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In Memoriam – December 2023

January 2nd, 2024 Leave a comment Go to comments

We have entered the mid-2020s now. WTF? Do you realise that 2040 is as soon as 2008 is recent? In 2008, this blog was already going and listed twice on The Guardian’s blog-roll of recommended sites. I doubt it’ll still be going in 2040 (or whether humanity will still be going).

Anyway, here’s the list of December 2023’s dead and their music — a busy old month. That’s true even outside music. The death in December that hit the hardest was that of actor André Braugher on December 11. In my view, he was one of the great actors of his generation, especially in his masterful portrayal of Det. Frank Pembleton on Homicide: Life On The Streets.

The Wingsman
Often unjustly seen as merely the third wheel on the Wings tandem that was Paul and Linda (or as the foreman of the other two transient members), Denny Laine was a loyal lieutenant to McCartney’s creative genius. At times the multi-instrumentalist contributed with his songwriting, most famously as the co-writer of the record-breaking single Mull Of Kintyre (a song he later re-recorded on a solo album of Wings songs).

Laine befriended McCartney when his band, The Moody Blues, toured with The Beatles in 1965. The same year, having sung lead on the group’s 1964 breakthrough hit Go Now, Laine left The Moody Blues, and formed a couple of bands, but to no great effect. He also played in the supergroup Ginger Baker’s Air Force before hooking up with McCartney to form Wings.

The Jazz Innovator
In jazz pianist Les McCann, who has died at 88, we have lost a pioneer in soul-jazz who helped shaped the sound of jazz in the 1960s and ’70s. He fused his improvisational jazz techniques with R&B, soul, blues and gospel, creating often catchy grooves that could cross over. In the early 1970s, he was one of the first musicians to make extensive use of the synthesizer in jazz.

McCann, a dynamic live performer, often incorporated social and political themes in his work.

His 1969 live album with saxophonist Eddie Harris, Les McCann Ltd. in San Francisco, is considered a landmark recording in the soul jazz. It produced a hit with the anti-Vietnam War hit Compared To What, a song written by his pal Gene McDaniels which McCann had previously recorded in 1966. It also appeared on Roberta Flack’s debut album; a year later McCann would duet with Flack on his soul album Comment — and the great pianist even had Flack contribute on piano to several tracks.

McCann was also an accomplished artist and photographer.

The Smothers Brother
Half of comedy duo Smothers Brothers is now gone, after the death at 86 of Tom Smothers. The act — first a folk-duo before switching to comedy with musical interludes — didn’t travel well outside America, but in the US they were legends. In the 1960s they had their own comedy TV show, which was cancelled because of their political content and countercultural leanings.

After it was cancelled in 1969, the show won an Emmy Award for Best Writing. Tom was the show’s lead writer, but asked not to be listed in the nomination because he knew that his name was controversial. The academy corrected thus by presenting Tom with an Emmy four decades llater. The Smothers Brothers were inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2010.

Tom was the left-winger of the duo, with brother Dick more moderate in his politics. Tom was on stage at the legendary Monterey Festival in 1967 to introduce acts, and was part of the live recording of his friend John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance during the Montreal Bed-in, which was released as a single. See the clip here.

He also had the pleasure of being punched by Bill Cosby, who took exception to being told that he did not involve himself enough in the struggle for civil rights. Who knew that Cosby was not a nice guy?

Tom Smothers also appeared in a number of films.

The Shooting Star
Since scoring a huge hit in South Africa with her superb 2011 debut album Loliwe, the country’s second-fastest selling album ever, Afro soul singer Zahara was one of her country’s most popular singers, performing in Xhosa and English. By the time she died after a short illness at the absurdly young age of 36, the singer-songwriter and guitarist had released five studio albums, and a live set. She won 17 South African Music Awards.

Born as Bulelwa Mkutukana in a shantytown in East London, Zahara (her stage is Arabic for “blooming flower”) was a sensation when she burst on to the scene, and was even invited to perform for Nelson Mandela at his home, shortly before his death in December 2013.

Her second album came out in 2013, but then tragedy struck in the form of the murder of her brother in 2014, which sent her into a depression and battles with alcohol addiction, which caused the liver damage that eventually killed her.

The Hard Rocker
As the co-founder of Canadian rock band April Wine, Myles Goodwyn was the band’s lead singer and principal songwriter, and usually producer or co-producer, leading the group from its founding in 1969, through the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, to its final concert on March 2, 2023, in Truro, Nova Scotia. He released 16 studio albums with April Wine, and two albums as a solo artist.

Earlier this year, Goodwyn was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, where he resides alongside the likes of Robbie Robertson, Gordon Lightfoot and Ian Tyson, whom we have also lost in the 12 months preceding his death.

The Jazz Master
As a young man in 1957-58, Willie Ruff played for Miles Davis on the French horn; a decade or so later, he backed Leonard Cohen on the bass, and soon after Shuggie Otis and the post-Morrison Doors.

He almost made it on to Joni Mitchell’s great Blue album, but the take of River on which he contributed with the French horn wasn’t used. He also played on unused versions of Urge For Going and Hunter; the three tracks finally were released in a box set in 2021.

Aside from releasing two solo albums and 16 with jazz pianist Dwike Mitchell (a lifelong friend after they met in 1947 in the army), Ruff backed acts like Lionel Hampton, Gil Evans, Oscar Peterson, Quincy Jones, Milt Jackson, Lalo Schifrin, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Stitt, Bobby Hutcherson, McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie, Les McCann, and many others.

Before he even started recording, Alabama-born Ruff had earned a Master’s degree in music from Yale University. From 1971 until 2017, when he retired at the age of 86, he was a professor at Yale, teaching music history, ethnomusicology, and arranging. Wikipedia tells us: “Ruff’s classes at Yale, often with partner Dwike Mitchell, were free-flowing jam sessions: roller-coaster rides through the colours of American Improvisational Music. The duo could play in the style of most notable jazz artists and related styles.”

He was also a founding director of the Duke Ellington Fellowship Program at Yale, a school-based initiative established in 1972, which is estimated to have reached 180,000 young people in its first 30 years.

The Songwriter
She never had her big breakthrough but Essra Mohawk became something of a cult figure and other singers had success with songs she wrote. Things might have been different for the early Zappa collaborator, who was born in Philadelphia as Sandra Hurvitz. In 1969, she was supposed to perform at Woodstock, but her manager messed up that opportunity.

Essra took the stage surname from her husband, producer Frazier Mohawk (née Friedman). Between 1969 and 2017 she released 14 album. She also wrote for other acts, scoring hits with 1986’s Change Of Heart by Cyndi Lauper and Stronger Than The Wind by Tina Turner, and did backing vocals for acts like Kool & The Gang, John Mellencamp, and Carole King.

The Dub Poet
British-Jamaican poet Benjamin Zephaniah was best-known for spoken word poetry and writings, and maybe his forays into acting. A well-known public figure in Britain, Zephaniah was also an energetic activist and commentator on social and political issues. In 2008, The Times listed him among Britain’s top 50 post-war writers

His poetry and activism found a platform in his recorded music. Between 1983 and 2018 he released about a dozen dub poetry albums, some of them collaborations with others, dealing with themes such as racism, inequality, and social justice.

The Bossa Nova Pioneer
The kicked-back variation of samba which we call bossa nova didn’t have a name yet when composer Carlos Lyra contributed to its rise. He was part of a group of musicians around the popular singer Sylvia Telles whom a journalist dubbed “the Bossa Nova group”. That was in 1957, and the name stuck. Two years later, Lyra wrote for the singer who would come to personify the genre like few others, João Gilberto.

Lyra collaborated with the likes of Antônio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and Geraldo Vandré.

The Hitwriter
When Richard Kerr put music to Scott English’s lyrics for the song Brandy, he had no way of knowing that he had just written one of the big hits of the 1970s and the 2000s. It did little business for Scott English, but retitled as Mandy, it was a massive hit for Barry Manilow in 1974, and again for Westlife in 2003.

Manilow would have hits with other Kerr song: Looks Like We’ve Made It and Somewhere In the Night; the latter was also a hit for Helen Reddy. Kerr also wrote the memorable tunes for hits like Dionne Warwick’s I’ll Never Love This Way Again (originally recorded by Cheryl Ladd) and, earlier in his career, Blue Eyes, a UK #3 hit for Don Partridge in 1968.

The Funkster
Even if you are not familiar with the eight-album solo output of soul-funkster Amp Fiddler, or his work in the 1980s and ’90s with George Clinton, you’ll have heard him play keyboards on hits such as Seal’s Kiss From A Rose, Charles & Eddie’s Would I Lie To You, or Brand New Heavies’ Dream On Dreamer.

Fiddler also backed acts like Warren Zevon, Was (Not Was), Prince, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Jamiroquai, Maxwell, Angélique Kidjo, Leon Ware, Corinne Bailey Rae, Qwestlife, Meshell’ Ndegeocello and others.

The ’50s Singer
Born as Lorraine DiAngelis, Lola Dee recorded under two names in the early and mid-1950s, though she had been signed to her first recording contract as a 16-year-old in 1944. Adopting her mother’s maiden name, she had some success as Lola Ameche, scoring Top 30 hits with Pretty Eyed Baby and Hitsity Hotsity in 1951.

As Lola Dee she had a couple more hits, selling a reported half a million with a version of The Platters’ Only You in 1955. By 1957 her recording career was over. Lola Dee, who could sing in almost any genre, toured with the likes of Bob Hope, Johnnie Ray, and Jimmy Durante. She kept performing until the late 1970s

The First Drummer
It’s a story of what might have been… When AC/DC recorded their first single in 1974 — a glam number titled Can I Sit Next To You, Girl — the band’s original drummer was Colin Burgess. The drummer had already tasted some success with the band Master’s Apprentice, with whom he had three Australian Top 20 hits.

Burgess didn’t last long in AC/DC. He was fired for being drunk on stage (he claimed his drinks had been spiked). Successor Phil Rudd was on the drums when Can I Sit Next To You Girl was re-recorded for the High Voltage album, with Bon Scott on vocals instead of original singer Dave Evans.

In a twist of fate, Burgess met Bon Scott at the Music Factory in London on the night in February 1980 when the singer died, becoming one of the last people to speak with Scott.

The Tennis Pro
If ever there was an all-rounder, Torben Ulrich was one. The father of Metallica’s Lar Ulrich had a long career as a tennis player, from 1940s to the latter parts of the 1970s, becoming the oldest-ever Davis Cup player in history, representing Denmark. He reached the 4th round of the US Open on four occasions between 1953 and 1968.

In between, he was also a writer for Danish jazz magazines and newspapers, and was the co-editor of a literary magazine. Several books of his writings on various subjects have been published. Ulrich also appeared in a couple of films, and directed a few more. At the age of 82, he directed a dance project in Seattle. He was also an internationally exhibited artist.

In the 1950s, Ulrich played the clarinet in a Dixieland jazz band. Half a century later, he released the first of five free jazz albums, between 2005 and 2021.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.

Roy Gerson, 64, jazz pianist and actor, on Dec. 2
Roy Gerson – Somebody Loves Me (1992)

Myles Goodwyn, 75, lead singer, guitarist, songwriter of April Wine, on Dec. 3
April Wine – Tonite Is A Wonderful Time To Fall In Love (1974, also as writer and co-producer)
April Wine – Child’s Garden (1977, also as writer and producer)
April Wine – Enough Is Enough (1982, also as writer and co-producer)

Vlado Pravdić, 73, Bosnian keyboardist of Yugoslav rock band Bijelo Dugme, on Dec. 4
Bijelo Dugme – Selma (1974)

John Hyatt, c.63, singer of English post punk band The Three Johns, on Dec. 4
The Three Johns – Brainbox (He’s A Brainbox) (1985)

Denny Laine, 79, musician and singer (Wings, Moody Blues), songwriter, on Dec. 5
The Moody Blues – Go Now (1964, on lead vocals)
Ginger Baker’s Air Force – You Wouldn’t Believe It (1970, as member and co-writer)
Wings – Time To Hide (1976, on lead vocals and as writer)
Denny Laine – Mull Of Kintyre (1996, also as co-writer)

Mama Diabaté, 63, Guinean singer and musician, on Dec. 5
Mama Diabaté – Djouya (1993)

Lils Mackintosh, 68, Dutch jazz and blues singer, on Dec. 5
Lils Mackintosh – On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1997)

Jimmy Villotti, 79, Italian jazz musician, on Dec. 6
Jimmy Villotti – Drin Drin (1993)

Michel Sardaby, 88, French jazz pianist and composer, on Dec. 6
Michel Sardaby – Gail (1965)

Lola Dee, 95, pop singer, on Dec. 7
Lola Ameche – Rock The Joint (1952)
Lola Dee – Altar Of Love (1954)

Benjamin Zephaniah, 65, British poet, writer, actor, dub recording artist, on Dec. 7
Benjamin Zephaniah – Free South Afrika (1986, also as writer and on percussions)
Benjamin Zephaniah – Wake Up (1996)

Teresa Silva Carvalho, 88, Portuguese singer, on Dec. 7

Ramón Ayala, 96, Argentinian poet and singer, on Dec. 7
Ramón Ayala – El Mensú (1976)

Terry Baucom, 71, bluegrass singer and banjo player, on Dec. 7
Boone Creek – Dixieland (1977, as member on banjo)

Nidra Beard, 71, singer with disco trio Dynasty, on Dec. 8
Dynasty – I Don’t Wanna Be A Freak (1979)

Cayle Sain, 31, drummer of metal band Twitching Tongues, on Dec. 10

Jimmy Ayoub, 70, drummer of Canadian band Mahogany Rush, on Dec. 10
Mahogany Rush – Land Of 1000 Nights (1975)

Chuck Stern, 44, frontman of experimental rock band Time of Orchids, on Dec. 10
Time of Orchids – Darling Abandon (2007)

Essra Mohawk, 75, folk singer-songwriter, on Dec. 11
Essra Mohawk – I’ll Give It To You Anyway (1970)
Essra Mohawk – Openin’ My Love Doors (1974)
Cyndi Lauper – Change Of Heart (1986, as writer)

Zahara, 36, South African Afro soul singer-songwriter and guitarist, on Dec. 11
Zahara – Ndize (2011)
Zahara – Bhekile (2013)
Zahara – Nqaba Yam (2021)

John ‘Rambo’ Stevens, English producer and manager, on Dec. 11

Richard Kerr, 78, English singer and songwriter, on Dec. 11
Scott English – Brandy (1972, also as composer)
Richard Kerr – Somewhere In The Night (1976, also as composer)
Dionne Warwick – I’ll Never Love This Way Again (1979, as composer)

Jeffrey Foskett, 67, singer, songwriter, producer (Beach Boys), on Dec. 11
Jeffrey Foskett – Sunshine All The Time (1997)

Ole Paus, 76, Norwegian singer and songwriter, on Dec. 12

Jerry Puckett, 84, session guitarist, engineer, on Dec. 12
King Floyd – Groove Me (1971, on guitar and as engineer)

Travis Dopp, guitarist of punk band Small Brown Bike, on Dec. 13

Giorgos Tolios, 58, drummer of Greek alt.rock band TRYPES, on Dec. 14
ΤΡΥΠΕΣ – Το Τρένο (1993)

Rüdiger Wolff, 70, singer, songwriter, actor and TV presenter, on Dec. 14
Rüdiger Wolff – Wohin geh’n wir (1983)

Bob Johnson, 79, guitarist, singer and songwriter with Steeleye Span, on Dec. 15
Steeleye Span – Alison Gross (1973, on lead vocals)
Steeleye Span – Edward (1986, as writer and on lead vocals)

Guy Marchand, 86, French actor and singer, on Dec. 15
Guy Marchand – Ça vous laisse perplexe (1965)

Tim Norell, 68, Swedish musician, songwriter and producer, on Dec. 15
Secret Service – Cutting Corners (1982, as member on guitar and co-writer)

Pete Lucas, 73, bass guitarist of The Troggs (1974-2022), on Dec. 16
The Troggs – Feeling For Love (1977)

Carlos Lyra, 90, Brazilian singer, composer and Bossa Nova pioneer, on Dec. 16
Sylvia Telles – Menina (1954, as writer)
João Gilberto – Maria Ninguém (1959, as writer)
Carlos Lyra – Chora Tua Tristeza (1964, also as writer)

Óscar Agudelo, 91, Colombian singer, on Dec. 16

Colin Burgess, 77, Australian rock drummer, on Dec. 16
Master’s Apprentices – Because I Love You (1971, as member)
AC/DC – Can I Sit Next To You, Girl (1974, as member)

Manny Martínez, 69, ex-drummer of punk band The Misfits, on Dec. 16

Mike Maxfield, 79, songwriter, guitarist of English band The Dakotas, announced Dec. 17
The Dakotas – The Cruel Sea (1963, also as writer)
Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas – Bad To Me (1963)

Amp Fiddler, 65, funk musician, composer and producer, on Dec. 17
Prince – We Can Funk (1990, on keyboards and backing vocals)
Brand New Heavies – Dream On Dreamer (1994, on keyboards)
Amp Fiddler – Possibilities (2003)

Lewis Pragasam, 66, Malaysian jazz fusion drummer, on Dec. 18

Susanna Parigi, 62, Italian singer-songwriter and pianist, on Dec. 18
Susanna Parigi – Grazie alla vita (2016)

Russell Hunter, 76, drummer with UK rock bands Pink Fairies, Deviants, on Dec. 19
The Deviants – You’ve Got To Hold On (1968, also as co-writer)
The Pink Fairies – The Snake (1971, also as co-writer)

Ronnie Caryl, 70, English guitarist and singer, on Dec. 19
Ronnie Caryl – You Got It (1983, also as writer)

Bram Inscore, 41, electro-pop musician, songwriter and producer, by suicide on Dec. 19
Troye Sivan – Youth (2015, as co-writer and co-producer)

Eric Moyo, 41, Zimbabwean gospel singer, on Dec. 20

Torben Ulrich, 95, Danish tennis player, writer and free jazz musician, on Dec. 20
Torben Ulrich in CLINCH – Preface (2004)

Laura Lynch, 65, singer-bassist of the Dixie Chicks (1990-93), in traffic accident on Dec. 22
The Dixie Chicks Cowgirl Band – The Thrill Is In The Chase (1993, also as co-writer)

Ingrid Steeger, 76, German comedian and occasional singer, on Dec. 22
Ingrid Steeger – Der Schneemann (1975)

Lisandro Meza, 86, Colombian singer and accordionist, on Dec. 23

Willie Ruff, 92, jazz musician and educator, on Dec. 24
Miles Davis – Summertime (1958, on French horn)
Willie Ruff – Sheffield Blues (1968)
Leonard Cohen – So Long, Marianne (1968, on bass)
Joni Mitchell – River (with French Horns) (1970, rel. 2021, on French horn)

John Cutler, 73, engineer and producer, on Dec. 24
The Grateful Dead – Touch Of Grey (1987, as co-producer and engineer)

David Freeman, 84, bluegrass producer and historian, on Dec. 25

Tom Smothers, 86, half of comedy duo The Smothers Brothers, actor, on Dec. 26
The Smothers Brothers – Down In The Valley (1962)
The Smothers Brothers – Long Time Blues (1965)
Plastic Ono Band – Give Peace A Chance (1969, as backing singer)

Tony Oxley, 85, English free jazz drummer, label founder, on Dec. 26

Mbongeni Ngema, 67, South African playwright and composer, in car crash on Dec. 27
Mbongeni Ngema – Freedom Is Coming (1992, as writer, producer, arranger and on horns)

Michael Gibbons Jr, guitarist with metal band Leeway, on Dec. 27

Tommy Talton, 74, guitarist, singer, songwriter with country-rock band Cowboy, on Dec. 28
We The People – You Burn Me Up And Down (1966, as member and writer)
Cowboy – 5’ll Getcha Ten (1971, also as writer and on lead vocals)

Pedro Suárez-Vértiz, 54, singer-songwriter with Peruvian rock band Arena Hash, on Dec. 29

Les McCann, 88, jazz pianist and singer, artist, on Dec. 29
Les McCann Ltd. – Too Close for Comfort (1961)
Les McCann & Eddie Harris – Compared To What? (1969)
Les McCann feat. Roberta Flack – Baby Baby (1970)
Les McCann – Harlem Buck Dance Strut (1973)

Sandra Reaves-Phillips, 79, actress, writer and singer, on Dec. 29

Maurice Hines, 80, dancer, jazz singer and actor, on Dec. 29
Maurice – I’ve Never Been In Love Before (2000)

Sam Burtis, 75, jazz musician, on Dec. 29

Klee Benally, 48, guitarist of Native-American alt.rock group Blackfire, on Dec. 30
Blackfire – Mean Things Happenin’ In This World (2003)

Torsun Burkhardt, 49, singer and bassist of German electropunk band Egotronic, on Dec. 30

Shmulik Bilu, 71, member of Israeli vocal group Milk & Honey, on Dec. 31
Milk And Honey – Hallelujah (1979)

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  1. amdwhah
    January 2nd, 2024 at 17:15 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. January 3rd, 2024 at 14:24 | #2

    Happy New Year, Dude.

  3. Tim
    January 6th, 2024 at 14:38 | #3

    Thnx again!

  4. Hamster
    January 10th, 2024 at 11:53 | #4

    As a fan of April Wine I had been playing a lot of the old stuff over the past few months. Came as a bit of a shock to learn of Myles Goodwin’s death, never associating in my head his current age to that of the young guy playing and singing in the band. Reality check time! Anyway, many thanks for putting in the work to do the list. Let’s hope we all have a good 2024. Cheers!

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