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In Memoriam – July 2021

August 3rd, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

After an easy previous month, the Reaper was hard at work. Twelve stories of significant deaths; more could have featured. Unusually, two former members of the same group died on the same day, rock band Cinderella’s guitarist Jeff LaBar and former keyboardist Gary Corbett (who also co-wrote Cyndi Lauper’s hit She Bop). Otherwise, two musicians who played on a couple of my first English-language singles — ZZ To and Uriah Heep — were among those who joined the big rock orchestra in the coursed of this round-up.

The ZZ Beard
When in 1976 ZZ Top went on a three-year hiatus, bassist and co-vocalist Dusty Hill took a job at Dallas Airport, just to feel normal. He was rarely recognised, and when he was, he’d say: “No! Do you think I’d be sitting here?” By then, Hill had already been on the Texan blues-rock scene for more than a decade, all of it with drummer Frank Beard. Hill and Beard were joined by guitarist-singer Billy Gibbons in 1969 to start a career as ZZ Top. By the time the hiatus ended, Hill and Gibbons were the instantly recognisable (if you discount airport confusions) faces of ZZ Top. With their long beards, hats and shades, the untrained eye could tell them apart only by their height: Hill was the shorter one. He was also the vocalist with the high tenor (such as on the 1975 hit Tush), as opposed to Gibbons’ gruff rasp.

ZZ Top will carry on without Hill. On his death-bed, Hill anointed Elwood Francis as his successor.

The Frontman
If ever your band needed a frontman, John Lawton was your man. The English singer’s first of many bands was Stonewall, which also included future Roxy Music member Phil Thompson. After an engagement at Hamburg’ Star Club in 1969, Lawton decided to stay in Germany and joined local rock outfit Asterix, which as Lucifer’s Friend would become regarded as heavy metal pioneers. While doing proto-metal and prog rock with Lucifer’s Friend, Lawton also joined the Les Humphries Singers, a Hamburg-based multinational pop choir which enjoyed a string of massive hits in Germany, with Lawton as one of their regular frontmen. That gig took Lawton to the stage of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 (to no great effect: their effort for West Germany placed 15th out of 18 entries).

After the Les Humphries Singers split, Lawton also left Lucifer’s Friends to replace David Byron as lead singer of Uriah Heep. His stint with the band was successful, yielding a global hit with Free Me. Lawton is the third of the five members of that line-up to die in less than a year; its sole survivor now is guitarist Mick Box.

Lawton left Uriah Heep in 1979, and later became the singer of the German rock group Zar, with whom he had a few hits. And on the side, he also sung in a series of German TV commercials. Over the years, Lawton would front several groups, many of them in collaboration with former bandmates. Eventually his musical journey took him to Bulgaria, where he died suddenly on June 29.

The Navel-barer
With the death at 78 of Raffaella Carrà, Italy has lost an all-rounder superstar who also enjoyed wide popularity in Europe and Latin America. Carrà began her life in entertainment in the 1950s as a child actress and went on to enjoy a long film career, which in the mid-1960s took her to Hollywood. Homesick, she returned to Italy. In 1970 her second career began, as a TV presenter in Italy and Spain. Soon after, her music career took off, peaking in 1977 with the Europe-wide hit A far l’amore comincia tu, which in the English version, Do It Do It Again, was a #9 hit, and as Hay que venir al sur a hit throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

In 1971, Carrà caused a massive controversy in Italy when she sung her hit Tuca Tuca on TV while showing — deep breath in, easily outraged folks — her bare navel! It broke the barrier for navels on Italian TV. Carrà also advocated for feminist and LGBTQ+ issues. Politically she described herself as a communist, saying in 1977: “I always vote communist. In the struggle between workers and business, I’ll always be on the workers’ side.”

The Original Funky Drummer
According to James Brown, it was Little Richard and his backing band The Upsetters who in the 1950s were “the first to put funk into the rhythm”. The New Orleans-born drummer who drove the funk was Charles Connor, who left us on the last day of the month at 86. It was Connor’s drumming that inspired Little Richard to write what might be rock & roll’s best-known line: “A-wop bop-a loo-bop, a-lop bam-boom”. And his opening 16-bar roll at the beginning of Keep A-Knockin inspired John Bonham’s opening salvo on Led Zeppelin’s Rick And Roll.

Connor’s career began at the age of 15 in 1950 when the son of a seaman from the Dominican Republic drummed for Professor Longhair at Mardi Gras. He played on all the great Little Richard hits, as well as backing acts like James Brown, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Duke Ellington, The Coasters, Big Joe Turner, Larry Williams, Don Covay. Read a 1986 interview with Connor on touring with Little Richard in the 1950s.

The Merengue Mayor
Born Juan de Dios Ventura Soriano, Dominican merengue and salsa singer and bandleader Johnny Ventura was a music legend in his country and beyond when he decided to enter politics. Having started his career as a serial winner of radio talent shows in the late 1950s, Ventura became a household name in his country, and a big star in the US when he went there in 1967. The “Caballo Mayor” (or “Big Horse) was credited with helping to modernise merengue music in the 1960s. In 1999, he was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame; seven years later he received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his career.

By that time, Ventura had long entered politics. From 1982-86 Ventura sat in the National Congress. In 1994 he was elected Vice-Mayor of the capital Santo Domingo (mainly a ceremonial post), and in 1998 its mayor for the left-of-centre Dominican Revolutionary Party, serving a term until 2002. He’d lose another election for mayor some 18 years later, in 2020. Upon Ventura’s death, the Dominican Republic’s president declared three days of mourning and said the singer would receive military honours.

The Doo Wop Legend
When Willie Winfield retired as lead singer of doo wop pioneers The Harptones two years ago, he brought to an end a career that spanned 66 years, counting from when the band was discovered at amateur night at the Apollo in 1953. Incredibly, The Harptones never had a nationwide hit — not even their signature song, Sunday Kind Of Love — but among doo wop fans they stand among the giants of the genre. And Winfield, with his comfortable tenor, stood out as a vocalists. Yet, he never sought a solo career, and remained faithful to the group until his retirement in 2019. With his death, only one member of the original line-up, William Dempsey, remains with us.

The Singing Violinist
Prog-rock band Kansas had the great keyboards of Steve Walsh and the superb lead guitar of Kerry Livgren, but what set the group apart was the inclusion of the violin, played by the hirsute Robby Steinhardt. The violinist, who at 71 has become (as far as I can make out) the first member of Kansas to die, also contributed some lead vocals and the harmonies with lead singer Steve Walsh (Steinhardt’s vocals are in the lower register to Walsh’s high tenor). Steinhardt left the band in 1982, after a tour. He had a side project called Steinhardt-Moon and recorded with the Stormbringer Band. In 1997 he rejoined Kansas, leaving again in 2006 due to the heavy touring schedule.

Another Fiddler
At a time when traditional country and bluegrass crossed over into rock, master-fiddler Byron Berline was a go-to guy. The Rolling Stones had him play on Country Honk, the song from Let It Bleed they’d re-record as Honky Tonk Woman. Previously he had collaborated with The Dillards; in the early 1970s he played with acts like The Byrds, The Flying Burritos Brothers (of whom he was listed as a member) and Stephen Stills’ Manassas.

He featured prominently on both of Gram Parsons’ solo albums, and fiddled for the likes of Bob Dylan, The Band, Arlo Guthrie, Lamont Dozier, Emmylou Harris, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, James Taylor, Ann Murray, John Denver, Hoyt Axton, Olivia Newton-John, The Doobie Brothers (on their hit Minute By Minute), Rod Stewart, Elton John, Vince Gill, Michelle Shocked, Lucinda Williams, Matthew Sweet and various alumni from the Byrds/Burritios projects. He also released 16 solo albums.

The Producing Pianist
Some of the most joyously upbeat songs of the late 1970s and early 1980s featured the handprints of pianist, arranger, producer and songwriter Clarence McDonald. The best-known of these are Bill Withers’ Lovely Day (as co-producer, arranger and on keyboards), The Emotions’ Best Of My Love (as co-producer), James Taylor’s Your Lovely Face, and Bill LaBounty’s Living It Up (both on keyboards). He worked many times with Deniece Williams, for whom he co-wrote the 1981 classic Silly. He also played keyboards on “Moving On Up,” theme song of the sitcom The Jeffersons.

In his career, he worked with acts like The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Ella Fitzgerald, The Mamas & The Papas, Cheech & Chong, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Carole King, Martha Reeves, The 5th Dimension, Boz Scaggs, Seals & Crofts, Billy Preston, Barbra Streisand, Marlena Shaw, Hall & Oates, Blue Mitchell, Nancy Wilson, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Mathis, Gloria Gaynor, Helen Reddy, Tina Turner, Pointer Sisters, Kenny Rogers, Rickie Lee Jones, Burt Bacharach, The Memphis Horns, Thelma Houston, Linda Ronstadt, Stanley Turrentine, Bobby Womack, Letta Mbulu, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Justin Timberlake and many others.

The Singing Lawyer
The remarkable life of South African singing legend Steve Kekana came to a premature end at 62, claimed by Covid-19. Kekana was five years old when he lost his sight. At a school for the blind he discovered his talent for music. As the 1970s turned to the ’80s, Kekana became one of South Africa’s favourite singers, even scoring a hit in Europe with his song Raising My Family. Remarkably, at a time of apartheid, when white stations wouldn’t play music by black South African artists, Kekana had crossover success. In his career, he earned more than 70 gold records and numerous awards.

While still recording, Kekana studied law, and later became a university lecturer in labour law — while still making records. He was in the middle of recording a new album when he died.

The Beat Producer
Astonishingly, British producer, engineer and musician Bob Sargeant didn’t have a Wikipedia page. Yet he helped create some of the most distinctive sounds in English music of the early 1980s. He produced The (English) Beat, including their Top 10 hits Mirror In The Bathroom, Hands Off She’s Mine, Tears Of A Clown, Too Nice To Talk To, and Can’t Get Use To Losing You. Then he produced Haircut 100 to stardom, including the hits Love Plus One and Favourite Shirt. He also worked with acts like XTC, Madness, The Lotus Eaters, The Damned, The Woodentops, and (as remixer) Fine Young Cannibals. Producing the famous John Peel sessions for the BBC, Sargeant helped launch acts like Joy Division, The Specials, Buzzcocks, The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, Killing Joke, The Cure, Gary Numan, The Fall and others.

Before all that, in 1974, Sargeant tried his hand at being a recording artist. His one shot at stardom, optimistically titled First Starring Role, was produced by him and Mick Ronson. The two also played many of the instruments on the album.

The Chuck E.
The subject of Rickie Lee Jones’ 1979 hit Chuck E.’s In Love has died at 76. Chuck E. Weiss was a fixture on the New York scene, and in particular a pal of Tom Waits, for whom he had written Spare Parts I (A Nocturnal Emission) on the 1975 Nighthawks At The Diner album. One evening, the story goes, Weiss phoned Waits, explaining a long absence by the circumstance that he was in Denver where he had fallen in love with a cousin. Afterwards Waits announced to girlfriend Rickie Lee Jones: “Chuck E.’s In Love!” Jones like the sound of that line and wrote a song based on it.

It wasn’t the first time Chuck E. got cited in song. Waits namechecks him in the song Jitterbug Boy, on 1976’s Small Change album. By then Weiss had played with a number of blues greats, but he didn’t release his own album until 1981, and then none until 1996. He released six albums altogether, the last in 2018.As always, this post is reproduced in PDF format in the package, which also includes my personal playlist of the featured tracks. PW in comments.

 

John Lawton, 74, English rock singer, on June 29
Lucifer’s Friend – Ride In The Sky (1971, as lead singer and co-writer)
Les Humphries Singers – Mama Loo (1973, as lead singer)
Uriah Heep – Free Me (1977)

Steve Kekana, 62, South African pop singer, on July 1
Steve Kekana – Raising My Family
Hotline With P.J. Powers & Steve Kekana – Feel So Strong (1982)

Louis Andriessen, 82, Dutch classical and jazz composer, on July 1

Bryan St. Pere, 52, drummer of alt.rock band Hum, on July 1
Hum – Stars (1995)

Bill Ramsey, 90, US born German schlager singer, actor and entertainer, on July 2
Bill Ramsey & The Jay Five – An Unknown Quantity (1967)

José Manuel Zamacona, 69, singer of Mexican pop band Los Yonic’s, on July 4
Los Yonic’s – Palabras Tristes (1984)

Sanford Clark, 85, rockabilly singer, on July 4
Sanford Clark – Houston (1964)

Rick Laird, 80, Irish jazz fusion bassist, co-founder of Mahavishnu Orchestra, on July 4
Mahavishnu Orchestra – Miles Beyond (1973)
Richie Cole with Eddie Jefferson – Waltz For A Rainy Bebop Evening (1976, on bass guitar)

Leo van de Ketterij, 70, guitarist of Dutch pop band Shocking Blue, on July 5
Shocking Blue – Mighty Joe (1969)

Raffaella Carrà, 78, Italian singer, TV presenter and actress, on July 6
Raffaella Carrà – Tuca Tuca (1971)
Raffaella Carrà – Rumore (1974)
Raffaella Carrà – A Far L’Amore Comincia Tu (1977)

Angélique Ionatos, 67, Greek-born singer and composer, on July 7
Angélique Ionatos & Photis Ionatos – Chansons des amoureux (2009)

Indian Red Boy, 21, rapper, shot dead on July 8

Andy Williams, 49, ex-drummer of Christian rock band Casting Crowns, on July 9
Casting Crowns – Lifesong (2005)

Chris Hutka, singer of metalcore band The Bunny The Bear, on July 10
The Bunny The Bear – Ocean Floor (2011, clean vocals)

Byron Berline, 77, country and bluegrasss fiddler, on July 10
The Rolling Stones – Country Honk (1969, on fiddle)
Gram Parsons – Return Of The Grievous Angel (1974, on fiddle)
Lamont Dozier – All Cried Out (1974, on violin)
Byrone Berline – Trail Of Tears Waltz (1990)

Sound Sultan, 44, Nigerian rapper, on July 11

Juini Booth, 73, jazz double-bassist, on July 11
McCoy Tyner – Song Of The New World (1973, on double-bass)

Sandra Timmerman, 57, Dutch singer and stage actress, on July 12

Bob Sargeant, British producer, engineer and musician, announced July 13
Bob Sargeant – King Of The Night (1974, also as producer)
The Beat – Mirror In The Bathroom (1980, as producer)
Haircut 100 – Love Plus One (1982, as producer)

Gary Corbett, ex-keyboardist of rock band Cinderella, on July 14
Cyndi Lauper – She Bop (1984, as co-writer)
Cinderella – Through The Rain (1994)

Jeff LaBar, 58, guitarist of rock band Cinderella, on July 14
Cinderella – Nobody’s Fool (1986)

Pyotr Mamonov, 70, frontman of Russian rock band Zvuki Mu, on July 15
Zvuki Mu – Crazy Queen (1989)

Tsepo Tshola, 67, co-lead singer of Lesotho jazz/gospel band Sankomota, on July 15
Sankomota – Papa (1989, on lead vocals)
Tsepo Thsole – Madambadamba (1997)

Biz Markie, 57, rapper and actor, on July 16
Biz Markie – Just A Friend (1989)

Robby Steinhardt, 71, singer and violinist with rock band Kansas, on July 17
Kansas – Dust In The Wind (1977)
Kansas – People Of The South Wind (1979)
Steinhardt-Moon – Too Hard To Handle (1999)

Chuck E. Weiss, 76, songwriter and singer, on July 18
Tom Waits – Spare Parts I (A Nocturnal Emission) (1975, as writer)
Rickie Lee Jones – Chuck E.’s In Love (1979, as song subject)
Chuck E. Weiss – Gina (1981)

Tolis Voskopoulos, 80, Greek singer and actor, on July 19
Tolis Voskopoulos – Agonia (1969)

Jerry Granelli, 80, Canadian jazz drummer, on July 20
Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmas Is Coming (1965, on drums)
We Five – You Were On My Mind (1965, on drums)

Clarence ‘Mac’ McDonald, 76, pianist, composer, arranger & producer, on July 21
Martha Reeves – Dixie Highway (1974, on piano)
Bill Withers – Lovely Day (1977, as co-producer, arranger and on keyboards)
Deniece Williams – Silly (1981, as co-writer)
Bill LaBounty – Livin’ It Up (1982, on keyboards)

Palo Pandolfo, 56, Argentine singer-songwriter and musician, on July 22

Wally Gonzales, 71, guitarist of Filipino rock band Juan de la Cruz, on July 23
Juan de la Cruz – Shake Your Brain (1973)

John Hutchinson, British guitarist and David Bowie collaborator, on July 24
David Bowie with John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson – Space Oddity (1969 Mercury Demo)

Count M’Butu, percussionist of the Derek Trucks Band, on July 25
Derek Trucks Band – Mahjoun (2006)

Johnny Ventura, 81, Dominican merengue musician and mayor, on July 26
Johnny Ventura y Su Combo – ilema (1965)
Johnny Ventura – Si vuelvo a nacer (1987)
Johnny Ventura y Sus Hijos – No Quiero de Eso (1994)

Joey Jordison, 46. co-founder and ex-drummer of nu-metal band Slipknot, on July 26

Mike Howe, 55, singer with of heavy metal group Metal Church, on July 26
Metal Church – Date With Poverty (1991, also as co-writer)

Dusty Hill, 72, bassist of ZZ Top and songwriter, on July 27
ZZ Top – Francine (1972)
ZZ Top – Tush (1975)
ZZ Top – Gimme All Your Lovin’ (1984)

Gianni Nazzaro, 72, Italian singer and actor, on July 27

Willie Winfield, 91, lead singer and tenor of doo wop group The Harptones, on July 27
The Harp-Tones – A Sunday Kind Of Love (1953)
The Harptones – Life Is But A Dream (1955)
The Harptones – Laughing On The Outside (1959)

Peter Janes, folk singer-guitarist, reported on July 29
Peter Janes – Do You Believe (Love Is Built On A Dream) (1968)

Chris Wall, country/folk singer and songwriter, on June 29
Chris Wall – Empty Seat Beside Me (1989)

Gonzoe, 45, rapper with hip hop group Kausion, on July 29
Kausion feat. Ice Cube – What You Wanna Do (1995)

Jacob Desvarieux, 65, Gudeloupean-French singer, musician, producer, on July 30
Jacob Desvarieux & Georges Décimus – Chwazi (1985)

Jerzy Matuszkiewicz, 93, Polish jazz musician and composer, on July 31

Charles Connor, 86, drummer of Little Richard’s The Upsetters, on July 31
Little Richard – Tutti Frutti (1956)
Little Richard – Keep A-Knockin’ (1957)
The Upsetters The Strip (1958)
The Charles Connor Band – Drummer Man (1986, also on vocals)

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  1. amdwhah
    August 3rd, 2021 at 12:01 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Rhodb
    August 6th, 2021 at 23:29 | #2

    Another fine compilation of those that have gone before us. Much appreciated

    Rhodb

  3. Hamster
    August 8th, 2021 at 10:00 | #3

    Always a shock to be reminded of the mortality of your musical heroes & the passing of Hill, Lawton & Steinhardt in one month brings that home. Thank goodness there’s a fine body of work to remember them by – and thank you for putting the roll call together.

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