It was carnage in January! The headline death in January surely was that of Demis Roussos, the hirsute yet balding crooner of housewife-friendly ballads who hid his substantial girth beneath flowing kaftans. The look gave him an iconic image, but he was not considered very cool. Yet, as a member of Aphrodite’s Child, the Egypt-born Greek had plenty cool quotient with some pretty trippy music. The trio, which also included Vangelis on keyboards, were on the vanguard of prog-rock.
Vangelis lost another past musical partner three days later with the death at 72 of Italian musician Maurizio Arcieri, with whom he collaborated in the late-1970s project Chrisma (later renamed Krisma), an electronic music group founded by Arcieri with his wife Christina Moser in 1976 which enjoyed some success throughout Europe. Arcieri already had been a star in the 1960s as the founder and leader of the beat group The New Dada, who supported The Beatles on their 1965 tour of Italy.
Soul singer Don Covay, who has died at 76, is mostly remembered for the ‘60s soul standard See-Saw, but it is as a writer that he received the greater recognition from the soul community. Chief among the songs Covay wrote was Aretha Franklin’s glorious Chain Of Fools, originally written for Otis Redding who never recorded it. Earlier, Chubby Checker took Covay’s Pony Time to the US #1. Other well-known Covay compositions include Solomon Burke’s I’m Hanging Up My Heart For You, Gladys Knight & The Pips’ Letter Full Of Tears, Wilson Pickett’s I’m Gonna Cry , and his own Sookie Sookie and the much-covered Mercy Mercy (on which a still unknown Jimi Hendrix played guitar). And his Long Tall Shorty featured as the b-side to The Kinks’ All Day And All Of The Night.
The rise of the pedal steel guitar in country music can be in part be credited to an act by Little Jimmy Dickens, who died on the second day of the new year at the age of 94. It was Dickens who had brought steel guitar player Bud Isaacs to Nashville. In 1954 Isaacs went on to play his novel pedal steel guitar on Webb Pierce’s big hit “Slowly”. The whiny sound immediately caught on, with every steel guitar player quickly fitting pedals. Little Jimmy Dickens, who measured 4’11 (or 1,50m) was something of a country legend himself when he scored his biggest hit in 1965, the marvelously titled May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose. By then he had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for 17 years (he’d rack up 66 years on the Opry). Among his pals was Hank Williams, who once wrote a song for Dickens in 20 minutes while on a flight, calling it Hey Good Lookin’. A week later Williams recorded the song himself, telling Dickens jokingly: “That song’s too good for you!”
In the world of gospel music, Andraé Crouch was the giant. The good pastor was the godfather of contemporary gospel, and brought the genre into secular music. The choirs on Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror, Earth Song, Keep The Faith and Will You Be There, and on Madonna’s Like A Prayer were conducted by Crouch. He did arrangements for soundtracks that scored movies like The Color Purple and The Lion King. Conversely, and crucially, he also brought secular influences into gospel music. Stars such as Stevie Wonder, Phillip Bailey, Joe Sample, Wilton Felder, David Paich, and El DeBarge appeared on his records.
Last month, one alumnus of The Lawrence Welk Show, Dick Dale, died. This month another one went with the plucker and strummer of different kind of strings, Neil Levang. The guitar, mandolin and banjo player had a rich CV: He played on Frank Zappa’s 1966 breakthrough album, Freak Out, as well as for the likes of Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Carpenters (on their Christmas album), Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Glen Campbell, Bobbi Gentry, Herb Alpert, Lou Rawls, Frank Sinatra, Fifth Dimension, Jackson Five (apparently on “I’ll Be There”), Harry Nilsson, David Clayton Thomas, Bing Crosby, and Frankie Valli. He also played on the music for many TV series, including the themes of Batman and Green Acres as well as on the music for all those Hanna-Barbera cartoons and The Beverly Hillbillies (whose Donna Douglas died on New Year’s Day) . He also worked on film scores, including those for The Godfather, All The President’s Men, Good Morning Vietnam, Rosemary’s Baby and Smokey and the Bandit. On top of all that, he helped Leo Fender develop the Bass VI.
Poet Rod McKuen is said to have written some 1,500 songs which have sold 100 million records worldwide. Most famous of these is Terry Jacks’ mega-hit Seasons In The Sun, a cover of McKuen’s version of Jacques Brel’s Le Moribond. In 1969 Frank Sinatra recorded an entire album of McKuen songs, including the hit Love’s Been Good to Me.
A pioneer of rock & roll departed with the death at 92 of Rose Marie McCoy. She recorded some proto rock & roll tunes in the early 1950s before the concept was invented, and wrote for the likes of Big Maybelle (including her great Gabbin’ Blues, on which McCoy provided the spoken bits) and Louis Jordan. In the 1960s she contributed to the canon of soul music with songs recorded by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Jerry Butler, Brook Benton, Solomon Burke and others. But she could also write for jazz vocalists, Sarah Vaughn being a particular fan. Other vocalists who recorded McCoy’s songs included Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine, Al Hibbler and Peggy Lee. A biography, titled Thought We Were Writing the Blues: But They Called It Rock ‘n’ Roll, by Arlene Corsano was published last year.
With the death of Popsy Dixon and the illness of Wendell Holmes, 2013’s excellent Brotherhood album might have been The Holmes Brothers’ last. The remarkable trio’s long struggle to break big in music — they formed in 1979 after making music since the early 1960s — came to fruition in the 1990s, mainly thanks to the patronage of Peter Gabriel.
Last month we lost Elvis Presley’s long-time guitarist Chip Young; now the King’s musical director from 1970 till his death in 1977 has passed on. Among Joe Guercio’s triumphs in that role was his conducting of the orchestra on Elvi’s Aloah From Hawaii concert, which was broadcast worldwide, at a time when such things were a sensation. He also served as musical director for the likes of Patti Page, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Diahann Carroll and Diana Ross, and arranged for people like Barbra Streisand and Gladys Knight.
It is tempting to view the names on the monthly In Memoriam lists with a sense of unquestioning affection. Usually that is merited. But at least one name this month will inspire little of such sentiment, unless you are a friend or family member. Kim Fowley did not strive to present an attractive public image, and reports of his private life did little to redeem that image. It’s the way Fowley wanted it: the man prided himself on being an obnoxious character. His contribution to music, as a producer or writer or manager, is significant. His most famous legacy, perhaps, is his formation of The Runaways, an all-girl rock band when such a thing was unknown. Or it might be his idea to instruct the Toronto audience at a Plastic Ono Band gig to welcome a nervous John Lennon with matchers or lighters aflame — the first recorded instance of what would become a concert cliché.
Only a few months after the publication of David Stubbs’ definitive history of Krautrock, Future Days, one of its protagonists has died. Edgar Froese was the founder and only constant in the electronic rock group Tangerine Dream. Stubbs was wise to interview Froese for his narrative, even though Tangerine Dream don’t quite fit the Krautrock profile. Froese’s art transcended it. As did his success: Tangerine Dream might not have set the charts flame, but earned much international acclaim and exerted wide influence with a synth-based sound that in its day was quite revolutionary.
He might not have been a household name, but Ray McFall, who has died at 88, wrote a crucial chapter in the history of pop music: he was the owner of the Cavern Club in Liverpool, in which The Beatles and other Merseybeat bands got their start. Having bought the club in Matthew Street in 1959, he slowly turned it from a jazz venue — his first headliner was the recently late Acker Bilk — into a showcase for pop bands, albeit still with a “no jeans” rule when The Beatles made their first appearance there on 9 February 1961.
They’d play 292 dates at the Cavern till August 1963, including the gig in November 1961 at which Brian Epstein discovered them. Even before Epstein put the Fab Four into suits, McFall ordered them to dress smartly. Other bands which later played The Cavern included The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Yardbirds. The Cavern Club closed in 1966, due to McFall’s financial problems. After the Cavern adventure, McFall sold insurance and worked for an office furnishings business.
Ray McFall in front of the Cavern
Leslie Felton, 72, baritone for doo wop group The Showmen, on Dec. 16
The Showmen – It Will Stand (1961, with General Johnson on lead vocals)
Donna Douglas, actress (Beverly Hillbillies) and country singer, on Jan. 1
Donna Douglas – All The Other Girls (1962)
Matthew Cogley, 30, guitarist and singer of British rock group Failsafe, on Jan. 1
Failsafe – Only If We Learn (2008)
Jeff Golub, 59, jazz and pop guitarist, on Jan. 1
Avenue Blue featuring Jeff Golub – Funky Is As Funky Does (1996)
Little Jimmy Dickens, 94, country singer, on Jan. 2
Little Jimmy Dickens – May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose (1965)
Joe Guercio, 87, musical director and songwriter, on Jan. 4
Chad & Jeremy – Distant Shores (1966, also as writer)
Elvis Presley – American Trilogy (Aloha From Hawaii version, 1973, as conductor)
Lance Diamond, 72, lounge singer and radio DJ, on Jan. 4
Goo Goo Dolls (with Lance Diamond) – Down On The Corner (1989)
Pino Daniele, 59, Italian singer and songwriter, on Jan. 4
Pino Daniele – Quanno Chiove (1981)
King Sporty, 71, Jamaican-American reggae musician and songwriter), on Jan. 5
King Sporty & The Ex Tras – Do You Wanna Dance? (1983)
Bob Marley – Buffalo Soldier (released 1983, as writer)
Lance Percival, 81, English actor and singer, on Jan. 6
Lance Percival – Shame And Scandal In The Family (1965)
Curtis Lee, 75, rock & roll singer, on Jan. 8
Curtis Lee – Pretty Little Angel Eyes (1961)
Curtis Lee – Under The Moon Of Love (1961)
Ray McFall, 88, owner of Liverpool’s Cavern Club, on Jan. 8
The Beatles – One After 909 (Cavern Club, 1962)
Andraé Crouch, 72, gospel singer, songwriter and producer, on Jan. 8
Andraé Crouch & The Disciples – Soon And Very Soon (1976)
Popsy Dixon, 72, drummer and singer with The Holmes Brothers, on Jan. 9
The Holmes Brothers – Walk In The Light (1993)
The Holmes Brothers – I Want You To Want Me (2007)
Tim Drummond, 74, session bassist (James Brown, Joe Cocker, Neil Young) and songwriter, on Jan. 10
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Just A Song Before I Go (1977, as bassist)
Bob Dylan – Saved (1980, also as co-writer)
George Probert, 87, jazz musician and music editor, on Jan. 10
Clifford Adams, 62, trombonist for Kool & The Gang, on Jan. 12
Kool & The Gang – Big Fun (1982)
J. Masters, 64, country singer and songwriter, on Jan. 12
The Oak Ridge Boys – Change My Mind (1991, as writer)
Trevor ‘Dozy’ Ward-Davies, 70, bassist of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, on Jan. 13
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – The Legend Of Xanadu (1968)
Ronnie Ronalde, 91, British music hall singer and whistler, on Jan. 13
Ronnie Ronalde – Hair Of Gold, Eyes Of Blue (1948)
Ervin Drake, 95, songwriter (I Believe), on Jan. 15
Frank Sinatra – It Was A Very Good Year (live 1966, as writer)
Kim Fowley, 75, producer, manager, impresario and musician, on Jan. 15
Kim Fowley – Bubble Gum (1967)
Dixie Hall, 80, country songwriter (wife of Tom T Hall), on Jan 16
Johnny Cash – Troublesome Waters (1970, as co-writer with Maybelle Carter)
Cynthia Layne, 51, jazz singer, on Jan. 18
Dallas Taylor, 66, session drummer, on Jan. 18
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Almost Cut My Hair (1970, as drummer)
ASAP Yams, 26, rapper, announced on Jan. 18
Ward Swingle, 87, musician with The Swingle Singers, Les Double Six, on Jan. 19
The Swingle Singers – He’s Gone Away (1969)
Rose Marie McCoy, 92, R&B and soul singer and songwriter, on Jan. 20
Big Maybelle & Rose Marie McCoy – Gabbin’ Blues (1952)
Rose Marie McCoy – Dippin’ In My Business (1954)
Elvis Presley – Trying To Get To You (1956, as co-writer)
Canserbero, 26, Venezuelan rapper, suicide on Jan. 20
Edgar Froese, 70, leader of German electro-rock band Tangerine Dream, on Jan. 20
Tangerine Dream – Dr. Destructo (1980)
Joan Hinde, 81, English trumpeter and entertainer, on Jan. 22
Demis Roussos, 68, Greek/Egyptian singer, on Jan. 25
Aphrodite’s Child – It’s Five O’Clock (1969)
Demis Roussos – Forever And Ever (1973)
Neil Levang, 83, guitar, violin and banjo player, on Jan. 26
Theme of Green Acres (1965, on first guitar)
Gloria Jones – Oh Baby (1973, on mandolin)
Margot Moir, 55, member of Australian pop trio The Moir Sisters, on Jan. 27
The Moir Sisters – Good Morning (How Are You) (1974)
Maurizio Arcieri, 72, founder of Italian pop bands New Dada, Krisma, on Jan. 28
Chrisma – Lola (1978)
Rod McKuen, 81, poet, singer and songwriter, on Jan. 29
Rod McKuen – Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes (1971)
Don Covay, 76, soul singer and songwriter, on Jan. 30
Don Covay – Mercy Mercy (1966)
Don Covay – Somebody’s Been Enjoying My Home (1973)
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