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Minnie Riperton 7/1979

July 12, 1979 – Minnie Riperton was born on November 8th 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. The youngest of eight children in a musical family, she embraced the arts early. As a child she studied music, drama, and dance at Chicago’s Lincoln Center. In her teen years, she sang lead vocals for the Chicago-based girl group, The Gems.

At Chicago’s Lincoln Center, she received operatic vocal training from Marion Jeffery. She practiced breathing and phrasing, with particular emphasis on diction. Jeffery also trained Riperton to use her full range. While studying under Jeffery, she sang operettas and show tunes, in preparation for a career in opera. Jeffery was so convinced of her pupil’s abilities that she strongly pushed her to further study the classics at Chicago’s Junior Lyric Opera. The young Riperton was, however, becoming very interested in soul, rhythm and blues, and rock. After graduating from Hyde Park High School (now Hyde Park Academy High School), she enrolled at Loop College and became a member of Zeta Phi Beta sorority. She dropped out of college to pursue her music career.

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Lowell George 6/1979

Lowell GeorgeJune 29, 1979 – Lowell Thomas George (Little Feat) was born on April 13th 1945 in Hollywood, California, the son of Willard H. George, a furrier who raised chinchillas and supplied furs to the movie studios.

George’s first instrument was the harmonica. At the age of six he appeared on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour performing a duet with his older brother, Hampton. As a student at Hollywood High School (where he befriended future bandmate Paul Barrere as well as future wife Elizabeth), he took up the flute in the school marching band and orchestra. He had already started to play Hampton’s acoustic guitar at age 11, progressed to the electric guitar by his high school years, and later learned to play the saxophone, shakuhachi and sitar. During this period, George viewed the teen idol-oriented rock and roll of the era with contempt, instead favoring West Coast jazz and the soul jazz of Les McCann & Mose Allison. Following graduation in 1963, he briefly worked at a gas station (an experience that inspired such later songs as “Willin'”) to support himself while studying art and art history at Los Angeles Valley College for two years. Continue reading Lowell George 6/1979

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Sid Vicious 2/1979

sid viciusFebruary 2, 1979 – Sid Vicious was born John Simon Ritchie on May 10th 1957 in Lewisham in Southeast London England. His mother dropped out of school early due to a lack of academic success and went on to join the Royal Airforce, where she met her husband-to-be, Ritchie’s father, a guardsman at Buckingham Palace and a semi-professional trombone player on the London Jazz scene.

Shortly after Ritchie’s birth, he and his mother moved to Ibiza, where they expected to be joined by his father who, it was planned, would support them financially in the meantime. However, after the first few cheques failed to arrive, Anne realized senior would not be coming. Anne later married Christopher Beverley in 1965, before setting up a family home back in Kent, England. Ritchie took his stepfather’s surname and was known as John Beverley.

Christopher Beverley died a short while later from cancer and by 1968 Ritchie and his mother were living in a rented flat in Turnbridge Wells, where he attended Sandown Court School. In 1971 mom and son moved to Hackney in east London. He also spent some time living in Clevedon, Somerset.
Ritchie first met John Lydon in 1973, when they were both students at Hackney Technical College. Lydon describes Ritchie at this time as a David Bowie fan and a “clothes hound”.

By age 17, Ritchie was hanging around London’s center. One favorite spot was Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s then-little-known clothing store, SEX. There he met American expatriate Chrissie Hynde before she formed the Pretenders. Though at least five years older, she tried (but failed) to convince Ritchie to join her in a sham marriage so she could get a work permit.

John Lydon nicknamed Ritchie “Sid Vicious” after Lydon’s pet hamster Sid, who had bitten Ritchie, eliciting Ritchie’s response: “Sid is really vicious!” The animal was described by Lydon as “the softest, furriest, weediest thing on earth.” At the time, Ritchie was squatting with Lydon, John Joseph Wardle (Jah Wobble), and John Gray, and the four were colloquially known as “The Four Johns”.

According to Lydon, he and Vicious would often busk for money, with Vicious playing the tambourine. They would play Alice Cooper covers, and people gave them money to stop. Once a man gave them “three bob” (three shillings, i.e., 15p in decimal currency) and they all danced. Yet the darker side of Sid’s personality emerged when he assaulted New Musical Express journalist Nick Kent with a motorbike chain, with help from Jah Wobble. On another occasion, at the Speakeasy (a London nightclub popular with rock stars of the day) he threatened BBC DJ and Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris.

His ‘musical’ career started in 1976 as a member of The Flowers of Romance along with former co-founding member of The Clash, Keith Levene, Palmolive and Viv Albertine. He appeared with Siouxsie and the Banshees, playing drums at their notorious first gig at the 100 Club Punk Festival in London’s Oxford Street. According to members of The Damned, Vicious, along with Dave Vanian, was considered for the position of lead singer for The Damned but failed to show up for the audition. The song “Belsen Was a Gas” originates from this band, and was later performed live by the Sex Pistols, as well as Sid Vicious’ solo act.

He played his first gig with the Sex Pistols on 3 April 1977 at the The Screen On The Green in London. His debut was filmed by Don Letts and appears in Punk Rock Movie. In Nov. 1977, Sid met American groupie Nancy Spungen. Both the group and Sid visibly deteriorated during their 1978 American tour.

The Pistols broke up in San Francisco after their concert at the Winterland Ballroom on 14 January 1978. With Nancy acting as his “manager”, Sid embarked on a solo career during which he performed with musicians including Mick Jones of The Clash, original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, Rat Scabies of The Damned and the New York Dolls’ Arthur Kane, Jerry Nolan, and Johnny Thunders.

He performed the majority of his performances at Max’s Kansas City and drew large crowds. His final performances as a solo musician took place at Max’s.

On October 12th 1978, Sid claimed to have awoken from a drugged stupor to find Nancy dead on the bathroom floor of their room in the Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan, New York. She had suffered a single stab wound to her abdomen and appeared to have bled to death. On October 22 1978, ten days after Nancy’s death, he attempted suicide by slicing his wrist and subsequently became a patient at Bellevue Hospital.

A little over three months later, on February 2nd 1979, Vicious died from a heroin overdose as he had been partying in a New York flat to celebrate his release on $50,000 (£29,412) bail pending his trial for the murder of his girlfriend. A few days after his cremation, his mother found a suicide note in the pocket of his jacket: “We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye”.

He was 21 years old.

In 2006 he was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Sex Pistols.

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Jacques Brel 10/1978

JACQUES BREL

October 9, 1978 – Jacques Brel was born on April 8th 1929 near Brussels Belgium. He composed and recorded his songs almost exclusively in French, although he recorded a number of songs in Dutch, which was his original mother’s tongue.

Brel’s songs are not especially well known in the English-speaking world except in translation and through the interpretations of other singers, most famously Scott Walker and Judy Collins. The range of superstars who however have covered his work is amazing.

Others who have sung his work in English include Karen Akers, Marc Almond, Momus/Nick Currie, Beirut, Bellowhead, David Bowie, Ray Charles, John Denver, The Dresden Dolls, Gavin Friday, Alex Harvey, Terry Jacks, Alan Clayson, Barb Jungr, The Kingston Trio, Jack Lukeman, Amanda McBroom, Rod McKuen, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Spencer Moody, Camille O’Sullivan, Dax Riggs, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Laurika Rauch and Dave Van Ronk. Continue reading Jacques Brel 10/1978

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Keith Moon 9/1978

Keith MoonSeptember 7, 1978 – Keith Moon. Keith John Moon was born to working class parents in Wembley, London, England, on the 23rd August, 1946. At the age of 12, he had joined the Sea Cadet Corp and was given his first musical instrument, the bugle. He left school by 15 and was in his first band, The Beachcombers; this was around the summer of 1963. There was rumour that Keith was self-taught, but history says otherwise, he was shown how to play by the late Carlo Little (1938-2005), Carlo was the original drummer in The Rolling Stones and David Sutch’s band, The Savages.

By the age of 18, he had joined a local London band, The High Numbers; this was to consist of what is now known as The Who.

With his own unique style of drumming, rolling the sticks along the skins as to banging the typical beat, he was to become extrovertly charismatic in his life as well as his playing. He was one of the first to play drums as a lead instrument in an era when drums were supposed only to keep the back beat. With a desire, more of an obsession, to be the center of attention, this hyperactive, and largely, self destructive personality became his own worst enemy.
With a flair for theatrical and ridiculous behavior, he was the center point and self-publicist for, like it or not, The Who. Continue reading Keith Moon 9/1978

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Sandy Denny 4/1978

sandy-denny-fairport conventionApril 21, 1978 – Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny (Fairport Convention) was born on 6 January 1947. Known as Sandy Denny, she was one of my favorite sixties’ British folk rock singers. She was the lead singer for the folk rock band Fairport Convention in 1968 and 69, but besides that she was a fabulous songwriter, notably her most famous song was ‘Who knows Where the Time Goes’, which has been covered by a myriad of artists since, most famously, 10,000 Maniacs, Judy Collins, Nana Mouskouri, Eva Cassidy, Nina Simone, Sinéad O’Connor, to name a few.

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Ronnie Van Zant 10/1977

ronnie-van-zantOctober 20, 1977 – Ronald Wayne “Ronnie” Van Zant was born on January 15, 1948 in West Jacksonville, Florida. As a member of a very musical family, brother Donnie became frontman for 38 Special, another Jacksonville based band and youngest brother Johnny took Roonie’s shoes and hat when Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed in 1987.

Ronnie however was the nucleus founding member and frontman of the Southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd that formed in 1964.

Friends and schoolmates Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Larry Junstrom, and Bob Burns made up the original band. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s name was inspired by a gym teacher the boys had in high school, Leonard Skinner, who disapproved of students with long hair.

Their fan base grow rapidly throughout 1973, mainly due to their opening slot on The Who’s Quadrophenia tour in the United States. Their debut self titled album produced the hit Freebird, the track achieved the No. 3 spot on Guitar World’s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos. Continue reading Ronnie Van Zant 10/1977

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Stevie Gaines 10/1977

Steve-Gaines-smilingOctober 20, 1977 – Stevie Gaines joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in May of 1976 and 17 months later he died with lead singer Ronnie van Zant and his sister Cassie in a chartered airplane crash in Mississippi. It was a chart breaking 17 months. The world had lost a guitar player whose skills were so outstanding that the entire band would “all be in his shadow one day”according to lead singer Ronnie vanZant.

Gaines was born September 14, 1949 in Seneca, Missouri, and raised in Miami, Oklahoma. When Steve was 15 years old, he saw The Beatles live in Kansas City. After being driven home from the concert, he pestered his father enough to buy him his first guitar. His first band, The Ravens (a local High School rock band that Steve’s friends formed), made its first recording at the famous Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the 1970s Steve played with bands Rio Smokehouse, The Band Detroit with Rusty Day (originally an offshoot of The Detroit Wheels) and Crawdad (a band that Steve had started around 1974). In 1975, he recorded several songs with Crawdad at Capricorn studios in Macon, Georgia which were released by MCA in 1988 as One in the Sun (when the present day Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band began touring) and is listed as his only official solo album.

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Marc Bolan 9/1977

Marc Bolan16 September 1977 – Marc Bolan, born Mark Feld on September 30, 1947, became the well-known singer/songwriter, poet and guitarist frontman of T. Rex or Tyrannosaurus Rex, a 1970s glam rock band. He was killed in an automobile crash in 1977 a mere two weeks before his 30th birthday.

Marc Bolan looked like a rock star. And he usually sang about the usual rock-star things in his songs with T. Rex. He inspired a whole legion of glitter-wearing fans to follow his every word. And on the 1972 single ‘Solid Gold Easy Action,’ he seemed to have a knack for predicting the future — even foreshadowing his own demise five years later.

Look no further than the opening line of ‘Solid Gold Easy Action,’ a single-only release that eventually showed up on the same year’s ‘Great Hits’ compilation. ”Life is the same and it always will be / Easy as picking foxes from a tree,” Bolan sings as typically glammy guitars spill out a riff.

Turns out that the license plate on the car that Bolan was killed in on Sept. 16, 1977, was “FOX 661L.” And oh yeah, it was wrapped around a tree.

A famous quote: “I feel there is a curse on rock stars”

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Tommy Bolin 12/1976

guitarist tommy bolinDecember 4, 1976 – Thomas Richard “Tommy” Bolin  was born August 1, 1951 in Sioux City, Iowa from a Swedish father and a Syrian mother.

In his own words:

“I was five or six at the time, I think, and I used to watch this show on TV called Caravan of Stars. I saw Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins. After seeing them perform I knew that was what I wanted to do. I actually started on drums when I was thirteen and played them for two years. Then I went to guitar for a year, played keyboards for a year and a half, and went back to guitar. It was just the right instrument. You’re in direct contact with the music you’re making by having the strings under your fingers. It’s not mechanical like a piano. My first guitar was a used Silvertone, the one that had the amplifier in the case. When I bought it, I had a choice between it or this black Les Paul for 75.00. I took the Silvertone. That was my first mistake.”

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Jimmy Reed 8/1976

Jimmy Reed, blues greatAugust 29, 1976 – Mathis Jimmy Reed was born on September 6, 1925 on a plantation in or around the small burg of Dunleith, Mississippi. He stayed around the area until he was 15, learning the basic rudiments of harmonica and guitar from his buddy Eddie Taylor, who was then making a name for himself as a semi-pro musician, working country suppers and juke joints.

Reed moved up to Chicago in 1943, but was quickly drafted into the Navy where he served for two years. After a quick trip back to Mississippi and marriage to his beloved wife Mary (known to blues fans as “Mama Reed”), he relocated to Gary, Indiana, and found work at an Armour Foods meat packing plant while simultaneously breaking into the burgeoning blues scene around Gary and neighboring Chicago. Continue reading Jimmy Reed 8/1976

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Keith Relf 5/1976

keith-relfMay 14, 1976 – William Keith Relf was born on March 22, 1943 in Richmond, Surrey, England.

As a teenager he latched onto American rhythm and blues and became influenced by the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson and the Chicago Blues scene. Relf started playing in bands around the summer of 1956 as a singer, guitarist, and harmonica player. Despite his suffering from respiratory problems, his blues harp became a key part of the Yardbirds’ sound and success, according to many, and his vocals may have been as important a contribution to the band as the trio of worldfamous guitar players that joined the band.

When people remember the Yardbirds, as the British blues-based band that came to prominence in the mid to late 60s, what they remember most is the triumvirate of guitar players that used the group as a  to stardom: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and future Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page. While there is no doubt that these now world-famous guitar gods contributed greatly to the Yardbirds’ sound, another less-famous member gave the group voice, performing presence, and direction. That man was Keith Relf.

They drew their repertoire from the Chicago blues of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James, including “Smokestack Lightning”, “Good Morning Little School Girl”, “Boom Boom”, “I Wish You Would”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”, and “I’m a Man”.

A record contract followed, and soon the band, guided by the restless and substance-friendly Relf, drifted away from R&B. Subsequent hit songs suggested beatniks with harpsichords (“For Your Love”), melancholy monks (“Still I’m Sad”), and acid-soaked Romany (“Over Under Sideways Down”). Clapton left the band, and Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page joined, pushing the group deeper into psychedelic byways of fuzztone and distortion. Although Relf persevered, his attitude towards the high-powered guitar music that defined the group began to change. Exhausted from extensive touring and suffering from asthma, Relf wanted to sing gentler, more thoughtful music. By 1968, the Yardbirds’ end was at hand.

That year Relf dissolved the group, became a record producer and sideman, and began a new stage of his musical career just before his early death.

Keith Relf’s first post-Yardbirds group was Together, an acoustic duo with fellow ex-Yardbird Jim McCarty. Their Simon and Garfunkel-inspired music failed to catch on, however, and Relf formed a new band with his sister Jane called Renaissance. The group was indeed a renaissance for Relf, allowing him to explore his psychedelic and acoustic leanings freely over the course of two albums with much singing by his beautiful sister Jane. But difficult and unrewarding touring wore them down, and Relf dissolved the first incarnation in 1970. (Led by vocalist Annie Haslam, the group’s second, more progressive incarnation became a fixture of the 70s music scene.) Relf stayed active in the early 70s as a producer and occasional player. He produced tracks for bands such as the acoustic, world music, group Amber, Saturnalia and Medicine Head, with whom he played bass guitar.

In 1975 he founded a heavy metal group called Armageddon. Energized by the group into delivering some of his best vocals on record, Relf looked poised for new success. Sadly, this was not to be. Dogged by ill health, Relf broke up the group and went home to recuperate. Instead, he met an ironic end. The man “who left the Yardbirds largely because of electric guitars” died on May 14, 1976, from being fatally electrocuted by an improperly grounded electric guitar, while rehearsing new material for the formation of his new band Illusion. He was only 33 years old.

He was posthumously inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 with the Yardbirds.

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Phil Ochs 4/1976

PHIL-OCHSApril 9, 1976 – Phil Ochs  was born on December 19, 1940 in El Paso, Texas.

Being a 1960s protest singer-songwriter he wrote hundreds of songs and released eight albums. Politically, Phil described himself as a “left social democrat” who became an “early revolutionary” after the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago led to a police riot, which had a profound effect on his state of mind.

He performed at many political events, including anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies, student events, and organized labor events over the course of his career, in addition to many concert appearances at such venues as New York City’s Town Hall and Carnegie Hall.

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Duster Bennett 3/1976

Duster Bennett with John MayallMarch 26, 1976 – Duster Bennett was born Anthony Bennett in in Welshpool, Powys, Mid Wales on September 23rd 1946.  As a kid he was very interested in the blues and developed as an exceptional blues singer and multi-musician.

After moving to London, he became a session musician in the early 60s. His first solo album (one of five before his death) “Smiling Like I’m Happy” saw him playing as a one-man blues band whose virtuosity and co-ordination on drums, his Les Paul Goldtop guitar and harmonica was as riveting as it was unique, while he was backed by girlfriend Stella Sutton, the first and original Fleetwood Mac singer, on three tracks. His live sets combined his own compositions with Jimmy Reed-style blues standards often aided by friends Peter Green and Top Topham.

Emerging in the late 1960s from the art school music scene of Kingston-upon-Thames and Guildford, Bennett was a one-man blues band, in the style of bluesmen such as Joe Hill Lewis.

Between 1968 and 1970 he was played frequently on John Peel’s Top Gear, toured and eventually joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers as band member/solo act on a US tour in 1970. In the 1970s he drifted off into more mainstream material.

His haunting track Jumping at Shadows, was first covered by Fleetwood Mac and revived in 1992 by Gary Moore, who covered it in his “After Hours” album.

After performing with Memphis Slim, he died in a fatal road accident; tired at the wheel, his van collided with a truck on March 26, 1976. He was 29.

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Howlin’ Wolf 1/1976

Howlin' WolfJanuary 10, 1976 – Howlin’ Wolf  was born Chester Arthur Burnett on June 10, 1910 in White Station, Mississippi, near West Point. He was named Chester Arthur Burnett, after Chester A. Arthur, the 21st President of the United States. His physique garnered him the nicknames of Big Foot Chester and Bull Cow as a young man: he was 6 feet 3 inches (191 cm) tall and often weighed close to 275 pounds (125 kg). He explained the origin of the name Howlin’ Wolf: “I got that from my grandfather”, who would often tell him stories about the wolves in that part of the country and warn him that if he misbehaved then the “howling wolves would get him”. Burnett once claimed to have been given his nickname by his idol Jimmie Rodgers. Continue reading Howlin’ Wolf 1/1976

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Gary Thain 12/1975

gary thainDecember 8, 1975 – Gary Thain  was born on May 15, 1948 in Christchurch, New Zealand. As part of the rock trio The New Nadir, with drummer Peter Dawkins, he traveled from New Zealand to London, sometime in 1967. He actually jammed with Hendrix a couple of time in London in Hendrix’ early fame years.

Thain then joined the Keef Hartley Band and recorded 5 albums with Hartley on drums. In 1971 they toured with hard rockers Uriah Heep who then asked him to join them, replacing Mark Clarke.

He played on the four studio albums: Demons & Wizards, The Magician’s Birthday, Sweet Freedom and Wonderworld as well as the live album Uriah Heep Live and traveled extensively in those top years.

Following bio comes from his website, which remarkably and admirably is still live 40 years after his passing.

Gary Thain had 2 older brothers, Colin and Arthur. An old school friend describes Gary’s personality as being quiet, maybe broody even, but also as just your average teenager, with a passion for music. Gary went to a catholic school called Xavier College in Christchurch.

He started performing around age 13. Gary also won a singing contest in his High School with the song “Where Have all the Flowers Gone”.   The official start to his career was with the New Zealand group “The Strangers”. Besides his brother Arthur (vocals and lead guitar), the other members were Graeme Ching (Rhytm Guitar) and Dave Beattie (Drums). Gary wrote his first (released) song “I’ll Never be Blue” with The Strangers in 1965 at age 16. “The Strangers” released 3 Singles.

After “The Strangers” split up, at age 17 Gary moved to Australia. Gary became part of “The Secrets”, but they only released one Single in 1966, with “You’re Wrong” on the B-Side, which was co-written by Gary. The other band members were Derek Wright on Lead Guitar and Vocals, Paul Muggleston on Rhythm Guitar and Vocals, Wayne Allen on Drums.

After their one Single, “The Secrets” split up. It was still 1966 when Gary and Paul joined up with Peter Dawkins and Dave Chapman, taking the name “Me and the Others to the UK, touring England, Scotland, Wales and Germany.

In 1967 after “Me and the Others” ceased to exist, Gary became part of his first professional Band called “New Nadir”. They were especially popular in Switzerland, where they played in a lot of clubs for about half a year.  It was a trio that played Jazz influenced music.  The other members were Ed Carter on guitar and a drummer named Mike Kowalski.  Besides playing their own music, they also worked as a backing band for an all-female group called “The Toys”.  New Nadir recorded an album for the “Witchseason” label, but it was never released.

In 1968 New Nadir dissolved and Mike and Ed have since then played in many bands together, and even were part of the Beach Boys backing band.  Gary of course joined the Keef Hartley Band. Not only did Gary play on 6 of their albums, but he got to be part of Woodstock in 1969 with the Keef Hartley Band. They played on the second day (before Santana). However, there is no Video footage available.

Another Festival worth mentioning (even though much smaller scale) was the Bath Blues Festival held on June 28, 1969 . The KHB played along with the Likes of Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac that day in front of an audience of about 40,000.

Another notable contribution by Gary to the KHB were his Head Arrangements of the tracks on “The Time Is Near” (originally released in 1970, re-mastered 2005). One of the pictures on the liner notes from that recording session shows Gary with an Acoustic Guitar. He also co-wrote most of the material on “The Battle of NW6”.

Not only did Gary co-write a lot of material for the KHB, he also sang lead vocals to one of his compositions: “You say you’re together now”. That song can be found on the “72nd Brave” LP released in 1972.

Keef Hartley, Miller Anderson, and Gary Thain were the core trio of the Keef Hartley Band, who complimented each other well even through all the different members that came and went. But when they lost their frontman and main song writer Miller Anderson to other interests, they each went on to other projects.

Before the Keef Hartley Band dissolved in 1972, Gary also did some other recordings. In 1970 he recorded “Fiends and Angels” with Martha Velez. Some other, now well-known names from that recording session, are Eric Clapton and Christine McVie.  The music style on that recording has been described as British Progressive Blues and Martha’s singing has been compared to somewhat of a Janis Joplin type of voice.  It was originally released on the “Blue Horizon” label in the UK.  That version is very collectible nowadays and expensive to obtain.  There is a less expensive US version available.

Miller Anderson and Pete York, two members of the KHB revolving lineup, also ventured into solo projects during that time period. Gary was part of both of them, in 1971 and 1972, respectively.

Early in 1972, Gary received a phone call from Ken Hensley and joined Uriah Heep as their 3rd bass player (replacing Mark Clarke) – the rest is as they say history. Up until now Gary had only played Jazz and Blues material, and now found himself in a totally different genre. However, his playing style stayed unique – using no plectrum and all his fingers.

Heep was touring the USA at the time, Gary flew in to join the band and practiced the material he had to perform for several weeks. Gary’s first gig with Uriah Heep was on February 1, 1972 at the Whiskey A Go-Go in Los Angeles, California. However, the earliest known Heep recording with Gary in the lineup (Bootleg) is either from Feb 27, 1972 (Columbia Coliseum, South Carolina, USA) or a Youngstown, Ohio, (USA) appearance. The latter was a support performance (Bootleg) for the Band “Cactus” sometime in February of 1972.

The first album that Gary recorded with Uriah Heep was “Demons & Wizards” (released May 1972), only 4 months after he joined Heep. “The Magician’s Birthday” followed later that same year, and by that time Gary co-wrote some of the songs (Spider Woman and Sweet Lorraine). The remastered edition (released 2003) also includes “Crystal Ball” and “Gary’s Song”, which he wrote during that time. (Gary’s Song being an alternate version of Crystal Ball). All in all it was a very successful year for Uriah Heep and Gary alike.

Of course Gary also toured with Uriah Heep almost non-stop. In the beginning of 1973 the first collection of some of those touring efforts was released, aptly titled “Uriah Heep Live 1973”. One of the points worth mentioning is the excerpt of their Rock ‘N Roll Medley endings. It shows Gary’s skill of using the 50’s and R ‘n R Bass lines that he had so diligently learned early on in his career.

An interesting story that occured while on tour as being told by Todd Fisher (crew member):

Gary’s playing style on his Fender Precision Bass and choice of flat-wound strings made for a distinct sound. He never used a plectrum (pick), preferring to use his thumb, the result being a very pure bass sound without the harsh “attack” sound and harmonics that would normally result from using a pick. Studying Gary’s face and body motions during a performance would reveal a very intense focus on his part for the particular song being performed. I can’t state from personal observation that there were nights when he might be so impaired from drink or drug that the performance was compromised, although I seem to recall some admonishment being administered more than once.

The point is primarily that he was incredibly intense in his playing style and this was never exemplified to me more than the performance at Salem, Oregon the night of Friday, March 9, 1972. As the person responsible for introducing the band as well as working the fans up for the encore, I had a very unique vantage point to measure the crowds acceptance or rejection of the nights performance. And collectively speaking, the Pacific Northwest was never an overly enthusiastic crowd for Heep.

But for some reason this particular night was one in which Gary seemed significantly more animated than most performances. Only his soul will truly know why. Why would I make this observation, you ask? It’s because I have the notation “Ethyl Chloride” noted in my weekly planner for Monday, March 12 as part of the equipment and supply requirements for preparation of the Japan tour.

Just after Kens and Lees respective solos at the intermezzo portion of the set, Gary winced in an expression of pain that I instantly recognized. As I watched, I noticed him favouring his “pick” thumb and substituting the side of his index finger. After the number he came over to the side of the stage and asked in that raspy, back-of-the-throat New Zealand accented voice.: “Do you have an adhesive bandage?” I quickly grabbed some Band Aids from my open brief case and, as he held out this terribly bloody thumb, I saw that he had torn off the callous built up from many years of playing without a plectrum. I quickly grabbed a clean towel, courtesy of our hotel, poured some fresh water on it, washed the open wound, and quickly wrapped two Band Aids around his thumb. This was accomplished in perhaps two minutes, during which Ken, Mick, and David stalled the set while I attended to the apparent emergency.

Gary continued to play through the set, perhaps not in as great pain as before, but still noticeably subdued. Mel Baister (Road Manager) contacted a physician by the end of the set who had arrived along with an aerosol can of a local anesthetic, “Ethyl Chloride” which was intended to give temporary relief for pain. He gave me a prescription for a refill that would get us through the period of the Japan tour. Thus the notation in my supplies list.

The following evening was our last performance in the U.S. prior to departing for Japan. It was in Seattle at one of the old Downtown theatres as I remember. Gary was able to get through at least one number, sometimes two before he would come over to me on the side of the stage to have me spray the open wound with Ethyl Chloride. Damn! The man wouldnt even let me tape it for him because he felt it would change his sound! Only he would know. We performed six days later in Tokyo Friday March 16, Nagoya on March 17 and March 19, and twice in Osaka March 20 and 21. Time had helped heal the wound since he had not punished himself with additional performances, but we still applied the Ethyl Chloride. After the Japan tour, the band spent a one week holiday in Hawaii. Our next performance was in Long Beach Arena on Friday March 30. Noted in my journal for this day among other supplies and tasks is “Ethyl Chloride”! WOW!

The band’s success story continued with the recording of “Sweet Freedom” at the Chateau D’Herouville, France in the summer of 1973. Gary’s song-writing input continued, especially on the song “Circus”. The story of the song “Circus” is still remembered by guitarist Mick Box today: “I wrote this with Gary in LA at the Continental Hyatt House. In France we finished it; the whole studio was in dark and you could only see a few lights. Gary was at the one end of the room and I was at the other. We didn’t speak a word to each other and finished the song this way. It was very spiritual.”. Even drummer Lee Kerslake remembers it with a quote on the Acoustically Driven DVD liner notes:: “I like Circus because it was written in the most unusual circumstances with myself, Mick and Gary Thain, God rest his soul, writing by telephone!”

Unfortunately, 1974 saw the last recording contributions of Gary on “Wonderworld” which was recorded in Munich, Germany. He is also being credited with co-writing half the songs on that original release. The seemingly endless touring continued, and eventually took its toll on  September 15, 1974 in Dallas, TX. [listen to a promo of that concert from KZEW FM radio here.]  Gary received an electrical shock during the song “July Morning”, while on stage.

Gary’s health never fully recovered and in January of 1975 he had to leave the band. The very last known recording with Gary on Bass is dated November 25, 1974 and took place in Brisbane, Australia. I found some very interesting comments on that Bootleg on the official David Byron website, and I quote: “This is one of the best audience recordings of the band ever to surface. Not due to the sound quality, but the contents itself. The band was very strong on this date, the crowd really reacted to the show, and it provided some rare pieces of the puzzle we were looking for. A good bit of improve is laid into this one, lots of talking between tracks and long renditions of certain tracks that didn’t appear much on other shows. … Only three tour dates are listed after this one before he (Gary) left the band in late January 75. So this show marks the end of an era of sorts, the classic lineup is done. The rebuilding process begins but it never regains the same intensity or presence that was created during the past three years. It’s a sad but true fact that even the most dedicated of Heepster must accept.”

All in all, he participated in over 140 live performances all over the world with Uriah Heep in just 3 years.

After continued struggles with health and drug problems, Gary died December 8, 1975, in his flat at Norwood Green at the young age of 27, becoming one of the lesser known 27 Club members.

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Tim Buckley 6/1975

tim-buckleyJune 29, 1975 – Timothy Charles “Tim” Buckley III was born on February 14, 1947 in Washington DC. By the time he had graduated high school he had already written over twenty songs with lyricist Larry Beckett; and many of these made up a large portion of his debut album. “Buzzin’ Fly“, also written during this period, were later featured his 1969 LP Happy Sad. He often regarded his voice as an instrument, a talent principally showcased on his albums Goodbye and Hello, Lorca, and Starsailor.

“He continually took chances with his life. He’d drive like a maniac, risking accidents. For a couple of years he drank a lot and took downers to the point where it nearly killed him, but he’d always escape. Then he got into this romantic heroin-taking thing and his luck ran out.”

Tim was also the father of Jeff Buckley who became a well-known musician in his own right, before he accidentally drowned in 1997.

One of the great rock vocalists of the 1960s, Tim Buckley drew from folk, psychedelic rock, and progressive jazz to create a considerable body of adventurous work in his brief lifetime. His multi-octave range was capable of not just astonishing power, but great emotional expressiveness, swooping from sorrowful tenderness to anguished wailing. His restless quest for new territory worked against him commercially: By the time his fans had hooked into his latest album, he was onto something else entirely, both live and in the studio. In this sense he recalled artists such as Miles Davis and David Bowie, who were so eager to look forward and change that they confused and even angered listeners who wanted more stylistic consistency. However, his eclecticism has also ensured a durable fascination with his work that has engendered a growing posthumous cult for his music, often with listeners who were too young (or not around) to appreciate his music while he was active.

Buckley emerged from the same ’60s Orange County, CA, folk scene that spawned Jackson Browne and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black introduced Buckley and a couple of musicians Buckley was playing with to the Mothers’ manager, Herbie Cohen. Although Cohen may have first been interested in Buckley as a songwriter, he realized after hearing some demos that Buckley was also a diamond in the rough as a singer. Cohen became Buckley’s manager, and helped the singer get a deal with Elektra.

Before Buckley had reached his 20th birthday, he’d released his debut album. The slightly fey but enormously promising effort highlighted his soaring melodies and romantic, opaque lyrics. Baroque psychedelia was the order of the day for many Elektra releases of the time, and Buckley’s early folk-rock albums were embellished with important contributions from musicians Lee Underwood (guitar), Van Dyke Parks (keyboards), Jim Fielder (bass), and Jerry Yester. Larry Beckett was also an overlooked contributor to Buckley’s first two albums, co-writing many of the songs.

Goodbye and Hello

The fragile, melancholic, orchestrated beauty of the material had an innocent quality that was dampened only slightly on the second LP, Goodbye and Hello (1967). Buckley’s songs and arrangements became more ambitious and psychedelic, particularly on the lengthy title track. This was also his only album to reach the Top 200, where it only peaked at number 171; Buckley was always an artist who found his primary constituency among the underground, even for his most accessible efforts. His third album, Happy Sad, found him going in a decidedly jazzier direction in both his vocalizing and his instrumentation, introducing congas and vibes. Though it seemed a retreat from commercial considerations at the time, Happy Sad actually concluded the triumvirate of recordings that are judged to be his most accessible.

Dream Letter: Live in London 1968

The truth was, by the late ’60s Buckley was hardly interested in folk-rock at all. He was more intrigued by jazz; not only soothing modern jazz (as heard on the posthumous release of acoustic 1968 live material, Dream Letter), but also its most avant-garde strains. His songs became much more oblique in structure, and skeletal in lyrics, especially when the partnership with Larry Beckett was ruptured after the latter’s induction into the Army. Some of his songs abandoned lyrics almost entirely, treating his voice itself as an instrument, wordlessly contorting, screaming, and moaning, sometimes quite cacophonously. In this context, Lorca was viewed by most fans and critics not just as a shocking departure, but a downright bummer. No longer was Buckley a romantic, melodic poet; he was an experimental artist who sometimes seemed bent on punishing both himself and his listeners with his wordless shrieks and jarringly dissonant music.

Blue Afternoon

Almost as if to prove that he was still capable of gentle, uplifting jazzy pop-folk, Buckley issued Blue Afternoon around the same time. Bizarrely, Blue Afternoon and Lorca were issued almost simultaneously, on different labels. While an admirable demonstration of his versatility, it was commercial near-suicide, each album canceling the impact of the other, as well as confusing his remaining fans. Buckley found his best middle ground between accessibility and jazzy improvisation on 1970’s Starsailor, which is probably the best showcase of his sheer vocal abilities, although many prefer the more cogent material of his earliest albums.

Live at the Troubadour 1969

By this point, though, Buckley’s approach was so uncommercial that it was jeopardizing his commercial survival. And not just on record; he was equally uncompromising as a live act, as the posthumously issued Live at the Troubadour 1969 demonstrates, with its stretched-to-the-limit jams and searing improv vocals. For a time, he was said to have earned his living as a taxi driver and chauffeur; he also flirted with films for a while. When he returned to the studio, it was as a much more commercial singer/songwriter (some have suggested that various management and label pressures were behind this shift).

Greetings from L.A.

As much of a schism as Buckley’s experimental jazz period created among fans and critics, his final recordings have proved even more divisive, even among big Buckley fans. Some view these efforts, which mix funk, sex-driven lyrical concerns, and laid-back L.A. session musicians, as proof of his mastery of the blue-eyed soul idiom. Others find them a sad waste of talent, or relics of a prodigy who was burning out rather than conquering new realms. Neophytes should be aware of the difference of critical opinion regarding this era, but on the whole his final three albums are his least impressive. Those who feel otherwise usually cite the earliest of those LPs, Greetings from L.A. (1972), as his best work from his final phase.

Buckley’s life came to a sudden end on June 29, 1975, when he died at age 28 of a heroin overdose just after completing a tour. Those close to him insist that he had been clean for some time and lament the loss of an artist who, despite some recent failures, still had much to offer. Buckley’s stock began to rise among the rock underground after the Cocteau Twins covered his “Song for the Siren” in the 1980s. The posthumous releases of two late-’60s live sets (Dream Letter and Live at the Troubadour 1969) in the early ’90s also boosted his profile, as well as unveiling some interesting previously unreleased compositions. His son Jeff Buckley went on to mount a musical career as well before his own tragic death in 1997.

He doesn’t talk very much and journalists are almost unanimous in their frustration of trying to get a word out of him. His presence is electric, almost disquieting, but he rarely says a word. He wrinkles his nose, flashes his eyes and contorts his mouth into a teasing scowl while he raises his eyebrows and creases his brow. When he smiles, his whole face crumples with mirth. But he rarely says a word to writers.

Friends describe him as shy, complicated and very uncomfortable with strangers. He changes his mind often–about everything–and is very hard to pin down. I saw literally hundreds of photographs at the Elektra publicity office, and he looks more at home in a serious visage than a smile. “That’s because the photographers were strangers,” I was told.

He stands, or more accurately, sways, on impossibly slender legs which seem devoid of inflexibilities. When he sits, which is most often on the floor in a corner, his arms and legs fall in a haphazard tangle as if they were folded up and put away when not in use.

You could get lost in his face. The photos showed him in a variety of poses, moods and changes, but with all their diversity one gets the niggling feeling that something is missed, something is lost; much, it would seem, is misunderstood.

Buckley’s intimate moments are on stage, and even then there is a paradoxical distance. He careens and weeps through elaborate poetic fugues, sometimes losing the words in the sound, writhing sensually behind an enormous Gibson 12-string. He sings in a passionate counter-tenor, skidding around the notes of a song as if possessed by the melodies…the songs, at times, seem to sing him. His eyes are nearly closed most of the time and when they open, briefly, for a contemplative moment they peer out from behind a jungle of dusky curls and recede. Aside from a few very glib introductions, he rarely says a word.

His mystique is not a staged or deliberate one; he’s a uniquely gifted artist whose sensitivities run deep–so deep it would be almost fearful to reach bottom and unthinkable to come over the top.

 

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Pete Ham 4/1975

Pete HamApril 24th, 1975 – Pete Ham (Badfinger) was born Peter William Ham in Swansea, Wales on April 27, 1947. He formed a local rock group called The Panthers around 1961. This group would undergo several name and lineup changes before it became The Iveys in 1965. The band was relocated to London by The Mojos manager, Bill Collins, in 1966, and they continued to perform for three years throughout the United Kingdom. As it was, Ham eventually became the prominent songwriter for the band, as a Revox tape recorder was made available by Collins to encourage him. Ray Davies of The Kinks took an initial interest in the group, although tracks produced by Davies did not surface commercially until decades later. In 1968, The Iveys came to the attention of Mal Evans (The Beatles personal assistant) and were eventually signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records label after approval from all four Beatles, who were reportedly impressed by the band’s songwriting abilities.

The Iveys changed their name to Badfinger with the single release of “Come and Get It,” a composition written by Paul McCartney, and it became a worldwide Top Ten hit. Ham had initially protested against using a non-original to promote the band, as he had gained confidence in the group’s compositions, but he was quickly convinced of the springboard effect of having a likely hit single. His own creative perseverance paid off eventually, as his “No Matter What” composition became another Top Ten worldwide hit after its release in late 1970.

He followed up writing two more worldwide hits with “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue.” His greatest songwriting success came with his co-written composition “Without You” – a worldwide number 1 when it was later covered by Harry Nilsson and released in 1972. The song has since become a ballad standard and is covered by hundreds of singers from many genres worldwide. An Ivor Novello award for Song of the Year was issued in 1973 along with Grammy nominations. George Harrison used Ham’s talents for a number of album sessions including the All Things Must Pass album and for other Apple Records artist’s recordings. This friendship culminated with Ham’s acoustic guitar duet on “Here Comes the Sun” with Harrison at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, later portrayed in the theatrical film of the concert.

In 1972, Badfinger was picked up by Warner Bros. Records, as the Apple Records label was crumbling and it seemed the band was primed for major recognition. Unfortunately however the era from 1973–75, found Badfinger embroiled in many internal, financial, and managerial problems and their music was stifled. By 1975, with no income and the band’s business manager uncommunicative, Ham became despondent and he hanged himself in the garage of his Surrey home.

Ham was aged 27 at the time; his suicide fell just three days shy of his 28th birthday. He left behind a pregnant girlfriend, who gave birth to their daughter one month after his death. His suicide note had the statement, “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better.”
It also included an accusatory blast toward Badfinger’s business manager, Stan Polley: “P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.” News of Ham’s death was not widely disseminated at the time, as no public comment was made by The Beatles, Apple Corps Ltd, or Warner Bros. Records.

Ham is often credited as being one of the earliest purveyors of the power pop genre. His most widespread effect in popular music is the ballad “Without You,” written with Badfinger bandmate Tom Evans. Collections of Ham’s home demo recordings have been posthumously released: 1997’s 7 Park Avenue, 1999’s Golders Green and 2013’s The Keyhole Street Demos 1966–67. On 27 April 2013, Ham was commemorated by his hometown’s first official heritage blue plaque. The unveiling ceremony took place at Swansea’s High Street station, located at Ivey Place, on what would have been Ham’s 66th birthday. Following the unveiling, which was performed by Ham’s daughter Petera, a tribute concert featuring two original Iveys members was held at Swansea’s Grand Theatre.

As is the case with suicides, Ham reached a point where death seemed to be the only solution to his problems. He met band mate/co-songwriter Tom Evans in a pub near his home on the evening of April 24th, 1975, three days before his 28th birthday, and told him: “Don’t worry, I know a way out.” Fortified with drink, Ham went back to his home, wrote a note in which he expressed his bitterness towards his manager and hanged himself in his garage. Evans hanged himself seven years later leaving a note that stated, he wanted to be where Petey was.

The story of one of power rock’s eternal melodies “Without You”, left its creators in desperation, like the 15 minute of fame legacy kills.

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T-Bone Walker 3/1975

T-Bone WalkerMarch 16, 1975 – T-Bone Walker was born Aaron Thibeaux Walker on May 28, 1910 in Linden, Texas. American blues guitarist, pianist and singer/ songwriter.

In the early 1920s, as a teenager learned his craft amongst the street-strolling stringbands of Dallas. Walker’s parents were both musicians. His stepfather, Marco Washington, taught him to play the guitar, ukulele, banjo, violin, mandolin, and piano.

Walker left school at the age of 10, and by 15 he was a professional performer on the blues circuit. Initially, he was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s protégé and would guide him around town for his gigs and by 1929, Walker made his recording debut with Columbia Records billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, releasing the single “Wichita Falls Blues”/”Trinity River Blues”.  Continue reading T-Bone Walker 3/1975

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Dave Alexander 2/1975

David AlexanderFebruary 10, 1975 – David Michael ‘Dave’ Alexander was born June 3, 1947 in Whitmore Lake, Michigan, but later re-located to Ann Arbor where he became  a founder member of Iggy Pop & The Stooges.

‘Zander’ met brothers Ron and Scott Ashton in high school where he dropped out after 45 minutes on the first day of his senior year in 1965 to win a bet. Later in 1965 Ron sold his motorcycle and they went to England to see The Who and to “try and find The Beatles”.

Alexander and the Asheton brothers soon met Iggy Pop and formed The Stooges in 1967. Although Alexander was a total novice on his instrument, the bass, he was a quick learner and subsequently had a hand in arranging, composing and performing all of the songs that appeared on the band’s first two albums, The Stooges and Fun House. He is often credited by vocalist Iggy Pop and guitarist Ron Asheton in interviews with being the primary composer of the music for the Stooges songs “We Will Fall”, “Little Doll” (both on The Stooges), “Dirt” and “1970” (Fun House).

Alexander was fired from the band in August 1970 after showing up at the Goose Lake International Music Festival too drunk to play.

Less than 5 years later he died of pulmonary edema after being admitted to a hospital for pancreatitis – linked to his excessive drinking – on February 10, 1975 at the age of 27, making him one of the less famous members of the ’27’ Club.

Mike Watt mentions Alexander by name in his song, “The Angel’s Gate,” on his 2004 album The Secondman’s Middle Stand, by which time Watt had replaced Alexander in the reformed Stooges. At Watt’s first performance with the Stooges at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in May 2003, he wore a Dave Alexander t-shirt in tribute.

Iggy Pop namechecks Alexander in the spoken intro to “Dum Dum Boys” on his album The Idiot, saying:

How about Dave?
OD’d on alcohol

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Nick Drake 11/1974

Nick DrakeNovember 24, 1974Nick Drake was born Nicholas Rodney Drake on June 19, 1948 in Rangoon Burma (Myanmar).  He was a British singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, not appreciated in his lifetime, but since his death his work has grown steadily in stature, to the extent that he now ranks among the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years and his songs have been covered by many greats and in 2004, 30 years after his death, he gained his first chart hit when two singles, “Magic” and “River Man”, were released to coincide with the compilation album ‘Made to Love Magic’.  Later that year the BBC aired a radio documentary about Nick, narrated by Brad Pitt.

Drake signed to Island Records when he was 20 years old and was a student at the University of Cambridge, and released his debut album, Five Leaves Left, in 1969. By 1972, he had recorded two more albums—Bryter Layter and Pink Moon. Neither sold more than 5,000 copies on initial release. Drake’s reluctance to perform live, or be interviewed, contributed to his lack of commercial success. There is no known footage of the adult Drake; he was only ever captured in still photographs and in home footage from his childhood.

Drake suffered from Major Depression or what would be diagnosed today as Adult Onset Major Depression. This was often reflected in his lyrics and as is often typical with this illness he reportedly self-medicated with marijuana regularly. On completion of his third album, 1972’s Pink Moon, he withdrew from both live performance and recording completely, retreating to his parents’ home in rural Warwickshire.

On 25 November 1974, at the age of 26, Drake died from an overdose of approximately 30 amitriptyline pills, a prescribed antidepressant. His cause of death was determined to be suicide.

His true value as a musician/songwriter did not come to the foreground until the early 1980, but has since been growing to cult like proportions.

Nick Drake died young with little commercial success in his own lifetime. Yet after years of steady rediscovery, his music has become a central touchstone for countless fans spellbound by his gentle voice, stunning composition, and perhaps surprisingly intricate guitar work.

Retrospectively, Drake’s story is usually told as a tale of consuming depression and increasing isolation. He did not offer many interviews and no known video footage of his playing exists. But based on the accounts and details we do know, he seemed obsessed with playing his guitar and exploring its depths, and this immersion brought an embrace of different tunings.

On the haunting “Cello Song” from his debut record, Five Leaves Left, for instance, Drake detuned his G-string just one half step to F#. It’s a subtle change but one that allows for the beautiful picking pattern that carries the song.

While his first two records are stocked with additional instrumentation (arguably to the songs’ detriment in some case), his third and final album, Pink Moon, is just Drake and a guitar. The album’s title track remains one of Drake’s most famous recordings and is built around a CGCFCE tuning. The tuning was also employed on Drake favorites, like “Hazey Jane I” and “Place to Be.”

Strum this tuning open, and you get a Cadd4. It’s an instant Nick Drake voicing, and simply barring and picking a few a few extra notes with your ring finger will get you into his open style.

His sister Gabrielle, a rather famous actress in Britain did an interview in the Guardian in 2014 that is equally explanatory as it is complicating the Nick Drake legacy.

Here are some of his posthumus youtube release videos:

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Graham Bond 5/1974

graham-bondMay 8, 1974 – Graham John Clifton Bond was born on October 28, 1937 in Romford England.

British keyboard player, one of the great catalytic figures of 60s rock in UK, and has a claim to the title “Father of the British Blues”. He gained attention as a jazz saxophonist as a member of the Don Rendell Quintet.

After which, he was a member of Blues Incorporated, a group led by Alexis Korner, before forming his Graham Bond Quartet. With a lineup of himself on vocals and organ, Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on double bass, and, briefly, John McLaughlin on guitar, who was replaced by Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax and the name changed to the Graham Bond Organization.

Graham was the main song writer, and also produced their two studio albums, The Sound of ’65 and There’s a Bond Between Us. The GBO is notable in popular music history for jump-starting the careers of two future Cream members, bassist/singer Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. One song Bruce and Baker originally recorded with Bond, “Train Time,” later wound up in the repertoire of Cream.

Graham also formed Magus with UK folk-singer Carolanne Pegg, the group disbanded around Christmas 1973 without recording. During that same period, he discovered American singer-songwriter-guitarist Mick Lee, and took him under his wing. They played together live, but never recorded.

The new band also had plans to include Chris Wood of Traffic, but never materialized due to Bond’s untimely death, which may or may not have been suicide? He died under the wheels of a Tube train at Finsbury Park station, London on May 8, 1974. He was 37.

 The following feature story from Classic Rock issue 185, traces the apocalyptic story of one of the 1960s most influential British talents in those early days when everyone played with everyone.

The voice on the other end of the phone line was optimistic; enthusiastic, even. “I feel great. I’m clean. I’m off everything and I’m looking forward to getting back to work again.”

It was Tuesday, May 7, 1974, and Graham Bond was calling the NME office to thank them for recently printing an old photo of his. During a cordial exchange, the paper agreed to interview him in the next few days, after which he hung up. There was nothing to suggest anything amiss.

Twenty-four hours later, Bond was dead, crushed under the wheels of a Tube train at Finsbury Park station. It was two days before the police were able to identify the body, and then only from his fingerprints. He was 36. It was a strange, messy end to a strange, unpredictable life.

In his mid-60s prime, Graham Bond was a true originator and one of the key figures on the British music scene. As the driving force behind the Graham Bond Organization, he dragged trad jazz out of its fusty confines and made it jump with heavy doses of blues and wailing R&B. A raft of talent passed through the band on the way to greater success in Cream, Blind Faith, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Colosseum and elsewhere.

As an organist and alto sax blower, Bond was a primal force. He redefined the role of the keyboard during his time with the GBO, his energy and outsized personality reflected in his ferocious playing and the anguish of his raw singing voice. Bulky and, during his later years, bearded, he was a formidable presence.

“You wouldn’t miss him in a crowd,” says Jack Bruce, who formed Cream with fellow GBO member Ginger Baker. “He was a colourful character and a powerful guy.”

If Bond’s reputation is largely diminished these days, his influence on his fellow musicians is undeniable. The likes of Rick Wakeman, Elton John, Steve Winwood and Deep Purple’s Jon Lord were all indebted to both his musicianship and his showmanship.

“He taught me, hands on, most of what I know about the Hammond organ,” said Lord.

Bond’s pioneering spirit even marked him out as a harbinger of prog – witness his appropriation of classical music, most notably co-opting Bach for 1965’s Wade In TheWater.

“Graham was important to a lot of people,” says Bruce. “He was a one-off. Nobody could play alto sax and Hammond at the same time and get that incredible sound. The Organization was a phenomenal band. It was quite primitive, but that was part of the beauty of it.”

But this is where his legacy gets mangled. The great enigma of Bond’s life and career was that, despite packed houses and plaudits from fellow musicians, he never achieved either the fame or the riches his talent deserved. By the time of his death, Bond was reduced to the role of outsider artist, his stock in tatters. The record industry had long given up on a troubled man prone to fits of erratic behaviour, trapped in an auto-destructive cycle of drug abuse and occultism.

“He was his own worst enemy,” says drummer ‘Funky’ Paul Olsen, who played with Bond in his final days. “He was supremely intelligent, but there was just too much going on in his head.”

The turn-of-the-70s Bond was a world away from the one who gate-crashed the music fraternity a decade earlier. Initially a saxophonist, Bond had studied music at the Royal Liberty School in London before landing a job with the Goudie Charles Quintet. By 1961 he’d signed up with the Don Rendell New Quintet, where his exuberant style and unique phrasing brought him to the attention of the jazz press. Bond’s recorded debut came on the Quintet’s album Roarin’, released later that year. In Melody Maker’s year-end jazz poll, his prowess was such that he was voted second in the New Star category.

The following year was a pivotal one. As well as playing with Don Rendell, he also began gigging with the Johnny Burch Octet, a ‘budget big band’ whose members included double-bassist Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and tenor sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith.

“I first met him at one of the all-nighters at the Flamingo,” Bruce recalls. “Graham used to sit in with us. His appearance reminded me of Cannonball Adderley, and the intensity just astounding.”

By October 1962, Bond had graduated to Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, a hothouse for emerging talent. He doubled up on the sax by pumping out fat Hammond riffs through a Leslie speaker, brokering a new style of American-influenced R&B. Bond, Baker and Bruce, also in the line-up, began playing as a trio during intervals. It’s not exactly clear just when Bond decided to start his own band, although a trip to Manchester in February 1963 appears to have been a turning point. He’d secured a trio gig and travelled up in a hired black Dormobile camper van with Baker and Bruce. The audience howled their appreciation of their wild, free-ranging approach. Not long after, Bond told Korner he was breaking off on his own, with Ginger and Jack in tow. It was typical of his single-minded bullishness that he never bothered to consult with those two first.

“I just showed up for rehearsal one day and Alexis was looking very glum and angry,” Bruce remembers. “He wouldn’t talk to me at all. Then I found out that I’d resigned from the band! I was very naïve in those days, just a kid. I should’ve said something, but just went along with it. It was years before Alexis began talking to me again.”

Three became four when guitarist John McLaughlin joined from Georgie Fame’s band. The Graham Bond Quartet’s first release found them backing emergent rock’n’roller Duffy Power on a cover of The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There.

“Graham’s influence on me was enormous,” admits Power. “He was a natural musician and had a philosophy where you must always go for it. That’s what he instilled in me. He was head and shoulders above the other Hammond organ players. And he was always very encouraging towards the others: ‘Yeah, Ginger! Yeah, Jack!’. He’d always be talking it up, saying they were making music for the future. When you stood outside a club where they were playing, the atmosphere was just magnetic.”

McLaughlin was replaced by Heckstall-Smith later that year. With the newcomer blowing sax with gusto and skill, the Graham Bond Organization became a fearsome proposition.

“I got the opportunity to see them play live a lot and absolutely adored them,” recalls Pete Brown, co-author of Cream classics I Feel Free, White Room and Sunshine Of Your Love, and a Bond devotee. “There was nothing like it. It had a lot of the spirit of jazz but with a ferocious energy from blues and rock.”

Jack Bruce: “There was hardly any R&B scene at the time – we more or less invented it. When we started out we’d be doing venues like The Place in Hanley and the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, these real funky little clubs. The audiences went bananas. The kind of stuff we were playing was very new for British music, as was the intensity.”

The Graham Bond Organization’s debut album, The Sound Of ’65, was a stirring attempt to capture the transcendent thrill of their live shows. So finely drilled were they at this point that, according to Bruce, the whole thing was recorded in three hours. The album, a mix of covers and strident original swingers like Half A Man and Spanish Blues, was doubly remarkable for the fact that it was the first British release to feature a Mellotron.

“Way-out blues sounds, weird at times, but always fascinating,” raved the New MusicalExpress. “Plenty of wailing harmonica and raving vocalistics.”

In July the GBO appeared on ITV’s flagship pop show Ready Steady Go! promoting their new single Lease On Love. Bond delighted in bringing along his new toy, with the Mellotron’s ability to reproduce strings, brass and woodwind sounds essentially putting him at the hub of his own mini-orchestra. He made liberal use of it again on the equally raucous follow-up There’s A Bond Between Us, released later in 1965. But by then it was clear that all was not well.

The GBO were working hard, forever on the road or in the studio, with precious little to show for it.

“Graham’s band flogged themselves to death for very little money and I don’t think they sold many records either,” says Power. “And I hate to say this, but Graham didn’t have the personality or looks that could catch on with a young audience. It must’ve made him unhappy because he thought he’d take the music business by storm when I met him.”

Drugs were starting to derail the band too. Pot had always been a communal form of recreation for the GBO [“We were all stoned out of our bonces,” Bruce admits], but now things had taken a more sinister turn. Both Bond and Baker had become addicted to heroin, making for what Pete Brown calls “the archetypal junkie relationship”. Bond’s burgeoning interest in white magic and the occult only made him more unpredictable. Plus he wasn’t always upfront with the band’s accounts.

“We were playing bigger places but getting no money,” Bruce recalls. “In theory, Graham was paying us. One night at a club in East London, between getting money from the promoter and then crossing the dance floor to pay us, it had disappeared. So he wasn’t being fair, financially. Then Ginger took over as the bandleader, but it only improved a little.”

In fact, growing friction between Baker and Bruce was a factor in the latter being sacked from the GBO in the autumn of 1965. Baker’s departure the following summer was effectively the end of the GBO.

Bond was undergoing myriad changes. He’d left his wife, grown out his hair, taken to wearing multi-coloured cloaks, become fascinated with tarot cards and begun dropping acid. As Baker noted in his autobiography, Hellraiser, Bond “was getting into the realms of the very weird indeed… Gone was the happy musician – he had been replaced by a strange, unsmiling mystic”.

Jon Hiseman was brought in as Baker’s replacement, but the instant impact of Cream had a profound effect on Bond. “What upset him most was the way Jack and Ginger went into Cream and almost immediately had chart singles,” says Hiseman. “Every time he heard one he physically shrank and began to feel endlessly betrayed. He was becoming increasingly frustrated by the fact that many of the musicians he had worked with on the way up were becoming much more successful than him, and he simply could not understand it. In his self-belief, nobody was as good as he was. And all his pent-up anger was running alongside a serious heroin addiction. A lesser man would have crumbled, but such was the force of his personality, nobody could help. He would just not let you in.”

By 1967, the GBO had split altogether. Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith played briefly with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers before forming successful prog-jazzers Colosseum. It was a different story for Bond. Immersing himself in occultist lore, he was increasingly prone to bouts of delusion. He began telling people he was the lost son of The Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley. It was an idea that took hold after Bond read that one of Crowley’s partners had given birth in 1937, the same year he was born, and left the baby in an orphanage. To Bond, a Barnardo’s child who was adopted at six months old, the symmetry made perfect sense.

“He felt that very deeply and would sometimes muse about what his background actually was,” Bruce says. “He thought he was Jewish, for some reason. But he just didn’t know. It must be a terrible thing, to not know who you are. I’m sure it played a large part in the way his life went later on.”

“In the early days he did seem relatively well adjusted,” says Pete Brown, “but when the heroin took hold, he got rather devious and difficult. People who’ve had addictions and manage to stop them find that the ritualistic aspect of it needs to be replaced. So when the smack was gone he felt he needed a power source. But it just became atrophied and went bad. Aleister Crowley just seemed like a fucking creep to me. Graham started off with so-called white magic, then I don’t know where it went. People make some bad choices.”

The remainder of Bond’s career was a procession of ever-diminishing returns. In early 1968 he set out for America, though his failure to secure a work permit put a crimp in his recording plans. Eventually he went into an LA studio and cut Love Is The Law, a pulsating set of organ-led blues, made with Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine, that reflected his spiritual obsessions – the title was one of Aleister Crowley’s occult dictums.

There was also session work for Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Dr John, the latter’s influence palpable on the gumbo funk of Stiff Necked Chicken, from Bond’s next album for the Pulsar label. Both records offered vivid proof that, no matter how precarious his personal state, Bond’s musical and compositional skills were still intact. Alas, it was a sign of the record company’s indifference that the title of the second LP was misspelt asMighty Grahame Bond. Neither shifted many copies.

Undeterred, he returned to England in late 1969 and formed the Graham Bond Initiation with his new wife Diane Stewart. Not that it did him much good. Bond was promptly arrested on the eve of a comeback gig and carted off to Pentonville on a two-year-old bankruptcy charge [Jack Bruce would rescue him by paying his bail].

There were two further albums: 1970’s Holy Magick and the following year’s We Put OurMagick On You. The former was a incantatory blow-out recorded with Stewart, who shared his magickal beliefs, that consisted of meditations and rites in Egyptian and Altantean, backed by honking jazz-rock freakery. The sleeve showed the pair, arms raised in supplication, against a druidic backdrop of Stonehenge.

Around the same time, Bond began playing sax in Ginger Baker’s Air Force. The band, which included Steve Winwood, Denny Laine, Ric Grech and Chris Wood, proved too unwieldy to sustain. He also enjoyed a brief tenure as organist in the Jack Bruce Band, although, as Bruce points out, ‘enjoyed’ probably isn’t the right word. “It was terrifying trying to be the bandleader of Graham Bond,” he winces. “We were playing somewhere in Europe one time and he went out on to the roof. He was in tears about his drug use. He couldn’t seem to get over it. I vividly remember firing him in Milan. He infuriated me so much by playing something or other that I actually ripped a sink off the wall and smashed it on the floor. He was that sort of a guy.”

Bond’s last concerted effort came in 1972, when he and Pete Brown teamed up for TwoHeads Are Better Than One. “We had great fun making that record,” says Brown. “Graham was playing really well and we toured a lot. By that time he was a little damaged and addicted to Dr Collis Browne’s [a cough mixture and painkiller], which had opiates in it that you could extract or just down the whole lot. He lived with me for nearly six months, which was kind of difficult. But I loved the guy. I owe him a lot. The great thing about Graham was that he encouraged people. He’d always make you deliver something beyond what you thought you were capable of.”

There were further plans, too, chief among them being Magus, formed with folk singer Carolanne Pegg. But the band split by the end of 1973 without having recorded a note. Bond nevertheless forged a friendship with Magus’s drummer, Paul Olsen.

“My girlfriend and I had a little flat in Barnes, and Graham stayed with us for a while,” Olsen says. “He got arrested for drug possession and spent six weeks at Springfield mental home, this big old Victorian place in south London [it’s thought that Bond had schizophrenia]. They had an old upright piano there that was so out of tune. But I remember Graham sitting there, mapping all the keys in his head, then playing it. He had everybody standing around him, smiling.”

Bond convinced the staff to allow Olsen to bring in the whole band so they could play fort the patients. “That gig was incredible. They were the best audience I’ve ever had. There were tears in their eyes.”

Duffy Power recalls seeing Bond at a TV show with Alexis Korner. “Graham couldn’t even get himself a drink,” he says. “I had some pep pills with me, but he wasn’t keen to get stoned like he used to. He was very down.”

Paul Olsen: “He was so depressed at one point that we answered an ad for Chingford Organ Studios, who were looking for a demonstrator. For a man of his history and capability to be reduced to that meant he was at rock bottom. He’d just blotted his copybook with too many people too many times.”

Pete Brown: “Right at the end, Graham said to me: ‘I’m giving all the magic stuff up and I’m just going to play. I’m not going to do anything influenced by that any more’. Then a few days later he was dead.”

There was no evidence of foul play in Bond’s death. Nor was there a suicide note. Some have speculated that he was chased into Finsbury Park station that afternoon by persons unknown, perhaps drug dealers whom he owed money. But with no witnesses coming forward at the inquest, the coroner was left to record an open verdict. It’s most likely that his demise was self-inflicted.

“His death shocked me,” confesses Jack Bruce. “I went to his funeral and played this amazing elegy on the organ there. A lot of people were very moved by it. And I really felt that I was getting messages from him. I felt his spirit and was interweaving a lot of his themes. It was very beautiful.”

Graham Bond was no saint. Even after all these years, Bruce sums him up as “quite a character and quite difficult”. Drug addiction and booze only accentuated his less savoury traits. And, on an altogether more disturbing level, it was claimed in Harry Shapiro’s definitive biography, Graham Bond: The Mighty Shadow, that he even sexually abused his stepdaughter. Bond never admitted it, nor did he deny it. But as a musical entity, his standing among his peers is immense.

“There was never any question about the music,” affirms Bruce. “The Organization was a powerhouse. It was an amazingly hip band for the time.”

Paul Olsen contends that Bond’s over-the-top behaviour and personality were both his biggest weakness and his biggest strength. “A lot of English uptights shunned him. And he was a loose cannon. But people like that enrich lives. When he walked into a room, no one else mattered. He had one of those naturally big personalities. When I first saw him at the Roundhouse in 1970, he was a monster on stage. He had on his robes, his long, flowing things, and all his pentagrams.”

For Pete Brown, Bond’s influence has never waned. “A lot of his showmanship and ideas–the multi-keyboard thing, the things he wore and played – got ripped off by people who made a lot more money. The prog rock people definitely took a lot from him. The GBO weren’t pretty boys preening around – it was real musicians with real soul. Although there were four terrific brains involved, it wasn’t just cerebral music. It was body music as well, powerful and sexy and groovy. And that’s what music should do to you. He was a classic case of someone never fully appreciated in his own time.”

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Arthur Crudup 3/1974

arthur crudupMarch 28, 1974 – Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup was born on August 24th 1905 in Forest Mississippi, where he first sang gospel, then began his career as a blues singer around Clarksdale, Mississippi.

As delta blues singer-songwriter and guitarist, he was Elvis Presley’s favourite blues artist and is maybe to some best known outside blues circles for writing songs later covered by Elvis and dozens of other artists, such as “That’s All Right”, “Mean Old ‘Frisco Blues”, “Who’s Been Foolin’ You”, “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine”.

As a member of the Harmonizing Four he visited Chicago in 1939. In the late 40s he toured throughout the country with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James. He also recorded under the names Elmer James and Percy Lee Crudup.

He died from a stroke on March 28, 1974 at age 69.

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Bobby Darin 12/1973

Bobby DarinDecember 20, 1973 – Bobby Darin was born Walden Robert Perciville Cassotto on May 14, 1936. Darin rose from poor beginnings in Harlem and the South Bronx, New York where he fought rheumatic fever as a child, which damaged his heart and plagued him throughout his life. As a result of these obstacles, he worked extremely hard to overcome them. Knowing his life would not be a long one, his ambition to succeed was fueled by an overwhelming desire to make it big in show business. By the time he was a teenager he could play several instruments quite proficiently, including piano, drums and guitar, he later added harmonica and xylophone.

Wanting a career in the New York theater, he dropped out of college after a year to play small nightclubs around the city with a musical combo. In the resort area of the Catskill Mountains, he was both an entertainer and a busboy. For the most of his teenage years Bobby was a comedy drummer and an ambitious vocalist. Continue reading Bobby Darin 12/1973

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Gram Parsons 9/1973

gram parsonsSeptember 19, 1973 – Gram Parsons was born Cecil Ingram Connor III on November 5, 1946 in Winter Haven Florida, near Orlando. He became a very influential member of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, but died tragically from an overdose of morphine and alcohol at the age of 26 on September 19, 1973. Phil “The Mangler” Kaufman, his one time road manager hijacked his corpse from LAX tarmac, drove it up to Joshua Tree and lit it on fire as was previously agreed between the two.

Very proficient as singer, songwriter, guitarist and pianist; in his early teens he played in rock and roll cover bands such as the Pacers and the Legends, at 16 he turned to folk music, and in 1963 he teamed with his first professional outfit, the Shilos. Heavily influenced by the Kingston Trio and the Journeymen, the band played hootenannies, coffee houses and high school auditoriums. He went on to be a member of the International Submarine Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers and was later a solo artist who recorded and performed duets with Emmylou Harris.
His influence on the Byrds musical output became crystal clear with their 1968 Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, with in turn gave way to country cross-overs like the Flying Burrito Brothers and the super stardom introduction of the Eagles.

An interesting tidbit comes after Gram Parsons first meets the Stones and Keith Richards. This took place in 1968 while the Byrds were touring Europe in support of their landmark “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” record. This is documented in the book “Gram Parsons: A Music Biography by Sid Griffin” Published by Sierra Books, Copyright 1985. Quote from page 20 of the paperback edition: “The Byrds were in London to play a benefit at the Royal Albert Hall. On the morning after the show, Parsons told McGuinn, Chris Hillman and then-Byrds drummer Kevin Kelly he was not going to South Africa under any circumstances. Parsons left the group and stayed in London while the Byrds flew to South Africa…” also quote:”Gram met Keith Richards in London and stayed with him for a spell, turning the Stones onto country music. Suddenly songs like ‘Dear Doctor’, ‘Country Honk’, and ‘Dead Flowers’ became part of the Stones’ repertoire”. There is a second book called “Hickory Wind: The life and Times of Gram Parsons” Published by Pocket Books, Copyright 1991 which is also very good reference on the life and times of this significant influence on the Rolling Stones. The life and music of the late Gram Parsons is essential learning material for any student of The Rolling Stones that is interested in understanding one of their strongest influences during “The Golden Era”.

Since his death, he has been credited with helping to found both country rock and alt-country and in 2004 Rolling Stone ranked him No.87 on their list of the 100 Most Influential Artists of All Time (He died of morphine and alcohol overdose in a hotel room in Joshua Tree, California).

A Typical Southern Story

Ingram Cecil Connor III was born on November 5, 1946, in Winter Haven, Florida, to Ingram Cecil (“Coon Dog”) and Avis (née Snively) Connor. The Connors normally resided at their main residence in Waycross, Georgia, but Avis traveled to her hometown in Florida to give birth. She was the daughter of citrus fruit magnate John A. Snively, who held extensive properties in Winter Haven and in Waycross. Parsons’ father was a famous World War II flying ace, decorated with the Air Medal, who was present at the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Biographer David Meyer characterized Parson’s parents as loving, writing in Twenty Thousand Roads that they are “remembered as affectionate parents and a loving couple”. However, he also notes that “unhappiness was eating away at the Connor family”: Avis suffered from depression, and both parents were alcoholics. Parsons’ father committed suicide two days before Christmas in 1958, devastating the 12 year old Gram and his younger sister, Little Avis. Avis subsequently married Robert Parsons, whose surname was adopted by Gram and his sister. Gram attended the prestigious Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. For a time, the family found a stability of sorts. They were torn apart in early 1965, when Robert became embroiled in an extramarital affair and Avis’ heavy drinking led to her death from cirrhosis on July 5, 1965, the day of Gram’s graduation from Bolles.

As his family disintegrated around him, Parsons developed strong musical interests, particularly after seeing Elvis Presley perform in concert on February 22, 1956, in Waycross. Five years later, while barely in his teens, he played in rock and roll cover bands such as the Pacers and the Legends, headlining in clubs owned by his stepfather in the Winter Haven/Polk County area. By the age of 16 he graduated to folk music, and in 1963 he teamed with his first professional outfit, the Shilos, in Greenville, South Carolina. Heavily influenced by The Kingston Trio and the Journeymen, the band played hootenannies, coffee houses and high school auditoriums. Forays into New York City’s Greenwich Village included appearances at The Bitter End.

After The Shilos broke up, Parsons attended Harvard University, where he studied theology but departed after one semester. Despite being from the South, he did not become seriously interested in country music until his time at Harvard, where he heard Merle Haggard for the first time. In 1966, he and other musicians from the Boston folk scene formed a group called the International Submarine Band. They relocated to Los Angeles the following year, and after several lineup changes signed to Lee Hazlewood’s LHI Records, where they spent late 1967 recording Safe at Home. The album contains one of Parsons’ best-known songs, “Luxury Liner”, and an early version of “Do You Know How It Feels”, which he revisited later on in his career. Safe at Home would remain unreleased until mid-1968, by which time the International Submarine Band had broken up. When David Crosby and Michael Clarke left the Byrds, Gram Parsons became involved with the Byrds.

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Jim Croce 9/1973

jim croceSeptember 20, 1973 – Jim Croce was born on January 10, 1943 in South Philadelphia Pennsylvania. He had two Billboard Hot 100 chart toppers at number 1: “Time in a Bottle” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” He died in a plane crash in Natchitoches, Louisiana on September 20, 1973 an hour after he delivered a concert at Northwestern State University on route to a concert at Austin College Texas.

Jim Croce was a fabulous songwriter, who was not enthralled with the road. He wrote his wife from his last tour ‘Life and Times’, that he had decided to take a break from music and touring and settle down with his wife and infant son after the tour was completed. Continue reading Jim Croce 9/1973

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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.

Continue reading Memphis Minnie 8/1973

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Clarence White 7/1973

July 14, 1973 – Clarence White was born Clarence LeBlanc on June 7th 1944 in Lewiston, Maine. The LeBlanc family, later changing their surname to White, were of French-Canadian ancestry and hailed from New Brunswick, Canada. Clarence’s father, Eric LeBlanc, Sr., played guitar, banjo, fiddle, and harmonica, ensuring that his offspring grew up surrounded by music. A child prodigy, Clarence began playing guitar at the age of six. At such a young age he was barely able to hold the instrument and as a result, he briefly switched to ukulele, awaiting a time when his young hands would be big enough to confidently grapple with the guitar.

In 1954, when Clarence was ten, the White family relocated to Burbank, California and soon after, Clarence joined his brothers Roland and Eric Jr. (who played mandolin and banjo respectively) in a trio called Three Little Country Boys. The family group was occasionally augmented by sister Joanne on double bass. Although they initially started out playing contemporary country music, the group soon switched to a purely bluegrass repertoire, as a result of Roland White’s burgeoning interest in the genre. Early on, the group won a talent contest on radio station KXLA in Pasadena and by 1957, they had managed to attract the interest of country guitarist Joe Maphis. With Maphis’s help, the Three Little Country Boys made several appearances on the popular television program Town Hall Party.

In 1957, banjoist Billy Ray Latham and Dobro player LeRoy Mack were added to the line-up, with the band renaming themselves the Country Boys soon after. By 1961, the quartet had become well known enough to appear twice on the The Andy Griffith Show. That same year the Country Boys also added Roger Bush on double bass, as a replacement for Eric White, Jr., who had left the band to get married. Between 1959 and 1962, the Country Boys released three singles on the Sundown, Republic and Briar International record labels.

In September 1962, the Country Boys recorded their debut album ‘The New Sound of Bluegrass America’ released in early 1963 and changed their name to the Kentucky Colonels. Around this time, Clarence’s flatpicking guitar style was becoming a much more prominent part of the group’s music.

After meeting while attending a performance by Doc Watson at the Ash Grove folk club in Los Angeles, Clarence began to explore the possibilities of the acoustic guitar’s role in bluegrass music. At that time, the guitar was largely regarded as a rhythm instrument in bluegrass, with only a few performers, such as Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs and Don Reno, exploring its potential for soloing. White soon began to integrate elements of Watson’s playing style, including the use of open strings and syncopation, into his own flatpicking guitar technique. His breathtaking speed and virtuosity on the instrument was largely responsible for making the guitar a lead instrument within bluegrass. In addition to being accomplished musicians, the Kentucky Colonels’ music often featured close harmony vocals.

Following the release of their debut album, the Kentucky Colonels played a multitude of live appearances throughout California and the United States, including an appearance at the prestigious Monterey Folk Festival in May 1963. Between these bookings with the Colonels, White also made a guest appearance on Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman’s New Dimensions in Banjo & Bluegrass album, which would be re-released in 1973 as the soundtrack album to the film Deliverance (with Weissberg and Steve Mandell’s version of “Dueling Banjos” added to the album’s track listing).

In 1964 the Kentucky Colonels were signed to World Pacific Records by producer Jim Dickson, who would later became the manager of folk rock band The Byrds and by the close of the year, the Kentucky Colonels were considered by fans and critics to be one of the best bluegrass groups in the United States.

Although they were now a successful bluegrass recording act, it was becoming increasingly hard for the Kentucky Colonels to make a living playing bluegrass. The American folk music revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which had helped facilitate the Colonels’ commercial success, had been dealt a serious blow in 1964 by the popularity of the pop and beat music of the British Invasion. However, it wasn’t until mid-1965, with the release of The Byrds’ folk rock single “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, that the folk revival’s popularity began to seriously wane. Before long, many young folk performers and some bluegrass acts were switching to electric instrumentation. The Kentucky Colonels followed suit, plugging in with electric instruments and hiring a drummer in mid-1965, in order to keep a concert booking as a country dance band at a bowling alley. The band added fiddle player Scotty Stoneman to their line-up in mid-1965, as a replacement for Sloan, but some months later, the Kentucky Colonels dissolved as a band after playing their final show on October 31, 1965.

As 1965 turned into 1966, White met Gene Parsons and Gib Guilbeau at a recording session for the Gosdin Brothers and shortly after, he began to perform live with the duo in local California clubs, as well as doing regular session work on their records, which were released under the moniker of Cajun Gib and Gene.

1966 also saw White begin playing with a country group called Trio, which featured drummer Bart Haney and former Kentucky Colonel Roger Bush on bass. In autumn of that year, as a result of his friendship with Gilbeau, Parsons and the Gosdin Brothers, White was asked to provide lead guitar to ex-Byrd Gene Clark’s debut solo album, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers. White also briefly joined Clark’s touring band shortly thereafter.

During the Clark album sessions, White reconnected with mandolin player and bassist Chris Hillman, who he had known during the early 1960s as a member of the bluegrass combo The Hillmen. At the time Hillman was  a member of The Byrds and in December 1966, he invited White to contribute countrified lead guitar playing to his songs “Time Between” and “The Girl with no Name”, which both appeared on The Byrds‘ Younger Than Yesterday album.

Together with Gene Parsons, he invented the B-Bender, a guitar accessory that enables a player to mechanically bend the B-string up a whole tone and emulate the sound of a pedal steel guitar. 

The country-oriented nature of the songs was something of a stylistic departure for the group and can be seen as an early indicator of the experimentation with country music that would color The Byrds’ subsequent work. White also contributed guitar to the band’s follow-up album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, and to their landmark 1968 country rock release, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

Early in 1968, White joined Nashville West, which also featured Gene Parsons, Gib Gilbeau, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Glen D. Hardin, and Wayne Moore. Nashville West recorded an album for Sierra Records, but the record didn’t appear until 1978.

Finally White was invited to join the Byrds in the fall of 1968 as Roger McGuinn was rebuilding the Byrds’ lineup after the departure of Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons, who went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. Clarence White fit into the revamped Byrds’ country-rock direction. He played on the group’s untitled album, which spawned the single “Chestnut Mare.” While he was with the band, he continued to work as a session musician, playing on Randy Newman’s 12 Songs (1970), Joe Cocker’s eponymous 1969 album, and the Everly Brothers’ Stories Would Could Tell (1971), and others, appearing on recordings by Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt, Arlo Guthrie and Jackson Browne.

Once the Byrds disbanded in 1973, Clarence White continued his session work and joined bluegrass supergroup Muleskinner, which also featured David Grisman, Peter Rowan, John Guerin, Bill Keith, John Kahn, and Richard Greene. Muleskinner only released one album, which appeared later in 1973.

After the Muleskinner record was finished, White played a few dates with the Kentucky Colonels and began working on a solo album. He had only completed four tracks when he was killed by a drunken driver shortly after 2am on July 14, 1973, while he and his brother Roland were loading equipment onto a van, following a spur-of-the moment reunion gig of the Colonels. He was just 29.

• His guitar playing was sort of like a combination of Jerry Garcia, Roy Buchanan, and James Burton. He plays with the melody of Jerry, the tone and brilliance of Roy, and the conciseness and sweetness of James.

• White was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame in 2016.

• Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him 52 in its 2015 line-up of the 100 Most Influential Guitar Players in Rock and Roll.

Clarence White helped shape two genres: His acoustic flatpicking, first displayed as a teenager when he and his brother formed the Kentucky Colonels band, was key in making the guitar a lead instrument in bluegrass. Later, he set the stage for country rock and transferred that dynamic precision and melodic symmetry to the electric guitar. A top session man in the Sixties, he played on the Byrds’ 1968 landmark, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. After he joined the band later that year, White brought a full-bodied rock elation to his California-inflected Nashville chops. “He never played anything that sounded vaguely weak,” said the Byrds’ leader, Roger McGuinn. “He was always driving… into the music.” White had returned to bluegrass with the acclaimed Muleskinner album when he was killed by a drunk driver in 1973. He was 29. “Clarence was immersed in hard country and bluegrass,” said Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. “He incorporated those elements into rock & roll, and it totally blew people’s minds.”

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Pigpen McKernan 3/1973

pigpen-janisMarch 8, 1973 – Ronald Charles McKernan, nicknamed “Pigpen”, born on September 8, 1945, was  a founding member of the Grateful Dead.

McKernan was a participant in the predecessor groups leading to the formation of the Grateful Dead, beginning with the Zodiacs and Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann were added and the band evolved into the Warlocks. Around 1965, McKernan urged the rest of the Warlocks to switch to electric instruments. Around this time Phil Lesh joined, and they became the Grateful Dead.

McKernan played blues organ as well as harmonica and vocals. While his friends were taking LSD, marijuana and other psychedelics, McKernan preferred alcoholic beverages such as Thunderbird and Southern Comfort. He steadily added more signature tunes to the Dead’s repertoire, including some that lasted for the remainder of their live performance career such as “Turn On Your Love Light” and “In the Midnight Hour.”

In 1967 and 1968 respectively, Mickey Hart and Tom Constanten joined the Grateful Dead, causing the band to take a stylistic turn from blues-based danceable rock toward full-blown experimental psychedelia influenced by avant-garde jazz, serialism, and world music traditions. Constanten often replaced Pigpen on keyboards. In October 1968, McKernan and Weir were nearly fired from the band because of their reluctance to rehearse.

Ultimately, the task of firing them was delegated by Garcia to Rock Scully, who said that McKernan “took it hard.” The remaining members did a number of shows under the monikers Mickey and the Hartbeats and Jerry Garrceeah and His Friends, mainly playing Grateful Dead songs without lyrics. Weir asked repeatedly to be let back into the band, promising to step up his playing, and eventually the rest of the band relented. McKernan was more stubborn, missing three Dead shows; he finally vowed not to “be lazy” anymore and rejoined the band. In November 1968, Constanten was hired full-time for the band, having only worked in the studio up to that point. Road manager Jon McIntire commented that “Pigpen was relegated to the congas at that point and it was really humiliating and he was really hurt, but he couldn’t show it, couldn’t talk about it.

McKernan achieved a new prominence throughout 1969, with versions of “Turn On Your Love Light”, now the band’s show-stopping finale, regularly taking fifteen to twenty minutes. When the Grateful Dead appeared at Woodstock, the band’s set (which was marred by technical problems and general chaos) consisted mostly of a 48-minute version of the song. Not only did he have a short love affair with Janis Joplin and a longer friendship, like Janis he’s also forever part of the 27 Club. Here are Janis and Pigpen with Turn on your Love Light:

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Michael Jeffery 3/1973

Michael JeffreyMarch 5, 1973 – Michael Jeffery (39) Jeffery was born in March 1933. The only reason why he is in the line up up on this website is because he actually may have killed Jimi Hendrix.

He started out as music business manager of British band The Animals and American guitarist-composer Jimi Hendrix, whom he co-managed for a time with former Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler. A former associate of noted British pop impresario Don Arden, he was and remains a controversial figure… Hendrix died in September 1970. His body was found in London at the flat of Monika Dannemann, who was Hendrix’s girlfriend at the moment and died under suspicious circumstances in 1995 in the middle of legal altercations with another former Hendrix lover, Kathy Etchingham.

In May 2009 the UK media reported claims that Michael Jeffery had murdered Jimi Hendrix. James “Tappy” Wright, who was a roadie for Hendrix and The Animals in the 1960s, claimed he met Michael Jeffery in 1971, one year after Hendrix’s death, and Jeffery confessed to having murdered Hendrix by plying him with pills and a bottle of wine in order to kill him and claim on the guitarist’s life insurance.

Jeffrey is quoted by Wright as telling him: “I was in London the night of Jimi’s death and together with some old friends.. we went ’round to Monika’s hotel room, got a handful of pills and stuffed them into his mouth…then poured a few bottles of red wine deep into his windpipe.” The manager was allegedly worried that Hendrix was about to sack him. He had reputedly taken out an insurance policy worth $2 million on Hendrix’ life, with himself as beneficiary.

At the time of Hendrix’s death, a coroner recorded an open verdict, stating that the cause was “barbiturate intoxication and inhalation of vomit”. However Dr. John Bannister, the doctor who attempted to resuscitate Hendrix, later raised the possibility that Hendrix actually died from forced inhalation of copious amounts of red wine.

Jeffery’s, who was married to actress Gillian French, was killed on his way back from Palma de Mallorca in 1973 in a mid-air collision over Nantes, France, whilst aboard Iberia Airlines Flight 504 DC-9. The air traffic control system had been taken over that day by military personnel because of a strike of the civilian controllers.

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Danny Whitten 11/1972

Danny-whitten-cig-glassesNovember 18, 1972 – Daniel Ray Whitten was born on May 8, 1943, in Columbus, Georgia. He spent his early teens in Canton, OH from where he took the core members of his first band the Rockets to San Francisco in the mid sixties.

In 1967 Neil Young, fresh from departing the Buffalo Springfield, with one album of his own under his belt, began jamming with the Rockets and expressed interest in recording with Whitten, Molina and Talbot. The trio agreed, so long as they were allowed to simultaneously continue on with The Rockets: Young acquiesced initially, but imposed a rehearsal schedule that made that an impossibility. At first dubbed “War Babies” by Young, they soon became known as Crazy Horse.

Recording sessions led to Young’s second album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, credited as Neil Young with Crazy Horse, with Whitten on second guitar and vocals. Although his role was that of support, Whitten sang the album’s opening track “Cinnamon Girl” along with Young, and Whitten and Young played guitar on “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”. These tracks would influence the grunge movement of the early 1990s, and all three songs would be counted among Young’s most memorable work, continuing to hold a place in his performance repertoire to this day.

Whitten began using heroin and quickly became addicted. Although he participated in the early stages of Young’s next solo effort, After the Gold Rush, Whitten and the rest of Crazy Horse were dismissed about halfway through the recording sessions, in part because of Whitten’s heavy drug use. Whitten performs on “Oh, Lonesome Me”, “I Believe in You”, and “When You Dance I Can Really Love”. Young wrote and recorded “The Needle and the Damage Done” during this time, with direct references to Whitten’s addiction and its role in the destruction of his talent.

Acquiring a recording contract and expanded to a quintet in 1970, Crazy Horse recorded its first solo album, released in early 1971. The debut album included five songs by Whitten, with two standout tracks being a song co-written by Young which would show up later on a Young album, “(Come On Baby Let’s Go) Downtown”, and Whitten’s most famous composition, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It”, a heartfelt ballad that would receive many cover versions and offer the promise of unfulfilled talent.

Whitten continued to drift, as his personal life was ruled almost totally by drugs. He was kicked out of Crazy Horse by Talbot and Molina, who used replacements on the band’s two albums of 1972. In October of that year, after receiving a call from Young to play rhythm guitar on the upcoming tour behind Young’s Harvest album, Whitten showed up for rehearsals at Young’s home outside San Francisco. While the rest of the group hammered out arrangements, Whitten lagged behind, figuring out the rhythm parts, though never in sync with the rest of the group. Young, who had more at stake after the success of Harvest, fired Danny from the band on November 18, 1972. Young gave Whitten $50 and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. Later that night Whitten died from a fatal combination of Valium, which he was taking for severe knee arthritis, and alcohol, which he was using to try to get over his heroin addiction.

Neil Young recalled, “We were rehearsing with him and he just couldn’t cut it. He couldn’t remember anything. He was too out of it. Too far gone. I had to tell him to go back to L.A. ‘It’s not happening, man. You’re not together enough.’ He just said, ‘I’ve got nowhere else to go, man. How am I gonna tell my friends?’ And he split. That night the coroner called me and told me Danny had OD’d. That blew my mind. Fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible. And from there, I had to go right out on this huge tour of huge arenas. I was very nervous and … insecure.” His famous “Needle and the Damage Done” referenced Danny Whitten.

 

 

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Berry Oakley 11/1972

Berry Oakley-Allman BrosNovember 11, 1972 – Berry Oakley was born as Raymond Berry Oakley III in the Forest Park suburb of Chicago on April 4th 1948.

After moving to Florida Oakley became one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers Band sometime in 1969.

Not only was he known for his long, melodic bass runs underneath Duane Allman and Dicky Betts’ furious guitar soloing, he was also the glue behind the band’s egos and domestic arrangements. He played a Fender Jazz bass with a Guild pick up system because he liked the sound of a Guild but not the guitar itself.

“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post” from the At Fillmore East live album capture Oakley’s magic at its best.

He died on Nov 11, 1972 at age 24 in a motorcycle accident three blocks from the intersection where his friend and former band member Duane Allman had died a year earlier. Oakley and Allman are buried next to each other in Macon Georgia. His son, Berry Duane Oakley was born after his passing and is also a bass player, who played with Joe Bonamassa in the early 1990s in a band named “Bloodline”.

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Bobby Ramirez 7/1972

July 24, 1972 – Bobby Ramirez (White Trash, Rick Derringer) was born late in 1949 in Mexico. At first in his early twenties, he worked as drummer with Rick Derringer, then LaCroix and finally Edgar Winter’s White Trash.

He appeared on two of the band’s album, their self titled debut album in 1971 and Roadwork in 1972.

On July 24, 1972 23-year old Bobby Ramirez had every reason in the world to celebrate. He and his buddy Jerry LaCroix were playing in one of the hottest bands in America: Edgar Winter’s White Trash. They were touring the country with the Top 20 UK prog rockers Uriah Heep, their double live album Roadwork was on its way to gold and they’d just put on a stellar show that night in Chicago.

Ramirez, LaCroix and the band manager stopped at the wrong bar to celebrate. The story is that Ramirez went to the bathroom where a man, looking at Bobby’s long hair, suggested maybe he’d missed the sign on the door. The ladies room was next door. When Ramirez shot back something with attitude the man punched him, drawing blood. The bar owner tried to intervene but when he refused to call the police, Ramirez followed his attacker out of the bar. LaCroix followed too. The next thing LaCroix remembers is waking up to see Bobby bloodied up and dying in the band manager’s arms. His assailant had steel tipped boots and kicked Ramirez to death.

LaCroix says when Bobby died so did the band’s spirit. White Trash broke up that summer.

Of Ramirez’s drumming skills, Derringer told Modern Drummer “When I hear the recordings of our rhythm section-Bobby, me, and bassist Randy Jo Hobbs-on Edgar’s Roadwork album, it blows my mind how tight we are. I miss him even now. He was also a good human being. In the future, I know we’ll be grooving together for the Lord in heaven.

• “Bobby had the best groove of any drummer I’ve ever played with.” — Rick Derringer

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Clyde McPhatter 6/1972

clyde-mcphatterJune 13, 1972 – Clyde McPhatter (the Drifters) was born on November 15, 1932 in the tobacco town of Durham, North Carolina.

His high-pitched tenor voice was steeped in the gospel music he sang in much of his younger life.

Starting at the age of five, he sang in his father’s church gospel choir along with his three brothers and three sisters. When he was ten, Clyde was the soprano-voiced soloist for the choir. In 1945, Rev. McPhatter moved his family to Teaneck, New Jersey, where Clyde attended Chelsior High School. He worked part-time as a grocery store clerk, and was eventually promoted to shift manager upon graduating high school. The family then relocated to New York City, where Clyde formed the gospel group The Mount Lebanon Singers.

Continue reading Clyde McPhatter 6/1972

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Les Harvey 5/1972

les-harveyMay 3, 1972 – Leslie Cameron “Les” Harvey was born in Glasgow, Scotland on September 13, 1944.

In the early 1960s he was asked to join The Animals by keyboardist Alan Price, but chose to stay with his brother Alex in the Alex Harvey Soul Band. He later joined Blues Council, recording one record, ‘Baby Don’t Look Down’. But when in March 1965 their tour van crashed killing vocalist Fraser Calder and bassist James Giffen, the rest of the band went their separate ways.

Les joined Scottish band Cartoone to record some tracks for their 2nd album, and accompanied Cartoone on their live tour of USA supporting Led Zeppelin. Les and Cartoone were given a standing ovation in Chicago when they supported the US band Spirit in 1969.

John Lee Hooker, whose songs both Harvey and Cartoone used to cover on their tour of the UK, was their opening act. In December 1969 Harvey played guitar on BeeGees Maurice Gibb’s The Loner album, but only the single “Railroad” was released.

Harvey was a co-founder of Stone the Crows in late 1969, the rock/blues band formed in Glasgow, which had previously been known as ‘Power’.

It was while on stage with Stone the Crows at Swansea Top Rank in 1972, on a rainy day with puddles on the stage, that he was electrocuted after touching a microphone that was not earth-grounded. A roadie attempted to unplug the guitar, but was unsuccessful.

He died on May 3, 1972 at the age of 27, making him a somewhat less known member of the 27Club.

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King Curtis 8/1971

Two legends of Blues RockAugust 13, 1971 – King Curtis (The Kingpins) was born Curtis Ousley on February 7, 1934. He was adopted and brought up in Fort Worth where he started playing the saxophone locally when he was 12.

He turned down college scholarships in order to join the Lionel Hampton Band and in 1952 moved to New York to become a session musician, recording for such labels as Prestige, Enjoy, Capitol and Atco.

He recorded with Nat Adderley, Wynton Kelly, Buddy Holly, Andy Williams, The Coasters, The Five Keys, Aretha Franklin and many more. His saxophone virtuosity was widely admired in rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, blues, funk and soul jazz, his band The Kingpins also backed Aretha Franklin.

It was at this time that he put together his band The Kingpins which included Richard Tee, Cornell Dupree, Jerry Jemmott, and Bernard Purdie.

Curtis was best known for his distinctive sax riffs and solos such as on “Yakety Yak”, which later became the inspiration for Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax” and his own “Memphis Soul Stew”.

In 1970, he won the Best R&B Instrumental Performance Grammy for “Games People Play” and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 6th 2000.

Curtis was stabbed to death by Juan Montanez, a vagrant drug addict on the front steps of his New York home) on August 13, 1971. He was 37.

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Alan Wilson 9/1970

Alan WilsonSeptember 3, 1970 – Alan Christie Wilson, co-founder, leader, and primary composer for the American blues band Canned Heat was born on July 4, 1943. He played guitar, harmonica, sang, and wrote several songs for the band, notably among which the monster hits “On the Road Again” and “Going Up the Country”.

Nicknamed “Blind Owl”, he majored in music at Boston University and often played the Cambridge coffeehouse folk-blues circuit, before forming the blues-rock/boogie band Canned Heat. Alan played guitar, harmonica and wrote most of the songs for Canned Heat. After Eddie ‘Son’ House’s ‘rediscovery’ in 1964, the producer John Hammond Sr. asked Alan, who was just 22 years old, to teach “Son House how to play like Son House,” because Alan had such a good knowledge of the blues styles. The album “The Father of Delta Blues – The Complete 1965 Sessions” was the result. Son House played with Alan live and can be heard on the album “John – the Revelator: The 1970 London Sessions”.

With Canned Heat, Alan performed at two legendary concerts, the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969. Canned Heat appeared in the film Woodstock, and the band’s “Going Up the Country,” which Alan sang, has been referred to as the festival’s unofficial theme song

Canned Heat enjoyed considerable artistic and commercial success, crowned by an appearance at Woodstock in 1969. But guitarist Al “Blind Owl” Wilson, a nick name that was given to him by John Fahey, was a troubled man. He was estranged from his family; he lacked confidence and suffered from depression, possibly even undiagnosed autism. One of his eccentric habits was sleeping outdoors, as he did at lead vocalist Bob Hite’s house in Los Angeles on the last night of his life. Wilson’s body was found in Hite’s yard on September 3rd, 1970. His hands were crossed over his chest and there was a bottle of Seconal by his side. Cause of death was officially given as an accidental overdose of barbiturates, but drummer Fito de la Parra believes Wilson committed suicide, at age 27, starting out a crop month for the 27 Club with Jimi Hendrix expiring on the 18th of that month and Janis Joplin 16 days late on October 4th, all at age 27.

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Otis Spann 4/1970

otis-spannApril 24, 1970 – Otis Spann was born on March 21st 1930 in Jackson, Mississippi. Spann’s father was reportedly a pianist called Friday Ford. His mother, Josephine Erby, was a guitarist who had worked with Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith, and his stepfather, Frank Houston Spann, was a preacher and musician. One of five children, Spann began playing the piano at the age of seven, with some instruction from Friday Ford, Frank Spann, and Little Brother Montgomery. By the age of 14, he was playing in bands in the Jackson area. He moved to Chicago in 1946, where he was mentored by Big Maceo Merriweather. Spann performed as a solo act and with the guitarist Morris Pejoe, working a regular spot at the Tic Toc Lounge.

Spann replaced Merriweather as Muddy Waters’s piano player in late 1952, and participated in his first recording session with the band on September 24, 1953. He continued to record as a solo artist and session player with other musicians, including Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf, during his tenure with the group. He stayed with Waters until 1968 before leaving to form his own band. In that period he also did session work with other Chess artists like Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley..

Spann’s work for Chess Records includes the 1954 single “It Must Have Been the Devil” / “Five Spot”, with B.B. King and Jody Williams on guitars. During his time at Chess he played on a few of Chuck Berry’s early records, including the studio version of “You Can’t Catch Me”. In 1956, he recorded two unreleased tracks with Big Walter Horton and Robert Lockwood.

The 60s also so him touring and recording in Europe and in the UK appearing on records with the likes of Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Big Mama Thornton, Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac and others. He recorded a session with the guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr. and vocalist St. Louis Jimmy in New York on August 23, 1960, which was issued on Otis Spann Is the Blues and Walking the Blues. A 1963 effort with Storyville Records was recorded in Copenhagen. He worked with Waters and Eric Clapton on recordings for Decca and with James Cotton for Prestige in 1964.

The Blues Is Where It’s At, Spann’s 1966 album for ABC-Bluesway, includes contributions from George “Harmonica” Smith, Waters, and Sammy Lawhorn. The Bottom of the Blues (1967), featuring Spann’s wife, Lucille Spann (June 23, 1938 – August 2, 1994), was released by Bluesway. He worked on albums with Buddy Guy, Big Mama Thornton, Peter Green, and Fleetwood Mac in the late 1960s.

Spann died of liver cancer in Chicago on April 24, 1970 at age 40. He was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery, in Alsip, Illinois. His grave was unmarked for almost thirty years, until Steve Salter (president of the Killer Blues Headstone Project) wrote a letter to Blues Revue magazine, saying “This piano great is lying in an unmarked grave. Let’s do something about this deplorable situation”.

Blues enthusiasts from around the world sent donations to purchase a headstone. On June 6, 1999, the marker was unveiled in a private ceremony. The stone reads, “Otis played the deepest blues we ever heard – He’ll play forever in our hearts“.

He was posthumously elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.

 

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Slim Harpo 1/1970

Slim HarpoJanuary 31, 1970 – Slim Harpo aka Harmonica Slim was born James Isaac Moore on January 11th 1924 in Lobdell, West Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After his parents died he worked as a longshoreman and construction worker in New Orleans, during the late 1930s and early 1940s. A musical late bloomer influenced by blues harmonica legends such as Little Walter and Jimmy Reed, Harpo began moonlighting in Baton Rouge bards as Harmonica Slim in the mid-1950s, also gigging with brother-in-law singer-guitarist Otis Hicks, aka Lightnin’ Slim, who was the region’s most established bluesman.

Known as one of the masters of the blues harmonica; the name “Slim Harpo” was a humorous takeoff on “harp,” the popular nickname for the harmonica in blues circles, as suggested by his wife, after discovering that someone else performed under the name Harmonica Slim.

At the time, Lightnin’ was recording with producer J. D. “Jay” Miller, who had an agreement with Excello Records, under which Miller sent the blues and R & B cuts he produced in his studio in Crowley to the Nashville, Tenn.,-based label, which distributed the records nationally. Slim’s own recording career didn’t start until 1957. His solo debut coupled “I’m a King Bee” with “I Got Love If You Want It.”

“King Bee” took off, launching a recording and touring career that lasted more than a dozen years. Although their relationship was at times contentious, Harpo and Miller created a distinctive, easily recognizable sound. Harpo’s vocals were deliberate and steady, sometimes even slowing down to a spoken drawl. By draping a handkerchief over his harmonica, Harpo coaxed the instrument to produce a muddy but rich sound that complemented Miller’s creative use of reverberation and other studio magic.

Further influenced by Jimmy Reed, he began recording for Excello Records, and enjoyed a string of popular R&B singles which combined a drawling vocal with incisive harmonica passages. Among them were “Rainin’ In My Heart”, “I Love The Life I Live”, “Buzzin'” (instrumental) and “Little Queen Bee”. The result was something altogether matchless. Says Baton Rouge Blues Foundation Director Johnny Palazzotto, “When you hear a Slim Harpo song, you know it’s Slim Harpo.”

Harpo co-wrote many of his records with his wife, Lovelle Casey (though Miller, in a managerial trick common in the 1950s and ‘60s, frequently added his name to the writing credits). Numerous sidemen backed Harpo in the studio and on tour during his career, but his favorite lineups featured guitarist Rudy Richard, bassist James Johnson and drummer Jesse Kinchen.

Harpo’s bandmates remember the bluesman as an easygoing, relaxed man. But when it came to music, they say, a very exacting Harpo was all business.

“You had to do what Slim say,” Johnson says with a reflective laugh. “He wasn’t a real hard guy to get along with, but he had his ways.”

Adds Richard: “He was a nice, nice guy, but he really meant business. He wanted everybody trying to do it right.”

The group worked the regional club and juke-joint scene constantly, but occasionally they would venture to metropolises such as New York and Los Angeles to play at the Apollo Theater and the Whiskey A-Go-Go.

Harpo and his band needed to tour constantly and play as much as possible; times were frequently lean financially, and the men had to scrape up whatever they could get. It didn’t help that Harpo was frequently shortchanged by Miller over song royalties and other financial matters, a large reason the musician and the producer often had trouble getting along.

“Miller knew how to run a business,” says Harpo’s stepson, William Gambler. “My father just wanted to record. But Miller really wasn’t doing anything other [executives] weren’t doing.”

On top of being a musician and business owner, Harpo strived to be a good father and family man, even through the lean times. Often, Harpo was forced to work straight jobs, including operating a trucking business.

“He worked hard,” says Gambler. “He was always looking for a way to make things better for us.”

Still, despite the financial hardships, day jobs and grueling gig schedule, Harpo loved what he did — playing the swamp blues and representing his hometown — and that enthusiasm rubbed off on those around him.

“If you’re into the blues like Slim, it’s going to be all right,” says Kinchen. “Anytime we do it, if we do it with Slim, it’s gonna be all right. Slim always had a good feeling.”
Adds Johnson: “He wasn’t making money then. We just wanted to play, so we fell right in with Slim. He was all about the music.”

Unfortunately, Harpo never really broke through to the blues big time. Despite producing three pop hits, he never reached the heights of popularity that such blues luminaries as B.B. King, Jimmy Reed or Muddy Waters attained.
In a Nov. 29, 1968, review, New York Times writer Mike Jahn outlined his explanations for Harpo’s muted popularity. Jahn asserted that Harpo was less theatrical than his more popular contemporaries, saying Harpo “is not a showman like B.B. King, and he is nowhere near as flashy as Albert King.”

Jahn argued that Harpo and his band “perform with consummate cool, quiet dignity and at a relatively low volume” and that the group “deals in authenticity, not fireworks.”

However, Jahn added, that might be a good thing: “All [Harpo] does is play the blues — authentic, country blues — and invite people to come and hear it if they want to.” Concludes Jahn: “The blues is all around. Slim Harpo has just gone deeper into it than most people.”

Also contributing significantly to Harpo’s lack of exposure was his sudden, early death from a heart attack in 1970 at the age of 46. Aside from a standard obituary, the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate did nothing to acknowledge his passing, and it took nearly two months for the news of his death to reach the pages of Rolling Stone, which published a lengthy and well-researched obituary in its March 19, 1970, edition.

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of Harpo’s untimely passing was that he was poised to possibly and at long last reach the upper echelons of blues stardom. He was about to record a new album and embark on a massive tour in Europe that would have exposed thousands of potential new fans to his music.

“If Slim had lived long enough,” says Chris Thomas King, another contemporary blues artist with roots in Baton Rouge, “those fans who were new to the blues would have discovered him. He’s just one of those guys who died too soon, before his impact could be truly felt.”

However, over the intervening four decades, Harpo’s legacy and impact has blossomed, thanks partially to the legions of Louisiana-rooted blues artists who infuse their own music with shades of Harpo’s blues and openly espouse Harpo’s influence on their careers.

Contemporary musicians such as Kenny Neal, Chris Thomas King and Tab Benoit continue to carry the swamp blues banner originally planted by Harpo. Benoit notes that practically any blues or rock band rooted in the Baton Rouge area features a Harpo song in its repertoire.

In addition, the blues community has embraced Harpo and his work, especially in his old stomping grounds in Baton Rouge. Harpo and his music are virtually the bedrock on which the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation has been built; the organization’s annual regional blues honors are called the Slim Harpo awards. For many years now, Palazzotto — who’s also filming a documentary about the bluesman — has gone into area schools to teach new generations about music and the blues, and he does it with Harpo in mind.

At its foundation, Harpo’s ever-burgeoning popularity continues to stem from his ability to perfectly capture the essence of both the swamp blues and the culture that created it.
His music is country but accessible, distinctive yet universal.

“It’s not like Chicago blues or Texas blues,” Benoit says. “It’s a very laid-back, bayou style of playing, like someone’s just playing on his porch on the bayou.”

The riff from Harpo’s 1966 hit “Shake Your Hips”, which itself was derivative of Bo Diddley’s “Bring It to Jerome”, was used in the ZZ Top 1973 hit “La Grange”, and the Rolling Stones covered the song on their 1972 album Exile On Main Street. “Shake Your Hips” was also covered by Joan Osborne on her 2012 album Bring It On Home. Other notable covers of Slim Harpo songs include “I Got Love If You Want It” by the Kinks, “I’m the Face” by the Who (when they were still called the High Numbers), “I’m A King Bee” by the Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd and the Doors and “Don’t Start Crying Now” by Them with Van Morrison.

Harpo’s recordings were also widely covered in modern African-American circles, including “I’ll Take Care of You” by Gil Scott-Heron on his final album, I’m New Here. The song is also featured on the remix album featuring Jamie XX called We’re New Here. In 2012 a Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey commercial featured Harpo’s song “I’m a King Bee” covered by San Francisco blues band the Stone Foxes.

“He was the leader of the swamp blues movement,” says researcher and author John Broven. “All of those artists have followed in his slipstream.”

The Slim Harpo Music Awards, awarded annually in Baton Rouge, are named in his honour. Proceeds from the awards benefit the “Music in the Schools” outreach program.

He died suddenly in Baton Rouge on January 31, 1970 of a heart attack at the age of 46, despite being “one of the cleanest living bluesmen of his era.”

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Wynonie Harris 6/1969

wynonie-harrisJune 14, 1969 – Wynonie Harris was born on August 24th 1915 in Omaha Nebraska.

At a young age already he became a blues shouter and rhythm and blues singer of upbeat songs featuring humorous, often ribald lyrics. In 1931 at age 16, he dropped out of high school in North Omaha. The following year his first child, a daughter, Micky, was born to Naomi Henderson. Ten months later, his son Wesley was born to Laura Devereaux. Both children were raised by their mothers.

In 1935 Harris, age 20, started dating 16-year-old Olive E. (Ollie) Goodlow, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, who came to neighboring Omaha to watch him perform. On May 20, 1936, Ollie gave birth to a daughter, Adrianne Patricia (Pattie). Harris and Ollie were married on December 11, 1936. Later they lived in the Logan Fontenelle projects in North Omaha. Ollie worked as a barmaid and nurse; Harris sang in clubs and took odd jobs. His mother was Pattie’s main caretaker. In 1940, Wynonie and Ollie Harris moved to Los Angeles, California, leaving Pattie with her grandmother in Omaha.

Harris formed a dance team with Velda Shannon in the early 1930s. They performed in North Omaha’s flourishing entertainment community, and by 1934 they were a regular attraction at the Ritz Theatre. In 1935 Harris, having became a celebrity in Omaha, was able to earn a living as an entertainer, in the depths of the Great Depression. While performing at Jim Bell’s Club Harlem nightclub with Shannon, he began to sing the blues. He began traveling frequently to Kansas City, where he paid close attention to blues shouters, including Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Turner.

His break in Los Angeles was at a nightclub owned by Curtis Mosby. It was here that Harris became known as “Mr. Blues”.

During the 1942–44 musicians’ strike, Harris was unable to pursue a recording career. Instead, he relied on personal appearances. Performing almost continuously, in late 1943 he appeared at the Rhumboogie Club in Chicago. Harris was spotted by Lucky Millinder, who asked him to join his band on tour. Harris joined on March 24, 1944, while the band was in the middle of a week-long residency at the Regal in Chicago. They moved on to New York City, where on April 7 Harris took the stage with Millinder’s band for his debut at the Apollo Theatre, in Harlem. It was during this performance that Harris first publicly performed “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well” (a song recorded two years earlier by Doc Wheeler’s Sunset Orchestra).

After the band’s stint at the Apollo, they moved on to their regular residency at the Savoy Ballroom, also in Harlem. Here, Preston Love, Harris’ childhood friend, joined Millinder’s band, replacing the alto saxophonist Tab Smith. On May 26, 1944, Harris made his recording debut with Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra. Entering a recording studio for the first time, Harris sang on two of the five cuts recorded that day, “Hurry, Hurry” and “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well”, for Decca Records . The embargo on shellac during World War II had not yet been rescinded, and release of the record was delayed.

Harris’s success and popularity grew as Millinder’s band toured the country, but he and Millinder had a falling out over money, and in September 1945, while playing in San Antonio, Texas, Harris quit the band. Three weeks later, upon hearing of Harris’s separation from the band, a Houston promoter refused to allow Millinder’s band to perform. Millinder called Harris and agreed to pay his asking price of one hundred dollars a night. The promoter reinstated the booking, but it was the final time Harris and Millinder worked together. Bull Moose Jackson replaced Harris as the vocalist in the band.

In April 1945, a year after the song was recorded, Decca released “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well”. It became the group’s biggest hit; it went to number one on the Billboard R&B chart on July 14 and stayed there for eight weeks. The song remained on the charts for almost five months, also becoming popular with white audiences, an unusual feat for black musicians of that era. In California the success of the song opened doors for Harris. Since the contract with Decca was with Millinder (meaning Harris was a free agent), Harris could choose from the recording contracts with which he was presented.

Wynonie went on to have fifteen Top 10 hits between 1946 – 1952, he is generally considered one of rock and roll’s forerunners, influencing Elvis Presley among others. His hits include “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well”, “Bloodshot Eyes”, “Good Rocking Tonight”, “Good Morning Judge” and “All She Wants to Do Is Rock”.

His final large-scale performance was at the Apollo, New York in November 1967, where he performed with Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Witherspoon and T-Bone Walker.

He sadly died of esophageal cancer at the USC Medical Center Hospital in Los Angeles on June 14, 1969. He was 53.

Wynonie was the subject of a 1994 biography by Tony Collins. Since the end of the twentieth century, there has been a resurgence of interest in his music. Some of his recordings are being reissued and he has been honored posthumously:

• 1994 Inducted into the W.C. Handy Blues Hall of Fame by the Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee.
• 1998 Inducted into the Nebraska Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Lincoln.
• 2000 Inducted into the High School Hall of Fame at Central High School in Omaha, Nebraska.
• 2005 Inducted into the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame

Elvis Presley saw Harris perform in Memphis in the early 1950s. According to Henry Glover, Harris’s record producer, Elvis “copied many of the vocal gymnastics of Wynonie as well as the physical gyrations. When you saw Elvis, you were seeing a mild version of Wynonie”. Harris remarked in a 1956 interview that Elvis’s hip movements were stirring controversy in a way his own never did: “Many people have been giving him trouble for swinging his hips. I swing mine and have no trouble. He’s got publicity I could not buy”.

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Martin Lamble 5/1969

martin_lambleMay 12, 1969 – Martin Francis Lamble was born on 28 August 1949, in St John’s Wood, northwest London. The eldest of three brothers, Martin was educated at Priestmead primary school, Kenton, and later at UCS, Hampstead.

He was the drummer for British electric folk band, Fairport Convention, from just after their formation in 1967, until his death in the Fairport Convention van crash in 1969. He joined the band after attending their first gig and convincing them that he could do a better job than their current drummer, Shaun Frater.

Britain’s answer to The Band, in many ways, Fairport Convention experimented with the fusion of traditional English folk music and rock and roll, just as bands in the U.S. were rushing to blend rock with country and folk.

While never as well-known as their North American contemporaries like The Band, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, Fairport Convention were massively influential, not least for launching guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson.

Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol started it all in London 1966 as the Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra. When guitar prodigy Thompson joined in 1967, they became Fairport Convention and added drummer Martin Lamble and a female singer Judy Dyble. Signed by producer Joe Boyd to Polydor, they added another singer, Iain Matthews and issued their self-titled debut album and were quickly dubbed the “British Jefferson Airplane.”

After Dyble was replaced by Sandy Denny, the band put out two critically adored albums, What We Did On Our Holidays and Unhalfbricking.  The future looked bright indeed.

Then, one night, after a gig at Mothers in Birmingham, most of Fairport were travelling back south in a van when they crashed on the M1 motorway. It would prove a tragic and devastating accident that would change the band forever.

Lamble played on the band’s first three albums, the self titled ‘Fairport Convention’, ‘What We Did on Our Holidays‘ and ‘Unhalfbricking’ but shortly after recording Unhalfbricking on 12 May 1969, Fairport’s van crashed on the M1 motorway, near Scratchwood Services, on the way home from a gig at Mothers. Lamble and famed groupie Blue Jean Baby Jeannie Franklyn, guitarist Richard Johnson’s girlfriend, was dead by the time the ambulance arrived. At the hospital, they weren’t able to bring Martin Lamble back to life.

Lamble was only 18 years old when he died and already tipped by many who’d seen him as a future great with the sticks. Nicol says: “He would have gone on to have been so much more than just another drummer, another musician: there was something very special about him.”

He also played on Al Stewart’s album Love Chronicles, released in September 1969.

Eventually tFairport Convention did recuperate enough to record their classic Liege & Lief album that reached #17 on the U.K. album chart. But soon the band’s co-founder Hutchings would leave to pursue his growing interest in traditional music. It was something Nicol feels was caused in part by the accident and death of Lamble.

 

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Benny Benjamin 4/1969

BennyBenjaminApril 20, 1969 – Benny Benjamin nicknamed Papa Zita was born in Birmingham, Alabama on July 25th 1925. Benjamin originally learned to play drums in the style of the big band jazz groups.

By 1958, Benjamin was Motown’s first studio drummer, where he was noted for his dynamic style. Several Motown record producers, including founder Berry Gordy, refused to work on any recording sessions unless Benjamin was the drummer and James Jamerson was the bassist.

The Beatles singled out his drumming style upon meeting him in the UK. Among the Motown songs Benjamin performed the drum tracks for are early hits such as “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong and “Do You Love Me” by The Contours; as well as later hits such as “Get Ready” and “My Girl” by The Temptations, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & the Pips and “Going to a Go-Go” by The Miracles.

Benjamin was influenced by the work of drummers Buddy Rich and Tito Puente. He recorded with a studio set composed of Ludwig, Slingerland, Rogers and Gretsch components and probably Zildjian cymbals.

By the late 1960s, Benjamin struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and fellow Funk Brothers Uriel Jones and Richard “Pistol” Allen increasingly recorded more of the drum tracks for the studio’s releases.

Benjamin died on April 20, 1969 of a stroke at age 43, and was inducted into the “Sidemen” category of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

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Little Willie John 5/1968

little-willie-johnMay 26, 1968 – Little Willie John was born William Edward John on November 15, 1937 in Cullendale, Arkansas, one of ten children; many sources erroneously give his middle name as Edgar. His family moved to Detroit, Michigan when he was four, so that his father could pursue factory work.

In the late 1940s, the eldest children, including Willie, formed a gospel singing group, and Willie also performed in talent shows, which brought him to the notice of Johnny Otis and, later, musician and producer Henry Glover. He sang with Count Basie at age 14 and won a talent contest. In 1955, had his first moderate hit with “All Around the World” which reached #5 on the R&B Chart, and #6 on the Pop Chart. After seeing him sing with the Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams orchestra, Glover signed him to a recording contract with King Records in 1955. He was nicknamed “Little Willie” John for his short stature.

He followed up with a string of R&B hits, including the original version of “Need Your Love So Bad“, written by his elder brother Mertis John Jr. One of his biggest hits, “Fever” (1956) (Pop #24), was more famously covered by Peggy Lee in 1958. However, John’s version alone sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

Another song, “Talk to Me, Talk to Me” recorded in 1958, reached #5 in the R&B chart and #20 in the Pop chart, and also sold over one million. A few years later it was a hit once again by Sunny & the Sunglows. He also recorded “I’m Shakin'” by Rudy Toombs, “Suffering With The Blues”, and “Sleep” (1960) (Pop #13). In all, John made the Billboard Hot 100 a total of fourteen times. A cover version of “Need Your Love So Bad” by Fleetwood Mac was also a hit in Europe. Another of his songs to be covered was “Leave My Kitten Alone”, (1959). The Beatles recorded a version in 1964, intended for their Beatles for Sale album, but it went unreleased until 1995.

John had a volatile temper, fueled by a taste for liquor and an insecurity regarding his slight height (5 feet 4 inches). He was known to pack a gun and knife; in 1964, he stabbed a man and was sent to the Washington State penitentiary. He appealed his conviction and was released while the case was reconsidered, during which time he recorded what was intended to be his comeback album. Because of contractual wrangling and the decline of his appeal, it was not released until 2008 (as Nineteen Sixty Six).

Back in prison, Little Willie John died on May 26, 1968 at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington. Despite counterclaims (Rolling Stone reported that the death occurred after John had checked into the prison hospital with pneumonia), the official cause of death was listed in his death certificate as a heart attack. Rumor also says he was strangled. He was 30 years old.

James Brown recorded a tribute album to John that year, and his material has been recorded by scores of artists from the Beatles to Fleetwood Mac to the Blasters. Nevertheless, Little Willie John remains a stranger to most listeners and has never received the respect his talent deserved.

He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. He never received the accolades given to the likes of Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, and James Brown, but Little Willie John ranks as one of R&B’s most influential performers. His muscular high timbre and enormous technical and emotional range belied his young age (his first hit came when he was 18), but his mid-’50s work for Syd Nathan’s King label would play a great part in the way soul music would sound. Everyone from Cooke, McPhatter, and Brown to Jackie Wilson, B.B. King, and Al Green have acknowledged their indebtedness to this most overlooked of rock and soul pioneers.

 

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Little Walter 2/1968

little-walter-jacobsFeb 15, 1968- Little Walter was born Marion Walter Jacobs on May 1st 1930 (although recently uncovered census data suggests he may have been born earlier, possibly as early as 1925) in Marksville, Louisiana, and raised in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, where he first learned to play the harmonica. After quitting school by the age of 12, Jacobs left rural Louisiana and travelled around working odd jobs and busking on the streets of New Orleans; Memphis; Helena, Arkansas; and St. Louis. He honed his musical skills on harmonica and guitar performing with much older bluesmen, including Sonny Boy Williamson II, Sunnyland Slim, Honeyboy Edwards and others.

Arriving in Chicago in 1945, he occasionally found work as a guitarist but garnered more attention for his already highly developed harmonica work. According to fellow Chicago bluesman Floyd Jones, Little Walter’s first recording was an unreleased demo recorded soon after he arrived in Chicago, on which Walter played guitar backing Jones. Jacobs, reportedly frustrated with having his harmonica drowned out by electric guitarists, adopted a simple but previously little-used method: He cupped a small microphone in his hands along with his harmonica and plugged the microphone into a public address system or guitar amplifier.

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Otis Redding 12/1967

Otis ReddingDecember 10, 1967 – Otis Redding was born on Sept 9, 1941 in Dawson, Ga., Otis Redding, Jr. and his family moved to Macon when he was five years old. At an early age he began his career as a singer and musician in the choir of the Vineville Baptist Church. Otis attended Ballard Hudson High School and participated in the school band. He began to compete in the Douglass Theatre talent shows for the five-dollar prize. After winning 15 times straight, he was no longer allowed to compete.

Otis joined Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers in 1960, and would also sing at the “Teenage Party” talent shows sponsored by local celebrity disc jockey King Bee, Hamp Swain, on Saturday mornings initially at the Roxy Theater and later at the Douglass Theatre in Macon.

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Bobby Fuller 7/1966

July 18, 1966 – Bobby Fuller was born on October 22nd 1942 in Baytown, Texas. As a small child to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he remained until 1956, when he and his family moved to El Paso, Texas. His father got a job at El Paso Natural Gas at that time. It was the same year that Elvis Presley became popular, and Bobby Fuller became mesmerized by the new rock and roll star. Fuller soon adopted the style of fellow Texan Buddy Holly, fronting a four-man combo and often using original material.

During the early 1960s, he played in clubs and bars in El Paso, and he recorded on independent record labels in Texas with a constantly changing line-up. The only constant band members were Fuller and his younger brother, Randy Fuller (born on January 29, 1944, in Hobbs, New Mexico) on bass. Most of these independent releases (except two songs recorded at the studio of Norman Petty in Clovis), and an excursion to Yucca Records, also in New Mexico, were recorded in the Fullers’ own home studio, with Fuller acting as the producer. He even built a primitive echo chamber in the back yard. The quality of the recordings, using a couple of microphones and a mixing board purchased from a local radio station, was so impressive that he offered the use of his “studio” to local acts for free so he could hone his production skills.

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Mike Millward 3/1966

Mike MillwardMarch 7, 1966 – Mike Millward (The Fourmost) was born May 9th 1942.  In the late 50’s he played rhythm guitar and sang with Bob Evans and the Five Shillings, which became “The Vegas Five”, then “The Undertakers”, after which he became an original member the Four Jays in 1961.

In the summer of 1963, the group, considered a Mersey Beat act, now called The Fourmost – signed up with Brian Epstein. This led to their being auditioned by George Martin and signed to EMI’s Parlophone record label.

Their first two singles were written by John Lennon. “Hello Little Girl”, one of the earliest Lennon songs dating from 1957. Their follow-up single, “I’m in Love” a Lennon/McCartney song, was released on 15 November 1963.

Their biggest hit “A Little Loving”, written by Russ Alquist, reached Number 6 in the UK Singles Chart in mid 1964. The band appeared in the 1965 film, Ferry Cross the Mersey and are on the soundtrack album of the same name. The group’s only album, First and Fourmost, was released in September 1965.

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Sam Cooke 12/1964

sam-cookeDecember 11, 1964 – Sam Cooke was born on January 22, 1931 in Clarksdale Mississippi. He was the son of Reverend Charles Cook, Sr., (a Baptist minister) and Annie May Cook was born January 22, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The family moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1933. He had four brothers and three sisters – Willie, Charles Jr., L.C., David, Mary, Hattie and Agnes. Sam graduated from Wendell Phillips High School in 1948, where he distinguished himself as an “A” student as well as being voted “most likely to succeed.” During his formative years, Sam, together with his brothers Charles Jr., L.C. and sisters Mary and Hattie, performed as a gospel group “The Singing Children.” At the age of 15, Sam became lead singer of the famous “teenage” gospel group the “Highway QC’s” until he was 19 when he was hand-picked by Roy (S.R.) Crain, manager of the “Soul Stirrers,” to replace the legendary R.H. Harris as lead singer. Continue reading Sam Cooke 12/1964

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Stu Sutcliffe 4/1962

paul-and-stuart-sutcliffeApril 10, 1962 – Stu Sutcliffe was born on June 23rd 1940 in Edinburgh, Scotland; an art school friend of John Lennon, he was the original bassist of The Beatles for almost two years and is credited with Lennon and his first wife Cynthia of naming the group after Buddy Holly’s band the Crickets. As a member of the group when it was a five-piece band, Stuart is one of several people sometimes referred to as “the fifth Beatle”. He used the stage name “Stu de Staël” while playing with the Beatles in 1960.

Lennon was introduced to Sutcliffe by Bill Harry, a mutual friend, when all three were studying at the Liverpool College of Art. According to Lennon, Sutcliffe had a “marvellous art portfolio” and was a very talented painter who was one of the “stars” of the school. He helped Lennon to improve his artistic skills, and with others, worked with him when Lennon had to submit work for exams. Sutcliffe shared a flat with Murray at 9 Percy Street, Liverpool, before being evicted and moving to Hillary Mansions at 3 Gambier Terrace, where another art student lived, Margaret Chapman, who competed with Sutcliffe to be the best painter in class. The flat was opposite the new Anglican cathedral in the rundown area of Liverpool 8, with bare lightbulbs and a mattress on the floor in the corner. Lennon moved in with Sutcliffe in early 1960. (Paul McCartney later admitted that he was jealous of Sutcliffe’s relationship with Lennon, as he had to take a “back seat” to Sutcliffe).

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Billie Holiday 7/1959

Billy Holiday -44- drug overdoseJuly 17, 1959 – Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan Goughy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The singer also nicknamed ‘Lady Day’ by her musical partner Lester Day, was a JAZZ/BLUES/SOUL POWERHOUSE, who collapsed at age 44, under her own virtuosity fed by an uncontrollable urge for alcohol and drugs.

Holiday spent much of her childhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Her mother, Sadie, was only a teenager when she had her. Her father is widely believed to be Clarence Holiday, who eventually became a successful jazz musician, playing with the likes of Fletcher Henderson. Unfortunately for Billie, he was only an infrequent visitor in her life growing up. Sadie married Philip Gough in 1920 and for a few years Billie had a somewhat stable home life. But that marriage ended a few years later, leaving Billie and Sadie to struggle along on their own again. Sometimes Billie was left in the care of other people. Continue reading Billie Holiday 7/1959

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Guitar Slim 2/1959

Eddie Guitar Slim JonesFebruary 7, 1959 – Guitar Slim was born Eddie Jones on December 10, 1926 in Greenwood, Mississippi. His mother died when he was five, and his grandmother raised him, as he spent his teen years in the cotton fields. He spent his free time at the local juke joints and started sitting in as a singer or dancer; he was good enough to be nicknamed “Limber Leg.”

After returning from World War II military service, he started playing clubs around New Orleans, Louisiana. Bandleader Willie D. Warren introduced him to the guitar, and he was particularly influenced by T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. About 1950 he adopted the stage name ‘Guitar Slim’ and started becoming known for his wild stage act.

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Big Bopper 2/1959

Big BopperFebruary 3, 1959 – Jiles Perry “J. P.” Richardson, Jr. aka “the Big Bopper’  was born on October 24, 1930 in  Sabine Pass, Texas.
He worked part time at Beaumont, Texas radio station KTRM. He was hired by the station full-time in ’49, so he quit his law studies. Being a disc jockey, singer, and songwriter whose big voice and exuberant personality made him an early rock and roll star.

In March 1955, he was drafted into the United States Army and did his basic training at Fort Ord, California. He spent the rest of his two-year service as a radar instructor at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.
Following his discharge as a corporal in March 1957, Richardson returned to KTRM radio, where he held down the “Dishwashers’ Serenade” shift from 11 am to 12:30 pm, Monday through Friday. One of the station’s sponsors wanted Richardson for a new time slot, and suggested an idea for a show. Richardson had seen the college students doing a dance called The Bop, and he decided to call himself “The Big Bopper”. His new radio show ran from 3:00 to 6:00 pm. Richardson soon became the station’s program director.

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Ritchie Valens 2/1959

Ritchie ValensFebruary 3, 1959 – Ritchie Valens was born Ricardo Esteban Valenzuela Reyes on May 13, 1941 in Pacoima, California. Of Mexican decent he was brought up hearing traditional Mexican mariachi music, as well as flamenco guitar, R&B and jump blues. He expressed an interest in making music of his own by the age of 5.

Growing in Pacoima, Valens developed a love of music early on and learned to play a number of different instruments. But the guitar soon became his passion. And he found inspiration from various sources, ranging from traditional Mexican music to popular R&B acts to innovative rock performers like Little Richard.

At 16, Valens joined his first band, the Silhouettes. The group played local gigs, and Valens was spotted at one of these performances by Bob Keane, the head of the Del-Fi record label. With Keane’s help, the young performer was about to have a career breakthrough.

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Big Bill Broonzy 8/1958

Big Bill Laney, Blues PioneerAugust 14, 1958 – Big Bill Broonzy, (real name Lee Conly Bradley) was born either on June 26th 1893 or 1898 or even 1903 . Like with any of the true blues musician of the early days, there is a lot of unproven claims about names, dates of birth and even location of births. Big Bill’s story was no different.

Despite years of research, the details of William Lee Conley Broonzy’s birth date remain problematic. He may have been born on 26 June 1893 – the date of birth he often gave – or according to Bill’s twin sister Laney, it may have been in 1898. Laney claimed to have documents to prove that. However, definitive research undertaken by Bob Reisman has changed the picture.

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W.C. Handy 3/1958

w.c. handyMarch 28, 1958 – WC Handy was born November 16, 1873 in Florence, Alabama.

He became widely known as the “Father of the Blues” and remains among the most influential of songwriters, blues singers, composer, pianist, cornet and trumpet player of the early blues rock scene.

Though he was one of many musicians who played the distinctively American form of music known as the blues, he is credited with giving it its contemporary form. While Handy was not the first to publish music in the blues form, he took the blues from a not very well-known regional music style to one of the dominant forces in American music.

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Danny Cedrone 6/1954

danny-cedroneJune 17, 1954 – Donato Joseph “Danny” Cedrone was born on June 20th 1920 Born in Jamesville, New York. He began his musical career in the 1940s, but he came into his own in the early 1950s, first as a session guitarist hired by what was then a country and western musical group based out of Chester, Pennsylvania called Bill Haley and His Saddlemen.

In 1951, Danny played lead on their recording of “Rocket 88” which is considered one of the first acknowledged rock and roll recordings. At this time he also formed his own group, The Esquire Boys recording hits such as “Rock-a-Beatin’ Boogie”.

He never joined Haley’s group as a full-time member. In 1952, he played lead guitar on Haley’s version of “Rock the Joint”, and his swift guitar solo, which combined a jazz-influenced first half followed by a lightning-fast down-scale run, was a highlight of the recording. He worked with Haley’s group in 1954, by which time it had been renamed The Comets.

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Lead Belly 12/1949

Lead BellyDecember 6, 1949 – Lead Belly was born Huddie William Ledbetter sometime around January 20, 1888/89 on the Jeter Plantation near Mooringsport, Louisiana. The 1900 United States Census lists “Hudy Ledbetter” as 12 years old, born January 1888; and the 1910 and 1930 censuses also give his age as corresponding to a birth in 1888. The 1940 census lists his age as 51 with information supplied by wife, Martha. However, in April 1942, Ledbetter filled out his World War II draft registration with a birth date of January 23, 1889, and a birthplace of Freeport, Louisiana. His grave marker has the date on his draft registration.

His life was as colorful as the confusion on dates. He was notable for his clear, forceful singing and his virtuosity on the twelve string guitar. Pre-dating blues, he was an early example of a folksinger whose background had brought him into direct contact with the oral tradition by which folk music was handed down on the Southern Plantations. Continue reading Lead Belly 12/1949

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Jimmie Rodgers 5/1933

country cross over superstarMay 26, 1933 – Jimmie Rodgers was born James Charles Rodgers on September 8, 1897 near Meridian, Mississippi. His work is often categorized as a country music from  the early 20th century, as he was known most widely for his rhythmic yodeling. But his work was much, much more than that. Among the first country music superstars and pioneers, Rodgers was also known as “The Singing Brakeman”, “The Blue Yodeler”, and “The Father of Country Music”. Unfortunately this qualification does very little to support Rodgers’ reputation as a cross over musical giant of early American music.

The Jimmie Rodgers’ music tradition “crosses over several lines of blues, rock and country and we could have added gospel as well. Some of this diversity may not win applause from staunched rockers but it would be sadly inconsistent with Jimmie Rodgers’ openness to multiple influences not to mention him here. While the Blue Yodeler did have a huge “hillbilly” following, his musical appeal was not limited to the sons of Appalachia. Continue reading Jimmie Rodgers 5/1933