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
April 11, 2006 – June Pointer (the Pointer Sisters) was born on November 30th 1953. Born the youngest of six children to minister parents Reverend Elton and Sarah Pointer, June shared a love of singing with her sisters. In 1969, she and sister Bonnie founded The Pointers – A Pair. The duo sang at numerous clubs, then became a trio later that year when sister Anita quit her job as a secretary to join them. The group officially changed its name to The Pointer Sisters. The trio signed a record deal with Atlantic Records and released a few singles, none of which made a substantial impact on the music charts. In 1972, sister Ruth joined the group, making it a quartet. The sisters then signed with Blue Thumb Records, and their career began to take off.
May 2, 2005 – Pierre Moerlen (Gong) was born on October 23, 1952 in the French Alsace Wine region. The third of five children, his father Maurice Moerlen was a famous organist (one of his teachers was Maurice Duruflé) and his mother was a music teacher. All five Moerlen children learned music with their parents and all became musicians. Pierre’s younger brother, Benoît Moerlen, is also a percussionist (he worked also with Gong and Oldfield).
In January 1973, Pierre joined Daevid Allen‘s band, Gong, as percussionist, debuting on the Angel’s Egg album.
In June 1973 he was asked by Virgin’s boss Richard Branson to play percussion with Mike Oldfield for the premiere of Tubular Bells.
August 26, 2004 – Laura Branigan was born on July 3, 1952 in Mount Kisco, New York. Her childhood in Armonk during the ’50s included her years at Byram Hills High School, where she graduated in 1970, and her time at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which she graduated from in 1972.
Though singing seemed to run in her family—her grandmother had studied opera in Ireland, and both her parents had good voices and led the family in singing at the dinner table—Branigan had no ambitions to pursue a vocalist’s career in her youth. In high school she was extremely shy; she did, however, enjoy singing harmony with friends and performing in her church choir. To help Branigan overcome her shyness, one of her teachers persuaded her to try out for the school musical in her senior year. Branigan did, won the lead in Pajama Game, and discovered her calling. She reminisced for a Seventeen interviewer: “It was amazing. Once I was up there, I felt a tremendous confidence. I realized this was my way of expressing myself—and that was it.”
Feb 23, 2004 – Bob “Bobby” Mayo (Peter Frampton) was born on August 25, 1951 in New York City, and grew up in Westchester County. He began studying music at the age of five, focusing on classical piano. During the 1960s, Mayo’s interest in music grew due to the rock explosion. His first band was Ramble and the Descendants, where he played organ and sang. Mayo played with several other local bands and had plans to attend Juilliard School in New York City. His career took a detour when he suffered injuries in a serious car accident at the age of seventeen, but Bob was determined and he was able to move on.
In 1971, Mayo formed Doc Holliday with Frank Carillo, Tom Arlotta, and Bob Liggio. He then joined Rat Race Choir (73-74) one of the Tri-State area’s best bands, playing guitar. He then left RRC, was replaced with Mark Hitt and teamed up with Peter Frampton and joined his touring band. Because of this, he appeared on Peter Frampton’s album Frampton Comes Alive!. It was on this recording that Peter Frampton introduced Mayo with the words “Bob Mayo on the keyboards… Bob Mayo,” which has since become something of a legend among Peter Frampton fans. Mayo also appeared on the Peter Frampton albums I’m in You and Where I Should Be.
July 25, 2003 – Erik Brann or Braunn was born Rick Davis on August 11th 1950 in Boston, Massachusetts. At 6 while being a resident in Boston, Massachusetts, Erik was accepted as a child into the prodigy program for violin at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. By age 7 he was performing in concerts as violinist. In his early teens he moved to guitar and California with his parents. Starting on the guitar in 1963 Erik studied with local L.A. legends Milt Norman and Duke Miller. The latter noted that every time he gave the precocious Braunn a lesson, Erik would come back with a song he had written around the lesson. Not one to interfere with a budding George Gershwin, Miller encouraged the habit. While in high school, Erik also studied acting from the now renown Robert Carelli and won several awards for Elizabethan Comedy, Shakespeare, and a First Place Award for his lead role in “Dino” at the USC Dramatic Acting Festival. This was followed by another first place in the Elizabethan Comedy “A Shoemakers Holiday” at UCLA.
He recorded an album with his first band “The Paper Fortress” at the age of fourteen before he joined Iron Butterfly’s second line up at the age of sixteen. He was the last of over forty guitarists to audition and was accepted on the spot.
April 16, 1999 – Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence was born on April 18, 1946 in Windsor Ontario, Canada. His parents moved to San José, California in the mid 1950s where his father found work in the aviation industry, having been a decorated bomber pilot during the war.
He was given a guitar by his parents at the age of 10. A precocious talent, he also played the drum in his school band, a skill which would come in handy when, having moved to California in the late fifties, he dived into the burgeoning hippie scene of the Bay Area.
Spence had already been approached to join Quicksilver Messenger Service as a guitarist when he bumped into Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin at the Matrix, a San Francisco club also used as a rehearsal room. Dissatisfied with the drummer Jerry Peloquin, who was only in so the group could use his apartment in Haight Ashbury, the frontman offered the drumming stool to Spence, who looked the part. Spence jumped at the chance and joined a Jefferson Airplane line-up which also featured the guitarists Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen and singer Signe Toly Anderson. “It’s No Secret”, the Airplane’s first single, was released in February 1966, just as Jack Cassidy replaced the original bassist Bob Harvey.
Spence stayed with the Airplane for over a year and contributed several songs (notably “Blues From An Airplane”) to their debut album, entitled Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, eventually issued by RCA Records later that year. Further personnel changes saw Anderson quit to have children and Grace Slick, formerly lead vocalist with the Great Society, take over, bringing with her “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love”, two seminal compositions which became the Airplane’s first hits and true flower-power anthems. Anderson coincidentally died last January on the same day Airplane founding member Paul Kantner passed away.
By the time these million-selling singles reached the US Top Ten in 1967, Spence, who felt his songwriting was being eclipsed by the other members’ (though his “My Best Friend” was included on Surrealistic Pillow, the group’s second album), had stopped attending rehearsals and was dismissed in favor of Spencer Dryden, who was dating Slick at the time. At the same time, the Jefferson Airplane switched their management to a local concert promoter Bill Graham, leaving Matthew Katz in the lurch.
Katz kept Spence on his books and hatched a plan to form a band around him in San Francisco. He asked the guitarist Peter Lewis and bassist Bob Mosley to come up from Los Angeles to see if they fitted in. Adding a drummer, Don Stevenson, and guitarist, Jerry Miller, the group, Moby Grape, started to rehearse and instantly found a distinctive sound, blending three guitar parts, vocal harmonies and distinctive compositions of all five members, with Spence often at the helm. “Skippy was always `high’ on this other level,” said Peter Lewis in the sleeve notes to a 1993 compilation, Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape.
His mind was always churning with stuff. It was hard for him to sit and talk. He didn’t deal in words but in ideas. He was the most unique songwriter I’d ever heard. Like in “Indifference” on the first album, the way he changed keys right in the middle of the song. Skippy was definitely not copying anybody I’d ever heard. Yet it always came out great.
The name Moby Grape reflected the crazy times. According to Jerry Miller,
Skip and Bob (Mosley) went out to have a little lunch and they came back laughing like crazy with a name for the band. They were thinking of this joke: what’s purple and swims in the ocean? So they came back in and said: Moby Grape, we’ll just be Moby Grape. That’s how it happened. We all laughed and got along with that pretty good. Our manager liked Bentley Escort because it related to Jefferson Airplane and Strawberry Alarm Clock but we hated that one. Moby Grape sounded good and it was made up by the band. Skippy appeared to be crazy but he was crazy like a fox. He was a full- on Aries, laughing all the time.
After two months of solid rehearsals in Sausalito, the group played the Fillmore in San Francisco in November 1966 and instantly started a bidding war between record companies. “When I first saw them play,” remembers David Rubinson, the A&R man who won the battle and signed the group to Columbia, “I knew this was a band that could go around the country, around the world and really kill!” Sam Andrews, guitarist with Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin) was full of praise too. “You guys are better than the Beatles,” he told Lewis.
Indeed, the quintet’s debut album, simply entitled Moby Grape, remains a classic of its time, worthy of inclusion alongside The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Love’s Forever Changes, also released in 1967. Unfortunately, an over-eager record company and inept manager conspired to oversell the group with a lavish launch in June at the Avalon Ballroom during which thousands of purple orchids fell from the ceiling. The next day, Miller, Lewis and Spence were found in Marin County with three under-age girls and duly arrested, though charges were later dropped.
Columbia also simultaneously issued five singles from the album when they should have been concentrating on the stunning “Omaha”, a Spence composition which nevertheless crept into the Top 100. Moby Grape reached No 24 on the LP charts (though drummer Don Stevenson’s raised finger had to be erased from the sleeve). ” `Omaha’ was pure Spence energy,” declared David Rubinson later.
He was the maniacal core of the band, the guy who would say fuck it, let’s do it anyway. He was an idiot savant. He couldn’t add a column or figures, couldn’t pay a check in a restaurant. But he saw things in a clear light. He could see through immediately to the truth of what was going on.
The truth was that the five members didn’t get on. “Six months after we met, we were rock stars. That was horrible,” admitted Lewis. Later that year, following abortive sessions in Los Angeles, the group were sent to New York to complete Wow, the follow-up album, which made the Top Twenty. The relocation seemed to have pushed Spence, who consumed psychedelic drugs at an alarming rate, over the edge. Considering that the singer had howled “Save me, save me!” when recording a demo of “Seeing”, the others should have seen the writing on the wall. One day in 1968, Spence went looking for them with an axe. He was jailed and committed to the Bellevue Hospital for six months.
The four remaining musicians attempted to carry on, even touring the UK, despite becoming embroiled in a dispute with Katz, who claimed all rights to the Moby Grape name and put together a bogus version of the band which played the ill-fated 1969 Altamont gig. The legal dispute would rumble on for years; the original group members attempting to reform even resorted to calling themselves Maby Grope or Legendary Grape.
Following his discharge from hospital in 1968, Spence went to Nashville and in four days recorded the dark and whimsical Oar, a truly solo album on which he played every single instrument. Over the years, this record gained something of a cult following and, after its reissue on CD in 1993, was even the subject of a “Buried Treasure” feature in Mojo magazine. By then, Spence had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and had been in and out of mental institutions for most of the Seventies and Eighties. Sometimes, he managed to rejoin his former cohorts but, more usually, he would contribute the odd track to one of their albums before disappearing again.
Spence wrote some music for an episode of the revived television series The Twilight Zone and the X-Files film, but neither score was used. He struggled on with various illnesses and, before his death, heard More Oar, a tribute album assembled by the likes of Tom Waits, Robert Plant, Wilco, and Michael Stipe of REM.
It was with Moby Grape however, that Spence found his greatest musical fame, writing among other songs, “Omaha”, from Moby Grape’s first album in 1967, a song identified in 2008 by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the 100 greatest guitar songs of all time.
Mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism prevented him from sustaining a full time career in the music industry. He remained in and around San Jose and Santa Cruz, California.
Alexander Lee “Skip” Spence, singer, songwriter, guitarist, drummer and married father of three sons and one daughter, died from lung cancer in Santa Cruz, California on April 16, 1999. He was 52.
Below video is dedicated to one of the greatest psychedelic rock bands to emerge from the San Francisco underground scene, yet who shared in very little of the fame and fortune many of the other SF bands did. Nevertheless, today they are hailed as one of the most influential and iconic rock bands of the psychedelic period. The group was formed in late 1966 by drummer Skip Spence of the original Jefferson Airplane (back when Signe Anderson was still sharing the lead vocals with Marty Balin, a year before leaving and being replaced by Grace Slick). Spence ditched his drum sticks and played rhythm guitar for the new group which consisted of a guitar trio that switched taking turns on lead, often on the same song (much like The Buffalo Springfield). The result was absolutely WILD … and I mean WILD! Dancers went crazy on the discotheque floor keeping in time with the fast-paced frenzy of Moby Grape’s guitar-playing nirvana. Bliss on speed.
The LP, Moby Grape, was released on June 6, 1967. This video is of the Grape’s song “Omaha” .. probably their most popular tune. In recent years, “Omaha” has been listed as number 95 in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”. Released as a single, along with four other singles from the album simultaneously, it peaked at #88 on Billboard and #70 on Cash Box on July 29, 1967 (it debuted on Cash Box with a big red bullet at #72 with a strong upwards surge predicted, but dropped off the chart completely a week after reaching #70 .. the times were so fickle!). Sit back and for the next few minutes enjoy the way it was: Moby Grape and “Omaha”!
December 4, 1993 – Frank Vincent Zappa was born on December 21, 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland with an Italian, Sicilian, Greek and Arab ancestry. With his dad employed as chemist/mathematician in the Defense industry, the family often moved to the extent that he attended at least 6 high schools. He began to play drums at the age of 12, and was playing in R&B groups by high school,
Zappa grew up influenced by avant-garde composers such as Varèse, Igor Stravinsky and Anton Webern, as well as R&B and doo-wop groups (particularly local pachuco groups), and modern jazz. His own heterogeneous ethnic background and the diverse social and cultural mix in and around greater Los Angeles in the sixties, were crucial in the forming of Zappa as a practitioner of underground music and of his later distrustful and openly critical attitude towards “mainstream” social, political, religious and musical movements. He frequently lampooned musical fads like psychedelia, rock opera and disco. Television also exerted a strong influence, as demonstrated by quotations from show themes and advertising jingles found in his later works. Continue reading Frank Zappa 12/1993
December 6, 1988 – Roy Kelton Orbison was born on April 23, 1936, in Vernon, Texas to Nadine and Orbie Lee. He formed his first band at age 13. The singer-songwriter dropped out of college to pursue music. He signed with Monument Records and recorded such ballads as “Only the Lonely” and “It’s Over.”
Born to a working-class Texan family, Orbison grew up immersed in musical styles ranging from rockabilly and country to zydeco, Tex-Mex and the blues. His dad gave him a guitar for his sixth birthday and he wrote his first song, “A Vow of Love,” in 1944 while staying at his grandmothers. In 1945 he entered and won a contest on KVWC in Vernon and this led to his own radio show singing the same songs every Saturday. By the time Roy was 13 he had formed his own band “The Wink Westerners”. The band appeared weekly on KERB radio in Kermit, Texas. Roy graduated from Wink High School in 1954. He attended North Texas State College in Denton, Texas for a year, and enrolled at Odessa Junior College in 1955 to study history and English. Continue reading Roy Orbison 12/1988
August 29, 1976 – Mathis Jimmy Reed was born on September 6, 1925 on a plantation in or around the small burg of Dunleith, Mississippi. He stayed around the area until he was 15, learning the basic rudiments of harmonica and guitar from his buddy Eddie Taylor, who was then making a name for himself as a semi-pro musician, working country suppers and juke joints.
Reed moved up to Chicago in 1943, but was quickly drafted into the Navy where he served for two years. After a quick trip back to Mississippi and marriage to his beloved wife Mary (known to blues fans as “Mama Reed”), he relocated to Gary, Indiana, and found work at an Armour Foods meat packing plant while simultaneously breaking into the burgeoning blues scene around Gary and neighboring Chicago. Continue reading Jimmy Reed 8/1976