Archive for July, 2011

A History of Country Vol. 11: 1965-68

July 28th, 2011 3 comments

In the slipstream of Johnny Cash came what would become known as the Outlaw Movement, an informal response to Nashville”s easy listening, corporate and safe style, often recorded in Texas, reviving the honky tonk sounds of Hank Williams with strong lyrical content. Starting in the mid-“60s with singers like Bobby Bare, Tompall Glaser and Johnny Darrell, the sub-genre”s standard bearers would include Waylon Jennings and his wife Jessi Colter, Willie Nelson (after he grew his hair), Kris Kristofferson, Leon Russell, Billy Joe Shaver, Hank Williams Jr, Jerry Jeff Walker and Gram Parsons. Read more…

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If you like Amy Winehouse, you’ll like this…

July 25th, 2011 20 comments

I must confess that I find it hard to mourn the death of Amy Winehouse. Don”t think of me as a man possessed of a callous heart. Of course the death of a young, talented woman is a cause for sadness. But Ms Winehouse did not die in a tragic accident, as Otis Redding did, nor did a dread disease claim her, as it did Minnie Riperton. Amy Winehouse was a victim of her own excess; she lived a self-destructive lifestyle which first wounded her talent and then (as it appears) ended her life. My empathy is directed at her parents and those who loved Amy Winehouse without abetting her destruction.

There is tragedy in a life wasted, and sorrow in a talent not entirely fulfilled. I have both of Winehouse”s albums. They are good, but I couldn”t share in the excess of excitement that surrounded the Winehouse phenomenon. To be sure, she was a smart lyricist; a worthy successor of Marlena Shaw. Even her music was agreeable, in the way of a good pastiche. I don”t doubt that she had an affection for old soul music, and she treated the genre with great respect. But “” and here”s the rub for me “” why go for the copy if there is still so much of the source material to explore?

There is an argument  that Winehouse”s retro offerings encouraged her listeners to explore the canon of old soul music. I don”t buy that. Winehouse”s success encouraged the proliferation of mediocre mono-named songstresses who say they are inspired by the soul music of the 1960s (and, usually, “all the old blues guys”, who then go unnamed).

So, to help the proponents of the former argument, here is a mix of songs which I might have named “If You Like Amy Winehouse, You”ll Like This”. I”ll call it, without any efforts to engage my imagination (for shortly I have a dessert to prepare for dinner), Any Major Soul Women. I imagine that Amy Winehouse would have been inspired by many of these singers; maybe she even based her sound on some of them. I can imagine her singing most of these songs.

As always, the mix is times to fit on a CD-R. Due to shortage of time, alas, no covers.

1. Anna King – Sittin’ In The Dark (1964)
2. Baby Washington – You Are What You Are (1966)
3. Betty Everett – Until You Were Gone (1964)
4. Rhetta Hughes – Cry Myself To Sleep (1969)
5. Irma Thomas – She’ll Never Be Your Wife (1973)
6. Laura Lee – Mama’s Got A Good Thing (1972)
7. Ila Vann – Got To Get To Jim Johnson (1967)
8. Erma Franklin – You’ve Been Cancelled (1969)
9. Fontella Bass – I Surrender (1966)
10. Marlena Shaw – Go Away, Little Boy (1969)
11. Mitty Collier – Little Miss Loneliness (1963)
12. Tami Lynn – I’m Gonna Run Away From You (1972)
13. Candi Staton – I’ll Drop Everything And Come Running (1972)
14. Jean Knight – Pick Up The Pieces (1970)
15. Sandra Wright – Wounded Woman (1974)
16. Esther Phillips – I Don’t Want To Do Wrong (1972)
17. Margie Joseph – Sweeter Tomorrow (1971)
18. Lyn Collins – Take Me Just As I Am (1973)
19. Marie ‘Queenie’ Lyons – Your Thing Ain’t No Good Without My Thing (1970)
20. Linda Jones – Don’t Go (I Can’t Bear To Be Alone) (1972)
21. Barbara Mason – I Miss You Gordon (1973)
22. Rosetta Hightower – I Don’t Blame You At All (1971)
23. Tammi Terrell – That’s What Boys Are Made For (1968)
24. Brenda Holloway – I’ll Always Love You (1964)
25. Dee Dee Warwick – We’re Doing Fine (1965)
26. Jean Wells – Have A Little Mercy (1968)
27. Lorraine Ellison – Try (1969)
28. Ruby Andrews – Overdose Of Love (1972)

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1960s Soul
1970s Soul
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Step back to 1979 – Part 2

July 21st, 2011 9 comments

In the second part of three in which I revisit songs from 1979 that have the power to transport me back to the day, we”ll go back to the summer of that year. We had just moved into a new house which my mother, a woman of excellent taste and artistic flair, turned into a place that exuded both sophistication and warmth. And my younger brother and I attended the last of three summer camps run by the local church parish. As always, I take no responsibility for the quality of the songs featured.

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Lene Lovich  – Lucky Number.mp3
This was quite unlike anything I had heard before. Lene Lovich was a bit like an anglophone Nina Hagen, without all that which makes Hagen so unattractive (and, looking it up, I”ve just learned that Hagen covered Lucky Number). I remember hearing a radio interview with John Lennon around that time in which the semi-retired pop master mentioned a few acts he found interesting. Among them was “Lene Loverich”. I thought Lennon was a bit of a senile git for not knowing her proper name. But he was very old by then, almost 39. My stepfather, four years younger, didn”t even know any of the acts I liked (except for Bob Seger, whose music I introduced stepfather to). Lovich eventually gave rise to Toyah and Hazel O”Connor. You decide whether that was a good thing or not.


Art Garfunkel ““ Bright Eyes (Video)
This was the theme from the animated film that made everyone cry but me, Watership Down. The reason I didn”t cry is that I have never seen it, deterred from doing so by tales of people crying. The song sounds appropriately sad but tinged with a surge of hopefulness, which I understand ties in with the scene in the film it scores. At the time I thought it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. Actually, I still think it is beautiful, though I have heard a great many contenders for the title since. Bright Eyes and I Don”t Like Mondays (which I won”t feature as the Boomtown Rats will be included in the third part) were my anthems for the summer of 1979. [Link removed by Mediafire]


Amii Stewart ““ Knock On Wood.mp3
What did I know of the old soul masters then? This is one of the great cover versions, an explosion of disco joy, co-produced by Simon May, who wrote the theme of the BBC soapie Eastenders. And then there was the cover. I had seen exotic before, but Amii Stewart was something quite beyond that; she was flamboyantly beautiful while wearing silly headgear which only the spawn of royal bottom feeders would not reject as too daft. Knock On Wood was a massive hit almost everywhere, but strangely not in West Germany, where it stalled at #13. Amii Stewart is the step-sister of HiNRG queen Miquel Brown (whose Close To Perfection is an old favourite of mine) and thereby aunt of 1980s disco starlet Sinitta, she of much cuteness and modest artistry.


Kiss – I Was Made For Loving You.mp3
By 1979 everybody seemed to buy into that disco thing. In retrospect it shouldn”t be surprising that a rock group whose members liked to wear chest-hair revealing leather outfits and wore far too much make-up should have dabbled in a genre that owed much to its evolution to the gay scene. But those were the days when fans of Freddie Mercury would be glad to resort to violence in defence of their hero”s honour should one have questioned the Queen singer”s uncompromising heterosexuality. Anyway, so in 1979 Kiss went disco in a bid to revive their flagging career. And it provided them their first UK chart entry (albeit peaking at only #50) and for me a birthday present for my little brother.


Gibson Brothers ““ Cuba.mp3
Cuba provides a specific if slightly hazy memory involving a fair we visited after a boring afternoon at an old man”s garden allotment. I remember being bored at the fair, and how the Gibson Brother”s epic disco number lifted my flagging spirits. It is, of course, a most banal memory, as the reader will have noted already with a zeal that is almost rude. The point though is that sometimes music sticks with us not because of a significant event or constant exposure over a period of time, but because it just does. And Cuba still has the capacity to lift my spirits, though not as much as their next hit single, the brilliant Que Sera Mi Vida.


Kevin Keegan – Head Over Heels In Love.mp3
American readers won”t know what to do with this, but German and British readers will luv it, just luv it. Kevin Keegan was a famous English football player (the football played with feet, not the one with the shoulderpads) who in 1977 transferred from Liverpool to the German club SV Hamburg. In 1979, he helped Hamburg win the German championship and was the country”s biggest football star. So Mighty Mouse, as he was known, crowned his sporting accomplishment by recording a single with Smokie, and it sounds just like the horrors that group used to perpetrate at the time. To Keegan”s credit, he could hold a tune better than he could hold a lead, as fans of Newcastle United would later discover. Here is a video of King Kev violating a poor woman as he sings his song in the Saturday night sports show Das Aktuelle Sportstudio, having been flown in from Bielefeld after Hamburg”s game there on 2 June 1979.


Donna Summer – Hot Stuff.mp3
If Kiss could go disco, then Donna Summer could go rock. And I”d say that Donna rocked harder on Hot Stuff than Kiss ever did. The song reminds me in particular of the summer camp that my brother and I went on. The previous one we went had been a great experience. It had a wonderful group and I had my slow-dance with my first love, having shoulder-charged my beastly rival out of the way on the dancefloor (see the entry for Sailing in Step Back to 1977  Part 1). This time, the crowd was less lovely and some were absolute assholes. I had taken some records along for the “dance evening”; when I discovered that some had been stolen from my suitcase, the camp leaders took no interest in the violation of the seventh Commandment, perhaps being too busy worshipping craven images. We never went on another camp again.


Umberto Tozzi ““ Gloria.mp3
When Laura Branigan had a huge hit with her English version of Gloria in 1984, I was quite annoyed. It”s Umberto Tozzi”s song. It has been covered many times in many languages, but in Tozzi”s synth-driven original it smells of sunshine and Pizza Margharita. Gloria was huge in the German summer of 1979; I didn”t buy the record, but welcomed hearing it in the background to provide the soundtrack for that rather dull summer. Where Branigan”s lyrics observe someone alled Gloria, Tozzi sings a love song to the eponymous woman. “Monkey to malaria,” as Tozzi so memorably sings.


Cliff Richard – We Don’t Talk Anymore.mp3
The song German radio played to death. Apart from the fact that I have always resented the stardom of that feckless Cliff Richard, this was an insidious tune. Where some songs are earworms, this was an eartumor. But if I listen to the song with as much detachment and objectivity as I can muster, I must admit that it is a very good pop song. I must concede that the “Taaaalk anymore, anymooooore” bit at 3:14 is fantastic. It seems at least 5 million people worldwide agreed: that”s how many copies the single sold. In West Germany it topped the charts for five weeks, but it felt like it did for half a year.


The Knack ““ My Sharona.mp3
Incredibly, the Knack were hyped as “The New Beatles” (part 85) when this came out. They had a couple of decent songs, but their quick return to obscurity cannot be described as an injustice. Still, “My Sharona” totally rocks, from the staccato guitar riff and vocal delivery to the “woooooo”s. And the cover of the single rocked even more, at least for a 13-year-old lad, depicting a gorgeous brunette in a vest with protruding nipples (gasp!). And, I didn”t know at the time, it was the Sharona of the title herself. Sharona Alperin was at the time Knack frontman Doug Fieger”s 17-year-old girlfriend. To German ears, the band’s name was a cause for mirth. Knack means pop (as in a popping sound), with the best variant being the adjective beknackt, which loosely translated means “off his rocker”, or Knackwurst, the sausage named after the popping sound it makes when you bite into it.


ELO – Don’t Bring Me Down.mp3
I know that opinion is deeply divided about this song. ELO purists tend to disown it, normal pop fans love it. Don”t Bring Me Down has that great guitar, the drum loop, and that strange word that Lynne sings which sounds like “Bruce” (it is, if you listen carefully or read the LP linernotes, grooooss, which means nothing). Trivia fans will be interested to note that this was the first ELO single not to feature strings, apparently. Don”t Bring Me Down also reminds me of marshmallow mice I liked eating at the time, 20 Pfennig from the kiosk down the road.


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Intros Quiz – 1976 edition

July 18th, 2011 2 comments

We continue on our five-yearly cycle of intros quizzes, revisiting 35 years ago: 1976 (the year that the youth of South Africa rose up against apartheid; Matsushita introduces the VHS home video cassette recorder to compete with Sony’s Betamax system; an earthquake in Tangshan, China, killed hundreds of thousands people; the Apple Computer Company was formed; Nadia Comăneci earned seven perfect scores at the Olympics in Montreal; the “Son of Sam” began is year-long murder spree in new York; and Bob Marley was shot in an assassination attempt in Kingston). Which means that in the coming months we will skip to 1981, then 1986.

As always, twenty intros to hit songs from that year of 5-7 seconds in length. All were single releases and/or hits that year. I’m not sure if #7 was a hit, but as one of the few perfect pop songs of 1976, it should have been.

The answers will be posted in the comments section by Thursday (so please don”t post your answers). If the pesky number 11 bugs you, go to the Contact Me tab above to request the answers, or  better, message me on Facebook. If you”re not my FB friend, click here.

Intros Quiz ““ 1976 edition


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Saved! Vol. 2 – The Soul edition

July 13th, 2011 6 comments

The second SAVED! compilation gets righteous on your asses with a churchful of glorious ’70s soul — and it does so without going for the easy option of all those Stevie Wonder songs about God being a zillion lightyears away with whom you should have a talk (and did George Michael realise that he was singing a song of praise to God when he had a hit with Mary J Blige?).

While neither Stevie, Aretha nor Marvin feature here, Al Green does, though with a song that precedes his lesser Reverend Green phase. And, of course, Curtis Mayfield testifies, in his ways of social consciousness.

Most acts here did the Christian thing on the side; some of them may even be unexpected inclusions, such as soul songbirds Honey Cone, the legendary O’Jays, future disco diva Loleatta Holloway, Disco Inferno’s The Trammps, funksters The Bar Keys or William DeVaughn, whose Be Thankful For What You Got (featured in Any Major Soul 1974-75) is one of the widely forgotten giants of ’70s soul.

However, a couple of acts here did specialise in gospel music (remember, the genre is much broader than flamboyantly robed brethren clapping their hands or Winans knock-offs testifying in the glib ways of contemporary Christian music). The coolest of those was The Relatives. The gospel-funk-soul group recorded in the first half of the 1970s in Texas. Led by the Reverend Gean West, they released just three singles, and didn’t appear on CD until the small Hum Records label put out a collection of their released and unreleased material in 2009. The Relatives never broke through because the music was too funky for gospel, and too sanctified for the secular market. Reverend West is now in his mid-70s, and he’s still singing and preaching.

Another gospel-soul act is Detroit’s excellent The Rance Allen Group, whom we met before on Covered With Soul Vol. 5, with their reworked version of The Temptations’ Just My Imagination (which became Just My Salvation), and in the Rapture Day special, with the astonishing There’s Gonna Be A Showdown.

The third act here specialising in Christian messages is The Sons of Truth, whose testimony was rooted in ghetto life. They recorded on Stax’s Gospel Truth subsidiary. They are not to be confused with The Soul Children, who were an act put together by Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Their lead singer John Colbert later had a solo career as J Blackfoot.

Only one track on this mix was a proper hit (though God Bless This Child, performed here beautifully by Vivian Reed, is a classic). Stoned Love was The Supremes‘ first post-Diana Ross hit. Written in 1970, the song’s writer, Kenny Thomas, said the word “stone” refers to the strength of the bond of brotherhood the lyrics are calling for. It was supposed to be “Stone Love”, which is what The Supremes are singing, but a misprint on the label turned it into “Stoned Love”, and it was left at that.

Check out the drum break in the track by Carolyn Franklin (sister of Aretha and Erma) — has it been sampled to good effect yet? I also love the drumming on Sounds of the City Experience‘s Babylon. And talking of family connections, Milton Wright is the brother of Betty Wright (and obviously not the father of flight pioneers Orville and Wilbur).

Incidentally, the brilliant Touch Me Jesus might be credited to the excellent Glass House, but it was actually recorded by The Blossoms, with Darlene Love on lead vocals (there was a legal case about it).

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R (without the bonus track, obviously). Home-made covers are included.

1. Honey Cone – Sunday Morning People (1971)
2. The Soul Children – All Day Preachin’ (1972)
3. Carolyn Franklin – Soul Man (1976)
4. Al Green – Jesus Is Waiting (1973)
5. Curtis Mayfield – I Plan To Stay Believer (1971)
6. Ernie Hines – A Better World (For Everyone) (1972)
7. Milton Wright – Job (1977)
8. The O’Jays – Make A Joyful Noise (1976)
9. The Relatives – Rap On (1974)
10. Sounds of the City Experience – Babylon (1976)
11. The Glass House – Touch Me Jesus (1971)
12. The Supremes – Stoned Love (1970)
13. The Rance Allen Group – God Is Where It’s At (1972)
14. The Sons Of Truth – God Help Us All (1972)
15. Loleatta Holloway – H.E.L.P. M.E. M.Y. L.O.R.D. (1975)
16. The Trammps – Pray All You Sinners (1972)
17. Jerry Butler – A Prayer (1972)
18. The Bar Kays – God Is Watching (1972)
19. The Impressions – Preacher Man (1973)
20. The Four Tops – The Good Lord Knows (1972)
21. Vivian Reed – God Bless The Child (1976)
22. William DeVaughn – We Are His Children (1974)
BONUS TRACK: Donny Hathaway – Thank You Master (For My Soul) (1970)

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TV Themes: ’80s family shows

July 7th, 2011 2 comments

There aren”t many sitcoms about families on American TV anymore. It”s not like it was in the 1980s. Leaving aside the bizarre living arrangements of the dreadful Full House (for which Bob Saget has made ample reparations lately), the nuclear family or variations thereof ruled the ratings. There were Family Ties (hippie parents vs Reaganite kids), Growing Pains (vaguely creepy dad vs a bunch of kids nobody can really remember), and Who”s The Boss (Tony Danza vs humour), and a TV series starring Jason Bateman whose character”s mother had died. Whatever it was called, it was nothing like the next great family show that starred Bateman: Arrested Development.

Bateman”s sister Justine was the airhead daughter in Family Ties, in which Marty J McFox played a Republican who pitches his wits against his cartoon hippie parents. Usually it was more comforting than amusing; familial love always won out and every crisis ““ Alex disappoints the parents; the parents don”t trust the kids “” ended with a metaphorical family hug. The show jumped the goldfish when the drippy father grew a midle-class beard. Family Ties really went past its sell-by date when the even drippier mother had a fourth baby. New babies in TV shows almost invariably signal the writers’ desperation, and for us provides the cue to switch off. So almost every viewer will have missed Courtney Cox”s stint as Alex”s girlfriend.

The show had more than its fair share of guest stars who”d become more famous: Tom Hanks, River Phoenix, Will Wheaton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christina Applegate and Crispin Clover, who”d later play Michael J Fox”s father in Back To The Future.

Family Ties“˜ theme tune was as cheesy as the storylines, ending with the über-drippy “sha la la la”. Or, rather, the part which we heard was drippy. In the full version of Without Us, the duet by the marvellous Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis, the “sha la la la” signals a turn towards some serious slow-funk fusion, with a cool bassline and a saxophone backing which I presume to be by co-writer Tom Scott. The saxophonist”s writing partner was Jeff Barry, erstwhile husband of Ellen Greenwhich with whom he wrote such classics as Leader Of The Pack, Doo Wah Diddy, Be My Baby, Chapel Of Love and, as we saw in last week’s instalment of The Originals, Hanky Panky.

Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams – Without Us.mp3
Family Ties Theme.mp3

Another family show with a theme song sung by two well-known singers was Growing Pains, wherein we first witnessed the thespian gifts of a juvenile Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a permanently scowling “troubled but essentially good kid”. He thus stole the show from Ben, the bizarre looking son (not the evangelical militant nutcase Kirk Cameron; the other one).

The series started from a low base ““ it never was very good ““ and, the occasional clever gag notwithstanding, went on to justify the second part of its title. Of course, Growing Pains had the obligatory late baby that was supposed to rescue the show (and I don”t mean DiCaprio). It couldn”t. Nor could a succession of not yet famous guest stars that included Brad Pitt, Matthew Perry, Hilary Swank, Olivia d’Abo, Heather Graham and, best of all, Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis (who administered the weird-looking kid’s first kiss).

Growing Pains” dad, Alan Thicke, had written a couple of sitcom themes himself ““ for Diff”rent Strokes and The Facts Of Life ““ but the father of pop singer Robin Thicke had nothing to do with the theme for his own show. That was written by John Bettis and Steve Dorff. You will have sung along to many of Bettis” lyrics, especially if you like the Carpenters. He wrote the words to their Top Of The World, Only Yesterday, Goodbye to Love and Yesterday Once More, as well as for Madonna”s Crazy For You, Michael Jackson”s Human Nature and more. Steve Dorff has written mostly for country artists, but he also composed the themes of Murphy Brown and Murder She Wrote.

The Growing Pains theme, As Long As We Got Each Other, was first sung y BJ Thomas, then by BJ Thomas and serial-theme duetist Jennifer Warnes, then for one season (the fourth, in 1988/89) by BJ Thomas and Dusty Springfield, and later by some random singers.

B.J. Thomas & Dusty Springfield – As Long As We Got Each Other.mp3
Growing Pains Theme (BJ Thomas & Jennifer Warnes).mp3

Who”s The Boss had a couple of things which other family shows didn”t have. A saucy grandmother, for example. And an unconventional habitation arrangement. And in Alyssa Milano one of the few really good child actors. But it also had Tony Danza (are you also singing “Hold me closer”¦”).

When Who”s The Boss appeared, two of the actors had already been in big hit shows: Danza had been part of the dazzling ensemble of Taxi, saucy granny Mona”s  Katherine Helmond had been the mother in the brilliant S.O.A.P.. This did not mean, however, that Who”s The Boss would become a triumph of levity. The dynamics between Danza and Milano were at times interesting, and Mona had one or two moments. Mostly it was trite ““ and it eventually resorted to the baby option (though in this case the pitter patter was that of a virtually adopted five-year-old). Still, people watched.

And if they watched, they heard the theme tune, with the catchy whistling sounds. There were several versions of the song composed by Robert Kraft and ex-Crusaders guitarist Larry Carlton (who played the guitar on the theme of Hill Street Blues and the solo on Steely Dan”s Kid Charlemagne). The first was sung by Larry Weiss, writer and original singer of Rhinestone Cowboy (see The Originals Vol. 5). Country singer Steve Wariner sung it during the show”s golden run, 1986-90.

Larry Weiss – Brand New Life (Who’s The Boss).mp3
Who”s The Boss (Steve Wariner).mp3


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In Memoriam – June 2011

July 4th, 2011 5 comments

One of the true greats passed away this month: Clarence Clemons, a legend to every Springsteen fan. There are many things which made the E Street Band’s sound so unique, but the key ingredients, in my view, were Roy Bittan’s keyboards and Clemons’ sax. It is on Clemons’ shoulder on which Springseen leans on the Born To Run cover, literally and symbolically (and imagine the title track without that orgasmic saxophone build-up). The featured E Street Band song, here in the live version from  the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon concert, tells the story of how the E Street Band came together.

What would rock & roll have been without Elvis’ Hound Dog? This month we lost the trumpeter in the version of the song which Elvis heard in Las Vegas and decided to base his explosive version on (as recounted in The Originals Vol. 15). We also lost Carl Gardner, leader of The Coasters, who often are unjustly remembered as a novelty act because they knew how to be funny. I’d argue that The Coasters helped invent soul music.

Also noteworthy was the death of Andrew Gold, whom we previously encountered as the writer of the theme of The Golden Girls. He was also the son of Marni Nixon, who provided the singing voices on film for Natalie Wood, Deborah Kerr and Audrey Hepburn.

I rarely feature non-musicians in my monthly litany of mortality, but the designer of the iconic Rolling Stone magazine logo merits a mention.

A bizarre death this month was that of Anet Mook, Dutch ex-singer of ’90s grunge band Cay, who was hit by a train in her native Netherlands. I could find no indication of the date of her death, and so list the date of her funeral.

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Ray Bryant, 79, jazz pianist, on June 2
Ray Bryant – It’s Madison Time (1960) Read more…