In Memoriam 2018: Music

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.

Aretha with Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy (and The Blues Brothers)

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.

DJ Avicci (top); crooner Vic Damone (bottom)

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).

Funk Brothers Wah Wah Watson (top), Eddie Willis (bottom)

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).

Blues giant Otis Rush

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 greats Sonny Fortune (top), Cecil Taylor (bottom)

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”.

Gary Burden’s cover for The Doors’ “Morrison Hotel”

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!

Tomorrow: Pop Culture 

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Yesterday, When We Were Young: A Brief Tribute to Roy Clark


It seems like we’ve lost an old friend, one who was welcomed into homes across America for decades. Roy Clark, Country Music’s King of Strings, adept on guitar, banjo, and mandolin, and one of TV’s most Familiar Faces thanks to his 14 year gig as co-host of HEE HAW, passed away yesterday at age 85. Clark was born in Virginia on April 15, 1933, and picked up his first guitar at age 14. He was a two-time National Banjo Champion by age 15, and made his Grand Ole Opry debut at 17. Roy joined Jimmy Dean’s band in the early 50’s, but was fired for his chronic tardiness. He then began playing backup for rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson.

When Dean got a guest host spot on THE TONIGHT SHOW, he brought his old bandmate Roy on, and Clark’s expert playing, coupled with his unassuming, warm personality, tore the house down. Soon Roy was all over the small screen: variety shows like Jackie Gleason and Flip Wilson, sitcoms like THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (as the Clampett’s bumpkin Cousin Roy), LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, THE ODD COUPLE ,THE MUPPET SHOW. But it was HEE HAW, which he cohosted with Buck Owens, that skyrocketed his popularity. Between the corny down home humor and classic country music, the show was a phenomenon, debuting in 1969 and running continuously until 1993. All the genre’s biggest stars performed, and Roy was a large part of it’s success.

Roy Clark sold out concerts around the world, and he was a huge draw in both Vegas and Branson, MO. When I heard the news he died, I immediately thought of his most-loved song, the poignant “Yesterday, When I Was Young”, which topped the charts in 1969. It’s one of the most bittersweet ballads ever, originally written in French by Charles Aznavour, and serves as a fitting tribute to Roy Clark:

God bless ya’ll, Roy.

Adios, Rhinestone Cowboy: RIP Glen Campbell

There aren’t many entertainers who can boast of 9 #1 hits, 12 Gold Records, 4 Platinum, 1 Double Platinum, 10 Grammys, a hit television show, and a co-starring role in a John Wayne movie! In fact, there’s only one. Glen Campbell, who died yesterday at age 81 of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease, was more than just an average country music singer. During the tumultuous late 60’s/early 70’s, when protests and riots were common occurences, Campbell’s country/folk/pop songs were a common denominator, enjoyed by hippie freaks and establishment tools alike. Face it, Glen Campbell was The Man!

Born in humble, sleepy little Billstown, Arkansas, Glen took up playing guitar at an early age. His uncle was a musician, and teenage Glen began his show-biz career picking on his radio show. The young man soon formed his own band and toured the South and Southwest extensively. The bright lights/big city of Los Angeles beckoned, and Campbell headed to LA, joining The Champs, who’d had the hit “Tequila” (his band mates at the time included future folk/rock duo Seals & Crofts).

Glen’s musical talent got noticed, and he became a highly sought-after session musician, playing with a collective called The Wrecking Crew. These were among the top musicians on the West Coast, including during Glen’s tenure Leon Russell, Hal Blaine, and Tommy Tedesco. They backed up hitmakers from Frank Sinatra (“Strangers in the Night”) to The Righteous Brothers (“You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”), The Crystals, The Ronettes, Sonny & Cher, The Mamas & The Papas, virtually every pop artist on the LA scene. The Wrecking Crew were the house band in the seminal 60’s concert film THE TAMI SHOW, backing up all those great acts. Glen also did work with The Beach Boys, playing on their hits “I Get Around” and “Help Me Rhonda”, and the album “Pet Sounds”. He filled in on tour for an ailing Brian Wilson, singing the falsetto parts and playing bass.

Around this time Campbell tried launching a solo career, with limited success. His record company was about to drop him when he suddenly found himself on top of the pop charts with the bluegrass-flavored “Gentle On My Mind”, written by his friend John Hartford:

After all those years paying dues, Glen Campbell was an overnight sensation. His smooth-as-honey voice dominated AM radio, and his Eddy Arnold-influenced country pop, combined with his clean-cut good looks and pleasant personality, made him a star at last. Among his biggest hits were his interpretations of songwriter Jimmy Webb’s tunes: “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Galveston”, and the haunting “Wichita Lineman”, as perfectly crafted a piece of pop music as there ever will be:

In 1968, Glen hosted a summer replacement variety series for folk duo The Smothers Brothers. It was another hit, and the following January he began a three and a half run on THE GLEN CAMPBELL GOODTIME HOUR. This CBS series brought families together to watch and enjoy some of the best music had to offer at the time. Hartford was a regular, as was a young country artist named Jerry Reed. Not just country stars (Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash & June Carter, Roy Clark, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Minnie Pearl, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans) appeared, but rock acts like The Monkees, Linda Ronstadt, Three Dog Night, and Stevie Wonder were featured (there was even a film clip from The Beatles doing “Get Back”!). The world of show biz was well represented by Lucille Ball, Tony Bennett, Walter Brennan, George Burns, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Debbie Reynolds, and some guy named The Duke:

Campbell had made his big-screen acting debut in TRUE GRIT, Henry Hathaway’s 1968 Western that netted John Wayne his first (and only) Oscar. Glen played Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, who along with one-eyed Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Wayne) and vengeful young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) hunt down killer Tom Cheney (Jeff Corey). Campbell wasn’t the greatest of thespians, but his natural charm was made for the Silver Screen. Unfortunately, his next picture was 1970’s NORWOOD, a plodding bomb that reunited him with Darby and another late 60’s/early 70’s icon, football’s Broadway Joe Namath. He was given a starring role as the Elvis-like rooster Chanticleer in 1991’s animated ROCK-A-DOODLE, which didn’t exactly light up the box office, but is a pretty decent kid’s movie (in my opinion, anyway).

Glen’s career, like many, skidded to a halt in the early 70’s. Times and tastes were changing, and his records weren’t automatically climbing the charts anymore. That is, not until 1975’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”:

The tune, an ode to surviving in the show-biz jungle, was yet another surprise smash, and Campbell was back on top. More hits followed: “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in LA)”, the theme to Clint Eastwood’s ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN, and most of all the soft-rock classic “Southern Nights”:

After a bout with alcoholism and cocaine abuse, Campbell went on to continue touring and receiving accolades for his manybaccomplishments. In 2001, he bravely announced to the world he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but kept touring as long as he could. He released the plaintive 2014 song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, about his struggle:

The length of this post says a lot about Glen Campbell’s impact on me. There’s a lot of ground to cover in his 50 year career, and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface. Singer, actor, TV star, talk show guest, Campbell was first and foremost a musician, and I’ll bid Glen a fond adieu with his rendition of “The William Tell Overture”. Rest in peace, Glen Campbell. Wherever you are, I know there’s room for you in the band:

 

Twilight of the Gods: HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (Woolner Brothers 1967)

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Let’s face it, HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE is a lousy excuse for a movie. The acting is atrocious, the script derivative and juvenile, and the direction nearly non-existent. It’s a scare comedy that’s neither scary nor funny, and if you’re not a fan of 60’s style Country & Western music you’ll absolutely hate it. The only reason this Woolner Brothers drive-in dreck is remembered today is the presence of horror icons Basil Rathbone , John Carradine, and Lon Chaney Jr as the villains. But even this trio of terror can’t save the movie.

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The plot (such as it is) concerns country entertainers Woody Weatherby (Ferlin Husky, a classic country singer who can’t act), Boots Malone (blonde bombshell Joi Lansing), and Jeepers (country comic Don Bowman) forced to spend the night in the eerie Beauregard Mansion. There put through the usual fright paces with ghosts (obvious sheets on strings), a “weird-woof” (as Jeepers calls it), and a gorilla (George Barrows, Ro-Man of the immortal ROBOT MONSTER). Of course, it’s all a plot by some nefarious spies led by Madame Wong (Linda Ho, CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER) and the horror vets. A secret agent from the Master Organization To Halt Enemy Resistance aka MOTHER (Richard Webb, TV’s CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT) rescues the singers, and a “real” ghost (a Confederate general, no less) helps in bringing down the bad guys.

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Then we get about half an hour of Ferlin Husky introducing acts at the Nashville Jamboree. If you’re not into twangy 60’s honky tonk country you might as well turn the film off, but if you are, you’ll get to see the late Merle Haggard perform “Closing Time”, lovely Molly Bee singing “Heartbreak USA”, Husky doing “One Bridge I Haven’t Crossed”, Bowman talk/sing a novelty tune about a drunk who can’t find his house, and the sexy Miss Lansing do the upbeat “Part Time Lover”.  I think I enjoyed this part of the movie more than the actual “story”.

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As for the classic heroes of horror, Chaney comes off best as Maximilian. Despite his ragged appearance and bloated body from years of alcohol abuse, Lon gives the most energetic performance here, clowning around with the gorilla, cruelly locking Joi Lansing in an Iron Maiden, and seemingly enjoying himself. Carradine, once a fine actor in films like STAGECOACH and THE GRAPES OF WRATH, had been coasting for years now in Grade-Z trash like this. He hadn’t made a prestigious picture since 1962’s THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, and wouldn’t again until 1976’s THE SHOOTIST with old pal John Wayne.

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The fall from grace was even harder for Basil Rathbone. Once hailed as a Great Screen Villain in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, DAVID COPPERFIELD, and A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Rathbone hit it big portraying master sleuth Sherlock Holmes in a series of films that remain popular even today. He is widely considered THE filmic Sherlock Holmes, and I certainly won’t debate that! But Rathbone tired of being typecast and fled Hollywood to return to the New York stage, causing resentment among certain studio types. When he returned to movies he was cast in smaller supporting roles, and by the 60’s was reduced to low-budget crap like THE MAGIC SWORD and VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET. HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE was Rathbone’s last American film (he did one more in Mexico, AUTOPSY OF A GHOST), a sad ending for one of movies greatest actors. Basil Rathbone died later that year at age 75. (This was also the last feature for director Jean Yarbrough, the man who brought you THE DEVIL BAT !)

So there are a few reasons to watch this turkey: (1) if you’re a classic horror buff and want to see these icons one more time (2) if you’re a Country & Western fan and are willing to sit through the bulk of this nonsense to get to the music (3) if you’re into the pneumatic Monroe/Mansfield/Van Doren wannabe Joi Lansing . If you’re not in any one of those three categories, steer clear.

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Honky Tonk Outlaw: RIP Merle Haggard

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Merle Haggard died today, on his 79th birthday. Even though I’m Massachusetts born and raised, country music has always been a part of my life. My dad was from Anderson, South Carolina, and I learned to appreciate the twangy, “high, lonesome sound” at an early age. Later in life, I spent five years living in Louisiana’s bayou country, and you couldn’t find a jukebox in any honky-tonk joint around that didn’t have at least one Merle Haggard tune.

Many country musicians claim to be “outlaws”, but Merle was the real deal. His father died young (like mine), and as a teen Merle was always in trouble with the law (yep, me too!). He was arrested for burglary and bad checks, fighting and shoplifting, and wound up more than once in juvenile jail. At age 20, he did time in San Quentin for attempted robbery. When he was released, Merle channeled his energy to country music. His first #1 country hit was “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive”, but it was 1969’s “Okie from Muskogee”, the anthem of the Silent Majority, that catapulted him into America’s consciousness:

Merle’s music wasn’t just for squares, though. Rock musicians like Gram Parsons and the Grateful Dead covered his tunes. He did some films, too, making his debut in the low-budget horror comedy HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE, with genre greats Lon Chaney Jr, Basil Rathbone, and John Carradine. He played a sheriff in AIP’s BONNIE & CLYDE rip-off KILLERS THREE, with none other than Dick Clark as one of the three (guess AIP thought if two outlaws were good, three would be better. They were wrong). He was the Balladeer in 1981’s bomb LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, and even sang a duet with Clint Eastwood in BRONCO BILLY:

“Workin’ Man Blues”, “Fightin’ Side of Me”, “I Think I’ll Just Sit Here and Drink”, “Misery and Gin”, “Pancho and Lefty” (with Willie Nelson)- Merle Haggard was an American original, and his brand of country sure beats what passes for “country music” today. Raw and authentic, Merle Haggard will be remembered as one of the giants of country and western music. I’d like to leave you with two of my favorites. First, here’s “Mama Tried”:

Lastly, one of Merle’s latter-day songs, one I’m sure many can relate to, “Are the Good Times Really Over”. RIP, Merle. You’ll be missed.