It seems the Reaper took his annual summer holiday in August and left his less enthusiastic minions in charge. Wouldn’t it be nice if he (or she, we must not presume) could retire?
It is fair to say that British people were not united in their grief for Cilla Black. Some saw in her a singer of the golden age of British pop who had hits with Anyone Who Had A Heart, Alfie, You’re My World and the Lennon/McCartney composition Step Inside Love, and a homely star who broke barriers for women on British TV and was a warm fixture in millions of living rooms. Others recall her poor and arrogant treatment of those whom she thought of as her inferiors, with airline staff especially having many stories to tell. And many of her fellow Liverpudlians resent her right-wing politics and outspoken unwillingness to aid striking dockworkers.
In the space of just a few years Bob Johnston, who has died at 83, produced a string of classic and eminent albums for Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen. He accompanied Bob Dylan on six consecutive albums between 1965 and 1970, producing ever track except Like A Rollin’ Stone for Highway 61 Revisited (1965), Blonde on Blonde (1966), John Wesley Harding (1967), Nashville Skyline (1969), Self Portrait (1970) and New Morning (1970). For Simon & Garfunkel he produced Sounds of Silence (1966, with tracks like I Am A Rock, April Come She Will and the title track) and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966, which featured Homeward Bound, Scarborough Fair, For Emily Whenever I May Find Her, The 59th Street Bridge Song, and the still stunning 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night). He also co-produced A Hazy Shade Of Winter for them. For Leonard Cohen he produced Songs From A Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971) and Live Songs (1973). His Johnny Cash productions included At Folsom Prison (1968); The Holy Land (1969); At San Quentin (1969) and Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (1970). He also produced The Byrds’ Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, Lindisfarne’s Fog on the Tyne, and Loudon Wainwright III’s Attempted Mustache, as well as tracks for The Statler Brothers (including Flowers On The Wall), Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Patti Page, Marty Robbins, Flatt & Scruggs, Jimmy Cliff, John Mayall, The Waterboys and others.
The man who was responsible for some of the best-known country songs has had a wreath placed upon his door. Billy Sherrill is widely credited with being in the forefront of those who helped country music cross over into pop with his productions for artists like George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell and so on. Indeed, he “discovered” Wynette and co-wrote her biggest hit, Stand By Your Man. He also co-wrote The Most Beautiful Girl, a huge hit for Charlie Rich in 1974, and David Houston’s 1966 hit Almost Persuaded. His game wasn’t limited to country: in the late 1950s and ’60s he produced soul-gospel group The Staple Singers, soul acts Major Lance and Peaches & Herb, jazz man Buddy Greco, and pop crooners Cliff Richard and Bobby Vinton. In 1981 he produced Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue country tribute album.
Jazz tenor saxophonist and occasional flautist Harold Ousley, who has died at 86, recorded three mighty solo LPs in the 1970s which mysteriously failed to become jazz classics (plus one in 1961 and another in 2001), but he was better known as a great sideman, especially to Jack McDuff. He also backed, as a young man, Billie Holiday, and later the likes of Dinah Washington, Gene Ammons and George Benson, and played in the bands of Count Basie and Lionel Hampton.
One of the July victims of the Grim Reaper slipped through my round-up last month — despite having lived not far from me. South African singer Crocodile Harris, real name Robin Graham, had a big hit in his country and, more so, in France in 1982 with his anti-war anthem Give Me The Good News, topping the French charts and even winning a prize at the Cannes Music Festival. It wasn’t his biggest hit in South Africa: in 1974 he reached #5 with Miss Eva Goodnight. In 1984 his song The World Is An Explosion was banned in apartheid South Africa. It was surprising that Give Me The Good News, with the line “Dictatorship was never honest”, wasn’t banned as well. I’ll post that track on another mix soon.
Another July death was reported only in early August, that of harmonica player Harry Pitch. He brought his chosen instrument into the British charts on Petula Clark’s 1961 #1 Sailor, Frank Ifield’s wildly popular 1962 chart-topper I Remember You, and in 1964 on Val Doonican’s Walk Tall. One day in 1962 he was minding his own business in the canteen of the Abbey Road studios in London when an unknown youngster asked him to teach him a particular harmonica effect. That youngster was – you guessed it – John Lennon, and the song he wanted advice for was Love Me Do. In 1969 he played the harmonica on the hit Groovin’ With Mr Bloe, a UK #2 in 1970, and generations of British TV viewers know his playing from the theme of the long-running comedy series Last Of The Summer Wine.
Crocodile Harris, 64, South African singer-songwriter, on July 7
Crocodile Harris – Miss Eva Goodnight (1974)
Harry Pitch, 90, harmonica player, on July 15
Mr.Bloe – Groovin’ With Mr. Bloe (1969)
Johnny Meeks, 78, lead guitarist with Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps, on July 30
Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps – Say Mama (1958, also as co-writer)
Red Dragon, 49, Jamaican reggae singer, on July 31
Cilla Black, 72, English singer and TV presenter, on August 1
Cilla Black – Step Inside Love (1968)
Billy Sherrill, 78, country songwriter, producer and arranger, on August 4
Charlie Rich – The Most Beautiful Girl (1974, as co-writer)
George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today (1980, as producer)
Sean Price, 43, rapper with Heltah Skeltah, Boot Camp Clik, on August 8
Eddie Cusic, 89, blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, on August 11
Harold Ousley, 86, jazz saxophonist, on August 13
Harold Ousley – Me And Bobby McGee (1972)
Harold Ousley – The People’s Groove (1977)
Bob Johnston, 83, record producer, on August 14
Bob Dylan – I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (1967)
Simon & Garfunkel – 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy) (1969)
Johnny Cash – 25 Minutes To Go (live, 1969)
Leonard Cohen – Famous Blue Raincoat (1971)
Danny Sembello, 52, songwriter and producer, drowned on August 15
The Pointer Sisters – Neutron Dance (1984, as co-writer)
Max Greger, 89, German musician and band leader, on August 15
Max Greger Orchester – Das aktuelle Sport-Studio (1963)
Russell Henderson, 91, Trinidad-born British jazz pianist, on August 18
Doudou N’Diaye Rose, 85, Senegalese drummer, composer and bandleader, on August 19
Doudou N’Diaye Rose – Diame (1992)
Mariem Hassan, 57, Western Saharan singer and activist, on August 22
Yosi Piamenta, 63, Israeli rock musician, on August 23
Joy Beverley, 91, singer with British group Beverley Sisters, on August 30
The Beverley Sisters – I Dreamed (1957)
Hugo Rasmussen, 74, Danish jazz musician, on August 30
(PW in comments)