Happy Mardi Gras Day! If you can’t get down to Bourbon Street today, here’s the next best thing – jazz great Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and his band performing the classic “When The Saints Go Marching In”:
Before the advent of cable and MTV and music videos, there was The Monkees. Now I know some of you are going give me flak about “The Pre-Fab Four”, how they weren’t a real band, just a commercialized, bubblegum TV concept, so let me put this in perspective… if you were an eight-year-old kid like me back in The Monkees’ heyday, you watched the show every week, bought the records, and actually enjoyed them! That’s where I’m coming from, and that’s why I’m writing this tribute to the late Peter Tork, who passed away today of cancer at age 77.
Peter Thorkleson was born in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 1942, and as a child loved music, learning to play piano, guitar, bass, and banjo early on. After college, he shortened his name to Tork and hit New York City, becoming part of the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene. He was always a musician first and foremost, but when his friend and fellow folkie Stephen Stills (who went on to a pretty damn successful career of his own!) tried out for a part in a new “rock and roll sitcom”, he was turned down, but recommended his pal Pete audition. The young Tork was cast, along with ex-CIRCUS BOY star Mickey Dolenz, Broadway singer/actor Davy Jones, and another musician, Michael Nesmith.
THE MONKEES made its network debut on September 12, 1966, and was an immediate smash! A mash-up of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT , Marx Brothers-style madness, quick jump cuts, and what would later be known as music videos, Monkeemania swept the country, as kids and teenyboppers drank in the weekly ‘youth culture’ antics of these four telegenic stars. Peter was the ‘Ringo’ figure of the group, his character a lovable loser with a sad sack face and not much sense. The Monkees soon found themselves on the covers of teen magazines and racked up such #1 hits as “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m A Believer”, “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”, and “Daydream Believer”:
Though all four were accomplished musicians, only Tork was allowed to play on their first two albums. The musicians used were definitely no slouches; session players like Hal Blaine, James Burton, Glen Campbell, Jim Gordon, Louie Shelton, and Larry Taylor all contributed to various tracks. But The Monkees, now bona fide superstars, rebelled, and beginning with their third LP played their own instruments (and yes, that’s really Tork doing the piano intro on “Daydream Believer”). But like most fads, Monkeemania subsided, and the show ended its run in 1968. The boys went on to star in HEAD , a Jack Nicholson-penned, Bob Rafelson-directed piece of psychedelia that bombed at the box office – the younger kids were turned off by it, and the older hipsters wouldn’t be caught dead watching The Monkees! The movie has since become somewhat of a cult classic, and is worth a look.
Peter was the first to leave the group, dissatisfied over their musical direction and off-screen bickering. He drifted back to his roots, trying to get a folk-blues band called Peter Tork And/or Release off the ground without success. He was pretty well broke by 1970, a scant two years after Monkeemania, and a bust for possession of hashish landed Tork three months in a Oklahoma prison. The end of the 70’s found Tork working as a teacher in California (teaching music of course!) and gigging around in small clubs.
Then came the 80’s, and MTV began rerunning THE MONKEES episodes, and suddenly The Monkees were hot again! A tour was put together with Tork, Jones, and Dolenz (Nesmith declined to participate), and the band continued to tour sporadically over the years. I was fortunate enough to catch them in the early 90’s (along with 60’s favorites The Turtles, The Grass Roots, and Gary Puckett), and their combination of comedy and nostalgic hits was one fun night! Over the years, Peter Tork continued to tour with The Monkees and in smaller venues on his own, playing with his blues/rock band Shoe Suede Blues. 90’s kids will remember him for his guest appearances as Topanga’s dad on BOY MEETS WORLD. Peter Tork certainly had a wild ride during his lifetime, but was blessed to spend it doing what he loved – playing music. Say what you will about The Monkees, but the eight-year-old boy in me will sure miss him.
Ok, so it’s 1972. Rock music dominated the airwaves, until a nearly fifty year old English gent named Hurricane Smith blew into America with a British Music Hall-styled #1 hit called “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say” (take it away, Johnny Carson!):
Who was Hurricane Smith, you ask? Well, first of all, his name isn’t really Hurricane, but Norman Smith, born in 1923. Young Norman served in the RAF during WWII as a glider pilot, and upon war’s end set out to make a go of things as a jazz musician, without much success. By 1959, Norman found steady employment working as a sound engineer for Britain’s EMI Records, located on London’s Abbey Road.
In 1962, EMI signed four lads from Liverpool who had some potential. The Beatles recorded “Please Please Me”, and the song took the U.K. by storm:
The Beatles became a phenomenon in America two short years later, and along with producer George Martin, Norman was instrumental in shaping their early sound. He became friends with the Fab Four personally as well, with John Lennon giving him the nickname ‘Normal’. Norman did the sound engineering on The Beatles’ first six LP’s, from “Please Please Me’ to “Rubber Soul”, but as they gained in confidence and became more experimental musically, friction between Lennon and McCartney caused the sessions to no longer be fun for Norman.
EMI promoted him to full producer, and among his first tasks was producing the first three albums for another British band who achieved success home and abroad, Pink Floyd:
Another milestone came in 1968, when Norman produced The Pretty Things’ LP “SF Sorrow”, a psychedelic excursion that’s considered the first ‘Rock Opera’, predating The Who’s “Tommy” by five months:
Norman had written a song titled “Don’t Let It Die” that he wanted his friend Lennon to record, but when he played the demo for fellow producer Mickie Most (The Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Donovan, etc), Most urged him to record the tune himself. The tune, released under the name Hurricane Smith, became a surprise hit in England, reaching the #2 spot on the charts:
Then came “Oh Babe”, and Hurricane Smith had himself a hit on both sides of the Atlantic (and by the way, that’s Norman’s old RAF mate Frank Hardcastle performing the memorable sax solo). The hits stopped coming after that, but Norman Smith continued working behind the scenes with artists as varied as Barclay James Harvest, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, Denny Laine, and Little Richard. He wrote an autobiography of his decades in the music biz, JOHN LENNON CALLED ME NORMAL, which was published in 2008, the year he died at age 85. If ever there was a One Hit Wonder with a musical pedigree as prestigious as Norman ‘Hurricane’ Smith, you’d be hard pressed to find him!
There was no bigger loss in the music world than the death of ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin at age 76. Born in Memphis and raised in Detroit, Aretha originally sang Gospel at her father Rev. C.L. Franklin’s revivals. She signed on with Columbia Records, who tried to pigeonhole her with safe Easy Listening standards. Moving over to Atlantic Records in 1966, Aretha began recording at Muscle Shoals for producer Jerry Wexler, and belted out R&B hit after hit: the raucous “Respect”, “Baby I Love You”, “Natural Woman”, “Chain of Fools”, “Since You’ve Been Gone”, “Think”, “Spanish Harlem”, “Until You Come Back to Me”. Hitting a slump in the mid-70’s, Aretha came back strong with 80’s successes “Jump To It”, “Freeway of Love”, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who”, and duets with Eurythmics (“Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves”) and George Michael (‘I Knew You Were Waiting for Me”). The word “icon” gets tossed around all too frequently these days, but Aretha Franklin was a true pop icon, with a booming voice that will not be silenced as long as there are fans of music around.
Rock’n’roll lost some true pioneers this past year. D.J. Fontana (87) played drums in a band called The Blue Moon Boys with guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, and a young singer named Elvis Presley. Fontana spent 14 years as Elvis’s drummer, laying down the beats on classics “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Hound Dog”, and so many others. Nokie Edwards (82) was the innovative lead guitarist for instrumental group The Ventures, whose hits include “Walk Don’t Run” (on which Edwards played bass) and “Theme from Hawaii 5-0”. Matt “Guitar” Murphy (88) joined Howlin’ Wolf’s band in 1948, and was a sideman for blues legends Memphis Slim and James Cotton before hitting it big later in life as a member of The Blues Brothers.
Roy Clark (85) was a multi-talented instrumentalist who had a #1 hit singing the melancholic “Yesterday, When I Was Young”, as well as co-hosting the long-running country music program HEE HAW. Singer Marty Balin (76) soared to fame with Jefferson Airplane (and later incarnation Jefferson Starship). Ray Thomas (76) of The Moody Blues sang and played flute, notably on the group’s “Nights in White Satin”, which was a hit in two different decades. Cranberries lead vocalist Delores O’Riordan (46) died far too soon. Hugh Masekela (78) brought the sounds of South Africa to America, wowing the hippie crowd at the ’67 Monterrey Pop Festival with his trumpeting prowess, and scoring a #1 hit with “Grazing in the Grass”. Dennis Edwards (74) lent his soulful singing to such Temptations hits as “Cloud Nine”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball of Confusion”, and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” during the Motown group’s most creative period.
Techno artist/DJ Avicii had a huge following; his life was tragically cut short at age 28 by suicide due to mental health issues. On the other side of the spectrum, singer Vic Damone lived to the ripe old age of 89; the popular crooner counted a #1 hit (1949’s “You’re Breaking My Heart”) among his many Top Ten tunes, and was regularly featured on TV, in movies, and Las Vegas. Other voices stilled by death include France’s Charles Aznavour (94), Scott Boyer of Cowboy (70), Cajun legend Vin Bruce (87), Big Band vocalist Don Cherry (94), Buzz Clifford (75, “Baby Sittin’ Boogie”), Gospel’s Del Delker (93), Jimmy Farrar of Molly Hatchet (67), rockabilly’s Billy Hancock (71), country’s Freddie Hart (91, “Easy Loving”, “My Hang Up is You”), Mike Harrison of Spooky Tooth (72), Edwin Hawkins (74, who had a surprise hit with the Gospel tune “Oh, Happy Day”), Scott Hutchinson (36, Frightened Rabbit), Hawaiian superstar Ed Kenney (85), Leah LeBelle (34, AMERICAN IDOL runner-up), Dean Lima of LFO (41), Reggae’s Trevor McNaughton (77), Tom Netherton (70, THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW), death metal’s Frank “Killjoy” Pucci (48), Tom Rapp (70, Pearls Before Swine), bluegrass star Randy Scruggs (64), Gayle Shepherd of the Shepherd Sisters (81, “Alone”), soulful Lowrell Simon (75), Daryle Singletary (46, “I Let Her Lie”, “Too Much Fun”, “Amen Kind of Love”), Mark E. Smith of The Fall (60), jazz legend Nancy Wilson (81), Lari White (52, “That’s My Baby”, “Now I Know”), Tony Joe White (75, “Polk Salad Annie”), and Betty Willis (76).
If there’s a rock’n’roll heaven, you know they’ve got a hell of a band with the additions of guitarists Tim Calvert (52, Nevermore), Eddie Clark (67, Motorhead), Ed King (68, Strawberry Alarm Clock , Lynnrd Skynnrd), Danny Kirwan (68, Fleetwood Mac), Glenn Schwartz (78, Pacific Gas & Electric), Wah Wah Watson (67) and Eddie Willis (82) of The Funk Brothers, Fred Weiland (75, The Strangers), and Todd Youth (47, Danzig); bassists Max Bennett (90, LA Express, Wrecking Crew), Mars Cowling (72, Pat Travers Band), Alan Longmuir (70, Bay City Rollers), Craig McGregor (68, Foghat), Jim Rodford (76, Argent, The Kinks); keyboard wizard Roy Webb (70, Lanny Kravitz, Suzy Quatro); sax players Ace Cannon (84, Bill Black’s Combo) and Charles Neville (79, The Neville Brothers); drummers Mickey Jones (76, The First Edition, who later enjoyed an acting career), Nick Knox (60, The Cramps), Vinnie Paul (54, Pantera), Jabo Starks (79, James Brown’s Famous Flames), Pat Torpey (64, Mr. Big), Charlie Quintana (56, Social Distortion); multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock (61, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull); and cellist Hugh McDowell of ELO (65).
On the blues side of town, legendary singer/guitarist Otis Rush (83) wrote and recorded such now-standards as “Double Trouble” and “All Your Loving”. Denise LaSalle (78) had mainstream success with the hit “Trapped By A Thing Called Love”. Big Jay McNeely (91) honked his badass saxophone on countless blues records. Maurice Reedus (65) played his sax on Cleveland street corners, so well a documentary was made about him (THE SAX MAN). Little Sammy Davis (89) blew his harp for blues lovers for over seventy years, while Lazy Lester (85) did it for sixty. Guitarist Preston Shannon (70) backed Shirley Brown before striking out on his own, while Floyd Miles (74) played with Clarence Carter and Gregg Allman. And we must give a tip of our porkpie hats to Louisiana’s Jewel Records owner Stan Lewis (91), who released hits from Lowell Fulsom (“Reconsider Baby”), Dale Hawkins (“Suzie-Q”), and John Fred & His Playboy Band (“Judy in Disguise”), and Arkansas’s Sunshine Sonny Payne (92), who hosted the seminal “King Biscuit Time” on radio’s KFFA for over fifty years!
Jazz buffs are mourning the losses of Big Bill Bissonnette (81, trombone), Shelly Cohen (84, clarinetist and assistant music director for Johnny Carson’s TONIGHT SHOW), Nathan Davis (81, sax), Bill Hughes (87, trombonist for Count Basie), Sonny Fortune (79, sax), Coco Schumann (93, guitarist and Holocaust survivor), Tommy Smith (81, Canadian pianist), Cecil Taylor (89, avant-garde pianist), and Bill Watruss (79, trombone). Producer and songwriter Rich Hall (85) was known as “The Father of Muscle Shoals”. Harvey Schmidt (88) composed the long-running musical “The Fantasticks”; Carol Hall (82) wrote the music and lyrics for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. Kenny O’Dell (73) wrote country classics “Behind Closed Doors” and “Mama He’s Crazy”. Scott English (81) wrote rock hits “Bend Me Shape Me”, “Help Me Girl”, and Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”.
In the studio, engineer Geoff Emerick (72) worked with The Beatles beginning with 1966’s “Revolver”. Jimmy Robinson (67) engineered recordings for Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, and Led Zeppelin. David Bianco (64) produced albums by Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, and many other artists. Gary Burden (84) created iconic album covers for Steppenwolf, The Doors, CSNY, Joni Mitchell, and most notably Neil Young. Peter Simon (71) was a noted rock photographer closely associated with The Grateful Dead. Joe Jackson (89) was patriarch of the musical Jackson family.
Barbara Cope served the music industry in her own way during the heyday of psychedelic hard rock. Barbara was a famed groupie known as “The Dallas Butter Queen” (use your imagination!). She was ‘friendly’ with Hendrix, Zeppelin, David Cassidy (whaaat!), Joe Cocker, and other luminaries, and was immortalized in the Rolling Stones song “Rip This Joint”:
Leaving the rock scene behind in 1972, Barbara sold her vast collection of rock memorabilia to make ends meet, keeping her private memories instead. She died in a house fire on January 14 in East Dallas at age 67, gone but not forgotten. Rock’n’roll forever, Barbara!
Like last week’s “Christmas Wrapping”, the song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home” made it’s debut on a compilation album, 1963’s “A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector”:
The label’s head honcho, ‘Wall of Sound’ producer Phil Spector (we won’t get into his later sordid life – it’s Christmas!), originally wanted his then-wife Ronnie to sing the Elle Greenwich/Jeff Barry (the duo responsible for rock classics like “Be My Baby”, “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Leader of the Pack”, “Hanky Panky”, and “River Deep – Mountain High”) penned tune. But Ronnie couldn’t give Phil quite what he wanted, so backup singer Darlene Love of The Blossoms was called in – and nailed it!
Darlene Love sang background vocals on many of the era’s hits (Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett’s “The Monster Mash”, The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, Johnny Rivers’ “Poor Side of Town”, Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”), and sang lead on the #1 smash “He’s a Rebel” under the name The Crystals (who were actually The Blossoms). After taking a break from performing in the 70’s, she returned to the spotlight, singing in clubs and on tour, and from 1986-2014, sang her Christmas classic annually on David Letterman’s show:
Darlene also has acted, appearing as Danny Glover’s wife in the LETHAL WEAPON movies, starred on Broadway, and was featured in the 2013 rock doc 20 FEET FROM STARDOM. So now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and Darlene Love – enjoy! And Merry Christmas!
Tis the season for Christmas music, and today we have New Wave rockers The Waitresses with their peppy little classic “Christmas Wrapping”:
The song first appeared on a ZE Records compilation album called “A Christmas Album” featuring artists like Suicide and Was (Not Was). Since it’s release, it’s become a Yuletide standard on Classic Rock Radio, featured in movies and ads, and covered by the likes of The Donnas, Kylie Minogue, Spice Girls, Bella Thorne, and the cast of GLEE. The Waitresses had another hit that still gets plenty of airplay, “I Know What Boys Like”:
The band was formed by Akron, Ohio’s Chris Butler, formerly of the punk group Tin Huey, and included the late Patty Donahue on lead vocals, Mars Williams (sax), Dan Klayman (keyboards), Dave Hofstra (bass), Ariel Warner (backup vocals), and ex-Television drummer Billy Ficca. The Waitresses also recorded the theme to the ahead-of-it’s-time sitcom SQUARE PEGS before breaking up in 1984:
Though short lived, The Waitresses left us with a catchy, danceable Christmas classic that’ll be around for years to come.
“Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas/Couldn’t miss this one this year”!