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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

John Lee (Sonny Boy) Williamson born 30 March 1914


John Lee Curtis "Sonny Boy" Williamson (March 30, 1914 – June 1, 1948) was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter. He is often regarded as the pioneer of the blues harp as a solo instrument and played on hundreds of blues recordings for many pre–World War II blues artists. Under his own name, Williamson was one of the most recorded blues musicians of the 1930s and 1940 and is closely associated with Chicago producer Lester Melrose and Bluebird Records.
The original Sonny Boy Williamson, often referred to as Sonny Boy Williamson I, was born John Lee Curtis Williamson in Jackson, Tennessee.  (Another Sonny Boy Williamson, Alex Rice Miller (c.1912–1965) is known as Sonny Boy Williamson II ).
John lee Curtis Williamson picked up the name Sonny Boy because he was only about 16 when he started to follow the Mississippi River north with his harmonica to seek a life as a musician. By his late teens, Williamson was touring with established musicians, playing what was called "country blues." Williamson settled in Chicago around 1934 and quickly caught the attention of the local musicians.
 


A chiefly self-taught virtuoso, he began recording for Bluebird Records in 1937, singing and playing harmonica. His first song was "Good Morning Schoolgirl," an instant classic that was later covered numerous times, by bands such as the Yardbirds and the Grateful Dead. Other hits from that year include "Sugar Mama Blues" and "Blue Bird Blues," both of which are also regarded as early classics.
Sonny Boy with Big Bill Broonzy
Under Bluebird's Lester Melrose—who was responsible for launching the careers of many a blues legend—Williamson appeared on other musicians' songs as often as he cut his own, and his name spread like wildfire in the blues world.
With his unrivalled harmonica playing and vocal skills that were unique and instantly recognizable (due to a speech impediment), Williamson began to churn out records that would redefine the blues sound, cutting more than 120 over the next 10 years. Beyond being popular, Williams' songs featured a harmonica sound that would become undeniably influential. Songs such as "Decoration Blues" and "Whiskey Headed Woman Blues" were followed by "T.B. Blues," "Tell Me Baby" and "Jivin' the Blues," all of which went a long way to solidify his reputation and made him the most influential harmonica player of his generation.
In 1947, Williamson's song "Shake the Boogie" was a nationwide hit, and he was at the height of his fame. Unfortunately for Williamson and the blues world, he would not live much longer. In June 1948, Williamson was returning from a performance on Chicago's South Side when he was robbed, beaten and stabbed with an ice pick. He died on the sidewalk, only 34 years old. Later that year, "Better Cut That Out" became a posthumous hit for Williamson, and he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1980. (Info from biography.com)

 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Moon Mullican born 29 March 1909


Aubrey Wilson Mullican (March 29, 1909 – January 1, 1967),
known as Moon Mullican, and "King of the Hillbilly Piano Players", was an American country and western singer, songwriter, and pianist. However, he also sang and played jazz, rock 'n' roll, and the blues. He was associated with the hillbilly boogie style which greatly influenced rockabilly. Jerry Lee Lewis cited him as a major influence on his own singing and piano playing.
Mullican was raised on a farm that was manned by black workers. One sharecropper, Joe Jones, taught Mullican how to play blues guitar. His father bought an old pump organ so that the family could practise hymn-singing, but Aubrey preferred to pound out boogie-woogie and the blues. When Mullican was 14 years old, he went into a cafe in nearby Lufkin and sat at the piano; he came out two hours later with $40 in tips. When aged 16, and after an argument with his father, he moved to Houston and started playing the piano in brothels and honky tonks. He would work all night and sleep all day, hence his nickname ‘Moon’.
In the late 30s Mullican made his first recordings for Decca Records as part of Cliff Bruner’s Texas Wanderers, taking the lead vocal for ‘Truck Driver’s Blues’, arguably the first trucking song. He also recorded as part of Leon Selph’s Blue Ridge Playboys. He helped musician Jimmie Davis became the State Governor of Louisiana and later joined his staff.
In 1944 he invested his savings in 10 large juke-boxes but they were confiscated by the authorities because he refused to pay the appropriate tax. In 1946 he was signed by Sydney Nathan to the new King label and ‘New Pretty Blonde’, a parody in pigeon French of ‘Jole Blon’, became a million-seller. He won another gold disc with ‘I’ll Sail My Ship Alone’, and also found success with a tribute to mothers, ‘Sweeter Than The Flowers’, the double-sided ‘Mona Lisa’/‘Goodnight Irene’ and ‘Cherokee Boogie’, which was one of a succession of boogie records.
 


In 1949 he wrote ‘Jambalaya’ with Hank Williams, although he was not given a credit. This is probably unjust because the style of the song - and the subject matter of food! - were more in keeping with Mullican’s other work than Williams’. In the mid-50s, Mullican delighted in the advent of rock ‘n’ roll as he said he had been doing that all along. Backed by the hit-making Boyd Bennett And His Rockets, he recorded ‘Seven Nights To Rock’. However, he was too portly and bald for teenage record buyers.
Jerry Lee Lewis acknowledges Mullican as a major influence - in particular, Mullican’s playing of the melody with just two fingers on his right hand - and has recorded ‘I’ll Sail My Ship Alone’. He recorded for Coral Records and Starday but alcohol and too much jambalaya got the better of him. When asked why he chose the piano, Mullican replied, ‘Because the beer kept sliding off my fiddle.’
In 1962, the 19-stone Mullican collapsed on stage in Kansas City. He stopped drinking and returned to performing, making an album for Kapp, The Moon Mullican Showcase, produced by Jack Clement. He recorded the novelty number ‘I Ain’t No Beatle (But I Want To Hold Your Hand)’ for Spar. On New Year’s Eve 1966, he resolved to cut down on pork chops but he suffered a heart attack in Beaumont, Texas, and died early in the morning on January 1, 1967.. Governor Jimmie Davis sang at his funeral.


 In 1976, he was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. His influence is felt in the outlaw movement, rockabilly and country blues to this day and - along with Jerry Lee Lewis - has shown that the guitar players do not have it all to themselves in country music. There have been many posthumous compilations of his music, on various labels including Ace and Bear Family.
(Info mainly from The Encyclopedia of Popular Music) 

Monday, 28 March 2016

Charlie McCoy born 28 March 1941


Charles Ray "Charlie" McCoy (born March 28, 1941 in Oak Hill, West Virginia) is an American session musician noted for his work on a wide variety of instruments.
Charlie McCoy was perhaps the definitive Nashville session musician, a multi-talented performer best known for his harmonica playing and whose mastery of the instrument virtually defined its role within the context of modern country music. Though born in West Virginia on March 28, 1941, Charles Ray McCoy was raised in Miami, FL, where he first picked up the harmonica at the age of eight. By his mid-teens, he was playing harmonica and guitar in an area rock & roll band, and a few years later graduated to travelling the Florida rock and country circuits as a backup performer. At one local gig, he met Mel Tillis, who instructed McCoy to move to Nashville, which he did in 1959. After finding little work as a session player, he journeyed back to Florida, where he began studying musical theory and taking vocal lessons in addition to work as an arranger and conductor.
In 1960, McCoy auditioned as a guitarist for singer Johnny Ferguson, only to learn that the opening had been filled. Ferguson was still looking for a new drummer, however, so McCoy bought a kit, learned to play, and won the job. After contacting Tillis, he was introduced to agent Jim Denny, who helped the upstart musician find some work in Nashville. McCoy's first session was Roy Orbison's 1961 "Candy Man," and within months he was one of the most sought-after players on the scene. He also toured extensively as a drummer in Stonewall Jackson's band throughout the early '60s and released a handful of solo singles.
By the mid-'60s, McCoy was a fixture on Elvis Presley's Nashville and Los Angeles sessions, and in 1965, he began working with Bob Dylan, appearing on a string of legendary LPs that included Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline. As a result, McCoy became as much in 
Charlie with Bob Dylan
demand among rock and folk artists as he was within the Nashville community and began performing with the likes of Ringo Starr, Al Kooper, Gordon Lightfoot, and John Stewart. At his peak, he was performing on over 400 sessions annually.
In 1969, McCoy joined the country-rock band Area Code 615, with whom he recorded a self-titled LP, followed by A Trip in the Country in 1970. Also in 1969, he released a solo effort, The Real McCoy; while the album garnered little notice at the time of its release and was quickly deleted, in 1971 a Florida DJ began playing the track "I Started Loving You Again" to massive listener response. A single was soon available, and the song reached the Top 20 in 1972.
 


Even as his solo career began taking off, McCoy remained a constant in Nashville studios, and in the early '70s alone he worked with Paul Simon, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Leon Russell, and Steve Young.
When the remnants of Area Code 615 reformed as Barefoot Jerry, McCoy signed on and, with the group, issued three albums -- 1975's You Can't Get Off With Your Shoes On, the following year's Keys to the Country, and 1977's Barefootin'. At the same time, he played on records for Waylon Jennings, Tanya Tucker, and Wanda Jackson and also began a tenure as the musical director for the country comedy program Hee Haw, where he remained for many years.
 In 1978, he played England's Wembley Festival with Lloyd Green, and his popularity across the Atlantic soared. In the 1980s, he toured Europe frequently and began recording extensively there as well. By the early '90s, McCoy had cut back considerably on his studio work, although he continued to play with many prestigious artists.


In 1996, he led a number of Nashville studio luminaries like the Jordanaires, Russ Hicks, Hargus "Pig" Robbins, and Bobby Ogdin during the sessions for the cult duo Ween's 12 Golden Country Greats.   (Info from All Music Guide)
At present Charlie is still touring and entertaining his many fans.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Sarah Vaughan born 27 March 1924


Sarah Lois Vaughan (nicknamed "Sassy" and "The Divine One") (March 27, 1924, Newark, New Jersey – April 3, 1990, Los Angeles, California) was an American jazz singer, described by Scott Yanow as having "one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century".
Sarah Vaughan ranked with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the very top echelon of female jazz singers. She often gave the impression that with her wide range, perfectly controlled vibrato, and wide expressive abilities, she could do anything she wanted with her voice. Sarah Vaughan's legacy as a performer and a recording artist will be very difficult to match in the future.
She was affectionately known as both "Sassy" and "The Divine One," nicknames that reflect the remarkable variety she brought to her singing. Vaughan's inimitable vocal abilities included an incredibly wide range, extraordinarily diverse tonal colours and amazing breath control, all rooted in a heartfelt passion to express herself.
Sarah Vaughan was born in Newark, N.J. in 1924. Following her mother's lead, she learned piano and organ, and by age 12 was performing in church. But Sarah's childhood ambition was to sing. When she was 18, she and a friend summoned the nerve to go to the Apollo Theatre on amateur night. Vaughan won a $10 prize and a week-long engagement at the theatre.
Billy Eckstine, the famous vocalist then with the Earl Hines band, saw her perform on her first night. Impressed, he went backstage to meet the talented teenager. Within weeks, Vaughan was singing with Eckstine and Hines in an ensemble that included alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pioneers of the cutting-edge musical style that became known as bebop. That experience informed Vaughan's approach, and her singing began to feature more complex rhythms, faster tempos and wider intervals. Pianist John Malachi thought the new girl's singing style was "sassy," and the name stuck.
After a year with Eckstine, Vaughan began performing on her own. Chicago DJ Dave Garroway coined the nickname "The Divine One" as he repeatedly played Vaughan's records on the air. In 1947, Vaughan was Down Beat magazine's most popular female singer.
Spurred by her own success, Vaughan accepted offers to record pop music. In the late '40s, she had hits with "It's Magic" and "Tenderly," and in the '50s she scored even bigger hits with "Make Yourself Comfortable" and her million-seller "Broken-Hearted Melody." While those triumphs were lucrative, they didn't reflect Vaughan's chief musical interests. Fortunately, the record deals also allowed her to record songs of her own choice and her creativity continued to flourish.
 


Throughout the 1970s and ’80s she recorded with such jazz notables as Oscar Peterson, Louie Bellson, Zoot Sims, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Don Cherry, and J.J. Johnson. Her recordings of the “Duke Ellington Song Book (1 and 2)” are considered some of the finest recordings of the time. While for many years her signature song had been “Misty,” by the mid-70’s, she was closing every show with Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns.” In 1982, while in her late fifties, Vaughan won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist for her album, “Gershwin Live”!
Vaughan's style evolved continuously throughout her career. When she immersed herself in Brazilian music, she didn't just incorporate trendy bossa nova beats into her work — she also visited the country and collaborated with some of Brazil's greatest musicians, including Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Vaughan lived to sing, and loved performing for a live audience. In October 1989, while performing at New York's Blue Note, Sarah learned that she had lung cancer. She died six months later, 46 years — to the day — after joining the Earl Hines band. Behind Sarah Vaughn's striking voice, and unique musicianship, laid a heart and soul that continue to move people all over the world.
Shortly after her death, Mel Torme summed up the feelings of all who had seen her, saying “She had the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field.” (info mainly npr.org)
 

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Bud Isaacs born 26 March 1928


Bud Isaacs (b. 26 March 1928) is an influential American pioneer pedal steel guitarist who was a regular musician on the Grand Ole Opry and the Ozark Jubilee. He worked for numerous artists in recording sessions and on the road.
Born Forrest Isaacs, 26 March 1928, Bedford, Indiana, USA. Isaacs was playing steel guitar professionally at the age of 16 and after playing on some local stations, he relocated to Nashville. He began to play on the Grand Ole Opry in 1951 with Eddie Hill, later joining Little Jimmy Dickens.
In 1953, he was responsible for the addition of foot and knee pedals to a steel guitar. By careful footwork, he was able to vary the tension on individual strings and change the pitch of a single string so as to alter individual chords. His idea caused a sensation as it had previously
been considered impossible to change anything less than a whole chord at one time. The first recording to feature his new invention was when Isaacs played it on Webb Pierce’s hit recording of ‘Slowly’ in 1954. (Jimmy Day had played steel on earlier versions by Pierce).
His idea revolutionized the sound of steel guitars on country recordings and most of the leading exponents of the instrument soon followed his lead. He was much in demand for session work but he also made solo recordings that year for RCA Records, including his lilting ‘The Waltz You Saved For Me’.
 


In 1955, he became a member of the Ozark Jubilee, appearing on radio and television programmes with the star, Red Foley. It has been recorded that Isaacs played on the 11 top country hits of the year in 1955. In 1958, Isaacs, with Chet Atkins, Homer Haynes, 
Bud & Geri Isaacs
Jethro Burns (Homer And Jethro) and Dale Potter, recording as the Country All-Stars, cut String Dustin’, a very up-tempo release.
 
Isaacs married Geri Mapes, a yodeller, singer and bass player and they worked together with an act they called the Golden West Singers. He continued to play on countless recordings and was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall Of Fame in 1984; they eventually retired to Arizona. Bud suffered from a stroke in the late 90’s and stopped playing until he was coaxed from retirement to play at a  SWSGA show in 2013.
During the show Bud’s wife Geri mentioned that he had not played since '97 before they went on stage - Bud with that half a Bud smile and said, "and it may be 20 more years before I try it again after you hear this one." Geri said, "You will do fine Hon" he said, "if I don't make it through this one I am not trying again till after I am a hun-derd.”


Isaacs wll always be remembered for his dazzling steel guitar playing, especially his catchy ‘Bud’s Bounce’. His 1955 RCA - Victor Records EP, Crying Steel Guitar, is now a highly prized collectable.
(Info edited mainly from AMG, IMDB & Wikipedia)

Here's a rare interview segment with Red Foley's band--Grady Martin and the Crossroads Boys! Hear Grady Martin speak and tell bad jokes while holding his Bigsby doubleneck guitar! Also check out studio legend Bob Moore as a young baby-faced member of Red Foley's band! Also, steel guitar legend Bud Issacs, fiddle maestro Tommy Jackson and more. Priceless stuff! 

Friday, 25 March 2016

Len Dresslar born 25 March 1925


Elmer "Len" Dresslar, Jr. (March 25, 1925, in St. Francis, Kansas – October 16, 2005) was an American voice actor and vocalist, best known as the deep bass voice of the Jolly Green Giant in commercials for General Mills.

He served as in the U.S. Navy in World War II before studying voice at the Kansas City Conservatory of Music. After several years honing his acting skills in Midwest summer stock, Dresslar relocated to New York City, appearing on Broadway and joining the national touring company of South Pacific before settling in Chicago in 1953. There he joined the cast of CBS affiliate WBBM's live variety series In Town Tonight, which aired nightly between 1955 and 1960. Len charted the hits "Chain Gang" (not to be confused with the Sam Cooke song) and "These Hands" on Mercury 70774.
 

 
During that time, Dresslar also began moonlighting as a voice-over talent, and in 1959 was hired by the Leo Burnett Agency to record a new television spot for the Green Giant vegetable line. Cast as the company's leaf-clad mascot, the Jolly Green Giant, Dresslar intoned the character's booming tag line "Ho, ho, ho," and a legend was born. The magazine Advertising Age later named the Jolly Green Giant one of the 20th century's most recognizable commercial icons, behind only Tony the Tiger and the Marlboro Man. A spokeswoman for General Mills, the owner of the Green Giant Company, said Dresslar had been "the most consistent and most frequent voice of the Jolly Green Giant over the years - the one consumer’s are going to recognise". The figure viewers saw on screen was Keith Wegeman, an Olympic ski jumper.
Dresslar went on to serve as the voice of Snap, of Kellogg's Rice Krispies Snap-Crackle-and-Pop fame, as well as Dig 'Em, the bullfrog touting the cereal giant's Sugar Smacks product, also Amoco oil, Dinty Moore canned beef stew and Marlboro cigarettes.  He later said residuals from his jingle work put his children through college.

During the 1960s, Dresslar also sang with the jingle vocal group the J's with Jamie before joining the jazz troupe Singers Unlimited. Group members were Bonnie Herman, Len Dresslar, Don Shelton and Gene Puerling whose arrangements he wrote for the group were nothing short of a revelation. The group's use of studio multi-tracking (a burgeoning technology) developed a sound never heard before. The name "Singers Unlimited" is forever inscribed in the annals of vocal jazz. The Singers produced around 15 LP's in the period between 1971 and 1981.
Dresslar was President of the Chicago Chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Vice President of the Screen Actors Guild, until his retirement in 1991. He died of cancer in a Palm Springs hospice on October 16, 2005. (Info edited mainly AMG)
 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Paul Specht born 24 March 1895


Paul Specht (March 24, 1895 – April 11, 1954) was an American  dance bandleader popular in the 1920s.

Paul Levi Specht entered the world, in 1895, in a place with the depressed name of Sinking Springs, Pennsylvania. We don't know much about his early years. When he again surfaced, the year was 1915, and he was the violin-playing leader of a small band he had formed to fill an engagement at the Fowler Hotel, in Lafayette, Indiana, home of Purdue University. Here, he was heard by a group of influential writers who helped publicize him and boost his fledgling career. 

By 1916, Specht's travels had brought him to Detroit, Michigan, where he formed a six-piece band. Within the year, this group's success had allowed it to grow to twelve players. Throughout his career, he made telling use of his very special skill at finding, hearing and employing the best musicians available. In hiring Frank Guarente, for example, he was employing a man who claimed to have played with and exchanged ideas with King Oliver and Freddy Keppard. You can hear it in his playing! 

Specht was a man of "firsts." He claimed -- and it is widely believed -- that his band was the first to broadcast dance music over radio. This event took place on September 14, 1920, over WWJ Detroit. It is thought that the music played was more likely to have been "dance" rather than "jazz." Specht soon became a regular broadcaster, either leading his own band or sending in contracted units under the Specht moniker. 

Paul Specht had seen the success that Art Hickman had achieved in contracting a number of separate bands to play under his name (frequently, ten or more in a given evening), as well as "Art Hickman's Orchestra." Paul Whiteman was quick to follow suit. By 1922, Specht, who himself had had considerable experience doing booking in a number of cities, including Detroit and Philadelphia, met up with show business entrepreneur, Gus Edwards, who brought him to New York. Soon, he was playing in residency in that city's Hotel Almanac, in the ballroom with full orchestra.  

Paul Specht, next, signed a contract with Columbia Records and, on June 24, 1922, did his first session for that company. A few days later, on June 29, two sides were issued as by "Specht's Jazz Outfit," which was a six-piece band similar to "The Georgians" (minus the banjo player). It marked another first for Specht, the first of its genre to be known as the "band within a band" format, a device much used by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, the California Ramblers and many others, thereafter. 
 
 


Specht was early to garner band employment aboard posh transatlantic ocean liners, then, upon putting ashore, playing pre-commitments on the continent. In this manner, he took one of his bands to London, in 1923, where it took up residency at Lyon's Corner House. So well received was Specht, in that venue, that he was invited to play at the swank Kit-Cat Club, for the 1925 season. 


In 1926, his duties, at home, prevailed over the temptation to return to London, just then. However, a Specht unit did get to go to the Kit-Cat Club, in the leader's stead, for the 1926 season. This unit was billed as "Paul Specht's Canadian Orchestra," under the direction of Orville Johnson. 

As 1930 rolled around, Paul Specht found himself more popular than ever. His booking agency, Consolidated Booking, had proven very lucrative. At one time, the agency had in its employment both Harl Smith and Don Redman. By 1930, his output of published phonograph records numbered well over one hundred issues, and since his introduction to radio in 1920, he had kept busy broadcasting on a regular basis. He and his band performed in a Hollywood sound film, "Love At First Sight" (Chesterfield 1930).

As a radio bandleader in 1932, his band and the Three X Sisters harmony trio collaborated on ABC radio airwaves for several different musical formats. He continued to be popular into the 1930s, and led bands into the 1940s, during which time he developed arthritis which hampered his musical abilities. 

He lived in Greenwich Village late in his life and did arranging work for radio and television. He died in 1954 at the age of 59 in New York City. (Info edited from Collateralworks.com & Wikipedia)


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Fernand Gignac born 23 March 1934


Fernand Gignac (March 23, 1934 - August 18, 2006) was a French Canadian singer and actor. He was one of the most prolific artists in Quebec, whose career spanned six decades. 
 A native of Montreal, Quebec, Gignac's career began at the age of fourteen when he sang at the metropolitan cabaret, Faison Doré. He studied singing and piano and achieved a dramatic art degree at the Conservatoire Lassalle.
In 1951, he was hired as the chief announcer for Radio-Canada before working on radio station HPLC in Montreal (1954-1957). Also in 1957 he recorded his first song, "Je n'ai fait que passer," which became an instant hit in Quebec. In 1959, he won his first music award from CKAC radio in Montreal for his song, "Le tango des fauvettes" earning him the nickname Mr. Jukebox.
Over his six-decade career, Gignac would write over 500 songs and record 34 albums, and sell over five million albums in total, with his most successful song coming in 1963 titled "Donnez-moi des roses," which he would, by popular demand, perform at every concert until his death.

 


In 1964, while his songs "La Montagne des amoureux” and “Le Train des amoureux” are at the tops of the charts in Quebec, Fernand Gignac won the popular title of "Mr. Broadcasting" at Artists Gala.  In 1965, he received the trophy for best interpreter of
the disc Festival for " La Chanson d'Orphée.”
He would also make several television appearances over his lifetime, his most well known being his recurring role on the series "Symphorien."
Fernand Gignac died Friday, August 18, 2006, at the Saint-Luc Hospital of Montreal of complications due to hepatitis, aged 72. (Info various sources mainly findagrave.com)