As we decide who was the best of last year and look forward to another year of new releases from the ever developing musical skyline, for a change I’d like to look back at some of the artists we lost in 2011. A friend of mind recently commented that Music is a form of Time Travel. Listening to an old track remembered from days gone by, takes you back to that moment for a brief instant in Time. How true that statement was and inspired me to embark on this journey.
STEALERS WHEEL (1973) – STEALERS WHEEL – A & M MUSIC
Stealers Wheel was best know for their Pop/Rock staple “Stuck In The Middle With You”, with lead vocals by Gerry Rafferty (January 4, 2011). This release to me was quite interesting due to itÅs jumping back and forth between Blues (I Get By & Jose), Folk (Outside Looking In & Gets So Lonely), and Pop (Another Meaning & JohnnyÅs Song). Stealers Wheel was a troubled band. Rafferty quit right after the debut album was released and then rejoined by request after the singlesÅ success. Stealers Wheel released three albums with Rafferty and co-founder Joe Egan with session musicians, but none captured the excitement of the debut. Prior to Stealers Wheel, Rafferty recorded a solo LP in 1972 which gathered no attention, but his second solo release, City To City in 1978, created another Pop/Rock staple “Baker Street.” Several releases followed but none would match the awareness gathered by his former group or his signature cut, Baker Street. The music landscape at that time was changing to a faster new wave beat and RaffertyÅs cool delivery and sweeping melodies were lost on the charts.
MORE MORE MORE (1976) – ANDREA TRUE CONNECTION – BUDDAH MUSIC
Andrea True (November 7, 2011) was the first American Porn Star to embark on a singing career. The More More More album is classic disco and so naturally it’s bubbling over with sexual innuendo as delivered with tracks like Keep It Up Longer and Fill Me Up. AndreaÅs hit single More More More was in good company with other 70s sexy dance floor killers like Donna SummerÅs Love To Love You Baby, and Sylvia’s (later reviewed) Pillow Talk. True’s Adult Film career (which continued after her music success), started in Scandinavia during the 60s. She was more popular overseas with her follow up music releases leaving her as one of the many one-hit-wonders of the 70s disco era.
FRANK (2003) – AMY WINEHOUSE – ISLAND MUSIC
Best know for her wild party life and chart topper “Rehab,” Frank was the first release from Amy Winehouse (July 23, 2011) and I feel her most honest and endearing. Before all the hype, wild hairdos, and that mighty mascara, here you will find a true bluesy jazz singer for the modern age with all the strength and venerably you can handle in one sitting. At many times she recalls the fragileness found in classic Billie Holiday or Judy Garland recordings and the power held by Etta James or Ella Fitzgerald at their peak. Unfortunately the lines of stardom and reality have trouble existing in the same space, thus some fall to the pressures of being famous and the world looses another treasure in the making.
THE IN CROWDERS THAT GO GO (1965) – DOBIE GRAY – CHARGER MUSIC
Before the 70Ås Discotheque, there was the 60s GoGo. ThatÅs were all the hip guys and swinging chicks went to party. Dobie Gray (December 6, 2011) was right on mark with this release. The “In Crowd” was a song for a generation and even inspired the 1987 American Bandstand-ish film ÑIn CrowdÉ featuring Donovan Leitch, son of 60Ås Icon Donovan (“Mellow Yellow/Sunshine Superman”). Dobie had an interesting recording career and dabbled into many formats, Country, Pop, Rock, RNB, and Disco. He seemed to be more drawn to Country, and in the 70s & 80s a black country artist was at best out of place unless you were Charley Pride. Regardless of the struggles with formats, Gray did land a huge place in Rock History with his recording of Drift Away in 1973, which was revived in 2002 by Uncle Kracker featuring Gray himself on vocals.
COME AS YOU ARE (1976) – ASHFORD & SIMPSON – WARNER BROTHERS MUSIC
Nicholas Ashford (August 22, 2011) and Valerie Simpson were the lesser known hit makers in the Motown pool of songwriters, penning for a host of artists including the Mo-Giants Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. As performers they achieved their biggest success in the 80s with the #12 Hot 100 single ÑSolid.É On the Come As You Are release youÅll find a change of direction from the Motown epic songs to more of a complicated RNB sound, with dance elements and powerful harmonizing that would be the doorway to later achievements. Even though as a duo they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002, it seems Nicholas Ashford never got his just rewards in the industry for being partly responsible for some of the biggest hits in the 70Ås (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “I’m Every Woman,” ” Reach Out And Touch SomebodyÅs Hand,” “YouÅre All I Need To Get By” “Ain’t Nothin Like The Real Thing”,” Remember Me,” “The Boss”).
PEACEFUL JOURNEY (1991) – HEAVY D & THE BOYZ – UPTOWN/MCA MUSIC
Rapper Heavy D (November 8, 2011) was not your typical peformer in the surge of 80Ås Hip Hop/Rap artists. His kept his music clean and leaned more towards a soulful connection to the sound setting himself apart from all the MC‘s and DJs that were flooding the market back then. Peaceful Journey was a breakthrough into the Pop market with his rendition of the O’Jays & Third World‘s “Now That WeÅve Found Love.” Though he didnÅt repeat the Pop Chart success on subsequent releases, he continued to land RNB hits into the 00Ås and established himself as a notable supporting actor in TV & Films, and an established businessman with record labels.
PILLOW TALK (1973) SYLVIA – VIBRATION MUSIC
Sylvia aka Sylvia Robinson (September 29, 2011) was able to hit high on the Hot 100 single charts twice in her recording career. In 1957 as part of the duo Mickey and Sylvia she just missed the Hot 100 singles top ten with the well known RNB #1 smash, Love Is Strange. It was a bit controversial at the time and the song was given a second underground life when used in the Adult Film, Deep Throat, by a different group. Then as a solo artist she took the Pillow Talk single to #3 on the Hot 100 and #1 again on the RNB chart. Like Andrea TrueÅs More More More album, the Pillow Talk record was filled with seductive tracks like Give It Up In Vain, My Thing, and Had Any Lately, all featuring her whispering vocals. On a more serious note Sylvia founded Sugar Hill Records, the label that brought the infamous first Rap record to the Hot 100 Singles Top Forty. That was the widely known “RapperÅs Delight” in 1980. That release changed the Hot 100 Singles Chart by listing a 12 inch single on the chart and most importantly opened the floodgates to every popular Rap song up to this day. In the music timeline, that moment was as important to Rap/Hip Hop music as Elvis PresleyÅs first visit to Sun Studios to Rock n Roll
IT LOOKS LIKE SNOW (1976) – PHOEBE SNOW – COLUMBIA MUSIC
Phoebe Snow (April 26, 2011) managed to take her folk jazz style into the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart in 1975, with her signature song Poetry Man. Her music best fit into the Adult Contemporary market as happens with most gifted singers. I chose to spotlight ÑIt Looks Like Snow,É her second release due to itÅs drastic change in style compared to the Poetry Man debut. Her impressive vocals shine on each track as she dips in and out of spiritual layered numbers. Branching into a wide variety of styles this LP took her out of the coffee shops and on to the big stage. The most remarkable track is her cover of the Beatles ÑDonÅt Let Me Down,É giving it a gospel feel with a slight touch of reggae.
LET’S LIVE FOR TODAY (1967) – GRASS ROOTS – DUNHILL MUSIC
The almost final line up of the Grass Roots featuring lead singer Rob Grill (July 11, 2011) made their debut in 1967 with “Let’s Live For Today”. The bands backing members changed until the break up in 1975, but Grill remained as the lead and carried the group in future years on revival tours. The Grass Roots were almost as manufactured as the Monkees, but ended up charting numerous hit singles (“Midnight Confessions,” “Temptation Eyes,” “Two Divided By Love, “”Sooner or Later”) and survived after one their mad scientist creators P F Sloan left the project. The Let’s Live For Today album bridged the 60Ås Summer of Love Sound with AM Pop Radio and the Grass Roots became one of the groups well known for a catalog of soft rock hits. Along with the Raspberries, Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods, Brownsville Station, Three Dog Night, and The Hudson Brothers; The Grass Roots churned out some of the best songs that decade ever heard.
PLEASE MR POSTMAN (1961) – MARVELETTES – MOTOWN MUSIC
The Marvelettes were MotownÅs first successful girl group and paved the way for Diana Ross & the Supremes and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas to follow. Please Mr Postman was MotownÅs first #1 single and featured Gladys Horton (January 26, 2011) on lead. The Marvelettes, like the Shirelles, had two lead singers, the other being Wanda Young. Gladys Horton was the primary vocalist until she left in 1967, after their seventh album. The Please Mr Postman collection is fresh as it gets if your looking into the history of Motown’s beginnings. As I have found with many Motown artists, their LPÅs are a treasure of undiscovered gems. We are all aware of Motown’s big hits and the lyrics are branded in our brains forever. I find it quite a treat to run across an assortment like this and hear the other songs the radio wasnÅt playing. ItÅs like reliving the experience all over again.
UNDER THE INFLUENCE (2001) – WARRANT – PERRIS MUSIC
WarrantÅs first album didnÅt debut until 1989, but they had that well formulated 80Ås metal clad in black look with a blond long haired lead vocalist, Jani Lane (August 11, 2011). Like other similar bands before them, their albums consisted of power rock tracks and power ballads all aimed at teenage boys angst and teenage girls hearts. Arriving at the end of this period gave Warrant little time to make a name for themselves, but their debut was widely successful, and the follow up, Cherry Pie, in 1990, was even bigger, earning them a firm place in Rock History. After Cherry Pie, their sound was now dated and 90‘s Grunge music became the favored flavor in the Rock World. They tried to change but as with almost all of the other big haired bands it didnÅt work. What plagued Warrant even further was the constant change in backing members and even Jani Lane darting in and out of the line up. The Under The Influence album, which was Lanes last recording with Warrant, I feel was actually the best of their post-hit period even though it primarily consists of cover tunes. This type of recording is not unique, but IÅd have to say it is truly well done and done smart. Only three of the selected tunes were big hits, Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” NazarethÅs “Hair of the Dog,” and BadfingerÅs “Come and Get It.” The others are well know tracks from David Bowie, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, Queen, AC/DC, and a surprising choice by including Hanoi Rocks.
JAMES & BOBBY PURIFY (1967) – JAMES & BOBBY PURIFY – BELL MUSIC
The original line up of the duo James & Bobby Purify consisted of cousins James Purify & Bobby Dickey (December 29, 2011). Their debut contained the RNB staple, “I’m Your Puppet.” The range of artists that have recorded this song is almost amusing considering the strength of the original (Donny Osmond, Box Tops, Dionne Warwick, Sandy Posey, Peter & Gordon, Cliff Richard, and the Sparks). Bobby Dickey left the group 1971 due to health reasons and was replace by a second Bobby, Ben Moore in the mid seventies after James’ stint at a solo career. “I’m Your Puppet” had three other notable incarnations. In 1976 a re-recorded version with strings, was a hit in the UK, from the new reformed group. In 1991, rapper Hi-C sampled it and renamed it “I’m Not Your Puppet” on his 1991 Skanless release. In 2008 for the movie Soul Men, Samuel L Jackson and the late Bernie Mac revived the track as faithfully as possible.
MELLO (1978) – MEL MCDANIEL – CAPITOL MUSIC
There are two kinds of country music, the type that stays on the Country Chart and the type that strays over to the Pop Charts. Mel McDaniel (March 31, 2011) stayed true to country and even in 1984 when he had a #1 country hit, “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On,” it stayed country. Mello was McDaniel’s second release right before his first big hit, Louisiana Saturday Night, which climbed to #7. ItÅs always interesting listening to an artists work just before they make it big. You ponder why not this one and formulate what made the other more appealing. Great storyline cuts like The Farm, Bordertown Woman Blues (surely tailored for Jimmy Buffett), Oklahoma Wind (which became the name of his backup band), “Grandest Lady of Them All” (also covered by Conway Twitty), and “Dim The Lights” all make this LP a winner to me.
I hope reflecting on these artists prompts our readers to seek out their back catalogs, many of which are incredibly hard to find. Some of these performers made headlines when they left us and some received barely a mention. As I look over this list a second time, I wonder is it greater to be remembered for one’s moments in fame or to be remembered fondly in passing. If given a choice I would go with the later.