Benjamin “Tex” Logan, Moonlighting Bluegrass Fiddler

Tex Logan’s “Christmas Time’s A-Comin'” with the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover

I came across a reference to the WWVA Jamboree recently in an obituary for Dr. Benjamin Franklin “Tex” Logan (June 6, 1927-April 24, 2015). The Jamboree was (and still is) a weekly country radio show–the second oldest of its kind next to The Grand Ole Opry. It’s been broadcasting live weekly from my hometown of Wheeling, WV since 1933. Country superstar Brad Paisley got his start there as a junior high school student, and many country legends have performed there, including Tex Logan.

Logan, an electrical engineer and mathematician by day, often went on leave to pursue his other passion, bluegrass fiddling. In the late 1940s, that brought him to Wheeling and the Jamboree, where he met and performed with West Virginia’s Lilly Brothers and Don Stover. Logan convinced the group to move to Boston, and the quartet began to tour together (Logan quit his day job at M.I.T.)

Logan would soon find that the life of a touring musician was not for him, and he returned to the lab. But he never gave up his love of the fiddle and of bluegrass, and throughout his life he continued to perform and record with bluegrass greats, including Bill Monroe, Peter Rowan and even Jerry Garcia.

“Katy Hill” with Bill Monroe at Bean Blossom, 1969

Logan wrote “Christmas Time’s A-Comin'”, which was originally recorded by Bill Monroe in 1951, but has been covered by Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Sammy Kershaw and Peter Rowan.

Tex Logan plays “Black Mountain Rag” at his 85th Birthday Celebration

Patachou, Parisian Chanteuse

Patachou singing “Brave Margot” in 1954

When I was in college, I spent a semester in Paris. I soon discovered all the romantic images I brought with me–the Eiffel Tower, corner cafes, Parisians bustling about with baguettes tucked under their arms–were, well, pretty accurate. About the only thing that was missing was an accordion playing in the background, and even that, come to think of it, was sometimes present courtesy of street musicians in the Metro.

For many years a major contributor to the Parisian soundtrack was Patachou (June 10, 1918-April 30, 2015). Patachou was the stage name of Henriette Eugénie Jeanne Ragon. “Patachou” comes from “pâte à choux,” or “cream puff dough.” A 1958 article in The New York Times  noted “This is roughly the equivalent of Doris Day taking on the pseudonym of ‘Redi-Mix Batter.'”

A kind of anti-Edith Piaf, Patachou captured the joie de vivre of Parisian life. No painful romances for her. Her attitude reflected the reason she got into the music business in the first place: to boost business at the cafe she and her husband owned in Montmarte. Happy songs, delivered by a feisty young woman helped to draw–and hold–a crowd.

Watch Patachou perform “La chansonette”

You don’t have to speak the language to sense the affection the French felt for Patachou. Simply watch this short piece from Tele Matin.

Patachou profile and interview on Télélematin

Guy Carawan, Helped Popularize “We Shall Overcome”

“We Shall Overcome” is an old song with no single known author, and it was altered and added to over many years. The form we know it by today was shaped in part by Guy Carawan (July 27, 1927-May 2, 2015).

In an interview with Pacifica Radio, Pete Seeger shared the history of  the song. Mentioned in a 1909 letter about striking tobacco workers, it was picked up in 1947 by Lucille Simmons, another tobacco worker, who revived the song in a slow, no-rhythm way (Seeger called it “long-meter style”). It was heard and learned by labor organizer Zilphia Horton who  in turn shared it with Seeger. He printed it in People’s Songs in 1947, and tried to perform it but had a hard time accompanying it on the banjo.

13 years later at a workshop at the Highlander Folk School (which Horton had co-founded), Seeger heard Carawan sing it with the addition of rhythm, a contribution for which he gives Carawan and Frank Hamilton credit. (Carawan, Hamilton, Seeger and Horton are all listed on the copyright for the song.) The timing was right, as the American Civil Rights movement was beginning to gain momentum, and Carawan, who had become music director of the school, taught it to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. As they organized groups throughout the South, they took the song with them. As evidence of the power of the song, President Lyndon Johnson quoted it in his televised address on the voting rights law.

Carawan was a multi-instrumentalist, who played the banjo, guitar and hammered dulcimer. He often performed with his wife, Candie Caraway, and sometimes his son Evan.

Errol Brown, Singer and Hitmaker for Hot Chocolate

Talent rarely flourishes in a vacuum; it needs to be nourished by great mentors and sponsors. Without the Brian Epsteins, John Hammonds and Barry Gordys of the world, we probably would have never heard from some of our most beloved artists.

For Errol Brown (November 12, 1943-May 6, 2015) and Hot Chocolate, that role was played by two British music legends, John Lennon and producer Mickie Most.

Lennon became involved when Hot Chocolate submitted its reggae version of “Give Peace A Chance” to Apple Records. They’d recorded it with new lyrics of their own and needed permission to release the song. Assuming their version would go straight to the trash bin, they didn’t hold out a lot of hope. But a week after receiving it, Apple called to say Lennon had heard the recording, loved it and wanted to sign the band right away! The year was 1969 and The Beatles were on the brink of breaking up, so, unfortunately, the relationship didn’t last.

Mickie Most picked up the band, shortened its name from “The Hot Chocolate Band” to “Hot Chocolate” and proceeded to produce, record and release a string of hits that would last through the 1970s into the 1980s. Hot Chocolate was one of only three acts to make the charts in every single year of the 1970s. (The other two were Elvis Presley and Diana Ross.)

In an interview with Blues and Soul magazine, Brown said of Most: “…you had to have a very strong stomach to work for him…all your ego had to go out the window! But I had SO much respect for him. He’d sold millions of records, he had great ears, and I never found anyone else like him ever again.”

Hot Chocolate’s biggest hit, “You Sexy Thing,” was originally banished to the B-Side by Most. Knowing it wasn’t going to get top billing, Brown played it loose in the studio, singing it an octave higher than his normal range. A DJ in America loved it an urged the label to re-release with “You Sexy Thing” as the A-side. Brown re-recorded it in his usual vocal range, but DJs in the States pushed back. They wanted to keep the quirky original.

Released in 1975, it almost topped at #1 in the UK charts, only to be beat out by Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It resurfaced at #6 in 1997 when it made it onto the soundtrack of the hit movie The Full Monty.

B.B. King, My Blues Godfather

This is a very personal post for me.

B.B. King played a special role in my musical life. I first was introduced to him when I was 15, at the Summit Inn in Uniontown, PA. My parents had dragged me along on a weekend getaway and left me to amuse myself. It wasn’t so easy in a place where shuffleboard passed for entertainment.

Down in a mostly empty recreation room was a jukebox. I can’t remember specifically, but I’m guessing there was a lot of Perry Como, Al Martino and Percy Faith–the records reflected the median age of the guests. But then there was B.B. King and “The Thrill Is Gone.” I bet a quarter and was astounded by the result: one of the most doleful, soulful voices I’d ever heard and a guitar that had a voice all its own. I was immediately hooked.

Back home in Wheeling, WV, I flipped through the record stacks at Boury’s Appliance Store and was shocked to discover “Completely Well,” the album that included “The Thrill Is Gone.” The cover let me know this album was OK for me: although this older bluesman (he must have been about 45 at the time) wore a suit and tie, the album art had a Peter Max vibe and a hippie type font. He was a blues pied piper for a new generation.

My friends hadn’t heard of King and they showed only polite interest in him, allowing me to put on my record between spins of Led Zeppelin or Grand Funk. But I soon found that my other rock heroes were B.B. fans, too. Leon Russell (whom I’d stumbled upon in the same appliance store) showed up on my next B.B. King album–“Indianola Mississippi Seeds”–as the writer of the single “Hummingbird.” While watching “The Mike Douglas Show” after school one day, I was delighted to see King perform the song, with Leon accompanying on piano. (In the days before YouTube, being able to see your idols was a matter of chance and fleeting opportunity. If you missed it, there was no recording to fall back on; it was lost in the ether forever.)

Leon, Eric Clapton, even George Jones–it seemed like all my heroes idolized B.B. King.

I never managed to see King in person, although God knows he gave me every opportunity. He toured relentlessly deep into his 80s, and he made it to my current home of Minneapolis many times. Last year I consciously decided not to see him. His age and declining health had taken its toll, and I wanted to remember him as I had found him, singing duets with his faithful Gibson Lucille and wearing out the needle on my stereo.

Marty Napoleon, Pianist for Louis Armstrong’s All-Star Band

Long before the British Rock Invasion there was an American Jazz Invasion and leading the charge was Louis Armstrong. He was such an icon that even The Beatles couldn’t best him: in 1964 Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly!” replaced  The Beatles “Can’t Buy Me Love” at the top of the charts.

Accompanying Armstrong at the time, as part of his All Stars, was pianist Marty Napoleon (July 2, 1921-April 27, 2015). Napoleon played with Armstrong’s All Stars during several periods, in the early 1950s and then in the mid 1960s until Armstrong’s death in 1971.

Napoleon was a self-taught pianist from a musical family. Four of his uncles were prominent jazz and big band musicians, and his brother, Teddy, preceded him as the pianist for The Gene Krupa Trio. In addition to Armstrong and Krupa, Napoleon played with Buddy Rich, Coleman Hawkins and Nat King Cole.

In this video of the film “Follow That Music,” Napoleon can be seen intermittently with Gene Krupa, appearing as “Gene Knight,” an aspiring young musician.

He retained his love of playing into his 90s.

Ben E. King, Sang “Stand By Me”

When it comes to music, movies are kind of like vampires: to gain life, they often suck the blood out of popular songs. Just consider “Stand By Me,” the signature hit of Ben E. King (September 28, 1938-April 30, 2015) and the 1986 Rob Reiner film of the same name. Not only did the film gain an instantly recognizable and memorable title, it benefited from all the emotive association that came with King’s 1961 recording. It rooted the movie in its time period and connected with the over-arching sentiment of the movie, the enduring power and importance of friendship.

We’ve seen the parasitic relationships between movies and music elsewhere in the Revue, with Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and, to a lesser extent with Johnny Kemp’s “Birthday Suit.” (Perhaps I should be more kind and call it a symbiotic relationship, as songs often gain renewed popularity as a result of being in a movie, TV show or even a commercial. The use of “Stand By Me” in the film catapulted it back into the Top 10 a quarter century after its initial release.)

“Stand By Me” has been covered and recorded numerous times–the 4th-most-recorded song of the 20th century, according to BMI. And its popularity has continued well into the internet-dominated 21st century. The Playing for Change rendition of the song, pieced together from videos of street musicians from around the world, has been viewed over 75 million times since it was uploaded in 2008.

“Stand By Me” was written by King and the hit-making duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. King gets 50% credit for the song and Leiber and Stoller 25% each. According to a 2012 interview with Stoller in JazzWax, King is responsible for most of the lyrics and melody; Leiber and Stoller added distinctive elements, such as the bass line.

But King was hardly a one-hit wonder. He had a string of other hits, as both a solo artist and a core member of The Drifters. “Spanish Harlem,” “This Magic Moment” and “Save the Last Dance for Me” are all part of his recording legacy, which stretched from the 1950s all the way into the 1980s.

Rolf Smedvig, Co-Founder of Empire Brass Quintet

In my younger days as a hack trombonist, I often felt like a second-class musician. So much attention was heaped on other instruments–guitars, pianos and violins in particular. By the time I was blowing a horn, brass luminaries like Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller had long left the stage. (OK, Miles Davis was still hittin’ it, but even he had become an opening act for Neil Young and Crazy Horse.) But by the late 1960s, brass began to step into the spotlight again. I was particularly thankful for Blood, Sweat and Tears and, to a lesser extent, Chicago.

And then there were ensembles like the Canadian Brass and Rolf Smedvig’s Empire Brass. They helped bring an enormous amount of respectability to brass players, recording critically-acclaimed albums, many with no reeds, no strings, just brass. The Empire Brass Quintet was the first brass ensemble to win a prestigious Walter W. Naumburg Foundation Prize. In the 51 years leading up to their award in 1976, the winners most often were–you guessed it–violinists, pianists or vocalists.

Smedvig(September 23, 1952-April 27, 2015) was a trumpet prodigy, first appearing with the Seattle Symphony at age 13 (I had barely mastered my spit valve by that age). Before he was 20, Leonard Bernstein had tapped him to be the trumpet soloist for the premiere of his Mass at the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Arts. In the same year, he became the youngest member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Seiji Ozawa.

Jack Ely, Sang “Louie Louie” for The Kingsmen

Jack Ely (September 11, 1943-April 28, 2015) is an example of not one, but several rock archetypes. First, he was a “one-hit wonder,” doomed (or blessed) to perform “Louie Louie” from his teens until well into his final years. Second, he was accused of concealing secret meanings into his recordings (Think of The Beatles “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory or alleged Satanic messages in “Stairway to Heaven.”) Finally, he is an example of the spurned band member, joining the likes of Pete Best (The Beatles), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones) and Dave Mustain (Metallica).

“Louie Louie” ranks #54 in the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” According to the magazine, it cost only $52 to record, which accounts for the poor quality of the audio–and the indecipherable lyrics believed by many at the time to be pornographic. (Decide for yourself by listening to the :54 mark in the song.) That rumor helped propel the song to #2 on the charts and led to a 455-page report by the FBI that concluded, well, nothing.

Ely and the band clashed, and he left the group before the song took off. Yet it seems his name is most often connected with the hit. In the final reckoning, was “Louie Louie” a blessing or a curse? Only Ely could have answered for sure.

Lois Lilienstein of Popular Canadian Children’s Group Sharon, Lois & Bram

Liberal-minded parents like us felt terrible bringing kids into the world of the 1980s. Reagan-era saber-rattling made nuclear annihilation seem possible again, even imminent. And cut-throat competitiveness wasn’t limited to the international politics. “Greed is good,” proclaimed Michael Douglas’s character in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” giving voice to the economic Darwinism of the day.

We just wanted our kids to grow up happy. We didn’t want them to have to claw tooth and nail to get ahead, or learn the “duck and cover” drills of our childhood.

Perhaps as an antidote to this child-hostile environment, we turned to our kinder, gentler neighbors to the north. A wave of popular children’s music artists swept across Canada and into the US. Among them: Raffi, Eric Nagel, Fred Penner–and Sharon, Lois & Bram.

The Lois of the group was Lois Lilienstein (July 10, 1936-April 22, 2015), a Chicago native who moved to Canada with her husband after he secured a position at York University in Toronto.

Lilienstein majored in music literature and minored in piano at the University of Michigan. According to her alumni profile, she chanced into children’s music after volunteering at her son’s nursery school, introducing folk music, creative movement and musical games to the pre-school curriculum.

She also was part of the burgeoning folk music scene and the Mariposa Folk Festival near Toronto. The festival’s artistic director established various workshops during the festival, including a children’s area and stage where Lilienstein performed. Lilienstein  helped to establish an offshoot of the festival, MITS, or Mariposa In The Schools.

(For an interesting theory on why Canada’s folk music community became a wellspring of children’s musical artists, read this interesting 1993 article by L. Sheldon Posen in The Canadian Journal for Traditional Music.)

It was through Mariposa that Lilienstein met Sharon Hampson and Bramwell Morrison, two Canadian folk musicians. The three formed their eponymous trio and in 1978 released their debut album “One Elephant, Duex Éléphants.”

Recording and touring success led to a TV show “Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Elephant Show” in 1984. Seen on CBC and later on Nickelodeon, the show reached tens of millions of households in both Canada and the US.

Each episode signed of with the nonsense song, “Skinnamarink.”