Rick Parfitt, Guitarist For Britain’s Status Quo

“Pictures of Matchstick Men”–Watch on YouTube

When I first saw the obit for Rick Parfitt, guitarist for Status Quo, I have to admit that I didn’t recall either his name or that of his band. But then I learned that Status Quo was behind psychedelic hit “Pictures of Matchstick Men.”

The 1968 single was their only hit in the U.S., reaching #12 on the Top 100. But they were very popular in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and have toured extensively for 50 years. Spotify listens of several of their tracks number over 10 million.

Parfitt (October 12, 1948-December 24, 2016) joined The Spectres, an earlier version of the band in 1965. In recent years, he and Status Quo founder Francis Rossi performed as an acoustic duo, which they called Aquostic.

“Pictures of Matchstick Men” from Aquostic: Stripped Bare on Spotify

Heinrich Schiff, Austrian Cellist And Conductor

J.S. Bach Solo Suite No. 3 in C major–Watch on YouTube

Heinrich Schiff’s 1985 recording of Bach’s Cello Suites stood out to many reviewers for its individuality.

James Leonard’s AllMusic review contrasted Schiff’s version favorably to Yo-Yo Ma’s “fay and fragile” interpretation. “In Schiff’s performance, Bach’s Cello Suites are not the neurasthenic music of a composer supine with dread and despair in the dark midnight of the soul, but the forceful music of a mature composer in full control of himself and his music.”

Gary S. Dalkin, writing for musicweb-international.comfound them perhaps too “brisk,” clocking in at just under 125 minutes for all six pieces compared to the 13o or even 140 minutes that many other cellists required.

Jed Distler gave a reissue of the recording a 10 for both Artistic and Sound Quality in ClassicsToday.com, calling it “arrestingly individual, musically profound, and sonically sumptuous.”

Schiff (November 18, 1951-December 23, 2016) said “Bach saved my life.” After suffering a stroke, the cellist repeated the fingerings of the famous Prelude to Suite No. 1 for 20 hours a day, according to a recollection reported in The Guardian. He believed this saved him from paralysis and from losing his speech.

Prelude to Bach Suite No. 1 on Spotify

Léo Marjane, French Chanteuse During Paris Occupation

Léo Marjane at 100 years–Watch on YouTube (in French)

The artistry of Thèrése Maria Léonie Gendeblen, who performed under the stage name Léo Marjane, is overshadowed by her career choices during the Nazi occupation of Paris. During this period, Marjane, a popular chanteuse, continued to perform in clubs frequented by collaborationists and Nazis and sang on the tainted Radio Paris, which came under German control and was seen as a mouthpiece of the Axis. (Radio Paris was shuttered after the liberation of Paris.)

Marjane (August 26, 1912-December 18, 2016) was not the only French artist to find herself in a no-win situation. Maurice Chevalier worked to salvage his reputation by claiming to leverage his popularity to secure the release of 10 French POWs. (A video of Chevalier’s PR defense can be seen on holocaustmusic.ort.org.) For her part, Marjane claimed to have been naive.

After the war, Marjane’s popularity waned, and she sought audiences elsewhere, in  the U.S., Canada and South America. She gave up performing entirely by 1960. In recent years, she has had a bit of a comeback, appearing on CD anthologies of music from the 1930s and 40s.

Léo Marjane lived to be 104.

“Seule ce soir” on Spotify

Karel Husa, Emigre Czech Composer

“Music for Prague 1968″–Watch on YouTube

Karl Husa was a Czech composer and conductor who emigrated to the United States in the 1950s. He is perhaps best known for “Music for Prague 1968,” a composition that he was inspired to write after he heard news of the Soviet invasion of his home country.

As explained on the LA Philharmonic website, the piece employs a 15th century Czech song, “Ye Warriors of God and His Law,” and uses the symbolism of various instruments throughout. The sound of bells, both as a sign of victory and distress, appear as a major theme in the piece. (Prague is known as the “City of A Hundred Spires.”) A piccolo solo represents a bird, itself a symbol for the liberty that has been so fleeting in Prague history.

“Music for Prague 1968” was originally scored for concert band and later transcribed for full orchestra.

Husa (August 7, 1921-December 14, 2016) was on the faculty of Cornell for nearly 40 years. He received a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1969 for his “String Quartet No. 3.”

“String Quartet No. 3: Allegro Moderato” on Spotify

 

Barrelhouse Chuck, Legendary Chicago Blues Piano Player

At the Terrassa Blues and Boogie Reunion, 2012–Watch on YouTube

 

Charles “Barrelhouse Chuck” Goering was a dedicated student of the blues from the time he bought his first Muddy Waters album. He started collecting as many blues albums as he could, and followed Waters and his pianist Pinetop Perkins throughout the South as they played at clubs.

He eventually migrated to Chicago, home of the electric blues, where he met more of his heroes. He learned the techniques of legends Perkins, Sunnyland Slim,  Blind John Davis, Detroit Junior and Little Brother Montgomery.

His apprenticeship paid off. Goering (July 10, 1958-December 14, 2016) got to perform with blues royalty, opening for Waters, B.B. King and Willie Dixon and playing with Bo Diddley. He joined musicians  on the soundtrack of the movie Cadillac Records, a movie based on the history of Chess Records, and participated in an all-star lineup to promote the film’s music at the Apollo Theater.

He was nominated for a traditional blues Grammy in 2010 and received the 2014 Living Blues Magazine Critics Award for “Most Outstanding Musician (Keyboards).”

“Salute to Sunnyland Slim” on Spotify

Joe Ligon, Gospel Frontman for The Mighty Clouds of Joy

Thehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpMOIiqzbCU

“I’ve Been In The Storm Too Long” (2 Versions)–Watch on YouTube

Joe Ligon was an Alabama-born gospel singer who moved to LA and started the legendary gospel group, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, in the 1950s. The group won three Grammys in the 1970s and were the first gospel group to appear on Soul Train.

Their contemporary approach to gospel helped them cross over to the R&B charts and earned them a spot as opening acts for Paul SImon, the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin.

Their first recording, “Steal Away To Jesus” was for the Peacock label in 1960. Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, while liking some of their later work, still held this early work in high regard: “Is it the formal purity of the Peacock stuff, leaving the excitement to Joe Ligon’s falsetto-piercing shouts, that makes their sermonizing so unpresumptuous?”

“Mighty High”-Live-On Spotify

Esma Redzepova, Queen of Gypsy Music

“Romano Horo”–Watch on YouTube

Esma Redzepova was born in what is now Macedonia and was during her lifetime both Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Her music reflected the shifting borders, politics, ethnic influences and languages of her Balkan upbringing. The daughter of a Turkish-Serbian couple, with Muslim, Jewish and Roman Catholic roots, she could sing in more than 10 languages.

She was a devoted advocate and cultural ambassador of Roma, or “gypsy,” music, appearing at festivals worldwide, recording 20 albums and being among the first Roma artists to perform on television.

Redzepova (August 8, 1943-December 11, 2016) earned numerous awards, including the Macedonian Order of Merit and the “Roma Singer of the Century” in Moscow. She was crowned “Queen of the Romany Songs” by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the first Gypsy World Music Festival in India in 1976.  In 2010, she was ranked on of the 50 greatest voices of the world by National Public Radio. In 2013, as part of the duo “Esma and Lozano,” she represented Macedonia in the semifinals of the Eurovision Song Contest.

You may have heard her hit “Caje sukarije” in the soundtrack of Borat. She was deeply disturbed by its use which she had not personally authorized.

“Caje sukarije” on Spotify

Herb Hardesty, Saxophonist for Fats Domino

“When My Dreamboat Comes Home,” Solo by Herb Hardesty–Watch on YouTube

Herb Hardesty was a tenor sax player whose most famous gig was with Fats Domino, as a member of “The Fat Man’s” sax-heavy band. Hardesty played with Domino for nearly 50 years, from the singer’s 1949 debut single “The Fat Man” through his farewell concert in 2007.

Hardesty (March 3, 1925-December 3, 2016) was admired by other musicians, as well. He’s on “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” a 1952 hit by Lloyd Price and has appeared on Dr. John’s Goin’ Back to New Orleans and Tom Waits Blue Valentine. (You can hear a Hardesty solo on “A Sweet Little Bullet from a Pretty Blue Gun” on Waits’ 1978 album.) In his later years in Las Vegas, he was part of the Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Hilton Hotel bands.

Hardesty’s first instrument was a trumpet given to his stepfather by Louis Armstrong. While in the service in WWII, he was given a sax by his commanding officer, and is said to have learned how to play it in just two days. For many years he played a gold-plated Selmer Mark VI, dubbed “the most famous horn on the planet” by The Vintage Saxophone Gallery.

“Perdido St.” on Spotify

Russell Oberlin, American Countertenor

“Vivi, tiranno” from Handel’s Rodelinda–Watch on YouTube

Russell Oberlin was America’s first well-known countertenor. According to The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music, a countertenor is a high “male [voice] not to be confused  with male alto, falsetto, or castrato, and with a strong, almost [instrumental] purity of tone.” Countertenors were popular in Handel’s and Purcell’s time, and had a revival in the mid-20th century.

Oberlin (October 11, 1928-November 26, 2016) performed extensively during the 1950s and 1960s and gained exposure through the new medium of television as well as film. He stopped performing in the mid-60s to devote his time to teaching. He was on the faculty at Hunter College  for 30 years.

Leonard Bernstein selected Oberlin for a 1955 recording of Handel’s Messiah, and he was cast in the role of Oberon for Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Oberlin was a founding member of the Pro Music Antiqua (now New York Pro Musica), a vocal and instrumental ensemble devoted to medieval and Renaissance music.

“Quand Vei La Laudeta Mover” on Spotify

Greg Lake of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer

“Lucky Man” – Watch on YouTube

Greg Lake was a founding member of two influential progressive rock bands of the 60s and 70s. First he was a bassist and vocalist for King Crimson with guitarist friend Robert Fripp. But after seeing the band through its debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King, he broke off to join The Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson, whom he had met while the two bands toured together.

Lake (November 10, 1947-December 7, 2016) did not like the “progressive” label. He sought to create a distinctive rock music that traced its roots to European music traditions as opposed to American blues. ELP’s grandiose stage shows and baroque arrangements were hits with fans, but not always with critics. Village Voice writer Robert Christgau dismissed them as “as stupid as their most pretentious fans.”

For ELP, Lake played guitar and sang. His autobiography, Lucky Man, is named after the group’s popular song of the same name, which Lake wrote when he was only 12. Rolling Stone lists it as one of the “10 Essential Songs”of ELP.

“Karn Evil 9 1st Impression” on Spotify