Rob Meurer, Keyboardist and Collaborator with Christopher Cross

“Ride Like The Wind” on The Midnight Special–Watch on YouTube

I was driving in the country last weekend, when “Ride Like The Wind,” the Christopher Cross song from his Grammy-winning debut album, came on SiriusXM’s “mellow rock” channel, The Bridge. Several days later, I had a second Cross encounter, as he gave tribute to his former bandmate Rob Meurer, who was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident.

Meurer (d. September 24, 2016), a fellow San Antonian, recorded and toured with Cross during the artist’s peak period in the early 80s. On his own website, Meurer states that he co-wrote over 50 songs with Cross and lists titles that made it on to six different Cross albums.

Besides Cross, Meurer toured with J.D. Souther and Karla Bonoff. He was a regular at Amigo Studios in LA and recorded tracks there with Carole King,  Johnny Otis and a demo of “Ave Maria” for The Neville Brothers. A fan of musical theater, Meurer was associated with the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and was lyricist for a recent musical, Helldrivers of Daytona.

“Ave Maria” from A Synth For Christmas on Spotify

Bobby Breen, From Child Star to Motown to Sgt. Pepper’s

“Ombra mai fu” from film Fisherman’s Wharf–Watch on YouTube

Bobby Breen was a child star in a class with other young actor/singers like Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney. According to imdb, he was in nine films between 1936’s Let’s Sing Again and 1942’s Johnny Doughboy, always in a role that would showcase his choirboy soprano.

Born Isadore Borsuk, Breen (November 4, 1927-September 19, 2016) eventually grew out of the voice that had secured his position in Hollywood, and he had to seek out other venues for his talent. One place, somewhat improbably, was with Motown, where founder Berry Gordy signed Breen. Gordy never released an album under Breen’s name, realizing that the singer didn’t really fit the Motown brand that he was building at the time. A few singles survive.

Breen’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album credit is, alas, not for his music, but for his image, which appears on the iconic, celebrity-rich cover. Breen appears in the front row, wedged between George Harrison and Marlene Dietrich.

“Better Late Than Never” on Spotify

Jean Shepard, Honky Tonk Star of the Grand Ole Opry

“Second Fiddle To An Old Guitar”–Watch on YouTube

Ollie Imogene “Jean” Shepard was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for over 60 years, longer than any other artist. She was a country music pioneer–one of the first women to perform solo, to release a concept album (Songs of a Love Affair1959) and was only the third woman to join the Opry.

Born in Oklahoma, Shepard (November 21, 1933-September 25, 2016) grew up in California, where she formed  The Melody Ranch Girls. While performing in Bakersfield, she was seen by country star Hank Thompson, who used his clout at Capitol Records to get her a record contract. “A Dear John Letter,” a 1953 duet with Ferlin Husky, went to #1 on the country charts and crossed over into the Top 10 on the pop charts.

While she had a number of charted hits in the 50s and 60s, she never made it back to the top. Country veered in a more cosmopolitan direction, and Shepard doggedly stuck to her traditional country roots. When Olivia Newton-John won best female country vocalist in 1974, the Association of Country Entertainers was formed and Shepard became its president. The New York Times quoted an interview she gave the Edmonton Journal: “She’s a very sweet lady, I’m sure. But what she sang wasn’t country music.”

“I Don’t Apologize For Loving You” on Spotify

Stanley Dural, Jr., Leader of Buckwheat Zydeco

“Hey Ma Petit Fille” Live at Montreaux Jazz Festival (1989)-Watch on YouTube

What Bob Marley did for reggae, Stanley Dural, Jr. did for zydeco. As founder and leader of the band Buckwheat Zydeco, he brought a regional genre of music to a world stage. At his peak, he opened for Eric Clapton, recorded with everyone from Robert Plant to Willie Nelson, performed at both of Bill Clinton’s inaugurations and scored a series of Grammy nominations along the way.

Dural (November 14, 1947-September 24, 2016) was a latecomer to zydeco. His first loves were R&B, funk and soul, which he played with bands Sam and The Untouchables and Buckwheat and The Hitchhikers. But after repeated requests, he reluctantly agreed to play organ for zydeco great Clifton Chenier.

According to his obituary in New Orleans The Times-Picayune, Dural would cancel a contract if his music was described as “Cajun.” So what’s the difference between Cajun and Zydeco music? While Cajun music traces its roots to French Acadians,  Zydeco originated with Creole speakers, who brought African and Caribbean influences to their music. The accordion is central to both genres, but Zydeco uses the piano accordion (instead of the diatonic accordion), which allows for more melodic versatility and a wider range of key signatures.

“Tee Nah Nah” on Spotify

Mandoza, South African kwaito hitmaker

“Sgantsontso”–Watch on YouTube

Mandoza, the stage name of Mduduzi´Edmund Tshabalala, was a star of kwaito, a genre that originated in South Africa. Kwaito resembles hip hop and house music, but has its own distinctive features. “It came from house, but we needed to put an African feel into it, so we added our own melodies, congas and basslines,” a kwaito producer explained to the BBC World Service.

Mandoza (January 19, 1978-September 18, 2016) sold over 10 million records during his career. His 2000 album Nkalakatha went multi-platinum and won the Best Kwaito Music Album in 2001.

Mandoza sang in English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa, which extended his appeal and enabled him to reach a crossover audience.

“Phunyuka Bamphethe” on Spotify

John D. Loudermilk, Wrote “Tobacco Road” and “Indian Reservation”

“Tobacco Road” Performed on BBC, 1984–View on YouTube

John D. Loudermilk was a prolific singer and songwriter of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, penning hits for a wide range of artists, from Johnny Cash to the Blues Magoos. Although he recorded many of his songs himself, his best-known hits were recordings by others.

The Nashville Teens, a British garage rock band, brought “Tobacco Road” to fame in the 1964, and “Indian Reservation” was a #1 hit by Paul Revere and the Raiders in 1971. Loudermilk (March 31, 1934-September 21, 2016) recorded both songs originally.

Loudermilk was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1976 and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011. He was a cousin of the country duo The Louvin Brothers.

“The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian” on Spotify

Eleanor Barooshian of 60s Girl Group the Cake

Covering “I Got You Babe” with Tiny Tim–Watch on YouTube

Eleanor Barooshian (April 2, 1950-August 30, 2016) was a singer in the trio the Cake. Barooshian, Jeanette Jacobs and Barbara Morillo got their start at Steve Paul’s The Scene in Manhattan. They were picked up by the same management behind Sonny & Cher and Iron Butterfly.

She was something of a Zelig in the late 60s rock scene. Her obituary in The Guardian features a photo of her with Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival. Mac Rebennack played piano on one of the Cake’s albums, and she and another band member provided backup vocals for him under his alter-ego, Dr. John. She was a lead singer for Ginger Baker’s Air Force.

She also appeared famously in You Are What You Eat, a cult film produced by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. In it, she sings a cover of “I’ve Got You Babe” with Tiny Tim, with Tim singing the Cher part and Barooshian Sonny’s part.

“Baby That’s Me” on Spotify

Oklin Bloodworth, Singer Who Shared His Music with Children

“Jazzy Jaguar”–Video on YouTube

Oklin Bloodworth was a retired school music teacher who made numerous recordings and performances to and for children. He was primarily known in California’s San Joaquin Valley, according to his obit in the Fresno Bee, but you can find his numerous recordings on iTunes, Amazon and on Spotify.

On Spotify, Bloodworth’s albums are centered around months of the year. I’ve featured a track from his birth month of January.

While he was most known for children’s music, he also performed more adult-friendly music as a singer and guitarist. His father, who died in 2014 at age 87, was a blues guitarist and singer.

“The World is Like an Apple” on Spotify

Johan Botha, Internationally Renowned Opera Tenor

Già nella notte densa” from Otello–Watch YouTube Video

Johan Botha was a South African-born heldentenor, who performed in opera houses worldwide. (A heldentenor (“heroic tenor”) is a tenor with “a powerful [voice] of wide range,” according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music.)

Botha (August 19, 1965-September 8, 2016) was known for his command of difficult roles, such as parts in Otello, Parsifal and Die Meistersinger von Nürenberg. One of his most trying parts was as Apollo in Daphne by Richard Strauss. In a 2005 review in The New York Times, critic Anthony Tommasini noted Botha “sang the punishing role of Apollo with clarion sound and virile phrasing.”

Botha was introduced to the international stage with his performance of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly at the Opera Bastille in 1993. Since then, he performed (among other stages) at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Royal Opera House, Paris Opera, Salzburg Festival and Vienna State Opera, where he was in 222 performances in 22 different roles.

“Was erblicke ich?” from Daphne on Spotify

Further reading:

“Remembering Johan Botha” by Fred Plotkin on the WQXR blog Operavore