Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sonny James and others who have passed through

It's high time that I paid tribute to some of the musicians who have passed on in the last few weeks. After the torrent of high profile deaths last month things have been a little quieter, but there are still quite a few who have made their mark and passed through to the other side.
Sonny James first came to my attention way back in 1956 when he recorded The Cat Came Back, a
good pop song of the era, which he followed up with Twenty Feet Of Muddy Water and a number one US hit with Young Love, which lost out to Tab Hunter's rather anaemic version in the UK. After that I rather lost sight of him as his country orientated material didn't really appeal, but he had huge success during the sixties after he gave up his pop pretensions and he and his group joined the Grand Ole Opry. Known as the Southern Gentleman he enjoyed 16 straight country number ones between 1967 and 1971 and, for his sins, promoted the career of Marie Osmond. A curious fact is that he was the first country artist whose music went into space, when he made a special recording for the crew of Apollo 14. He died aged 87.
Earlier this month we lost Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind and Fire. Aged 74, he was the band's main songwriter and producer, and co lead singer with Philip Bailey, before he developed Parkinson's Disease in the late eighties and was forced to leave the group in 1994. Originally from Memphis, he worked as a session drummer with Chess Records, contributing to records by Etta James, the Impressions, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Muddy Waters and Betty Everett, among others. He joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1966 and played drums on many of their memorable numbers, including Wade In The Water. He set up a band called the Salty Peppers which became Earth, Wind and Fire when he moved to Los Angeles and the band went on to sell over 90 million albums
worldwide. He co-produced Deniece Williams' first album, and the Emotions' first album with Columbia, as well as being involved with records by Minnie Ripperton, Weather Report and Barbra Streisand.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson, both founder members of Jefferson Airplane, who coincidentally died on the same day. Anderson was the first vocalist with the group, to be replaced by Grace Slick when she left to have a baby. Kantner, however, stuck with the band and when it broke up
in the early seventies continued with Jefferson Starship.
Much publicity surrounded the death last month of Glenn Frey, founding member of another West Coast group the Eagles. Aged 67, he sang lead on many of their biggest hits, including Take It Easy and Lyin' Eyes.
Mississippi blues man L C Ulmer has also died, at the age of 87. He was a regular performer at blues festivals for many years, including the Ponderosa Stomp and the Chicago Blues Festival His only album, Blues Come Yonder, was issued in 2011.
Other deaths in the last few weeks include singer/songwriter Dan Hicks, who performed as Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, and Joe Dowell, who had a US hit with a version of Elvis's Wooden Heart.
The Vinyl Word raises a glass to them all.


At 8:32 am , Blogger Nick said...

John Howard commented, via email: I, too, was saddened by the passing of Sonny James, and, amazingly, for the same reason as you. I bought the 78 of The Cat Came Back on Capitol when it came out but back in the day it was almost impossible to get it on CD - the only way was to buy a birthday card CD celebrating someone born in 1957 that had hits of the year TCCB being one of them.
Sonny's seventies hits mirrored those of Narvel Felts - country versions of fifties R'n'b hits by the likes of Ivory Joe Hunter and Brook Benton.


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