September 1, 2017 – Mick Softley was born in 1939 in the countryside of Essex, near Epping Forest.
His mother was of Irish origin (from County Cork) and his father had East Anglian tinker roots, going back to a few generations. Softley first took up trombone in school and became interested in traditional jazz. He was later persuaded to become a singer by one of his school teachers, and this led to him listening to Big Bill Broonzy and promptly changed his attitude to music, to the extent of him buying a mail-order guitar and some tutorial books and teaching himself to play.
By 1959, Mick Softley had left his job and home and spent time traveling around Europe on his motorbike, with a friend, Mick Rippingale. He ended up in Paris, where he came into the company of musicians such as Clive Palmer, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Wizz Jones. Here he improved his guitar skills and spent time busking with friends until his return to England in the early 1960s. Continue reading Mick Softley 9/2017
August 1, 2015 – Cilla Black was born Priscilla Marie Veronica White in Liverpool on May 27, 1943, just a couple of months after Beatle George Harrison was born in the same city.
Although she was an aspiring entertainer, in the early 60’s Cilla was working as a typist, a waitress, and as a hat check girl at the Cavern in Liverpool, the same venue where the Beatles were performing and beginning to draw attention at that time. She performed at times with some local Liverpool bands including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and The Big Three, and received encouragement from her friends in the Beatles. An article in the local music newspaper Mersey Beat mis-identifed her as Cilla Black, and Cilla liked the name and decided to keep it as a stage name. She was signed to a recording contract by Brian Epstein, then went to the Parlophone label, where her records were produced by George Martin. Her first single was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and titled Love Of The Loved. It made it to number 35 on the UK chart.
January 31, 2015 – Don Covay was born Donald Randolph in Orangeburg, South Carolina on March 24, 1938. Covay was the son of a Baptist preacher who died when his son was eight. The family soon after relocated to Washington, D.C., where he and his siblings formed a gospel group dubbed the Cherry Keys; while in middle school, however, some of Covay’s classmates convinced him to make the leap to secular music, and in 1953 he joined the Rainbows, a local doo wop group that previously enjoyed a national smash with “Mary Lee.”
By the time Covay joined the Rainbows the original lineup had long since splintered, and his recorded debut with the group, 1956’s “Shirley,” was not a hit. He stuck around for one more single, “Minnie,” before exiting; contrary to legend, this iteration of the Rainbows did not include either a young Marvin Gaye or Billy Stewart, although both fledgling singers did occasionally fill in for absent personnel during live performances.
December 3 – 2014 – Ian Patrick ‘Mac’ McLagan (keyboards for the Small Faces)was born on May 12th 1945 in Hounslow, Middlesex, England.
His first professional group was with the Muleskinners, followed by the Boz People with Boz Burrell. Then in 1965, Manager Don Arden hired him for the sum of £30 a week, to join The Small Faces, (the £30 dropped to £20 after his probation period, like the other members received!).
His debut gig with them was at London’s Lyceum Theatre on November 2nd that same year and he can be heard on all of their hits including “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”, “Itchycoo Park”, “Lazy Sunday”, “All or Nothing”, and “Tin Soldier”.
In 1969, after Steve Marriott left the group and Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood joined, the band changed its name to Faces. He stayed with the Faces until they split in 1975, after which he worked as a sideman for the Rolling Stones, both in the studio and on tour as well as on various Ronnie Wood projects, including the New Barbarians.
July 11, 2011 – Robert Frank “Rob” Grill (the Grass Roots) was born on November 30th 1943 in Hollywood, California. Soon after graduation, he began working at American Recording Studios with musician friends Cory Wells and John Kay (who later formed Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf, respectively).
Grill was asked to join The Grass Roots, which grew out of a project originating from Dunhill Records owned by Lou Adler. Writer/producers P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri (The Mamas & the Papas, Tommy Roe, Four Tops and Dusty Springfield) were asked by Dunhill to write songs that would capitalize on the growing interest in the folk-rock movement.
Their song “Where Were You When I Needed You”, recorded as a demo with P.F. Sloan as lead singer was released under the name “The Grass Roots” and started to get airplay in San Francisco Bay area. Dunhill searched for a band to become The Grass Roots. After the first group they chose departed, a Los Angeles band composed of Creed Bratton, Rick Coonce, Warren Entner, and Kenny Fukomoto, was recruited to become The Grass Roots.
When Fukumoto was drafted into the army, Grill was brought in as his replacement. With Grill as lead singer, they recorded another version of “Where Were You When I Needed You” and he became the band’s longest serving member, appearing with them for more than four decades.
Mega-hit producer Steve Barri (The Mamas & the Papas, Tommy Roe, Four Tops and Dusty Springfield) took the band to chart twenty nine singles, thirteen of which went gold, followed by two gold albums and two platinum albums. Grill played with The Grass Roots on sixteen albums, seven of which charted. He took part in thirty-two Grass Roots singles released, twenty-one of which charted. In the new millennium, he released two live albums and one with a symphonic quartet.
Grill went on to produce and manage the band and became owner of The Grass Roots name.
In 1979 Grill launched a solo career and was assisted on his solo album by several members of Fleetwood Mac. Responding to 60s nostalgia, Grill then led The Grass Roots (billed “The Grass Roots Starring Rob Grill”) and toured the United States until his death in 2011. While in the arms of his wife Nancy, Grill died July 11, 2011 in an Orlando, Florida hospital from complications after a stroke and head injuries resulting from a fall several days earlier. He was 67.
Between 1967-1972, the band set a record for being on the Billboard charts for 307 straight weeks and sold over 20 million records worldwide. They also hold the all time attendance record for a one act, at the US concert of 600,000 people on July 4th, 1982 in Washington, DC. Their hit singles include: Let’s Live For Today, I’d Wait A Million Years, Midnight Confessions, Sooner Or Later, Two Divided By Love
January 26, 2011 – Gladys Horton was born in Born in Gainesville, Florida on May 30, 1945, according to her son Vaughn Thornton, even though there is some dispute on the correct date being May 30, 1944.
By the time she was nine months old, her son said, she was an orphan and consigned to foster care, growing up mostly in different towns in Michigan. Her full name was Gladys Catherine Horton. She was married once and divorced, and had three sons. Besides Mr. Thornton, one other son, Sammy Coleman, survives her, along with two grandchildren.
She was raised in the western Detroit suburb of Inkster by foster parents. By the time of her high school years at Inkster High School on Middlebelt Road, Gladys had taken a strong interest in singing, joining the high school glee club.
In 1960 Horton formed a group with her former highschool glee club members Georgeanna Tillman, Katherine Anderson and Juanita Coward. The origin of the Marvelettes is variously recounted in music encyclopedias and other sources, and they usually describe Ms. Horton as a co-founder of the group. But in an interview Ms. Schaffner, one of the original Marvelettes, gave her full credit: “We only started singing together because Gladys asked us,” she recalled. “Usually we’d go to Georgeanna’s house and play canasta.”
July 17, 2010 – Fred F. Carter Jr. was born on December 31, 1933 in the delta country in Winnsboro, the northeastern part of Louisiana.
(Photo: Fred with his daughter and award winning country star Deanne Carter)
Carter grew up with the heavy musical influences of jazz, country & western, hymns, and blues. His first instrument was the mandolin which he began playing at the age of 3. He later learned to play fiddle as well. While in the Air Force in his late teens, he was the band leader for the USO variety show entertaining troops across Europe. His bunkmate during the tour was the MC and fellow serviceman Larry Hagman who went on to television fame. After leaving the Air Force, Carter attended Centenary Music College on scholarship as a violist despite the fact he could not read music but instead had to memorize all of his orchestral pieces.
After leaving Centenary, Carter began his professional career in the 1950s, his first partner in music was another Franklin Parish native, Allen “Puddler” Harris. He started taking up guitar seriously and got his first taste of fame playing in the house band of the popular Louisiana Hayride radio program, which led to a gig with Roy Orbison during the late ’50s when Orbison was signed to famed Memphis label Sun Records. Carter became part of his band and moving to Hollywood with Roy. Later, he worked with Orbison in Nashville on the Monument Sessions notably heard on Dream Baby as the opening guitar.
He subsequently worked with Dale Hawkins of “Suzie Q” song fame, and then joined Dale’s cousin Ronnie Hawkins whose group The Hawks later became The Band, (sans Hawkins). He played a key role in the career of Ronnie Hawkins, serving as his lead guitarist from 1959 to 1960 and mentoring his eventual replacement, a young Toronto, Ontario guitarist named Robbie Robertson. During this busy and formative time, Carter also toured and became lifelong friends with Conway Twitty.
Carter’s career as a musician began at the birth of rock’n’roll, and over the next four decades he branched off into songwriting, production and label management.
In the early 1960s, Carter settled into the Nashville session scene. He quickly earned a place as part of Nashville’s famous A Team. His discography for the next 3 decades is extensive and wide ranging: Carter played guitar and mandolin for two of Joan Baez’s albums in the late 1960s. He then worked on Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. Notably, Carter provide numerous memorable guitar performances including five guitar parts for “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel (the iconic opening riff is Carter’s creation), “I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal” by John Anderson, “I’ve Always Been Crazy” and “Whistlers and Jugglers” by Waylon Jennings. He also played guitar and bass on the Bob Dylan albums “Self Portrait”, “Nashville Skyline” , “John Wesley Harding” and on the Connie Francis hit single, “The Wedding Cake”. During this time Carter was also a member of the supergroup Levon Helm and the RCO All Stars, composed of Levon Helm, Booker T. Jones, Dr. John, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and the Saturday Night Live horns.
Carter owned Nugget Records in Goodlettsville, TN for many years. Songs such a Jesse Colter’s “I’m Not Lisa” were originally recorded at Nugget. Willie Nelson famously recut his famed Phases and Stages album with Fred at Nugget after Willie expressed dissatisfaction with the first version of the album cut in Muscle Shoals, AL.
Production credits for Carter include Levon Helm’s American Son album on MCA Records, and Bobby Bridger’s “Heal in the Wisdom”. He also helped Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker land their first record deals.
Carter was a member of the band Levon Helm and The RCO All-Stars. This band was composed of Levon Helm, Carter, Steve Cropper, Booker T. Jones, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, and the NBC Saturday Night Live horns.
Although Carter recorded with top country stars such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Kris Kristofferson, it could be argued that his biggest contribution was being a crucial member of the group of Nashville session players that enabled artists such as Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, Ian & Sylvia and Leonard Cohen to record some of their most memorable music there.
Carter was a complete guitarist. He was accomplished as both a flat picker and fingerpicker and could play any genre fluently. Carter was widely recognized as being the “earthiest” player in Nashville with an ability to add subtle flavor to any recording. He is known for distinctive fills with both soulful and playful colorations. He also had small roles in several films including The Adventures of Huck Finn starring Elijah Wood.
He died of a stroke on July 17, 2010 in Nashville at the age of 76.
March 23, 2010 – Marva Wright was born March 20th 1948 in New Orleans Louisiana. Marva sang blues all her life, starting as a child at home and in church, but she didn’t start her professional career as a blues singer until 1987, almost 40 years old, when she began singing on Bourbon Street and became the powerhouse of New Orleans’ blues and gospel scene. Even then, she only began singing as a way to support her family with a second job.
Early in 1989 during a live set at Tipitina’s in New Orleans, Wright made her first recording, Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean and made her debut on national television in 1991, when her hometown was the setting for a special that revolved around the Super Bowl where she met CBS news anchorman Ed Bradley, who thought at that time that she only sang Gospel.
June 11, 2009 – Barry Beckett was born onFebruary 4, 1943 inBirmingham, Alabama. His father, Horace, was an insurance salesman who also dabbled on guitar and for a time hosted a local radio program. He attended the University of Alabama, where, according to The Times Daily of Florence, Ala., he first heard the music of two of the Swampers, Johnson and Hawkins, who were then playing in a band called the Del-Rays. He was working with a blues producer in Pensacola, Fla., when he was asked to join the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
August 10, 2008 – Isaac Hayes Jr. was born on August 20, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee. The child of a sharecropper family, he grew up working on farms in Shelby County, Tennessee, and in Tipton County. At age five Hayes began singing at his local church; he later taught himself to play the piano, the Hammond organ, the flute, and the saxophone.
Hayes dropped out of high school, but his former teachers at Manassas High School in Memphis encouraged him to complete his diploma, which he finally did at age 21. After graduating from high school, Hayes was offered several music scholarships from colleges and universities. He turned down all of them to provide for his immediate family, working at a meat-packing plant in Memphis by day and playing nightclubs and juke joints several evenings a week in Memphis and nearby northern Mississippi. His first professional gigs, in the late 1950s, were as a singer at Curry’s Club in North Memphis, backed by Ben Branch’s houseband.
July 5, 2006 – Joe Weaver was born on August 27th 1934 in Detroit, Michigan.
His best known recording was “Baby I Love You So” – 1955, and he was a founding member of both The Blue Note Orchestra and The Motor City Rhythm & Blues Pioneers. Over his lengthy but staggered career, Joe worked with various musicians including The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, John Lee Hooker, Nathaniel Mayer, The Miracles, Martha Reeves, Nolan Strong & The Diablos, Andre Williams, Nancy Wilson, and Stevie Wonder. In addition, he was a session musician in the early days of Motown Records and played in the house band at Fortune Records. He was a key component in the 1950s Detroit R&B scene.
Weaver learned to play the piano from age nine. While at Northwestern High School he teamed up with fellow student Johnnie Bassett to form Joe Weaver and the Blue Notes.
June 26, 2006 – Johnny Jenkins was born the son of a day laborer on March 5, 1939 east of Macon, Georgia in a rural area called Swift Creek. On the battery powered radio, he was drawn to hillbilly music and first heard the sounds of blues and classic R&B artists like Bill Doggett, Bullmoose Jackson, and others.
Jenkins built his first guitar out of a cigar box and rubber bands when he was nine, and began playing at a gas station for tips. He played it left-handed and upside down (like Hendrix), and this practice continued after his older sister bought him a real guitar a couple of years later. He left school in seventh grade to take care of his ailing mother and by 16 had turned to music full time.
He started out with a small blues band called the Pinetoppers that played the college circuit and first heard Redding at a talent show at a Macon theater. At one college event with the Pinetoppers, he met Walden, a white student at Macon’s Mercer University who was attracted to black rhythm-and-blues music. Besides working as Mr. Jenkins’s manager, Walden co-founded the legendary Southern rock label Capricorn Records, which produced Jenkins two albums “Ton-Ton Macoute!” and “Blessed Blues.”
August 4, 2005 – Little Milton was bornJames Milton Campbell on September 7, 1934, in the small Delta town of Inverness, Mississippi, and grew up in Greenville. (He would later legally drop the “James” after learning of a half-brother with the same name.)
His father Big Milton, a farmer, was a local blues musician, and Milton also grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry radio program. At age 12, he began playing the guitar and saved up money from odd jobs to buy his own instrument from a mail-order catalog.
By 15, he was performing for pay in local clubs and bars, influenced chiefly by T-Bone Walker but also by proto-rock & roll jump blues shouters.
July 1, 2005 – Luther Vandross was born on April 20th 1951 in Manhattan, New York to Luther and Mary Ida Vandross. He was the youngest of the four Vandross children.
He attended Taft High School but cut short his formal education at the Western Michigan University to answer his musical calling. He was studying Engineering. After leaving college, Luther worked a series of odd jobs, including a Teacher’s aide at a Junior High School and a customer service rep at S&H Green Stamps.
As a teenager, he worked with the musical theatre workshop, Listen My Brother. The workshop was affiliated with Harlem’s Apollo Theatre.
It was at this workshop he met lifetime friends and colleagues Nat Adderly Jr (who later became his band director), Carlos Alomar, and Robin Clark. Listen My Brother” performed on the very first episode of Sesame Street aired in November 1969.
February 10, 2005 – Tyrone Davis was born Tyrone Fettson on May 4th 1928 near Greenville, Mississippi. He moved with his father to Saginaw, Michigan, before moving to Chicago in 1959.
His early records for small record labels in the city, billed as “Tyrone the Wonder Boy”, failed to register until successful Chicago record producer Carl Davis signed him in 1968 to a new label, Dakar Records that he was starting as part of a distribution deal with Atlantic. He suggested that he change his name and he borrowed Carl’s last name Tyrone Davis.
Jimmy Dewar (12 October 1942 – 16 May 2002) was a Scottish musician best known as the bassist and vocalist for Robin Trower and Stone the Crows, the latter having its beginnings as the resident band at Burns Howff in Glasgow. He was educated at St. Gerards Senior Secondary School in Glasgow.
There was a strong Scottish music scene in Glasgow in the early 1960s, serving great talents to the burgeoning birth of rock and roll. Alex Harvey, Lulu, Maggie Bell, Frankie Miller, Jimmy Dewar and others. Strangely, Jimmy’s musical career was not to begin with his vocal talents, but as guitar player with Lulu and the Lovers in the early 60’s. Dewar had started out playing in a local band called the ‘Gleneagles’ in the early sixties but his career began with Lulu and the Luvvers in 1963. From there he joined a band called ‘Sock ‘Em JB’ which included the legendary Scottish rock vocalist Frankie Miller.
In 1967 Jimmy joined a band called ‘Power’ with Maggie Bell, which later turned into ‘Stone The Crows’ with Jimmy and Maggie on vocal duty, managed by Peter Grant, who also toured the world with Led Zeppelin.
Maggie Bell took him on board with the legendary “Stone the Crows” and the shy man’s voice was soon exposed on classics like “The touch of your loving hand”. Another young singer had exploded onto the music scene, but the best was yet to come. Living in London with his wife Martha and their young family, he was approached by Frankie Miller. The two Glasgow buddies were having a small refreshment when out of the blue Frankie told Jimmy that “there might be a job going” with some guitar player called Robin Trower, that the music industry insiders were raving about. “What kind of job?” asked Jimmy. Frankie laughed and said, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe playing bass, maybe singing”. Jimmy applied and got both jobs.
Dewars career reached its zenith with Robin Trower, the legendary British rock power trio, especially after the 1974 release of the album Bridge of Sighs, which put Trower in the global limelight as one of rock’s guitar legends, while Jimmy Dewar found recognition as one of the best white soul vocalists on the planet.
Trower had joined Gary Brooker’s band Procol Harum following the global success of their debut single “A Whiter Shade of Pale” in 1967, remaining with them until 1971 and appearing on the group’s first five albums. But the fact that Procol Harum was heavily keyboard focused, made Trower committed to find that right combination of artists that would help inspire him to write and play to his potential as a guitarist. He tried with the band ‘Jude’ with Frankie Miller, ex-Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker and Jimmy Dewars on bass. This wasn’t working for anyone. The outfit did not record and Trower soon split, taking only Jimmy Dewar with him. The rest is history!
Dewar made his mark as an acclaimed blue eyed soul singer, performing in front of sold-out stadiums and concert halls at the crest of the 1970s classic rock era. The Scot had a rich, powerful voice, with a soulful timbre, and has been regarded by critics as one of the most under-rated rock vocalists. His vocal sound was deep, gritty, and resonating, his style shows the influence of Ray Charles and Otis Redding. Like Paul Rodgers and Frankie Miller, his voice evoked a bluesy, soul-inspired sound. For a while The Robin Trower Band became the hottest thing on the planet and introduced “Stadium Rock” to the U.S.A. Frankie was right! The R.T.B. were the first band to sell tickets by the hundreds of thousands. Gold and Platinum albums were thrown at them like frizbees. Amongst James Dewars biggest fans were Frankie Miller, Billy Connolly, Donny Hathaway, Rod Stewart, not forgetting Maggie Bell and Lulu herself.
Dewar recorded his one solo album, “Stumbledown Romancer”, during the 1970s, at the height of his career, but it was not released until two decades later. He collaborated primarily with longtime Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher on the album, with the title track relating a hard-luck story …
…Stumbledown Romancer I never made the grade Never on the dance-floor when the music played Always moving on when I should have stayed…
The famous Scottish screenwriter, Peter McDougall, still talks of his first experience of meeting Jimmy. When having a drink with Frankie, Peter noticed that the man standing next to him was clothed in snakeskin trousers, cowboy boots and not much else. “Who’s that?” Peter asked. Frankie replied “That’s James Dewar”. Peter howled, “ Well, I want to be one of them!”
It says it all. Everyone from Metallica to the Stereophonics were influenced by the voice of the Scotsman. Jimmy’s honeyed voice and effortlessly dead-on phrasing have received – all true – let’s not overlook that Jimmy’s voice was the soundtrack for the moment when countless people fell in love, much the way Elvis or Sinatra once were. Although it might make a few of us blush, I know I’m not the only person to have indelible, crystal-clear memories of making love while wrapped in the warming coccon of “Bluebird” and “For Earth Below” and “About To Begin” and “Little Girl”. And that’s not a nudge-of-the-elbow and a lascivious-wink type of comment but simply the highest praise I know to give an artist.
Jimmy had a stroke in 1987 that left him needing constant care. He died 15 years later on May 16, 2002 of a stroke after years of disability resulting from a rare medical condition, CADASIL, which caused a series of strokes.
Some day – maybe even right this moment – some kid who doesn’t know who the heck “Jimmy Dewar'” is, is going to plunk on a vintage Trower album on a whim, hear that voice riding atop Robin’s licks; vistas are going to open up wide and that kid’s world will never be the same again. This is the blessing inside the sadness – that every time that happens, Jimmy will be alive, strong and healthy.
Widely-regarded as one of the most underrated rock vocalists, the late singer for The Robin Trower Band had a rich, soulful and resonating voice as can be heard on all tracks of the break through album “Bridge of Sighs”. and in my opinion one of the all time best rock albums.
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.
August 19, 1959 – Blind Willie McTell was born William Samuel McTier on May 5th 1898 in Thomson, Georgia. Few facts are known about his early life. Even his name is uncertain: his family name was either McTear or McTier, and his first name may have been Willie, Samuel, or Eddie. His tombstone reads “Eddie McTier.” He was blind either from birth or from early childhood, and he attended schools for the blind in Georgia, New York, and Michigan.
While in his early teens, McTell learned to play the guitar from his mother, relatives, and neighbors in Statesboro, where his family had moved. In his teenage years, after his mother’s death, he left home and toured in carnivals and medicine shows. In the 1920s and 1930s McTell traveled a circuit between Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, and Macon. This region encompasses two major blues styles: Eastern Seaboard/Piedmont, with lighter, bouncier rhythms and a ragtime influence; and Deep South, with its greater emphasis on intense rhythms and short, repeated music phrases. Continue reading Blind Willie McTell 8/1959