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In Memoriam – October 2011

November 2nd, 2011 3 comments

The Grim Reaper feasted on a rich harvest in October, though he (or she; let’s not be sexist about grim reaping) thankfully let off a bit towards the end. Incidentally, today’s post is the best-timed of the year: published on All Souls Day.

The headline death this month probably is that of folk-music legend Bert Jansch, who influenced so many musicians ““ and not only folkies. Among those who cited Jansch as influences are Jimmy Page, Elton John, Nick Drake, Johnny Marr, Mazzy Starr’s Hope Sandoval, Neil Young, Donovan, Blur’s Graham Coxon, Suede’s Bernard Butler, Al Stewart, The Fleet Foxes and Paul Simon.

Clarence Johnson, who has died at 69, might have become a soul legend with the Chi-Lites; instead he became a fine producer of soul music. With future Chi-Lites frontman Eugene Record and Robert “Squirrel” Lester (the good-looking one in the Chi-Lites), he was a member of doo wop band The Chanteurs. That band then merged with members of The Desideros to form The Hi-Lites who, after Johnson left, renamed themselves the Chi-Lites (in tribute to their hometown of Chicago). Of the Hi-Lites line-up, only one member, Marshall Thompson, is still alive.

Even if the name means nothing to you, you’ll be familiar with the photography of Barry Feinstein, who died at the age of 80. Many Feinstein photos became famous album covers, including Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Janis Joplin’s Pearl, The Byrd’s Mr. Tambourine Man, and Eric Clapton’s eponymous solo debut.

Two young musicians died young of brain haemorrhage. Peter Sykes of the upcoming British Indie group This Many Boyfriends (I’ve been unable to ascertain his age) and Zimbabwean musician Taku Mafika, 28. Both tracks included here to mark their passing are quite excellent.

Tragically upcoming R&B singer Gilani Taylor, 27, died in Los Angeles of injuries sustained in a car accident three weeks earlier which also killed her young daughter. It seems the driver of the car that caused the accident fled the scene. A tragic story. Likewise, Joel “Taz” DiGregorio of country band Charlie Daniels Band (whose big hit The Devil Went Down To Georgia he co-wrote) died in a car crash. Another band member and co-writer of Devil, Tommy Crain, died in January. And Aaron Beamish, drummer of Canadian rock band Slow Motion Victory, died in a skateboarding accident, apparently after being hit by a car. At 25, Beamish is the month’s youngest dead. He died on the same day as the month’s oldest, 100-year-old Edmundo Ros.

The most bizarre death must be that of Finnish metal guitarist Mikko Laine, who was run over by a truck while apparently sleeping backstage in Holland. Also strange was the death of hard rock guitarist Terry Span, who fell into a coma after being hit by a fellow band member. It seems Span had tried to break up a fight between band mates.

As a fan of The Blues Brothers, I must also note the death at 75 on October 5 of actor Charles Napier, who played Tucker McElroy, the grudge-bearing leader of the Good Ole Boys.

Clarence Johnson, 69, soul producer and doop wop singer with The Chanteurs (who would become the Chi-Lites), on September 23
The Chanteurs – Wishin’ Well (1961)
The Brighter Side of Darkness – Love Jones (1973, as producer)

Uan Rasey, 90, jazz trumpeter on movie soundtracks (Taxi Driver, Singing In The Rain, Ben Hur, West Side Story, Chinatown a.o.), on September 26
June Christy & Pete Rugolo – Midnight Sun (1953)

Peter Sykes, guitarist with indie pop band This Many Boyfriends, on September 27
This Many Boyfriends – Young Lovers Go Pop! (2011)

David Bedford, 74, British composer and musician (collaborator with Mike Oldfield), on October 1

Kay Armen, 95, actress, singer and composer, on October 3
Kay Armen feat. The Balladiers – Cuddle Up A Little Closer, Lovey Mine (1943)

Mikko Laine, 30, guitarist of Finnish metal band Sole Remedy, on October 3

Bert Jansch, 67, Scottish folk musician and songwriter, member of folk group Pentangle, on October 5
Bert Jansch – Needle Of Death (1965)
Bert Jansch – Just A Dream (1995)

Bess Bonnier, 83, jazz pianist, on October 6
Bess Bonnier – Sonnet XVIII (Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day) (1999)

Donald Banks, 76, bass singer with soul group The Tymes, on October 7
The Tymes – You Little Trustmaker (1974)

Mikey Welsh, 40, bassist (Weezer, Juliana Hatfield), apparently of suicide on October 8
Weezer – Island In The Sun (2001)

Roger Williams, 87, easy listening pianist, on October 8
Roger Williams – Autumn Leaves (1955)

David Hess, 69, songwriter and actor (including a terrifying turn in 1972’s Last House On The Left), on October 8
Pat Boone – Speedy Gonzales (1962, as composer)

Taku Mafika, 28, Zimbabwean Mbira musician, on October 10
Taku Mafika – Zhizha (2009)

George “Mojo” Buford, 81, blues harmonica player, on October 11

Kim Brown, 66, British-born singer with Finnish rock band the Renegades, on October 11

Paul Leka, 70, songwriter and arranger, on October 12
Steam – Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye (1969, as songwriter)

Buddy Sharpe (Bernard Gareis), 73, leader of Rockabilly band Buddy Sharpe and the Shakers, on October 12

Joel DiGregorio, 67, keyboardist and songwriter with The Charlie Daniels Band), in a car crash on October 12
Charlie Daniels Band – Saddle Tramp (1976)

Chuck Ruff, 60, drummer with Sawbuck, The Edgar Winter Group, Sammy Hagar a.o., on October 14
Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein (1973)

Theron Brison (known as Thee Ram Jam), 48, masked funk bassist, Bootsy Collins collaborator and drug counsellor, found murdered on October 14

Betty Driver, 91, English Big Band singer and actress on UK soap Coronation Street, on October 15
Betty Driver – I’ll Take Romance (1935)

Tongai “˜Dhewa” Moyo, 43, Zimbabwean musician, on October 15

Pete Rugolo, 95, jazz bandleader and arranger, movie/TV composer (theme of The Fugitive), jazz arranger, on October 16
Billy Eckstine & Pete Rugolo’s Orchestra – I Apologise (1951)
Pete Rugolo and his Orchestra  – Jingle Bells Mambo (1954)

Bob Brunning, 68, English blues bassist (Savoy Brown, original line-up of Fleetwood Mac), on October 18
Savoy Brown – I’m Tired (1969)

Earl Gilliam, 81, blues pianist, on October 19

John-Alex Mason, 35, blues musician, on October 19

Barry Feinstein, 80, photographer of musicians, on October 20
George Harrison – Behind That Locked Door (1970, album cover photo)

Terry Span, 48, guitarist of hard rock band Alisteir Wild, on October 20

Edmundo Ros, 100, Trinidadian bandleader, on October 21
Edmundo Ros and his Rumba Band – Zombie (1941)
Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra – Light My Fire (1970)

Aaron Beamish, 25, drummer of Canadian rock band Slow Motion Victory, in skateboarding accident on October 21

Freddie Ferrara, doo wop singer (The Del-Satins, The Brooklyn Bridge), sang back-up on Dion’s hits Runaround Sue and The Wanderer, on October 21
The Del-Satins – Ballad Of A Dee-Jay (1962)

Gilani Taylor, 27, R&B singer, from injuries in a car cash, on October 21

Gene Kurtz, 69, bassist and songwriter, on October 23
Roy Head and the Traits – Treat Her Right (1963, a co-writer and bassist)

Tommy Doss, 91, singer with Sons of the Pioneers, Bob Wills, Ole Rasmussen a.o., on October 25

Jimmy Savile, 84, British sexual abuser, disc jockey (BBC, Radio Luxembourg) and television presenter (Top of the Pops), on October 29

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“You”re gonna look pretty funny trying to eat corn on the cob with no fuckin’ teeth.”

In Memoriam – January 2010

February 3rd, 2010 3 comments

Having rounded up most of the deaths of musicians in 2009, I”ll start to do so monthly as of now. I won”t include everybody who has died. So jazz drummer Ed Thigpen, who died on 13 January at 79, doesn”t feature because I have no music by him. Others won”t feature because their genre is meaningless to me (death metal, for ironic example). And a few will surely slip under my radar, though probably fewer than the numbers ignored by the Grammys. I will include only musicians; songwriters, producers, managers, label bosses and so on are excluded unless they also recorded, as is the case with the man who heads this month”s list and was all these things. The Grim Reaper certainly had a productive month in January…

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Willie Mitchell, 81, soul/jazz musician, producer, boss of Hi Records, on January 5.
Willie Mitchell – Mercy Mercy Mercy

Robert “˜Squirrel” Lester, 67, second tenor in “70s soul group The Chi-Lites, on January 22
The Chi-Lites – Stoned Out Of My Mind

Sandra Wright, 61, gospel, blues and soul singer, on January 11.
Canned Soul – Unbelievable

Teddy Pendergrass, 59, soul singer, on January 13
Teddy Pendergrass – It Don’t Hurt Now

Mano Solo, 46, French singer, on January 10
Mano Solo – Je Suis Venu Vous Voir

Lhasa De Sela, 37, American-born cross-genre singer, on January 1.
Lhasa De Sela – El Desierto

Alistair Hulett, 58, Scottish-born and Australia-based socialist folk singer, on January 28.
Alistair Hulett ““ L”Internationale

Kate McGarrigle, 63, Canadian folk singer, on January 18.
Kate & Anna McGarrigle – I’m Losing You

Carl Smith, 82, country singer and songwriter and ex-husband of June Carter, on January 16.
Carl Smith – Air Mail To Heaven

Bobby Charles, 71, songwriter and country/rockabilly singer, on January 14.
Bobby Charles – Time Will Tell

Shirley Cadell, 78, country singer and ex-wife of Willie Nelson, on January January 27.
Shirley Cadell and the Aristocrats – The Big Bounce

Mick Green, 65, English guitarist with Johnny Kidd and Billy J Kramer, on January 11
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates – Shakin’ All Over

Jay Reatard, 29, American punk musician, on January 13
Jay Reatard – It Ain’t Gonna Save Me

Gregory Slay, 40, drummer of alt-rock band Remy Zero, on January 1.
Remy Zero – Save Me

Pauly Fuemana, 40, singer of New Zealand band OMC, on January 31.
OMC – How Bizarre

Young Cliff, member of rap kreyole group Barrikad Crew, in Haiti”s earthquake on January 12.
Barikad Crew – Toup pou yo

Yabby You, 63, reggae singer and producer, on January 12.
Yabby You – Zion Gate

Lyn Taitt, 75, influential reggae guitarist, on January 20
Lyn Taitt and the Jets ““ Unity

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Higher and higher

July 9th, 2007 1 comment

Here is a music cliché that pisses me off: that a singer who is able to hit high notes must have a problem with testicular position, constriction or development. Or maybe I’m just being sensitive because I can do a mean falsetto and the contents of my scrotum are in perfect working order (too much information, right?). In honour of all men who can hit the high notes, here are some of the best:

Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire has a good claim to be the king of falsettoists. Check out the live version of the magnificent “Reasons” when he goes into duel with the alto sax. But Bailey demonstrates the skill it takes to sing falsetto not when hitting the glass-shattering high notes, but when he goes down deep (listen to his “ba-a-a-aby” just before the sax comes in).
Earth, Wind & Fire – Reasons.mp3

They say “Keep On Trucking” was the first disco hit when it reached the US #1 in 1973. By then, Eddie Kendricks had already established his legendary status as a member of the Temptations. The falsetto you hear on “Get Ready” is Kendricks’. I’d say in the battle of ’60s falsettos, Eddie wipes the floor with the chipmunkish novelty yelpings of Frankie Valli.
Eddie Kendricks – Keep On Trucking.mp3

Closer to the Valli sound was Eddie Holman, who had a hit with the cute “Hey There Lonely Girl” in 1970. This signalled the emergence a whole string of falsetto-dominated soul acts throughout the ’70s. Most, like the excellent Chi-Lites, the Delfonics, the Manhattans or the more poppy Stylistics, alternated the high pitches with deeper voices. Some, like Blue Magic led with the falsetto “” and it was beautiful. These acts enjoyed a fair run of success. Poor Jimmy Helms remained a one-hit wonder. His exquisite falsetto on “Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse” suggests that this was a musical tragedy.
Eddie Holman – Hey There Lonely Girl.mp3
The Chi-Lites – Stoned Out Of My Mind.mp3
Blue Magic – Sideshow.mp3
Jimmy Helms – Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse

By the ’80s, the falsetto had become unfashionable, perhaps because of its association with disco acts (if so, then unfairly so). There were a few exceptions, but even then, only a handful found commercial success. One singer cruelly denied such recognition was Paul Johnson, the bespectacled British soulster whose joyful 1987 single “When Love Comes Calling” was one of the finest recordings in its genre in the decade (oh yes), and arguably the finest falsetto performance of the past 25 years. I can think of only one rival to that claim: Prince (or “symbol”, as he called himself then) singing “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”.
Paul Johnson – When Love Comes Calling.mp3
Prince – The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.mp3

Lastly, an artist whose gentle countertenor would sometimes slip into a most restrained falsetto and back again: Curtis Mayfield. This song is not a falsetto, and I’m posting it gratuitously because it is a most beautiful song most beautifully performed. Released just a few weeks before the accident that robbed Curtis of his mobility in August 1990, this belongs in the canon of Mayfield’s absolutely greatest hits. But nobody seems to have picked up on that. You judge:
Curtis Mayfield – Do Be Down.mp3