Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dec. 28: The only real surfer in the band, The Beach Boys Dennis Wilson died on this date in 1983 ...

... he was 39 years-old when he passed away.

Dennis Carl Wilson was a founding member and the drummer of The Beach Boys along with brothers Brian and Carl and cousin Mike Love. He was a member of the group until his death in 1983.

In contrast to the other members of the group, Dennis seldom sang backup vocals at live performances, though he did so in the studio. His prominence in the group increased as their careers went on, sometimes singing lead, and as a writer towards and into the 1970s.

Born in Inglewood, California, Dennis was the second oldest of the three Wilson brothers. Their mother, Audree, forced Brian to include Dennis in the earliest lineup of the Beach Boys to keep him occupied and out of trouble.
 The Beach Boys formed in August 1961 under the guidance of father Murry Wilson, meeting immediate success. Though the Beach Boys were named for and developed an image based on the California surfing culture, Dennis was the only real surfer in the band.
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Denny Remembered, Dennis Wilson In Words and PicturesDennis Wilson Forever

Though his lead vocals on the early Beach Boys recordings were rare, ("Little Girl (You're My Miss America)" and "This Car of Mine" as well as the bridge verse on "Girls On The Beach") he sang lead on "Do You Wanna Dance?" in February 1965. Later that year on Beach Boys' Party!, Dennis sang a rendition of The Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." He accompanied himself on guitar, and like the other Beach Boys, became a multi-instrumentalist. His piano playing in particular was showcased on his Pacific Ocean Blue album.

Dennis became fascinated by Manson and his followers. The "Manson Family" lived with Wilson for a period of time afterwards, at his expense.

In 1971, Dennis Wilson starred alongside James Taylor and Warren Oates in the critically acclaimed film Two-Lane Blacktop as "The Mechanic."

In December 1970, Dennis released his first piece of solo material, a little-known single released under the name "Dennis Wilson & Rumbo," and released his debut solo album Pacific Ocean Blue in 1977. His collaborators on the album included Daryl Dragon of the Captain & Tennille.
The album peaked at #96 in the US and sold around 300,000 copies, matching that year's Beach Boys album Love You.

Pacific Ocean Blue's follow-up, Bambu, began production in the year 1978 at Brother Studios in Santa Monica with the collaboration of then Beach Boys keyboardist and Dennis's close friend Carli Muñoz as songwriter and producer.

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During the three-year recording hiatus following Holland, Dennis's voice deteriorated markedly. By then his onstage antics (including streaking) occasionally disrupted the Beach Boys' live shows.

On December 28, 1983, shortly after his 39th birthday, Wilson drowned at Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles after drinking all day and diving in the afternoon to recover items he had thrown overboard at the marina from his yacht back in 1980.

On January 4, 1984 he was buried at sea off the California coast by the U.S. Coast Guard. His song Farewell My Friend was played at the funeral.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Dec. 26: Curtis Mayfield of The Impressions, ("Keep on Pushing," "People Get Ready," "Move on Up") died on this date in 1999...

... he was 57 years old when he passed away.

Born on June 3, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, Mayfield's mother moved Curtis and his siblings into the legendary Cabrini–Green projects when Curtis was a teenager. He dropped out of high school early to become lead singer and songwriter for The Impressions, then went on to a successful solo career.

Mayfield was among the first of a new wave of mainstream African-American R&B performing artists and composers injecting social commentary into their work.

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The Music and Message of Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions

Two significant characteristics distinguish Mayfield's sound from that of other performers. The first is that when he taught himself how to play guitar, he tuned the guitar to the black keys of the piano, giving him an open F-sharp tuning — F#, A#, C#, F#, A#, F# — that he used throughout his career. Another key characteristic of Mayfield's sound is that he sang most of his lines in falsetto.

Mayfield's career began in 1956 when he joined The Roosters with Arthur and Richard Brooks and Jerry Butler. Two years later The Roosters, now also including Sam Gooden, became The Impressions. The band had one big hit with "For Your Precious Love." 

After Butler left the group and was replaced with Fred Cash, Mayfield became lead singer, frequently composing for the band, starting with "Gypsy Woman,"  a Top 20 Pop hit. Their hit "Amen,"an updated version of an old gospel tune, was included in the soundtrack of the 1963 MGM film Lilies of the Field, starring Sidney Poitier.

The Impressions reached the height of their popularity in the mid-to-late-'60s with a string of Mayfield compositions that included "Keep on Pushing," "People Get Ready,"  "It's All Right," "Talking about My Baby,"  "Woman's Got Soul,"  "Choice of Colors," "Fool For You," "This is My Country" and "Check Out Your Mind."

Mayfield had written much of the soundtrack of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, but by the end of the decade he was a pioneering voice in the black pride movement along with James Brown and Sly Stone.

Mayfield's "We're a Winner,"  a Number 1 soul hit which also reached the Billboard pop Top 20, became an anthem of the black power and black pride movements when it was released in late 1967, much as his earlier "Keep on Pushing" had been an anthem for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.

Mayfield was a prolific songwriter beyond his work for The Impressions, writing and producing scores of hits for many other artists. In 1970, Mayfield left The Impressions and began a solo career, founding the independent record label Curtom Records.

Curtom would go on to release most of Mayfield's landmark 1970s records, as well as records by the Impressions, Leroy Hutson, The Staple Singers, Mavis Staples, and Baby Huey and the Babysitters, a group which at the time included Chaka Khan. Many of these records were also produced by Mayfield.

The commercial peak of his solo career came with his music album Super Fly, the soundtrack for the film of the same name. He was dubbed 'The Gentle Genius' to reflect his outstanding and innovative musical output with the constant presence of his soft yet insistent vocals. The single releases "Freddie's Dead" and "Super Fly" both sold over one million copies each, and were awarded gold discs by the R.I.A.A.

Super Fly brought success that resulted in Mayfield being tapped for additional soundtracks, some of which he wrote and produced while having others perform the vocals. Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded Mayfield's soundtrack for Claudine in 1974, while Aretha Franklin recorded the soundtrack for Sparkle in 1976. Curtis also worked with Mavis Staples on the 1977 soundtrack for the film A Piece of the Action.

Mayfield was active throughout the 1970s and 1980s, though he had a somewhat lower public profile. On August 13, 1990, Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down after stage lighting equipment fell on him at an outdoor concert at Wingate Field in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York.

He was unable to play guitar, but he wrote, sang and directed the recording of his last album, New World Order. Mayfield's vocals were painstakingly recorded, usually line-by-line while lying on his back.

Mayfield received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. In February, 1998, he had to have his right leg amputated due to diabetes.

He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on March 15, 1999. Health reasons prevented him from attending the ceremony.

His last appearance on record was with the group Bran Van 3000 on the song "Astounded" for their album Discosis, recorded just before his death and released in 2001.

Curtis Mayfield died on December 26, 1999 at the North Fulton Regional Hospital in Roswell, Georgia due to his steadily declining health after his paralysis.


Dec. 27: Delaney Bramlett of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends died on this date in 2008...

... he was 69 years-old when he passed away.

Delaney Bramlett was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi. His –fifty-year career reached peaks in creativity, performance, and notoriety in partnership with his then wife Bonnie Bramlett, in a revolving troupe of professional musicians and Rock superstars dubbed Delaney & Bonnie & Friends.

After his enlistment in the United States Navy ended in the 1960s, Bramlett moved to Los Angeles, California. There he established himself as a singer-songwriter, writing with fellow musicians Joey Cooper, Mac Davis and Jackie DeShannon. Bramlett also became a regular member of the house band of the television show Shindig!, the Shindogs. During this time, he worked with J.J. Cale and Leon Russell and released unsuccessful solo singles.

Delaney & Bonnie with Eric Clapton & George Harrison.
Guitarist Eric Clapton joined Delaney, Bonnie & Friends on tour in the late 1960s, after which Delaney produced and co-wrote songs for Clapton's debut solo album, Eric Clapton. Clapton still credits Delaney for pushing him to sing and teaching him the art of rock vocals Bramlett produced King Curtis' last LP, which had two hit singles: "Teasin'" and "Lonesome Long Way from Home."

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Delaney & Bonnie On Tour With Eric ClaptonOl' Moanin' Blues


Bramlett taught then Beatle George Harrison to play slide guitar, which led into a gospel jam that resulted in Harrison's hit "My Sweet Lord." Bramlett wrote, recorded, or appeared on stage with many notable performers, including Joe Cocker, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Billy Preston, John Lennon, The Everly Brothers, Spooner Oldham, Steve Cropper and Billy Burnette.

Members of the Friends appearing in concert or recording with Bramlett on Friends albums include a galaxy of stars and highly respected side men, including Clapton, Harrison, Russell, Curtis, Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Keltner, Bobby Keys, and Gram Parsons.

In 2006 Bramlett was one of the duet artists on the Jerry Lee Lewis album Last Man Standing, singing and playing guitar on "Lost Highway." In 2008, the year of his death, Bramlett released his first CD in six years, A New Kind of Blues.

Bramlett's songs have reached music "standard's" status, such as "Superstar," which he co-wrote with Leon Russell and his first wife, Bonnie Bramlett. "Superstar," was most notably recorded by The Carpenters, reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart and spent two weeks at number one on the Easy Listening chart that autumn en route to going Gold. The song was also recorded by Luther Vandross, Sonic Youth, and Usher, among others.

The Bramlett's "Never Ending Song of Love" has been covered by others, and appears on the soundtrack of RV and A Good Year. Bramlett co-wrote the Eric Clapton hit, "Let It Rain."

On January 18, 2011 Delaney Bramlett was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame.

Bramlett died from complications of gall bladder surgery December 27, 2008.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Dec. 25: "The Godfather of Soul," James Brown, died on Christmas Day in 2006...

... he was 73 years old when he passed away from congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia.

Besides "The Godfather of Soul,"  James Joseph Brown was recognized by numerous titles, including Soul Brother Number One, Sex Machine, Mr. Dynamite, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, The King of Funk, Minister of The New New Super Heavy Funk, Mr. Please Please Please Please Himself, I Feel Good, and foremost The Godfather of Soul. In the song "Sweet Soul Music" by Arthur Conley, he is also described as the King of Soul.

As a prolific singer, songwriter, bandleader and record producer, he was a seminal force in the evolution of gospel and rhythm and blues into soul and funk. He left his mark on numerous other musical genres, including rock, jazz, reggae, disco, dance and electronic music, afro-beat, and hip-hop music.

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(James Brown & Luciano Pavarotti )

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James Brown - 20 All-Time Greatest Hits!James Brown: 50th Anniversary CollectionLive at the Apollo 1962

Brown started singing in gospel groups and worked his way on up. He has been recognized as one of the most influential performers in the 20th century popular music and was renowned for his vocals and feverish dancing. He was also called "the hardest-working man in show business."

A prolific singer, songwriter, dancer and bandleader, Brown was a pivotal force in the music industry, leaving his mark on numerous artists. Even as his own career declined during the height of the golden age of hip hop, Brown's work found new life in the form of digital sampling; he would go on to become the most sampled artist in the history of the genre.

Brown began his professional music career in 1956 and rose to fame during the late 1950s and early 1960s on the strength of his thrilling live performances and string of smash hits. In spite of various personal problems and setbacks he continued to score hits in every decade through the 1980s.

Born into poverty in the South, he ran afoul of the law by the late '40s on an armed robbery conviction. With the help of singer Bobby Byrd's family, Brown gained parole and started a gospel group with Byrd, changing their focus to R&B as the rock revolution gained steam.

The Flames, as the Georgian group was known in the mid-'50s, signed had a huge R&B hit right off the bat with the wrenching, churchy ballad "Please, Please, Please." By that point, the Flames had become James Brown & the Famous Flames.

All of Brown's singles over the next two years flopped, as he sought to establish his own style, He was on the verge of being dropped by his record label in late 1958 when his perseverance finally paid off, as "Try Me" became a number one R&B hit, and several follow-ups established him as a regular visitor to the R&B charts.

Brown's style of R&B got harder as the '60s began; he added more complex, Latin- and jazz-influenced rhythms on hits like "Good Good Lovin'," "I'll Go Crazy," "Think," and "Night Train." He truly started to become a phenomenon with the release of Live at the Apollo in 1963. The album reached number two on the album charts, an unprecedented feat for a hardcore R&B LP.

Brown's new era had truly begun, however, with "Out of Sight," which topped the R&B charts and made the pop Top 40. "Out of Sight" wasn't called funk when it came out, but it had most of the essential ingredients. These were amplified and perfected on 1965's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," a monster that finally broke Brown to the white audience, reaching the Top Ten. The even more adventurous follow-up, "I Got You (I Feel Good)," did even better, making number three.

These hits kicked off Brown's period of greatest commercial success and public visibility. From 1965 to the end of the decade, he was rarely off the R&B charts, often on the pop listings, and all over the concert circuit and national television.

By the mid-'70s, Brown was beginning to burn out artistically. He seemed out of ideas, was being out-gunned on the charts by disco, and by the '80s, he didn't have a label. With the explosion of rap, however, which frequently sampled vintage J.B.'s records, Brown became hipper than ever. He collaborated with Afrika Bambaataa on the critical smash single "Unity" and reentered the Top Ten in 1986 with "Living in America."


Dec. 25: Singer, TV host and "Rat Pack" member, Dean Martin died on Christmas Day in 1995...

... "Dino" was 78 years old when he passed away.

Born Dino Paul Crocetti on June 7, 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio, Dean Martin's nickname was the "King of Cool." he was a major star in four areas of show business: concerts, night clubs, recordings, motion pictures, and television, and a member of the "Rat Pack" along with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford.  

Martin's hit singles included "Memories Are Made of This,"  "That's Amore,"  "Everybody Loves Somebody,"  "Mambo Italiano,"  "Sway,"  "Volare" and smash hit "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?" 

Martin spoke only Italian until he started school. He took up the drums as a hobby as a teenager. He was the target of much ridicule for his broken English and ultimately dropped out of Steubenville High School in the 10th grade.  He delivered bootleg liquor, served as a speakeasy croupier, was a blackjack dealer, worked in a steel mill and boxed as welterweight. He grew up a neighbor to Jimmy the Greek.

At the age of 15, he was a boxer who billed himself as "Kid Crochet."  Of his twelve bouts, he would later say "I won all but eleven."

Wisely, Martin gave up boxing. He worked as a roulette stickman and croupier in an illegal casino behind a tobacco shop where he had started as a stock boy. At the same time, he sang with local bands. Calling himself "Dino Martini," he got his first break working for the Ernie McKay Orchestra. He sang in a crooning style influenced by Harry Mills of the Mills Brothers, and other popular singers of the time. In the early 1940s, he started singing for bandleader Sammy Watkins, who suggested he change his name to Dean Martin.

Martin worked for various bands throughout the early 1940s, mostly on looks and personality until he developed his own singing style. Martin famously flopped at the Riobamba, a high class nightclub in New York, when he succeeded Frank Sinatra in 1943, but it was the setting for their meeting.

By 1946, Martin was doing relatively well, but was still little more than an East Coast nightclub singer with a common style, similar to that of Bing Crosby. He drew audiences to the clubs he played, but he inspired none of the fanatic popularity enjoyed by Sinatra.

Martin seemed destined to remain on the nightclub circuit until he met a comic named Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York, where both men were performing. Martin and Lewis formed a fast friendship which led to their participation in each other's acts and the ultimate formation of a music-comedy team. More than a few people dubbed them "The Organ Grinder and the Monkey."

Martin and Lewis's official debut together occurred at Atlantic City's 500 Club on July 24, 1946. Their success, each said, was that they essentially ignored the audience and played to one another.

The team made its TV debut on the very first broadcast of CBS-TV network's Toast of the Town Program (later called the Ed Sullivan Show.) In 1949,  Martin and Lewis were signed by Paramount producer Hal B. Wallis as comedy relief for the movie My Friend Irma.

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Lost Concerts Series: Dean MartinDino: The Essential Dean MartinMartin and Lewis Colgate Comedy Hour 16 Classic Episodes (4 DVDs)

Martin and Lewis were the hottest act in America during the early 1950s, but the pace and the pressure took its toll. Most critics underestimated Martin's contribution to the team, as he had the thankless job of the straight man, and his singing had yet to develop into the unique style of his later years.

Critics praised Lewis, and while they admitted that Martin was the best partner he could have, most claimed Lewis was the real talent and could succeed with anyone. However, Lewis always praised his partner, and while he appreciated the attention he was getting, he has always said the act would never have worked without Martin. The act broke up in 1956, 10 years to the day from the first official teaming.

Splitting up their partnership was not easy. It took months for lawyers to work out the details of terminating many of their club bookings, their television contracts, and the dissolution of York Productions. There was intense public pressure for them to stay together.

Lewis had no trouble maintaining his film popularity alone, but Martin, unfairly regarded by much of the public and the motion picture industry as something of a spare tire, found the going hard. His first solo film, Ten Thousand Bedrooms in 1957, was a box office failure. He was still popular as a singer, but with rock and roll gaining in popularity, the era of the pop crooner was waning. It looked like Martin's fate was to be limited to nightclubs and to be remembered as Lewis's former partner.

Never totally comfortable in films, Martin wanted to be known as a real actor. Though offered a fraction of his former salary to co-star in a war drama, The Young Lions.

Martin the starred alongside Frank Sinatra for the first time in a highly acclaimed Vincente Minnelli drama, Some Came Running. Martin was acclaimed for his performance as Dude in Rio Bravo.  

As a singer, he recorded more than 100 albums and 600 songs. His signature tune, "Everybody Loves Somebody,"  knocked The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" out of the number-one spot in the United States in 1964. This was followed by the similarly-styled "The Door is Still Open to My Heart,"  which reached number six later that year. Elvis Presley was said to have been influenced by Martin, and patterned "Love Me Tender" after his style.

For three decades, Martin was among the most popular acts in Las Vegas. Martin sang and was one of the smoothest comics in the business, benefiting from the decade of raucous comedy with Lewis.

As Martin's solo career grew, he and Frank Sinatra became close friends. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Martin and Sinatra, along with friends Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis, Jr. formed the legendary Rat Pack. The Martin-Sinatra-Davis-Lawford-Bishop group referred to themselves as "The Summit" or "The Clan"(except for Sammy Davis) and never as "The Rat Pack,"  although this has remained their identity in the popular imagination. The men made films together and formed an important part of the Hollywood social scene in those years.

In 1965, Martin launched his weekly NBC comedy-variety series, The Dean Martin Show, which exploited his public image as a lazy, carefree boozer. There he perfected his famous laid-back persona of the half-drunk crooner suavely hitting on beautiful women with hilarious remarks that would get anyone else slapped, and making snappy if slurred remarks about fellow celebrities during his famous roasts.

In December 1990, he congratulated Frank Sinatra on his 75th birthday special. By 1991, Martin had unofficially retired from performing.

Martin, a life-long smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer at Cedars Sinai Medical Center on 16 September 1993. He died of acute respiratory failure resulting from emphysema at his Beverly Hills home on Christmas morning 1995, at the age of 78.

Martin's family was presented a gold record in 2004 for Dino: The Essential Dean Martin, his fastest-selling album ever, which also hit the iTunes Top 10. For the week ending December 23, 2006, the Dean Martin and Martina McBride duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" reached #7 on the R&R AC chart. It also went to #36 on the R&R Country chart - the last time Martin had a song this high in the charts was in 1965, with the song "I Will,"  which reached #10 on the Pop chart.

In February 2009, Martin was honored with a post-humous Grammy award for Lifetime Achievement.