In Memoriam – February 2016
After the massacre of last month, the Grim Reaper took it easier in February, though he still managed to claim one legend.
None of the parade of music legends’ deaths this year hit me as hard as that of Maurice White, not even that of David Bowie. You see, White’s music soundtracked many times I have fallen in love: sometimes for a long time, sometimes for a night, once for life. And, of course, I regard Earth, Wind & Fire as only second in my fandom to The Beatles. Of course, White was the driving force behind EWF: founder, co-producer, main songwriter, co-frontman, patriarch, spiritual director and so on. He had a marvellously warm voice which worked as well on ballads (Love’s Holiday, After The Love Has Gone , That’s The Way Of The World) as it did on upbeat tracks (In The Stone, September, Boogie Wonderland).
But he was even more than that: he produced and co-wrote The Emotions’ Best Of My Love, and co-produced Deniece Williams’ gorgeous 1977 #1 Free, and indeed the whole This Is Niecy LP (with EWF producer Charles Stepney, who died before the release of Niecy). Before EWF he was a session drummer, appearing on Fontellas Bass’ Rescue Me, Summertime by Billy Stewart, Betty Everett’s It’s In His Kiss, all of Minnie Riperton’s Come To My Garden LP, including her splendid version of Les Fleurs, as well as tracks by The Impressions, Etta James and other Chess acts. And for several albums he was a third of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, playing on classics such as Wade In The Water and Hold It Right There. A first attempt at running a band, The Salty Peppers, was unsuccessful. The next band was all the more a triumph. And Maurice sported the best receding-hairline afro ever.
The saxophone named Gina, after the nipples of the screen siren Lollobrigida, has fallen silent with the passing of Joey ‘The Lip’ Fagan. Actor Johnny Murphy, who played Joey The Lip in the 1991 film The Commitments, has died at the age of 72. A serious thespian of stage and screen, Murphy was the seasoned veteran in a cast of mostly novices. He was a generous actor, letting his co-stars shine in their scenes with him — his opening exchange with Jimmy “The Bollocks” Rabbitte is priceless — but by his presence alone he stole every scene. Irish president Bertie Higgins turned up for Murphy’s funeral.
For a brief while in the 1980s Canadian-born singer Vanity enjoyed some fame as Prince’s latest hypersexy girlfriend/protegé, fronting the Vanity 6 project. Born of mixed-race background as Denise Katrina Matthews, she first had a career in modelling before meeting Prince in 1980. He gave Denise her new name and had her front Vanity 6 — the number apparently represented the amount of breasts in the all-girl trio. They had a few hits, then broke up. Vanity had a couple more solo hits, posed twice in Playboy in the ‘80s (and on the cover of Cameo’s 1982 album Alligator Woman), and appeared in a few films, most notably 1988’s Action Jackson. More darkly, she also entertained a crack addiction. Following a near-fatal overdose in 1994 she became a born-again Christian and evangelist. She died of renal failure, a consequence of her drug abuse two decades earlier, at the age of 57.
Was your mom a middle-aged punk-rock singer expounding on matters of sexuality and gender? If so, then your mom might be Vi Subversa, frontwoman of early-’80s British anarcho-punk outfit Poison Girls. Born in 1935 as Frances Sokolov, she was a 44-year-old mother of two when she adopted her stage name and released her first single with the Poison Girls (whose other three original members were men). Working closely with fellow punk outfit Crass, Subversa pushed a hardline feminist agenda, getting herself assaulted by neo-Nazis for her troubles. She quit recording in 1985 and moved for a while to Israel to do pottery.
US readers will know at least one composition by the arranger and conductor Jimmie Haskell, who has died at 79: the theme to the game show Hollywood Squares. But the rest of us have also heard much of Haskell’s work. Most significantly, it was Haskell who arranged Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. He changed the song from G major, in which Simon had written it, to E flat major to suit Garfunkel’s voice — a decision that resulted in one of the great vocal performances in pop music. He won a Grammy for this, as he did for Bobby Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe and Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now (the strings and French horns were conducted by him).
Haskell also arranged on songs such as — deeeep breath (and linked titles take you to mixes previously posted here) — Ricky Nelson’s There’s Nothing I Can Say, Ben E. King’s Don’t Play That Song For Me, Bobby Darin’s Baby Face, Tommy Roe’s Dizzy, The Grass Roots’ Midnight Confessions, The Mamas & The Papas’ I Saw Her Again, Glen Campbell’s Tomorrow Never Comes , Judy Collins’ Chelsea Morning, Cass Elliott’s Make Your Own Kind Of Music, I Can Dream Can’t I and It’s Getting Better, The Free Movement’s I’ve Found Someone Of My Own, The Bee Gees’ Wouldn’t I Be Someone, Clarence Carter’s Patches, B.B. King’s Ghetto Woman, Mac Davis’ Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me , Four Tops’ Keeper Of The Castle, Candi Staton’s great covers of In The Ghetto and Stand By Your Man, The Doobie Brothers’ Real Love, Steely Dan’s My Old School and Pretzel Logic album (which includes Any Major Dude Will Tell You), Billy Joel’s The Ballad Of Billy The Kid, Albert Hammond’s I Am A Train, Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods’ Who Do You Think You Are, Tina Turner’s Acid Queen, Blondie’s The Tide Is High, Kenny Rogers’ We’ve Got Tonight, Sam Harris’ Over The Rainbow and lots more…
The story of Joe Dowell, a pop singer who has died at the age of 76, illustrates the brute power record labels exerted on their acts. Dowell had luck with his first single: a cover of Elvis Presley’s Wooden Heart (in the US it was just an Elvis b-side to Blue Christmas), it topped the charts in 1961 and became a million-seller, the first for the Smash Records label. Having had enjoyed success, Dowell now wanted to be a singer-songwriter, but Smash’s parent label, Mercury, nixed that idea, forcing Dowell to record only songs which Mercury already owned. Dowell never repeated the success of Wooden Heart, bothering the US charts only two more times, with The Bridge of Love (#50) and Little Red Rented Rowboat (#23). His songwriting ambitions came to nothing. And here’s a Joe Dowell fun fact you might use next time he comes up in conversation: he was born in Bloomington, Indiana, but grew up in Bloomington, Illinois.
Finally, tragedy struck two young bands; spookily both in one single day this month. All members of the English Indie band Viola Beach died in a freak car accident in Sweden on February 13, and three of the five members of US hard rock band CounterFlux perished in another car accident on the same day.
Jon Bunch/Johnny Scars, 45, member of rock bands Sense Field, Further Seems Forever, on Feb. 1
Jim Reeves, 47, German singer and TV host, murdered on Feb. 1
Jimmy Haskell, 79, arranger, conductor and TV/film composer, on Feb. 2
Ben E. King – Don’t Play That Song For Me (1962, as arranger)
Mama Cass – Make You Own Kind Of Music (1969, as arranger)
Billy Joel – The Ballad Of Billy The Kid (1973, as arranger)
Marcus Turner, 59, New Zealand folk singer-songwriter and children’s TV presenter, on Feb. 2
Maurice White, 74, singer, drummer, composer, producer, arranger, on Feb. 4
Ramsey Lewis – Wade In The Water (1966, on drums)
The Salty Peppers – Your Love Is Life (1969)
Minnie Riperton – Les Fleur (1970, on drums)
Earth, Wind & Fire – Love’s Holiday (1977)
Maurice White – Children Of Afrika (1985)
La Velle, 72, jazz, disco and gospel singer, on Feb. 4
La Velle – He’s Alright (1979)
Joe Dowell, 76, pop singer , on Feb. 4
Joe Dowell – Little Red Rented Rowboat (1962)
Ray Colcord, 66, film/TV composer, keyboardist, producer, on Feb. 5
Don McLean – American Pie (1971, on electric keyboard)
Obrey Wilson, 73, soul singer, on Feb. 6
Obrey Wilson – If You Were There (1966)
Dan Hicks, 74, singer-songwriter, on Feb. 6
Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away (1969)
Gilles Brown, 73, Canadian singer, on Feb. 6
Eddy Wally, 83, Belgian singer, on Feb. 6
Rick Wright, 57, country guitarist, traffic accident on Feb. 7
Kim Williams, 68, country songwriter, on Feb. 11
Randy Travis – Three Wooden Crosses (2002)
Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, Jack Dakin, members of English indie band Viola Beach, in a car crash on Feb. 13
Devin Bachmann, Earl Miller II, Kyle Canter, members of US hardrock band CounterFlux, in a car crash on Feb. 13
L.C. Ulmer, 87, blues musician, on Feb. 14
L. C. Ulmer – Hip-Shake (2011)
Vanity, 57, Canadian-born singer of Vanity 6, actress, on Feb. 15
Vanity 6 – Wet Dream (1982)
Paul Gordon, 52, songwriter, arranger; member of New Radicals, B-52’s, on Feb. 18
Vonda Shephard – Searching My Soul (1997, as co-writer)
New Radicals – You Get What You Give (1998, on keyboards)
Brendan Healy, 59, English comedian and musician, on Feb. 18
Vi Subversa, 80, singer-guitarist of British punk band Poison Girls, on Feb. 19
Poison Girls – Pretty Polly (1980)
Rusty Burns, 62, guitarist of rock band Point Blank, on Feb. 19
Point Blank – That’s The Law (1976, also as co-writer)
Harald Devold, 51, Norwegian jazz musician, on Feb. 19
Betty Jane Watson, 94, musical actress-singer and TV presenter, on Feb. 21
Hans Reffert, 69, member of Krautrock band Guru Guru a.o., composer, on Feb. 22
Piotr Grudziński, 40, guitarist of Polish rock band Riverside, on Feb. 22
Riverside – Celebrity Touch (2013)
Sonny James, 87, country singer-songwriter, on Feb. 22
Sonny James – Young Love (1956)
Johnny Murphy, 72, Irish musician and actor (The Commitments), on Feb. 23
The Commitments – Try A Little Tenderness (1991)
Lennie Baker, 69, singer with Sha Na Na, on Feb. 24
Sha Na Na – Blue Moon (1978)
John Chilton, 83, British jazz musician and songwriter, on Feb. 25
George Melly with John Chilton’s Feetwarmers – My Momma Rocks Me (1986)
Nina Dorda, 91, Russian singer, on Feb. 26
James Atkins, 49, bassist of grunge band Hammerbox, on Feb. 27
Hammerbox – Outside (1993)
Gordon Ranney, 53, bassist of rock comedy bands The Gomers, Zombeatles, on Feb. 27
Merritone Blake, 75, Jamaican producer and sound system engineer, on Feb. 27
Josefin Nilsson, 46, Swedish pop singer, on Feb. 29
Josefin Nilsson – When I Watch You In Your Sleep (1996)
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