Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 21: "Mr. Excitement," Jackie Wilson - "Lonely Teardrops" - died on this date in 1984 ...

... he was 49 years-old.

Did you know?

Jackie's first singing group called the Falcons, included cousin Levi Stubbs, who later went on to lead the Four Tops. Two other cousins, Hubert Johnson and Levi's brother Joe, later became members of The Contours ("Do You Love Me?")

Jack Leroy "Jackie" Wilson, Jr. - known as "Mr. Excitement" - was a key figure in the transition of rhythm and blues into soul music. He was known as a master showman, and as one of the most dynamic singers and performers in R&B and rock history.
Gaining fame in his early years as a member of the R&B vocal group Billy Ward and His Dominoes, he went solo in 1957 and recorded over 50 hit singles that spanned R&B, pop, soul, doo-wop and easy listening.

During a 1975 benefit concert, he collapsed on-stage from a heart attack and subsequently fell into a coma that lasted for nearly nine years until his death in 1984. By this time, he had become one of the most influential artists of his generation.

A two-time Grammy Hall of Fame Inductee,Jackie Wilson was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Jackie Wilson #68 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Jackie Wilson was born in 1934 in Detroit, Michigan. Growing up in the rough Detroit area of North End, Wilson joined a gang called the Shakers and often tussled with the police. Wilson began singing at an early age, accompanying his mother, once a choir singer, to church. Wilson grew up listening to The Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, Louis Jordan and Al Jolson.

In his early teens Jackie formed a quartet, the Ever Ready Gospel Singers, which became a popular feature of churches in the area. Jackie wasn't very religious, he just loved to sing and the cash he and his group earned came in handy for the cheap wine which he drank since the age of nine.

Wilson dropped out of high school at age 15, having already been sentenced to detention in the Lansing Corrections system for juveniles twice. During his second stint in detention, he learned boxing and started performing in the amateur circuit in the Detroit area at the age of 16. After his mother begged his to quit boxing, Wilson married Freda Hood and became a father at 17.

He eventually gave up boxing for music, first working at Lee's Sensation club as a solo singer, then forming a group called the Falcons with his cousin Levi Stubbs, who later went on to lead the Four Tops.

Jackie was soon discovered by talent agent Johnny Otis, who assigned him to join a group called the Thrillers. That group would later be known as The Royals (who would later evolve into R&B group, The Midnighters.

The Dominoes
After recording two versions of "Danny Boy" with Dizzy Gillespie's record label Dee Gee Records under the name Sonny Wilson, Wilson was recruited by Billy Ward in 1953 to join a group Ward formed in 1950 called The Dominoes. Jackine replaced Clyde McPhatter, who had left and formed his own group, The Drifters. Ward felt a stage name would fit The Dominoes' image, and from then on he was known as Jackie Wilson.

Wilson was the group's lead singer for three years, but the Dominoes lost some of their popularity after McPhatter left the group. They were able to make appearances riding on the strength of the group's earlier hits, until 1956 when the Dominoes recorded Wilson with an unlikely interpretation of the pop hit, "St. Therese of the Roses." 

Prior to leaving The Dominoes, Wilson was coached by McPhatter on the sound Billy Ward wanted for his group, influencing Wilson's singing style. "I learned a lot from Clyde, that high-pitched choke he used and other things...Clyde McPhatter was my man. Clyde and Billy Ward."

After leaving the Dominoes, he and cousin Levi worked at Detroit's Flame Show Bar, owned by Al Green. Green worked out a deal with Decca Records, and Wilson was signed to their subsidiary label, Brunswick.

Wilson's first single, "Reet Petite" from the album He's So Fine, became a modest R&B success (and many years later, a huge international smash). The song was co-written by another former boxer, Berry Gordy, Jr. - who went on to establish Motown Records.

 Gordy and his team composed and produced nine hit singles for Wilson, including "To Be Loved," "(That's Why) I Love You So," "I'll Be Satisfied" and his late-1958 signature song, "Lonely Teardrops," which peaked at No. 7 on the pop charts, No. 1 on the R&B charts, and established him as an R&B superstar known for his extraordinary multi-octave vocal range.

Due to his fervor when performing, with his dynamic dance moves, singing and impeccable dress, he was soon christened "Mr. Excitement," a title he would keep for the remainder of his career.

Elvis Presley was so impressed by Wilson that he made it a point to meet Mr. Excitement, and the two instantly became good friends. Presley once dubbed Jackie "The Black Elvis." Wilson also admitted he was influenced by Presley too. “A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.”

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Jackie Wilson - 20 Greatest Hits


In the 1960s, Wilson scored hits with "Doggin' Around," the No. 1 pop ballad "Night," and "Baby Workout," another Top 10 hit (No. 5), which he composed with Midnighters member Alonzo Tucker. His songwriting alliance with Tucker also turned out other songs, including "No Pity (In The Naked City)" and "I'm So Lonely." Top 10 hits continued with "Alone At Last" (No. 8 in 1960) and "My Empty Arms" (No. 9 in 1961).

Also in 1961, Wilson recorded a tribute album to Al Jolson, Nowstalgia...You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet, which included the only album liner notes he ever wrote: ." the greatest entertainer of this or any other era..."

Following the success of "Baby Workout," Wilson experienced a lull in his career between 1964 and 1966 as Tarnopol and Brunswick Records released a succession of unsuccessful albums and singles. Despite the lack of sales success, he still made artistic gains as he recorded an album with Count Basie, as well as a series of duets with rhythm and blues legend Lavern Baker and gospel singer Linda Hopkins.

In 1966, he scored the first of two big comeback singles with established Chicago soul producer Carl Davis with "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," a No. 6 Pop smash in 1967, which became one of his final pop hits. This was followed by "I Get the Sweetest Feeling," which, despite its modest initial chart success in the US has since become one of his biggest international chart successes, becoming a Top 10 hit in the UK twice, in 1972 and in 1987, and a Top 20 hit in the Dutch Top 40, and has spawned numerous cover versions.

By 1975, Wilson and The Chi-Lites were Brunswick's only significant artists left on the aging label's roster. Until then, Wilson continued to record singles that found success on the R&B chart, but found no significant pop chart success. His final hit, "You Got Me Walkin', " written by Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites, was released in 1972 with the Chi-Lites backing him on vocals and instruments.

On September 29, 1975, Wilson suffered a massive heart attack while appearing in Dick Clark's Good Ol' Rock 'N Roll Revue at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Wilson collapsed on stage while singing a line from his hit "Lonely Teardrops" ("My heart is crying..."). He was revived after medical personnel worked nearly 30 minutes to stabilize his vitals, but the lack of oxygen to his brain left him comatose.

He briefly emerged from his coma in early 1976 but slipped back into unconsciousness and was in a vegetative state for the remainder of his life, as an inpatient at a nursing home, eight years and four months. Jackie Wilson died January 21, 1984 of pneumonia, at the age of 49 at Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly, New Jersey.

Wilson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

In 1999, Wilson's original version of "Higher and Higher" and "Lonely Teardrops" were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame,and both are on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In 2005, Jackie Wilson was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. His recording of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher" was voted a Legendary Michigan Song in 2008.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

January 19: Wilson Pickett died on this date in 2006...

... he died in Reston, Virginia from a heart attack. He was  64 years-old.

Born in Prattville, Alabama, Wilson Pickett was a major figure in the development of American soul music, Pickett recorded over 50 songs which made the US R&B charts, and frequently crossed over to the US Billboard Hot 100.
Among his best known hits are "In the Midnight Hour" (which he co-wrote), "Land of 1,000 Dances," "Mustang Sally," and "Funky Broadway."

Pickett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
Pickett grew up singing in Baptist church choirs. His passionate style of singing was developed in the church and on the streets of Detroit, under the influence of recording stars such as Little Richard.

In 1955, Pickett became part of a gospel music group called the Violinaires who sang on church tours across the country. In 1959 he left gospel music for the more lucrative secular music market. Wilson joined the Falcons, one of the first vocal groups to bring gospel into the pop mainstream, and helping pave the way for soul music.

Pickett's biggest success with The Falcons came in 1962, when "I Found a Love," (co-authored by Pickett and featuring his lead vocals), peaked at #6 on the R&B chart, and at #75 on the Hot 100.

Soon after recording "I Found a Love," Pickett cut his first solo recordings, including "I'm Gonna Cry." Pickett also recorded a demo for a song he co-wrote, called "If You Need Me," a slow-burning soul ballad featuring a spoken sermon which Pickett sent to Jerry Wexler, a producer at Atlantic Records.

Wexler heard the demo and gave it to one of the label's own recording artists, Solomon Burke. Burke's recording of "If You Need Me" became one of his biggest hits (#2 R&B, #37 Pop) and is now considered a soul standard, but Pickett was crushed when he discovered that Atlantic had given away his song. Pickett's version of the song was released on Double L Records, and was a moderate hit, peaking at #30 R&B, #64 pop.

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Greatest Hits

Pickett's first big success as a solo artist came with "It's Too Late," which entered the charts on July 27, 1963, and peaked at #7 on the R&B chart. This record's success convinced Atlantic to buy Pickett's recording contract from Double L Records in 1964.

Pickett's Atlantic career began with a self-produced single, "I'm Gonna Cry." Looking to boost Pickett's chart chances, Atlantic next paired him with record producer Bert Berns and established songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. With this team, Pickett recorded "Come Home Baby," a duet with singer Tami Lynn, but this single failed to chart.

Pickett's breakthrough came in 1965 at Stax Records' where he recorded his third Atlantic single, "In the Midnight Hour," his best-remembered hit, peaking at #1 R&B, #21 pop in the U.S., and #12 in the U.K. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

Pickett recorded three sessions at Stax in May and October 1965, and was joined by keyboardist Isaac Hayes for the October sessions. In addition to "In the Midnight Hour," Pickett's 1965 recordings included the singles "Don't Fight It," "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A,)" and "Ninety-Nine and A Half (Won't Do)."

For his next sessions, Pickett went to Fame Studios, another recording studio with a closer association to Atlantic Records. Located in a converted tobacco warehouse in nearby Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Pickett recorded some of his biggest hits there. This included the highest charting version of "Land of 1,000 Dances," which became Pickett's third R&B #1, and his biggest ever pop hit, peaking at #6.

Other big hits from this era in Pickett's career included two other covers: "Mustang Sally," and "Funky Broadway." Both were million sellers.

Pickett with Duane Allman
Pickett returned to Fame Studios in late 1968 and early 1969, where he worked with a band that featured guitarist Duane Allman, Hawkins and David Hood. A #16 pop hit cover of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" came from these Fame sessions, as well as the minor hits "Mini-Skirt Minnie" and "Hey Joe."

Pickett continued to record with some success on the R&B charts for RCA in 1973 and 1974, scoring four top 30 R&B hits with "Mr. Magic Man," "Take a Closer Look at the Woman You're With," "International Playboy" and "Soft Soul Boogie Woogie." However, he was no longer crossing over to the pop charts with any regularity, as none of these songs reached higher than #90 on the Hot 100.

In 1975, with Pickett's once-prominent chart career on the wane, RCA dropped Pickett from the label. Pickett continued to record sporadically with several labels over the following decades, occasionally making the lower to mid-range of the R&B charts, however he never had another pop hit after 1974.

His last record was issued in 1999, although he remained fairly active on the touring front until he became ill in 2004. Pickett appeared in the 1998 film Blues Brothers 2000, performing "634-5789"


January 19: Denny Doherty of the Mamas & Papas died on this date in 2007 ...

... he was 66-years-old when he died from an abdominal aneurysm.

Between 1965 and 1968, the Mamas & Papas released five albums and 11 Top 40 hit singles. They have sold nearly 100 million records worldwide. Denny sang lead on one of the group's biggest hits, "Monday, Monday."

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dennis Gerrard Stephen Doherty was most widely known as a founding member of the 1960s musical group The Mamas & the Papas.

Doherty started his musical career in Halifax in 1956 with a band called the Hepsters. In 1960, at the age of 19, Doherty co-founded a folk group called The Colonials in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When they got a record deal with Columbia Records, they changed their name to The Halifax Three. The band recorded two LPs and had a minor hit, "The Man Who Wouldn't Sing Along With Mitch," but ultimately broke up in 1963.

In 1963, Doherty became friends with Cass Elliot when she was with a band called "The Big Three." Then, while on tour with "The Halifax III," he met John Phillips and his new wife, model Michelle Gilliam.

A few months later, The Halifax III dissolved, and Doherty and their accompanist, Zal Yanovsky, were left broke in Hollywood. Elliot and convinced her manager to hire them, and Doherty and Yanovsky joined the Big Three - increasing the number of band members to four (not five.) They then they changed their name to "The Mugwumps."

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About this time, John Phillips' new band, "The New Journeymen," needed a replacement for tenor Marshall Brickman. Doherty filled in for the remaining tour dates. When the New Journeymen called it quits in early 1965, Elliot was invited into the formation of a new band,  since with two femaole members they could no longer be called the Journeymen." They first chose "The Magic Cyrcle."

Six months later in September 1965, the group signed a recording contract with Dunhill Records. Changing their name to The Mamas & the Papas. According to Doherty, Elliot had the inspiration for the band's new name; The Mamas and the Papas. The band soon began to record their debut album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears.

In late 1965, Doherty and Michelle Phillips started an affair. They were able to keep it secret during the early days of the band's new-found success. The band broke up in the summer of 1968 and Cass Elliott embarked on a solo career.

In 1982, Doherty joined a reconstitution of the Mamas and the Papas consisting of John Phillips, his daughter Mackenzie Phillips and Elaine Spanky McFarlane, which toured and performed old standards and new tunes written by John Phillips.

Doherty produced an off-Broadway show called Dream a Little Dream, which was his version of the Mamas & the Papas story.

The Mamas and the Papas were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

January 12: Maurice Gibb (CBE) of The Bee Gees died on this date in 2003...

... he was 53 when he passed away.

... he died on January 12, 2003 when he was 53 years-old.

Born Maurice Ernest Gibb on the Isle of Man, Maurice (pronounced "Morris,") along with his brothers Robin and Barry, formed the Bee Gees (Brothers Gibb), one of the most successful pop groups of all time. The trio got their start in Australia, and found major success when they returned to England.

Maurice was the twin brother of Robin Gibb, and was the younger of the twins by 35 minutes. In the 1950s, he and his family moved to Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester before, in late 1958, the family, now including a baby brother - the late  Andy Gibb - moved to Brisbane, Australia, settling in one of the city's poorest suburbs, Cribb Island, which was subsequently demolished to make way for the Brisbane Airport.

Maurice was married to the Scottish pop star Lulu from 1969 to 1973.

Maurice Gibb's role in the group focused on melody and arrangements. He sang harmony and backing vocals, and played a variety of instruments.

In 1965 and 1966 he played lead guitar, but by 1966 he played other keyboard and string instruments in the studio. Bee Gees records from 1967 to 1972 feature Maurice playing piano and bass guitar, along with mellotron,  rhythm guitar, and other instruments.  He played  piano on songs including "Words" and "Lonely Days." On stage he usually played bass guitar, with an additional musician taking bass when Maurice switched to piano.

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Maurice was less influential in the disco Bee Gees sound of 1975 to 1979, when he played mostly bass guitar. After that time for the last 20 years of his life he played primarily electronic keyboard instruments on stage and in the studio, but occasional lead guitar, including the acoustic guitar given to him by John Lennon, on "This Is Where I Came In."

In the reunited Bee Gees from 1987 onward, Maurice was the group's resident expert on all technical phases of recording, and he coordinated musicians and engineers to create much of the group's sound.

As a songwriter, Maurice contributed mainly to the melody, with his brothers writing lyrics.  Maurice sang lead on average one song per album. He was sometimes known as "the quiet one." His reputation as a mild-mannered "stabilizing" influence with his two ambitious brothers continued through his life.

Away from the Bee Gees, Maurice recorded an unreleased solo album in 1970. He also appeared in a short-lived West End musical, Sing a Rude Song written by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin that same year.

During the Bee Gees hiatus in the mid-1980s, he worked with both Barry and Robin on their solo projects, and did some instrumental writing and recording including the soundtrack for the film A Breed Apart. In 1986, Gibb produced and co-wrote an entire album for Swedish singer Carola. Of these and other projects, the only work released under his own name were two singles: "Railroad" in 1970 and "Hold Her in Your Hand" in 1984.

Maurice's last project was to produce an album's worth of songs written and sung by his daughter Samantha, which finally appeared in 2005 under the name M E G—Maurice's initials.

Maurice loved the sport of paintball, and had a team which he called the Royal Rat Rangers, a reference to his being named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and to his time at the Little River AA group, where the members referred to each other as "river rats." He promoted the sport at every opportunity, and opened a paintball equipment shop, "Commander Mo's Paintball Shop," in North Miami Beach, Florida.


Maurice Gibb died at a Miami Beach, Florida, hospital on 12 January 2003 of complications resulting from a twisted intestine (volvulus).

His brothers retired the Bee Gees for a time, declining to perform as a group. However, as time passed, they decided to perform occasionally under the Bee Gees name.

In 1994, Maurice Gibb was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 1997 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 2002, Maurice was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), along with his brothers, but the awards were not presented until 2004, after Maurice's death; his son Adam accompanied Barry and Robin to Buckingham Palace for the ceremony, representing his father.

On 10 July 2009, Maurice was posthumously made a Freeman of the Borough of Douglas. The award, was also bestowed on Robin and Barry, therefore confirming the freedom of the town of their birth to all three brothers.

During their careers the Bee Gees have sold over 178 million albums and won multiple Grammy Awards. Their career spanned over forty years.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jan. 1: Maurice Chevalier died on this date in 1972 ...

Known as "The French Al Jolson," he was 84 when he passed away.

When I was in college in Ohio, after a few too many beers, I would do an impersonation of Maurice singing "Louise." ("Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise...") I don't know how accurate my impersonation was , but my friends would burst into laughter without fail afterwards.

Back to the REAL Maurice: Without question, Chevalier was one of the most debonair, charming and charismatic figures in the history of film. Chevalier's signature songs included "Louise", "Mimi", "Valentine" and "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." His trademark was a boater hat, which he always wore on stage with a dinner jacket.

Born in Paris, France, Maurice Auguste Chevalier, one of 9 children in his family,  dropped out of school at age 11 to become an apprentice engraver and factory worker.  

When Chevalier was 21, in 1909, he became the partner of the biggest female star in France, Fréhel. However, due to her alcoholism and drug addiction, their liaison ended in 1911. Chevalier then started a relationship with 36-year-old Mistinguett at the Folies Bergère where he was her 18 year old dance partner; they eventually played out a public romance.

During World War I, Chevalier was in the front lines where he was wounded by shrapnel in the back in the first weeks of combat and was taken as a prisoner of war in Germany for two years. He was released in 1916.

In 1917, Chevalier became a star in le Casino de Paris and performed in front of British and American soldiers, He discovered jazz and ragtime and started thinking about touring the United States. In the prison camp, he studied English and had an advantage over other French artists. He went to London, where he found new success at the Palace Theatre, even though he still sang in French.

After the war, Chevalier went back to Paris and created several songs still known today, including "Valentine" in 1924. He made a few "motion" pictures and made a favorable impression in the operetta Dédé. He then met the American composers George Gershwin and Irving Berlin and brought Dédé to Broadway in 1922. The same year he met Yvonne Vallée, a young dancer, who became his wife in 1927.

Douglas Fairbanks offered him star billing with Mary Pickford, but Chevalier declined, doubting his own talent for silent movies. In 1927, after movies with sound appeared, he returned to Hollywood and signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. He played his first American role in Innocents of Paris. In 1930 he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his roles in The Love Parade (1929) and The Big Pond (1930), which gave Chevalier his first big American hit songs, "Livin' In the Sunlight - Lovin' In the Moonlight."

In 1932, he starred with Jeanette MacDonald in Paramount's film musical, One Hour With You which became a success and one of the films instrumental in making musicals popular again. Due to its popularity, Paramount starred Maurice Chevalier in another musical called Love Me Tonight - also in 1932 - and again co-starring Jeanette MacDonald. In 1957, he appeared in Gigi and sang two of the songs he is most remembered for: "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" and "I Remember It Well."

Between 1960 and 1963 he toured the United States and made eight films including the 1960 movie, Can-Can with Frank Sinatra and Fanny in 1961.

In 1970, several years after his retirement, songwriters Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman got him to sing the title song of the Disney film The Aristocats, which ended up being his final performance on film.

He died in Paris, on January 1, 1972, aged 83, and was interred in the cemetery of Marnes-la-Coquette in Hauts-de-Seine, outside Paris, France.

Chevalier has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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