On 4 December 1956 a Tuesday, rockabilly star Carl Perkins came to the Sun Records studios in Memphis to record a new single – a song called “Matchbox” which a few years later the Beatles would cover. Sun Records owner Sam Phillips had arranged for a new signing of his to back up Perkins on the piano, a wild man called Jerry Lewis. In the afternoon, Sun Records alumn Elvis Presley, who had just signed for RCA, popped in for a visit. Seeing that his friend Carl Perkins was in the studio, he joined him and Jerry Lee for a jam session. The producer that day had the presence of mind to record the jam, even though he knew it couldn’t be released because of the contractual problems that would arise. That producer was Cowboy Jack Clement, who died on August 8 at the age of 82.
The recording was finally released in 1981 under the moniker The Million Dollar Quartet, though it probably was just a trio. The fourth member was Johnny Cash, who also visited, posed around the piano for a photo with the other three guys, and went on his merry way for Christmas shopping.
It was Clement who had discovered Jerry Lee Lewis and recorded his breakthrough hit, “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, a couple of months after that jam session. Clement went on to produce many other legends, ranging from Charley Pride to Townes Van Zandt to U2, and wrote for many more, especially for Johnny Cash.
One of the original country outlaws departed this month. Tompall Glaser never attained the stardom of the likes of Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson, but he was among those who paved the way for the movement. With Jennings, Nelson and Jessi Colter, Glaser appeared on the iconic 1976 compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws.
The headline death of the month, however, is that of jazz-funk keyboardist George Duke. To define Duke by his primary genre or instrument is a bit unfair. He was also a session musician who played with the likes of Frank Zappa, and he was a skilled producer and arranger. An anti-apartheid activist, Duke was the musical director of the concert for Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1988, an event that helped solidify the international resistance to the racist regime in South Africa.
The man who brought The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Kinks and other British acts to the US, Sid Bernstein, has died at 95. Obviously he was the general of the British invasion; by booking The Beatles into sports arenas he also helped invent stadium rock. Before that, he was one of the first white promoters to introduce black artists such as Ray Charles and James Brown to white audiences. Two years ago, at the age of 93, Bernstein brought out his first album.
British folkie Louis Killen, it’s fair to say, had one of the more unconventional lives. He was big name in the Newcastle folk scene and collaborator with The Clancy Brothers and Ewan MacColl, the pope of British folk. In the 1990s he moved to the US to live as a transgendered person, and in 2010 had a sex-change operation, becoming Louisa Jo Killen. She still performed, but health problems cut these engagements short.
Jazz fans will have been saddened to learn of the death of the South African vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin, not only because of the loss of her great talent, but also in sympathy for her husband Abdullah Ibrahim, the jazz pianist who used to be Dollar Brand. The couple was based for decades in New York, having exiled themselves from apartheid in 1960. Benjamin and Ibrahim first went to Zurich, where they met Duke Ellington, who took the couple under his wing, with Benjamin eventually joining his band. After a brief return to Cape Town in the mid-‘70s the couple resettled in New York for the next quarter century, a time during which Benjamin released a string of acclaimed jazz albums, including the Grammy-nominated Dedications in 1982. She returned to South Africa in 2001.
Dutch singer Jetty Paerl probably was not known widely beyond the borders of the Netherlands. Her death is noteworthy not for her music — I have no idea about it — but because she was one of the last few anti-Nazi resistance activists left today. When the Germans occupied the Netherlands, Paerl went into exile in London, from where she broadcast on Radio Oranje, the station of the Dutch government in exile. She was known as “Jetje van Radio Oranje” and featured in episode 18 of the BBC series The World At War.
Murray Gershenz was not a pop musician, but one of (most of) us: a record collector. Gershenz, who has died at 91, will probably be best remembered as the old man who got naked in The Hangover, one of the several movies and TV shows he appeared in after taking up acting at the age of 79. The one-time opera singer was also the subject of a 2011 documentary about his record shop, Music Man Murray, also the title of the film, which covered Gershenz’s attempt to sell off his vast record collection in order to have it preserved (watch it HERE). Having begun his collection as a 16-year-old in 1938, he amassed 300,000 records. The collection is valued at $1.5 million, though Gershenz was willing to accept a million less. Considering that the lot included German records from 1895 and original Edison cylinders among its many rarities, one suspects that a buyer would have scored a bargain.
Sharon Mosby, 70, jazz/blues singer, on July 30
John Dengate, 74, Australian folk singer and songwriter, on August 1
Pixie Williams, 85, New Zealand singer, on August 2
Tim Wright, 61, bass guitarist for Pere Ubu, DNA, on August 4
Pere Ubu – Real World (1978)
George Duke, 67, jazz fusion keyboardist, on August 5
Frank Zappa – Road Ladies (1970)
George Duke – Just For You (1977)
Michael Jackson – Off The Wall (1979)
James Gray, 52, keyboardist for Canadian country rock band Blue Rodeo, on August 5
Blue Rodeo – Bad Timing (1992)
William Dunn, 70, Canadian folk musician, film maker and politician, on August 5
Willie Dunn – I Pity The Country (1973)
Bill Putt, member of Australian prog rock bands Spectrum, Ariel, on August 6
Marilyn King, 82, last surviving member of The King Sisters, on August 7
The King Sisters – Gobs Of Love (1943)
Nick Nixon, 74, country singer and songwriter, on August 7
Jack Clement, 82, producer, songwriter and singer, on August 8
The Million Dollar Quartet – I Shall Not Be Moved (1956)
Johnny Cash – The One On The Right Is On The Left (1966, as songwriter)
U2 – Angel of Harlem (1988, as producer)
Karen Black, 74, actress and sometime singer, on August 8
Karen Back – Memphis (1976)
Eduardo Falú, 90, Argentine folk guitarist and composer, on August 9
Eduardo Falú – No te puedo olvidar (1969)
Louis Killen, 79, British folk singer and songwriter, on August 9
Louis Killen & The Clancy Brothers – The Irish Rover (2000)
Eydie Gormé, 84, easy listening and jazz singer, on August 10
Eydie Gormé – God Bless The Child (1981)
Jody Payne, 77, country sinher and guitarist of Willie Nelson’s backing band Family, on August 10
Willie Nelson – Hands On The Wheel (1975, on guitar)
Phil Baheux, 45, drummer of Belgian heavy metal band Channel Zero, on August 10
Jason Rosenthal, 35, rock singer with rock band On the Might of Princes, on August 12
Tompall Glaser, 79, country singer and songwriter, on August 13
Tompall Glaser – When It Goes, It’s Gone Girl (1975)
Jon Brookes, 44, drummer of British indie-rock group The Charlatans, on August 13
The Charlatans – How High (1997)
Allen Lanier, 67, keyboardist and guitarist with Blue Öyster Cult, on August 14
Blue Öyster Cult – Lonely Teardrops (1979)
Jane Harvey, 88, jazz singer, on August 15
Benny Goodman and his Orchestra feat. Jane Harvey – Close As Pages In A Book (1945)
Eyob Mekonnen, 37, Ethiopian reggae singer, on August 18
Donna Hightower, 86, soul and jazz singer, on August 19
Donna Hightower – This World Today Is A Mess (1972)
Fritz Rau, 83, legendary German concert promoter, on August 19
Cedar Walton, 79, jazz pianist, on August 19
Art Farmer & Benny Golson Jazztet – The Cool One (1960, on piano)
Marian McPartland, 95, British jazz pianist and composer, on August 20
Marian McPartland – Easy Blues (1958)
Sathima Bea Benjamin, 76, South African jazz singer, wife of Abdullah Ibrahim, on August 20
Sathima Bea Benjamin – I’ll See You Again (1990)
Gabriel Balachsan, 37, Israeli rock singer and songwriter, on August 20
Sid Bernstein, 95, American music producer and promoter, on August 21
The Beatles – Twist And Shout (Live at Shea Stadium, 1965)
Jetty Paerl, 92, Dutch singer and anti-Nazi activist, on August 22
Chris Friedrich, 33, bassist of instrumental rock band Caspian, on August 25
Murray Gershenz, 91, record collector and actor, on August 28
Ian Hunter – Old Records Never Die (1981)
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