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In Memoriam – December 2011

January 5th, 2012 14 comments

December’s headline death probably is that of the great Cesária Évora, who emerged from the tiny West African island of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony.

But as a soul fan, percussion maestro Ralph MacDonald is my headline departure of the month. He wrote some stone-cold classics and appeared on an impressive catalogue of soul and fusion albums, including those released in their heyday by Bill Withers, George Benson, Donny Hathaway, Ashford & Simpson, Brothers Johnson, Margie Joseph, Patti Austin, Grover Washington, Maynard Ferguson, The Crusaders, Michael Franks,  Eric Gale, Bob James,  Herbie Mann, Earl Klugh, and Sadao Watanabe, as well as on pop albums by the likes of Billy Joel (The Stranger, 52nd Street, Innocent Man) and Paul Simon (Still Crazy…, One Trick Pony, Graceland).

The Ragovoy curse struck again. First the great songwriter died in July; then his occasional collaborator Jimmy Norman, with whom he wrote Time Is On My Side, died in November; in December singer Howard Tate, for whom Ragovoy wrote and produced several songs (including Get It While You Can, which Janis Joplin later covered, and 8 Days On The Road) passed away at 72.

Three of the world’s longest-performing artists died in December: Myra Taylor first took to the stage as a 14-year-old in 1931; she made her final performance in a career spanning 70 years on 24 July this year. Fans of The Originals will appreciate the first recording of the great Ink Spots hit I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire, which featured Myra Taylor on vocals (originals fans will also enjoy Ruby and the Romantics’ Our Day Will Come, covered by Amy Winehouse on her new posthumous album) .

Johannes Heesters, who died at 108, had been a huge star in Nazi Germany and counted Nazi leaders among his friends – a stigma that followed him to his death. Hated in his native Holland, he was still hugely popular in West Germany.  He still toured as a centenarian, and performed to the age of 105.

Bill Tapia, dead at 103, was a ukulele maestro. Check out his version of Stars and Stripes Forever, from just two years ago, which he introduces as having played during World War I – the audience laughs, but the guy isn’t joking. He has been performing since 1918.

Among the more bizarre deaths is that of Willie Nelson’s drummer Dan Spears, who fell outside his house and, unable to move, froze to death.

Sadly, this will be the final monthly In Memoriam. Compiling each instalment simply takes up much more time than I can afford to spend, so this is a decision I had to make – with much regret, because I don’t think anyone is doing it quite this way on the Internet.

 Michal ‘Michal the Girl’ Friedman, singer, from complication during the birth of twins on November 25
ATB – The Autumn Leaves (2004)

Howard Tate, 72, soul singer, on December 2
Howard Tate – 8 Days On The Road (1971)

Bill Tapia, 103, legendary ukulele player, on December 2
Bill Tapia – Stars And Stripes

Ronald Mosley, 72, baritone and guitarist with Ruby & the Romantics, on December 3
Ruby and the Romantics – Our Day Will Come (1963)

Hubert Sumlin, 80, legendary blues guitarist (with Howlin’ Wolf), on December 4
Howlin’ Wolf – The Red Rooster (1962, as guitarist)
Hubert Sumlin – Down In The Bottom (1987)
R.J. Rosales, 37, Filipino-born Australian singer and actor, on December 4

Violetta Villas, 73, Belgian-born Polish diva, on December 5
Violetta Villas – Przyjdzie Na To Czas (1964)

Dobie Gray, 71, soul singer (Drift Away, The In-Crowd), on December 6
Dobie Gray – River Deep, Mountain High (1973)

Bob Burnett, 71, member of ’60s folk group The Highwaymen, on December 7
The Highwaymen – Universal Soldier (1964)

Dan ‘Bee’ Spears, 62, long-time bassist for Willie Nelson, on December 8
Willie Nelson – Remember Me (1975, as bassist)
Dick Sims, 60, keyboard player for Eric Clapton, Bob Seger a.o., on December 8
Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight (1977, as keyboardist)

Alan Styles, Pink Floyd roadie and subject of Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast, on December 8
Pink Floyd – Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast (1970)

Myra Taylor, 94, jazz singer and actress, on December 9
Harlan Leonard and his Rockets – I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire (1940, as vocalist)

Dustin Hengst, drummer of pop-punk band Damone, on December 9

Karryl ‘Special One’ Smith, member of hip hop duo The Conscious Daughters, on December 10
The Conscious Daughters – Somthin’ To Ride To (Fonky Expidition) (1993)
Billie Jo Spears, 74, country singer, on December 14
Billie Jo Spears – Blanket On The Ground (1975)

Bob Brookmeyer, 81, jazz trombonist, on December 16
Lalo Schifrin & Bob Brookmeyer – Samba Para Dos (1963)

Slim Dunkin, 24, rapper with 1017 Brick Squad, shot dead on December 16

Cesária Évora, 70, Cape Verdean singer, on December 17
Cesária Évora – Nho Antone Escade (1999)
Cesária Évora – Cabo Verde Terra Estimada (1988)

Sean Bonniwell, 71, American guitarist and singer of ’60s rock band Music Machine, on December 17
Ralph MacDonald, 67, percussionist, songwriter and producer, on December 18
Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – Where Is The Love (1972, as songwriter)
Grover Washington Jr with Bill Withers – Just The Two Of Us (1980, as songwriter)
Billy Joel – Rosalinda’s Eyes (1978, as percussionist)

Johnny Silvo, 75, folk singer and children’s TV presenter, on December 18

Clem DeRosa, 86, jazz drummer, arranger, bandleader and music educator, on December 20

David Gold, 31, singer and guitarist of Canadian death-metal band Woods of Ypres, on December 22
Johannes Heesters, 108, Dutch-born actor and singer, on December 24
Johannes Heesters – Ich werde jede Nacht von Ihnen träumen (1937)

Jody Rainwater, 92, bluegrass musician (with the Foggy Mountain Boys) and radio DJ, on December 24

Jim ‘Motorhead’ Sherwood, 69, saxophone player for Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, on December 25
Frank Zappa – Conehead

Sam Rivers, 88, jazz musician and composer, on December 26
Sam Rivers – Verve (1980)

Barbara Lea, 82, jazz singer and actress, on December 26
Betty McQuade, 70, Australian singer, on December 26
Betty McQuade – Blue Train

Dan Terry, 87, American jazz trumpeter and big band leader, on December 27

Kaye Stevens, 79, singer and actress (frequent guest of the Rat Pack), on December 28

Christine Rosholt, 46, jazz singer, on December 28

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Twattery in Pop: Michael F. Bolton

June 9th, 2009 20 comments

You are right: Michael Fucking Bolton (as his mother doubtless calls him) is far too easy a target. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be marked out for rank twattery in pop.

For all I know, Bolton is a very nice man. After all, he has given the proceeds of some recording to a children’s charity in Britain. He probably is no Dick Cheney, no matter what his mother calls him (actually, she’d probably call him by his real name, Michael Fucking Bolotin). So I could forgive the chap many things.

And that was a GOOD hair day

And that was a good hair day

I could forgive him his hit How Am I Supposed To Love Without You. It’s not a bad song (not very good either, but not hatefully bad), and his vocal performance on it is not infinitely objectionable, if one is willing to pardon the “soulful” overemoting which comes naturally if one has been exposed to the oeuvre of Patti LaBelle (he once sang with her about the absence of sex in their lives). I can forgive Bolton his mediocre voice, and indeed hold in some regard many singers who have overcome the handicap of even more revolting voices (hello there, Mr Dylan; good morning Mr Waits). Perhaps there is a legitimate market for singers who can successfully emulate the pained groans that emerge from many a toilet occupied by wailing men afflicted with painful constipation.

I could forgive Bolton for working with Kenny G; Mr G seems a perfectly pleasant man who makes music so bland, it would be admirable only as a novelty if he actually were a poodle. I could forgive Bolton for allegedly plagiarising the Isley Brothers’ Love Is a Wonderful Thing (unlike the judge in the court case, Tim English in his fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit reluctantly lets Bolton off the hook). I could even forgive Bolton for that hair, because it happily never gained fashionable ubiquity outside parts of central Europe (and, frankly, to hate somebody on hairstyling grounds alone is just stupid).

What I cannot forgive Michael Fucking Bolton for is his serial rape of other people’s music. I’m down with white MOR artists trying their hand at a little soul music. I won’t necessarily listen to it, but, hey, if you need to do that to express yourself artistically, rock on. But, for the sake of all that is good and holy, don’t fucking release your cut-rate karaoke ejaculations as singles designed for radio airplay! And don’t make albums consisting of sodomised versions of such classics as Reach Out I’ll Be There and Georgia On My Mind, cleverly issued to coincide with the revival of ’60s soul two decades ago.

For some impenetrable reason, many people seemed to think that Michael Fucking Bolton had soul, man. That would be true only if one were to rank the jazz stylings of Kenny G on a level with Joe Sample or Joe Zawinul. A studied groan and a calculated scream do not make a soul singer. The obvious question I would pose to those who spend money, time and precious electricity on listening to Bolton’s soul renderings – and any album of soul covers – is this: why should one listen to pantomine renditions of Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay when Otis Reddings’ original is so easily obtainable? The success of Bolton’s soul covers has had a deplorable effect: it lowered the expectation of what soul should sound like — even among singers who came through the soul tradition. For that you may thank the idiots who awarded Bolton a Grammy for his stool-wrenching cover of When A Man Loves A Woman.

Having stained soul music with his vocal spunk, Bolton turned his malfeasant application to opera. Really. Bolton’s talents may be charitably described as being open to dispute, but nobody can disclaim his cunning knack for spotting a bandwagon. So it was at the height of the Pavarotti and Three Tenors hype that Michael Fucking Bolton recorded an album of opera tunes, with Nessun Dorma as the showpiece, naturally. Because the world would rather have pavarotten Bolton sing Nessun Dorma than Pavarotti. How much more can an ego be inflated before it bursts, pouring forth an erupting volcano’s worth of self-regarding miasma?

opera_singing_twatTouchingly, Bolton gushed about his epic opus: “I hope you will feel the rapture of this classic, timeless music created for all of us to enjoy [even when you sing it, fuckface?]. And I hope you will join me in sharing what has become — and remained until now — my secret love, my secret passion.” I share his now no longer concealed passion, but that does not incite me to broadcast to the world my aggressively tuneless bathroom antics involving the subject matter of Spanish hairdressers and weeping clowns.

More recently, Bolton decided that the world does not really need Frank Sinatra when it can have Michael Fucking Bolton. So he recorded an album of standards which Sinatra once sang. And he called it Bolton Swings Sinatra. If I had the fortitude to listen to it, I might propose that it be retitled Bolton Swings A Dead Horse. Or Bolton Swings From A Ceiling Fan As He Lubelessly Defiles Sinatra. There are 200,000 people in the United States who bought that album. If after the electoral triumph of George W Bush in 2004 and the grotesquery of Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin in 2008 there still exists any doubt about the compulsory disenfranchisement of stupid people, Michael Fucking Bolton has provided us with a most persuasive argument. And for that service to mankind, we ought to thank him.

Some songs raped by Michael Fucking Bolton:
Bill Withers – Lean On Me (live).mp3*
Dobie Gray – Drift Away.mp3
Ann Peebles – I Can’t Stand The Rain.mp3
Al Green – Let’s Stay Together.mp3
Luciano Pavarotti – Nessun Dorma.mp3

* From the great Save The Children concert recorded in 1972. Hear how Withers mis-hits the first note!

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More Twattery in Pop

The iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol.2

December 1st, 2007 1 comment

Another five random songs from my iPod’s Shuffle function. Like before, Any Major iPod was in a mellow mood. That is perhaps because a high percentage of the music on it is mellow…

Alexi Murdoch – All Of My Days.mp3
Murdoch’s “Orange Sky”, from the astonishing Four Songs EP, received a lot of coverage on several TV shows. Off-hand, I remember it featuring in The O.C. and Prison Break, as well as on that wonderful film Garden State. Alexi Murdoch remains a staple on TV drama series, and yet he is not very well known at all. That is a pity, because his Nick Drake-channeling music has greater depth than inclusion on the soundtrack of Brothers & Sisters, or whatever, might suggest. Indeed, his full debut, last year’s Time Without Consequence recalled Drake even in requiring a few listens before it really clicks. “All Of My Days”, which kicks off the album, manages to sound at once laid back and intense, gentle and urgent. Good choice, iPod.
More Alexi Murdoch here and here.

Missy Higgins – Nightminds.mp3
Apparently Missy Higgins is absolutely massive in Australia. Now that the Aussies have turned that objectionable shit Howard out of office, made fools of themselves at the rugby world cup and have given us the adorable, wonderful Melissa Higgins (and Bob Evans and Auggie March), I can now object only to their cricket team, with the spit-rubbing captain. “Nightminds” comes from Higgins’ excellent 2004 debut, The Sound Of White. It’s one of those rather intense ballads on the album. I take it that the song addresses somebody with either depression or an addiction, with Higgins offering support and understanding. In the initial verses, the solitary piano and Higgins’ delivery communicate a sense of emotional pain. With the chorus, a cello (or something with strings, I can never really tell) and drums come in, and the melody and lyrics become more hopeful. A beautifully constructed song.
More Missy Higgins music here.

Gram Parsons – She.mp3
Not to be confused with the Charles Aznavour hit covered by Elvis Costello. Here, Gram Parsons (one who is too easily overlooked in the “gone too soon” stakes) infuses his country/rock with soul, perhaps having just listened to Donny Hathaway (another one often easily overlooked in the “gone too soon” department). Of course, a song about a slave girl who could sing requires a soul influence. But what Parsons — formerly a Flying Burrito Brother and a Byrd — accomplishes on this track from 1973′s G.P., his full debut solo album, is to show just how close country and soul used to be. Parson’s lifestory can make you weep: his father committed suicide on a Christmas Eve when Gram was 13; his mother died on the eve of his graduation; and Gram was dead of a heart attack by the time he was not yet 27, leaving behind a rich musical legacy (without Parsons, no Wilco) and our regret at how much more he might have accomplished in shaping modern music. Read about Parsons’ death soon after the release of G.P. here.

Jam – Eton Rifles.mp3
This is the joy and the trouble with the iPod Shuffle function. You get into a particular mood during a sequence of certain kinds of songs, and then something completely different comes on. And so it is here: Alexi, Missy and Gram create a kicked-back mood, and then the sharply dressed threesome go all The Who on us, with ripping guitar chords and incendiary singing, punctuated by the menacing backing heys. “Eton Rifles” is an air-guitar anthem for those who would feel stupid playing imaginary instruments to “Freebird” or ’80s hair rock. Play it loud and don’t forget to time your triumphant leap in the air at the smack-in-the-gob end.

Dobie Gray – Drift Away.mp3
The soul song even soul-hating rock fans could love, sort of an inverse to Parsons’ “She”. The Rolling Stones covered it, Uncle Kracker (newsmaking sidekick to the revolting Kid Rock) covered it with Dobie Gray, even Michael fucking Bolton covered it before he decided he wasn’t Otis Redding after all, but Luciano Pavarotten. I don’t recall Bolton’s version, but surely even he couldn’t mess this song up. Or could he? The excellent Echoes in the Wind blog has a vinyl rip of the Dobie Gray album on which “Drift Away” originally appeared.

The iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol. 1

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