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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Chuck Higgins born 17 April 1924

Charles Williams Higgins (April 17, 1924 – September 14, 1999) was an American saxophonist. Higgins, who was noted for mixing elements of Latin Jazz with Blues, recorded in Los Angeles during the mid-fifties, notably for the Specialty, Combo and Doo-Tone labels. 

Saxophonist / bandleader Chuck Higgins was born in Gary, Indiana.  His first choice of instrument was the trumpet, which he took up at the age of ten and at which he became considerably more proficient than he ever did at playing the tenor saxophone. 

In 1940, the Higgins family moved to Los Angeles, where Chuck attended the L.A. Music Conservatory. He hooked up with a quartet of musicians that included Frank Dunn on piano and sax player Johnny Parker. When Parker quit this band, Higgins took on the sax blasting duties himself and became the leader of the band, soon to be called the Mellotones. Chuck's composition "Pachuko Hop" became his first record, on Jake Porter's fledgling Combo label in 1952. It is the definitive Higgins instrumental and his biggest seller, but due to Combo's poor distribution, sales were limited to the West Coast and insufficient to dent the national charts.

Many of Higgins' s recordings feature a vocal by varying members of his combo. This was also the case with the flip of "Pachuko Hop", which is a classic of early rock 'n' roll in itself. "Motorhead Baby" features the vocals of 17-year old John Jacob Watson Jr, who was still pounding the piano before taking up the instrument that would make Johnny "Guitar" Watson a household name. After switching from piano to guitar in 1953, Watson left the Mellotones, giving Frank Dunn the chance to rejoin the band. Of the eight singles that were released on Combo in 1952-53, the most interesting were those featuring a vocal : "Motor Head Baby" and "Just Won't Treat Me Right" by John Watson, "Big Fat Mama" and "Real Gone Hound Dog" by Daddy Cleanhead (Chuck's older brother Fred Higgins).  

In 1953, the combo switched to Aladdin, where they had three singles released (3215, 3224, 3283), and then, in 1954, to Art Rupe's Specialty label. Fourteen titles were recorded during three sessions (most of them with vocals by Daddy Cleanhead), eight of which were originally issued, on four singles (532, 533, 539, 541). Art Rupe was a perfectionist and replaced some of Higgins' band
members in the studio by up-and-coming session pros such as H.B. Barnum and Jimmy Nolen. 

In 1955-56, the Higgins combo recorded for Dootsie Williams's Dootone label. The second Dootone single, "Wetback Hop", became the subject of controversy because of the use of the derogatory term for Mexicans in the title. It was an attempt to associate the listener with the earlier success of "Pachuko Hop", which refers to Mexican zoot suiters of the 1940s. After a few sessions for various small labels in 1956, Higgins returned to Combo in 1957 with a mixed-race band that included future Canned Heat member Henry Vestine. "Long Long Time" (Combo 144, 1957) is a fine bluesy recording, featuring Frank Dunn on vocals. There were no Higgins releases until 1962, the year in which he reunited with Jake Porter for the opportunist "Pachuko Hop Twist" (Combo 170). 

Chuck temporarily retired from performing and became a music teacher at various L.A. high schools. For the last 20 years of his life he was a professor of music at UCLA, a job which he combined with a 1970s comeback as a honking saxblaster. In that decade, he had two LP releases (and one single, "Too Smart") on Ronnie Weiser's Rollin' Rock label. The second of these (1979) was called: "Chuck Higgins Is A PHD", PHD here standing for "Pretty Heavy Dude". 

 In August 1983, Higgins was part of Ace's "1950s R&B Jamboree", in the company of LA contemporaries Young Jessie, Willie Egan and fellow honker Big Jay McNeely. This was a great success and Higgins was finally discovered by European R&B fans, as his Combo recordings were released on an Ace LP. A collection of his early rare singles, Yak A Dak, was released on the Swedish Saxophonograph label in 1990. 

He died of lung cancer in 1999, leaving behind an estimable body of work, even though he never scored a national hit.  (Info taken mainly from BlackCat Rockabilly Europe)

Monday, 16 April 2018

Spike Milligan born 16 April 1918

Terence Alan "Spike" Milligan KBE (16 April 1918 – 27 February 2002) was a British-Irish comedian, writer, poet, playwright and actor. 

One of two comic geniuses nicknamed "Spike" whose work was wildly successful in several mediums -- the other, of course, was Spike Jones -- Spike Milligan was also not the only brilliant comedian to suffer from mental instability. Others included the
Americans W.C. Fields and Jonathan Winters, but in all three cases these problems caused only temporary interruptions in the flow of madcap hilarity. 

To many listeners, Milligan is best known as part of the triumvirate that headed up the Goons, starring on The Goon Show over the British Broadcasting Corporation for nearly a decade beginning in 1952. He was also a wonderful writer, responsible for a string of books that may seem at first superficial but are quite deep, influencing such later British creative spirits such as Billy Childish and Peter Blegvad. In terms of material to slap on the record or CD player, all of the Milligan writings were recorded by the artist himself as audio books, while the complete history of the Goons on radio has been released more than once in a confusing series of reissues.  

Milligan was born in India to a father who was an Irish captain in the British army. Milligan lived in India until he was 15, an experience that later came in quite handy when he and Goons co-star Peter Sellers began the tradition of duelling Bengali accents. That Milligan more than held his own in the company of Sellers is an obvious tribute to the former man's comic gifts. The third main Goon was Sir Harry Secombe, a great musical and comic talent who is sometimes mistakenly called the group's straight man; but make no mistake about it, there was nothing straight at all about The Goon Show.

When his family moved back to England, Milligan's proclivity for entertaining came to the surface, beginning with an interest in jazz that he never lost, eventually even contributing liner notes to a Stan Getz album. Milligan spent much of his youth playing trumpet in various jazz bands. He joined the British Army at the outbreak of the Second World War, serving in the Royal Artillery through the North African and Italian campaigns, where he wound up hospitalized for shell shock.

Following the war, he joined the Goons at a time when the British nation was collectively wondering whether it would ever be able to laugh again. The show became a huge success, but created enormous pressures for Milligan, who was writing the lion's, or the loon's, share of the scripts as well as doing the enormous weekly work of editing in sound effects.

In 1953, these deadlines were blamed for a mental breakdown that resulted in his hospitalization. He was diagnosed with manic depression and became a patron of the Manic Depressive Fellowship. Looking back over his career in television, films, novels, memoirs, and poetry, it can hardly be said that the disease caused him much of a handicap. 

He was the favourite comic of Prince Charles despite the fact that upon accepting the British Comedy Award for Lifetime Achievement he referred to the prince as a "grovelling little bastard" on live television. Milligan is often referred to as the godfather of alternative comedy, his activities with and without the Goons paving the way for just about any kind of anarchic comedy, from Monty Python's Flying Circus to South Park.  

Following the end of The Goon Show, he went on to write and star in the television sketch series entitled Q. Several characters from The Goon Show also appeared in a film he made with Sellers, The Muckinese Battlehorn. In his later years, a more serious side emerged as Milligan became a vocal supporter of environmental issues and vegetarianism. 

He seemed to mellow in later years, but there was always a hint of the dangerous spark that had brought him to the brink of despair so many times and lit beacons of laughter to cleanse us all. In 2000, to a clutch of awards was added an honorary knighthood. It was honorary because - and earlier the cause of considerable furore - his father's Irish background meant that he was denied automatic British citizenship and thus the official title.

Milligan died from kidney failure, at the age of 83, on 27 February 2002, at his home in Rye, Sussex.

 (Mainly compiled from an AllMusic bio by Eugene Chadbourne)

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Casper Reardon born 15 April 1907

Casper Reardon (April 15, 1907 – March 9, 1941) was a classical and jazz harpist.
Casper Reardon was born to a vaudeville family in Little Falls, New York. At the age of five he trouped with his parents. His father, who was of Irish descent, presented him with a small Irish harp on his eighth birthday. His début as soloist was with the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. As a result of winning a scholarship, he became one of the most brilliant pupils of the illustrious Carlos Salzedo at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Graduating in 1926, he became first harpist of the Cincinnati Symphony under Fritz Reiner for five years, and head of the Harp Department at the Cincinnati Conservatory.
Newspaperman Edwin H. Schloss wrote (July 19, 1939), 'In Cincinnati, some of Reardon's Southern pupils interested him in jazz and he fell in love with the music of W.C. Handy. He found the percussive harp to be as well suited to Gershwin as to Debussy and the rest is history, mostly made via radio.'

 On his own, Reardon devised a technique of playing 'jazz.' The precedent for jazz music on the harp had not been explored to a significant degree. It wasn't unusual for a dance orchestra to utilize the harp for texture. (The dance orchestras of Leonard Joy, Richard Himber, Victor Young and Raymond Paige used harp regularly.) Reardon thought the harp had more potential than the usual flourishes and interludes that were expected of him. When he became a regular feature on the powerful Cincinnati station WLW, he used the nom de radio "Arpeggio Glissando," so as to not shock his classical harp students.


Reardon’s initial records were as a pianist accompanying tap dancers. He moved to New York City in 1931 and immediately created a niche for himself and his harp. On September 18, 1934, he recorded an unprecedented long harp solo on the Jack Teagarden recording of "Junk Man" for Brunswick Records. Although his name does not appear on the record, determined music lovers soon found out who the swing harpist was. By 1936 he recorded some dance records as Casper Reardon & His Orchestra, for Liberty Music Shop. He became known as the "Swing Harpist."
He was immortalized as "Cousin Caspar" in Alice Faye's film You're a Sweetheart (1937). He was a regular on radio shows such as 'Saturday Night Swing Club' with the orchestra of Bunny Berigan, and was often featured by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. George Gershwin featured Reardon on his popular Feenamint broadcast in 1934.
Casper Reardon met Dana Suesse in nineteen thirty-nine, through their friend, Gus Schirmer. Suesse told this writer, "Casper told me about having an engagement with the Philadelphia Symphony and wanted me to write something for him. At the time, Young Man with A Horn was a bestselling novel." It seemed logical to create a concert piece called Young Man with A Harp. Alexander Smallens, who would always be remembered as the original conductor of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, conducted the concert at the Robin Hood Dell in 1939
Dana and Casper repeated their Young Man With A Harp on February 25, 1940 with Guy Fraser Harrison conducting the Rochester Civic Orchestra. In 1940 Reardon performed with Suesse at a Cabinet Dinner for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family.
One evening in March 1941 Reardon was late for a date with composer Dana Suesse to attend the New York opening of Crazy With The Heat, a show in which he appeared in Boston. He complained about feeling lousy, and stopped for a quick brandy to settle his stomach.  


A few days later he was taken to the hospital for an exploratory operation and it was discovered that both kidneys were seriously damaged, a condition unusual for someone who seldom drank alcohol. Four or five days later he died on March 8, 1941. He was 33 years old. A funeral was held March 11. On December 19 a memorial program was broadcast on WQXR, featuring a composition composed by Suesse and orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett. The work was titled "Coronach, a Gaelic word for "A crying together."

(Edited from  a bio @ IMDb and YouTube posts) 

Recorded on disk, this selection by Casper Reardon is a previously unreleased, segment from a Hollywood studio recording session. Two songs, Ain't Misbehavin' (Fats Waller, Harvey Brooks, Andy Razaf) and St. Louis Blues (W.C. Handy) are heard in the released print of this feature film, starring Alice Faye, George Murphy, Ken Murray, Andy Devine and Oswald (Tony Labriola). The first song, Junk Man (by Joseph Meyer and Frank Loesser) was cut from the released print, but the audio survives on this playback disk dated October 9, 1937. Stills have been inserted into this video clip where film footage does not survive. The film, directed by David Butler, was released December 26, 1937. The voice of the conductor, Charles Previn (the cousin of André Previns father) is heard counting off the selection. 

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Gene Ammons born 14 April 1925

Eugene "Jug" Ammons (April 14, 1925 – August 6, 1974), also known as "The Boss", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. The son of boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons, Gene Ammons is remembered for his accessible music, steeped in soul and R&B, but his career was hampered by two incarcerations on drugs charges.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Ammons studied music with instructor Walter Dyett at DuSable High School. Ammons began to gain recognition while still at high school when in 1943, at the age of 18, he went on the road with trumpeter King Kolax's band. In 1944 he joined the band of Billy Eckstine (who bestowed on him the nickname "Jug" when straw hats ordered for the band did not fit), playing alongside Charlie Parker and later Dexter Gordon.

Notable performances from this period include "Blowin' the Blues Away," featuring a saxophone duel between Ammons and Gordon. After 1947, when Eckstine became a solo performer, Ammons then led a group, including Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt, that performed at Chicago's Jumptown Club. In 1949 Ammons replaced Stan Getz as a member of Woody Herman's Second Herd, and then in 1950 formed a duet with Sonny Stitt.

Considered by many jazz historians and critics as the first bebop
big band, Eckstine's group was the training ground for some of the most important and progressive jazz musicians of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, including Ammons, Parker, and Gordon, as well as Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Howard McGhee, and vocalist Sarah Vaughan.

Eckstine disbanded the group in 1947, and Ammons then led a group, including Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt, that performed at Chicago's Jumptown Club. He also played several dates as a member of Stitt's group. He led several different jazz combos until 1949, when he replaced Stan Getz in Woody Herman's Second Herd. After six months as a member of Herman's group, Ammons formed a quintet featuring Stitt.

The 1950s were a prolific period for Ammons and produced some acclaimed recordings such as "The Happy Blues" (1955). Musicians who played in his groups, apart from Stitt, included Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Mal Waldron, Art Farmer, and Duke Jordan.

In 1954 Ammons had moved to Washington, D.C., from Chicago and became increasingly dependent on heroin. He continued to perform and record, however, and led several all-star jazz musician recordings that were released as a Prestige series entitled Hi Fi Jam Sessions. "The Happy Blues," a 1955 recording featuring Freddie Redd and Lou Donaldson, is among the most acclaimed performances from this era. Other musicians who played in Ammons's bands of the 1950s include Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Mal Waldron, Art Farmer, and Duke Jordan. 

His later career was interrupted by two prison sentences for narcotics possession, the first from 1958 to 1960, the second from 1962 to 1969. He recorded as a leader for Mercury (1947–1949), Aristocrat (1948–1950), Chess (1950–1951), Prestige (1950–1952), Decca (1952), and United (1952–1953). For the rest of his career, he was affiliated with Prestige.

When he was released from prison in 1969, Ammons signed the largest contract ever offered at that time by Prestige Records. Upon his release he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and emphysema, but in spite of his health problems, he recorded a bulk of material for the label. That material included such ballads as "Long Long Time," which had been a popular recording by Linda Ronstadt; the Paul Anka-composed Frank Sinatra signature song "My Way"; an album of Nat "King" Cole songs; as well as the  ballad "Didn't We" and the instrumental "Jungle Strut," which was later covered by the San Francisco rock band Santana.
 Because of his criminal record, Ammons was prevented from playing in New York by the New York State Liquor Board, but he continued to play in Chicago with such artists as Gordon and Davis. In 1974 he played at the Ahus Jazz Festival in Sweden. Upon his return from Europe, Ammons entered the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, where he died from bone cancer and pneumonia on August 6, 1974.

(Compiled and edited from Wikipedia and mainly from an article by Bruce Walker @

Jug blows on this Ellington evergreen at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Hampton Hawes - keyboards; Bob Cranshaw - bass; Kenny Clarke - dms; Kenneth Nash - congas.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

David Cassidy born 12 April 1950

David Bruce Cassidy (April 12, 1950 – November 21, 2017) was an American actor, singer, songwriter, and guitarist.

David Cassidy was born in Manhattan, to Jack Cassidy, a very skilled actor and singer, and Evelyn Ward, an actress. By the time he was five, his parents were divorced and Jack had married actress Shirley Jones, an actress who in 1955 had just made Oklahoma! (1955). When David was about 10, his mother moved to California from New Jersey. A few years later, she married a director and, like Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones, the marriage ended in divorce.
David was thrown out of schools and hardly made it through one year of college. When he was eighteen, he went east to New York to perform in a play called "The Fig Leafs are Falling." He did some other spots on TV, but in 1970 he got the opportunity to play Keith Partridge on the TV show The Partridge Family (1970).
The show featured a family travelling the country and playing music in a rock band, which even included his real-life stepmother/on-screen mother, Shirley Jones. His stint as Keith Partridge made him an instant star. At 20, he looked young enough to pass for 16-year-old Keith, but where Keith was wholesome, Cassidy dabbled in drugs and loved the blues, once boasting that BB King had let him carry his guitar. The disconnect wasn’t apparent to fans, who assumed he and Keith were interchangeable – in 1972, a frustrated Cassidy made a point of posing naked for Rolling Stone magazine, and revealed in the accompanying interview his partiality to drink, drugs and sex. Though his fans were shocked and titillated, the article did not achieve his primary aim, which was to attract a more mature audience.

He had been hired on the show as an actor rather than a singer, but when his surprisingly resonant voice turned out to be more than passable, he was drafted in to add real-life vocals to the songs mimed every week (he and Jones were the only cast members who sang on Partridge Family albums). He had huge hits with both Partridge material and his own records. The first Partridge single, I Think I Love You (1970), reportedly sold 4m copies, and some of Cassidy’s own records, notably Cherish (1971), How Can I Be Sure (1972) and Daydreamer (1973), were inescapable on early-70s radio.


Massive global merchandising helped him sell millions of records, but by the mid-'70s he was practically driven from the spotlight by a teen market hungry for new talent. He turned to acting for a while, making notable television and stage appearances for many years. His roles even brought him to Broadway and London's West End, where he regained credibility as a dramatic and musical theatre actor. He continued this phase of his career into the '90s, when nostalgia and VH1 helped him gain a bigger public spotlight than he had seen in years.  
He rode that right into a position at the MGM Grand Hotel in 1996, when he opened the 75 million dollar show EFX under much speculation of his drawing power. He revamped several aspects of the production and fine-tuned it until it became one of the biggest attractions in Las Vegas, and his nightly performances became a huge money-maker for both Cassidy and the hotel. The show garnered many awards, and this gave him the clout to see his Rat Pack Is Back stage show brought to life at the Sahara Hotel & Casino in 1999. 

Two other shows, At the Copa and David Inc., opened the next year at the Rio Hotel, but Cassidy had his sights set on returning to the touring circuit with his newfound popularity. He started a world tour in 2001 and even secured a new record deal to release his high-concept stage/music ideas to home audiences.

His last decade was punctuated with problems caused by alcoholism. Between 2010 and 2014 he was arrested three times for drink-driving and he was sentenced to 90 days in rehab after the 2014 offence. The sentence coincided with his wife Shifrin filing for divorce, followed a year later by Cassidy declaring bankruptcy. He continued to tour, but fans complained that he seemed drunk onstage and was forgetting lyrics to his songs. In February 2017, after falling down at a concert, he revealed that he had dementia, the disease of which his mother and maternal grandfather had died.
On November 18, 2017, it was announced that Cassidy had been hospitalized suffering from liver and kidney failure, and was critically ill in a medically induced coma. He came out of the coma two days later, remaining in a critical but stable condition. Doctors hoped to keep Cassidy stable until a liver became available for transplant, but he died of liver failure on November 21, 2017, aged 67.  (Compiled and edited from Wikipedia and mainly from articles at AllMusic and The Guardian)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Nate Nelson born 10 April 1932

Nate Nelson (born Nathaniel Nelson April 10, 1932 – June 1, 1984) was a tenor vocalist in two legendary R & B vocal groups: The Flamingos and The Platters.

Nate nelson was trained on the gospel music of his Baptist church. After completing a Navy stint in the early Fifties, nelson formed a Chicago-based vocal group The Velvetones (not the more famous outfit). But after meeting the struggling three year old Flamingos at martin’s nightclub in 1953, Nelson joined the group on a part-time basis as the replacement for Sollie McElroy who was eased out of the line-up.


Recording at the Chicago-based Parrot label, Nelson shared lead vocal duties with Johnny carter on the minor hit “I’m Yours.” Now at the Chess subsidiary Checker Records, nelson assumed the lead vocal duties as the blues and harmony-based ballad group enjoyed a string of hits with “When “ (1955), “Please Come Back Home” (1955) and a Nelson composition which was covered by Pat Boone “I’ll Be Home.” (1956).


The Flamingos disbanded after recording the beautiful ballad “The Vow” (1956). After briefly recording as a solo act at Chess, Nelson relocated to Pittsburgh in1957 where he formed a new Flamingos line-up and released several substantial releases at Decca Records. Relocating to New York City and signing with George  Goldner’s End Records,  nelson and The Flamingos enjoyed renewed fame with “Lovers Never Say Goodnight” the timeless ballad “I Only
Have Eyes For You” (1955) and “Nobody Loves me Like You” (1960).

Leaving The Flamingos in 1962, nelson emerged in the Herb Reed-led Platters. Signed to Musicor Records in 1964, The Platters scored a pair of hits with “I Love You a Thousand Times” and “With This Ring” (1967). An intermittent member of the group, Nelson quit for good in 1982 when he had the first of many heart attacks.

Nelson's name had been on a waiting list for a heart transplant. He died of heart failure June 1, 1984 at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston one day after his wife, Angel, called a news conference to try and find a heart donor for her husband. He was 52.  (Compiled and edited mainly from a bio by Nick Tolevski)

Monday, 9 April 2018

Gus Hardin born 9 April 1945

Gus Hardin (April 9, 1945 – February 17, 1996) was a country music singer. Her mixture of Blues, Rock, Gospel and Country typified the "Tulsa Sound" of the 1970's

Biographical information on Gus Hardin is fairly sketchy, although she is known to have been at least part Cherokee. She was born Carolyn Ann Blankenship on April 9, 1945 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and grew up in the Tulsa area, where she picked up the nickname “Gus” as a teen. After high school, she attended Tulsa University. Although she initially planned on being a teacher of the deaf, marriage, music and a pregnancy derailed that plan.

Hardin seemed to have a tumultuous personal life having been married at least six times, thrice by the time she was 23. Marriage number three was to keyboard player Steve Hardin who had previously played in Jody Miller’s band and later played for Glen Campbell. After their divorce, she retained the last name as her professional name.

Her rise to country music popularity began in 1983 with her first RCA Nashville single, the top 10 hit "After The Last Goodbye." Several other singles from her albums reached the Top 40 over the next few years. None of her solo efforts ever again reached the level of her first single. Hardin's unique voice has been compared to others, but in reality it has not counterpart. Leon Russell called her a combination of Tammy Wynette, Otis Redding and a truck driver.

Although she was named ‘Top New Country Artist’ by Billboard magazine in 1983, it did not lead to great commercial success as her voice was ill-suited for the synthesizer-driven sound of the early to mid 1980s country music. A 1984 duet with fellow RCA recording artist Earl Thomas Conley, “All Tangled Up In Love” reached #8, but other than that, none of her subsequent records even reached the Top 25.

She recorded and released "One of the Boys" and "Mama Knows" by songwriter Kevin Weyl, and "Tornado" by Kevin Weyl and Steve Robertson which is featured in the sound track of the Kevin Pollak film Deterrence. Garth Brooks' sister, Betsy Smittle, was one of Gus's band members and did background vocals on Gus's album "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can."  
Gus Hardin won the “Best New Female Vocalist” award from the Academy of Country Music in 1984. It should be noted that the Academy of Country Music was much more oriented to west coast based artists during that period.

In all, Hardin charted 10 singles, the last occurring in early 1986 when “What We Gonna Do” peaked at #73. Although she charted over a four year period, all of her recordings for RCA were recorded within a span of less than two years. She released three albums on the RCA label for a total of 25 songs. After her chart career ended, she continued to perform regularly.   
Hardin died in a car crash on highway 20 east of Claremore, Oklahoma on the way home from singing at a Sunset Grill in Tulsa, on February 17, 1996. (Info edited from Facebook & Wikipedia)