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In Memoriam – June 2020

July 2nd, 2020 7 comments

At last, there was a month of some respite, at least in comparison to the past few months of carnage (though the last week was pretty brutal). Still, we lost as few legends in their field, and one singer’s assassination sparked off social unrest.

The Pointer Sister
When on 9 June I posted the Protest Soul Vol. 3 mix, featuring the Pointer Sisters song Yes We Can Can, I didn’t know that Bonnie Pointer had died the day before. Bonnie started the band with younger sister June in 1969, with Anita and then Ruth joining later. In the earlier days, the Pointer Sisters were eclectic, adopting an image based on the Andrews Sisters, and performing material that ranged from soul to funk to jazz to country. Their 1974 crossover hit Fairytale, which Bonnie co-wrote with Anita, was full-on country.

Bonnie left the group in the late 1970s to pursue a solo career, but that yielded only one hit, 1979’s disco version of The Elgins’ Heaven Must Have Sent You, which peaked at #11. After Bonnie left, the sisters carried on as a trio.

The Glam Bassist
Glam rock introduced the British public (and people beyond) to male pop stars wearing make-up, but even then, few really camped it up as heterosexually as Steve Priest, bassist of The Sweet. His interjection on the 1973 hit Block Buster “They just haven’t got a clue what to do” is the stuff of legend. So when The Sweet went square and released 1978’s Level Headed LP, it was disappointing to see Steve looking, well, like a school teacher who’ll have to take action against hell-raisers on a teenage rampage. With Priest’s death, Andy Scott is the final survivor of the classic Sweet line-up.

The Guitar Man
The Any Major Guitar Vol. 2 mix featured songs with guitar parts I particularly like. Among them was the solo on Rod Stewart’s Sailing by Pete Carr. I noted that another one of his solos, on Bob Seger’s Against The Wind might have featured instead. Carr was still a teenager when he recorded, as a bassist, an album with Duane and Gregg Allman in the band Hour Glass. That led to him to the FAME studios, where soon he became lead guitarist for the in-house band, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. At FAME he played on most hits produced there in the 1970s, and also worked behind the scenes in production and engineering. In between, he formed a duo with Lenny LeBlanc, and had a hit with their song Falling.

Carr’s guitar can be heard on hits such as Rod Stewart’s Tonight’s The Night, Luther Ingram’s If Loving You is Wrong, Barbra Streisand’s Woman In Love (that intro!), Paul Simon’s Kodachrome and Take Me To The Mardi Gras, Mary McGregor’s Torn Between Two Lovers, Bob Seger’s Main Street, Still The Same, Hollywood Nights and practically everything else Seger did between 1972 and 1986. And, having recorded with both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Carr was in the backing band in their Concert In The Park reunion.

The War Singer
A few weeks ago I reposted a mix of German hits from the WW2 years, among which were subtly-spun propaganda songs exhorting the German population to keep courage while their cities were bombed and sons and husbands fell in the field. In Britain, Vera Lynn filled a similar function by singing about meeting again at an unknowable time in the future (in the 1940s hit version, backed by a choir of servicemen), how there’ll always be an England, and about how the white cliffs of Dover would greet returning soldiers.

With these songs that gave comfort and the spirit of endurance, Lynn’s name in the book of British music legends was still shone bright for the remaining 75+ years of her life. Her big hits were used a lot for jingoistic propaganda to agitate for Brexit, but if We’ll Meet Again isn’t remembered as war-time classic, it might be as the song that scores the final scene of Dr Strangelove, as the world fades away in an atomic armageddon.

The Theme Composer
The man who write the theme of M*A*S*H has died, apparently of natural causes, at 94. Johnny Mandel put the music to the lyrics by director Robert Altman’s 14-year-old son Michael, who was roped in to write the most intentionally idiotic lyrics to fit the title Suicide Is Painless. Against Mandel’s wishes, it became the movie’s theme song. As an instrumental theme for the TV series, the tune became one of the most recognisable of the 1970s.

He won Grammy awards for his songs Emily (from the 1964 comedy film The Americanization of Emily) and the much-covered The Shadow of Your Smile (from The Sandpiper), which also won the Oscar for Best Song in 1966. Films whose scores he composed included Caddyshack, Being There, The Verdict, Freaky Friday (1976 version), Agatha, Escape to Witch Mountain, Point Blank, Pretty Poison, I Want To Live! and The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (which starred Carl Reiner, who died on the same day as Mandel).

Mandel was not only a prolific songwriter and score composer for film and TV, but was also a sought-after arranger for the likes of Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Tormé, Anita O’Day, Buddy Rich, Quincy Jones, Peggy Lee, Diane Schuur, Diane Krall, Barbra Streisand, Lee Ritenour, James Ingram, Natalie Cole, Michael Jackson (on Will You Be There) and Steely Dan (he arranged the strings on FM).

The Reggae Pioneer
Jamaican guitarist Hux Brown played on pioneering reggae songs such as Bangarang by Lester Sterling, Rivers of Babylon by The Melodians, The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff Girl, I’ve Got A Date by Alton Ellis, Ba Ba Boom by the Jamaicans; and many tracks by Lee “Scratch” Perry, Bob Marley & The Wailing Wailers, and Toots And The Maytalls, whom he joined in the 1970s and stayed with for 35 years. Outside reggae, he backed Paul Simon (on Mother And Child Reunion) and Herbie Mann.

The Singing Producer
As a young folk musician in England, Rupert Hine was pals with a pre-fame Paul Simon (rough month for Paul, with three former collaborators dying this month). In the 1970s he had a Top 10 UK hit with his band Quantum Jump and recorded prolifically as a solo artist, without bothering the charts (though he sang on the Better Off Dead soundtrack in 1985).

It was as a producer Hine left a mark with acts like Yvonne Elliman, Kevin Ayers, After The Fire, Murray Head, Camel, The Members, Tina Turner (Better Be Good To Me; Break Every Rule), The Fixx, Chris De Burgh (Don’t Pay The Ferryman; High On Emotion), Jona Lewie, Howard Jones (What Is Love; Like To Get To Know You Well; Hide And Seek, Things Can Only Get Better, Life In One Day), The Waterboys (A Girl Called Johnny), Thompson Twins (The Long Goodbye; Get That Love), Bob Geldof, Rush, Stevie Nicks (Rooms On Fire), Duncan Sheik, Suzanne Vega and others.

The Last Left Banker
The Left Banke is now empty, after the death of the last surviving member of the classic line-up, bass player Tom Finn. Just over five years ago, they were all still alive. Since then, keyboardist and chief songwriter Michael Brown died in 2015; drummer George Cameron in 2018, and guitarist Steve Martin Caro in January this year.  After the band split, Finn went on to engineer at Bell Records, and then became a DJ, at the prompting of Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell. Among Finn’s clients were Bill and Hilary Clinton.

The Assassins’ Victim
It seems to become a common event that musicians are killed or otherwise persecuted for advocating social justice. In the past few months we’ve seen the death of gospel singer Kizitio Mihigo  while in police custody in Rwanda in February, and the hunger strikes deaths of Ibrahim Gökçek and Helin Bölek in Erdogan’s Turkey in April and May. On June 29, assassins’ bullets killed Ethiopian singer-songwriter Hachalu Hundessa, who was an activist for political and social reform and the rights of the Oromo ethnic group, which has been discriminated against by successive Ethiopian regimes, starting with that of Haile Selassie.

Hundessa’s murder sparked off civil unrest, with at least 11 protesters shot dead. The day after his murder, the Ethiopian government shut down the internet in much of the country.

 

As last month, this post is included as a PDF booklet for easy future reference, replacing the old *.txt files. It takes a bit of effort to create. Let me know in the comments if I should continue with it.

Joey Image, 63, drummer of punk rock band Misfits, on June 1
Misfits – Horror Business (1978)

Majek Fashek, 57, Nigerian reggae singer and songwriter, on June 1
Majek Fashek – Send Down The Rain (1988)

Chris Trousdale, 34, singer with boy band Dream Street, of Covid-129 on June 2

Werner ‘Gottlieb Wendehals’ Böhm, 78, German singer and musician, on June 3

Dulce Nunes, 90, Brazilian singer, composer, producer & actress, of Covid-19 on June 4
Dulce Nunes – Pobre Menina Rica (1964)

Steve Priest, 72, bassist and later singer of The Sweet, on June 4
Sweet – Wig-Wam Bam (1972)
Sweet – Block Buster (1973)
Sweet – The Six Teens (1974)
Sweet – Love Is Like Oxygen (1978)

Rupert Hine, 72, English musician, songwriter and producer, on June 5
Quantum Jump – The Lone Ranger (1976, as member on vocals and keyboard)
Howard Jones – Hide And Seek (!984, as producer)
Rupert Hine – Arrested By You (1985, also as co-writer)

Frank Bey, 74, blues singer, on June 7
Frank Bey – Idle Hands (2020)

Floyd Lee, 86, New York blues busker and musician, on June 7
Floyd Lee Band – Mean Blues (2001)

Jesse Sanders, 76, member of surf-rock band The Tornadoes, on June 7
The Tornadoes – Bustin’ Surfboards (1962)

James ‘Slim’ Hand, 67, country singer-songwriter, on June 8
James Hand – In The Corner, At The Table, By The Jukebox (2006)

Bonnie Pointer, 69, singer with The Pointer Sisters, on June 8
The Pointer Sisters – Fairytale (1974, also as co-writer)
The Pointer Sisters – Easy Days (1975, on lead vocals & as co-writer)
Bonnie Pointer – Heaven Must Have Sent You (1979)

Uta Pilling, 71, German musician, songwriter and illustrator, on June 8

Pau Donés, 53, singer-songwriter, guitarist with Spanish rock group Jarabe de Palo, on June 9
Jarabe de Palo – Agua (1998)

Paul Chapman, 66, Welsh guitarist (UFO, Lone Star), on June 9
UFO – This Fire Burns Tonight (1980, on lead guitar & as co-writer)

Ricky Valance, 84, Welsh pop singer, on June 12
Ricky Valance – Tell Laura I Love Her (1960)

Claude Ndam, 65, Cameroonian singer-songwriter, on June 12

Dodo Doris, 71, drummer of Congolese/Kenyan Orchestra Super Mazembe, on June 12
Super Mazembe Orchestra – Shauri Yako (1983)

Marc Zermati, 75, French producer and promoter, on June 13
The Flamin’ Groovies – River Deep Mountain High (1981, as co-producer)

Keith Tippett, 72, British jazz-rock pianist, on June 14
Keith Tippett Group – Black Horse (1971)

Omondi Long’lilo, 37, Kenyan Benga musician, on June 15

Nana Tuffour, 66, Ghanaian highlife singer, on June 15
Nana Tuffour – Abeiku (2002)

Yohan, 28, singer with South Korean K-pop boyband TST, on June 16

Yuji ‘You’ Adachi, 56, guitarist, songwriter of Japanese hard rock band Dead End, on June 16
Dead End – So Sweet So Lonely (1989)

Hugh Fraser, 62, Canadian jazz pianist, trombonist and composer, on June 17

Vera Lynn, 103, British singer, on June 18
Vera Lynn – We’ll Meet Again (1939, original version)
Vera Lynn – Be Like The Kettle And Sing (1944)
Vera Lynn – When You Hear Big Ben, You’re Home Again (1954)

Hux Brown, 75, Jamaican guitarist with The Maytals, on June 18
Bob Marley & The Wailing Wailers – Rocksteady (1969, on guitar)
Paul Simon – Mother And Child Reunion (1972, on guitar)
The Maytals – Give Us A Piece Of The Action (1977, on guitar as member)

Ellington ‘Fugi’ Jordan, 80, soul & blues singer, songwriter and producer, on June 18
Fugi ‎- Mary Don’t Take Me On No Bad Trip (1968, also as writer and co-producer)
Clarence Carter – I’d Rather Go Blind (1969, as writer)

Aaron Tokona, 45, New Zealand guitarist and singer, on June 20

Joan Pau Verdier, 73, French chanson singer, on June 21
Joan Pau Verdier – Vivre (1976)

Ian Stoddart, drummer and bassist of pop band Win, announced on June 22
Win – You’ve Got The Power (1985)

Margarita Pracatan, 89, Cuban novelty singer, on June 23

Claude Le Péron, 72, French bass guitarist, on June 24

Jacques Coursil, 82, French jazz trumpeter and composer, on June 25

Graeme Williamson, singer of Canadian new wave band Pukka Orchestra, on June 25
Pukka Orchestra – Cherry Beach Express (1984)

Huey, 31, rapper, shot on June 25

Charles Lawton Jiles, 90, country musician and songwriter, on June 26
Porter Wagoner – My Baby’s Not Here (In Town Tonight) (1963, as co-writer)

Sandra Feva, 73, soul singer, on June 26
Sandra Feva – Choking Kind (1979)
Sandra Feva – Leaving This Time (1981)

Mats Rådberg, 72, Swedish country singer, on June 27

Freddy Cole, 88, jazz singer and pianist, brother of Nat ‘King’ Cole, on June 27
Freddy Cole – Black Coffee (1964)
Freddy Cole – This Time I’m Gone For Good (2014)

Tom Finn, 71, bassist of pop band The Left Banke, on June 27
The Left Banke – I’ve Got Something On My Mind (1967)
The Left Banke – Nice To See You (1969, also as writer)

Pete Carr, 70, Muscle Shoals guitarist, on June 27
Hour Glass – Power Of Love (1968, as member on bass)
Sandra Wright – I’ll See You Through (I’ll Be Your Shelter) (1974, on guitar)
LeBlanc & Carr – Falling (1977)
Bob Seger – Against The Wind (1980, on lead guitar)

Simon H. Fell, 61, British free jazz bassist, on June 28

Benny Mardones, 73, soft-rock singer, on June 29
Benny Mardones – Into The Night (1989, also as writer)

Willie Wright, 80, soul singer, on June 29
Willie Wright – I’m So Happy Now (1977)

Stepa J. Groggs, 32, rapper (original member of Injury Reserve), on June 29

Johnny Mandel, 94, film composer, arranger, on June 29
Frank Sinatra – Ring-A-Ding-Ding (1960, as arranger and conductor)
Tony Bennett – The Shadow of Your Smile (1966, as co-writer and arranger)
The Mash – Suicide Is Painless (1980, as co-writer and arranger)
Quincy Jones – Velas (1980, as arranger)

Hachalu Hundessa, 34, Ethiopian singer and songwriter, assassinated on June 29
Hachalu Hundessa – Maalan Jira (2016)

Walter Nita, 69, Dutch singer, on June 30

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In Memoriam – May 2020

June 4th, 2020 2 comments

Another relentless month, and not just because Covid-19 (though that virus was a factor in several deaths). May claimed a number of innovators and trailblazers — Little Richard, Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider, Betty Wright, Mory Kanyté. But the deaths we should mourn more than others is that of Turkish musicians Ibrahim Gökçek and Helion Bölek, who have died of hunger strike in protest against the persecution of their group by Turkey’s Erdoğan regime.

The Superstar
Little needs to be added to the many tributes for Little Richard, other than to note that without him, we’d not have had The Beatles as we knew them. I can only imagine how explosive the sounds of Little Richard, and Elvis’ Hound Dog, must have sounded to teenagers in the 1950s. In a tweet, British music journalist Simon Price summed up most fittingly Little Richard’s position in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: “Little Richard was the firecracker who set it all off. Right there at rock ‘n’ roll’s Big Bang, this ungovernable force transcending race, gender and sexuality. Literally a screaming queen. I met him once and it was like touching the hand of God. We owe him everything. RIP (it up).”

The Beatles certainly owed him a lot. When the young Liverpool quartet was supporting Mr Perriman on his England tour in 1963, Little Richard taught Paul McCartney to scream — s skill Macca put to good use in tracks such as I Saw Her Standing There and I’m Down to Helter Skelter and Hey Jude. And, of course, The Beatles borrowed their “wooo” from Littler Richard.

And, of course, check out Little Richard singing Rubber Ducky on Sesame Street.

The Robot Pioneer
It seems entirely in keeping with Florian Schneider’s ways that his death on April 21 would remain unreported for more than two weeks. With his band Kraftwerk, human emotion was unimportant, to the extent that in 1978 the members were replaced by identikit robots whom one could barely tell apart from the living men. In person, Schneider was said to be warm and funny. It is good that his death was met with many warm tributes.

Kraftwerk (properly prtonounced CRUFT-vairk) weren’t the only pioneers of electronic music — the German scene had several of those — but they had the greatest impact on the international mainstream pop that was to follow, be it Eurodisco, the post-punk synth pop in the UK, dance and electronica, or the Neue Deutsche Welle in Germany. And that influence manifested itself not only in music but also in image. David Bowie was an early adopter: the instrumental on his Heroes album (and b-side of the single of the title track) is named V2-Schneider in tribute to Florian — even if the war reference in the title sounded a bit insulting.

The Soul Allrounder
For a generation of strong, independently-minded and put-upon women, Betty Wright articulated the right responses to often inferior men — and the right to be satisfied. A songwriter and an accomplished singer — she could hit notes every bit as high as later pretenders such as Mariah Carey — Wright also had a strong stage presence. Witness her command of the audience on Tonight Is The Night.

She won a Grammy for Best R&B Song for Where Is The Love?, then discovered disco-funkster Peter Brown, with whom she duetted on the 1978 dance classic  Dance With Me. In 1988, Wright became the first black female artist to score a gold album on her own label, with her album Mother.  Later she went into vocals arranging and producing for acts like Gloria Estefan, Tom Jones, Jennifer Lopez and Joss Stone. And she also sang backing vocals on Stevie Wonder’s hit Happy Birthday and All I Do, which featured earlier this month on Any Major Soul 1980.

The Beatles’ Friend
It’s rare that non-musicians feature in this series, but the death of Astrid Kirchherr a week before her 82nd birthday needs to be noted. Kirchherr was a young photographer when she met the yet unknown and even younger five Beatles in Hamburg in 1961. Of the Fab Five, one absconded to be with her — Stuart Sutcliffe died a year later (and Pete Best was later replaced). At her intervention, the group changed their Teddy Boy hairstyles to the moptops they became famous with. Kirchherr would reject the idea that she had “invented” these hairstyles, saying that lots of German boys had been wearing them. Still, if any hairstyle ever had any pivotal role in changing pop music, it was the one Astrid Kirchherr prescribed The Beatles.

The Prog Punk
Even people who have no truck with the grimy pub-rock of The Stranglers might have grooved to the sounds of the band’s keyboardist Dave Greenfield: his keyboard sounds dominate Waltz In Black, the theme of TV cook Keith Floyd’s alcohol-drenched programmes. Greenfield’s prog-rock keyboards transformed the pub-rock of The Stranglers (they never really were punk). Consider their hit No More Heroes: without the swirling keyboards, it’s a sneering rock song with a guitar solo. And hear what Greenfield does with The Strangler’s version of Walk On By, a truly unattractive cover until he goes all Isaac Hayes on it, turning it into an impressive work.

Greenfield was often compared to The Doors’ Ray Manzarek, whose work similarly transformed the sound of his band. Greenfield claimed that he had never heard of Manzarek before The Stranglers. He cited as his decidedly non-punk influences Rick Wakeman of Yes.

Miles’ Drummer
For nearly three decades, jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb was the last man standing of the Miles Davis Sextet which recorded the seminal Kind Of Blue album. Davis died in 1991, John Coltrane in 1967, Paul Chambers in 1969, Wynton Kelly (who played piano on Freddie Freeloader) in 1971, Cannonball Adderley in 1975, Bill Evans in 1980. Cobb played on many Miles Davis albums, including on the marvellous Sketches Of Spain and Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall. A drummer known for his subtlety and restraint, Cobb backed many jazz greats, including Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, both Adderley Bothers, Wayne Shorter, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Dorothy Ashby, Hubert Laws and many others.

The One-hit Pioneer
For a one-hit wonder, Millie Small’s brief residence in the limelight with her hit My Boy Lollipop was significant. She was the first Jamaican to have a worldwide hit with a song made in Jamaica, and the first to have an international smash with a song in the bluebeat genre, which fused R&B, pop and ska, and is regarded an ancestor of reggae. Alas, Millie said she never received royalties from her mega-hit, and eventually slid into poverty. She received honours later in life; and apparently Island Records founder Chris Blackwell gave her some financial sustenance to keep her going.

The Griot Man
With his song Yé ké Yé ké, Guinean singer Mory Kanté scored the first million-seller by an African Read more…

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In Memoriam – April 2020

May 5th, 2020 9 comments

What a horrible month! Even without Covid-19, April would have been a cruel month. I count 16 coronavirus-related music deaths this month (excluding classical and national folk music musicians). Disclaimer: in many cases, as I understand it, Covid-19 is not the only or primary cause of death. Where it states that somebody died of Covid-19, it does not exclude associated causes of death.

The Soul Legend
The news of Bill Withers’ death took a while to be announced. He died on March 30, but his death was made publicly known only on April 3. I paid tribute to the great singer with a mix of cover versions of his songs. A couple of days later I caught up on Netflix on an excellent documentary about the backroom fixer Clarence Avant. Featured in the film was Bill Withers, who had been discovered by Avant when the singer was still an airplane mechanic.

The Singing Mailman
A few days after Withers died, another giant fell in John Prine, whose death I also marked with a tribute and mix of covers of his songs. Like Withers, Prine was a working man when he was discovered. The mailman in Chicago became something of an overnight sensation in 1971 with his astonishing self-titled debut album. It was the foundation for an impressive body of work which deserves to be much better known. Among Prine’s fans were gifted songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Kris Kristofferson (who namechecked Prine in the title of one of his songs). Prine beat cancer twice, but died of Covid-19 after having had a hip operation.

A Funky Drummer
Disco had many pioneers, but among those who most notably put the stomp on the dancefloor was Hamilton Bohannon. The luxuriously coiffured funkmaster cut his teeth in the 1960s as Little Stevie Wonder’s drummer and then Motown’s tour bandleader. In 1973 he started to release his drum-driven funk under the banner of his surname (occasionally giving his first name an airing). A devout Christian, he saw it necessary to issue a disclaimer to the effect that the title of his album Dance Your Ass Off was not profane.

The Drumming Pioneer
Nigerian drummer Tony Allen is regarded by many of his peers as the greatest exponent of his craft. He was the long-time drummer for Fela Kuti’s Africa ‘70, the outfit that is credited with being the primary founder of Afro-pop, a genre which fused African jazz, traditional African rhythms, US jazz, funk, soul and pop. Kuti said that the genre would not exist without Tony Allen.

The drummer left the band in 1979 to form his own band. In the 1980s he moved to London and then Paris where he backed African acts such Kuti, King Sunny Adé, Ray Lema, Khaled, and Manu Dibango (whom we lost in March), as well as French acts such as Charlotte Gainsbourg and Air, plus Jimmy Cliff, Groove Armada, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Neil Finn, Grace Jones and, somehow, Irish Foster & Allen. On Blur’s 2000 single Music Is My Radar, Damon Albarn repeats the phrase “Tony Allen got me dancing”. Later Albarn got to collaborate with Allen.

The Award Winner
Another Covid-19 victim was Adam Schlesinger of the underrated Fountains of Wayne. Read more…

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In Memoriam – March 2020

April 2nd, 2020 7 comments

March, a massacre-month, saw several music victims of Covid-19, with an Argentine jazz musician based in Spain being the first casualty, and many others coming after him. Think of them when assholes demand that vulnerable people die to keep the economy going.

The Gambler
We may hope that Kenny Rogers followed the advice of the lyrics of his 1980 hit The Gambler and folded ‘em in his sleep, having previously checked in to see what condition his condition was in. Rogers, who died peacefully at home at the age of 81, has become a byword of commercial country music, with hits such as Lucille, The Gambler, rape-revenge song Coward Of The County, the Lionel Richie-written Lady, the Bob Seger-penned duet with Sheena Easton We’ve Got Tonight, the Dolly Parton duet Islands In The Stream (which the Bee Gees had initially written with Marvin Gaye in mind), and so on.

Rogers started out in 1958 as a fresh-voiced country recording artist, as Kenneth Rogers, before joining a jazz trio. This then led to his membership of the folk outfit New Christy Minstrel Singers, whose members broke away with Kenny to form The First Edition. That group straddled rock and country, having hits with rock numbers and with country covers, such as Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town.

Rogers left The First Edition in 1976 to reboot his career as a country crooner, complete with dad beard and dad glasses, imparting wisdoms about the nature of humankind, and gurning cheerfully in the We Are The World video (he gets to sing the last line of the first verse, “the greatest gift at all”, with Paul Simon, before he briefly takes centrestage with the next line, “We can’t go on pretending day by day”). And Rogers became a flogger of fried chicken, being immortalised in an episode of Seinfeld.

The Jazz Legend
Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner made his name with John Coltrane, on classics such as My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. While still with Coltrane, Tyner released his own albums, playing more accessible music than that created by the innovator Coltrane. An innovator himself, Tyner continued to release solo albums for many years after parting with Coltrane in late 1965, after five years of close collaboration. His studio final album was released in 2008. He also worked as a sideman with acts like George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Art Blakey, Milt Jackson, Wayne Shorter.

The Mokassa Man
Perhaps the most prominent victim of the coronavirus this month was Cameroonian saxophone legend Manu Dibango, who passed away at 86. Dibango’s big hit was Soul Mokassa, an early 1970s track that has been widely sampled. Michael Jackson copied the rhythmic vocals of “ma-ma-se, ma-ma-sa, ma-ma-ko-sa” for Wanna Be Startin’ Something, and Rihanna for 2007’s Don’t Stop The Music. But Jackson had used it without Dibango’s permission, and when Rihanna received permission to use the sample from the Jackson song, Dibango sued both. Jackson admitted his plagiarism and settled out of court. Rihanna’s gang got out of paying Dibango due to a legal quirk.

Other elements of Soul Mokassa have been sampled liberally. These include Will Smith’s Getting Jiggy With It, Jay-Z’s Face-Off, Kanye West’s Lost In The World, Mama Say by The Bloodhound Gang, Rhythm (Devoted To The Art Of Moving Butts) by A Tribe Called Quest, and many others.

The First Lady Of Folk
Known as Britain’s “First Lady of Folk” Julie Felix was born in the US and came to the UK in 1964, waving mid-Atlantic at the British invasion going the other way. Felix did little to trouble the charts — she had a #19 and a #22 hit in 1970 — and still she was the first folk singer to sell out the Royal Albert Hall. In 1966 she was the resident singer on David Frosts’ TV programme, The Frost Report, and between 1967 and 1970 hosted her own TV show. Felix kept recording until 2018, when she was 79.

The German-US Friend
The staid German music scene was revolutionised in the early 1980s by the emergence Read more…

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In Memoriam – February 2020

March 4th, 2020 3 comments

When a singing star dies in a prison cell as a guest of his dictatorial regime, you know it has been the kind of shitty month when music and politics intersect. The African state of Rwanda might have a respectable looking president and one of Africa’s economic success stories, but opponents of the regime die in its prison cells…

I was also sad to learn of the death on March 2 at 93 of James Lipton, presenter (and so much more) of Inside The Actors Studio. In his honour, I shall do the 10 Questions he asked of his guests in the comments section.

The National Treasure
Few musicians receive a state funeral with flags flying at half-mast, but that is the way South Africa’s government honoured Joseph Shabalala, the founder and leader of the (mostly) a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo after he died at the age of 78. His group came to worldwide notice when they used their distinctive harmonies to back Paul Simon on his (controversial) Graceland album and tour. They went on to win five Grammys and were nominated for countless more. Amid a punishing touring schedule, they released 50 albums since their hit debut in 1973.

The Last Chordette
The final surviving Chordette has lollipopped. Lynn Evans, who appeared on all the Cadence recordings — that is, the glory days of the vocal group which soundtracks the 1950s so well — reached the ripe age of 95 before Mr Sandman took her to join her erstwhile companions, the first of whom to die was Alice Buschmann in 1981.

The Guitar Cop
To funk aficionados, Harold Beane might be best-known for his guitar work on Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and other tracks. He also wrote a few tracks for the collective, including the title track of the America Eats Its Young album. He also recorded and/or toured with the likes of Isaac Hayes (including the superb fuzz guitar solo on Walk On By), William Bell, Little Richard, Eddie Floyd, Otis Redding, Al Green and others. A trained policeman, Beane played a prank on his old pal George Clinton and his funky friends in Atlanta in 1996. Donning his police uniform, he went to the hotel where Clinton and entourage stayed. “I knocked on the door and put my finger over the peephole. They opened the door and all they saw was the police uniform and the badge… Man, I heard the toilet flushing!” I’m sure there was abounding mirth.

The Mazzy Star
With his other-worldy guitar scoring the haunting voice of Hope Sandoval on Mazzy Star’s delicate, almost dreamlike 1990s songs, David Roback (possibly unintentionally) influenced many acts that were to come. A product of LA’s post-punk Paisley Underground scene, Roback dabbled in psychedelic throwbacks, first with his band Rain Parade and Opal, and then to some commercial and a lot of critical effect with Mazzy Star.

The Drumming Sidekick
Few backing musicians get honoured to be the referenced in the title of a song of their boss Read more…

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In Memoriam – January 2020

February 4th, 2020 2 comments

This month we lost two hugely influential musicians, but also observe the kindest death one could ask for.

The Doorbreaker
In the late 1950s, folk trio The Kingston Singers kicked open the doors for the folk scene (along with the likes of Burl Ives and Pete Seeger’s Weavers), paving the way for the likes of Odetta and later Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and so on to enter the mainstream. They also inspired the Beach Boys, who would even dress like the Kingston Trio. And all that, in turn, had huge influence on the trajectory of popular music. This month we lost the last surviving member of the original trio, Bob Shane, a few days short of his 85th birthday. Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds died in 1991 and 2008 respectively.

A bonus for fans of The Originals is the featured first version of Honey, recorded by Bob Shane before Bobby Goldsboro had a hit with it, and the Kingston Trio version of Sloop John B, which a few years later the Beach Boys covered. Another Kingston Trio original features in an Originals instalment currently in the works.

The Drumming Great
I must confess, at the risk of inviting passionate hate-mail, that Rush has never been my jam, mainly due to the lead singer’s voice, so my awareness of the genius of drummer Neil Peart was acquired through his reputation. If the likes of Dave Grohl and Stewart Copeland were admirers, and countless other rock drummers drew influence from the man, then you needn’t be a Rush fan to acknowledge that genius. The obituaries have revealed things that were even more interesting than Peart’s drumming exploits. Among them is the story, related in is 1996 book, of how in 1988 he went on a bicycle trip through Cameroon, and ending up giving a hand-drumming performance that drew an audience of a whole village.

The Foot Man
Best-known for his million-selling novelty dance number Barefootin’ (great video here), Robert Parker had a previous career as a saxophonist, playing on tracks like Professor Longhair’s 1949 hit Mardi Gras In New Orleans, and backing the likes of Fats Read more…

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In Memoriam – December 2019

January 2nd, 2020 3 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, Read more…

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Music Deaths of the Decade: Behind the Scenes

December 24th, 2019 3 comments

 

In the previous review of the significant music deaths of the past decade, we remembered 30+ recording artists with their recordings, and listed a whole lot more by way of honorary mention. Here we pay tribute to the people behind the scenes — shamefully almost all men — who made the music happen: songwriters, producers, session musicians and so on.

Several songs chosen here to pay these tributes cover various men in one go. And still, there are many who others who were shortlisted, and whose names should not be forgotten, my subjective and somewhat random choices notwithstanding: Harvey Fuqua, Johnny Otis, Bill Strange, Marvin Hamlisch, Vince Montana, Shadow Morton, Read more…

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Music Deaths of the Decade: Performers

December 10th, 2019 3 comments

As the 2010s draw to a close, I have made a shortlist of musicians whose death during the decade made me particularly sad, from a musical legacy and human point of view (there were many tragic deaths, of course. Suicides, murders, accidents, tsunamis and so on).

With the In Memoriam series I’ve kept a pretty close eye on music deaths every month for the past ten years (and no year was more horrible than 2016, the year in which the devil took Prince and Bowie and gave us President Trump). So my idea was to make a couple of mixes honouring the musicians whose passing I was particularly saddened about. The list became too long. I decided to do one mix of 30 tracks for recording artists, and another mix of 30 to honour the behind-the-scenes people (producers, songwriters, session players etc), which will run later.

Of course, tribute was paid to all of them at the time of their death, and to some by way of special mixes: cover mixes for Leonard Cohen, Chuck Berry and Walter Becker of Steely Dan, a mix of Aretha Franklin singing covers, a mix of songs Prince said he would play as a DJ.

But before I launch into the mix, it is only right to give a shout-out to those who remained on the list even after I cut the featured artists and those artists I put on the list because I felt I had to. We are left with: Teddy Pendergrass, Tony Schilder, Sandra Wright, Solomon Burke, Alex Chilton (all 2010), Gary Moore, Nate Dogg, Read more…

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In Memoriam – November 2019

December 5th, 2019 4 comments

November was a bad month for English photographers of pop legends. And we lost the man who brought the calypso into the mainstream.

The Calypso Pioneer
Few people can claim to have written pop classics and a national anthem, as could Irving “Lord Burgess” Burgie, who has died at 95.  A World War II veteran of West Indian and US parentage, Burgie wrote classics such as Island In The Sun, Jamaica Farewell and Angelina, and co-wrote the Harry Belafonte version of the Jamaican work song Day-O (The Banana Boat Song). While he kept writing music, Burgie rarely performed after Belafonte scored hits with his songs. Burgie used the wealth he accumulated from royalties to found a magazine for the community in Harlem, and to engage himself in the civil rights movement. He also wrote the lyrics for the national anthem of Barbados, after the Caribbean island gained independence in 1966.

The French Chanteuse
French singer and actress Marie Laforêt, who has died at 80, was intent on becoming a nun when she entered a talent contest, standing in for her sister. It came as it had to: Marie won and was discovered by director Louis Malle. She made her film debut opposite Alain Delon in René Clément’s 1960 film Plein Soleil. In her second film, Saint Tropez Blues, she sung the title song, launching a career in music. Laforêt drew more from chanson and folk than pop, though she gave in to the pressure to record material aimed at the commercial end of the market. She had some success in the 1970s (when she covered several German schlager in French, usually improving them) but she lost interest in her music career, and concentrated on acting. Laforêt made a brief musical comeback in the 1990s. Last month we heard Czech singer Karel Gott cover the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black; this month we have Marie Laforêt do it.

The Precious Soul Singer
There is always something poignant when I have a mix prepared, and one of the artists on it dies before it gets posted. So it is with soul singer Jackie Moore, who will feature on the annual disco mix which drops in the last week before New Year’s Eve. Moore is best-known for her 1970 soul hit Precious Precious, or perhaps for 1975’s Make Me Feel Like A Woman. And to some, especially GTA gamers, her 1979 cover of the O’Jays’ song This Time Baby might be the defining Moore song.

 

The Beatles Photographer
You have seen the work of British photographer Robert Freeman, who has died at 82. He took the photos for the covers of four Beatles albums: With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale, Help, and Rubber Soul. A track on the latter was Norwegian Wood; rumour has it that Lennon wrote the song about his affair with Freeman’s wife. Read more…

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