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In Memoriam – April 2022

It was not a safe month to be a Canadian singer; quite a few died in April, including Susan Jacks, singer of the Poppy Family and sister of singer Terry Jacks, and Native American country singer Shane Yellowbird, who was only 42 (the featured song is from a 2007 album titled Life Is Calling My Name). On the other end of the spectrum, one of the behind-the-scenes people who was at the centre of shaping rock & roll passed away at the age of 104.

One name featured already last month: the death of Bunny Simpson of reggae trio Mighty Diamonds came only three days after the death in a drive-by shooting of fellow band member Tabby Shaw, but since they cut across two months, I included Simpson on both lists.

Most poignantly, on the day before Mental Health Month was to begin, one of country music’s great stars died from mental illness.

The Pioneer
Who knows how rock & roll might have turned out had Art Rupe — born in 1917 as Arthur Goldberg, the son of Jewish immigrants — not decided in 1944 to invest $200 into buying loads of different records by black artists. Rupe’s idea was to analyse these records and arrive at a formula for producing hits in what was then called “race music”. He decided the future was in a fusion of swing and gospel. Soon he founded the LA-based Specialty Records, which quickly thrived. Rupe also spearheaded a wave of gospel recordings. His mantra of fusing genres, set out in the 1940s, would become that of rock & roll and soul music, with his particular recipe immensely influential.

In the 1950s, Rupe discovered acts like Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Larry Williams and Little Richard, with whom he’d be at the vanguard of rock & roll. Price’s 1952 song Lawdy Miss Clawdy is a fair claimant (among several) for “first rock & roll record”. And Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti — the original lyrics of which Rupe ordered cleaned up — was one of the great points of explosion in the nascent genre.

Rupe also launched the career of Sam Cooke, though the erstwhile gospel singer enjoyed his secular success at RCA — after Rupe, something of a purist, had told Cooke to take his smooth secular songs elsewhere. One of these songs was You Send Me (interestingly, the great drummer Earl Palmer played on many Specialty records, including Tutti Frutti, but also on the RCA release You Send Me. There’ll be a retrospective of Palmer’s work later this year).

Like other label bosses, Rupe offered hardnosed contracts to artists and paid paltry royalties; unlike many of his colleagues, he actually paid these royalties (though Little Richard did have to take him to court at one point) and treated his artists with a measure of ethics. But by the end of the 1950s — as Little Richard moved into religion and Sam Cooke out of it — Rupe left the music business to invest in gas and oil. His long life, which begun while World War I was still raging, ended at the age of 104 on April 15.

The Folk-Rock Pioneer
Compiling songs on which Earl Palmer played in April clearly was hazardous to the lives of those connected to them. One of the songs I picked for that forthcoming collection was High Flying Bird, the 1963 hit for Judy Henske. On April 27 the folk singer died at the age of 85.

In the early 1960s, Henske’s folk stylings gave her much exposure beyond the folk scene. With husband Jerry Yester of the Lovin’ Spoonful, she became part of the early Laurel Canyon scene (which, in turn, is the subject of next week’s mix, which will include a track by Henske and Yester). She is credited as being an influence on the folk-rock scene; in 1969 she and Yester recorded a baroque/psych-rock album for the label owned by fellow Laurel Canyon resident Frank Zappa.

The High School ‘President’
Usually high schools in the movies are named after presidents or such-like luminaries. In Grease, the school was named after singer Bobby Rydell, who was one of the big stars in the period of Grease’s setting. Rydell first broke through in 1959 with Kissin’ Time, which reached US #11, followed by his first Top Ten hit, We Got Love. A string of hits and a few movie roles followed over the next five years, when the presciently-titled #4 hit Forget Him gave Rydell his last taste of big chart action.

Rydell stayed in music, and in 1976 had a minor hit with a disco version of Sway. Mostly he toured the nostalgia circuit, often alongside Frankie Avalon, who appeared in Grease.

The Country Legend
The last day of April brought the news of the death at 76 of country star Naomi Judd, matriarch of the Judd family which included actress Ashley and singer Wynnona. With the latter, Naomi formed a hugely popular duo The Judds — the duo was to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame the following day.

Naomi had been suffering mental health problems, with the medication prescribed for her depression and anxiety causing severe side-effects. The family framed Naomi’s death as her having lost a long battle with mental illness. They avoided giving the details of the mechanics of her death, which clearly was deliberately done by way of reframing and refocussing the narrative on mental illness as a potentially lethal disease. The destigmatisation of mental health disorders is important. Whether bleeping out the S word is the best way of doing so is up for debate (I might suggest that this word, too, requires destigmatisation), but it is right to say that somebody died from a mental health disease, just as somebody might die of cancer or heart disease.

The Funk Brother
As a member of The Funk Brothers, Motown’s in-house backing collective, guitarist Joe Messina had a hand in countless classics. The trouble is, Motown didn’t always credit which musicians played on which track. But we know that Messina, who has died at 93, played on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album and all Temptation albums of the early 1970s. Messina also played on hits such Going To A Go-Go by The Miracles, Dancing in The Street by Martha & The Vandellas, I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) by the Four Tops, For Once In My Life by Stevie Wonder, Your Precious Love by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Someday We’ll Be Together by The Supremes, and many others. Often he was one of three guitarists on one record, all innovating in ways that would help create the Motown sound.

Messina was among the top talents of Detroit’s jazz scene recruited by Gordy in the early days of Motown, and had played with acts like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Milt Jackson. He put down his guitar for two decades after Motown moved to LA in 1972, opening carwash and jewellery businesses instead of making gold records. He eventually returned to music after 21 years, to release his only jazz album, Messina Madness. He’d also jam with local jazz acts. In the early 2000s he was part of the Funk Brothers reunion that would result in the superb documentary Standing In The Shadows Of Motown.

Of the 13 Funk Brothers, only one is now alive, percussionist Jack Ashford, who is turning 88 on May 18. Watch this great interview from 2005 with Joe Messina.

The Trucker
If you need trucking music — and, yes, I have a growing playlist on that theme brewing — then country drawler C.W. McCall was your man. His signature song was 1975’s CB radio hit Convoy, which so captured the imagination that Sam Peckinpah made a film based on it, starring Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw.

For all his polluting with diesel fumes, McCall had an environmental conscience, as he showed on his 1976 song There Won’t Be No Country Music (There Won’t Be No Rock ‘N’ Roll). He later became an environmental activist and mayor of a small town in Colorado. But he probably was no woke lefty snowflake commie liberal — last year, McCall gave express permission for his hit Convoy to be used by the so-called Freedom Convoy protests in Canada, which was not exactly a liberal scene.

The Sax Man
You will have heard the saxophone work of Andrew Woolfolk on any number of Earth, Wind & Fire records. Woodfolk was not the sax player who played the great solo on the live version of Reasons (that was Don Myrick), but he was part of the horn section that helped shaped disco. As a young jazz musician in New York in 1973, the Denver-born Woodfolk was ready to enter a career in banking when his old school friend Philip Bailey drafted him to succeed saxophonist and flautist Ronnie Laws in Earth, Wind & Fire, a band which had just begun to gain traction. Woodford remained with the EWF until 1993. His soprano sax helped the band become legends.

In between, Woodford also did session work for the likes of Deniece Williams, Valerie Carter, Stanley Turrentine, Level 42, Philip Bailey, Tracie Spencer, Ruby Turner, Phil Collins, and others.

The Soul Singer
Early in April I was beginning the process of shortlisting tracks for the 1982 compilation in the Any Major Soul series. That gave me occasion to sample Bloodstone’s album of that year, We Go A Long Way Back. That album featured the superb Go On And Cry (which featured on Any Major Soul 1982-83), but the group’s best-known hit was 1973’s Natural High. A couple of days later, founding member, singer and bassist Charles Cormack, who wrote that track, died at the age of 75. But by 1982, he had just quit the band, only to return two years later, staying with Bloodstone until 2020.

With Cormack’s death, only keyboardist and singer Harry Williams survives of the original line-up, which went back to 1962.

The Electronic Pioneer
German musician Klaus Schulze is regarded as a pioneer in electronic music and as such an important influence on dance music, ambient and new wave. He also veered into other genres, such as jazz and classical (especially Wagner). As a composer he influenced the film score master Hans Zimmer.

Schulze started out as a drummer for Tangerine Dream, but after one album in 1970 switched to keyboards founded Ash Ra Tempel, which he also left after one album. In his career, Schulze released some 60 albums.

The Singing  Actress
In March French-Italian singer and actress Catherine Spaak featured on Any Major Beatles in Italian, with her 1966 cover of Yesterday. Almost exactly month later, she passed away at 77. Better known as an actress whose career started when she was a teenager, Spaak also had a career as a singer, styling herself in the 1960s on Françoise Hardy. That wasn’t entirely at random: Spaak was produced by Ezio Leoni, one of the fathers of Italian pop, who also produced Hardy at one point. Having issued her first single in 1962, she released seven albums between 1964 and 1978, three of them collaborations with then-husband Johnny Dorelli.

The Punk Pioneer
Before the Sex Pistols and The Damned, punk had The Saints, who released a punk single, I’m Stranded, in 1976 before any other non-US act of the genre, a few months even before The Damned’s New Rose — and they were Australian. Formed in Brisbane, the band was an antipodean answer to the Ramones. Their voice was that of 19-year-old Chris Bailey, who has died at 65. In the UK, The Saints managed only chart entry, 1977’s The Perfect Day, which reached #34.

Through various line-up changes, the Kenya-born Bailey kept The Saints going, also releasing solo records, which were more mainstream rock.

The Hippie Executive
Born in grey England, budding young music executive Andy Wickham wanted sunshine and found it in LA. Living among the coterie of present and future stars in Laurel Canyon (whose alumnus Judy Henske died soon after him), Wickham was the hippie among the stiffs at Warner Bros. when he signed the likes of Joni Mitchell (already in New York before both of them ended up in LA), Neil Young (sort of), Van Morrison, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and others for the label. Warners had discovered him when Wickham handled the publicity for the groundbreaking Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

Wickham also did some producing, among others for the Everly Brothers, Nancy Sinatra, Phil Ochs, and Van Dyke Parks.

The Swedish Colleague
What must it be like to have played in a band with a future pop legend? That is something which until April 13 Lennart Hegland, bassist of 1960s Swedish folk/pop band Hep Stars might have been able to answer. The band had already enjoyed some success when they discovered future ABBA co-supremo Benny Anderson and invited him to join the band. Benny quickly made his mark, writing many of the group’s songs, some with his friend and future ABBA colleague Björn Ulvaeus. The featured track is the first of their joint compositions.

The Hep Stars split amid some acrimony in 1969. After which Hegland and some other members formed the Gummibandet, which also enjoyed some success in Sweden.As always, this post is reproduced in illustrated PDF format in the package, which also includes my personal playlist of the featured tracks. PW in comments.

 

Andy Wickham, 74, English-born music executive and producer, on March 29
Nancy Sinatra – Hook And Ladder (1971, as producer)

Fitzroy ‘Bunny’ Simpson, 70, singer with reggae trio Mighty Diamonds, on April 1
Mighty Diamonds – Right Time (1975)

Roland White, 83, bluegrass mandolin player, on April 1

C.W. McCall, 93, American country singer and songwriter, on April 1
C.W. McCall – Convoy (1975)
C.W. McCall – There Won’t Be No Country Music (There Won’t Be No Rock & Roll) (1976)

Archie Eversole, 37, rapper, on April 3

Joe Messina, 93, guitarist with Motown’s The Funk Brothers, on April 4
The Temptations – I’m Losing You (1966)
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Your Precious Love (1967)
Stevie Wonder – For Once In My Life (1968)

Bobby Rydell, 79, pop singer and actor, on April 5
Bobby Rydell – We Got Love (1959)
Bobby Rydell – Forget Him (1963)

Paul Siebel, 84, singer-songwriter, on April 5
Paul Siebel – Louise (1970, also as writer)

Helen Golden, 81, Dutch jazz singer, on April 6

Larry Holley, 96, Buddy Holly’s bigger brother, on April 7

Con Cluskey, 86, member of Irish pop group The Bachelors, on April 8
The Bachelors – I Wouldn’t Trade You For The World (1964)

Pastelle LeBlanc, 42, member of Canadian folk trio Vishtèn, on April 8

John Rossi, drummer of swing revival band Roomful of Blues (1970-98), on April 9
Roomful of Blues – Dressed Up To Get Messed Up (1984)

Chris Bailey, 65, lead singer of Australian punk band The Saints, on April 9
The Saints – I’m Stranded (1976)
The Saints – Ghost Ships (1984)

Mario Martínez, guitarist of Spanish new wave group La Unión, on April 10
La Unión – Lobo Hombre en París (1984)

Charnett Moffett, 54, jazz bassist, on April 11
Charnett Moffett – Softly As In A Morning Sunrise (1987)

Charles E. McCormick, 75, bassist and singer with soul group Bloodstone, on April 12
Bloodstone – Natural High (1973)
Bloodstone – Give Me Your Heart (1975, also as writer)

Jacek Szymkiewicz, 47, Polish songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, on April 12

David Freel, 64, singer and guitarist of undue group Swell, on April 12
Swell – Off In My Head (1998)

Tim Feerick, 34, bassist of rock band Dance Gavin Dance, on April 13

Lennart Hegland, 79, bassist of pioneering Swedish beat band Hep Stars, on April 13
The Hep Stars – Isn’t It Easy To Say (1966)

Trygve Thue, 71, Norwegian guitarist and producer, on April 14

Orlando Julius, 79, Nigerian saxophonist, singer and bandleader, on April 14
Hugh Masekela – Mama (1975, on saxophone and backing vocals)

Art Rupe, 104, founder of Specialty Records, producer, on April 15
Jimmy Liggins and His Drops Of Joy – Baby I Can’t Forget You (1947, as label owner)
The Soul Stirrers featuring Sam Cooke – Wonderful (1956, as label owner)
Little Richard – Good Golly, Miss Molly (1958, as label owner)

Leo Boni, 57, Italian-American singer and guitarist, on April 15

Koji, 49, rhythm guitarist of Japanese visual kei rock band La’cryma Christi, on April 15
La’cryma Christi – Siam’s Eye (1994)

Bill Bourne, 68, Canadian folk singer-songwriter, on April 16
Bill Bourne – Boulevard Of Broken Dreams (2012)

James Johnson, 82, blues guitarist, on April 16
Slim Harpo – Baby Scratch My Back (1966, on guitar)

Hollis Resnik, 67, stage musical singer and actress, on April 17

Rick Turner, 78, member of psych rock band Autosalvage, and luthier, on April 17
Autosalvage – Parahighway (1968)

Re Styles, 72, Dutch-born singer with rock band The Tubes (1977-80), on April 17
The Tubes – Prime Time (1979)

Catherine Spaak, 77, Belgian-Italian singer and actress, on April 17
Catherine Spaak – Perdono (1962)
Catherine Spaak – Punto d’amore (1976)

Roderick ‘Pooh’ Clark, 49, singer with soul band Hi-Five, on April 17
Hi Five – I Can’t Wait Another Minute (1991)

Paolo Noël, 93, Canadian singer, actor and TV presenter, on April 17

Jerry Doucette, 70, Canadian musician, on April 18
Jerry Doucette – Mama Let Him Play (1977)

José Luis Cortés, 70, Cuban timba flutist, composer, and bandleader, on April 18
José Luis Cortés y NG La Banda – Química Perfecta (2000)

Guitar Shorty, 87, blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, on April 20
Guitar Shorty – Let My Guitar Do The Talking (2004)

Orrin Hatch, 88, Republican US senator, Mormon gospel singer and composer, on April 23

Arno Hintjens, 72, lead singer of Belgian new wave band TC Matic, on April 23
TC Matic – O La La La (C’est Magnifique) (1981)

Willi Resetarits, 73, Austrian singer and comedian, on April 24

Henny Vrienten, 73, singer and songwriter of Dutch ska band Doe Maar, on April 25

Andrew Woolfolk, 71, saxophonist with Earth, Wind & Fire, on April 25
Earth Wind & Fire – Spasmodic Movements (1973, on lead soprano sax)
Earth, Wind & Fire – Can’t Hide Love
Valerie Carter – Trying To Get To You (1977, on soprano sax)
Tracie Spencer – Hide And Seek (1988, on soprano sax)

Susan Jacks, 73, Canadian singer-songwriter with The Poppy Family, on April 25
The Poppy Family – Which Way You Goin’ Billy (1969)
Susan Jacks – Elusive Butterfly (1980)

Shane Yellowbird, 42, Canadian country singer, on April 25
Shane Yellowbird – Pickup Truck (2007)

Julie Daraîche, 83, Canadian- Québécoise country singer, on April 26

Klaus Schulze, 74, German electronic musician and composer, on April 26
Tangerine Dream – Asche zu Asche (1970, on drums)
Klaus Schulze – Conquest Of Paradise (1994)

Ica Novo, 70, Argentine folk singer, composer and guitarist, on April 26

Randy Rand, 62, bassist of US hard rock band Autograph, on April 26
Autograph – Turn Up The Radio (1984)

Judy Henske, 85, folk singer, on April 27
Judy Henske – Buckeye Jim (1963)
Judy Henske – Day To Day (1966)
Judy Henske & Jerry Yester – Snowblind (1969)

Roberto Lecaros, 77, Chilean jazz musician and composer, on April 29

Tarsame ‘Johnny Zee/Taz’ Singh Saini, 54, Asian-British singer of Stereo Nation, on April 29
Johnny Zee – Hoon Ta Main Nachchna (1989)

Allen Blairman, 81, jazz drummer, on April 29
Allen Blairman – Till You See The Sun Shining Bright (Keep On Moving’ Baby) (2016)

Gabe Serbian, 45, hardcore punk drummer and guitarist, on June 30

Naomi Judd, 76, half of country duo The Judds and songwriter, on April 30
The Judds – Love Is Alive (1985)
The Judds – Change Of Heart (1988, also as writer)
The Judds – Love Can Build A Bridge (1990, also as co-writer)

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  1. May 6th, 2022 at 13:30 | #1

    Bittersweet, but a nice tribute. Thanks for doing this every month.

  2. Rhodb
    May 7th, 2022 at 23:15 | #2

    Thanks once again for the in memoriam share great work

    Regards

    Rhodb

  3. Herman
    May 15th, 2022 at 23:24 | #3

    I’m a regular reader of your IM’s and admire your completeness. Even the death of, in my opinion, very obscure musicians doesn’t escape your attention. But this april is an exception, 3 musicians of the Low Countries died, shortly after another, each attracting a lot of attention there. Jan Rot the 22th, Arno Hintjens the 23th and Henny Vrienten the 25. The first failed to get in your list. The last two didn’t fail, but got only one line, whereas they were big names in Belgium resp. the Netherlands. The Belgian public network opened its evening news with the death of Arno, as he was commonly known, with an item of about 20 minutes. He was an icon of Belgian popmusic. (Next item was something futile as the French presidential elections.) Henny Vrienten was bassplayer, singer and songwriter of Doe Maar, a band with a beatlesque popularity in the Netherlands in the eighties. It was the most popular Dutch speaking band in the history of Dutch popmusic. Jan Rot tried his luck with English speaking repertoire but found a steady place in the Dutch music scene with Dutch speaking music.
    I felt obliged to pay a little tribute to them, in addition to this april’s IM. There’s a lot more to say about these musicians but one can find it all on the internet.

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