Eugeniusz Rudnik, Polish Electroacoustic Pioneer

“Ptacy I Ludzie” (“Birds and People”)–Watch on YouTube

Eugeniusz Rudnik (October 28, 1932-October 24, 2016) was a sound engineer and avant-garde composer of ambient and electroacoustic music. He was a key architect of the “Polish school” of electroacoustic music that came out of Polish Radio’s Experimental Studio, which was founded in 1957.

Rudnik composed hundreds of compositions for radio, ballet, television and art installations. Not trained in classical composition, he drew his inspiration from the found music of technology. According to a post in Culture.pl. “Collage,” one of his earliest compositions, had its roots in the hum of an amplifier from a Telefunk lamp console.

In a radio interview cited in the same post, Rudnik likened the sounds of technology to those of the human body: “There’s the pulse, there’s the subconscious gurgling of the blood in the arteries and veins which we don’t hear on a daily basis. You have to close the human in an insulated room to hear himself.”

“Collage” on Spotify

Robert Bateman, Co-Wrote “Please, Mr. Postman” for Tamla Motown

“Please, Mr. Postman” with The Stubbs–Watch on YouTube

In 1959, The Satintones, a five-singer band that included Robert Bateman, became the first to sign on with Barry Gordy’s Tamla label. According to his obituary in The Telegraph, Bateman and his band helped out at the fledgling studio “while waiting for fame to strike.”

Bateman (April 30, 1936-October 12, 2016) was sound engineer on hits like “Money,” “Do You Love Me?” and “Shop Around.” But he also filled in as road manager, bus driver, backup singer, producer and talent scout.

“Please, Mr. Postman,” which was written by Bateman and four others, was recorded in 1961 by The Marvelettes, a group Bateman had recommended to Gordy. It became Motown’s first #1 hit on the Top 100, setting the stage for many more mainstream hits to come from black performers. The song was famously covered by The Beatles in 1963 and reached #1 again in 1975 when recorded by The Carpenters.

“Motor City” on Spotify

Pete Burns, Lead Vocalist for New Wave Band Dead or Alive

“You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”–Watch on YouTube

Pete Burns (August 5, 1959-October 23, 2016) was the frontman for British New Wave band Dead or Alive. Their most-popular single, “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),”  has received over 44 million views on YouTube and over 36 million streams on Spotify. Not bad for a record that was released 20 years before either service began.

The single reached #1 on the UK charts and #11 in the US. It was produced by the hit-making team of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman, known collectively as S/A/W. It was an example of a New Wave subgenre known as Hi-NRG, a post-disco dance style characterized, according to Billboardby “clattering percussion, octave-skipping basslines, uptempo BPMs, and sexually charged lyrics.”

Burns’ androgynous style fit well in an MTV era with artists like Boy George of Culture Club and Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics. But according to Burns, getting a video produced was not a given. Epic, DoA’s label, hated “Spin” so much that the band had to pay for the video themselves. It appears to have been a good investment.

“Brand New Lover” on Spotify

Eddy Christiani, Europe’s First Electric Guitarist?

“Lorento Rag”–Watch on YouTube

I don’t have much to substantiate the claim that Christiani (April 21, 1918-October 24, 2016) was Europe’s first electric guitarist (does 1 Tweet count?), but I did hear it repeated by Toto’s Steve Lukather, the 2010 recipient of the Eddy Christiani Award. (Like me, Lukather acknowledged that he’d merely heard the claim.)

Be that as it may, Christiani was certainly early to electrify, as he was playing in jazz bands in the 1930s. His first electric was an Epiphone Electar Model M, which he got in 1939.

Early influences on Christiani were Django Reinhardt and American guitarist Eddy Lang, from whom the young Eduard presumably borrowed his nickname. And if the above video reminds hints at the influence of Chet Atkins, perhaps it’s because Christiani is playing a 1958 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Nashville. Christiani met Atkins in person in 1961.

For a full accounting of Christiani’s career, check out this excellent Dutch blog. Even if you can’t translate it from the Dutch, it gives a clear visual timeline of Christiani’s career, showing many good photos of the artist, his guitars, recordings and other performance paraphernalia. (I especially like the covers of Tuney Tunes magazine.)

 

Later in his career, Christiani turned to vocals, recording hits like “Daar Bij Der Waterkant” (“Down by the Riverside”). But there are still great instrumentals, as in the track below from 1963.

“Wild Geese” on Spotify

Issa Bagayogo, Fused Traditional African Sounds with Modern Dance Beats

Live at Roots & Routes, 2003

Issa Bagayogo (1961-October 10, 2016) played an ancient African instrument, the kamele n’goni, also known as the “hunter’s harp.” It is a 6-stringed instrument that is plucked like a banjo or guitar and is commonly used to accompany traditional vocals.

Bagayogo’s international breakthrough came in 1998, with the release of his album Sya on the Six Degrees Records label. Teaming up with French  keyboardist Yves Wernert, Bagayogo paired the n’goni with loops, samples and lyrics dealing with current topics like drugs, AIDS and cultural pride. Suddenly, the ancient rhythms of Africa were transformed into topical techno dance beats. It earned him the nickname “Techno Issa.”

The New York Times Jon Pareles noted similarities between African music and electronica in a 2002 review of Bagayogo: “Both use pattern and repetition to get people moving; both are willing to assimilate whatever comes along.”

“Diarabi” on Spotify

 

Bobby Vee, Teen Idol Who Gave Dylan His First Big Gig

“The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (1962)–Watch on YouTube

Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story, is a musical currently at the History Theatre in St. Paul through October 30. It’s an original production, produced with the collaboration of Vee’s sons Jeff and Tommy.

Vee’s story is certainly worthy of the stage. Born Robert Velline, his career took off at the age of 15 when he quickly filled in for a concert promoter in Moorehead, MN. The scheduled performers–Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper–had tragically died the night before in a plane crash near Clear Lake, IA.* While Vee and his band, The Shadows, weren’t paid for that gig, it did lead them to record “Suzie Baby,” their first single, in Minneapolis.

Vee (April 30, 1943-October 24, 2016) went on to record a #1 single, “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written by the Brill Building duo Carole King and Gerry Goffin. He had 38 Top 100 hits overall. One of Vee’s major claims to fame is giving a young pianist his first gig with a recording artist. The artist was Elston Gunn (aka Bobby Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan). The Minneapolis Star Tribune says the future Nobel Laureate called Vee “the most meaningful person I’ve ever been on stage with.”

“Suzie Baby” on Spotify

*The Surf Ballroom, where Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper last performed, still looks pretty much as it did on that fateful day in 1959.

Fergus Miller (aka Bored Nothing), Australian “Shoegaze”Musician

Bliss”–Watch on YouTube

Fergus Miller performed under the stage name Bored Nothing and came to international attention after his 2012 self-titled debut. His second and final album, Some Songs, was released in 2014.

Miller (1990-October 9, 2016) listed as influences My Bloody Valentine, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Elliot Smith, and critics have noted the similarity in vocals (Elliot Smith) and in his “shoegaze” style of instrumentation (My Bloody Valentine). Shoegaze is a sub-genre of indie rock that emerged in the late ’80s/early ’90s and is defined by significant distortion of guitars, feedback and obscured vocals. British critics coined the term based on the shy stage presence of artists representing the signature sound. Shoegaze is also sometimes called “dream pop.”

A video of “Let Down” from his first LP has received nearly a million views on YouTube. It was directed by Abteen Bagheri, a writer/director based in Los Angeles.

“Let Down” on Spotify

Alfonso Ramos, Jr., Member of Two Tejano Halls of Fame

Roy Montelongo Medley–Watch on YouTube

Alfonso Ramos, Jr. was a fixture in the Austin, TX music scene for over a half century. A saxophonist, he first played with his uncle Justin Perez’s band before starting his own, Alfonso Ramos y Su Orquestra in the 1950s. Ramos played popular Austin Latin music venues, including the City Coliseum, Latin Quarter and the Chapparal.

He recorded over 100 albums and performed before audiences around the country, including at the Mexican-American Inaugural Ball for President George W. Bush. His brother started Ruben Ramos and the Mexican Revolution, a group that won a Grammy for Best Tejano Music Album of 2009.

Ramos (October 22, 1936-October 4, 2016) is in the Tejano Music Awards Hall of Fame and the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame. If you hear similarities to polka in Tejano Music, it’s because it has its roots in the horn-driven music of the Germans, Poles and Czechs who immigrated to Texas and Mexico in the 19th century.

“La Verdad Desnuda” on Spotify

 

Don Ciccone, Guitarist and Vocalist for The Critters

“Younger Girl” from 1966–Watch on YouTube

Don Ciccone was a founding member of The Critters, one of a surge of American counterattacks to the British Invasion. The group offered up soft, “nice boy” vocals backed by the standard lineup of two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums.

The Critters were relatively short-lived (1964-1967), succumbing to the college and military careers of its members. But in that time they had several hits, including a cover of John Sebastian’s “Younger Girl” and their own oddly-titled single “Mr. Dieingly Sad,” which Ciccone wrote. (When Ciccone formed a new version of The Critters decades later, the title was slightly changed to “Mr. Dyingly Sad.”)

After The Critters, Ciccone was vocalist, guitarist and bassist for Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. He was the original vocal for their hit “Who Loves You” until record exec Mike Curb insisted Valli front the song. Ciccone (February 28, 1946-October 8, 2016) was later bassist for Tommy James and the Shondells. According to his website, Ciccone participated in the production of 40 hits, representing over 100 million in record sales.

“Mr. Dieingly Sad” on Spotify

Joan Marie Johnson of The Dixie Cups

“Chapel of Love”–Watch on YouTube

The group that would bump The Beatles off Billboard’s Top 100 was made up of three young teenagers, Joan Marie Johnson and her cousins Barbara Ann and Rosa Lee Hawkins. The trio joined up to compete in a talent show in their hometown of New Orleans. While they didn’t win the contest, they did catch the eye of Joe Jones, a talent scout and producer who was in the audience.

He took the girls to New York and got them a contract with Red Bird Records. Legendary producer Phil Spector co-wrote “Chapel of Love” with Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. The song became a million-seller and  toppled The Beatles “Love Me Do”to land at #1. “Chapel of Love” was covered by the Beach Boys and appears on the soundtracks of Full Metal Jacket and Father of the Bride.

The Dixie Cups had a few followup hits, but gave it up in 1966. While the Hawkins sisters eventually started performing and touring again, Johnson did not join them, although they would occasionally reunite for special occasions.

“Iko Iko” on Spotify