December 30, 2017 – Lord Luther McDaniels, lead singer of vocal group the 4 Deuces, was born in Panola County, Texas in 1938. He never knew his father, who was killed in an accident soon after Luther was born. Mostly raised by his grandmother, he joined the Mitchell Brothers gospel group when he was about 11 or 12. While Luther had no musical training, he still traveled with the group all over East Texas, appearing in many gospel group “battles.” Around the end of World War 2, his mother remarried and moved to Salinas, California, about a hundred miles south of San Francisco (his new stepfather was stationed at Fort Ord in Monterey, only a few miles away). Luther went to California, decided he didn’t like it, went back to Texas, decided California wasn’t that bad, and returned to California to stay, settling in the fertile Salinas Valley south of the Bay Area, a region often referred to as America’s Salad Bowl. Continue reading Lord Luther McDaniels 12/2017
December 13, 2017 – Warrel Dane (Sanctuary/Nevermore) was born on March 7, 1961 as Warrel G. Baker in Seattle, Washington.
Warell, who first came to fame as the high-pitched singer of Serpent’s Knight, was famed for his vocal range and had originally trained for five years as an opera singer and utilized a very broad vocal range, spanning from notes as low as the G♯ below low C, or G♯1, to notes as high as the B♭ below soprano C, or B♭5. While his high head voice style vocals were much more prominent in the older Sanctuary albums, there were instances where he utilized it in Nevermore as well. Later in his career, Dane became more notable for his distinctively deep, dramatic voice. He cited Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Jefferson Airplane, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, The Doors as his musical influences and Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson as his main vocal inspirations. Continue reading Warrel Dane 12/2017
December 12, 2017 – Pat DiNizio (The Smithereens) was born October 12, 1955 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, where he actually lived his entire life. As a youngster, he was inspired by the pop music emanating from his transistor radio in the ‘60s and the hit tunes being written by his musical idols Buddy Holly, The Beatles, and The Beau Brummels among others.
He began playing music with several local bands in the early 1970s, but got serious around 1975 when he joined three classmates from nearby Cateret High School – guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken and formed the Smithereens. That lineup would remain in place for nearly 25 years. Continue reading Pat DiNizio 12/2017
December 5, 2017 – Johnny Halliday was born Jean-Philippe Léo Smet on June 15, 1943 in Paris. His father was Belgian and his mother French. took his stage name from A cousin-in-law from Oklahoma, USA who performed as Lee Halliday called Smet “Johnny” and became a father figure, introducing him to American music. And the name Johnny Halliday was born. Continue reading Johnny Halliday 12/2017
November 24, 2017 – Mitch Margo (The Tokens) was born on May 25, 1947 in New York City. He began singing a cappella at age 9 alongside his brother Phil.
Young Margo learned to play piano in those early days, but over the years established himself as a multi-instrumentalist, also playing guitar, bass, drums and percussion.
Margo was a student at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn when he and his brother joined the Linc-Tones, also featuring Neal Sedaka, Hank Mendress and original member Tokens founder Jay Siegel, who soon renamed themselves the Tokens and recorded “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” while Mitch was just 14 years old. Continue reading Mitch Margo 11/2017
November 22, 2017 – Tommy Keene was born on June 30, 1958 in Evanston, Illinois and raised and graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland (class of 1976), (which was also the alma mater of fellow musician Nils Lofgren). Keene played drums in one version of Lofgren’s early bands but moved to guitar later when he attended the University of Maryland.
Keene launched his career in the late-‘70s as a guitarist with a series of Washington D.C.-area combos including the Rage and the Razz, before hitting the national scene as a solo act in 1982 with the release of his debut Strange Alliance. He actually first received critical acclaim with his The Razz, who released several local independent singles.Continue reading Tommy Keene 11/2017
November 21, 2017 – David Cassidy (The Partridge Family) was born on April 12, 1950 in New York, New York with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father was singer/actor Jack Cassidy and his mother actress Evelyn Ward.
As his parents were frequently touring on the road, he spent his early years being raised by his maternal grandparents in a middle-class neighborhood in West Orange, New Jersey. In 1956, he found out from neighbors’ children that his parents had been divorced for over two years and had not told him. David’s parents had decided because he was at such a young age, it would be better for his emotional stability to not discuss it at that time. They were gone often with theater productions and home life remained the same. Many years later, after his father’s death, he found out that his father was bi-sexual with many homosexual encounters.Continue reading David Cassidy 11/2017
November 21, 2017 – Wayne Cochran (The CC Riders) was born Talvin Wayne Cochran near Macon, Georgia, and grew up in roughly the same environs his idol James Brown and friend Otis Redding had, be it on the other side of the tracks.
After getting his start with various rock’n’roll outfits, in 1959 Cochran cut his first disc and the next five years would witness a succession of releases, most of which only made regional noise at best. One item however, would ultimately become Cochran’s greatest success, though in someone else’s hands. His lightly morbid but undeniably catchy original ‘Last Kiss’ hit the top of the charts in the summer of 1964 in a faithful treatment by Texans J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers. This classic “death disc” has since been covered by many, not least Pearl Jam, so at least the healthy royalties from whose versions, would come as an unforeseen blessing for Cochran in later years.
November 19, 2017 – Warren “Pete” Moore (the Miracles) was born on November 19, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan. A childhood friend of Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson, the two met at a musical event given by the Detroit Public School system, where Moore spotted Robinson singing as part of the show. The two became friends and formed a singing group, which eventually became the Miracles. Besides his work in the Miracles, Moore helped Miracles member Smokey Robinson write several hit songs, including The Temptations’ “It’s Growing” and “Since I Lost My Baby”, and two of Marvin Gaye’s biggest hits, the Top 10 million sellers, “Ain’t That Peculiar” and “I’ll Be Doggone”. Continue reading Warren “Pete” Moore 11/2017
November 19, 2017 – Della Reese, was born Delloreese Patricia Early on July 6, 1931 in the Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit Michigan. At six years old, Reese began singing in church. From this experience, she became an avid gospel singer. On weekends in the 1940s, she and her mother would go to the movies independently to watch the likes of Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Lena Horne portray glamorous lives on screen. Afterwards, Reese would act out the scenes from the films. In 1944, she began her career directing the young people’s choir, after she had nurtured acting plus her obvious musical talent. She was often chosen, on radio, as a regular singer.Delloreese entered Detroit’s popular Cass Technical High School (where she attended the same year as Edna Rae Gillooly, later known as Ellen Burstyn). She also continued with her touring with Jackson. At the age of 13, she was hired to sing with Mahalia Jackson’s gospel group. With higher grades, she was the first in her family to graduate from high school in 1947, at only 15. Continue reading Della Reese 11/2017
November 9, 2017 – Chuck Mosley (Faith No More) was born December 26, 1959 in Hollywood, California, but raised in South Central Los Angeles and Venice. He was adopted at a very early age, as talked about in the Faith No More biography book, “The Real Story.” In a 2013 interview, Mosley said “My Parents met at some kind of socialist/communist get-together in the ’50s. They were interracial – my mom was Jewish and my dad was black and Native American. So that was something controversial in itself. My dad had a daughter and my mom had two daughters, and all they were missing was a boy, so they went out and adopted one, and it was me.”
Mosley first met Billy Gould in 1977, going to a The Zeros, Johnny Navotnee and Bags show. He then went on to play keyboards in Billy’s first band, The Animated, in 1979. In 1984 he joined Haircuts That Kill, a post-punk band from the San Francisco area, which lasted up until Mosley’s joining of Faith No More. He joined Faith No More in 1985 replacing, among others, Courtney Love (Hole) who had a brief stint as lead singer. AllMusic states that Mosley’s “out of tune” vocals for Faith No More are “an acquired taste to most.” Continue reading Chuck Mosley 11/2017
November 9, 2017 – Fred Cole was born August 28, 1948 in Tacoma, Washington and he moved with his mother to Las Vegas where he attended high school. Here he began his recording career in 1964, with his band, the Lords, at the Teenbeat Club, releasing a single titled “Ain’t Got No Self-Respect. “His next single, from 1965, was a promo-only called “Poverty Shack” b/w “Rover,” with a band named Deep Soul Cole.
In 1966 Cole’s band The Weeds gained notice in garage rock circles, and their only single, a 60s punk track called It’s Your Time (b/w Little Girl, Teenbeat Club Records), has become a collectors’ favorite. The A-side appeared on one of the Nuggets anthologies. The band was promised an opening slot on a Yardbirds bill at the Fillmore in San Francisco, but on their arrival found that the venue hadn’t heard of them. Continue reading Fred Cole 11/2017
November 9, 2017 – Hans Vermeulen (Sandy Coast) was born on September 18, 1947 in Voorburg, the Hague in the Netherlands. He grew up in what was to become the birthplace of Nederpop, which produced bands like Golden earring (Radar Love) and Shocking Blue (Venus), Q 65, Rob Hoeke and many others.
He scored hits like I See Your Face Again , Capital Punishment and my favorite True Love That’s a Wonder with his first group Sandy Coast which he had formed in 1961.
When the first run of late sixties rock and roll ran dry, Sandy Coast disbanded in the early seventies, and did not reform until 1981, with a big comeback hit. In 1975 Vermeulen founded Rainbow Train, a open door clearing house formation for musicians, in which he sang with his then-wife Dianne Marchal . In those years he made impact as a much in demand EMI producer for popular Dutch singers like Margriet Eshuijs (Lucifer) and Anita Meyer. For Meyer he wrote in 1976 the number 1 hit The Alternative Way, on which he also sang and for Eshuijs he produced the still today hugely popular “House for Sale” hit.Continue reading Hans Vermeulen – 11/2017
November 5, 2017 – Robert Knight, born Robert Peebles on April 24, 1945 grew up in Franklin Tennessee, just south of Nashville’s Music scene. Knight made his professional vocal debut with the Paramounts, a quintet consisting of school friends. Signed to Dot Records in 1960, they recorded “Free Me” in 1961, a US R&B hit single that was somewhat noteworthy as it outsold a rival version by Johnny Preston.Continue reading Robert Knight 11/2017
October 18, 2017 – Eamonn Campbell was born on November 29, 1946 in Drogheda in County Louth, but later moved to Walkinstown, a suburb of Dublin. He heard Elvis’ That’s All Right for the first time when he was 10; got his first guitar when he was 11 and taught himself how to play it in the next several year.
He had his first gig at 14 and never really looked back, even though there were early plans to take up accounting. In 1964, he graduated high school with the intention of becoming an accountant. “But his accountant’s brain told him he’d make much more money out of gigging.” So instead he would go on to play for bands such as The Viceroys, The Checkmates and The Delta Boys. He also played locally with the The Bee Vee Five and the Country Gents before joining Dermot O’Brien and the Clubmen and he first met The Dubliners when both acts toured England together in 1967. Over the years that followed he got into production and often sat in with the Dubliners, which had formed in 1962. Continue reading Eamonn Campbell 10/2017
October 7, 2017 – Jimmy Beaumont (The Skyliners) was born on October 21, 1940 in the Knoxville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. While in his teens he formed the bebop group the Crescents. Joe Rock, a promo man working with Beaumont’s group, one day jotted down the lyrics to a song as he sat in his car at a series of stoplights, lamenting that his girlfriend was leaving for flight attendant school on the West Coast.
Rock took the lyrics to Jimmy Beaumont, who wrote a melody just as quickly as Rock wrote the words to a magical, tearful ballad that soon topped the Cashbox R&B chart and went to No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart: the title …..“Since I Don’t Have You.”
“I had been listening to all the doo-wop groups from that period — The Platters, The Moonglows. I guess just from listening the melody just came out of me,” Beaumont told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette years later.
Thirteen labels rejected the song as a demo, but the record was released in late December 1958. In short order it went to No. 1 in Pittsburgh, prompting an invitation to “American Bandstand.” Continue reading Jimmy Beaumont 10/2017
October 2, 2017 – Tom Petty was born on October 20, 1950 in Gainesville Florida. Growing up in the town that houses the University of Florida, music became the young Petty’s refuge from a domineering, abusive father who despised Tom’s sensitivity and creative tendencies—but would later glom on to his son’s rock-star fame for status. Continue reading Tom Petty 10/2017
September 23, 2017 – Charles Bradley was born on November 5, 1948 in Gainesville, Florida Bradley was raised by his maternal grandmother in Gainesville, Florida until the age of eight when his mother, who had abandoned him at eight months of age, took him to live with her in Brooklyn, New York.
In 1962, his sister took him to the Apollo Theater to see James Brown perform. Bradley was so inspired by the performance that he began to practice mimicking Brown’s style of singing and stage mannerisms at home. Continue reading Charles Bradley 9/2017
September 18, 2017 – Mark Selby was born in September 2, 1961. Born and raised in Enid, Oklahoma, Selby spent his youth harvesting wheat and playing in bands throughout the Midwest before moving to Hays, Kansas to attend Fort Hays University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music.
He was musically gifted in three ways: as a songwriter, a singer with a soulful voice and a guitarist with some impressive chops. His future as a blues rock singer-songwriter, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and producer started in Germany, where he signed as a solo artist to ZYX Records. Continue reading Mark Selby 9/2017
September 12, 2017 – Jessi Zazu (Those Darlins) was born Jessi Zazu Wariner in Nashville Tennessee in 1989.
When Jessi Zazu was just a little girl, her mother Kathy says, she would wrap her fingers around the neck of a guitar and strain to play. She would not give up. Though she was the tiniest creature in her remarkable family of drawers, painters, players and all-around makers, Jessi knew she was destined to make a sound that was bigger than all of them. F*** the laws of physics. She was going to play that guitar like ringing a bell. The indie rock band that she fronted from 2006 to 2016 called Those Darlins, was hugely popular for its unique style that mixed genres like garage rock and punk with bluegrass and country. Continue reading Jessi Zazu 9/2017
September 5, 2017 – Rick Stevens (Tower of Power) was born Donald Stevenson on February 23, 1941 in Port Arthur, Texas, but didn’t stay there long, as a few years later his parents moved to Reno, Nevada. Rick first sang in public at the tender age of four, when his family set him up on a chair in front of the congregation at their church.
While growing up Rick was greatly influenced by his uncle, singer Ivory Joe Hunter, who was his mother’s younger brother. There was always a great deal of excitement when Uncle Ivory Joe came to visit on breaks from touring around the country with his band. Rick decided early on that he wanted to be a singer, just like his uncle. Ivory Joe was a not only a ground-breaking performer in what at the time was referred to by the record labels as “race music”, he was also a prolific songwriter with hundreds of songs to his credit.
Elvis Presley invited Ivory Joe to Graceland in 1957, and they spent the day singing together, including Ivory Joe’s hit “I Almost Lost My Mind”, among other songs. Hunter commented, “He is very spiritually minded … he showed me every courtesy, and I think he’s one of the greatest”. Elvis recorded five songs written by Ivory Joe: “My Wish Came True” (Top 20), “I Will be True”, “It’s Still Here”, “I Need You So”, and “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” (Top 20).
Like many musically talented teenagers in the late 1950’s Rick was interested in doo-wop, and he joined a singing group called the “Magnificent Marcels”. In the early 1960’s Rick performed in nightclubs around Reno, where he was known as “Mr. Twister”.
Having moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-60’s Rick continued his singing career, fronting various bands that played in local nightclubs. Rick’s bands included “Rick and the Ravens”, and “The Rick Stevens Four” (or Five, depending on how many people were in the band).
Rick joined “Four of a Kind” in 1966, initially in San Francisco, later moving with the band to Seattle. After a short time, Rick moved back to the Bay Area and joined a band called “Stuff”, in which one of the other members was Willie James Fulton (guitar and vocals). Rick and Willie James left “Stuff” and joined Tower of Power at about the same time as drummer David Garibaldi in 1969 and later replaced Rufus Miller as lead vocalist after Rick sang the diamond hit, “Sparkling in the Sand” on Tower of Power’s first album, EAST BAY GREASE. (The only song on that album that made any impact). The next Tower of Power album to hit the charts was BUMP CITY in 1972, and that record features Rick’s signature song, “You’re Still a Young Man”. The album also includes other hits such as “Down to the Night Club” and “You Got to Funkafize”.
Although he is not credited on the third album, the self-titled record, TOWER OF POWER, Rick initially sang all the lead vocals. He also contributed background vocals, which were retained on the record when it was released. The album features several hits such as, “What is Hip”, “Soul Vaccination”, and “Get Your Feet Back on the Ground”, and of course, “So Very Hard to Go”. Rick’s increasing drug dependency lead to Lenny Williams taking over lead vocals, as Rick left the band in 1973 to pursue other avenues of his musical career. After leaving Tower of Power, Rick joined a Bay Area band called “Brass Horizon”, a popular band with a big horn section.
The Stanford Daily – February 25, 1975
Former Tower Singer Heads Brass Horizon By JOAN E. HINMAN
SAN FRANCISCO – Quick – name Tower of Power’s two biggest hits. Maybe you said “So Very Hard To Go”, the single off Tower’s third album. But if you’re a deranged purist, you named “Sparkling In The Sand”, from East Bay Grease, and “You’re Still A Young Man”, the monster hit off Bump City in 1971.
It was “You’re Still A Young Man” that established Tower as national stars, removing them from the realm of San Francisco funk forever. The song’s amazing success can be explained in two words — Rick Stevens. Stevens emerged as Tower’s lead singer after the success of “Sparkling In The Sand”, the only song on the band’s first album on which he sang lead…
… the excellent set performed by Stevens and his new band, Brass Horizon, Saturday at Yellow Brick Road marks the return of one of the finest vocalists ever to hit the City. The new band, Brass Horizon, is every bit as tight and biting as the famed Tower brass…
…Stevens proved that his voice can still get down and growl on dance tunes, as well as sweep up to carry the pure melody of “You’re Still A Young Man”. … the fine Rick Stevens stage presence that on past occasions made Winterland feel as homey as a living room was evident Saturday. Smiling and jiving with the “mamas” on the dance floor, Stevens was clearly back in the atmosphere he likes best—putting out get-down, good time music.
Then in 1976 it gets quiet around Rick Stevens for the next 36 years as he is sentenced to life in prison for a triple homicide in a drug deal gone wrong. Addicted to drugs he had shot and killed 3 men in a botched deal.
In 2012 Stevens was released on parole. He then formed Rick Stevens & Love Power, which regularly played in Northern California. He also occasionally sat in with Tower of Power, including an appearance at a January 2017 benefit concert for former band members that were hit by a train in Oakland’s Jack London Square.
Rick Stevens passed away on September 5, 2017 after a short battle with liver cancer.
“Rick Stevens went to heaven today to be with the Lord whom he loved with all his heart. Rick was an extremely soulful singer and entertainer who had an engaging personality and a strong faith which he shared with all he came in contact with,” Tower of Power founder Emilio Castillo wrote on the band’s Facebook page.“We loved him and we’ll miss him. I have faith that I’ll see him in heaven someday and together we’ll worship and glorify God together for eternity. Rick is there right now enjoying it!!!”
September 1, 2017 – Mick Softley was born in 1939 in the countryside of Essex, near Epping Forest.
His mother was of Irish origin (from County Cork) and his father had East Anglian tinker roots, going back to a few generations. Softley first took up trombone in school and became interested in traditional jazz. He was later persuaded to become a singer by one of his school teachers, and this led to him listening to Big Bill Broonzy and promptly changed his attitude to music, to the extent of him buying a mail-order guitar and some tutorial books and teaching himself to play.
By 1959, Mick Softley had left his job and home and spent time traveling around Europe on his motorbike, with a friend, Mick Rippingale. He ended up in Paris, where he came into the company of musicians such as Clive Palmer, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Wizz Jones. Here he improved his guitar skills and spent time busking with friends until his return to England in the early 1960s. Continue reading Mick Softley 9/2017
August 28, 2017 – Melissa Bell (Soul II Soul) was born Melissa Cecelia Ewen Bell on March 5, 1964 in London, England. Her Jamaican heritage included musical pedigree. From the age of four, music filled every corner of Melissa’s life: she could play the piano, was constantly singing, and even ran her own “radio station” from the upstairs window of the house, calling out to passers-by and begging them to stop and listen. It was when Melissa saw the 14-year-old Lena Zavaroni performing on Opportunity Knocks Continue reading Melissa Bell 8/2017
August 24, 2017 – Jamaican Ska Authentic Winston Samuels (McInnis), a living legend in Jamaican Music, was born in Kingston, Jamaica to proud parents Winston D. McInnis and Mavis Davis-McInnis in 1944. From the time he was born he loved to sing. As a matter of fact his mother, Mavis would have Sunday family discussions followed by songs of worship. There was such harmony in the household that it drew other tenants who loved to listen to him. Continue reading Winston Samuels 8/2017
August 8, 2017 – Glen Campbell was born on April 22, 1936 in Billstown, a tiny community near Delight in Pike County, Arkansas. He was the seventh son of 12 children. His father was a sharecropper of Scottish ancestry. He received his first guitar when he was four years old. Learning the instrument from various relatives, especially Uncle Boo, he played consistently throughout his childhood, eventually gravitating toward jazz players like Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt. While he was learning guitar, he also sang in a local church, where he developed his vocal skills. By the time he was 14, he had begun performing with a number of country bands in the Arkansas, Texas, and New Mexico area, including his uncle’s group, the Dick Bills Band. When he was 18, he formed his own country band, the Western Wranglers, and began touring the South with the group. Four years later in 1960, Campbell moved to Los Angeles, California, where he became a session musician.Continue reading Glen Campbell 8/2017
July 25, 2017 – Michael Johnson was born on August 8, 1944 in the small town of Alamosa, Colorado and grew up in Denver. He started playing the guitar at 13. In 1963, he began attending Colorado State University to study music but his college career was truncated when he won an international talent contest two years later. First prize included a deal with Epic Records. Epic released the song “Hills”, written and sung by Johnson, as a single. Johnson began extensive touring of clubs and colleges, finding a receptive audience everywhere he went.
Wishing to hone his instrumental skills, he set off for Barcelona, Spain in 1966, to the Liceu Conservatory, studying with the eminent classical guitarists, Graciano Tarragó and Renata Tarragó. Upon his return to the States in late 1967, he joined Randy Sparks in a group called the New Society and did a tour of the Orient.Continue reading Michael Johnson 7/2017
July 21, 2017 – Kenny Shields was born in 1947 in the farming community of Nokomis, Saskatchewan, Canada. His passion for music and entertaining emerged at the age of six when he entered and won an amateur talent show. While continuing his interest in music and singing, upon graduation from secondary school he moved to Saskatoon to attend university but was immediately recruited by the city’s premiere band – Witness Incorporated.
Kenny’s lifelong dream began to take shape as the band built a loyal fan base across the country, scoring with a string of national radio hits including “I’ll Forget Her Tomorrow”, “Jezebel” and “Harlem Lady, all featuring Kenny’s unmistakable vocals. After touring with such legendary artists as Roy Orbison and Cream, tragedy struck in 1970 when Shields was critically injured in an automobile accident that sidetracked him from music for several years. Continue reading Kenny Shields 7/2017
July 20, 2017 – Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) was born on 20 March 1976 in Phoenix, Arizona. The son of a police detective who worked with child sex abuse cases, Bennington had a troubled youth. “Growing up, for me, was very scary and very lonely,” he told Metal Hammer magazine in 2014. “I started getting molested when I was about seven or eight,” he said, describing the abuser as an older friend. “I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn’t want to do. It destroyed my self-confidence. Like most people, I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t want people to think I was gay or that I was lying. It was a horrible experience,” he told the magazine.
His parents divorced when he was 11 years old, and he went to live with his father, whom he described as “not emotionally very stable then”, adding that “there was no-one I could turn to”. Soon after his parents divorced he began abusing marijuana, alcohol, opium, cocaine, methamphetamine and LSD. The abuse and situation at home affected him so much that he felt the urge to kill people and run away. To comfort himself, he drew pictures and wrote poetry and songs. He later revealed the abuser’s identity to his father, but chose not to continue the case after he realized the abuser was a victim himself.
After years of intense drug use as a teenager, he got sober and moved to Los Angeles, where he successfully auditioned to join Linkin Park.
An early line-up of Linkin Park was formed in 1996 and the band’s 2000 debut album, Hybrid Theory, surfed the popular wave of nu-metal, Rolling Stone magazine writes. The album’s canny mix of pop, hip-hop, and melodic alt-rock drove it to sales of more than 11 million copies early on, making it the top-selling rock record of the ’00s. Given the rapid changes to the music industry in the immediate aftermath of Hybrid Theory, it’s plausible to suggest that no rock record will ever come close to achieving those sorts of sales figures ever again. The album single-handedly initiated Bennington into a small (now rapidly shrinking) fraternity of arena-rock vocalists — Bennington was one of the few guys on the planet with the qualifications to front a big-time rock band.
Hybrid Theory eventually sold more than 30 million albums and became one of the top-selling albums since the start of this millennium.
The angst-ridden vocals of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington helped lead the group to global critical acclaim.
The frontman’s brooding charisma – added to the group’s blend of rap, metal and electronic music – spawned a string of chart-topping hits.
Later in the 2000s, as the band’s success took off, he again began using drugs before returning to sobriety, telling Spin Magazine in 2009: “It’s not cool to be an alcoholic.
“It’s not cool to go drink and be a dumbass.
“It’s cool to be a part of recovery.
“Most of my work has been a reflection of what I’ve been going through in one way or another,” he added.
The band has sold 70 million albums worldwide and won two Grammy Awards.
Linkin Park had a string of hits including Faint, Numb, What I’ve done, In The End and Crawling, and collaborated with rapper Jay-Z.
Their latest music video for the song ‘Talking to Myself’ was released on the same day this father of six took his life. Another coincidence of his day of departure: Sound Garden’s Chris Cornell, who took his own life in May, would have turned 53. Bennington and Cornell were close for many years. The two had toured together and joined each other onstage, and Bennington even performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at Cornell’s private Los Angeles funeral at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on May 26. He was also the Godfather to Cornell’s son Christopher.
Upon hearing the horrible news of Cornell’s death, the night before Linkin Park’s Kimmel tribute, Bennington posted a heart-wrenching open letter to Cornell, writing:
“I dreamt about the Beatles last night. I woke up with their song ‘Rocky Raccoon’ playing in my head and a concerned look on my wife’s face. She told me my friend has just passed away. Thoughts of you flooded my mind and I wept.
“I’m still weeping, with sadness, as well as gratitude for having shared some very special moments with you and your beautiful family. You have inspired me in many ways you could never have known. Your talent was pure and unrivaled. Your voice was joy and pain, anger and forgiveness, love and heartache all wrapped into one. I suppose that’s what we all are. You helped me understand that.
“I just watched a video of you singing ‘A Day In The Life’ by the Beatles and thought of my dream. I’d like to think you were saying goodbye in your own way. I can’t imagine a world without you in it. I pray you find peace in the next life. Send me love to your wife and children, friends, and family. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.”
With All My Love
In addition to working with Linkin Park, he also sang for the Stone Temple Pilots from 2013-2015 replacing Scott Weiland, for his side project Dead by Sunrise, and Kings of Chaos.
Bennington leaves six children from two marriages and an early relationship as he moves on to another life at 41.
For millennials, who were in their teens when Linkin Park’s blockbuster debut Hybrid Theory was released in 2000, Bennington looms as a defining rock star of the era. A singer capable of both piercing bombast and pained sensitivity, Bennington’s nimble tenor initially played off the rapping of Mike Shinoda, but over time his versatility and soulfulness made him the band’s primary frontman. For kids who found solace in Linkin Park’s music, Bennington was the band member they were most likely to connect with.
July 13, 2017 – Simon Holmes (The Hummingbirds) was born on March 28, 1963 in the southern beachside suburb of Melbourne, Australia. The family lived in Bentleigh, before shifting to Turramurra in 1967, before going overseas for three years, in upstate New York, where Holmes started school at Myers Corner. The family then moved to Geneva, Switzerland. He spent part of his childhood in Canberra, attending the AME School: an alternative education institution and then Hawker College. Holmes moved to Sydney in the early 1980s. He started studying anthropology and archaeology at the University of Sydney, but left after two years. Continue reading Simon Holmes 7/2017
June 17, 2017 – Sonny Knight was born in 1948 in Mississippi and around 1955 moved to Minnesota with his grandmother. He grew up in the Rondo suburb of St.Paul where he was exposed to the urban music of the era such as bepop, soul and r&b.
At age 17 in 1965 he recorded his first (and only) 45rpm single as Little Sonny Knight & The Cymbols, titled “Tears On My Pillow” B/W “Rain Dance”. Shortly thereafter, music took a back seat to a three-year stint in the army. A few more years in the Bay Area followed, before he returned to Minnesota in the mid-1970s and joined the now-cult favorite funk group Haze. By the early ‘80s, Haze had broken up and Sonny walked away from music for a full time job as a truck driver.
It was not until after retiring from long-haul trucking that Sonny Knight came back to music. The following interview perfectly describes this talented soul musician’s rebirth in his sixties; sadly cut way too short by cancer.
The Twin Cities music community was dealt a hard blow this weekend with the passing of Sonny Knight, an endlessly charismatic and powerful soul singer whose history on local stages dates all the way back to the early 1960s. From cutting his first 45 as Little Sonny Knight back in 1965 to recording his final album with the Lakers this past fall, Sonny’s experiences span almost the entire time that soul music has been captured on tape in the state of Minnesota.
One of the things that’s managed to comfort me since learning about Sonny’s passing has been remembering back to all of the times I was able to speak with him about his memories and hear his stories. I’ve gotten a chance to interview Sonny several times over the past four years, here in the Current’s studios and also while researching my book about the Twin Cities funk and soul scene and the roots of the Minneapolis Sound. Today, I’d like to share a deep-diving, career-spanning interview that I conducted with Sonny in the spring of 2015 as part of my book research; though small portions will appear in the text of the book, the majority of it has been sitting unpublished in my notes until now.
When I asked Sonny to do the interview, he suggested that we meet at the entrance to the Milwaukee Avenue Historic District in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, so we could walk through the rows of carefully preserved houses and contemplate the ways our society chooses to preserve some histories and forget others. Sonny was deeply thoughtful like that — and kind, too. He would greet me with a hug every time I saw him, and kept making sure I was getting what I needed for this interview and every other one we did together.
As we sat on a park bench and looked down the row of old railroad houses, Sonny walked me through his life story, touching on many of the different musical projects he’s been involved with over the years and sharing the lessons he’s learned along the way. Sometimes while telling a story, he couldn’t help but break out into song. At times I had to pinch myself that such a sweet soul man was quietly serenading me there on that bench as we watched the birds fly overhead and squirrels run past.
The interview is a long one — we ended up talking for nearly two hours — but I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving anything out. I hope you’ll find it as enlightening as I did.
Andrea Swensson: I was curious, first of all, how you ended up in Minnesota. You moved here with your grandmother?
Sonny Knight: Yeah. It was back in the ‘50s. I would say it must have been about ’55 that I moved from Mississippi up to here, and that was with my grandmother. It was a good thing. I enjoyed leaving Mississippi. It gives you more room to grow up here.
What were some of the differences you noticed right away when you got here?
One of the things, being a kid, was you come from down south, you come from red clay. The dirt is red. And then you come up here, it’s black dirt and big old black ants and stuff like that. The day-to-day living, the neighborhoods, it was everybody in the neighborhood; it’s not just one color of people in the neighborhood.
What area of St. Paul did you live in?
Pretty much over I would say like the Selby-Dale area, between University and Selby, in that area there.
When I have heard stories about Rondo I get the sense that everybody knew everybody, like it was kind of a small town within a city. Did you get to know your neighbors well?
The only part of Rondo that I knew back in that day would consist of between Western and Dale Street, more or less. That was like what I knew of the black town of Rondo, and Rondo would be like 94, kinda like down right there on 94. [There were] a lot of juke joints and different things, and business was going along over there on Rondo. I went to school at McKinley grade school, which was near Mackubin and Concordia — which used to be Mackubin and Rondo, back in the day.
When you started getting interested in music, did you go out to any of the clubs around there?
Nah, I didn’t do too much clubbing or anything like that. When I started singing with these cats, I just got into some of the halls that they would rent — these were the only things that I could basically get into. I remember playing some gigs at the University of Minnesota for some sorority house deals back in the day, but not really into the clubs. I could go into The Western Lounge, which was on Western and St. Anthony over there, and they had the best Coney Island – oh my god. You could get maybe seven of them for a dollar. At that point in time I did manage to see – what was his name – a blues guy. Jimmy Reed. I did get to see him up there in the Western Lounge. But I really couldn’t get into the other places. I was too young.
If you didn’t have access to see much live music, what made you wanna do it? What was your inspiration?
Television. You look at Elvis Presley up on television doing what he does, and I guess if music is in you, that’s gonna be what you wanna do. And then gospel – going to church with my grandmother, you see these gospel cats playing guitars and you know you can see the spirit is moving somebody, and they’re just jammin’ and they’re doin’ what they’re doin’. So yeah, there was something in music that way. Then I’d listen to the phonograph. My aunt had gospel records. She had old Sam Cooke records, Otis Redding. So that kind of got music in me, and then the doo-wop days – you’re hanging out the guys and you’re [starts singing “there goes my baby”], like sitting here in the park or something like that, and cats get together and they start singing. So it was those things, too, that got me going. Cats like Herman Jones [of the Exciters], he used to live kinda across the street kitty corner from me down on Central and Arundel back in the day.
Did you know him well?
Yeah, I knew him back in the days. People started putting bands together at that point in time that I had joined The Bluejays, and then I started noticing the other bands that were out and about playing and doing different things. Then I graduated from that into other bands — Soul Sensation, which ended up turning into Haze.
I noticed that on the 45 you recorded back in the ‘60s, it said “Sonny Knight and the Cymbals.” Is that different from The Bluejays?
The Cymbals was these other three guys that came along and did just the background singing on that song that I had, so they put “Sonny Knight and the Cymbals.” But the band was The Bluejays. That’s who I was with, and these guys, The Cymbals, they came in, they laid down the tracks, but we never did go out and perform together.
How did you meet your Bluejays bandmates?
It was back in the day where you could get these little reel-to-reel recorders for about $20, so my aunt got me one and I was messin’ around with it at home, and I got to singing on it. And then a friend of mine that I went to school with came by my house, and I was playing it for him and he heard it and said, “That sounds cool, man. That you singin’?” “Yeah, that’s me.” “You can sing!” Blah blah blah, and next thing you know, “Hey, man, you oughtta come and check out my brother’s band.” So we checked it out and they had me audition for the band, and then next thing you know I got the job. But I was auditioning against another cat that was kind of a rough dude in the neighborhood, and I’m like is this cat gonna beat my butt because I beat him out or what? But, no, it worked out real cool. I ended up with them guys and we started playing little things here and there, and that gave me a little more experience into playing, understanding singing, getting out a little bit more into the music world.
What years were you active in that group?
I’m gonna say ’64 maybe, because I joined the military in ’66. I had just turned 18 then. So I’m gonna say about ’64.
And then you made the record in ’65?
Yeah. Then everybody went military-bound, more or less, and done their thing, and that was the end of the band. Then I got out of the military and I ended up with Haze and started doing things with him.
What year did you come back?
Got back in ’69.
So you were gone about three years. What would you say changed about the music scene in that time?
What changed? It went from doo-wop to more like Sly and The Family Stone — [starts singing “Dance to the Music”] — Woodstock, Joan Baez, all this other stuff started happening then, kind of a changing of things. Everybody was revolutionaries and right on, peace and flower power.
I know there was a lot going on with the venues in the late ‘60s too — black music venues trying to move into downtown and then getting shut down.
I don’t like to say things about people and things, but I guess it’s what it is. Mostly white cats got the good gigs at different clubs and things like that. Our case, there was like basement parties you start off playing at — whatever things you could get into, which we called like a chitlin circuit, where it was mostly black people playing.
The chitlin circuit — how would you describe that?
Lower class places where black folks go, not really paying a lot of monies for anything. It’s like what’s left of the hog. This is what you get. It’s not the big ham or the bacon or anything like that. It’s the chitlins of that, so the lower class, in the bowels of everything. Those were the kind of places that we were playing. And then to get a crossover of things going on, at that point in time the Commodores, Earth, Wind and Fire and different things like that was coming on. That was more of a crossover of music, and a lot of people of all colors were into those kinds of music, and then boom, up popped disco and stuff like that. I think I’m moving a little too fast here.
I definitely want to talk about Haze before we get to disco. So you came back in about ’69. Did you jump right back into music?
Yeah, I got back and Haze was doing a thing underneath the name of Soul Sensation, at that point in time. And I ended up rehearsing and playing a little bit with them, not really doing a whole lot, but just dibbling and dabbling into the music game, and that’s when I left and moved to the Bay area. I got out in ’69, so messed around here until like the later part of ’70, ’71, then I moved to the Bay.
How long were you there?
And it was a totally different band when you came back.
Yeah, they had released an album, and they had this song “I Do Love My Lady,” which had hit the charts and was doing pretty doggone good. So their singer, when I got back from California, was no longer with them – Chita – I ended up taking his place. They accepted me back into it, and I just dived right into it, and it was just amazing watching them write collectively, and just kinda come together, put things together. The camaraderie of the brothers, and how everybody kinda got along, and the magic that it had, it was growing. It was just amazing, and I was really proud to be a part of it. They had more of a crossover than a lot of the other predominantly black bands that was out happening. They played more white clubs and different things — Purple Barn way out in Burnsville, and other places around.
Why did they appeal to more of a mixed audience, do you think?
I would say because all they did was a lot of original music; because maybe they had their album out and their song was on the Billboard charts. The album probably had a lot to do with it. I don’t know, because the cats ended up with The Jackson Five at the auditorium at St. Paul and all kind of stuff like that, so they had that magic. They had that fire that was goin’ on.
Was there radio here in town that would play Haze?
KUXL would play Haze. When we left to go to the East Coast, I believe it was KMOJ at that point in time, and they would be playing some of the stuff that Haze had goin’ on.
What kind of venues do you remember playing with Haze?
One of the main ones I remember that we used to have a lot of fun at was the Jockey Lounge. Jockey Lounge was down on West 7th Street just before you get ready to cross that bridge to go towards the airport, in that little shopping mall to your right, right there. And it would be packed each and every time we would play there. And they would bring in some other acts from Michigan, guys that was really hot, playin’ some good stuff. I enjoyed playing there with them, and when we went out to the East Coast we played D.C., Philadelphia and some other venues around the Philadelphia area, and did some recording in Philly. And there was the memorable days of going to California together on an old school bus, and getting out there and things not being quite what it was supposed to be —and actually were starving, trying to make ends meet. I think out of that we ended up getting a job in Lake Tahoe at Harris’s Casino. We went through a lot together – different things – traveling about here and there and stuff like that.
Was it common at that time for bands to go to California to try to connect with the bigger music industry?
Yeah. That was why I went out there, because I was listening to Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone, stuff like that. And it seems like California is the place you oughta be. So I loaded up and moved to Oakland. I played with a band out there called Herbie Mem’s East Bay Band. Through Herbie I got to meet a lot of good people. I met Freddie Hubbard, Pharaoh Sanders, Larry Graham — when Larry was putting together Graham Central Station. It started out as Hot Chocolate. Sometimes in the parks and places that we would play, his band would come there and play too. That was his wife’s band, and he was managing the band. Through our drummer, I got to meet Larry and got to know him a little bit out there, and then when he took the bass player that he had in the band out and put himself there and started calling it Graham Central Station, next thing I know the San Francisco papers started writing about Graham Central Station, Larry Graham, and it took off. I go, I must be in the right place.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, that’s when a lot of the freeways were going in here. What impact did you see? I’m curious if there were any music venues closed, or any impact on the music community from the highways going in?
Yeah. It pretty much took out the Rondo scene — what old Rondo was. Sometimes that’s the sad part about up here. They tear down everything that has anything. They took out a lot of good businesses, and people kind of scattered. They’re still scattering way out to suburbia and somewhere now instead of the inner city, and then that part of the inner city — a lot of people started moving from suburbia back into the city and reclaiming those parts of Rondo, like on Selby and Dale. They used to have the Old Louisiana Restaurant there. They still got one there, but it’s nothing like what the old one used to be. The mom and pop variety stores, drug stores and different things like that, are all gone to the new modern convenience of one drugstore to serve them all or what have you. Ace Hardware now instead of mom and pop’s hardware. So a lot of things are missing and gone. People scatter.
One thing I’m really interested in, zooming out into the big picture, is musicians who influence each other over time. I’m wondering if you have any memories of either people that came up before you that you learned from in the community, or if there were young kids coming out to your shows that then started their own bands, who were learning from what you guys were doing in Haze.
I don’t know too much about people learning from us and me, but there was some cats that influenced me — like the Amazers, which was a local group with Napoleon Crayton singing the lead. That guy’s voice was phenomenal. At that point in time, what am I, 14, 15 years old? Listening to this cat singing this song, which was almost like a gospel song, “It’s You For Me,” it just makes you wanna cry it felt so good.
Other cats — like I got to meet and know Willie Weeks. Willie Weeks played with the Mystics, then he went on to play with Donnie Hathaway, Three Dog Night and all these people, and Wynonna Judd. I remember Willie back in the day; big influence. I remember Al Jarreau coming through here. I think Al Jarreau was living over in Milwaukee or something at that point in time, and I remember he came through here. Rockie Robbins, who also played with the Mystics back in the day — he also did a recording, and then the next thing you know he was on the Johnny Carson Show. So I’m like wow, look at these cats. And then Prince jumps out and starts doing his thing. This was pretty much during the time that I was with Haze, that he was evolving. And then The Time coming up and doing their thing – Alexander O’Neal and everybody getting in. And then I kinda started wondering what happened to me. Where did things go? So many cats that did so many good things as far as what was happening musically around, and it was a pretty cool thing.
Were you friends with these younger bands, Prince and The Time?
We’re friends by association in music. I never really talked a lot to Prince or anything like that. I just remember one time that we were playing at The Thunderbird Motel, which used to be out on 494, and his band was over on one side of the room of the hotel there, and our band, Haze, was on the other thing playing in another room somewhere. So that’s what I knew of him.
When would you say things wrapped up with Haze?
Whenever that thing came out in City Pages, about Haze being rediscovered and this lady found the record in the dumpster. That was pretty much the end of it right there. The rebirth of it, trying to bring it back — Google trying to come in and work with us, and cats couldn’t get it together. As time went by, they’d either grown bitter or just grew apart, I guess. That was the last time, because the conga player, Michael Lopez, came back up. He was living in Florida, so they flew him back in for this reunion deal with everybody being back together here, and he came up and we did this one little thing over at 7th Street Entry for Google. We recorded that, and then Michael went back down to Florida, and we was looking to see if things would come back together, but it just didn’t. And Michael died of pancreatic cancer. So that was that. Chita died of course a long time ago. What was that, maybe four or five years ago? Four years ago?
I think that was 2010.
Somewhere back there. So that was pretty much the end of Haze right there. We ended this thing. I’m going, like, wow man, we got a chance to come back and do it, and it was good to see everybody. I’m not a very religious person, and these cats were like whatever the lord wants us to do, blah blah blah — wait to see what He wants us to do. I’m like, man, that ain’t working for me. If the lord is gonna give you something, he sends you something down here and you said no I don’t want that, I’m waiting for this — then next thing you know there ain’t nothin’ else comin’ by for you to wait for. I was saying we need to jump on board, start letting people know we’re here and start putting some kind of show together. Let’s start doing it. And then there’s one group of guys over here saying let’s do this, and the other group of guys saying no we’re gonna do it like this. Now they’re split; and that’s what happened. I’m gonna move on. So I just went on and looking other places, and I ran into a couple of bands — people that wanted to do something and wanted to add me into it for their agenda. I was very unhappy going down that road. I guess that’s another story.
What do you mean by that? What was going on?
I’ve always believed if I’m gonna be a part of the band I’m gonna be a good soldier because I know military like that. So if I’m in the band I’m in the band, all the way, to be the best that we can be, to make the band shine and do what we do. Being in other people’s bands, I had to realize that this is their band. This is not yours. This is theirs, so they wanna do it that way, nothin’ you can do but do it that way or quit and go home. So I learned how to stick and stay. And then I learned how to try and shine whenever it was spotlight time; you get to sing the lead on this song. OK, sing your song, boom. And I tried to put everything I had into it so people could say there’s something about that guy there. I don’t know. It got to be frustrating at times dealing with people that had their own agendas. I was living like that until The Lakers came along.
I wanted to ask you about joining into the reunited Valdons – had you seen them back in the ‘70s?
Yeah, I knew of them back in the day when I was with Haze. That difference right there with them cats was they was playing a lot of cover stuff and pretty much doing things to more of a black audience instead of a crossover. They’d come out more suited up, whereas Haze would come out with stuff that we made up in our heads and had a seamstress put together, with polyester and gigantic bellbottoms; we were like Earth, Wind and Fire, whereas these cats would come out looking like The Temptations or The Stylistics or somebody of that era. Monroe Wright came to me at one point maybe 20-some years ago – he had came back from California and said he wanted to put together this group doing some Mills Brothers and Ink Spots stuff, and they called it The Bachelors. So himself, me and Maurice Young, we started doing that. I guess they used to do that way out there in California, so coming back here, we started doing that again, and for 20-some years we did that and played different venues, and that’s how I ended up getting this little spot to sing with the Valdons on that Twin Cities Funk and Soul thing. That’s how that came about.
Tell me about meeting Eric Foss. How did he come into your life?
Twin Cities Funk and Soul. Like I said, I was playing with Monroe as The Bachelors, and Eric had approached them because they had had a record out with Napoleon Crayton, and Napoleon was part of the Valdons as well. So they wanted me to fill in because Big Bill, who normally would’ve been doing that, was not able to do it. He was sick. So I said yeah, I’ll do that. I went and sat in with them, and they flew Cliff [Curtis] in, who was one of the Cymbals on my first 45. Flew him in from California because he was a Valdon back in the day, and we went down to The Current and did that little thing at MPR. And that’s how I met Eric, at that point then, when they started putting that show together at the Cedar Cultural Center. Prophets of Peace, their singer wasn’t able to do anything either, so Tony Scott asked me if I would sing one or two of their songs. I said yeah, I’d be glad to. So I ended up kinda like all over the place – I’m a Valdon, I’m a Prophet of the Peace.
So through that, and playing a couple of times at First Avenue as that Twin Cities Funk and Soul, Eric said we’re gonna put a band together behind you – you – like “That guy!” Plus, me bugging him all the time when I came home from the gym — because [Secret Stash] was right in between the gym and my house, so [I’d] stop by. I said, man, where’s this thing going? What are you, a new company or what? What’s going on with that? Can I get in on the ground level here, too? Things started growing. He and I started working on some songs, and it turned out to be The Lakers and doing what we’re doing now.
Then [the Valdons] made decisions to go and do other things. I’m going nah, I’m not gonna do that, no. For me, I didn’t want somebody else running my life like that. I wanted to have some kind of control. With Eric, it was like, it’s cool. I didn’t look at them like young cats or younger than me or anything. I just looked at them as another human being, and we’re all trying to make something work here. And I admired their energy as far as making that Twin Cities Funk and Soul thing work. I’ve been learning from them cats ever since. Pretty special guys.
What do you think it is about right now, that all of this attention has been turned back to this kind of vintage soul sound? Even when you listen to pop music now, people are trying to channel that sound.
I don’t know. Music to me is weird. Stuff has been there and been around forever, and then somebody comes along and picks it up and now all of a sudden it’s like, this is cool stuff! Some people forget about it, but it’s still there till someone comes and picks it up, brushes it off, and says, what if I put another little twist like this? It’s still the same old thing, but with a new twist.
That’s interesting to me, I guess because I didn’t experience it first hand as it was happening, but you can really see how the music evolves and people are learning from the people that came before them, adding their own thing to it.
That’s the thing, too. That’s life itself, I guess; you get mesmerized with living life from day to day. And next thing you know – I didn’t know that person never saw that, and I lived that first hand. Wow. Where did the time go? What happened? I thought these people knew all about this. Well, yeah, through reading books and things of learning that way, but yeah, I got to see that first hand. Damn, I’m ancient. I start picking on myself.
You’re not ancient. I think you’re about the same age as my dad.
Wow. We’re ancient.
You’re both looking really good.
That’s a good thing – blessed that way, and that’s why I try to go to the gym. I don’t know – mom and dad gave me some good genes to put on or something, and everything worked out pretty good, but I can say it’s amazing that you see so much stuff and you don’t really realize that some people ain’t even saw that or know about that.
I want to hear about the First Avenue release show for I’m Still Here, because I get the sense that that might be one of the biggest crowds that you’ve ever performed for. What were you thinking when you came out on stage and saw all those people so excited about your album coming out?
I didn’t think that they were that excited about my album or anything else like that. I wasn’t even thinking about my album. I was just scared to death.
When I came out on stage, I had no idea how many people was really out there. Because when I first came in there wasn’t a whole big crowd of people, and as they started filling in I still didn’t see it until it was time for me to come out. When it was my turn to come up on stage, I was like OK. I just lost it and went into acting, into form – what I gotta do. How do I make you move? You must be here to move, groove, do something. That’s where my focus goes. How do you make it work? How do you get people liking it? And once the motion started movin’, then it got kinda easy. I got into it and it was do or die. Just do whatever you can do. This is your show. This is your song. Don’t worry about it. Just go. And it turned out I guess to be pretty good. I was just up there having some fun.
I think it’s so cool, not only that you’re performing this music that has such a rich history, but the show is just nonstop and the energy is nonstop; you don’t see many people onstage like that. It’s like, wow.
That is wow, because I know sometimes up there the show will be moving so fast, and then it’s jumping around, the dancing, it’s like, I better pace myself here because it’s right out of one song into another song, and I’m trying to catch my breath. But it just tells me that if I’m kinda choking a little bit I need to get back in, get the cardio all pumped up a little bit more to keep the drive going, because that’s what people want. They want that energy. They wanna see that. They want that drive. You wanna get them to move. You don’t want people to just go get a beer or something and walk away. You want them to stay there. You want them to be a part of your show, have them jump up and down, because we can see from the stage and see people going like this [moves hand up and down].
That must be really cool to watch.
Yeah. The first time I did it was over at the Little Lake Festival, and I said, “I’m gonna call off a number when the band’s gonna hit, and when the band hits it I wanna see you guys jump and get your cardio in. Can you get it?” “Yeah!” “You got it?” “Yeah!” So now and then we’ll go and get people jumping up and down. They kinda like that. We played down in St. Peter last Saturday and we had them jumping down there. The love that the people’s been showing wherever we go has just been amazing. I guess maybe we must be doing something right, which is a blessing to get something like that going.
This whole thing is a blessing for me – being where I’m at, age-wise, each and every day that I get is a blessing. Today, to do the interview with you is another blessing – to wake up and continue down that path that we’re trying to go. I appreciate it. I appreciate waking up, life – appreciate this neighborhood being the way that it is. It’s just so much now that I feel there is to live for, versus what I went through coming up to get to this point. Did I think I would get here? Maybe yes and maybe no. It didn’t really matter. You just get beat down with so much.
It’s kinda like that guy in North Korea before he escaped. He was born in prison and he thought the guards were the high-power great people because they were guards, and they had all this freedom. He knew nothing about the outside until he escaped and got away. It’s kinda like I feel. Certain people had more power and could play in different places. I never knew anything like what I’m knowing now, that freedom of wow, there we are playing. You’re Sonny Knight. You get to come in. Your name is out there in front of the band and that’s you. You get to sit here. This is your green room. This is what’s for you. Never had that and never thought I would get that. I thought that was for the other big people. This is cool. How did this happen? I keep asking myself how did that happen. Must be doing something right. What is it? I don’t know.
It sounds like you do know, though, because you’ve seen bands that didn’t make the right choices and you have a very realistic way of looking at things.
Yeah, and again, I think it just comes back around to being humble and patient and putting in work. You think well I’m this, I’m that, I’m Sonny Knight, I’m supposed to get this – don’t mean nothin’. I’m just another person that’s still trying to make it in this world, and what I got is what I got. And I stay true to what I got because life is too precious. There’s so much energy – people walking, squirrels moving, birds flying – that’s all energy. And to be here and to sit here and enjoy that for this moment in this time now – you can’t ask for more. Tomorrow might bring you some better things, but tomorrow ain’t even here. Right now I got right now. I got this interview right now. It feels good just to be in the moment, and I try to stay in the moment.
The other good thing I think happened for me is I took money out of the equation. Where’s my money? I need to get paid for this and if I’m not getting paid for this then I can’t do this is I’m not gonna get paid. I believe enough in it to keep working this. It’ll come. Whatever’s gonna be. Que sera sera. Hey, let’s make a song of that. So when I took money out of the equation everything got really kinda cool. I mellowed out and I know that the longer I live the more I’ll understand life.
Some people are happy just going and visiting and being with their family, cutting the grass and doing that. Don’t want no more. Other people want the moon and the stars, and then they try to go after the moon and stars and then somehow get unhappy it ain’t comin’ as fast as they thought it should. I think some people fall by the wayside with that. I know I did – expecting and pursuing and thinking things should be this way or that way and it wasn’t. So I’m just grateful. I’m just hoping I have the energy to continue doing what I’m doing now for at least another 20 years. My son came to Lake Harriet bandshell and caught the show over there and he was like wow, you really inspired me – motivated me to wanna go out and become a musician. That’s really cool.
I’m just keeping it real. I’m a human being. I’m not a superstar. I’m not nobody. Prince is a human being. All these cats are. Ain’t nobody no more than you or I, but yet they’re in a position to be held like the Queen is the Queen. I don’t know. You wanna leave this world in a good way, and we all going to leave this world. You wanna get things right. And that’s kinda like how I try to live – just doing things right. I’m still here trying to make it work.
I love that song – “I’m Still Here.”
It’s a good song. It’s a real good song and I don’t know where it was coming from when we started doing it, but the fact that I’m still here to be able to sing my song and do it – that’s what matters. To be able to see my grandkids grow up – that’s what matters. My first grandchild – I have two grandkids – when my first one was born I looked at her and I thought how pure and how innocent everything is for her right now. There’s nothing she’s done that anybody can say or touch – she’s pure.
So to still be here, I guess it means like what are you gonna do with your life? Who are you? Now that you’re still here, we’re all still here, that energy is still here, drawing and just knowing what you can do – making positive things is what I’m hoping, that we can end up making people feel and do good. That’s why – hey, let’s jump.
Sadly Sonny Knight passed away on June 17, 2017 from the devastations of cancer. He was 69.
May 21, 2017 – Jimmy LaFave was born July 12, 1955 in Willis Point, Texas where he was also raised. Music was his destiny from very early on, but he started his journey on drums.
Some years later he moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma and played in the school band but at age 15 LaFave switched to guitar and began writing and singing his own songs in a band called The Night Tribe.
After graduating from high school LaFave played music at night while working during the day. He had a job as the manager of a music club called Up Your Alley and during this period recorded the albums Down Under in 1979 and Broken Line in 1981. Continue reading Jimmy LaFave 5/2017
May 21, 2017 – Curtis Womack (The Valentinos) was born on October 22, 1942 in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S.A. He was second oldest of the five Womack Brothers (Friendly, Curtis, Bobby, Harry, Cecil), and started singing together with his siblings at their father’s church in Cleveland. In 1954, they formally were named Curtis Womack and the Womack brothers with Curtis and, occasionally, Bobby singing lead. Continue reading Curtis Womack 5/2017
May 17, 2017 – Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) was born Christopher John Boyle on July 20, 1964 in Seattle, Washington, where he was also raised. He was the fourth of six children. His father, Ed, was a pharmacist; his mother, Karen, was an accountant. Cornell was a loner; he tried to deal with his anxiety around other people through rock music but during his early teenage years, he spiraled into severe depression and almost never left the house. His first favorite band were the Beatles. A noteworthy rumor later was that Cornell spent a two-year period between the ages of nine and eleven solidly listening to the Beatles after finding a large collection of Beatles records abandoned in the basement of a neighbor’s house. Continue reading Chris Cornell 5/2017
May 3, 2017 – Casey Jones (Albert Collins/Johnny Winter) was born July 26, 1939 in Nitta Yuma, Mississippi and raised in Greenville. As a kid he played with the Coleman High School band, but claimed he learned more about drumming from Little Milton’s drummer Lonnie Haynes, than from the band director
In 1956 at age 17, his sister Atlean and her husband Otis Luke enticed him with the promise of a drum kit and entry into the musician’s union, if he would move to Chicago to live with them. True to his word, they went to Frank’s Drum Shop on Wabash Ave and from there on Casey Jones played drums in Otis’s band. His first gig with Otis Luke & the Rhythm Bombers in 1956 made him $5.Continue reading Casey Jones 5/2017
April 15, 2017 – Matt Holt (Nothingface) was born Matthew Francis Holt on May 28, 1977 near Gaithersburg, Maryland and was raised there and in nearby Germantown, just north of Washington DC.
While in high school he met Tommy Sickles through mutual friends. Holt, Sickles, and two other friends formed the band Ingredient 17, in which he played guitar and sang. After playing a show with a band known as Nothingface, the two bands became familiar with one another. A short while later Ingredient 17 was later recording in Nothingface bassist Bill Gaal’s studio when Nothingface’s vocalist, David Gabbard, left the band citing musical differences. One day Holt came in to record a song for Ingredient 17, and the band members of Nothingface liked his voice, so they “took” him from his band and got their new singer. The original NOTHINGFACE lineup included Matt Holt (vocals), Bill Gaal (bass), Chris Houck (drums) and Tom Maxwell (guitar). Continue reading Matt Holt 4/2017
April 20, 2017 – Cuba Gooding Sr. (The Main Ingredient) was born in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City on April 27, 1944. While having moved to Cuba, his Barbados born father had promised his first wife on her deathbed that he would call his first son Cuba after the country they both adored. Gooding Sr. grew up eight blocks away from the Apollo Theater and nineteen blocks away from Carnegie Hall.
After his father, a New York cab driver who spoke 7 languages died when he was 11, the criminal grip of the city and the Harlem neighborhood took a hold of Gooding Sr. for awhile and as a result he spent a couple of years in jail, just before he joined Main Ingredient as a backing singer at first. Continue reading Cuba Gooding Sr. 4/2017
April 3, 2017 – Brenda Jones was born on December 7, 1954 in Detroit, Michigan. The daughter of Detroit-based gospel singer Mary Frazier Jones, she was raised in a gospel singing family. The Jones Girls Valorie, Brenda and Shirley spent the better part of the 60s and 70s as sought-after backing vocalists, first regionally and then on a national basis, between Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.
The trio first tried making their own records for the tiny Fortune label in Detroit during the ’60s with no success. They moved to Hot Wax-Invictus, the company formed by Holland-Dozier-Holland, during the latter part of the decade, but sales of those records weren’t much more encouraging.
It was during this period that session work came to dominate their activities — the Jones Girls were in heavy demand to sing on other artists’ singles. Aretha Frankling, Lou Rawls, Betty Everett, Peabo Bryson and dozens of other charting soul acts. In 1973, they were signed to the Curtom Records subsidiary imprint Gemigo, a label that was originally organized as an outlet for Leroy Hutson’s activities as a producer and arranger. Continue reading Brenda Jones 4/2017
April 1, 2017 – Lonnie Brooks, Chicago bluesman who achieved fame in the late 70s, was born Lee Baker Jr. on December 18, 1933 in Dubuisson, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. He learned to play blues from his banjo-picking grandfather but did not think about a career in music until after he moved to Port Arthur, Texas, in the early 1950s. There he heard live performances by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Long John Hunter, Johnny Copeland and others and began to think about making money from music.
He focused on the guitar comparatively late in life, when he was already in his 20s. But he learned fast and a little while later, Award winning Zydeco king Clifton Chenier heard Brooks strumming his guitar on his front porch in Port Arthur and offered him a job in his touring band. Continue reading Lonnie Brooks 4/2017
March 16, 2017 – James Cotton was born on July 1, 1935 in Tunica, Mississippi. He was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters who grew up in the cotton fields working beside their mother, Hattie, and their father, Mose. On Sundays Mose was the preacher in the area’s Baptist church. Cotton’s earliest memories include his mother playing chicken and train sounds on her harmonica and for a while he thought those were the only two sounds the little instrument made. His Christmas present one year was a harmonica, it cost 15 cents, and it wasn’t long before he mastered the chicken and the train. King Biscuit Time, a 15-minute radio show, began broadcasting live on KFFA, a station just across the Mississippi River in Helena, Arkansas. The star of the show was the harmonica legend, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). The young Cotton pressed his little ear to the old radio speaker. He recognized the harmonica sound AND discovered something – the harp did more! Continue reading James Cotton 3/2017
March 10, 2017 – Joni (Joan Elise) Sledge (Sister Sledge) was born on Sept. 13, 1956, in Philadelphia to Edwin Sledge, a performer on Broadway, and Florez Sledge, an actress who oversaw her daughters’ careers as their business manager and traveled with them on tours.
Joni and her sisters, Debbie, Kim and Kathy, received voice training from their grandmother Viola Williams, a former operatic soprano, and gained early experience singing at the family church, Williams Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal.
Best known for their work with Chic in the late ’70s, siblings Debbie, Kim, Joni, and Kathy Sledge — collectively Sister Sledge — reached the height of their popularity during the disco era, but had been recording since the early ’70s and were still active in the late ’90s. Continue reading Joni Sledge 3/2017
March 4, 2017 – Valerie Carter was born on February 5, 1953 in Winterhaven, near Orlando, Florida.
Being an “army brat” she moved between many cities in her young years. Her first break in music came while living with her family in Tucson, where she joined a band fronted by Gretchen Ronstadt, sister of Linda Ronstadt.
Next she was off to New York City where she formed the folk band Howdy Moon. They headed to California, released a self-titled album in 1974 and regularly played at the West Hollywood rock club, the Troubadour.
In the early 1970s in Los Angeles, she became known as a songwriter, penning tunes such as Cook With Honey for Judy Collins and Love Needs a Heart for Jackson Browne, who was introduced to her by Lowell George of Little Feat fame.
March 4, 2017 – Tommy Page was born on May 24, 1970 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. He began playing the piano at age eight and learned keyboards at age 12, joining his brother in a band. Obviously gifted, he graduated from Highschool at age 15 and found himself in New York attending the Stern School of business at age 16.
To help support himself during his freshman year at Stern (then 16), Page worked as a cloakroom attendant in a popular New York nightclub called Nell’s. The job gave Page a chance to play his demo tape to the house DJ, who then used the demos as part of his club mixes. The unknown sounds were so impressive that soon Page was introduced to Sire Records founder Seymour Stein. Continue reading Tommy Page 3/2017
February 17, 2017 – Peter Skellern was born in Bury, Lancashire on March 14, 1947.
He played trombone in a school band and served as organist and choirmaster in a local church before attending the Guildhall School of Music, from which he graduated with honors in 1968. Because “I didn’t want to spend the next 50 years playing Chopin,” he joined the vocal harmony band March Hare which, after changing their name to Harlan County, recorded a country-pop album before disbanding in 1971.
Married with two children, Skellern worked as a hotel porter in Shaftesbury, Dorset, before music struck lucky at the end of 1972 with a self-composed U.K. number three hit, “You’re a Lady.” The record featured the Congregation, who had previously recorded the top ten hit “Softly Whispering I Love You”.
“You’re a Lady” reached number three on the UK Singles Chart and number 50 in the United States Billboard Hot 100 and sold several million copies world wide. Continue reading Peter Skellern 2/2017
February 12, 2017 – Al Jarreau was born Alwin Lopez Jarreau on March 12, 1940 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the fifth in a family of 6 children.
His father was a Seventh-day Adventist Church minister and singer, and his mother was a church pianist. Jarreau and his family sang together in church concerts and in benefits, and he and his mother performed at PTA meetings.
Jarreau went on to attend Ripon College, where he also sang with a group called the Indigos. He graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science in psychology. Two years later, in 1964, he earned a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa. Moving to San Franciso during the 1967 summer of love, Jarreau worked as a rehabilitation counselor and moonlighted with a jazz trio headed by George Duke. In San Francisco, Al’s natural musical gifts began to shape his future and by the late 60s, he knew without a doubt that he would make singing his life. He joined forces with acoustic guitarist Julio Martinez to “spell” up-and-coming comics John Belushi, Bette Midler, Robert Klein, David Brenner, Jimmie Walker and others at the famed comedy venue, THE IMPROV and soon the duo became the star attraction at a small Sausalito night club called Gatsby’s. This success contributed to Jarreau’s decision to make professional singing his life and full-time career.Continue reading Al Jarreau 2/2017
February 5, 2017 – Sonny Geraci (Outsiders and Climax) was born Emmett Peter Geraci on November 22, 1947 in Cleveland Ohio. Sonny was a street kid, growing up in Cleveland to the music of Motown, the British invasion and all the music that came before.
Still in high school he joined a group called The Starfires. Actually his older brother Mike played sax for a number of groups in the greater Cleveland are and when the Starfires needed a new singer, as theirs was called up for military draft, Mike suggested his brother Sonny. After he joined the group, he pushed the rest of the band to record and change the drummer and change the guitar player and finally change the name to The Outsiders and started to record songs. It was a good move. The first single “Time Won’t Let Me” was almost an afterthought as they were planning to cut a Beatles song, but instead opted to record an original.
February 1, 2017 – Robert Dahlqvist (The Hellacopters) was born on April 16, 1976 in Uddevalla, Sweden, and got his first guitar at the age of ten and attended music school but quit after a month frustrated over not being allowed to play Kiss songs. Five years later, at age fifteen, his mother got him an electric guitar and he started to focus more seriously on his playing. Dahlqvist soon started playing in bands and worked at a bar where he got to know members of the Swedish rock band The Hellacopters.
After the departure of guitarist Dregen in early 1998, The Hellacopters brought in temporary replacements Chuck Pounder and Mattias Hellberg to tour with them. In 1999, The Hellacopters recorded Grande Rock with the band’s pianist Anders Lindström on rhythm guitar and started to look for a permanent guitarist. When Dahlqvist heard about this he contacted the band and asked for the opportunity for an audition, and after a few jam sessions together Dahlqvist was chosen as the band’s new guitarist.Continue reading Robert Dahlqvist 2/17
January 31, 2017 – John Wetton (ASIA) was born on June 12, 1949 in Willington, Derbyshire, and grew up in the coastal city of Bournemouth, Dorset, England.
He first cut his musical teeth on church music at his family’s piano where he often played the bass parts to help his brother rehearse tunes for services….an experience that led to John’s love of the relationship between top line and bass melodies. It stayed a major feature of his music throughout his career. In his teens, John focused those melodies on the bass guitar and honed his skills by playing and singing with local bands. He also discovered a knack for songwriting with an early bandmate, Richard Palmer-James; a relationship that would continue to flourish through five decades.
John’s early work with a variety of bands (Splinter, Mogul Trash and Family) allowed him to show off his impressive bass talents, but did little to showcase his equally impressive singing and songwriting skills. Frustrated, John began to listen a bit closer to the sales pitch of an old friend, Robert Fripp, who set about to reform King Crimson in 1972. Wetton first came to rock fans’ attention when he joined a revamped King Crimson lineup, sticking with the group over a two-year span that included the records Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red. This Crimson core of Wetton, Fripp, and Bill Bruford is often considered the “classic” line-up, releasing three studio albums, that truly stretched the band to its imaginative limits. But after a blistering show in New York’s Central Park in 1974, the band took what was supposed to be a hiatus, but sadly became permanent.
He then served stints with Roxy Music and Uriah Heep before co-founding U.K. with his engine room buddy Bill Bruford, as comments from fans and even the media proved to John that there could still be some life in the Wetton/Bruford rhythm section of King Crimson. A series of phone calls and meetings proved to be all the momentum needed in getting U.K. off the ground.
The line-up of Wetton, Bruford, Eddie Jobson, and guitar phenomenon Allan Holdsworth delivered a potent mix of jazzy fusion and progressive pop that brought great success, but also division in the band. After one album, Bruford and Holdsworth were out, and drummer Terry Bozzio in. This trio delivered one studio album and one live album before a demise similar to King Crimson….a hiatus that turned permanent.
At this point, John decided to turn his attentions to a solo career and entered the studio to record “Caught in the Crossfire,” an album that, in hindsight, shows a logical bridge from the music of U.K. to the eventual music of Asia. While most Wetton fans are now familiar with “Caught in the Crossfire,” not many people heard it in 1980. E.G. Records failed to give it the necessary promotion; a move EG blamed on John’s advancing age. He was 31 at the time…
Feeling it was time to clean house, John parted ways with his old management, publisher, and record company, and joined forces with Brian Lane, who had just ended a successful run with Yes. John had already started working with Atlantic Records’ A&R man John Kalodner, Kalodner was moving to the newly-formed Geffen Records, and wanted to assemble a group that would unleash a new sound across the musical landscape while preserving the finest elements of progressive rock. He found his dream line-up with Wetton, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer drummer, Carl Palmer. Together they formed Asia — a so-called progressive rock supergroup, whose self-titled debut album topped the charts in the U.S. on its way to more than eight million in worldwide copy sales and the title of Billboard magazine’s No. 1 album of 1982.
This “fab four” of progressive pop would rule radio and record sales for a scant year and a half before losing Wetton in an unceremonious shake-up just weeks before MTV’s heavily-promoted Asia in Asia concert broadcast. (Wetton was fired from Asia at the insistence of Geffen Records, ostensibly because of less-than-expected sales of the Alpha (1983) album). Wetton was brought back to Asia in 1985, with Mandy Meyer replacing Steve Howe on lead guitar, to complete Astra (1985). The album showcased a few Wetton/Downes classics such as “Rock and Roll Dream” and “Go,” but the die had been cast, and the record company’s confidence translated into lack of promotion; loss of momentum equalled lost sales and a waning interest and Asia ultimately disbanded following 1985’s little-heard Astra LP.
By the end of the ‘80s however, interest in Asia reignited in Europe. John, who had been collaborating with ex-Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, rejoined Carl Palmer, and eventually Geoff Downes, for a series of ASIA concerts that proved successful, but left John empty. To him, Asia was sounding tired and he was ready for a break. Further enticing him was a solo deal with Virgin Records. So, after wrapping up a South American tour in 1991, John temporarily bid adieu to Asia…at least that’s what he thought. (The word Hiatus was not used this time).
With renewed energy, John moved to California to focus on his solo career and began work on his “Voice Mail” album, the first album to really show off his talents for emotional, autobiographical material. Two songs from the album, “Hold Me Now” and “Battle Lines,” have become classics among Wetton fans. In fact, “Battle Lines” eventually replaced “Voice Mail” as the album’s title when British producer Bob Carruthers selected it as the theme for his film “Chasing the Deer.” To promote the album, John embarked on his first solo tour and later released a live CD called “Akustika.”
Returning to the studio in the mid 90s, John contributed tracks to tribute albums featuring the works of Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Genesis. He furthered the link to Genesis by signing on with Steve Hackett for his “Genesis Revisited” project, which culminated in several highly successful live performances in Japan.
Continued autobiographical songwriting led to 1997’s “Arkangel” album, an emotionally gritty album that would add more staples (“Arkangel,” “Emma”) to John’s live solo performances. 2000’s “Sinister” album, also entitled “Welcome to Heaven,” finished the trilogy of solo offerings. He further promoted these albums with extensive tours of Europe, Japan, and South America.
Despite being left off the tour schedule, American fans had plenty to celebrate in 2002 with the first-ever John Wetton Fan Convention in suburban Allentown, PA. Hundreds filled a local venue to spend a weekend with John, his band, and Geoff Downes, who joined John for a gala Saturday night concert which marked the first time the two had shared a stage in more than ten years.
Fans delighted in a resurgence of the Wetton/Downes team when John returned to the studio to begin work on 2003’s “Rock of Faith.” Two new songs written by John and Geoff (“I’ve Come to Take You Home” and “I Lay Down”) created a buzz among fans hoping for an eventual reunion of the original Asia line-up. That buzz roared in 2005 with the release of “iCon,” an album of original music by Wetton and Downes that the duo followed with a number of live shows. Fans cheered the fact that Wetton sounded as good in person, if not better, than he did during the heyday of Asia.
With Wetton at the top of his game once again, imagine what it would sound like if Downes, Howe, and Palmer all joined in! It indeed happened in early 2006, as the four musicians responsible for Billboard’s Number One Album of 1982 sat down in a London hotel and began the groundwork for a worldwide reunion tour. After a media blitz across the US, the tour kicked off in Rochester, NY in August of 2006. Fans quickly snapped up tickets as more and more dates were added.
Several months into the reunion tour, Asia and its fans were stunned to learn that John Wetton needed emergency heart surgery. During his hospital stay in London, worried fans flooded the switchboard with calls about his progress. Thankfully, John made a remarkably quick recovery and, after a few short weeks of resting at home, Asia returned to the road.
“I accept the fact that I might not be here tomorrow, but having said that, having come through it you feel great,” Wetton said after his heart surgery. “It gave me a completely new outlook on life, that it could all end tonight while I’m asleep, so let’s make the most of today. Let’s make the most of now.”
During this same time, John and Geoff released the second of their iCon albums, “Rubicon.” The historical meaning of the title was not lost on the musicians or their fans, as the songs reflected John and Geoff’s personal and professional decisions to sever restrictive ties of the past and forge a positive new outlook. As Asia set out on a much-anticipated second year of touring, fans demanded more. They wanted to hear what would happen if Wetton, Downes, Howe and Palmer sat down in a studio and created a new album. Fans got their wish as the band retreated to the studios at Liscombe Park and got to work on “Phoenix.” The appropriately titled project was an incredibly balanced one, fully showcasing the writing and playing of each band member. John’s thoughtful reflections on his health crisis and his healthy resurgence colored many of the lyrics on the album.
Asia wrapped up months of touring in the spring of 2008 with a series of shows in Eastern Europe, leaving John and Geoff with time to craft their third iCon album. The Phoenix tour resulted in the Live CD/DVD “Spirit of the Night”. A track from that album, An Extraordinary Life, was also selected as the theme to America’s Got Talent.
The band’s success continued with the recording of the second album of their reunion, Omega. The subsequent World Tour resulted in the release of “Resonance” which captured a live performance in Switzerland.
Wetton returned to his solo career in 2011 to record Raised in Captivity, an album of new compositions with Billy Sherwood. A band was formed to tour the UK and Japan, playing music from the new album and a career spanning back catalogue. Wetton’s other ventures during this period included the reunion of UK with Eddie Jobson and guest appearances for Cleopatra Records.
In 2012, ASIA returned to the studio to record XXX, proving that a reunion can last longer than first time around. The album cover shows the ASIA dragon 30 years later and was supported by another World Tour, taking in America, Europe and Japan.
In 2013, Steve Howe announced he was leaving ASIA and Wetton was instrumental in selecting new guitarist, Sam Coulson, to join the band. The band planned to record a new studio album, Valkyrie, which was released as Gravitas in 2014.
In 2016 Wetton went public with his colon cancer diagnosis, which forced him to pull out of Asia’s scheduled tour dates with Journey so he could undergo chemotherapy, which sadly did not turn out to heal him.
John Wetton, the bassist and singer for Asia, as well as a former member of King Crimson and U.K., died on January 31, 2017 at the age of 67, after a battle with colon cancer.
“With the passing of my good friend and musical collaborator, John Wetton, the world loses yet another musical giant,” wrote Asia drummer Carl Palmer in a statement. “John was a gentle person who created some of the most lasting melodies and lyrics in modern popular music. As a musician, he was both brave and innovative, with a voice that took the music of Asia to the top of the charts around the world. His ability to triumph over alcohol abuse made him an inspiration to many who have also fought that battle. For those of us who knew him and worked with him, his valiant struggle against cancer was a further inspiration. I will miss his talent, his sense of humor and his infectious smile.
May you ride easy, my old friend.”
“He will be remembered as one of the world’s finest musical talents, and I for one of many was wholly blessed by his influence,” added Downes in a lengthy post. “It was a massive privilege for me to have worked with this genius so closely on our numerous projects together over the years. His bass playing was revolutionary. His voice was from the gods. His compositions — out of this world. His sense of melody and harmony — unreal. He was literally a ‘special one.'”
In the short term, Wetton is scheduled to be replaced for the Journey tour by Yes veteran Billy Sherwood; over the long term, Downes has signaled a determination to continue Asia in honor of his longtime partner. “It is the end of an era for all of us,” he wrote. “But we will soldier on — the music of John Wetton needs to be heard loud and clear from the rooftops.”
AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AN INTERACTIVE CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE & MUSIC OF JOHN WETTON JUNE 17, 2017 AT THE BERGEN PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
ASIA and their fans will pay tribute in a special concert to the late singer / songwriter, John Wetton, who spearheaded the legendary British band. The event is called “An Extraordinary Life” and will be a fully interactive celebration whereby fans can contribute to the remembrances of the acclaimed musician. It will be held on Saturday, June 17th at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, NJ.
John Wetton, who was the lead vocalist, bassist and co-writer with the iconic group, lost his brave fight against cancer on 31st January 2017, just as the band was about to embark on a four month tour as special guests of Journey, recreating the days when both bands were world best sellers.
“An Extraordinary Life”, a reference to one of the band’s most popular songs, will pay tribute to John. Special guest Billy Sherwood of YES is filling in as bassist and vocalist. Also appearing will be current ASIA members Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes, and Sam Coulson. The group will do a full set of ASIA music, as well as some of the best loved songs from the members’ previous super-groups, bands such as King Crimson; YES; The Buggles; and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
In addition to the ASIA performance, the evening will be highlighted with rare video clips of John and the band, historical footage and fan remembrances of John and his music. ASIA fans will be encouraged to send in written or video accounts of their love of the music and the man behind much of it. Still photos of fans with John are also welcomed and will be projected onto the screen. Fans who send media to the band in advance will be balloted to share memories on the evening.
January 23, 2017 – Bobby Freeman was born on June 13, 1940 in Alameda County and raised in San Francisco.
By his early teens Bobby was not only literally singing on street corners in the city’s Fillmore District but also spending every hour not in school dancing at the Booker T Washington community centre. He got his first taste of the record business as a tenor with a local vocal group led by Alvin Thomas; the Romancers, who made two singles for Dootsie Williams’ Dootone label in 1955. The group cut a further single for the local Bay Tone label (on which Freeman does not appear) before splintering, while Bobby formed another team, the Vocaleers. Having learned piano from Thomas, Freeman also began to write his own material in the mould of Little Richard and Fats Domino.
Itinerant deejay Jim “Specs”Hawthorne caught the group at a football rally at Mission High School in early 1958 and called for an audition at Sound Recorders. The rest of the Vocaleers weren’t interested, and so it was just Freeman and a bongo-playing pal who showed up at Sound Recorders in San Francisco. “Hawthorne asked, do you have any original songs, and I said yeah,” Bobby recounted to me in 2000. “He said OK, when I do this [points], start doing the material. There were some other songs, ‘Follow The Rainbow’, ‘Responsible’, and then we got into ‘Do You Wanna Dance’. Where the break is, the song was over. But Hawthorne wanted to get his money’s worth with whatever he was being charged, so he told me, do some more. That’s why the song starts up again – it wasn’t designed that way. But now, they call that a hook.”Continue reading Bobby Freeman 1/2017
January 21, 2017 – Walter “Junie” Morrison was born sometime in 1954 in Dayton, Ohio. The exact date has not been found as if intentionally hidden by his later alter ego J.S. Theracon, showing up on an infrequent basis during his life, mostly when contractual obligations got in the way of making music.
Morrison sang and played piano as a child in church, soon learning a range of other instruments such as guitar , bass, drums and brasses, making gospel a foundation for his music. He soon became a student school choir director and orchestra conductor at Roosevelt High School in Dayton. In 1970, in his mid-teens, after graduating from high school, he joined the funk band the Ohio Players.
He became their lead singer, trumpeter and keyboardist, and soon their musical director and producer, involved in some of their major hits and the albums Pain, Pleasure, and Ecstasy. He was largely responsible for writing and arranging the band’s 1973 hit single, “Funky Worm“. The band members nicknamed him Junie, he told the Red Bull Music Academy, because they were older. “It took quite a while before they let me forget my age and lack of experience in the ‘ways of the world,’ ” he said.Continue reading Junie Morrison 1/2017
January 21, 2017 – Maggie Roche was born on October 26, 1951 in Park Ridge, New Jersey. Together with her sister Terre, she dropped out of Park Ridge High School to tour as a duo in the late sixties. Maggie wrote most of the songs, with Terre contributing to a few. The sisters got a big real break when Paul Simon brought them in as backup singers on his 1973 #2 album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. In return they got his support and an appearance by the Oakridge Boys, when they recorded their only album as a duo in 1975 titled Seductive Reasoning.
A year later their youngest sister Suzzy completed the Irish singer/songwriting trio The Roches. Maggie was their main songwriter in the beginning as they became increasingly known for their unusual harmonies, quirky lyrics and comedic stage presence. Continue reading Maggie Roche 1/2017
January 20, 2017 – Ronald ‘Bingo’ Mungo was born April 20, 1940 in Alleghany County, Pennsylvania. Just out of high school he joined the doo wop group The Marcels, named after a popular 1950s hairstyle ‘the Marcel wave’.
The group formed in 1959 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and signed to Colpix Records with lead Cornelius Harp, bass Fred Johnson, Gene Bricker, Ron Mundy, and Richard Knauss.
In 1961, the Marcels recorded a new version of the ballad “Blue Moon” that began with the bass singer saying, “bomp-baba-bomp” and “dip-da-dip”. A demo tape sent to Colpix Records landed them at New York’s RCA Studios in February 1961 to record, among other things, a rockin’ doo-wop version of the Rodgers and Hart classic “Blue Moon” with an intro they had been using on their take of The Cadillacs’ “Zoom.” As legend has it, the day he heard it, New York DJ Murray the K played “Blue Moon” 26 times in a four-hour show. In March 1961, the song knocked Elvis Presley off the top of the Billboard chart, becoming the first No. 1 rock ’n’ roll hit out of Pittsburgh. Continue reading Ronald ‘Bingo’ Mundy 1/2017
January 13, 2017 – Richie Ingui (The Soul Survivors) was born the November 15, 1947 in Manhattan, New York.
The predecessor group was formed in New York City in 1965 by Richie and his brother Charlie Ingui, along with Kenny Jeremiah. They first played together under the name The Dedications. (Jeremiah released several singles under this name in 1962 and 1964). They adopted the name Soul Survivors in 1965 and signed to Philadelphia label Crimson Records, who put them in touch with Gamble & Huff. “Expressway to Your Heart” was a #1 hit regionally in Philadelphia and New York in the fall of 1967, and the tune reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 nationally. “Expressway to Your Heart” spent 15 weeks in the charts and sold over one million copies. Continue reading Richie Ingui 1/2017
January 8, 2017 – Peter Eardley Sarstedt was born on Dec 10, 1941 in Delhi, India where his parents Albert and Coral Sarstedt, worked in the British civil service as India was still a British possession in 1942.
The following year, his parents moved the family to Kurseong near Darjeeling, in the shadow of Mt. Everest, where Albert took over the management of a tea plantation. Peter Sarstedt was one of six children and, like his siblings, was educated at boarding schools favored by the British living in India for much of his childhood. From the time he was five years old, the family relocated to Calcutta, and later — amid the turmoil and uncertainty following independence in 1947 — the family finally moved to England in 1954. Albert Sarstedt had passed away during the extended preparation for the relocation, and it was a truly new existence that they began in South London that year. Continue reading Peter Sarstedt 1/2017
January 6, 2017 – Sylvester Potts (the Contours) was born on January 22, 1938 in Detroit and attended North Eastern High, the same school where Martha Reeves, Mary Wilson, and Bobby Rogers were educated at.
His love of music and the excitement he got from performing, made him once say he wanted to die on stage. In the fall of 1960, a Detroit group called The Contours (consisting of Joe Billingslea, Billy Gordon, Billy Hoggs, Leroy Fair and Hubert Johnson) auditioned for Berry Gordy’s Motown Records. Gordy turned the act down, prompting the group to pay a visit to the home of group member Hubert Johnson’s cousin, R&B star and Gordy associate Jackie Wilson. Wilson in turn got The Contours a second audition with Gordy, at which they sang the same songs they had at the first audition, the same way they claim, but this time were signed to a seven-year contract.Continue reading Sylvester Potts 1/2017
December 25, 2016 – George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in Finchley, North London, England on June 25, 1963. His father, was a Greek Cypriot restaurateur, who moved to England in the 1950s and his mother, was a dancer. Michael spent the majority of his childhood in Kingsbury, London, in the home his parents bought soon after his birth.
While he was in his early teens, the family moved to Radlett, Hertfordshire where he attended Bushey Meads School in the neighbouring town of Bushey, and where he also befriended his future Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley. Continue reading George Michael 12/2016
December 7, 2016 – Gregory Stuart “Greg” Lake was born on 10 November 1947 in Poole, Dorset near Bournemouth, England. Lake was given his first guitar at the age of 12 and took lessons from a local tutor called Don Strike.
first learned to play guitar at age 12. After 12 months of guitar lessons, Lake ended his tuition as he wished to learn songs by The Shadows but his instructor “wouldn’t have any of it.” After he left school, Lake worked as a draughtsman for a short period of time before he joined The Shame, where he is featured on their single “Don’t Go Away Little Girl”, written by Janis Ian. Lake then became a member of The Gods, which he described as “a very poor training college”.
In the 1960s, Lake formed a close friendship with guitarist Robert Fripp, who was also from Dorset and had shared the same guitar teacher. When Fripp formed King Crimson in 1969, he chose Lake to be the singer and bassist. Lake had been a regular guitarist for 11 years and this change marked Lake’s first time playing the instrument.
“I am both a bass guitarist and guitarist,” Greg explains. “A lot of the really good bass players also play guitar. McCartney and Sting for example both play guitar and I certainly grew up on it. But, because King Crimson didn’t need two guitarists, I took over playing the bass.”
In taking on the instrument, he also pioneered a new way of playing it. “I derived a great deal of enjoyment playing bass partly – I think – because I played it in a different way from most people at the time. The style I developed was a more percussive and more sustained approach, which almost certainly came from all my years on guitar. I was frustrated by the normal dull sound of bass guitars at the time and was searching for a more expressive sound. I discovered the key was to use the wire wound bass strings, which have far more sustain, rather like the low end of a Steinway Grand Piano. I think I was the first bass player to really use them in this way.” However, it was the acoustic guitar that provided the setting for the ballads ELP and Lake became famous for. Lake wrote and sang: “C’est La Vie,” “From the Beginning,” “Still…You Turn Me On,” “Watching Over You,” and “Lucky Man.” One of the most famous Christmas songs ever was penned by Greg Lake. “I Believe in Father Christmas” has been covered by artists ranging from classical to rock, among them Irish rockers U2, actress and singer Sarah Brightman, and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess. Greg has performed it with Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson frequently as a fundraiser. Greg Lake composed ballads, he says, so he could play the guitar with ELP and still contribute the electric bass that paired so well with Emerson’s fiery keyboards and Palmer’s explosive drums.
Though Peter Sinfield was the band’s lyricist, Lake had some involvement in the lyrics for their debut album In the Court of the Crimson King. After their contracted producer Tony Clarke walked away from the project, Lake produced the album. Released in October 1969, the album an immediate commercial and critical success, as Lake recalled: “There was this huge wave of response. The audiences were really into us because we were an underground thing – the critics loved us because we offered something fresh”. He won worldwide acclaim as lead vocalist, bass guitarist and producer.
The album featured such songs as 21st Century Schizoid Man. The album set a standard for progressive rock and received a glowing, well-publicized testimonial from The Who’s Pete Townshend, who called it “an uncanny masterpiece”.
King Crimson supported In the Court of the Crimson King with a tour of the UK and the US, with some of the shows featuring prog-rock band The Nice as the opening act. During the US leg, Lake struck up a friendship with Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson and the two shared similar musical interests and talked about forming a new group.
When King Crimson returned to the UK in early 1970, Lake agreed to sing on the band’s second album, In the Wake of Poseidon, and appear on the music television show Top of the Pops with them, performing the song “Cat Food”.
After returning from the USA tour, founding member Mike Giles quit, but Lake stuck around long enough to sing on their second album, In the Wake of Poseidon, which was criticized for treading old ground, but refused to work with the band on the promotional tours.
He was approached by Keith Emerson to be the bass player and singer for his new band. Introduced to Atomic Rooster and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown drummer Carl Palmer, by Robert Stigwood, very soon thereafter they formed Emerson Lake and Palmer and made their live debut at the Guildhall in Plymouth in 1970 before giving a career-making performance at the Isle of Wight Festival. That special concert propelled them on their path to become one of the world’s first “super groups.”
The 1971 debut album, Emerson Lake and Palmer went platinum and underscored their Super Group status. It was produced by Lake and featured a song Greg had written while still in school: “Lucky Man.” “Lucky Man,” performed on acoustic guitar, would become an iconic song for the band and a popular classic on radio. The song has become synonymous with Greg Lake and the title was chosen as the title for Greg Lake’s 2012 autobiography.
Unusually, the band combined heavy rock riffs with a classical influence and created a unique live theatrical performance which stretched the imagination and enthralled audiences. In the next several years they scored hit albums with Pictures at an Exhibition (a full rock-ified version of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s famous 1874 piano suite), Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery – many of them produced by Lake himself. They were commercially successful in the UK with five albums charting in the Top 10, while Lake contributed acoustic and electric guitar work to Emerson Lake & Palmer, and his voice had a wider and more diverse range than anything The Nice had recorded.
Tarkus, released in 1971, featured an opening track inspired by the fictional Tarkus character – a half-tank, half-armadillo creature that would appear on stage at gigs – that lasted more than 20 minutes. Emerson and Lake conflicted between Emerson’s interest in complex, classically-influenced music and Lake’s more straightforward rock tastes. During the making of Tarkus, Lake initially rejected the title track, but was persuaded to record it following a band meeting with management, which ended in the addition of an original Lake tune, “Battlefield”, into the suite.
In 1975, while still a member of ELP, Lake achieved solo chart success when his single, “I Believe in Father Christmas”, reached number two on the UK Singles Chart. It has become a Yuletide perennial.
The band went on to enjoy chart success in 1977 with their version of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.
ELP’s ambitious light shows and on-stage theatrics were the epitome of ’70s rock excess, and several punk acts cited ELP as one of the bands they were reacting against.
But the band sold more than 48 million records, and Lake continued to be an influential and popular touring musician even after the band wound down in the late 1970s and split in 1979, following the unsuccessful album Love Beach. The group reformed for a number of years in the mid-1990s before permanently disbanding, bar a one-off gig in 2010.
Lake briefly joined Asia in 1983, replacing fellow King Crimson alumnus John Wetton, along with Palmer, members of Yes and King Crimson—before joining with Emerson to form the slightly poppier ELP reboot Emerson, Lake and Powell (Cozy Powell on drums) in the late 80s, featuring the Hot 100 hit “Touch and Go.”
He also formed partnerships on stage, and off, in performances, writing, recording, and productions with musicians whose brilliance matches his own. Solo tours and recordings have been extremely successful as he continues to recreate hits, add to his vast repertoire and raise the bar for others in the industry. His collaborations are many and impressive: Sheila E; Ringo Starr (joining Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band to great acclaim and with great enjoyment); Led Zepplin’s Robert Plant; The Who’s Roger Daltrey (which led to a guest recording on a hit Who single); Procol Harum’s Gary Booker, and Gary Moore. Greg has joined his friend Ian Anderson onstage with Jethro Tull and performed with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Greg also completed a successful and critically acclaimed tour in 2010. That tour was the foundation for the unique and inventive format which relies on audience participation. It preceded the reunion performance of Emerson Lake and Palmer as the headliners of the first and much celebrated and awarded High Voltage Festival.
2012 sees a reimagining and expansion of his intimate, interactive musical event format with his autobiographical tour, Songs of a Lifetime, full of drama, pathos, and humor. That show was inspired by the writing of Greg Lake’s greatly anticipated autobiography, Lucky Man. Available in both audio (read by the author) and hard cover formats, the book is not a recording of the show; it is completely different.
Greg Lake was a formidable producer in his own right. He was one of the driving forces behind the now legendary Manticore Records, which he says, was built “with the noble ideal of helping other progressive artists, music we thought worth supporting, that weren’t getting help from the majors.”
Lake’s inventive production shaped the best selling ELP albums and his solo work.
In 2005, Lake toured Germany and the United Kingdom with his “Greg Lake Band” which included David Arch, Florian Opahle, Trevor Barry on bass, and Brett Morgan. Lake performed “Karn Evil 9” with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at several shows. He was a special guest on the album Night Castle (2009).
In July 2010, Lake joined Emerson and Palmer for what was to be the final live concert by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, at the High Voltage rock festival, in Victoria Park, London. The entire concert was later released as the double-CD live album, High Voltage, and subsequently on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Most recently Greg worked with arranger, composer and keyboard artist David Arch (whose vast credentials include scoring and playing now-classic movies including three Harry Potter films, Star Wars, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Notting Hill).
On 9 January 2016, he was awarded an honorary degree in music and lyrics composition by Conservatorio Nicolini in Piacenza, Italy, the first degree awarded by the conservatory.
Greg Lake passed on after a long and troubled fight with cancer on December 7, 2016. He was 69 years old.
“The greatest music is made for love, not for money,” Lake is quoted as saying on his official website. “The early ELP albums were pioneering because there is no standing still; time is always moving forward.” Greg says “There is a common thread throughout all the music. The forms may be different, but each one to some degree draws upon inspiration from the past. I am as proud to have been as influenced by people like Elvis and Little Richard as I am by composers like Copeland and Prokofiev and I’m honored when other musicians regard me as one of their inspirations.
“I love acoustic guitars. They’re delicate and light and yet at the same time are unbelievably powerful. They are really a strange instrument from that point of view, but there is something very special about them,” he explains. “You just have to look at some of the truly great songs written on acoustic guitar – “Scarborough Fair,” “Forever Young,” “Yesterday” – truly iconic songs that all came from a small piece of wood with thin steel strings tied to each end.” The acoustics worked perfectly with Lake’s “golden” voice, which Record Collector magazine calls “extraordinary, altering comfortably between angelic and magisterial.” Lake’s remarkable voice also powered ELP’s more electric pieces such as Karn Evil #9, one of the world’s most beloved songs. The opening line “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…” is an international favourite, globally used as a television theme. To date Emerson Lake and Palmer has sold over 48 million records. Lake produced Tarkus, Pictures at an Exhibition, Trilogy, Brain Salad Surgery, Works Vol. 1 and 2, and two different live albums. All went platinum and featured a series of hit singles , most written and all sung by Greg, who credits their success to his constant search for perfection and his heart.
“The greatest music is made for love, not for money. The early ELP albums were pioneering because there is no standing still; time is always moving forward.” It wasn’t just the albums, it was the performances. The band filled arenas and stadiums in record breaking numbers. They toured the world with an enormous assembly of technicians, musicians and artists to realize their spellbinding shows.
November 12, 2016 – Leon Russell was born Claude Russell Bridges in Lawton, Okla., on April 2, 1941. An injury to his upper vertebrae at birth caused a slight paralysis on his right side that would shape his music, since a delayed reaction time forced him to think ahead about what his right hand would play.
He started classical piano lessons when he was 4 years old, played baritone horn in his high school marching band and also learned trumpet. At 14 he started gigging in Oklahoma; since it was a dry state at the time, he could play clubs without being old enough to drink. Soon after he graduated from high school, Jerry Lee Lewis hired him and his band to back him on tour for two months.
He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s and found club work and then studio work; he also learned to play guitar. Calling himself Leon Russell — the name Leon came from a friend who lent him an ID so he could play California club dates while underage — he drew on both his classical training and his Southern roots, playing everything from standards to surf-rock, from million-sellers to pop throwaways. He was glimpsed on television as a member of the house band for the prime-time rock show “Shindig!,” the Shindogs, in the mid-1960s.
In 1967, he built a home studio and began working with the guitarist Marc Benno as the Asylum Choir, which released its debut album in 1968. He also started a record label, Shelter, in 1969 with producer Denny Cordell. Russell drew more recognition as a co-producer, arranger and musician on Joe Cocker’s second album, “Joe Cocker!,” which included Russell’s song “Delta Lady.”
By the time Mr. Russell released his first solo album in 1970, he had already played on hundreds of songs as one of the top studio musicians in Los Angeles. Mr. Russell was in Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound Orchestra, and he played sessions for Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, the Ventures and the Monkees, among many others. He is heard on “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds, “A Taste of Honey” by Herb Alpert, “Live With Me” by the Rolling Stones and all of the Beach Boys’ early albums, including “Pet Sounds.”
When Joe Cocker’s Grease Band fell apart days before an American tour, Russell assembled the big, boisterous band — including three drummers and a 10-member choir — that was named Mad Dogs & Englishmen. Its 1970 double live album and a tour film became a showcase for Russell as well as Cocker; the album reached No. 2 on the Billboard album chart. Russell also released his first solo album in 1970; it included “A Song for You” and had studio appearances from Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, two ex-Beatles and three Rolling Stones. But Russell’s second album, “Leon Russell and the Shelter People,” fared better commercially; it reached No. 17 on the Billboard chart.
With a top hat on his head, hair well past his shoulders, a long beard, an Oklahoma drawl in his voice and his fingers splashing two-fisted barrelhouse piano chords, Russell had his widest visibility as the 1970s began. His songs also became hits for others, among them “Superstar” (written with Bonnie Bramlett) for the Carpenters, “Delta Lady” for Joe Cocker and “This Masquerade” for George Benson. More than 100 acts have recorded “A Song for You,” a song Mr. Russell said he wrote in 10 minutes.He played the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden with George Harrison and Bob Dylan; he produced and played on Dylan’s songs “When I Paint My Masterpiece” and “Watching the River Flow.” He toured with the Rolling Stones and with his own band. His third album, “Carney,” went to No. 2 with the hit “Tight Rope.” In 1973 his “Leon Live” album reached the Top 10; he also recorded his first album of country songs under the pseudonym Hank Wilson. The fledgling Gap Band, also from Oklahoma, backed Russell in 1974 on his album “Stop All That Jazz.” His 1975 album “Will O’ the Wisp” included what would be his last Top 20 pop hit, “Lady Blue.”
But he continued to work. He made duet albums with his wife at the time, Mary Russell (formerly Mary McCreary). And he collaborated with Willie Nelson for a double LP in 1979 of pop and country standards, “One for the Road,” which sold half a million copies.
The music Leon Russell made on his own, put a scruffy, casual surface on rich musical hybrids, interweaving soul, country, blues, jazz, gospel, pop and classical music. Like Willie Nelson, who would collaborate with him, and Ray Charles, whose 1993 recording of “A Song for You” won a Grammy Award, Russell made a broad, sophisticated palette of American music sound down-home and natural.
In 1979 Mr. Russell married Janet Lee Constantine, who gave him six children: Blue, Teddy Jack, Tina Rose, Sugaree, Honey and Coco. For the next decades, Mr. Russell delved into various idioms, mostly recording for independent labels. He toured and recorded with the New Grass Revival, adding his piano and voice to their string-band lineup. He made more country albums as Hank Wilson. He recorded blues, Christmas songs, gospel songs and instrumentals. In 1992 songwriter and pianist Bruce Hornsby, who had long cited Russell’s influence, sought to rejuvenate Russell’s rock career by producing the album “Anything Can Happen,” but it drew little notice. Mr. Russell continued to tour for die-hard fans who called themselves Leon Lifers.
A call in 2009 from Elton John, whom Russell had supported in the early 1970s, led to the making of “The Union” — which also had guest appearances by Neil Young and Brian Wilson — and a 10-date tour together in 2010. Russell also sat in on Mr. Costello’s 2010 album, “National Ransom.” Then Russell, who had bought a new bus, returned to the road on his own.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. At the ceremony, Elton John called him “the master of space and time” and added, “He sang, he wrote and he played just how I wanted to do it.”
His website announced on November 13 in the early morning hours that Leon Russell has passed on in his sleep. Russell had significant health difficulties over the past five years. In 2010, he underwent surgery for a brain fluid leak and was treated for heart failure. In July of this year, he suffered a heart attack and was scheduled for further surgery.
October 23, 2016 – Peter Jozzeppi “Pete” Burns was born on August 5, 1959 in Port Sunlight, Cheshire, England. His mother was the daughter of a German Jew and had escaped Nazi Germany before the war. She met Burns’s father, Francis Burns, then a soldier, in Vienna, from where they returned together to Liverpool.
Burns described his upbringing as unconventional. His mother was an alcoholic, and attempted suicide several times when Burns was growing up.
“As far as parental skills go in the conventional, normal world, she certainly wasn’t a mother, but she’s the best human being that I’ve ever had the privilege of being in the company of, and I know that she had a special plan for me,” he said. “She called me ‘Star Baby’ and she knew that there was something special in me.”
“I lived, I know now, a very solitary childhood. I had nothing to compare it with, so it seemed fine to me. I rarely left the house. I didn’t need to; I had a secret world I shared with my mother. In those early years, I couldn’t possibly have wished for a better friend. She gave me the power to dream, the power to remove myself from where I might not be having any fun, and go inside my head and be somewhere else.”
Burns spoke German until he was five, which resulted in local children spending days outside his door shouting “Heil Hitler”. According to Burns, school was “almost non-existent”, and his mother frequently kept him away so he could spend the day with her. He dropped out of school at the age of 14 after being summoned to the headmaster’s office because he had arrived at school with “no eyebrows, Harmony-red hair, and one gigantic earring”. At around this age he was raped by a man who took him for a drive; Burns later recalled that he wasn’t upset by this, though he knew that people would expect him to be. He stated that he already knew the man, who drove him to Raby Mere and threatened him with an air gun.
While building his career, Burns worked at a Liverpool record shop, Probe Records, which became a meeting place for local musicians. Burns was notorious for his maltreatment of customers, sometimes throwing their purchases at them because he disapproved of their selection. Burns first performed as a member of the short-lived Mystery Girls, who gave one performance only and comprised Burns, Pete Wylie and Julian Cope, who stated that Burns’s performing style drew on that of the transgender punk performer Wayne County. Burns was next in Nightmares in Wax, a proto-Goth group that formed in Liverpool in 1979; they released a 12″ single, “Black Leather”, and a 7″ single, “Birth of a Nation”, each containing the same three songs, but never produced an album. In 1980, after replacing several members, Burns changed their name to Dead or Alive.
Dead Or Alive’s first album, Sophisticated Boom Boom (1984), had paved the way for the group’s success by reaching the UK Top 30 and yielding a Top 40 single with a cover of KC & The Sunshine Band’s That’s the Way (I Like It). The following year they released Youthquake, which was produced by the upcoming hit-makers Stock, Aitken and Waterman and not only contained You Spin Me Round, which became a number one hit in the UK, and a top 20 hit in the US, but also gave them a No 9 album in the UK and reached 31 on the US Billboard chart.
His heyday as a pop star coincided with the rise of the “New Pop” epitomised by Boy George and Culture Club, Wham! and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. With his ambiguous sexuality, androgynous look and spectacular fashion choices, Burns, after several years of trying, found himself in the right place at the right time. “Everything goes round in circles and luckily we’ve got the current sound of the moment,” he commented in 1984, a remark pointing to his inherent scepticism about fame, fashion and pop music.
Despite further hits with Lover Come Back to Me, In Too Deep and Brand New Lover, the huge success of You Spin Me Round was not to be repeated. Dead Or Alive continued through the 80s, but by the end of the decade had been reduced to the core duo of Burns and the drummer Steve Coy. Their album Nude (1989) gave them a belated chart fling by delivering a No 1 hit on the US dance charts with Come Home With Me Baby, while Turn Around & Count 2 Ten reached No 1 in Japan.
During the 90s, Dead Or Alive released several albums in various territories outside the UK, with limited success. In 1994 Burns sang and co-wrote the single Sex Drive for the Italian techno act Glam, and that same year Burns and Coy recorded David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel, calling themselves International Chrysis. Fragile (2000) was Dead Or Alive’s final album of new material, though some tracks were remixes and cover versions. The new century brought the compilations Evolution: The Hits (2003) and That’s The Way I Like It: The Best of Dead Or Alive (2010).
Burns’s decision to embrace reality TV came after he had spent years protesting that he would never do it (“I still have a career, and I don’t really do reality,” he said in 2003), but his outsized personality and caustic manner made him a natural. The sight of him dancing with the politician George Galloway, both of them dressed in lycra leotards, on Celebrity Big Brother was unforgettable for any number of reasons. Burns triggered further controversy on Big Brother when he claimed to be wearing a coat made of illegal gorilla skin, though tests proved it was made from the skin of the colobus monkey, using pelts that pre-dated legislation outlawing their use.
In 2007 Burns appeared on Big Brother’s Big Mouth and Celebrity Wife Swap, where he swapped places with Leah Newman, partner of the footballer Neil “Razor” Ruddock. Also on the show was Burns’s husband, Michael Simpson, whom he married in 2006 after his divorce from the stylist Lynne Corlett whom he had married in 1978. The three remained on good terms. In the series Pete’s PA, on Living TV, contestants competed to become Burns’s assistant.
In 2015, Burns was evicted from his London flat after running up £34,000 in rent arrears. Last month, Burns appeared on Channel 5’s Celebrity Botched Up Bodies and talked frankly about his horrific experiences with cosmetic surgery, which had given him near-fatal blood clots and pulmonary embolisms as he underwent further procedures to try to correct mistakes.
In the end Pete Burns later became a living advertisement for the dangers of plastic surgery. Burns, who died of a heart attack aged 57, on October 23, 2016, claimed to have undergone 300 surgical procedures, many of them in an attempt to repair previous botched efforts.
Pete Burns defied categorization and challenged those who pitied or sneered. The chaos, flamboyance and craven attention-seeking were matched by genuine eccentricity and intelligence. And despite bouts of depression and years of agony and ill health as the result of a botched lip filler operation, he appeared to be entirely lacking in self-pity. As he explained after the publication of his 2006 autobiography, Freak Unique, “I’m not thinking ‘Why me?’ but ‘Why NOT me?’ ”
A statement released by his partner, Michael Simpson, his ex-wife, Lynne Corlett, and his manager and former band member, Steve Coy, read: “All of his family and friends are devastated by the loss of our special star. He was a true visionary, a beautiful talented soul and will be missed by all those who loved and appreciated everything he was and all of the wonderful memories he has left us with.”
A couple of years after divorcing his wife Lynne and marrying his partner Michael Simpson, they separated and Burns remarked: “I view marriage as a sacred institution. I think two men naturally are predators. Gay relationships are a commercial break, not a whole movie. The relationships I’m aware of, apart from one … it’s as though there’s some kind of emotional inadequacy or narcissism, where they feel emotionally inadequate and need more validation, from either a father figure or a mirror image of themselves.I’m not condemning it, I think it needs researching and help.”
September 24, 2016 – Stanley “Buckwheat Zydeco” Dural Jr. (Buckwheat Zydeco) was born in Lafayette, Louisiana on November 14, 1947. He acquired his nickname as a youth, because, with his braided hair, he looked like the character Buckwheat from Our Gang/The Little Rascals movies. His father, a farmer, was an accomplished amateur traditional Creole accordion player, but young Dural preferred listening to and playing rhythm and blues.
Dural became proficient at the organ, and by the late 1950s he was backing Joe Tex, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and many others.
In 1971, he founded Buckwheat & the Hitchhikers, a funk band that he led for five years before switching to zydeco. They were a local sensation and found success with the single, “It’s Hard To Get,” recorded for a local Louisiana-based label.
He began backing Clifton Chenier, one of the most legendary zydeco performers. Though not a traditional zydeco fan when growing up, Buckwheat accepted an invitation in 1976 to join Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band as organist. He quickly discovered the popularity of zydeco music, and marveled at the effect the music had on the audience. “Everywhere, people young and old just loved zydeco music,” Dural says. “I had so much fun playing that first night with Clifton. We played for four hours and I wasn’t ready to quit.”
Dural’s relationship with the legendary Chenier led him to take up the accordion in 1978. After practicing for a year, he felt ready to start his own band under the name Buckwheat Zydeco. They debuted with One for the Road in 1979 on the Blues Unlimited label and then recorded for New Orleans’ Black Top label. In 1983, they were nominated for a Grammy Award for Turning Point and in 1985 for Waitin’ For My Ya Ya after switching to the Rounder Records label. The band then signed to Island Records, becoming the first zydeco act on a major label, and released On a Night Like This, a critically acclaimed album that was nominated for a Grammy as well. The band appeared in the movie The Big Easy in 1987.
In 1988, Eric Clapton invited the band to open his North American tour as well as his 12-night stand at London’s Royal Albert Hall. As even more doors opened, Buckwheat found himself sharing stages and/or recording with Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, David Hidalgo, Dwight Yoakam, Paul Simon, Ry Cooder, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and many others, including indie music stalwarts Yo La Tengo on the soundtrack to the Bob Dylan bio-pic, I’m Not There. His music has been featured in films including The Waterboy, The Big Easy, Fletch Lives and Hard Target. BET’s show Comic View, used his live version of “What You Gonna Do?” as theme music for the program’s 10th anniversary “Pardi Gras” season. He also wrote and performed the theme music for the PBS television series Pierre Franey’s Cooking In America. Buckwheat won an Emmy for his music in the CBS TV movie, Pistol Pete: The Life And Times Of Pete Maravich.
Buckwheat Zydeco has played many major music festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (numerous times), Newport Folk Festival, Summerfest, San Diego Street Scene, Bumbershoot, Montreux Jazz Festival, the Voodoo Experience, and countless others.
The band performed at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics to a worldwide audience of three billion people. Buckwheat performed for President Clinton twice, celebrating both of his inaugurations. The band appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, CNN, The Today Show, MTV, NBC News, CBS Morning News, and National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage.
During the 1990s and early 2000s Buckwheat recorded for his own Tomorrow Recordings label and maintained an extensive touring schedule. Buckwheat Zydeco’s latest album, Lay Your Burden Down, was released on May 5, 2009 on the Alligator Records label. It was produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and included guest appearances by guitarists Warren Haynes and Sonny Landreth, Trombone Shorty, JJ Grey and Berlin himself. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award. Sonicboomers.com says, “The CD is a vastly entertaining and appealingly diverse package. Bandleader Dural remains an ever-engaging vocalist and a whiz on any keyboard he touches. So, for Buckwheat Zydeco fans, Lay Your Burden Down finds the maestro and his group near the top of their form. For listeners with less interest in the ol’ accordion get-down, the collection supplies enough interesting wrinkles to get the good times rolling.”
Buckwheat’s especially powerful and haunting version of the classic “Cryin’ in the Streets” appears on the benefit album for Hurricane Katrina recovery, Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast.
Buckwheat’s version of Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy’s “When the Levee Breaks” appeared on 2011’s Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection. It originally appeared on the 2009 Buckwheat Zydeco album Lay Your Burden Down.
Buckwheat Zydeco died after a battle with lung cancer on September 24, 2016.
“Whether performing on the final episode of ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,’ or on the Letterman show many times, or in the closing ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics, or at President Clinton’s inaugurals, or with Eric Clapton, Paul Simon or Willie Nelson, Stanley Dural Jr.’s musical genius and genuine warm, welcoming personality carried the banner for zydeco and Southwest Louisiana’s Creole community.
He once said: ‘Life is a tour, and it’s all about how you decide to get where you’re going…I don’t want to ignore the bad things in life, but I want to emphasize the good things.’
Buck made everything and everyone he touched better and happier.
Since 1979, Buckwheat Zydeco has been one of the most celebrated bands to come out of Louisiana. The group has shared the stage and studio with Eric Clapton, U2, the Boston Pops Orchestra, B.B. King and other renowned names.
Dural and band performed in the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, which reached a TV audience of 3 billion people. They played at both inaugurations for former President Bill Clinton and countless commercials and TV shows, such as “The Late Show with David Letterman” and the last episode of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
Last November, Dural and band members were part of an all-star tribute to country music legend Willie Nelson, who received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The TV special aired on PBS stations across the country.
Buckwheat won the Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album Grammy for the 2009 CD, “Lay Your Burden Down,” which featured Trombone Shorty, Sonny Landreth and other stars. The band received an Emmy for the music in the CBS TV movie from 2001, “Pistol Pete: The Life and Times of Pete Maravich.”
March 10, 2016 – Keith Noel Emerson (Emerson,Lake,Palmer ELP) was born in Todmorden, Yorkshire on 2 November 1944. His family had been evacuated there from the south coast of England during the Second World War. He grew up in Goring-by-Sea, in the borough of the seaside resort of Worthing, West Sussex and attended West Tarring School. His parents were musically inclined and arranged for him to take piano lessons starting at the age of 8. His father, Noel, was an amateur pianist, and thought that Emerson would benefit most as a player from being versatile and being able to read music. However, he never received any formal musical training, and described his piano teachers as being “local little old ladies”. He learned western classical music, which largely inspired his own style, combining it with jazz and rock themes. Continue reading Keith Emerson 3/2016
February 15, 2016 – Vanity was born Denise Katrina Matthews on January 4, 1959 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Helga Senyk and Levia James Matthews. Her mother was of Polish, German, and Jewish descent and was born in Germany, while her father was of African-American descent and was born in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Growing up in Niagara Falls, God wasn’t her priority. She was more concerned with hiding bruises from her classmates at Princess Margaret elementary school. Routinely beaten by an alcoholic father, Matthews rarely discussed her home life with friends. “She didn’t really like to,” recalls Debbie Rossi, one of Matthews’ best friends at Princess Margaret and later Stamford Collegiate. “And I wasn’t one to force. I just wanted to listen.”
Matthews didn’t confide because she thought every household was like this. Her father, James Levia Matthews, died in 1974 when she was 15 years old. Instead of feeling free, she watched her mother sink deeper into depression and alcoholism.
She felt more confused than ever, but had one huge advantage – she was one of the most gorgeous young women in Niagara Falls. A modeling career beckoned. While her sister, Patricia, became a star athlete at Stamford (she still holds nine school records), the younger Denise was turning heads. “Denise kind of blossomed and got really, really beautiful,” recalls Rossi. “She was fun-loving, and very aware of her beauty. “She had a little bit of trouble in Stamford with prejudice – guys wanted to go out with her, but they didn’t want anybody to know. It really hurt her, so she changed schools.”
After jumping to Westlane, where she graduated, Matthews got her first taste of success by winning the Miss Niagara Hospitality pageant. She was calm and poised accepting the crown. She seemed like a natural.
You just knew she had ambitions of making it big,” says Stamford classmate Vito DiMartino, now head of phys ed at A.N. Myer. “Denise always had good looks.” “Everyone seemed to like her,” adds friend Linda Clarkstone, now a librarian at Westlane. “She was always smiling, always happy. “She was beautiful, and even back then she could sing.” Within a year, Matthews left Niagara Falls for Toronto, and then California.
After she won the Miss Niagara Hospitality title in 1977, she went on to compete for Miss Canada in 1978. At age 17, she moved to New York City to further her career. She signed with Zoli Model Agency. However, because she was short in stature, her modeling career was limited to commercials and photo shoots and included no runway work. Vanity appeared in ads for Pearl Drops toothpaste, before completing a modeling stint in Japan.
In 1980, she had a small role in the horror movie Terror Train, which was filmed in Montreal a year earlier. She then went to Toronto to film the lead role in the B-movie Tanya’s Island. At the time of both film roles, she was billed as D.D. Winters.
In the early 1980s, Matthews was given two tickets to a Prince concert and she became enthralled with the funky Minneapolis singer, who wasn’t quite a superstar yet. Weeks later she met Prince backstage at the American Music Awards. That night Prince called her at 3 a.m. The couple dated for several months, and Prince, learning that she could sing, eventually invited her to Minneapolis to front a racy all-girl group he was forming.
“He wanted me to call myself Vagina. He said people would know me nationwide,” she discloses with a smile. “I said, ‘No kidding.’ ” They settled on Vanity (because he saw so much of himself in her), and Vanity 6, clad in scanty camisoles and singing tunes like Drive Me Wild and Nasty Girls, soon cracked the black Top 10.
Dressed in lingerie and garters, Vanity 6 stumbled with its first single – “He’s So Dull” – but the second, “Nasty Girl,” became a crude classic (and a strip club mainstay). With Vanity, Matthews had found the devillish flipside to her personality.
Prince was so taken with her, he chose her to appear with him on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1983 and offered her a major role as the female lead in his biographical musical Purple Rain. At 24, Matthews was starting to become the star everyone predicted. She was supposed to play the lead female role in “Purple Rain,” the semi-autobiographical Prince film that was a box-office hit in 1984, but abandoned the project before filming began. Back in Minneapolis Vanity had helped Prince script Purple Rain and had been slated to play the female lead, a role based in part on her own life story. But before the cameras rolled, Vanity left—off to California and a solo career. “I needed one person to love me, and he needed more,” she says of Prince and her departure. “I never thought, ‘Oh God, I’m in Prince’s shadow,’ ” she says firmly. “He’d been performing for years and he was my teacher. I miss his humor. I always felt we’d be like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor over the years. I can honestly say I love the kid.”
She then went on to release two albums as a solo artist on Motown, “Wild Animal” and “Skin on Skin.”
After her music career started, as Vanity she starred in a number of movies, including The Last Dragon, which featured her underground hit “7th Heaven.” In 1986 she starred in Never Too Young to Die opposite John Stamos (“She was pretty wild,” Stamos once said about his co-star. “She was like Al Pacino in Scarface, blasting these fucking prop machine guns all over the place. We weren’t even rolling!”). The film also featured Gene Simmons. She went on to appear in 52 Pick-Up and 1988’s Action Jackson, her highest profile role, in which she starred opposite Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, and Sharon Stone. From the mid–1980s to the early–1990s, Vanity guest–starred on numerous TV shows. She played a villain who tortured Nancy Allen’s character in the 1990 TV movie Memories of Murder, guest-starred in an episode of Miami Vice’s third season, and in 1992 appeared in an episode of Highlander: The Series. She also appeared in Friday the 13th: The Series in the episode entitled “Mesmer’s Bauble”.
She thrived on raciness, often performing in lingerie. “My music is very sexual, so you could say I’m just putting all of me out there,” she told The Associated Press in 1985. She was on the cover of Playboy in 1988.Vanity then left the group (and Prince’s organization), and signed with Motown Records as a solo artist in 1984. She released two albums for Motown in the mid-1980s, and had mild success on the US pop and R&B charts with a handful of singles.
Besides Prince, Vanity was linked romantically to Adam Ant and Billy Idol. In 1987, she stated that she and Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx were engaged. She joked that she would become Vanity 6 (Sixx) again. They never married. In Sixx’s 2007 autobiography, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, he describes his 1987 drug use with Vanity who was addicted to crack cocaine at the time. Anecdote: At one point, the wasted couple is laying in bed when Sixx believes he hears voices and fires a .357 magnum through the door. It was only his radio.)
In 1994, Vanity overdosed on crack cocaine and suffered from near-fatal renal failure. She recalled that after being rushed to the hospital, doctors said she had three days to live while on life support. She said that Jesus appeared to her at this time and spoke to her, saying, if she promised to give up her Vanity persona, he would save her. Upon her recovery, she completely renounced her stage name and career and became a born-again Christian. In 1995, she said, “When I came to the Lord Jesus Christ, I threw out about 1,000 tapes of mine—interview, every tape, every video. Everything.”
In 1995, she married football player Anthony Smith of the Oakland Raiders, who later was sentenced to life in prison murder. She ignorantly had stated that she had chosen not to receive any further revenue from her work as Vanity, and cut off all ties with Hollywood and her former life in show business. Her marriage to Smith however lasted only one year.
After a kidney transplant in 1997, she decided to devote her life to Christ and became an Evangelist. “All I had become was thus painted on my face — vanity,” she later wrote on a personal website. According to her sister, the former Vanity eventually became an ordained minister and preached in churches around the country.
In 2010, she released her autobiography, Blame It On Vanity: Hollywood, Hell and Heaven.
Due to her kidney problems, which were caused by years of drug abuse, Matthews had to undergo peritoneal dialysis five times a day (each session was 20 minutes long).
She suffered from sclerosing encapsulating peritonitis, a rare complication of a peritoneal dialysis, and died in Fremont, California on February 15, 2016, from renal failure, aged 57.
Two months after her death, on April 21, 2016, Matthews’ ex-partner and music mentor Prince died in his Paisley Park residence, also aged 57.
Onstage in Melbourne, Australia, Prince offered a tribute of his own. “Her and I used to love each other deeply,” he told the crowd, according to Australian news media accounts. “She loved me for the artist I was; I loved her for the artist she was trying to be.”
By her own later admission, Vanity led a fast life, and it took its toll. In an interview with Jet magazine in 1993, she said she had been “extremely wild” in her younger days. “There was a lot of cocaine,” she said. “I tried men, women, everything. I didn’t snort cocaine, I smoked it. I had found my way into the playground of the pearly white stuff called cocaine,” says her bio Blame It On Vanity. “I’d inhaled so much rock that by the age of 35, you could light me up, smoke me and stick me in the nearest cold grave. Easily, the devil had won me and readied my tired body for hell.”
Even though she resents the “lies” former lover Motley Crue guitarist Nikki Sixx tells in his book about their times in 1987, she admittedly contributed to it. “I was the glutton for punishment (with Nikki), and also the punisher punishing,” she writes. “It wasn’t easy being high all the time and relating to another human being. He could have related better to a pet rock.”
February 4, 2016 – Maurice “Moe” White (Earth, Wind & Fire) was born December 19, 1941 in Memphis, Tennessee, the eldest of nine siblings. He grew up in South Memphis, where he lived with his grandmother in the Foote Homes Projects and was a childhood friend of Booker T Jones, with whom he formed a “cookin’ little band” while attending Booker T. Washington High School. He made frequent trips to Chicago to visit his mother, Edna, and stepfather, Verdine Adams, who was a doctor and occasional saxophonist. In his teenage years, he moved to Chicago and studied at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, and played drums in local nightclubs.
By the mid-1960s he found work as a session drummer for Chess Records. While at Chess, he played on the records of artists such as Etta James, Ramsey Lewis, Sonny Stitt, Muddy Waters, the Impressions, the Dells, Betty Everett, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Buddy Guy. White also played the drums on Fontella Bass’s “Rescue Me” and Billy Stewart’s “Summertime”. In 1962, along with other studio musicians at Chess, he was a member of the Jazzmen, who later became the Pharaohs. One song on which he played, Rescue Me by Fontella Bass (1965), was a worldwide hit. In 1966 he joined a trio led by the jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis and went on to play on nine of Lewis’s albums: the 1966 song Hold It Right There won a Grammy for best R&B group performance. While in the Trio he was introduced in a Chicago drum store to the African thumb piano or kalimba and on the Trio’s 1969 album Another Voyage’s track “Uhuru” was featured the first recording of White playing the kalimba. White brought the kalimba into mainstream use by incorporating its sound into the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. He was also responsible for expanding the group to include a full horn section – the Earth, Wind & Fire Horns, later known as the Phenix Horns.
In 1969, White left the Trio and joined his two friends, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, to form a songwriting team who wrote songs for commercials in the Chicago area. The three friends got a recording contract with Capitol Records and called themselves the Salty Peppers. They had a moderate hit in the Midwest area with their single “La La Time”, but their second single, “Uh Huh Yeah”, was not as successful. White then moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, and altered the name of the band to Earth, Wind & Fire, the band’s new name reflecting the elements in his astrological chart and thus he became the founder of Earth, Wind & Fire.
White got the concept of EWF from a drum and bugle corps band from his hometown. He formed the band after having touring stints with Santana, Weather Report, and Uriah Heep. One night after an EWF concert in Denver, Colorado, White briefly met singer Philip Bailey. It was an encounter that was to prove vital to Bailey’s future and to the history of American pop music. Bailey left college a year later and decided to pursue a musical career in Los Angeles. Once he arrived on the West Coast, he hooked up again with Earth, Wind & Fire. Maurice White had arrived in L.A. only the year before with visions of creating a truly universal music group, one that was spiritually charged and ambitious in scope, defying boundaries of color, culture, and categorization. Those ideas appealed to Bailey as well and he joined the group in 1972. Bailey’s shimmering falsetto blended perfectly with White’s charismatic tenor. White served as the band’s main songwriter and record producer, and was co-lead singer along with Philip Bailey. EWF combined high-caliber musicianship, a wide-ranging musical genre eclecticism, and ’70s multicultural spiritualism that included Biblical references.
It took until 1973 for Earth, Wind & Fire to find a mass audience: that year, the group’s fourth album, Head to the Sky, with its danceable, groove-heavy songs featuring horns and White’s kalimba, or African thumb piano, was the first of a series of huge-selling records.
Open Our Eyes (1974) and That’s the Way of the World (1975) consolidated this position, embedding the group’s recipe of soul, funk, R&B and disco in the American public’s affections. Boogie Wonderland, on which the band collaborated with the singing sister-act the Emotions, sold more than a million copies and was in the British singles charts for three months. Their 1978 cover of the Beatles’ Got to Get You Into My Life, injected with the band’s distinctive and inventive strident brass and guitar riffs, won a Grammy.
With Maurice as the bandleader and producer of most of the band’s albums, EWF earned legendary status winning seven Grammy Awards out of a staggering 20 nominations, a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, and four American Music Awards. The group’s albums have sold over 90 million copies worldwide. Other honors bestowed upon Maurice as a member of the band included inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, individually in The Songwriters Hall of Fame and The NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame.
Also known by his nickname “Reece”, he worked with several famous recording artists, including Deniece Williams, the Emotions, Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond.
In 1976, White, with Charles Stepney co-produced Deniece Williams‘ – a former backup vocalist for Stevie Wonder – debut album, This Is Niecy, which was released on Columbia Records. The album was the first project for the newly formed production company Kalimba Productions which was formed by Maurice White and Charles Stepney in the same year. This Is Niecy rose to number 3 on the R&B charts and contained the single Free which reached number 25 on the pop charts, number 5 on the R&B charts and number 1 on the UK singles charts. This is Niecy has been certified gold in the United States by the RIAA. With the death of Charles Stepney a few months after the release of This Is Niecy White solely produced Williams second album Song Bird, released in 1977. The single “Baby, Baby My Love’s All For You” reached number 13 and number 32 on the black and UK singles chart respectively. Williams later released four more albums on Columbia Records for Kalimba Productions which were 1978’s That’s What Friends Are For, 1979’s When Love Comes Calling, My Melody released in 1981 and 1982’s Niecy respectively. In a 2007 interview Deniece says: “I loved working with Maurice White … he taught me the business of music, and planning and executing a plan and executing a show.”
After Stax Records became embroiled in financial problems, the girl group the Emotions looked for a new contract and found one with Columbia Records which released their album Flowers in 1976. With Charles Stepney co-producing their album with White, Flowers was their first charting album since 1969. It rose to number 5 on the R&B and number 45 on the Pop charts, and has been certified gold in the US. The singles “Flowers” and “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love” from this album reached, respectively, number 16 and number 13 on the R&B charts (number 87 and number 51 on the Pop charts). Following Charles Stepney’s death, White took over producing the Emotions as well.
He played the drums on Minnie Riperton’s debut 1970 album, Come to My Garden, and contributed vocals to Weather Report’s 1978 album Mr. Gone. White also produced Ramsey Lewis’ albums: Sun Goddess (1974), Salongo (1976), and Sky Islands (1993), Jennifer Holliday on her 1983 release Feel My Soul, Barbra Streisand on her 1984 platinum album Emotion, Atlantic Starr on their platinum 1986 album All in the Name of Love and Neil Diamond on his 1986 gold album Headed for the Future. He also co-wrote the song “Only In Chicago” with Barry Manilow which was included on his 1980 platinum album Barry, the track “Tip of My Tongue” for the rock band the Tubes which appeared on their album Outside Inside, and contributed vocals to Cher’s 1987 self-titled platinum album.
White wrote songs for the movies Coming to America and Undercover Brother. He composed music for the television series Life Is Wild and worked in 2006 with Gregory Hines’ brother, Maurice, on the Broadway play Hot Feet for which White and Allee Willis wrote several new songs.
White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1987, which led him eventually to stop touring with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1994. He retained executive control of the band, and remained active in the music business, producing and recording with the band and other artists.
Messages of encouragement from celebrities including: Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Isaac Hayes, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine were published for White.
From time to time, after his retirement, he appeared on stage with Earth, Wind & Fire at events such as the 2004 Grammy Awards Tribute to Funk, and alongside Alicia Keys at Clive Davis’ 2004 pre-Grammy awards party where they performed the band’s 1978 hit “September”.
White died in his sleep from the effects of Parkinson’s disease at his home in Los Angeles, California, on the morning of February 4, 2016, at the age of 74.
His brother Verdine posted the following on Facebook:
My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep. While the world has lost another great musician and legend, our family asks that our privacy is respected as we start what will be a very difficult and life-changing transition in our lives. Thank you for your prayers and well-wishes. Yours Truly, Verdine White
All in all the Chicago-born, LA based band had 46 charting R&B singles and 33 charting pop singles, including eight gold singles.At their peak, Earth, Wind & Fire bestrode the popular music scene like a troupe of magnificently attired angels of funk, upbeat and apparently perpetually partying. Their slick blend of panache and optimism owed much to the songwriting, producing and vocals of Maurice White.
January 28, 2016 – Signe Toly Anderson-Jefferson Airplane – was born Signe Toly on September 15, 1941 in Seattle on September 15, 1941. She was raised in Portland, Oregon after her parents divorced
In 1965s she was living in San Francisco and gaining recognition as an accomplished jazz/folk singer, when the vocalist Marty Balin heard her sing at a popular folk club, the Drinking Gourd and asked her to join a folk-rock group he was forming.
The band, soon christened Jefferson Airplane, signed with RCA Victor Records and released its first album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” in 1966.
Soon after joining the Airplane, she married one of the Merry Pranksters, Jerry Anderson, a marriage that lasted from 1965 to 1974. She sang on the first Jefferson Airplane album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, most notably on the song “Chauffeur Blues”. Just as Jefferson Airplane was ascending, Anderson gave birth to her first child. Realizing that life on the road with a newborn was unfeasible, Anderson opted to part ways with Jefferson Airplane in 1966. Anderson remained with the group while they searched for a replacement, eventually choosing the Great Society singer Grace Slick, who brought that band’s “Someone to Love” (retitled “Somebody to Love”) and her “White Rabbit” to Jefferson Airplane.Anderson distrusted the Airplane’s original manager, Matthew Katz, and refused to sign a contract with him until he inserted a special escape clause freeing her from him if she left the band for any reason.
In July 1966, Anderson informed Bill Graham that she was quitting the band after a series of shows they were playing in Chicago, realizing that bringing her newborn child, with then-husband Jerry Anderson, on the road was not feasible. Graham, however, asked her to stay with the band through the October shows at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, to which she agreed. This gave the band time to search for her replacement, eventually choosing Grace Slick after Sherry Snow declined their offer. Allegedly there were other factors, such as the hostility of other band members towards her husband.
Anderson’s last live performances with the Jefferson Airplane were two sets on October 15, 1966 at The Fillmore. Both performances were recorded (as were most Fillmore shows) and have surfaced on some bootleg albums. In August 2010, Collector’s Choice music in cooperation with Sony finally released the second show on a legitimate CD issue. At what seemed to be the end of the second set, Marty Balin returned to announce that Anderson was leaving the group. Her goodbye to the fans, recorded for posterity, was as follows: “I want you all to wear smiles and daisies and box balloons. I love you all. Thank you and goodbye.” At several fans’ request, Anderson and the band performed her signature number, “Chauffeur Blues”.
They finished the night with “High Flying Bird,” and thus ended Anderson’s tenure with the Airplane. The band returned to play two more shows the following night with Grace Slick on board for the first time. This entire performance was officially released in 2010 as Jefferson Airplane: Live at The Fillmore Auditorium 10/15/66 Signe’s Farewell.
After leaving the Airplane she returned to Oregon where she sang for nine years with a ten-piece band, Carl Smith and the Natural Gas Company. In the mid 1970s she recovered from cancer. In 1977 she married local building contractor Michael Alois Ettlin, and continued to sing with Carl Smith. Anderson also worked in a department store.
Anderson credited the Airplane’s success with its members’ musical educations. “We all were very knowledgeable music-wise,” she told KGON radio in 2011. “We could all read music. We all knew the classics, we knew blues, we knew folk music — we had a lot of groundwork first.”
In the mid 1990s, Anderson suffered further serious health problems, including a broken neck and bypass surgery, which led to serious financial problems for her family. She made guest appearances with the KBC Band, Jefferson Starship and Airplane spinoff Hot Tuna. Anderson’s husband, Michael Alois Ettlin, died at the age of 62, on February 21, 2011.
Anderson died at her home in Beaverton, Oregon at the age of 74 on January 28, 2016, from the effects of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She died on the same day as Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner and both were 74.
Airplane lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen wrote on his blog: “Signe was one of the strongest people I have ever met. “She was our den mother in the early days of the Airplane… a voice of reason on more occasions than one… an important member of our dysfunctional little family. I always looked forward to seeing her when we played the Aladdin in Portland. She never complained and was always a joy. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest sister. You will always live in my heart…”
Airplane bassist Jack Casady wrote on Facebook that he’d been in touch with Anderson the week prior to her death, when she moved from her home to a hospice. “She was a real sweetheart with a terrific contralto voice coming from a solid folk background,” he recalled. “Listen to how she made the three part harmonies of ‘JA Takes Off’ (first album) sound so thick. Her wonderful tone between Paul’s and Marty’s.” Casady added “A sad day… for those of us still here.”
Anderson had stayed in touch with Paul Kantner, Marty Balin and other former bandmates and performed with them on occasion. Mr. Balin, writing on Facebook, imagined that she and Mr. Kantner “woke up in heaven and said: “Hey what are you doing here? Let’s start a band.”
2015 – “Lemmy” Ian Fraser Kilmister was born on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1945 in the Burslem area of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. When Lemmy was three months old, his father, an ex-Royal Air Force chaplain, separated from his mother. His mother and grandmother moved to Newcastle-under-Lyme, then to Madeley. When Lemmy was 10, his mother married former footballer George Willis, who already had two older children from a previous marriage, Patricia and Tony, with whom Lemmy did not get along.
The family moved to a farm in Benllech on Anglesey, with Lemmy later commenting on his time there, that “funnily enough, being the only English kid among 700 Welsh ones didn’t make for the happiest time, but it was interesting from an anthropological point of view.” He attended Sir Thomas Jones’ School in Amlwich, where he was nicknamed Lemmy. It was later suggested by some that the name originated from the phrase “lemmy [lend me] a quid till Friday” because of his alleged habit of borrowing money from people to play slot machines, although Lemmy himself claimed that he didn’t know the origin of the name. He soon started to show an interest in rock and roll music, girls and horses.
By the time he left school his family had moved to Conwy, still in northern Wales. There he worked at menial jobs including one in the local Hotpoint electric appliance factory, while also playing guitar for local bands, such as the Sundowners, and spending time at a horse-riding school.
Lemmy saw the Beatles perform at the Cavern Club when he was 16, and then learned to play along on guitar to their first album Please Please Me. He also admired the sarcastic attitude of the group, particularly that of John Lennon.
At the age of 17 he met a holidaying girl called Cathy. He followed her to Stockport, where she eventually had his son Sean, who was put up for adoption. In the 2010 documentary film Lemmy, Lemmy mentions having a son whose mother has only recently “found him” and “hadn’t got the heart to tell him who his father was”, indicating the boy – perhaps Sean – was given up for adoption.
He spread his wings with a band called The Rockin’ Vickers, who released three singles and rocked the Manchester music scene while dressed in clerical gear. Lemmy moved to London in search of fame and fortune, where he had a stint as a roadie with Jimi Hendrix and the Nice and briefly played in progressive rock band Opal Butterfly.
In 1972 he was recruited as bassist for the space-rock band Hawkwind, despite having played only rhythm guitar before. He sang lead on their hit “Silver Machine“. “It sounded like Captain Kirk reading Blowing in the Wind,” Lemmy later recalled. “They tried everybody singing it except me. Then, as a last shot they said, ‘Try Lemmy.’ And I did it in one take or two.”
Lemmy’s tenure with Hawkwind ended abruptly when he was busted for drug possession on a tour of Canada in 1975.
He later claimed that his dismissal was due to ‘pharmaceutical differences’, his preference for amphetamines being in stark contrast to the rest of Hawkwind’s love of more hallucinogenic substances. After his departure from Hawkwind he founded Motörhead as lead singer, bassist, songwriter and frontman. Despite the falling-out, Lemmy had fond memories of his time with the band. “In Hawkwind I became a good bass player,” he told Classic Rock magazine in 2012. “It was where I learned I was good at something.”
Lemmy decided to form his own band, “so that no-one can fire me again“, and adopted the name Bastard, until it was gently pointed out that he would be unlikely to get a gig on Top of the Pops. Instead he changed it to Motorhead, US slang for someone who takes speed and also the title of the last song he had penned for Hawkwind.
From early on he was clear about exactly which musical direction the band would take.
“Very basic music – loud, fast, city, raucous, arrogant, paranoid, speed-freak rock n roll. It will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die”.
The beginnings of the band were not auspicious. Lemmy claimed they were so badly off they had to steal equipment and they practiced in a disused furniture warehouse. They recorded some tracks for the United Artists label but the company thought they were so bad they refused to release them.
In the first of what would be a series of personnel changes, Lemmy fired drummer Lucas Fox and replaced him with Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. He later replaced guitarist Larry Wallis with “Fast” Eddie Clarke, completing what many fans consider to be the definitive Motorhead line up.
By 1977 the band were so disillusioned they agreed to split and put on a farewell show at The Marquee in London.
It became a turning point when a record producer at the gig offered them enough studio time to record a single.
Instead the band laid down 13 tracks that formed their first album, entitled Motorhead, which reached No 43 in the UK charts. It’s probably the only rock album with the word “parallelogram” in the lyrics.
Lemmy’s guttural vocals appealed to the fans and the punk influences in their blistering music tapped into the fast-changing music scene in the UK. Indeed Motorhead collaborated with punk outfit The Damned on a few occasions.
It marked the start of the band’s most successful period, which peaked with the release of their fourth album, Ace of Spades, in 1980. The thunderous title track became the band’s definitive anthem and appearances on Top of the Pops helped it stay in the UK charts for 12 weeks. During the following three decades the band released no fewer than 17 further albums.
Lemmy stuck with the music formula of fast, driving rock that he’d adopted at the band’s inception.
Despite a horde of imitators he also rejected any notion that Motorhead were a metal band, insisting that what they played was pure rock and roll.
Lemmy never made any secret of his drug and alcohol intake, which, while prodigious over the years, never seemed to sap his appetite for recording and playing. In 2005 he was invited to address the Welsh assembly on the perils of drug-taking, and took the opportunity to call for the legalization of heroin to remove the drug dealer from society.
In the same year Motorhead picked up a Grammy for their cover of Metallica’s Whiplash. “It’s about bloody time,” was Lemmy’s response. “Nobody deserves it more, although I’m too modest to say it.”
Aside from his musical skills, Lemmy was well known for his hard living lifestyle and regular consumption of alcohol and amphetamines. Lemmy was also noted for his collection of Nazi memorabilia and use of Nazi symbolism, although he stated that he did not support Nazi ideals.
One of the band’s last performances was a storming set at Glastonbury.
On a 1988 tour of Finland, Lemmy was asked by one journalist why he had kept going for so long.
“We’re still here,” he replied, “because we should have died a long time ago but we didn’t.”
Lemmy died from cancer on December 28, 2015 at the age of 70.
December 27, 2015 – Stevie Wright (The Easybeats) was born Stephen Carlton Wright on December 20, 1947 in Leeds, England. When he was 9, his family moved to Melbourne, Australia and four years later to Sydney where they lived in Villawood near the Villawood Migrant Hostel. He was lead vocalist for local band, The Outlaws, and by 1964 had formed Chris Langdon & the Langdells, which initially played The Shadows-styled surf music, but converted to beat music under the influence of The Beatles.
After a Langdells performance, Wright met the Dutch-born Johan van den Berg (later Harry Vanda), who was staying at Villawood Migrant Hostel, and his landsman Dingeman van der Sluys (later Dick Diamonde)., this introduction was arranged by their first manager a man named Alan Kissick. The pair convinced Wright to form a band with Vandenberg’s friend and fellow hostel resident Scottish-born George Young. Together with another Englishman, Gordon “Snowy” Fleet, they formed the Easybeats in mid-1964. The initial line-up of the Easybeats was Diamonde on bass guitar, Fleet on drums, Vanda on guitar, Wright on vocals and Young on guitar.
During his time with the Easybeats, Wright was popularly and affectionately known as “Little Stevie”. Early hits for the Easybeats were co-written by Wright with bandmate Young, including, “She’s So Fine” (No. 3, 1965), “Wedding Ring” (No. 7, 1965), “Women (Make You Feel Alright)” (No. 4, 1966), “Come and See Her” (No. 3, 1966), “I’ll Make You Happy” (track on Easyfever EP, No. 1, 1966), and “Sorry” (No. 1, 1966).
He was lead vocalist on their international monster hit “Friday on My Mind”, which peaked at No. 1 in Australia in 1966 and it in to the top Ten in UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy and the US in 1967. In 2001, the song was voted the Best Australian Song of All Time by the Australasian Performing Rights Association. Wright was renowned for his energetic stage performance, which included acrobatic back-flips and mod dance moves.
“Stevie would hurl himself off stage he would catapult, he would somersault, it was an extraordinary thing to witness, he gave everything.”
They recorded several more hits including Sorry, She’s So Fine, Wedding Ring, and Good Times, which was covered in the late 1990s by INXS and Jimmy Barnes.
The Easybeats broke up in 1969 with Vanda & Young becoming freelance musicians, songwriters and producers and Wright became a top solo artist.
He formed the band Rachette and produced Bootleg’s debut single, “Whole World Should Slow Down.” He performed with Rachette at the Odyssey Music Festival in 1971, before briefly joining Likefun in Perth. He returned to Sydney to perform in the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar and stayed with the production from 1971-1973. During 1972 he also performed with Black Tank and appeared on the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, released in 1973.
He then began work on his solo debut album Hard Road with Easybeats’ songwriters Harry Vanda and George Young, who had returned from the UK and were now staff producers and songwriters at Albert Productions. For his Live work he formed Stevie Wright & the Allstars.
In April 1974 his debut solo LP, Hard Road, was released which featured the single “Evie (Parts 1, 2 & 3)” The song was written and produced by Vanda & Young and it became a hit—the only 11-minute song to chart at No. 1 anywhere in the world. and is now regarded as an Australian rock classic. Part 1 is subtitled, “Let Your Hair Hang Down”, and part 3 is “I’m Losing You”. Wright performed three concerts at the Sydney Opera House with backing by Vanda, Young and AC/DC’s Malcolm Young (George Young’s brother).
Long before MEATLOAF sang his Triple-Song Rock Anthem, PARADISE BY THE DASHBOARD LIGHTS ….. Many years ahead of VANGELIS and his Multi-Themed, Storytelling narrative, FRIENDS OF MR. CAIRO ….. Australian Rocker STEVIE WRIGHT sped through our heads with his 1975 ….. 11 Minute,Triple-Songed, torch, love rock ballad EVIE. With it Stevie Wright became one of Australia’s biggest rock stars of the 70s and delivering one of the greatest rock songs of all-time, the epic ‘Evie’.
Wright fell on hard times after the follow-up ‘Black Eyed Bruiser’ album of 1975 failed to chart.
The All Stars left to back John Paul Young in 1975 so Wright formed the Stevie Wright Band but, by this time, Wright’s drug addiction had begun to curtail his career. By 1976 Wright was addicted to heroin, which he had reportedly begun using during his time in the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.
He was hospitalised and undertook methadone treatment. His mental health suffered further after his self-admission to the notorious Chelmsford Private Hospital in Sydney. A psychiatrist, Harry Bailey, administered a highly controversial treatment known as deep sleep therapy which was alleged to treat drug addiction by a combination of drug-induced coma and electroconvulsive therapy. Many patients, including Wright, suffered brain damage and lifelong after-effects. The scandal was later exposed and Bailey committed suicide.
He performed a few gigs with Sacha in 1976 and performed “Evie” alongside performances by the cream of Australian pop and rock at the Concert of the Decade in November 1979, captured on the double album Concert of the Decade (1980).
In 1982, Wright returned to the studio with his former Easybeats buddies Vanda & Young to record vocals for their project Flash & The Pan and the ‘Headlines’ album for the songs ‘Where Were You’ and ‘Waiting For A Train’. That same year there was talk of an Easybeats’ reunion. Wright told Juke Magazine in 1983 “we had our lawyers working out the deal” because there was a venue interested in having them “but at the last minute they tried to change the venue and we just said ‘forget it’.
His career, however, soon derailed again when Wright appeared in court charged with housebreaking in January 1984 while undergoing drug rehabilitation. Wright was arrested for heroin use in the same month after being found unconscious in a hotel toilet. The Easybeats reformed for a successful six-week national tour in October 1986. Wright formed the band Hard Rain in 1988 and released the album Striking It Rich in 1991. With his health declining, Wright gave his final performance with Hard Rain at Sydney’s Coogee Bay Hotel on April 4, 1992.
Wright went on to battle drug and alcohol addiction for another decade before settling on the Australia’s south coast.
In 2012 he appeared on the ABC’s Australian Story program, when he spoke about the devastation caused by his long-term drug addictions. He said if he had his time again, he “wouldn’t pick up any hard drugs”. “It does destroy. Because it’s all inside anyway, all, all the things in the mind and the power that you think the drugs are going to add to, and they don’t at all, they take everything away,” he said. “Never touch hard drugs. You blow your marriage, blow your jobs, blow your friends. You can’t do that you know. It just doesn’t work.”
In 2005 Wright was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame for his success with The Easybeats.
Wright’s last performance was at the Legends of Rock Festival at Byron Bay in 2009.
Wright contracted pneumonia on the second day of Christmas (Boxing Day) and perished a day later on December 27, 2015 at the age of 68.
• “Stevie will be sadly missed by all who knew him and countless more who did not know him but loved his music,” Mr Albert said in a statement. (Albert Productions) “We have lost one of Australia’s greatest front men who has left an indelible mark on our musical landscape.He could take any audience and absolutely slay them with his energy.”
• Fellow Australian singer Normie Rowe remembered Wright as “an amazing performer”. “The Easybeats were one of the most remarkable pop bands of their time, and I think probably recorded the definitive pop song of the era in Friday On My Mind,” he said.
• 1960s singer-songwriter and Young Talent Time host Johnny Young said Wright was “one of the greatest rock n’ roll stars” ever produced in Australia. “Stevie was a wonderful musician, a great songwriter,” he said. “He lived a pretty rugged life at the end of it. “Everybody knew he had some serious addictions that he had huge problems with, but I like to remember Stevie as he was when he was younger.”
• Aside from tracks for the Easybeats, Wright and George Young also wrote “Step Back” for Johnny Young which peaked at No. 1.
Very unusual for 1967, when everything on TV was lip-synch, this video covers a live performance of the song Friday on my Mind in a German TV program called “BeatClub”.
Scott Weiland was born Scott Richard Kline on October 27, 1967 in San José, California. At age 5 he became Weiland when his stepfather adopted him. Moving between Ohio and SoCal in the first 15 years of his life he emerged from the San Diego area as Mighty Joe Young. Weiland’s band landed a contract with Atlantic Records, changed its name to Stone Temple Pilots and cashed in on the burgeoning grunge scene. They took the name Stone Temple Pilots due to their fondness of the initials “STP”.
The band’s early success with its debut album, Core, and the rock radio smashes “Sex Type Thing,” “Plush,” “Creep,” and “Wicked Garden,” earned the attention of rock royalty, landing the band an opening spot of some dates of the Rolling Stones “Voodoo Lounge” tour in 1994. Aside from opening with the Stones, Weiland also found himself rubbing shoulders with other notable rockers, including Gene Simmons of KISS, Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin, and Rob Zombie, at events like Rock for Choice in 1993. In the summer of 1993, STP was one of the top attractions on the Weenie Roast, the annual summer concert held by Los Angeles radio station KROQ, where the band’s music remained a staple through the ‘90s and beyond.
In one of the band’s first opening performances as Mighty Joe Young, they opened for Electric Love Hogs, whose drummer Dave Kushner would one day co-found Weiland’s later band Velvet Revolver.
In 1994, STP released their second record, Purple, which saw the development of a more distinctive identity for the band. Like Core, Purple was a big success for the band, spawning three hit singles (“Big Empty”, “Vasoline” and “Interstate Love Song”) and selling more than six million copies. The critical response to Purple was more favorable, with Spin magazine calling it a “quantum leap” from the band’s previous album.
In 1995, Weiland, always instantly bored with unchanging scenarios, formed the alternative rock band The Magnificent Bastards.
The band included Victor Indrizzo on drums, Zander Schloss and Jeff Nolan on guitars and Bob Thompson on bass. Only two songs were recorded by The Magnificent Bastards, “Mockingbird Girl,” composed by Nolan, Schloss, and Weiland, appeared in the film Tank Girl and on its soundtrack, and a cover of John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” was recorded for the tribute album, Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon.
Weiland rejoined Stone Temple Pilots in the fall of 1995, but STP was forced to cancel most of their 1996–1997 tour in support of their third release, Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, which sold about two million albums. Weiland encountered problems with drug addiction at this time as well, which inspired some of his songs in the late-1990s.
Weiland liked to shake things up by kissing his bandmates in front of the camera. In a 1993 photo, he was captured locking lips with STP drummer Eric Kretz. The band’s early success earned them a spot on MTV’s acclaimed Unplugged series in 1994. By 1998, Weiland was in full rock-star mode, saluting photographers with a single finger and a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
While STP went on hiatus once again after the release of Tiny Music…, Weiland released a solo album in 1998 called 12 Bar Blues. Weiland wrote most of the songs on the album, and collaborated with several artists, notably Daniel Lanois, Sheryl Crow, Brad Mehldau and Jeff Nolan. In 1999, STP regrouped once again and released No. 4. The album contained the hit single “Sour Girl” which featured a surreal music video with Sarah Michelle Gellar. That same year, Weiland also recorded two songs with the short-lived supergroup The Wondergirls. During this time period Weiland spent five months in jail for drug possession.
In November 2000, Weiland was invited to perform on the show VH1 Storytellers with the surviving members of The Doors. Weiland did vocals on two Doors songs, “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” and “Five to One”. That same month Stone Temple Pilots appeared on The Doors tribute CD, Stoned Immaculate with their own rendition of “Break on Through” as the lead track. On June 19, 2001, STP released its fifth album, Shangri-La Dee Da. That same year the band headlined the Family Values Tour along with Linkin Park and Staind. In late 2002, the band broke up with the DeLeo brothers and Weiland having had significant altercations back stage.
In 2002, former Guns N’ Roses members – guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum – as well as former Wasted Youth guitarist Dave Kushner were looking for a singer to help form a new band. Throughout his career Weiland had become acquainted with the four musicians; he became friends with McKagan after attending the same gym, was in rehab at the same time as Sorum and once played on the same bill as Kushner. Weiland was sent two discs of material to work with, but felt that the first disc “sounded like Bad Company gone wrong.” When he was sent the second disc, Weiland was more positive, comparing it to Core-era Stone Temple Pilots though he turned them down because Stone Temple Pilots had not yet separated. When Stone Temple Pilots disbanded in 2003 they went into the studio and in 2004 released the album Contraband which debuted number one on the Billboard 200 and sold over 3 million copies.
Their second album in 2007, Libertad, received mixed critical awareness. Though some critics praised the album and felt that Libertad gave the band an identity of their own, outside of the Guns N’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots comparisons, others described the album as “bland” and noted that the band seem to be “playing to their strengths instead of finding a collective sound.”
Weiland was definitely an over the top narcissistic persona, so when his former STP bandmember Dean DeLeo discussed an offer from a concert promoter to headline several summer festivals, Weiland accepted and said he had cleared the brief tour with his Velvet Revolver bandmates. He explained, “everything was cool. Then it wasn’t”, and said the rest of the band stopped talking to him.
Another version of this story reads:
According to Dean DeLeo, steps toward a Stone Temple Pilots reunion started with a simple phone call from Weiland’s wife. She invited the DeLeo brothers to play at a private beach party, which led to the reconciliation of Weiland and the DeLeo brothers. However, Weiland said in a 2010 radio interview to promote the band’s self-titled release that the reunion was the result of Dean calling him and asking if he’d be interested in reuniting the band to headline the Coachella Festival.
In any case on March 20, 2008 Weiland revealed at Velvet Revolver’s show in Glasgow, Scotland that this would be the band’s final tour. After several flares on their personal blogs and in interviews, on April 1 it was announced by a number of media outlets that Weiland would no longer be in Velvet Revolver.
And the controversies continue
In 2008, Stone Temple Pilots announced a 73-date U.S. tour on April 7 and performed together for the first time since 2002. STP’s reunion tour was a success, and the band continued to tour throughout 2009 and began recording its sixth studio album. STP’s first album since 2001, Stone Temple Pilots, was released on May 25, 2010.
In September 2010, STP announced it was rescheduling several U.S. tour dates so that the band could take a “short break.” Instead STP toured Southeast Asia for the first time in 2011, followed by Australia.
The band said they were interested in a 20th anniversary tour to celebrate the release of Core with Weiland commenting on January 2, 2012, “Well, we’re doing a lot of special things. There’s a lot of archival footage that we’re putting together, a coffee table book, hopefully a brand new album – so many ideas. A box set and then a tour, of course.” Yet also in that same month of January guitarist Dave Kushner announced Velvet Revolver would reunite with Weiland for the first time in four years for a one night, three song gig to raise money for the family of recently deceased musician John O’Brien. On what the future would hold for the band and Weiland, Kushner replied “We haven’t played together in four years, and so we’re really just like, ‘Let’s see how this goes.” Three months later Weiland remarks that he would like to reunite permanently with Velvet Revolver, comparing that “if Maynard James Keenan can do it with A Perfect Circle and Tool, then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go and do it with both bands”. Further in May in an interview with ABC Radio Weiland said that he had reunited with the band permanently for a tour and an album, which however was denied a few days later by Slash in an interview with 93x.
STP began to experience problems in 2012 that were said to have been caused by tensions between Weiland and the rest of the band. Despite the band’s claims that their fall tour would be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Core, this did not happen. On February 27, 2013, shortly before this solo tour was set to commence, Stone Temple Pilots announced on their website that “[…]they [had] officially terminated Scott Weiland”.
Weiland in turn criticized the band after they hired Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington as his replacement, claiming he was still a member and they shouldn’t be calling themselves Stone Temple Pilots without him and the Velvet Revolver reunification never happened either.
So Weiland, next to his solo album projects including a full blown Christmas album in 2011, started a new project with Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts, with a tour titled “Purple at the Core” commencing in March 2013 with pop/rock band MIGGS as the opening act, and an album titled “Blaster” finally released on March 31, 2015. Less than a week after the release his guitarist Jeremy Brown was found dead at his home at age 34.
On December 3, 2015, Weiland was found in cardiac arrest on his tour bus in Bloomington, Minnesota. Drugs are suspected but not proven yet. Many see Scott Weiland as one of the three voices of the grunge generation, next to Kurt Cobain (died at age 27 on estimated April 5, 1994 and Layne Staley (died at age 34 on April 5, 2002). Just sad to consider that 3 of that generation’s voices couldn’t stay away from drugs and depression.
A day following his death, his former bandmates in Stone Temple Pilots issued a statement saying, “Dear Scott Let us start by saying thank you for sharing your life with us. Together we crafted a legacy of music that has given so many people happiness and great memories. The memories are many, and they run deep for us. We know amidst the good and the bad you struggled, time and time again. It’s what made you who you were. You were gifted beyond words, Scott. Part of that gift was part of your curse. With deep sorrow for you and your family, we are saddened to see you go. All of our love and respect. We will miss you brother, Robert, Eric, Dean.”
October 3, 2015 – Singer Billy Joe Royal, best known for his pop hit “Down in the Boondocks” and a string of country singles in the 1980s,was born April 3, 1942 in Valdosta, Georgia.
As a young man he performed on the radio program “Georgia Jubilee,” which is where he met artists like Jerry Reed and Joe South. It was fellow Georgian Joe South who penned Mr. Royal’s 1965 breakout single, “Down in the Boondocks,” which peaked at No. 9. Royal would also find success with his follow-up single: another South-penned song, called “I Knew You When.”
During the mid-1980s, his career was revitalized when he signed with Atlantic Records and began releasing country songs. In late 1985, Royal notched his first Top 10 country single with “Burned Like a Rocket,” though the song was reportedly pulled from the radio after the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy of January 1986. He followed “Rocket” with several country hits including “I’ll Pin a Note on Your Pillow,” “Tell It Like It Is,” and “Till I Can’t Take It Anymore.” He was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1988.
Mr. Royal’s soulful voice was still in fine form, and he continued to tour in recent years. His final live performance was 12 days before his passing on Sept. 24, 2015 at the Gwinnett County Fair in Georgia, the state in which he was raised and where he discovered his love of music. Taylor said that Mr. Royal had planned to spend some time off the road in the coming weeks in order to spend time with his daughter, a student at NC State University.
He is survived by his ex-wife, Michelle Royal, with whom he was still close, daughter Savannah Royal, and two stepsons, Trey and Joey Riverbank. Funeral arrangements will be announced this week. He learned to play steel guitar and joined the Georgia Jubilee in Atlanta at 14, performing with Joe South, Jerry Reed, and Ray Stevens, among several other artists. Royal had his own rock & roll band in high school and was regularly singing around Atlanta by the age of 16.
He also spent time in Savannah, where he was influenced by African-American vocal styles and began to develop his distinctive vocal sound. Performing at a nightclub that also booked Sam Cooke and other African-American stars, Royal observed their vocal moves and began to practice them on his own time. In 1962, he recorded an independent single that went unnoticed. Royal and South roomed together for a time, and two or three years later South contacted him with a song he wanted Royal to sing as a demo, in the hope that Gene Pitney would record it. Royal flew from Cincinnati (where he was working at the time) to Atlanta and cut “Down in the Boondocks,” whose churchy echo resulted from the use during recording of a large septic tank that had been dragged into the studio.
The demo ended up at Columbia, and the label signed Royal to a six-year deal. The song becameRoyal’s breakthrough single, reaching number nine on the pop charts and briefly making the vocalist into a teen idol. F
ollowing its success, Royal had a string of lesser hits, including the Top 40 pop singles “I Knew You When,” “I’ve Got to Be Somebody,” and “Cherry Hill Park.” By the end of the decade, Royal’s star waned, and he became a regular performer in Las Vegas and around Lake Tahoe. He also did a bit of acting on television, in feature films, and in commercials. In 1978, he recorded a cover of “Under the Boardwalk” and scored a minor hit.
The wrong-side-of-the-tracks theme of “Down in the Boondocks” was a familiar one to country audiences, and during the early ’80s Royal worked on establishing himself as a country artist. In 1984, he broke through when he recorded the Gary Burr composition “Burned Like a Rocket”; it was picked up by the Atlantic label, which signed Royal to a contract. The single became a hit and reached the country Top Ten in early 1986. Over the next two years he had a string of Top 40 hits, breaking into the Top Ten in late 1987 once again with “I’ll Pin a Note on Your Pillow.” In 1989, Royal released the album Tell It Like Is; the title cut, a remake of the venerable soul standard, became his biggest hit, peaking at number two, while the album itself stayed in the Top 15 for over a year.
By 1990, Royal’s style of pop-inflected country had been replaced by neo-traditional honky tonk at the top of the charts, and his popularity began to decline. He continued to have minor hits into 1992 and toured into the 2000s. Royal launched a comeback with the 1998 album Stay Close to Home on the Intersound label, following up with the independent release Now and Then, Then and Now in 2001. “I know exactly what George Jones feels. But I know exactly what Ray Charles feels, too,” Royal once said, and by the beginning of the new century, a host of reissues of Royal’s work testified to his status as a vocal craftsman whose success transcended genre.
Truth be known, the Joe South penned song “Hush” made Billy Joe Royal a celebrity rockstar across the globe.
August 1, 2015 – Cilla Black was born Priscilla Marie Veronica White in Liverpool on May 27, 1943, just a couple of months after Beatle George Harrison was born in the same city.
Although she was an aspiring entertainer, in the early 60’s Cilla was working as a typist, a waitress, and as a hat check girl at the Cavern in Liverpoool, the same venue where the Beatles were performing and beginning to draw attention at that time. She performed at times with some local Liverpool bands including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and The Big Three, and received encouragement from her friends in the Beatles. An article in the local music newspaper Mersey Beat mis-identifed her as Cilla Black, and Cilla liked the name and decided to keep it as a stage name. She was signed to a recording contract by Brian Epstein, then went to the Parlophone label, where her records were produced by George Martin. Her first single was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and titled Love Of The Loved. It made it to number 35 on the UK chart.
She was still raw as a singer and producer George Martin initially had his doubts, but he worked with her and she worked hard to become a good singer, with a strong voice. In February of 1964 Cilla’s recording of Anyone Who Had A Heart, a song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, became her first smash hit, reaching number 1 in the UK. (It didn’t even make the top forty in the US however, due to the recording by Dionne Warwick of the same song, which made the US top ten.)
In the summer of that same year, which some might say was the most competitive year ever in the history of British pop, Cilla came up with her second number one hit in the UK with You’re My World. This was to be her only top forty hit in the US, moving to number 26. She continued to sell many, many records in the UK throughout the 60’s. Included in these were recordings that she made at Abbey Road Studios such as Alfie, the Lennon-McCartney composition It’s For You, Love’s Just A Broken Heart, Don’t Answer Me, Surround Yourself With Sorrow, Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight), and Randy Newman’s I’ve Been Wrong Before.
Cilla actually went on to become the second-largest selling recording artist to come out of Liverpool, and her version of Anyone Who Had A Heart remains as the biggest selling single of the 60’s by a British female singer.
Cilla moved into British television in the late 60’s, hosting her own show on the BBC with a theme song written by Paul McCartney, Step Inside Love. Her work in television seemed to polarize the public — many loved her, while others rejected her. She had a girl-next-door image. Her final hit on the British chart came in 1974 with Baby We Can’t Go Wrong, but her career as an entertainer continued into the twenty-first century. All of Cilla’s chart hits are contained on the album Best of Cilla Black; her best album ever may be Cilla Sings A Rainbow, from 1966.
Cilla had a brief career as a comedy actress in the 70’s, and hosted her own BBC television program beginning in 1968 and lasting for nearly a decade. The show was quite popular and featured many of the biggest stars of the time. Eventually she was managed by songwriter Bobby Willis, whom she married. The marriage produced four children and lasted for over thirty years until Willis’ death in 1999.
Although her days of selling records had fallen into decline, Cilla performed in concert and on the cabaret circuit for a time, and remained a popular television personality for decades, at times hosting game shows.
On August 1, 2015 Cilla fell at her villa near Estepona, Spain, suffered a stroke, and died. She was 72.
July 8, 2015 – Ernie Maresca was born on August 21st 1938 in the Bronx, New York City.
He began singing and writing in a doo-wop group, the Monterays, later renamed as the Desires, and, after Maresca left, as the Regents, who had a hit with “Barbara Ann”.
In 1957, his demo of his song “No One Knows” came to the attention of Dion DiMucci, who recorded it successfully with the Belmonts on Laurie Records, the record reaching #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 record chart in 1958.
Ernie Maresca was a fairly successful songwriter in the New York doo wop/rock & roll scene in the first half of the 1960s, most known for writing several of Dion’s biggest hits (by himself or in collaboration with Dion): “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer,” “Lovers Who Wander,” “A Lover’s Prayer,” and “Donna the Prima Donna.” He also wrote for a great deal of other artists throughout the 1960s, usually in a style that combined doo wop with the developing sounds of girl groups or Dion’s boastful Bronx pop/rock; the Regents’ modest modern doo wop hit “Runaround” was the biggest of these. Although he didn’t think of himself as a singer, and was an average nondescript vocalist at best, he was persuaded to record as a solo artist. In mid-1962, he ended up with his one and only hit under his own name, “Shout Shout (Knock Yourself Out).” A fun if extremely basic rocker that used the same chord pattern that anchored Dion hits like “Runaround Sue” and added the dance-rock energy of bands like Joey Dee & the Starliters, it made number six.
Maresca made an album in 1962, and continued to record, without success, for Seville through 1965 and then for Laurie during the remainder of the 1960s. He kept on writing for plenty of artists, too (often on the Laurie roster), and in that capacity had some modest hits with Reparata & the Delrons (“Whenever a Teenager Cries”), Bernadette Carroll (“Party Girl”), and Jimmie Rodgers (“Child of Clay,” co-written with Jimmy Curtiss). While some of his songs for Dion were classics, Maresca was a limited songwriter, many of his compositions limited to variations (or replicas) of the ascending, circular basic doo wop chord structures heard on Dion’s “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer,” “Lovers Who Wander,” and “Donna the Prima Donna.” By the 1970s he was head of Laurie Records’ publicity department, which concentrated on reissuing the label’s catalog, and as of 2000 was working as a consultant to EMI and administrator for Laurie’s publishing.
Ernie died at his home in South Florida, after a brief illness on July 8, 2015 at the age of 76.
June 9, 2015 – James Last was born Hans Last on April 17, 1929 in Bremen Germany, the third son for Louis and Martha Last, and christened Hans. His father, a post-office worker, was a keen amateur musician, competent on both drums and bandoneon. He learned to play piano as child, and bass as a teenager. He joined Hans-Gunther Oesterreich’s Radio Bremen Dance Orchestra in 1946, when he was 17 years old.
The brothers Last, Robert, Werner and young Hans, enjoyed their game of street football and so father Louis was pleased when all three expressed more than just an passing interest in music.
By the age of nine, young Hans could play “Hanschen Klein”, a German folk song in the piano, but his first music teacher, a lady, claimed at the age of ten he was totally unmusical. A year or so later with tutor number two, a gentleman, things started to happen. At the age of fourteen Hans was off to military school in Frankfurt where he studied brass, piano and tuba.
Hans’ parents were pleased with the appointment. It was hoped that he would emerge from the school as classically trained conductor. After passing his first exam, the school was bombed and the students were evacuated to Buckenburg, just outside Hanover, to continue their training.
Later, Buckenburg was also lost in the war. Hans claims that if he had stayed at Buckenburg, he would have been a conductor of serious music by the time he was twenty three.
After the war, Hans-Gunter Oesterreich, who organised entertainment for the American clubs, signed Hans Last for his first professional engagements. Later, Oesterreich secured a major post with Radio Bremen, and soon, the Last brothers were all working together.
In 1948, they joined forces with Karl-Heinz Becker, and became known as the Last-Becker Ensemble.
Hans was sold on jazz, Woody Herman and Stephan Grapelli being among his favorites. In 1959 Hans Last was voted Germany’s Top Jazz Bassist, a title held until 1953. In 1955 the Last-Becker Ensemble was on the verge of breaking up. At this stage Hansi considered forming his own band, but lack of funds halted this project. Instead they joined the North German Radio Dance Orchestra in Hamburg.
Soon Hans was arranging music for the NDR, he stayed with the NDR until 1964 when he signed a contract for Polydor. He became a much sought after arranger and was soon scoring hits for Caterina Valente, Freddy Quinn, Helmut Zacharias in Hamburg, he even flew to Nashville to record Brenda Lee singing in German.
It was in 1955 that Hans married the attractive Waltraud Wiese from Bremen and by 1958, the Last household had become four, with the birth of a son Ronald and a daughter Caterina.
Soon a couple of albums hit the market. Hans Last and his Orchestra had arrived, but suddenly the next release on the Polydor label featured James Last and his Orchestra. Somebody somewhere within the record company felt that James had more international appeal than Hans.
Now James Last wanted to unleash upon the Germans his new party sound. His idea was to record the top hits of the day, and them hold a party in the studio to build up the atmosphere. In 1965 the Non Stop Dancing sound of James Last was launched.
In 1967, with seven or eight of his early albums making the German charts, and the launch of the Non Stop Dancing series, Polydor produced a budget price sampler album “This is James Last” and suddenly the Last sound was launched worldwide.
In the United Kingdom, this sampler sold for twelve shillings and sixpence. “This is James Last” entered the British album charts on April 15th, 1967, it stayed for forty-eight weeks and reached the number six position. In the U.K. sales topped 400,000. James Last had arrived.
James Last albums were selling by the thousands in Germany, Holland, Belgium, and here in the United Kingdom. Album after album reached the national charts. Whilst on a crest of the wave in Europe, it is reported that in Canada in 1967, five percent of the total record sales were by James Last. By 1969, the success in the record sales was phenomenal, but the Last band was a studio band, and yet to appear live. During 1969 Hans Last was persuaded to take the James Last Orchestra on tour. A four week tour of Germany had been lined up.
Many artists throughout the music business are great on disc, and terrible on stage, and vice-versa. Hansi wanted to recreate on stage the stereo sound which had been so succesful in the studio.
First the services of Peter Klemt were secured, he had succesfully mastered and mixed the early recordings. Peter immediately went out and purchased two mixers, one for the Hanover strings, whom Hansi had hired for the tour, and one for the brass section. The rhythm quartet was in front flanked by the English choir. By the end of the tour, Last was well and truly established. Soon plans were in hand to take the Orchestra to Canada for Expo 69 in Montreal.
1969 was a big year for the James Last Orchestra. In Cannes they received the International Midem Prize, the music industry’s Oscar. In Germany they were voted the number one Orchestra. The Germans gave Hansi the title of “Arranger of the Year”.
In 1970 the Last Orchestra were on the road in Germany again, a tour which had to be lengthened because of the demand for tickets. They toured Denmark and the gold discs were arriving thick and fast.
Now Hansi wanted to conquer the British. The entourage finally arrived in October, 1971. The New Victoria Theatre in London, housed the first concert. Whilst records came at the rate of around six a year, 1972, must have been the most productive year on the road. Another tour of Germany was followed by visits to Russia, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. 10,000 fans attended a James Last Voodoo Party in the Hamburg woods.
Last returned to Britain in 1973. The tour included three sell out concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall. By the time the 1973, UK tour was under way, twenty seven Last albums have entered the British album charts. After Britain, another tour of Canada and in December 1973, Hansi received his 100th Gold Record. During 1973, we saw the composition of a leissure centre Hansi built for the band at Fintel on Lumberg Heath. Here the band coudl relax and take a few days break, the complex had half a dozen or so bedrooms, kitchen, lounge, sports equipment. All the members in the band were given a key, and the centre was frequently used by many Last musicians to get away and relax after weeks on the road and in the recording studio.
By the mid-seventies Hansi and the James Last Orchestra were established as a top recording artist and sell out concerts attraction around the world. Hansi, was also scoring as a composer. Most Last albums have included a Last composition. In March 1969 Andy Williams entered the U.S. charts with Hansi’s composition “Happy Heart”, it stayed for 22 weeks and reached number seven. Here in May, it reached number nineteen, appearing in the charts for nine weeks. Elvis Presley recorded Hansi’s composition called “No Words”, words were added and “No Words” became “Fool”. “Fool” reached number 23 in the U.K. charts in August 1973 and stayed for seven weeks.
Without any chart success, probably the most famous Last composition is “Games That Lovers Play”. Over 100 recordings available worldwide including versions by Freddy Quinn, Connie Francis and Eddie Fisher.
Although Andy Williams scored with “Happy Heart” the number has been recorded by Petula Clark, Roger Williams, The Gunter Kaftan Choir, The Anita Kerr Singers, Norrie Paramor and his Orchestra and Peggy March.
Television has played a major part in the James Last success story. In 1968 ZDF Television launched a new music spectacular entitled Star Parade. The James Last Orchestra were residents for the 50 shows produced. The biggest names in music all guested on the show; Abba, Barry Manilow, Cliff Richard, Boney M, Roger Whitaker. Many television specials had been produced here in the United Kingdom. In 1971 on their first British tour the BBC took Hansi and the Orchestra along to the Dorchester Hotel, to record a fifty minute special before an invited audience. Dance Night at the Royal Albert Hall was captured by the Beeb, and in 1976 was recorded a the Shepherd Bush studios.
By 1978, the James Last Orchestra, had achieved virtually what they set out to do. Hansi had noticed that at concerts in Great Britain, the audience would get up and dance when he played his non stop dancing titles. The German audiences loved him too, and so later that year Hansi persuaded ZDF Television to come to London, to record a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The show was put together over two nights, each of those two nights some 5000 fans attended and had a ball.
The British fans were on their feet long before the interval, dancing and prancing around the Royal Albert Hall arena to their favourite James Last polkas. The second half was a riot, the fans had invaded the stage, they danced, they sang, and when Hansi asked them to sit on the floor, they sat on the floor and listened to “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”.
Whilst seated, they sang “Cockless and Mussels”, “Daisy, Daisy”, and “Abide With Me”. Back on their feet James Last struck up the band and introduced his version of “Dancing Party”, and what a Dancing Party it was, all taking place at a James Last concert and being captured on film.
The show entitled “Live in London” became available on a single album in Germany, a double album in Great Britain. In Germany on television, ZDF presented a ninety minute special, whilst here the BBC gave us two thirty minute shows. On top of that a year or so later, Polydor released the official video, which they sold by the case load. In fact, sales were so good that several dealers listed this video in their top sellers chart.
On April 23rd, 1978 Hansi received the highest award that can be won in Germany. He was awarded the “Bundesverdienstkreuz” by the President of West Germany, for his services to his country.
April 1979, Hansi celebrated his fiftieth birthday in London and the fans presented him with a special birthday cake. In fact, seven cakes shaped into letters and numbers spelling out H-A-N-S-I-5-0. Two days earlier, Hansi’s most successful recording released in Great Britain’s “Last The Whole Night Long” entered the British charts. It reached number two and stayed in the charts for forty five weeks.
The demand for live concerts was as high as ever. Late October 1979, the entourage left Hamburg for a month long tour of Japan. For this special occcasion, Hansi recorded a new album specially for the Japanese market entitled “Paintings”. Last was succesful now almost throughout the whole world. Although Hansi has a home in Florida, success in the U.S. has been limited to one album making eighty in the Billboard Top 100.
In April 1980, “The Seduction” hit the Billboard singles charts. It received air play across the United States, achieved position twenty eight and stayed for six weeks. A month later it made the British charts for four weeks reaching position number forty-eight.
In June 1980, the ZDF Television series “Star Parade” came to a close after 50 minute shows. In September 1980, ZDF launched the “Show Express”, another ninety minute production featuring James Last, but his came to a halt after ten shows.
James Last worldwide album sales cannot be counted – only estimated. However, in Germany, the trade paper Musicmart claimed Last has sold 1,800,000 in Germany in 1979, and an American publication called “They Have Sold A Million” claim estimated worldwide sales in excess of 40 billion. Throughout the sixties and seventies, the Last sound was dominant, hearing a track on the radio, the fans would reply “that is James Last”.
In the eighties, Hansi experimented with some new sounds. His album “Biscaya” strongly featured bandoneon and synthesizer, “Bluebird” featured pan flute and synthesizer, “Deutsche Vita” was mainly electronic. Many fans welcomed the new sounds, sound were disappointed that the Old James Last sound was missing. However, tracks from these albums, became firm favourites and concert show pieces.
Last continued to record around six albums per year. He did not spend so much time on the road, but in the early years of the new millennium he consistently toured the United Kingdom, Belgium and Holland.
In 1987, Last took the Orchestra to East Berlin for four sell out concerts, the East Berliners had a ball. From those four sell out concerts, Polydor released an album “Live in Berlin”, followed by a video. In 1990, James Last joined forces with Richard Clayderman to produce a new album, “Golden Hearts”.
By his own admission Last played as hard as he worked and his memoirs, My Autobiography (2007), revealed a man whose workaholic lifestyle and enthusiastic partying (including struggles with alcohol and serial womanising) blinded him to the demands of his family for many years. He always enjoyed a close relationship with his orchestra, however, many members of which had been with him from the beginning to the end of his career.
When his first wife Waltraud, whom he had married in 1955, died in 1997 he moderated the more excessive aspects of his behaviour, eventually marrying his second wife Christine, with whom he divided his time between homes in Hamburg and Florida. She survives him, with two children of his first marriage.
Songs composed by Last which achieved success in the US include “Happy Heart” and “Music From Across The Way”, both recorded by Andy Williams, “Games That Lovers Play”, recorded by Eddie Fisher, and “Fool”, recorded by Elvis Presley. By the time of his farewell tour in the spring of 2015, Last was reported to have sold well over 200 million albums.
James undertook his final tour months before his death at age 86, upon discovering in September 2014 that a life threatening illness had worsened. His final UK performance was his 90th at London’s Royal Albert Hall, more than any other performer except Eric Clapton.
He died 86 years old on June 9, 2015.
Writing in The Independent, Spencer Leigh suggested once that Last’s Non-Stop Dancing albums “paved the way for disco and dance mixes”. Asked if he minded being labelled the “King of Corn”, Last had replied “No, because it is true”.
June 6, 2015 – Ruth Alice Ronnie Gilbert (the Weavers) was born on September 7, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York City.
Ronnie Gilbert was no stranger to success or to controversy. Born to working-class Jewish parents in New York City, she refused to participate in her 1940s high-school senior play because she was convinced of the racial injustice of the minstrel show theme.
The family moved to Washington, DC during World War II. This is where she met folklorist Alan Lomax and Woody Guthrie and other folk singers. She performed in the early 1940s with the Priority Ramblers.
In the 1950s, Gilbert melded her joyous contralto with the radical voices of Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Fred Hellerman in their celebrated group the Weavers, which brought folk rhythms and social activism to the mainstream, even while being branded as subversives in the hysteria of the McCarthy era and blacklisted. So they were briefly one of the most popular groups in America, but were denied the opportunity to reap the benefits of their fame when they were targeted by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations of suspected Communists and found themselves blacklisted. American folk singer, songwriter, actress and political activist.
In 1963, divorced both from her husband and from the reigning cultural expectations of a wife, Gilbert was beginning to build a solo singing career when she met Joseph Chaikin, then a young actor/director with a fledgling experimental troupe, The Open Theater. After she concentrated on theatre, in 1968 appearing on Broadway in The Man in the Glass Booth.
In the 1970s, Gilbert’s career took yet another surprising turn when she earned an M.A. in clinical psychology and worked as a therapist for a few years.
After a one-off reunion with the Weavers at Carnegie Hall in 1980 Ronnie was coaxed back to folk music in 1983 by the singer Holly Near, who took her on tour as a duo and with Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie; they all released an album together in 1985, HARP: A Time To Sing.
The 1980s saw Gilbert make her debut appearance at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, reading a lesbian-themed poem. Gilbert met, was inspired by, and sang with Holly Near, recording Lifeline (live, 1983) and Singing with You (1986) with Near, and Harp (1985) with Near, Arlo Guthrie, and Pete Seeger.
Gilbert’s debut solo release, The Spirit Is Free (1985) was released on the feminist Redwood label; the live recording of Love Will Find a Way followed, in 1989, on the Abbe Alice label, the collaborative product of a new alliance with manager/partner Donna Korones. In 1990, Gilbert gave the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Association of Women’s Music and Culture (AWMAC). She also performed a one-woman theater piece on the life of the legendary American labor activist Mother Jones.
Intermittent reunions of the Weavers culminated in a lifetime achievement Grammy award in 2006. She celebrated her 70th birthday on tour with Holly Near; and was still touring well into her eighties.
Ronnie Gilbert died in Mill Valley, California on June 6, 2015 at the age of 88.
June 3, 2015 – Andrew Maurice Gold was born on August 2, 1951 at Burbank, Los Angeles, into a musical family. His father, Ernest Gold, composed the scores for dozens of Hollywood films, including Exodus (1960) — for which he won an Oscar — Too Much Too Soon (1958) and On The Beach (1959); his mother, the classically-trained soprano Marni Nixon, was best known for supplying the singing voices for film actresses, notably Deborah Kerr in The King And I (1956), Natalie Wood in West Side Story (1961), and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964). She also appeared as Sister Sophia in The Sound Of Music (1965).
Andrew was 13 when he started writing pop songs, although he never learned to read music. At Oakwood School in north Hollywood, he introduced himself to the singer Linda Ronstadt when she played a gig there with her group the Stone Poneys . By the early 1970s he had joined her band, and in 1974 played a variety of instruments and made the musical arrangements for Linda Ronstadt’s breakthrough album Heart Like A Wheel, as well as for her next four albums. Among other accomplishments, he played the majority of instruments on “You’re No Good,” Ronstadt’s only #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, and the same on “When Will I Be Loved,” “Heat Wave” and many other classic hits. He was in her band from 1973 until 1977, and then sporadically throughout the 1980s and 1990s.Continue reading Andrew Gold 6/2015
May 6, 2015 – Lester Errol Brown was born on December 11, 1943 in Kingston, Jamaica, but moved with his family, to the UK when he was twelve years old. In the late 60s, Errol and his friend Tony Wilson formed a band which was first called ‘Hot Chocolate Band’ but this was soon shortened to Hot Chocolate by Mickie Most.
Hot Chocolate started their recording career making a reggae version of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”, but Errol was told he needed permission. He was contacted by Apple Records, discovered that Lennon liked his version, and the group was subsequently signed to Apple Records. The link was short-lived as The Beatles were starting to break up, and the Apple connection soon ended. But it was in the disco era of the mid-1970s when Hot Chocolate became a big success. A combination of high production standards, the growing confidence of the main songwriting team of Errol and Tony Wilson and tight harmonies enabled them to secure further big hits such as “You Sexy Thing” and “Every 1’s a Winner”, which were also U.S. hits, peaking at No.3 in 1976 and No.6 in 1979, respectively. After Tony’s departure for a solo career, Errol took over songwriting duties on his own.
In 1977, after 15 hits, they finally reached Number One with “So You Win Again”. The band became the only group, and one of just three acts, that had a hit in every year of the 1970s in the UK charts, the others being Elvis Presley and Diana Ross. The band eventually had at least one hit, every year, between 1970 and 1984. Critically, they were often lambasted or simply ignored, and apart from compilations their albums such as Cicero Park sold modestly.
The band continued well into the 1980s, and clocked up another big hit record: “It Started With a Kiss”, in 1982, which reached Number 5 in the UK. In all, the group charted 25 UK Top 40 hit singles. Their single “You Sexy Thing” became the only track that made British Top Ten status in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
In 1981, he performed at the wedding reception following the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, at Buckingham Palace and when Hot Chocolate disbanded in 1986, Errol began to concerntrate more on his solo career.
Two of his singles “Personal Touch” and “Body Rockin'”made the UK Singles Chart. Errol was highly honored in 2003, when Queen Elizabeth II named him a Member of the Order of the British Empire for “services to popular music for the United Kingdom”. Then honored again the following year in 2004, he received an Ivor Novello Award for outstanding contributions to British music.
He died of liver cancer at his home in the Bahamas on May 6, 2015 at the age of 71.
April 30, 2015 – Benjamin Earl ‘Ben E’ King was born on September 28, 1938, became perhaps best known as the singer and co-composer of “Stand by Me”—a US Top 10 hit, both in 1961 and later in 1986 (when it was used as the theme to the film of the same name), a number one hit in the UK in 1987, and no. 25 on the RIAA’s list of Songs of the Century—and as one of the principal lead singers of the R&B vocal group the Drifters.
When you think of Ben E. King, you don’t think of teenage crushes, even though his songs were the soundtrack for hundreds of millions of them. You think of eternal life and everlasting love, or at least the desire for these things.
“Among all the kids singing back then, Ben was the most mature-sounding young man,” songwriter/producer Mike Stoller told Jazzwax in 2012. “His delivery and the timbre of his voice was advanced beyond his years. Most of the young kids singing back then sounded like, well, kids. Ben had a style that was akin to Arthur Prysock or Billy Eckstine. His sound was settled. It wasn’t in a hurry. That was a wonderful characteristic about Ben.”
King said that he was “never supposed to be a lead singer” because, as a baritone, his role was to provide backup, but once he was unexpectedly drafted to sing lead on the Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby,” an unlikely baritone star was born. His vocal sound was so settled and timeless that pop fans tended to either assume King was already long-dead or would never die.
He passed away Thursday April 30, 2015 of natural causes at 76, just a little more than a month after “Stand by Me” was selected for induction into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
Here are parts of the stories behind a few of his most beloved recordings:
STAND BY ME
“Stand by Me” was very loosely based on a gospel song, transferring that spiritual craving into the yearning to have earthly fidelity survive even longer than the hereafter. That was a lot of weight for one young man still in his early 20s to carry, but King could shoulder it.
According to the documentary History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Ben E. King had no intention of recording the song himself when he wrote it. King had written it for The Drifters, who passed on recording it. After the “Spanish Harlem” recording session, he had some studio time left over. The session’s producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, asked if he had any more songs. King played “Stand by Me” on the piano for them. They liked it and called the studio musicians back in to record it.
Stoller recalls it differently:
I remember arriving at our office as Jerry and Ben were working on lyrics for a new song. King had the beginnings of a melody that he was singing a cappella. I went to the piano and worked up the harmonies, developing a bass pattern that became the signature of the song. Ben and Jerry quickly finished the lyrics …
In another interview, Stoller said:
Ben E. had the beginnings of a song—both words and music. He worked on the lyrics together with Jerry, and I added elements to the music, particularly the bass line. To some degree, it’s based on a gospel song called “Lord Stand By Me”. I have a feeling that Jerry and Ben E. were inspired by it. Ben, of course, had a strong background in church music. He’s a 50% writer on the song, and Jerry and I are 25% each…. When I walked in, Jerry and Ben E. were working on the lyri