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.

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