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In Memoriam – December 2019

January 2nd, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

As it was last year, a relatively benign year ended with rich harvest for The Reaper. Here’s hoping 2020 won’t be a repeat of the ghastly year 2016, when music lost so many big names, foreshadowing the disaster that would befall the world in November that year.

The Joyrider
Not too long ago I happened to hear a Roxette song on the radio. It was The Look. I listened with interest, seeing whether I’d warm to it in ways I simply could not 30 years ago. My mind was open, given the appreciation even discerning pop fans have been directing at the Swedish twosome. Alas, I still didn’t warm to it. And I was disappointed by that, because I can also see that Roxette’s pop music was, objectively, well-crafted exponents of the art. And singer Marie Fredriksson seemed a good sort, and certainly had the kind of pop charisma I admire. And so I shall remember her fondly for being a fine pop star whose music brought joy to a lot of people. And I shall try again to like her music. Maybe not with The Look, though.

The Moogie
In October, The Originals 1970s – Vol. 2 mix included the first version of Popcorn, a 1972 mega hit for Hot Butter, by Gershon Kingsley. In the linernotes, I mentioned that at 97 Kingsley is still with us. He no longer is. The son of a Jewish father and Catholic mother fled his native Germany just before the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, first joining a kibbutz in Palestine before emigrating to the US. There he wrote classical music and scores for TV and movies, arranged and conducted Broadway musicals, and pioneered electronic music, particularly through the Moog synth. As half of the electronic music duo Perrey and Kingsley and on his own, he wrote avant garde music (including Popcorn).

The Writer
Do you remember the 21st night of September? Next year, you can on that day remember Allee Willis, who wrote that line. Willis, who has died at 72, had her first hit as a lyricist with that great Earth, Wind & Fire song, and followed it up with Boogie Wonderland (which featured on last week’s Any Major Disco Vol. 8 – Party Like It’s 1979 mix), and most of the group’s I Am album, including In The Stone, Star, Let Your Feelings Show, and Wait. She also co-wrote the lyrics for The Pointer Sisters’ Neutron Dance, Patti LaBelle’s Stir It Up (for which she got a Grammy), and What Have I Done To Deserve This, the 1987 hit duet by the Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield, and contributed to the Friends theme, I’ll Be There For You.

Having trained as a journalist and working as a copywriter for Columbia Records, Willis tried her luck as a singer in 1974 with an LP. It had good tunes (it’s up on YouTube) but Willis did not have the voice of a superstar. Realising that the singing game was not for her, she became a songwriter, penning lyrics for the likes of Bonnie Raitt before she became involved with Earth, Wind & Fire. Her other big claim to fame was to co-write the award-winning musical The Color Purple. A woman of humour who was grounded in reality, she told the New York Times in 2018: “I, very thankfully, have a few songs that will not go away — but they’re schlepping along 900 others.” Here she is talking about co-writing September.

The Rutle
Known as the “seventh” member of Monty Python, Neil Innes delighted Beatles members by portraying Ron Nasty (the John Lennon parody) in the “Prefab Four” spoof band The Rutles. His association with The Beatles went back to the 1960s, when his song Death Cab For Cutie (later the name of an US indie band) featured in the TV film Magical Mystery Tour. A Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band song, it was written as an Elvis parody, with co-writer Vivian Stanshall on vocals. McCartney co-produced the band under the moniker Apollo C. Vermouth. With Monty Python he was one of only two non-members ever credited. For the Monty Python And The Holy Grail film, he wrote the songs Brave Sir Robin and Knights Of The Round Tables. And on Always Look On The Bright Side of Life in The Life Of Brian, he contributed the whistling. In the 1990s, third-rate Beatles tribute band Oasis had to give Innes a co-writing credit after the Gallagher lads ripped off his aptly-titled How Sweet To Be An Idiot for their song Whatever.

The Vibes Man
Listen to the theme of The Simpsons. Can you hear the xylophone? That’s Emil Richards. The percussionist and vibraphonist also provided finger snaps for the theme for The Addams Family. He contributed to scores of films like Doctor Zhivago, The Color Purple, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Gorillas In The Mist, and the TV series Roots. He played on many of the Phil Spector produced girl band songs, backed people like Frank Sinatra, George Harrison, Frank Zappa, Peggy Lee and Stan Kenton in the studio and on stage, collaborated with the legendary drummer Hal Blaine on an album, appeared on hits like Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On and Blondie’s The Tide Is High, and played the percussions or vibes for acts like Sam Cooke, George Shearing, Julie London, The Monkees, Neil Diamond, The Doors, Carly Simon, Harry Nilsson, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Diane Schuur, Paul Anka, Michael Bublé and many others. The vocals on the Emil Richards track featured are by future Little Feat singer Lowell George.

The Musicals Man
There is always something slightly spooky, albeit statistically unavoidable, about contributors to Christmas culture dying at Christmas. There were two such deaths this year: Lee Mendelson, producer of A Charlie Brown Christmas (and the other Peanuts classics) died on December 25; a day later we lost musicals composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, who wrote We Need a Little Christmas, originally sung by Angela Lansbury in the Broadway hit Mame, which earned Herman a Grammy Herman also wrote for the acclaimed musicals Hello, Dolly! (the longest-running musical for its time; the title song won him another Grammy) and La Cage aux Folles, which produced the showstopper I Am What I Am.

The Big Bird
We rarely saw his face, but generations heard the voice every day. Caroll Spinney was the puppeteer and voice for Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 49 years, from the show’s inception in 1969 until his retirement in 2018 (though his last performances were broadcast in 2019). And by dint of that, he may feature here, since these characters were prone to break out into song periodically. A couple of those featured on the Any Major Sesame Street Pops mix which I posted in November to mark the 50th anniversary of that great programme, and where we hear Spinney duetting as Oscar with Johnny Cash and with James Taylor.

The Rock & Roller
The name of Canadian rock & roll singer Jack Scott might not shine the brightest on the marquee of the genre’s legends, but he had a remarkable string of US single releases in the late 1950s and early ‘60s: 19 within 41 months, more than any other artist other than Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Connie Francis and The Beatles. All but one of them were written by Scott; four were US Top 10 hits. So at home in the US was Scott (born Giovanni Domenico Scafone) that in 1959 he briefly joined that country’s army, just after he had a Top 10 hit with, appropriately, Goodbye Baby. By 1961, his chart action was over, but Scott continued recording, including a session in 1977 with BBC disc jockey John Peel.

The Photographer
Last month we marked the deaths of three photographers who produced iconic LP covers. November ended with the death of another one, the news of which became public only after the last In Memoriam dropped. It is necessary that this corner of the Internet should pay tribute to Raeanne Rubenstein, who took the photo on the cover of Steely Dan’s 1974 album Pretzel Logic. Her photography also graced cover art by acts like Kiss, Cameo, Dolly Parton, The Fat Boys, and The Who. She photographed the greatest names in pop and popular culture, with her work being published widely, and in ten books. According to Wikipedia, the cover for Pretzel Logic was shot just above the 79th Street Transverse (the road through Central Park) at the park entrance called “Miners’ Gate”.

The Mystery Death
Then there is the mysterious case of English rock & revivalist Rocky Sharpe, who with his Replays scored a 1978 hit with a cover of The Edsel’s Rama Lama Ding Dong. His death after a very long illness was widely reported on Facebook, by family members, friends and other associates. Tribute concerts were held. But search the web for any mention of Rocky Sharpe’s death, even Wikipedia, and you’ll find nothing. In my ten years of doing In Memoriams, I have never encountered a case when the death of a relatively well-known musician is reported on social media but nowhere else on the web, even weeks afterwards. Usually I don’t include unverified deaths reported on social media (as it is this month with Paul Fleming of The Mutants), but in this instance I shall presume that the family would know best.

 

Raeanne Rubenstein, 74, photographer, on Nov. 30
Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic (1974, as cover photographer)

Matt Chipchase, singer of British indie band Young Rebel Set, on Dec. 1
Young Rebel Set – If I Was (2009)

Greedy Smith, 63, member of Australian pop band Mental As Anything, on Dec. 2
Mental As Anything – Live It Up (1985)

Joe Smith, 91, music industry executive, on Dec. 2

Jimmy Cavallo, 92, rock & roll musician, on Dec. 2
Jimmy Cavallo and The Houserockers – Rock, Rock, Rock (1956)

Jacques Morgantini, 95, French blues producer and promoter, on Dec. 2

Rosa Morena, 78, Spanish flamenco pop singer, on Dec. 4
Rosa Morena – Échale guindas al pavo (1971)

Jerry Naylor, 80, lead singer of The Crickets (1961-65), on Dec. 5
The Crickets – Don’t Ever Change (1962)

Rocky Sharpe, leader of Rocky Sharpe & The Replays, reportedly on Dec. 5
Rocky Sharpe & The Replays – Rama Lama Ding Dong (1978)

Herbert Joos, 79, German jazz trumpeter, on Dec. 7

Joe McQueen, 100, jazz saxophonist, on Dec. 7

Caroll Spinney, 85, Sesame Street puppeteer, on Dec. 8
Big Bird – ABC-DEF-GHI (1970)
Oscar the Grouch – I Love Trash (1970)

Juice Wrld, 21, rapper, on Dec. 8

Marie Fredriksson, 61, singer-songwriter of Swedish pop group Roxette, on Dec. 9
Roxette – Dressed For Success (1988)
Roxette – Fading Like A Flower (Every Time You Leave) (1991)

Gershon Kingsley, 97, German-born composer and electronic pioneer, on Dec. 10
Perrey & Kingsley – Baroque Hoedown (1967)
Gershon Kingsley – Norwhere Man (1969)

Danny Aiello, 86, actor and occasional jazz singer, on Dec. 12
Danny Aiello – Besamo Much (2004)

Jack Scott, 83, Canadian singer and songwriter, on Dec. 12
Jack Scott – Goodbye Baby (1958)
Jack Scott – You’re Just Gettin’ Better (1974)

Roy Loney, 73, singer and guitarist of Flamin’ Groovies (1965-71), on Dec. 13
Flamin’ Groovies – The First One’s Free (1971, also as writer)

Terrell Winn, guitarist of The Jim Carroll Band, reported on Dec. 13
The Jim Carroll Band – People Who Died (1980)

Anna Karina, 79, Danish-born French actress and singer, on Dec. 15
Anna Karina – Rollergirl (1967)

Irv Williams, 100, jazz saxophonist, on Dec. 14

Monique Leyrac, 91, Canadian singer and actress, on Dec. 15
Monique Leyrac – La Manikoutai (1972)

Popa Wu, 63, rapper and spiritual mentor to Wu Tang Clan, on Dec. 16
Wu-Tang Clan feat. Poppa Wu & Uncle Pete – Wu-Revolution (1997)

Emil Richards, 87, percussionist and vibraphonist, on Dec. 16
Frank Sinatra – In The Still Of The Night (1961, on vibraphone)
Emil Richards & The Factory – No Place I’d Rather Be (1967)
Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On (1973, on percussion)
Paul Anka – Lovecats (2005, on vibraphone)

Alain Barrière, 84, French singer, on Dec. 18
Alain Barrière & Noëlle Cordier – Tu T’en Vas (1975)

Patxi Andión, 72, Spanish singer-songwriter and actor, in traffic accident on Dec. 18
Patxi Andion – Soneto 70 (1970)

Kenny Lynch, 81, English singer and actor, on Dec. 18
Kenny Lynch – You Can Never Stop Me Loving You (1963)

Arty McGlynn, 75, guitarist of Irish folk group Patrick Street, on Dec. 18
Patrick Street – The Man With The Cap (1988)
Van Morrison – Have I Told You Lately (1989, on guitar)

Allee Willis, 72, songwriter and lyricist, on Dec. 24
Allee Willis – I Don’t Know How (1975)
Earth, Wind & Fire – Star (1979)
Patty LaBelle – Stir It Up (1984)
Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This (1987)

Dave Riley, 59, bassist of punk band Big Black, on Dec. 24

Maurice Newton, 81, lead singer of doo-wop band Fidelitys, on Dec. 25
The Fidelitys – Wishing Star (1960)

Kelly Fraser, 26, Canadian Inuk pop singer-songwriter, on Dec. 25

Jerry Herman, 88, composer and lyricist, on Dec. 26
Louis Armstrong – Hello Dolly
Shirley Bassey – I Am What I Am (1984, as writer)

Sleepy LaBeef, 84, rockabilly singer, on Dec. 26
Sleepy La Beff – All Alone (1957)

Don Imus, 79, shock jock and recording artist, on Dec. 27

Jack Sheldon, 88, trumpeter singer and voice actor on Schoolhouse Rock, on Dec. 27
Jack Sheldon – Just In Time (1995)

Garrett List, 76, free jazz trombonist, singer and composer, on Dec. 27

Art Sullivan, 69, Belgian singer, on Dec. 27
Art Sullivan – Petite Fille Aux Yeux Bleus (1973)

Thanos Mikroutsikos, 72, Greek composer and politician, on Dec. 28

Norma Tanega, 80, US-born singer-songwriter and artist, on Dec. 29
Norma Tanega – Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog (1966)
Norma Tanega – Illusion (1971)

Neil Innes, 75, comedian, musician and songwriter, on Dec. 29
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – Death-Cab For Cutie (1967, also as co-writer)
Mike Innes – How Sweet To Be An Idiot (1973)
Monty Python – Knights Of The Round Tables (1975, as writer)
The Rutles – I Must Be In Love. (1978, on lead vocals)

Vaughan Oliver, 62, designer of cover art on Britain’s 4AD label, Pixies, on Dec. 29
Pixies – Where Is My Mind (1988, as album cover designer)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    January 2nd, 2020 at 08:16 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Stonefish
    January 2nd, 2020 at 10:39 | #2

    I’m blown away again with how you do this particular column! Thanks mate!

  3. Rhodb
    January 3rd, 2020 at 23:00 | #3

    Thanks again for the wonderful post. The number of years you have been doing this , the amount of time spent in collaborating the file

    Much appreciated

    Regards

    Rhodb

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