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In Memoriam – November 2023

December 5th, 2023 Leave a comment Go to comments

It seemed to be a fairly quiet month, without any really big-name deaths. Of course, with the Christmas season in mind, there was the passing Fanita James, who appeared on the Phil Spector’s classic Christmas album as a member of Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans, and of Mars Williams, whose sax work we may hear this festive season on The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping. Then, just as November was about to fade into December, another Christmas song became a tribute, in the form of Fairytale Of New York. I must admit that no music death has hit me as hard as Shane MacGowan’s has since that double whammy of John Prine and Bill Withers in that cursed month April 2020.

The Great Poet
A couple of years ago, Shane MacGowan said in an interview: “I know that I’m going to live to be 88, at least, and I’m still going to feel cheated… but you can’t argue with death.” Death caught up with MacGowan at the age of 65. It was one of the less surprising news of a celebrity passing, but it landed a heavy punch nonetheless, at least for those who have been fans of The Pogues and MacGowan’s lyrics, many of which are pure poetry.

Even in his twenties, MacGowan looked like he was permanently at death’s door. It turns out, he was just ringing its bell and running away. By all accounts, he was the nicest kind of guys, though his battles with alcohol led to his ejection from The Pogues.

What MacGowan and The Pogues did for Irish folk music, at a time when many young Irish people were feeling alienated from it, is said to be immense. Ireland’s president Michael D. Higgins recognised that when he issued a long and thoughtful statement on the passing of MacGowan, who was born in London as the son of Irish immigrants (his mother was a renowned folk singer).

MacGowan was not just a writer of songs; he was a poet. And those wonderful lyrics, though they can stand as poems in their own right, are really inseparable from that voice which could barely hold a tune. You don’t really want somebody else singing a MacGowan song (which is why I haven’t even entertained the idea of doing a Songbook). It might be competent, it might even be good, but the lyrics would lose some of their meaning. I cannot think of many singing songwriters of whom you can say that.

The Blossom
The girl-group hit He’s a Rebel is attributed to The Crystals, but the song was actually recorded by The Blossoms, a trio comprising Darlene Love, Jean King, and Fanita James, who has died at 85. The Blossoms started recording in the 1950s, but never hit the big time. They were, however, sought-after backing singers.

In 1959, they backed Sam Cooke on his Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha (admittedly not Cook’s finest moment). After singing the 1962 chart-topper He’s A Rebel (The Crystals were mortified by being credited for it), The Blossoms did backing vocals on many of the great Phil Spector recordings. They sung vocals on tracks like You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ by The Righteous Brothers, Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High, Doris Day’s Move Over Darling, Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life, Betty Everett’s The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), and many more.

In 1968, they provided backing vocals on Elvis Presley’s comeback TV special, and on the classic 1964 T.A.M.I. show, they backed Marvin Gaye.

Love (then still Darlene Wright) and James (then still Fanita Barrett) were also part of the trio Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans, scoring a hit with Zip-A-Dee Doo Dah.

Throughout the 1960s, The Blossoms periodically released singles — including their own versions of Righteous Brothers hits they had appeared on, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ and Soul And Inspiration — but released only one album, a very good effort titled Shockwave in 1972. James remained a Blossom for almost all of the rest of her life.

The Joke Guitarist
The heading might mislead you to think that Geordie Walker was a novelty performer. That he most certainly was not. As lead guitarist of post-punk legends Killing Joke, he created his own distinctive sound. On the band’s biggest hit, 1985’s Love Like Blood, his three-note opening sounds like a riff from Bach.

Born as Kevin Walker — Geordie was a nickname referring to his northern English origins — he created his distinctive sound on a 1952 Gibson ES-295 hollow body electric guitar. That sound would find an echo in the works of a generation of rock guitarists. Walker later joined up with other post-punk stars for the “supergroups” Damage Manual and Murder Inc.

The Soul Sister
In 1971 Jean Knight had a huge hit with Mr Big Stuff, a song she had recorded a year earlier and which had found no takers until Stax decided to give it a release. It became a million-seller, and is still a go-to track for any movie or TV scene in which a man who thinks he’s a big shot needs some pegging down.

The New Orleans singer didn’t have hits for many years after but made a living from performing. In 1985 she returned to the charts with her version of the zydeco song My Toot-Toot. Denise LaSalle’s concurrent version was a hit in the UK, but Knight’s did better in the US.  According to the Stax Museum, Knight was the label’s top-selling female artist.

The Kool Drummer
Kool’ gang is slowly diminishing. With the death at 74 of drummer George ‘Funky’ Brown, there are now nine departed members. Of the great 1979-82 Kool & The Gang line-up, six of ten members have departed.

Brown was with Kool & The Gang from the band’s founding in 1963 till his death 60 years later. Until 1998 he played the drums and/or percussions, after that he stuck to percussions only. He also co-wrote many of their songs, including hits such as Ladies’ Night, Celebration, Big Fun, Jungle Boogie, Open Sesame, Jones vs. Jones, Take My Heart, and Summer Madness, and on his own the sublime Too Hot (which I had been playing literally minutes before I learnt of the man’s death).

The African Connection
Portugal has lost a wonderful singer in Sara Tavares, who has died of a brain tumour at the young age of 45. The daughter of immigrants from the African island nation of Cabo Verde, Tavares was 16 years old when she won a Portuguese TV singing contest in 1994, performing Whitney Houston’s One Moment In Time. That same year, she won the national decider for Portugal’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest. In the international contest she finished 8th.

Tavares fused the sounds of Portugal with those of Africa, especially the gentle Latin-tinged sounds of Cabo Verde, and jazz and pop.

The Woodstock Producer
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair in August 1969 was supposed to be a money-making operation. But as the crowds uncontrollably descended upon the farm in Bethel, NY, a voice announced from the stage that it would now be a free concert. That voice belonged to John Morris, the Woodstock production coordinator who has died at 84.

From the stage at Woodstock, Morris announced: “What it means is that the people who are backing this thing, who put up the money for it are gonna take a bit of a bath, a big bath. That’s no hype, that’s truth, they’re gonna get hurt. But what it means is that these people who put this thing here, have it in their heads … that your welfare and their welfare is a hell of a lot more important than the music is, than the dollar.”

Before he got involved with Woodstock, Morris was a concert producer for acts like Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and the Grateful Dead, working with the legendary Bill Graham. After Woodstock, he turned London’s venerable Finsbury Park Astoria cinema into the legendary Rainbow Theatre, with The Who the first of many acts who played there for the next ten years. The Who’s song Long Live Rock refers to that first Rainbow gig: “Down at the Astoria the scene was changing, bingo and rock were pushing out x-rating. We were the first band to vomit at the bar and find the distance to the stage too far”.

The Last Pacemaker
With the death of pianist Les Maguire, all members of the classic line-up of Gerry And The Pacemakers are gone. Gerry Marsden died in 2021, Les Chadwick in 20916, and Freddie Marsden in 2006.

The Liverpool band was the first to have UK #1 hits with each of their first three singles, How Do You Do It? (a song first earmarked for The Beatles), I Like It, and You’ll Never Walk Alone. Maguire had just joined the Pacemakers when the band merged with the still unknown Beatles, still with Pete Best, for a one-off performance at Litherland Town Hall as The Beatmakers. Maguire played the sax that night.

The Soul Brother
Last month I posted the South African pop classic Quick Quick by MarcAlex to mark the death of producer Ricky Wolff. On November 9, the first half of the soul duo passed on. Marc Rantseli died at 58 after two weeks in hospital. The Soweto brothers Marc and Alex had a few hits in 1989 and the early 1990s, but then things went quiet around them, despite collaborations with the likes of Hugh Masekela.

The Original
If you lived in Europe in the 1970s, you will have heard the brutally upbeat hit Y Viva Espana in many different versions, some more annoying than others, but all lowest common-denominator schlager fare. Somehow fittingly, the ode to Spain’s longevity emerged not from Franco’s torture cells but from that bastion of finest pop refinement, Belgium. Written by a pair called Leo Caerts and Leo Rozenstraten (the latter made up the word “eviva”, possibly having confused Italian with Spanish, as you do), it was first recorded in Dutch by Samantha, whose death certificate states her civil name, Christiane Bervoets.

Samantha had a long career in Belgium, releasing records between 1967 and 2008, almost all in Dutch, with rare forays into French and German.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.

Elvis with The Blossoms at his 1968 TV Special. Fanita James is second from right.

Bill Rice, 84, country songwriter and singer, on Oct. 28
Mickey Gilley – Here Comes The Hurt Again (1978, as co-writer)

Pelle Hökengren, 61, member of Swedish pop group Trance Dance, on Oct. 29
Trance Dance – Don’t Say Go (1987)

Aaron Spears, 47, American drummer on Oct. 30
Chaka Khan – One For All Time (2007, on drums)

Vic Vergeat, 72, Italian rock singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, on Nov. 1
Vic Vergat – Down To The Bone (1981)

Pierre Dutour, 91, French trumpeter, composer and conductor, on Nov. 1
Pierre Dutour – Modern Life (1974)

Michel Pilz, 78, German jazz clarinettist, on Nov. 2

Pete Garner, 61, bassist of The Stone Roses (1983–87), on Nov. 3
The Stone Roses – So Young (1985)

Manuel Castillo Girón, 83, Honduran singer-songwriter, on Nov. 4

Lolita Rodrigues, 94, Brazilian singer and actress, on Nov. 5
Lolita Rodrigues – Posso Esquecer (1977)

Anne Hart, 90, British actress and singer, on Nov. 5

Sean Martin, 26, singer-guitarist of English indie band The Night Café, announced Nov. 6
The Night Café – The Way Of Mary (2017)

Darlyn Morais, 28, Brazilian singer, on Nov. 6

Dino Piana, 93, Italian jazz musician, on Nov. 6

Heath, 55, bassist of Japanese rock band X Japan, announced Nov. 7
X Japan – Tears (1993)

C-Knight, 52, rapper with G-funk group The Dove Shack, on Nov. 7
The Dove Shack – This Is The Shack (1995)

Hannelore Auer (Kramm), 81, Austrian Schlager singer and actress, on Nov. 8

Thomas Fink, 88, German jazz musician, on Nov. 8

Marc Rantseli, 58, South African singer with duo MarcAlex, on Nov. 9
MarcAlex – My Love, My Life, My Everythin (1990)
MarcAlex feat. Hugh Masekela – I Want My Baby (1995)

Junko Ohashi, 73, Japanese singer, on Nov. 9
Junko Ohashi – Silhouette Romance (1981)

R.L. Boyce, 68, blues musician, on Nov. 9
R.L. Boyce – Coal Black Mattie (2023)

Johnny Ruffo, 35, Australian singer and actor, on Nov. 10

John Morris, 84, Woodstock co-organiser, on Nov. 10
Matthews’ Southern Comfort – Woodstock (1971)
The Who – Long Live Rock (1978)

Conny Van Dyke, 78, singer and actress, on Nov. 11
Connie Van Dyke – Oh Freddy (1963)

Angelita Vargas, 77, Spanish flamenco singer and dancer, on Nov. 11

Luis Carlos Gil, 72, singer with Spanish vocal group Trigo Limpio, on Nov. 11

Kan, 61, Japanese singer-songwriter, on Nov. 12
Kan – Ai Wa Katsu (1990)

Buzy, 66, French singer, on Nov. 14
Buzy – Baby Boum (1987)

Oladips, 28, Nigerian rapper, on Nov. 15

Karl Tremblay, 47, lead singer of Canadian folk group Les Cowboys Fringants, on Nov. 15
Les Cowboys Fringants – Les étoiles filantes (2004)

George ‘Funky’ Brown, 74, songwriter, drummer of Kool & The Gang, on Nov. 16
Kool & The Gang – Wild Is Love (1972, also as co-writer)
Kool & The Gang – Sugar (1976, also as co-writer)
Kool & The Gang – Ladies’ Night (1980, also as co-writer)
Kool & The Gang – Take My Heart (You Can Have It) (1981, also as co-writer)

Peter Solley, 75, English musician and producer, on Nov. 16
Fox – Imagine Me, Imagine You (1976, as member)
The Romantics – What I Like About You (1979, as producer)

Charlie Dominici, 72, heavy metal singer, on Nov. 17
Dream Theater – Status Seeker (1989, as lead vocalist and co-writer)

Christiane ‘Samantha’ Bervoets, 75, Belgian singer, on Nov. 17
Samantha – Helicopter U.S. Navy 66 (1970)
Samantha – Eviva España (1971)

Sara Tavares, 45, Portuguese singer-songwriter, on Nov. 19
Sara Tavares – Eu Sei… (1999)
Sara Tavares – One Love (2005)
Sara Tavares – Coisas Bunitas (2017)

Larry McKenna, 86, jazz saxophonist, on Nov. 19

Mars Williams, 68, rock and jazz saxophonist (Waitresses, Psychedelic Furs), on Nov. 20
The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping (1981, as member)
The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty In Pink (1986, as member)

Chad Allan, 80, Canadian singer with Guess Who, Brave Belt, on Nov. 21
Chad Allan & The Expressions (Guess Who) – Hey Ho, What You Do To Me (1965)

Horacio Malvicino, 94, Argentine jazz and tango guitarist, composer, on Nov. 21
Horacio Malvicino – Los Mejores Momentos (1972)

Jim Salestrom, 67, singer-songwriter, on Nov. 22

Jean Knight, 80, American singer, on Nov. 22
Jean Knight – Mr. Big Stuff (1970)
Jean Knight – Why I Keep Living These Memories (1970)
Jean Knight – My Toot Toot Long (1984)

Greg ‘Fingers’ Taylor, 71, harmonica player (Jimmy Buffet), on Nov. 23

Fanita James, 85, singer with soul group The Blossoms, on Nov. 23
The Blossoms – He Promised Me (1957, as member)
Doris Days – Move Over Darling (1963, on backing vocals)
The Blossoms – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (1969)
The Blossoms – Touchdown (1972)

Morten Omlid, 62, Norwegian blues guitarist, on Nov. 24

Julio Anderson, 74, Chilean folk-rock bass guitarist, on Nov. 25
Los Jaivas – Pregon Para Iluminarse (1975, as member)

Yngvar Numme, 79, singer with Norwegian pop group Dizzie Tunes, on Nov. 25

Les Maguire, 81, pianist of Gerry & The Pacemakers, on Nov. 25
Gerry & The Pacemakers – I Like It (1963)
Gerry & The Pacemakers – Ferry Cross The Mersey (1964)

Terry Venables, 80, English football player and coach, occasional singer, on Nov. 25
Terry Venables – What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For? (1974)

Geordie Walker, 64, guitarist of Killing Joke, songwriter, on Nov. 26
Killing Joke – Requiem (1980, also as co-writer)
Killing Joke – Love Like Blood (1985, also as co-writer)
Killing Joke – Jana (1994, also as co-writer)

Jimmy Owens, 93, Christian music songwriter, on Nov. 26

Brian Godding, 78, Welsh rock and jazz guitarist, on Nov. 26
Blossom Toes – Peace Loving Man (1969, as member and writer)
Brian Godding – Happy Endings (1988)

Joseph Meo, jazz saxophonist, announced Nov. 27

Lanny Gordin, 72, Brazilian guitarist and composer, on Nov. 28
Lanny Gordin – Tomati (2001)

John Colianni, 61, jazz pianist, on Nov. 28
Mel Tormé – The Christmas Song (1992, on piano)

Scott Kempner, 69, rhythm guitarist of rock band The Dictators, on Nov. 29
The Dictators – What It Is (1978, also as co-writer)

Shane MacGowan, 65, singer and songwriter of The Pogues, on Nov. 30
The Pogues – Sally MacLennane (Live on the John Peel Show, 1984, also as writer)
The Pogues – The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn (1985, also as writer)
The Pogues – Thousands Are Sailing (1988)
The Pogues & The Dubliners – Whiskey In The Jar (1990)
Shane MacGowan & The Popes – The Song With No Name (1993, also as writer)

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  1. amdwhah
    December 5th, 2023 at 08:19 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. December 5th, 2023 at 20:53 | #2

    “Thousands are Sailing” is an amazing song, but it was written by Phil Chevron, not MacGowan (though he sings it).

  3. amdwhah
    December 6th, 2023 at 07:49 | #3

    Thanks for the info.

  4. Rhodb
    December 9th, 2023 at 22:04 | #4

    Wonderful work as usual Well done

  5. Hamster
    December 10th, 2023 at 10:03 | #5

    Nice to see a mention for Fanita James of The Blossoms, much underrated vocalist and perhaps overshadowed by the better known (to me anyways) Darlene Love. Many thanks for compiling the list for us. Cheers!

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