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In Memoriam – December 2011

January 5th, 2012 14 comments

December”s headline death probably is that of the great Cesária Évora, who emerged from the tiny West African island of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony.

But as a soul fan, percussion maestro Ralph MacDonald is my headline departure of the month. He wrote some stone-cold classics and appeared on an impressive catalogue of soul and fusion albums, including those released in their heyday by Bill Withers, George Benson, Donny Hathaway, Ashford & Simpson, Brothers Johnson, Margie Joseph, Patti Austin, Grover Washington, Maynard Ferguson, The Crusaders, Michael Franks,  Eric Gale, Bob James,  Herbie Mann, Earl Klugh, and Sadao Watanabe, as well as on pop albums by the likes of Billy Joel (The Stranger, 52nd Street, Innocent Man) and Paul Simon (Still Crazy”¦, One Trick Pony, Graceland).

The Ragovoy curse struck again. First the great songwriter died in July; then his occasional collaborator Jimmy Norman, with whom he wrote Time Is On My Side, died in November; in December singer Howard Tate, for whom Ragovoy wrote and produced several songs (including Get It While You Can, which Janis Joplin later covered, and 8 Days On The Road) passed away at 72.

Three of the world”s longest-performing artists died in December: Myra Taylor first took to the stage as a 14-year-old in 1931; she made her final performance in a career spanning 70 years on 24 July this year. Fans of The Originals will appreciate the first recording of the great Ink Spots hit I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire, which featured Myra Taylor on vocals (originals fans will also enjoy Ruby and the Romantics” Our Day Will Come, covered by Amy Winehouse on her new posthumous album) .

Johannes Heesters, who died at 108, had been a huge star in Nazi Germany and counted Nazi leaders among his friends ““ a stigma that followed him to his death. Hated in his native Holland, he was still hugely popular in West Germany.  He still toured as a centenarian, and performed to the age of 105.

Bill Tapia, dead at 103, was a ukulele maestro. Check out his version of Stars and Stripes Forever, from just two years ago, which he introduces as having played during World War I ““ the audience laughs, but the guy isn”t joking. He has been performing since 1918.

Among the more bizarre deaths is that of Willie Nelson”s drummer Dan Spears, who fell outside his house and, unable to move, froze to death.

Sadly, this will be the final monthly In Memoriam. Compiling each instalment simply takes up much more time than I can afford to spend, so this is a decision I had to make ““ with much regret, because I don”t think anyone is doing it quite this way on the Internet.

 Michal “˜Michal the Girl” Friedman, singer, from complication during the birth of twins on November 25
ATB ““ The Autumn Leaves (2004)

Howard Tate, 72, soul singer, on December 2
Howard Tate – 8 Days On The Road (1971)

Bill Tapia, 103, legendary ukulele player, on December 2
Bill Tapia – Stars And Stripes

Ronald Mosley, 72, baritone and guitarist with Ruby & the Romantics, on December 3
Ruby and the Romantics – Our Day Will Come (1963)

Hubert Sumlin, 80, legendary blues guitarist (with Howlin” Wolf), on December 4
Howlin’ Wolf – The Red Rooster (1962, as guitarist)
Hubert Sumlin – Down In The Bottom (1987)
R.J. Rosales, 37, Filipino-born Australian singer and actor, on December 4

Violetta Villas, 73, Belgian-born Polish diva, on December 5
Violetta Villas – Przyjdzie Na To Czas (1964)

Dobie Gray, 71, soul singer (Drift Away, The In-Crowd), on December 6
Dobie Gray – River Deep, Mountain High (1973)

Bob Burnett, 71, member of “60s folk group The Highwaymen, on December 7
The Highwaymen – Universal Soldier (1964)

Dan “˜Bee” Spears, 62, long-time bassist for Willie Nelson, on December 8
Willie Nelson – Remember Me (1975, as bassist)
Dick Sims, 60, keyboard player for Eric Clapton, Bob Seger a.o., on December 8
Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight (1977, as keyboardist)

Alan Styles, Pink Floyd roadie and subject of Alan”s Psychedelic Breakfast, on December 8
Pink Floyd – Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast (1970)

Myra Taylor, 94, jazz singer and actress, on December 9
Harlan Leonard and his Rockets – I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire (1940, as vocalist)

Dustin Hengst, drummer of pop-punk band Damone, on December 9

Karryl “˜Special One” Smith, member of hip hop duo The Conscious Daughters, on December 10
The Conscious Daughters – Somthin’ To Ride To (Fonky Expidition) (1993)
Billie Jo Spears, 74, country singer, on December 14
Billie Jo Spears – Blanket On The Ground (1975)

Bob Brookmeyer, 81, jazz trombonist, on December 16
Lalo Schifrin & Bob Brookmeyer – Samba Para Dos (1963)

Slim Dunkin, 24, rapper with 1017 Brick Squad, shot dead on December 16

Cesária Évora, 70, Cape Verdean singer, on December 17
Cesária Évora – Nho Antone Escade (1999)
Cesária Évora – Cabo Verde Terra Estimada (1988)

Sean Bonniwell, 71, American guitarist and singer of “60s rock band Music Machine, on December 17
Ralph MacDonald, 67, percussionist, songwriter and producer, on December 18
Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway ““ Where Is The Love (1972, as songwriter)
Grover Washington Jr with Bill Withers ““ Just The Two Of Us (1980, as songwriter)
Billy Joel ““ Rosalinda”s Eyes (1978, as percussionist)

Johnny Silvo, 75, folk singer and children”s TV presenter, on December 18

Clem DeRosa, 86, jazz drummer, arranger, bandleader and music educator, on December 20

David Gold, 31, singer and guitarist of Canadian death-metal band Woods of Ypres, on December 22
Johannes Heesters, 108, Dutch-born actor and singer, on December 24
Johannes Heesters – Ich werde jede Nacht von Ihnen träumen (1937)

Jody Rainwater, 92, bluegrass musician (with the Foggy Mountain Boys) and radio DJ, on December 24

Jim “˜Motorhead” Sherwood, 69, saxophone player for Frank Zappa”s Mothers of Invention, on December 25
Frank Zappa ““ Conehead

Sam Rivers, 88, jazz musician and composer, on December 26
Sam Rivers – Verve (1980)

Barbara Lea, 82, jazz singer and actress, on December 26
Betty McQuade, 70, Australian singer, on December 26
Betty McQuade – Blue Train

Dan Terry, 87, American jazz trumpeter and big band leader, on December 27

Kaye Stevens, 79, singer and actress (frequent guest of the Rat Pack), on December 28

Christine Rosholt, 46, jazz singer, on December 28

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Twattery in Pop: Michael F. Bolton

June 9th, 2009 20 comments

You are right: Michael Fucking Bolton (as his mother doubtless calls him) is far too easy a target. But that doesn”t mean he shouldn”t be marked out for rank twattery in pop.

For all I know, Bolton is a very nice man. After all, he has given the proceeds of some recording to a children”s charity in Britain. He probably is no Dick Cheney, no matter what his mother calls him (actually, she”d probably call him by his real name, Michael Fucking Bolotin). So I could forgive the chap many things.

And that was a GOOD hair day

And that was a good hair day

I could forgive him his hit How Am I Supposed To Love Without You. It”s not a bad song (not very good either, but not hatefully bad), and his vocal performance on it is not infinitely objectionable, if one is willing to pardon the “soulful” overemoting which comes naturally if one has been exposed to the oeuvre of Patti LaBelle (he once sang with her about the absence of sex in their lives). I can forgive Bolton his mediocre voice, and indeed hold in some regard many singers who have overcome the handicap of even more revolting voices (hello there, Mr Dylan; good morning Mr Waits). Perhaps there is a legitimate market for singers who can successfully emulate the pained groans that emerge from many a toilet occupied by wailing men afflicted with painful constipation.

I could forgive Bolton for working with Kenny G; Mr G seems a perfectly pleasant man who makes music so bland, it would be admirable only as a novelty if he actually were a poodle. I could forgive Bolton for allegedly plagiarising the Isley Brothers” Love Is a Wonderful Thing (unlike the judge in the court case, Tim English in his fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit reluctantly lets Bolton off the hook). I could even forgive Bolton for that hair, because it happily never gained fashionable ubiquity outside parts of central Europe (and, frankly, to hate somebody on hairstyling grounds alone is just stupid).

What I cannot forgive Michael Fucking Bolton for is his serial rape of other people”s music. I”m down with white MOR artists trying their hand at a little soul music. I won”t necessarily listen to it, but, hey, if you need to do that to express yourself artistically, rock on. But, for the sake of all that is good and holy, don”t fucking release your cut-rate karaoke ejaculations as singles designed for radio airplay! And don”t make albums consisting of sodomised versions of such classics as Reach Out I”ll Be There and Georgia On My Mind, cleverly issued to coincide with the revival of “60s soul two decades ago.

For some impenetrable reason, many people seemed to think that Michael Fucking Bolton had soul, man. That would be true only if one were to rank the jazz stylings of Kenny G on a level with Joe Sample or Joe Zawinul. A studied groan and a calculated scream do not make a soul singer. The obvious question I would pose to those who spend money, time and precious electricity on listening to Bolton”s soul renderings ““ and any album of soul covers ““ is this: why should one listen to pantomine renditions of Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay when Otis Reddings” original is so easily obtainable? The success of Bolton”s soul covers has had a deplorable effect: it lowered the expectation of what soul should sound like “” even among singers who came through the soul tradition. For that you may thank the idiots who awarded Bolton a Grammy for his stool-wrenching cover of When A Man Loves A Woman.

Having stained soul music with his vocal spunk, Bolton turned his malfeasant application to opera. Really. Bolton”s talents may be charitably described as being open to dispute, but nobody can disclaim his cunning knack for spotting a bandwagon. So it was at the height of the Pavarotti and Three Tenors hype that Michael Fucking Bolton recorded an album of opera tunes, with Nessun Dorma as the showpiece, naturally. Because the world would rather have pavarotten Bolton sing Nessun Dorma than Pavarotti. How much more can an ego be inflated before it bursts, pouring forth an erupting volcano”s worth of self-regarding miasma?

opera_singing_twatTouchingly, Bolton gushed about his epic opus: “I hope you will feel the rapture of this classic, timeless music created for all of us to enjoy [even when you sing it, fuckface?]. And I hope you will join me in sharing what has become “” and remained until now “” my secret love, my secret passion.” I share his now no longer concealed passion, but that does not incite me to broadcast to the world my aggressively tuneless bathroom antics involving the subject matter of Spanish hairdressers and weeping clowns.

More recently, Bolton decided that the world does not really need Frank Sinatra when it can have Michael Fucking Bolton. So he recorded an album of standards which Sinatra once sang. And he called it Bolton Swings Sinatra. If I had the fortitude to listen to it, I might propose that it be retitled Bolton Swings A Dead Horse. Or Bolton Swings From A Ceiling Fan As He Lubelessly Defiles Sinatra. There are 200,000 people in the United States who bought that album. If after the electoral triumph of George W Bush in 2004 and the grotesquery of Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin in 2008 there still exists any doubt about the compulsory disenfranchisement of stupid people, Michael Fucking Bolton has provided us with a most persuasive argument. And for that service to mankind, we ought to thank him.

Some songs raped by Michael Fucking Bolton:
Bill Withers – Lean On Me (live).mp3*
Dobie Gray – Drift Away.mp3
Ann Peebles – I Can”t Stand The Rain.mp3
Al Green – Let’s Stay Together.mp3
Luciano Pavarotti – Nessun Dorma.mp3

* From the great Save The Children concert recorded in 1972. Hear how Withers mis-hits the first note!

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More Twattery in Pop

C'mon, get happy…

June 1st, 2007 2 comments

Everybody has a set of songs that cheer them up. Sometimes these songs have a happy message, or a happy sound; sometimes they trigger happy memories. Here are some of my happy songs.

Chuck Mangione – Feels So Good.mp3
Rarely has a jazz-fusion song been so appropriately titled. On a forum I frequent, somebody described Mangione as the Kenny G of the flugelhorn. Slander. If you want to be scathing about Mangione’s descent into smooth jazz, then compare him to David Sanborn — another one who traded credibility for Quiet Storm commercialism. But listen to Mangione’s 1975 album Chase The Clouds Away, especially “Can’t We Do This All Night”, and you have something much closer to the mighty Crusaders than Kenny bloody G.

Earth, Wind & Fire – In The Stone.mp3
A companion piece to “Feels So Good”. Anything by EWF can make me happy, but none more so than “In The Stone”, with its happy melody, soaring horns, jaunty bassline, funky guitar, and Latin percussion. And the “Never…” outro is pure singalong magic.

Bill Withers – Lovely Day (Sunshine Mix).mp3
An obvious choice on any happy-song list, and with good reason. This is the 1988 Sunshine Mix, which is nit as good as the original, but more difficult to find. I concede, it sounds a little aged now (the female “hey hey”s!), but — unlike the original — this remix can get a party going. And, let’s face it, you can’t fuck up that great a song.

Bill LaBountyLivin‘ It Up.mp3
Bill LaBounty should be a legend in the Guilty Pleasures department which includes the likes of Boz Scaggs, Ambrosia, Linda Ronstadt etc. Somehow, fame eluded the dude, despite at least one quite excellent album which included this wonderful track. It’s a song of denying the pain of a love lost, set to a happy melody. Magnificent.

Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday.mp3
In 1984 I somehow got to see Howard Jones and his mime sidekick at the Hammersmith Odeon. But it was the support act that blew me away. A couple months later, Strawberry Switchblade’s “Since Yesterday” was a Top 10 hit in Britain. It remains of one of the finest moments of pop in the 1980s.

Fifth Dimension – Stoned Soul Picnic.mp3
The happy association is obviously in the title.