Thursday, May 05, 2016

Grim Reaper strikes again

While I've been away the Grim Reaper has been even busier than usual, taking away numerous musicians to add to the already long list of those who have died this year.
Most recent is Reggie Torian of The Impressions, who has died of a heart attack. Reggie joined original members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash in 1973, three years after Curtis Mayfield had gone solo, and was involved in the group's mid 70s hits, including Finally Got Myself Together, Same Thing It Took, Sooner Or Later and Loving Power. He left in 1983 but rejoined the by-now trio in the 2000s and visited the UK on a number of occasions. His voice was a perfect match for that of Curtis and the group's sound was as smooth and melodic as ever. My photo shows him at Islington Assembly Hall in 2014.
Another soul singer who will be much missed is Billy Paul, who died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 81. One of the leading figures of the Philadelphia sound, and best known for the 1972 smash
Me and Mrs Jones, his roots were in jazz and he first recorded in 1952. After a spell in the US Army, during which he was stationed with Elvis in Germany, he had periods with vocal groups, including the Blue Notes and the Flamingoes, before meeting Kenny Gamble, which led to his first album Feelin' Good At The Cadillac Club. After the huge success of Me and Mrs Jones his career stalled somewhat when the follow up Am I Black Enough stoked controversy, but he continued to record excellent material throughout the seventies and had success in the UK with Thanks For Saving My Life, Let's Make A Baby, Let 'Em In and Only The Strong Survive.
Enough has been written about Prince, who died suddenly aged just 57. No doubt the reasons for his death will become clearer over time, but his legend will grow and his records will continue to sell in their millions. He was a talented artist and, as I discovered on my US trip. much loved by black music lovers there, but he didn't really do very much for me, with the exception of a few of his records.
Less publicity was given to the death of Lonnie Mack aged 74. Lonnie's electric guitar playing was special and hits such as Memphis and Wham have been described as ground breaking and pioneering in the field of blues/rock. These instrumentals paved the way for some bluesy vocals but it was his guitar playing that was really influential on many artists, including Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck. After a period playing country music in the 1970s, he returned to blues and rock and continued to record, including a number of albums for Alligator, and perform until 2004.
The Vinyl Word also raises a glass to Ned Miller, who died a few weeks back at the age of 90. His huge 1963 hit From A Jack To A King was first released on the US Fabor label in 1957 and its worldwide success on re-release gave him a global audience. It's a great record but one of those that turn up all the time at car boot sales these days, demonstrating both its success at the time and the disdain with which old style country music in now regarded. Ned had several other hits during the sixties, most notably Do What You Do Do Well.
It's farewell, too, to Harrison Calloway, founder of and arranger for the Muscle Shoals Horns. He can be heard on dozens of records made at FAME and, more recently, Malaco. And to comedienne Victoria Wood, one of the funniest women on TV. May they all rest in peace.
*** I completely forget to mention Emile Ford, who died in London on April 11. Originally from St
Lucia, he had a huge hit in 1959, along with his band the Checkmates, with What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For and followed it up with Slow Boat To China, another big hit. After several smaller hits, including You'll Never Know What You're Missing Til You Try, a favourite of mine, he moved to Barbados for a while and then to Sweden where he invented a backing track system which became the basis for karaoke.


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