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In Memoriam – December 2018

January 3rd, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

The relatively benign year 2018 (in terms of music deaths) ended with a vengeful bang. Most distressing was the death of three members of a band that was swept to sea in the Indonesian tsunami while as they were playing live on stage. It was a bad month too for guitarists. And an old correspondent with yours truly, a legendary songwriter, also exited the musical stage.

The All-Rounder

It may be that Nancy Wilson’s versatility prevented the jazz, soul and pop singer from becoming a legend in any of these genres. Her talent and her powers of interpreting other people’s songs should qualify her as a Queen of Soul or Duchess of Jazz. But the singer herself insisted on not being confined to any one genre. She described herself as a “song stylist”. Wilson had crossover potential. She even hosted her own TV show, imaginatively titled, The Nancy Wilson Show, which won an Emmy, but for some reason ran only from 1967-68. She also acted in several TV series. Wilson had a long career, still winning a Grammy in 2007 for her last album, Turned To Blue.

The Patch

After pursuing an unsuccessful music career in his native Alabama, in 1967 Ray Sawyer drove to Oregon to become a logger. On the way there he had a car accident in which he lost an eye. That was the end of the logging career and Sawyer returned to music, eventually helping to form a band — which would be called Dr Hook & the Medicine Show in reference to his piratesque eye cap. Although for much of the band’s existence Sawyer was not the main lead singer — that was Dennis Locorriere — Sawyer was the visual focal point of the band, even when he stood to the side in group photos. Of course, many people assumed that Sawyer was Dr Hook himself. Locorriere took the lead vocals on almost all of the band’s big hits, but Sawyer did the honours on Shel Silverstein’s The Cover Of The Rolling Stone — which landed the band on the cover of the magazine, in cartoon form. Sawyer left Dr Hook in 1981 for a solo career.

The Close And Personal Friend

The famed songwriter Norman Gimbel once wrote me a grumpy e-mail, objecting to my having repeated the story that his lyrics for Killing Me Softly With His Song were basically the work of Lori Lieberman. I can’t say that I found him to be a particularly sweet man, still, he took the time to write. He did decline my offer of an interview, which was his prerogative. Gimbel leaves an impressive legacy. Apart from Killing Me Softly, he also wrote the words for the themes of Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley (whose Penny Marshall died just two days before Gimbel), Andy Williams’ Canadian Sunset, and the English lyrics for The Girl Of Ipanema and Sway. He won an Oscar for the song It Goes Like It Goes from 1979’s Norma Rae, and in 1984 was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The Hitmaker

I paid tribute to the legendary Wrecking Crew bassist Joe Osborn with a mix posted a couple of days after his death. The post noted the number of massive hits Osborn played on; among the Wrecking Crew bassists, maybe only Carol Kaye can match his resumé. When a Wrecking Crew alumnus dies, it is always good to refer to the outstanding 2008 documentary The Wrecking Crew, produced by the son Osborne’s frequent collaborator Tommy Tedesco, which I believe is available on Netflix. On top of the four songs included here, Osborn also features on the bass on the featured tribute to Galt MacDermot, The 5th Dimension’s Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In.

The Punk Pioneer

Few rock legends, it’s fair to say, tend to retire to Estonia. But so it was with Pete Shelley, who with his Estonian wife moved to the capital Tallinn in 2012, and died there at the age of 63 of a heart attack on December 6. Shelley was the frontman of the pioneering English punk band Buzzcocks, which issued tracks with titles like Orgasm Addict, which came out in 1977 at a time when Yes Sir I Can Boogie was the UK #1. The Buzzcocks charted only as of 1978, after co-founder Howard Devoto had left the band. The band’s impact was greater than the double-digit chart placings would suggest. The band split in 1981, and Shelley embarked on a solo career.

The Heartbroken Cowboy

One of the great verses in the canon of popular music songs about heartbreak is this: “I can hardly bear the sight of lipstick on the cigarettes there in the ashtray, lyin’ cold the way you left ’em. But at least your lips caressed them, while you packed.” The man who wrote this, A Good Year For The Roses, and so many other songs of broken and yearning hearts, was Jerry Chesnut, who has died at 87. Other Chesnut hits included D-I-V-O-R-C-E, It’s Four In The Morning, Looking at the World Through A Windshield, and T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Chesnut came from the coalmining community of Harlan Country in Kentucky, so he knew about the evil ways of the bosses. This found expression in the Johnny Cash hit Oney.

The Ripped-off Guitarist

The career of Jody Williams is a tale of exploited but unrecognised talent. Williams was one of the most influential blues guitarists of the 1950s (the solo on Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love is regarded by many as one of the greatest in blues), but few knew his name because his session work was not credited. But others cheerfully stole the riffs he created for their own records. Things came to a head when the riff he created for Billy Stewart’s 1956 track Billy’s Blues was copied by Mickey Baker for Mickey & Sylvia’s hit Love Is Strange. A court case brought no joy, and Williams, tired of getting ripped off, slowly faded from the record industry. By the end of the 1960s he had found a new career as a Xerox technician.

The Elvis Friend

The same day as Williams went, another pioneer of the blues guitar left us. Calvin Newborn played on the very first session by young B.B. King in 1949 and taught Howlin’ Wolf the guitar. He was a close friend of the young Elvis Presley for a while. In 1951 he toured with Ike Turner, whose Rocket 88 had just been released under the moniker of the record’s vocalist, Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats. Newborn also recorded with Ike. Later Calvin Newborn and is brother Phineas drifted more towards jazz. Newborn toured and/or recorded with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Forrest, Hank Crawford, Jimmy Witherspoon and Sun Ra.

The Wicked Game Guitarist

A few months ago, James Calvin Wilsey featured for his string-plucking skills on the Any Major Guitar Vol. 2 mix, for his work on Chris Isaak’s Blue Hotel. Wilsey also played the haunting guitar on Isaak’s Wicked Game. Before all that, he was the bassist for the San Francisco-based punk band Avengers. Isaak’s music was closer to his background than California punk: born in the backseat of a Greyhound bus, he grew up in Kentucky.

The Tsunami victims

It is often said that the best death for a musician is when it happens whole on stage performing. This probably cannot be said for Herman Sikumbang, Muhammad “Bani” Awal Purbani and Windu Andi Darmawan, guitarist, bassist and drummer respectively of Indonesian pop band Seventeen, who fell victim to the Sunda Strait tsunami on December 22. The band was playing a private concert in a tent at Tanjung Lesung resort when the giant wave hit them from behind. Only lead singer Riefian “Ifan” Fajarsyah survived being swept out to sea by holding on to a floating box. The tsunami also killed 29 audience members, the band’s crew manager and the singer’s wife, actress Dylan Sahara. Bassist Bani is survived by his three-year-old daughter and pregnant wife. The band was formed in 1999 when all the members were 17; hence their name. They released six albums.

Indonesian band Seventeen, which lost three of its four members in a tsunami while playing live on stage.

 

Roger V. Burton, 90, jazz musician and actor, on Nov. 30

Jody Williams, 83, blues guitarist, on Dec .1
Bo Diddley – Who Do You Love (1956, on guitar)
Billy Stewart feat. Jody Williams – Billy’s Blues (Part. 1) (1956, on guitar)
Jody Williams – Lucky Lou (1957)

Calvin Newborn, 85, jazz and blues guitarist, on Dec. 1
B.B.King – When Your Baby Packs Up And Goes (1949)
Bonnie & Ike Turner – Lookin’ For My Baby (1952)
Hank Crawford & Calvin Newborn – Frame For The Blue (1980)

Perry Robinson, 80, jazz clarinetist and composer, on Dec. 2

Carl Janelli, 91, jazz saxophonist and clarinetist, on Dec. 3

Ramsay Mackay, 73, bassist and songwriter of South African band Freedom’s Children, on Dec. 4
Freedom’s Children – Kafkasque (1969)

Pete Shelley, 63, singer, guitarist and songwriter with UK punk band Buzzcocks, on Dec. 6
Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) (1978)
Buzzcocks – Everybody’s Happy Nowadays (1979)
Pete Shelley – Blue Eyes (1986)

John Ace’ Cannon, 84, soul saxophonist, on Dec. 6
Ace Cannon – Tuff (1962)
Ace Cannon – By The Time I Get To Phoenix (1968)

Floyd Parton, 61, country songwriter, on Dec. 6
Dolly Parton & Ricky Van Shelton – Rockin’ Years (1991, as writer)

Lucas Starr, 34, bassist of metalcore bands Oh, Sleeper, Terminal, on Dec. 7

The Mascara Snake, 70, artist and musician (Captain Beefheart), in car crash on Dec. 7
Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Pena (1969, spoken voice)

Fred Wieland, 75, guitarist of Australian bands Strangers, Mixtures, announced on Dec. 10
The Strangers – Fever (1966)

Angelo Conti, 62, singer of Italian ska-punk band Banda Bassotti, on Dec. 11
Banda Bassotti – El Quinto Regimiento (2003)

Nancy Wilson, 81, jazz and soul singer, on Dec. 13
Nancy Wilson – The Best Is Yet To Come (1964)
Nancy Wilson – The Greatest Performance Of My Life (1973, live)
Nancy Wilson – This Time Last Summer (1975)
Nancy Wilson – Take Love Easy (2006)

Emmit Powell, 84, gospel singer and disc jockey, on Dec. 14
The Emmit Powell Gospel Elites – If You Can Make It (1983)

Joe Osborn, 81, session bass guitarist of The Wrecking Crew, on Dec. 14
Brenda Lee – Here Comes That Feeling (1962, as co-writer)
Johnny Rivers – You Dig (1966, on bass)
Glen Campbell – Gentle On My Mind (1967, on bass)
Mama Cass Elliot – Make Your Own Kind Of Music (1969, on bass)
Olivia Newton-John – Sam (1977, on bass)

Jerry Chesnut, 87, country songwriter, on Dec. 15
Jerry Chesnut – Small Enough To Crawl (1969)
Faron Young – It’s Four In The Morning (1972, as writer)
Johnny Cash – Oney (1973, as writer)
Elvis Presley – T-R-O-U-B-L-E (1975, as writer)

Arthur Maia, 56, Brazilian bassist and composer, on Dec. 15
Arthur Maia – Luanda Funk (1990)

Anca Pop, 34, Romanian-Canadian singer-songwriter, in car crash on Dec. 17

Galt MacDermot, 89, Canadian pianist and composer (Hair), on Dec. 17
Galt MacDermot – Hair (1968)
The 5th Dimension – Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (1969, as co-writer)

Norman Gimbel, 91, songwriter & halfhearted pal, on Dec. 19
Rosemary Clooney/Perez Prado – Sway (1960, as lyricist)
Getz/Gilberto – Girl From Ipanema (1963, as lyricist)
Pratt & McClain – Happy Days (1976, as lyricist)
Jennifer Warnes – It Goes Like It Goes (1979, as lyricist)
Luther Vandross – Killing Me Softly (1994, as lyricist)

Herman Sikumbang, 36, guitarist of Indonesian pop band Seventeen, on Dec. 22
Muhammad ‘Bani’ Awal Purbani, bassist of Indonesian pop band Seventeen, on Dec. 22
Windu Andi Darmawan, drummer of Indonesian pop band Seventeen, on Dec. 22

Jimmy Work, 94, country singer-songwriter, on Dec. 22
Kitty Wells – Making Believe (1955, as writer)
Jimmy Work – Tennessee Border (1959)

Honey Lantree, 75, drummer of English pop group The Honeycombs, on Dec. 23
The Honeycombs – Have I The Right (1964)

James Calvin Wilsey, 61, guitarist and bassist, on Dec. 24
Avengers – We Are The One (1977, on bass)
Chris Isaak – Wicked Game (1991, on guitar)
James Wilsey – Untamed

Jerry Riopelle, 77, American musician, on Dec. 24
The Parade – Sunshine Girl (1967, as member and co-writer)
Jerry Riopelle – Walkin’ On Water (1975)

Guto Barros, 61, guitarist and songwriter of Brazilian rock band Blitz, on Dec. 25

Miúcha, 81, Brazilian bossa nova singer and composer, on Dec. 27
Miúcha & Tom Jobim – Tiro Cruzado (1977)

June Whitfield, 93, English actress and occasional recording artist, on Dec. 28
Frankie Howerd & June Whitfield – Up Je Taime (1971)

Mike Taylor, member of Canadian covers band Walk off the Earth, on Dec. 29

Dean Ford, 72, songwriter and singer of Scottish pop band Marmalade, on Dec. 31
(News reached me too late to include a tribute. Coming next month)

Ray Sawyer, 81, singer with Dr Hook & the Medicine Show, on Dec. 31
Dr Hook & the Medicine Show – Cover Of The Rolling Stone (1972)
Ray Sawyer – Maybe I Could Use That In A Song

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(PW in comments)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    January 3rd, 2019 at 07:29 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Hugh Candyside
    January 5th, 2019 at 05:06 | #2

    Thanks as always. Each of your In Memoriam posts exposes me to someone I wasn’t familiar with, or alerts me to someone whose passing I missed.
    One issue. D-I-V-O-R-C-E was not written by Jerry Chesnut. Last year Malcolm Gladwell did a very moving podcast, The King of Tears, about Bobby Braddock, which began with the story of how he and Curly Putman came to write the song. It’s worth a listen.
    Thanks for the fine service you provide here.

  3. halfhearteddude
    January 5th, 2019 at 12:59 | #3

    Thanks for the kind words, Hugh Candyside, and for the correction, which is now reflected in the text.

  4. Ravel
    January 8th, 2019 at 02:46 | #4

    Always wondered when I’d see my favorite, Nancy Wilson, here.
    Your text/comment on her is so true !

    Btw, thanks for these posts, quite informative.
    Always something to learn (and hear) in music !

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