Caroline Crawley, Co-Founder and Lead Vocalist for Shellyan Orphan

“Epitaph, Ivy & Woe” Live on The Tube (1987)–Watch on YouTube

Carolyn Crawley was lead vocalist for Shellyan Orphan, a British duo she co-founded with guitarist Jemaur Tayle. They recorded four albums between 1987-2008. The group allegedly took its name from the Shelley poem “Spirit of Solitude.” (I had no luck in finding where in this dense and lengthy poem.)

In addition to Shellyan Orphan, Crawley (August 8, 1963-October 4, 2016) also recorded with Babacar on its eponymous album. You can hear her on the track “Midsummer.” She can be seen in a video cover of Syd Barrett’s “Late Night,” which she did with the band Mortal Coil.

“Midsummer” with Babacar on Spotify

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

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

Matt Roberts, Founding Lead Guitarist of 3 Doors Down

“Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down-Vevo Video

Matt Roberts (January 10, 1978-August 21, 2016) was the lead and founding guitarist of 3 Doors Down, a Mississippi-based post-grunge band that gained wide popularity in the late 90s and early aughts, especially after the release of their debut album The Better Life.

Post-grunge is an offshoot of Seattle-based  Nirvana and Pearl Jam, bands who defined the grunge sound with distorted guitars and angst-ridden lyrics. Once those groups had started to build a big following, other bands and labels started to capitalize on their sound (if not their attitudes). Bush, Candlebox and Collective Soul were part of this first phase.

3 Doors Down represents the second wave of post-grunge along with Creed and Nickelback. While not always critical favorites, 3 Doors Down have definitely been fan favorites, with two multi-platinum albums and top-charting singles. A relentless touring schedule has boosted fan loyalty, while taking its toll: Roberts left the band in 2012, citing health reasons.

“Loser” from The Better Life on Spotify

 

 

James Woolley, Former Keyboardist for Nine Inch Nails

“Closer”–Official Video from Woodstock ’94

James Woolley toured with Nine Inch Nails for four years, appearing with them at Woodstock ’94 and recording on their Broken EP and 1994’s The Downward Spiral (although he was not credited on either). He received a Best Metal Performance Grammy for “Happiness in Slavery” off the Woodstock ’94 compilation.

Before NIN, he was a contributor to the Chicago industrial band Die Warzau. Later he returned to join Die Warzau on their album Convenience and to play in 2wo (formed by Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford) and his own project, VOID.

Writing about him following his death, his ex-wife Kate Van Buren said he “brought coolness to playing keyboards, which isn’t as easy to do as playing guitar or drums.”

“Hurt” from The Downward Spiral on Spotify

B.E. Taylor, Who Found Niche in Holiday Music

“What Child is This?” Live at Heinz Hall-Video

I shouldn’t be surprised. Much of my career has been spent in retail, where every day of the year is spent anticipating, planning for or fretting about holiday sales. But looking at the Nielsen 2015 U.S. Music Year-End Report, I was still surprised to learn that the Holiday/Seasonal category accounts for more total music sales (digital, physical and streaming combined) than either jazz or classical.

So it’s no surprise, I guess, that artists, from Elvis to Nick Lowe, have found room for a holiday album or two in their catalogs. It would be a missed opportunity, after all.

B.E. Taylor made holiday music an even larger part of his career. Four of the eight albums on his website are holiday-themed. His concerts in Southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio drew over 40,000 fans a year, including two-night sold-out performances at both Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall and Wheeling’s Capitol Music Hall. PBS aired his Christmas concerts during fundraising periods.

But Christmas music wasn’t Taylor’s only accomplishment. With his band B.E. Taylor Group, he came to fame with a 1984 rock hit, “Vitamin L,” which made it to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre commissioned him for a live performance of his love ballads. And Marvin Hamlisch and the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops joined him in a live performance of his patriotic album One Nation Under God.

Taylor (March 18, 1951-August 7, 2016) was born in Aliquippa, PA, but lived for the past 30 years in my hometown of Wheeling, WV.

“Mary’s Boy Child” on Spotify

Prince, Creative Genius Behind the “Minneapolis Sound”

Prince at Super Bowl XLI

Forget six degrees of separation. If you’ve lived in Minneapolis since the late 1970s, you’re likely connected to Prince by two, maybe three degrees. It seems everybody knows–or knows someone who knows- a photographer, musician,  club owner, music writer, costume designer, or ad agency exec who had a direct connection to Prince.

I arrived in Minneapolis in 1977, and it was around the time when you’d see articles in the local entertainment weekly, The Reader, about Prince Rogers Nelson, a local teenage prodigy, who had a mind-blowing talent to cross genres and play guitar with a skill compared to Hendrix. I’m not sure I saw it coming, but others (at least in retrospect) say they predicted his rise to the highest strata of artists–right up there with Elvis, Dylan and the Beatles. I knew his passing was a big deal, but I was not quite prepared for the non-stop coverage it has received in the past days–not just from the local media, but internationally. Typical Minnesota humility, I suppose, but even Super Bowl performances, Oscar wins and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status couldn’t quite convince us that a global superstar was among us.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

And he was. It’s now common knowledge that he frequented the Electric Fetus record store and the Dakota jazz club. Local acts still can find their way onto the stage at First Avenue, made famous for its role in “Purple Rain.” I used to drive by Paisley Park in the innocuous white-bread suburb of Chanhassen on my way to my son’s baseball games. The building was white, but otherwise not noteworthy–hardly the architectural counterpart to Prince’s camera-magnet wardrobe.

Maybe I’m a homer, but there’s something about this state that seems to breed creative originals. In addition to Prince, there’s Dylan, of course, but also the Coen Brothers and Garrison Keillor, to name a few. These are people who rewrite the rules of their art, who originate whole genres, who refuse to fall into predictable paths. A Swedish creative director I know, who worked for a time in Minneapolis, speculated that people from Nordic climates have more time to ruminate, imagine, experiment, perfect. A long, dark winter is a  better environment for creative introspection than a sunny surf beach.

“Cream” on MTV Unplugged

I imagine Prince Rogers Nelson, who went to high school 20 blocks north of me, spent his time this way, listening intently to music and tinkering with the pianos and guitars that came his way. Breakthrough artists often come from unlikely places–Liverpool, Tupelo, Lubbock, Hibbing. Prince was one of the true originals. In the past few days, I’ve heard him called our generation’s Mozart, the one artist who will still be talked about 50, 100 years from now. For once, it doesn’t sound like hyperbole.

Sir George Martin Who Helped Shape the Sound of The Beatles

Paul McCartney: From the Archive – George Martin

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to include producers and have generally preferred to focus on the performers instead. But it’s hard not to make an exception for Sir George Martin, the producer known affectionately as the “Fifth Beatle.” Throughout the group’s short but prolific career, he mentored, collaborated with and helped the group reach the pinnacle of rock stardom. It’s hard to think of another celebrity producer so adept at morphing to an artist’s changing tastes and doing it with such mastery.

The Beatles – The Making of “Please Please Me”

Martin, a classical and jazz producer (with a few comedy albums to boot!), was not initially interested in overseeing a pop band. But he graciously agreed to hear them in the studio, and he saw enough raw talent to give it a go. He ushered them through their initial hits–the songs that sparked the British Invasion and launched Beatlemania. But as they pushed themselves away from being teen idols to experiment with new kinds of songs and recording, he had the musical knowledge and expertise to help them along.

Beatles Song Tribute

It’s amazing when you stop to think that only a handful of years separated “Meet The Beatles” from “Rubber Soul,” “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper’s.” Martin was the wizard in the control room who helped make the group’s creative dreams come true. He added strings to “Yesterday,” over the initial objections of Paul McCartney. He showed them the effects of playing tape backwards and even cutting up and reassembling sounds, techniques that can be heard in songs like “I Am the Walrus” and “A Day in the Life.” With each Beatles album, new heights were reached and the rest of the rock world scrambled to stay relevant, often trying to mimic the sounds, instrumentation, recording techniques and attitudes that The Beatles originated in Sir George’s lab.

Lennie Baker, Singer of “Blue Moon,” Other Sha Na Na Hits



“Blue Moon” at Winterland, 1973

Lennie Baker was both a singer and saxophone player for Sha Na Na, the  1950s retro rock-and-roll band. He joined soon after their career-launching performance at Woodstock (only their eighth performance as a band), where they went on stage at sunrise on the last day of the festival, just before Jimi Hendrix.

“Ding-a-Ling-a-Ling Ding-Dong” on Sha Na Na TV Show

Baker (April 18, 1946-February 24, 2016) was on board during their long touring career and appeared with Sha Na Na in the movie production of Grease. In the movie, he sings “Blue Moon” as part of the fictional Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. You can also see him in the documentary Festival Express, which chronicles the cross- Canada train ride of musical festival performers, including Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, The Flying Burrito Brothers–and Sha Na Na.

 

“Mr. Bass Man” 

Baker participated in the group’s eponymous TV show, a kind of doo wop Hee Haw, that ran from 1978-1981. He retired from the group in 2000. Before Sha Na Na, Baker played sax for another 1950s-themed group, Danny and the Juniors.

 



Dan Hicks, Leader of the Hot Licks

“By Hook Or By Crook,” 1972

I was first introduced to Dan Hicks by my then-girlfriend (later my wife and ex-wife), who brought Hicks’ albums Where’s The Money? and Last Train to Hicksville back from her years at a suburban Chicago college.

I was amused by Hicks’ indifference to modern musical trends. He wasn’t rock, or even folk, but something else altogether. Were it not for his wry lyrics and hippyish looks, he wouldn’t have seemed of our generation at all. (Harry Nilsson took a similar retro turn with his Schmilsson projects.)

“Jukies’ Ball,” 1969 Promo Film

Hicks (December 9, 1941-February 6, 2016) started out in the rock world as a drummer for The Charlatans, a San Francisco psychedelic band that was defining the genre with other local standouts, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

“I Scare Myself,” Live in San Francisco, 2001

I saw the Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks in the late ’90s at the short-lived Rossi’s, an underground jazz bar in Minneapolis. As my friend Brian recalls, he walked through the crowd, playing, on his way to the stage. He opened by saying “I’m sure you’re all here to hear my big hit “Where’s The Money?” Well, we’re not going to play it.”

Whether he did or not, I can’t remember.