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Mick Softley 9/2017

September 1, 2017 – Mick Softley was born in 1939 in the countryside of Essex, near Epping Forest.

His mother was of Irish origin (from County Cork) and his father had East Anglian tinker roots, going back to a few generations. Softley first took up trombone in school and became interested in traditional jazz. He was later persuaded to become a singer by one of his school teachers, and this led to him listening to Big Bill Broonzy and promptly changed his attitude to music, to the extent of him buying a mail-order guitar and some tutorial books and teaching himself to play.

By 1959, Mick Softley had left his job and home and spent time traveling around Europe on his motorbike, with a friend, Mick Rippingale. He ended up in Paris, where he came into the company of musicians such as Clive Palmer, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Wizz Jones. Here he improved his guitar skills and spent time busking with friends until his return to England in the early 1960s. Continue reading Mick Softley 9/2017

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Ray Phiri 7/2017

July 12, 2017 – Ray Phiri (Paul Simon) was born March 23, 1947 near Nelspruit in the then Eastern Transvaal, now Mpumalanga Province, in South Africa to a Malawian immigrant worker and South African guitarist nicknamed “Just Now” Phiri.  His stepfather, who was from Malawi, played guitar but gave it up after losing three fingers in an accident. Mr. Phiri took that guitar and largely taught himself to play. He moved to Johannesburg in 1967 to work as a musician.

He became a founding member of the Cannibals in the 1970s. When the Cannibals disbanded Ray founded Stimela, Continue reading Ray Phiri 7/2017

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Jimmy LaFave 5/2017

Jimmy LaFave - Red Dirt Music

May 21, 2017 – Jimmy LaFave was born July 12, 1955 in Willis Point, Texas where he was also raised. Music was his destiny from very early on, but he started his journey on drums.

Some years later he moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma and played in the school band but at age 15 LaFave switched to guitar and began writing and singing his own songs in a band called The Night Tribe.

After graduating from high school LaFave played music at night while working during the day. He had a job as the manager of a music club called Up Your Alley and during this period recorded the albums Down Under in 1979 and Broken Line in 1981. Continue reading Jimmy LaFave 5/2017

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Bruce Langhorne 4/2017

mr. tambourine man, Bruce LanghorneApril 14, 2017 – Bruce Langhorne was born on May 14, 1938 in Tallahassee, Florida.

At age 4 he moved with his mother to Spanish Harlem, New York. When he was a 12-year old violin prodigy living in Harlem in the fifties, he accidentally blew several of his finger tips off with a cherry bomb that he held onto for too long. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Bruce looked up at his distraught mom and said, “At least I don’t have to play violin anymore.” In a gang fight, he got involved in a stabbing and left the country for Mexico for 2 years. By age 17 he started to pick the guitar. Continue reading Bruce Langhorne 4/2017

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Valerie Carter 3/2017

Valerie Carter, the muse of our generationMarch 4, 2017 – Valerie Carter was born on February 5, 1953 in Winterhaven, near Orlando, Florida.

Being an “army brat” she moved between many cities in her young years. Her first break in music came while living with her family in Tucson, where she joined a band fronted by Gretchen Ronstadt, sister of Linda Ronstadt.

Next she was off to New York City where she formed the folk band Howdy Moon. They headed to California, released a self-titled album in 1974 and regularly played at the West Hollywood rock club, the Troubadour.

In the early 1970s in Los Angeles, she became known as a songwriter, penning tunes such as Cook With Honey for Judy Collins and Love Needs a Heart for Jackson Browne, who was introduced to her by Lowell George of Little Feat fame.

And here I have to stop and make a confession. Continue reading Valerie Carter 3/2017

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Maggie Roche 1/2017

maggie roche of the rochesJanuary 21, 2017 – Maggie Roche was born on October 26, 1951 in Park Ridge, New Jersey. Together with her sister Terre, she dropped out of Park Ridge High School to tour as a duo in the late sixties. Maggie wrote most of the songs, with Terre contributing to a few. The sisters got a big real break when Paul Simon  brought them in as backup singers on his 1973 #2 album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. In return they got his support and an appearance by the Oakridge Boys, when they recorded their only album as a duo in 1975 titled Seductive Reasoning.

A year later their youngest sister Suzzy completed the Irish singer/songwriting trio The Roches. Maggie was their main songwriter in the beginning as they became increasingly known  for their unusual harmonies, quirky lyrics and comedic stage presence. Continue reading Maggie Roche 1/2017

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Peter Sarstedt 1/2017

January 8, 2017 – Peter Eardley Sarstedt was born on Dec 10, 1941 in Delhi, India where his parents Albert and Coral Sarstedt, worked in the British civil service as India was still a British possession in 1942.

The following year, his parents moved the family to Kurseong near Darjeeling, in the shadow of Mt. Everest, where Albert took over the management of a tea plantation. Peter Sarstedt was one of six children and, like his siblings, was educated at boarding schools favored by the British living in India for much of his childhood. From the time he was five years old, the family relocated to Calcutta, and later — amid the turmoil and uncertainty following independence in 1947 — the family finally moved to England in 1954. Albert Sarstedt had passed away during the extended preparation for the relocation, and it was a truly new existence that they began in South London that year. Continue reading Peter Sarstedt 1/2017

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Signe Toly Anderson 1/2016

January 28, 2016 – Signe Toly Anderson-Jefferson Airplane – was born Signe Toly on September 15, 1941 in Seattle on September 15, 1941. She was raised in Portland, Oregon after her parents divorced

In 1965s she was living in San Francisco and gaining recognition as an accomplished jazz/folk singer, when vocalist Marty Balin heard her sing at a popular folk club, the Drinking Gourd and asked her to join a folk-rock group he was forming.

The band, soon christened Jefferson Airplane, signed with RCA Victor Records and released its first album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” in 1966.
Soon after joining the Airplane, she married one of the Merry Pranksters, Jerry Anderson, a marriage that lasted from 1965 to 1974. She sang on the first Jefferson Airplane album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, most notably on the song “Chauffeur Blues”. Just as Jefferson Airplane was ascending, Anderson gave birth to her first child. Realizing that life on the road with a newborn was unfeasible, Anderson opted to part ways with Jefferson Airplane in 1966. Anderson remained with the group while they searched for a replacement, eventually choosing the Great Society singer Grace Slick, who brought that band’s “Someone to Love” (retitled “Somebody to Love”) and her “White Rabbit” to Jefferson Airplane.

Continue reading Signe Toly Anderson 1/2016

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Bruce Rowland 6/2015

bruce-rowlandJune 29, 2015 – Bruce Rowland (Joe Cocker/Fairport Convention) was born at Park Royal, Middlesex on May 22 1941 and spent some of his early professional life as a drum teacher. According to Dave Pegg, the bass guitarist and singer in Fairport Convention, Rowland taught the young Phil Collins how to play the drums.

In 1968, Rowland played on the Wynder K Frog album Out of the Frying Pan and the following year he joined the Grease Band, Joe Cocker’s backing group. It was with Cocker that he was able to reveal his talent for rock drumming.

Continue reading Bruce Rowland 6/2015

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Ronnie Gilbert 6/2015

ronnie-gilbertJune 6, 2015 – Ruth Alice Ronnie Gilbert (the Weavers) was born on September 7, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York City.

Ronnie Gilbert was no stranger to success or to controversy. Born to working-class Jewish parents in New York City, she refused to participate in her 1940s high-school senior play because she was convinced of the racial injustice of the minstrel show theme.

The family moved to Washington, DC during World War II. This is where she met folklorist Alan Lomax and Woody Guthrie and other folk singers. She performed in the early 1940s with the Priority Ramblers.

In the 1950s, Gilbert melded her joyous contralto with the radical voices of Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Fred Hellerman in their celebrated group the Weavers, which brought folk rhythms and social activism to the mainstream, even while being branded as subversives in the hysteria of the McCarthy era and blacklisted.

Continue reading Ronnie Gilbert 6/2015

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Jack Ely 4/2015

Jack ElyApril 28, 2015 – Jack Ely was born on September 11, 1943 in Portland, Oregon near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. Both of his parents were music majors at the University of Oregon, and his father, Ken Ely, was a singer. His father died when he was four years old and his mother subsequently remarried.

Ely began playing piano while still a young child, and was performing recitals all over the Portland area before his seventh birthday. When he was eleven, a piano teacher provided what he termed “jazz improvisation lessons.” The teacher would show Ely a section of a classical composition, and the boy would have to make up 15 similar pieces. He would be required to share each in class and then make up one on the spot.

Continue reading Jack Ely 4/2015

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Jim McCann 3/2015

Jim McCannMarch 4, 2015 – Jim McCann, Irish guitarist and singer, was born in Dublin on October 26th 1944. He dropped out of University College Dublin where he was studying medicine, when he became interested in folk music during a 1964 summer in Birmingham, UK. He began to perform in folk clubs in the area, and, upon his return to Dublin, he joined a group called the Ludlow Trio in 1965. They had an Irish No.1 hit 1966, with “The Sea Around Us”, but the band broke up the following year.

Jim began a solo career, releasing an album, McCann and making several appearances on several folk programs for Telefis Éireann.

Continue reading Jim McCann 3/2015

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Rick Rosas 11/2014

 rick-the-bass-player-rosasNovember 6, 2014 – Rick Rosas  (“Rick the Bass Player”) was born in West Los Angeles, Ca. on September 10th 1949. He came up through the ranks of remarkable players as a studio musician and went on to be one of the most sought after session musicians.

In the early 1980s he met Joe Walsh through drummer Joe Vitale and later played on Walsh’s 1985 album, The Confessor.

Rosas also joined Walsh for a short-lived stint in Australia as a member of the Creatures from America, that also featured Waddy Wachtel on guitar and Richard Harvey on drums. He also toured with Dan Fogelberg in 1985. In December 1986, the Walsh band joined Albert Collins and Etta James for the a Jazzvisions taping called “Jump the Blues Away.”

Continue reading Rick Rosas 11/2014

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Jesse Winchester 4/2014

Jesse WinchesterApril 11, 2014 – James Ridout “Jesse” Winchester was born in Bossier City, Louisiana on May 17th 1944.  He had 10 years of piano lessons, played organ in church and picked up guitar after hearing rockabilly, blues and gospel on Memphis radio.

During the height of the Vietnam War in 1967 he moved to Canada, where he began his career as a solo artist. After he became a Canadian citizen in 1973, he gained amnesty in the U.S. in 1977, but did not resettle there until 2002.

Winchester was born at Barksdale Army Air Field and raised in northern Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee, where he graduated from Christian Brothers High School in 1962 as a merit finalist, a National Honor Society member and the salutatorian of his class. He graduated from Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1966. Upon receiving his draft notice the following year, Winchester moved to Montreal, Canada, to avoid military service. “I was so offended by someone’s coming up to me and presuming to tell me who I should kill and what my life was worth,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in 1977. “I didn’t see going to a war I didn’t believe was just, or dying for it,“ he said in an interview with No Depression magazine, expressing a viewpoint most intelligent people harbored.

Continue reading Jesse Winchester 4/2014

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Pete Seeger 1/2014

Pete-Seeger January 27, 2014 – Pete Seeger was born May 3, 1917 born in Midtown Manhattan, New York. Seeger was born into a traditionally pacifistic and highly musical family, which was typically for the era politically translated into communist tendencies. His dad Charles Seeger was hired to establish the music department at the University of California, Berkeley, but was forced to resign in 1918 because of his outspoken pacifism during World War I. His parents divorced when he was seven.
He began playing the ukulele while attending Avon Old Farms, a private boarding school in Connecticut. His father and his stepmother, the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, collected and transcribed rural American folk music, as did folklorists like John and Alan Lomax.

He heard the five-string banjo, which would become his main instrument, when his father took him to a square-dance festival in North Carolina.
Young Pete became enthralled by rural traditions. “I liked the strident vocal tone of the singers, the vigorous dancing,” he is quoted as saying in “How Can I Keep From Singing,” a biography by David Dunaway. “The words of the songs had all the meat of life in them. Their humor had a bite, it was not trivial. Their tragedy was real, not sentimental.” Continue reading Pete Seeger 1/2014

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Richie Havens 4/2013

Richie HavensApril 22, 2013 – Richard Pierce Havens (January 21, 1941 – April 22, 2013), known as Richie Havens, was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. His music encompassed elements of folk, soul, and rhythm and blues. He is best known for his intense and rhythmic guitar style (often in open tunings), soulful covers of pop and folk songs, and his opening performance at the 1969 Woodstock. Richie Havens sang every song he knew when he was called in to open legendary Woodstock Festival in August 1969.

The Brooklyn born 6’6″ tall singer came out of a mixture of folk, blues, gospel and soul that he fine tuned during the sixties in New York’s Greenwich Village. A local celebrity he was originally scheduled as the fifth performer for the festival, but long artist travel delays forced him to play for 3 hours on end. Previously only regionally known, he came upon the world stage when he ran out of tunes and improvised his performance of ‘Freedom’ based on and incorporated into the spiritual ‘Sometimes I feel like a motherless child‘, made famous by Nina Simone.

Continue reading Richie Havens 4/2013

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Levon Helm 4/2012

Levon-HelmApril 19, 2012 – Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm  was born on May 26, 1940 in Elaine, Arkansas. Helm grew up in Turkey Scratch, a hamlet west of Helena, Arkansas. His parents, Nell and Diamond Helm, cotton farmers and also great lovers of music, encouraged their children to play and sing. Young Lavon (as he was christened) began playing the guitar at the age of eight and also played drums during his formative years. He saw Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys at the age of six and decided then to become a musician.

Arkansas in the 1940s and 50s stood at the confluence of a variety of musical styles—blues, country and R&B—that later became known as rock and roll. Helm was influenced by all these styles, which he heard on the Grand Ole Opry on radio station WSM and R&B on radio station WLAC out of Nashville, Tennessee. He also saw traveling shows such as F.S. Walcott’s Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels that featured top African-American artists of the time. Continue reading Levon Helm 4/2012

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Dan Peek 7/2011

July 24, 2011 – Dan Peek (America) was born on November 1st 1950 in Panama City, Florida as his dad was in the US Airforce.

Via a short stay in Pakistan, the family ended up in London, England and it was at London Central High School, a school for children of U.S. armed services personnel, where he met Bunnell and Beckley. All three were musically inclined, and when they decided to form a band, they wanted to avoid anyone thinking they were Brits trying to sound American, so they settled on the name America.

Continue reading Dan Peek 7/2011

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Phoebe Snow 4/2011

Phoebe SnowApril 26, 2011 – Phoebe Snow was born Phoebe Ann Laub on July 17, 1950 in New York City. When Phoebe Laub was little, she loved to watch the Lackawanna Railroad’s ”Phoebe Snow” train go by her family’s home in Teaneck. One day, she promised herself, she would become Phoebe Snow.

It was at the Bitter End club in 1972 that Denny Cordell, club owner with Leon Russell and a promotions executive for Shelter Records, was so taken by the singer that he signed her to the label and produced her first recording. She released an eponymous album, Phoebe Snow, in 1974, featuring guest performances by The Persuasions, Zoot Sims, Teddy Wilson, David Bromberg and Dave Mason. It spawned the Billboard Hot 100 No.5 hit single, “Poetry Man”, reached number 4 on the Billboard 200 album chart, won Phoebe a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and established her as a formidable singer/songwriter.

She performed as the opening act for tours by Jackson Browne and Paul Simon. 1975 also brought the first of several appearances as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, on which she performed both solo and in duets with Paul Simon and Linda Ronstadt.

And then she got married to a guy who later turned out to be gay and had a brain damaged daughter a year later and from there on her career as one of the deciding voices of a generation, went on permanent hold.

Her story was never told better then  in Esquire Magazine by Don Shewey in 1982.

“The Blues of Phoebe Snow”

“The other night I met a person on the business side of this business who I decided it would be a real neat idea to get to know. So I went up to him with my Pepsodent smile and my hand outstretched, you know, and said, ‘How ya doin’?'”

Phoebe Snow was chewing bubble gum and sipping Diet Pepsi in an office at Atlantic Records. This was a little over a year ago, after her album Rock Away came out.

“He put his arm on my shoulder and said, ‘May I be blunt with you?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you level with me? You know and I know that you had it all. You could have been the biggest thing since I don’t know what. But you blew it. You killed it! What did you do that for?’
“He said, ‘Now I’ve heard about you, we’ve all heard about you, we know you’re very sick. So why don’t you face facts — you’re very mentally disturbed, am I right? You’re, like, really nuts?’ He was facing me, and I went, ‘Look, what’s over there?’ He turned, and I grabbed his head and said right into his ear, ‘My daughter is severely brain-injured, and I don’t want you to start nothin’ with me, okay?’

“He jumped back and said, ‘Hey! Eighty-six! Forget it!’ And I said, ‘And tell your friends who are saying I’m nuts that I say hi and the same to them. If they wanna start with me…'”

“Ah-oooh-yeaaah-ee-yeah-hyea-ee-yeah, oo-ooh-yee-eah…”

It was the summer of 1974, and everywhere you turned there was this voice wafting out of car radios, record stores, open windows on the street. The song was a classy, catchy pop ditty called “Poetry Man,” but the voice! It was a voice bigger than any song. Fluid, delicate, moody — instantly that voice had authority.

If one was curious enough — and most were — one looked for the song and discovered a whole album by this woman, this singer with the breathy, girlish vibrato and the knowing, bluesy growl. The session musicians on her record were the cream of the crop — jazz legends like Teddy Wilson and Zoot Sims, along with the Persuasions and such pop notables as David Bromberg and Dave Mason — and the woman, Phoebe Snow, did them all proud.

With a single stroke she proved herself to be one of the most exciting, versatile performers of her time. In 1975, the album went gold. She was nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy. Paul Simon invited her to sing with him on “Gone at Last,” and the resulting hit single revealed both her terrific gospel chops and a sky-scraping upper range. She turned twenty-five. She married her boyfriend, Phil Kearns. They had a baby girl, Valerie Rose. All in one year.

What happened then? Did she go nuts? Did she blow it? Well…not exactly. She continued to make records; some of them were very good, but none quite matched the crystalline perfection of her first album. In the process, she experimented with different kinds of material — jazz, Motown, rock — not all of which projected well on a record. That’s not surprising; after all, the essence of Ella Fitzgerald comes across not on a polite album like Cole Porter Songbook but during those moments in concert when she lifts her hankie to her face and starts scatting like some swing-injected Pentecostal priestess. Phoebe Snow has the same kind of once-in-a-generation voice. She needs an audience to urge her on to those shameless displays of sheer lung power. For years, what kept her career aloft in lieu of hits was her phenomenal concert appearances — including her memorable stint on Saturday Night Live singing “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” with Linda Ronstadt.

Touring tends to take its toll, however, and before too long Phoebe, once Queen Midas, had become pop’s Pandora with a boxful of problems. Did she crack up? Maybe. She will tell you: “I shouldn’t have been in the studio during that time. I was not in control of my mental faculties. I was orbiting Venus.” In 1979, she asked to be released from her contract, and the following April she declared bankruptcy. In the summer of ’81, things began to turn around as her duet with Jackson Browne on the old song “Have Mercy” started climbing the charts. But then, shortly into the promotional tour, she broke a blood vessel in her throat onstage. There went the tour, there went the hit, there went the comeback.

It must be unspeakably frustrating to be one of the greatest singers of your generation and find yourself sitting out in suburban New Jersey with a brain-injured baby girl and your career on hold. But when we met last fall, Phoebe Snow was in high spirits. Done with her financial and medical problems, done with her insecurities and agonizing — at least for now — she was preparing to go back into the studio and start singing again. Raring to go.

“Notice anything different?” she hints, pirouetting in the doorway of her spacious apartment. She’s lost a lot of weight recently, and she’s very proud of it. “When I was out in L.A. mixing my last record, I got really close to two hundred pounds. That’s not funny for a five-foot- four-inch person. One night my friend Marci was driving me home and I bought six cookies the size of roofs of outhouses. I don’t think I was really going to eat them all; I just wanted to have them around. So we pull up in front of the house and I start to unwrap the paper on one of the cookies, and Marci, who’d just lost a bunch of weight, said to me, ‘You don’t want that cookie,’ and I said, ‘Yes. I do. I want it.’ She said, ‘No, you wanna throw it like a discus. Let me see you throw it like a discus.’ I went like that” — she mimes tossing a Frisbee — “and it went smash against the building. I said, ‘Hey, that was good. Lemme try another one.'”

The first thing you notice when you meet Phoebe Snow is not how she looks but what she says. Both as a performer and as a person, the most astonishing thing about her is what comes out of her mouth. While she’ll say there are certain subjects she’d rather not get into, she’ll talk about them anyway because they’re on her mind. And the first thing you know, she’s telling you why she broke up with her husband, what David Bowie whispered to her at a party, what shocking things she used to say to tease CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff. These are things you can’t print, things in fact that you shouldn’t be hearing, maybe you don’t even want to be hearing, but they’re very funny. If you laugh at her stories, she’ll tell you more; if your attention starts to drift, she’ll reach for stories that seem a little hard to believe. Whatever it takes to make you laugh.

The most famous picture of Phoebe Snow is the painting on the cover of her first album. With a cloud of kinky hair topping a bespectacled face distinguished by full lips and seven prominent moles, you can’t tell whether she’s young or old, black or white. The “natural beauty” of that image appealed to many of her early fans in the antifashion ’70s, the I’m-okay-you’re-okay years. Her audiences were full of Phoebe Snow lookalikes — chubby women with curly hair, glasses, and moles, who, she says, sort of gave her the creeps. Back then, she didn’t help matters much; once, when the theater was cold, she went onstage in a ski parka, looking like the neighborhood babysitter. Today contact lenses have replaced the eyeglasses. And when she puts on a little makeup and changes into an embroidered black pullover for dinner, she even shows a touch of real glamour. But it’s still a little awkward talking about her appearance. We both know that if she sang like Phoebe Snow but looked like Deborah Harry, she’d be a superstar by now.

“I’m not a natural gorgeous person,” she shrugs. “I mean, if I’m gonna look presentable, I have to work at it. I didn’t even used to try. I’ve discussed that with my parents since my career died down a lot.” She says “my career” as though it had satirical quotes around it. “They think that I botched everything up purposely, that I did a whole neurotic anti-success thing.” She stops for a sidelong glance at me to see if that’s a likely story. Then she adds, “There’s probably some truth to that.”

She starts talking about having just seen a Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, which reminds her of a Midnight Special “where I look like a hot-dog salesman. I don’t know what that thing, that shmatte, was that I was wearing, but it was so ugly.” She cracks up, we both laugh, but she keeps an eye out to see if I’m making the same distinction between Then and Now that she is. Some people could tell these stories and make you feel uncomfortable because it sounds like they’re putting themselves down. But Phoebe does it with the coolness of someone accustomed to digging into herself for her art and entertainment. “I think I tried to flaunt whatever ugliness I could find as a way of saying ‘I don’t deserve this success.’ I guess I learned that early on.” She stops. “It wasn’t blatant — my parents didn’t say, ‘You don’t deserve to be nothing.’ They’d say, ‘Gee, I suspect you’re never gonna be nothing.’ My dad was full of that.”

Phoebe Snow was born to Merrill and Lili Laub in 1950 and grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. Her parents were, in their own way, an arty duo. Her mother, a dance teacher, was in the Martha Graham company and used to double date with Woody Guthrie and his first wife. Her father worked for Viking Press and had a background in theater; his father had been a stand-up comedian in vaudeville. Now Phoebe’s dad is an exterminator — she snickers and apologizes immediately. “I think he’s a real frustrated character actor and a comedian. He had aspirations to the stage, and when he saw me doing it, performing, that just totally blew his fuse. He was wiped out.”

Unlike her husband, Mother Laub understood the full extent of her daughter’s talents. She took Phoebe to dance classes, sent her to summer camps for “gifted children,” and bought her six years’ worth of piano lessons. “I led a very cloistered, sheltered life, like ‘Don’t go out and play; practice the piano.’ Well, don’tcha know how funny the mind is? I don’t remember anything on the piano. And I was good, too, man,” says Phoebe. “I was this weird genius kid.”

Teaneck High School is Normal City, U.S.A. Every boy is a football hero and every girl a cheerleader. If you’re a “weird genius kid,” and fat and Jewish to boot, you might as well be from Mars. Phoebe was not popular. She would go to make-out parties and be odd girl out. She took to hanging around with other outcasts and getting drunk. Her crummy grades made college prospects dim; she went to night school in Teaneck, but in between classes she would catch the train to Greenwich Village with her girlfriends. The Village was the center of a thriving folk-music scene, and Phoebe, who had started taking guitar lessons from Eric Schoenberg when she was fifteen, liked to sit in on jams at the Folklore Center. Anything to get out of Jersey, and when she finally did, her ticket was Charlie.

Charlie was a young jug-band musician Phoebe met at an audition and fell in love with. Charlie didn’t make fun of her looks. He didn’t tell her she was stupid. He encouraged her to sing and turned her on to blues and old jazz. “It was a very personal and private thing of ours to sit and listen to jazz with the lights out. He used to play me Billie Holiday records and Lester Young and Johnny Hodges.”

At Charlie’s insistence, she made the rounds of talent nights at the folk clubs; to earn a guest spot between the opening act and the headliner, she’d wipe tables and scrub the vomit off carpets. She paid her dues at places like Aunt Rhoda’s Daycamp Center, a bikers’ hangout on East Twenty-first Street, and Earth Life, an organic health bar in Lodi, New Jersey. She billed herself as just Phoebe in those days, and sometimes Charlie would sit in on harmonica. She sang old blues greats, but when someone suggested she could make more money if she wrote her own songs, she started writing like crazy. One night an executive from Leon Russell’s label, Shelter Records, heard Phoebe sing, flipped, and approached her with a record deal. It was everything she and Charlie had dreamed of, and then just as the dream was coming true, Charlie checked out.

Phoebe never talks about Charlie’s death; she usually just says that he died in “a tragic accident” and not by suicide, as was rumored. But several months after we met, in one of those free-floating late-night phone conversations, she surprised me by bringing up the subject. 

Apparently, one night Charlie took an overdose of some pills that had been prescribed for depression. He was rushed to the hospital, where his stomach was pumped; the hospital wanted to keep him overnight, but he insisted that he had to go to work in the morning and he was sent home in a cab still drowsy from the OD. His mother found him the next day in his apartment, dead from a heart attack. “I just wonder what my life would have been like if he hadn’t died,” Phoebe mused. “He might have managed my career, ’cause he was a real take-charge person. And he never doubted me. He was the only one. It was almost spooky, the way he’d chuckle to himself about it. He always knew.”

After the funeral Phoebe poured all her energies into recording her debut album. The scared, shy girl had developed a confident blues guitar style and an exhilarating, out-front vocal delivery that conjured images of singers twice her age. The jazz inflections that crept into such haunting tunes as “Harpo’s Blues” and “I Don’t Want the Night to End” were Phoebe’s way of paying homage to the man who first introduced her to music as a way of life, and those inflections were what attracted the record company and the critics and the record buyers. The album was completed in December 1973 and came out in June 1974; by the end of the year, “Poetry Man” was riding high on the charts and the airwaves. And the love she had once received from the one man who had understood her music now came pouring back from legions of adoring strangers.

Along the way, the legendary voice had gained a legendary name. It went back to childhood, when other kids would tease her for being called Phoebe — it sounded funny. With pride, she’d point to the freight trains that rolled through Teaneck, and there it was, big as life: PHOEBE SNOW. As a stage name, it stuck.

The name on the doorbell of her apartment is Kearns, even though Phil doesn’t live there anymore. The building is one of those tastefully nondescript doorman dwellings; the apartment, cozy and cluttered, is dominated by an imposing parallel-bar rack structure used for Valerie’s physical therapy. A babysitter named Debbie helps to take care of six-year-old Valerie, who has been diagnosed as autistic and doesn’t really walk or talk yet. Valerie is a wee brunette with shoulder-length hair and big, gorgeous eyes; she’s wearing an I LOVE GRANDMA T-shirt, watching TV in the nursery. When Debbie tucks her in for her afternoon nap, Phoebe and I pop out for lunch at the Royal Crown Diner in Englewood Cliffs.

Phoebe places her order — veal parmigiana and iced tea — then the conversation veers toward Valerie, touchy territory. The first time we tried this, her eyes started tearing and we stopped. Today Phoebe speaks more matter-of-factly. “Valerie couldn’t move, couldn’t talk at first,” she recalls, “and we were told to forget it. She spent four months in the Rusk Institute when she was eighteen months old, and they told me she’d made no progress and there was a place where kids could go when they make no progress. In other words, these people’s answer was to put her away. And I said no.”

Phoebe looks out the window, far away for a minute. It’s a rainy afternoon, and station wagons race down the shiny streets. “There was a time when it was almost killing me,” she continues. “At the end of ’77, I toured for five weeks while this young couple looked after Valerie. When I came home, she was literally starving herself, and I was virtually insane. I would say that I had a breakdown. I took her down South for treatments, and the doctor at a clinic there said to me, ‘Have you ever thought about a little voluntary rest commitment for yourself?’ I said, ‘I’ve been away from my kid for over a month, and I’m not gonna do it again.’ He said, ‘What are you going to do when you tour again?’ He said he knew a woman who would take Valerie while I was on tour, and I agreed to talk to her.

“That night, from my hotel room, I called the woman. She was a sweet, gentle lady. She told me she looked after five other kids, and so when she came to the clinic to meet me, I was gung ho. She asked when I was going on tour again. I said probably not for another six months. She said, ‘Well, then, we’ll take care of the adoption papers now.’

“I looked at her and said, ‘You adopt them?’ ‘Oh yeah,’ she said, ‘I don’t just babysit. I’m the adopted mother of these children.’

“I thought, ‘Oh, God.’ And for one hot minute I looked at her — you know how someone just oozes kindness and beauty? — and I thought, ‘Well, maybe…maybe it’ll be best.’ And then I looked at my little girl who was lying there so messed up and I just said, ‘No, thanks.’ I never thought about it after that.”

With that simple “No, thanks,” Phoebe Snow turned a corner in her life. People she’d trusted had long had their own expectations of her and little faith in her ability to make decisions on her own. That could drive a person crazy, but it drove Phoebe to summon up her common sense, her love, maybe even her craziness, and to make a choice for once based on her own instincts.

“I’ve given up a lot,” she says — how else? — bluntly. “You have to understand that when I say giving up a life, that’s an understatement. ‘Poetry Man’ came out in late ’74, Valerie was born in late ’75, and it’s all been downhill from there in my career, which is my means of support for her. It’s a cyclical thing, because she cuts into my career and even if she were a normal kid my career would cut into her life. yet I’m virtually the only thing she’s got. When she’s sick or has a nightmare, if I’m around, she goes like this.” Phoebe raises her arms like a child asking to be held. “To have a kid who’s never done anything do that…that’s heavy. The first time she did it I was — whoooa. The first time she does anything is like New Year’s Eve. Champagne! Confetti! That’s the best part. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does — paaar-ty!”

The waiter clears away what’s left of the meal, and Phoebe lingers lovingly over the dessert menu. “I could tell you exactly why I got fat. I’m like most people walking around on the planet who want their gratification when they want it. They want their drink now and their TV now and their sex now. As soon as I couldn’t be gratified with Valerie, I started overcompensating, gaining humongous amounts of weight. I could explain that to you perfectly, intellectually. But it’s no excuse. So what I’m learning from all this is patience.” The waiter returns for our order, and Phoebe recommends the house specialty, some divine chocolate-chip cake. For herself, she abstains.

Phoebe’s dazzling technique and extraordinary sophistication pegged her as a jazz singer from the outset, and at first she was happy to encourage this impression. “The audiences want to boogie,” she complained in a 1975 interview, “and I’m a jazz singer…or a pop singer…anyway, I’m not a rock singer.” But eventually she began to chafe under this narrow definition. More to the point, the spell of Charlie’s influence began to wear off, and she realized that she was just going through the motions. “I began to feel like a real supermimic. And the deeper I got into jazzy stuff, the more contrived it started to sound.” On her next four albums, Phoebe watched her musical direction grow more and more diffused. When she called a halt to her recording career in 1979, it was because she had finally figured out exactly what it was she wanted to do: “Rock.” She sighs — she remembers saying “I’m not a rock singer.”

“Before I met Charlie, rock’s all I listened to,” she says. “Ask my mom. I spent every Saturday night at the Fillmore East. Give me Jeff Beck! Please, get Eric Clapton out here!” In the summer of 1980, Phoebe took Billy Joel’s band into the studio to make Rock Away.

“That album had been in my heart for eight or nine years,” Phoebe insists. “We all have fantasies of doing what Roger Daltrey does with the microphone, whipping ourselves into a frenzy. It’s like wanting to be Superman when I was four. I’d take a pair of my little cotton Fruit of the Looms and put them on over my pants and tie a bath towel around my neck and go, ‘Soop-erman,’ running down the block looking like a complete schlemiel. And all the neighbors would say, ‘There’s Phoebe with her underwear on over her pants again. Tell her to go in the house.’ That’s the first superpower fantasy you have, and the second is being a rock star. You can’t deny that’s a very viable fantasy. Everybody else was doing it, so I wanted to try.”

She tried, and a lot of critics approved, but now she says, “The rock ‘n’ roll thing worked and it didn’t work — something was still missing.” She’s changed her mind about dessert and is forking her way through a chunk of watermelon. “What I really wanna do, if the truth be known, is something I blatantly rejected on the last album. I guess I was nervous. On my next album, I’m gonna go back to funk.”

It makes sense that her taste for rock would send Phoebe Snow back to its origins in black music. Her best work has always involved a blending of the two, rhythm and blues and pop, singing that’s sweet and rough at the same time. It’s certainly no coincidence that a healthy number of blacks always frequent her shows. “I feel like an honorary black, and I’m flattered,” she jokes. “But when they yell out, ‘Get down, sis-tuh,’ I tend to feel whiter than ever. ‘Thank you,’ I say. ‘I believe I will get down now.’

“My favorite album, probably up there in the Top Ten of all time, is Sly Stone’s Fresh,” Phoebe says. “After that comes George Clinton, and after that comes the Ohio Players. I don’t know where Sly Stone is, but if he called me up tomorrow and said, ‘Let’s do a couple of tracks,’ I’d go in a minute.

“The other guy I’ve always tuned in to is James Brown, who was probably doing that stuff before anybody was doing it. They didn’t even know what to call it, they just called it Mr.-Please-Please-the- Hardest-Working-Man-in-Show-Biz music. I used to go up to the Cheetah to see him, me and one other white girl. I just fell in love with him.”

Phoebe loves to talk about other singers. She listens to everything, for fun and profit. “I’m looking for a sound,” she confesses, shoving her watermelon rind aside. “You know in The Glenn Miller Story where James Stewart goes to New Orleans and listens to Satchmo, then hears a regular dance band, then he goes to a strip club, and he tries to score all this music for his band? Then he crumples up the paper and goes, ‘That’s not it! That’s not the sound!’ It’s so Hollywood, but every time I see the movie I wait for that identity crisis. I do have a sound in my head,” she says, “but I’ve never gotten it.” She brightens up like a model in a TV commercial. “It’s the Phoebe Idea.”

Anyone who’s heard Phoebe Snow can get the general Idea. She has the kind of voice your imagination can apply to every song in the universe, because what you usually remember is not the words she sings but the sounds in between the words — the moans, the shrieks, the sensuously drawn-out syllables. But it doesn’t take a genius to notice that the Phoebe Idea keeps changing. First it was Memphis Minnie, then it was Billie Holiday, then it was Jeff Beck, then it was James Brown…no wonder she’s never quite gotten the Phoebe Idea.

On her new album, tentatively called Stand Your Ground and due out whenever a new round of record-company problems can be solved, the Idea remains as elusive as ever. The funk fantasy never materialized. Instead, Phoebe went into the studio with Elliot Scheiner, who engineered several Steely Dan albums. The result is a little bit of this, a little bit of that, pleasant, even exciting at times, but…it’s not the sound. Maybe the Phoebe Idea is destined to be like Robert Browning’s idea of heaven. Or Mick Jagger’s modern-day adaptation of the same thought: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.

Back from lunch in time for a quick visit from Phoebe’s doctor- boyfriend, we put away the business side of this business and just play. Phoebe digs through stacks of records, puts on the Beatles’ Christmas albums, a reggae band called Matumbi, and a little Aretha Franklin, then pulls out a creepy bootleg of Billie Holiday singing during a studio session. Smacked out of her mind, Billie starts a different song every seventeen bars or so. Phoebe takes it off and puts on a tape she herself made while recording her third album, It Looks Like Snow. Between fart noises and rude remarks about the music industry, a familiar voice howls with mock self-pity: “I hate my mother, I hate myself, and I wanna die.” Phoebe grooves along with the song, casting a sideways glance to see what I think. It’s hilarious. The tape is labeled KOMPLAINING BLUES.

Out in New Jersey Phoebe may be isolated, but that’s not one of her complaints. “I’m accustomed to it,” she says. “I don’t go to parties. I’ve never been to the Mudd Club. I went to Studio 54 once and a man who was dressed like a bug followed me around all night and fanned me. Partying is not my scene at all. You know how a puppy is before it’s housebroken, all panting and peeing on everybody’s leg? I get so stupid at parties.

“I did go to the party for No Nukes, and I was incredibly self- conscious. There were all these celeboids there hugging each other, and they had their white wine, and I don’t…I can’t…you know? I mean, I’m really impressed by famous people. And I was so fat, the fattest I’ve ever, ever been. El Blimpoid.

“After a while I left the party and sat out on the curb in front of the club with two girlfriends I’d brought. Limos kept pulling up, and I was going, ‘Hey, celebs! Get your celebs here, get your limos, get your Quaaludes, your groupies, your cocaine!’ I wasn’t high or anything, I was just being obnoxious. The doors of one limo opened up, and I went over. I said, ‘Hey, celebrities! Eat me.’ And it was Jackson Browne! He walked over to me with this face like, ‘Who the hell is this person?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Pheeb? Hi!'”
So this is Phoebe Snow. What did you expect? A normal person? She’s got a gold record on the wall. She’s got a brain-injured six-year-old in the nursery. She’s got the Phoebe Idea kicking around in her head. And she’s got something in her closet she just has to show me.

Phoebe rummages through the closet and finally drags out a bunch of cassette tapes with a rubber band wrapped around them. In 1974 and 1975, Phoebe tells me, she and some friends began to do occult experiments. They had heard that if you sat in a room without speaking and turned a tape recorder on, you could play the tape back and receive communications from…spirits, spacemen, whatever. They did this “silent taping” a lot. Finally, Phoebe, who says she is psychic, stopped because she got too freaked out. But she keeps the tapes around to remind herself, and any skeptical party, that there’s more to life than meets the eye.

The tapes are unsettling. “‘The receiver has been planted in their brains,'” she translates. “You hear that?” It sounds like a scratchy, faraway voice coming over a transatlantic cable, but Phoebe says it came out of thin air onto the tape. From silence there’s a blast of static, then two thumps. Then silence. Then a weird scraping sound, then another two thumps.

“Sometimes it’s just a lot of tapping,” says Phoebe, snapping the tape off and sticking another cassette into the deck. “This is just so      you know I’m not making this up.” A bizarre, metallic voice speaks, garbled and distant. It speaks again. “‘Contact us, contact us,'” Phoebe translates more reasonably. A whirring sound and a slight chiming, very faint. Then the voice again, sounding agitated and otherworldly. 

“‘Prepare the'” — something, we can’t make it out — “‘has come closer.'” “You hear all those noises?” she asks. I hear weird slow beeps, then the voice. A burst of unearthly music. And silence again.

Esquire, 1982

Phoebe died on April 26, 2011 as the result of a brain hemorrhage which she suffered on January 9, 2010 and went into a coma. She was almost 60 years old when she finally passed.

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Kenny
Edwards
8/2010

kenny edwards with linda ronstadtAugust 18, 2010 – Kenneth Michael ‘Kenny’ Edwards was born on February 10, 1946 in Santa Monica California. He had the good fortune to begin life in the Southern California community of Santa Monica where much musical history would be recorded. Little did he know that he would eventually be in the thick of the most active of all the entertainment media, and more impressively, be an integral part of its growth. All types of music captivated him at an early age, which made him a willing and able student of diverse ethnic sounds, including early American bluegrass, country, folk, and rock. In 1965, Edwards teamed up with Bob Kimmel, a transplant from Tuscon, and formed a folk group which would soon after be embellished by the powerful vocals of Linda Ronstadt, whom Kimmel knew from Arizona. The group called themselves the Stone Ponys and, with the help of their new manager, Herb Cohen, quickly managed to secure a recording contract with Capitol Records, gaining considerable recognition by the American folk-rock mass. Their first album was, by many accounts, considered to be a masterpiece that displayed lush harmonies provided by Edwards and Kimmel, although the record did not spawn a hit. The second attempt, released in 1967, contained the hit song “Different Drum,” which induced Capitol to send the band out on tour. However, just before the tour, the Stone Ponys decided to terminate their relationship, leaving Ronstadt to fulfill the final album commitment on the contract. Edwards would rejoin Ronstadt in 1974 and spend the next five years as a key force behind her successful run.

After leaving the Stone Ponys in 1968, Edwards united with Wendy Waldman, Andrew Gold and Karla Bonoff, each of whom were prolific songwriters, accomplished musicians, and great singers. They had aspirations of launching individual careers, but enjoyed singing together so much that they decided to join forces and become a group. The quartet called themselves Bryndle and would win a recording contract with A&M Records in 1970, but their only album remained in the can, and just the single “Woke Up This Morning” was released. The frustrating end to their dream caused Bryndle to disband, but they would re-form two decades later.

In 1974, Edwards was approached by Ronstadt and she asked him to rejoin her band and help to ignite her floundering career. It turned out to be one of the best moves she ever made because he also brought along Andrew Gold. Edwards, who would play bass, remained the standing foundation in Ronstadt’s band for the next five years, and with Gold, served as the spark that did indeed ignite her career. Edwards stuck with Ronstadt through her glory years, touring extensively and providing invaluable input in the studio which took full advantage of his multi-instrumental prowess, not to mention vocals, collaborative songwriting, and creative production ideas.

By the late ’70s, Edwards grew to become a talented, well-rounded, aspiring record producer whose next step would be commander of his own project. His former bandmate from Bryndle, Karla Bonoff, landed a record deal with Columbia Records in 1977 and she called upon him to produce her. He produced all three albums. The first, titled Karla Bonoff, was the most successful. After Bonoff’s contract expired, Edwards continued to get more and more calls for his services as producer as well as studio musician and vocalist. He put in more than his share of air miles between L.A. and Nashville, but still found enough time to branch out into other areas, taking on the production of feature films, one of which was Vince Gill’s version of “When Will I Be Loved” for the movie Eight Seconds that he co-produced with Andrew Gold.

Other credits include writing and scoring films and teleplays such as Miami Vice, Crime Story, The Street, The Secret Sins of the Father, and others. In the early ’90s, having enjoyed successful careers individually, Edwards, Waldman, Bonoff, and Gold decided to put Bryndle back in action. Their first CD was released on Music Masters/BMG Records. Entering 2001, they continued to write and record new material, and tour throughout the U.S. and Asia. By the end of 2002, Edwards had finished his first solo album.

His session work has seen Edwards work either live or in the studio with acts such as Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, J.D. Souther, Don Henley, Brian Wilson, Warren Zevon, Art Garfunkel, Vince Gill, Mac McAnally, David Lee Murphy, Jennifer Warnes, Danny Kortchmar, Lowell George, as well as a younger generation of artists including Glen Phillips and Natalie D-Napoleon. Edwards released his first, self-titled solo album in 2002. In his later years, he performed as a singer-songwriter, often with Nina Gerber accompanying, and completed the recording and release of a second solo album in 2009.

Edwards’ career had spanned four decades, consumed thousands of studio hours, and countless thousands of air miles, and he has participated in the creation of libraries full of hit songs. His is not a household name except to those in the industry, but he has played an influential part in musical history, especially where it pertains to the development of country-rock music and its boom during the ’70s. With the release of his 2nd solo cd, Resurrection Road” Edwards, who for most of his career was the consummate backup ace, took a more prominent position on stage and had planned to play an important part in the future development of music for some time to come.

Sadly Kenny lost his battle with prostate cancer on August 18, 2010. He was 64.

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Ben Keith
Schaeufele
7/2010

July 26, 2010 – Ben Keith Schaeufele was born on March 6th 1937 in Fort Riley, Kansas and later relocated to Bowling Green, Kentucky.

As a member of Nashville’s A-Team in the 50s and 60s, one of his early successes was his steel guitar playing on Patsy Cline’s 1961 hit “I Fall to Pieces” and was a fixture of the Nashville country music community in the 1950s and 1960s.

Keith met Young in 1971 in Nashville, where the rocker was working on what would become his commercial breakthrough album, “Harvest.” Keith came to the recording studio at the invitation of bassist Tim Drummond, whom Young had asked to find a steel player for the sessions. When Keith arrived, “I didn’t know who anyone was, so I asked, ‘Who’s that guy over there?’ ” and was told “That’s Neil Young.”

“I came in and quietly set up my guitar — they had already started playing — and started playing,” Keith recalled in a 2006 interview. “We did five songs that were on the ‘Harvest’ record, just one right after the other, before I even said hello to him.”

This spawned a collaboration that would last nearly 40 years, as Keith went on to play with Young on over a dozen albums and numerous tours. Keith also played the role of Grandpa Green in the Neil Young feature-length movie Greendale, a film accompaniment released on DVD to Young’s 2004 album of the same name.

Working with Young opened many doors for Ben; he became one of the rock world’s premier multi-instrumentalist backing musicians, with recording credits that include Terry Reid, J. J. Cale, Todd Rundgren, Lonnie Mack, The Band, Blue, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Willie Nelson, Paul Butterfield, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Ian and Sylvia, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Anne Murray and Ringo Starr.

Keith was featured prominently in “Neil Young Trunk Show,” shot in Pennsylvania at a stop on Young’s 2007-2008 concert tour. Young said a key reason he chose to tour with Keith, bassist Rick Rosas and Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina, rather than convening the full, hard-rocking Crazy Horse trio, was that “I can do more variety this way, because Ben plays so many instruments.”

He also served as the producer of Jewel’s  highly successful debut album Pieces of You, and has worked as solo artist. He toured with Crosby Stills Nash & Young on their 2006 Freedom of Speech tour.

Keith died of a blood clot in his lung while at his home on Young’s ranch in Northern California on July 26, 2010 at the age of 73.

Jonathan Demme, who directed Young’s concert films “Neil Young Trunk Show” from earlier this year and 2006’s “Heart of Gold,” said Keith had been staying at Young’s ranch in Northern California, working on new projects with his longtime collaborator.

Demme called Keith “an elegant, beautiful dude, and obviously a genius. He could play every instrument. He was literally the bandleader on any of that stuff… Neil has all the confidence in the world, but with Ben on board, there were no limits. Neil has a fair measure of the greatness of his music, but he knew he was even better when Ben was there.”

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Kate McGarrigle 1/2010

kate mcgarrigleJanuary 18, 2010 – Kate McGarrigle was born on February 6th 1946 in Montreal, but grew up in the Laurentian Mountains village of Saint-Sauveur-des-Monts, Quebec.

The McGarrigle sisters, Kate, Anna and Jane, grew up in musical family, where they learned songs from their French-Canadian mother Gaby, and piano from their father Frank and nuns in the village. Later they picked up the guitar, banjo and accordion, and in the early 1960s, with a couple of friends, formed a coffeehouse folk group, the Mountain City Four.

Continue reading Kate McGarrigle 1/2010

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Ramses Shaffy 12/2009

Ramses ShaffyDecember 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.

Continue reading Ramses Shaffy 12/2009

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Tim Hart 12/2009

Tim HartDecember 24, 2009 – Tim Hart (Steeleye Span) was born  January 9, 1948 in Lincoln, grew up in St.Albans Hertfordshire, where several young British music careers started in the sixties. His father was a vicar. At St Albans school, he was a member of the Rattfinks, a pop band that never rivalled the school’s best-known alumni, the hit-making Zombies. He worked, briefly, as a bookbinder, blacksmith, cost clerk, civil servant and hospital washer-up, while diversifying his musical interests and singing at St Albans folk music club. He met Maddy Prior there in 1965 and, by January 1966, they were singing together professionally.

Continue reading Tim Hart 12/2009

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Mary Travers 9/2009

101864-mary_travers_617x409September 16, 2009 – 

Mary Travers was born in Louisville, Kentucky on November 9th 1936, but at the age of 2, her family moved to Greenwich Village in New York City, where she attended the Little Red School House, she left school in the eleventh grade to pursue her singing career.

But while still in high school, she joined The Song Swappers, a group who sang backup for Pete Seeger when he recorded the album Talking Union, in 1955. The Song Swappers recorded a total of four albums in 1955, all with with Peter Seeger. Mary was also cast in the Broadway-theatre show, The Next President.

Continue reading Mary Travers 9/2009

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Kenny Rankin 6/2009

kenny-rankinJune 7, 2009 – Kenny Rankin was born in Los Angeles on February 10, 1940 but raised in the Washington Heights area of Brooklyn, New York.

He was introduced to music by his mother, who sang at home and for friends. Early in his career he worked as a singer-songwriter, while a well-regarded guitarist, he played in Bob Dylan’s backup band on the influential 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home.”

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John Martyn 1/2009

John MartynJanuary 29, 2009 – John Martyn born Iain David McGeachy OBE on September 11, 1948.  He began his professional musical career when he was 17, playing a blend of blues and folk that resulted in a unique style that made him a key figure in the London folk scene during the mid-1960s, releasing his first album, ”London Conversation”, in 1968.

By 1970 he had developed a wholly original and idiosyncratic sound: acoustic guitar run through a fuzzbox, phase-shifter, and Echoplex. This sound was first apparent on album Stormbringer! in 1970.

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Miriam Makeba 11/2008

November 10, 2008  miriam8Zenzile 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

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Ronnie Drew 8/2008

ronnie drew of the dublinersAugust 16, 2008 – Ronnie Drew (The Dubliners) was born Joseph Ronald Drews on September 16, 1934 in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, Ireland.
Ironically, and although he was so intimately associated with being “a Dubliner”, he would somewhat tongue-in-cheek say that “I was born and grew up in Dún Laoghaire, and no true Dubliner would accept that at all!”

Despite his aversion to education, he was considered the most intelligent in his class by schoolfriend and future Irish film censor, Sheamus Smith.

“Ronnie Drew in his fine suit of blue
And a voice like gravel that would cut you in two
We thought he was Dublin through and through
But he blew in from Dún Laoghaire”

Continue reading Ronnie Drew 8/2008

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Erik Darling 8/2008

erik darling of the weaversAugust 2, 2008 – Erik Darling  (the Weavers) was born on September 25, 1933 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Darling actually spent his childhood in Canandaigua, NY, and by the time he was in his early twenties, he was a regular fixture in New York City’s Washington Square folk scene. A superb banjo player and perhaps an even better 12-string guitarist, and possessing a clear, warm, and expressive tenor singing voice, Darling was an expert at bringing out the best in the musicians around him. The Folksay Trio, recording an album in 1951 that included Darling’s arrangement of “Tom Dooley” became a huge hit.

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Artie Traum 7/2008

July 20, 2008 – Artie Traum was born on April 13th 1943 in the Bronx where he was raised as well.  He became a regular visitor to Greenwich Village clubs in the 1960s, hearing blues, folk music and jazz. Soon he was performing there, too. He made his first recording in 1963 as a member of the True Endeavor Jug Band Early.  Traum co-wrote songs for the Brian De Palma debut film Greetings – the first role for Robert De Niro – with Eric Kaz and Bear.

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John Stewart 1/2008

John StewartJanuary 19, 2008 – John Coburn Stewart was born September 5th 1939 in San Diego, California, Stewart was the son of horse trainer John S. Stewart and spent his childhood and adolescence in southern California, living mostly in the cities of Pasadena and Claremont.

He graduated in 1957 from High School, which at the time was a coeducational school. He demonstrated an early talent for music, learning the guitar and banjo. He composed his first song, “Shrunken Head Boogie,” when he was ten years old. In an interview in Michael Oberman’s Music makers column (The Washington, DC Star Newspaper) on Oct. 30, 1971, Stewart said, “I bought a ukelele when I was in Pasadena. I would listen to Sons of the Pioneers records. Tex Ritter really turned me on to music. ‘I Love My Rooster’ was Top Ten as far as I was concerned.”

Continue reading John Stewart 1/2008

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Denny Doherty 1/2007

Denny DohertyJanuary 19, 2007 – Denny Doherty was born on November 29th 1940 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1960, aged 19, Doherty started his musical career in Halifax in 1956 with a band called the Hepsters. With friends Richard Sheehan, Eddie Thibodeau and Mike O’Connell, the Hepsters played at clubs in the Halifax area.

The band lasted about two years. Sheehan recalls that they drew crowds wherever they went due to Denny’s incredible voice. In 1960, at the age of 19, Doherty, along with Pat LaCroix and Richard Byrne, began a folk group called The Colonials in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When they got a record deal with Columbia Records, they changed their name to The Halifax Three. The band recorded two LPs and had a minor hit, “The Man Who Wouldn’t Sing Along With Mitch”, but broke up in 1963. Coincidentally, they separated at a hotel called “The Colonial” in Los Angeles.

In 1963, Doherty established a friendship with Cass Elliot when she was with a band called “The Big 3.” While on tour with “The Halifax III”, Doherty met John Phillips and his new wife, model Michelle Gilliam.

A few months later, The Halifax III dissolved, and Doherty and their accompanist, Zal Yanovsky, were left broke in Hollywood. Elliot heard of their troubles and convinced her manager to hire them. Thus, Doherty and Yanovsky joined the Big 3 (increasing the number of band members to four). Soon after adding even more band members, they changed their name to “The Mugwumps”. The Mugwumps soon broke up also due to insolvency. The Mamas & the Papas song “Creeque Alley” briefly outlines this history. Yanovsky went on to join The Lovin’ Spoonful with John Sebastian. Doherty then joined John Phillips’ new band, “The New Journeymen.”

“The New Journeymen,” needed a replacement for tenor Marshall Brickman. Brickman had left the folk trio to pursue a career in television writing, and the group needed a quick replacement for their remaining tour dates. Doherty, then unemployed, filled the opening. After the New Journeymen called it quits as a band in early 1965, Elliot was invited into the formation of a new band, which became “The Magic Cyrcle.” Six months later in September 1965, the group signed a recording contract with Dunhill Records. Changing their name to The Mamas & the Papas, the band soon began to record their debut album, “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears“. The group burst on the national scene in 1966 with the top 10 smash “California Dreamin’.” The Mamas and the Papas broke new ground by having women and men in one group at a time when most singing groups were unisex.

In late 1965 however, Doherty and Michelle Phillips started an affair. They were able to keep it secret during the early days of the band’s new-found success. When the affair was discovered, John and Michelle Phillips moved to their own residence (they had been sharing a house with Doherty), and the band continued recording together. Eventually the group signed a statement in June 1966 with their record label’s full support, firing Michelle from the band. She was quickly replaced by Jill Gibson, girlfriend of the band’s producer Lou Adler. Gibson’s stint as a “Mama” lasted two and a half months.

Due to fan demand, Michelle Phillips was allowed to rejoin the band in August 1966, while Gibson was given a lump sum for her efforts. The band completed their second album (titled simply, The Mamas and the Papas) by re-recording, replacing, or overlaying new vocal parts by Michelle Phillips over Jill Gibson’s studio vocals.

After a continuing string of hit singles, many television appearances (including a notable and critically well-received TV special featuring the music of Rodgers and Hart), a successful third studio album (The Mamas and the Papas Deliver in March 1967), and the groundbreaking sociological impact of the Monterey International Pop Festival (which had been organized by John Phillips and Lou Adler) in June 1967, an ill-fated trip to England in October 1967 fragmented the already damaged group dynamic. Cass Elliot quit, after a stinging insult from John Phillips, but returned to complete her parts for the group’s overdue fourth album The Papas and the Mamas, which was finally released in May 1968. By then, Michelle Phillips had given birth to Chynna Phillips (in February 1968) and a formal statement had been released, announcing the group’s demise.

“Monday, Monday” won the band a Grammy for best contemporary group performance. Cass Elliot left the band in 1968 for a solo career, which brought an end to this amazing band.

Cass Elliot and Doherty remained friends. After the band’s breakup, Elliot had a hit solo show. She eventually asked Doherty to marry her, but he declined. Doherty released a few solo LPs and singles. Of note are 1971’s Watcha Gonna Do? and 1974’s Waiting for a Song. The latter LP went unreleased in the U.S. and featured both Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliot on background vocals. The recordings would be Elliot’s last, as she died a few months after the record was finished. Doherty was stunned and saddened to hear about her death in 1974 at age 32. He and John and Michelle Phillips of the group attended her funeral.

In 1982, Denny joined a reconstitution of the Mamas and the Papas consisting of John Phillips, his daughter Mackenzie Phillips and Elaine Spanky McFarlane, which toured and performed old standards and new tunes written by John Phillips.

In 1993, Doherty played the part of Harbour Master, as well as the voice-overs of the characters, in Theodore Tugboat, a CBC Television children’s show chronicling the “lives” of vessels in a busy harbour loosely based upon Halifax Harbour.  This program is based an the villages & coves around were Denny was born; the big harbour itself is modeled after Halifax Harbour, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

In 1999, Doherty also played “Charley McGinnis” in 22 episodes of the CBC Television series Pit Pony.

In 2003, Doherty was co-author and performer in the well recieved Broadway show called “Dream a Little Dream: The Mamas and the Papas Musical,” which traced the band’s early years, its dizzying fame and breakup. It was well received and garnered favorable reviews. The show was in part a response to John’s PBS documentary Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and The Mamas and the Papas. It featured music from the group and focused on his relationship with Mama Cass. It was, he said, to “set the record straight”.

In 2004, Doherty appeared on Sharon, Lois & Bram’s 25th Anniversary Concert special titled “25 Years of Skinnamarink” that aired on CBC on January 1, 2004 at 7:00pm. He sang two songs with the trio: “California Dreamin'” and “Who Put the Bomp?”.

Doherty appeared in the Canadian TV series Trailer Park Boys, Season 7 Episode 10 (season finale) as FBI Special Agent Ryan Shockneck. Filming was completed just shortly before his death in early 2007. The episode ended with “This episode is dedicated to the memory of DENNY DOHERTY.”

Denny Doherty died on 19 January 2007 at his home in Mississauga, a city just west of Toronto, of kidney failure following surgery on a abdominal aneurysm. He was 66.

 

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Warren Zevon 9/2003

warren-zevon-lettermanSeptember 7, 2003 – Warren Zevon was born January 24, 1947. He never made it into the mainstream popularity, but the in-crowd knew him as a prolific songwriter/singer/musician, noted for his offbeat, sardonic view on life which was reflected in his dark, often painfully humorous songs, which sometimes incorporated political and/or historical themes and personas.

He worked with a huge list of mega artists. To give an idea on his stretch here is an anecdotal paragraph.
By September 1975, Zevon had returned to Los Angeles (from Spain), where he roomed with then-unknown Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. There, he collaborated with Jackson Browne, who in 1976 produced and promoted Zevon’s self-titled major-label debut.

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Hildegard Knef 2/2002

Hildegard KnefFebruary 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!”

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John Fahey 2/2001

John FaheyFebruary 22, 2001 – John Aloysius Fahey was born on February 28, 1939 in Washington DC. Both his father, Aloysius John Fahey, and his mother, Jane (née Cooper), played the piano. In 1945, the family moved to the Washington suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland, where his father lived until his death in 1994. On weekends, the family attended performances of top country and bluegrass groups of the day, but it was hearing Bill Monroe’s version of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 7” on the radio that ignited the young Fahey’s passion for music.

In 1952, after being impressed by guitarist Frank Hovington, whom he met while on a fishing trip, he purchased his first guitar for $17 from the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. Along with his budding interest in guitar, Fahey was attracted to record collecting. While his tastes ran mainly in the bluegrass and country vein, Fahey discovered his love of early blues upon hearing Blind Willie Johnson‘s “Praise God I’m Satisfied” on a record-collecting trip to Baltimore with his friend and mentor, the musicologist Richard K. Spottswood. Much later, Fahey compared the experience to a religious conversion and remained a devout blues disciple until his death.

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Laura Nyro 4/1997

Laura NyroApril 8, 1997 – Laura Nyro was born October 18th 1947 in The Bronx, New York. Nyro was born Laura Nigro in the Bronx, the daughter of Gilda (née Mirsky) Nigro, a bookkeeper, and Louis Nigro, a piano tuner and jazz trumpeter. Laura had a younger brother, Jan Nigro, who became a well-known children’s musician. Laura was of Russian Jewish, Polish, and Italian ancestry.

As a child, Nyro taught herself piano, read poetry, and listened to her mother’s records by Leontyne Price, Billie Holiday and classical composers such as Ravel and Debussy. She composed her first songs at age eight. With her family, she spent summers in the Catskills, where her father played trumpet at resorts.

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Soeur Sourire 3/1985

Soeur SourireMarch 29, 1985 – The Singing Nun or Soeur Sourire in her native Belgium, was born Jeanine Deckers on October 17, 1933.

When entering the Dominican Fichermont Convent in Belgium she became Sister Luc Gabriel. She became internationally famous in 1963 as Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile) when she scored a hit with the song “Dominique”.

In the English speaking world, she is mostly referred to as “The Singing Nun”. She gave concerts and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

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Lee
Hays
8/1981

lee hays, baritone for the weaversAugust 26, 1981 – Lee Hays was born March 14, 1914 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the youngest of the four children of William Benjamin Hays, a Methodist minister, and Ellen Reinhardt Hays, who before her marriage had been a court stenographer. William Hays’s vocation of ministering to rural areas took him from parish to parish, so as a child, Lee lived in several towns in Arkansas and Georgia. He learned to sing sacred harp music in his father’s church. Both his parents valued learning and books. Mrs. Hays taught her four children to type before they began learning penmanship in school and all were excellent students. There was a gap in age of ten years between Lee and next oldest sibling, his brother Bill. In 1927, when Lee was thirteen, his childhood came to an abrupt end as tragedy struck the family. The Reverend Hays was killed in an automobile accident on a remote road and soon afterward Lee’s mother had to be hospitalized for a mental breakdown from which she never recovered. Lee’s sister, who had begun teaching at Hendrix-Henderson College, also broke down temporarily and had to quit her job to move in with their oldest brother in Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1930, Lee’s brother Rueben helped him find a job at the public library in Cleveland, Ohio, and the 16-year-old’s informal education began. “Every book that was considered unfit for children was marked with a black rubber stamp,” Hays recalled later. “So I’d go through the stacks and look for those black stamps.” Hays stayed at the library until 1934 — the longest he would ever hold a single job — and then returned to Arkansas.

Hays had heard of a Presbyterian preacher in Logan County, Claude Williams, who had been organizing miners and sharecroppers in the area, both black and white. Hays enrolled at the nearby College of the Ozarks and studied for the ministry himself for about a year. Hays stayed under the wing of Williams through the 1930s — even as Williams was forced to leave his Paris church, was beaten by police and union busters in Fort Smith and moved to Little Rock.

Hays worked with two of the state’s best-known so-called “radical” organizations of the era — the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, organized in Tyronza in the mid-1930s, and Commonwealth College in Polk County, founded through the American socialist movement that gained momentum though World War I. Beyond its curriculum, those from the college advocated for coal miners in Western Arkansas and sharecroppers in Eastern Arkansas. Notable attendees of Commonwealth included future longtime Gov. Orval Faubus. Hays’ uncle, folklorist Vance Randolph, was among those in the state’s liberal community with ties to the college. At Commonwealth, Hays honed his songwriting skills and his bass singing voice.

In 1940, Hays left Arkansas for New York to further his emerging political interests. There, Hays met a compatriot, Pete Seeger, whom Hays would collaborate with for decades. Through the early 1940s, Hays, Seeger and Woody Guthrie — as part of the Almanac Singers — toured college campuses and union rallies. Guthrie nicknamed Hays “Arkansaw Hard Luck Lee.” Hays didn’t play an instrument, but was skilled at writing and adapting songs from hymnbooks and the like to fit their messages. Unlike the Weavers, the Almanac Singers did sing songs about unions, pacifism and politics.

But the success of the Weavers in the late 1940s and early 1950s attracted more attention in the McCarthy era. The group’s first single, “Goodnight Irene,” hit the charts a few weeks after the death of its composer, Leadbelly. As the group kept putting out hits and selling out concerts, the Weavers found themselves under increased scrutiny, and were eventually blacklisted. “Songs are dangerous,” Hays once said. His government apparently agreed.

One of Hays’ most enduring compositions is “If I Had a Hammer,” composed with Seeger at a rally. It was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary and subsequently by many more artists. Hays also had some short stories and poems published, but remained best known as a Weaver. Through the 1960s and 1970s, Hays lived simply, mostly off his royalties for songs such as “Hammer.” One project he did go for was a small part as a preacher in the Arthur Penn-directed 1968 film “Alice’s Restaurant,” starring and based on the song by Arlo Guthrie, his old friend Woody’s son.

The Weavers never really recovered from the blacklisting, despite successful recordings and reunion concerts. By the late 1970s, Hays had a pacemaker and both legs had been amputated due to diabetes, but a final reunion concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall was staged and filmed by a documentary crew in October 1980.

Hays died from diabetic cardiovascular disease at home in Croton on August 26, 1981. He was 67, having seen his 1950s blacklisting go from a source of shame to a badge of honor.

 

In Dead Earnest

If I should die before I wake,
All my bone and sinew take:
Put them in the compost pile
To decompose a little while.
Sun, rain, and worms will have their way,
Reducing me to common clay.
All that I am will feed the trees
And little fishes in the seas.
When corn and radishes you munch,
You may be having me for lunch.
Then excrete me with a grin,
Chortling, “There goes Lee again!”
Twill be my happiest destiny
To die and live eternally.

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Sandy Denny 4/1978

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

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Phil Ochs 4/1976

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

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

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

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Mama Cass 7/1974

July 29, 1974 – Mama Cass aka Cass Elliot was born Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19th 1941 in Baltimore, Maryland. She grew up in the Washington D.C. environs and in her senior year of high school, she performed in a summer stock production of “The Boyfriend” at the Owings Mills Playhouse where she played the French nurse who sings “It’s Nicer, Much Nicer in Nice.” After this experience, even though her family anticipated her to seek a college education in pursuit of a career, Cass forged ahead in the world of performance.

“Elliot adopted the name “Cass” in high school, possibly borrowing it from actress Peggy Cass, as Denny Doherty tells it. She assumed the surname Elliot some time later, in memory of a friend who had died. Elliot attended George Washington High School, along with Jim Morrison of The Doors.
While still attending George Washington High School, Elliot became interested in acting and was cast in a school production of the play The Boy Friend. She left high school shortly before graduation and moved to New York City to further her acting career (as recounted in the lyrics to “Creeque Alley, a nightclub in Charlotte Amalie-St.Thomas Virgin Islands waterfront alley“).

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Jim Croce 9/1973

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

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

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Brian
Cole
8/1972

August 2, 1972 – Brian Cole (The Association) was born on September 8th 1942 in Tacoma, Washinton and raised in Portland Orgeon.

Before becoming a musician, Brian Cole had worked as an actor and a comedian. He mixed his comedic and musical influences in his first steady band gig, with an outfit called the Gnu Folk. In 1965, Cole became a member of a new six-man outfit, the Association, as their bassist, woodwinds player as well as a singer. He was a linchpin of the group’s sound on-stage – on their records, however, as with most of the rest of the band, Cole was usually replaced on his instrument by a session musician.

The band opened the famous 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival after they got their break with their second single “Along Comes Mary” in 1966 which reached No. 7 in the Hot 100. This was followed with a No. 1 hit “Cherish” in 1967, “Never My Love” at No. 2 and another chart topped in with “Windy”.

Brian was the group’s one major success casualty, as he developed a drug habit that turned into full-blown addiction by the end of the 1960s. He died of an overdose during the summer of 1972, just a few weeks short of his 30th birthday.

His son Jordan became a member of the reunited Association in the 1990s, playing keyboards, various wind instruments, guitar, vocals and drums.

On August 2, 1972 Brian died from a heroin overdose in his Los Angeles home at age 29.