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Any Major Elton John & Bernie Taupin Songbook

March 24th, 2022 10 comments

 

Just a couple of hours ago as I write this, Elton John’s 1985 hit Nikita came on the car radio. I hadn’t heard that song for a long while, and I was grateful for that, in as far as I paid the wretched song’s absence in my life any attention. I dislike it now as much as I did when I first heard it in November 1985. And it’s not like I was anti-Elton back in 1985. I bought Act Of War, his duet with Millie Jackson, on 12” that summer, unheard. Which was a mistake. I also bought the follow-up to Nikita, a record called Wrap Her Up featuring the late Wham! bassist Deon Estus. That, too, has not aged well.

Some years later, Elton John had his first solo UK #1 with Sacrifice, a turgid number for the CD generation. Nothing the erstwhile Reg Dwight has produced since has impressed me, other than Hakuna Matata from The Lion King.

In fairness, the man produced some great songs in the 1980s, before he offended with Nikita. I’m Still Standing is a superb piece of songwriting, arrangement and vocal performance (plus, it had a great video). I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues was vintage Elton. And I did like Passengers, in the way of nursery-rhyme-pop. That was intended as an anti-apartheid song, though you had to be told it was to know. Perhaps it was Elton’s way of saying sorry for having helped legitimise apartheid by playing at Sun City in 1983. Which is a lot more than what Queen, The Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Millie Jackson, Status Quo or Rod Stewart did.

But very little of what Elton John produced in the 1980s comes close to the incredible run of songwriting genius which he and lyricist Bernie Taupin put together from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. And it is this run of genius this collection of covers of John/Taupin songs celebrates, by way of marking Elton John’s 75th birthday on March 25.

So, all of these songs are from the 1970s, except one bonus track: I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, performed by Major Schiffer & Majories Bundeswehr Showband — a band of the German army. It appeared on a 1985 album titled Tanzweltmeisterschaft (Dancing World Championship). It is surprisingly okay, with the vocals soulful and the arrangement competent, with a heartfelt sax solo. One might have expected a Bundeswehr Showband to go the easy listening route, maybe a bit like James Last, but with more oomp than oomph. Well, not so.

There are plenty of easy listening covers of Elton John’s 1970s tunes; none feature here. But some tracks just don’t have many good covers. Candle In The Wind, for example, is a song so Elton that it’s very difficult to re-interpret well. I suspect the present version, by Sandy Denny, is about the only good cover of the song. For Daniel, I had to go to France (alas, I knew of no good Spanish covers).

Bernie Taupin and Elton John in 1971. (Wikipedia/PD-PRE1978)

Some John/Taupin classics are missing altogether, such as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. The former has already featured on the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Recovered set (though I do recycle two tracks from that collection here), so I didn’t recycle that version. And I didn’t expect to find a great cover of Crocodile Rock, the first Elton John song I loved, long before I even knew who the guy was. My older sister had the single, and I loved it as a seven-year-old (mainly the falsetto bits).

An unusual number of covers here are live versions: Neil Diamond reworks Rocket Man (superbly), Ben Folds does Tiny Dancer, Brandi Carlile does Sixty Years On with the Seattle philharmonic orchestra, Heart do the gorgeous Seasons, and George Michael eclipses Elton John in his stunning rendition of Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me from Live Aid, guesting on Elton’s set. The latter is also far superior to the hit version from 1995. The Live Aid version invariably gives goosebumps (and how about that drummer?).

In the 1970s, much was made of the rivalry between Elton John and Rod Stewart; they more lately had a bigger feud about some slight by someone over something or other that was said. On his fine Gasoline Alley album, Rod covered Elton’s 1970 song Country Life, with Jack Reynolds (aka Harry) from the rock band Silver Metre on backing vocals. And then Rod borrowed a little bit of 1970’s The Greatest Discovery (covered here by The Lettermen) for his song The Killing Of Georgie.

One song here is not a cover: Snookeroo was written by John & Taupin for Ringo Starr, who in the US titled it No No Song. Elton John provides the count-in and plays the piano on the song.

Quite a few songs here may be unfamiliar to those who have followed Elton John’s career only casually. By my count, only ten of the featured 28 tracks were UK single releases. Elton John fans, I hope, will enjoy the interpretations of the lesser-known songs; and those who don’t may well be turned on to Elton John’s incredible run of great albums between 1970 and 1974 or 1975 (in my view, everything from 1970s eponymous album to at least 1975’s Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy).

As always, CD-R length, home-tinydancered covers, and the above in PDF. PW in comments.

1. The Who – Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) (1991)
2. George Michael – Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (1985)
3. Ben Folds – Tiny Dancer (2002)
4. Daryl Hall & John Oates – Philadelphia Freedom (1991)
5. Billy Paul – Your Song (1972)
6. Walter Jackson – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word (1977)
7. Latimore – Take Me To The Pilot (1973)
8. Bo Diddley – Bad Side Of The Moon (1971)
9. Al Kooper – Come Down In Time (1971)
10. Rod Stewart – Country Comfort (1970)
11. Marie Laforet – Daniel (1974)
12. Sandy Denny – Candle In The Wind (1977)
13. Square Set – Friends (1972)
14. Colin Blunstone – Planes (1976)
15. Neil Diamond – Rocket Man (1978)
16. Heart – Seasons (1995)
17. Mandy Moore – Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters (2003)
18. Brandi Carlile – Sixty Years On (2011)
Bonus:
Lee Ann Womack – Honky Cat (2018)
Ringo Starr – Snookeroo (1974)
Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’77 – Where To Now St Peter (1976)
Kate Taylor – Ballad Of A Well Known Gun (1971)
Three Dog Night – Lady Samantha (1969)
The Letterman – The Greatest Discovery (1971)
Mary McCreary – Levon (1974)
Diana Ross – Harmony (1976)
Major Schiffer & Majories/Bundeswehr Showband – I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues (1985)
Solomon Burke – Three Psalms For Elton (1972)

GET IT! or HERE!

Previous Songbooks:
ABBA
Ashford & Simpson
Barry Gibb Vol. 1
Bill Withers
Bob Dylan Volumes 1-5
Bruce Springsteen
Burt Bacharach & Hal David
Burt Bacharach’s Lesser-Known Songbook
Carole Bayer Sager
Carole King Vol. 1
Chuck Berry
Cole Porter Vol. 1
Cole Porter Vol. 2
John Prine
Jimmy Webb Vol. 1
Jimmy Webb Vol. 2
Jimmy Webb Vol. 3
Leonard Cohen
Neil Diamond
Rod Temperton
Steely Dan

Categories: Covers Mixes, Mix CD-Rs, Songwriters Tags:

Any Major Beatles in Italian

March 15th, 2022 8 comments

 

The two editions of Beatles in French (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) turned out to be more popular than I had expected. So now we turn the music of the Fab Four over to the Italians, though this time in only one volume.

The French Ye-ye movement found some imitators in Italy, but that didn’t find expression in a wave of Beatles covers, as it did in France. Some beat groups, however, seemed very keen on the Liverpool band. I Meteors, who hailed from Bologna and started out in 1961 as a support act for Gene Vincent on his tour of Italy, issued a whole album of Beatles covers (and of songs The Beatles themselves had covered), including even the relatively obscure Misery. Truth be told, it wasn’t very good and has aged even less well. Their version of She Loves You, which features here, is at least inoffensive.

The collection kicks off with a track by Dino e I Kings, who return as few numbers later. Why does Dino and his backing group get two tracks when the rules usually allow for only one song per artist? Because both tracks were arranged by none other than Ennio Morricone, who’d go on to become one of the great composers of the 20th century. As for Verona-born Dino Zambelli, he was one of Italy’s biggest teenage stars between 1964-68, on record, stage and film. He retired from music in 1973 and ended up becoming an oil executive.

The original Italian beat band was I Fuggiaschi (The Fugitives), featured here with a cover of If I Fell, who were led by Don Backy, one of several, artists who shared the scene with the ubiquitous Adrian Celentano (whose own Beatles covers came many years later and aren’t very good). Backy is still active at the age of 82.

Another pioneer of Italian rock was Ricky Gianco (aka Ricky Sanna), featured here with his version of All My Loving, who got his start backing Celentano and was known as one of urlatori, or “screamers”.

Also in that pioneer group were I Ribelli, who started out in 1959 as Celentano’s backing band. They soon struck out on their own and were regulars on Italian TV in the 1960s. But by the time they covered Oh Darling, competently so, their commercial appeal had declined. They split soon after, reforming a couple times, most recently amid a beat revival boom.

I Ribelli backing the ubiquitous Adriano Celentano in 1961. (Photo from Wikimedia)

 

Among all the Italians, there’s one Englishman: Mike Liddell. Born in India and raised in northern England, the singer and drummer came to Italy in the 1960s. With his band Gli Atomi (The Atoms) he had some success on the beat scene. Their version of We Can Work It Out was the flip side of the debut single, an Italian take on The Sound Of Silence. The single reached #3 on the Italian charts in 1966. By 1968, the band split, and Liddell went on to dabble in psychedelic rock.

Patrick Samson is also not your average Italian name; nor is the guy’s real name, Sulaimi Khoury. The Lebanese-born singer, featured here with Let It Be, has had a long and productive career. Having started his career in France, where his family had emigrated to from Lebanon, Samson moved to Italy at the age of 19 in 1965. He soon had success, first as leader of the R&B-infused Patrick Samson Set and then as a solo artist. His career came to a halt in 1973 when he took time out to care for his ill brother. His return to music was not accompanied by success.

Also not engaging in Italian nomenclature were The Rogers, who nevertheless were all Italians. At around the same time they released Tam-Tam, their delightfully onomatopoeic rendering of Come Together, the group enjoyed a million-seller with Guarda. The Rogers split in 1980.

 

Patty Pravo

One of Italy’s biggest singing stars is Patty Pravo, featured here with her take from 1970 on And I Love Her. Pravo, whose career has spanned more than 50 years, has the distinction of being the first pop act to be played on Vatican Radio, with her Italian version Sonny & Cher’s But You’re Mine. She is still recording and performing today. Likewise, Gianni Morandi has had a hugely successful and lasting career as a singer, actor and TV presenter. On this mix, he croons Here, There And Everywhere.

When Don Miko committed his version Michelle on record, the former duet partner of Timi Yuro wasn’t a big star yet. That would change in the 1970s and again in the 1980s, when he became an Italo-Disco star as Miko Mission. He’s still recording.

The best-known artist here might be Pino Donaggio, a classically-trained music prodigy who put down his violin to become a rock & roller in the 1950s. He has featured here before as the singer and co-writer of the 1965 hit Io che non-vivo on Any Major Originals 1960s Vol. 1, which later became a hit for Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley as You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me. By that time Donaggio had found his calling as a composer of film scores, becoming a favourite of Brian De Palma, scoring films like Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Body Double, and Raising Cain.

Another singer-turned-film-composer was Fred Bongusto, an easy listening vocalist featured here with his take on The Fool On The Hill. Bongusto, who died at 84 in 2019, incorporated Latin rhythms in his music, and was popular in South America, especially in Brazil. When he wasn’t crooning or writing film music, Bongusto was involved in local politics, standing for Italy’s Socialist Party.

Also well-known, but rather for her movies, is French-Italian actress Catherine Spaak, featured here with her version of Help. As a singer, she styled herself on Françoise Hardy, with whom she shared a producer, Ezio Leoni, one of the fathers of Italian pop.

 

Two acts here created full versions of bits of songs on Abbey Road’s Side 2. Chriss and The Stroke (another act featuring twice) of whom I know nothing, do a nice version of Golden Slumbers, and I Nuovi Angeli of Carry That Weight. Both incorporate snatches of You Never Give Me Your Money. I Nuovi Angeli, who were founded in 1966, went on to have international success — in Europe with their 1971 hit Uakadi Uakadù, and also in the US, where they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

I’ve found almost nothing on The Bushmen, who do a rather good version of Rain here. They might have been a quintet from Kenya, in which case they’d be this set’s most interesting story… Does any reader know more about them?

The remarkable thing, especially for your local In Memoriam merchant, is that of all the solo artists I’ve written about above, all are still alive except for Fred Bongusto (and I don’t know about Mike Liddell)!Come sempre, il mix si adatta a un CD-R standard. Il testo sopra è anche in un PDF illustrato. Password nei commenti.

1. Dino e I Kings – Torna con me sulla luna (I Saw Her Standing There) (1965)
2. I Meteors – She Loves You (1965)
3. Giovani Giovani di Pino Donaggio – Ma voglio solo te (I Want To Hold Your Hand) (1964)
4. Ricky Gianco – Non cercarmi (All My Loving) (1965)
5. I Fuggiaschi – Se mi pensi un po’ (If I Fell) (c.1965)
6. Patty Pravo – La tua voce (And I Love Her) (1970)
7. Dino e I Kings – Cerca Di Capire (I Should Have Known Better) (1964)
8. The Ingoes – Se Non Mi Aiuti Tu (Help) (1965)
9. Meri Marabini – Mi manchi (I Need You) (1966)
10. Catherine Spaak – Ieri (Yesterday) (1966)
11. I Camaleonti – Se ritornerai (Norwegian Wood) (1966)
12. Gianni Morandi – Una che dice di sì (Here, There And Everywhere) (1970)
13. Augusto Righetti – Il paese che non c’è (Nowhere Man) (1966)
14. Don Miko – Michelle (1966)
15. Mike Liddell & Gli Atomi – Nelle Mani Tue (We Can Work It Out) (1966)
16. The Bushmen – Pioggia (Rain) (1966)
17. I Castellani – Penny Lane (1967)
18. Mark e Martha & The Splash – Un Piccolo Aiuto Dagli Amici (With A Little Help From My Friends) (1970)
19. I Soliti Ignoti – Cerchi Solo Amore (All You Need Is Love) (1967)
20. Fred Bongusto – Tranquillità (The Fool On The Hill) (1971)
21. I Bit-Nik – Hello Goodbye (1968)
22. I Gleemen – Lady Madonna (1968)
23. Uh! – Non Sono Solo (I Am The Walrus) (1970)
24. Chriss and The Stroke – Torno in Russia (Back In The USSR) (1969)
25. The Rogers – Tam tam (Come Together) (1969)
26. I Ribelli – Oh Darling (1970)
27. Chriss and The Stroke – Per Niente Al Mondo (Golden Slumbers) (1969)
28. I Nuovi Angeli – Il dubbio (Carry That Weight) (1969)
29. The Juniors – Chi è (Get Back) (1969)
30. Patrick Samson – Dille di si (Let It Be) (1970)

GET IT! or HERE!

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Any Major Carole Bayer Sager Songbook

March 8th, 2022 8 comments

 

Today, on March 8, the lyricist Carole Bayer Sager celebrates her 75th birthday, and so it’s good to mark the occasion with Any Major Songbook of songs she has co-written.

Unlike the Carole whose works we enjoyed last month on Any Major Carole King Songbook Vol. 1, this Carole is easily underestimated. Much of it has to do with the music which scores her often exquisite lyrics. Many of the songs were written for movie soundtracks in the 1980s and ’90s, and are arranged according to those requirements, and few lay down the funk or shred with punk. And yet, those movie songs include such greats as Arthur’s Theme and Nobody Does It Better. For the latter, Bayer Sager had to work in the title of the Bond flick it scored without it sounding embarrassing — a task even Paul McCartney found difficult to execute (he, too, succeeded in it).

Bayer Sager is a superb observer of adult relationships especially. Witness this line from On My Own: “Now we’re up to talking divorce and we were not even married”.

Bayer Sager writes the words; the music has been written by legendary composers such as her ex-husband Burt Bacharach, Marvin Hamlisch, Neil Sedaka, Marvin Hamlisch, Michael Masser, and David Foster (the latter has written some relentlessly bad stuff, but he also committed strokes of genius like Cheryl Lynn’s Got To Be Real).

She has also written frequently with Australian soft-rocker Peter Allen and fellow soft-rock auteur Bruce Roberts, whom we encountered on Not Feeling Guilty Mix Vol. 11. And with Albert Hammond, she co-wrote the later Leo Sayer hit When I Need You, and its b-side, which features here as a bonus track (and on which Hammond shamelessly plagiarised himself).

Pleasingly, there was a convergence of the two great Caroles in 1998, when Carole King co-wrote the song Anyone At All with Bayer Sager, and recorded it for the You’ve Got Mail soundtrack.

Like King, Carole Bayer (as she was then) started out on the Brill Building scene, while still a student at New York City’s High School of Music and Art. There she collaborated with Toni Wine, whose voice we heard this month on Sugar Sugar, in the line “I’m gonna make your life so sweet”, on Any Major Sugar. Carole, still only 18, produced one of the earliest uses of the word “groovy” in song lyrics, in A Groovy Kind Of Love, co-written with Wine and first recorded in 1965 by the rather obscure duo Diane & Annita, and soon a global hit for The Mindbenders (and 23 years later for Phil Collins). See Any Major Originals – The Classics for more on that song.

After the Brill Building era, during which she also wrote for The Monkees, she became Carole Bayer Sager, having married record producer Andrew Sager in 1970. She then worked a lot with up-and-coming singer Melissa Manchester. Then she hooked up, in more ways than one, with Marvin Hamlisch, and then with Burt Bacharach, to whom she was married from 1982-91.

In between, Bayer Sager released three albums, which were quite good. One of them featured the song It’s The Falling In Love, which Michael Jackson would later record for Off The Wall. Bayer Sager’s version will feature on the next Not Feeling Guilty mix. In return, Jackson did backing vocals on Carole’s 1981 song Just Friends (see the Michael Jackson Backing Vocals Collection)

Like that song, a few songs here are better known in their cover versions than in the featured originals: Rod Stewart’s bearable version of That’s What Friends Are For from the 1982 Nightshift soundtrack (I do not like the 1985 all-star hit version at all); and Starmaker by Carole’s frequent collaborator Bruce Roberts, which later became famous in The Kids from Fame. I’ve decided to go with the Family Brown soul version of When I Need You, rather than Hammond’s original or Leo Sayer’s hit. (Get Hammond’s original on Any Major Originals – 1970s Vol. 1).

As ever, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R (that is, by excluding the “bonus tracks), and includes how-scribbled covers, and the text above in an illustrated PDF. PW in comments.

1. The Monkees – The Girl I Left Behind Me (1969, with Neil Sedaka)
2. The Mindbenders – Groovy Kind Of Love (1965, with Toni Wine)
3. Terry Rice-Milton – Your Heart’s Not In Your Love (1970, with Neil Sedaka)
4. Melissa Manchester – If It Feels Good (Let It Ride) (1973, with Melissa Manchester)
5. Pointer Sisters – The Love Too Good To Last (1980, with Peter Allen & Burt Bacharach)
6. Cheryl Lynn – Come In From The Rain (1978, with Melissa Manchester)
7. Roberta Flack & Peabo Bryson – Maybe (1983, with Burt Bacharach & Marvin Hamlisch)
8. Christopher Cross – Arthur’s Theme (1981, with Peter Allen & Burt Bacharach)
9. Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better (1977, with Marvin Hamlisch)
10. Diana Ross – It’s My Turn (1980, with Michael Masser)
11. Dolly Parton – You’re The Only One (1979, with Bruce Roberts)
12. Elkie Brooks – Don’t Cry Out Loud (1978, with Peter Allen)
13. Carole King – Anyone At All (1998, with Carole King)
14. Aretha Franklin & Michael McDonald – Ever Changing Times (1991, with Burt Bacharach & Bill Conti)
15. Reba McEntire – On My Own (1995, with Burt Bacharach)
16. Family Brown – When I Need You (1978, with Albert Hammond)
17. Thelma Jones – I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love (1978, with Peter Allen)
18. Michael Jackson – It’s The Falling In Love (1979, with David Foster)
19. Peter Allen – Fly Away (1980, with Peter Allen)
20. Chris Hillman – Heartbreaker (1977, with David Wolfert)
21. Bruce Roberts – Starmaker (1977, with Bruce Roberts)
22. Rod Stewart – That’s What Friends Are For (1982, with Burt Bacharach)
Bonus Tracks:
Randy Crawford – One Hello (1982, with Marvin Hamlisch)
Chaka Khan – Stronger Than Before (1984, with Burt Bacharach & Bruce Roberts)
The Moments – I Don’t Wanna Go (1976, with Bruce Roberts)
Albert Hammond – Moonlight Lady (1976, with Albert Hammond)

GET IT! or HERE!

Previous Songbooks:
ABBA
Ashford & Simpson
Barry Gibb Vol. 1
Bill Withers
Bob Dylan Volumes 1-5
Bruce Springsteen
Burt Bacharach & Hal David
Burt Bacharach’s Lesser-Known Songbook
Carole King Vol. 1
Chuck Berry
Cole Porter Vol. 1
Cole Porter Vol. 2
John Prine
Jimmy Webb Vol. 1
Jimmy Webb Vol. 2
Jimmy Webb Vol. 3
Leonard Cohen
Neil Diamond
Rod Temperton
Steely Dan

Categories: Covers Mixes, Mix CD-Rs, Songwriters Tags:

In Memoriam – February 2022

March 3rd, 2022 4 comments

February was mercifully easier than the first month of the year. Still we lost a few legends, including Howard Grimes, the drummer on all those great Al Green records of the 1970s. And a singer for whom Grimes drummed during that time also died in February, just a week after the singer’s musician brother passed away.

The Rock Bach
Whatever skipping the light fandango in the song A White Shade Of Pale is, Gary Brooker’s vocals of that song contribute to one of the highpoint of rock music in the 1960s — even if the song is dominated by Mathew Fisher’s organ. Brooker wrote the melody for the song, including the Bach-influenced intro (though the authorship has been a tale of protracted litigation, which eventually gave Fisher co-writing credit) and also played the piano on that and on many other Procol Harum songs.

Before becoming a rock legend with Procol Harum, Brooker in 1962 co-founded the The Paramounts with future Harum guitarist Robin Trower. That band was highly-rated by its peers in the London R&B scene, especially The Rolling Stones, who were big fans (five days after Brooker, another alumnus of that scene died in Don Craine, singer and guitarist of the Downliners Sect). But while alumni of that scene like the Stones, Animals and Yardbirds broke big, The Paramounts had a solitary chart hit, the debut single Poison Ivy, which reached UK #35 in 1964.

With Procol Harum, Brooker had more success, but more as an albums than a singles act; other than White Shade, the only UK Top 10 hit was Homburg.

The Cult Funkster
Soul and funk singer Betty Davis should have been a big star, but her refusal to dial down her sexuality, in her act and music, meant that she was denied TV and radio exposure. She certainly had the right connections. As the model Betty Mabry, she did music more on the side than as her main career in the 1960s, when she was close friends with Sly Stone and, especially, Jimi Hendrix. She was in a relationship with Hugh Masekela before she married Miles Davis — whose surname Betty would retain after she and Miles divorced (according to her, due to his violent temper). She also wrote music for others, including the much-covered Uptown by The Chamber Brothers.

In the 1970s Betty recorded with funk legends such as Larry Graham, Greg Errico and some members of Tower of Power, producing her own music. With the broadcast boycott in the US, she never broke through commercially, but with her explosive live act, she established a fiercely loyal cult following.

The Grunger
He started out in Seattle’s grunge scene, and never really left that scene, but Mark Lanegan, who has died at only 57, was also happy to branch out into unexpected directions. In grunge, he was a member of Screaming Trees (initially as a drummer, but he was so bad at that, by how own admission, that they made him the singer), and recorded an unreleased album of Leadbelly songs with Kurt Cobain. From 2000-05, he was a member of Queens of the Stone Age, working with them even after he officially left the band.

While still with the Screaming Trees, Lanegan began releasing a number of solo records. Later efforts attracted prominent guest musicians, such as PJ Harvey and Guns N Roses’ Duff McKagan, and alumni from bands like Soundgarden, Ween, and Afghan Wigs. Between 2004 and 2011, he teamed up for three albums with Isobel Campbell, former singer of Scottish Indie band Belle & Sebastian, and collaborated with English electronica duo Soulsavers. Meanwhile he founded The Gutter Twins with Afghan Wigs frontman Gregg Dulli. And for the soundtrack of the 2012 film Lawless, Lanegan teamed up with the Nick Cave’s bluegrass-punk project The Bootleggers, contributing vocals to three tracks.

With Josh Homme of the Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan co-wrote the theme song for his friend Anthony Bourdain’s CNN series Parts Unknown. He appeared on the Seattle episode of that fine series.

The Soul Legend
Only six days after his blues guitarist brother Jimmie left us (listed in In Memoriam – January 2022), soul legend Syl Johnson died at 85. Johnson made perhaps his biggest mark as a deep soul singer on Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records, scoring a hit with labelmate Al Green’s Take Me To The River. But he made a name for himself before signing for Hi in 1971. In the late 1960s, he recorded tracks like Come On Sock It To Me, the much-sampled Different Strokes, Is It Because I’m Black? (which featured on Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 3, and I’m Talkin’ ‘Bout Freedom (on Any Major Protest Soul Vol. 1).

Before he was a soul singer, Johnson was a feature on the Chicago blues scene in the 1950s and early ’60s, playing with acts like Magic Sam, Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, and Freddie King. He’d return to blues music later in his career, which at one point he halted to open a chain of seafood restaurants. In the 1990s he returned to music, prompted by the liberal sampling of his music by hip hop acts. His last album appeared in 2013, some 11 years after he put out an album with his brother Jimmie.

The Pop Pioneer
You would have thought that the death of a woman pioneer who broke barriers would have been announced in good time, with due obits. The death at 87 of Beverly Ross on January 15 went unreported for a full month. Yet, at one point, as a woman songwriter Ross was matched only by Carole King. And before Carole had even hit puberty, Ross already helped invent rock & roll when Bill Haley & The Comets had a 1954 hit with Dim, Dim The Lights, a song she had co-written with the black songwriter Julius Dixson. Apart from racially mixed songwriting teams being pretty groundbreaking, the record turned further sod by becoming the first rock & roll record by a white act to cross over into the R&B charts. Alan Freed called it the “grand daddy song of rock & roll”.

With Dixson, Ross co-wrote the ’50s anthem Lollipop, which she also was the first to record, with black teenager Ronald Gumps, as Ronald & Ruby. The single did well, rising to #20 on the pop charts — until it emerged that this was a racially-mixed act, so TV stations cancelled bookings and some radio stations dropped the song. Lollipop went on to become a mega-hit for a The Chordettes (see Any Major Originals – 1950s).

Ross was the “queen bee” of Brill Building by the late 1950s, working in particular with Jeff Barry. She also worked with Phil Spector, with whom she had a very close relationship — until Spector stole, according to Ross, her riff for what would become the Ben E. King hit Spanish Harlem. The future murderer’s treachery — which seems to have sparked a decline in Ross’ mental health, culminating in her leaving the industry in the mid-1960s — was noted in the title of Ross’ memoirs: I Was the First Woman Phil Spector Killed.

The Founder
English multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald helped create founded two very different rock legend groups. First, he was a co-founder of King Crimson, with whom he played on the classic 1969 debut album In the Court of the Crimson King, contributing with the mellotron, keyboards and woodwinds. On track 2, I Talk To The Wind, which McDonald co-wrote, he took the lead vocals and played flute, clarinet and the organ. After leaving the prog-rockers, McDonald jobbed as a session musician, also appearing on various King Crimson tracks over the years; one of those gigs was to play the sax on T. Rex’s Get It On.

Having moved to New York in the mid-1970s, McDonald co-founded hard rock band Foreigner, appearing on various instruments — from guitar to sax to keyboards — on their first three albums, contributing to hits such as Hot Blooded, Cold As Ice, Feels Like the First Time, and Long Long Way From Home (which he co-wrote). He also co-produced many of their songs.

In 1980 he left Foreigner. He later collaborated with Genesis alumnus Steve Hacket, reunited with King Crimson members, and returned to working with folk singer Judy Dyble.

The Hi Drummer
A week after Syl Johnson left us, the drummer on many of his records followed him to the great soul band in the sky. Howard Grimes was the drummer of Hi Records’ session band, and as such played on many of those great records by Al Green, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson, O.V. Wright and so on (Al Jackson played on others until his death in 1975). The Hi rhythm section of Grimes and Leroy Hodges was one of the best of the many great ones in 1970s soul. Before Hi, Grimes played on Stax and Atlantic records.

The America Drummer
He never was an officially credited member of the folk-rock trio America, but Willie Leacox, who has died at 74, played on all their material and on stage from 1973 to 2014. That means he took no part in the unfairly reviled Horse With No Name. Before Leacox, the great Hal Blaine did stick duty on most America recordings up to 1973’s Hat Trick album. We hear Leacox playing on America hits such as Sister Golden Hair, Lonely People, Tin Man, Daisy Jane, Today’s The Day, You Can Do Magic and The Border.

The Hot Lips
We knew actress Sally Kellerman from films such as M*A*S*H, but less well-known was her brief forays into the world of recorded music. She did record a song, Rock-a-Bye Baby, for the soundtrack of Brewster McCloud, and occasional sang in films, and when she hosted Saturday Night Live in 1981. But she also released two full albums: Roll With The Feelin’ in 1972 and Sally in 2009 (featuring a version of Aerosmith’s Don’t Want To Miss A Thing). I don’t know what the 2009 effort was like, but Roll With The Feelin’ is a pretty good R&B-influenced folk-rock type album. There was also a 1973 single of The Byrds’ Triad, arranged and co-roduced by a still unknown Barry Manilow.

Nightbirde
Perhaps the most heartbreaking but inspiring story this month is that of singer-songwriter Nightbirde, or Jane Marczewski, who died of cancer at the age of 31. Despite her illness, Nightbirde competed in the 2021 season of America’s Got Talent show, after having been told that her cancer of the lungs, spine and liver, having recurred for a third time, would kill her. At the audition, she told the panel: “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.” She reached the contest’s quarterfinals, in which she couldn’t compete due to her declining health.

The talent show was not the beginning of her career, though. Under her real name, she had released a few EPs between 2012 and 2015, and then as Nightbirde (a name inspired by a dream) the song It’s OK. That track was written after her second cancer diagnosis in 2020. A live version of it went on to top the iTunes charts.As always, this post is reproduced in illustrated PDF format in the package, which also includes my personal playlist of the featured tracks. PW in comments.

 

Beverley Ross, 87, singer and songwriter, on Jan. 15
Bill Haley & His Comets – Dim, Dim The Lights (1954, as co-writer)
Ronald & Ruby – Lollipop (1958, as co-writer and as Ruby)
Roy Orbison – Candy Man (1961, as co-writer)

Willie Leacox, 74, drummer with folk-rock group America (1973–2014), on Feb. 1
America – Tin Man (1974, on drums)
America – Sister Golden Hair (1975, on drums)
America – You Can Do Magic (1982, on drums)

Glenn Wheatley, 74, bassist of Australian rock band Masters Apprentices, manager, on Feb. 1
The Masters Apprentices – Undecided (1966)

Hiroshima, drummer of Japanese metal group G.I.S.M., on Feb. 1

Joe Diorio, 85, jazz guitarist, on Feb. 2
Joe Dioro – Windows (1975)

Endo Anaconda, 66, Swiss singer-songwriter, on Feb. 2

Donny Gerrard, 75, Canadian singer, on Feb 3
Skylark – Wildflower (1972, as member on lead vocals)

Mickey Bass, 78, jazz bassist, composer and arranger, on Feb. 3

Kerry Chater, 76, Canadian songwriter, member of Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, on Feb. 4
Gary Puckett & The Union Gap – Lady Willpower (1968)
Lee Greenwood – I.O.U. (1983)

Syl Johnson, 85, soul and blues singer, on Feb. 5
Syl Johnson – Different Strokes (1968)
Syl Johnson – I Want To Satisfy Your Every Need (1972, with Howard Grimes on drums)
Syl & Jimmy Johnson – Two Johnsons Are Better Than One (2002)

Bruce Greig, 54, death metal guitarist, on Feb. 6

Zbigniew Namysłowski, 82, Polish jazz musician and composer, on Feb. 7

Betty Davis, 77, funk and soul singer, on Feb. 7
Betty Mabry – Get Ready For Betty (1964)
The Chambers Brothers – Uptown (1967, as writer)
Betty Davis – Anti Love Song (1973)
Betty Davis – Your Mama Wants Ya Back (1974)

Ian McDonald, 75, co-founder of King Crimson (1968-69), Foreigner (1976-80), on Feb. 9
King Crimson – I Talk To The Wind (1969, on lead vocals, flute, keyboards, as co-writer)
T. Rex – Get It On (1971, on saxophone)
Foreigner – Cold As Ice (1977)

Brian Dunning, 70, Irish ambient and folk flautist and composer, on Feb. 10

Owen Moran, 62, bassist of English new wave band Cook da Books, announced Feb. 10
Cook Da Books – Piggie In The Middle Eight (1982)

Steve Salas, 69, lead singer of Chicano R&B band Tierra, on Feb. 10
Tierra – Some Kind Of Woman (1975, also as writer)

Roman Kostrzewski, 61, member of Polish heavy metal band Kat, on Feb. 10

Mike Rabon, 78, lead guitarist of pop group The Five Americans, on Feb. 11
The Five Americans – Western Union (1967, also as co-writer)

Howard Grimes, 80, soul drummer with the Hi Rhythm Section, on Feb. 12
William Bell –  You Don’t Miss Your Water (1961, on drums)
Al Green – So Your Leaving (1972, on drums)
Ann Peebles – A Love Vibration (1974, on drums)

Miguel Vicens Danus, 78, bassist of Spanish pop group Los Bravos, on Feb. 12
Los Bravos – Black Is Black (1966)

King Louie Bankston, 49, rock musician, on Feb. 13

Clifton ‘Fou Fou’ Eddie, 78, soul and jazz drummer, on Feb. 13
The Dells – Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation (1973, on drums)

Roger Segal, 49, bassist with trash metal band Trashlight Vision, on Feb. 14

Sandy Nelson, 83, pop drummer, on Feb. 14
Sandy Nelson – Let There Be Drums (1961, also as co-writer)

Ralf Bursy, 66, (East-)German rock singer and producer, on Feb. 14

José Enrique ‘Chelique’ Sarabia, 81, Venezuelan musician and songwriter, on Feb. 15
Rosa Virginia Chacín, Miguelito Rodríguez & José Enrique Sarabia – Ansiedad (1959, as writer)

Vivi l’internationale, 75, Beninese singer, on Feb. 15

Bob Demeo, 66, jazz drummer, announced on Feb. 16
Sedition Ensemble – Regeneration Report (1981, on drums)

Ramón Stagnaro, 67, Peruvian guitarist, on Feb. 16
Randy Crawford – Don’t Say It’s Over (1993, on acoustic guitar)

David Tyson, 62, singer with The Manhattans (1993-2021), on Feb. 17

Dallas Good, 48, singer, guitarist with Canadian rock/country band The Sadies, on Feb. 17
The Sadies – Stop And Start (2022)

Marc Hamilton, 78, Canadian singer, on Feb. 17
Marc Hamilton – Comme j’ai toujours envie d’aimer (1970)

Fausto Cigliano, 85, Italian singer, guitarist and actor, on Feb. 17
Fausto Cigliano – Che me ’mparato a fa’ (1956)

Chris Scicluna, 62, half of Maltese pop duo Chris & Moira, on Feb. 18

Scotty Wray, guitarist of country group The Wrays, on Feb. 18
The Wrays – You Lay A Lotta Love On Me (1987)

Derek Hussey, c.64, singer of English band The Blockheads (since 2020), on Feb. 18

Gary Brooker, 76, singer, songwriter and pianist of Procol Harum, on Feb. 19
The Paramounts – I’m The One Who Loves You (1964)
Procol Harum – Salty Dog (1969, also as co-writer)
Procol Harum – Pandora’s Box (1975)
Gary Brooker – Old Manhattan Melodies (1979)

Charles Gatt, 77, Maltese jazz musician, founder of the Malta Jazz Festival, on Feb. 19

Nightbirde/Jane Marczewski, 31, singer-songwriter, on Feb. 19
Nightbirde – It’s OK (2020)

Joni James, 91, pop singer, on Feb. 20
Joni James – Why Don’t You Believe Me (1952)

Sam Henry, 65, drummer of punk band Wipers, on Feb. 20
Wipers – Better Off Dead (1978)

Jamal Edwards, 31, DJ and founder of UK hip hop music platform SBTV, on Feb. 20

Sami ‘Sammy’ Clark, 73, Lebanese singer, on Feb. 20

Ernie Andrews, 94, jazz and R&B singer, on Feb. 21
Ernie Andrews – Soothe Me (1945)
Ernie Andrews – Where Were You (When I Needed You) (1965)

Mark Lanegan, 57, rock singer-songwriter, on Feb. 22
Mark Lanegan – I’ll Take Care Of You (1999)
Queens of the Stone Age – God Is In The Radio (2002, as member on lead vocals)
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Honey Child What Can I Do (2006)
The Bootleggers feat. Mark Lanegan –  Fire And Brimstone (2012, on lead vocals)

Muvaffak ‘Maffy’ Falay, 92, Turkish jazz trumpeter, on Feb. 22

Riky Rick, 34, South African rapper, by suicide on Feb. 23

Sally Kellerman, 84, actress and occasional singer, on Feb. 24
Sally Kellerman – Roll With The Feelin’ (1972)
Sally Kellerman – Triad (1973)

Don Craine, 76, singer, guitarist of English blues-rock band Downliners Sect, on Feb. 24
Downliners Sect – Find Out What’s Happening (1964)

MC Skibadee, 47, British drum & bass MC and musician, on Feb. 25

Nicky Tesco, 66, singer and lyricist of English punk band The Members, on Feb. 25
The Members – The Sound Of The Suburbs (1979)

Snootie Wild, 36, rapper, shot on Feb. 26

Rachel Morris, lead singer of British indie band Hopper, announced on Feb. 28
Hopper – Ridiculous Day (1996)

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