At about this time, I was getting a divorce. My husband decided he didn’t want to have children, and I did and he knew it. So we split.

“Lee said to me: ‘You’ve been married and now you’re divorced, and people know that. So, let’s lose this virgin image. Let’s get rid of it.'” Hazlewood and Sinatra enjoyed a sexual chemistry on stage that proved highly popular, yet he eschewed any notion of becoming a superstar himself. What’s more, many in the music business began to regard him as too risque.

Hazlewood also wrote “This Town”, a song that was recorded by Frank Sinatra that appeared on his 1968 album Greatest Hits and was the basis for Paul Shaffer’s “Small Town News” segment theme on the Late Show with David Letterman.

In 1967, Lee formed LHI Records standing for Lee Hazlewood Industries.

Though it did not receive much attention at the time, he also worked with Gram Parsons and the International Submarine Band in the mid-1960s. Parsons’ departure from the band and decision to become part of The Byrds created legal problems with Hazlewood. The band’s album “Safe at Home” is today widely regarded as the first blooming of country rock, later made so popular by the Byrds, Crosby Stills Nash and the Eagles.

In the 1970s Hazlewood moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where he wrote and produced the one-hour television show Cowboy in Sweden together with friend and Director Torbjörn Axelman, which also later emerged as an album. Hazlewood enjoyed a peripatetic life, moving nearly every year, living among other places, in the UK, France and Sweden.

Lee was semi-retired from the music business from the late 1970s and all through the 1980s. However, his own output also achieved a cult status in the underground rock scene, with songs covered by artists such as Vanilla Fudge, Rowland S. Howard, Kim Salmon and the Surrealists, Miles Kane, Vanilla Fudge, Spell, Lydia Lunch, Primal Scream, Entombed, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Hooverphonic, Anita Lane, Megadeth, The Ukiah Drag, Beck, Baustelle, the Tubes, Thin White Rope, Yonatan Gat, Zeena Schreck/Radio Werewolf and Slowdive.

He returned to Phoenix to raise his daughter Samantha and, in the 1990s, did more tours with Nancy Sinatra. Billy Ray Cyrus had a hit with a cover version of Boots, which proved a lucrative earner.

When independent labels began reissuing some of Hazlewood’s ’70s albums some 20 years later, the artist began to gain a younger following.

But in 2005, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and set about writing and recording his last album, Cake or Death, a phrase borrowed from a sketch by comedian Eddie Izzard. In it, he took a swipe at America’s war in Iraq, entitled Baghdad Knights. Even though Hazlewood wore many hats – singer, musician, songwriter, producer, disc jockey, talent spotter and producer, his work as a stylish, slightly quirky, songwriter will be his legacy. As he once quipped: “These are songs which enabled my children to attend some of the best schools in America. They’re called hits, God help us.”

In 2006, Hazlewood sang on Bela B.’s first solo album, Bingo, on the song “Lee Hazlewood und das erste Lied des Tages” (“Lee Hazlewood and the first song of the day”). He said that he loved producing and writing albums.

His last recording was for the vocals of Icelandic quartet Amiina’s single “Hilli (At The Top Of The World)”

Lee lost his life to renal cancer on August 4, 2007 at the age of 78.

Posted on

Bruce
Gary
8/2006

Bruce Gary, drummer for the KnackAugust 22, 2006 – Bruce Gary was born on April 7, 1951 in Burbank, California. Bruce had a tormented and horrid childhood as he grew up in the early ’60s in the west San Fernando Valley, not far from Malibu. “The popular music of my peers at that time was a wonderful combination of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums called surf music,” he said in a 2002 interview. “It made me forget a lot of what was going on at home”. “Somehow it perfectly reflected the carefree times of my youth. I started playing drums when I was six years old. The first proper band I played in was called The Watchmen. I was eleven. We cut our teeth playing music by such artists as The Ventures, The Beach Boys, Dick Dale & The Del-Tones, The Surfaris, The Astronauts, The Wailers, and many more bands of that nature. We enjoyed a healthy dose of playing local parties and youth centers in the Valley.”

Bruce Gary attended Taft High School in the San Fernando Valley, and after tenth grade went to the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. At age sixteen he left home and moved into Topanga Canyon, where he became friends with guitarist Randy California. “There was a very fertile music community there which allowed me to further my ambitions of being a successful working musician. It was there that I was fortunate to hook up with blues guitar great Albert Collins. This began a four-year trek of touring throughout the United States. It marked the beginning of my career as a professional drummer.”

In 1969 his surf band opened for The Kinks at Pierce College. Starting in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1990s, Gary studied, observed, and took drum lessons from Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich and Freddie Gruber. In the ’70s he played on numerous albums for in-house Capitol Records producers. Later in that decade Bruce played drums on albums by Alex Harvey,Giants, and Roderick Falconer, produced by Peter Ivers, before he helped equally create and shape the sound for the multiple platinum, Mike Chapman-produced Knack debut album, The Knack, in 1979.

“During our club break-in period we rehearsed daily at an old storage complex in Hollywood,” Bruce explained. “Our guitarist brought in a song he was working on, which eventually became ‘My Sharona.’ He wanted it to feel similar to the Miracles’ hit, “Going to a Go-Go.” As we rehearsed it, I had the idea to inject a sort of surf beat formula—all flams. A flam is when you hit the drum with both sticks at the same time but slightly apart. This gives you an echo effect… a very surf-like formula.” That approach helped make “Sharona” a worldwide #1 hit in 1979.

“When I first played with Bruce in 1973, my musical stature took a nosedive as I realized I was playing with a true great. His combination of grooves, polyrhythmic beats, rambunctious fills, and a kinetic energy that could light a city block, gave me a new standard to aspire to. I could never have imagined that I would be sharing the stage with Bruce Gary in 1979, playing Carnegie Hall to a sold-out crowd, with our single, ‘My Sharona,’ being number one all over the world,” remembers Prescott Niles.

For the “My Sharona” recording session, Bruce used his 1967 Ludwig drum kit, and a Zildjian cymbal formerly owned by studio session master and “Wrecking Crew” member Hal Blaine, an item he had purchased at a musical charity auction in 1971. Just after the “My Sharona” recording date, Bruce Gary began endorsing Gretsch Drums and remained with the company as a clinician from that time forward.

Ironically, branded as Bruce Gary was with the Knack tattoo and membership in a chart topping global rock and pop band, his fans, friends, followers, and especially the music media, writers and magazine editors for dozens of years, never really could comprehend and acknowledge the countless other viable and memorable performance and studio activities Bruce actually achieved in his lifetime.

This was especially true of his determination and Phoenix-like medical rebirth. All through the 1980s he dealt daily with a life-threatening case of rheumatoid arthritis, gulping down the strongest prescription anti-inflammatories, and against the odds, emerged once again as an active drummer and record producer. He navigated a thyroid condition for two decades, and some slight hearing problems in this century. For nearly fifty years he walked and gigged around town—and occasionally the rest of the world—with a pair of 7A drumsticks in his back pocket at all times. “He had rheumatoid arthritis, the worst kind, but when the music started, no one would ever know it,” explained Helen Gary. “Nothing affected his music. In his rehearsal room in summer, 2006, with guitarist Randy Zacuto, they played for over three hours, and Bruce never missed a beat.”

In 1997 Bruce received a phone call from another music industry friend, musician David Carr, who told him that Ventures drummer Mel Taylor had passed away suddenly and they needed a replacement for their annual tour of Japan. Mel had become a good friend in previous years and Bruce was told that he had requested him to do that while he was in hospital recovering from what was initially thought to be pneumonia. “The experience of playing twenty-four concerts with The Ventures in Japan was amazing,” Bruce enthused later. “I felt like I had come full-circle. What a thrill!

“At the time,” Bruce continued, “the third set of Beatles Anthology had just been released. I had an idea for the band. I’d brought with me a tape of an early Beatles recording called “Cry for a Shadow,” an instrumental song written by John Lennon and George Harrison during their early Hamburg days, which mirrored the Ventures’ formula. It was the Beatles’ tribute to a popular British band called The Shadows, a very Ventures-like combo. Amazingly, the Ventures hadn’t ever covered that one.

“My idea was for the band to record the song in Tokyo and rush-release it there to tie in with the Beatle-wave (no pun intended). The band was up for it, but unfortunately their record company wasn’t. When it came time to record their annual album in L.A., they remembered my idea and gave me the honor and thrill to produce the track. Ventures keyboardist David Carr played Mellotron for that Beatlesque touch. The recording was issued on a CD called New Depths.”

Bruce Gary is also documented as a producer on 2002’s The Ventures Play the Greatest Instrumental Hits of All Time, and as drummer on The Malibooz’ CD, “Beach Access”, released the same year.

Bruce also had the ultimate regional and karma escrow distinction of jamming with Jimi Hendrix at a Sunset Boulevard music club called Thee Experience in 1969, when the guitarist sat in with the Bonzo Dog Band’s encore number, “Rockaliser Baby.” Bruce worked extensively with the Hendrix archives and produced The Jimi Hendrix Reference Library for Hal Leonard Publishing Company. Under the auspices of producer Alan Douglas, he also co-produced a series of posthumous album releases from Jimi Hendrix that included the popular Blues collection.

Working with engineer Dave Kephart, Bruce Gary produced and compiled Jimi Hendrix “Live & Unreleased” – The Radio Show for the nationally syndicated Westwood One radio service, and he was also a production consultant on Westwood One’s weekly broadcast series, The Lost Lennon Tapes.

He produced and played on a selection for an all-star John Lee Hooker tribute CD. He was behind the skins with a late 1970s version of Arthur Lee and Love, and recorded with the sound pioneer. His name can be found in the credits on several other albums, including Just Yesterday by Al Stewart, and Emmett Chapman’s Parallel Galaxy. In 1978 Bruce played on recording sessions with John Locke, Phast Phreddie, Harvey Kubernik,Chris Darrow, Dan Kessel, David Kessel, and Kim Fowley.

Bruce Gary toured and recorded with Cream bassist Jack Bruce as a member of the Jack Bruce and Mick Taylor Band. At that time Gary, along with Bruce, met Bob Marley in Jamaica, and jammed with him over a two-day period, a “music lesson” in which Marley helped Gary learn some vital reggae music techniques. Later, he visited a dying Marley at Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York. In 2003 Gary played drums on Jack Bruce’s album, Live at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.

He was the drummer on several tracks of John Hiatt’s Slug Line album, produced by music industry veteran Denny Bruce, who also hired Gary for his album with guitarist Albert Lee, Hiding. In 1977, Bruce Gary produced the debut Vox Humana EP. In the 1990s he provided a tambourine overdub on the movie score for George Harrison’s Shanghai Surprise soundtrack album.

He is also heard along with Jim Keltner on the historic but unreleased Record Plant recording session, Too Many Cooks, featuring John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Jack Bruce, engineered by longtime Bruce Gary friend and confidant Jimmy Robinson, who later would record Bruce in numerous recording sessions, including a musical teaming with his childhood friend Randy California, of Spirit fame.

Bruce Gary sang with Spirit on their live concert video, on the song “I Got a Line on You,” and was a lifelong friend of Spirit’s Randy California, on whose 1982 album, Euro-American, Gary played drums. His work with Spirit included percussion and vocals on 1984’s Spirit of ’84 and Thirteenth Dream. He’s also one of the musicians listed on Mick Skidmore’s 2005 Spirit compilation, Son of America.

Bruce Gary subsequently worked with Jack Bruce and Andy Summers of The Police on a project called “Hot Flash.” In the spring of 2006, Bruce recorded over half a dozen tracks with keyboardist Irvin Kramer and bassist Warwick Rose in a southern California studio. Other endeavors include Bruce Gary’s Drum Vocabulary, a CD of drum loops and samples, produced by Steve Deutsch in 1995 and available through Big Fish Audio.

He died at the age of 55 at the Tarzana Regional Medical Center in Tarzana, California of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma on August 22, 2006

Posted on

Little
Milton
8/2005

August 4, 2005 – Little Milton was born James Milton Campbell on September 7, 1934, in the small Delta town of Inverness, MS, and grew up in Greenville. (He would later legally drop the “James” after learning of a half-brother with the same name.)

His father Big Milton, a farmer, was a local blues musician, and Milton also grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry radio program. At age 12, he began playing the guitar and saved up money from odd jobs to buy his own instrument from a mail-order catalog.

By 15, he was performing for pay in local clubs and bars, influenced chiefly by T-Bone Walker but also by proto-rock & roll jump blues shouters. He made a substantial impression on other area musicians, even getting a chance to back Sonny Boy Williamson II, and caught the attention of R&B great Ike Turner, who was doubling as a talent scout for Sam Phillips at Sun. Turner introduced the still-teenaged Little Milton to Phillips, who signed him to a contract in 1953.

With Turner’s band backing him, Milton’s Sun sides tried a little bit of everything – he hadn’t developed a signature style as of yet, but he did have a boundless youthful energy that made these early recordings some of his most exciting and rewarding.

Unfortunately, none of them were hits, and Milton’s association with Sun was over by the end of 1954. He set about forming his own band, which waxed one single for the small Meteor label in 1957, before picking up and moving to St. Louis in 1958.

In St. Louis, Milton befriended DJ Bob Lyons, who helped him record a demo in a bid to land a deal on Mercury. The label passed and the two set up their own label, christened Bobbin. Little Milton’s Bobbin singles finally started to attract some more widespread attention, particularly “I’m a Lonely Man,” which sold 60,000 copies despite being the very first release on a small label.

As head of A&R, Milton brought artists like Albert King and Fontella Bass into the Bobbin fold, and with such a high roster caliber, the label soon struck a distribution arrangement with the legendary Chess Records. Milton himself switched over to the Chess subsidiary Checker in 1961, and it was there that he would settle on his trademark soul-inflected, B.B. King-influenced style. Initially a moderate success, Milton had his big breakthrough with 1965’s “We’re Gonna Make It,” which hit number one on the R&B charts thanks to its resonance with the civil rights movement. “We’re Gonna Make It” kicked off a successful string of R&B chart singles that occasionally reached the Top Ten, highlighted by “Who’s Cheating Who?,” “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” “If Walls Could Talk,” “Baby I Love You,” and “Feel So Bad,” among others.

The death of Leonard Chess in 1969 threw his label into disarray, and Little Milton eventually left Checker in 1971 and signed with the Memphis-based soul label Stax (also the home of his former protégé Albert King). At Stax, Milton began expanding his studio sound, adding bigger horn and string sections and spotlighting his soulful vocals more than traditional blues.

Further hits followed in songs like “Annie Mae’s Cafe,” “Little Bluebird,” “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” and “Walkin’ the Back Streets and Cryin’,” but generally not with the same magnitude of old.

Stax went bankrupt in 1975, upon which point Little Milton moved to the TK/Glades label, which was better known for its funk and disco acts. His recordings there were full-blown crossover affairs, which made “Friend of Mine” a minor success, but that label soon went out of business as well.

Milton spent some time in limbo; he recorded one album for MCA in 1983 called Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number, and the following year found a home with Malaco, which sustained the careers of quite a few old-school Southern soul and blues artists. During his tenure at Malaco, Milton debuted the song that would become his latter-day anthem, the bar band staple “The Blues Is Alright,” which was also widely popular with European blues fans. Milton recorded frequently and steadily for Malaco, issuing 13 albums under their aegis by the end of the millennium.

In 1988, he won the W.C. Handy Award for Blues Entertainer of the Year, and was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

After leaving Stax, Milton struggled to maintain a career, moving first to Evidence, then the MCA imprint Mobile Fidelity Records, before finding a home at the independent record label, Malaco Records, where he remained for much of the remainder of his career. His last hit single, “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number,” was released in 1983 from the album of the same name

His final album, Think of Me, was released in May 2005.

He passed away from complications following a stroke 3 months later on August 4, 2005 at the age of 70.

Little Milton may not be a household name, but die-hard blues fans know Little Milton as a superb all-around electric bluesman — a soulful singer, an evocative guitarist, an accomplished songwriter, and a skillful bandleader. He’s often compared to the legendary B.B. King — as well as Bobby “Blue” Bland — for the way his signature style combines soul, blues, and R&B, a mixture that helped make him one of the biggest-selling bluesmen of the ’60s (even if he’s not as well-remembered as King). As time progressed, his music grew more and more orchestrated, with strings and horns galore. He maintained a steadily active recording career all the way from his 1953 debut on Sam Phillips’ legendary Sun label, with his stunning longevity including notable stints at Chess (where he found his greatest commercial success), Stax, and Malaco.

Milton’s song “Let Me Down Easy” was recorded by the Spencer Davis Group on The Second Album (1965), but his authorship was not acknowledged on the record! He released a single of it himself in 1968 on Checker. It was also chosen by Etta James as the final track in her final album The Dreamer.

Posted on

Long John
Baldry
7/2005

July 21, 2005 – Long John Baldry  was born on January 12th 1941 in London*, England. (*Conflicting evidence exists about Baldry’s birthplace. Some say he was born in the village of Haddon. VH1’s profile of Baldry states he was born in the village of East Maddon, while Allmusic.com states he was born in London. The documentary Long John Baldry: In the Shadow of the Blues states that his mother escaped London during The Blitz to give birth in Northampton, making East Haddon his most likely birthplace.)

Long John begun his career playing folk and jazz in the late 50s, he toured with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott before moving into R&B.

His strong, deep voice won him a place in the influential Blues Incorporated, following which he joined Cyril Davies’ R & B All Stars. After Davies’ death, Long John fronted the Hoochie Coochie Men, which also included future superstar Rod Stewart, who later joined Baldry in Steam Packet.

After a brief period with Bluesology (which boasted a young Elton John on piano & keyboards), Long John decided to go solo and record straightforward pop. Already well known on the music scene, he nevertheless appeared an unusual pop star in 1967 with his sharp suits and imposing 6 ft 7 inch height.

An English gentleman, a dandy and quietly yet confidently gay, Baldry’s blues enthusiasm and booming baritone voice in the late 50s and 60s inspired The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, while also discovering the young Rod Stewart, whom he chanced upon playing harmonica at a train station, and a chubby piano player named Reginald Dwight, who ended up changing his name to Elton John, partly in tribute to Baldry.

Like Cliff Richard, Chris Farlowe, Slade, Blur, and eel pie, Long John Baldry is one of those peculiarly British phenomena that doggedly resists American translation. As a historical figure, he has undeniable importance. When he began singing as a teenager in the 1950s, he was one of the first British vocalists to perform folk and blues music. In the early ’60s, he sang in the band of British blues godfather Alexis Korner, Blues Incorporated, which also served as a starting point for future rock stars Mick Jagger, Jack Bruce, and others. As a member of Blues Incorporated, he contributed to the first British blues album, R&B at the Marquee (1962). He then joined the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars, taking over the group (renamed Long John Baldry and His Hoochie Coochie Men) after Davies’ death in early 1964. This band featured Rod Stewart as a second vocalist, and also employed Geoff Bradford (who had been in an embryonic version of the Rolling Stones) on guitar.

In the mid-’60s, he helped form Steampacket, a proto-supergroup that also featured Stewart, Julie Driscoll, and Brian Auger. When Steampacket broke up, he fronted Bluesology, the band that gave keyboardist Reg Dwight — soon to become Elton John — his first prestigious gig. He was a well-liked figure on the London club circuit, and in fact the Beatles took him on as a guest on one of their 1964 British TV specials, at a time when the Fab Four could have been no bigger, and Baldry was virtually unknown.

Ironically, his greatest commercial success came not with blues, but orchestrated pop ballads that echoed Engelbert Humperdinck. The 1967 single “Let the Heartaches Begin” reached number one in Britain, and Baldry had several other small British hits in the late ’60s, the biggest of which was “Mexico” (1968). Yet none of these made an impression in the U.S.

The commercial success of his ballads led Baldry to forsake the blues on record for a few years. He returned to blues and rock in 1971 on It Ain’t Easy, for which Rod Stewart and Elton John shared the production duties. The album contained a tiny American chart item, “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock’n’Roll,” and Stewart and John split the production once again on the 1972 follow-up, Everything Stops for Tea. Baldry never caught on as an international figure, though, and by 1980 had become a Canadian citizen. He continued to record, and did commercial voice-overs as well as the voice of Doctor Robotnik in children’s cartoons.

After battling a severe chest infection for several months, Long John Baldry passed away on July 21, 2005, while hospitalized in Vancouver. He was 64.

• The Making of a Legend by Rod Stewart (Reader’s Digest/Dec/ 2004)
Long John Baldry launched me on my musical career. I was 18 and playing harmonica and singing a Muddy Waters song in a railway station, when Long John Baldry ran over to me from the other side of the tracks. I had just been to see him play at a club; he was one of the top Bluesmen in England. But John didn’t sing Muddy Waters songs – he knew Muddy Waters, had performed with him and with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott too.

And now he was asking, ” Would you like to join the band?” For me, just shaking his hand – knowing all the great musicians whose hand he’d shaken before – was mind-blowing. But so was John. Picture this elegant man with a proper English accent, never without a tie, a towering six-foot-seven. I was a huge fan and I was intimidated by his offer. Rod Stewart wasn’t in demand in those days; no one was interested.

I immediately said yes. John had a knack for discovering talent. Ginger Baker, Jeff Beck and Brian Jones all worked with him early on. Elton John played piano in one of his bands, other Rolling Stones too – Charlie, Ron Wood, and Keith.

In 1962, when The Rolling Stones were just getting started, they opened for him in London. Eric Clapton has said many times that John was one of the musicians that inspired him to play the Blues. And for their internationally televised special in 1964, The Beatles invited John to perform his version of ‘I Got My Mojo Working’.

In those days the only music we fell in love with was the Blues, and John was the first white guy singing it, in his wonderful voice. It was the true Blues and everyone looked up to him. I wasn’t very good on the harmonica, but my gravelly voice caught his attention. He was the first person of any stature to tell me, “You really have the gift. You have what it takes”.

He turned some of us into musical legends, but it was never what he expected from himself. You didn’t hear John on the radio or see him on TV. He just played these clubs that I started going to when I was 16. At the time I hadn’t thought much about performing except as a way to meet girls. John put me on an amazing wage, close to $100 a week, which in the early ‘60s was an astronomical amount.

I remember thinking, “If this lasts for 6 months I’ll be able to buy a little sports car which I’d been saving for. Of course, that would help me get some girls”. We didn’t rehearse before my first performance with John’s band and I was very nervous so I had a few drinks. John introduced me as an ‘up-and-coming’ new singer and I sang John Lee Hooker’s classic ‘Dimples’, which died a death!

There was a horrible silence after my performance. But John was great. He’s one of the kindest guys, reassuring and positive. He just said, “Well come away, don’t worry about it.” Then he had me come to his apartment the next day and go through some songs on the guitar to get the keys worked out.

Posted on

Sam
Phillips
7/2003

July 30, 2003 – Samuel Cornelius “Sam” Phillips was born on January 5, 1923 in Florence Alabama and a graduate of Coffee High School. As a youngster he was intensely exposed to blues and became interested in music by African-American workers on his father’s cotton farm.

He became an important record producer, label owner, and talent scout throughout the 40s and 50s, and played an important role in the emergence of rock and roll as the major form of popular music in the 1950s.

He is most notably attributed with the discoveries of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and is associated with several other noteworthy rhythm and blues and rock and roll stars of the period.

Sam was also founder of Sun Records, the studio that was vital to launching the careers of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas and numerous other significant artists. As well as owning the Sun Studio Café in Memphis, he and his family founded Big River Broadcasting Corporation which owned and operated several radio stations in the Florence, Alabama, area, including WQLT-FM, WSBM, and WXFL.

In 1986 Sam was part of the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his pioneering contribution has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, being the first ever non-performer inducted. In 1987, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame on the same merits. He received a Grammy Trustees Award for his lifetime achievements in 1991.

In 1998, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, and in October 2001 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

He died of respiratory failure at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis on July 30, 2003 – only one day before the original Sun Studio was designated a National Historic Landmark. He was 80.

On October 21, 2016, it was announced that Leonardo DiCaprio will portray Sam Phillips in the forthcoming film based on Peter Guralnick’s book “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘N’ Roll”

Posted on

Gus
Dudgeon
7/2002

July 21, 2002 – Angus Boyd “Gus” Dudgeon  was born on September 30th 1942 in Surrey, England,  the bucolic county just south of London where he would return to live in the 1970s.

His career began when he worked as a teaboy (now more commonly known as a ‘gofer’) at Olympic Studios — one of the premiere recording facilities in London. Within a short time, Gus had advanced to a position of sound engineer and moved on to Decca Records’ studios at West Hampstead. There he got to work on sessions with artists signed to the record label, or hoping to be. His role on these dates would be to lay cable, plug things into things, and position microphones…all in support of the session producer. It was this training that Gus would use as a basis for his approach to production in the years to come.

Decca’s stable of artists included a wide range of musical styles: from Davey Graham, a folk guitarist whose blues-based style would directly influence Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, to The Rolling Stones, Lulu and Tom Jones — whose label auditions Gus worked on. He also engineered The Zombies’ She’s Not There (a hit in both the UK and US), which used a bass and drum core riff that would pre-echo future Dudgeon productions, as well as seminal albums by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, which helped further the career of guitarist Eric Clapton.

Gus’s first credit came as producer of a live album for Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band called Zoot! Live At Klook’s Kleek, London (recorded on May 31, 1966 for EMI Records). An opportunity soon followed to co-produce, with Mike Vernon, the eponymous debut album by Ten Years After. This 1967 Decca release included the song Losing The Dogs, which Gus co-wrote with bandleader Alvin Lee. Well on the road to establishing himself as an independent producer, Gus worked on two albums by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, an avant-garde musical comedy band (think Monty Python with songs instead of skits) that had, as its drummer, “Legs” Larry Smith, whom Gus would use a few years later to tap dance on the Elton track, I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Gus produced albums for The Strawbs and Ralph McTell, as well as the project that originally brought Gus to Elton: David Bowie’s 1969 single, Space Oddity. The international hit was a collaboration between the artist, the producer and the arranger: Bowie, Dudgeon and Paul Buckmaster, respectively. At around the same time Space Oddity was garnering attention, Elton’s team was looking for a producer to helm the pianist’s next sessions — having had limited success with Empty Sky. Steve Brown, Elton’s A&R man at the time, asked Buckmaster if he would like to be the arranger for the upcoming project. When Paul said yes, he was then asked if he knew of any producers who might be suitable for the material. He did not hesitate to recommend Gus Dudgeon.

This fortuitous connection would not only bring the stability to Gus’s work that he had been looking for, but it also launched Elton’s career as a true recording artist. While Elton and Bernie’s song writing had become more mature over the past months, it was not until their material was married to the talents of Gus and Paul that it truly came alive. Although it was originally conceived as an elaborate songwriter’s demo, soon after its release in 1970, and in conjunction with some breakout performances in America, the resulting Elton John album generated the chart success and critical attention that Elton and his management had found so elusive.

Elton’s contract called for a mind-numbing two albums per year for the next five years. Gus kept pace and produced them all, expanding Elton’s aural landscape to the extent that rarely did two consecutive studio albums sound like they had been recorded within the same twelve month period, let alone by the same artist. From the orchestrated Elton John album to the The Band-influenced Tumbleweed Connection…from the polished Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy to the raucous Rock Of The Westies; each album, and the songs within it, was given what it needed…not what had been successful the last time.

During this fierce run of remarkable creativity, Elton demonstrated an enormous level of trust in his producer: when he had finished recording the piano and vocal parts to a song he would often leave the rest of the session for Gus to sort out and complete — seldom staying around to participate in, or even observe, things like instrument over-dubs, backing vocal sessions or orchestra recording dates. The two men respected each other’s talents and had a very close friendship based on a shared quick wit, passion for music and desire for perfection.

During the whirlwind of the early-to-mid 1970s, Gus somehow also found the time to produce records for other artists, some of which were signed to the Rocket Records label — which Elton, Gus, Steve Brown, manager John Reid, and lyricist Bernie Taupin formed in 1972. These included Elton’s guitarist, Davey Johnstone, and drummer, Nigel Olsson, as well as Kiki Dee (Gus produced the 1974 album I’ve Got The Music In Me), Colin Blunstone and the band Solution. In addition, Gus produced a Top Ten hit for South African musician John Kongos, He’s Gonna Step On You Again, in 1971 (listed in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the first song ever to use a sample); Joan Armatrading’s debut album, Whatever’s For Us, in 1972; a pair of records by Magna Carta (during which he met a young multi-instrumentalist named Davey Johnstone); and Bernie Taupin’s 1971 album of spoken poetry.

Gus left Rocket Records and discontinued producing Elton after the release of Blue Moves in late 1976. At around this time he purchased an abandoned watermill in Cookham, England, and turned it into one of the most modern recording studios in the world. Called The Mill, it was originally meant to be a place where Gus could re-mix Elton’s albums for quadrophonic release, but that project never materialized. The Mill instead hosted sessions for various acts, most notably Lindisfarne (their UK Top Ten hit, Run For Home) and Chris Rea, for whom Gus produced the album Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? (which included the hit single Fool (If You Think It’s Over)) in 1978. The Mill, at times called Sol Studios, also was where Elton’s A Single ManIce On Fire, and some songs on Leather Jackets were tracked. Gus also produced the 1981 Elkie Brooks album Pearls, which reached #2 on the UK charts and was for a time the biggest-selling album by a female vocalist in Britain.

Gus’s last album with Elton was Live In Australia With The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, recorded in December 1986 and released in June 1987. It spawned the single, Candle In The Wind, which reached #5 in the UK charts and #6 in Billboard…making it the first time a single producer has had a song reach the Top Ten with a live version after having also reached the Top Ten in its original studio version.

Gus produced two tracks for the 1991 album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin — Bruce Hornsby’s Madman Across The Water and The Beach Boys’ Crocodile Rock. One of Gus’s most notable credits of the 1990s was the XTC album Nonsuch (1992). However, Gus was unhappy with the record — as bandleader Andy Partridge had taken Gus’s final mixes and changed them drastically before release. Gus, conversely, was quite proud of the 1997 album Somewhere Someone’s Falling In Love, which he produced for Danish country singer Henning Staerk.

In 1995, Gus began re-mastering the bulk of Elton’s catalogue on CD, starting with the albums he had originally produced, but then extending to the rest of the collection. Sometimes taking six or seven hours to re-master a single song, Gus also took this opportunity to transform two of Elton’s live albums, 11-17-70 and Here And There, both sonically and structurally. A full 16 songs were added to Here And There, which resulted in all three songs John Lennon performed with Elton on Thanksgiving Day in 1974 finally being officially released.

Early in the morning of July 21, 2002, Gus and his wife of 43 years, Sheila, died when their car went off the highway while coming back from a party. He was 59.

Elton dedicated Your Song to Gus and Sheila at his concert at the Royal Opera House in London on December 1, 2002 (a concert that Elton had asked Gus to record for future CD release), saying, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Gus’s ability as a producer and an editor…and a friend.”

• Joan Armatrading dedicated her 2003 album Lovers Speak to Gus Dudgeon and his wife Sheila.

• Elton John’s 2004 album Peachtree Road was dedicated to the memory of Gus and Sheila Dudgeon.

If you were to ask a random person on the street to name an Elton John song, most likely they would reply with something off the list of titles that Gus Dudgeon produced. The Dudgeon catalogue pretty much defines what has come to be known as the Classic Years in Elton’s career. In fact, of the 25 songs that make up Elton’s current concert set list, all but four of them are titles that Gus originally recorded. 

Between the years 1970-76, and then 1985-86, Gus oversaw for Elton 13 studio albums (with one-off singles, b-sides, and subsequently released tracks, the total song count comes to 176) and three live albums (63 songs there, including the Midsummer Music Festival material released in 2005 on the Deluxe Edition of Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy). No other producer even comes close to that amount of Elton credits, even though the two men worked together for less than ten years out of a career that now spans over 40. In that brief but crucial period, the collaboration resulted in seven #1 albums in a row, two of those entering the Billboard Album Charts at the top spot (something no act had ever done before); 12 Top Ten albums; six #1 singles; 21 Top Ten singles… Suffice to say, Gus Dudgeon set the gold album standard when it came to producing Elton John.

• Dudgeon famously said in Elizabeth Rosenthal’s book His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John: “the 1974 Caribou album is “a piece of crap … the sound is the worst, the songs are nowhere, the sleeve came out wrong, the lyrics weren’t that good, the singing wasn’t all there, the playing wasn’t great and the production is just plain lousy“.

Posted on

Jack
Nitzsche
8/2000

composer/songwriter jack nitzscheAugust 25, 2000 – Bernard Alfred ‘Jack’ Nitzsche was born on April 22, 1937 to German immigrant parents and raised on a farm in Newaygo, Michigan.

He moved to Los Angeles, California in 1955 to attend Westlake College of Music in Hollywood, with ambitions of becoming a jazz saxophonist. He found work copying musical scores, where he was hired by Sonny Bono, with whom he wrote the song “Needles and Pins” for Jackie DeShannon, later covered by the Searchers and many others. His own instrumental composition “The Lonely Surfer” entered Cash Box August 3, 1963, became a minor hit, as did a big-band swing arrangement of Link Wray’s “Rumble”.

When Phil Spector moved to the West Coast, Jack eventually became arranger and conductor for him and orchestrated the ambitious Wall of Sound for the song “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner, “Be My Baby” for the Ronettes, “He’s a Rebel” by the Crystals and many more. He also scored his own recording contract with Reprise Records, which released his instrumental “The Lonely Surfer” in the summer of 1963. It became a Top 40 hit, and Nitzsche followed it with an album of the same title, but he did not go on to a successful recording career, though he did release a few more albums. His next chart entry came with a song he composed but did not perform. He and Sonny Bono had written “Needles and Pins,” initially recorded by Jackie DeShannon. It was covered by British Invasion group the Searchers, who took it into the Top 20 in the spring of 1964. (The song was revived for a chart entry by Smokie in 1977 and became a Top 40 hit for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Stevie Nicks in 1986.

Besides Spector, he worked closely with West Coast session musicians such as Leon Russell, Roy Caton, Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye, and Hal Blaine in a group informally known as The Wrecking Crew. They created backing music for numerous sixties pop recordings by various artists such as The Beach Boys and The Monkees. Nitzsche also arranged the title song of Doris Day’s Move Over, Darling that was a successful single on the pop charts of the time.

While organizing the music for The T.A.M.I. Show television special in 1964, he met The Rolling Stones, and went on to contribute the keyboard textures to their albums The Rolling Stones, Now! (or The Rolling Stones No. 2 in the UK), Out of Our Heads, Aftermath and Between the Buttons, as well as the hit singles “Paint It, Black”, Play with Fire and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and the choral arrangements for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. In 1968, Nitzsche introduced the band to slide guitarist Ry Cooder, a seminal influence on the Stones’s 1969-1973 style.

Some of Nitzsche’s most enduring rock productions were conducted in collaboration with Neil Young, beginning with his production and arrangement of Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly”, considered by many critics to be a touchstone of the psychedelic era. In 1968, he produced Young’s eponymously titled solo debut with David Briggs. Even as the singer’s style veered from the baroque to rootsy hard rock, Young continued to work with Nitzsche on some of his most commercially successful solo recordings, most notably Harvest. Nitzsche played electric piano with Crazy Horse throughout 1970 (a representative performance can be heard on the Live at the Fillmore East album). Nitzsche also played keyboards on the first Crazy Horse album, Crazy Horse (recorded 1970 and released 1971), which he produced, as well as featuring as composer and lead singer of the honky-tonk number Crow Jane Lady.

While prolific and hard working throughout the 1970s, he later began to suffer from depression and problems connected with substance abuse. After he castigated Young in a drunken 1974 interview, the two men became estranged for several years and would collaborate only sporadically thereafter. Later that year, he was dropped from Reprise Records’ roster after recording a scathing song criticizing executive Mo Ostin. This desultory period culminated in his arrest for allegedly breaking into the home of and then raping ex-girlfriend Carrie Snodgress, formerly Young’s companion, with a gun barrel on June 29, 1979. Snodgress was treated at the hospital for a bone fracture, cuts and bruises and had 18 stitches. The charge of rape by instrumentation (which carried a five-year sentence) was eventually dismissed.

In 1979, he produced Graham Parker’s album Squeezing Out Sparks. Nitzsche produced three Willy DeVille albums beginning in the late 1970s: Cabretta (1977), Return to Magenta (1978), and Coup de Grâce (1981). Nitzsche said that DeVille was the best singer he had ever worked with.

During the 1970s he began to concentrate more on film music rather than pop music, and became one of the more prolific film orchestrators in Hollywood in the period, winning an Academy Award for Best Song for co-writing with Will Jennings and Buffy Sainte-Marie “Up Where We Belong” from 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman. (Nitzsche had already worked with Sainte-Marie on She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina in the early 1970s.) Nitzsche had also worked on film scores throughout his career, such as his contributions to the Monkees movie Head, the theme music from Village of the Giants (recycling an earlier single, “The Last Race”), and the distinctive soundtracks for Performance, The Exorcist, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Hardcore (1979), The Razor’s Edge (1984), and Starman (also 1984). He was nominated for an Oscar and a Grammy for his contributions to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, his first of many studio projects with multi-instrumentalist and composer, Scott Mathews.

At the start of the next decade, he scored Revenge (1990). On Revenge he worked with Joanna St. Claire, who wrote, recorded and produced the original song “Are You Ready” for the film’s soundtrack.

His intensive output declined somewhat during the rest of the decade. In the mid-1990s, a clearly inebriated Nitzsche was seen in an episode of the reality show COPS, being arrested in Hollywood after brandishing a gun at some youths who had stolen his hat. In attempting to explain himself to the arresting officers he is heard exclaiming that he was an Academy Award winner. His last film score came with The Crossing Guard in 1995.

In 1997, he expressed interest in producing a comeback album for Link Wray, although this never materialized due to their mutually declining health.

Nitzsche suffered a stroke in 1998 that effectively ended his career. He died in Hollywood’s Queen of Angels Hospital on August 25, 2000 of cardiac arrest brought on by a recurring bronchial infection.

Anecdote: Nitzsche was a keyboard player on many mid-1960s albums by The Rolling Stones. On several, he was also credited as the player of the “Nitzsche-phone”. In an obituary on Gadfly Online, former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham explained the credit:

I made that up for the credits on those Stones albums—it was just a regular piano (or maybe an organ) mic’d differently. It was all part of this package that was created around the Stones. People believed it existed. The idea was meant to be: “My god, they’ve had to invent new instruments to capture this new sound they hear in their brains.” And they were inventing fresh sounds with old toys—therefore, it deserved to be highlighted—it was the read-up of creation, of imagination—getting credit for a job well done.

Posted on

Tony
Williams
8/1992

tony williams of the plattersAugust 14, 1992 – Samuel Anthony “Tony” Williams  was born on April 5th 1928 in Roselle, New Jersey. His family moved to California in the 1940s.

The Platters formed in Los Angeles in 1952 and were initially managed by Federal Records A&R man, Ralph Bass. The original group consisted of Alex Hodge, Cornell Gunter, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson, Gaynel Hodge and Herb Reed, who joined the group after he was discharged from the Army in December 1952. Reed created the group’s name.

In June 1953, Gunter left to join the Flaires and was replaced by tenor Tony Williams, a parking lot attendant, recommended by his sister Linda Hayes, an R&B singer, Williams became the group’s lead vocalist. The group then released two singles with Federal Records, under the management of Bass, but found little success. Bass then asked his friend music entrepreneur and songwriter Buck Ram to coach the group in hope of getting a hit record. Ram made some changes to the lineup, most notably the addition of female vocalist Zola Taylor; later, at Reed’s urging, Hodge was replaced by Paul Robi. Under Ram’s guidance, the Platters recorded eight songs for Federal in the R&B/gospel style, scoring a few minor regional hits on the West Coast, and backed Williams’ sister, Linda Hayes. One song recorded during their Federal tenure, “Only You (And You Alone)”, originally written by Ram for the Ink Spots, was deemed unreleasable by the label, though pirated copies of this early version do exist.

Despite their lack of chart success, the Platters were a profitable touring group, successful enough that the Penguins, coming off their #8 single “Earth Angel”, asked Ram to manage them as well. With the Penguins in hand, Ram was able to parlay Mercury Records’ interest into a 2-for-1 deal. To sign the Penguins, Ram insisted, Mercury also had to take the Platters. Ironically The Penguins would never have a hit for the label.

Convinced by Jean Bennett and Tony Williams that “Only You” had real potential, Ram had the Platters re-record the song during their first session for Mercury. Released in the summer of 1955, it became the group’s first Top Ten hit on the pop charts and topped the R&B charts for seven weeks. The follow-up, “The Great Pretender”, with lyrics written in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas by Buck Ram, exceeded the success of their debut and became the Platters’ first national #1 hit. “The Great Pretender” was also the act’s biggest R&B hit, with an 11-week run atop that chart. In 1956, the Platters appeared in the first major motion picture based around rock and roll, Rock Around the Clock, and performed both “Only You” and “The Great Pretender”.

The Platters’ unique vocal style had touched a nerve in the music-buying public, and a string of hit singles followed, including three more national #1 hits and more modest chart successes such as “I’m Sorry” (#11) and “He’s Mine” (#23) in 1957, “Enchanted” (#12) in 1959, and “The Magic Touch” (#4) in 1956.
The Platters soon hit upon the successful formula of updating older standards, such as “My Prayer”, “Twilight Time”, “Harbor Lights”, “To Each His Own”, “If I Didn’t Care”, and Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”. This latter release caused a small controversy after Kern’s widow expressed concern that her late husband’s composition would be turned into a “rock and roll” record. It topped both the American and British charts in a Platters-style arrangement.

The Platters also differed from most other groups of the era in other ways because Ram had the group incorporated in 1956. Each member of the group received a 20% share in the stock, full royalties, and their Social Security was paid. As group members left one by one, Ram and his business partner, Jean Bennett, bought their stock, which they claimed gave them ownership of the “Platters” name. A court later ruled, however, that “FPI was a sham used by Mr. Ram to obtain ownership in the name ‘Platters’, and FPI’s issuance of stock to the group members was ‘illegal and void’ because it violated California corporate securities law.”

Tony Williams and the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1998. The Platters were the first rock and roll group to have a Top Ten album in America. They were also the only act to have three songs included on the American Graffiti soundtrack that fueled an oldies revival already underway in the early to mid-1970s: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, “The Great Pretender”, and “Only You (and You Alone)”.

From 1955 until Williams left the group in 1960, The Platters had four No. 1 hits and 16 gold records, including “My Prayer,” “Harbor Lights,” “Twilight Time,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and their biggest seller, “The Great Pretender.”

The group continued to perform without Williams, while he pursued a solo career.

Tony Williams passed away on August 14, 1992 from emphysema and lung cancer. He was 64 and had been earlier that year toured Thailand and other Asian countries, performing with his wife and son.

Posted on

Leo
Fender
3/1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Ester
Phillips
8/1984

Esther Phillips amazing R&B/Jazz voiceAugust 7, 1984 – Esther Phillips was born Esther Mae Jones on December 23, 1935. in Galveston Texas. She began singing in church as a young child. When her parents divorced, she split time between her father in Houston and her mother in the Watts area of Los Angeles.

It was while she was living in Los Angeles in 1949 that her sister entered her in a talent show at a nightclub belonging to bluesman Johnny Otis. So impressed was Otis with the 13-year-old that he brought her into the studio for a recording session with Modern Records and added her to his live revue.

Billed as Little Esther, she scored her first success when she was teamed with the vocal quartet the Robins (who later evolved into the Coasters) on the Savoy single “Double Crossin’ Blues.” It was a massive hit, topping the R&B charts in early 1950 and paving the way for a series of successful singles bearing Little Esther’s name: “Mistrustin’ Blues,” “Misery,” “Cupid Boogie,” and “Deceivin’ Blues.”

In 1951, Little Esther moved from Savoy and Johnny Otis to Federal after a dispute over royalties, but despite being the brightest female star in Otis’ revue, she was unable to duplicate her impressive string of hits. Furthermore, she and Otis had a falling out, reportedly over money, which led to her departure from his show; she remained with Federal for a time, then moved to Decca in 1953, again with little success.

In 1954, she returned to Houston to live with her father, having already developed a fondness for the temptations of life on the road; by the late ’50s, her experiments with hard drugs had developed into a definite addiction to heroin. She re-signed with Savoy in 1956, to little avail, and went on to cut sides for Federal and (in 1960) Warwick, which went largely ignored.

Short on money, Little Esther worked in small nightclubs around the South, punctuated by periodic hospital stays in Lexington, KY, stemming from her addiction. In 1962, she was rediscovered while singing at a Houston club by future country star Kenny Rogers, who got her signed to his brother’s Lenox label. Too old to be called Little Esther, she re-christened herself Esther Phillips, choosing her last name from a nearby Phillips gas station.

She recorded a country-soul reading of the soon-to-be standard “Release Me,” which was released as a single late in the year. In the wake of Ray Charles’ groundbreaking country-soul hit “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Release Me” was a smash, topping the R&B charts and hitting the Top Ten on both the pop and country charts. Back in the public eye, Phillips recorded a country-soul album of the same name, but Lenox went bankrupt in 1963.

Thanks to her recent success, Phillips was able to catch on with R&B giant Atlantic, which initially recorded her in a variety of musical settings to see what niche she might fill best. It was eventually decided to play up her more sophisticated side and accordingly, Phillips cut a blues-tinged album of jazz and pop standards; her string-laden remake of the Beatles song “And I Love Him” (naturally, with the gender changed) nearly made the R&B Top Ten in 1965 and the Beatles flew her to the U.K. for her first overseas performances.

Encouraged, Atlantic pushed her into even jazzier territory for her next album, Esther Phillips Sings; however, it didn’t generate much response and was somewhat eclipsed by her soul reading of Percy Sledge’s “When a Woman Loves a Man” (again, with the gender changed), which made the R&B charts.

Nonplussed, Atlantic returned to their former tactic of recording Phillips in as many different styles as possible, but none of the resulting singles really caught on and the label dropped her in late 1967.

With her addiction worsening, Phillips checked into a rehab facility; while undergoing treatment, she cut some sides for Roulette in 1969 and upon her release, she moved to Los Angeles and re-signed with Atlantic. A late-1969 live gig at Freddie Jett’s Pied Piper club produced the album Burnin’, which was acclaimed as one of the best, most cohesive works of Phillips’ career.

Despite that success, Atlantic still wanted her to record pop tunes with less grit and when their next attempts failed to catch on, Phillips was let go a second time. In 1971, she signed with producer Creed Taylor’s Kudu label, a subsidiary of his hugely successful jazz fusion imprint CTI.

Her label debut, From a Whisper to a Scream, was released in 1972 to strong sales and highly positive reviews, particularly for her performance of Gil Scott-Heron’s wrenching heroin-addiction tale “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.”

Phillips recorded several more albums for Kudu over the next few years and enjoyed some of the most prolonged popularity of her career, performing in high-profile venues and numerous international jazz festivals. In 1975, she scored her biggest hit single since “Release Me” with a disco-fied update of Dinah Washington’s “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” (Top Ten R&B, Top 20 pop), and the accompanying album of the same name became her biggest seller yet.

In 1977, Phillips left Kudu for Mercury, landing a deal that promised her the greatest creative control of her career. She recorded four albums for the label, but none matched the commercial success of her Kudu output and after 1981’s A Good Black Is Hard to Crack, she found herself without a record deal.

Her last R&B chart single was 1983’s “Turn Me Out,” a one-off for the small Winning label; unfortunately, her health soon began to fail, the culmination of her previous years of addiction combined with a more recent flirtation with the bottle. Phillips died in Los Angeles on August 7, 1984, of liver and kidney failure at the age of 48. Her funeral services were conducted by Johnny Otis.

Obviously a victim of the Music Industry’s pathetic lack of managerial direction and understanding of the art, Esther Phillips was twice nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986 and 1987, but was not inducted. Shame on them.

 

Posted on

Lee
Hays
8/1981

lee hays, baritone for the weaversAugust 26, 1981 – Lee Hays was born March 14, 1914 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the youngest of the four children of William Benjamin Hays, a Methodist minister, and Ellen Reinhardt Hays, who before her marriage had been a court stenographer. William Hays’s vocation of ministering to rural areas took him from parish to parish, so as a child, Lee lived in several towns in Arkansas and Georgia. He learned to sing sacred harp music in his father’s church. Both his parents valued learning and books. Mrs. Hays taught her four children to type before they began learning penmanship in school and all were excellent students. There was a gap in age of ten years between Lee and next oldest sibling, his brother Bill. In 1927, when Lee was thirteen, his childhood came to an abrupt end as tragedy struck the family. The Reverend Hays was killed in an automobile accident on a remote road and soon afterward Lee’s mother had to be hospitalized for a mental breakdown from which she never recovered. Lee’s sister, who had begun teaching at Hendrix-Henderson College, also broke down temporarily and had to quit her job to move in with their oldest brother in Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1930, Lee’s brother Rueben helped him find a job at the public library in Cleveland, Ohio, and the 16-year-old’s informal education began. “Every book that was considered unfit for children was marked with a black rubber stamp,” Hays recalled later. “So I’d go through the stacks and look for those black stamps.” Hays stayed at the library until 1934 — the longest he would ever hold a single job — and then returned to Arkansas.

Hays had heard of a Presbyterian preacher in Logan County, Claude Williams, who had been organizing miners and sharecroppers in the area, both black and white. Hays enrolled at the nearby College of the Ozarks and studied for the ministry himself for about a year. Hays stayed under the wing of Williams through the 1930s — even as Williams was forced to leave his Paris church, was beaten by police and union busters in Fort Smith and moved to Little Rock.

Hays worked with two of the state’s best-known so-called “radical” organizations of the era — the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, organized in Tyronza in the mid-1930s, and Commonwealth College in Polk County, founded through the American socialist movement that gained momentum though World War I. Beyond its curriculum, those from the college advocated for coal miners in Western Arkansas and sharecroppers in Eastern Arkansas. Notable attendees of Commonwealth included future longtime Gov. Orval Faubus. Hays’ uncle, folklorist Vance Randolph, was among those in the state’s liberal community with ties to the college. At Commonwealth, Hays honed his songwriting skills and his bass singing voice.

In 1940, Hays left Arkansas for New York to further his emerging political interests. There, Hays met a compatriot, Pete Seeger, whom Hays would collaborate with for decades. Through the early 1940s, Hays, Seeger and Woody Guthrie — as part of the Almanac Singers — toured college campuses and union rallies. Guthrie nicknamed Hays “Arkansaw Hard Luck Lee.” Hays didn’t play an instrument, but was skilled at writing and adapting songs from hymnbooks and the like to fit their messages. Unlike the Weavers, the Almanac Singers did sing songs about unions, pacifism and politics.

But the success of the Weavers in the late 1940s and early 1950s attracted more attention in the McCarthy era. The group’s first single, “Goodnight Irene,” hit the charts a few weeks after the death of its composer, Leadbelly. As the group kept putting out hits and selling out concerts, the Weavers found themselves under increased scrutiny, and were eventually blacklisted. “Songs are dangerous,” Hays once said. His government apparently agreed.

One of Hays’ most enduring compositions is “If I Had a Hammer,” composed with Seeger at a rally. It was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary and subsequently by many more artists. Hays also had some short stories and poems published, but remained best known as a Weaver. Through the 1960s and 1970s, Hays lived simply, mostly off his royalties for songs such as “Hammer.” One project he did go for was a small part as a preacher in the Arthur Penn-directed 1968 film “Alice’s Restaurant,” starring and based on the song by Arlo Guthrie, his old friend Woody’s son.

The Weavers never really recovered from the blacklisting, despite successful recordings and reunion concerts. By the late 1970s, Hays had a pacemaker and both legs had been amputated due to diabetes, but a final reunion concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall was staged and filmed by a documentary crew in October 1980.

Hays died from diabetic cardiovascular disease at home in Croton on August 26, 1981. He was 67, having seen his 1950s blacklisting go from a source of shame to a badge of honor.

 

In Dead Earnest

If I should die before I wake,
All my bone and sinew take:
Put them in the compost pile
To decompose a little while.
Sun, rain, and worms will have their way,
Reducing me to common clay.
All that I am will feed the trees
And little fishes in the seas.
When corn and radishes you munch,
You may be having me for lunch.
Then excrete me with a grin,
Chortling, “There goes Lee again!”
Twill be my happiest destiny
To die and live eternally.

Posted on

Memphis Minnie 8/1973

blues singer/songwriter/guitarist memphis MinnieAugust 6, 1973 – Memphis Minnie was born Lizzie Douglas on June 3, 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans.

She was the eldest of 13 siblings. Her parents, Abe and Gertrude Douglas, nicknamed her Kid when she was young, and her family called her that throughout her childhood. It is reported that she disliked the name Lizzie. When she first began performing, she played under the name Kid Douglas.
When she was 7, she and her family moved to Walls, Mississippi, south of Memphis. The following year she received her first guitar, as a Christmas present. She learned to play the banjo by the age of 10 and the guitar by the age of 11, when she started playing at parties.

In 1910, at the age of 13, she ran away from home to live on Beale Street, in Memphis. She played on street corners for most of her teenage years, occasionally returning to her family’s farm when she ran out of money. Her sidewalk performances led to a tour of the South with the Ringling Brothers Circus from 1916 to 1920. She then went back to Beale Street, with its thriving blues scene, and made her living by playing guitar and singing, supplementing her income by prostitution (at that time, it was not uncommon for female performers to work as prostitutes out of financial need).

Minnie became one of the most influential and pioneering female blues musicians and guitarists of all time. She recorded for forty years, almost unheard of for any woman in show business at the time and unique among female blues artists. A flamboyant character who wore bracelets made of silver dollars, she was a very popular blues recording artist from the early Depression years through World War II. One of the first generation of blues artists to take up the electric guitar, in 1942, she combined her Louisiana-country roots with Memphis blues to produce her own unique country-blues sound; along with Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red, she took country blues into electric urban blues, paving the way for Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, and Jimmy Rogers to travel from the small towns of the south to the big cities of the north.

Tracking down the ultimate woman blues guitar hero is problematic because woman blues singers seldom recorded as guitar players and woman guitar players (such as Rosetta Tharpe and Sister O.M. Terrell) were seldom recorded playing blues. Excluding contemporary artists, the most notable exception to this pattern was Memphis Minnie. The most popular and prolific blueswoman outside the vaudeville tradition, she earned the respect of critics, the support of record-buying fans, and the unqualified praise of the blues artists she worked with throughout her long career. Despite her Southern roots and popularity, she was as much a Chicago blues artist as anyone in her day.

Big Bill Broonzy recalls her beating both him and Tampa Red in a guitar contest and claims she was the best woman guitarist he had ever heard. Tough enough to endure in a hard business, she earned the respect of her peers with her solid musicianship and recorded good blues over four decades for Columbia, Vocalion, Bluebird, OKeh, Regal, Checker, and JOB.

She also proved to have as good taste in musical husbands as music and sustained working marriages with guitarists Casey Bill Weldon, Joe McCoy, and Ernest Lawlars. Their guitar duets span the spectrum of African-American folk and popular music, including spirituals, comic dialogs, and old-time dance pieces, but Memphis Minnie’s best work consisted of deep blues like “Moaning the Blues.”

Far more than a good woman blues guitarist and singer, Memphis Minnie holds her own against the best blues artists of her time, and her work has special resonance for later aspiring guitarists. Some of her many songs include “When the Levee Breaks” (later covered by Led Zeppelin and Joe Bonamassa), “Bumble Bee Blues”, “Hoodoo Lady”, “I’m Gonna Bake My Biscuit” and “I Want Something For You”, “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” (later covered by Jefferson Airplane), “Tricks Ain’t Walkin” (covered by Maria Muldaur) etc.

Minnie sadly died from a stroke in a Memphis nursing home on August 6, 1973. She was 76. A headstone memorial bearing engraved roses and a ceramic cameo portrait was paid for by Bonnie Raitt and unveiled in October 1996.

 “The hundreds of sides Minnie recorded are the perfect material to teach us about the blues. For the blues are at once general, and particular, speaking for millions, but in a highly singular, individual voice. Listening to Minnie’s songs we hear her fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they were our own.”