The headline death this past month was that at 75 of Sylvia Robinson, who featured on this blog before with her 1973 hit “Pillow Talk”, a song taught Donna Summer all she needed to know about pleasured moaning to a disco beat. But Robinson was much more important than that. As the founder of Sugar Hill Records, she produced and released the first ever rap hit (“Rappers’ Delight”). Robinson’s label also released what I still regard as the greatest rap record of all time, Grandmaster Flash’s monumental “The Message”.
Also notable is the death a day later of Marv Tarplin, who was something of a shadow member of Smokey Robinson’s Miracles: he was always listed as a member, but rarely pictured as one. Tarplin co-wrote many great songs with Smokey, including Tracks Of My Tears, Going To A Go-Go, Ain’t That Peculiar and I’ll Be Doggone (both for Marvin Gaye), and later Smokey solo hits like Being With You and Cruisin’, on many of which he played guitar (including that exquisite intro of Tracks Of My Tears).
Most probably, few will know Wardell Quezergue, but many have heard the music he arranged and/or produced on records by the Dixie Cups, King Floyd, Robert Parker, Jean Knight, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, Dorothy Moore, Eddie Bo, Paul Simon, Neville Brothers, Dr John and Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. A New Orleans native, he lost almost everything in Hurricane Katrina.
In August we lost Pinetop Perkins; in September his long-time collaborater Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith passed away at 75, just over half a year after winning a Grammy for his work with the Legendary Blues Band (whom you might have spotted as John Lee Hooker’s backing band in The Blues Brothers).
The romantic in me was sad to learn of the death of Johnny Wright, who would have celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary with the country legend Kitty Wells in October 2012 (they got married on 30 October 1937!).
Wright wasn’t the month’s oldest music casualty; that was Wade Mainer, who had been recording music since 1936 and reached the age of 104. On the other hand, two musicians in their 20s departed: DJ Medhi, who died at 24 in a freak accident, and British electronica muscian Joel Devers, apparently of suicide at 25.
Suicide is also a suspected cause of the death of soul singer Vesta Williams. Bottles of prescription drugs were found with her body in a hotel room. And, to reiterate, I tend to mention suicides not to titilate: to my mind, few things are more tragic than suicide, and few deaths as stigmatised. By mentioning suicide, I hope to offer a little contribution towards its destigmatisation.
Fans of Beatles covers will note the death of collage artist Richard Hamilton, who designed the poster that appeared in the White Album, and that double LP’s cover (in as far as it was designed). A week later, Robert Whitaker died. He was The Beatles’ in-house photographer in the mid-’60s, and most famously took the butcher cover pic for the group’s 1966 US album release Yesterday And Today. The photo, which was intended to communicate that the Fab Four were just ordinary human beings of flesh and blood, caused a huge outcry among people who cheerfully defended the Vietnam war (possibly even Johnnie Wright), and was quickly pulled from circulation.
Orangie Hubbard, 77, rockabilly musician, on September 1
McKinley ‘Bug’ Williams, percussionist and founding member of Maze featuring Frankie Beverley, on September 3
Maze feat Frankie Beverly – The Look In Your Eyes (1980)
Ray Fisher, 70, Scottish folk singer, on September 5
Ray Fisher – Far Over The North (1965)
Albie Wycherley (aka Ed Trent/Jason Eddie), 68, frontman of The Centremen, client of Joe Meek and brother of Billy Fury, on September 5
Wardell Quezergue, 81, New Orleans bandleader of Royal Dukes of Rhythm, arranger and producer, on September 6
Robert Parker – Barefootin’ (1966, as producer)
Jean Knight – Mr Big Stuff (1970, as producer)
Eddie Marshall, 73, jazz drummer, on September 7
Graham Collier, 74, British jazz bassist and composer, on September 10
Graham Collier Sextet – Down Another Road (1969)
Wade Mainer, 104, bluegrass singer and banjo player, leader of The Sons of the Mountaineers, on September 12
Wade Mainer’s Mountaineers – Just One Way To The Pearly Gates (1936)
Don Wayne, 78, country songwriter, on September 12
Lefty Frizzell – Saginaw, Michigan (1964, as songwriter)
Richard Hamilton, 89, British artist (designed The Beatles’ White Album cover and poster), on September 13
The Beatles – Good Night (1968)
Wilma Lee Cooper, 90, country singer, on September 13
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper – Highway To Heaven (1974)
Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, 75, blues musician (with Muddy Waters, Legendary Blues Band), on September 16
Bo Diddley – Diddy Wah Diddy (1955, on harmonica)
Legendary Blue Band – Blues Today (1992)
Cora Vaucaire, 93, French singer, on September 17
Cora Vaucaire – La complainte de la butte (1955)
Vesta Williams, 53, soul singer and actress, on September 20
Vesta Williams – Congratulations (1988)
Joel Dever, 25, multi-instrumentalist in English electro trio Battant, on September 20
Robert Whitaker, 71, photographer who took The Beatles’ famous butcher photo, on September 20
The Beatles – I’m Only Sleeping (1966)
John Du Cann, 66, singer and guitarist of British prog rock band Atomic Rooster, on September 21
Atomic Rooster – The Devil’s Answer (1971)
John Larson, 61, trumpeter with The Ides of March, on September 22
The Ides Of March – Vehicle (1970)
Paul Kirby, 48, singer-songwriter and member of roots rock band The Cactus Brothers, on September 25
The Cactus Brothers – Big Train (1993)
Jessy Dixon, 73, gospel singer, on September 26
Jessy Dixon – I Won’t Bow Down (1985)
Harry Muskee, 70, Dutch blues singer, on September 26
Cuby + Blizzards – Window Of My Eyes (1968)
Johnny “Country” Mathis, 77, singer-songwriter, on September 27
Leonard Dillon, 68, member of Jamaican reggae group The Ethiopians, on September 28
The Ethiopians – Let It Be (1977)
Sylvia Robinson, 75, soul singer, producer and record label executive, on September 29
The Moments – Love On A Two-Way Street (1970, as producer)
Sylvia – Give Up In Vain (1973)
Sugarhill Gang – Rappers Delight (Extended 12″ version) (1979, as producer)
Marv Tarplin, 70, guitarist of The Miracles and songwriter, announced on September 30
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Tracks Of My Tears (1965)
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