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In Memoriam – May 2017

The death of alt.rock legend Chris Cornell came out of the blue, as suicides often do. When successful celebrities end their lives, one is tempted to question the reasons, perhaps even to moralise. It’s not our job to do either, unless the suicide was the result of evading the consequences of one’s evil acts. But in Cornell’s case there seems to be the unusual dimension of a number of pharmaceuticals interacting to have impaired his judgment, leading to his death by hanging. According to his wife, Cornell had been excitedly making plans for the future just hours before his death; he had just come off stage after a successful gig with Soundgarden when he died. At 52, and off alcohol and proscribed substances, he was still young enough to make plans, to thrill his audience with that immense voice which could do anything, from rock screaming to soulful falsetto. We are right to mourn that this voice has fallen silent. And we may now hear Soundgarden songs like Pretty Noose, The Day I Tried To Live, and Like Suicide in a different, poignant way.

In January we lost Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, also to suicide. Now the last of the three founder members of the band has died. Gregg Allman and his brother Duane gave their name to the group. After Duane died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, there was no question about renaming the band: they remained the Allman Brothers, even if Gregg was the only Allman in it. Gregg was something of a contradiction. On the one hand, he was content to bury his head behind the keyboard and let others take the centre of the stage. On the other hand, he was truly a rock star, with the charisma and the looks and the love life that are part of the job description. He was, of course, also a gifted songwriter. Gregg was still performing until last year. In November he announced the cancellation of all tour plans for 2017, citing vocal cord damage. He promised he would tour again. Death broke that promise.

Of the five Womack Brothers who first shot to fame as The Valentinos, only one, Friendly Jr, is still alive, after the death of Curtis Womack. Curtis, or “Binky”, was the second-oldest, and when the brothers began playing as a group, the ten-year-old was the nominal leader. As Curtis Womack and the Womack Brothers they released their first single, Buffallo Bill, in 1954. Two years later they were discovered by Sam Cooke, then still a star in the genre of gospel. Now led by Bobby, who switched lead vocals with Curtis, the Womack Brothers released a few gospel records, which flopped. Cooke then advised them to go secular. The group took the name The Valentinos. Success came soon: they reworked their gospel song Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray to Lookin’ For A Love. When they cut their song It’s All Over Now, it was covered to huge success by the Rolling Stones. The group slowly fell apart following Cooke’s death and the scandal surrounding Bobby’s marriage to Cooke’s widow. By 1968, the group was only a trio – Curtis, Friendly and Harry – and released one final single, Tired Of Being Nobody, before breaking up.

With her smoky voice, Israeli singer and actress Daliah Lavi was a massive star on the German Schlager circuit in the 1970s, trading in songs that were rather more sophisticated than the clap-along fare that were the standard on that scene. Two of her biggest hits — Wann kommst Du and Willst Du mit mir geh’n — were German covers of songs by South African singer-songwriter John Kongos; another was her take on Melanie’s What Have They Done To My Song Ma. Before that Lavi had enjoyed a career as an actress in Europe and, to a lesser extent, in Hollywood, earning a Golden Globe nomination for her part in Vincente Minnelli’s 1962 film Two Weeks in Another Town. Other notable parts included roles in Casino Royale and opposite Dean Martin in The Silencers. The end of her thespian career coincided roughly with her breakthrough as a singer in Germany in 1971. Despite her accent, the language doesn’t seem to have been a problem: her mother was a German Jew who emigrated to Palestine in the 1930s. Lavi said she never experienced anti-Semitism in Germany and made it clear that she didn’t hold the young people who made up her audience responsible for the Holocaust.

A blind singer being motivated by another blind singer to become a professional musician, and then making it big in his genre: it sounds like a Hallmark movie plot. That’s how it went with Jamaican reggae star Frankie Paul. Born blind, Frankie had his sight partially restored on a hospital ship. One day Stevie Wonder visited his school, and Frankie sang for him. Impressed, Wonder encouraged the boy, who then decided to make his career in music. Frankie went on to become a superstar in Jamaica, and one of the leading voiced in dancehall reggae, releasing 55 albums between 1982 and 2011.

On his deathbed, knowing the end of leukemia was near, English session drummer Jimmy Copley recorded a final EP to raise funds for the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre and Royal United Hospital in Bristol. In his career Copley had played with acts such as Jeff Beck, Tommy Iommi, Pretenders, Tears For Fears, Go West, Paul Rodgers, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Magnum. Early in his career, he was the drummer of UPP, the jazz-funk band featuring Jeff Beck. The guitar legend and other well-known musicians joined Copley on his 2008 solo album. As the end neared, musician pals came to his hospital room, which had been converted to a temporary recording studio, to record the Psyche Funk EP. Copley said: “I’m making the EP to give something back to the wonderful people at the NHS wards that have treated me. It gave me something to aim at during the dark days. I feel good about leaving some new music behind.” The NHS is the British National Health Service, which guarantees health coverage for the population something Theresa May’s Tories are aiming to destroy, finishing the job of the previous Tory government.

A contender for the longest music career ever must be gospel musician Rosa Nell Speer, who has died at 94. She was only three years old in 1925 when her father, George Tomas “Dad” Speer, roped her and older brother Brock into his full-time band which would be variously known as The Speer Family and The Speer Family Gospel Choir. Rosa Nell became a gifted pianist, and was still playing weekly at the First Church of the Nazarene in Tennessee until just shortly before her death, bringing to an end an almost 92-years-long life in music.

Bruce Hampton, 70, avant-garde musician and actor, on May 1
Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit – Satisfaction Guaranteed (1994)

Erkki Kurenniemi, 75, pioneering Finnish electronic musician, on May 1

Kevin Garcia, 41, bassist for indie band Grandaddy, on May 2
Grandaddy – Laughing Stock (1997)

Saxa, 87, Jamaican-born British ska saxophonist, on May 3
The Beat – Mirror In The Bathroom (1980)

Daliah Lavi, 74, Israeli singer and actress, on May 3
Daliah Lavi – Oh wann kommst Du (1970)
Daliah Lavi – This Is My Life (1973)

C’el Revuelta, tour bassist with Black Flag (1986/2003), on May 3

Bruce Tucker, bass player of garage rock band The Mustangs, on May 4
The Mustangs – That’s For Sure (1965)

Clive Brooks, 67, drummer of English prog-rock groups Egg, The Groundhogs, on May 5
Egg – While Growing My Hair (1970, also as co-writer)

Almir Guineto, 70, Brazilian samba musician, on May 5

Dave Pell, 92, jazz musician, on May 8
T Bones – No Matter What Shape (My Stomach Is In) (1966, as leader of the Wrecking Crew)

Robert Miles, 47, Swiss-born electronic dance musician, producer, on May 9
Robert Miles – Children (1996)

Joy Byers, 82, songwriter, on May 10
Timi Yuro – What’s A Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You) (1962, as writer)
Elvis Presley – C’mon Everybody (1963, as writer)

Bill Dowdy, 84, drummer of jazz trio The Three Sounds, on May 12
Gene Harris & The Three Sounds – Put On Train (1971)

Jimmy Copley, 63, English drummer, on May 13
UPP – Friendly Street (1975) (1975)
Jimmy Copley – It’s Your Thing (2009)

Tom McClung, 60, jazz pianist and composer, on May 14

Keith Mitchell, drummer of Mazzy Star, on May 14
Mazzy Star – Fade Into You (1993)

Derek Poindexter, 52, bassist of Indie-rock group The Waynes, on May 15

Rosa Nell Speer, 94, singer with gospel group The Speer Family, on May 16
The Speer Family – I Believe In The Old Time Way (1960)

Kevin Stanton, 61, guitarist of New Zealand rock band Mi-Sex, on May 17
Mi-Sex – Computer Games (1979)

Chris Cornell, 52, frontman of alt.rock groups Soundgarden, Audioslave, of suicide on May 18
Temple Of The Dog – Hunger Strike (1991)
Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun (1994)
Audioslave – Be Yourself (2005)

Frankie Paul, 51, Jamaican dancehall reggae singer, on May 18
Frankie Paul – Sara (1987)

Curtis Womack, 74, singer with the Womack Brothers/The Valentinos, on May 21
Bobby Womack & Womack Brothers – Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray (1961)
The Valentinos – It’s All Over Now (1964)
The Valentinos – Tired Of Being Nobody (1968)

Jimmy LaFave, 61, folk singer-songwriter, on May 21
Jimmy LaFave – Not Dark Yet (2007)

Tulsa Pittaway, 42, drummer of South African rock band Watershed, in car crash on May 21
Watershed – Shine On Me (2000)

Mickey Roker, 84, jazz drummer, on May 22
Sonny Rollins – On Green Dolphin Street (1965)
The Mary Lou Williams Trio – Free Spirits (1976)

Saucy Sylvia, 96, singer-comedian, on May 25

Gregg Allman, 69, singer-songwriter, keyboardist of Allman Brothers Band, on May 27
Allman Brothers Band – Whipping Post (1969)
Allman Brothers Band – Statesboro Blues (1971)
Gregg Allman – I’m No Angel (1987)

Marcus Intalex, British bass & drums musician, DJ, producer, on May 28

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  1. halfhearteddude
    June 8th, 2017 at 07:25 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. dogbreath
    June 8th, 2017 at 10:27 | #2

    Another scythe through my musical memories with the losses of Greg Allman, Chris Cornell, Curtis Womack and even Robert Miles whose “Children” seemed to be on constant rotation on my local radio back in ’96. And by coincidence I’ve just been watching the gorgeous Daliah Lavi in “The Silencers”. Grateful thanks for keeping us up to date with the latest IM. Cheers!

  3. JohnnyDiego
    June 8th, 2017 at 12:31 | #3

    I’ve never been a fan of the Allman Brothers or for that matter southern rock. That said I was nevertheless saddened when I heard of Greg Allman’s death. But in a way Greg’s death was a long processing suicide. Greg was a drug addict and alcoholic. He has admitted to 17 rehab treatments, contracted Hepatitis C, and had a liver transplant. All this before his death of “liver cancer.” His lifestyle from the beginning doomed him to ever worsening illness, sadness, and anger, not to mention seven marriages.
    Allman was as old as I am when he died. He had many years of happy life ahead of him. In all the Facebook tributes to him that I have read few mention his lifestyle as the one contributing factor to his death. It’s a sad addendum to a long list of musical accomplishment.

  4. RhodB
    June 9th, 2017 at 21:47 | #4

    Thanks for the In memoriam each month I appreciate the effort in putting these together. Thanks also to JohnnyDiego for putting some clarity around Gregg Allmans death.

    Regards

    RhodB

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