Saturday, October 24, 2020

Jerry Jeff Walker RIP


There are a couple more deaths to catch up on  - both of them singer songwriters of note.

Jerry Jeff Walker, who has died aged 78, was originally a folk singer based in Greenwich Village and is best known as the writer of 'Mr Bojangles', a song that has been covered many times. He busked around New Orleans and Texas and settled in Austin in the seventies where he was part of the outlaw country scene along with Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and Waylon Jennings. Albums of self penned songs included 'Mr Bojangles' and 'Bein' Free' and he also recorded songs written by Guy Clark, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Tom Waits and Gary P Nunn, among others. The photo above shows him at the Mean Fiddler in London in 1993.

Johnny Bush, who was 85, was another singer songwriter with his roots in Texas. Known as the 'Country Caruso' he wrote 'Whisky River', a hit both for himself and Willie Nelson. Other country hits included 'Undo The Right', 'Each Time' and 'I'll Be There'. RIP to them both.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Spencer Davis RIP


Sorry to hear of the death of Spencer Davis at the age of 81. He was the frontman of the Spencer Davis Group, one of the most influential British R and B groups of the sixties, and played guitar and harmonica. He took the lead on vocals on occasions but left the majority of the singing to Stevie Winwood, who possessed a far more soulful voice and was only 15 when he joined the band. Other original members were Stevie's brother Muff and drummer Peter York. Spencer came from south Wales but after a spell in London, during which he played in a band with Bill Wyman, he moved to Birmingham where he studied German at the university. While there he dated Christine Perfect and in 1963 he met the Winwoods, who were playing in a jazz band, and formed the group. Many of their early recordings, produced by Island's Chris Blackwell and released on Fontana, were blues and soul covers - not bad ones on the whole - but success came with two songs written by Jackie Edwards in the form of 'Keep On Running' and 'Somebody Help Me'. Other early hits included 'Gimme Some Lovin'' and 'I'm A Man'. Stevie Winwood left in 1967 to join Traffic and was replaced on vocals by Eddie Hardin but the band continued to have success with songs for the film 'Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush' and singles such as 'Time Seller' and 'Mr Second Class'. Various versions of the band continued later from time to time and Davis produced some jazz albums in the late seventies and eighties.

Another recent death is that Brian 'Licorish' Locking, who was bass player with Marty Wilde's Wildcats, which became the Krewkats. He became a member of the Shadows in 1962 and appeared in Cliff Richard's film 'Summer Holiday'. The photo shows him (right) playing as part of the Checkmates at a Tales From The Woods show in 2008.

Two other UK musicians have also passed on. Gordon Haskell was a member of the Fleur De Lys before joining his friend Robert Fripp at King Crimson. A vocalist and guitarist he also recorded several collectable solo albums, including 'Sailin' My Boat', 'It Is and It Isn't' and the unissued 'Serve at Room Temperature'. 

Another who has died is Dave Munden, who was the original drummer with Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. He was the lead singer on a version  of Jeff Christie's 'Yellow River' but this was shelved and the backing was used for Christie's vocal on the hit version.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Farewell to Johnny Nash, Rev John Wilkins and others

There has been a further rash of music deaths in the last few days. One of the latest is Johnny Nash at the age of 80. Best known for his melodic reggae songs of the late sixties and early seventies, his career started well before that. He first performed in 1953 and his first record. 'A Teenager Sings The Blues' was released on ABC Paramount in 1957. He was marketed as a Johnny Mathis styled singer and had ten singles released in the UK on HMV between 1957 and 1960, including the theme from 'Take A Giant Step', a film in which he appeared as an actor. Johnny moved towards R and B, recording for labels such as Chess and Argo, and set up his own JoDa label with his manager Danny Sims, which released the first single by the Cowsills. In 1965 he moved to Jamaica where he met up with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer and in 1967 set up his JAD label, recording at Federal in Kingston. His breakthrough reggae hit 'Hold Me Tight' was recorded there and was a hit in the UK, as were follow ups such as 'You Got Soul' and 'Cupid'. These were released in the UK on Major Minor, as was an album with Kim Weston, produced by Mickey Stevenson. The height of his career came in the early seventies with huge hits such as 'Stir It Up', 'I Can See Clearly Now', There Are More Questions Thank Answers' and 'Tears On My Pillow'.

Another death is that of Rev John Wilkins, aged 76, whose success came late in life when his appearances with his three daughters made a big impact in the American South. The son of Memphis blues man Robert Wilkins, he succumbed to COVID 19. I first saw him in New Orleans in 2014, a year before his first album 'You Can't Hurry God', was released and I wrote at the time: 'The most exciting act of the last few days was a superbly soulful gospel show at DBA in Frenchmen Street starring the Rev John Wilkins. Supported by his three daughters, each of them good singers in their own right, and a band that included Scott Bomar on bass and an energetic keyboard player, this was soul of the highest quality. Wilkins has a voice that brings to mind greats such as O V Wright and he can ring the changes from upbeat gospel tunes like Jesus Will Fix It and Wade In The Water to slow soul drenched numbers like You Can't Hurry God. He is a first rate guitarist and his daughters provided the perfect foil both with their call and response contributions and their harmonies and enthusiasm.  After a 90 minute set they took a break before Wilkins returned with an acoustic version of A Closer Walk before ending with the band and backing singers on Will The Circle Be Unbroken and I'm Going Home On The Morning Train. Truly moving stuff, even if, like me, you aren't a believer.' The photo above shows him at the New Orleans Blues and Barbecue festival in 2018.

Another death which has attracted much attention is that of rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen, aged 65. I was not a fan of his band's hard rock approach but he was much admired as a guitarist and his band sold millions of records from the late seventies onwards.

Less well known was Scottish singer Jackie Dennis, who has died aged 77. He attained brief fame in the late fifties with hits such as 'La Dee Dah' and a cover of 'The Purple People Eater' and even appeared on the Perry Como show in the US where he was introduced as 'Britain's Ricky Nelson'. He often appeared wearing a kilt which earned him the moniker 'the kilt with a lilt'. 

Just heard of another death - that of Jamaican record producer Bunny 'Striker' Lee. Bunny was the man behind some of the greatest reggae records of the last sixties and seventies by the likes of John Holt ('Stick By Me'), Max Romeo ('Wet Dream'), Eric Donaldson (Cherry Oh Baby'), Slim Smith, Derrick Morgan, Delroy Wilson, Johnny Clarke, among many others.