Shown below is my full collection of drawings related to music.
Quick navigation to a specific portrait:
Every songwriter needs to take stock of his creative muse at some point; to stand still momentarily and draw breath. Fresh infusion usually comes from retracing one’s own musical roots, reworking songs that first fired the imagination, and drawing inspiration from the experience.
Bryan Adams reached back to his earliest influences with his 2014 album “Tracks of my years.” The ten cover versions ranged from material by Ray Charles to Chuck Berry and The Beatles.
Commenting on his first studio album in more than six years, Adams was moved to say:
“The album is about songs that were around at the time when I decided music was what I wanted do. This is an eclectic collection of songs like what AM radio was doing at the time. AM radio was king in the ’70s. You would get a mix of songs from The Beatles to Ray Charles to a Beach Boys song to the Manhattans. You would get that mixture because they were hit songs. So that is what I decided to do: make a collection of cool songs that fit my voice.”
Adele is happy with the way she is. Whilst making no apologies for her fuller figure, she is equally disinterested in discussing those occasions when she can sport a more svelte outline. Speaking with Vogue magazine in 2011, she admitted that ‘I enjoy being me; I always have done.’
Being as talented as she is, it appears obvious to me that sitting at a piano composing songs remains a rather more attractive proposition than spending an hour each morning on a treadmill clocking her calorie reduction. She’s knows she’s attractive whatever her weight – it’s only certain idiotic men that can’t see it.
There’s always been something about Julie Andrews that grates – not with everyone mind you – but certainly with myself and all my friends. Perhaps its that winning wholesomeness, the prim, hyper-hygienic persona that ‘Mary Poppins,’ and its even more popular successor ‘The Sound of Music,’ bestowed upon her. As one business associate once put it to me – “You can’t imagine her ever having sex – it just wouldn’t be right!” He also wouldn’t admit to watching those endless re-runs of Andrews atop the Austrian alps, but then who would? Yet millions do.
If Time magazine in the 60’s was able to coo that “she is Christmas carols in the snow, a companion by the fire, a girl to read poetry to on a cold winter’s night,” then more fool us for having completely believed the piece. This hewn-from-saccharine image was created in defiance of the evidence that Miss Andrews could be as tough, temperamental and difficult as anyone else in show business. “If that bitch is still here on Monday, I’m quitting the show,” stormed Rex Harrison during their fraught Broadway run in ‘My Fair Lady.’ Christopher Plummer, her Sound of Music co-star, complained that working with her was “like being beaten over the head with a Hallmark greeting card,” while Richard Harris confessed to his biographer, Michael Feeney Callan, that after making a movie with Julie he had “rarely, if ever, felt such hatred for anyone”.
Maybe I’ve simply been unfair to her all these years. Time to find out.
Louis Armstrong was the greatest of all Jazz musicians, defining in his own unique way, what it was to play Jazz. His technical virtuosity, infectious joy and spontaneity, and that amazingly quick, inventive musical mind still dominate Jazz to this day. Only Charlie Parker comes close to having as much influence on the history of Jazz as Louis Armstrong did.
Speaking for his native America, Tony Bennett rather aptly puts it :
The bottom line of any country in the world is ‘What did we contribute to the world?’…we contributed Louis Armstrong.’
Andrés Segovia, the famed classical guitarist, had influence even beyond his particular field. He spent years playing concerts, making records and transcribing music for the guitar, thus ensuring the instrument acquired a hitherto unimaginable respectability. He ran a masterclass for years, and was the player to go to if you wanted to be taken seriously as a guitarist.
In 1967, Chet Atkins visited with the maestro in Madrid and the meeting reportedly went well, the Spaniard suitably impressed with the American’s posture, control and fingering. Eventually, Segovia asked Chet what kind of music he usually played and when he replied ‘country,’ the meeting was prematurely ended. Segovia of course, had previously described the electric guitar as an abomination, so his reaction was not unexpected. It was his receptiveness to Atkin’s playing before his admission that amuses me no end, for within this tale, lies the very roots of musical prejudice. I was trained on classical guitar, but I could no sooner confine myself to that style of playing, than go to the moon. Segovia forgot a clearly defined rule in life, namely that great guitarists are revered for their artistry, whatever their musical leanings. In true gentlemanly fashion, Atkins never commented in a disparaging fashion about this meeting.
Burt Bacharach is a classically trained pianist whose songs and compositions have been recorded by the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Over the past six decades, his legendary songwriting has touched millions of devoted listeners all over the world.
He has written more than seventy Top 40 hits and won three Academy Awards, eight Grammys (including one for lifetime achievement), an Emmy, a Tony nomination, and received the prestigious Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. “What the World Needs Now is Love,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”, “That’s What Friends are For” and “Walk on By” number amongst his vast catalogue of evergreen standards. In 2007 however, he was compelled to face up to one of life’s maxims, when his 40 year old daughter committed suicide. Truly – no-one has it all.
There’s something uniquely indigenous to the British psyche – we love knocking our home grown stars off their pedestals. As a five time Ivor Novello award winning songwriter, Gary Barlow is nonetheless often criticised for his lack of quality control when donating material to other artists. The accusation that he holds back the best material for his own albums has some merit, but is not a universal rule of thumb. ‘This Time’, his compositional gift to Dame Shirley Bassey for her 2009 album ‘The Performance’, was a wonderful construction with an emotive use of the sixth chord..
He’s successful, as £38m in the bank amply testifies, and has been at the forefront of British pop for twenty years, as a member as Take That, a chart topping solo star and as an X Factor judge. In the summer of 2012, he was the musical director at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert, a worldwide televised event that sealed his stamp of approval with both Royalty and the music industry. All therefore seemed well, yet within weeks tragedy would strike when his fourth child was delivered stillborn. Here was an event so emotionally gut wrenching that he would have handed back all the money in order to change events. Certain events often refocus our minds on what is truly important in life. In a statement issued to the press, Gary was moved to say:
“Poppy Barlow was delivered stillborn on August 4th in London. Our focus now is giving her a beautiful funeral and loving our three children with all our hearts. We’d ask at this painful time that our privacy be respected.”
I could have drawn Barry as the quintessential man about 60’s swinging London, but I especially love the more introspective works of his later life. He was deeply affected by war torn memories of York, and much of his latter works are entrenched in those childhood recollections.
It is probably fair to say that this is one of my lesser known portraits yet to millions of movie goers over the last fifty years, this man has become synonymous with the soundtrack to their lives. John Barry Prendergast, OBE (3 November 1933 – 30 January 2011) was an English conductor and composer of film music and is best known for composing the soundtracks for 12 of the James Bond films between 1962 and 1987. He wrote the scores to the award winning films ‘Born free,’ ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ ‘Dances with Wolves’ and ‘Out of Africa’ in a career which lasted over 50 years.
Count Basie helped define the words ‘jazz’ and ‘swing.’ His style of piano playing was to-the-point and focused on the blues, relying on simple melodic phrases.
In 1936 he founded the Count Basie Orchestra, which featured players like Jo Jones and Lester Young. By the end of the 30s, the Basie band was one of the most popular in the world, with massive hits like ‘One O’clock Jump’ and ‘Jumpin at the Woodside.’
I’ve loved his music for years. There was just something about Bill’s economical pianistic phrasing – the way he could make the briefest of ‘plinks’ an unmistakeable trademark.
At a time when it might have been all over for him, he forged an unforgettable alliance with Sinatra, who responded by swinging harder than he had in his entire life – their 1966 ‘Sands’ album one of the top ten live recordings of all time. Even when succumbing to prevailing popular trends in the 60’s, he could still stamp his distinctive signature all over the music – the ‘Basie meets Bond’ album an obvious example. It’s re-invention of the highest order, and more than enough to leave 007 himself sonically shaken and stirred!
The girl from Tiger Bay or should I say the Tigress from Tiger Bay, for Miss Bassey is without doubt one of the few acts to emerge from worn torn Britain who is truly international. This woman oozed class and Las Vegas glitz from every pore of her body even when first treading the boards as a club act. She is a consummate professional, electric performer and astonishingly in 2009 probably rounded off her recorded oeuvre with the best album of her career. Drawing her presented something of a challenge because creating realistic looking hair in a pencil portrait is one thing but deliberately avoiding the usual techniques to give the impression of a wig is another. In any event, with or without the hairpieces she is without doubt the ultimate Bond girl.
The portly, 71-year-old man with grey hair and a semi luxuriant quiff barks rather than talks, speaking out of the side of his mouth, a legacy of the deafness in his right ear, that allegedly resulted from the umpteen childhood beatings endured at the hands of his father. There is, as everyone who meets him seems to note, something ineffably sad about his eyes, even when he laughs, which he does in a gruff, mirthless shout.
Diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective disorder, and with a history of breakdowns and reclusivity behind him, it’s a wonder he’s still here, let alone his ongoing participation in headlining sell out tours around the world. Perhaps it’s the drama of the evening, and the demands placed on someone in frail health, that hold a semi-freudian fascination with concert goers? It could of course, be simply the fact that the performer is Brian Wilson, the man who wrote ‘Good Vibrations’ and whose creative vision brought us ‘Pet Sounds’, an album still regularly cited as one of the top five influential masterworks in the history of rock. He’s a flawed musical genius, but a genius nonetheless.
Benedict Cumberbatch, well known on British television for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, is to star in a long overdue biopic of Brian Epstein. The film, to be produced by Tom Hanks via the Playtone banner, will largely focus on The Beatles manager’s personal life rather than on his relationship with the band. The project is a timely one, for at times over the last four decades, it’s as if he’s been written out of the story, yet it was his vision that made them the world’s biggest theatrical attraction.
He was a gay man in an era when homosexuality was illegal, and he led a classic double life, lying about his sexuality even whilst pursuing gay and straight men with reckless abandon. Most tellingly of all, he left no wife or children to protect his legacy or promote his name; an unfortunate coda in view of The Beatles’ increasingly critical re-evaluation of his business dealings in the years following his premature death at the age of thirty two. If the new Cumberbatch movie is able to offer a critical reappraisal of Epstein’s credentials, it will arrive not a moment too soon.
It is now more than a decade since George Harrison lost his battle with cancer at the age of 58. Like millions, I knew the news of his demise was coming, and yet somehow for a man who was amongst the four most famous men on the planet earth between 1963-1970, the illness ravaging his body seemed somehow almost statistically mundane.
Surely, he was deserving of a more dramatic finale? – not of course any repetition of the violent manner of Lennon’s passing, but something somehow intensely spiritual, perhaps a sudden passing on the hills of the Ganges. And yet, it was precisely this spirituality with which he chose to deal with that insidious disease that can indiscriminately ravage any of us at anytime…….
This portrait is from a 1966 photo, a period of deep unhappiness in Lennon’s life during which his suburban domesticity with first wife Cynthia was being punctuated by vacuous ‘one night stands,’ ‘interesting affairs,’ and the endless grind of “Beatlemania.” He was experimenting with hard contact lenses at this point in his life to counteract his chronic myopia. Like many people he was constantly losing them; hence the introduction of the national health spectacles the following year.
Deafness Research UK is the only national charity dedicated to helping deaf and hard of hearing people through medical research. Devoid of government funding, the organisation relies on monetary donations and fund raising events to continue its world-leading research into deafness and hearing loss.
Over the past few years there has been a slew of journalistic and academic articles about the threat to young people of loudness via excessive use of personal stereos. Musicians also, have hardly escaped lightly from the high decibel, ear splitting sound levels regularly generated at rock concerts. An advice booklet produced by a campaign group called HEAR (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), maintains that 60% of inductees into the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’ are hearing impaired.
Sir George Martin, the world’s best known record producer, suffered from progressive hearing loss and tinnitus, and wore two hearing aids. By his late 60’s, years of listening to huge monitor speakers in confined spaces had taken its toll. The man who titled his 1979 autobiography “All you need is ears,” had to virtually make do without his two most treasured possessions. Nevertheless, by his own admission, it had been a great life…
My portrait of McCartney dates from 1965 but does not actually exist as an original photo. I took the facial imagery from an earlier studio portrait by Dezo Hoffman and juxtaposed it with the famous Shea Stadium military jacket, obligatory Beatle black polo necked jumper and restyled hair for historical accuracy.
A year earlier he had been interviewed live on BBC television by David Frost in which the genial host had suggested a possible 2010 retirement for the twenty one year old musician. In an era where pop stars dreamed of two year’s chart success and a subsequent business purchase the notion of such professional longevity seemed surreal yet McCartney’s apparent affability always hid a steely resolve to reach the pinnacle of showbusiness and to stay there.
As a vocalist, he’s a ‘personality singer’ with the delivery of a bricklayer, and yet the demands of certain songs and his patent inability to match them, have generated some endearing recorded performances. As an instrumentalist, he has expanded his musical palette – the song “I Really Love Her” (1997) features him on drums, guitar, slide and piano – yet it is in the field of drumming and percussion that he remains criminally underrated, at least amongst the non- cogniscenti.
Starr’s work is so distinctive, that the process of identifying a Beatles song by listening to one of his isolated drum tracks, is still comparatively easy. As with Harrison’s distinctive guitar solos which most of the world can ‘sing’, he has a unique signature style forged by the combination of a left handed player and a right handed kit. His playing established a new approach to rhythm in popular music, and is ever growing in popularity today.
His approach was also pivotal in initiating a period in which drummers began contributing equally to the ‘compositional aspect’ of music. Previously, their ability had been simply measured by their soloing technique, a ‘homage to dexterity’ but an essentially unrewarding listening experience.
So there it is – the myth that is Stuart Sutcliffe. The man who rode on the coattails of his friendship with Lennon, went to Hamburg with the pre-fame Beatles whilst musically holding them back, before giving up the stage for his true vocation in life – art. Consistently embarrassed by his bass playing, turning his back to the audience to hide his fretboard deficiencies, this is the popular unchallenged image of Stuart. Unfortunately, for a man who was destined to die tragically young at the age of twenty one, and has not been around to defend himself, the plain facts are simply untrue. It’s time to set the record straight.
With Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck is one of a legendary triumvirate who emerged from the British blues boom of the Sixties, all serving time as lead guitarist with The Yardbirds, all going on to blow open the potential of the six-string electric instrument.
But while his contemporaries became household names by continuing to mine and explore variations on the blues, Beck has been more elusive, following a wayward, experimental path through heavy soul, hard rock, jazz fusion and electronica.
He has only had one hit single in his entire life, that awful ’45 “Hi Ho Silver Lining” which was always my cue to leave a teenage party – not that he wouldn’t have thanked me for it – and he remains to this day the most famous unknown guitarist.
Tony Bennett is an artist who moves the hearts and touches the souls of audiences. He’s the singer’s singer and has received high praise from his colleagues through the years, including Frank Sinatra, who stated unequivocally, “Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business.” He is an international treasure who has been honoured by the United Nations with its Citizen of the World award, which aptly describes the scope of his accomplishments.
He’s been buried twice already in his lifetime; once completely in snow whilst fighting in Europe as a US soldier during the war and a second time when the ‘British invasion’ of the mid-60’s derailed his career for more than a decade leaving him without a record contract. Re-invented as a contemporary artist by his manager and son Danny, Tony has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance since 1994 and at 86 years of age, still packs auditoriums around the world. He is the last living embodiment of the golden age of American singing and when he passes on the party will truly be over.
I was following George Benson’s career and buying his records long before he became a ‘lounge cocktail smoothie,’ with a vocal style sufficiently intimate to attract a strong female following. As a guitarist myself, his fluid, beautifully melodic guitar playing had drawn comparisons to the great Wes Montgomery, prompting me to purchase his 1972 album ‘White Rabbit,’ a record that illustrated his jazz sensibilities to full effect. Then suddenly, he opened his mouth to sing.
‘Breezin’, his 1976 debut for Warner Bros Records took many by surprise. Who knew the brother could blow like that? Falling somewhere between Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, George’s vocal style was as mellifluous as his guitar. The album’s smash single, “This Masquerade,” introduced to pop audiences that scat-guitar thing he does that pushes his music into the stratosphere. More than 3 million people bought Breezin, and “This Masquerade” won the Grammy for record of the year. George Benson, the handsome down-to-earth guitarist from Pittsburgh, was now a pop star.
The restaurenteur opened his new attraction in Wentzville, a move intended to symbolise the end of the Jim Crow South. No more buying meals from the kitchen window, now he owned the food establishment.
Within months of opening, however, the Southern Air would not seem like such a fortuitous business decision as one of his employees allegedly began talking to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, claiming that the owner was hiding large amounts of cocaine in his guitar cases. Courting trouble was nothing new for the businessman. From 1947-1950, he had served two and a half years for armed robbery, an interstate spree, involving the hijacking of a car at gunpoint and hold ups at a gas station and convenience store. In 1979, he had served three months for tax evasion and sandwiched in between, a twenty one month stretch in the early 60’s for violation of the Mann Act.
For the Godfather of rock guitar, trouble was nothing new but perhaps this time, his reputation would be irreparably damaged. More interestingly, whether the man christened Charles Edward Anderson Berry and raised amidst an inferior economic, educational and social strata of society would even care was a moot point.
Now appearing onstage at Liverpool’s Epstein theatre in “Lennon’s Banjo,” a play full of pathos and scouse humour which depicts the search for John’s first musical instrument, Pete Best remains sanguine about events in his life. He is, after all, a millionaire – worldwide sales in excess of 7 million of “The Beatles Anthology 1” would see to that, still touring with his band, and very much alive. The group’s original drummer was originally part of a five piece outfit that played arduous eight hour sets in Hamburg, and speculation has been rife for decades as to why he was dismissed just as the group was taking off.
Accusations of jealousy over his good looks don’t ring true – Lennon was never in any doubt about McCartney’s greater popularity with the girls even in their dance hall days – and musical aspirations would always take priority over petty squabbles. Nevertheless, the manner of his sacking was shameful, and entrusting the unenviable task of breaking the news to their manager Brian Epstein was cowardly and insensitive. In their defence, they were young and immature, and their behaviour therefore, somewhat excusable. Today, there are millions old enough to know better who would opt for terminating a long standing relationship by text, so let us not rush to judge.
What appears conclusive – to my ears at least – was that he simply wasn’t good enough. Enough key personnel clearly shared my view including producer George Martin, and that was that. He’d been their drummer for two years and the original offer to join their ranks and work in Germany had come about because he was available and owned a full kit. At times in life, necessity is the mother of invention.
The Beatles were a third rate local band in 1960 and the best drummer in Liverpool played with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Sir Richard Starkey would not enter the story until August 1962 and they were fortunate to get him. With the last piece in place, the jigsaw was complete.
In an August 2014 report from UsWeekly, 32-year-old hit maker Beyonce had been asking longtime friend Gwyneth Paltrow for advice on how to end her marriage to the 44-year-old music mogul Jay Z in the best way possible. The weekly claimed the Crazy In Love singer was impressed with how the Oscar winner had parted ways with Coldplay’s Chris Martin in the spring after 10 years of marriage. The Single Ladies crooner, like Paltrow, was expected to spend time with her musician spouse after telling the world their marriage was over.
All very interesting really; after all, if the inclination so takes us, we can read nearly every day about so called ‘irreconcilable differences’ between couples. The problem is, too many of these articles and we can actually start to believe that they really exist. After all, discounting the extreme 10% of cases involving intolerable physical and mental cruelty, the balance of all these so called problems amount to nothing more, (in American vernacular terms), than ‘pure crap’. It’s merely about subjugating one’s own selfish desires and perceived needs in favour of one’s partner. Its knowing that the worst day of one’s life will pale by comparison to what’s coming the very next day and the day after that, and yet with no end seemingly ever in sight, anger can unexpectedly be replaced by forgiveness, introspection by ‘warts and all’ self analysis, and tears by laughter. In the final analysis, we can all get sick and tired of being sick and tired. The trick is determining just how irritating we all truly are, and if our self realisation is less than flattering, then why would anyone living with us come to any different conclusion? By and large, irreconcilable differences are figments of our imagination. They exist because we want them to exist. Beyonce’s not fooling me, and she shouldn’t fool you.
Cilla Black confessed her fears of growing older came from looking after her mother, Priscilla, who developed acute osteoporosis in her later years, and was unable to hold up her head or feed herself because her bones had become so brittle.
Recalling those last days, the star was moved to say:
‘She had to be fed ¬ intravenously, and I hated that as much as she did. Unfortunately – and I do mean that – her heart was strong. The result was that she lived much longer than she wanted to. I remember asking her doctor if she could do something to relieve my mother’s suffering. I’m not talking about euthanasia. I just wanted the pain to stop for her. But the short answer was no. Those final months left a lasting impression on me. I would not want to linger like she did.’
Like millions, she was at times distracted , if not on occasions consumed, with that single, all pervading thought – ‘What’s MY end going to be like?’ As it happened, her end – in August 2015 – would come quite suddenly in Spain through ‘natural causes.’
On June 25, 2004, David Bowie collapsed backstage after a show in Germany, and had to undergo emergency heart surgery. “I tell you what, though, I won’t be writing a song about this one,” he joked, following the angioplasty. “I can’t wait to be fully recovered and get back to work again.”
Nevertheless, Major Tom WAS joking, for all that lay ahead was a reprioritisation of his life and family values; the Thin White Duke not resurfacing artistically until 2013. The next two years would be filled with work, and a growing awareness of his own mortality.
David Bowie - Aladdin Sane
Bowie was still “working on America” in early ’73 when he went into Trident Studios to record his follow up to “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Although the US tour had been anti-climatic, several switched-on American cities had been captivated by Bowie and, as he pondered the direction of the next record, America dominated his thoughts. Resisting the obvious temptation for a ‘Ziggy 2’ styled album, the commercial benefits were impossible to ignore so in compromise the theme of Ziggy in America framed ‘Aladdin Sane.’
This American influence would saturate the album, with several tracks rooted lyrically in Bowie’s American experiences as the bus groaned across the vast wastelands of the land of the free. This is evident on ‘Panic In Detroit,’ which channels into the anxieties plighting the streets of Detroit in a Motown-esque call-to-arms.
The title track was one of several to incorporate the piano playing of avant-garde jazz pianist Mick Garson, who weaved his idiosyncratic playing into a two-minute piano solo that elevated Bowie above his peers. This sense of the otherworld is recaptured on a sleeve depicting Bowie gazing vacantly from an expanse of white nothingness while a lightning bolt slashes his face in two to conjure the schizophrenic symbolism of some faraway planet. It’s an iconic sleeve, and one I was privately commissioned recently to recreate.
One of the best albums from one of the greatest recording artists of all time, “Aladdin Sane” is now available on a 180g Audiophile vinyl breakout from the David Bowie ‘Five Years: 1969-1973’ box set. Invest in a new cartridge, dust your turntable down and listen to this masterpiece as it was always meant to be heard. It has a dynamic range only the warm grooves of a long player will capture.
Elkie Brooks & Robert Palmer
‘In the three years that the band (Vinegar Joe) existed, between 1971 and 1974, we released three albums. We were never huge, but we were very popular with students and played a lot on the university circuit.’
‘Robert Palmer and I were very competitive; I suppose that was understandable because we were both lead singers in Vinegar Joe. But outside the band we used to get on very well. When we were on the road we would often go off on our own, find a bistro and enjoy a nice bottle of wine and a meal together (although mostly we lived on food from motorway services because we weren’t paid much). Robert was a very good-looking guy, and so girls that we met used to be well pleased when they found out that we were not an item.’
‘I think Island Records always saw Vinegar Joe as something of a rehearsal band for Robert, and when we split up, the whole band was definitely smarting for a few months. Robert felt I was very pissed off, and although I really never held a grudge we didn’t keep in touch and our paths never crossed, which was a huge shame (Palmer died in 2003). I kept in touch with his parents and his brother and they have been to my shows over the years. I admired Robert so much and I recorded his song Circles for my album of the same name in 1995. And if that isn’t a tribute to his great ability, then what is?’
Elkie Brooks – “Daily Telegraph” interview 2010
Dave Brubeck was a musical innovator. Forget the professorial look – the black horn-rimmed glasses, goofy grin and square suits – this man broke down signature barriers in time and mood.
A true jazz pioneer, he created classic music, utilising ‘other world’ cultural styles and unfamiliar metering. Never one to stay precisely on the beat, he even died one day short of his 92nd birthday. Aficionados like myself, would have expected nothing less from the man.
There will NEVER be another Frank Sinatra. It’s just not possible. What he did for American entertainment can never be duplicated, yet that doesn’t mean we cannot discover the next best thing; especially nowadays when we have maybe one or two great “original” crooners left, like the legendary Tony Bennett.
However there are some superb younger performers that have grabbed the attention of mainstream America and vocal standards fans like myself. Harry Connick Jr and Peter Cincotti come to mind. Probably the most popular of them all is Canadian artist Michael Bublé. He has sold millions of records and performed all over the world. He has really brought a lot of energy back to the great American song book.
Comparing Bublé to Sinatra would not be fair,for he has an undoubted style of his own. I have been collecting his albums for a number of years, and his choice of material remains eclectic to say the least. When he covered Henry Mancini’s ‘It Had Better Be Tonight’ , the soundtrack number from the first ‘Pink Panther’ film, I became aware of an artist with an encyclopedic knowledge of popular song who does his homework.
In comparison to Sinatra, he has a softer lounge delivery, not so much commanding his listeners ears as caressing them. Whilst Frank was king of the world for many years, Bublé is just happy to be in it. He should be, for the torch has been passed and more than resides in his capable hands.
Young Jake Bugg always wanted a Martin 000-15SM. Once her had secured a record contract, he went and purchased his dream instrument. He really loves his guitars and also owns a Fender Stratocaster and a 1952 Telecaster reissue. In 2014, he was touring with a solid mahogany ‘one off’ Patrick Eggle.
He also has a respect for greatness, owning every release by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. When he’s studying slide, he listens to Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.
The Nottingham born, English musician, singer, and songwriter, spent much of 2015 working on his third album and there was much riding on it. His first eponymously titled album was a UK chart topper, but the follow up had stalled at position three, meeting with rather muted reviews. Here’s to public expectation and pressure……………
Kate Bush celebrated her 55th birthday in July 2013, in typically low key fashion. In an age filled by Twitter-hungry celebrities happy to share their latest omelette eating escapades, Ms Bush is noticeable for her silence, and conspicuous absence from the red carpets of premieres, awards ceremonies or other bulb-flashing big nights out. A rare exception was made earlier in the year when she visited Buckingham Palace to receive her CBE from The Queen.
A reluctant stage performer – there would be no live performances between the tail end of 1979 and 2014 – Bush remains vaguely disinterested in the celebrity circus that is stardom, preferring instead, to develop her songwriting in peaceful solitude. If there is a problem with her approach to life, it’s ours. Let’s deal with it…
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a physical disease that affects the brain. Symptons can include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.
During the course of the disease, proteins build up in the brain to form structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles.’ This leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells, and their eventual death, in addition to the loss of brain tissue. It is a progressive disease, and gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, the severity and frequency of symptons escalate.
‘Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,’ released theatrically in America in the fall of 2014, is a film which explores the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, a disease which affects some five million Americans over the age of 65, including the 78-year-old singer. By putting the project in the capable hands of producer James Keach – who also produced the Oscar-winning 2005 Johnny Cash biopic, ‘Walk the Line’ – Campbell’s family has ensured that the conversation about the debilitating disease will both continue and evolve.
Howard Hoagland “Hoagy” Carmichael was an American composer, pianist, singer, actor, and bandleader. He is best known for composing the music for “Stardust”, “Georgia on My Mind”, “The Nearness of You”, and “Heart and Soul,” four of the most-recorded American songs of all time.
Popular music historian Will Friedwald, in his book “Stardust Melodies: The Biography of Twelve of America’s Most Popular Songs,” states that “the correct title is given as two words, ‘Star Dust.’ “
The song, “a song about a song about love,” played in an idiosyncratic melody in medium tempo, became an American standard, and is one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, with over 1,500 total recordings.
Anonymity has its benefits, particularly when Paul Carrack revisits his native Sheffield. Suitably attired in his trademark pork pie hat, he’s as comfortable talking to the proprietor of the local sweet shop he frequented as a child as he is performing to sell out crowds.
The man with the golden voice is a former member of Ace, Squeeze, Roxy Music, Mike & The Mechanics and has a long list of hits.
The singer’s soulful voice is known to millions and is the creator of such classics as Ace’s ‘How Long,’ Mike & The Mechanics’ ‘The Living Years,’ ‘Over My Shoulder’ and ‘Silent Running,’ Squeeze’s ‘Tempted’ and solo landmarks like ‘Satisfy My Soul,’ ‘I Live On A Battlefield’ and ‘Eyes Of Blue.’ He also wrote The Eagles’ hits ‘Love Will Keep Us Alive’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Hear Any More.’
I personally own nine of his albums, yet for all his credibility among the musical cognoscenti he is still largely an unknown entity, and far from achieving household name status. What irony therefore, that my ears should be assaulted early most mornings with all that disposable pop fodder issued by singers who are flatter than a plasma TV and twice as sharp. Four minutes of Mr Carrack would set me up so nicely for the day ahead.
The Epiphany, an ancient Christian feast day, is significant in a number of ways. In the East, where it originated, it celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. It also celebrates Jesus’ birth and, as I well know, in the Spanish speaking world Epiphany is also known as Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings Day).
Yet for many other individuals, it can also refer to a sudden flash of understanding or insight. An epiphany is a sudden realisation or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something. The term is used in either a philosophical or literal sense to signify procuring the final piece of a puzzle in order to envisage the whole picture. This new information or experience, often insignificant when viewed in isolation, nevertheless illuminates a deeper or numinous foundational frame of reference.
Descending deeper and deeper into the Nickajack Cave, heavily under the influence of narcotics, and intent on losing himself, the ‘Man in Black’ sought to avoid rescue in order to meet his maker. Eventually, exhausted from his exertions, and at the end of his tether, he passed out on the floor. According to his subsequent testimony, he felt God’s presence in his heart and managed to negotiate his way out of the cave by following a faint light and slight breeze. For Johnny Cash, it was his own rebirth and one that would re-define the rest of his life.
It makes for great reading doesn’t it? Unfortunately, in Cash’s own parlance, this story amounts to little more than a ‘crock of shit,’ and that’s the whole problem facing any biographer of his life – separating fact from fiction.
Shortly before Christmas 2002, Ray Charles called a meeting of his 12 children at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. They listened as their father told them he was mortally ill and outlined what they could expect from his fortune.
Most of Charles’ assets would be left to his charitable foundation. But $500,000 had been placed in trusts for each of the children to be paid out over the next five years, according to people at the meeting and a trust document. Yet Charles’ description left so much to the imagination that some of the children came away with the impression that he meant to leave them $1 million each. Charles also hinted that there would be more for them “down the line,” which some interpreted as future licensing rights to his name and likeness for profit.
The confusion and contention that resulted from the family gathering, essentially the only time so many of the children had met with their father as a group, set the tone for what was to come. Perhaps they should have expected little else from the man deservedly hailed as the ‘Genius of soul’; ten of his children being conceived with an equivalent number of women. As he mentioned to Dick Cavett on his top rated chat show in 1972, he might have been blind but he still had the sense of touch and that was ‘far out’. The television audience laughed, seemingly oblivious to the reality of his private life, yet it is doubtful any of his twelve children would have been similarly amused.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ in October 2013, Cher was asked whether she consciously felt the pressure to stay looking young. Replying frankly, the feeling had not apparently gripped her until the age of forty five but elaborating further on the modern world in which we live, the singer/actress added dispairingly – ‘even the young are under pressure to look young’.
Antigua is located in the middle of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, roughly 17 degrees north of the equator. It is famous for its many luxury resorts and tourism dominates the economy, accounting for more than half of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Antigua has a population of over 85,000, mostly made up of people of West African, British, and Portuguese descent yet these residents are complemented all year round by visitors arriving for either the four or six week programme at the Crossroads drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation centre, a 25-acre facility, surrounded by azure skies, bright purple bougainvillea flowering plants and a bright blue sea.
The facility was co-founded in 1998 by a man who is no stranger to most forms of addiction and was fortunate enough to survive his worst demons to find domestic happiness in his mid fifties. Grafitti strewn walls in the 60’s may have erroneously suggested he was God but today Eric Clapton would happily trade some of his accumulated fortune to buy more time in the secular world.
In March 2013, Petula Clark was back in the UK album chart with “Lost in you”, a new release that capped a seven decade long career. Now in her eighties, she is blessed with a set of tonsils unaffected by the normal ravages of time.
A multi-lingual singer with approximate worldwide sales of 70m, she was a child star in films and has been a successful London West End theatre star – her appearance as Maria Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music” breaking box office records in 1981.
Dismiss her as MOR at your peril, for this is the woman who was John Lennon’s favourite female vocalist. If HE thought she was cutting edge, then YOU should think again ……
By the late 90’s, Allan Clarke was struggling to hit the high notes he had so effortlessly caressed for nearly four decades as The Hollies’ front man. Interviewed years later for a DVD release of the band’s promo videos, he remained philosophical about his decision to retire from the music business.
‘I figured I would rather be known for what was than as someone who tried to struggle on for too long. My wife was also diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and we decided that it was time I put my guitar away. We thought we’d just spend the rest of our lives hoping the cancer would go away, which it did and she’s doing beautifully. I’ve been more or less retired since 1999. I decided to spend most of my time with my family, and it’s been great. But recently I’m getting all these offers and really thinking I might do some of them. Being with Graham (Nash)at the Albert Hall [a guest appearance in October 2011]and getting on stage and getting a standing ovation sent a lot of shivers down my spine! Maybe there will be something for me to do in the future. But I’m still writing and self-publishing. I’m not twiddling my fingers and doing nothing!’
How reassuring to see at least one pop star being sufficiently pragmatic, and singularly focused on life’s priorities.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 2 in 1999 by his old mate Joe Brown, George Harrison would recall his memories of seeing Eddie Cochran in Liverpool during his final tour. Both his guitar-playing and his stage persona had clearly made a strong impression.
“He was standing at the microphone and as he started to talk he put his two hands through his hair, pushing it back,” Harrison later recalled. “And a girl, one lone voice, screamed out, ‘Oh, Eddie!’ and he coolly murmured into the mike, ‘Hi honey.’ I thought, ‘Yes! That’s it—rock and roll!”
Joe Cocker was one of the greatest white blues and soul vocalists, blessed with a voice that could rage, bellow, rasp, screech or, if circumstance demanded, convey a sense of yearning and vulnerability, never more convincingly than on his original rendition of Billy Preston’s “You are so beautiful.” On those rare occasions when he’d fail to hit a high note, you’d swear blind that he had, such being the level of intensity in his vocalising with which he would carry his audience along.
Quite simply, he was capable of taking any song and making it his own, and as sad as I was to read of his passing in December 2014, there was much to be grateful for, not least that he’d even reached his seventieth year in contented domesticity. Decades earlier, such a feat had once seemed wildly improbable, so prodigious being his youthful excesses.
It was John Lennon who once said, “Show business is an extension of the Jewish religion,” yet it would be Paul McCartney — one of the few English rock stars to defy an unofficial boycott by performing in Israel — who would actually live it. Two jewish wives and business managers, his immersion into London’s showbusiness fraternity was conducted at the home of the singer Alma Cogan, whose knightsbridge parties would become the social epicentre for stars in the 50’s and 60’s.
Cogan – herself of jewish descent – was an English singer of traditional popular music in the 1950s and early 1960s. Dubbed “The Girl With the Giggle In Her Voice,” she was the highest paid British female entertainer of her era. Throughout the mid-1950s, she was the most consistently successful female singer in the UK, and would go on to develop a large international following. Whist much of her recorded ouput appears dated and lightweight, she brought glamour and a joie de vivre into the homes of millions still heavily weighed down by post-war austerity. An astute businesswoman with an intutive fashion sense – she would individually design her many stage outfits – her chart career in Britain would be derailed by the ‘pop explosion’ of the early 60’s, yet there were many alternative territories still clamouring for new recordings and personal appearances. A future career in the West End, combined with work on the cabaret circuit, would have sustained her until the inevitable change in fortunes.
Tragically, it was not to be.
The US is still the biggest music market in the world, and as such, UK bands and solo artists will always want a piece of it. In 2013, the BPI estimated that UK acts now accounted for nearly 13% of global sales, so lofty ambitions across the pond would clearly remain ‘de rigueur’ for any right minded act. However, the success of Adele and One Direction, to name but two, offered no guarantee to every top British act, as history would show all too well. Britain’s biggest star in the late 50’s and early 60’s, Cliff Richard, barely troubled the American charts, yet The Beatles flew into New York for the first time on the back of a number one record.
Cheryl Cole announced in the summer of 2013 that she was ditching plans to launch her music in America. She
had originally brought in a new and experienced team to help her with cracking America when news of her ‘X Factor USA’ signing broke. Yet two years later, she found herself still without a US record deal. Turning thirty was clearly a watershed moment in more ways than one.
Nat King Cole
This portrait dates from the early 50’s by which time Nat had been recording for Capitol records for more than a decade, having cut his first titles with his trio as far back as 1943.
I have always professionally loved Nat as opposed to admiring him. It is difficult to define that extra degree of musical affection; perhaps it’s the unique combination of voice, pianistic skills and persona that he so effortlessly conveyed both onstage, and in front of the camera.
If the Chinese are to be believed and that nobody dies before their time, then John Coltrane’s all too brief forty years were long enough to make his mark on the world. In his brief career, he made dozens of recordings, and his persistent growth and exploration provide each of his stylistic stages with energy and excitement that are as yet unmatched. His innovations are permanent fixtures in jazz theory, his phrasing and melodic approach heard in many of the top saxophone players since his time, with his devotional connection to his craft making him undoubtedly one of the true jazz icons of all time.
Sam Cooke was grounded in a very straightforward singing style: It was pure, beautiful and open-throated, extraordinarily direct, unapologetic and based on a self confidence that only pure pitching can bring.
He had fabulous chops, exquisite taste and was one of the most astute business like artists to grace the industry. In 1959, he formed his own independent label, SAR Records, a platform from which he could showcase artists he admired and the sounds he cherished.
In March, 1963, Sam met and hired Allen Klein as his Business Manager for his music publishing company, and within two months, Cooke’s RCA contract had been renegotiated to provide him with both an improved royalty rate and his own label Tracey Records Ltd, named after his youngest daughter. As an African-American artist in a white executive world, he now had the prestige that Dr martin Luther King could only dream about in the political arena.
He was in effect, the man who had it all, fame, talent, wealth, and artistic independence and of course, women figured prominently in his private life, integral to the only critical misjudgements he ever made. Tragically, one night of pointless dalliance in December 1964 would cost him his life.
Admired for his singing, songwriting, and guitar playing with groundbreaking Seattle grungers Soundgarden, in addition to his solo work and contributions to later bands like Audioslave and Temple Of The Dog, Chris Cornell has been a major creative force in alternative music since the mid 1980s. In addition to his powerful four-octave vocal range, he is a distinguished guitarist, and has long shown a love of Gibson electrics with some alternative twists; little surprise therefore that Gibson’s Memphis division has sought to capture the star’s certified looks and appointments in a great new ES-335 built with full Gibson quality and tradition behind it.
The Chris Cornell ES-335 boasts new innovations for the legendary and original thinline semi-hollow electric guitar, boasting a pair of Jason Lollar™ Lollartron® pickups, for that fat-but-jangly late ’50s to early ’60s humbucker-fired twang that fuels Chris Cornell’s tone. Purchasers are being offered a choice of an Olive Drab Green or Flat Black finish in nitrocellulose lacquer, with a Bigsby™ vibrato option on the former, thereby extending the individuality of this unique artist’s model. From its superbly original tones to its stunningly distinctive looks, the Chris Cornell ES-335 is a powerful new performer from Gibson Memphis – rather like the man himself.
It became abundantly clear – less than five years after his vinyl debut with “My aim is true” – that Elvis Costello had not arrived to fit neatly into any preconceived musical box. His recorded output has been characterised by a tense duality between an innate genius for a certain kind of literate, melodic Beatles-esque pop, and his profound curiosity and near Catholic embrace of popular music’s different forms.
Blessed with a near encyclopaedic knowledge of twentieth century music, ‘Mr MacManus’ has embraced varied genres from modern jazz to early American country to baroque classical music, striving incessantly to find ways to integrate these strands into his catalogue, with laudable degrees of ambition, and varying degrees of success. If I’ve loved some of his albums and spun others just the once, then that’s the price any artist must pay for constantly redefining his audience.
It goes without saying that Bing Crosby was, without doubt, the most popular and influential media star of the first half of the 20th century. The undisputed best-selling artist until well into the rock era (with over half a billion records in circulation), the most popular radio star of all time, and the biggest box-office draw of the 1940s, Crosby dominated the entertainment world from the Depression until the mid-‘50s, and proved just as influential as he was popular. As Tony Bennett so aptly put it in a 1999 PBS interview:
‘Just imagine something five times stronger than the popularity of Elvis Presley and the Beatles put together. Bing Crosby dominated all of the airwaves. He was the only guy who had hour shows on radio stations, where other artists would just have one record played.’
As with all the jazz-oriented stars of the first half of the 20th century, his chart popularity would be affected by the advent of rock & roll in the mid-‘50s. What impressed me about Crosby was the near effortless way in which he sidestepped emerging trends to forge new musical avenues. Though 1948’s “Now Is the Hour” would prove to be his last number one hit, this lack of chart success merely channelled Bing’s efforts into more adult orientated album projects and successful Hollywood movies.
Though he’ll never be forgotten, if only for his 30 million selling single “White Christmas,” the Crosby legacy is more deserving of a wider appreciation amongst millennium boomers. Will it happen though?
At the height of her career, Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with breast cancer, despite having been dedicated to health and fitness, and having no family history of the disease. She survived thanks to a mammogram that detected the cancer in its early stages and has since become the ultimate advocate for breast cancer prevention and routine mammograms. However, since 2006 she has not been free of worry where her health is concerned.
If it were up to Donald Fagen, he would refer to the post-Becker touring incarnation of the band as “Donald Fagen and the Steely Dan Band.” “I would actually prefer to call it Donald Fagen and the Steely Dan Band or something like that,” he says, noting that promoters have so far insisted that he call it Steely Dan for commercial reasons. “That’s an ongoing debate. To me, Steely Dan was just me and Walter, really – it was like a concept we had together.”
The passing of co-founder Walter Becker in September 2017 really should have closed the book on the band, but since Fagen sang on more than 98% of their recordings, his friend’s absence on stage these days is perhaps more emotional than tangible.
Blending elements of jazz, traditional pop, R&B, and sophisticated studio production with cryptic and ironic lyrics, the band enjoyed critical and commercial success throughout a near decade long period from 1972 until 1981. Throughout their career, the duo recorded with a revolving cast of session musicians, and in 1974 retired from live performances to become a studio-only band. Rolling Stone has called them “the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies.
I am a tremendous admirer of Bobby Darin’s vast repertoire of talent. An accomplished pianist, guitarist (equally adept in the folk medium as well as traditional Spanish flamenco), drummer, record producer, harmonica player, songwriter, superb vocalist and a damn fine actor. Bobby (born Walden Robert Cassotto ; May 14, 1936 – December 20, 1973) had it all, except a strong heart. Sadly, he would be dead by the age of 37.
Perhaps it was his misfortune to be too old for the 60’s baby boomers, and too young to join Sinatra’s Rat Pack. Either way he would have eclipsed many of his competitors.
2004 could well have marked both the apogee and finale to the professional career of Ray Davies. Awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List, January was barely a few days old when the singer-songwriter was shot and wounded in the leg by a mugger in the French quarter of New Orleans. Reacting instinctively, but with little forethought, Davies gave chase to a gunman who had jumped out of a passing car demanding his female partner’s purse. As one of the men turned and fired, the musician was hit in the right thigh, collapsing on the sidewalk. Recovering in hospital, the former lead singer with The Kinks was informed that the bullet had passed cleanly through his leg.
It could all have been much worse, yet in another sense, the incident represented little more than another entry in an already colourful career.
Sammy Davis Jnr
‘Even when my own people would complain to me about racism,’ Sammy Davis Jr. told his daughter shortly before the end of his life, “I would always say, ‘You got it easy. I’m a short, ugly, one-eyed black Jew. What do you think it’s like for me?’”
It was a riff that Davis regularly recycled for laughs — but as was so often the case for the multi-talented entertainer, there was considerable truth and pain behind the punch line.
If God had passed him by in the good looks department, he sure as hell hung around to refine every other aspect of Sammy’s make-up. Onstage, nobody could match the Davis ‘wham’ factor. Quite possibly, the world’s greatest ever entertainer, a guy capable of funny impersonations, heartwarming ballads, and lively jazz-inspired songs, an actor, an adept musician on the vibes and drums, and a Broadway star to boot. Oh and let’s not forget his agility as a dancer, and his super fast draw and gun spinning skills.
One of my father’s close friends caught his London show in the mid 60’s. When he came for one of his regular weekend visits, we asked him about the experience. He just sat there stunned, almost incapable of recounting what he’d seen.
He was that good.
Miles Davis is the most revered jazz trumpeter of all time, not to mention one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.
He was the first jazz musician of the post-hippie era to incorporate rock rhythms, and his immeasurable influence on others, in both jazz and rock, encouraged a wealth of subsequent experiments. From the bebop licks he initially played with saxophonist Charlie Parker to the wah-wah screeds he concocted to keep pace with Jimi Hendrix, Davis was as restless as a performer could get.
I own a handful of his albums, including of course, \‘Kind of Blue\’ (1959). Dispensing with chords as the basis for improvisation, favoring instead modal scales and tone centres, the five tracks he released on this groundbreaking album have gone on to become some of jazz\‘s most well known. On the 50th anniversary of its release, \‘Kind of Blue\’, which is the best-selling jazz record of all time, received a deluxe re-release treatment with extra tracks from the sessions being included.
Amongst the portraits I have produced, this one is a particular favourite of my wife\‘s, which pleases me no end for it represented a challenge on several counts……
Lynsey de Paul
I first became aware of Lynsey de Paul’s songwriting talent when she co-wrote The Fortunes’ 1972 top ten hit “Storm in a Teacup.” The record sold an impressive three million copies, but would net her a mere £6,000 in royalties. “It was impossible not to get ripped off in the 70’s,” she told OK magazine in a 1996 interview.
When she eventually burst onto our television screens in her own right – all glam and lip gloss – she fired men’s imagination in much the same way as her predecessor Kathy kirby ten years earlier. A string of hit records would follow, yet by the time of her unexpected death in 2014 from a brain haemorrhage, she would leave an estate valued at only £1.8m, a rather modest amount for a perceived chart star. Punk had derailed her career in the late 70’s, although the Ivor Novello award winner would continue writing for television.
Abused in childhood by her father, and with a string of failed romances to her name, she appeared all too willing to discuss her private life to the nation’s press. If she was truly ‘hitting back’ at men – and there is evidence to suggest her motivation was not financial – then those interviews served merely to emphasise her personal qualities and shortcomings in equal measure.
“KikiDee – Gold” is an unbelievably priced 3 disc retrospective of one of the UK’s great soul singers.
The first British female singer to sign with Motown Tamla Records, she was a backing vocalist for Dusty Springfield in the 60’s, before signing for Elton John’s Rocket Records label. Best known for her hits ‘Amoureuse’, ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ and ‘Don’t Go Breaking my Heart’ (with Elton John), a massive one million selling UK and US #1 single in 1976, she would enjoy further chart success with the singles ‘Chicago’ and ‘First Thing in the Morning.’
‘Gold’ brings together, for the first time, all her hits and choice album cuts from the various labels for which she has recorded.
Still performing to this day, the sprightly 72 year old tours with her musical partner, the acoustic guitarist Carmelo Luggeri. They’ve been treking across the UK and Europe for almost two decades and appeared on the one night only revival of “the Old Grey Whistle Test” last year.
Universal/Island Records issued a 19-CD complete retrospective simply titled Sandy Denny in the fall of 2010. Containing her entire studio recordings, outtakes, demos, live recordings, unissued radio sessions and interviews, the set additionally offers over 100 previously unreleased recordings, and a 72 page hard back book that provided the most comprehensive visual record of Sandy\‘s career to date; plus a wealth of other memorabilia. The box set was released to universally good reviews, including a 5-star review in Uncut and a 4-star review in The Guardian.
If according such a thoughtfully compiled and annotated package for a singer/songwriter who died in 1978 at the appallingly premature age of thirty one, appeared mere marketing hyperbole, then the contents told a different story. What marked Sandy apart from her peers was a near effortless ability to sing like a nightingale.
In the pre-Beatles era, and before the widespread proliferation of singer/songwriters, there was The Brill Building in New York, a near classic musical model of business vertical integration. Once inside the building, you could write a song or make the rounds of publishers until someone bought it. Then you could catch the elevator to another floor and secure a quick arrangement, a lead sheet for $10, get some copies run off at the duplication office; book an hour at a demo studio; hire some of the musicians and singers that hung around; and finally cut a demo of the song. After that, you could hawk it round the building to the record companies, publishers, artist’s managers or even the artists themselves. If you made a deal, there were also radio promoters available to sell the record.
Pop songwriter Neil Diamond, a veteran of the Brill Building song factory, became one of the best-selling MOR performers of the ’70s. Singing his own melodramatic quasi-gospel songs in a portentous baritone, he has amassed worldwide sales of 92 million records, recording over 35 Top 40 singles and 18 platinum albums. Still working today, he draws upon his encyclopedic knowledge of song construction, to continue crafting material that enthralls his legion of followers.
Hurricane Katrina was an extremely destructive and deadly Category 5 hurricane that caused catastrophic damage in 2005 along the Gulf coast from central Florida to Texas, much of it due to the storm surge and levee failure. Severe property damage occurred in coastal areas, such as Mississippi beachfront towns where boats and casino barges rammed buildings, pushing cars and houses inland; water reached 6–12 miles (10–19 km) from the beach. The storm was the third most intense United States landfalling tropical cyclone, behind the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille in 1969. Overall, at least 1,833 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods, making it the deadliest United States hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane.
Among the thousands of New Orleans residents stricken by the rising floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina was legendary rock ‘n roll pioneer Fats Domino. Fats had chosen to stay behind, partly out of stubbornness, and also to be with his beloved wife Rosemary, who was suffering from poor health. Reports of his demise were thankfully inaccurate, and CCN would go on to broadcast that he had been rescued by a coast guard helicopter on 1 September
When the hurricane hit, Domino’s home in the Lower Ninth Ward was flooded, and he lost almost all of his possessions – including the National Medal of Arts given to him by Bill Clinton in 1998. Whilst human life is more important than material items, the loss of such rock’n’roll pioneering artefacts was greatly felt.
When relief efforts began, Fats made several public appearances to help, despite having lost all of his own belongings. He also put the rumours of his demise firmly to rest, releasing the album “Alive and Kickin’” in 2006. A portion of the record sales went to New Orleans’ Tipitina’s Foundation, which helps local musicians. In order to raise money for repairs for his own home, friends and fellow musicians recorded a tribute album, “Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino”, featuring the likes of Robert Plant, Elton John, and Paul McCartney.
In 2006, George W. Bush visited New Orleans and presented Fats with a new National Medal of Arts, to replace the one that was lost in the flood. The legendary pianist died peacefully on 24 October 2017, surrounded by his family. His spirit now pervades Blueberry Hill……………
Readers are advised to check out “Rock And Rollin’ With Fats Domino” (1955) and “This is Fats Domino” (1956) as early examples of his unique New Oleans style.
Whilst the jovial big guy might not have commanded recognition on the same scale as Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis Presley, he was worshipped by Lennon & McCartney and many of their contemporaries who formed the vanguard of the “British Invasion in the mid-60’s..
Ian Dury’s death, at the age of 57 with liver cancer, robbed Britain of one of its greatest irreverent wits. One of England’s most beloved musical figures, Dury combined a poet’s flair for language with Cockney humor and a love for the trappings of old-time British music hall. Though he initially gained fame as part of the original British punk movement, his engaging wit and bawdy persona soon endeared him to Britons of all ages and persuasions.
Afflicted with polio at the age of seven, which left him with a shriveled hand and leg, he fell in love with American rock & roll in the late Fifties, but didn’t begin writing songs or performing until over a decade later, while he was employed as a lecturer at Canterbury Art College. His first band, Kilburn and the High Roads, gained a solid reputation on the British pub rock circuit, but broke up in 1975 after recording two poorly received albums. After a year spent gigging with various lineups as Ian Dury and the Kilburns, he found a home at Stiff Records, a newly minted punk imprint which had recently released singles by Nick Lowe, the Damned, and Elvis Costello. “New Boots and Panties,” his first album for Stiff, was a surprise smash; rising to No. 5 on the UK albums chart. I could never personally associate him with the punk era, for the man was just too inherently melodic.
With his ever-present sideburns, drapecoat and walking stick, Dury resembled an erudite cross between a teddy boy and Long John Silver. Though he wasn’t much of a singer, he didn’t need to be since he was able to convey his refreshingly frank ruminations on sex, petty crime, and working-class existence with endearingly gravel-throated charm. By the late Eighties, when his music had fallen from commercial favor, his immense personal popularity enabled him forge a lucrative career as an actor on British television. He also appeared in such films as Roman Polanski’s “Pirates” and Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.”
A tireless UNICEF campaigner, Dury also worked closely with several cancer and polio charities, spending what free time he had with disabled and mentally ill individuals. Irrepressible to the end, Dury regarded death with the same good-humored equanimity that he brought to the rest of his life. “If the world by some quirk of nuclear impotency should survive,” he wrote in 1982, “I for one will definitely feel the urge to dress up and dance about.”
Many of Ian’s admirers like Sir Paul McCartney would include him within the elitist group referred to in his song “There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards.” Sadly, ill health would deny him the tag “lucky bleeder.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the poet laureate of rock ‘n’ roll, the voice of the promise of the 60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock, who donned makeup in the 70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse; who emerged to find Jesus, was written off as a has-been by the end of the ’80s and suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late ’90s. Ladies and gentlemen — Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!”
Since August 15, 2002, Dylan, whose real name is Robert Zimmerman, has been introduced at the beginning of every concert with this announcement made by a member of his stage crew, the stage manager, Al Santos. With projected dates booked through until November this year the “Never ending tour” seemingly rolls on with no end in sight. For an artist who shows little interest in connecting with his audience this mercurial man nevertheless continues to delight and perplex his followers in equal measure. An obsessively private individual, his relentless performing schedule might be more aptly titled “Dylan’s great escape,” so convoluted being the tentacles of his rootless life that standing still seemingly holds little attraction. One lover, Susan Ross, who was with him for a dozen years from the mid-Eighties, asked him why they could not live together. ‘Because I can barely live with myself,’ he replied.
It’s a descending whole tone scale over a D9#11 chord with an F# in the bass. Written by Billy Strayhorn in 1939, the distinctive intro to ‘Take the ‘A’ Train’ sets the mood perfectly for a homage to the then three year old A subway service running through New York City, going at that time from eastern Brooklyn up into Harlem and northern Manhattan, using an express track section opened in Manhattan.
It would become the signature tune for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and the many varied reworkings throughout the intervening seven decades bear testimony to its status as one of the defining moments in jazz.
The Everly Brothers
While few adult siblings sever their ties completely, approximately one-third of them describe their relationship as rivalrous or distant. They don’t get along with their sibling or have little in common, spend limited time together, and use words like “competitive,” “humiliating,” and “hurtful” to depict their childhoods. The speed with which old conflicts reduce these adults to children again, prevents them from seeing one another in a new or different light. They push each other’s buttons without knowing why or how, and recast themselves in childhood roles that never worked in the first place.
The Everly Brothers – Phil and Don – were compelled to sing together from childhood, when they would perform on their family’s Country and Western radio show. Whereas most brothers are allowed to go their own way in life, The Everlys were tied together by the beauty of their harmonies, an intricate vocal tapestry that yielded some unforgettable classic hits between 1957 and 1962. They continued to record quality material – the albums ‘Roots’ (1968) and ‘EB 84’ (1984) being obvious examples – but sustaining their early fire would prove difficult. At the very peak of their fame, disastrous business decisions would derail their careers, and the arrival of the British Invasion – spearheaded by The Beatles – would herald their departure from the charts. Whilst many American acts were similarly affected, there was a bitter irony to the brothers’ commercial demise, so influential being their close harmony work, now prominently featuring on their rivals’ record releases.
By 1973, tensions had ripped the siblings apart, and a ten year feud would ensue.
Here’s Marianne Faithfull in all her pomp, half dressed for an evening out in swinging London or perhaps (more hopefully), fully clothed for an evening in!!!
In reality, this portrait – one of a series of twelve taken by noted photographer Terry O’Neill – marks the moment when she went from a country girl to sizzling singing starlet.The collection of photographs went under the hammer in September 2012 at Christie’s auction house, for considerably more money than one of my limited edition prints. No surprise there.
Faithfull may have been the poster girl for unharnessed, carefree sex – forever recalled being discovered during a drugs raid at Keith Richards’s house supposedly wearing nothing but a rabbit-fur rug and clutching a Mars bar – but her appearance in the BBC Tv series “Who Do You Think You Are?” (2013) provided a stark reminder of the chasm between fact and fantasy.
Now 75, Georgie Fame lives in Sweden and regularly tours the UK and Europe with his two sons Tristan and James, who play in his band.
In the 60’s, he was the “real deal,” Britain’s only authentic rhythm and blues performer and if you were ‘hip’ in swingin’ London, you wanted to be where it was ‘happening’ and that invariably meant where Fame was performing. His “live” debut album “Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo” is a tour de force and a welcome recent addition to my vinyl collection.
By the end of the decade, as Georgie became more pop orientated, tastes in music changed and record sales fell away. Shifting gears in the early 70’s, he woud work with fellow musician and close friend Alan Price, the former keyboard player for The Animals. The successful duo had a very popular TV series and chart success with “Rosseta.”
Georgie reformed the Blue Flames in 1974, and continued to work as a singer working with many of Europe’s finest orchestras and big bands. He also became a successful “jingle” writer and composed the music for the feature films “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” and “The Alf Garnett Saga.”
His stage name, given to then 16-year-old Clive Powell by impresario Larry Parnes back in 1959, speaks of a whole other era, quaintly combining the parochial with the aspirational. He did indeed become famous, scoring number one hit singles and his own TV show, but his Hammond organ driven mix of R’n’B, jazz, soul and romantic balladry was already a throwback to another era amidst the Beat boom and psychedelic frenzy of the Sixties. His easy-on-the-ear grooviness; distinctive off-tone singing; playful, witty lyrics and sheer love of the music have kept him going, until he has become part of Britain’s musical furniture.
Whether gigging with Van Morrison, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings or tearing the house up at Ronnie Scotts with his solo act, Georgie still has it in spades.
There’s always been a deep respect for Dylan within Bryan Ferry, yet he displays little inclination to ape one of his biggest inspirations. ‘The music that I write is generally quite emotional so it lends itself well to love songs. I don’t want to be singing particularly about wind farms or the war going on here, there or anywhere.’
In 2012, he married Amanda Sheppard, a former PR, thirty six years his junior. His twenty year marriage to London socialite Lucy Helmore, had ended in the early 2000’s. The union had yielded four sons. Now in his late sixties, the singer admits that the experience of writing so many eloquent love songs has taught him only that the emotion is ‘a bit of a riddle, really.’
Failed relationships, failed marriages – including re-marriage to his first wife – failed financial management deals, cocaine addiction, bankruptcy, Mick Fleetwood’s lived through it all.
Reading through his autobiography, one forms the distinct impression that the one true constancy in his life has been his music, and more importantly, the continuation of Fleetwood Mac amidst varying musical trends, personnel differences, line-up changes and artistic squabbles. In fact, the one true marriage in his life has been the fifty year relationship he has nurtured with bassist John McVie, the rhythmic driving force behind the band. One suspects he realises all this now, if the final chapter of his book is anything to go by.
Better late than never ……………………
Throughout her contractual period with Arista Records (1980 – 2003), Aretha Franklin’s voice was gradually losing power, as her producers focused on chasing ever changing styles.
She had experienced a similar period early in her career, during her affiliation with CBS records between 1960 and 1965. Out of step with the prevailing trends of the day, there was nevertheless much promise and skill on display in her earliest recordings.
If Aretha and CBS truly believed that these new directions were passing fads, and that the styles of Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan would eventually prevail, then they would be rudely awakened by the British invasion. Yet devoid of their over-elaborate orchestrations, there was considerable potential in many of the songs she would commit to tape.
Thankfully, Jerry Wexler at New York’s Atlantic label could see the benefit of stripped down arrangements, and a style that would make her CBS catalogue obsolete. During the 1967-72 classic period, Franklin would redraw the black music landscape and become the Queen Of Soul. At least six of her albums from this period are undisputed classics.
This particular lady has become a style icon as well as one of the best selling artists of the 21st century. Apparently she dyes her hair so much to achieve the trademark platinum blonde look that it periodically falls out. Perhaps it might be safer to resort to wigs!
Noel Gallagher has been known on occasions to list the world’s 10 greatest bands; some obvious names tripping off his tongue – “The Beatles, Stones, Who, Sex Pistols, Kinks, Jam, Smiths, Stone Roses, Bee Gees.” He’ll pause momentarily before adding : “I’m putting us at seven ahead of the Smiths cos we’ve done more.” It’s classic Gallagher, the great Mancunian motormouth. In the time it takes for some rock stars to muster a coherent sentence, he’ll have set the world to rights, written off many of his peers as no-hopers, talked a great deal of sense, said something truly stupid or offensive or both, and provided a potted history of 134 years of his favourite soccer club, Manchester City.
There’s a fundamental belief believe within him that Oasis are different from other bands. “People like Coldplay, but they don’t love them. People like U2, but they don’t love them. But people fucking love Oasis. That’s the way it is. It’s more than the music.” Amongst his devotees, he’s clearly got a point. However, it’s also true that plenty of people can’t stand the band, regarding them as crass copycats, playing 100% variants of the same song. Christ, when they’re not ripping off The Beatles, they’re busy ripping off themselves.
I’ve played Oasis in the past but eventually with age, there’s only time to mine gold – silver must be left on the shelf. I’m sure Mr Gallagher wouldn’t take offence – he’s worth a lot more than most of us and in any event, he remains a walking talking encyclopedia on popular music. Maybe deep down, he knows more than he’s letting on ………………
Rory Gallagher, the Irish guitarist, became legendary for his nonstop-touring ethic and fiery craft. Playing a weathered Stratocaster, often wearing a flannel shirt, Gallagher electrified Chicago and Delta styles with scalding slide work and hard-boiled songwriting. He should have been around for years but sadly died in 1995 as a result of viral complications following a liver transplant. He was just 47.
It could have been the booze, and it certainly hadn’t helped, but ultimately it was the combination of tranquiliser addiction and other undisclosed narcotics that killed him. A decade long fear of flying, anguish and stress had taken its toll. The lethal combination of brandy and anti-depressants simply top and tailed the descent into oblivion.
It was all a terrible waste. Asked how it felt to be the greatest guitarist in the world, Jimi Hendrix famously replied ‘I don’t know, go ask Rory Gallagher.’
Public taste in popular entertainment, entertainers, and music changed many times during the twentieth century. As a result, hundreds of gifted or at least celebrated performers once at the top of their profession, are now pretty much only a memory: fondly, happily, or proudly recalled, but almost solely of their time. The legacies of a handful of exemplary talents have endured — Armstrong, Sinatra, Presley, The Beatles – those who broke new musical ground or whose abilities or impact now “define” a generation, but only a very few entertainers have flourished, maintaining their artistic reputations and garnering additional critical and popular respect. The enthusiasm for them continues to grow, as does acknowledgment of their importance, their influence, and their singular ability to communicate with an audience.
It’s been forty five years since Judy Garland gave her last performance — and almost ninety since, at age thirty months, she gave her first. In the decades between those two events, she amassed a body of work astounding in its range, amazing in its power, and timeless in its ability to exult, enthrall, and excite cross-generational audiences. In each medium, her legacy encompassed unsurpassed artistic and popular successes.
When I think of her, I am mindful of a comment she made in her penultimate year – a quotation in which she almost inadvertently summarised her life’s purpose and worth:
“I’ve been in love with audiences all my life, and I’ve tried to please. I hope I did.”
He had pushed his father to the edge for most of his life and now, having caught his son naked but for a dressing gown lying on his bed with his wife Alberta, it was a moment to make Marvin Gaye Snr temporarily unhinged. According to Steve Turner, Gaye’s biographer, the Motown star had a long-running feud with his father, a former Pentecostal preacher, who opposed his interest in music.
“Marvin’s relationship with his father made him who he was. His need for success, his pursuit of women and drug consumption were all down to his choice of career. No matter what he achieved with his songs, all he got was resentment and criticism. Gaye added the “e” to his surname after “Gay” prompted jibes about his sexuality, a sensitive subject given his father’s proclivity for cross-dressing.”
In 2011, on the eve of the release of a new musical and film about the troubled Motown star, Gaye’s youngest sister Zeola spoke about the events of that night in 1984 that claimed her brother. “He pushed my father to the edge so that he would shoot him. It was a terrible, terrible time for everybody and things got to boiling point.” The star reacted by punching and kicking his father before he was shot the day before his 45th birthday at the family’s Los Angeles home. It was all over for the troubled star.
If you’re under 40 years old, it’s okay to ask who Bobbie Gentry is. If you’re over sixty (gulp, like yours truly), there’s no need. The singer notched an unconventional pop crossover hit with “Ode to Billy Joe” in 1967 and then found some country radio success with Glen Campbell before releasing her song “Fancy” (later recorded by Reba McEntire) to country radio.
After cutting a flurry of albums in four years, she stopped after Patchwork in 1971, choosing to settle in Las Vegas where she had a popular residency for more than a decade. Two husbands, one child and a few meetings with Elvis Presley that set tabloids off all kept her in fame’s spotlight. Then she vanished, with no one knowing where she was for two decades! Even her family is said to have lost contact with her during this time.
It’s hardly surprising but it remains an eternally perplexing fact – many siblings don’t get on.
Sibling relationships are not fixed, altering dramatically over the years. Key life events in early and middle childhood can bring siblings closer together, or split them further apart. Similarly, life events in adulthood have the power to significantly alter the connection between siblings or to reinforce old rivalries. Inject some added spice in the form of worldwide fame and problems magnify.
Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb is haunted by the fact that he didn’t get along with his brothers and bandmates Maurice and Robin, when they were alive. Admitting in 2013 that he wasn’t close to his brothers, Gibb remains troubled that they drifted apart in later years.
“You see, it wasn’t just the loss of my brothers; it was the fact we didn’t really get on. And so I’ve lost all of my brothers without being friends with them.”
As a guitarist, the approach used by David Gilmour for the bulk of his scale ideas, is largely based upon the Blues scale and Minor Pentatonic, with a lot of reference to the Major 2nd degree from the Dorian mode. It’s quick to hear on many of his solos, such as the one he plays in the Pink Floyd song, “Yet Another Movie.” That solo is largely pentatonic thrashing for the most part, but it’s also full of feeling, and when we analyze the way he uses the Blues, his bends and the obvious strong connection he has toward players like Clapton, Jeff Beck, and the Muddy Waters/John Lee Hooker sound… we end up with an instantly recognizable tone only associated to the David Gilmour style.
As well as his work with Pink Floyd, Gilmour’s distinctive tones have graced a variety of other artiste’s albums – Kate Bush, Supertramp, Roy Harper, Jimmy Nail, Paul Rodgers etc – a particular favourite of mine being his heavily flanged solo on McCartney’s “No More Lonely Nights,” a bona fide post-Beatles classic. Now firmly established as a live attraction in his own right, the Cambridge born musician would end 2015 on the road in South America promoting a new album “Rattle that Lock.”
Having recently acquired three of his best known albums on good quality second hand vinyl, I was shocked to discover that the multi instrumentalist singer songwriter Andrew Gold had passed away in 2011 after battling renal cancer. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard any material from him since his 80’s collaborations with 10CC’s Graham Gouldman on various Wax UK projects, but his mother Marnie Nixon would regularly appear on BBC 4 musical documentaries and I had no reason to suspect all was not well. Sadly, she would outlive her son.
Best remembered for his ’70s smashes “Lonely Boy,” “Thank You for Being a Friend,” “How can this be love” and “Never let her slip away,” Gold was born in Burbank, California on August 2, 1951. The son of composer Ernest Gold (who won an Academy Award for his score to the film Exodus) and vocalist Marni Nixon (the singing voice of Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady), he first attracted attention as a member of the Los Angeles band Bryndle alongside Kenny Edwards, Wendy Waldman, and Karla Bonoff. Swiftly emerging as one of the most sought-after session musicians on the West Coast scene, his résumé would include dates with James Taylor and Carly Simon.
Solo success would soon follow.
In 2016, Time magazine named Ariana Grande one of the 100 most influential people in the world on its annual list.
It says an awful lot about my generation that I barely know anything about her beyond the fact that she’s broken records for doing this and that, she markets perfumes and makes music that I struggle to understand. That’s my problem of course and I accept that. It’s just simply that if I don’t hear real instruments, I switch off. All this sequencer layered computerised sound that accompanies live dance routines is not “my thing” I’m afraid. I’m sure she’s talented, but I couldn’t vouch for her.
There comes that periodic moment in time, when deciding which personality to add to my portrait collection, where I cast aside any notion of popular trends or ‘cultish’ elements, to both write and draw about pure talent – an attribute that Pete Ham had in spades.
Even today, nearly forty years on from his tragic suicide at the tender age of 27, I can still feel that all pervading anger when I listen to his music – anger that on the cusp of fatherhood, he was incapable of seeing, whatever his financial woes, that long musical life stretching out in front of him. Anger that he was not blessed with the constitution of an ox, but most of all, anger at his management for ‘ripping him off’. At the time of his death, there were undoubtedly individuals within his inner business circle with ‘blood on their hands’, the scrawled note found in the garage where he had hung himself damning his US manager Stan Polley, as “a soulless bastard… I will take him with me”.
So look at my portrait will you? – his life is etched on that face, and send yourself back to those albums because he was so good. This is the man, after all, who co-wrote ‘Without you’, one of the greatest songs of all time. If you don’t, then what was the fucking point to it all?
Interviewed on Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ in 2011, Debbie Harry, then 65, was asked by the presenter Kirsty Young whether ageing troubled her.
Replying in the affirmative, the woman who fired a thousand male fantasies three decades earlier added that: “Oh yes, sure, it’s hard. Regardless of what I say about trying to be better at what I do, I rely on looks a lot. Women’s calling cards, unfortunately, are based on their looks. As far as ageing goes, it’s rough. I’m trying my best now. I’m healthy and I exercise like a fiend and do all that stuff that recovered drug addicts do.”
In her heyday, she looked like a woman unexpectedly roused from her love nest to sing onstage, her tousled hair, shirt, stilettos and little else, coalescing in an intoxicating vision of sheer womanhood. For my money, with her pop sensibilities still reassuringly on track, she’s still got ‘it’ in spades…
Jimi Hendrix has been dead for nearly five decades, but his music continues to sell at an incredible rate. His 2013 posthumous release ‘People, Hell and Angels,’ featuring tracks recorded between March 1968 and January 1970, sold 72,000 units in its first week of release, landing at Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100. Like millions, I would have presumed his vault had been comprehensively mined, yet Hendrix lived for his music, often taking his guitar to the toilet with him in order to appreciate its superior acoustics. He ate with his axe strapped around his shoulder – sleeping and making love presumably the only obvious exceptions to this obsessive connection.
Composer Bernard Herrmann emerged from the Golden Age of cinema and contributed a signature sound to some of history’s most significant films. Another one of those barely recognisable faces I have drawn, the undeniable fact remains that millions are familiar with his best work whilst contributing equally to his anonymity.
Herrmann brought innovation to the medium of film soundtracks. Many other composers working in Hollywood at the time were frustrated writers who took on lowly film work merely to earn a living. Imprinting their own ideas all over the screenplay, however inappropriate they might have been, or overstating emotion with overly emotional statements, Bernard Herrmann would defy this compositional mould by writing music for film that sought only to enhance the action or the psychological undertones of what was happening on screen. I make no apologies in saying that he is one of my enduring musical heroes. There was no way he wasn’t going to put in an appearance on my site.
More than technical ability, more than purity of voice, what made Billie Holiday one of the best vocalists of the 20th century – easily the equal of Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra – was her relentlessly individualist temperament, a quality that colored every one of her endlessly nuanced performances.
I’ve been listening to her recorded output for years, but more so in recent times. A particular ‘ever present’ in my in-car listening collection is the “Songs for Distingué Lovers” album – the Verve Records 1997 reissue of her 1957 release. Utilising 20 bit technology as part of its Master Edition series, complete with six bonus tracks, it’s sublime vocalising throughout with able accompaniment from crack sessioners, including a number of Sinatra’s Capitol Records studio stalwarts.
Performing in concert was very profitable and Buddy Holly needed the money it provided. Due to the legal and financial problems engendered by his breakup with producer Norman Petty, he had reluctantly agreed to go back on the road, an ill-advised bus tour of the Midwest in the winter of 1959. “The Winter Dance Party Tour” was planned to cover 24 cities in a short 3 week time frame (January 23 – February 15) and Holly would be the biggest headliner. Waylon Jennings, a friend from Lubbock, Texas and Tommy Allsup would go as backup musicians. Ritchie Valens, probably the hottest of the artists at the time, The Big Bopper, and Dion and the Belmonts would round out the list of performers.
The tour bus developed heating problems. It was so cold onboard that reportedly one of the drummers developed frostbite riding in it. When they arrived at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, they were cold, tired and disgusted.
Buddy Holly had had enough of the unheated bus and decided to charter a plane for himself and his guys. He didn’t want to be on this tour for life back home with his wife in New York and the lure of large orchestral session dates had hinted at a newfound maturity in both his personal and professional life. Flying on ahead of the touring party would enable him to get some laundry done before the next performance and succumbing to the impetuosity of youth he made his fateful decision. If he had been less established in the business, slightly older and less believing in his invincibility, fate might have taken a different turn.
The death of Nicky Hopkins at the age of 50 on September 6, 1994, the result of complications from intestinal surgery and his lifelong battle with Crohn’s Disease, came and went with little fanfare. In a manner befitting this unassuming, virtuoso pianist, only close friends and the cognisenti knew of his passing.
When I heard the news, I was struck by the irony of a world so familiar with his keyboard playing, yet largely unaware of who he was. Nicky was rock’s greatest sideman – The Beatles knew it, The Stones also, in fact anyone who was anyone in the business knew it.
Undertaking promotional duties for the release of her autobiography “Reckless – My life as a Pretender,” in the fall of 2015, Chrissie Hynde was in an expansive and revelatory mood. Provoking fierce debate by saying it was her own fault for being sexually assaulted at 21, the singer/songwriter was quick to wade into another contentious area, namely the overly sexualised nature of modern pop music.
In an obvious reference to scantily-clad stars such as Miley Cyrus and Rihanna, the former Pretenders lead singer branded them ‘sex workers’ for selling music by ‘bumping and grinding’ in their underwear. The 64-year-old also accused them of doing ‘a great deal of damage’ to women with their risque performances. Launching the scathing attack during a tense interview on BBC’s Woman’s Hour, she suggested that today’s provocatively-dressed stars are sending the wrong message about how people should view sex.
‘I don’t think sexual assault is a gender issue as such, I think it’s very much all around us now. It’s provoked by this pornography culture, by pop stars who call themselves feminists. Maybe they’re feminists on behalf of prostitutes – but they are no feminists on behalf of music, if they are selling their music by bumping and grinding and wearing their underwear in videos. That’s a kind of feminism – but, you know, you’re a sex worker is what you are. I think it’s provocative in a way that has nothing to do with music. I would say those women are responsible for a great deal of damage.’
Now in her fifth decade of writing songs and performing, Janis Ian has won three Grammy Awards, with 10 nominations in 8 different categories.
She began her professional life at 12, writing her first song which was published by Broadside Magazine. At 14, she wrote “Society’s Child,” banned throughout the United States for its controversial subject matter, a black boy dating a white girl. On discovering the ban, the famed American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein featured Janis in one of his first prime-time television specials. The next day, radio stations all over the country apologized, and a career was born.
In 1975 “At Seventeen,” along with the album “Between the Lines,” earned five Grammy nominations and two wins. The song has since joined “Society’s Child” in the Grammy Hall of Fame. “Love Is Blind” then went double-platinum in Japan, where Janis still holds the record for most consecutive weeks in the top ten (over 60 weeks at #1!). Shortly afterwards, the Giorgio Morder-produced “Fly Too High” gave her platinum records all over Europe, Australia, even Africa and then after more than a decade of constant touring, she took a hiatus. “I studied theater with Stella Adler, which put me back on track as a writer, and a human being. Got divorced, moved to Nashville with three guitars, my 10-year-old car, and five pieces of furniture, and started again. It was the making of me.” Holding her head high despite an abusive and broken marriage, devastating financial crisis (her accountant of twenty years “went rogue”), and near fatal health issues, she returned to recording in 1993 with “Breaking Silence” and received her eighth Grammy nomination.
Whatever happened to Chris Isaak? Actually nothing out of the ordinary for a man intent on ploughing life’s field in his own inimitable way. With no obvious regard to crass commercial considerations, and having seduced British audiences in the 1990s with his hits Wicked Game and Blue Hotel, both of which were associated with the films of the director David Lynch, of Twin Peaks fame, the singer from Stockton, California, returned to America, where he became the star of his own television show.
Today, in his early sixties, his matinee idol looks remain largely unaffected by the passage of time. The Gretsch white falcon is still in use and his upbeat live shows remain liberally sprinkled with numbers that explore feelings of loneliness, heartache and various other shades of romantic despair. The voice is pitched elegantly between the pillars of Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison, with an air of retro-cool as he runs down one immaculately groomed tune after another.
Jessie J, and another portrait for my youngest daughter, in order to prove I’m not completely out of touch with what’s current!
Miss Cornish is an unusual soul singer, combining hip hop beats with her r’n‘b influences, and is unafraid of shaving her head for charity. I thought she looked striking without hair – who knows? – a leading part in the next Star Trek franchise entry!!! Only time will tell.
Michael Jackson had a reputation for being one of the world’s most recognisable, enduring, and talented performers yet his penchant for increasingly bizarre behaviour, questionable judgment around children, and surgically assisted facial features that moved beyond enhancement to disfigurement was very real.
His reputation, even today, remains under close scrutiny, both from his detractors and his loyal followers. Perhaps of infinitely more interest than the minutiae of his life, our relative position on how we perceive his memory, says so much about each and every one of us.
It’s a hit single from Stevie Wonder, from the period when he was outgrowing his “Little Stevie” image, in effect squaring up to musical adulthood, and the inevitable contractual battles with Berry Gordy that would follow.
“I Was Made to Love Her” has an infectious melody, Stevie’s effervescent vocals and a bassline that is a study in itself. No single four bar measure is repeated, yet the groove is utterly compelling from start to finish.
This ‘low end’ musical foundation would go uncredited – as indeed would every contribution to a Motown record made by an elite group of session players – until the early 70’s. The greatest of them all was James Lee Jamerson, who is now rightly regarded as one of the most influential bass players in modern music history. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. As a session musician he played on 30 Billboard #1 hits, as well as over 70 R&B #1 hits, more than any other bass player in both categories.
Jamerson seemingly had it all, except an aversion to alcohol. Long addicted to the sauce, he would die
of complications stemming from cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure and pneumonia on August 2, 1983, in Los Angeles at the age of 47. He left a wife, four children and a recorded legacy that is analysed by successive generations of bass players.
Few know the name, yet millions dance to his timeless grooves.
Katherine Jenkins is a pretty woman. This fact alone is enough to antagonise the millions who believe that looks alone can bestow an unfair advantage upon the chosen few. It seems the poor woman (in the ‘metaphorical sense’), is perennially trapped within a PR bubble that perpetuates the notion that she is no opera singer but most certainly the very worst type of ‘diva’.
Perhaps the reality lies someplace else. A glamorous mezzo soprano, whose first four studio albums went to the top of the classical charts, she herself defines her vocal ability as ‘classical crossover’ rather than operatic. As for the ‘diva’ tag, she insists her behaviour is not consistent with the term. Interviewed in 2008, the star protested:
‘My mum always taught me to treat people with respect.If somebody lets me down, professionally speaking, I will talk to them about it.’
The there’s the stories about her industrial strength makeup. An executive from her record company was reportedly given the unenviable task of calling her and mildly suggesting that she could go a bit easy on the slap. Reports of a swiftly terminated conversation and a hurled mobile, added grist to the mill.
All a bit silly really and even if true, terribly inconsequential. She’s simply good at what she does, and undeserving of the vitriol. After all, none of us are forced to listen to her.
Billy Joel remains devoutly uninspired when it comes to recording new music. “Just because I can put out albums and the record company would release them and people would buy them, that don’t mean I should,” he informed the UK press in 2013. “I got bored writing popular music. I just got tired of writing in the same format — it can’t be too long, it’s got to be played on the radio. It’s a box, and after a while that box becomes a coffin.”
Since his last rock album in 1993, Joel has issued only one classical work, ‘Fantasies & Delusions’ in 2001, a collection of instrumental compositions performed by his long-term friend Richard Joo. In between, there have been bouts of depression and failed marriages – heaven only knows therefore, where the piano man would be today without the creature comforts of life to ease his tortured thoughts.
It was one of the shortest tabloid splash headlines in history, just two words but for the man christened Reginald Dwight of Pinner it was vindication for months of inner turmoil. There, on the front page was the printed apology “Sorry Elton”.
Just days before the announcement, he had been informed by his lawyers that the paper was withdrawing its allegations and paying one million pounds in compensation. Typical of the man he announced publicly that “Life is too short to bear grudges and I don’t bear The Sun any malice.” Later a spokesman for the paper said “We are delighted that Elton and ‘The Sun’ have become friends again and are very sorry that we were lied to by a teenager living in a world of fantasy”.
The newspaper was additionally compelled to pay the musician’s legal costs and what followed thereafter was a series of complimentary articles about, and interviews with, the star, suggesting a lifelong mutual appreciation society. The judiciary previously involved in the case, was not amused and therein lies the dichotomy of Elton John’s personality; the beleagured star mustering every ounce of courage within him in the face of well intentioned advice from friends to avoid initiating legal proceedings against the paper, only to subsequently engage with the same editorial staff at the conclusion of the case like old friends at a high school reunion.
In 1974, Quincy Jones – ‘Q’ to all his friends – suffered two brain aneurysms that left him unable to play the trumpet. He was given a 1% chance of surviving the operation, and when the doctors shaved his head they kept his hair in a plastic bag, in case they needed to paste it back on to his corpse. He woke up to find an extravagant memorial service had been planned, and decided it might as well go ahead. “Frank Sinatra said to me, ‘Q, live each day like it’s your last. And one day you’ll be right.’”
Witnessing all the talent that turned up for his 1974 memorial, which he attended with two metal plates in his skull, Jones was struck by the extraordinary line-up. He shouldn’t have been, for even before cementing his production credentials on ‘Thriller’, the biggest selling album of all time, Quincy was already a multi- faceted star – trumpeter, film and Tv composer, band leader, producer, arranger. Aside from Jackson, he has worked with such artists as Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, Paul McCartney and Miles Davis, to name just a few. He has been nominated for a record 79 Grammys, winning 27 and in 1991, he also received the Grammy Legend Award.
Tom Jones’ double-barreled vocal cords remain every bit as potent as when he was in his 20s and catching the first wave of ‘British Invasion rock,’ led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
His is a well documented life – the pure slog of his formative club days, the career ignition that was Gordon Mills, stardom and then superstardom, career atrophy in Las Vegas where more than one entertainer has gone to die, and then a remarkable artistic renaissance with some of the best recordings of his entire career.
Anticipating his next musical move has been rather pleasingly, nigh impossible, whilst in contrast his private life for decades would remain utterly predictable. Whatever the distractions available, and Lord knows there had been plenty, he was never going to leave his wife and family. God forbid any woman would have been stupid enough to think otherwise.
When I was drawing Janis Joplin, the temptation was almost overbearing to sweep her cascading hair aside and reveal her face completely. Initially, I drew some nondescript strands falling across her right eye, but eventually opted to complete the portrait as she truly was – a gifted singer intent on distracting attention from her self perceived “ugly duckling” image.
Janis Joplin, solo star and singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company, died on Oct. 4, 1970 of a heroin overdose. Rumours persist that she was the victim of some dodgy smack but if truth be told, she had endured a long history of drug and alcohol problems. Self destructive by nature, the law of probability was not on her side. Just 27, she was close to completing a new album that would be posthumously issued the following year.
When it was all over, friends were able to reflect on her turbulent times. In any final analysis, all would be consistent in their recollections. Neither her voice, nor her health, could stand the demands she made upon them, on stage and off. Some people just aren’t built for longevity.
I have admired Carol Kaye’s innate musicianship for years. As the most-recorded bassist in history, with upwards of 10,000 sessions to her credit, she has played on an incredible array of famous hits and recorded with the world’s greatest artists from Frank Sinatra to The Beach Boys.
It is her propulsive playing that underpins the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme, and Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep Mountain High.’ Her opening descending line to Glen Campbell’s ‘Whichita Lineman’ is instantly memorable as is her playing on Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots are made for walkin.’
In the history of American recorded music of the 60’s and 70’s, she’s everywhere. How sad therefore, that she should be courting controversy in recent times, over her involvement in certain hotly disputed Motown record session dates. Her claims are not substantiated by historians and archivists but no matter, for her position in the pantheon of instrumental greats is assured.
Alicia Keys’ music has always been about a delicate balance of influences. She sits at her keyboard and conjures up sounds that blend the richness of classic soul and the grit of hip-hop.
Her debut album, ‘Songs in A Minor,’ was a commercial success, registering sales of over 12 million units worldwide, making her the best-selling new artist and best-selling R&B artist of 2001. Many more millions and multiple Grammy awards later, she’s still at the top of her game.
Sheila Weller wrote an excellent book entitled “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation,” which was published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in 2008. Whilst dwelling too long on her subjects’ romantic entanglements, she nonetheless achieves considerable success in defining their success within the context of the era in which they thrived.
In her book, she writes: Carole King’s semi-autobiographical 1960 composition “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” co-written with her first husband, Gerry Goffin, was the earliest pop song in which a single woman expressed sexual self-awareness, and the first-ever No. 1 hit by a girl group, the Shirelles. It became the song of the year as John Kennedy was sworn in as president. It jump-started King’s string of urban elegies—chiefly “Up on the Roof” — which were among a group of mainstream hits providing average white kids with an atmospheric echo of the civil-rights movement.
Ten years later, in 1971 — as a divorced mother of two, getting younger as she got older (as one could do only back then) — she produced her masterpiece album, ‘Tapestry.’ It would stand as one of the biggest-selling, Grammy-sweeping albums of the decade and would form a soundtrack for an era when, in the shell-shocked wake of rock-world excess and political assassinations, people rebounded to harmony, communality, and earnestness. With her Earth-Mother-next-door looks, complete rejection of artifice, comfort with herself, and discomfort with the limelight, she redefined what a “beautiful” woman was. Affection for her music and for her has resonated over four decades, and her second career, as an environmental advocate, has affected U.S. wilderness policy.
Fame is a fickle thing. It comes to many who do not seek it, and is an unwelcome guest. Equally, it avoids many who do seek it, leaving them in vain pursuit. For those who find it, the experience is often unsatisfactory and destructive. After being destructive for a period, it often abandons them, leaving them in a worse state than they were before it arrived. Matters are often compounded by the mismanagement of their financial affairs by svengali type figures. Kathy Kirby was one such victim.
The coiffured platinum blonde hair, hourglass figure, trademark glossy lips and powerful voice, all combined to make her one of the highest paid singing artists on British television, performing in a weekly series for the BBC that regularly attracted viewing figures of 28m. Whilst consistent chart success eluded her, she undoubtedly had the talent to ride out the competition from the ‘Beat group’ generation.
By the time of his death in 1971, the acclaimed British dance band leader Bert Ambrose – Kirby’s manager and long term lover – had gambled away most of her £5m fortune. The preceeding five years had been characterised by poor management decisions, that were often fueled by an acute jealousy for his much younger paramour.
What would follow are my earliest recollection of a true “fallen star.”
More than a decade ago, Gladys Knight was telling audiences her retirement was nigh. Now in her mid 70’s, she’s still going strong; for sure, a little less nimble on her feet but with the pipes more than intact and still with a lower register to die for.
It’s a bittersweet ninety minute show, with liberal sprinklings of her hits and best album tracks interspersed with memories of her fallen label comrades, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. I bought five of Aretha’s Atlantic albums recently and the experience wore me out with listener fatigue. One frenzied ‘full-on’ high octane performance after another was simply too much. “Our Glads,” the Empress of Soul, may have been second in the vocal cords department to “The Queen,” but she knew how to pace an album better, at least to my ears.
She has recorded two number-one Billboard Hot 100 singles (“Midnight Train to Georgia” and “That’s What Friends Are For”), eleven number-one R&B singles, and six number-one R&B albums. She has won seven Grammy Awards (four as a solo artist and three with the Pips) and is an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her backing group. She also recorded the theme song for the 1989 James Bond film “Licence to Kill,” and is listed as one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Fame, of course, has also taken its toll.
A ten year gambling addiction, the loss of her son with a heart attack, three failed marriages and an enduring fourth, Gladys Knight, barring drug addiction, has seen it all. Today, seventeen grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren keep her busy
A true survivor.
Sitting in her wheelchair, frail and with failing eyesight, the singer rolled into the Los Angeles Superior Court in an attempt to bring the mammoth Walt Disney Co. to its knees, or at least to its chequebook. Suing for $12.5 million, charging breach of contract and unlawful enrichment over the videocassette release of “Lady and the Tramp”, Norma Deloris Egstrom braced herself for another round of litigation, a due process she remained familiar with after a lifetime of similar confrontations. Having co-written six songs and performed the voices of four characters in a film with earnings in excess of $140 million altogether, $90 million alone from video sales, a point in contractual law was at stake.
A lengthy legal battle ensued before the judge ruled in 1991 that she still retained rights to the transcripts and awarded her $2.3m. It was another victory for the singer/songwriter and astute businesswoman better known throughout the world as Peggy Lee.
Michel Legrand never came off second best. The music of the French composer, singer, arranger, conductor, jazz musician and producer went on glowing long after many of the 250-odd films he had written soundtracks for had fallen by the wayside.
Legrand, who died aged 86 in 2019, made deadpan reference to that phenomenon when he played at Ronnie Scott’s club in London in 2011 – announcing that it was his ambition to meet “one of the 19 people who ever saw The Happy Ending”, the 1969 Hollywood film for which he wrote his classic love song “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”
But if some of the film vehicles for Legrand’s artistry were outlasted by his music, several became famous, including The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), with Noel Harrison singing The Windmills of Your Mind, which won Legrand’s first Oscar, for best film theme song, in 1969. Another Oscar followed for The Summer of ’42 two years later – this time for best film music. Its theme, The Summer Knows, was recorded later that year by Barbra Streisand, whose 1983 film, Yentl, won him his third Oscar, again for best music.
I started seriously playing some of his compositions on the piano in 2018. They are never anything but challenging, yet the effort is always worthwhile.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Rick Bragg’s 2014 biography of Jerry Lee Lewis is a rollercoaster ride through six decades of hellraising, by one of the original rock’n‘roll pioneers. I read it, and then re-read it in disbelief that such a seemingly selfish, lasciviously indulgent and brutally dismissive man has all but made it through to his ninth decade.
Hell bent on rebuilding his fledgling career after alienating the social mores of the day when he married his thirteen year old cousin, he would ultimately reinvent himself as a country singer whilst maintaining his status as a live draw on the nostalgia circuit. Stumbling from success to failure time and time again, shrugging off the deaths of two wives within weeks – one by drowning, the other overdosing – and the tragic loss of two sons, it is little wonder he has adopted the aura of an increasingly embittered man as the years passed by.
A musical innovator for sure, but also mad, bad and dangerous to know, his art at least reflects his persona. “I think my music is like a rattlesnake,” he says. “It warns you, ‘Listen to this. You better listen to this’.”
Small wonder therefore, that he’s referred to as “The Killer!”
Julie London, the sultry chanteuse with the smoky, sensual voice and a gift for lyrical interpretation, never had the chops of an Ella Fitzgerald or a Sarah Vaughn; however, what she lacked in vocal muscle was made up for by a natural sensuality and intimacy that made her popular with serious jazz fans and the public alike. In an interview from the 1950’s, she was quoted as saying, “It’s only a thimbleful of a voice, and I have to use it close to the microphone. But it is a kind of over-smoked voice, and it automatically sounds intimate.”
Julie London died in 2000 but to most people she was dead already; inactive on the recording front from 1969 and absent from television screens from the late 70’s, she seemed to have all but disappeared with little fanfare. Unusually for a beautiful woman, her life was an essentially happy and private one, thereby curtailing any modern day biopic to perpetuate her legacy. In the end, it will all come down to her singing and as long as we need music that captures romance as well as love, her songs will be played.
By her own admission, the normally effervescent Lulu is rather more reflective these days. There’s an expanded waistline that ‘creeps up on you when you get older,’ to quote her from a 2014 interview with the ‘Daily Mail.’
But another marriage, she confessed, would not necessarily solve her solitude. ‘Marriage isn’t the answer to my so-called problems,’ she says. ‘I do admit that I sometimes feel, “Oh, if I had somebody to do this with, it would be easier”. Sometimes, having someone makes it easier for getting through life.’
Then, with acute insightfulness, she added:
‘Somebody once said: “I have plenty of people to do things with. But nobody to do nothing with”. And I know what that means. After all, you can’t cuddle up to a round of applause.I know this might sound startling coming from someone who’s always depicted as Mrs Positive. And I am. Just not always. I can also be Mrs Grumpy.’
After a fallow period throughout much of the 2000’s, Jeff Lynne, frontman, songwriter and producer of the Electric Light Orchestra, is busier than ever, with new album projects and back catalogue re-issues. In 2014, he was honoured with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It’s a richly deserved award in the eyes of many, although the affable brummie still elicits mixed response from music aficionados. If he does, on occasion, lack divine inspiration, then he remains a master craftsman, consistently capable of absorbing, distilling, and refining his greatest influences into songs that reinforce our melodic pop sensibilities.
Approaching her 50th birthday in 2008, Madonna showed no sign of slowing down. “I’m not going to be defined by my age. Why would any woman?,” she asked. “I’m not going to slow down, get off this ride, stay home and get fat. No way!” Then, making a face, she added, “I would never get fat.”
She wouldn’t be drawn on the subject of any surgery she might have had – “I’m not against plastic surgery, I’m just against discussing it” but she did reveal some aspects of her beauty and fitness regimes.
“If you want to know how I look like I do, it’s diet and exercise and being constantly careful,” she said. “I swear by oxygen facials, I’m obsessive about staying out of the sun. I don’t drink much and drugs are out.” The real secret to her success, she felt, was self-discipline. “There are no tricks. Tricks don’t work. Discipline does.”
Throughout his illustrious career, Henry Mancini would be nominated for an astonishing 72 Grammys, taking the coveted trophy home on 20 occasions. He was also honored with the Golden Globe Award for his notable contribution to the world of music. He was the first to introduce jazz into television and film scores that made his works unique.
A man of rare talent, a prolific musician who doled out a slew of television and motion picture scores year after year, for nearly five decades, he is rightfully regarded as one of America’s best ever composers.
The Manhattan Transfer
Riding a wave of nostalgia in the ’70s, the Manhattan Transfer resurrected jazz trends from boogie-woogie to bop to vocalese in a slick, pseudo commercial setting that balanced the group’s close harmonies with innovative instrumental backdrops.
This portrait of the original lineup – which recorded and performed live between 1972 and 1978 – is somewhat disrespectful to Cheryl Bentyne, who would replace Laurel Masse and continues as an active member to this day. A superior vocalist, she just didn’t get in on the story at the beginning and it’s invariably the embryonic beginnings that are the most interesting.
Never a particularly forthcoming individual during his lifetime, Kevin Macdonald’s cinebiography of Bob Marley is simplicity itself, devoid of both star guest narration and reconstructed scenes.
With an uncomplicated purity, his film tells the story of a man who lived an extraordinarily full yet oddly mysterious life, and died a world figure in 1981 after reaching the age of 36. All the man’s contradictions, achievements and significance are encapsulated in this 145 minute film. If Bob was at odds with western culture, his music is nonetheless ingrained in our subconscious, and this 2012 cinematic release serves to remind us why.
Steve Marriott was arguably the greatest white soul singer of them all. A supremely gifted songwriter, he never held back from anything, least of all his music, his vocals always possessed of an intensity, clarity and maturity that at the time were unmatched by any other singer.
Unfortunately, Marriott was a graduate of the Chuck Berry “Let’s fuck things up when they’re going well” school. His band The Small Faces, were the first to be banned from the BBC’s “Top of The Pops” show and were deported from Australia at gunpoint. His next group Humble Pie ruled the stadiums of America, but the money earned was diverted by mafia associates and he returned to the UK broke and on the run from the Taxman. After the departure of lead guitarist Mick Taylor from the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards wanted Steve Marriott to fill the slot. Steve, bless him, sabotaged his chances at the rehearsal by hamming it up too much and demonstrating his superior vocal prowess, which immediately turned Mick Jagger against him.
In later life he struggled with schizophrenia but always continued playing blistering gigs in front of small audiences in the pubs and clubs around London. Reunited with his old Humble Pie sparring partner Peter Frampton, he was on the verge of a comeback when he was tragically killed in a housefire, aged 44-years-old in 1991.
Dean Martin was the very epitome of the devil-may-care roué who truly isn’t impressed by anything or anyone. Beauty? He had more women than he knew what to do with. Fame? Come on. Money? Please! Dino didn’t care if you were the President of the United States, some hot piece of ass or the head of the Las Vegas Mafia. The man who once famously claimed to having never read a book, simply didn’t give a fuck.
It makes for a great story, but I’m not buying it…
The hand of fate was not kind to Curtis Mayfield. In the midst of reviving his career in 1990, after dealing with his record label going bankrupt and a stale reception for his 1985 album, “We Come in Peace With a Message of Love,” he had subsequently issued two LP’s “Take It to the Streets” and “The Return of Superfly,” whilst embracing younger artists like Lenny Kravitz and Ice-T who cited him as an influence. That summer, he played an outdoor concert in Brooklyn where he suffered a freak accident that all but ended his career.
In 2016, the singer’s son, Todd Mayfield, released a biography of his father, “Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield,” with coauthor Travis Atria. That fateful concert is graphically recounted in the book and covers in detail the struggle Mayfield faced, living as a quadriplegic, in the years leading up to his death in 1999. It isn’t an ultimately uplifting read.
“I realised early on that being on the road to pop stardom was not going to bring me happiness, but I couldn’t get off.”
“There’s nothing I’d love to do more than marry and have kids. But there’s a lot more to achieve in my work.”
“I think having done something as stupid as that…I’m a very proud man. I want people to know that I have not been exposed as a gay man in any way that…I don’t feel any shame. I feel stupid and I feel reckless and weak for having allowed my sexuality to be exposed this way. But I don’t feel any shame whatsoever and neither do I think I should.”
“I’m also sure that most people find it hard to believe that stardom can make you miserable. After all, everybody wants to be a star. I certainly did, and I worked hard to get it. But I was miserable, and I don’t want to feel that way again.”
Adios George Michael, a songwriter who aspired to greatness. Unhappy in his private life, professionally frustrated, and lacking the required constitution of an ox, his death on Christmas Day 2016 was shocking but hardly surprising. At 53, he looked nothing like my portrait, and yet he should have done. That he didn’t speaks volumes for the lifestyle he had been leading for more than two decades……………….
0n December 15, 1944, Major Glenn Miller climbed into a single-engine Norseman aircraft at a military airstrip near Bedford, some 40 miles north of London. He was scheduled to lead his acclaimed United States Army Air Forces Band in a Christmas concert for Allied troops the next week in liberated Paris. At the last moment he had asked for a change in his orders so that he could precede the band to France. A chance encounter at an officers’ club the previous evening had earned Miller space on the small plane that was defying the rain and fog to make this hop across the English Channel.
The Norseman left Twinwood Farm airbase in south-east England and within two minutes, had vanished into the fog for ever. Not a single trace of the plane was ever found, nor any reason for its disappearance established, yet nearly seventy years on, theories still abound as to what really happened. In many ways, the circumstances surrounding his death have somewhat obscured his musical achievements, for this was a man who invented a ‘new sound’, was one of the best selling recording artists from 1939-43 and arguably the most famous big band leader of all time.
The statistics are admittedly low yet it happens – women are sometimes misdiagnosed over breast cancer. Nevertheless, they can be reassured that with a triple test – a combination of clinical examination, imaging and biopsy, then over 99% of cancers will be found.
The triple test score (TTS) is a diagnostic tool for examining potentially cancerous breasts. Diagnostic accuracy of the triple test score is nearly 100%. Scoring includes using the procedures of physical examination, mammography and needle biopsy. If the results of a TTS are greater than five, an excisional biopsy is indicated.
In order to score the triple test score, a number one through three is assigned to each one of the procedures. A score of one is assigned to a benign test result, two applies to a suspicious test result, and three applies to a malignant result. The sum of all three tests or procedures is the triple test score. A score of 3 to 4 is most likely benign while a score of greater than six is possibly malignant.
Kylie Minogue didn’t receive the triple test and was misdiagnosed in 2004; invasive surgery being ultimately postponed until May the following year. Still entertaining audiences worldwide in 2013, she’s one of life’s fortunate ones. Long may her health endure.
Joni Mitchell’s creative peak stretched from the release of ‘Blue’ (1971), through ‘For the Roses’ (1972), ‘Court and Spark’ (1974) and ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ (1975), to the pared and broodingly atmospheric ‘Hejira’ (1976). And what about that three-octave voice? In the morning of her career it was a thing of wonder, swooping and rising like an exotic bird riding the thermals. Having smoked from the tender age of seven, her mellifluous instrument was never going to endure, eventually morphing into a jazzy, husky sound at once world-weary and defiant.
In all honesty, her innovative use of ‘open tunings’ on the guitar interested me more than the majority of her compositions but who cares, least of all anybody who isn’t me? Now retired and far from in the best of health – a brain aneurysm in 2015 nearly proved fatal – her artistic legacy still divides opinion. After nearly fifty years, I’ve still to encounter anyone who’s ambivalent about her.
She habitually pisses people off – a trait I find amusing in certain individuals, especially when they’re incapable of seeing the funny side to their rantings. “To enjoy my music, you need depth and emotionality,” she told one interviewer in 2007. “Those two traits are bred out of the white, straight males who control the press.” That’s not to say she has much time for feminists either. In the same interview she called them “amazons,” adding that the women’s movement “created an aggressive-type female with a sense of entitlement that’s a bit of a monster.” Oh, and she hates Bob Dylan too!
Singers use breath control practices in order to master intonation problems. Students are often reminded to think about the bellows and to let the abdominal muscles do the work while releasing tension in the jaw, neck, and upper body. Unfortunately, many vocalists still ‘overblow’ which make them sharp as they reach into their middle and head registers. By expelling most of the air in their lungs as they make the right adjustments, singers are able to correct their pitching and gain a fuller more balanced tone.
Matt Monro had intonation in spades. Frank Sinatra, the man with whom he was so often compared, said of the British born singer after his premature death in 1985 : “If I had to choose three of the finest male vocalists in the singing business, Matt would be one of them. His pitch was right on the nose; his word enunciations letter perfect; his understanding of a song thorough.”
Monro loved the business and saw only the good side of everything and everyone yet it was the accolades from his contemporaries and especially a performer like Sinatra, which gave him the biggest thrill of all.
So there I was in my teens discovering George Benson before realising that I’d then have to check out Wes Montgomery as well. After all, alongside Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, the man is right up there amongst the greatest names in jazz guitar.
His octave and chordal ideas were revolutionary yet when he played, he looked like an amateur, his fingers splayed all over his Gibson L-5 as he readied his thumb to do battle with the strings. He preferred to play with the fleshy part of his thumb, not even his nail, and played only down strokes for single note lines and up/down strokes for chords. Nobody told him he could use his fingers and yet once fired up, that thumb could make millions of players sound like schmucks.
This unique style was developed out of consideration for his wife. He worked long hours as a machinist before his career began, and practiced late at night while his wife was sleeping. Playing exclusively with his thumb, he would coax a softer, more mellow tone out of his guitar that did not wake her. She’d have divorced Hendrix!
The Dark Side of the Moon
It started as a private commission and I felt sure the customer would want a portrait of the Pink Floyd band members holding the album cover; after all that’s precisely what I promote myself as – a portrait artist! But no – what was required was a replica of the iconic album sleeve only. As always, I was happy to oblige……………..
The Dark Side of the Moon is the eighth studio album by English rock band Pink Floyd, released on 1 March 1973 by Harvest Records.
The Dark Side of the Moon became one of the best-selling albums of all time and is in the top 25 of a list of best-selling albums in the United States. Although it held the number one spot in the US for only a week, it remained in the Billboard album chart for 741 weeks. The album re-appeared on the Billboard charts with the introduction of the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart in May 1991, and has been a perennial feature since then. In the UK, it is the seventh-best-selling album of all time and the highest selling album never to reach number one.
The legendary composer Ennio Morricone is scheduled to return to the Arena di Verona on May 18th and 19th, and to the Terme do Caracalla on June 15th, 16th, 21st and 22nd. These 2019 concerts will the last opportunity to see the great man conducting his own music, although there are no plans to stop working. It’s merely time to retire from “the road” and let’s be frank on this matter, many younger musicians have already done so.
Having worked with great directors from Leone and Bertolucci to Almodóvar and Tarantino, Morricone is among the most prolific and influential movie composers of all time. Accompanying him on this “60 Years of Music” tour, are the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus. It has a definite end of term feel to it.
Still, it’s nonetheless been a staggering career. The ninety year old is a pop-cultural phenomenon, whose music for more than 500 films including The Mission, A Fistful of Dollars and Cinema Paradiso props up every movie compilation CD you’ve ever seen discounted at Tesco, and whose 1960s scores for Sergio Leone’s psychological westerns (Italians consider the term “Spaghetti Westerns” somewhat insulting)’ remain so influential that merely humming two bars of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is enough to bring an entire genre to dusty, sweaty imaginative life.
According to his staff, the maestro writes film music, not soundtracks. Apparently, composers do not use the piano to create their sprawling works, choosing instead to notate their inspiration down directly onto the musical page without the interference of any instrument.
It’s all in the great mind you see……………………….
So much for the bathtub then. A 2010 issue of the music journal ‘Classic Rock’, featured the most detailed account yet of Jim Morrison’s last days, including an interview with Sam Bernett, the man who claims Morrison died in the ‘Rock’N’Roll Circus’ night club he was managing at the time.
Did he die in the nightclub, his hotel room, or simply fake his own death to secure the privacy he craved? Sifting fact from fiction is no mean feat for Morrison once talked seriously about faking his own death as a publicity stunt, and often joked to friends that one day, he’d split for Africa and change his name to Mr. Mojo Risin’ (an anagram for Jim Morrison). Over the years, he’s been spotted in Tibet, the Australian outback and the American midwest, where he supposedly rides rodeo and writes poetry on the side. For JFK conspiracy theorists seeking light relief, Morrison’s passing is worthy of some some serious sleuthing……………….
Van Morrison was awarded the freedom of Belfast in November 2013, a unanimously agreed decision the City Council had made two months earlier to grant its highest honour to the singer/songwriter.
Performing with his band that evening, Morrison was presented with a special scroll and gold ceremonial key just before his opening set, effectively becoming only the second person in 10 years to receive the accolade.
Unfortunately, the ‘free’concert was shrouded in controversy. Tickets for the show had been allocated to members of the public in Belfast through a lottery system free of charge. However, it transpired that 500 had been reserved for VIPs with 51 councillors receiving four each. These individuals in turn, were reportedly unhappy that although Morrison would be offering his services free of charge, the star’s band would pocket £36,000 for the performance.
For such an intensely private man, it is unsurprising that he left responsibility with his management team to respond to these criticisms.
In his 2013 autobiography, “Wild Tales,” Graham Nash tells more than a few about the supergroup CSN & Y constantly at each other’s throats in drug-fueled rages, while the world grooved to their harmonies.
CS&N still tour the world, and Neil Young’s career as a living legend is thriving. The wonder is not that they are all still making music — it’s that they are all still alive. Of course, David Crosby had to be reconstituted with a new liver, but this band for years seemed destined for a drug fatality or two.
Maybe it’s all down to the luck of the draw, but more detailed research suggests otherwise.
Olivia Newton John
In May 2017, Olivia Newton John was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, twenty five years after opting for a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction. The cancer had spread to her spine causing her severe lower back pain, but thanks to medical marijuana which her husband grows to help relieve the pain, she is stoically facing up to this latest challenge.
The singer was compelled to postpone the first half of her concert tour of the US and Canada after her back pain became so severe that it left her crippled and unable to walk. There is a 22 percent chance of survival after five years for stage 4 breast cancer patients. At 68, she clearly has a fight on her hands. I wish her well.
Irony was not lost on Harry Nilsson. As one of the most talented singer songwriters on the planet, he already knew by the age of forty that his legacy would ultimately rest on a brace of compositions written by others.
Possessed of a three and a half octave range, diverse instrumental skills and an acute sense of melancholia, Harry was also one of life’s hellraisers. He’d curtailed the drinking and drugs by 1980 but the damage was already done and the poignancy of his premature end at the age of fifty three with acute cardioid problems is magnified by the domestic contentment of his last years. Nilsson had finally grown up, but his heart had grown old.
Rita Ora and her family moved to the United Kingdom when she was one year old, and she began singing at the age of six. She gained local popularity by singing in bars around London until she was discovered by a talent scout who passed her on to Roc Nation, the American entertainment company. The company President Jay-Z signed her to a record contract in 2009, and the singer songwriter would release her debut album in 2012. It shot to number one in the UK, and she subsequently had three chart topping singles, making her the artist with the most number-one hits on the UK Singles chart that year. She was nominated for three awards at the 2013 BRIT awards, including the award for the Best British Breakthrough Act.
Unfortunately, like many stars before her, cracking the all lucrative American market would prove a leap too far. In 2014, she would also endure an embarrassing social media failure when her reported Twitter experiment backfired. Notifying her 4m followers that she would release her new single the following monday if the tweet got 100,000 retweets, only a 1,000 people complied with her request. The alleged ‘bogus’ posting was soon deleted, with the star citing hackers as the culprits. On the 31 October, she tweeted:
‘By the way my Twitter got hacked somebody is threatening to release new music I’ve worked really hard on. Nothing comes out until I’m ready.’
Naturally there were disbelievers out there in cyberspace, and maybe that’s the problem with social media and fanciful ideas – too much immediacy, and and not enough forethought………….
Roy Orbison! What a beacon in the southernmost gloom. The amazing Roy Orbison. He was one of those Texan guys who could sail through anything, including his whole tragic life. His kids die in a fire, his wife dies in a car crash, nothing in his private life went right for the big O, but I can’t think of a gentler gentleman, or a more stoic personality. That incredible talent for blowing himself up from 5ft 6in to 6ft 9in, which he seemed to be able to do on stage. It was amazing to witness. He’s been in the sun, looking like a lobster, pair of shorts on. And we’re just sitting around playing guitars, having a chat, smoke and a drink. “Well, I’m on in five minutes.” We watch the opening number. And out walks this totally transformed thing that seems to have grown at least a foot with presence and command over the crowd. He was in his shorts just now; how did he do that? It’s one of those astounding things about working in the theatre. Backstage you can be a bunch of bums. And “Ladies and gentlemen” or “I present to you,” and you’re somebody else.
© Keith Richards 2010. Extracted from ‘Life’ by Keith Richards with James Fox, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Gilbert O’Sullivan’s landmark court case against Biz Markie in 1991 forever changed the widespread practice of sampling music. Inciting the ire of countless hip-hop artists and fans alike, the Irish born singer/songwriter had felt compelled to challenge the comic re-interpretation of his heartfelt ballad ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’.“….. we discovered that he [Biz] was a comic, a comic rapper, and the one thing I am very guarded about is protecting songs, and in particular I’ll go to my grave in defending the song to make sure it is never used in the comic scenario which is offensive to those people who bought it for the right reasons. And so therefore we refused. But being the kind of people that they were, they decided to use it anyway [without permission] so we had to go to court.” In the end O’Sullivan would secure a large settlement from Cold Chillin’ Warner, and the song would be pulled from the already pressed up album ‘I Need A Haircut.’
Pressurised into taking action and barely relishing the consequences, the beleagured composer admitted that he’d rather not have gone through with it, yet as we shall see, the whole process was hardly alien to him. A decade earlier, his lawsuit against Gordon Mills had engendered real emotional anguish whilst redefining the fiduciary relationship between artist and manager.
Here’s Dolly Parton, busy running “The Best little whorehouse in Texas.” An adaptation of the 1978 Broadway musical of the same name and featuring an ensemble cast that included Burt Reynolds, the film dates from a period in her life when country music’s biggest selling star was forging a concurrent movie career.
Now in her 70th year, Miss Parton is noticeably slimmer these days and facially unrecognizable to me as a result of all those nips and tucks. A great shame, because she had the sweetest of faces, but such are the regrettable demands of public scrutiny and the need to maintain a youthful, energetic stage persona,
A songwriter of some considerable note, it appears ridiculous – at least to me – that she should continue enduring crippling back pain onstage, a complaint caused by decades of hauling around her weighty breast implants. She admits her first crush was for a Tennessee hooker, explaining: “I thought she was beautiful. She had more hair, more colour, more everything.”
I last saw her in performance on the BBC at Glastonbury in 2014. There again, was the inescapable thought that her outgoing and effervescent personality was merely a mask behind which hides a childless woman dogged by controversy over aspects of her private life.
All rather sad really…………………………
Driving near Davenport, Oklahoma, the driver flipped his car, the resultant near fatal car crash necessitating a year long stay in hospital. At one point, his injuries were so severe that doctors thought they might have to amputate one of his arms. Upon hearing the news, the patient’s thoughts were consumed with the idea of guitar synthesis in order to play one handed.
Ultimately, doctors would rebuild his elbow, informing their much relieved patient that his arm could indeed be saved. Nevertheless the limb would be devoid of movement, its reset position a permanent one. Unsurprisinly, the man christened Lester William Polsfuss, would tell his medical team to set his arm at slightly less than a right angle so he could still play guitar. They really shouldn’t have expected anything less from an individual who had already spent years developing a solid body electric guitar. Polfuss, better known by his professional name of Les Paul, remains to this day, a pioneering music personality, his reputation unquestionably exceeding the world renowned guitar that bears his name.
The Space is an online partnership between Arts Council England and the BBC, and subject to BBC Trust approval is planning to re-launch in Spring/Summer 2014. It’s a dynamic new space for artists and audiences to invent and explore brilliant digital art, live, free and on-demand. Whilst it aims to showcase new talent and produce fresh content, it will also introduce future generations to an abundant musical heritage.
During his lifetime, famed DJ John Peel amassed a collection comprising 40,000 singles and 25,000 albums in addition to CDs. In 2012, a £100,000 Arts Council grant was used by the John Peel Centre to develop the famed DJ’s record collection at The Space. To date, about a tenth of the broadcaster’s vinyl albums, which he kept at his home near Stowmarket, have been uploaded on The Space. Whilst funding for the project did run out, staff from the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket reacted positively by adding more titles to a new site. Peely would have approved.
Carl Perkins had just finished a gig in Northfork, Virginia, his composition ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ providing the 23-year old performer with a strong regional following, and ahead lay appearances in the Big Apple on the coast to coast ‘Ed Sullivan’ and ‘Perry Como’ TV shows. It had been a long haul to kickstart his career and life on the road was arduous with poor quality motel food and fitful sleep, yet national exposure now seemed within his grasp. As his entourage set off by car for the long haul by road to New York, the singer/guitarist settled down in the backseat, success now dangling palpably in front of him. Devoid of Presley’s good looks and moves, he nevertheless possessed an original writing talent and formidable grasp of rockabilly guitar, attributes more than sufficient to take him to the very top of his game, yet as night gave way to the early dawn, Perkins would experience personal tragedy and career derailment.
Katie Perry has always played a dual role in the culture of pop; at once a full-on male fantasy and a symbol of empowerment who inspires young girls. No other artist has so seamlessly blended teenage dreams and grown-up misadventures, singing about hickeys and crushes, threesomes, blackouts, and strangers in your bed.
She is surrounded by the usual courtiers, which is unsurprising for a commercial artist of her stature. On January 5, 2012, she was named the sixth best-selling digital artist in the United States, with sales of 37.6 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Naturally, of course, I don’t consciously listen to her. Catching snatches of her material on the radio, like the single ‘Roar’ when my youngest daughter is at home, is more than enough for me. Even with good fortune, I don’t have sufficient life left to consciously pass even the merest moment with ‘manufactured pop.’ Still, that’s hardly the point, is it?
The spectacular technique of Oscar Peterson, one of the world’s best known jazz pianists, endures on record and film to this day, twelve years after his death in 2007 at the age of 82. In a career that spanned seven decades, Peterson played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, and led a popular trio with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis in the 1950s.
The Canadian born musician released his first single aged 19, and went on to record more than 200 albums and win multiple Grammy awards, including a lifetime achievement honour in 1997. When I watch any archive performance of the “Maharaja of the keyboard,” it makes all my current efforts to elevate my own piano playing to pure “troubadour” status seemingly redundant, such being the sheer virtuosity of the man’s ability. I have a number of shows he recorded for the BBC in the 70’s in which he demonstrated an effortless ability to make the subject of jazz interesting for even the less than die hards. Whether jamming with Count Basie or discussing the nightmarish challenge faced by Joe Pass in developing a solo jazz concert repertoire for guitar, his programmes were always entertaining and illuminating.
Peterson’s speed, dexterity, and ability to swing at any tempo were amazing. Very effective in small groups, jam sessions, and in accompanying singers, O.P. – as he was known to his friends – was at his absolute best when performing unaccompanied solos. His original style did not fall into any specific idiom. Like Erroll Garner and George Shearing, Peterson’s distinctive playing formed during the mid- to late ’40s and fell somewhere between swing and bop. He had his detractors, and playing a hundred notes when other pianists would have settled for ten hardly helped matters. Nevertheless, his phenomenal technique invariably served his performances well even if he did primarily remain a great stylist rather than an innovator throughout his sixty year career. Check out the Peterson trio on the albums “Night Train” (Verve 1963) and “On the Town” (Verve 1958) which features a smokin’ live set.
It’s just the Rock’n‘Roll way of life. Whatever the obvious excesses – and Lord knows there’s enough of them to choose from – perhaps it’s too much of that nomadic night time existence. Back in the ’90s, Tom Petty reportedly had a very bad heroin habit, and one that would leave him with both muscle and bone pain.
More recently, and celebrating forty years on the road with The Heartbreakers, their iconic frontman had required daily vitamin B12 shots — roughly 30 or 40 units a day — just to give him the energy to perform. In severe pain, Petty was due to have a hip replacement and was exhausted from working his butt off. His wife and family implored him to rest up but he had vowed to finish his latest tour for his fans. After being a hardcore road warrior for most of his career, Petty was forced to cancel three shows in late August 2017 because he was too ill to take the stage.
The writing was on the wall. Less than six weeks later, on Oct. 1, Tom’s second wife, Dana, frantically called 911 at around 10:50 p.m. after finding him unconscious on the floor of their Malibu home. He would never recover. ‘Free Fallin’ indeed ……………………
It’s hard for musicians to make money these days, given the drain of file-sharing and the lousy wages of streaming. But an increasing number of artists have found another way to generate funds: lawsuits against each other.
In the past few years, a rash of high-profile legal actions have been launched by stars, or their estates, over copyright infringement. Artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Sam Smith & Robin Thicke have each stood accused of stealing sounds from other musicians in their songs, forcing them either to wage costly court battles or to settle the suits privately for undisclosed sums. Ed Sheeran is another star under close scrutiny.
The latest and most hotly anticipated case of 2016 was an extremely worrying one.
It pitted the estate of one member of the 60s psychedelic rock band Spirit against the lead writers of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. The suit contended that the Brit-rockers lifted a portion of a 1968 instrumental by Spirit, called Taurus, for the opening chords of their 1971 FM radio classic “Stairway To Heaven.” The real concern here was clear. Whereas, virtually all copyright infringement cases had previously focused on a song’s melodic content, this case took us into the murkier world of arrangements and instrumentation. It was potentially a can of worms that once opened, could not be closed.
Gregory Porter is a singer/songwriter. He’s also a big, stocky, bearded, middle-aged jazz singer who wears a balaclava to cover facial scars. One of the unlikeliest pop stars of the modern era, he’s thriving amongst jazz aficionados and millions of others who don’t think they like jazz. The 46-year-old’s success is a wonderful reminder that the most important organ when it comes to judging music should always be our ears. “Time and time again I hear people tell me they don’t like jazz but they like this,” smiles Porter. “I’ve got to break it to them, well, you do like jazz, you just have a different idea of what you think it is. The umbrella is so wide, it’s got room to shelter all kinds of wonderful.”
The man kick-started late, independently releasing his 2010 debut before following up with a major label album “Liquid Spirit” in 2013, which won a Grammy in America and became a crossover hit in the UK. His 2016 follow up, “Take Me to the Alley,” was the first jazz album to break the British top five this decade.
His Xmas release this year (2017) is an album of Nat King Cole standards. Available on 180 gm heavyweight vinyl, it’s one for the festive stocking. God only knows how I neglected those pieces of plastic with the whole in the middle for so long. Digitised music is soulless. Artists like Mr Porter should be heard through a top end vinyl system for that big, warm, dynamic sound.
Despite urgings from family members I have temporarily resisted the temptation to draw Presley in one of his “infamous” white jewel encrusted jump suits, preferring instead to ‘capture’ him during the filming of his third motion picture “Jailhouse Rock”. He was 22, growing in confidence as an RCA Victor recording artist and working in Hollywood. The brycleem pompadour and that sneer cum smile of his seemed to epitomise the burgeoning teenage rebellion sweeping the land like a forest fire. Middle America hated him.
At the tender age of ten, young Billy Preston was playing keyboards with gospel diva Mahalia Jackson, and two years later, in 1958, featured in the Nat King Cole movie ‘St. Louis Blues.’ Later that year, he would duet with Cole on his top rated Tv show.
A prodigy on the Hammond organ and piano, he toured with Little Richard and Ray Charles before becoming the only outside musician to be namechecked on an official Beatles release. Preston’s connection with the band led to his big break as a solo artist with the early-‘70s soul smashes “Outta-Space” and the high-flying vocal “Will It Go Round in Circles” for A&M, that put him on the permanent musical map. With his undoubted instrumental virtuosity and compositional gift – he wrote ‘You are so beautiful’ – Billy should have remained on top of his game for years. Sadly, changing shifts in taste and personal demons would undermine his career, yet his affability always ensured the loyal support of friends and colleagues.
The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness was an open-air concert held on Easter Monday, 20 April 1992 at London’s Wembley Stadium, for an audience of 72,000. The concert was produced for television by Ray Burdis and broadcast live on television and radio to 76 countries around the world, with an audience of up to one billion.
A fitting musical tribute to the life of the late Queen frontman, all the proceeds raised benefited AIDS research.
Impetuosity killed Buddy Holly. Weary of life on the road – especially the bleak US mid-winter conditions – he would opt to charter a private plane and leave the tour bus behind. What would follow is now part of rock’n‘roll folklore.
More than eight years later, soul singer Otis Redding would go one step further, acquiring his own plane to make touring less hectic, but the twin-engine Beechcraft H18 would prove his fatal undoing. At around 3:30 p.m. on a foggy Sunday afternoon, December 10, 1967, the plane, which encountered a storm en route from Cleveland to a concert in Madison, plunged into the frigid depths of Lake Monona. Redding, 26, and four members of his Bar-Kays band were killed. The musicians were headed to The Factory nightclub, scheduled to perform at 6:30 p.m.
The real curiosity of his career was a chart life of no real consequence – none of Redding’s singles fared better than #21 on the pop Top Forty – allied to immense respect and widespread acceptance of his songwriting credentials amongst the biggest names of his era. At the time of his death, and with “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” safely in the can, he had just replaced Elvis as the world’s top male vocalist in the Melody Maker poll, a position Presley had held for eight years.
The Memphis sound was going to take over soul in 1968. Everyone knew it, and Otis was the front man at Stax. One tragic incident, and the Crown Prince of Soul would be gone.
“When I started out, they accused me of being a sex maniac, and then, when that didn’t stick, they turned to the gay thing. Now I find it rather fun. You know, I’m an enigma”. When I looked that word up I thought, “I like this!” They don’t understand me, and long may it reign. I don’t intend to talk about everything in my life and and your’re naïve if you think that when I’m asked questions I’m going to give all the answers that you want to hear. There will be things that I take to the grave with me”.
The gospel therefore, according to Cliff Richard, expressed in an interview in 2003 and a cri de coeur that will outlast his religious convictions.
Little Richard, one of rock’s most distinctive and influential performers, set aside his wigs, mascara and bejewelled jump suits in 2013, announcing his effective retirement from the music industry after a career spanning sixty five years.
Troubled by sciatica and a degenerating hip, Little Richard had performed sparingly in the preceding years, struggling at times to play up to his usual standards. In an interview with ‘Rolling Stone,’ the legendary recording artist admitted – just a few months shy of his 81st birthday – that he was hanging it up as a performer. “I am done, in a sense,” he told the magazine, adding, “I don’t feel like doing anything right now.”
I’m not surprised – it’s been an outrageous life!
He was the master colorist of American popular music, an artful arranger who seamlessly blended Basie and Debussy, strings and saxophones, French horn, guitar, tiptoeing harps and tart muted trumpets.
Nelson Riddle framed the voices of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and others in suave, airy and swinging arrangements that cushioned and propelled them in fresh new ways. The classic records they made with Riddle in the 1950s, Sinatra’s “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers,” “In the Wee Small Hours”, “Only the Lonely,” and Ella Fitzgerald’s Gershwin songbook, all retain their sparkle and seductive beauty, yet the man himself is largely unknown by today’s youngsters, an undeserving fate for an arranger who understood the orchestra so well that he never overwrote anything. The master of understatement, Riddle was an extraordinarily sensitive and clever musician, the sheer verve of his writing and the varied palette of sonic textures masking an often troubled private life.
According to Nielsen research, only 2.1% of the albums released in 2009 sold even 5,000 copies, that’s just 2,050 records out of nearly 100,000. In ‘Hollywood accounting’ circles, the movie industry ensures even big hit movies “lose money” on paper, whilst the recording industry applies similar practices. If certain individuals are remunerated for music sales, musicians do not greatly figure amongst the winners; the Root online magazine, a publication specialising in African-American culture, alleging in a 2010 published report that for every $1,000 sold, the average musician gets $23.40.
Small wonder therefore that artists like Rihanna, living the blissful and binged-out existence millions of wannabees think they want, should be mindful of backroom deals. The singer reportedly had $11m in cash in January 2009 but just $2m by the year end; a $7.5m investment in a dilapidated Beverley Hills mansion chiefly responsible for her financial misfortune.
Welcome to the world of dodgy accountants…….
Released in time for Xmas 2016, a new deluxe audio/visual box set allows us once again to revel in one of the top three all time rock concert films.
At Thanksgiving 1976, The Band gave their final concert in their original lineup, a massive swan song that the Canadian troubadours turned into an all-star spectacle. Calling the event “The Last Waltz,” the group’s de facto leader Robbie Robertson – who’d grown tired of being a rock & roll road warrior – and San Francisco promoter Bill Graham, staged a no-expense-spared adieu that started with a Thanksgiving feast and ended with everyone from Neil Diamond to Neil Young accompanying the quintet. As far as farewells go, this one was major, yet it might have been relegated to the “you had to like have been there man” history books had a bearded, jittery Martin Scorsese not decided to ditch some responsibilities and call in some favours.
The idea was to simply record the evening for posterity, though the then-35-year-old filmmaker had a few ideas of his own to add in to the mix. What he ended up with was the definitive document of these American-music scholars, an epitaph to a specific era of rock history, and a movie that had me captivated at the cinema. When Eric Clapton’s guitar strap gives way on “Further on up the road,” Levon Helm throws in a quick drum shuffle and Robbie tails the remaining intro with a blistering solo. These were seasoned multi instrumentalist pros, and it shows throughout.
Smokey Robinson has always had his fans, many of them some of the biggest names in showbusiness.“With his tone and delivery, you could fall in love with Smokey,” says fellow Motown star Martha Reeves.
As a teenager, Robinson wanted to sing Platters-style doo-wop, but he ended up inventing his own vocal style, even as he and Berry Gordy Jr. created the Motown sound. His high, delicate delivery marked him out, not so much as the traditional tenor but rather as a male soprano, able to glide into a heartbreaking falsetto that remains one of the most distinctive sounds of 20th-century pop. On Miracles hits like “The Tracks of My Tears,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” and especially “Ooo Baby Baby” (with its near-wordless but endlessly affecting chorus), that voice made the thrills and heartbreaks of romance sound equally seductive. As Paul McCartney so succinctly puts it; “Smokey Robinson was like God in our eyes.”
It’s almost impossible to consider drawing Mick in a conventional pose. His public image is synonymous with the leering “in your face” stance beloved by so many second rate impersonators. Just recently I acquired the “Jumpin Jack Flash” promo video in glorious colour (I wiped the b & W alternative) and from the moment Jagger utters the immortal line “I was baaaaawn in a crossfire hurricaine” one cannot help but smile, for Mick is without doubt one of the world’s great showmen; in fact there’s an arguable case to be made for him being the greatest of them all.
Bill Wyman in Stephen Davis’s ‘Old Gods Almost Dead’ summed up the two sides of Jones’ personality: “He could be the sweetest, softest, and most considerate man in the world and the nastiest piece of work you ever met.”
Low on self-esteem, and riddled with deep insecurities, Jones sought solace in the near permanent company of women yet persisted in treating them badly, ocassionally extending his indifference to physical abuse. He fathered five children in his short life and refused to formally acknowledge any of them, let alone marry their mothers. It is widely believed in many circles that he was murdered, and the reality is that he was, yet not on the night he was found face down in the swimming pool of his country home. Brian’s murder had been a long, drawn out four year process, culminating in his dismissal from The Stones.
“I felt sorry for him,” drummer Charlie Watts later wrote. “We took his one thing away, which was being in a band. I’m sure it nearly killed him when we sacked him.” Charlie and bassist Bill Wyman were the only Stones to attend his funeral weeks later.
Remembrance Day is a time for old soldiers to view their wartime exploits with misty eyed camaraderie. For the Rolling Stones, 2012 marked their 50th anniversary and after much anticipation the band finally announced a series of fresh live dates to commemorate the occasion. With ticket prices scaling the £100 mark, the year found the pivotal Jagger-Richards “marriage” in less than fine fettle and for anyone purchasing “life”, Keith’s autobiography in 2010, as indeed I did, the reasons were plainly obvious. As the man so succinctly put it; “I used to love Mick, but I haven’t been to his dressing room for twenty years.”
The rot had set in thirty five years earlier once Richards emerged from his ten year heroin odyssey and began challenging Jagger’s despotic grip on the group’s business affairs. Suitably miffed, Mick eventually made the break to emerge as a solo recording and performing artist although the greater portion of his stage repertoire was comprised of Stones classics. Keith, by his own admission, was ready to kill him and one suspects Mick remains only a single wrong step from such a fate. For a man who regularly carries pistols and knives on him, there could yet be a dramatic end to the band’s story. Perhaps this explains the public’s ongoing willingness to pay sky high prices to see them; let’s just hope that Charlie brings the lilies!
Here’s Mick Taylor back in 1969, the fresh faced virtuoso blues guitarist newly recruited by the Rolling Stones as the replacement for Brian Jones.
Five years younger than his bandmates, and an infinitely more gifted instrumentalist as a result of three years touring with the influential John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, he would endure five years of professional frustration and to some degree, personal responsibility for his descent into drug addiction.
Yet there’s an imperceptibly dark undertone to life inside the Stones’ inner sanctum that will chew up individuals bereft of the constitution of an ox, and spit them out again. For some who have the caught the coattails of this 50 year plus rock’n‘roll odyssey, survival at any cost has been the order of the day.
‘People are always asking me whether I regret leaving the Rolling Stones,’ he says these days. ‘I make no bones about it – had I remained with the band, I would probably be dead. I was having difficulties with drug addiction and couldn’t have lasted. But I’m clean now and have been for years.
‘My life is so much better now than being a drug-ravaged member of the Stones. So no, I don’t regret leaving. ‘But people who really know me ask another question – whether I regret joining the Stones. To me, that’s far more astute.’
Ten years of working and forty years of ‘hangin’ around’! as Charlie so aptly puts it – life with the Stones has clearly been anything but plain sailing. Nevertheless, the laconic drummer remains an essential lynchpin in a musical juggernaut that stills rolls, despite his battle with throat cancer ten years ago, and a love of life on the stud farm, raising thoroughbred stallions with his wife Shirley.
He’s been the quiet one at the back, but he’s observed it all.
Five years before The Rolling Stones cut their earliest demos at IBC studios, young Ronnie Wood had already experienced his first flirtation with fame. His precocious talent for drawing and painting was recognised by a sympathetic headmaster, who arranged his transfer to the Ruislip Manor Grammar School, whereupon he was enrolled in a three year course. Inside of a month, he had won an open art competition and romped home in pole position seven weeks running on the BBC Television show “Sketch Club”. In addition, his formative years involved growing up in a music mad family, so it’s little wonder his life has been devoted to these two grand passions. There’s been a third of course, but this pursuit has wrecked havoc on persons closest to him, destroyed two of his marriages and left his children on the point of helpless exasperation over their father.
Peer pressure is influence that a peer group, observer or an individual exerts upon others in order to encourage a change in their attitudes, values, or behaviors so as to conform with group norms. Peers become an important influence on behavior during adolescence, and peer pressure has been called a hallmark of adolescent experience.
Peer conformity in young people is most pronounced with respect to style, taste, appearance, ideology, and values. Occasionally, such pressure within a high profile group can lead to concern and fearfulness, ultimately culminating in extended alienation.
Recalling the events of 1967 when Jagger and Richards were involved in the most notorious drugs bust to date in British history, Bill Wyman wrote in his autobiography ‘Stone Alone’:
‘Although I was strongly against drugs myself, I was put in a vulnerable position by the pushers who were constantly around the band – in the studios, on tour in dressing rooms, hotels, planes, cars……I had to keep aware because if the cops did bust us I would have been thrown in jail together with the rest of them, as would Charlie (Watts). And who would believe that we weren’t involved?…. I accepted that if I was in the band, it was something that had to be tolerated. But they wouldn’t lift a finger to help me in my family situation….so the separation built up…I hardly socialised with the others for ten years from about 1967.
Mark Ronson may have just celebrated his 40th birthday, but the English musician, DJ, and singer, stills remains the most ‘in-demand’ record producer in the business.
This year, his production work on “Uptown Funk” secured him, the Brit Award for British Single of the Year. His fourth studio album, “Uptown Special,” was released in January 2015, and became his first UK number one album.
Ronson has also produced multi-platinum, Grammy-winning albums for artists such as Amy Winehouse and Adele.
Linda Ronstadt released her final album in 2006 and appeared in concert for the last time with her mariachi show in 2009. A trouper, and a steady presence on the music scene throughout the preceeding 40 years, there just had to be some sinister reason behind such a prolonged silence.
The August 23, 2013 edition of the American bi-monthly magazine AARP – American Association of Retired People, which focuses on aging issues – confirmed our worst fears in an interview with the star.
“I can’t do it, because of my health,” Ms. Ronstadt revealed. “I have Parkinson’s.” Holding out a slightly trembling hand, she confessed that her vocal cords were similarly affected. “I can’t sing at all,” she announced, matter-of-factly. “I’m truly not able. I can’t sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ really.”
An 11 time Grammy Award winner, her most memorable hits – “You’re No Good,” “Heart Like a Wheel,” “Blue Bayou” would establish her as a near perennial chart act in the states, a success that she was inexplicably unable to replicate in the UK. But it was her work with arranger and composer Nelson Riddle in the 80’s – and their three album collaboration ‘What’s New’ (1983)_’Lush Life’_ (1984) & ‘For Sentimental Reasons’ (1986)- that defined her vocal prowess; her multiple octave range being used to exquisite effect on numbers that harked back to the great American songbook.
I could weep at the thought of an instrument such as hers being silenced. She could wrap those killer pipes around whatever tunes and musical adventures hit her heart. In these days of autotune and b-list showgirls, she remains the romantic crush of a lifetime, as President Obama was quick to admit in 2014, when he awarded her the National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony.
Florence Ballard met Berry Gordy in 1958 when she was just 15, growing up in the tough Detroit Brewster-Douglass projects. The bubbly teenager with the big voice, honed during a childhood of gospel singing in her local church, was overflowing with talent. Street savvy, and set on creating a black girl group capable of conquering the predominantly white pop music world, Gordy became a Svengali to Florence and the two friends she invited to join her. Thereafter, Flo and her pals, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross, would become The Primettes, and then on Florence’s suggestion – The Supremes.
With Gordy’s Motown label fully launched, Flo was initially The Supremes’ lead singer, but when the ambitious Diana’s true intentions became apparent, a bitter rivalry would ensue. By July 1967, Ballard – who could outsing and upstage Ross at will – was out of the group. Less than nine years later, she would be dead, and Miss Ross would be established as Motown’s most successful female singing star.
Let us not rush to judge………………..
Albeit the term “living legend” is as clichéd as a romance in Paris, Lalo Schifrin is exactly that and much more: pianist, composer, conductor, multi-Grammy winner, multi-Oscar nominee, film score genius and jazz musician. I can safely presume most visitors to my site will know the music but few will know the name. If we’re sure he drank Carling Black label to write the theme from “Mission Impossible,” then his vast catalogue of music suggests he’s been on the lager for decades!
One thing, as they say, leads to another. Taylor Swift – who I added to my website in October 2014 – contacted Ed Sheeran after hearing his music while touring Australia in March 2012. Sheeran would later co-write and provide vocals for “Everything Has Changed,” a single featured on Swift’s fourth album ‘Red.’ Released in October 2012, it was the biggest-selling new album of 2012 and was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2014 Grammy Awards.
The singer/songwriter is possibly the only young man on the planet who doesn’t know one end of a PlayStation from the other. When he was growing up, his parents limited how much TV he watched (‘for years we didn’t have TV in the house’), and banned electronic games. Instead, they bought him a load of art books and an acoustic guitar.
There’s a message in there somewhere for parents.
It could have been another sprawling autobiography simply recounting the highs and lows of her musical career, but instead Carly Simon chose to produce a nuanced account of her emotional states during childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and her first marriage to James Taylor which ended in 1983. “Boys in the Trees” is all the more readable for all that, like a lengthy conversation between friends, with exciting pit stops, diversions, and confessions than a rote recitation. Perhaps it’s something to do with the American way of life – that early start in therapy – self introspection becomes as natural as consuming a ham sandwich.
It’s the moment every singer dreads, and for Art Garfunkel that moment would come in January 2010.
Dining out with his son at the Palm restaurant in Nicaragua, the singer choked on one of the larger strands of lobster, and within a couple of days, his swallowing muscle was numb. Unable to converse in anything but a hoarse voice, a subsequent endoscopy would reveal noticeable problems with one of his two vocal cords, the engorged and more rigid appearance visual testimony to his present predicament.
Interviewed by ‘Rolling Stone’ in February 2014, Garfunkel recalled those worrisome days:
“As the weeks ensued, I saw that I couldn’t finesse my singing in the mid-range. I could do the high notes and the low notes. High notes are my stock in trade, thank God. But I couldn’t sing, “When you’re weary, feeling small.” I couldn’t do anything in the middle where you need that finesse. It’s indescribable. I was crude instead of fine.”
The halo of blonde curls may be long gone, but painstaking rehabilitative vocal work would pay dividends. Combining songs and prose poetry, Garfunkel would slowly ‘up his game’, working those vocal muscles through 49 low key shows in 2013. Now fully recovered, there’s talk of fresh recording sessions and another reunion tour with Paul Simon. Here’s to patience and perseverance…
Describing his first impressions of the singer/songwriter for Playboy magazine in 1984, Tony Swartz wrote :
‘People meeting Paul Simon for the first time invariably remark about his height – 5’5”. I was more struck by how easily he commands whatever room he’s in. For a popular artist of his accomplishment, that partly comes with the territory. But he also gently exudes authority and clarity. He measures his words, edits as he speaks, and he sentences often sound written. Although he usually dresses unprepossessingly in jeans and T-shirts, his taste in nearly everything is highly cultivated, whether it’s in the art on his walls, the French pastel print fabric on his couches or the quality of the books on his shelves.’
It is precisely this attention to detail that ensures his irritation with the use of the word diminutive to describe his height. He’s small and happier to be described in that context.
“Pastel Blues” is a studio album by Jazz singer, pianist, and songwriter Nina Simone (1933–2003). It was recorded in 1964 and 1965 in New York City and released in 1965 by Philips Records. The title is somewhat deceiving because the songs on the album incorporate different musical styles besides the blues, such as jazz, soul and folk music.
The album contains “Sinnerman,” one of Simone’s most famous songs. Simone learned the lyrics of this more than 10 minute song when it was used on revival meetings by her mother to help people confess their sins. “Sinnerman” has been featured in various films, commercials and remixes, including “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Cellular,” the Absinthe Films snowboarding video “Futureproof,” in episodes of the TV shows “Scrubs,” and “Sherlock,” the David Lynch film “Inland Empire,” the video game Marc Ecko’s “Getting Up:” Contents Under Pressure, remixes by Hip-hop producer Kanye West, and Felix da Housecat (for Verve Record’s Verve Remixed series).
For most people, it is their initiation into the musical legacy of the American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist. Simone would work in a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop, remaining to the very end, a “class act.”
This portrait of Frank Sinatra dates from 1957 at the time he was filming “Pal Joey.” He was forty one, and enjoying the fruits of a commercial revival previously unheard of in showbusiness terms. He had secured a best supporting actor Oscar and was redefining the long playing record as an artistic medium with a matchless series of thematic albums for Capitol Records.
Yet five years earlier, Columbia Records had failed to renew his contract and he had also been dropped by the MCA agency and his film studio. His second marriage, to the actress Ava Gardner, was already in trouble and the former idol of the bobbysoxers was headed inexorably towards an artistic cul-de-sac.
His daughter Tina wrote of a man who became racked with almost catatonic depression, full of the pain and regret that he had staved off for years. Not for once would his first wife Nancy hear him say “I should never have left you; I should never have left home”. It was the one bet that he was unable to walk away from with a shrug.
Peter Skellern was ordained as a deacon and priest of the Church of England, only four months before his untimely death from an inoperable brain tumour in early 2017.
The English singer-songwriter and pianist’s use of brass bands and choirs in his music had created a consistently nostalgic and romantic trademark feel, and if he lacked the equipment to produce bravura vocalising, then his albums always remained warm, engaging and an evocation of a bygone era.
“While I’m away” from the 1978 “Skellern” album and “My Lonely Room” from the “You’re a Lady” debut album (1972) are beautiful recordings with exquisite arrangements and virtuoso playing. Sadly, aside from a couple of recorded collaborations with Richard Stilgoe, Skellern would not be visible in any recording studio after the mid-90’s, although he would continue to perform live.
His catalogue is hard to locate but as always I’m up to the task, as two compact discs and three vinyl albums to date will testify. Whilst there is much to commend many of his original compositions, it’s his unique ability to juxtapose the recorded works of Fred Astaire and Noel Coward with uniquely original arrangements that will provide his legacy. An underrated talent. May he rest in peace.
Insanely jealous of the hordes of adoring young men the Ronettes drew wherever they went, producer Phil Spector would marry the all girl group’s lead singer Ronnie, and then imprison her in his California mansion. The man famed for his ‘wall of sound’ would only allow her leave from their matrimonial home once a month, “to go get my feminine stuff, if you catch my drift.” If she was gone longer than 20 minutes he’d send a bodyguard.
He’d scream at her so violently, that she eventually became mute: “The last year of my marriage I didn’t talk at all. Because if I said anything he’d yell at me, so why say anything? I was a scared little girl from Spanish Harlem living in this mansion with five servants, not knowing what to do with any of it. I cried every night I was married.” Of all the privations he subjected her to, not singing was the hardest: “I’d think, ‘Why aren’t I on that stage, where’s the audience?’ I was craving it.” Her voice crumpling with emotion, she goes through it every night onstage. _“I get emotional, I can’t help it.”
Today, she’s lucky to be alive, let alone still singing onstage. Her ex- husband’s wayward behaviour with firearms finally led to his incarceration for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. If it was shocking to read that he’d finally done it, then more the surprise that it hadn’t happened years earlier.
The twenty nine year old woman in the blonde bouffant wig listened to yet another acetate and deemed the material unsuitable for her vocal style; in fact she’d lost count by now of exactly how many she’d heard over the preceding weeks. Jerry Wexler hadn’t – as her producer, he’d wondered if he’d ever get this album project off the ground. With eighty possible compositions rejected the portents were not encouraging yet by some miracle, the next twenty were rapturously received by the British diva. Of course, Wexler didn’t inform her that she’d rejected the same numbers several weeks earlier and by some good fortune she appeared to have forgotten. But that was Dusty and when you were dealing with the greatest soul singer Britain had ever produced you just went with the flow or to be more precise, the Springfield flow.
Wexler went on to produce one of the seminal albums of the 60’s and the public sadly took twenty years to catch on. In the meantime, Dusty sank into artistic oblivion, vacated her homeland for wild times in L.A. and faced up squarely to a sexual ambiguity that had perplexed more than one tabloid newspaper over the years.
Bruce Springsteen finally achieved massive commercial success in 1975 with his third album “Born to Run” which, like millions, I own. His 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A” went 7 x Platinum and generated seven top-10 singles.
Seven of his sixteen studio albums have topped the US charts, and his cumulative worldwide sales top 120 million units.
The man known as ‘The Boss’ has garnered a staggering amount of awards, including twenty Grammies, four American Music Awards, two Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award. In 1999, Bruce Springsteen would be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Universally loved then? – Decidedly not, and the suspicion abounds that’s he been incapable of reinventing himself. There’s this huge fanbase and it’s intensely loyal, but it remains old. Understanding why is no easy task…………..
Soul musician Edwin Starr caught the mood of the time with his 1970 hit “War!” – moving on to “Huh! Whatizzit good for? Absolutely nothing!” – and providing an anthem for the growing opposition within the United States to its war on Vietnam. Tamla Motown’s writers, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong had composed ‘War’ with the Temptations in mind, but concerned about its effect on the group’s middle American following, label boss Berry Gordy decided it was too risky for his group. Whitfield would subsequently audition the song for Starr.
His almost hoarse vocal tone and energetic, emphatic performance would ensure chart success, the song reaching number one, and then top tenning in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The record was nominated for a Grammy as best r ‘n’ b performance. Bruce Springsteen had a hit with a new version sixteen years later, proving once again that you can’t keep a good song down.
He continued to fare well on the R&B charts in the Seventies, though his successes in the U.S. would never match the early portion of the decade. In 1983, he relocated to England where he continued to be well received. Residing in Nottingham, a long way from his native Nashville, he would continue performing right up until his sudden death from a heart attack in 2003. Only 61, he went too early……
There are unsung heroes and then there are tragic unsung heroes, and sadly Ian Stewart fits into the latter category. Born in the Scottish town of Pittenweem, in Fife, he was working as a shipping clerk at a London chemical company in 1962 when he responded to a newspaper ad for R&B musicians. It had been placed by one Brian Jones, and together they would form the nucleus of the Rolling Stones.
A superb boogie woogie pianist, Stewart made the Stones swing harder but by June 1963, their flamboyant manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, had decided that the Scot’s burly, lantern-jawed features would not fit the band’s racy outlaw image. Displaying an amazing presence of mind and a big heart, Stu, as he was commonly known, agreed to a demotion becoming the group’s road manager whilst continuing to play piano on tour and in the studio. His pianistic skills grace two thirds of the Stones’ album output between 1964 and 1985.
In the late 70’s he formed Rocket 88, his own R’n‘B ensemble, managed the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Studio whilst working alongside Bill Wyman as joint curator of the the band’s audio and video archive.
The forty-seven-year-old Stewart was sitting in the waiting room of his doctor’s office in December 1985 where he was about to undergo a checkup for an old lung complaint, when he suffered a massive heart attack. He died almost instantly.
By his own admission, Rod Stewart is obsessed with his health and that is an unsurprising fact given his family’s long history of heart problems. Still regularly playing in an over-50s football team in California in a bid to stay healthy, ‘Rod the Mod’ is determined to live a long life, and follows a strict eating and fitness regime to prevent any heart issues.
“I’m Scottish and we have a history of heart problems in the family. It’s all about cleaning out the fat on the inside,” he has been quoted as saying in recent interviews.
Two decades ago, whilst discussing the art of songwriting and the commercial youth market, Sting admitted he no longer had his finger on the pulse. Whilst lamenting the almost predictable consequence of the ageing process – he was in his early 40’s at the time – little could he have guessed that matters would take an even more disturbing turn a decade later.‘Scraping the barrel of my soul’, as he would be the first to admit, had generated a prolific output – five LPs with the Police and a string of hit solo albums – a run that concluded in 2003 with his eighth solo release, ‘Sacred Love’. Then, abruptly, the songs stopped. Sting would release three non-rock albums in the following decade, all on the classical label Deutsche Grammophon; but none would feature original compositions.
Eventually, he realized he was blocked. ‘I thought: Maybe I’ve lost my mojo to write’, he would recall in late 2013. ‘There’s a lot of self-obsession involved in being a singer-songwriter. I’d gotten sick of navel-gazing. I’d gotten sick of putting myself on the couch’.
A diva is a celebrated female singer; a woman of outstanding talent in the world of opera, and by extension in theatre, cinema and popular music. The meaning of diva is closely related to that of prima donna. The word entered the English language in the late 19th century. It is derived from the Italian noun diva, a female deity.
In 2007, Barbra Streisand, startled British fans with her exorbitant ticket prices. Starting at £75 in Manchester, some seats were priced at a staggering £600, whilst others would fetch a mind boggling £1,400 on Internet auctions. It says much for her status in the music business, that she could still command similar prices in 2013 when she returned to London’s O2 arena. In her heyday, she was not only the biggest female musical star in the world, but also the biggest female box office draw. Yet for all this success, ambivalence is not a word readily associated with her public persona, so an understanding of how she divides opinion remains the key to explaining her longevity.
In 2002, the angry young man of punk, and legendary frontman of the Clash, Joe Strummer, died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart defect.
To his legion of devoted fans, the leader of the Clash was a rebel genius – the John Lennon of his generation – according to his front-page obituary in The Independent. His sloganeering lyrics, fuelled by anger, idealism and the call for justice and unity, empowered the social consciences of countless thousands.
He had long resisted lucrative offers to reform The Clash; preferring instead to develop new music rather than dwell in the past. It had long irritated him that the spectre of the band cast its shadow over his solo work, yet that is the inevitable consequence of stardom. The general public remembers its earliest association with an artist’s work and little else – only the afficionados are along for the evolutionary journey.
In America the title track from Donna Summer’s 2008 album, ‘I’m a Fire’, took the singer to number one in the dance charts, making her the first artist to reach the top slot in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and the first decade of the new millennium. The ‘Queen of Disco’ had already secured five Grammy Awards and six American Music Awards, selling over 130 million records. Amongst her best sellers were three consecutive multi-platinum double albums, the first two of which – “Live & More” (1978), and “Bad Girls” (1979), were never far from my turntable. Whatever the musical excesses of the 70’s, the best disco releases still carried the veneer of quality production.
It was with some sadness therefore, that I learned of her death last year (2012) via a friend. I had missed the previous news item and like millions, had been unaware of her long battle with lung cancer.
Teenagers listen to music these days in ways that are alien to me. Gone are the days of pouring over compact disc booklets with session personnel details, informal studio photo galleries, lyric sheets, and liner notes. Today, it’s all all about downloading songs onto a myriad of formats for instant gratification. Many of these apps are unfamiliar to me, yet I remain aware that downloadable music creates ongoing copyright issues. Enter Spotify, a commercial music streaming service providing digital rights management-restricted content from record labels including Sony, EMI, Warner Music Group, and Universal. Music can be browsed or searched by artist, album, genre, playlist, or record label. Paid “Premium” subscriptions remove advertisements and allow users to download music to listen to offline.
Sales of Taylor Swift’s album “1989,” accounted for more than one in every five North American record sold in the fall of 2014. Just two weeks after observers predicted that 2014 might become the first year where no artist received a US platinum sales certificate, “1989” went platinum in just a single week. Amid declining album sales, some commentators have credited Swift’s huge sales to her stand against Spotify. Unable to stream “1989,” fans were compelled to purchase the record.
Time to investigate what’s happening in the world of music copyright.
Justin Timberlake began his career on ‘The New Mickey Mouse Club,’ starring with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. In 1995, he became a teen heartthrob with the pop group ‘N Sync. After the band’s immensely successful run in the ’90s came to an end, Timberlake went solo in 2002, releasing his own album, ‘Justified.’ Timberlake proved he could stand alone with the Grammy-winning album, and continued his success as a solo artist with ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds’ (2006) and ‘The 20/20 Experience’ (2013).
More recently, aside from a prominent singing career, Timberlake has also proved himself a talented actor, starring in ‘Alpha Dog’ (2006), ‘The Social Network’ (2010) and ‘In Time’ (2011).
In July 2013, Tina Turner married her partner of 25 years, 57-year-old record executive Erwin Bach, in a star-studded wedding ceremony in Switzerland.
A singularly focused woman who has avoided nicotine, alcohol, and drugs throughout her entire life, few would begrudge her the obvious contentment she has found in recent times. After all, it had taken her years to escape the physically abusive relationship she endured at the hands of first husband Ike Turner.
Interviewed at the time of her second marriage, the rock icon was moved to say:
\“I stayed on course from the beginning to the end because I believed in something inside of me that told me that it can get better.”
One of the most engaging, if tragic, figures in rock and roll history, Gene Vincent personified the wild, lusty, lower class side of the music as a touring artist. Scoring one of the earliest smash rockabilly hits with the classic “Be Bop-a-Lula” in 1956, Vincent recorded some of the most exciting libidinous rockabilly of the era propelled by the outstanding lead guitar work of Cliff Gallup. Four years later during a nationwide tour of Britain, a singular event in Bath would usher in the slowest recorded death in rock’n‘roll history.
Whilst Eddie Cochran’s career would be cut short following a fatal car crash, his fiancée Sharon Sheeley -a songwriter who later wrote the Irma Thomas classic “Breakaway” – and Gene, a fellow rockabilly, would both survive the accident. Nevertheless, Vincent would sustain severe injuries, necessitating the use of a leg iron throughout the remainder of his life. Seeking respite in alcohol to help control his pain, this escalating addiction would play a major role in his own early death at the age 36 in 1971.
There’s a poignant photograph of Gene with Lennon and McCartney at the Cavern in June 1962, when The Beatles backed him on a one-nighter. Despite the element of camaraderie in the way he has his arms around John and Paul, there’s also a hint of the support he needed that evening, both physically and musically. Only twenty seven, he looks older, and whilst an undeniably early influence on the band, he would soon become a peripheral figure in the rapidly changing musical landscape.
In 2009, Klaus Voormann released his debut solo album ‘A Sideman’s Journey’, which featured many notable musicians, including Paul McCatney & Ringo Starr.
He is undoubtedly a much cherished friend within The Beatles inner circle. A Grammy Award winning artist, and much vaunted bass guitarist who has contributed to a multitude of sessions involving major acts, Voormann’s association with the group dates back to their time in Hamburg in the early 1960s.
It is his rumbling raked bass riff that adorns the vamped Am chord which opens Carly Simon’s classic hit “You’re so vain”. Two years earlier, his innovative use of bass octaves would embellish Lennon’s beautiful ballad “Hold on” from the first Plastic Ono Band album.
In the late 60’s he enjoyed chart success with Manfred Mann, before contributing to many of The Beatles solo albums.
In 2011, his life would be recounted in the excellent documentary “All You Need Is Klaus”, which offered a behind-the-scenes look at the rock and roll world of the German born artist.
There was always ‘something’ about Scott Walker’s impossibly rich baritone that grabbed the listener’s attention.
Treading carefully and occasionally stumbling along a career that combined orchestral ballads with increasing artistic innovations in compositional work and arranging, the American born – yet UK domiciled – singer/songwriter continues to garner rave reviews whilst dividing his audience.
I love his 60s/early 70’s work but three decades of foray into the world of avant-garde has left me bemused and rather cold.
Please Scott – another album of soaring ballads just for the old timers. Maybe even a Bond theme – at least there’ll be an Oscar in it for you, no matter what the quality………………………….
Freely admitting that he’s scared of the dark, as the night time is when he’s tempted back on the booze, Paul Weller is reportedly cock-a-hoop these days.
The ‘Modfather’, 54, gave up drinking in late 2010, kicking a habit allegedly stretching back to his teens. He’s also acquired a second wife, more than a quarter of a century younger than himself, who contributes backing vocals on his recordings and during live concerts. Talking to Gavin Martin of ‘The Daily Mirror’ in March 2012, the reporter described the singer/songwriter as a man with a gruff, no-nonsense reputation yet almost misty-eyed whilst describing his current state of marital bliss.
A little over a year later and his wife would give birth to twins John Paul and Bowie, but not before tweeting an image of herself heavily pregnant, standing in front a full length mirror, with her husband cheerfully close by, drinking a mug of coffee.
It was six children by three women before the latest nuptials, and it’s now eight by four. Aaaaagh bless – that’s the finances well and truly sorted. One only hopes for his sake that he’s seen it all coming…
By 1958, there were an estimated 350,000 colour sets in the United States, the bulk of which were manufactured by RCA, and that number had jumped to 500,000 by early 1960 . Despite the greater potential for colour programming – and more importantly, from the advertiser’s point of view, colour commercials – the only network actively pushing colour programming was NBC, which had 179 affiliates broadcasting in colour by February of 1961. NBC “colour days,” which started in November of 1960, saw the bulk of an entire day’s worth of programming broadcast in colour.
One weekly event that benefited greatly from NBC’s commitment to colour broadcasting was “The Andy Williams Show.” Watching clips of early episodes, with their razor sharp quality and vivid technicolour, one cannot help but contrast the viewing experience of millions across the great pond at that time in Britain. Grainy black & white broadcasts on 425 lines – ‘Grandstand,’ ‘Juke Box Jury,’ ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ etc – remain enduring testimony to the technological gulf that existed at the time.
We truly were light years behind.
I saw Mary Wilson in concert with The Supremes in 1979 at the Commodore in Nottingham. It must have felt like a comedown – all the way from Madison Square Gardens to the Batley Variety Club perhaps? – but there was no hint of anything in the performance other than sheer professionalism. No Diana Ross either, but I barely noticed. The harmonies were peerless, and if the truth be told, Mary was always the looker in the group. Sir Tom Jones would agree with me on that one.
Still working at 72, she’s overcome personal tragedy – the loss of her son in a car accident in which she was driving – and is involved in combating obstacles that both male and female musicians encounter in the music industry.
“Music legends from the ‘50s and ‘60s are dying unhappily and poor because their legacies are being stolen from them. Artists and creators make this art, this music, and people just come and steal it. This should not happen, and we need to stop that from happening.”
I wonder how much larger the beehive would have become had she lived, since by her own admission, it grew in direct proportion to her escalating insecurity. Nevertheless whatever problems it would have presented me in creating an A3 sized original portrait, I would have greatly favoured this predicament to the drawing of a line under her life at such a tender age.
Steve Winwood exploded onto the London music scene as a teenager with his powerful, soulful tenor — notably on “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man” with the Spencer Davis Group.
“I thought he had the greatest voice,” said Billy Joel, “this skinny little English kid singing like Ray Charles.”
The frontman for the jazz-infused pop of Traffic and then the jam rock of Blind Faith (with Eric Clapton), Winwood re-emerged in the mid-Eighties with the hits “Back in the High Life Again” and “Higher Love” — highly polished soul pop that made him a star all over again. “He was able to copy Jimmy Reed, and I thought, ‘Where the hell is this voice coming from?’ “ said Spencer Davis. “From a diminutive guy, at that age, how can he do it? But he did it.”
The voice is a little huskier now, but Winwood continues to perform throughout the world and record new music, furthering his impressive legacy. In addition to his many achievements as a solo artist, he remains in high demand for special collaborations with other artists. His distinctive Hammond organ has graced such classic fare as Jimi’s Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” as well as Miranda Lambert’s chart hit “Baggage Claim.”
The young man was brought to the N.C. Baptist Hospital’s intensive care unit in Winston-Salem; his vital signs were stable but he was still unconscious. It was 6th August 1973 and the prodigious 23 year old singer, songwriter, musician and producer had been heading north on Interstate 85 on a hot dry Monday afternoon after a performance the night before in Greenville, South Carolina. The car was being driven around 1.40 pm by his cousin John Wesley Harris when it was involved in a collision with a Dodge flatbed truck. The car crashed into the back of the vehicle and the bed of the truck shattered the windshield striking the young man a glancing blow to the head as he moved forward as a direct result of the impact.
The singer’s publicist Ira Tucker couldn’t even recognize the star; his head seemed to be swollen five times its normal size and “and nobody could get through to him.”
Family and friends holding vigil at the bedside were trying to reach the young man with their words. First one visitor and then another would gingerly take his hand, lean over to his one exposed ear and gently say, “Stevie, you there?” The process of regaining full consciousness was taking awhile yet the turning point in his hospital recovery occurred when Tucker loudly began singing “Higher Ground” to the comatose singer. “Gonna keep on tryin’ til I reach my highest ground.” Tucker soon noticed the man christened Steveland Judkins moving his fingers in time to the song doing keyboard licks on the hospital bed.
German-born composer Hans Zimmer is recognized as one of Hollywood’s most innovative musical talents.
He came to prominence in the late 80’s when he was asked to score “Rain Man” for director Barry Levinson. The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year and earned the composer his first Academy Award Nomination for Best Original Score. The next year, Zimmer composed the score for another Best Picture Oscar recipient, “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), starring Jessica Tandy, and Morgan Freeman.
Having already scored two Best Picture winners, in the early 1990s, Zimmer cemented his position as a pre-eminent talent with the award-winning score for “The Lion King” (1994). The soundtrack has sold over 15 million copies to date and earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Score, a Golden Globe, an American Music Award, a Tony, and two Grammy Awards. In total, Zimmer’s work has been nominated for 7 Golden Globes, 7 Grammys and seven Oscars for Rain Man (1988), Gladiator (2000), The Lion King (1994), As Good as It Gets (1997), The The Preacher’s Wife (1996), The Thin Red Line (1998), The Prince of Egypt (1998), and The Last Samurai (2003).