If there’s a rock and roll heaven…

Four years ago, when this blog was still pretty new, it seems as if I was writing obituaries every other week.  Rock stars were falling left and right, and I felt compelled to write tributes to them all:  Glenn Frey.  David Bowie.  Keith Emerson.  Maurice White.  Prince.  Paul Kantner.  Leon Russell.  Leonard Cohen.  Greg Lake.  George Michael.  Aretha Franklin.

In Memoriam_0Thankfully, 2019 wasn’t quite as difficult a year.  We lost some giants, to be sure, but most of those who passed away over the past twelve months didn’t feel like as much like blows to the solar plexus as in previous years.

Nevertheless, the names listed below made important contributions to rock music in one way or another, and are worthy of remembrance by all of us who appreciate the stories big and small that make up the historical canon of rock and roll.

Rest in peace to them all.

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qZ6rMExbe4asd84nbtaXAN-320-80Ginger Baker, explosive drummer for Cream, Blind Faith and Ginger Baker’s Air Force, died in October at age 80.  His work in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly his recorded and live work with Cream, earned him the reputation as “rock’s first superstar drummer” for a style that melded jazz and African rhythms, and he helped pioneer both jazz fusion and world music.  See my in-depth piece, “In the white room with black curtains,” published October 11.

merlin_160965711_6b6c984a-ac13-4005-9f67-8b65891f9053-articleLargeRic Ocasek, songwriter/singer/guitarist for The Cars, died from complications following surgery in September at age 75.  He was instrumental in putting The Cars at the forefront of the movement merging 1970s guitar-oriented rock with the new synthesizer-oriented pop that became popular and flourished in the early 1980s.  He wrote a dozen Top 20 singles and many more deep tracks on The Cars’ five multi-platinum albums.  Ocasek later recorded seven solo LPs and gained a reputation as a producer, working with No Doubt, Guided by Voices and Suicide.  See my in-depth piece, “Everything’s a mess since you’re gone,” published September 20.

merlin_151973049_36b84277-6e09-4133-9fbd-72653910cbd7-articleLargeHal Blaine, drummer with the L.A. session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew, died in March at age 90.  Blaine was among the most recorded studio drummers in the history of the music industry, playing on an estimated 35,000 sessions and 6,000 singles. His drumming is featured on 150 US Top Ten hits, including 40 that reached #1 on the charts.  He worked with everyone from The Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra, from The Fifth Dimension to Simon and Garfunkel, from The Ronettes to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, from Neil Diamond to Elvis Presley.  Between 1966 and 1971, Blaine played on six consecutive Record of the Year Grammy Award winners.  See my in-depth piece, “The drummer of a generation of hits,” published March 22.

pete-tork-1550772846Peter Tork, bass player for The Monkees, died in February at age 77.  He was recruited to join the cast of the 1960s TV show about a rock and roll band after his friend Stephen Stills turned it down.  Tork joined guitarist Mike Nesmith and actors Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz in playing The Monkees, who enjoyed international success as recording artists (“Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” “Daydream Believer,” “Valleri”).  He occasionally participated in Monkees reunion tours in recent decades.  See my in-depth piece on The Monkees phenomenon, “We’re the young generation, and we’ve got something to say,” published March 1.

https---bucketeer-e05bbc84-baa3-437e-9518-adb32be77984.s3.amazonaws.com-public-images-ab96dcea-a552-4932-8346-8b674ebece15_1040x800Paul Barrère, guitarist for Little Feat, died in October at age 71.  He joined the band in 1972 and was still doing gigs with them in 2019 until illness prevented him from performing.  He was adept at blues, rock, jazz and cajun musical styles, and also recorded with the likes of Taj Mahal, Nicolette Larson, Robert Palmer and Carly Simon.  See my in-depth piece on Little Feat, “We can walk together down in Dixieland,” published November 1.

Dr.-John-portrait-1970-a-billboard-1548Malcom Rebennack Jr., better known as Dr. John the Night Tripper, died of a heart attack in June at age 77.  As a denizen of the New Orleans sound, he was known for performing lively, theatrical stage shows inspired by medicine shows, Mardi Gras costumes, and voodoo ceremonies.  Dr. John recorded thirty studio albums and nine live albums, as well as contributing to hundreds of recordings by other musicians.  He made the pop charts only once, reaching #9 in 1973 with “Right Place, Wrong Time.”  He won six Grammys over the years and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

13eddiemoney--superJumboEdward Mahoney, known professionally as singer-songwriter Eddie Money, died in September at age 70.  He enjoyed considerable success on the pop charts in the late ‘70s and 1980s, with 11 Top 40 songs including “Baby Hold On,” “Two Tickets to Paradise,” “Think I’m in Love,” “Shakin’,” “Take Me Home Tonight,” “I Wanna Go Back,” “Walk on Water” and “The Love in Your Eyes.”

Photo of Clydie KingClydie King an in-demand session singer in the ’70s and ’80s, died in January at age 75.  In tandem with Venetta Fields and Sherlie Matthews, King sang background vocals on many dozens of classic rock albums, including Steely Dan’s “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” “The Royal Scam” and “Aja”; The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street”; Linda Ronstadt’s “Heart Like a Wheel”; Bob Dylan’s “Saved” and “Infidels”; Joe Walsh’s “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get”;  Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” and Barbra Streisand’s “A Star is Born.”

Leon Redbone in Concert at Symphony Hall in Atlanta - August 20, 1977Dickran Gobalian, a Cyprus-born singer-songwriter-guitarist known professionally as Leon Redbone, died in May.  His age was listed at 69, but a family member released a whimsical report that Redbone “crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127.”  Recognized by his ever-present Panama hat, sunglasses and black tie, Redbone specialized in jazz, blues and Tin Pan Alley classics.  He made numerous “Saturday Night Live” appearances in the late ‘70s, specializing in songs he claimed to have written despite the fact they originated well before he was born.

237946080e3443a194e648d8f5a88a70_mdArt Neville, singer-songwriter-keyboardist from New Orleans, died in July at age 81.  Neville was a co-founder of the prototype funk group The Meters, whose musical style set the tone of New Orleans funk.  A three-time Grammy winner, Neville was also co-founder of the rock-soul-jazz band The Neville Brothers with brother Aaron, and performed on many recordings with other major artists including Labelle, Paul McCartney, Lee Dorsey, Robert Palmer, Dr. John and Professor Longhair.

Unknown-76Richard Mansour, known professionally as Dick Dale, died in March at age 81.  Dale was known as “the king of surf guitar” and was at the vanguard of the surf music sound, popular in Southern California in the early ’60s.  He also worked with guitar manufacturer Leo Fender and others to produce custom-made amplifiers.  He was one of the first to push the limits of electric amplification technology and reverberation.  “Let’s Go Trippin'” and especially “Misirlou” were Dale’s signature songs that eventually earned him appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”  The use of “Misirlou” in the 1994 film “Pulp Fiction” revived his name and gave him new recognition.

Robert Hunter, singer-songwriter-poet best known as lyricist for The Grateful Dead, died in September at age 78.  He enjoyed a successful collaboration with Jerry Garcia, The Dead’s primary guitarist, singer and songwriter, providing lyrics for such signature pieces as “Truckin’,” “Dark Star,” China Cat Sunflower,” “Ripple” and “Terrapin Station.”  He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a lyricist in 1994.

Ian Gibbons, keyboard player with The Kinks from 1979 to 1993, died in August at age 67.  He played with various rock and new wave bands until being asked to join Ray Davies’ band just as the group was enjoying a resurgence in the early ’80s.  Gibbons also freelanced on recordings with Suzi Quatro, Ian Hunter, Sweet, Dr. Feelgood and Randy California.

Dave BartholomewDave Bartholomew, legendary songwriter-trumpeter-arranger-producer, died in June at age 100.  His partnership with the late Fats Domino produced more than forty hits for Imperial Records, including the #1 pop chart hit “Ain’t That a Shame” as well as “I Hear You Knocking,” “Blue Monday” and “I’m Walkin’.” He remained a major figure in the New Orleans music scene from the 1960s through the 2000s until his health failed.

Gary Duncan, guitarist and singer with Quicksilver Messenger Service, died in June at age 72.  His complex interplay with Quicksilver’s other guitarist, John Cipollina, helped define the unique sound of the San Francisco-based band.  The group was known for counterculture classics like “Fresh Air” and “What About Me.” 

Ted McKenna, Scottish drummer for numerous bands, died in January at age 68.  His first claim to fame was as the drummer for The Sensational Alex Harvey Band from 1972-1977, followed by stints with guitarist Rory Gallagher, The Greg Lake Band and The Michael Schenker Group.

Stephan Ellis bassist for the ’80s arena rock band Survivor, died in March at age 69.  He joined the band in 1981 and was on hand when Sylvester Stallone approached them to write a hit for the film soundtrack of “Rocky III.”  The result was “Eye of the Tiger,” which topped the pop charts for six weeks in 1982, won a Grammy and secured a Best Song Oscar nomination.

Unknown-77Lastly, there’s Russ Kibb, who died in April at age 88.  He wasn’t a musician but a disc jockey who played a pivotal role in the notorious “Paul is Dead” hoax in the fall of 1969.  Gibb was a DJ at WKNR-FM in Detroit when he received an anonymous call claiming Beatle Paul McCartney had died in images-801966, and that clues about the death were allegedly hidden in Beatles album covers.  Spurred on by a satirical article published in the University of Michigan student newspaper two days later outlining additional clues, Gibb chose to air a special two-hour program a few days later called “The Beatle Plot.”  The story went viral, got picked up in newspapers around the world, and fueled the insatiable rumor for several weeks until Life Magazine tracked down a very much alive McCartney at his reclusive farm in Scotland.

 

Here in my book of memories

It’s time again for a search through some of the great LPs of the Seventies and Eighties for those long-forgotten album tracks that are well worth digging up and brought back into the light.

13418967174_7bbbde8a43_bMany in my generation will recall these songs because they owned or were familiar with the albums they came from, but younger generations have likely had no exposure to these 12 tunes because the radio stations wouldn’t dream of playing them these days.

I like to think I perform a public service by reminding my readers how much great music has been made in the last half-century.  It’s always been there, bubbling beneath the surface, just waiting to be picked up by our radar.

I hope you agree that these lost classics from the 1970s and 1980s, with an emphasis on songs from the progressive rock genre, are worthy of your attention, and I hope you enjoy them.

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“China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider (live),” Grateful Dead, 1972

19721105_0648No band enjoyed as loyal a following as The Grateful Dead did.  Thousands of “Deadheads” were known to hit the road and follow the band on tour, attending many dozens of shows, year after year.  Truth be told, The Dead’s performances were erratic, due in large part to the group’s voracious appetite for psychedelics, and their studio LPs, for the most part, were ho-hum affairs which failed to capture the band’s music at its best.  For that, you needed to turn to the best of their live albums, particularly the magnificent “Europe ’72” three-LP package.  The 13-minute version of “Truckin'” is pretty great, but I’m partial to the two-song combo of the Dead original “China Cat Sunflower” with the traditional blues tune “I Know You Rider.”  It may be the finest track(s) the band ever put down on vinyl.

“A Gallon of Gas,” The Kinks, 1979

KinksLowBudgetAfter several years of concept albums with lyrics recalling simpler times, The Kinks switched directions (and record labels) and started writing straight-ahead rock and roll with lyrics addressing contemporary issues like inflation, labor strife and the gasoline crisis.  On 1979’s “Low Budget,” the best of these is “A Gallon of Gas,” a slow-tempo, hard-rocking track which pointed out how, in some cities, it was easier to get drugs than gasoline.  “Low Budget,” which included the minor hit “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,” turned out to be their best-charting LP ever in the US, peaking at #11.  It began a nice run of Top 20 albums in the early ’80s — “Give the People What They Want,” “State of Confusion,” “Word of Mouth” and a so-so live album, “One For the Road” — that kept the band viable and playing to arena-sized crowds for a while longer.

“The Cage,” Elton John, 1970

images-78From the very beginning, Elton John’s music has been a cross between melodic ballads and rollicking piano rockers.  Even his mostly ignored first album, 1969’s “Empty Sky,” offered both genres.  “Elton John,” the self-titled LP that Americans thought was his debut, included the iconic debut single “Your Song,” one of his very prettiest songs, and other strings-laden ballads like “Sixty Years On,” “The Greatest Discovery” and “First Episode at Hienton.”  But just as interesting were the tracks that leaned more toward the kind of swampy rhythm-and-blues his idol Leon Russell was famous for — “Take Me to the Pilot,” “Border Song” and the lost classic “The Cage.”  A rowdy arrangement of drums, bass, guitars and synthesizer complement Elton and his vocals on “The Cage,” hinting at what was still to come on his next several albums.

“It Can Happen,” Yes, 1983

b6ae0620295870be9bb2cb3070f39ad0When keyboard player Rick Wakeman and especially singer Jon Anderson left Yes in 1979, I thought that would be the end of one of the best of Britain’s progressive rock bands.  Instead, veterans Chris Squire and Steve Howe regrouped with a couple of ex-Buggles and kept the Yes ship afloat for another few years until Anderson, whose brilliant, high voice was crucial to the band’s identity, was eventually coaxed back into the fold.  Led by the enormously commercial #1 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” the album “90125” became a #1 album as well.  Longtime Yes fans, at first skeptical, found a number of tracks that harkened back to the glory years, majestic tunes like “Changes,” “Leave It” and particularly “It Can Happen.”

“My God,” Jethro Tull, 1971

220px-JethroTullAqualungalbumcover-1When rock music reviewers labeled Tull’s “Aqualung” as a concept album, Ian Anderson protested, saying, “There were a couple of songs that commented on organized religion, but most of the album had nothing to do with that.”  The songs that took religious traditions to task were “Wind Up” — which criticized once-a-week churchgoers with the line, “He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays” — and the magnificent “My God,” a haunting piece that again taunts the hypocrisy and shallowness of many worshippers in the churches of 1971.  “My God” boasts a rather harrowing melody line, first on acoustic guitar, then with full electric band accompaniment and some of Anderson’s finest flute playing ever.  I would put this track in the Top 10 best Tull songs, out of a repertoire of 225 originals.

“Daughters of the Sea,” The Doobie Brothers, 1974

images-79From the early Tom Johnston singles (“China Grove,” “Listen to the Music”) to the later Michael McDonald hits (“Takin’ It to the Streets,” “What a Fool Believes”), The Doobies were always an accomplished band of stellar musicians who offered tight performances both in concert and on record.  Throughout their initial run (1972-1982), one of the group’s constants was guitarist/vocalist Pat Simmons, whose quality songs added so much to the band’s presence.  “Black Water” was his best known tune, but so many others made the list of The Doobies’ finest tracks:  “Clear as the Driven Snow,” “I Cheat the Hangman,” “Toulouse Street,” “Echoes of Love,” “South City Midnight Lady.”  Let’s not forget the dreamy “Daughters of the Sea,” a Simmons highlight from their 1974 LP “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.”

“Street Life,” Roxy Music, 1973

Roxy_Music-StrandedThe eclectic, eccentric music of Roxy Music was ahead of its time, and not to everyone’s taste.  Indeed, I didn’t care for it at all when I was first exposed to it, but I found that it has grown on me over the years.  Singer Bryan Ferry’s affected vocals certainly take some getting used to, and the unusual textures and alternately smooth and strident instrumentation Roxy Music utilized made for a broad palette of ideas and concepts.  Andy Mackay’s sax, Eddie Jobson’s synthesizers and Phil Manzanera’s guitar combined so well on a track like “Street Life,” which was a Top Ten single in the UK but ignored here in the US, as was its album, 1973’s “Stranded.”  In fact, their music never did well on the US charts but found a loyal audience that Ferry has enjoyed during his solo career since the band broke up in 1983.

“Rocket Love,” Stevie Wonder, 1980

220px-Hotter_JulyWhen you mention the 1970s, usually The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac are named as the dominant acts, but I think you can make a strong case for Stevie Wonder being every bit as influential.  The man won three Album of the Year Grammys in four years and charted numerous hit singles, not to mention the trail of imitators who came along in his wake.  His 1980 LP “Hotter Than July” reached #3 and featured the Bob Marley-inspired reggae rave-up “Master Blaster” and the country-tinged hit “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It.”  I’ve always been partial to the deep track “Rocket Love,” which focuses on the romantic turmoil of a couple who curiously experience extreme highs and lows:  “You took me riding in your rocket, gave me a star, but at a half a mile from heaven, you dropped me back down to this cold, cold world…”

“The Same Old Sun,” The Alan Parsons Project, 1984

220px-TAPP-VultureCultureAfter six Top 20 albums on the US charts — “I Robot” (1977), “Pyramid” (1978), “Eve” (1979, “The Turn of a Friendly Card” (1980), “Eye in the Sky” (1982) and “Ammonia Avenue” (1984) — The Alan Parsons Project began falling out of favor with US audiences, who had always been more receptive to their music than fans in their native England.  Their 1984 LP “Vulture Culture,” which had been intended as the second half of a double album with “Ammonia Avenue,” fell off the charts pretty quickly, managing only #46, with no hit singles.  There were some great tracks on there, though, including “Days Are Numbers,” “Sooner or Later” and the album’s grand closer, “The Same Old Sun,” which starts quietly before building to a dramatic conclusion.  Eric Woolfson’s vocals and David Paton’s guitar solo are particularly strong.

“Squonk” (live), Genesis, 1977

220px-Genesis_-_Seconds_OutI admit I was late to the party when it comes to the music of Genesis, whose albums date back to 1969.  I never really paid attention until their 1976 LP “A Trick of the Tail,” which was coincidentally their first after the departure of frontman/lyricist/vocalist Peter Gabriel.  The group carried on admirably, with drummer Phil Collins stepping up and sounding uncannily like Gabriel on most tracks.  Keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarists Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett wrote the eight amazing songs that comprise “A Trick of the Tail,” and four of them — “Dance on a Volcano,” “Robbery, Assault and Battery,” “Los Endos” and “Squonk” — appeared as in-concert versions on the double live album “Seconds Out,” released in 1977.  I actually prefer the live take of “Squonk” to the studio rendition.

“Darkness,” The Police, 1981

Ghost_In_The_Machine_cover-1By 1981, the reggae-punk rock oeuvre that marked The Police’s first three albums had evolved into a different style that made liberal use of keyboards, synthesizers and even horns.  On their “Ghost in the Machine” LP, the hit singles “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “Spirits in the Material World” sound far removed from the band’s earlier work, except for Sting’s mesmerizing vocals.  Buried late in the segue of songs is “Darkness,” a dreamy piece written by drummer Stewart Copeland.  It offers lyrics that touch on the dichotomy of light and dark, and how darkness can be a blessing when light brings the pain of reality into focus:  “I wish I never woke up this morning, life was easy when it was boring…”

“Scared,” John Lennon, 1974

205547da87eecb390c38836e4fbcb861In 1980, when Lennon sat for a lengthy interview for the first time in years and talked about all his past music, he praised the relatively unknown “Scared” as one of his favorites, and the best track on his 1974 LP “Walls and Bridges.”  He was in his period of estrangement, living and recording in L.A. many thousands of miles from Yoko, and although he was capable of churning out commercial hit singles like “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” many of the songs he was writing dug much deeper, exposing and reflecting on his flaws and fears.  “Scared” deftly utilizes a few spooky wolf howls and a dirge-like pace to set the tone for lyrics about regretting past behavior and not wanting to be alone anymore.  Within a few months of this album’s release, John and Yoko reunited, and a happy John took a break from the business to raise his baby boy Sean.