Johnny Kemp, Singer of Hit Single “Just Got Paid”

Johnny Kemp (August 2, 1959-April 2015) was a Bahamian-born R&B singer who came to fame with the 1988 hit single and “let’s party” anthem “Just Got Paid.”

Released during the Golden Age of music videos, the song rose to the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. It sold a million copies and was nominated for Best R&B Song in the 1989 Grammy Awards. (It lost to Anita Baker’s “Giving You The Best That I Got.”)

It is an example of “New Jack Swing,” a genre defined as a fusion between the hard beats of hip-hop and the softer, smoother singing style of R&B. The producer Teddy Riley helped to popularize the style with Kemp and other artists, notably Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown.

“Just Got Paid” began as an instrumental track that Keith Sweat brought to Kemp, who helped write the lyrics. In an effort to sell the song to producers, Kemp recorded a demo, but his version was so well liked that it was released under his name on his second album Secrets of Flying.”

The song has been covered or sampled by other artists, including ‘N Sync and Kurupt.

Other Kemp tracks to hit the charts were “Dancin’ With Myself” and “One Thing Led to Another” from “Secrets of Flying” and “Birthday Suit” from the soundtrack of the 1989 movie “Sing,” starring Lorraine Bracco of “The Sopranos” fame.

Kemp began his career in his native Bahamas, where he sang in clubs from the age of 13. It was around the time The Bahamas gained its independence as a nation and was searching to establish its own post-colonial national and cultural identity. In his book Funky Nassau: Roots, Routes, and Representation in Bahamian Popular Music, author Timothy Rommen notes the tendency of Bahamian musicians to look outside the country, to Motown and Soulsville, for sounds and styles they could identify with. It was within this context that Kemp formed and refined his musical style.

In the late 1970s, Kemp moved to New York City with the Bahamian funk/soul band Kinky Foxx. The group was a fixture of the New York Club scene, performing at venues as the Cellar Club. Kemp left the band before the recording of its single hit “So Different.”

Kemp continued to perform until his tragic death. His Twitter account shows appearances in the past few years with various Old School acts, and he was scheduled to perform on a Tom Joyner Foundation cruise.

This video shows Kemp as part of an all-star finale of “Just Got Paid” at Keith Sweat’s “Sweat Hotel Live.”

Percy Sledge, Singer of First Gold Record for Atlantic Records

It’s great to start your career with a spectacular success, but trying to top it, or even match it, has been the undoing of many an artist. That wasn’t the case with Percy Sledge (November 25, 1940-April 14, 2015). One song propelled him through a career that lasted 50 years.

His debut single “When a Man Loves a Woman” skyrocketed to No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B singles charts when it was released in 1966. It was Atlantic Records first gold record and the first No. 1 to come out of Muscle Shoals, where it was recorded. (The small Alabama town would soon become a mecca for other major artists, including Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Wilson Pickett and The Rolling Stones.)

The song is credited to several of Sledge’s bandmates from The Esquires, bassist Calvin Lewis and organist Andrew Wright. Sledge also laid claim to writing the song, citing that a recent breakup with his girlfriend had provided the inspiration behind it.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” had a second life 20 years after it was recorded when it started showing up on soundtracks for “The Big Chill,” “Platoon,” “The Crying Game” and even in a 1987 Levi’s Commercial. Michael Bolton recorded it for his 1991 album “Time, Love and Tenderness.”

Add another 20 years and Percy Sledge was performing the song at his 2005 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

So strong was the success of “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Sledge’s other accomplishments are often overlooked. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for 1994’s “Blue Night.” That album, which included performances by Steve Cropper, Mick Taylor and Bobby Womack, did win the 1996 W.C. Handy Award for Best Soul/Blues Album.

Links

“Muscle Shoals,” the Movie, featuring Percy Sledge

The Story of “When a Man Loves a Woman” in SongFacts 

Milton Delugg, Accordionist and TV Bandleader

Before Doc Severinsen, before Paul Shaffer, before The Max Weinberg 7 and certainly before Questlove and The Roots, there was Milton Drulegg (December 2, 1918-April 6, 2015), the bandleader for the archetypal late-night show, “Broadway Open House.”

In the early 1950s show, Delugg set the stage for late-night music directors to come. In addition to providing the musical glue that held disparate acts together–from comedians to singers to movie stars–the musical director could even serve as a good foil for the host’s comedy, as Delugg did for “Broadway Open House” host Jerry Lester. He led the band not behind a keyboard or a trumpet or a guitar, but an accordion.

Delugg moved on to other shows–“Dagmar’s Canteen,” “The Gong Show,” and even a year with Johnny Carson and “The Tonight Show” between the reigns of Skitch Henderson and Doc Severinsen.

In the 1960s, he veered into the space-age-monster-comic genre, recording versions of popular TV monster shows like “The Munsters.” He contributed “Hooray for Santy Claus” to the 1964 cult classic film “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

Perhaps less known was his co-writing credit on “Orange-Colored Sky” for the decidedly unmonstrous Nat King Cole. He also co-wrote “Hoop-Dee-Doo” with lyricist Frank Loesser, a polka that has been covered by Perry Como, Lawrence Welk and Weird Al Yankovic.

Kayahan, Turkish Singer of Love Songs

Kayahan Acar (March 29, 1949-April 3, 2015), who went by the stage name Kayahan, was a best-selling singer of Turkish love songs. He composed his own songs and often accompanied himself on guitar.

Kayahan drew huge crowds to concerts. His 1992 Republic Day concert in Ankara’s Kizilay Square was before more than 60,000 fans. He often performed benefits in support of environmental causes. His last concert was on Valentine’s Day, when he performed with his wife Ipek Acar and the popular singer Nilufer in Istanbul.

Kayahan was awarded the Altin Portokal (“Golden Orange”) for the song “Geceler” (“Nights”) at the 1986 Mediterranean Music Contest. Representing Turkey in the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest, his performance of “Gözlerinin Hapsindeyim” (“I’m Caught in Your Eyes”) came in 17th out of 22.

Kayahan recorded nearly two dozen albums, the most popular of which was 1991’s “Yemin Ettim” (“I Vow”).

Paul Jeffrey, Saxophonist and Jazz Educator

To call Paul Jeffrey (April 8, 1933-March 20, 2015) a student of jazz is to not use a figure of speech. Jeffrey was literally a life-long student, both in the classroom and out. He had a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from Ithaca College (1955). He held positions at numerous colleges and universities, including Columbia University, Jersey City State College, the University of Hartford and Rutgers University. Finally, he was artist in residence and director of jazz studies at Duke University, positions he held for 30 years until his retirement in 2003. You will find the Paul Jeffrey Papers (1969-2006) there.

But Jeffrey’s greatest lessons were likely learned on the road and in the studio with  jazz legends including Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, the Count Basie Orchestra, Clark Terry and perhaps most notably, Thelonious Monk, with whom he toured until Monk stopped performing in the late 1970s.

He mingled, played and lived with the best. Here’s Jeffrey talking about fellow saxophonist and friend Sonny Rollins:

Jeffrey had a recording career all his own, beginning with 1969’s “Electrifying Sounds.” He recorded several albums as the Paul Jeffrey Quartet, Sextet, Group, and appeared on albums with Sam Rivers (See if you can pick him out of the mix on “Exultation” on the Rivers “Crystals” album), Fulvio Albana 5et and the Torino Jazz Orchestra.

Links

Guide to the Paul Jeffrey Papers at Duke University

Duke Today obituary

New York Times obituary

Ralph Sharon, Jazz Pianist and Accompanist to Tony Bennett

To be an accompanist is to be doomed to the background, left off the marquee and nearly invisible behind the famous singer you support. But that’s not how Ralph Sharon (September 17, 1923-March 31, 2015) saw it.

To Sharon, Tony Bennett’s pianist and musical director for over 40 years, the privilege of being an accompanist had its own rewards. As he told Les Tompkins in a 1989 interview in Jazz Professional, “Being a musical director for Tony includes conducting, some writing, and, naturally, accompanying. I feel that’s a very fulfilling thing for me. To play in a jazz club somewhere–that would be fun, but this is what I really want to do, and what I love to do.”

In his role, Sharon got to work with the best of his time–Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, to name a few. He and Bennett often shared the bill with other jazz greats, and Sharon would often sit in. On one such occasion, Count Basie’s band needed a fill-in piano player, and Sharon took over for a night of improvisation that he called “the thrill of a lifetime.”

Sharon was a musical mentor to Bennett, encouraging the pop singer to shift to jazz, a genre for which he revealed a particular talent.

Sharon often suggested songs to Bennett, including “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” which would become the artist’s signature hit. Sharon had been given the song by some songwriting friends and stored it in a dresser drawer. Several years later, as he was packing for a tour with Bennett, he discovered it and suggested it to the singer. They were, after all, scheduled to perform soon in San Francisco.

Sharon arranged and directed many of Bennett’s numerous Grammy Award-winning records, including “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (Record of the Year, 1962) and “MTV Unplugged” (Album of the Year, 1994).

The relationship began with a simple handshake. In 1957 and in need of an accompanist, Bennett invited three pianists to audition. Once Sharon played, he knew he’d met the one.

Links

NPR Tribute on “All Things Considered”

“The Art of Accompaniment,” National Jazz Archive, Part I

“The Art of Accompaniment,” National Jazz Archive, Part II

Julie Wilson, Queen of the Cabaret Singers

Julie Wilson (October 21, 1924-April 5, 2015) was a Nebraska beauty queen who traded her tiara to pursue a career in music. She started in the chorus of “Earl Carroll’s Vanities” in Omaha in the early 1940s and by 1946 had worked her way into her first Broadway show,  Three to Make Ready. 

She won a singing contest on  a radio show hosted by Mickey Rooney. That earned her a spot at the Mocambo Club in LA, where Cole Porter saw her and recruited her for the London production of Kiss Me Kate.

The culmination of her Broadway career came when she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her 1989 performance in Legs Diamond.

She spent many years in New York in the nightclub circuit, booking gigs in all prestigious Manhattan rooms, including La Maisonette at the St. Regis, the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, the Metropolitan Room, Michael’s Pub and Cafe Carlyle.

Reviewing her tribute to Rodgers and Hart at Cafe Carlyle in 1984, New York Times music critic Stephen Holden praised her talent for “unearthing the dramatic essence of songs we think we know better than we really do.” She was famous for her interpretations of Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart and Stephen Sondheim.

In a talking style, nearly devoid of melody, she would deliver the entire song, not just the familiar verses, to unlock its true meaning and mood. Dark undertones would emerge in songs previously thought to be sentimental.

Of her voice, Holden wrote: “Though her voice is not pretty, it is capable of a commanding beauty while remaining impressively precise in pitch, phrasing and dynamic shadings.”

A scene from the movie “This Could Be the Night” (1957, director Robert Wise) with Ms. Wilson as nightclub singer Ivy Corlane.

Evelyn Sparks Hardy, Pianist and Founder of Gospel Harmonettes

The piano of Evelyn Sparks Hardy (December 15, 1922-April 2, 2015) kicks off  many of the Original Gospel Harmonettes songs. Meeting the keys with conviction, Ms. Hardy reminds us of the piano’s place in the percussion family, as she sets an early tempo for Harmonettes’ classics such as “Get Away Jordan” and “I’m Sealed.”

Ms. Hardy’s rise to gospel greatness started early. Not yet out of college, she was tapped to play for the National Baptist Convention Choir, and when it dissolved, she gathered some friends from her alma mater, Parker High. They became The Harmoneers and then the Lee Harmoneers, and, after appearing on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts program were signed by RCA Victor, becoming one of the first African-American female groups to be signed by a major label.

After their first recording found little commercial success, they were dropped by RCA and picked up by Specialty Records, where she and the group proceeded to record a number of hits. By this time, Ms. Hardy had succeeded in recruiting Dorothy Love Coates, the lead vocalist, who would help propel the group to fame. They appeared at Carnegie Hall with Mahalia Jackson, the Clara Ward Singers and Reverend James Cleveland.

To return to her career as a teacher, Ms. Hardy stopped touring  in 1953 , but continued to record with the group. She appeared on an album in 1988 with Inez Andrews, another alumna of the Original Gospel Harmonettes, and you can hear her and Ms. Coates on the soundtrack of the 1990s hit movie “Ghost.”

Links

New York Times Obituary

Blog Post by Bob Sims on al.com

God’s Got the Keys: Three Legendary Black Pianists from Gospel’s Golden Age, compiled and annotated by Opal Louis Nations

Bob Burns, Original Drummer for Lynyrd Skynryd

Drummers seem to always get the lowest billing. Hidden as they are behind showboat singers and theatrical guitarists, the spotlight always seems to evade them. For Robert Lewis Burns, Jr. (November 24, 1950-April 3, 2015), obscurity was compounded by competing with guitarists behind some of the most memorable licks and solos in rock. And it didn’t help that he left the band before it started opening for mega bands like The Who and Rolling Stones.

But Burns was rightfully on stage when surviving band members collected their honors at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.  After all, he had been with the band since the beginning, putting in long hours in “Hell House,” a stiflingly hot Jacksonville shed where the group perfected its songwriting and musicianship. And he was there for the first two albums, “Pronounced’ Leh-‘Nerd ‘Skin-‘Nerd” and “Second Helping,” which included the hits “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Bob Burns gets back behind the drums for “Sweet Home Alabama” at The 12o Tavern in Marietta, GA. The singer is Artemus Pyle, the drummer who replaced him in 1974.

I always like to hear musicians talk about their work and the other musicians they work with. Here, Burns humbly explains how he got a writing credit on “Mississippi Kid.”

Links

New York Times Obituary

Pitchfork Obituary

John Renbourn, Guitarist and a Founder of Pentangle

John Renbourn (August 8, 1944-March 26, 2015) was an English guitarist who is impossible to categorize. You could dump him in the folk bin, but that would be a disservice. Throughout his career, he went down many musical paths–classical, medieval, jazz, world, blues–often crossing paths along the way.

He was known for his collaborations, including with American blues and gospel singer Dorris Henderson, Bert Jansch, Stefan Grossman and, of course, with Pentangle, the folk-jazz group he co-founded with Jansch, Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox.

He also had a prolific solo career, and I’m pleased to include a fairly recent video of an intimate performance he gave at the Letterkenny Arts Centre in Donegal, Ireland.

Before Pentangle, there was Bert and John. Here’s a wonderful Danish documentary from 1967, documenting the British folk scene.

With American guitarist Stefan Grossman, in a little more bluesy direction, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”:

And more blues styling on one of his first recordings, “There You Go,” with Dorris Henderson (1965):

Links

Obituary in The Guardian

Obituary in The New York Times

Obituary in Pitchfork

Obituary in Premier Guitar

Martin Introduces OMM John Renbourn Custom Artist Edition Guitar (Premier Guitar, June 18, 2011)