Among the many acts that are considered inventors of punk, Suicide have a good claim, having been among the first to use that term to advertise themselves. The New York duo even had the violence at their gigs to underscore that claim. With the death at 78 of singer Alan Vega of natural causes, half of Suicide is now gone (multi-instrumentalist Martin Rev is still alive at 68). After Suicide, Vega had a varied solo career, working a lot with The Cars’ Ric Ocasek. His last album appeared in 2010, two years before he suffered a stroke. Vega was also an exhibited artist.
On the same day Vega died, we also lost the producer Gary S. Paxton, perhaps remembered best for producing the hits 1960s Monster Mash and The Associations’ Cherish. If an enterprising scriptwriter were to tell Paxton’s lifestory faithfully in a film, he might be unjustly accused of taking literary licence. Born in 1939, Paxton was adopted at the age of 3 and grew up in rural poverty. He was molested when he was 7, and contracted spinal meningitis at 11. He recovered and at 14 joined a band that played country and the new-fangled rock & roll music. Stardom arrived in 1959 when he had a #1 hit with It Was I as Flip in Skip & Flip. They had another hit, Cherry Pie, and then split. Now living in LA, Paxton began producing records. Still only 21 he produced a #1 hit, Alley Oop, for The Hollywood Argyles. More hits followed as Paxton opened five studios and a series of record labels.
Paxton was a skilled, albeit eccentric, self-promoter. Once a radio station refused to play one of the records from his label because it was “too black”. Paxton registered his protest by staging a procession to the radio station building led by 15 cheerleaders and an elephant pulling a Volkswagen car. For his troubles Paxton was arrested – because the elephant was defecating in the street. In 1967 he returned to his country roots, first in Bakersfield and then in Nashville. In the early 1970s, following the suicide of his business partner and his own struggles with addiction, he found God and became a follower of the hippie Jesus movement while recording gospel music.
In 1980 he escaped an assassination attempt, apparently set up by a country musician whom he was producing. Paxton fought off the first hitman, getting part of a finger shot off after slapping away the gun that was pressed between his eyes. He got hold of the gun and shot the killer in the chest. But a second assassin managed to shoot Paxton three times in the back. It took Paxton eight years to recover; he later visited those involved in the hit in prison and forgave them. Shortly after recovering from the shooting, he nearly died of hepatitis C. Death finally claimed Gary S. Paxton at the age of 77 on July 16.
Classical sopranos don’t usually feature in this series, but Marni Nixon is an exception. When Audrey Hepburn sings in My Fair Lady, or Deborah Kerr in The King And I and An Affair To Remember, or Natalie Wood in West Side Story, it is Marni Nixon’s voice you hear. On the latter film’s Tonight, she also sang Rota Moreno’s part. She overdubbed also for Sophia Loren, Margaret O’Brien and Marilyn Monroe (the high notes on Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend). Nixon made her first on-screen appearance as Sister Sophie in The Sound of Music. Married three times, Nixon was the mother of the late singer Andrew Gold.
With the death of Allen Barnes, we have lost a great crossover jazz-soul-funk multi-instrumentalist. Barnes, who was primarily a saxophonist, was drafted by Donald Byrd into his Blackbyrds. On their greatest hit, the joyful Walkin’ In Rhythm, Barnes played the flute solo. He also wrote songs for the band, including 1974’s Summer Love, which featured on Any Major Summer Vol. 5. He recorded with many other artists, including Nina Simone, Prince, Martha Reeves, Bootsy Collins and Sonny Rollins. On stage he backed Gil Scott-Heron on saxophone and synthesizer. He also recorded under his own name and with singer/songwriter John Malone as the unsnappily-named funk band Malone & Barnes and Spontaneous Simplicity.
Last month we lost Chips Moman, who with Dan Penn founded the famous American Sound Studio in Memphis. Among the successful bands they produced were The Box Tops, who are most famous for that perfect slice of pope, The Letter. In July the Box Tops’ drummer Danny Smythe passed away at 67. Smythe drummed on the classic Neon Rainbow album as well as on the 1968 #2 hit Cry Like A Baby. But by the time the latter became a hit Smythe had left the band, having decided to go to college in order to avoid the Vietnam War draft. When the classic line-up of The Box Tops reunited in 1996, Smythe rejoined the bands, staying with it until 2010, when lead singer Alex Chilton died.
On July 7 I posted the Song Swarm of By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Among the 82 versions was one by jazz/funk organist Shirley Scott. Playing guitar on that version was the Antiguan jazz guitarist Roland Prince. Eight days after I posted it, Prince died at the age of 69. Which merits mention here, I think. Prince released a few solo albums, but was more usually a sideman to artists like Scott, James Moody, Roy Haynes, Dr Buzzard’s Savannah Band, and especially Elvin Jones.
On the same day as Roland Prince, drummer and drum manufacturer Johnny C. Craviotto passed away. He started as a drummer in the 1970s for acts like Ry Cooder, Arlo Guthrie, Moby Grape, Neil Young, and Buffy St. Marie. In the 1980s he founded a drum company with Huey Lewis & The News’ drummer Billy Gibson, the Select (later Solid) Drum Company, whose products seem to be particularly popular among country and indie drummers.
Finally, it is necessary to pay tribute to long-time Mad magazine cartoonist (all those covers he did!) Jack Davis, who has died at 91. His link to music? He also designed LP covers, such as that below for Johnny Cash.
Teddy Rooney, 66, bassist of rock band The Yellow Payges, on July 2
The Yellow Payges – Our Time Is Running Out (1967)
William Hawkins, 76, Canadian folk musician and poet, on July 4
3’s a Crowd – Gnostic Serenade (1968, as songwriter)
Danny Smythe, 67, drummer of The Box Tops, on July 6
The Box Tops – Neon Rainbow (1967)
The Box Tops – Cry Like A Baby (1968)
Rokusuke Ei, 83, Japanese lyricist and author, on July 7
Kyu Sakamoto – Sukiyaki (1963, as co-writer)
Gérard Bourgeois, 80, French composer, on July 8
Françoise Hardy – Rendez-vous d’automne (1966)
Geneviève Castrée aka Woelv aka Ô PAON, 34, Canadian indie musician, on July 9
Steven Young, member of British electronic bands Colourbox and M/A/R/R/S, on July 13
Colourbox – The Moon Is Blue (1985)
M/A/R/R/S – Pump Up The Volume (1987)
Roland Prince, 69, Antiguan jazz guitarist, on July 15
Shirley Scott – Lean On Me (1972, on guitar)
Erik Petersen, 38, founder and leader of folk-punk band Mischief Brew, on July 15
Mischief Brew – Coffee, God, And Cigarettes (2006)
Johnny Craviotto, 68, drummer and drum developer, on July 15
Claudia Lennear – It Ain’t Easy (1973, on drums)
Alan Vega, 78, half of protopunk duo Suicide, on July 16
Suicide – Ghost Rider (1977)
Alan Vega – Goodbye Darling (1983)
Gary S. Paxton, 77, producer and singer-songwriter, on July 16
Skip & Flip – It Was I (1959) (1959, as “Flip”)
Bobby Boris Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers – Monster Mash (1962, as producer)
The Association – Cherish (1966, as producer)
Bonnie Brown, 77, member of country group The Browns, on July 16
The Browns – The Three Bells (1959)
Claude Williamson, 89, jazz pianist, on July 16
June Christy & Pete Rugolo – Look Out Up There (1954, on piano)
Karina Jensen, singer of Danish pop band Cartoons, announced on July 18
Cartoons – Witch Doctor (1998)
Tamás Somló, 68, singer of Hungarian rock band Omega, on July 19
Lewie Steinberg, 82, first bassist of Booker T. & the M.G.’s (replaced by Donald Dunn), on July 21
Booker T. & the M.G.’s – Green Onions (1962)
Mika Bleu, 34, singer of French grindcore band Miserable Failure, hit by a car on July 22
George Reznik, 86, Canadian jazz pianist, on July 23
Keith Gemmell, 68, British musician with Audience, Stackridge, Pasadena Roof Orchestra), on July 24
Audience – Indian Summer (1971)
Marni Nixon, 86, American singer, on July 24
Marni Dixon & Yulk Brynner – Shall We Dance (1956, The King And I)
Marni Nixon – I Feel Pretty (1961, West Side Story)
Allan Barnes, 67, jazz/soul saxophonist with The Blackbyrds, on July 26
The Blackbyrds – Walking In Rhythm (1974, on flute)
Malone & Barnes And Spontaneous Simplicity – Workin’ Plan (1977)
J Dilla – Requiem (2012, on flute)
Sandy Pearlman, 72, producer, songwriter and manager, on July 26
Blue Öyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper (1976, as co-producer)
The Clash – Tommy Gun (1978, as producer)
Roye Albrighton, 67, guitarist and singer with British rock group Nektar, on July 26
Nektar – Do You Believe In Magic? (1972)
Jack Davis, 91, illustrator, cartoonist with Mad and record cover designer, on July 27
Pat Upton, 75, singer and guitarist of pop band Spiral Starecase, on July 27
Spiral Starecase – More Today Than Yesterday (1969)
Lucille Dumont, 97, Canadian singer, on July 29
Fred Tomlinson, 90, English singer and composer, on July 29
Monty Python – Lumberjack Song (1969, as co-writer)
Penny Lang, 74, Canadian folk-singer, on July 31
Previous In Memoriams
Keep up to date with dead pop stars on Facebook