November 30, 1996 –Tiny Tim was born Herbert Khaury, and gave his birth date as April 12, 1932. The son of a Lebanese father and Jewish mother, he grew up in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, and was a loner, eventually dropping out of high school.
His interest in American popular music (chiefly from the 1890s to the 1930s) began at a young age, as did his desire to be a singer, and accordingly he learned guitar and ukulele. His first performances — under the alias Larry Love — took place in the early ’50s, and according to legend, he debuted at a lesbian cabaret in Greenwich Village called the Page 3, where he became a regular. Khaury performed at small clubs, parties, and talent shows under a variety of names; his parents tried to discourage him at first, but relented when they saw that not every gig ended in ridicule.
By the early ’60s, he had gained a cult following around the thriving Greenwich Village music scene, particularly after he began to incorporate bizarre renditions of contemporary songs into his repertoire. He finally settled on the name Tiny Tim after the character in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (according to some accounts, it was suggested by a manager accustomed to working with midgets). Tim’s appearance in the film You Are What You Eat led to a booking on the hugely popular comedy series Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.
He was an instant sensation; whether or not he was seen as an object of ridicule, no one had ever seen anything like him. He appeared several more times on Laugh-In, and became a frequent guest on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, also performing on the Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason variety shows. His eccentric personality became as well-known as his music: he was obsessed with bodily cleanliness, and his distaste for sex seemed logical when paired with his gentle, asexual demeanor.
A hot commodity, Tim signed a record deal with Reprise and issued his debut album, God Bless Tiny Tim, in 1968. His signature rendition of “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips” became a hit, and the LP sold over 200,000 copies. Striking while the iron was hot, Tim recorded a follow-up, Tiny Tim’s Second Album, which was released at the end of 1968. Its follow-up, an album of children’s songs titled For All My Little Friends was released in August of 1969.
On December 17 of that year, Tim exchanged vows and tungsten wedding bands when he married his girlfriend, 17-year-old Victoria Budinger (known as Miss Vicki, in typically respectful Tim fashion), on the Johnny Carson show. The couple later had a daughter, Tulip, but mostly lived apart, and divorced after eight years. Following his wedding, Tim continued to perform around the country, including some lucrative gigs in Las Vegas; unfortunately, many of his business associates took advantage of his naïveté, leaving him with few savings from his run of success.
By the early ’70s, perhaps due to simple familiarity, America’s fascination with Tiny Tim had waned. Even after the TV appearances and high-profile gigs dried up, Tim kept plugging away, performing whenever and wherever he could. He recorded steadily for a series of mostly small labels throughout the 70’s and 80’s.
He remarried in 1984 to 23-year-old Miss Jan. They lived apart most of the time and the marriage lasted until 1994. Tim joined a circus for 36 weeks.
In the late ’80s, he moved to Des Moines, IA. In 1992. In August of 1995 he married for a third time to Miss Sue, and he moved to Minneapolis.
During the mid-’90s, Tim raised his public profile with appearances on the Conan O’Brien and Howard Stern shows; however, in September of 1996, he suffered a heart attack while performing at a ukulele festival in Massachusetts. Upon his release from the hospital, Tim resumed his concert schedule, but sadly, on November 30, he suffered another heart attack in Minneapolis while performing “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips,” and died an hour later at age 64.
November 2, 1996 – Eva Marie Cassidy was born on February 2, 1963 in Washington DC. She died at the age of 33 following a three-month battle with bone cancer. She was, for sure, a diamond, no longer in the rough but not yet in the proper setting that would showcase a voice so pure, so strong, so passionate that it should have found a home just about anywhere.
Cassidy didn’t have any concept of target audiences or musical distinctions. She could sing anything — folk, blues, pop, jazz, R&B, gospel — and make it sound like it was the only music that mattered.
September 13, 1996 – Tupac Amaru Shakur or Tupac Shakur was an American rapper and actor with a net worth of US$40 Million mostly earned since he died. He started his career as a roadie, backup dancer and became one of the best-selling music artist in history, who sold over 75 million of his albums worldwide as of 2010. He ranked at number two in the list of The Greatest MCs of All Time and Rolling Stone named him the 86th Greatest Artist of All Time. He made his debut in the film, “Nothing But Trouble” in 1991. Five years later he was dead.
Shakur was shot several times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Koval Lane on September 7, 1996. He died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds on September 13, 1996. Continue reading Tupac Shakur 9/1996
August 10, 1996 – Mel Taylor (the Ventures) was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 24, 1933, the first child of Grace and Lawrence Taylor. His mother”s family was Russian/Eastern European Jewish, and his father”s family was from the Tennessee/North Carolina area, with English, German, Dutch and Cherokee roots.
His early years were spent in Brooklyn but, in the summer of 1939, his father took him back to the family home in Johnson City, TN, for the first of many visits. His father, grandfather and uncles all played guitar or banjo, and Mel became used to music being an integral part of his life. Back in New York, he joined the Police Athletic League and excelled in the 100-yard dash. He also developed a lifelong passion for the Dodgers baseball team.
Mel’s interest in the drums began early, too. His mother remembered him banging on pots and pans with knitting needles, then drumsticks. In school, he joined the drum and bugle corps, and marched in the Macy’s parade. His inspiration came from big bands and especially Gene Krupa, whom he heard on the radio and whose style he began to copy.
In his early teens, Mel moved permanently to Tennessee where he attended high school. After trying out for the football team, he found he preferred marching in the band instead. He joined the Navy at the age of 17 and, after basic training in the Great Lakes region, was posted to Pensacola where he was assigned to a crash crew for the Navy pilots’ training facility.
After leaving the Navy, Mel returned to Tennessee where he started playing music on local radio and TV shows. His younger brother, Larry Taylor (later bass player with Canned Heat), remembers that Mel played rhythm guitar and sang back-up on a rockabilly TV show in Johnson City with Eddie Skelton. He later played drums with Joe Franklin”s group, and even appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show — or rather his arm did, as that was all anyone could see of him when the show aired! He also played guitar and sang on his own (very) early morning radio show, as “Mel Taylor and the Twilight Ramblers”.
Mel moved his family, including 4 small children, out to California in 1958. During the day, Mel worked LA Grand Central Market, as a meat cutter – a trade he had learned in Tennessee. By night however, he played drums in clubs around the L.A. area and became quite sought after. Soon he was able to quit his day job, and graduate to session work in the recording studios. His early credits include “The Monster Mash” with Bobby “Boris” Pickett, “The Lonely Bull” with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (for which he was paid $10!), various cuts with Buck Owens, and many more. He also became house drummer at the famous Palomino Club in North Hollywood.
In the late 1950″s and early 1960″s everyone in the music business frequented the Palomino – and often sat in with the house band, so Mel had the opportunity to meet and play with many hit artists. One night in 1962, The Ventures came to the Palomino after doing a TV show in Hollywood, but without their drummer, so Mel obliged and played “Walk Don”t Run” with the group.
Later, The Ventures asked him if he would be interested in joining them, as their original drummer was unable to travel. Shortly thereafter, they called Mel in to do some recording and, a few months later, to go on the road with them. From 1963 on, Mel became known as The Ventures” drummer, recording and performing with them for more than 32 years, traveling all over the US, to Europe and to Japan, where The Ventures” annual tour was considered a major cultural event.
He released a solo album in the late 1960s and formed his own band called Mel Taylor & The Dynamics in the late 1970s
In July 1996, while on tour in Japan with The Ventures, Mel was diagnosed with pneumonia, but subsequently a malignant tumor was found in his lungs. He continued to play until August 1, so that a replacement drummer could be found for the balance of the tour. On August 2, Mel returned to Los Angeles for further testing, but the cancer was so fast-moving that, after less than 10 days at home, he died very suddenly on August 11 at the age of 62.
July 16, 1996 – John Anthony Panozzo (Styx) was born on September 20, 1948 in the Roseland/Pullman neighborhood, on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, with his fraternal twin brother, Chuck (born 90 minutes apart).
At age 7, the twins took musical lessons from their uncle in which John took an interest in drums and percussion. They attended Catholic school and eventually they were part of a three-piece band in which John played drums and Chuck played guitar. They would play weddings at age 12 and were paid $15 apiece.
Then, in 1961, John, Chuck, and their neighbor, Dennis DeYoung, formed a band called The Tradewinds in which John played drums, Chuck played guitar, and Dennis played the accordion and sang. They played local gigs at bars and began gaining popularity as a garage band on the city’s South Side. In 1968, Chuck switched to bass and they added guitarists/vocalists James “J.Y.” Young and John Curulewski, changing their name to TW4. The band signed to Wooden Nickel Records and changed their name to Styx, after the Greek name for the mythological river of the dead.
At first Styx struggled to get recognition outside their native Illinois. In 1975, “Lady”, a ballad culled from their second album, started to pick up nationwide airplay and eventually became a Top Ten US hit three years after its original release.
Suddenly promoted into a bigger league, the outfit signed to A&M Records and replaced Curulewski with the guitarist Tommy Shaw, who became one of their main writers with Young and De Young. The Panozzo brothers acted as a more than capable rhythm section for this hard-working band who didn’t flinch at doing 110 gigs in six months (this punishing schedule would later take its toll).
At the height of their fame in the late Seventies and early Eighties, Styx were prime exponents of the much-maligned power ballad and pomp-rock genres. As such, they have forever been lumped together with acts like Asia, Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Kansas, Reo Speedwagon and Toto whose songs dominated American radio and the Simon Bates Our Tune and Golden Hour slots.
Styx undoubtedly became one of the prototypes and inspirations for the parodic Rob Reiner movie Spinal Tap with their elaborate shows based around concept albums like The Grand Illusion, Cornerstone and Paradise Theater (all platinum records). In 1979, following hit singles such as “Lorelei”, “Mademoiselle”, “Come Sail Away” and “Renegade”, a US survey by Gallup revealed the scary fact that, while punk and new wave were ruling the UK, Styx was the most popular rock band with American teenagers.
At the end of that year, the De Young ballad “Babe” became an American no 1 and a million-seller. Having also conquered Canada, Styx could at last turn their attention to overseas territories. In 1980, “Babe” duly entered the British Top 10 and the group played the Hammersmith Odeon in London.
The band may have over-reached itself with the ambitious Kilroy Was Here, which attempted to blend rock and theatre while dealing with the state of the nation, but their singles (“Mr Roboto” and “Don’t Let It End” in 1983) still secured high placings in the US charts.
However, after the obligatory double live album Caught in the Act, the now feuding components of Styx took an exten-ded break. De Young and Shaw both launched solo careers, the latter eventually joining veteran gonzo- rocker Ted Nugent in the Damn Yankees supergroup.
In 1990, the other four Styx members recruited Glen Burtnik to replace Shaw and hit the comeback trail with their Edge of the Century album. The following year, on a wave of patriotism fuelled by the Gulf War, their “Show Me the Way” single (not the Peter Frampton song of the same title) became an anthem and a US Top 10 hit.
Years of excessive drinking began to take a toll on Panozzo’s liver. In the mid-1990s, as Styx was about to embark on its first tour with the classic line-up since 1983, John fell seriously ill and began battling cirrhosis of the liver, eventually dying of gastrointestinal hemorrhaging and cirrhosis on July 16, 1996. He was 47 years old.
The band dedicated their 1996 Return to Paradise tour to him, and Tommy Shaw, who had earlier replaced Curulewski, wrote the song “Dear John” as the band’s final tribute to their drummer and friend.
July 17, 1996 – Bryan James “Chas” Chandler (the Animals) was born in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne in Northumberland England on December 18, 1938.
After leaving school, he worked as a turner in the Tyneside shipyards. Having originally learned to play the guitar, he became the bass player with The Alan Price Trio in 1962. After Eric Burdon joined the band, the Alan Price Trio was renamed The Animals and became one of the most successful R&B bands ever.
The hulking bassist (Chandler stood six-foot-four) was on all of the Animals’ recordings from their first sides in 1963 through late 1966, when the nucleus of the original group disbanded. Chandler’s bass lines were rarely given critical attention but some, including the opening riff of the group’s 1965 hit “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s my life” subsequently received praise. Chandler was also the most prominent of the group’s backing vocalists and did occasional songwriting with Burdon. In 1966, despite commercial success, Chandler became disillusioned with the lack of money, recalling that, “We toured non-stop for three years, doing 300 gigs a year and we hardly got a penny.”
However during his final tour with The Animals, Chandler was advised by Keith Richards’ girlfriend, Linda Keith, to go see an up-coming guitarist, Jimmy James, who was playing with the Blue Flames at the Cafe Wha in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Chandler was especially impressed by Jimmy James’s performance of the Tim Rose song “Hey Joe”, offered to be his manager and invited him to London. James asked Chandler if he could introduce him to Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and his “Yes” clinched the deal. His move across the Atlantic was made possible with the help of Animals manager Michael Jeffery, who suggested that he revert to his actual name Jimi Hendrix, and later suggested naming the band the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In Britain, Chandler recruited bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell as the other members of the Experience.
His enthusiasm fueled Hendrix during the early days. While engineers such as Eddie Kramer, George Chkiantz, and Gary Kellgren were also important to capturing the Experience’s sound in the studio, Chandler was invaluable in helping to select and refine the material. Also he, unlike many producers, had been on the other side of the glass booth; his previous experience in the studio as a member of a top group no doubt helped earn Hendrix’s respect and prepare both of them for the challenge of making the best records possible.
He was also instrumental in introducing Hendrix to Eric Clapton. It was through this introduction that Hendrix was given the opportunity to play with Clapton and Cream on stage. It was Chandler’s idea for Hendrix to set his guitar on fire, which made national news when this idea was used at a concert at the Finsbury Astoria Theatre and subsequently at the Monterey Pop festival. Hendrix’s sound engineer Eddie Kramer later recalled that Chandler was very hands on with the first two Hendrix albums, adding that “he was his mentor and I think it was very necessary.”
Increasingly frustrated at Hendrix’s hectic lifestyle and progressively more time-consuming dallying in the studio, however, Chandler ended his association with the Experience in the middle of the Electric Lady land sessions in 1968, claiming they were self-indulgent. He left management services in the hands of Jeffery in the following year.
Chandler’s role in Hendrix’s career is soften underestimated by biographers, particularly those who insist on viewing Hendrix as a genius manipulated by virtually everyone around him. Chandler risked almost all of his resources to launch Hendrix’s career, funding the “Hey Joe” session before Hendrix had a contract, letting Hendrix live in his flat when the pair arrived in London, and even letting the guitarist use the flat for rehearsal at the outset.
Chandler kick-started Hendrix’s songwriting by insisting that Jimi write the B-side to “Hey Joe,” although Hendrix had written little or no songs previously and wanted to do a cover tune (Chandler also wanted to make sure Hendrix got some publishing royalties). Partially as a result of the books in Chandler’s apartment, particularly the science fiction ones, Hendrix’s lyrics took on a poetic and cosmic influence. Most importantly, Chandler was able, at least at first, to keep the Experience focused and productive in the studio. Had he been able to continue working with the group as he had in 1966 and 1967, there’s reason to believe that Hendrix’s final records, and indeed final years of his life, would have been more coherent and productive as well.
During the two year Hendrix era, Chandler also did a little production for the Soft Machine, another group in the Jeffery/Chandler stable. He produced the A-side of their first single (1967’s “Love Makes Sweet Music”) and co-produced their debut album in 1968 with Tom Wilson; Soft Machine bassist Kevin Ayers went on record with his dissatisfaction with that record’s production, although he targeted Wilson for most of the blame.
But Chandler’s major financial coup would be as producer, and eventually manager, of Slade, the glammy British hard rock group that was perennially on the British charts in the ’70s. Chandler had found the group after forming a production company with rock entrepreneur Robert Stigwood, who allowed Chandler to buy the management rights to the band for 5,000 pounds in 1972. Chandler then managed and produced Slade for twelve years, during which they achieved six number one chart hits in the UK.
He then went on to manage and produce the English rock band Slade for twelve years. During this time, Chandler bought and ran IBC Studios, which he renamed Portland Recording Studios, after the studio address of 35 Portland Place, London and ran it for four years until he sold it to Don Arden.
In 1977, Chandler played and recorded with The Animals during a brief reunion and he joined them again for a further revival in 1983, at which point he sold his business interests, in order to concentrate on being a musician. During the early 1990s, he helped finance the development of Newcastle Arena, a ten-thousand seat sports and entertainment venue that opened in 1995.
Chandler died while undergoing tests related to an aortic aneurysm at Newcastle General Hospital on 17 July 1996, only days after performing his final solo show. He was 57.
When Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar, Chas Chandler was ready with the lighter fuel. When Slade were desperate for a new image, Chandler dressed the band up as skinheads.
When Chandler quit The Animals and swapped his caftan for a suit, he swiftly became one of the most respected and successful managers and producers of the rock age.
He discovered Jimi Hendrix, but it was his energy and commitment that helped turn a shy young American backing guitarist into a dynamic performer and a rock legend. Their mutual regard was based on trust and friendship. When their partnership eventually broke down, Chandler found it a bitter blow. But just before Hendrix died in September 1970, he called upon his old manager once more for help and guidance. Chas Chandler was a man that anxious artists knew they could trust.
July 12, 1996 – Jonathan David Melvoin (Prince, the Smashing Pumpkins) was born on December 6th 1961 in Los Angeles, California. He was the brother of twins Susannah and Wendy Melvoin of Prince and the Revolution, and son of Wrecking Crew musician Mike Melvoin. He first learned to play drums at the age of five and was described by friends and relatives as a musician who could play anything.
His parents divorced when he was 14, and he moved with his mother from California to New York City and eventually to Conway, N.H.
As keyboard player and drummer; he performed with many punk bands in the ’80s such as The Dickies, and also made musical contributions to many of Susannah and Wendy Melvoin projects, as well as Prince and the Revolution’s album “Around the World in a Day”.
He was also a member of The Family, a Prince side project which produced the original recording of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and made musical contributions to many Wendy & Lisa projects, as well as to Prince and the Revolution’s album Around the World in a Day. He also played drums on Do U Lie? from the 1986 Prince & the Revolution album Parade. At the time of his death he was the (already fired) touring keyboardist for The Smashing Pumpkins during their worldwide tour for the album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
In 1994, Melvoin, who worked between gigs as an emergency medical technician, and his wife, Laura, bought a home in Kearsarge, N.H., and prepared for the birth of their son Jacob August in the spring of 1995.
On July 12, 1996 Melvoin died in New York City at age 34 from a potent mixture of alcohol and heroin (specifically a substance known as Red Rum) in Manhattan’s Regency Hotel. Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, present at the scene, tried but failed to revive him. There is much mystery and speculation about what actually took place. Chamberlin was allegedly advised by 9-1-1 operators to put Melvoin’s head in the shower in an attempt to revive him until paramedics arrived.
Melvoin was pronounced dead at the scene. Chamberlin was subsequently fired from the band and criminally charged. According to the band, there had been previous overdoses by both of them. Melvoin had already been fired, but was continuing to tour with The Smashing Pumpkins until the end of the tour leg. Melvoin’s replacement was Dennis Flemion of The Frogs. His last gig with the Pumpkins was at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.
The Smashing Pumpkins were not invited to Melvoin’s funeral. Several songs were inspired by his death, including the Sarah McLachlan song “Angel”, the Wendy & Lisa song “Jonathan” (as Girl Bros.), and Prince’s “The Love We Make” from the album Emancipation.
June 11, 1996 – Alan Blakley (the Tremeloes) was born on April 1st 1942 in Bromley, Kent, England. Being a teenager in the mid fifties in England with so many new music influences (Skiffle, blues, rock and roll), a young lad learned to play an instrument, or 3 in Alan’s case.
Drummer, rhythm guitarist, keyboardist, he became a founding member of the Tremeloes with fourteen UK and two U.S. Top 20 hit singles to their name. The band first got together in 1958, when they were all in their mid-teens. In the original line-up Alan was on drums, with Brian Poole as vocals and guitarist, Alan Howard playing saxophone and Graham Scott on guitar. Alan very soon took over on guitar to leave Brian as front man – singer.
By 1961, a few line-up changes and Alan now on keyboards, they had turned professional. The original quintet consisted of lead vocalist Brian Poole, lead guitarist Rick West (born Richard Westwood), rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Alan Blakley, bassist Alan Howard and drummer Dave Munden.
On New Year’s Day, 1962, Decca, looking for a Beat group, auditioned two promising young bands: Brian Poole and the Tremeloes and a somewhat similar combo (also heavily influenced by Buddy Holly) from Liverpool, the Beatles. Decca chose Brian Poole and the Tremeloes over the Beatles, reportedly based on location – the Tremeloes were from the London area, making them more accessible than the Liverpool-based Beatles.
As Brian Poole and the Tremeloes they first charted with a version of “Twist and Shout” in 1963, quickly followed by their chart topping “Do You Love Me” making them the first south of England group to top the chart in the beat boom era.
In 1964 they made tours of South Africa and Australia, followed by a film A Touch of Blarney. When Brian Poole left the band for a solo career in 1966, Alan took over the leadership and the hits kept coming with among others “Even the Bad Times Are Good”; “(Call Me) Number One”; “Me And My Life”; ” Hello World “; “Suddenly You Love Me”; “Helule Helule”; “My Little Lady”; “Silence is Golden” and “Here Comes My Baby”. The latter two also entered the Top Twenty of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, in addition both tracks sold a million copies globally, each earning gold disc status, as did “Even the Bad Times Are Good”. A
lan wrote or co-wrote many of the Tremeloes songs and after their decline, he produced records for other acts, including The Rubettes, Bilbo and Mungo Jerry. In 1983 the original quartet reformed and made a cover version of the Europop hit “Words”
He died after battling cancer on June 11, 1996 at 54.
June 20, 1996 – James ‘Jim’ Ellison (Material Issue) was born on April 18, 1964 in Chicago, Illinois. As a teenager Jim was inspired by the likes of David Bowie, the Who, and Sweet to seriously take up guitar playing. Then while attending Chicago’s Columbia Art College he formed the powerpop band Material Issue in an effort to form a group that would merge the pop hooks of the Beatles, Cheap Trick and Big Star with a modern rock edge.
He soon got his wish, as he hooked up with fellow students Ted Ansani (bass, vocals) and Mike Zelenko (drums), forming Material Issue in 1986. With the group causing a local buzz from the get-go, Ellison also formed his own independent record label around this time, Big Block Records, which he ran out of his bedroom in Addison, Illinois. Continue reading Jim Ellison 6/1996
June 1, 1996 – Don Grolnick was born September 23, 1947 in Brooklyn and grew up in Levittown, New York, where he began his young musical life playing the accordion, but later switched to piano.
His interest in jazz began as a child when his father took him to a Count Basie concert, and soon after they also saw Erroll Garner perform at Carnegie Hall.
He went on to study at Tufts University with a major in philosophy, but his interest in music remained. After he left Tufts, Grolnick remained in Boston and teamed up with his boyhood friend Stuart Shulman on bass and guitarist Ken Melville to form the jazz rock band Fire & Ice.
They opened for bands such as B.B. King, The Jeff Beck Group and the Velvet Underground at Boston clubs like the Boston Tea Party and The Ark. This was Grolnick’s first foray into rock and blues as a performer, and he began to write within the medium as well.
As a session musician/pop pianist/composer/arranger he became most noteworthy for his work with artists such as Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Steely Dan, David Sanborn, Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, Billy Cobham, JD Souther, Marcus Miller, Bob Mintzer, Dave Holland and Bette Midler.
Grolnick moved back to New York in 1969 where he joined Melville in the jazz fusion band “D” (1969-1971), which also provided backup for Andy Warhol superstar Ultra Violet. He also played on albums by the Brecker Brothers and Ten Wheel Drive. He was a member of the groups Steps Ahead and Dreams, both with Michael Brecker.(1975)
Even though Grolnick played in rock bands and blues groups while a teenager, he was always interested in jazz. He worked with the Brecker Brothers (starting in 1975), and in the early ’80s with Steps Ahead. He had long been a busy session musician often utilized by pop singers. In the 1980s, Grolnick appeared in many settings including with Joe Farrell, George Benson, Peter Erskine, David Sanborn, John Scofield, Mike Stern, and the Bob Mintzer big band. Don Grolnick is heard at his best on his Hip Pocket debut Hearts and Numbers (1986), and on his two Blue Note albums, which have been reissued as a double-CD.
Don Grolnick was a subtle and rather underrated pianist throughout his career, but his flexibility and talents were well known to his fellow musicians.
Grolnick died on June 1, 1996 from non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. He was 48 years old.
May 17, 1996 – Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson was born on February 3rd 1935 in Houston Texas. His father John Sr. was a pianist, and taught his son the instrument. But young Watson was immediately attracted to the sound of the guitar, in particular the electric guitar as played by T-Bone Walker and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
His grandfather, a preacher, was also musical. “My grandfather used to sing while he’d play guitar in church, man,” Watson reflected many years later. When Johnny was 11, his grandfather offered to give him a guitar if, and only if, the boy didn’t play any of the “devil’s music”. Watson agreed, but later said “that was the first thing I did, play the devil’s music”. A musical prodigy, he played with Texas bluesmen Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland.
May 25, 1996 – Bradley James Nowell was born February 22, 1968 and was the founding frontman/guitarist of the ska rock group Sublime. He tragically did not live to see the success of the band’s best-known album, Sublime, having overdosed on heroin in 1996 before it was released.
He truly could have become a legend.
The story of Sublime is full of sad, strange twists, but this is perhaps the strangest: Since frontman Brad Nowell overdosed before his band became a phenomenon, before he had a chance to become a bona fide rock star, his death has been oddly free of the mythic impact of so many rock star flameouts.
Sublime’s success has come as a slow-building surprise, rather than in a rush of mourning, and it’s been based on the sweet funk Nowell cooked up during his too-short 28-year love affair with punk, hip-hop, reggae and whatever other music he could lay his hands on. Bradley Nowell died on May 25, 1996, in a San Francisco hotel room, after shooting up some heroin that was much more potent than the brown Mexican tar he was used to. His death came seven days after his wedding to Troy den Denkker, who’d given birth to their son, Jakob, 11 months earlier; it was two months before the release of Sublime, the album that would make his band famous. The heroin death of the Smashing Pumpkins’ touring keyboard player, Jonathon Melvoin, got more attention in the press. In fact, plenty of Sublime fans don’t even know that Nowell is gone. “We still get lots of letters for him,” says Brad’s father, Jim, who handles his son’s estate. “I have a boxful of them in my office.”
At least a boxful. By April 1997, a little less than a year after Nowell’s OD, Sublime had entered Billboard‘s Top 20, and the album’s first single, the breezily grooving, mostly acoustic hip-hop toaster “What I Got,” went to No. 1 on the Modern Rock chart. And that was only the beginning. Throughout 1997, Sublime produced hit after hit, and the album has sold more than 2 million copies to date. The follow-up to “What I Got” was the reggae-tinged ballad “Santeria”; then came the shuffling ska of “Wrong Way” and the dance-hall-flavored “Doin’ Time,” which Nowell constructed around the melody of the Gershwin standard “Summertime.”
Eighteen months after Nowell’s death, Sublime sold about 40,000 records every week; in November, MCA released Second-Hand Smoke, a collection of early songs, unissued material, remixes and alternate takes. Sublime’s surviving members recently inked a deal to release at least three more albums of archival material over the next few years. Incredibly, the band that was no longer a band became perhaps the biggest American rock act of 1997.
These are a few of the things Brad Nowell loved: surfing; eating; drugs; his dog, Louie; his son, Jakob; his wife, Troy; and music – maybe music most of all. He grew up gifted and musically inclined: His mother was a singer with perfect pitch, and his father liked to strum folk songs on the guitar. At Christmas, the acoustic guitars would come out and Brad would spend hours playing and singing with his father, grandfather and uncle. He devoured sounds, and could pick out a tune on the guitar after hearing it once. By the time he was 13, he’d started his own band, Hogan’s Heroes.
Nowell was 10 when his parents split up. He lived with his mom, Nancy, for four years before moving back to his dad’s house in Long Beach, Calif., in 1981. He was a smart kid who got good grades and had the brains to make his younger sister, Kellie, do his homework whenever he didn’t want to. “He was probably twice as intelligent as I am,” she says, “but he just wasn’t real school-minded.” Guidance counselors had a name for what was wrong with kids like Brad who failed to live up to their obvious potential – attention-deficit disorder – and a drug for it, too: Ritalin.
Unlike the wealthier, whiter suburbs of Orange County, where Brad’s mom lived, Long Beach is a funky old port town of 450,000, with affluent bayside communities – Belmont Shore and Naples – and Latino, African-American and Southeast Asian neighborhoods farther inland. With cheaper rents than Hollywood and lots of available space, Long Beach had a thriving art underground in the ’80s, as well as a music scene in which punk, surf and hip-hop cultures clashed and blended freely.
Nowell was a master at melding these sounds into something new. From Sublime’s earliest recordings, his combination of ska, dub, punk, funk, rap, reggae and heavy metal seemed less like a synthesis than a natural byproduct of Long Beach’s youth culture. Though there were few local clubs to play, house parties could bring a couple hundred bucks every weekend – enough to buy all the beer, pot and gasoline the band needed. In 1990, one semester before graduating from California State University Long Beach with a degree in finance, Nowell dropped out to devote all his time to the band. By then, Sublime were well-known up and down the coast; from San Diego to Santa Barbara, beach towns were their turf.
In photographs from this period, Nowell looks like the prototypical SoCal surf rat: sun-bleached hair, wraparound shades and Hawaiian shirts. With his round face and easy smile, the cherubic singer gave off an air of bemused calm. But behind the mellow exterior, Nowell was troubled. “There was always a part of him that wasn’t satisfied,” says his widow, Troy Nowell. Sitting on the patio of Nowell’s dad’s house, overlooking the calm waters of Alamitos Bay, she recalls her three-year life with Brad. “As happy as he was 80 percent of the time, there was 20 percent that could not be made happy, and it ate him up.”
Nowell battled with his addiction for most of the time Troy knew him, kicking when his record deal with MCA was in the offing, in 1994, and again when Troy got pregnant a year later. But friends say he could never be comfortable without the drug. Troy blames the Ritalin he was given as a child for having created his craving for drugs, but she blames something else as well: “He wanted to be a rock star. He said it was very rock & roll, you know. Perry Farrell and Kurt Cobain and all those guys did drugs, and Brad wanted to see what it was like. Then they honestly begin to think that they write better music! I mean, Robbin’ the Hood [Sublime’s second album] was written when Brad was at his worst of being strung out. It’s a great album, but it’s all about his heroin abuse: ‘Now I’ve got the needle/I can shake but I can’t breathe/Take it away and I want more, more/One day I’m gonna lose the war.’ ”
Sublime were a party band. They played house parties, beach parties, frat parties; and if there wasn’t a party, they brought one with them. They were, people will tell you, lovable, but they were also, the same people will attest, out of control. They loved to get fucked up, they loved to fuck things up, and they had many ways of doing it. Sometimes Nowell hocked the band’s instruments before a gig in order to pay for his habit. Other times, the band would party too much on the day of a major gig and squander a golden opportunity. For instance: June 17, 1995 – Sublime are invited to play the KROQ Weenie Roast in Los Angeles alongside Bush and Hole, at a time when they have nothing more than two indie albums and a hot local single, “Date Rape.” They print up 40 backstage passes for their friends, family and dogs. By the end of the day, Nowell’s beloved Dalmatian, Louie, has bitten a record exec’s little girl, and one of their pals just missed puking on MTV’s Kennedy while she was interviewing the band.
Here’s the latest variant: In September 1997, Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh – Sublime’s bassist and drummer – fly to New York for the MTV Video Music Awards. The band has been nominated for best alternative video. The duo’s been drinking for most of the evening, and by the time their category comes up, Gaugh is melted into his seat and Wilson is sucking down a vodka tonic at the lobby bar.
MCA reps corral them just before they win, and they’re shoved onstage, followed by Troy Nowell and Marshall Goodman, the group’s DJ. Dazed in the spotlight, Gaugh performs a little jig and mumbles a few thank-yous to friends and family. Then, the hulking Wilson holds up the band’s shiny statuette, raises a fist and incongruously blurts out, “Lynyrd Skynyrd!” Gaugh, realizing that his band mate’s comment might need clarification, adds, “for writing the tune ‘Workin’ for MCA.'” In the midst of this stoned spectacle, Goodman comes to the rescue, pointing out very soberly, “This is all for Bradley Nowell – peace.”
A month later, Wilson and Gaugh are in more familiar environs – sitting with their girlfriends around a picnic table at Long Beach Sport Fishing, a tackle shop, seafood restaurant and boat-charter operation that looks like it’s been perched on this rusty waterfront since long before oil refineries dotted the landscape. Wearing wraparound sunglasses, a loose T-shirt, shorts that reveal several tattoos, and a fresh buzz cut, Gaugh is itching to explain his and Wilson’s onstage blunders back in New York.
“It all started with the tequila,” Gaugh begins. The day before the show, the drummer had been fishing with his girlfriend in Cabo San Lucas, a party town at the tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and he purchased an $85 bottle of tequila as a gift for his dad. But by the time he met up with Wilson the next day in New York, the bottle looked too good to save. So the two decided to “have a little victory shot,” as Gaugh puts it. “We thought, ‘Fuck it, even if we don’t win, let’s drink this shit.’ So by the time we got onstage, man, we were wasted.” He gazes out at the fishing boats swaying by the docks. “I guess we forgot to thank a couple of people.”
Wilson, clutching a jet-fueled margarita, shudders at the memory. “See, we were already pretty buzzed back at the hotel when I said to Bud, ‘You know, if we win, we should say “Lynyrd Skynyrd!”‘ Bud had mentioned something about the song they did about working for MCA. So when we actually got up there, I was so flabbergasted that I just go, ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd!’ That’s all I could say.”
The conversation drifts to memories of Sublime’s early days. “It was [the most] fun for us when we were traveling around in a van and crashing on people’s floors,” Wilson says wistfully. These days, Wilson and Gaugh start most mornings with a bong hit and continue smoking well into the night. Wilson’s thrashed two-story Victorian house in Long Beach is their headquarters and the practice space for their new band, the Long Beach Dub All-Stars. It has the feel of a college hangout, with a revolving cast of characters lounging on the couches and chairs, beer bottles covering every flat surface, bongs on the end tables and three Rottweilers that bark viciously and gnash their teeth at newcomers.
Wilson and Gaugh whose families lived across an alleyway from each other, have been friends since childhood, when they first started playing music together and surfing at nearby Seal Beach. When punk bands like the Minutemen came to town, Gaugh and Wilson were always at the edge of the stage. (In fact, the Minutemen lyric “punk rock changed our lives” was sampled as the first line on Sublime’s 1992 debut, 40 Oz. to Freedom.)
Wilson’s dad, Billy, a drummer who toured with big bands in his youth and played on a cruise ship during the Depression, was Gaugh’s drum teacher. Though Billy Wilson was much older than the parents of Eric’s friends, he was also much cooler; it was he who introduced his son to marijuana. “He got into it while he was hanging out with all those jazz cats, I guess,” Eric says of his dad. “He smoked now and then, and to hide the odor he carried around a little bottle of Binaca.”
Wilson played trumpet for a while but says he sucked at it and switched to guitar and then bass. When he was in sixth grade, he met Nowell. The two began playing music together before Nowell took off for Santa Cruz, to start college at the University of California. During one of Nowell’s breaks from school, Wilson introduced him to Bud Gaugh, and the three started jamming together. After recording several DIY cassettes and selling them at shows, Sublime went into a Long Beach studio in 1992 to record 40 Oz. to Freedom. The album, which the band released on its own label, Skunk, did well on a word-of-mouth basis.
But by then Nowell had begun experimenting with hard drugs, and by the time Sublime began work on the followup, Robbin’ the Hood – most of which was recorded in a Long Beach crack house – his addiction was out of control. Gaugh attempted to reach out to his band mate – though often in destructive ways. “I felt like kicking his ass,” recalls Gaugh, who himself had been hooked on speed and heroin for years. “I mean, I’d been there and was still struggling with it. So I was all things that I could be to him during that time. I tried to be his conscience; I tried to be his nurse. I even tried to be his drug buddy; I mean, we got loaded together a couple of times.”
Nowell met Troy in 1993, at a Sublime show in San Diego. “We were just friends at first and we stayed friends for a long time,” she says. “It wasn’t until ’95 that we started seeing each other.” As Nowell alienated his friends, family and band mates, Troy was the one person who was there for him to talk to. “He’d already promised everybody that he would stop doing it and had asked for help,” she says. “People would help him and then he’d hurt them. So when I came along, I hadn’t been fooled by him yet.”
The prospect of signing to a major label was a big deal for Nowell, so when Sublime began talking with MCA, in 1994, he was determined to really clean up. “He decided on his own that he wanted to go to rehab,” says Troy. “He knew he had to get clean before the MCA thing could happen.” Nowell did get clean for a while, but in February 1996, when the band traveled to Austin, Texas, to begin recording Sublime at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio with producer Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers, Nowell went back to heroin more vigorously than ever. “They’re the sweetest bunch of guys, [but] it was chaos in the studio,” Leary says. On good days, they’d show up at 9 a.m. with margaritas in one hand and instruments in the other and go to work; on bad days, they nearly burned the place down. “There were times where someone had to go into the bathroom to see if Brad was still alive,” he says. Nowell’s drug use became so intense that Leary sent him home to Long Beach before the record was completed. “It took him three days to get back on his feet,” Jim Nowell recalls. “It was the worst I’d ever seen him.”
The skies above Long Beach are clear today, and Troy Nowell is sprawled on a lounge chair on the back patio of her in-laws’ house, a modest yellow-paneled, two-story home in a well-kept neighborhood. She has long, blond-streaked hair and is dressed in black running shorts and a white baby tee that partially exposes a rose tattoo on her right arm. When she speaks, her voice has a coarse, cigarette-wrecked edge. “Did you see the tattoo on my back?” she asks, turning to reveal a pair of Chinese characters. “The top one means ‘to be in mourning,’ and the bottom one means ‘husband.'” She laughs and lights another Marlboro as 2-year-old Jakob runs around in a tiny T-shirt with Big Kahuna scrawled across the front. “He was very bad at the grocery store this morning,” she says. “He’s acting much better now, aren’t you, Jake?” Jakob nods vigorously, and you can see Brad in his face and Troy in his half-moon eyes. “Sometimes Jake will say something that I want Brad to hear so bad,” she says, “but he can’t, because he’s gone.”
Troy den Denkker was born and raised in a San Diego household where drugs and alcohol were always around. Her mother was hooked on speed throughout Troy’s childhood, and her father was a biker who held frequent parties at the house. “They were wonderful people,” Troy stresses. “I loved them all. I mean, they were real.” Troy will look you straight in the eye and tell you exactly why she was attracted to Brad Nowell. “I love drug addicts,” she says. “I went to see that movie Boogie Nights the other night, and, you know, I knew all those people. When it was over, I turned to my girlfriend and that’s just what I said: ‘I love drug addicts.’ I guess they’re just the kind of people I’m used to being around. They’re great; they’re crazy.”
Troy, who is studying to be a substance-abuse counselor, says she and Brad spent a lot of time talking about his problems. “I was very understanding,” she says. “And Brad was so open about it. He used it as a way of getting attention. That’s the sick thing about heroin addicts. They’re like, ‘Take care of me.’ They’re like puppy dogs. And I guess I wanted to take care of him.” She was also more than ready for him to clean up when he decided to go back to rehab in 1995, soon after Troy found out she was pregnant.
“In the beginning I was real accepting of his behavior, but then there was much more at stake,” she says. “We’d bought this beautiful house, we had our beautiful son, we were about to get married and it was driving me crazy. I felt like I didn’t have anyone to turn to. His whole attitude was, ‘Look at everything we’ve got – I can have a reward every now and then.’ He wanted to reward himself. It was like, ‘I’m not hurting anyone, I’m just doing it this one day.’ ”
But one day turned into a week, and pretty soon Brad was in trouble again. “It scared the hell out of me,” Troy says. “And the thing that was so horrible is that when he would get high, he’d be so euphoric and so happy. I was like, ‘Why can’t you be this happy when you’re not on it?’ ” She pauses and looks away. “It got really ugly,” she finally says, “and that tore him up.
“You know, the one thing that gave me the most peace after Brad died,” she continues, “was when his first love, Eileen, came to me and said, ‘He did everything that he wanted to do, and he went to sleep. He was tired and went to sleep.’ The way she put it was exactly true. Brad was so tired – he really was. He was tired of letting everyone down, of letting himself down; he was tired of trying to stay clean, tired of everything.”
Even though Nowell died too soon to experience his band’s success, for Troy his death was like the final chapter in a long, exhausting journey. “Brad had accomplished everything he wanted,” she says. “He always wanted to have a baby: ‘We gotta have a kid,’ he said. He wanted to get his family back, ’cause he had hurt them so bad with his drug use. And he did. He wanted to get this album written, and he wanted it to be the best one he ever wrote. And he did. He wanted his band to have glory. And they did.”
She lights another cigarette. “I’m not saying that it’s OK that Brad died, because it’s not OK. So many things have happened that I wish he could see – Sublime being nominated for awards and their videos being on MTV all the time and their songs played on the radio. Or things will happen with me, and Brad’s the first person I want to tell, ’cause we were best friends. I want to see his reaction to all this. What’s OK is [that] there’s no more struggle, no more war. That struggle took up a lot of our energy and our time, and it was horrible. He’s at peace now.”
Jim Nowell and his second wife, Jane, are flipping through a photo album that shows Brad from birth through his teen and college years, his emaciated drug years, and his wedding, a Hawaiian-themed extravaganza in Las Vegas, when he had filled out again and gotten some color back in his face. Jim, a burly, affable guy, was a contractor until he retired to manage Sublime’s affairs. Last Fourth of July, he and Jane threw a big backyard barbecue and invited Brad’s old posse. The Long Beach Dub All-Stars jammed most of the afternoon. When they got around to playing Brad’s songs, Jim and Jane were shaken and had to go inside – they didn’t want their grief to spoil anyone’s good time.
The first time she met Brad, says Jane, she was astonished at his good behavior. “I remember telling Jim, ‘Gee, you did something really good with this kid. I’ve never seen a boy who is so polite and interested in his elders.’ Even when he got into his teens, he would always offer his chair to you.” She loved Brad from day one, helping him through his best years as a student and musician, as well as his worst years as a drug addict. Jane defended her stepson’s decision to get a tattoo – even when his father opposed it. “It was kind of like an Aztec design that went from his knee to his ankle,” she says, remembering the day he came home with it. “Well, Jim’s sitting here looking at it, and he says to Brad, ‘So, how long is that thing going to be on there?'”
“I said, ‘It does wash off, doesn’t it?’ ” Jim adds.
Jane laughs. “Brad and I just look at each other because we’re thinking, ‘He’s kidding,’ you know. And then we look at Jim and we see that he’s not kidding. So I go, ‘Jim, that’s not the wash-off kind of tattoo.’ And Jim goes, ‘It’s not?’ I mean, it was a huge tattoo!” To prove her loyalty to her stepson, Jane hikes up her pant leg and shows me her own new tattoo. It’s the image of the sun from the cover of 40 Oz. to Freedom.
There’s a party going on at Eric Wilson’s house, which is on the edge of one of Long Beach’s more unsavory neighborhoods. Wilson and the Dub All-Stars are jamming on an old Skatalites tune when Jim Nowell drops by for a visit. Before long, Nowell picks up an acoustic guitar and joins in, playing and singing. As the group moves from the Skatalites to a silly version of “Puff the Magic Dragon” and then to a free-form Dead-like jam, everyone in the house – including a gangly couple who’d been playing pool in the front room, a couple of dudes just back from a beer run, and Opie Ortiz, a shirtless tattoo artist who had earlier been working on a customer – packs into the room, listening intently to the deep, warm croon of the elder Nowell’s voice.
At one point, Wilson, hunched over his upright bass in a Surf and Sail tank top and mismatched sneakers, turns to Nowell and smiles. “Hey, Jimbo,” he says, “play some of those real old songs that you know. How ’bout ‘Minnie the Moocher’?” Over the next hour, the group runs through a set of pop, folk and country hits, like “Ain’t She Sweet?” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Okie From Muskogee.” By the end, the blue-collar cool of this posse of tattooed skate-punks has turned to blissful, drunken, giddy exuberance.
Then, suddenly, the mood turns wistful. “Hey, Jimbo,” asks Jack Maness, who’s been playing acoustic lead guitar, “what about ‘Sunny’?” He is referring to the old Bobby Hebb song that Jim and Brad used to play together at backyard parties at the Nowells’ home. “I remember one day Brad said to you, ‘I wanna do it like this, Dad,’ and you told him, ‘Yeah, son, but this is how it goes.’ ”
Everyone in the room erupts in laughter. The kind of laughter that brings tears. It’s a laughter that has positively conjured the ghost of Brad Nowell – right here, right now, in the wee hours of an October morning in Long Beach. It’s a few moments before Wilson’s gregarious girlfriend, Kat Rodriguez, breaks the silence: “Now, that’s Brad for you – in a nutshell,” she says. “He was going to do things his way or no way. That’s why no band will ever sound like Sublime.”
This story is from the December 25th, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.
April 18, 1996 – Bernard Edwards was born October 31, 1952 in Greenville, North Carolina, but grew up in Brooklyn, New York City.
In 1972, he and Nile Rodgers formed the Big Apple Band and in 1976 they united with drummer Tony Thompson to form Chic together with singer Norma Jean Wright. They had hits such as “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)”, “I Want Your Love”, “Everybody Dance”, “Le Freak”, and “Good Times”.
Those productions with Norma Jean Wright, Sister Sledge, Sheila and B. Devotion, Diana Ross, Johnny Mathis, Debbie Harry and Fonzi Thornton led to more hits such as “Saturday”, “He’s The Greatest Dancer”, “We Are Family”, “Spacer”, “Upside Down”, “I’m Coming Out” and “Backfired”. In the song “We Are Family,” Kathy Sledge gives Edwards a brief shout-out, singing “Yeah, come on Bernard, play…play your funky bass, boy!”. As a lone songwriter/producer, he gave Diana Ross her Top 15 hit, “Telephone” off of her 1985 platinum “Swept Away” album
After Chic’s breakup in 1983, he released a solo album the same year, and in 1985 he was instrumental in the formation of the supergroup Power Station. He followed this by producing Robert Palmer’s hit album Riptide and continued to produce artists throughout the 1980s and 90s including Diana Ross, Adam Ant, Rod Stewart, Air Supply, ABC and Duran Duran.
Bernard teamed up with Nile Rodgers again for the Chic reunion in the early 1990s and released the album Chic-Ism in 1992. In 1996 they were invited to play in concert at the Budokan Arena in Tokyo. Although he felt very ill before the concert he managed to perform, which sadly was to be his very last performance.
On October 31, 1996, back in his Tokyo Hotel room, he died from what was determined to have been pneumonia. He was 43 years old.
His bass line from Chic hit “Good Times” has become one of the most copied pieces of music in history, and had a huge influence on musicians of many genres when released and was the inspiration for “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen.
On September 19, 2005, Edwards was honored posthumously for his outstanding achievement as a producer, when he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame at a ceremony held in New York.
March 17, 1996 – Terry LaVerne Stafford was born on November 22, 1941. A native of Hollis, Oklahoma, he is best remembered for his 1964 hit song, ‘Suspicion.’ The song, written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and originally recorded by Elvis Presley, became Stafford’s only hit song and a Top Ten single. He sounded uncanningly like Elvis.
Stafford grew up in Amarillo, Texas, and then moved to Los Angeles, California, after high school, so that he could pursue a music career. Stafford began performing at social events and local dances, until he got his break in 1964, to record the single, ‘Suspicion.’
The song was remastered by a local Disc Jockey and the song was released, going to number three on the pop chart. Although he was never able to duplicate his first success, he did have a Top 30 with his follow-up recording, ‘I’ll Touch A Star.’ He later turned to acting and writing, he appeared in the film, “Wild Wheels,” and wrote the song, ‘Big In Vegas,’ for country singer Buck Owens.
In 1973, Stafford signed with the Atlantic Record Company and released a country album entitled, “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose,” with the title track landing on the Top 40. He also the wrote the song, ‘Amarillo By Morning,’ which was later a major hit for country singer George Strait. In 1974, after a year or so with the Atlantic Record Label, Stafford left music. Stafford’s other recordings include, ‘If You Got The Time,’ ‘Am I Fooling Myself,’ ‘Kiss Me Quick,’ ‘For Your Love,’ ‘Pocket Full Of Rainbows,’ ‘Hoping,’ ‘Sospeto,’ and ‘Soldier Boy.
Stafford passed away in Amarillo, Texas, on March 17, 1996, from the effects of liver problems at age 54.
March 16, 1996 – Joseph Pope (The Tams) was born on November 5th 1933 in Atlanta, Georgia.
The band formed in 1960, and took their name from the Tam o’shanter hats they wore on stage. By 1962, they had a hit single on Arlen Records. “Untie Me”, a Joe South composition, became a Top 20 on the Billboard R&B chart. The follow-up releases largely failed until 1964, when “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)”, reached the Top 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song spent three weeks at number one on the Cash Box R&B chart. Many of their popular hits were written by Ray Whitley.
“Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me” was also a modest US hit the same year. The Tams had only one further major US hit (in 1968) when “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy”, peaked at #26 on the US R&B chart, and subsequently made the UK Top 40 in 1970. Their 1965 recording “I’ve Been Hurt” was their biggest regional hit (based on sales and airplay) prior to 1980. The group reached the Number one slot in the UK Singles Chart in September 1971, with the re-issue of “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me”, thanks to its initial support from the then thriving UK Northern soul scene. The song also went to number one in Ireland, making them the first black soul group to top the Irish Charts.
The group didn’t chart again until 1987, when their song “There Ain’t Nothing Like Shaggin'” reached #21 in UK, propelled by a regionally-popular dance known as the Carolina shag, which featured heavily in the subsequent 1989 film, Shag. However, the track was banned by the BBC because the word “shag” means “to have sexual intercourse” in colloquial British English. Still quite popular in the Southeastern United States, they continue to record new music and perform at well-attended concerts. In 1999, they were featured performers with Jimmy Buffett on his CD, Beach House on the Moon, and also toured with him around the country. American singer-songwriter Tameka Harris, born in 1975, is the daughter of Dianne Cottle-Pope and Charles Pope.
For decades two separate lineups of the group continued to perform and record. One lineup, called ‘The Original Tams with R. L. Smith’, features original member Robert Lee Smith, and the other lineup was under the leadership of Charles Pope, the brother of co-founder Joe Pope.
Joe died on March 16, 1996 at the age of 62 and Charles Pope died from Alzheimer’s disease on July 11, 2013, at the age of 76.
February 16, 1996 – Walter Brownie McGhee was born on November 30, 1915 in Knoxville, Tennessee and grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee.
As a child of about four he contracted polio, which incapacitated his leg. His brother Granville “Sticks” or “Stick” McGhee, who also later became a musician and composer of the famous song, “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-dee,” was nicknamed for pushing young Brownie around in a cart. His father, George McGhee, was a factory worker known around University Avenue for playing guitar and singing. Brownie’s uncle made him a guitar from a tin marshmallow box and a piece of board. McGhee spent much of his youth immersed in music, singing with local harmony group the Golden Voices Gospel Quartet and teaching himself to play guitar. He also played five string banjo, ukulele and studied piano. A March of Dimes-funded leg operation enabled McGhee to walk.
At age 22, Brownie McGhee became a traveling musician, working in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and befriending Blind Boy Fuller, whose guitar playing influenced him greatly. After Fuller’s death in 1941, J. B. Long of Columbia Records had McGhee adopt his mentor’s name, branding him “Blind Boy Fuller No. 2.” By that time, McGhee was recording for Columbia’s subsidiary Okeh Records in Chicago, but his real success came after he moved to New York in 1942, when he teamed up with Sonny Terry, whom he had known since 1939 when Sonny was Blind Boy Fuller’s harmonica player. The pairing was an overnight success; as well as recording, they toured together until around 1980. As a duo, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee did most of their work from 1958 until 1980, spending 11 months of each year touring, and recording dozens of albums.
Despite their later fame as “pure” folk artists playing for white audiences, in the 1940s Terry and McGhee also attempted to be successful black recording performers, fronting a jump blues combo with honking saxophone and rolling piano, variously calling themselves “Brownie McGhee and his Jook House Rockers” or “Sonny Terry and his Buckshot Five,” often with Champion Jack Dupree and Big Chief Ellis. They also appeared in the original Broadway productions of Finian’s Rainbow and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
During the blues revival of the 1960s, Terry and McGhee were very popular on the concert and music festival circuits, occasionally adding new material but usually remaining faithful to their roots and their audience.
Late in his life, McGhee began appearing in small film or TV roles. With Sonny Terry, he appeared in the 1979 Steve Martin comedy The Jerk. In 1987, McGhee gave a small but memorable performance as ill-fated blues singer Toots Sweet in the supernatural thriller movie, Angel Heart. In his review of Angel Heart, critic Roger Ebert singled out McGhee for praise, declaring that he delivered a “performance that proves [saxophonist] Dexter Gordon isn’t the only old musician who can act.” McGhee appeared in a 1988 episode of “Family Ties” titled “The Blues, Brother” in which he played fictional blues musician Eddie Dupre, as well as a 1989 episode of Matlock entitled “The Blues Singer.”
Happy Traum, a former guitar student of Brownie’s, edited a blues guitar instruction guide and songbook for him. Using a tape recorder, Traum had McGhee instruct and, between lessons, talk about his life and the blues. Guitar Styles of Brownie McGhee was published in New York in 1971. The autobiographical section features Brownie talking about growing up, his musical beginnings, and a history of the early blues period (1930s onward).
One of McGhee’s final concert appearances was at the 1995 Chicago Blues Festival.
McGhee died from stomach cancer in February 1996 in Oakland, California, at age 80.
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