Home > In Memoriam > In Memoriam – May 2020

In Memoriam – May 2020

Another relentless month, and not just because Covid-19 (though that virus was a factor in several deaths). May claimed a number of innovators and trailblazers — Little Richard, Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider, Betty Wright, Mory Kanyté. But the deaths we should mourn more than others is that of Turkish musicians Ibrahim Gökçek and Helion Bölek, who have died of hunger strike in protest against the persecution of their group by Turkey’s Erdoğan regime.

The Superstar
Little needs to be added to the many tributes for Little Richard, other than to note that without him, we’d not have had The Beatles as we knew them. I can only imagine how explosive the sounds of Little Richard, and Elvis’ Hound Dog, must have sounded to teenagers in the 1950s. In a tweet, British music journalist Simon Price summed up most fittingly Little Richard’s position in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: “Little Richard was the firecracker who set it all off. Right there at rock ‘n’ roll’s Big Bang, this ungovernable force transcending race, gender and sexuality. Literally a screaming queen. I met him once and it was like touching the hand of God. We owe him everything. RIP (it up).”

The Beatles certainly owed him a lot. When the young Liverpool quartet was supporting Mr Perriman on his England tour in 1963, Little Richard taught Paul McCartney to scream — s skill Macca put to good use in tracks such as I Saw Her Standing There and I’m Down to Helter Skelter and Hey Jude. And, of course, The Beatles borrowed their “wooo” from Littler Richard.

And, of course, check out Little Richard singing Rubber Ducky on Sesame Street.

The Robot Pioneer
It seems entirely in keeping with Florian Schneider’s ways that his death on April 21 would remain unreported for more than two weeks. With his band Kraftwerk, human emotion was unimportant, to the extent that in 1978 the members were replaced by identikit robots whom one could barely tell apart from the living men. In person, Schneider was said to be warm and funny. It is good that his death was met with many warm tributes.

Kraftwerk (properly prtonounced CRUFT-vairk) weren’t the only pioneers of electronic music — the German scene had several of those — but they had the greatest impact on the international mainstream pop that was to follow, be it Eurodisco, the post-punk synth pop in the UK, dance and electronica, or the Neue Deutsche Welle in Germany. And that influence manifested itself not only in music but also in image. David Bowie was an early adopter: the instrumental on his Heroes album (and b-side of the single of the title track) is named V2-Schneider in tribute to Florian — even if the war reference in the title sounded a bit insulting.

The Soul Allrounder
For a generation of strong, independently-minded and put-upon women, Betty Wright articulated the right responses to often inferior men — and the right to be satisfied. A songwriter and an accomplished singer — she could hit notes every bit as high as later pretenders such as Mariah Carey — Wright also had a strong stage presence. Witness her command of the audience on Tonight Is The Night.

She won a Grammy for Best R&B Song for Where Is The Love?, then discovered disco-funkster Peter Brown, with whom she duetted on the 1978 dance classic  Dance With Me. In 1988, Wright became the first black female artist to score a gold album on her own label, with her album Mother.  Later she went into vocals arranging and producing for acts like Gloria Estefan, Tom Jones, Jennifer Lopez and Joss Stone. And she also sang backing vocals on Stevie Wonder’s hit Happy Birthday and All I Do, which featured earlier this month on Any Major Soul 1980.

The Beatles’ Friend
It’s rare that non-musicians feature in this series, but the death of Astrid Kirchherr a week before her 82nd birthday needs to be noted. Kirchherr was a young photographer when she met the yet unknown and even younger five Beatles in Hamburg in 1961. Of the Fab Five, one absconded to be with her — Stuart Sutcliffe died a year later (and Pete Best was later replaced). At her intervention, the group changed their Teddy Boy hairstyles to the moptops they became famous with. Kirchherr would reject the idea that she had “invented” these hairstyles, saying that lots of German boys had been wearing them. Still, if any hairstyle ever had any pivotal role in changing pop music, it was the one Astrid Kirchherr prescribed The Beatles.

The Prog Punk
Even people who have no truck with the grimy pub-rock of The Stranglers might have grooved to the sounds of the band’s keyboardist Dave Greenfield: his keyboard sounds dominate Waltz In Black, the theme of TV cook Keith Floyd’s alcohol-drenched programmes. Greenfield’s prog-rock keyboards transformed the pub-rock of The Stranglers (they never really were punk). Consider their hit No More Heroes: without the swirling keyboards, it’s a sneering rock song with a guitar solo. And hear what Greenfield does with The Strangler’s version of Walk On By, a truly unattractive cover until he goes all Isaac Hayes on it, turning it into an impressive work.

Greenfield was often compared to The Doors’ Ray Manzarek, whose work similarly transformed the sound of his band. Greenfield claimed that he had never heard of Manzarek before The Stranglers. He cited as his decidedly non-punk influences Rick Wakeman of Yes.

Miles’ Drummer
For nearly three decades, jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb was the last man standing of the Miles Davis Sextet which recorded the seminal Kind Of Blue album. Davis died in 1991, John Coltrane in 1967, Paul Chambers in 1969, Wynton Kelly (who played piano on Freddie Freeloader) in 1971, Cannonball Adderley in 1975, Bill Evans in 1980. Cobb played on many Miles Davis albums, including on the marvellous Sketches Of Spain and Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall. A drummer known for his subtlety and restraint, Cobb backed many jazz greats, including Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, both Adderley Bothers, Wayne Shorter, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Dorothy Ashby, Hubert Laws and many others.

The One-hit Pioneer
For a one-hit wonder, Millie Small’s brief residence in the limelight with her hit My Boy Lollipop was significant. She was the first Jamaican to have a worldwide hit with a song made in Jamaica, and the first to have an international smash with a song in the bluebeat genre, which fused R&B, pop and ska, and is regarded an ancestor of reggae. Alas, Millie said she never received royalties from her mega-hit, and eventually slid into poverty. She received honours later in life; and apparently Island Records founder Chris Blackwell gave her some financial sustenance to keep her going.

The Griot Man
With his song Yé ké Yé ké, Guinean singer Mory Kanté scored the first million-seller by an African artist in Europe. The album it came from, Akwaba Beach, also became the best-selling African record at the time. Kanté came from the hereditary West African griot tradition, in which families of storytellers, praise singers, poets or musicians pass the local culture down the generations. Kanté never repeated the success of the much-remixed Yé ké Yé ké, possibly because it was seen as a novelty dance hit. But he remained a fixture in African music, with a dozen albums released between 1981 and 2017. In 2014 he and other African stars came together to record a charity song to support Doctors Without Borders’ anti-ebola activities. It sold 250,000 copies.

The Executive Rapper
The man who jump-started the careers of the likes of Puff Daddy, Mary J. Blige, Notorious B.I.G., Jodeci, Zhané, Soul For Real, Heavy D. and other icons of 1990s R&B has passed away at only 58. Andre Harrell started his career as a rapper as the first half of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, a hip hop duo that stood out for dressing in business suits. At that point he already was a budding music business mogul — a natural progression for a business management major. By age 25 he was vice-president and general manager of Def Jam records; by the end of the 1980s he had founded Uptown Records. That label declined when many of its stars decamped elsewhere, but Harrell landed on his feet, becoming CEO of Motown Records in 1995. More recently, he executive produced Robin Thicke’s rape anthem Blurred Lines.

The Irish Legend
Irish singer Brendan Bowyer had the distinction of once having The Beatles opening for him and his Royal Showband at a gig in Liverpool (in 1962, before the Fans had their first record out. History doesn’t record whether he issued McCartney any after-hours singing tips). Later, when Bowyer was performing in Las Vegas, he counted Elvis Presley among his fans. In Ireland, he and his group became the first Irish to top the country’s charts, in 1963 with Love Me Quick. Three more Irish #1s would follow, with 1965’s The Hucklebuck being the biggest hit, also charting in Australia.

The Spotnick
With the death of co-founder Bob Landers (or Bo Starander), Swedish guitar band The Spotnicks have only one surviving member of the classic 1960s line-up, drummer Ove Johansson (and his various drumming successor). The band lost lead guitarist Bo Winberg only in January. Named as a pun on the Russian Sputniks and playing Ventures-style guitar instrumentals, The Spotnicks were the first Swedish band to have international success, with tracks like Orange Blossom Special, Hava Nagila, and Rocket Man.

The Blues Protégé
As a five-year-old protégé of blues legend Willie Dixon in the late 1960s, Lucky Peterson was billed as “our future” and appeared on US national TV shows such as on The Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show and What’s My Line?, no doubt with a look in the direction of Michael Jackson. Two child-star LPs came out before he hit puberty.

Peterson reappeared in the record shops in 1984 as a 20 year old blues musician. It was the start of a prolific career, as a singer, a keyboardist on the Hammond organ and guitarist. He recorded and performed solo, but also collaborated with stars like Mavis Staples, B.B. King, Wynton Marsalis, Rufuys Thomas, Etta James, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and Little Milton. In March this year, Peterson was so upset about his European tour being cancelled that he recorded a “Coronavirus Blues” in his hotel room. A few weeks later he was suddenly taken ill and died.

The Axeman
As a guitarist Bob Kullick backed several bands, in the studio and on stage, but he didn’t release a solo record until 2017, when he was 67. I remember seeing him play with Meat Loaf in 1985 in London. I was in the first row, right in line of his sight. As I was watching this bald, unobtrusively charismatic guy, we made eye contact and he flashed me a smile. A great moment for me – I’d never had experienced a personal kind of connection like that with somebody performing on stage. Kullick recorded with Meat Loaf, Kiss, Lou Reed, WASP, Janis Ian, Diana Ross, Todd Rundgren, Tim Curry, Michal Bolton, Alice Cooper, Was (Not Was) and more.

The Slide Guitar Guy
If you followed the career of Bob Dylan in the 1990s or Steve Earle in the mid-to-late 1980s, then you’ll probably have heard the pedal steel guitar of Bucky Baxter, who has died at 65. The father of alt.country singer Rayland Baxter (whom Bucky also backed) also played with the likes of Ryan Adams, R.E.M., Ben Folds, Joe Henry, Los Lobos, and Cerys Williams.

 The Martyrs
The death of Ibrahim Gökçek, bass player of Turkish band Grup Yorum, and that last month of bandmate Helin Bölek, should shock us: both died of starvation at the culmination of hunger strikes in protest of the treatment the politically-minded group had received from Turkey’s Erdoğan regime. That treatment for the internationally-known band included alleged harassment, raids, arrests, torture and a performance ban. In 2018 several group members were put on the “Grey List”, with a bounty of 300,000 Turkish lira (about US$ 42,000) on their heads.

In February 2019, Gökçek was detained without trial; in detention he and Gökçek and fellow detainee Bölek went on hunger strike in June 2019 which they continued after their release (Bölek in November; Gökçek in February this year). Bölek died on April 3; she was 28.

As last month, there are two playlists: the traditional one of the tracks below, and a select one I made for my own entertainment. Another innovation is to present this post in PDF booklet format for easy off-site reading, replacing the old *.txt files. It takes a bit of effort to create; let me know in the comments if I should continue with it.

The famous photo of the yet unknown Beatles taken by Astrid Kirchherr in Hamburg. The lads are yet to get the hairstyle which Kirchherr prescribed them. Stu Sutcliffe (far right) soon left the band to have a relationship with Kirchherr, cut short by Sutcliffe’s sudden death. Pete Best (far left) would later be replaced with Ringo Starr.


Florian Schneider, 83, co-founder of German pioneer group Kraftwerk, on April 21
Kraftwerk – Ruckzuck (1970)
Kraftwerk – Kometenmelodie 2 (1974)
Kraftwerk – Die Roboter (1978)
Kraftwerk – Tour de France (1983)

Will Theunissen, 65, guitarist of Dutch jazz rock band Elevator, on May 1

Tavo Limongi, 52, guitarist of Mexican nu-metal band Resorte, on May 1

Jonathan Kelly, 72, Irish singer-songwriter, on May 2
Jonathan Kelly’s Outside – Yesterday’s Promises (1974)

Cady Groves, 30, American singer-songwriter, on May 2
Cady Groves – Oil And Water (2015)

Gilbert Sigrist, 82, French pianist, on May 2
Gilbert Bécaud – Nathalie (live) (1967, on piano)

Richie Cole, 72, American jazz saxophonist and composer, on May 2
Richie Cole – New York Afternoon (1977, also as writer)

Dave Greenfield, 71, keyboardist of The Stranglers, of Covid-19 on May 3
The Stranglers – Peaches (1977)
The Stranglers – Walk On By (1978)
The Stranglers – Golden Brown (1981)
The Stranglers – Waltz In Black (1985)

Bob Lander, 78, founder member of Swedish guitar band The Spotnicks, on May 3
The Spotnicks – The Spotnicks Theme (1961)
The Spotnicks – The Rocket Man (1963)

Aldir Blanc, 73, Brazilian songwriter, of Covid-19 on May 4

John Erhardt, member of Indie bands Wussy, Ass Ponys, on May 4
Ass Ponys – Earth To Grandma (1994)

Frederick C. Tillis, 90, jazz saxophonist and composer, on May 4

Alfred “Uganda” Roberts, 77, New Orleans percussionist, on May 5
Allen Toussaint – Soul Sister (1972, on congas)

Kiing Shooter, 24, American rapper, of Covid-19 on May 5

Sweet Pea Atkinson, 74, singer with Was (Not Was), on May 5
Sweet Pea Atkinson – Don’t Walk Away (1982)
Was (Not Was) – Spy In The House Of Love (1987, on lead vocals)

Sonny Cox, 82, jazz saxophonist, on May 5

Millie Small, 72, Jamaican singer, on May 5
Millie – My Boy Lollipop (1964, German version)
Millie – Melting Pot (1970)

Ciro Pessoa, 62, Brazilian singer-songwriter, of Covid-19 on May 5

Brian Howe, 66, lead singer of Bad Company (1986-94), on May 6
Bad Company – No Smoke Without A Fire (1988)

Ibrahim Gökçek, 41, bass player of Turkish band Grup Yorum, suicide by starvation, on May 7

Ty, 47, British rapper, of Covid-19 on May 7
Ty – Oh, You Want More? (2004)

Andre Harrell, 59, producer, founder of Uptown Records, on May 8
Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde – Genius Rap (1981, as Dr. Jeckyll)
Heavy D & The Boyz – Now That We Found Love (1991, as executive producer)

Mark Barkan, 85, songwriter and producer, on May 8
Connie Francis – I’m Gonna Be Warm This Winter (1962, as co-writer)
Manfred Mann – Pretty Flamingo (1966, as writer)

Little Richard, 87, rock & roll singer, pianist and songwriter, on May 9
Little Richard – Ready Teddy (1956)
Little Richard – Ooh! My Soul (1958)
Little Richard – I’m Trampin’ (1959)
Little Richard – Get Down With It (1967)

Carlos José, 85, Brazilian singer-songwriter, of Covid-129 on May 9
Carlos José – Ee E Deus (1958)

David Corrêa, 82, Brazilian samba singer-songwriter, on May 10
David Corrêa – Menino Bom (1974)

Aldo Bassi, 58, Italian jazz trumpeter, on May 10

Betty Wright, 66, soul singer, on May 10
Betty Wright – Clean Up Woman (1971)
Betty Wright – Where Is The Love? (1973)
Betty Wright – Tonight Is The Night (live) (1978)
Richard ‘Dimples’ Field feat. Betty Wright – She’s Got Papers On Me (1981)

Moon Martin, 69, American singer-songwriter, on May 11
Moon Martin – Bad Case Of Lovin’ You (1978, also as writer)

Jean Nichol, 75, Canadian pop singer, on May 11

Alberto Carpani, 64, Italo-disco DJ and singer, of Covid-19 on May 11
Albert One – Hopes & Dreams (1987)

Richard Lane, founder of Australian garage rock band The Stems, reported on May 12
The Stems – At First Sight (1987)

Renée Claude, 80, Canadian singer and actress, of Covid-19 on May 12

Derek Lawrence, 78, English producer, on May 13
Deep Purple – Hush (1968, as producer)
Labi Siffre – I Got The… (1975, as co-producer)

Astrid Kirchherr, 81, German photographer of The Beatles, on May 13
The Beatles – I Saw Her Standing There (1962, live in Hamburg)

Yoshio, 70, Mexican singer, of Covid-19 on May 13

Jorge Santana, 68, Mexican guitarist (brother of Carlos), on May 14
Malo – Suavecito (1972, as member)

Joey Giambra, 86, jazz musician, actor, of Covid-19 on May 14

Phil May, 75, singer of English rock group The Pretty Things, on May 15
The Pretty Things – Don’t Bring Me Down (1964)
The Pretty Things – She Says Good Morning (1968)

Sergio Denis, 71, Argentine singer, songwriter and actor, on May 15

Denny DeMarchi, 57, Canadian multi-instrumentalist, producer, on May 15
Alias – More Than Words Can Say (1990, on keyboards)

Donn Trenner, 93, jazz pianist and arranger, on May 16
Les Brown And His Band Of Renown – Girl Of My Dreams (1955, on piano)

Lucky Peterson, 55, blues singer, guitarist and keyboardist, on May 17
Lucky Peterson – Our Future (1969)
Lucky Peterson – Compared To What (1993)
Lucky Peterson – Purple Rain (1997)

Chris Stewart, 73, session bass guitarist, reported on May 17
Joe Cocker – Where Am I Now (1975, on bass)

Peter Thomas, 94, German soundtrack composer, on May 17
Peter Thomas Sound Orchester – Raumpatrouille Theme (1966, also as composer)

Willie K, 59, Hawaiian blues musician, on May 19

Bobby ‘Digital’ Dixon, 59, Jamaican reggae and dancehall producer, on May 21
Gregory Isaacs – Wailing Rudie (1989, as co-producer and co-arranger)

Mory Kanté, 70, Guinean singer and kora player, on May 22
Mory Kanté – Yé ké yé ké (1987)
Mory Kanté – Djalla (1996)
Mory Kanté – Oh Oh Oh (La Guinéenne) (2012)

KJ Balla, 23, rapper, shot on May 22

Klaus Selmke, 70, drummer of East-German rock band City, on May 22
City – Am Fenster (1977)

Steve ‘Thee Slayer Hippy’ Hanford, 50, drummer of punk band Poison Idea, on May 22
Poison Idea – Just To Get Away (1989)

Jimmy Cobb, 91, jazz drummer (Miles Davis), on May 24
Dinah Washington – You Let My Love Grow Cold (1952, on drums)
Miles Davis – Saeta (1960, on drums)

Lily Lian, 103, French singe, on May 24
Lily Lian – La femme aux bijoux

Otto de la Rocha, 86, Nicaraguan singer and songwriter, on May 25

Al Rex, 91, bassist with Bill Haley & His Comets (1955-58), on May 25
Bill Haley & His Saddlemen – Rocket 88 (1951)

Bucky Baxter, 65, folk-rock guitarist, on May 25
Steve Earle – Someday (1986, on pedal steel guitar)
Bob Dylan – Tryin’ To Get To Heaven (1997, on acoustic guitar)
Ben Folds – Give Judy My Notice (2005, on pedal steel guitar)

Charlie Monttana, 58, Mexican rock singer, on May 28
Charlie Monttana – Vaquero Rockanrolero (1993)

Bob Kulick, 70, session guitarist, on May 28
Diana Ross – Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1981, on guitar with solo)
Meat Loaf – Piece Of The Action (1985, on guitar with solo)

Brendan Bowyer, 81, Irish showband singer, on May 28
Brendan Bowyer & The Royal Showband – Kiss Me Quick (1963)
Brendan Bowyer & The Royal Showband – The Hucklebuck (1965)

Lennie Niehaus, 90, jazz saxophonist, film composer (Clint Eastwood), on May 28
Lennie Niehaus – Little Girl Blues (1957)

Evaldo Gouveia, 91, Brazilian MPB singer and songwriter, of Covid-19 on May 29

John Nzenze, 80, Kenyan pop and jazz musician, on May 30
John Nzenze – Angelike Twist (1961)

Don Weller, 79, English jazz saxophonist, on May 30
David Bowie – Absolute Beginners (1986, on saxophone)

Bob Northern, 86, jazz flautist and French hornist, on May 31
Gil Evans – El Toreador (1964, on French Horn)


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  1. Rhodb
    June 5th, 2020 at 23:28 | #1

    Another fine effort

    Little Richard will be forever mourned the major influence on what we listen to today


  2. Peacenik
    June 7th, 2020 at 05:21 | #2

    I just saw over at Holland Tunnel Dive that Naggo Morris died of cancer in mid-May. Morris was a reggae singer who had some early 70s singles, then joined as lead vocalist for the Heptones after Leroy Sibbles left in ’77. He had a really nice voice.
    Thanks for all your great work.

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