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Any Major Originals: The 1970s

November 15th, 2018 3 comments

 

This is the first mix of lesser-known originals of 1970s hits; truth be told, for the most part the hit versions were a marked improvement on the first versions. I do prefer Badfinger’s version of Without You and Billy Preston’s You Are So Beautiful to the more famous versions. But more interesting than the musical merits are some of the backstories. And few are as dramatic as that of Without You, a mega hit for first Harry Nilsson in 1972 and in the 1990s for Mariah Carey.

Without You

There is something dismal about the notion that a pop classic would be best-known among some people in its incarnation by Mariah Carey. Those with a more acute sense of pop history will have been dismissive of Carey’s calorific cover of Nilsson’s hit. But even Harry Nilsson applied a generous dose of schmaltz to his cover of the Badfinger original.

Without You apart, there is a chain of tragedy which links the Welsh band and Nilsson. Both acts had a Lennon connection (more tragedy here, of course). Badfinger were signed to the Beatles’ Apple label, on which Without You was released in 1970; Nilsson was a collaborator with and drinking buddy of Lennon’s. Nilsson died fairly young, so did two members of Badfinger — both of whom wrote Without You and committed suicide.

Singer Peter Ham killed himself in 1975 (in his suicide note he referred to their “heartless bastard” of a manager), and in 1983, Tom Evans hanged himself after an argument over royalties for the song with former colleague Joey Molland (who both had played on Lennon’s Imagine album and other ex-Beatles solo records).

Nilsson reportedly thought that Badfinger’s Without You had been a Beatles recording — indeed, the Rolling Stone touted Badfinger as the Beatles’ heirs. His version, turning a fairly rough mid-tempo rock song into an orchestral power ballad (at a time when such things were rare) became a massive hit in 1972; Carey’s version hit the charts just a week after Nilsson’s death in 1994. One may fear the worst for Ms Carey should the Nilsson curse strike her: apart from the sad story of Badfinger and Lennon’s death, both Mama Cass and Keith Moon died in Nilsson’s flat.

 

Fernando

ABBA famously did not cover versions; given the songwriting chops of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, they had no need to. But one of the group’s biggest hits was a cover of sorts: Fernando was originally recorded by Anni-Frid for her Swedish-language solo album Frida Ensam (which featured several cover versions, including Life On Mars and Wall Street Shuffle). Fernando, written by Benny and Björn with lyrics by ABBA manager Stig Anderson, was the LP’s lead single and proved very popular. In 1976 ABBA released an English version, with the theme changed from being a break-up song to the reminiscence of freedom fighters.

Video Killed The Radio Star

This slice of sci-fi flavoured nostalgia, inspired by a JG Ballard story, was co-written by Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes (then new members of prog-rock band Yes) with Bruce Woolley. So it seemed right that it should be recorded by the two parties — the Yes contingent and Woolley — in 1979. The latter got in there first, with his Camera Club. It is a breathless version with much energy and a quite nice guitar solo at the end, but none of the bombastic detail which made the Buggles’ synth-fiesta a huge hit.

The Buggles version is sometimes considered a bit naff, which does great injustice to a catchy song which does everything that is required of a very great pop song. The video of the Buggles version was the first ever to be played by MTV. But the Woolley version is all but forgotten.

Hanging On The Telephone

If it is not widely known that Blondie’s 1979 hit Hanging On The Telephone is a cover, then it probably is because the original performers, The Nerves, only ever released a (very good) four-track EP in 1976, which included the song. The Nerves — a trio comprising songwriter Jack Lee, Paul Collins (who’d later join The Beat) and Peter Case (later of the Plimsouls) — were a heavy-gigging LA-based rock band which despite their extremely brief recording career proved to be influential on the US punk scene. The members of Blondie surely have were aware of the song. A year after The Nerves split, Debbie Harry and pals picked up the song and enjoyed a huge worldwide hit with it.

 

Blame It On The Boogie

How many cover versions have been sung by the namesake of the original performer? Mick Jackson was a German-born English pop singer. His Blame It On The Boogie, which he also co-wrote, sounds like a presentable Leo Sayer number. The Jacksons changed little in the song’s structure — Mick’s original has all the touches we know well, such as the “sunshine, moonlight, good time, boogie” interlude — and yet they turned a pretty good song into a disco explosion of joy, presaging Michael’s Off The Wall a year and a bit later.

Mick Jackson actually wrote the song with Stevie Wonder in mind (and it’s easy to imagine how it might have sounded), but was persuaded by a German label to record it himself. When the freshly-minted record was played at a music festival in Cannes, a rep for the Jacksons — no doubt alerted by the performer’s name — secretly taped the song, flew it to the US and had the Jackson brothers record and release it in quick time, to release it before Mick could have a hit with it. With both singles out at the same time, the British press had some fun with the Jackson “Battle of the Boogie”. Mick’s single reached #15 in the UK and #61 in the US. The Jacksons’ version became the classic.

He Ain’t Heavy…

The Hollies’ guitarist Tony Hicks was desperately looking for a song to record when he was played a demo of He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. The band decided to record it without great expectations, with Reg Dwight (who would become Elton John) on piano. Of course, it became a mega-hit and pop classic. But the Hollies were not the first to record it.

The song had already been released by Kelly Gordon in April 1969 — five months before the Hollies’ version — as a single and on his Defunked album (the single’s b-side was That’s Life, a song Gordon had co-written five years earlier, but had been recorded before and made famous by Frank Sinatra). The original of He Ain’t Heavy by Gordon, more active as a producer than a singer, is slower and more mournful. Based on his interpretation, the publishers thought it would be a good song for Joe Cocker to record. And it would have been, but Cocker turned the song down.

He Ain’t Heavy was written by Bobby Scott (who wrote A Taste Of Honey) and the older veteran lyricist Bob Russell (Little Green Apples), who was already ailing with cancer and died at 55 in February 1970, just after the song had become a worldwide hit.

There is much speculation as to the origin of the title; most commonly it is believed that the line was inspired by Father Edward Flannagan, the founder of Boys Town, who had adopted it as the organisation’s motto, reputedly after spotting a cartoon of a boy carrying another in a corporate publication named Louis Allis Messenger, that was captioned “He ain’t heavy Mister – he’s m’ brother!” It was not a new line; it had been used in literature and magazine articles before, and supposedly provided the punchline for a Native American folk story.

I Hear You Knocking

Smiley Lewis feature with another song when we visited the Elvis originals. Here he provided the original for an early ’70s hit. Lewis, a New Orleans musician nicknamed for his missing front teeth, recorded I Hear You Knocking in 1955. The song was written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King. The former was Fats Domino’s writing partner, and Fats naturally later recorded the song.

At a time when US radio and charts were subject to much racial segregation, Lewis’ record made little impact outside the black charts, where it peaked at #2, and Lewis’ career never really took off. Instead the song enjoyed commercial success in its version by Gale Storm in 1956. Lewis died of stomach cancer in 1966.

Four years later, he would be remembered by the Welsh singer Dave Edmunds, whose cover of I Hear You Knocking reached #1 in Britain and #4 in the US with slightly altered lyrics which namecheck Lewis, among others (including Huey Smith, who played on Lewis’ version). Edmunds himself hadn’t known the song until he produced a version of it for the young Shakin’ Stevens – a decade away from fame as a revivalist rock ‘n roller and Christmas #1 hunter. In fact, Edmunds almost didn’t record what would become his biggest hit. He had planned to find stardom with a cover of Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Work Together, but was scooped in that endeavour by Canned Heat (as we’ll see below). So he adapted the arrangement he had in mind for Let’s Work Together to create a truly original cover.

Let’s Stick Together
When Wilbert Harrison released Let’s Work Together in 1969, it was a slightly customised take on his 1961 song Let’s Stick Together. For all intents and purposes, it is the same song. Where “Stick Together” failed to make an impression, its reworked version was a minor US hit. Canned Heat, who were canny in their selection of obscure songs to cover, recorded their version soon after and scored a hit with it in 1970. To their credit, Canned Heat delayed the US release of the single to let Harrison’s single run its course first.

In 1976 Bryan Ferry took the song to #4 on the UK charts, having reverted to the original title, introduced some thumping saxophone and applied the suave working-class-boy-gone-posh vocals. Outside Roxy Music, everybody’s favourite fox-hunting Tory never did anything better. Thanks to Wilbert Harrison’s retitling, it is now evident which version – Canned Heat’s or Ferry’s – has inspired subsequent covers.

 

You Are So Beautiful

Few noises in mainstream pop history have been as disturbing as Joe Cocker’s croaked note at the end of that staple of soppy love songs, You Are So Beautiful. Some people might regard the song best crooned by Homer Simpson, but they are probably not familiar with Billy Preston’s rather good original.

The song was written by Preston and his songwriting partner Bruce Fisher, with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s uncredited lyrical contribution (Wilson would sing the song as an encore at Beach Boys gigs in the late ’70s and early ’80s). Preston’s version was recorded shortly before Cocker’s slower version in 1974. The former remained an album track, while Cocker’s version reached the US #5 in 1975 (but didn’t chart at all Britain).

Sailing

Written in 1972, the Rod Stewart hit Sailing was first recorded by the Sutherland Brothers. Having joined forces with the band Quiver, the brothers were also responsible for another possible inclusion in this series, Arms Of Mary, which readers of a certain vintage are more likely to associate with Danny Wilson’s1988 hit (and others, perhaps, as a hit for Chilliwack in the ’70s). The Sutherland Brothers’ version has an apt shanty feel, with the keyboard player especially having fun experimenting with his toy. Rod’s version is richer and warmer. The old soul lover recorded it, and the rest of the ludicrously cover-designed Atlantic Crossing, in that incubator of great soul music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Handbags And Gladrags

The word “gladrags” is deplorably underused in pop music. So we ought to give credit to former Manfred Mann singer Mike D’Abo for popularising it in music. D’Abo didn’t immediately release it, producing British singer Chris Farlowe’s recording of it in 1967. Farlowe had made it a bit of a career of covering Rolling Stones songs in particular; his rather good version of Out Of Time topped the UK charts in 1966, his only Top 30 hit. He didn’t do very well either with Handbags And Gladrags, which tanked at #33, great harmonica backing notwithstanding. In 1969, Rod Stewart – a shrewd operator when it comes to recording lesser known songs — recorded the track, arranged again by D’Abo himself. Released in 1970, it became a hit only two years later.

Strangely, the song has not been covered much. It made something of a comeback when it was used as the theme for the British version of The Office, produced by a session musician and writer of many TV themes, the late Big George Webley.

 

Early Morning Rain

Several artists had a bite of Early Morning Rain before the song’s writer, Gordon Lightfoot, released it (though he had already recorded it). First up were Lightfoot’s Canadian compatriots Ian & Sylvia, a folk duo discovered in 1962 by Bob Dylan’s future manager Albert Grossman, who’d also sign Lightfoot. The married twosome’s version, with a rather good bass break, appeared on their 1965 album named after Lightfoot’s song. It featured another song by the still mostly unknown Lightfoot, For Lovin’ Me, as well as the original version of Darcy Farrow.

Both Lightfoot songs recorded by Ian & Sylvia were soon covered by Peter, Paul & Mary, then by Judy Collins and by the Kingston Trio. In November 1965 it was also recorded on a demo by the Warlocks, who a month later would become the Grateful Dead, though their version would not be released till later.

Lightfoot finally released the song in January 1966, closing the A-side of his debut album, Lightfoot!, which had mostly been recorded already in December 1964.

Let Your Love Flow

That great hit of the summer of 1976, Let Your Love Flow, might have been a hit for Neil Diamond. Written by one of the lamé-jacketed star’s roadies, Larry E Williams, it was offered first to Diamond. He declined to record it (as did Johnny Rivers), which perhaps was just as well. Instead the song came to country/folk singer-songwriter Gene Cotton, who recorded it for his 1975 album For All The Young Writers.

While Cotton’s version went nowhere, Neil Diamond’s drummer suggested it to his friends David and Howard Bellamy, the country duo The Bellamy Brothers. Their recording became one of the biggest hits of the decade and gave the brothers’ their international breakthrough hit. In West Germany Let Your Love Flow topped the charts in summer 1976 for six weeks until it was knocked off by its German version, by Jürgen Drews.

Mandy

Barry Manilow appropriated other people’s songs by force of arrangement (and, obviously, commercial success). If we need proof of how much Bazza owned the songs he didn’t write, consider his giant hit Mandy. It was a cover of a ditty called Brandy by one Scott English, which was a #12 hit in Britain in 1971 (the tune was written by Richard Kerr, who wrote two other hits for Manilow, Looks Like We’ve Made It and Somewhere In The Night). Manilow’s renamed version was the first cover. None of the subsequent recordings are dedicated to Brandy. English’s version is not very good. To start with he couldn’t sing, and the production is slapdash. Manilow recorded it reluctantly, not yet sure about singing other people’s music. He slowed it down, gave it a lush arrangement, and we know how it ended.

 

I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing

The ending of the series Mad Men has Don Draper dream up the famous I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke ad campaign, which gave rise to the New Seekers’ hit I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing. Somehow, a little-known Australian squeezed in her version as the song’s original release.

In January 1971, Coca Cola were looking for ways to popularise its new slogan, “It’s the Real Thing”, which had replaced the classic “Things Go Better With Coke”. The company’s advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, brought together its creative director, Bill Backer, with songwriters Billy Davis (who had written for Motown) and Roger Cook, a member of Blue Mink. Cook already had a melody, a ditty called True Love And Apple Pie which he had written with his regular collaborator, Roger Greenway. The three wrote the words for the jingle overnight in a London hotel room, with the New Seekers in mind as its performers. As it turned out, the New Seekers thought the song was trite and not just a little silly (and that’s the New Seekers pronouncing on sentimentality).

True Love And Apple Pie was instead recorded by the little-known Susan Shirley and was  released in March 1971. It seems that the Coke jingle had already been flighted a month earlier on US radio, but to negative response. There seem to have been legal wrangling as a result of a version of the jingle Coca Cola had commissioned being in circulation. Shirley’s song certainly received little promotion.

Meanwhile, the McCann-Erickson agency devised a new way of promoting the jingle, deciding it needed visuals. The resulting TV commercial, filmed by the great Haskell Wexler, became an instant classic. The song, I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke, became so popular that radio DJs persuaded Davis to record it with adapted lyrics. Recorded by session singers without the branding, it was released under the name Hillside Singers, and started to climb the US charts when the New Seekers eventually consented to record it, minus the “it’s the real thing” tag. It became a massive hit, topping the UK charts in January 1972 and reaching #7 in the US.

 

Forever And Ever

The songwriting team of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter had provided several hits for the Bay City Rollers. In 1975 they thought they had another winner for the band, a track called For Ever And Ever. But the band, then at the height of Rollermania, thought the song was too light and wanted something rockier. While BCR recorded Money Honey, which reached #3 in the UK charts in November 1975, Martin and Coulter dumped the band and gave the song to anther studio-confected teen band, Kenny.

That outfit had already enjoyed a few big hits, written by Martin and Coulter, such as The Bump and Julie Ann. For Ever And Ever appeared unnoticed on their less than successful The Sound Of Super K LP. The songwriters knew a hit when they had one, and decided that with a better arrangement, the song would storm the charts. Enter Scottish teen band Slik, led by Midge Ure and produced your two songwriting friends. In that version, Forever And Ever reached #1 in January 1976, knocking ABBA’s Mamma Mia off the top spot.

By then Ure might not have been the lead singer of Slik. In 1975 Malcolm McLaren asked Ure to become the frontman of the Sex Pistols. Ure declined. Punk meant nothing to him.

 

1. John Fogerty – Rockin’ All Over The World (1975)
The Usurper: Status Quo (1977)
2. Mick Jackson – Blame It On The Boogie (1978)
The Usurper: The Jacksons (1978)
3. John Henry Kurtz – Drift Away (1972)
The Usurper: Dobie Gray (1972)
4. Badfinger – Without You (1970)
The Usurpers: Nilsson (1972), Mariah Carey (1993)
5. Chris Farlowe – Handbags And Gladrags (1967)
The Usurper: Rod Stewart (1969)
6. Billy Preston – You Are So Beautiful (1974)
The Usurper: Joe Cocker (1975)
7. Kelly Gordon – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969)
The Usurper: The Hollies (1969)
8. Sutherland Brothers – Sailing (1972)
The Usurper: Rod Stewart (1975)
9. Anni-Frid Lyngstad – Fernando (1975)
The Usurper: ABBA (1976)
10. Kenny – For Ever And Ever (1975)
The Usurper: Slik (1976)
11. The Nerves – Hanging On The Telephone (1976)
The Usurper: Blondie (1978)
12. Bruce Woolley & the Camera Club – Video Killed the Radio Star (1979)
The Usurper: The Buggles (1979)
13. Kristine Sparkle – Devil Woman (1974)
The Usurper: Cliff Richard (1976)
14. Gene Cotton – Let Your Flow (1975)
The Usurper: The Bellamy Brothers (1976)
15. Albert Hammond – When I Need You (1977)
The Usurper: Leo Sayer (1976)
16. Scott English – Brandy (1971)
The Usurper: Barry Manilow (1974, as Mandy)
17. Ian & Sylvia – Early Morning Rain (1965)
The Usurper: Gordon Lightfoot (1966)
18. The Attack – Hi Ho Silver Lining (1967)
The Usurper: Jeff Beck (1967/72)
19. Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together (1969)
The Usurpers: Canned Heat (1970), Bryan Ferry (1976)
20. Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking (1955)
The Usurper: Dave Edmunds (1970)
21. The Rays – Daddy Cool (1957)
The Usurper: Darts (1977)
22. Susan Shirley – True Love And Apple Pie (1971)
The Usurper: New Seekers (1971, as I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing)
23. Anthony Newley – The Candy Man (1971)
The Usurper: Sammy Davis Jr (1972)

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Any Major Soul 1978

November 8th, 2018 2 comments

The Any Major Soul series is nearing the end of the 1970s, with this instalment covering the year 1978. Disco is in the air but not all soulsters got the memo. There are also the first signs of the supersmoothness of 1980s soul, but it’s not yet cloying.

In fact, Teddy Pendergrass might have been a pioneer of ’80s soul, but his brand of baby-making music is still a different animal to the missionary-positioned sounds of the likes of Luther Vandross. When Theodore promises to blow your mind, you know he’s not just bragging in the way of a 1984 jheri-curled 110-pounder with a stupid moustache. Teddy’s gonna steam up a refrigerator.

The sequence here has it that Pendergrass — the link between Philly soul and 1980s soul crooning — is followed by an act that still has 1973 in the back-mirror. Of course, Bloodstone would go on to become one of the great acts of the early 1980s.

On the other end of the spectrum we have a few acts that are on the disco train. But even the most dance-oriented album would have a few soulful ballads. Among the best of those, in my view, were Cheryl Lynn’s You’re The One, which featured on Any Major Soul 1978-79, and Odyssey’s If You’re Looking For A Way Out (on Any Major Soul 1980-81).

On this collection, an example of this is the track by Sassafras, a trio of women (not the hairy Welsh rock band of the early 1970s). They were produced by the Ingram family of session singers and musicians, and released on the label owned by our old pals Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti, the mafia associates we previously encountered in The Originals entries for Can’t Help Falling In Love and The Lion Sleeps Tonight. One of the three Sassafras, Vera Brown, went on to become the lead singer of the Ritchie Family.

 

Pacific Express, one of apartheid’s least favourite bands.

 

One act here is not from the US but from South Africa. Pacific Express were funk-rock and jazz-fusion legends in Cape Town before they became nationwide stars with Give A Little Love. At various times throughout the 1970s, unknown musicians went through the “Pacific Express School” to emerge as respected musicians in their own right. These include Jonathan Butler. As a group of people classified as “Coloured” by apartheid — people of mixed-race whose language was English and/or Afrikaans — Pacific Express regularly broke laws that aimed to prevent contact across the colour-lines. As a result, Pacific Express was frequently banned from the state broadcaster — including the video of Give A Little Love, just in case white people twigged that Coloureds were making great music and then sought to see them play live, with all the possibilities of miscegenation that would create. I’m not even joking.

Not featured on this mix is Earth, Wind & Fire, but a few acts here clearly borrow from Maurice White and pals. One of them is a new-fangled funk-soul kid from Minnesota called Prince. On his soul ballad here Prince owes more than a little to EWF, and to the many falsetto-singers of the decade.

Also borrowing from EWF are Mass Production, whose Slow Bump is about traffic safety in densely populated suburbs. The song actually sounds like an EWF track. On other tracks they operate more on the funk tracks of BT Express.

Breakwater was an eight-man outfit blended catchy funk with smooth fusion and soul harmonies — again recalling EWF. The Philadelphia band released only two albums, with their 1980 follow-up regarded as something of a funk classic (Daft Punk sampled from it).

The Patterson Twins also released only two albums: one in 1978 and the follow-up in 2006! They released several singles — some soul, some gospel — throughout the 1980s. Before 1978 they had recorded a series of singles as the Soul Twins.

Thelma Jones, featured here with a Sam Dees-penned track, also recorded her first album in 1978 and the follow-up in the 2000s. Jones released a series of singles between 1966 and ’68 — including the original of the Aretha Franklin song The House That Jack Built — then disappeared, due to being between labels, until 1976 when she enjoyed something of a comeback with Salty Tears (produced at Muscle Shoals). Her self-titled debut album, which featured Gwen Guthrie on backing vocals, is superb but unaccountably was a commercial flop.

Returning to Teddy Pendergrass, the singer of Chicago soul group Heaven And Earth, Dean Williams, shares many vocal mannerism with the great man. The group had some great tunes, and released four LPs between 1976 and 1981, but management issues and our old nemesis, poor promotion, prevented the group from making it big.

As ever, CD-R length, home-falsettoed covers, PW in comments.

1. Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. – I Got The Words, You Got The Music
2. Lenny Williams – Shoo Doo Fu Fu Ooh!
3. The Whispers – Olivia (Lost And Turned Out)
4. Pacific Express – Give A Little Love
5. Thelma Jones – Lonely Enough To Try Anything Now
6. Natalie Cole – Our Love
7. Heaven And Earth – Let’s Work It Out
8. Prince – Baby
9. Mass Production – Slow Bump
10. Breakwater – That’s Not What We Came Here For
11. Patterson Twins – Gonna Find A True Love
12. Denise LaSalle – Talkin’ Bout My Best Friend
13. Sassafras – I Gave You Love
14. Bobby Thurston – Na Na Na Na Baby
15. Roberta Flack – What A Woman Really Means
16. Teddy Pendergrass – Close The Door
17. Bloodstone – Throw A Little Bit Of Love My Way
18. Allen Toussaint – To Be With You
19. Leroy Hutson – They’ve Got Love
20. Al Green – Lo And Behold

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In Memoriam – October 2018

November 1st, 2018 7 comments

Last month’s In Memoriam included Charles Aznavour, who died in October, and this month’s round-up includes a singing actor who died in September. Confused? Read on.

The Studio Wizard

The Beatles benefitted richly from the genius of producer George Martin, but the man who put many of the studio tricks and effects in action was the wizard engineer Geoff Emerick, the sound engineer on several the Fab Four’s albums: Revolver (his first job as chief engineer was top work on Tomorrow Never Knows), Sgt Pepper’s and Abbey Road. As an assistant engineer, he was there right at the start, in the session that produced Love Me Do, and later during the recordings of songs like She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand. Emerick’s 2006 memoir Here, There and Everywhere provides a great insight into the production of that later trilogy of albums that saw The Beatles at their peak of creativity. He later engineered for Paul McCartney, on albums like Band On The Run, London Town, Tug Of War and Pipes Of Peace, as well as on several of the great America hits such as Lonely People, Sister Golden Hair, Tin Man and Daisy Jane. He also produced the original version of Without You by Badfinger, and worked as producer and/or engineer on records by the likes of The Zombies, Peter & Gordon, Climax Blues Band, Gino Vanelli, Robin Trower, Supertramp, Cheap Trick, Art Garfunkel, Elvis Costello, Ultravox, Nick Heyward, Big Country, Split Enz, Echo & The Bunnymen and Johnny Cash.

The Swamp Rocker

The title track of Willie Nelson’s 2017 album God’s Problem Child features Leon Russell, Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson (the latter two wrote it as well). Of Nelson’s three collaborators, only Jamey Johnson is still alive. Tony Joe White, who has died at 75, is best-known for his composition of the Brook Benton hit Rainy Night In Georgia and the Elvis hit Polk Salad Annie. The latter title sounds a bit like a novelty number rather than the sweaty blues-rock workout (Polk Salad is, in fact, a rural vegetable stew. It sounds like a particularly strange dance). Elvis loved covering White’s songs; he also did a version of the wonderful I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby and 1973’s For Ol’ Times Sake. Dusty Springfield also covered his Willie & Laura Mae Jones. Later he wrote Steamy Windows for Tina Turner. Over almost 50 years, he regularly released new albums in swamp-rock genre that was also home to Leon Russell. His last album, Bad Mouthin’, came out on September 28.

The Mighty Wah

To his mom, he was known as Melvin Ragin, but to the world he was Wah Wah Watson, the man who plays that dirty funky guitar which converses with Dennis Edwards in the opening verse of The Temptations’ Papa Was A Rolling Stone. Or as the man who uses the pedal that gave him his nickname to seductive effect in that opening line of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. Or that funky groove on Rose Royce’s Car Wash… Wah Wah Watson/Melvin Ragin (the credits used both names interchangeably) played many times with Quincy Jones, also on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album. Apart from the Motown roster of the 1970s, he played on hits like Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis’ You Don’t Have To Be A Star, and Peaches & Herb’s Reunited. He can be heard on records by the likes of Blondie, Billy Preston, Etta James, Boz Scaggs, The Main Ingredient, Barry White, John Lee Hooker, Bill Withers, Pointer Sisters, The Whispers, Webster Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, Albert King, Lenny Williams, Patrice Rushen, George Duke, Beach Boys,  Herbie Hancock, Bobby Womack,  Lisa Stansfield, Paula Abdul, Tony! Toni! Toné!, George Benson, Patti LaBelle, Vanessa Williams, El DeBarge, Chaka Khan, Jonathan Butler, Brian McKnight and many others…

The Sergeant

He slipped through the cracks last month, but I dare not leave out Al Matthews, lest he come back to shout at me. Movie fans will know Matthews as the cigar-chewing Sgt. Apone in Aliens, but some pop fans might remember him also as the singer of the 1975 UK Top 20 hit Fool. It was one of several singles he released, but the only to chart. He made an appearance with a rap on the hip hop mix of Linda Lewis’ 1984 dance hit Style/Class. In 1978, he was the first black disc jockey to join the BBC’s Radio 1. Thereafter, the Vietnam veteran began his acting career.

The Skiing Rapper

Dying for you art can come in different ways; for Canadian rapper Jon James it came in a daring video shoot. The artist, who as Jon McMurray had been a professional freestyle-skier before he turned to hip hop following a career-ending injury, was on the wing of an airborne Cessna, to be filmed while rapping. But his movement on the wing caused the pilot to lose control, throwing Jon off before he could activate his parachute. The plane landed safely, but for Jon there was no hope.

The 90-Year Career

Three years ago, at the age of 104, Elder Roma Wilson was still preaching and playing the harmonica, having become an ordained minister in a Pentecostal church in 1929. He died this month at 107. Wilson’s primary gig was to preach, with the musicianship a tool in that pursuit. Still, in 1995, when he was his 80s, he recorded an album; his only one in a career spanning nearly 90 years.

 

Al Matthews, 75, actor, singer and radio DJ, on Sept. 22
Al Matthews – Fool (1975)
Linda Lewis feat. Al Matthews – Class/Style (I’ve Got It) (Hip-Hop Mix) (1984, as rapper)

Charles Aznavour, 94, French singer and actor, on Oct. 1
Charles Aznavour – La Bohême (1965)

Jerry González, 69, bandleader and trumpeter, on Oct. 1
Jerry González & The Fort Apache Band – Earthdance (1991)

Stelvio Cipriani, 81, Italian film composer, on Oct. 1

Geoff Emerick, 72, English recording engineer, on Oct. 2
The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows (1966, as sound engineer)
America – Lonely People (1974, as sound engineer)
Nick Heyward – Blue Hat For A Blue Day (1983, as co-producer)
Elvis Costello And The Attractions – All This Useless Beauty (1996, as co-producer)

John Von Ohlen, 77, drummer of jazz group Blue Wisp Big Band, on Oct. 3

Hamiet Bluiett, 78, jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 4

Pete Philpot, 49, drummer of Australian metal band Manticore, on Oct. 4

Bernadette Carroll, 74, pop singer, on Oct. 5
Bernadette Carroll – Party Girl (1964)

Ed Kenney, 85, singer and actor, on Oct. 5
Ed Kenney – Like A God (1958)

Montserrat Caballé, 85, Spanish opera singer, on Oct. 6
Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballe – Barcelona (1987)

John Wicks, 65, singer of British power pop band The Records, on Oct. 7
The Records – Teenarama (1979)

Tim Chandler, 58, bassist with rock band Daniel Amos, on Oct. 8
Daniel Amos – Who’s Who Here? (2001)

Kenny ‘Waste’ Ahrens, singer with hardcore punk band Urban Waste, on Oct. 9

Gilbert ‘Toker’ Izquierdo, rapper with hip-hop group Brownside, on Oct. 10
Brownside – Rest In Peace (1999)

Theresa Hightower, 64, jazz singer, on Oct. 10

Duncan Johnson, 80, British DJ, on Oct. 11
Duncan Johnson – The Big Architect In The Sky (1968)

Carol Hall, 82, composer and lyricist, on Oct. 11
Carol Hall – Let Me Be Lucky This Time (1971)

Ghinwa, 30, Egyptian singer and actress, in car crash on Oct. 12

Andy Goessling, multi-instrumentalist with Americana band Railroad Earth, on Oct. 12
Railroad Earth – Take A Bow (2014)

Chuck Wilson, 70, jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 17

Oli Herbert, 44, guitarist of metal band All That Remains, on Oct. 17
All That Remains – The Thunder Rolls (2017)

Jon ‘Jon James’ McMurray, 34, Canadian rapper, on Oct. 20

Mighty Shadow, 77, Trinidadian calypso musician, on Oct. 23

Tony Joe White, 75, American singer-songwriter, on Oct. 24
Tony Joe White – Polk Salad Annie (1968)
Tony Joe White – Rainy Night In Georgia (1969)
Tony Joe White – On The Return To Muscle Shoals (1993)
Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child (2017, on guitar & co-writer)

Melvin ‘Wah Wah Watson’ Ragin, 67, session guitarist, on Oct. 24
The Temptations – Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone (1973, on guitar)
Michael Jackson – Get On The Floor (1979, on guitar)
Blondie – Live It Up (1980, on guitar)
El DeBarge – Heart, Mind & Soul (1994, on guitar)

Hip Hop Pantsula, 38, South African rapper, suicide on Oct. 24

Sonny Fortune, 79, American jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 25
Sonny Fortune – Afortunado (1979)

Elder Roma Wilson, 107, gospel singer and harmonica player, on Oct. 25
Elder Roma Wilson – Gonna Wait Till A Change Come (1995)

Baba Oje, 87, member of hip hop group Arrested Development, on Oct. 26
Arrested Development – Tennessee (1992)

Todd Youth, 47, metal guitarist with Murphy’s Law, Danzig a.o., on Oct. 27
Glen Campbell – These Days (2008, on guitar)

Ingo Insterburg, 84, German comedian-musician, on Oct. 27

Freddie Hart, 91, country musician and songwriter, on Oct. 27
Freddie Hart – Easy Loving (1970)

Fred Hess, 74, jazz saxophonist, on Oct. 27

Jimmy Farrar, 67, singer with Molly Hatchet, Gator Country, on Oct. 29
Molly Hatchet – Dead And Gone (1981, also as co-writer)

Young Greatness, 34, rapper, shot on Oct. 29
Young Greatness – Moolah (2015)

Rico J. Puno, 65, Filipino pop singer, on Oct. 30

Beverly McClellan, 49, singer and finalist in The Voice (2011), on Oct. 30

Hardy Fox, 73, co-founder and composer with avant-garde collective The Residents, on Oct. 30
The Residents – Bach Is Dead (1978)

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