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In Memoriam – July 2011

August 3rd, 2011 5 comments

The month was overshadowed by the death of Amy Winehouse. But the Grim Reaper took some people on whom greater attention would not have been wasted. For example, Chic’s keyboard man Raymond Jones died at the age of 53 of pneumonia; the same illness that took fellow Chic member Bernie Edwards 15 years ago. Also departing on the soul train this month was Fonce Mizell, who with his brother Larry produced acts such as L.T.D., Taste of Honey, The Blackbyrds, Brenda Lee Eager and The Rance Allen Group, and on his own produced that golden run of Jackson 5 singles from 1969-71.

The 1960s rock band The Grass Roots lost its second member this year: after Rick Coonce’s death in February, lead singer Rob Grill passed away. I was also saddened to learn of the death of America’s Dan Peek, whose compositions Lonely People and Don’t Cross The River formed part of the soundtrack of my youth.

The most bizarre death this month is that of Facundo Cabral’s. The 74-year-old Argentinian singer-songwriter was shot dead in Guatemala on July 9, apparently in an assassination attempt on a concert promoter. He had a tough life: at the age of 9 he supported his mother and sibling after the father walked out; in 1978 his wife and infant daughter died in a plane crash; he was a cancer survivor and almost blind. Sample Cabral line: “Every morning is good news, every child that is born is good news, every just man is good news, every singer is good news, because every singer is one less soldier.”

I was also sad to learn of the death, after a fall, of German Schlager singer Bernd Clüver, who was a cut above the usual gang of bowtied squares in the genre, and who in 1976 virtually sabotaged his career when he wrote a song about homophobia, which was banned on West German radio.

Finally, Alex Steinweiss died. We all have plenty of his invention: the album cover. In 1939 he pitched the idea of illustrated record sleeves to his superiors at Columbia Records. They accepted his proposal, and record sales shot up immediately. Steinweiss mostly designed artwork for classical records. Read more at www.soundfountain.org.

Oh, and if you play the saxophone, congratulations on not dying in July.

Christy Essien-Igbokwe, 52, Nigerian singer, on June 30
Christy Essien-Igbokwe – Seun Rere (1981)

Raymond Jones, 52, keyboardist with Chic, on July 1
Chic – My Feet Keep Dancing (1979)

Bébé Manga, 60, Cameroonian singer, on July 1
Bébé Manga – Ami O (1982)

Ruth Roberts, 84, songwriter (Meet The Mets, It’s a Beautiful Day For A Ballgame), on July 1
Meet The Mets (original version, 1962)

Jane Scott, 92, legendary rock critic, on July 3
The Jam – The Modern World (1977)
Manuel Galbán, 80, Cuban guitarist (Las Zafiros, Buena Vista Social Club), on July 7
Ry Cooder & Manuel Galbán – Patricia (2003)

Billy Blanco, 87, Brazilian bossa nova pioneer, on July 8
Billy Blanco – O tempo e a hora (1974)

Kenny Baker, 85, bluegrass fiddler (Bill Monroe, Don Gibson), on July 8
Bill Monroe – Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine (1970)

Würzel (Michael Burston), 61, Motörhead gutarist (also of Fairport Convention, Splodgenessabounds), on July 9
Motörhead – Overkill (1979)

Facundo Cabral, 74, Argentine singer-songwriter, shot dead on July 9
Facundo Cabral – No Soy De Aquí, Ni Soy De Allá (1970)
Rob Grill, 67, singer of ’60s rock band The Grass Roots, on July 11
The Grass Roots – Midnight Confession (1968)

Fonce Mizell, 68, record producer (a half of Mizell Brothers), death announced on July 11
Blackbyrds – Do It, Fluid (1975)
L.T.D. – Love Ballad (1976)

Jerry Ragovoy, 80, producer and hit songwriter (Piece Of My Heart, Time Is On My Side), on July 13
Garnett Mimms & the Enchanters – Cry Baby (1963, as songwriter)

Adam Chisvo, 47, Zimbabwean jazz musician, on July 13

Antonio Prieto, 85, Chilean singer and actor, on July 14
Antonio Prieto – La novia (1961)
Eric Delaney, 87, British percussionist and swing band leader, on July 15
Eric Delaney Band – Sweet Georgia Brown

Gil Bernal, 80, saxophonist with Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, The Coasters, Quincy Jones, on July 17
Duane Eddy – Rebel-Rouser (1959, as saxophonist)

Taiji, 45, member of Japanese heavy metal band X Japan, of suicide on July 17
X Japan – Endless Rain (1989)

Joe Lee Wilson, 75, jazz singer, on July 17
Joe Lee Wilson – It’s You Or No One (1974)

Sid Cooper, 94, woodwind musician and arranger for big bands (Tommy Dorsey),  TV (Johnny Carson Show) and film (several Woody Allen movies), on July 18
Chris Connor – Chiquita From Chi-wah-wah (1954, on alto sax)
Alex Steinweiss, 94, graphic designer and inventor of album covers (in 1940), on July 18

Lil Greenwood, 86, jazz singer (Duke Ellington Orchestra), on July 19

Milly Del Rubio, 89, singer with The Del Rubio Triplets, on July 21
Del Rubio Triplets – Whip It (1994)

Amy Winehouse, 27, English singer-singwriter, on July 23
Amy Winehouse – Me And Mr Jones (2006)

Bill Morrissey, 59, singer-songwriter, on July 23
Bill Morrissey – Last Day Of The Last Furlough (1989)
Dan Peek, 60, member and songwriter of folk-rock group America, on July 24
America – Don’t Cross The River (1972)

Mike Reaves, 52, guitarist of alt.metal band Full Devil Jacket, on July 25

Frank Foster, 82, jazz saxophonist (Count Basie), composer and arranger, on July 26
Count Basie Orchestra feat. Tony Bennett – Jeepers Creepers (1959, on tenor sax)

Tim Smooth, 39, New Orleans rapper, on July 26
Joe Arroyo, 55, Colombian singer, on July 26
Joe Arroyo-Echao pa’lante (1988)

Bernd Clüver, 63, German Schlager singer, on July 28
Bernd Clüver – Der Junge mit der Mundharmonika (1973)

Jack Barlow, 87, country singer, on July 29

Gene McDaniels, 76, soul singer and songwriter, on July 29
Gene McDaniels – Tower Of Strength (1961)
Roberta Flack – Compared To What (1969, as songwriter)
Marlena Shaw – Feel Like Making Love (1975, as songwriter)

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In Memoriam – May 2011

June 6th, 2011 4 comments

This series has noted a couple of hundred musicians’ deaths. Not many have caused me so much sadness as that of Gil Scott-Heron. Never mind that the man was a drug addict, and that he once wrote a homophobic song. He was a poet, and he set his poetry to glorious music. He was the Bob Dylan of the ghetto. I hope that with his dying breath, Scott-Heron appreciated the fact that astronauts were just then making a final journey and the US president has introcuded health care reform he was demanding in Whitey On The Moon).

As a soul fan, I noted with particular sadness the passing of jazz-funk guitarist Cornell Dupree, who played that opening riff of Aretha Franklin’s version of Respect, and also backed favourite acts like Bill Withers and Marlena Shaw.

We tend to mourn deaths by suicide, though that of Gramy-winning songwriter, screenplsy writer and director Joseph Brooks, who wrote the much-loathed You Light Up My Life, leaves us at best with mixed feelings: he killed himself while under indictment for a series of “casting couch” rapes (the details of which are nauseating). Not a very nice guy at all, it seems.


David Mason, 85, English trumpeter who played the piccolo solo on The Beatles’ Penny Lane, on April 29
The Beatles – Penny Lane (1967)

Hume Patton, 65, guitarist of Scottish psychedelic rock group The Poets, on April 30

Ernest ‘Shololo’ Mothle, 69, South African jazz bassist and percussionist, and session musician for Robert Hyatt, Hugh Masekela, Mike Oldfield, Jonas Gwangwa a.o., on May 2
Mike Oldfield – In Dulci Jubilo (1975) (as percussionist)

Odell Brown, 70, jazz/soul organist, arranger and songwriter, on May 3
Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (1982) (as co-writer)

Nigel Pickering, 81, rhythm guitarist and vocalist of Spanky and the Gang, on May 5
Spanky and Our Gang – Like To Get To Know You (1968)
John Walker, 67, founder of The Walker Brothers, on May 7
The Walker Brothers – Just For A Thrill (1966)

Big George Webley, 53, British composer and arranger of TV themes, including The Office (UK), and radio broadcaster, on May 7
Big George Webley (feat Fin) – Handbags and Gladrags (2001)

Johnny Albino, 93, Puerto Rican bolero singer, on May 7
Johnny Albino – 7 Notas de Amor

Cornell Dupree, 68, soul and jazz-funk guitarist, on May 8
Cornell Dupree – Teasin’ (1974)
Marlena Shaw – Time For Me To Go (1973) (as guitarist)

Dolores Fuller, 88, actress and songwriter for Elvis Presley a.o. (also cult director Ed Woods’ girlfriend, as portrayed in the movie), on May 9
Elvis Presley – Rock-A-Hula Baby (1961) (as composer)
John Carter, 65, producer, songwriter and A&R man, on May 10
Strawberry Alarm Clock – Incense and Peppermints (1967) (as writer)

Norma Zimmer, 87, “Champagne Lady” on The Lawrence Welk Show, backing singer for Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Perry Como a.o., on May 10

Zim Ngqawana, 51, South African jazz saxophonist, on May 10

Snooky Young, 92, jazz trumpeter with Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton a.o. and with The Band, on May 11
Count Basie Orchestra feat. Tony Bennett – Life Is A Song (1959)
The Band – Rag Mama Tag (1972)

Lloyd Knibb, 80, drummer of Jamaican ska band The Skatalites, on May 12
The Skatalites – Fidel Castro (1964)
Jack Richardson, 81, producer of Guess Who, Bob Seger, Rage Against The Machine a.o., on May 13
Bob Seger – Night Moves (1977) (as producer)

Bob Flanigan, 84, singer of The Four Freshmen, on May 15
The Four Freshmen – It’s A Blue World (1952)

M-Bone, 22, American rapper with Cali Swag District, killed in drive-by shooting on May 15
Cali Swag District – Where You Are (2010)

James ‘Curley’ Cook, 66, blues guitarist and founder member of Steve Miller Band, on May 16

Sean Dunphy, 73, Irish singer (the first to record in Nashville), on May 17
Kathy Kirby, 72, English ’60s pop singer, on May 19
Kathy Kirby – Dance On (1963)

Joseph Brooks, 73, songwriter (You Light Up My Life), suicide on May 22

Jeff Conaway, 60, actor (Kenickie in the movie Grease) and singer of 1960s ban The 3 1/2, on May 27

Gil Scott-Heron, 62, musician and poet, on May 27
Gil Scott-Heron – I Think I’ll Call It Morning (1971)
Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey On The Moon (1974)

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Grooving for God

April 1st, 2010 2 comments

It seems appropriate to have a bit of religious music this week. Of course, there is plenty in that vein in the world of pop, and much of it pretty awful. Featured here are seven religious-themed songs that I think are rather good (especially Atomic Telephone), and one of supreme kitsch value.

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Marlena Shaw – The Lord Giveth And The Lord Taketh Away (1974).mp3
The wonderful Marlena Shaw sang some of the finest soul tracks of the late 1960s and ’70s, and is even more popular among the fans of vocal jazz. The Lord Giveth and The Lord Taketh Away, a Shaw composition, appeared as the shortish closer of the first side of her 1974 album, evocatively titled Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?. The album is mostly a soul affair, though on this jazzy gospel track (preceded by her version of Roberta Flack’s Feel Like Making Love) she does the jazz thing with which Diane Schuur later found greater success. The first side of the album in particular is quite special. It starts off with You, Me And Ethel, a very funny satire of an attempted pick-up in a singles bar, and ends with her nod to Lord-praising.

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Johnny Cash – I Saw A Man (live, 1968).mp3
In 1968, Johnny Cash released a concept album based on his pilgrimage with June Carter to the Holy Land. The same year, Cash performed a concert based on the same premise which would be broadcast on the BBC on Boxing Day 1968. June was not there, it seems. But her mother, Maybelle of the Carter Family —  the massively influential country trio that started its career in 1927 — sings on two songs, as do Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers, whose non-religious Flowers On The Wall is rather out of place, great song though it is. A concert of religious songs might seem, well, a bit dull. In Cash’s hands, it’s quite brilliant..You can find a vinyl rip of the studio LP (which does not include I Saw A Man) at this very fine blog.

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The Spirit Of Memphis – Atomic Telephone (1952).mp3
The Spirit of Memphis is usually described as a gospel quartet, even though its ever-changing line-up sometimes exceeded that number. The group was active for half a century, beginning in the 1930s. Atomic Telephone was released on King as the b-side of He Never Let Go Off My Hand in 1952, very much reflecting the zeitgeist of the early 1950s. A white quartet, The Harlan County Four, released a cover of Atomic Telephone soon after. “If you are in trouble, and afraid of all mankind, pick up the atomic telephone and get Him on the line.”

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Sufjan Stevens – To Be Alone With You (2004).mp3
Perhaps the coolest Christian in music today (though his friend Damien Jurado is rather admirable too), Sufjan sings about his faith introspectively. You’ll not find much by way of praising the Lord with Sufjan; his relationship with Christ is an intimate affair, and his faith acknowledges the dark side that resides even in the believer. On his song about serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr, he meditates on the inherent sinfulness — the dark side — of everybody, including and especially himself. To Be Alone With You, from the Seven Swans album, might sound like a sweet love song at first, but Sufjan is not addressing a love interest. He is fooling us at first: “I’d swim across Lake Michigan, I’d sell my shoes, I’d give my body to be back again in the rest of the room, to be alone with you.” But in the second verse it becomes clear that he is addressing the crucified Jesus who “went up on a tree”.

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Blind Willie McTell & Kate McTell – God Don’t Like It (1935).mp3
Willie McTell was one of many 1930s blues musicians who incorporated their blindness in their stagename. An accomplished blues guitarist, McTell has influenced not only the usual suspects — Dylan, Allman, Page & Plant et al — but also many modern performers, including Jack White of the White Stripes and Kurt Cobain. The writer of the 1970s hit Streets Of London changed his name from Ralph May to Ralph McTell in homage of the bluesman.

Blind Willie recorded God Don’t Like It in Chicago on April 25 with his wife Kate, whom he had married a year earlier. It was one of the few tracks they cut for Decca before moving on to Vocalion Records. The song condemns the hypocrisy of Christians, including ministers, who preach temperance while getting drunk on moonshine . Far better to feed and clothe the family than to get drunk: “They say that yellow corn makes the best kind of shine. Well, they better turn that corn to bread and stop that makin’ shine.” God doesn’t like alcohol abuse and hypocrisy, nor do the McTells. And they don’t care who’ll get pissed off at their forthrightness: “ I know you don’t like this song just because I speak my mind, but I’ll sing this song just as much as I please, because I don’t drink shine. Now God don’t like it and I don’t either.”

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David Axelrod – Holy Thursday (1968).mp3
Well, it is Holy Thursday, and while this orchestral jazz track might not feed your pieties, it should at least get your toes tapping. That does not mean that the title is irreverent. Axelrod, son of a leftist activist who grew up in a predominantly black neighbourhood, wrote and recorded several musical works referencing religion. In 1971 he arranged a jazz-rock interpretation of Handel’s Messiah and in 1993 he titled a work on the Holocaust a “requiem”. I have read that Holy Thursday also featured in Grand Theft Auto V, a game I’ve never played but the soundtracks of which seem quite excellent.

Axelrod has had a massive influence on jazz, in particular fusion. He produced legends such as Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley (including his big hit Mercy, Mercy, Mercy), as well as avant gardists The Electric Prunes. Axelrod, who’ll turn 74 on April 17, still records and performs. Visit his homepage here.

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Jess Willard – Boogie Woogie Preaching Man (1951).mp3
Willard, named after the boxing heavyweight world champion who in 1915 knocked out Jack Johnson, was an associate of Jack Guthrie, Woody’s cousin and a very influential country figure in the 1940s. After Jack died of tuberculosis in 1948, Willard vowed to continue his friend’s legacy. Alas, Willard himself did not have much time left. Having toured and briefly recorded with Eddie Cochran and his brother Hank in the mid-’50s, he died of a heart attack in 1959 at 43. “Get religion while you can, and get it from the Boogie Woogie Preacher Man!” Willard’s preacher, happily, is a nice guy who won’t fleece you on TV (though I must say, that Creflo Dollar dude at least has an honest name) and won’t try and steal your children with hands that sport LOVE and HATE tattoos on the finger knuckles.

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Red Foley – Our Lady Of Fatima (1950).mp3
Next to a local cinema there is a shop that sells kitsch items. Among the novelty clocks, garden gnomes and lava lamps, there is a small selection of Catholic images depicting the Virgin Mary in various apparitions and what looks like a surfer Jesus with wavy blond hair (actually, it’s the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I think). What the hyper-ironic clientele of the kitsch shop probably don’t know is that the very same pictures are for sale, with no irony and much cheaper, at the back of the local Catholic church. Red Foley’s paean to the Marian apparition at Fatima in Portugal is supreme kitsch, capturing the post-war American Catholicism of Bishop Fulton Sheen and The Bells of St Mary’s. Our Lady of Fatima was recorded with the Anita Kerr Singers, whose voices backed something like half of all records recorded in Nashville in the 1950s; Elvis’ pals, The Jordanaires, appeared on the other half. Red Foley was Elvis’ childhood idol: his Old Shep was the first song Elvis Presley ever performed in public, at the age of 10. Foley featured on the Retro Christmas mix with a lament about the absence of Christ in Christmas, and a year after Our Lady Of Fatima had a hit with There’ll Be Peace In The Valley (another Elvis favourite), thereby ushering in country-gospel as a commercial proposition.

And here’s wishing y’all a happy Easter, whichever way you spend it.

Any Major 60s Soul Vol. 2

June 5th, 2009 5 comments

60s_soulHere is the second volume of ’60s soul tracks. Some of these songs are pretty well-known, but many others are hidden or forgotten gem. Eddie Holland’s track is as much a gem as it is a historical curiosity; it’s one of the few records he released on Motown before Berry Gordy decided that Eddie, with Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, should work exclusively as one of the label’s in-house writer/producer teams, in particular for the Supremes and the Four Tops . Read more…