Bill Keith, Influential Banjo Player and Session Musician

“Melodic Style” Banjo

In the past few years there have been a series of documentaries about session musicians–20 Feet From Stardom, The Wrecking Crew and Muscle Shoals are a few. These give tribute to  the often-anonymous artists who created the sounds we remember for decades. I first became conscious of session musicians on Maria Muldaur’s solo debut. The back of the album featured photographs of an all-star cast of musicians whose names, and often work, would stick with me to this day…Ry Cooder, David Grisman, Andrew Gold…and Bill Keith.

Bill Keith on the Banjo & Bill Monroe

Keith was a banjo player who “converted” to bluegrass after playing Dixieland jazz. He played for a brief period with Bill Monroe who admired Keith for his knowledge of music.

“Cherokee Shuffle” at Grey Fox 2011

Keith (December 20, 1939-October 23, 2015) is known for his melodic style of banjo playing, known as the “Keith style.” He was seeking a way to play fiddle tunes note for note. He would pave the way for other experimental banjo stylists like Bela Fleck.

Mark Murphy, Jazz Singer and 6-Time Grammy Nominee

“God Bless The Child”

Mark Murphy was a jazz vocalist who was categorized as “Post-Bop,” but it seems unfair to pigeon-hole him that way. As John Bush wrote in the All Music Guide to Jazz, Murphy had a “penchant for trawling the entirety of the 20th century popular/jazz repertory for songs ranging from the slightly overdone to the downright forgotten.”

“Farmer’s Market” and “Again”

Murphy was picked up by Capitol in the 1950s, and they tried to forge him into a teen idol, but it didn’t stick, and Murphy gravitated toward a style (or styles) more natural to him. Along the way, he partnered with a long list of top-notch musicians: Bill Evans, Clark Terry and Al Cohn, to name a few.

“My Foolish Heart,” Live in Paris, 2012

Murphy (March 14, 1932-October 22, 2015) left for Europe in the late 1960s, when rock and pop had overtaken the airwaves, but he returned to the US in 1972. Recording for the Muse label, he put out close to an album a year, including Nat King Cole Songbook, Vol. 1 and 2; Bop for Kerouac and Stolen Moments. The title track of this last Muse album featured lyrics written by Murphy.

During his career Murphy received six Grammy award nominations for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.

Cory Wells of Three Dog Night

“Mama Told Me Not To Come,” 1970 Live

I saw Three Dog Night at their peak in 1972 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. (Full disclosure: the main attraction for me was the opening act, Leon Russell, but the headliners were Wells and company.)

Interview with Cory Wells, 2011

Three Dog Night got its name not from the number of lead singers in the band, but from an Australian expression for “very cold night” (You need three dogs to stay warm, get it?) In the 2011 interview video I include, Wells explains how and why they adopted the name.

“Out In The Country” Live

Wells (February 2, 1941-October 20, 2015) was joined by fellow vocalists Danny Hutton and Chuck Negron. They were accompanied by keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon (who also passed this year), Joe Schermie on bass, Mike Allsup on guitar and Floyd Sneed, drums. The group had impeccable taste in songwriters, making hits of songs by Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not To Come”), Harry Nilsson (“One”), Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Comin'”), Paul Williams (“Out In The Country,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song”) and Hoyt Axton (“Joy To The World”), to name a few.

Coleridge Goode, Double-Bass Player for Django Reinhardt

“Echoes of France”

Coleridge Goode (November 29, 2014-October 2, 2015) was born into a musical family in Jamaica. He was named after Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a British composer of Creole descent who was known as the “African Mahler.”

Goode emigrated to Britain at age 19 to study engineering, but switched to music under the influence of jazz greats like Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

“Nuages”

He recorded with Django Reinhardt in 1946 and was associated with the alto saxophonist Joe Harriott from 1958-1965. He rejoined Harriott in his Indo-Jazz Fusion projects with violinist John Mayer.

Laurie Morgan Trio with Coleridge Goode in London

Goode, who was 100 at his death, continued to perform into his nineties with the Laurie Morgan Trio Downstairs at King’s Head in Crouch End, London. His long life in music is chronicled in  Bass Lines: A Life in Jazz, the autobiography he wrote with co-author Roger Cotterell. Goode was a recipient of the Service to Jazz Award at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards in the House of Commons.

Carey Lander, Keyboard Player for Camera Obscura

“Let’s Get Out of This Country”

Carey Lander was the keyboard player for Glasgow indie band Camera Obscura. She appeared on all but the first of the group’s albums.

“French Navy” on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson

Camera Obscura has been a fixture of the West End Glasgow indie scene, along with Belle & Sebastian. The band has toured extensively in Europe and the US and recorded its last album, Desire Lines, with producer Tucker Martine in Portland.

“This is Love (Feels Alright)” Live on KCRW

Lander (March 1, 1982-October 11, 2015) was diagnosed with a rare form of osteosarcoma in 2011. She continued to record and perform, while also helping to raise funds for Sarcoma UK. You can donate to a fund created in her name on the JustGiving website.

Jim Diamond, Singer of “I Should Have Known Better”

“I Should Have Known Better”

Jim Diamond was a Scottish musician, who was a kind of Zelig of British rock and pop, performing with disparate groups and in a variety of genres–with the art rock band Gully Foyle, Alexis Korner (the “Godfather of British Blues”),  PhD (which he formed in the early 1980s), as a chart-topping pop artist and finally with The Blue Shoes, a duo he formed with saxophonist Snake Davis.

“I Won’t Let You Down” with Ph.D., 1982

His solo single “I Should Have Known Better” was a worldwide #1 and earned him an Ivor Novello Best Single Award. According to FirstFoot.com, he generously leveraged the song’s popularity to draw attention to the release of the Band-Aid charity CD: “I’m delighted to be Number 1, but next week, I don’t want people to buy my record, I want them to buy Band-Aid.”

“Hi Ho Silver” (Boon Theme Song)

Diamond (September 28, 1951-October 8, 2015) also wrote the theme to the popular British detective TV series Boon. Diamond’s recording of the theme reached #5 on the UK charts.

Billy Joe Royal, Sang “Down in the Boondocks”

“Down in the Boondocks”

Billy Joe Royal was a Georgia-born singer, who found success in the pop, R&B and country genres. Like so many young singers, he was inspired to pursue his career once he saw the success of Elvis, whom he eventually got to know while they were both performing in 1970s-era Las Vegas.

“I’ve Got to Be Somebody” on Shindig

Royal (April 3, 1942-October 6, 2015) began his professional career in Atlanta, appearing at a New Year’s Eve concert that also featured Gladys Knight. He was a friend and colleague of singer-songwriter Joe South, who wrote “Down in the Boondocks” and persuaded Royal to record it.

“Funny How Time Slips Away”

The success of that hit (it made it to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart) earned him a spot on Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, a package tour of mid-1960s pop stars like Herman’s Hermits, Peter and Gordon and Tom Jones. “Down in the Boondocks” has been covered by Penny DeHaven (1969), Kenny Loggins (1978), Ry Cooder (1980) and U.S. Girls (2012).

Wilton Felder, Saxophonist for Jazz Crusaders and Session Bass Player

“Inherit The Wind” featuring Bobby Womack

Wilton Felder was a tenor saxophonist for The Jazz Crusaders, a successful jazz group that formed in the early 1960s. He was also a prolific session bass player, appearing on recordings for The Jackson 5, B.B. King, Joe Cocker, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan and others. The distinctive bass line for The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” is Felder’s creation.

The Crusaders Live at Montreaux, 2003

The Crusaders (they dropped “Jazz” from their name in the 70s) moved in a more pop-oriented direction in the 70s, adding electric guitar and switching to electric piano. The group went through several iterations and lineups during the next few decades.

“Keep That Same Old Feeling,” Live in LA, 1984

A 1981 New York Times interview with Felder (August 31, 1940-September 27, 2015) included his explanation of how he developed his big sound. Texas clubs in the early part of his career didn’t often have microphones, and as increasingly amplified guitars began to drown out other instruments, Felder learned to play loud. He adopted a metal mouthpiece, used hard reeds and “played strong.”

Frankie Ford, Singer of ’50s Hit “Sea Cruise”

Dick Clark Introduces “Sea Cruise,” 1959

An 2010 inductee into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame (not bad company to be in), Frankie Ford was a piano-pounding singer whose signature hit, “Sea Cruise,” made it to #14 in the charts. After that 1959 success, he had only four other songs that made it to the charts and none higher than number 79.

“Roberta” Live

According to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame website“Sea Cruise” has been used in numerous radio and TV commercials, including for Diet Coke, Sprite and Coors Light. It also appeared on the soundtracks of “My American Cousin,” “Ski Patrol” and other movies and TV shows.

“Sea Cruise” on the Rock N Roll Graffiti Show

Ford (August 4, 1939-September 28, 2015) began his music career at age five when he appeared on “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.” After the British invasion and guitar-backed music had displaced Ford’s style in popularity, he focused on live performances at Bourbon Street clubs.