Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 26: "The Queen of Motown," Mary Wells died on this date in 1992...

... she was 49 years-old when she died from cancer.

Known as "The Queen of Motown" Mary Wells was one of the Detroit-based labels first singing superstars until her departure from the company in 1964, at the height of her popularity.

With a string of hit singles composed mainly by Smokey Robinson, including "Two Lovers," the Grammy-nominated "You Beat Me to the Punch" and her signature hit, "My Guy," Wells was part of the charge in black music onto radio stations and record shelves of mainstream America.
Mary Esther Wells was born in Detroit. Wells used singing as her comfort by age 10 had graduated from church choirs to performing at local nightclubs in the Detroit area. Wells graduated from Detroit's Northwestern High School at the age of 17 and set her sights on becoming a scientist, but after hearing about the success of Detroit musicians such as Jackie Wilson and The Miracles, she decided to try her hand at music as a singer-songwriter.

In 1960, 17-year-old Wells approached Tamla Records founder Berry Gordy at Detroit's Twenty Grand club with a song she had hoped Jackie Wilson would record. Gordy insisted Wells sing the song in front of him. Impressed, Gordy had Wells enter Detroit's United Sound Studios to record the single, titled "Bye Bye Baby." Gordy signed Wells to the Motown subsidiary of his expanding record label and released the song as a single in late 1960; it eventually peaked at No 8 on the R&B chart in 1961, later crossed over to the pop singles chart, where it peaked at number 45.

In 1961, Wells became the first Motown female artist to have a Top 40 pop single with "I Don't Want to Take a Chance." In the fall of that year, Motown issued her first album and released a third single, the bluesy ballad "Strange Love." However when that record failed to chart, Gordy set Wells up with The Miracles' lead singer Smokey Robinson.

The collaboration paid dividends; Wells' became the label's first female star and its first fully successful solo artist.
Wells' teaming with Robinson led to a succession of hit singles over the following two years. Their first collaboration, 1962's "The One Who Really Loves You," was Wells' first smash hit, peaking at No. 2 on the R&B chart and No. 8 on the Hot 100.

Next Motown released the similar-sounding "You Beat Me to the Punch" a few months later. The song became her first R&B No. 1 single and peaked at No. 9 on the pop chart. The success of "You Beat Me to the Punch" helped to make Wells the first Motown star to be nominated for a Grammy Award when the song received a nod in the Best Rhythm & Blues Recording category.

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In late 1962, "Two Lovers" became Wells' third consecutive single to hit the Top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100, peaking at No. 7 and becoming her second No. 1 hit on the R&B charts. This helped to make Wells the first female solo artist to have three consecutive Top 10 singles on the pop chart. The track sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

Wells was their favorite American singer

Wells' second album,  titled The One Who Really Loves You, was released in 1962 and peaked at No. 8 on the pop albums chart, making the teenage singer a breakthrough star and giving her clout at Motown. Wells' success at the label was recognized when she became a headliner during the first string of Motortown Revue concerts, starting in the fall of 1962.

Wells' continued to consistently hit the top 20, then in 1964, Wells recorded and released "My Guy." The Smokey Robinson song became her trademark single, reaching No. 1 on the Cashbox R&B chart for seven weeks and becoming the No. 1 R&B single of the year. The song successfully crossed over and became Wells' second million-selling single.

To build on the song's success, Motown released a duet album recorded with fellow Motown singing star Marvin Gaye, Together. The album peaked at No. 1 on the R&B album chart and No. 42 on the pop album chart, and yielded the double-sided hits "Once Upon a Time" and "What's the Matter With You Baby."

Mary's relationship with Motown soured, mostly over royalties. . Angry that the money made from "My Guy" was being used to promote The Supremes, and meager royalties from the contract she signed when she was 17, the singer siled a lawsuit. Wells won and accepted a $200,000 contract with 20th Century Fox Records.

Wells' eponymous first 20th Century Fox release only had one top 40 hit, "Use Your Head." The album was considered a flop.

In 1966, Wells signed with Atlantic Records subsidiary Atco where Wells scored her final Top 10 R&B hit with "Dear Lover," which also became a modestly successful pop hit, peaking at No. 51. However, much like her tenure with 20th Century Fox, the singer struggled to come up with a follow-up hit, and in 1968 she left the label for Jubilee Records, where she scored her final pop hit, "The Doctor."

Though Wells has been eligible for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - she was nominated twice in 1986 and 1987 - she has yet to achieve it.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 22: Grammy-winning singer Amy Winehouse died today at the age of 27...

... she died from a suspected drug overdose at the age of 27. 
Winehouse joins a macabre "club"; musicians who die at 27-years-old. Other include Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison of The Doors, The Rolling Stones Brian Jones, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan of the Grateful Dead and Kurt Cobain.  
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You Know I'm No GoodRehabBack To Black


Amy Winehouse has been found dead in her North London home. In a statement, the London Metropolitan Police said, "Police were called by London Ambulance Service to an address in Camden Square NW1 shortly before 16.05hrs today on July 23, following reports of a woman found deceased. On arrival officers found the body of a 27-year-old female who was pronounced dead at the scene. Enquiries continue into the circumstances of the death. At this early stage it is being treated as unexplained."

A suspected drug overdose took the life of the singer, who has battled drug addiction for years, having most recently checked back into rehabilitation in May.

Winehouse entered treatment in late 2007 for drug problems, including admitted heroin use. Winehouse has had previous near-death experiences, including one her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, described in detail back in 2009.

Amy Jade Winehouse mixes musical genres including R&B, soul and jazz and is known for her soulful, powerful contralto vocals.

Winehouse's 2003 debut album Frank was commercially and critically successful in Britain, and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. Her 2006 follow-up album Back to Black led to six Grammy Award nominations and five wins, tying the record for the most wins by a female artist in a single night, and made Winehouse the first British singer to win five Grammys, including Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

On 14 February 2007, she won a BRIT Award for Best British Female Artist; she had also been nominated for Best British Album. She has won the Ivor Novello Award three times, one in 2004 for Best Contemporary Song (musically and lyrically) for "Stronger Than Me," one in 2007 for Best Contemporary Song for "Rehab," and one in 2008 for Best Song Musically and Lyrically for "Love Is a Losing Game." The album was the third biggest seller of the 2000s in the United Kingdom.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

August 20: Keyboardist, lead guitarist for Bread, session musician Larry Knechtel died on this day in 2009...

... from an undiagnosed heart condition. he was 69 years old.

BREAD Complete (Everything Ever Recorded By Bread, Piano/Vocal/Chords)
Beginning in 1959, he spent four years with Duane Eddy's touring group, The Rebels. Larry continued to work with Duane in the recording studio, and became a Hollywood session regular. Larry has performed and recorded with a broad range of artists, including The Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Duane Eddy, Fats Domino, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel, The 5th Dimension, Dolly Parton, Steppenwolf, The Doors, The Byrds, The Mammas and Pappas, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Jr., David Gates, Neil Diamond, Dave Mason, Harry Nilsson, Poco, Johnny Rivers, Tim Weisberg, and Randy Newman. He also played piano for Phil Spector, helping to create the famous "Wall of Sound." Late in his career, he toured with the Dixie Chicks.

  • His most famous piano work is his 1971 Grammy Award winning contribution to "Bridge over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel.
  • He also played the harmonica and the electric bass guitar, which can be heard on The Byrds "Mr. Tambourine Man."
  • In 1971, he joined Bread, where his many contributions include the memorable guitar solo on the hit single "The Guitar Man."

-- "The Guitar Man" (Bread- Larry on lead guitar)

Urban Gypsy

Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17: Gordon Waller of Peter and Gordon - "A World Without Love" - died on this date in 2009...

... born on June 4, 1945, he was 64 years-old when he died from heart failure.
Gordon Trueman Riviere Waller was born in Braemar, Scotland. While attending Westminster School, he met fellow student Peter Asher, and they began playing together as a duo, eventially calling themselves Peter and Gordon. Asher is the older brother of actress and businesswoman Jane Asher, who in the mid 1960s was girlfriend of The Beatles' Paul McCartney.

Through this connection he and Waller were often given unrecorded Lennon–McCartney songs to perform, most notably their first and biggest hit, "A World Without Love" which they recorded in 1964. Those hits included "A World Without Love" - which hit #1 in the USA-  "Nobody I Know," "I Don't Want To See You Again," and "Woman." On "Woman," McCartney used the pseudonym Bernard Webb to see if he could have a hit song without his name attached. The song reached number 14 in the US and number 28 on the British charts.

Peter and Gordon also recorded the John Lennon-penned Lennon–McCartney song, "..If I Fell." Other hits for the group included "I Go to Pieces" (U.S. #7)—written by Del Shannon and given to the duo after the two acts toured together—and remakes of "True Love Ways" by Buddy Holly and "To Know Him Is To Love Him" by the Teddy Bears, retitled "To Know You Is To Love You."

Peter and Gordon had their last hits in 1967, with "Lady Godiva" (US #6), "Knight In Rusty Armour," and "Sunday for Tea." "World Without Love," "Nobody I Know," "True Love Ways," and "Lady Godiva" each sold over one million copies, and were awarded gold discs.

Peter and Gordon disbanded in 1968. Afterward, Waller attempted a solo career with little success, releasing one record, and Gordon. On this album Waller used a New York-based group White Cloud, featuring Teddy Wender on keyboards. He also appeared in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as Pharaoh in 1971, a performance that he reprised on the LP. Waller first performed "Joseph" at the Edinburgh Festival, later reprising the role at the Albery Theatre in London's West End.

In 1995, he moved to Los Angeles, California, and started a publishing company, Steel Wallet International. Ltd., with his long time friend and girlfriend, Georgiana Steele. In 2007, Waller released a solo album Plays the Beatles, featuring a new recording of Paul McCartney's "Woman." In 2008, he followed up with the release of Rebel Rider.

In August, 2005, Peter and Gordon reunited onstage for the first time in more than 30 years, as part of two tribute concerts for Mike Smith of the Dave Clark Five in New York City. This was followed by more complete concerts at The Festival for Beatles Fans (formerly Beatlefest) conventions that began the following year. In the spring of 2007 and 2008, Peter and Gordon were featured performers in the Flower Power concert series at Disney's EPCOT in Florida.

Also in 2007, they performed as part of Love-In: A Musical Celebration, a tribute to the music of the 1960s, which was filmed at the Birch North Park Theatre in San Diego, California, and released on DVD in March, 2009.

Peter and Gordon  performing on stage with his friends Jeremy Clyde, Chad Stuart and Denny Laine
On July 19, 2008, Peter and Gordon performed together at The Cannery Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Also on the bill that night were Chad & Jeremy. Both duos sang the final concert song ("Bye Bye Love") together for only the second time. The pair played numerous times at the 50 Winters Later celebration, in February, 2009, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.

They subsequently performed in Chicago, New Jersey and at the Festival for Beatles Fans convention in Las Vegas, July 1 and 2, 2009. On August 21, 2008, they performed a free concert on the pier in Santa Monica, California and were briefly accompanied by Joan Baez.

Gordon Waller lived in Ledyard, Connecticut in later life. He went into cardiac arrest on July 16,2009, and died at Backus Hospital in Norwich, Connecticut.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 16: Harry Chapin died on this date in 1981...

... he died after a car accident on The Long Island Expressway. He was 38-years-old.

Born  in 1942, Harry Forster Chapin was an American singer-songwriter best known in particular for his folk rock songs including "Taxi," "W*O*L*D," and the number-one hit "Cat's in the Cradle."

Chapin, who was born in New York City was also a dedicated humanitarian who fought to end world hunger; his work was a key player in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977. In 1987, Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian work.

Chapin's first formal introduction to music was while singing in the Brooklyn Boys Choir. It was here that Chapin met "Big" John Wallace, a tenor with a five-octave range, who would later become his bassist and backing vocalist. He began performing with his brothers while a teenager, with their father occasionally joining them on drums.
Chapin graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1960, and was among the five inductees in the school's Alumni Hall Of Fame for the year 2000. He briefly attended the United States Air Force Academy and was then an intermittent student at Cornell University, but did not complete a degree.
He originally intended to be a documentary film-maker, and directed Legendary Champions in 1968, which was nominated for a documentary Academy Award. In 1971, he decided to focus on music. With John Wallace, Tim Scott and Ron Palmer, Chapin started playing in various local nightclubs in New York City.

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Greatest Stories Live EssentialsVerities & BalderdashShort StoriesHarry Chapin: Story Of A LifeHeads & Tales


Following an unsuccessful early album made with his brothers, Tom and Steve, Chapin's debut album was Heads & Tales in 1972, which was a success thanks to the single "Taxi." Chapin later gave great credit to WMEX-Boston radio personality Jim Connors for being the DJ who "discovered" this single, and pushing the air play of this song among fellow radio programmers in the U.S.
Chapin's follow-up album, Sniper and Other Love Songsin 1972, was less successful despite containing the Chapin anthem "Circle" - a big European hit for The New Seekers.

His third album, Short Stories released in 1973, was a modest success. Verities & Balderdash released soon after, was much more successful, bolstered by the chart-topping hit single "Cat's in the Cradle," based upon a poem by his wife. Sandra Chapin had written the poem inspired by her first husband's relationship with his father and a country song she heard on the radio.
When Harry's son Josh was born, he got the idea to put music to the words and recorded the result. "Cat's in the Cradle" was Chapin's only number one hit.

He also wrote and performed a Broadway musical The Night That Made America Famous. Additionally, Chapin wrote the music and lyrics for Cotton Patch Gospel, a musical by Atlantan Tom Key based on Clarence Jordan's book The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John.
On Thursday, July 16, 1981, just after noon, Chapin was driving in the left lane on the Long Island Expressway at about 65 mph on the way to perform at a free concert scheduled for later that evening at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, New York. Near exit 40 in Jericho he put on his emergency flashers, presumably because of either a mechanical or medical problem. A tractor-trailer truck could not brake in time and rammed the rear of Chapin's blue 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, rupturing the fuel tank by climbing its back and causing it to burst into flames.

The driver of the truck and a passerby were able to get Chapin out of the burning car through the window and by cutting the seat belts before the car was completely engulfed in flames. He was taken by police helicopter to a hospital, where ten doctors tried for 30 minutes to revive him.

A spokesman for the Nassau County Medical Center said Chapin had suffered a heart attack and "died of cardiac arrest," but there was no way of knowing whether it occurred before or after the accident.

The Lakeside Theatre at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, New York, was renamed "Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre" during a memorial concert held one month after his death, as a tribute to his efforts to combat world hunger.

Other Long Island landmarks named in honor of Chapin include a graduate student apartment complex at Stony Brook University, and a playground at the intersection of Columbia Heights and Middagh Street in Brooklyn Heights.