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In Memoriam – April 2016

This year is a real bastard; in my years of doing this monthly round-up I cannot remember a sequence of months in which the Grim Reaper picked off fixtures in my music collection at such a relentless rate. At this point I fear for Stevie Wonder, Kris Kristofferson, Van Morrison, Donald Fagen, Burt Bacharach, Frankie Beverley, Hal Blaine and all four members of ABBA.IM0416_gallery_1In the great 1980s battle between Michael Jackson and Prince (who were born just 73 days apart), I was a cheerleader for the latter. Don”t misunderstand, Jackson was immense, and I”ll sooner listen to Off The Wall than to any Prince album (on the other hand, Purple Rain easily trumps Thriller, as I showed HERE). But Prince wrote his own songs (and for others), arranged them, played on them, was a fine dancer and great showman, and he played the guitar so beautifully. And he had something to say. Prince was a genius, and if he had not been so obsessed with hunting down the use of his music on blogs and YouTube, he”d feature heavily on Any Major collections.

April didn”t claim not one but two absolute legends: Prince, but also Merle Haggard, one of the true country giants. Merle was outlaw before Outlaw Country was a thing. In fact, he was a real outlaw in his younger days, and his life of robbery and larceny ended with him locked up at San Quentin prison, near San Francisco. Even in jail, Haggard was a troublemaker “” until the day when Johnny Cash played one of concerts there (not his first one there in 1958, as is often written, but one of those he did in 1959 and 1960). Watching Cash “” and having had a few other formative experiences before that “” Merle decided to go on to the straight and narrow and finally make it in the music business. Which he did. Merle Haggard died of pneumonia on his 79th birthday. It”s not right that people should die on their birthday.

Controversy followed the gifted Philly soul singer Billy Paul, who had a massive hit in 1972 with Me And Mrs Jones. Against his express wishes, his label, PIR, released as the follow-up the provocative Am I Black Enough For You (Paul wanted the milder Brown Baby as the follow-up). It was indeed the second-best track on the 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul album, but predictably the white pop stations weren”t ready for a black consciousness song by a soul crooner. The episode sabotaged Billy Paul”s career, some first-class releases notwithstanding. More controversy hit the singer in 1975 with the gorgeous Let’s Make A Baby when the Rev Jesse Jackson and his Operation PUSH campaigned for a boycott of the song on grounds of its supposed lewdness (the good reverend seemed to have been unaware by what act babies are made). A year later, Billy Paul”s wonderful cover of Paul McCartney”s Let “Em In caused some controversy, and also earned effusive praise, for its name-checks of deceased black leaders such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Elijah Muhammad, Medgar Evers and Louis Armstrong.

On the same day the master guitarist Prince died, one of the men who pioneered rock guitar playing, especially in the blues-rock field that was the domain of the likes of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and Duane Allman, passed away. Lonnie Mack“s 1963 instrumentals such as Wham! and Memphis have been acclaimed as being milestones in the development of rock music, particularly the nascent blues-infused rock guitar solo. Mack was also a great soul singer, but when R&B stations discovered that he was white, they stopped playing his records. He returned in the 1970s as a country singer before reverting to blues-rock, recording with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan.IM0416_gallery_2Congolese soukos singer Papa Wemba, who has died at 66, was one of Africa”s most popular musicians, and a favourite also in the World Music market. He was a star in Africa almost as much for his dandyish sartorial style as he was for his marvellous music. But the life of the man born Jules Shungu Wembadio Kikumba was not universally admirable. In 2003 he was convicted of being part of a network that smuggled immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo (née Zaire), and was imprisoned for three months in France. He later said that the experience changed him. It was not his first time in prison. In 1976 Papa Wemba, already a star, was briefly incarcerated on grounds of a suspected relationship with the daughter of a general from dictator Mobutu Sese Seko”s army. Wemba died on stage while playing a concert in Abidjan, Cote d”Ivoire.

Session drummer Dennis Davis is probably best known for having backed David Bowie during the period of Young Americans to Scary Monsters, and after that also on stage. You hear Davis on Bowie classics like Heroes, Golden Years, Ashes To Ashes and Fashion. But my pick of tracks on which Davis drummed is Stevie Wonder”s marvellous Do I Do (one of the last really great Wonder songs). Among other Wonder tracks, he also drummed on Master Blaster. Davis also backed acts like Luther Vandross, Roy Ayers, Zulema, George Benson, Jermaine Jackson, Garland Jeffreys, Smokey Robinson, Webster Lewis and more.

The trumpet of Harrison Calloway has fallen silent. Calloway was the leader of the Muscle Shgoal Horns which can be heard on a huge amount of soul records and other tracks cut at the Muscle Shoals studio, including by acts like Bob Dylan, Jim Capaldi, Paul Simon and Rod Stewart, and also on Elton John”s 1975 performances with John Lennon.  IM0416_gallery_3The gloriously named Jack Hammer (real name Earl Burroughs) is most famous for co-writing a song he didn”t write. As a performer and songwriter he had enjoyed some success in the early 1950s, but when he brought his new song Great Balls Of Fire to songwriter Paul Case, the latter didn”t like it. He did, however, like the title and commissioned Otis Blackwell to write a song by that title for a film called Jamboree. In a rare outburst of ethics in the 1950s music industry, Hammer received half of the songwriting credit for coming up with the title for what would become one of the great rock & roll classics. Hammer kept writing and recording, and in the early 1960s moved to Europe where he had a huge hit with his song Kissin” Twist and earned the title The Twistin” King, after his 1961 single of that name, for his dance moves.

Emile Ford, who has died at 78, was the first black musician to sell a million copies of a single in Britain with his 1958 hit What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For. Born on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, he came to Britain in the mid-“50s, more with a view to being a sound engineer than a recording artist. Still, with his Checkmates he scored a few hits. At the same time he developed a backing track system for stage shows, which formed the basis for what would become karaoke.

The rise of Rock “˜n” Roll depended to a great degree on the rhythm section: the bass and the drum. But drums were expensive and not easy to get because the drumheads were made of animal hides, usually from calves. The advent of synthetic drumheads changed that “” and the developer of the first commercially viable synthetic drumheads, Remo Belli, has died at 88.


Mike Gibbons, 71, lead singer of Canadian group Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods, on April 2
Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods – Who Do You Think You Are (1974)

Gato Barbieri, 83, Argentine free jazz saxophonist, on April 2

Bill Henderson, 90, jazz singer and actor, on April 3
Bill Henderson with the Oscar Peterson Trio – At Long Last Love (1963)

Don Francks, 84, Canadian jazz singer and actor, on April 3

Kōji Wada, 42, Japanese singer, on April 3

Carlo Mastrangelo, 78, bass and lead singer with The Belmonts, on April 4
The Belmonts – Come On Little Angel (1963)
Carlo – Fever (1970)

Dorothy Schwartz, 89, singer with The Chordettes (1946-52), on April 4
The Chordettes – Moonlight On The Ganges (1951)

Getatchew Mekurya, 81, Ethiopian jazz saxophonist, on April 4

Leon Haywood, 74, soul singer, on April 5
Leon Haywood – Don’t Push It Don’t Force It (1980)

Merle Haggard, 79, country singer-songwriter, on April 6
Merle Haggard & The Strangers – The Son Of Hickory Holler’s Tramp (1968)
Merle Haggard & The Strangers – If We Never Meet Again (1971)
Merle Haggard & The Strangers – Always Wanting You (1975)
Merle Haggard – My Life’s Been Grand (1986)
Merle Haggard – I Am What I Am (2010)

Dennis Davis, session drummer, on April 6
Roy Ayers Ubiquity – Brother Louie (1973, on drums & percussion)
David Bowie – Breaking Glass (1977, on drums, also as co-writer)
Stevie Wonder – Do I Do (1982, on drums)

Jimmie Van Zant, 59, rock musician, on April 7

Jade Lemons, member of hard rock group Injected, on April 7

Jack Hammer, 90, musician and songwriter, on April 8
The Cadillacs – Peek-A-Boo (1958, as writer)
Jack Hammer – Kissin’ Twist (1962)

Emile Ford, 78, Saint Lucia-born pop singer and sound engineer, on April 11
Emile Ford – Them There Eyes (1960)

Mike Lazo, 83, lead singer of The Tempos, on April 12
The Tempos – See You In September (1959)

Gib Guilbeau, 78, songwriter, singer, guitarist and fiddler, on April 12
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Wind And Rain (1975, also as co-writer)

Robbie Brennan, Irish rock drummer, on April 12
Townes Van Zandt – A Song For (1994, on drums)

Ismael Quintana, 78, Puerto Rican salsa singer and composer, on April 16

Pete Zorn, 65, multi-instrumentalist musician, on April 19
Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights (1982, on bass)

Richard Lyons, 57, member of experimental rock group Negativland, on April 19

Prince, 57, music genius, on April 21
I Feel For You (1979)
Sometimes It Snows In April (1986)
Starfish And Coffee (1987)
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World (1994)
Reflection (2004)

Lonnie Mack, 74, singer and guitar pioneer, on April 21
Lonnie Mack – Wham! (1963)
Lonnie Mack ““ Why (1963, released 1968)
Lonnie Mack “Ž- Too Rock For Country, Too Country For Rock And Roll (1988)

Bill Sevesi, 92, Tongan-born New Zealand musician, on April 23

Billy Paul, 81, soul singer, on April 24
Billy Paul – Ebony Woman (1970)
Billy Paul – Am I Black Enough For You (1972)
Billy Paul – Let’s Make A Baby (1975)

Papa Wemba, 66, Congolese singer, on April 24
Papa Wemba – Le Voyageur (1992)

Remo Belli, 88, drummer, developer of the synthetic drumhead, on April 25

Wolfgang Rohde, 66, drummer of German rock band Die Toten Hosen, on April 25
Die Toten Hosen – Pushed Again (1998)

Philip Kives, 87, Canadian founder of K-tel records, on April 27

Harrison Calloway, 75, trumpeter and leader of the Muscle Shoals Horns, on April 30
Clarence Carter ““ Patches (1970)
Muscle Shoals Horns – Open Up Your Heart (1976)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    May 5th, 2016 at 07:30 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. muddy mike
    May 5th, 2016 at 12:27 | #2

    thank you !

  3. dogbreath
    May 5th, 2016 at 12:40 | #3

    As we get older, it’s only natural that artistes who we grew up with start dying off – no-one’s invincible after all – but the number of musical heroes lost so far this year has been one body blow after another. Prince as a solo artiste was always on my musical periphery, much admired by girlfriends and my wife, but I do acknowledge his lasting influence through his songwriting and producing for a varied roster of other performers. And now Billy Paul has gone too. Thanks as usual for the compilation.

  4. JohnnyDiego
    May 5th, 2016 at 13:13 | #4

    I happened to be in a small Texas town last week. Walking down a touristy street I noticed a boutique called Me And Mrs. Jones. I told my wife that Billy Paul had recently died. She didn’t know that but she sang the song right in front of the shop. People our age “slow danced” in dimly lit rooms to that song. I didn’t know Gato Barbieri had died. He was a part of that free-fusion South American jazz scene in the 1970s that I thought was cool for a moment, but I quickly tired of it. And one day while my wife was shopping in a department store I was browsing the record stacks and saw an album cover of a young kid with no shirt and eye make-up. The kid called himself Prince. Pretentious little snot. I bought it anyway. Some of my friends still don’t know who Lonnie Mack is even though his albums blasted through my stereo and out the front door for years.
    Is it macabre that I start thinking about your memoriums the minute I hear of a musicians death? That I look forward to the first of each month? Thank you, Dude, for your work and dedication.

  5. JohnnyDiego
    May 5th, 2016 at 13:22 | #5

    And lest I forget my man, while my friends were listening to “country” bands like the Byrds or the Eagles I had three Merle Haggard albums. A smoother voiced singer there never was. Merle may not have placed Bakersfield on the map but I’m sure no one would have heard of it if not for the likes of Buck Owens, Johnny Paycheck, and the velvet throated Merle Haggard.

  6. Rhod
    May 6th, 2016 at 23:19 | #6

    Thanks once again for the In Memoriam. I did not know Lonnie Mack passed on a big loss



  7. russ
    May 7th, 2016 at 15:04 | #7

    I had a hard time reading this one. It got even harder after Lonnie Mack.

  8. Birgit
    May 12th, 2016 at 00:48 | #8

    Thanks for In Memoriam!
    Sad news for old German kids like us, Trio drummer Peter Behrens died today (May 11th).

  9. halfhearteddude
    May 12th, 2016 at 07:30 | #9

    Sad news. Newly-posted Trio poster here: https://bravoposters.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/trio-1982/

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