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In Memoriam – May 2021

Ironically, it was raining when I learnt of the death of B.J. Thomas. It would have been even better had I been in a branch of the Personality franchise of shops when I read that Lloyd Price had died, but that night have been irony overkill.

Overall, May was a fairly quiet month, though not for samba singers, three of whom died in Brazil within days of one another.

The Rock & Roll Pioneer
Had he not been drafted into the US army to fight in Korea in 1954, Lloyd Price might have become a “King of Rock & Roll”. By the time he came home, other R&B singers had become kings of that new type of music which Price had pioneered. One of the great prototype Rock & Roll records was Price’s self-written debut single, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, recorded in 1952 in New Orleans with the great Dave Bartholomew leading the band which included the yet-unknown Fats Domino on the piano.

After returning from Korea, Price was able to resume his recording career with some success, scoring big hits with ’50s rock & roll classics such as Personality, I’m Gonna Get Married, and Stagger Lee.

When the hits dried up, he became a mover behind the scenes, co-founding the label on which Wilson Pickett got his start, and another label in the 1970s with boxing Don King. In 1974 Price helped King organise the “Rumble in Jungle” extravaganza in Kinshasa, Zaire (now DR Congo), with the legendary bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, and the attendant concert featuring James Brown and B.B. King. Price was also a successful entrepreneur outside music, in businesses ranging from construction to canned foods.

The Raindrops Guy
It is strange that B.J. Thomas never became a big star in Europe. His songs were know there, even if Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head was a bigger hit in Sasha Distel’s inferior version, but he never broke really big. Thomas had already enjoyed a couple of US Top 10 hits (with I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry in 1966 and Hooked On A Feeling in 1968) when Raindrops forced itself on him. He wasn’t songwriter Burt Bacharach’s first or even second choice, but when Bob Dylan and Ray Stevens cried off, the song was offered to Thomas… who had laryngitis at the time. It seems providential: the relaxed singing style, the better to avoid straining his larynx, suited the beautiful arrangement perfectly.

Thomas went on to have a few more hits — including I Just Can’t Help Believing, which Elvis would cover — before switching to Christian contemporary music in the late ’70s, becoming the genre’s first superstar. He’d still have a few country hits as well. TV viewers would get to hear Thomas again in the late 1980s, when he duetted with Jennifer Warnes on the theme of the sitcom Growing Pain, which he then released in a full song recording with Dusty Springfield.

The Soul Drummer
By the time he was 25, Roger Hawkins had played the drums on dozens of stone-cold soul classics. Born in 1945, Hawkins was only 20 when his stick-work, as drummer of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (or Swampers) featured on a US Top 10 single, Percy Sledges’s When a Man Loves A Woman. Many followed, including Wilson Pickett’s Land Of A 1000 Dances and Mustang Sally; James & Bobby Purify’s I’m Your Puppet; Clarence Carter’ Slip Away; R.B. Greaves’ Take A Letter Maria; The Staple Singers’ I’ll Take You There and Respect Yourself; Paul Simon’s Kodachrome, Still Crazy After All These Years, and Loves Me Like A Rock; and Eddie Rabbitt’s Suspicion. And then there were all those Aretha Franklin classics: Respect, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You), Chain Of Fools, Since You’ve Been Gone, Think, Call Me, Do Right Woman – Do Right Man, and so on. All with a guy on the drums who looked like a postgrad chemistry student (no offense to postgrad chemistry students, of course).

Hawkins also played on Bob Seger tracks like Mainstreet, We’ve Got Tonight, Old Time Rock & Roll and Good For Me. And he drummed on a couple of tracks by model-singer Nick Kamen, who died earlier in the month (see below).

In 1969m Hawkins co-founded the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The Lesbian Activist
At a time when gay and lesbian singers were hiding their sexuality, folk singer Alix Dobkin broke it out into the open in the 1970s, with albums like Lavender Jane Loves Women (1973) and Living With Lesbians (1975). She started her career on the Greenwich Village coffeehouse circuit in 1962, where she performed with folk legends like Bob Dylan and Buffy Sainte-Marie. A marriage followed, after the breakdown of which Dobkin came out as a lesbian. Her activism cause the lovely people at the FBI to see her as a “troublemaker”. She wrote and recorded until the turn of the century, and performed until her death at 80.

The Croce Producer
Practically every song you know by Jim Croce was co-produced by Tommy West, who has died at 78. And on many of them, he played the keyboard and/or bass or the rhythm guitar. Having started his music career in the 1950s as a member of the Doo Woo band The Criterions, he was a backing vocalists for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Connie Francis, and Perry Como. He was also a songwriter (including for the Partridge Family), and a producer for acts like Ed Bruce, Holly Dunn, Judy Rodman, Dion and Ann Murray. He and long-time collaborator Cashman also produced the 1976 million-seller Shannon for Henry Gross, and recorded a number of albums together.

The Real Singer
One of the biggest scandals in pop took place when it turned out that the two charismatic members of Milli Vanilli had not been the actual vocalists on mega hits like Girl You Know It’s True, Blame It On The Rain, and Girl I’m Gonna Miss You. The Grammy Awards people took back the gongs they had given Milli Vanilli, proclaiming to be shocked — shocked! — that pretend-singing was going on. Of course, the Grammy people hadn’t done their due diligence. Milli Vanilli were produced by Frank Farian, the former German Schlager singer who had produced Boney M to world stardom — while providing the voices for two of their singers, one of them female.

Farian didn’t bless us with his own vocal stylings on Milli Vanilli records, but he employed several studio backing singers to give voice to the lip-synchers Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan. One of them was John Davis, who has died at 65 from causes related to Covid-19. A singer and bass player born in South Carolina, he came to Germany in the 1980s, and released a bunch of records under his own name. In the 1990, having been outed as one of the real voiced behind Milli Vanilli, he tried his hand at performing as the Real Milli Vanilli, but with limited success.

The 501s Guy
In 1985 British TV viewers gut an eyefull of model Nick Kamen taking off his Levi’s 501s in a launderette. The commercial for the jeans brand inaugurated a series of popular ads that used 1960s soul as background music. Kamen stripped to Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine, which on the back off that would become a #8 hit in April 1986. That ad was followed by Levi’s ads using soul standards such as Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World (*#2 in March 1986), Ben E. King’s Stand By Me (#1 in 1987) and Percy Sledge’s When A Man Loves A Woman (#2 in 1987), as well as The Temptations’ My Girl and The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, neither of which were re-released as singles.

The effect of the ads was two-fold: 501s became the hippest thing going (and I wear them to this day), and it brought the already ongoing ’60s soul revival into the mainstream. And it also made a star of Kamen, who has died at the young age of 59 from bone marrow cancer. His debut single, the Madonna-written and produced Each Time You Break My Heart, hit #5 in the UK in 1986, at around the same time Grapevine was in the charts. It would be his biggest hit, though 1990s I Promised Myself was huge throughout Europe. Kamen was particularly successful in Italy, where he notched up five Top 10 hits.

As always, this post is reproduced in PDF format in the package, which also includes my personal playlist of the featured tracks. PW in comments.

Danny ‘Panamas Red’ Finley, 76, outlaw country musician, on April 29
Billy Joe Shaver – Bottom Dollar (1973, on guitar and as co-writer)

Wondress Hutchinson, 56, jazz and dance music singer, on May 1
Mantronix feat. Wondress – Got To Have Your Love (1989, on lead vocals)

Tommy West, 78, producer, musician, singer, songwriter, on May 2
The Criterions – I Remain Truly Yours (1959, as member)
Cashman & West – American City Suite (1972)
Jim Croce – Time In A Bottle (1973, as co-producer, an on bass, keyboards and harpsichord)
Judy Rodman – Until I Met You (1986, as producer)

Marcel Stellman, 96, Belgian producer and lyricist, on May 2
Drafi Deutscher And His Magics – Marble, Breaks And Iron Bends (1966, as lyricist)

Phil Naro, 63, rock singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer, on May 3
Phil Naro – ‘6Teen’ Theme (2005, on vocals)

Rodolfo García, 75, drummer of Argentine rock band Almendra, on May 4
Almendra – Hoy todo el hielo en la ciudad (1968)

Henrik Ohlin, bassist of heavy metal spoof band Black Ingvars, on May 4

Nick Kamen, 59, English singer and model, on May 4
Nick Kamen – Each Time You Break My Heart (1986)
Nick Kamen – Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever (1986, with Roger Hawkins on drums)

Lloyd Price, 88, pioneering R&B singer, songwriter, label owner, on May 6
Lloyd Price And His Orchestra – Lawdy Miss Clawdy (1952, also as writer)
Lloyd Price – I’m Gonna Get Married (1959, also as co-writer)
Lloyd Price – What Did You Do With My Love (1976, also as writer)

Cassiano, 77, Brazilian soul singer-songwriter and guitarist, on May 7
Cassiano – Coleção (1976)

Curtis Fuller, 86, jazz trombonist, on May 8
Curtis Fuller’s Quintet – Five Spot After Dark (1959)

Svante Thuresson, 84, Swedish jazz singer and drummer, on May 10
Lill & Svante – Nygammal Vals (1966)

Bernard Lachance, 46, Canadian singer-songwriter, on May 11

Bob G. Koester, 88, jazz & blues producer, label owner, on May 12
Big Joe Williams – Drop Down Mama (1958, as producer)

Herman Celis, 67, Belgian new wave drummer, on May 12

Norman Simmons, 91, jazz pianist, arranger and composer, on May 13
Carmen McCrae – Sunday (1963, on piano)
Norman Simmons – Eleanor Rigby (2002)

Jack Terricloth, 50, leader of The World/Inferno Friendship Society, on May 13
World/Inferno Friendship Society – Brother Of The Mayor Of Bridgewater (2012)

Mario Pavone, 80, jazz bassist, on May 15
Mario Pavone – Monk In Soweto (1992)

Jacky van Dam, 83, Dutch musician and singer, on May 15

Patsy Bruce, 81, country songwriter, on May 16
Gibson/Miller Band – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (1994, as co-writer)

MC Kevin, 23, Brazilian singer-songwriter, in a fall on May 16

Nicolas Ker, 50, singer of French electronic band Poni Hoax, on May 17
Poni Hoax – She’s On The Radio (2006)

Franco Battiato, 76, Italian singer-songwriter and filmmaker, on May 18
Battiato – La convenzione (1972)

Alix Dobkin, 80, folk singer-songwriter, on May 19
Alix Dobkin – A Woman’s Love (1973)
Alix Dobkin – Toughen Up! (1976)

Johnny Ashcroft, 94, Australian country singer, on May 19
Johnny Ashcroft – Little Boy Lost (1960)

Zion Aquino, 42, Filipino singer, on May 20

Roger Hawkins, 75, drummer and co-owner Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, on May 20
Wilson Pickett – Land Of 1000 Dances (1966, on drums)
Etta James – I’d Rather Go Blind (1968, on drums)
Herbie Mann – Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty (1970, on drums)
Eddie Rabbitt – Suspicions (1982, on drums)

Roberto González, 68, Mexican musician and composer, on May 20

Mel Buckley, guitarist of blues-rock group Someone’s Band, on May 21
Someones Band – A Story (1970, also as writer)

Xerardo Moscoso, 77, Spanish singer-songwriter and playwright, on May 22
Xerardo Moscoso – Deuda cumprida (1968)

Dewayne Blackwell, 84, country songwriter, on May 23
The Fleetwoods – Mr. Blue (1959, as writer)
Garth Brooks – Friends In Low Places (live) (1998, as co-writer)

Lorrae Desmond, 91, Australian singer and actress, May 23
Lorrae Desmond & The Rebels – Ding Dong Rock A Billy Weddin’ (1957)

John Davis, 66, singer and real voice of Milli Vanilli, on May 24
John Davis – Check It Out (1984)
Milli Vanilli – Girl You Know It’s True (1989; as vocalist)
The Real Milli Vanilli – When I Die (1990)

Søren Holm, 25, singer of Danish R&B group Liss, on May 25
Liss – Miles Apart (2016)

Rusty Warren, 91, comedian- singer, on May 25
Rusty Warren – Knockers Up! (1960)

Patrick Sky, 80, folk singer-songwriter, on May 27
Patrick Sky – Many A Mile (1965)

Nelson Sargento, 96, Brazilian samba musician, on May 27
Nelson Sargento – Sonho de Um Sambista (1979)

Freddy Marks, 71, English kids’ music singer and actor, on May 27

Jimi/Jimmy Bellmartin, 71, Dutch singer, on May 28
Jimmy Bellmartin – This Is My Love Song (1970)

B.J. homas, 78, pop and country singer, on May 29
B.J. Thomas – Hooked On A Feeling (1968)
B.J. Thomas – If You Must Leave My Life (1969)
B.J. Thomas – Another Done Somebody Wrong Song (1975)
B.J. Thomas & Dusty Springfield – As Long As We Got Each Other (1988)

Johnny Trudell, 82, jazz trumpeter and composer, on May 29
Johnny Trudell – Free & Easy (1979)

Dominguinhos do Estácio, 79, Brazilian samba musician, on May 30

Lil Loaded, 20, rapper, by suicide on May 31

Firmino de Itapoan, 78, Brazilian samba musician and composer, on May 31
Firmino De Itapoã – Bada-Uê (1978)

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  1. AMDWHAH
    June 3rd, 2021 at 09:45 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Rhodb
    June 5th, 2021 at 05:57 | #2

    Thanks once again for the In Memoriams

    Appreciate the work involved

    Regards Rhodb

  3. dogbreath
    June 5th, 2021 at 19:07 | #3

    An invaluable resource as always. Thanks for the reminders and now to re-watch “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” to enjoy B J Thomas’s great vocal rendition of “Raindrops keep…..” once more. Cheers!

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