Otis Clay, R&B Singer and Blues Hall of Famer

If ever you needed proof of the joy of music and its power to cross cultures, generations, backgrounds, it’s this video from the documentary Take Me To The River (to be released on DVD on February 5). Otis Clay, reprising his 1972 hit “Trying to Live My Life Without You” with the help of child hip-hop prodigy Li’l P-Nut.

Clay (February 11, 1942-January 8, 2016) was born in Mississippi, but began his singing career after moving to Chicago. He started as a gospel singer, but switched to R&B, soul and blues (although he would record a gospel album again later in life).

Clay was a Grammy nominee for Best Traditional R&B Performance and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.

Red Simpson, Truckstop Troubador From Bakersfield

“I’m A Truck”

I’m a sucker for truck-driving songs, which is one of the reasons I have a fondness for neo-classic country acts like Junior Brown and Dale Watson. But besides Dave Dudley (of oft-covered “Six Days On The Road” fame), I’m less familiar with some of the original practitioners of this subgenre. I just discovered one: Red Simpson.

“The Sounds of Bakerfield” Concert (at 1:11:03)

Simpson’s most-famous song is “I’m a Truck,” a ballad from an 18-wheeler’s point of view, which he recorded in 1971. Other popular songs include “Roll, Truck, Roll,” the duet “Truck Driver Man and Wife” with Lorraine Walden and his last charted hit, 1979’s “The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver.”

“Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves”

Simpson (March 6, 1934-January 8, 2016) was part of the Bakersfield sound, a particular flavor of country that was popularized by Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and others in the Bakersvield area who reacted to what they felt was the over-produced sound coming out of Nashville.

Kitty Kallen, Pop Singer Who Topped Charts in 1950s

“Kiss Me Sweet,” 1949

Kitty Kallen (May 25, 1921-January 7, 2016) was an American pop singer who began her career with swing and big bands, performing with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey among others.

On Colgate Comedy Hour (Begins at 9:24)

She made the transition to Post-War Pop, appearing on many early TV shows, including The Tonight Show, Colgate Comedy Hour, Perry Como and Fred Allen’s Judge for Yourself.

“Little Things Mean A Lot” on Perry Como, 1955

Her mid-50s hit, “Little Things Mean A Lot,” was #1 in the US for nine consecutive weeks. She was named “most popular female singer” in 1954 and was honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

Paul Bley, Jazz Pianist and Innovator

“Alrec” Live on French TV, 1973

Thom Jurek, writing in The All Music Guide to Jazz says it all: “Paul Bley is among the most influential jazz pianists and composers of the 20th century and a founding father of avant-garde jazz.”

Live in Oslo

In the course of his long career, he organized concerts or recorded with such 20th century jazz legends as Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ornette Coleman.

Performance

Bley (November 10, 1932-January 3, 2016) released nearly 100 recordings and two autobiographies. He taught at the New England Music Conservatory.

David Bowie, Rock Visionary

“Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes” on The Tonight Show, 1980

What’s there for me to add to the millions of tributes to David Bowie? Perhaps just my own personal reflections. That I first learned of him in the fall of 1972 from a freshman staffer of The Triadelphian, my high school newspaper in Wheeling, WV. He was heading to a Bowie concert in Pittsburgh. I relied on local Top 40 station WKWK for my new music, and Bowie was, I’m sure, too “out there” to make their playlist.

“China Girl” Video

A year later, as a freshman at WVU, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was a staple of our dorm room playlist–at least in my friends’ rooms. For those of us who had not been captains of the high school football team, Bowie presented the possibility of being both different and cool.

“Lazarus” Video

It was fascinating to follow Bowie (January 8, 1947-January 10, 2016) through the decades and see him anticipate the direction of modern music. Over the past week, I heard a satellite radio DJ encourage his audience to listen to Blackstar. As he said, like so many Bowie records, you may not like it on the first listen, but five years from now it will be among your favorites.

 

John Bradbury, Drummer for the Specials

“Ghost Town”

John Bradbury (February 16, 1953-December 28, 2015) was a drummer for the Specials, a ska revival  and 2-tone band that formed in Thatcher-era England. 2-tone is a brand of ska that links traditional ska rhythms with a punk attitude, merging two musical trends of the time. “If you were 12 in 1979, the Specials were easy peasy lemon squeezy the best band on the planet,” writes Mark Lamarr in his bio of the band on the group’s official website.

“Gangsters”

The Specials, in their retro ’60s “nice boy” haircuts and clothes, managed to merge upbeat-sounding and danceable tunes with biting commentary about the bleak futures for UK youth as the Conservative Party pursued its “tough love” economic policies.

“Guns of Navarone,” Live, 2012

“Too Much Too Young” and “Ghost Town” both hit #1 in the UK before the group disbanded in 1981. Bradbury carried on the band’s tradition with a slimmed down version of the group, the Specials AKA, and started his own project JB Allstars, which focused on Northern soul.

 

 

Natalie Cole, Grammy Award-Winning Vocalist

“Unforgettable”

I’m struggling to think of successful music artists who have followed in the paths of their music legend parents. Roseanne Cash comes to mind, albeit on her own, independent terms. Hank Williams, Jr. is a stretch, but, OK, he did score the Monday Night Football theme if that counts.

“Miss You Like Crazy”

But Natalie Cole was a true force, selling over 30 million records worldwide in the 1970s and during her resurgence in the 1990s. Her album Unforgettable…With Lovea re-recording of her father’s standards sold seven million records on its own and earned her numerous Grammy Awards.

A Natalie Cole Medley

Cole (February 6, 1950-December 31, 2015) started her career as an R&B singer and over the years moved toward pop and jazz. Her parents were both singers–Nat King Cole and Maria Hawkins, who performed with both the Ellington and Basie bands.

Lemmy Kilmister, Bassist and Frontman for Motörhead

Live at Glastonbury 2015

It was only about a month ago when I published a post about Phil Taylor, a one-time drummer for Motörhead. Now, I’m sad to add a post about the band’s seemingly indestructible leader, Lemmy Kilmister.

“Live Fast Die Old” Documentary

Kilmister, with his trademark mutton chops, giant moles and badass black-leather clothing, was a living logo for the group, if not for the entire heavy metal genre. But behind the theatrics and backstage antics lies the music. Put a needle on a track and what survives is his bass, voice and relentless drive.

“I Ain’t No Nice Guy” (Unplugged)

Earning the dubious distinction of “Loudest Band on Earth” in a Spin article (beating The Who by 10 decibels), Motörhead grinded it out for 40 years. Before that, Kilmister (December 24, 1945-December 28, 2015) was a member of the space-rock band Hawkwind, a decidedly different band from Motörhead). And before that, he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix.

William Guest, Backup Singer for Gladys Knight and the Pips

“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” on Soul Train

From the 1950s-1970s there were no small number of singing groups with a trio of backup singers, but Gladys Knight and the Pips were perhaps unique in having three male singers behind a female lead.

“Midnight Train to Georgia” and “Neither One of Us” on The Midnight Special

As a longtime member of the Pips, William Guest (July 2, 1941-December 24, 2015), Knight’s cousin, helped provide the smooth, low-volume vocal punctuation to her melodic leads. He and his fellow Pips added visual contrast, too, through their stage clothing and coordinated choreography.

“I Don’t Want To Do Wrong”

The group was active between 1953 and 1989 and during that time recorded many hits for the Motown and Buddah labels,  earning multiple Grammy and American Music Awards in the process. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001.  The group was formed when Guest was only 12 and Knight was 9; Guest’s sister and Knight, her brother and sister were the original members. The Pips got their name from another cousin, James “Pip” Woods.

Gladstone Anderson, Jamaican Studio Pianist And Singer

“Just Like A River” with Stranger Cole

Gladstone “Gladdy” Anderson was a prolific pianist, keyboard player and singer, who contributed to the sounds of numerous reggae, ska and rocksteady (a subgenre he’s credited with naming) bands in his native Jamaica.

“Love Me Today” with Stranger Cole

Anderson (June 18, 1934-December 3, 2015) was associated with a number of bands, perhaps most notably, Lynn Taitt and the Jets, and his own Gladdy’s All Stars.

“You’re Welcome”

He also appears on several albums with flautist Herbie Mann, including Reggae recorded in London in 1973 for the Atlantic label, and with Jimmy Cliff on House of Exile.