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In Memoriam – October 2015

November 5th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

In Memoriam_1Best-known for his hit Down In The Boondocks and the original versions of Deep Purple”s Hush and The Osmonds” Yo-Yo (all written by Joe South), Billy Joe Royal comfortably straddled genres. He was at home in both pop and, as of the 1980s, in country, but his song Heart”s Desire was a popular staple in England”s Northern Soul scene. Royal performed his last concert on September 24 and at the time of his death at 73 had a tour lined up.

In the world of jazz-fusion and of the Internet, Larry Rosen was a pioneer. Starting off as a drummer in the 1960s, Rosen soon moved into production and engineering before setting up a record label with the great musician and composer Dave Grusin, calling it Grusin/Rosen Productions (now better known by its acronym GRP). The label discovered many of big names in fusion, such as Earl Klugh, Tom Browne (whose crossover hit Funkin” For Jamaica Rosen produced), Patti Austin, Lee Ritenour and many others. GRP”s roster grew to include many notable artists, such as Spyro Gyra, Diane Schuur, Ramsey Lewis, Tom Scott, B.B. King, Larry Carlton, Yellowjackets and Diana Krall. Rosen engineered and co-produced Dave Grusin”s 1981 Mountain Dance album, the first ever digitally recorded non-classical album, from which the featured track comes. He left GRP in 1995 to launch, within a year, one of the first Internet e-commerce and content companies, N2K, which pioneered digital downloads long before iTunes.

With the death at 93 of folk singer Leon Bibb, another once blacklisted voice has fallen silent. Bibb said he had never spoken to a white person while growing up in Kentucky. That changed when he moved to New York City in 1941 at the age of 19. A talented baritone, he was a cast member of the first stage performance of the musical Annie Get Your Gun in 1946. He went on to become a star on Broadway in the 1950s, but his left-wing politics, especially in the area of fighting racial discrimination, saw him blacklisted (alongside his idol Paul Robeson). At that time he became a folk singer, keeping the company of the likes of Pete Seeger, and performed at the first Newport Folk Festival. With the blacklist abolished, he appeared many times on American TV, including return engagements of the Ed Sullivan Show. In 1969 he moved to Vancouver. He continued a fruitful career in Canada, but also initiated anti-bullying/discrimination programmes in schools. His son Eric Bibb is a prominent Finland-based blues musician, and his grandson Rennie Mirro is a well-known dancer in Sweden.

In 1982, one of the songs I despised the most was PhD”s I Won’t Let You Down. In 1984, it was the UK #1 hit I Should Have Known Better, by erstwhile PhD member Jim Diamond, which I hated almost as much as I Just Called To Say I Love You. My militant views on two of these songs have not changed, though I take a more tolerant line with I Should Have Known Better. I might not have been an advocate for the music of Jim Diamond, who has died at 64, but he seems to have been a decent sort of guy. With his big 1984 hit still riding high in the charts, he asked British record buyers not to buy his record but Band Aid”s charity single Do They Know It”s Christmas instead.

In Memoriam_2If you have been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras, you might have heard a brass band striking up the tune It Ain”t My Fault. A Mardi Gras standard, it was written and first recorded by the drummer Smokey Johnson, who has died at 78, and had a great influence on the growing genre of funk music. Johnson had backed Fats Domino in the 1950s and “60s when he moved to Detroit. There he drummed for Motown. Though he never became a Funk Brother “” the name of the collective of regular Motown backing musicians “” he had a great influence on them, and with it on the Motown sound. After suffering a stroke in 1993, Johnson had to give up drumming. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina left him homeless. He spent his last days at Musicians” Village, a Habitat for Humanity project in New Orleans.

Normally the In Memoriam lists don”t include backroom staff, such as PR people. But if they had a particular impact on music history, they must be included. So it is with Al Abrams, the first publicist of Motown who was employed by Berry Gordy before the company even existed. First he promoted the label”s singles to Detroit radio DJs, but soon he went into publicity, creating a public image for a black record label that helped it to cross over. The slogan “The Sound of Young America” was coined by Abrams. He left Motown in 1967 to pursue his PR career further.

Nor do TV show producers get namechecked in this series. But Peter Dougherty merits a mention for bringing black music to the hitherto white-dominated MTV. Dougherty, who has died at 59, introduced with Ted Demme the influential show “Yo! MTV Raps” in 1988. It proved wildly popular and changed MTV playlists forever. Dougherty also directed a few music videos, including that of the great hit for The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, Fairytale Of New York.

Nor do album cover designers normally get a mention, though a couple have in the past. John Berg, who has died at 83, accumulated a rich portfolio of cover art. He won Grammys for the covers of The Barbra Streisand Album (1964), Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits (1967), Thelonious Monk”s Underground (1968) and Chicago X by, you guessed it, Chicago in 1976. He also designed the covers of Springsteen”s Born To Run, Miles Davis” Bitches Brew, Simon and Garfunkel”s Bridge Over Troubled Water, several Blood Sweat Tears albums, Leonard Cohen”s Songs Of Love And Hate, Billy Joel”s 52nd Street, Santana”s Greatest Hits, and Sly and the Family Stone”s Fresh. See the gallery below I”ve made for just some of Berg”s artworks (open the image in a new window for a bigger view).

John Berg LP cover collection

Finally a paragraph to note the death of two members of the Romanian metalcore band Goodbye To Gravity, along with 30 others, in a fire at the launch gig for their new album in the Bucharest nightclub Colectiv on October 30. The fire was started by the band”s pyrotechnics, aggravated by polyurethane, an acoustic foam which the club used to dampen sound. The members who died were guitarists Mihai Alexandru and Vlad Èšelea. Romania”s government declared three days of mourning for the victims, and Halloween parties were cancelled throughout the country. There was a solidarity march of 12,000 in central Bucharest, and another of 13,000 to demand the resignation of city officials for granting the club a licence without insisting on a permit from the fire department. The outrage managed to bring down Romania”s corrupt Prime Minister Victor Ponta.


Hugh Wright, 63, drummer and co-founder of country band Boy Howdy, in September
Boy Howdy – A Cowboy’s Born With A Broken Heart (1993)

Simon Cowe, guitarist of English folk-rock group Lindisfarne, on Sept 30
Lindisfarne – Meet Me On The Corner (1971)

Willie Akins, 76, jazz saxophonist and academic, on Oct. 2

Coleridge Goode, 100, Jamaican-born jazz bassist, on Oct. 2
Joe Harriott Quintet ““ Calypso Sketches (1961)

Al Abrams, 74, Motown”s first publicist, on Oct. 3

Rodolfo Maltese, 68, guitarist, trumpeter with Italian band Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, on Oct. 3

Dave Pike, 77, jazz vibraphone and marimba player, on Oct. 4
Dave Pike – You’ve Got Your Trouble (1966)

Billy Joe Royal, 73, pop and country singer, on Oct. 6
Billy Joe Royal – I Knew You When (1965)
Billy Joe Royal ““ Hush (1967)
Billy Joe Royal – Pin A Note On Your Pillow (1987)

Smokey Johnson, 78, influential funk drummer, on Oct. 6
Smokey Johnson – It Ain”t My Fault (1964)
Labelle – It Took A Long Time (1974, on drums)

Ray Appleton, 74, jazz drummer, on Oct. 7

Jim Diamond, 64, Scottish singer-songwriter, on Oct. 8
Jim Diamond – I Should Have Known Better (1984)

James Cruickshank, 53, keyboardist, guitarist with Australian indie group The Cruel Sea, on Oct. 8
The Cruel Sea – Better Get A Lawyer (1995)

Larry Rosen, 75, jazz engineer, producer, record executive; digital downloading pioneer, on Oct. 9
Dave Grusin – Friends And Strangers (1980, as engineer, and co-producer)
Diane Schuur & Jos̩ Feliciano РBy Design (1985, as co-producer)

Bruce Nazarian, 66, funk and rock musician, producer and digital-recording pioneer, on Oct. 9
Brownsville Station – Lady (Put The Light On Me) (1977)

Koopsta Knicca, 40, rapper with Three 6 Mafia, on Oct. 9

Leny Escudero, 82, Spanish-born French singer and actor, on Oct. 9
Leny Escudero – Pour une amourette (1963)

Steve Mackay, 66, saxophonist with The Stooges, on Oct. 10

Robbin Thompson, 66, singer-songwriter, on Oct. 10
The Robbin Thompson Band – Sweet Virginia Breeze (1980)

John Berg, 83, art director and LP cover designer, on Oct. 11

Smokin” Joe Kubek, 58, blues guitarist, on Oct. 11

Carey Lander, 33, keyboardist and singer with British Indie group Camera Obscura, on Oct. 11
Camera Obscura – Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken (2006)

John Murphy, 56, Australian session drummer, percussionist, on Oct. 11

Hal Hackady, 93, lyricist, on Oct. 12
The Lennon Sisters – Shake Me I Rattle (Squeeze Me I Cry) (1957)

Peter Dougherty, 59, TV and video producer, on Oct. 12

Skatemaster Tate, 56, musician and TV presenter, on Oct. 13

John Jennings, 61, musician and music producer, on Oct. 16
Mary Chapin Carpenter- Quittin’ Time (1989)

Frank Watkins, 47, bassist of heavy metal bands Obituary and Gorgoroth, on Oct. 18

Cory Wells, 74, singer with Three Dog Night, on Oct. 20
Three Dog Night – Mama Told Me Not To Come (1970, on lead vocals)

Don Rendell, 89, English jazz musician and educator, on Oct. 20

Mark Murphy, 83, jazz singer, on Oct. 22
Mark Murphy – Angel Eyes (1961)

Leon Bibb, 93, American folk singer, on Oct. 23
Leon Bibb ““ Sinnerman (1959)
Leon & Eric Bibb – Five Hundred Miles (2002)

Bill Keith, 75, banjo player and innovator, on Oct. 23

Nat Peck, 90, jazz trombonist, on Oct. 24
James Moody Quintet – Oh! Well (1949, on trombone)

Lee Shaw, 89, jazz pianist, on Oct. 25
Lee Shaw Trio – Restless Wind (2007)

David Rodriguez, 63, singer-songwriter, on Oct. 26

Sya Styles, 37, DJ with French Hip Hop collective Psy 4, on Oct. 26

Herbie Goins, 76, R&B singer, on Oct. 27
Herbie Goins & The Night-Timers-No. 1 In Your Heart (1966)

Diane Charlemagne, 51, singer with Urban Cookie Collective; 52nd Street, on Oct. 28
Urban Cookie Collective – Feels Like Heaven (1993)

Tony Van Frater, 51, member of British punk band Red Alert, on Oct. 29

(PW in comments)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    November 5th, 2015 at 06:48 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. November 5th, 2015 at 15:25 | #2

    WOW! Cory Wells only gets a cursory mention?!?!?! He was an important memebe of one of the most popular bands of his generation!

  3. Sonic
    November 5th, 2015 at 15:36 | #3

    Great post as usual. I notice you have “Dave Berg” under the photo of John Berg. Maybe you are reading old Mad Magazines lately?

  4. halfhearteddude
    November 5th, 2015 at 22:07 | #4

    Damn. But, yeah, I loved Dave Berg’s Mad features.

  5. halfhearteddude
    November 5th, 2015 at 22:09 | #5

    I was debating whether to write a paragraph about Cory Wells. Ultimately, I thought the other stories were more compelling than his.

  6. Rhod
    November 6th, 2015 at 21:52 | #6

    Thanks once again for the wonderful share.



  7. Jim
    November 7th, 2015 at 03:40 | #7

    Splendid write-up as always. Thanks.

  8. Count Slabroff
    November 9th, 2015 at 21:49 | #8

    Once a month a dose of ‘In Memoriam’ is – no matter how sad the subject can be from time to time – simply indispensable. Thank you very much.

  9. dogbreath
    November 10th, 2015 at 17:29 | #9

    Much appreciate the compiling of deaths and details again this month. As I write this, sad news in of the death today of Allen Toussaint. RIP.

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