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
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!!!”
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
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 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 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
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.”
April 30, 2015 – 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 evergreen, 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.
October 4, 2014 – Paul Revere was born Paul Revere Dick on January 7, 1938 in Harvard, Nebraska, and grew up in Boise, Idaho.
In his early 20s, he owned several burger restaurants in Caldwell, but in 1958 at the age of 20, he also had formed a group called The Downbeats; it was an instrumental band before he recruited singer Mark Lindsay, then changed the name to Paul Revere & The Raiders in 1960.
As their frontman, keyboardist, he became “The madman of rock and roll” for over 56 years.
Jan. 13, 2014 – Freddie Fingers Lee was born Frederick John Cheesman in Chopwell, Durham, England in 1937. As a child an accident with a dart led to the loss of his right eye. Throughout his life he made light of his disability and refused to let it be a handicap. Though hardly a household name, Lee was a wild and notorious presence on the UK rock and roll scene from the early ’60s up to his death. Born in 1937, he lost his right eye at the age of three after an accident with a stray dart thrown by his father. According to the North Hampton Chronicle, Lee’s daughter remembers her father occasionally dropping his glass eye in people’s drinks while they weren’t looking. “He was the most unconventional dad ever, but I wouldn’t of had it any other way.”
March 16, 2013 – Bobby Smith was born in Detroit, Michigan on April 10, 1936. He became the principal lead singer of the classic Motown group, The Spinners at the group’s inception.
The group, first called The Domingoes, was formed in 1954 at Ferndale High School, Bobby took over from James Edwards who lasted only 2 weeks. The Spinners also known as the Detroit Spinners or the Motown Spinners, had their first hit, with Bobby singing lead, “That’s What Girls Are Made For” in 1961. The group earned half a dozen Grammy award nominations and around a dozen gold records including “Truly Yours”, “I’ll Always Love You”, “I’ll Be Around”, “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”, “They Just Can’t Stop It the (Games People Play)”. In 1974 they scored their only No.1 hit with “Then Came You”
Smith had been the group’s main lead singer since its inception, having sung lead vocals on The Spinners first hit record in 1961, “That’s What Girls Are Made For” (which has been inaccurately credited to the group’s mentor and former Moonglows lead singer, the late Harvey Fuqua). Smith also sang lead on most of their Motown material during the 1960s, such as the charting singles like “Truly Yours” (1966) and “I’ll Always Love You” (1965); almost all of the group’s pre-Motown material on Fuqua’s Tri-Phi Records label, and also on The Spinners’ biggest Atlantic Records hits. These included “I’ll Be Around”, “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”, “They Just Can’t Stop It the (Games People Play)”. In 1974, they scored their only #1 Pop hit with “Then Came You” (sung by Smith, in a collaboration with superstar Dionne Warwick).
Despite the fact that Smith led on many of the group’s biggest hits, many have erroneously credited most of the group’s success to only one of its three lead singers, the late Philippé Wynne. (Henry Fambrough also sang lead on many of the Spinners’ songs.) The confusion between Smith and Wynne may be due to the similarities in their voices, and the fact that they frequently shared lead vocals on many of those hits.
In fact Wynne was many times inaccurately credited for songs that Smith actually sang lead on, such as by the group’s label, Atlantic Records, on their Anthology double album collection (an error corrected in the group’s later triple CD set, The Chrome Collection). Throughout a succession of lead singers (Wynne, John Edwards, G. C. Cameron etc.), Smith’s lead voice had always been The Spinners’ mainstay.
With the March 16, 2013 death of Smith at age 76, from pneumonia and influenza, as well as fellow Spinners members C. P. Spencer in 2004, Billy Henderson in 2007, and bass singer Pervis Jackson in 2008, Henry Fambrough is now the last remaining original member of the group. Fambrough may still be performing with a current day line-up of the Spinners.
December 1, 2009 – Ramses Shaffy was born in Paris on August 29th 1933 in the suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine. His father was an Egyptian diplomat and his mother was a Polish-Russian countess. He grew up with his mother in Cannes. When she was infected with tuberculosis, Shaffy was sent to an aunt in Utrecht in the Netherlands and eventually ended up in a foster family in the city of Leiden.
He did not finish high school, but he was accepted at the Amsterdam school of theatre arts in 1952. In 1955, he made his debut with the Nederlandse Comedie. He went to Rome’s Civitavecchia in 1960 aspiring to be a film actor, but was unsuccessful in the endeavor.
November 10, 2008–Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born on March 4th 1932 in Johannesburg South Africa. Growing up in the midst of South Africa’s Apartheid policies, Miriam Makeba became amongst many things, a woman of great vision who saw far into the future, and with an uncanny and acute sense of history. With the world in a fast moving switch away from colonialism and despicable policies of segregation and apartheid, Miriam stood in the center of many “controversial” actions. For her actions, she was exiled from South Africa for 30 years, during which time she earned the tributal nickname “Mama Afrika”.
As a singer of South African folk songs about repression, she was the first one to find a global audience. Her 1957 song Pata Pata became a huge success in the USA 10 years later. Continue reading Miriam Makeba 11/2008
December 12, 2007 – Ike Wister Turner was born on November 5th, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. By the time he was 8 years old he was working at the local Clarksdale radio station, WROX, as an elevator boy, soon he was helping the visiting musicians and doing all sorts around the radio stations.
He met many musicians such as Robert Nighthawk, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and his idol Pinetop Perkins taught the young Ike to play boogie-woogie on the piano.
June 3, 2006 – John A. Johnny Grande (Bill Haley and the Comets) was born on January 14th 1930 in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He grew up in a musical family. His uncle once played in the band of John Philip Sousa, but his father wanted Grande to follow him into the coal hauling business. Grande preferred music, and learned to play the music from “La Traviata” on the accordion.
He played backup for polka and country players like Tex Ritter until he signed a partnership with Bill Haley in the late 1940s to form Bill Haley and His Four Aces of Western Swing. Haley was a great yodeler.
They later called themselves the Saddlemen, before settling on the Comets, which was the name of the band in 1951, when it covered Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” considered by many the very first rock and roll song.
The Comets had a more urbane image: They traded in their Stetsons for suits and ties, and Grande played piano on most numbers.
November 5, 2005 –Link Wray (Frederic Lincoln) was born in Dunn, North Carolina on May 2nd, 1929. Link’s family was very poor. As Link has said, “Elvis came from welfare, I came from below welfare.” Link’s mom was Shawnee Indian sporting his interest in music when Link was 8. He was sitting on the porch trying to play guitar when an old black guitar player named HAMBONE walked by and taught him the sound of the blues. Link has said as soon as HAMBONE started playing bottleneck slide guitar, he was hooked. He knew what he wanted to do. At age 13, Link’s family moved to Portsmouth, Virginia.
Link’s first band was in the late 40’s with his brothers Vernon and Doug, playing Western Swing. As Link put it, “rock and roll before it was rock and roll.”
February 1, 2002 – Hildegard Frieda Albertine Knef was born December 28, 1925 in the city of Ulm, Germany. (The German PEGGY LEE)
In 1940, she began studying acting. Even before the fall of the Third Reich, she appeared in several films, but most of them were only released after the war. To avoid being raped by Soviet soldiers, she dressed like a young man and was sent to a camp for prisoners of war. She escaped and returned to war-shattered Berlin where she played her first parts on stage. The first German movie after World War II, Murderers Among Us (1946), made her a star. David O. Selznick invited her to Hollywood and offered her a contract – with two conditions: Hildegard Knef should change her name into Gilda Christian and should pretend to be Austrian instead of German. In America she appeared on Broadway as “Ninotchka” in the Cole Porter musical, Silk Stockings.
She refused both of Selznick’s conditions and returned to Germany. In 1951, she provoked one of the greatest scandals in German film history when she appeared naked on the screen in the movie Sunderin (1951). The Roman Catholic Church protested vehemently against that film, but Hildegard just commented: “I can’t understand all that tumult – five years after Auschwitz!”
January 29, 1992 – Willie Dixon was born July 1st 1915 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His mother Daisy often rhymed the things she said, a habit her son imitated. At the age of seven, young Dixon became an admirer of a band that featured pianist Little Brother Montgomery. He sang his first song at Springfield Baptist Church at the age of four. Dixon was first introduced to blues when he served time on prison farms in Mississippi as an early teenager.
He later learned how to sing harmony from local carpenter Leo Phelps. Dixon sang bass in Phelps’ group The Jubilee Singers, a local gospel quartet that regularly appeared on the Vicksburg radio station WQBC. Dixon began adapting poems he was writing as songs, and even sold some tunes to local music groups. By the time he was a teenager, Dixon was writing songs and selling copies to the local bands. With his bass voice, Dixon later joined a group organized by Phelps, the Union Jubilee Singers, who appeared on local radio. Continue reading Willie Dixon 1/1992
August 6, 1973 – Memphis Minnie was born Lizzie Douglas on June 3, 1897 in Algiers, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans.
She was the eldest of 13 siblings. Her parents, Abe and Gertrude Douglas, nicknamed her Kid when she was young, and her family called her that throughout her childhood. It is reported that she disliked the name Lizzie. When she first began performing, she played under the name Kid Douglas.
When she was 7, she and her family moved to Walls, Mississippi, south of Memphis. The following year she received her first guitar, as a Christmas present. She learned to play the banjo by the age of 10 and the guitar by the age of 11, when she started playing at parties.