Saturday, December 31, 2016

In Memoriam 2016: Prince to Bernie Worrell

Prince, Coachella 2008, coutesy Micahmedia
Prince 2008, courtesy Micahmedia
This year was absolutely brutal for musicians…in a normal year, I sadly have to write up a couple dozen ‘end-of-year’ obituaries; for 2016, I had over 70 musicians, writers, and producers to memorialize. Our “In Memoriam” feature is so large this year that I’ve broken it down into three parts. To follow is in tribute to the artists that have made the music we love…

Part One: Mose Allison to Jimmy Guterman
Part Two: Georgio Gomelsky to Alphonse Mouzon

Prince Rogers Nelson (57)
The enormous talent known simply as ‘Prince,’ the singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Price Rogers Nelson exploded onto the late ‘70s pop music scene with his brilliant 1978 debut album For You. Sure of his talents, Prince played all the instruments on the collection of funk, rock, and soul. He broke through commercially with his self-titled sophomore album in 1979, and followed quickly with Dirty Mind (1980) and Controversy (1981). It was with his fifth album, released in 1982, that he became a superstar, 1999 charting Top 10 in the U.S. on its way to selling over four million copies domestically. Prince topped his previous success with the 1984 soundtrack to his hit movie Purple Rain selling over 13 million copies stateside and over 22 million worldwide, topping the charts in the U.S. and going Top 10 in a dozen other countries.

Only Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and Michael Jackson came close to matching Prince’s commercial dominance during the 1980s, albums like Around The World In A Day (1985), Parade (1986), Sign O’ The Times (1987), and his soundtrack to the film Batman (1989) all achieving Platinum™ sales status. Prince’s commercial achievements continued well into the 1990s, and although his Graffiti Bridge (1990), Come (1994), and The Gold Experience (1995) albums failed to his Platinum™ level sales, albums like Diamonds and Pearls (1991) and Emancipation (1996) hit that status easily. During this period, Prince had a contentious relationship with his record label, Warner Brothers, which led to lawsuits and, by the end of the decade, a long anticipated split with the label.

Always prolific to a fault, music literally spilled out of Prince during the new millennium, the artist releasing fifteen full-length albums between 2001 and 2015 with enough new material allegedly stashed away in his vault for another dozen records. Much of Prince’s music during the 2000s flew under the commercial radar for all but his most faithful of fans, and the artist never really developed an independent distribution outlet for his wealth of music, either via the Internet or otherwise. A pair of albums stand out, however – 2004’s Musicology was distributed by Columbia Records and went Top 10 in the U.S. and the U.K. while selling better than two million copies stateside, while 2006’s Universal Music-distributed 3121 album topped the U.S. charts.

Interest in Prince and his music was renewed when the artist played the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI in February 2007. Performing on a large stage shaped like his symbol, the artist’s brief but dynamic stage show was seen by an estimated 140 million viewers. Prince continued to write and produce music in his own studio up until the time of his death, including a pair of 2015 albums, and his estate promises more to come. An emotionally powerful singer; an underrated guitarist; a brilliant songwriter; and a talented multi-instrumentalist, during a career that spanned five decades, Prince released 43 studio and live albums, five soundtrack albums, and numerous singles and videos, earning the artist seven Grammy™ Awards and an Academy Award for Purple Rain. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, Prince is widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, his genius touching rock, pop, R&B, and hip-hop artists to this day.

Thunderclap Newman's Hollywood Dream
Andy Newman (73)
Pianist Andy “Thunderclap” Newman was a member of the British rock band Thunderclap Newman formed by the Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend and his manager/producer Kit Lambert to record songs by the Who’s driver John “Speedy” Keen. The band was comprised of Newman, Keen on drums, and teenage guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (who would go on to play with Paul McCartney’s band Wings). Thunderclap Newman scored a single hit with the 1969 song “Something In The Air,” from the band’s critically-acclaimed album Hollywood Dream, which was produced by Townshend (who also played bass on the record under a pseudonym). After the break-up of Thunderclap Newman, the pianist recorded a 1971 solo album, Rainbow, and played on albums by George Harrison and former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band madman Roger Ruskin Spear before retiring from music. Newman resurrected the Thunderclap Newman name for a new band in the late 2000s, recording the 2010 album Beyond Hollywood

Rick Parfitt (68)
Singer and guitarist Rick Parfitt was a member of influential British hard rock band Status Quo for nearly 50 years. The band was originally formed by guitarist Francis Rossi and bassist Alan Lancaster in 1962, first as the Scorpions and later as the Spectres. They changed the band’s name to Status Quo in 1967 when Parfitt joined, the band releasing its debut album – Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From the Status Quo – in 1968, scoring a hit out of the gate with the psychedelic classic “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” During the half-century Parfitt played guitar with the band, he performed on over 30 Status Quo albums and co-wrote some of their biggest hits like “Whatever You Want,” “Again and Again,” and “Rain.” Parfitt retired from the band in October 2016 after suffering a heart attack, and the guitarist had plans to launch a solo career at the time of his death. 

Sandy Pearlman (72)
Samuel “Sandy” Pearlman was an artist manager, music producer, and songwriter best-known for his work with the hard rock band Blue Oyster Cult. Pearlman managed the band, with Murray Krugman, from 1967 to 1995, and produced or co-produced seven BOC studio and four live albums, including the band’s 1976 commercial breakthrough, Agents of Fortune. Pearlman also produced essential works by the Clash (1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope), the Dictators (all three of the band’s 1970s-era albums), Pavlov’s Dog, and Dream Syndicate (1984’s Medicine Show). As a band manager, Pearlman worked with talents like Black Sabbath, the Dictators, Aldo Nova, and Romeo Void. With a career spanning several decades, Pearlman was a contributing writer for Paul Williams Crawdaddy! music zine in the 1960s and was the founding Vice President of during the 1990s.      

Blowfly's Super Blow Fly
Clarence Henry Reid a/k/a Blowfly (76)
A true American treasure, Clarence Henry Reid – better known by his stage persona “Blowfly” – was a groundbreaking American musician, songwriter, and producer famed for his sexually explicit records. Originally known as a successful songwriter and producer in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Reid wrote songs for, and produced artists like Betty Wright, Sam & Dave, KC & the Sunshine Band, and Gwen McCrae, who scored several R&B chart hits with Reid’s songs. Reid was also a recording artist who found modest success. For laughs, Reid wrote sexually explicit versions of hit songs that he performed at parties or in the studio, and in 1971 he recorded a collection of naughty parodies of hits by B.J. Thomas, Otis Redding, James Brown and others under a newly-created alter-ego, Blowfly.

The Weird World of Blowfly album found an appreciative audience, and Reid continued to record bawdy musical comedy under the Blowfly persona, cranking out better than two dozen such “party records” during his lengthy career. In later years, Reid found an entirely new audience after signing with punk legend Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label for albums like 2005’s Fahrenheit 69 and the following year’s Blowfly’s Punk Rock Party, which featured send-ups of punk rock songs by Biafra’s band the Dead Kennedys, the Ramones, Black Flag, and the Dead Boys. A documentary film was made of the artist, The Weird World of Blowfly, which was released in 2011. Arguably one of the first rap artists, Reid’s songs have been sampled by a number of hip-hop, R&B, and electronic artists including the Wu Tang Clan, Beyonce, DJ Quik, Big Daddy Kane, Mary J. Blige, and DJ Shadow. Reid died of liver cancer in January 2016, his final Blowfly album – 77 Rusty Trombones – released a month later.

Mack Rice (82)
Soul singer and songwriter Bonny “Mack” Rice (a/k/a Sir Mack Rice) is best known as the writer of the Wilson Pickett hit “Mustang Sally.” Rice scored a hit with the song in 1965, his version peaking at #15 on the R&B chart, but while the singer found modest success as a performer recording for labels like Motown, Stax, and Atco Records, his talents as a songwriter are undeniable. Rice wrote “Respect Yourself” with Luther Ingram, the song a major hit for the Staple Singers, and his songs have been recorded by artists like Ike & Tina Turner, Albert King, Etta James, the Rascals, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Buddy Guy, and Otis Clay, among others.

Matt Roberts (38)
Founding guitarist for 3 Doors Down from 1996 and 2012, Roberts left the band due to health issues. Roberts was co-writer of the band’s Top 10 hits “Kryptonite” from their 2000 debut album, The Better Life, and “When I’m Gone,” from their 2002 sophomore effort Away From The Sun.

Leon Russell 1980
Leon Russell
Leon Russell (74)
Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Leon Russell is best-known for his string of early ‘70s-era hit albums and FM radio-friendly singles. Russell’s sound was pure American music, a gospel-tinged blend of boogie-woogie, blues, roots-rock, and country music that was delivered in with a unique Okie patois and vibrant piano-pounding that rivaled his former boss Jerry Lee Lewis at times. Read our complete obit

Gilli Smyth (83)
Gillian “Gilli” Smyth was an English musician and a member of the ground-breaking prog-rock outfit Gong and its various offshoot bands like Mother Gong and Planet Gong. An academic who held three degrees from King’s College in London, Smyth met long-time partner Daevid Allen while teaching in Paris. She began her career reading poetry to the music of Allen’s band Soft Machine, subsequently helping form Gong with guitarist Steve Hillage. Smyth wrote or co-wrote songs for early Gong albums like 1970’s Magick Brother and 1972’s Continental Circus. Smyth also recorded as a solo artist, releasing her debut album Mother in 1978 and Paradise, her last album, in 2012.   

Danny Smythe (67)
Danny Smythe was the original drummer for blue-eyed soul legends the Box Tops. Born in Memphis, Smythe was the last remaining member of local band the Devilles, which he’d formed in 1963. The band changed its name in 1967 to the Box Tops with the addition of singer, songwriter, and guitarist Alex Chilton. While with the Box Tops, Smythe appeared on some of the band’s biggest hits, including “The Letter” and “Cry Like A Baby,” the drummer leaving the band in 1968 after the release of the Top 30 hit “Neon Rainbow” to return to school. Smythe studied art after leaving the band, and painted murals for restaurants and hotel lobbies and was a freelance illustrator for ad agencies. The original Box Tops line-up, including Chilton, reunited in 1996, the band releasing the Tear Off! album, featuring Smythe’s cover design, in 1998. The Box Tops continued to tour until Chilton’s death in 2010.   

John Stabb (54)
John Dukes Schroeder, better known as singer ‘John Stabb,’ was a founding member of influential hardcore punk rockers Government Issue, performing as the band’s frontman through various line-ups and reunions and singing on all six of the band’s studio albums. In addition to his longtime tenure with Government Issue, Stabb also performed with bands like the Factory Incident, Emma Peel, and Betty Blue. Stabb was also a freelance writer, contributing to publications like the Washington City Paper and Forced Exposure.

Ralph Stanley (89)
American bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley was known for his distinctive vocals and innovative banjo playing. Stanley began his career in 1946, playing with his brother Carter as part of the Stanley Brothers and later as the leader of his own band, the Clinch Mountain Boys. When Carter Stanley died in 1967, Ralph went out on his own with the Clinch Mountain Boys which, at one time, included future country music stars Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley. Stanley found newfound fame when his song “O Death” was included by producer T-Bone Burnett on the soundtrack of the popular 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? The song earned the veteran bluegrass picker his first Grammy Award and Stanley continued to tour for years afterwards. Stanley was inducted into both the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor and the Grand Ole Opry.

Lewie Steinberg (82)
Lewis “Lewie” Steinberg was the original bassist for Stax Records stars Booker T & the M.G.’s, performing with the band from 1962 to 1965 including on their hit “Green Onions” and the album of the same name. Born in Memphis, Steinberg also played on the M.G.’s sophomore album, Soul Dressing, after which he left the band. Steinberg was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a Grammy™ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. 

Martin Stone (70)
Guitarist for the Action, Mighty Baby, the Pink Fairies, Snakefinger, and Savoy Brown, among others, Stone was a ‘60s-era contemporary of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page and was thought by many to be the equal in talent with those legends. Stone survived the British ‘mod’ era, moved effortlessly into the blues-rock boom of the late ‘60s, and was a major player in the early-to-mid ‘70s pub-rock scene in England, playing in the 101ers with Joe Strummer and forming beloved rockers Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers. Stone gradually retired from the music business and became a book dealer in France.

David Swarbrick (75)
English folk musician and songwriter David Swarbrick is best known for his groundbreaking work with the band Fairport Convention. Swarbrick’s fiddle playing is considered the blueprint for British folk artists to follow, and his contributions to Fairport Convention albums like 1969’s Liege & Lief and 1970’s Full House are credited for keeping the band’s sound rooted to British folk tradition. Swarbrick kept the band going after the departures of Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson, the fiddle player appearing on all eleven of the band’s albums until their 1979 break-up.

After Fairport Convention, Swarbrick pursued a solo career as well as played with bands like Whippersnapper and the Ian Campbell Folk Group and with British folk legend Martin Carthy. Swarbrick was much in demand as a session player, and his raging fiddle can be heard on albums by his former bandmates Denny and Thompson, folk-rocker Al Stewart, singer Vashti Bunyan, and guitarists John Renbourne and Bert Jansch, among many others. Swarbrick suffered for years with emphysema, undergoing a double lung transplant in October 2004, subsequently returning to the road as both a solo performer and as a duo with longtime friend and collaborator Carthy. Swarbrick also reunited with early Fairport Convention members in 2007 to perform Liege & Lief live. Swarbrick released almost a dozen solo albums during his lengthy career, and is credited with playing on almost 160 more; his influence on traditional British music is undeniable.      

Jerome Teasley (67)
A member of the Motown Hall of Fame, drummer Jerome Teasley toured for years with Junior Walker & the All Stars. Teasley also worked with Al Green, playing on the singer’s 1967 debut album, as well as jazz saxophonist Sonny Stitt, guitarist Jimi Hendrix, and soul singers Wilson Pickett and Tina Turner.

Toots Thielmans photo by Ron van der Kolk
Toots Thielmans photo by Ron van der Kolk
Toots Thielemans (94)
Born in Belgium, Toots Thielemans was a legend in jazz music known for his innovative harmonica playing as well as his underrated guitar skills. Thielemans’ first professional performances were with Benny Goodman’s band during their 1949/50 European tour. Thielemans emigrated to the United States in 1951 and became a citizen in 1957, during which time he mostly played with pianist George Shearing’s band. Thielemans released his solo debut album, The Sound, in 1955 and would lead his own bands during the 1960s, subsequently releasing several albums.

During the 1970s and ‘80s, Thielemans recorded and toured with such talents as Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Pat Metheny, and Jaco Pastorius as well as sporadically releasing his own material. During this time, he also became an in-demand session player, and Thielemans’ magic harp can be heard on records by Billy Joel, Julian Lennon, Paul Simon, and Quincy Jones. Thielemans also recorded a number of movie soundtracks throughout the years, including Midnight Cowboy, Cinderella Liberty, The Wiz, and French Kiss, among others, and his theme to the television show Sesame Street was heard by viewers for over 40 years. 

Peter Tolson (64)
Guitarist Peter Tolson was a member of legendary British rockers the Pretty Things from 1970 through 1980 or so, through several break-ups and rosters of the band, appearing on the albums Freeway Madness, Silk Torpedo, Savage Eye, and Cross Talk. Prior to his stint with the Pretties, Tolson had been guitarist for cult rockers √Čire Apparent, and afterwards he formed the band Metropolis with bassist Jack Green. He would later play behind Green on his first two solo albums. Tolson would later reunite with late ‘60s/early ‘70s era Pretty Things members Jon Povey, Wally Waller, and Skip Allan as xPTs in 2009 to remake the band’s classic Parachute album.

Jimmie Van Zant (60)
Jimmie Kelsay was the illegitimate son of E.C. Van Zant, who was the uncle of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie and Johnny Van Zant. He took up guitar and piano as a child, helped by his cousin Ronnie, but didn’t take up music professionally until the 1977 plane crash that killed his cousin. Adopting his father’s last name, Jimmie released his Southern rock debut album, The Jimmie Van Zant Band, in 1996, following it up with 2000’s Southern Comfort LP. Van Zant toured constantly with his band, performing better than 200 shows annually. Van Zant released his third and final album, Feels Like Freedom, in 2012.

Alan Vega's Alan Vega LP
Alan Vega (78)
Born Boruch Alan Bermowitz, but known to New York City’s CBGB’s crowd as Alan Vega, he was a singer and visual artist best known as one-half of the groundbreaking electronic punk duo Suicide. Along with partner Martin Rev, Suicide pioneered the use of minimalist electronic instrumentation and primitive drum machines. They preceded the late ‘70s punk scene by better than a half decade, but were readily embraced for the raucous nature of their performances. Suicide may have provided a musical blueprint for the post-punk, synth-pop, techno, and electronic music that followed during the 1980s and ‘90s, but Vega also enjoyed a significant and influential solo career. His rockabilly-tinged self-titled 1980 debut album was the first of over a dozen albums to follow, and throughout the span of his solo career Vega worked with talents like Ric Ocasek (The Cars), Al Jourgensen (Ministry), Alex Chilton, Ben Vaughan, Lydia Lunch, and Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle/Psychick TV).

Don Waller (65)
Music journalist, publisher, and singer Don Waller co-published the Los Angeles based music zine Back Door Man as well as contributed to music publications like Spin, Mojo, and Creem, trade papers Radio & Records and Billboard, and newspapers like Detroit’s Metro Times and the Los Angeles Times. Waller fronted the proto-punk band the Imperial Dogs, wrote a bunch of album liner notes and, in 1985, published his history of Motown Records called The Motown Story.

Maurice White (74)
American singer, songwriter, musician, and producer Maurice White is best known as the founder of legendary R&B band Earth, Wind & Fire. The older brother of EW&F member Verdine White and former member Fred White, during his tenure with EW&F, Maurice was the band’s main songwriter and producer, and shared lead singer duties with Philip Bailey. From its founding in 1970, Earth, Wind & Fire has won six Grammy™ Awards and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for the band’s unique mix of R&B, funk, soul, jazz, and pop music.

White was a session drummer for Chess Records and a former member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio when he hooked up with two friends, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, as a songwriting team. As the Salty Peppers, the trio signed with Capitol Records and scored a regional hit with the 1969 song “La La Time.” When a second single flopped, White moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and formed Earth, Wind & Fire. Signing with Warner Brothers Records, the band found only modest success; after moving to Columbia Records, their second album for the label (and fourth overall), 1973’s Head To The Sky broke into the Top 30. EW&F’s Open Our Eyes (1974) inched even higher on the charts, and with 1975’s classic That’s The Way of The World, the band went multi-Platinum™.

A string of million-selling albums would follow well into the 1980s, and White released a self-titled solo album in 1985 that would be a modest hit. White developed Parkinson’s disease during the late ‘80s and retired from touring with EW&F in 1994, although he kept control of the band. White also made a name for himself as a top notch producer during the 1980s and ‘90s, producing albums by Deniece Williams, Ramsey Lewis, Neil Diamond, and the Emotions, among others, and he lent his talents to scores of recordings by artists like Minnie Riperton, Weather Report, Barbara Streisand, and Cher.

James Woolley (50)
Keyboardist for Nine Inch Nails circa 1991 to ’94, James Woolley first came to prominence as a musical collaborator with Chicago industrial rock band Die Warzau. Woolley toured with NIN during the band’s 1991 Lollapalooza Tour, playing keys and synthesizer, and again on the band’s 1994 Self Destruct Tour. Woolley also contributed to the band Sister Machine Gun’s 1994 album The Torture Technique and toured in 1978 with former Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford’s short-lived band 2wo, which included Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5. Woolley earned a Grammy™ Award with NIN in 1993 for “Best Metal Performance” for the band’s song “Wish” from their EP Broken

Bernie Worrell 1998, courtesy MikaV
Bernie Worrell 1998, courtesy MikaV
Bernie Worrell (72)
Keyboardist George Bernard “Bernie” Worrell, Jr. was an innovative and influential musician and songwriter best known as a founding member of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Parliament-Funkadelic. Worrell’s imaginative keyboards can be heard on such classic Funkadelic albums as Free Your Mind…and Your Ass Will Follow (1970), Maggot Brain (1971), Cosmic Slop (1973), and One Nation Under A Groove (1978) as well as essential Parliament albums as Chocolate City and Mothership Connection (both 1975).

When bandleader George Clinton decided that Parliament-Funkadelic would take a hiatus from touring in the 1980s, Worrell toured and recorded with rockers like Adrian Belew and Talking Heads. The keyboardist co-produced the 1984 solo album from the B52’s Fred Schneider, and during the 1980’s and ‘90s, Worrell performed on records by Bill Laswell’s Praxis, Jack Bruce, Fela Kuti, Ginger Baker, and Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) as well as releasing a number of solo albums. Worrell hooked up with Primus bassist Les Claypool and guitarist Buckethead as Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains during the early ‘00s, and kept busy with various musical collaborations until his death.

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