This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here .
DAVE BRUBECK was probably the best-known jazz pianist in the world. His musical life spanned decades and he was still playing until he was 90.
Dave’s mother was a pianist and she began little Dave’s classical training when he was just four. He studied classical composition in college with Darius Milhaud.
Throughout his life, Dave considered himself to be a composer foremost. In the late forties, he teamed up with saxophonist Paul Desmond whom he’d previously met when they were in the army. Paul said that they initially played such avant-garde material that they could clear a club faster than a fire marshal.
By the time the famous quartet came together, they were playing music people loved but they hadn’t really modified their music all that much. The quartet was one of the most successful and popular groups in jazz. Later, Dave formed other quartets, had a group that included the great Gerry Mulligan, another with his four musician sons and also played solo. He composed many classical pieces as well as jazz compositions.
Just about everyone who met him commented on what a gracious and kind man he was. Dave died the day before his 92nd birthday. Here is the original Dave Brubeck Quartet with It's a Raggy Waltz. (Dave was officially 91)
JOHNNY OTIS, or Ionannis Veliotes, was the son of a Greek immigrant who ran a grocery story in the black neighborhood of Berkeley, California. He was so taken with the local culture, he decided when only a teenager that he would live his life within the black community.
He began his career as a drummer and moved to Los Angeles at the suggestion of Nat King Cole. There he formed his own band and, besides his own gigs, backed such artists as Wynonie Harris and Charles Brown, both in concert and on recordings.
He spied a teenaged Esther Phillips at a talent show and had her join his band. He discovered such artists as the Coasters and was the backing band for Mama Thornton when she recorded Hound Dog.
There’s a lot more to his story which continued musically into the nineties (and occasionally beyond). He is also the father of the great guitarist Shuggie Otis.
This is Willy and The Hand Jive, the original of this much-covered song. (90)
ETTA JAMES was another artist discovered and encouraged by Johnny Otis. She was born Jamesetta Hawkins to a 14-year-old mother. Her father was quite possibly "Minnesota Fats," the pool shark.
She started singing in her early teens in a DooWop group. They soon caught the ear of Johnny and she started touring with his band. She also recorded some tracks with the group. Etta later backed Little Richard and still later was signed to Chess Records and had a number of hits in the sixties.
Alas, she developed a major drug habit that pretty much kept her out of music until the eighties when she cleaned up her act. A couple of years ago, Etta developed Alzheimer’s disease and leukaemia. She died a few days short of her 74th birthday.
Here is Etta with one of her best songs, I’d Rather Go Blind. (73)
EARL SCRUGGS was the dominant figure in banjo picking. He pretty much defined how this instrument should be played.
Earl performed around his native North Carolina and was spotted by a local band who had a gig at the Grand Ole Opry. There, he caught the ear of the inventor of blue-grass, Bill Monroe, who invited Earl to join his band. Also in that ensemble was guitar virtuoso Lester Flatt.
After some years with Bill, Lester and Earl railed against Bill’s rather domineering approach to music and they went out as a duo. You’ve probably heard them playing the theme to the Beverly Hillbillies and the music for Bonnie and Clyde amongst many others.
Earl and Lester eventually fell out as Earl wanted play more interesting, adventurous music and Lester preferred a more conservative approach. Earl formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, a progressive outfit which featured his sons Gary, Randy and Steve on bass, guitar and drums, fiddler Vassar Clements and the highly regarded dobro player Josh Graves. This group played folk, rock and jazz as well as country and blue-grass.
This is Earl with Randy and Vassar as well as a couple of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band playing Earl's Breakdown. (88)
ROBIN GIBB was one of three brothers who made up The Bee Gees. He was born in England and along with family moved to Australia while still young. Even then the brothers Gibb performed together and over the next ten years or so they had several hits in this country before returning to the old country in the midst of Beatlemania.
They recorded a bunch of really fine pop songs and were pretty much instrumental in bringing disco music to a wider audience in the late seventies.
Here are the Bee Gees in their earlier incarnation with Robin singing lead with I've Gotta Get a Message to You. (62)
HERB REED was a founder member of probably the finest vocal group of the fifties, The Platters. Herb sang bass in the group and was the last remaining member of the original (and best) version of that group. He was also the only member who sang on all of their released recordings.
Herb was born into poverty in Kansas City and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager where he (and others) formed The Platters. Initially, they weren’t successful until they found Buck Ram who became their manager and he changed the group around a bit and added a female singer.
From then on the hits just kept on coming, a lot of them written by Buck.
As the last surviving original member of The Platters, Herb waged a long and eventually successful court battle over the rights to the name The Platters. There were/are more than 200 groups using the name.
The courts ruled that he was the only heir to the group's name. Herb said in an interview, "It's not right to have someone steal your name. We were cheated back then, but that's how things were done. It's theft, and I have to fight it so that no other artist faces this."
Herb is second from the left in the picture. Here are the real, genuine, original Platters with Only You. (83)
LOUISIANA RED really started life behind the eight ball, to employ a cliché. His grandfather died around the time he was born. His mother developed pneumonia while following her father’s coffin and died soon after and his father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan when Red was five.
He was born Iverson Minter and was a blues guitarist and singer of note. He started life picking cotton and was given a guitar when he was eleven. He soon became adept.
He first came to attention when he joined John Lee Hooker’s band in 1949. Muddy Waters got him a record deal at Chess records soon after and he recorded many songs, often under different names.
He had a resurgence of popularity after appearing at the Montreux Jazz Festival and settled in Germany. He toured Europe, America and Africa often.
Here Red plays I'm Getting Tired. (79)
Singer/songwriter Guy Clark said it best in his song, Dublin Blues:
I have seen the David
Arthel (Doc) Watson was one of the most influential guitarists in country music. He started out adapting fiddle tunes to his guitar style - he was one of the first flat-pickers in the genre. He went on to adapt music from everywhere to his style of playing.
Doc was blind from infancy but he was an independent person thanks to his father who saw to it that he should be treated as equal to his brothers. He quickly learnt to play harmonica and banjo as well as guitar and performed with his brothers around the place in North Carolina whence he hailed.
He eventually became known as one of the finest musicians in country and blue-grass and he played often with his son, Merle, who was a great guitarist until Merle’s unfortunate death in a tractor accident.
There was not a person in the music industry who didn’t like and respect Doc. Now you can hear Columbus Stockade Blues. (89)
ANDY WILLIAMS was the last of the great crooners. You know all about him; I can’t add anything.
You probably expected me to play Moon River but I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to music. I originally thought of the first song I ever heard Andy sing, Butterfly, a rockabilly ditty by Charlie Gracie and totally out of character considering his later music. This was a record my sister had and if you’d like to hear it you can find it here .
However, I’m going with Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. I’ll play this song because he was one of the very people who sang it without introducing an extraneous and grammatically incorrect “of” into the title and chorus of the song. Good for you Andy. (84)
KITTY WELLS was the model for later independent female country singers like Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.
Initially, Kitty’s career was going nowhere and she was about to give up music to raise her family. Then she recorded the song, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels which became a huge selling record. That kick-started her career that lasted for decades.
Record companies were reluctant to release albums by female country singers until Kitty broke the ice and they realized that, “Oh maybe there’s some money to be made.”
She was married to fellow country artist Johnnie Wright for 74 years until Johnnie died last year. Here is Kitty with the song that made her famous. (92)
After a short stint in The Byrds, CHRIS ETHRIDGE became a founding member of the Flying Burrito Brothers - - with a couple of other members of that group, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons. He was also in an earlier band with Gram, The International Submarine Band.
Chris was a fine songwriter and wrote several of the best of the Burrito’s songs. He later became a session bass player and appeared on many musicians’ albums. (65)
MICKEY BAKER was half of the fifties’ R&B duo Mickey and Sylvia. Mickey was inspired to form the group after seeing Les Paul and Mary Ford. They had a big hit with the song Love is Strange but officially split at the end of the fifties. Only officially, because they kept recording intermittently for some years before Mickey moved to Europe.
He was also a session musician of some note. Mickey’s partner in song, Sylvia Robinson, died last year. (87)
When you mention the sitar the name that springs to mind first is that of RAVI SHANKAR. Ravi was already a great and respected musician in India when he came to the notice of westerners thanks to George Harrison championing him.
He played at the Monterey Pop festival and at Woodstock and also collaborated with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. He was the father of the jazz and country musician Norah Jones. (92)
BOB WESTON was an English guitarist who joined Fleetwood Mac after its founder Peter Green left but before the band’s huge success in the seventies and eighties. He earlier played in bands fronted by Graham Bond and Long John Baldry.
Bob was eventually asked to leave the band after he was found to be playing hanky panky with Jenny Boyd, Mick Fleetwood’s wife. Some things never change in that group. Bob attributed his guitar prowess to his originally playing the violin. He was later a much sought after session musician. (64)
It wasn’t a good year for Fleetwood Mac. BOB WELCH was the first American member of the group but not the last. Mick Fleetwood thought that Bob saved the band when he joined in 1971 as it was in danger of disintegration around that time.
Bob was a talented guitarist, singer and song-writer and it was generally thought that his departure from the band in 1974 would mean its demise. Not quite. Bob later sued the group for unpaid royalties.
Besides being a talented musician, he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and at UCLA and became fluent in French and spent considerable time in France. After the Mac he performed in several short-lived groups. (66)
GUSTAV LEONHARDT was a conductor and a harpsichord virtuoso. He was a champion of early music, especially Couperin and Telemann. Bach, of course, too. He preferred a simple clean style of playing rather the over-ornamentation previously common in this genre at the time.
Some of his early work was accompanying the great Alfred Deller on his recordings of Bach’s cantatas. Although austere in his musical approach, he liked to indulge in fine wine and fast cars. (83)
WHITNEY HOUSTON was obviously destined for a musical career. Her mother is the great singer Cissy Houston. Her cousins were Dionne Warwick and Dionne’s sister Dee Dee, and her mother’s cousin was Leontyne Price.
Whitney’s serious career began as a backup singer to both Aretha and Elvis. You might as well start at the top. She went on to have a very successful musical career indeed, although her personal life was somewhat less successful. (48)
CLIVE SHAKESPEARE was a founding member, guitarist and main songwriter for the rock band Sherbet. The Sherbs were Australia’s biggest band in the seventies and early eighties. He left the group after getting tired of a rock star’s life and set up a recording studio where he oversaw many of this country’s most important albums.
He joined his band-mates when they reformed in recent times for reunion gigs. Illness prevented his playing in the most recent of these which turned into a tribute to another member of the band who died late last year. (62)
RITA GORR’s operatic career lasted 58 years and she was she one of the great singers of the second half of the 20th century. Rita was born in Belgium and I don’t know if this is relevant but she was equally at home in French, Italian or German music which is handy as they’re the languages of most operas.
She pretty much sang all the roles written for mezzo sopranos and most soprano roles as well. I can’t do her justice in this brief paragraph. (85)
ANDREW LOVE was the saxophonist for the Memphis Horns. The Horns were a duo whose other member was the trumpeter Wayne Jackson. These two played on most of the Stax soul singles from the sixties and seventies and backed many other artists as well, both on record and in concert.
They regularly toured with Booker T and the MGs, supporting both that group and others who were along as well. (70)
DEREK HAMMOND-STROUD was a baritone renowned for performing roles from Wagner and Richard Strauss. He was equally at home with Gilbert and Sullivan and with lieder.
Derek was born in London and performed Wagner’s Ring Cycle several times (yikes). After performing in pretty much all the operas worth their money, he later conducted master classes and taught privately, and was professor for singing at the Royal Academy of Music. (86)
RICHARD ADLER was a composer of musicals, the best known of which are “The Pajama Game” and “Damn Yankees.” Many of the songs from these were huge hits for a variety of people. (90)
RUGGIERO RICCI was an American classical violin player who was noted for his playing of the works of Niccolò Paganini. He was the son of Italian immigrants and his family was musical – his brother was a fine cello player and his sister a noted violinist. Besides his numerous concert appearances and recordings, he taught violin at Juilliard, Indiana University and the University of Michigan. (94)
MIHAELA URSULEASA was a Romanian-born pianist who specialized in the works of the Romantic composers, especially Chopin, Schumann and Prokofiev. Her playing split critics but they all agreed she had that certain something that set her aside from the rest of her peers. (33)
BOB BIRCH was an American bass player who performed behind such diverse musicians as B.B. King, Luciano Pavarotti, Leslie West and Keith Emerson. However, he’s best known these last couple of decades as the bassist in Elton John’s Band. (55)
ANDY GRIFFITH is best known as an actor and raconteur but he was also a musician of considerable facility. Indeed, his degree from the University of North Carolina was in music. He initially played trombone but switched to vocals. He even considered a career as an opera singer.
Those who have seen the fine film from the fifties, A Face in the Crowd will know how good a singer he was. That film also featured a bunch of unknowns who later went on to become some of the finest film actors ever. Joe Bob sez check it out. (86)
LARRY HAGMAN was also better known as an actor, however, in the fifties he had a hit with his mother, Mary Martin, with the song, Get Out Those Old Records. (81)
CELESTE HOLM was another actor, however, she was also in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma and who could forget her appearance in High Society singing with Frank Sinatra? (95)
GREG HAM was an Australian multi-instrumentalist – he was proficient on piano, flute, saxophone, guitar, bass. Pretty much anything he turned his hand to. Greg and Colin Hay were the founders and mainstays of the hugely successful band Men At Work. (58)
EDDIE BERT was a trombone player who first played with Mildred Bailey, Paul Whiteman and Benny Goodman. He later turned to the cutting edge of music and played with such greats as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus. He continued playing right up until he died, including gigs with Monk’s son. (90)
ELLIOTT CARTER was an American classical music composer who was friends with, or a contemporary of, Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky, Alexander Scriabin, Arnold Schoenberg and many others. He outlived them all and he continued composing until days before his death not long before his 104th birthday.
Although admiring of the works of Aaron Copland and some of his pieces premiered along with several of Aaron’s best known compositions, his music was more radical and didn’t receive the acclaim of his more famous musical brother. Indeed, it took some decades for his music to gain the respect it deserves. (103)
DARRYL COTTON was an Australian rock singer, musician and songwriter. He was a founder member of the group Zoot who weren’t terribly successful but whose members all went on to several of the biggest bands in this country’s history.
He later was an actor in various TV and stage shows and also performed in several trios with other musicians from his heyday in the sixties. (64)
MARVIN HAMLISCH was a composer of stage and film music. He was a bit of a prodigy on the piano and was accepted at Juilliard at age six (yikes). He wrote the score for the phenomenally successful A Chorus Line as well as such films as Take the Money and Run, The Sting, The Way We Were, Sophie’s Choice and many, many more. (68)
MARTIN FAY was a founding member of the Irish band, The Chieftains. Martin was a classically trained violinist but was adept in switching his style to the fiddle tunes the group needed. He was significant in the development of the group’s style, insisting that they were open to all influences. He also played on the soundtracks of many films over the last 30 years. (76)
HOWARD SCOTT was a record producer and the last remaining member of the team who developed the long-playing record in the 1940s, the standard way we listened to music at home from then until the development of the CD. He was also a trained musician with eclectic tastes so he insisted the new medium should encompass classical, jazz and popular music equally. (92)
CHRIS STAMP was the brother of the actor Terence and was half of the management team for The Who for their first 14 years. He encouraged Pete Townshend’s songwriting from his early pop songs to the later grand rock operas. He was also instrumental in launching Jimi Hendrix’s career in the U.K. (and thus world-wide). (70)
PHILIP LEDGER was a composer and academic best known for his time as the head honcho of the choir of King’s College, Cambridge. His training was as an organist and he was the youngest ever at a major cathedral in Britain. He and the choir made many records over the years and toured the world. He also wrote many compositions for the choir to perform and record. (74)
GALINA VISHNEVSKAYA was a Russian soprano who was married to the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Alas, they stood up for human rights during the Soviet era and they were both exiled and stripped of their citizenships. Galina sang the standard Russian repertoire as well as appearing in the great operas around the world. Benjamin Britten wrote several pieces of music especially for her. (86)
SUSANNA CLARK was a songwriter of note. She was the wife of the great singer-songwriter Guy Clark. Although a talented artist, she succumbed to the songwriting milieu of her husband that included such luminaries as Rodney Crowell, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and others.
Probably her best known song is I'll Be Your San Antone Rose, a great version of which Emmylou Harris recorded. Kathy Mattea and Rosanne Cash also recorded that and others of her songs, particularly Come From the Heart. Emmy also recorded a terrific version of Easy From Now On. (73)
A bad year for the Clarks. DICK CLARK was the host of American Bandstand and lots of other programs. I can’t tell you anything about him that you don’t already know. (82)
RICHARD RODNEY BENNETT was an English classical composer and musician who was greatly influenced by jazz and folk music as well Debussy, Holst and Ravel. He dabbled in atonal music at one stage but, fortunately, gave that up. Several of his operas have entered the standard repertoire and he wrote a vast number of compositions in every style imaginable. (76)
FONTELLA BASS was the daughter of gospel singer Martha Bass who was one of the Clara Ward Singers. She showed musical talent at a young age; at five she was playing piano at funeral services and later accompanying mum on her gospel tours.
As a teenager, she started playing secular music, much to mum’s chagrin. Fontella made it to Chicago and signed with Chess records. She had a few moderately successful records and then hit it big. She co-wrote Rescue Me but the record company screwed out of the royalties. They did that several times and she sued them.
Later she sued American Express and Ogilvy & Mather for using her song without her permission. She gained a reputation for being a “trouble maker,” i.e. someone who only wanted what she was owed. Normally, I would have featured a musical track for Fontella, but she died too late in the year for that. (72)