Gone in threes: 2016

Good riddance, 2016. What precipitated a seemingly relentless wave of noteworthy deaths, I suspect, came on Jan. 26. Abe Vigoda — first reported dead in 1982, again in 1987 and then countless times afterward, mostly in jest — actually died.

They go in threes. They always go in threes. Here’s more proof.

All that jazz: Gato Barbieri, Al Caiola, Alphonse Mouzon

Americana: Mose Allison, Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley

Angels among us: Larry Colburn (helped stop the My Lai massacre), Ruth Gruber (accompanied 1,000 Jews to the United States during the Holocaust), Marion Pritchard (rescued Jews in the Netherlands during World War II)

Animal planet: Dan Haggerty (“The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams”), Harambe, Alan Young (“Mr. Ed”)

Authors: Michael Herr (“Dispatches”), W.P. Kinsella (“Shoeless Joe”), Harper Lee (“To Kill A Mockingbird”)

Badasses: Fred Cherry (held as a POW in North Vietnam for seven years after refusing to denounce racial discrimination in the U.S.), Bob Hoover (escaped a German POW camp by stealing a plane, then became a test pilot), William Pietsch Jr. (one of the elite Jedburgh commandos in Nazi-occupied France)

Baseball legends: Ralph Branca, Joe Garagiola, Monte Irvin

Basketball legends: Pat Summitt, Nate Thurmond, Pearl Washington

Beatlemania: Al Brodax (produced, co-wrote “Yellow Submarine” film), Sir George Martin (producer), Allan Williams (first manager)

Blues brothers and sisters: Candye Kane, Lonnie Mack, Ruby Wilson

British film royalty: Frank Finlay, Guy Hamilton (directed four James Bond films, among others), Alan Rickman

Cartoon voices: George S. Irving (Heat Mizer in “The Year Without a Santa Claus”), Marvin Kaplan (Choo-Choo on “Top Cat”), Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson)

Commercial break: Bill Backer (came up with Coke slogans and co-wrote what became “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”), Milt Moss (that memorable Alka-Seltzer ad from 1972), Richard Trentlage (wrote the Oscar Mayer wiener song)

Counted out: Bobby Chacon, Aaron Pryor, Kimbo Slice

Crazy guys: Irving Benson (Milton Berle’s heckler), Richard Libertini (General Garcia in “The In-Laws”), Jack Riley (Mr. Carlin in “The Bob Newhart Show”)

Directors: Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”), Arthur Hiller (“The In-Laws”), Garry Marshall (“The Flamingo Kid”)

DJs: Bob Coburn (“Rockline”), Herb “The Cool Gent” Kent (Chicago), Charlie Tuna (Los Angeles)

Elvis’ guys: Joe Esposito (road manager), Chips Moman (producer), Scotty Moore (guitarist)

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Keith, Greg and Arnold

Food and drink: Peng Chang-kuei (created General Tso’s chicken), Jim Delligatti (created the Big Mac), Robert Leo Hulseman (developed the red Solo party cup)

Hasta la bye bye: Fidel Castro, George C. Nichopoulos (Elvis’ doctor), Phyllis Schlafly

Hollywood kids: Carrie Fisher, Ricci Martin, Frank Sinatra Jr.

Hollywood moms: Florence Henderson, Nancy Reagan, Debbie Reynolds

“Mad” men: Jack Davis, Don “Duck” Edwing, Paul Peter Porges

Memorable major leaguers: Choo Choo Coleman, Margaret Whitton (Rachel Phelps in “Major League”), Walt “No Neck” Williams

Men of conscience: Daniel Berrigan, Tom Hayden, Elie Wiesel

Movie singers: Charmian Carr (“The Sound of Music”), Madeleine LeBeau (“Casablanca”), Marni Nixon (“The Sound of Music” and much dubbing)

Muses: Greta Friedman (believed to be the girl in white being kissed in Times Square in Alfred Eisenstadt’s V-J Day photo), Marianne Ihlen (Leonard Cohen’s companion during the ’60s), Clare MacIntyre-Ross (inspired Harry Chapin’s “Taxi”)

Innovators: Denton Cooley (first artificial heart), Henry Heimlich (Heimlich maneuver), Raymond Tomlinson (email)

John Wayne’s co-stars: David Huddleston (“Rio Lobo,” “McQ”), George Kennedy (“The Sons of Katie Elder,” “Cahill, U.S. Marshal”), Hugh O’Brian (“In Harm’s Way,” “The Shootist”)

Last laughs: Bob Elliott, Garry Shandling, Gene Wilder

Legends: Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince

Mary Tyler and more: Ann Morgan Guilbert (neighbor Millie Helper on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”), John McMartin (Mary’s infatuated lawyer on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”), Grant Tinker (ex-husband and producer)

Oh, Canada: Gordie Howe, Gordie Tapp (“Hee Haw”), Alan Thicke

Photojournalists: Howard Bingham (Muhammad Ali’s biographer), Bill Cunningham (New York Times), Philip Townsend (Rolling Stones, Beatles)

Record guys: Phil Chess (Chess), Bob Krasnow (Elektra), Billy Miller (Norton)

Saddle up: Peter Brown (“Laredo,” “Lawman”), Robert Horton (“Wagon Train”), James Stacy (“Lancer”)

Screen Actors Guild presidents: Patty Duke, Ken Howard, William Schallert

Seers: Miss Cleo (well, not really a psychic reader, but she played one on TV), Louis Harris (pollster), Alvin Toffler (“Future Shock”)

Sidekicks: Kenny Baker (R2-D2 in “Star Wars”), Mr. Fuji (pro wrestling), Noel Neill (Lois Lane in “Superman”)

Silly men: George Gaynes (“Tootsie,” “Police Academy” films), Bert Kwouk (Cato in the “Pink Panther” films), Fred Tomlinson (“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” singer who co-wrote “The Lumberjack Song” with Terry Jones and Michael Palin)

‘60s super cool: Zsa Zsa Gabor (Minerva, the last “Batman” villain), Robert Vaughn (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), Van Williams (“The Green Hornet”)

Songwriters: John D. Lowdermilk (“Indian Reservation,” “Tobacco Road”), Mack Rice (“Mustang Sally,” “Respect Yourself”), Rod Temperton (“Thriller,” “Give Me The Night”)

Soul brothers: Leon Haywood, Joe Jeffrey, Billy Paul

Soul godfathers: Otis Clay, Joe Ligon (Mighty Clouds of Joy), Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire)

Soul sisters: Sharon Jones, Denise Matthews (Vanity), Ruby Winters

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Space, the final frontier: Edgar Mitchell, Vera Rubin (confirmed the existence of dark matter), Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”)

Sports voices: Bud Collins, Craig Sager, Jim Simpson

Storytellers: Edward Albee, Guy Clark, Morley Safer

The gospel according to TV: Mother Angelica, William Christopher (Father Mulcahy on “M*A*S*H”), Madeleine Sherwood (Mother Placido on “The Flying Nun”)

The 12th Precinct: Ron Glass, Doris Roberts, Abe Vigoda

Unforgettable voices: Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, George Michael

We built this city: Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane), Mic Gillette (Tower of Power), Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)

Wheeler dealers: Phil Kives (K-Tel products and records), Ozzie Silna (got 1/7th of NBA TV money every year, making hundreds of millions of dollars, for folding his ABA team), Robert Stigwood (managed Cream and the Bee Gees, produced “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” on stage and “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” on film)

Gone in Threes, the band

Singers: Jerry Corbetta (Sugarloaf), Gary Loizzo (The American Breed), Gayle McCormick (Smith)

Hot licks: Dan Hicks (and His Hot Licks), Henry McCullough (Wings), Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)

On bass: Preston Hubbard (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Marshall Jones (Ohio Players), Lewie Steinberg (Booker T. and the M.G.’s)

On drums: Dennis Davis (David Bowie), Dale Griffin (Mott the Hoople), Danny Smythe (Box Tops)

On the keys: Stanley Dural Jr. (Buckwheat Zydeco), Leon Russell, Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic)

The horn section: Harrison Calloway (Muscle Shoals Horns), Pete Fountain, Wayne Jackson (Mar-Keys, Memphis Horns)

Special mention

The shocker: There always is one death that takes your breath away. In 2016, John Glenn. Not so much because he had died — he was 95 — but because of all he accomplished. People of a certain age have no idea how big of a deal John Glenn and the astronauts once were. A man for whom the often overused phrase “American hero” is most appropriate.

The end zone: Sam Spence belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He composed much of the wonderful music made famous by NFL Films. His music plays throughout the hall in Canton, Ohio, but there’s no mention of his contribution. I met him in 2010, when he spent a week in Green Bay, working with music students and conducting a program of his compositions. Even then, he had to get NFL Films’ permission to use his music, which NFL Films owns and publishes.

Going in style: Jane Little, a bassist for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, collapsed near the end of a performance in May and died shortly thereafter. She was 87 and had spent 71 years with the orchestra, playing with it since she was 16. She collapsed while playing an encore number: “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

Noteworthy

— This is not intended to be an inclusive list of all who passed in 2016. Rather, this is my highly subjective list. Yours will be different.

— Each year, I use three prime sources for this list.

First, the Wikipedia contributors who compile month-by-month lists of prominent deaths. That’s where we start.

Second, our friend Gunther at Any Major Dude, who compiles lists of notable music deaths each month, along with a year-end roundup. Each of those is more thorough than this roundup. Highly recommended.

Third, the folks at Mojo magazine, whose “Real Gone” and “They Also Served” features are wonderful.

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Filed under January 2017, Sounds

Yeah, After This Year

We usually wind up Christmas with the same three songs here, but Santa Claus has already come to town and gone.

But after this year — After This Year — it’s still worth hearing the message in the other two.

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?”

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. A remastered version is available on  “Gimme Some Truth,” a 4-CD compilation released in 2010. Also available digitally.

“Christmas bells, those Christmas bells
“Ringing through the land
“Bringing peace to all the world
“And good will to man”

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. (The link is to a double CD also featuring “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” their debut album from 1966.) Also available digitally.

“Merry Christmas, mein friend!”

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2016, Sounds

As the city shuts down …

Driving home from the hospital, where my dad is spending Christmas weekend, I watched the city start to shut down for Christmas Eve.

As 5 p.m. arrived, last-minute shoppers lingered at Shopko, their cars clustered near the entrance. Last-minute diners lingered at McDonald’s, but its sign was off. Taco Bell had gone dark. The “Open” sign was still on at Subway, but it looked like they, too, were just about out the door.

So it is on Christmas Eve, the one night of the year when, well, all is calm.

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Then you hear Irma Thomas’ voice piercing the quiet in the best possible way.

Nine years ago, my friend Rob in Pennsylvania called this “goosebump-inducing stuff.”

It still is.

“O Holy Night,” Irma Thomas, from “A Creole Christmas,” 1990. It’s out of print and not available digitally, but Amazon will rip you a copy.

Reverent yet thrilling, this version is done as a New Orleans-style dirge with some moody Hammond organ and some terrific gospel voices singing backup.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2016, Sounds

Once again, it’s Christmas Eve

On this Christmas Eve, a post that has become a tradition.

On a winter day more than 40 years ago, Louis Armstrong went to work in the den at his home at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York.

That day — Friday, Feb. 26, 1971 — he recorded this:

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“The Night Before Christmas (A Poem),” Louis Armstrong, 1971, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985.

It’s out of print, but you can find the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) on eBay for $10 or less. I found my copy three years ago, when my friend Jim threw open his garage door and sold some of his records.

louisarmstrongnightbeforexmas45

(This is the sleeve for that 45. You could have bought it for 25 cents if you also bought a carton of Kent, True, Newport or Old Gold cigarettes.)

There’s no music. Just “Little Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids,” reading Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem in a warm, gravelly voice.

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’

“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”

It was the last thing he ever recorded. Satchmo died the following July.

You just never know.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2016, Sounds

The girl from the record store

There was a profound sense of loss today, and it had nothing to do with the news of the day.

We have lost the tiny, cherubic girl from the record store.

taelor-grisack

You’d see her with her dad, digging through the bins at Rock N Roll Land or at the Green Bay record shows. You were struck by her dazzling red curls.

“She was a fun person. Loved music. Got so excited about every record she found,” my friend Todd told me tonight. He runs that record store.

Indeed, the joy she expressed when she found THAT record was memorable.

Her name was Taelor. She was 17. She was swimming. Perhaps her heart gave out, her dad says. They don’t really know yet.

Taelor, the daughter of a musician and a drummer herself, loved the Beatles.

Todd played a cut from “Magical Mystery Tour” for Taelor at last night’s Record Night. That takes place at a local establishment that Taelor would not have been old enough to have been in. Well done, sir.

Just 17. Wow.

Say hi to John and George, will you?

 

 

 

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Filed under November 2016

Chatting with Michael

Never imagined yesterday morning that when I tweeted my two cents’ worth about the J. Geils Band’s prospects for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that I would wind up discussing it with a gent who knows a bit about rock and roll and fame.

Our brief exchange:

I would like to go to Cleveland and visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame someday. My friend Larry was there this summer. Judging from Larry’s pictures, it looked like the Hall of Fame had a bunch of fun stuff.

But that’s the extent of my interest. You go ahead and vote for this year’s nominees. I’ll sit it out.

I’ve never been particularly interested in who’s in …

That said, of the 19 nominees for the Class of 2017, I’d vote for the Electric Light Orchestra, Chic, Janet Jackson, Joe Tex and the MC5 before I’d vote for the J. Geils Band.

… nor outraged at who’s not …

That said, Harry Nilsson, Pat Benatar, Peter Frampton and Warren Zevon are not in. Def Leppard, Yes, the Guess Who and the Moody Blues are not in. Just the tip of the iceberg. So many more are worthy as well.

Now for that brief discussion with Mr. Des Barres, who has been rocking and rolling since the earliest ’70s and whom I listen to weekday mornings on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius XM.

I’m still not sure the J. Geils Band merits enshrinement, even though I once wrote a fan’s guide to all 14 of their studio and live albums, which I have.

The J. Geils Band was a tremendous live band. They fortified their act by rescuing vintage soul, R&B and blues singles from obscurity and introducing them to new, younger audiences over the first half of a 15-year recording career that started in 1970. Those energetic covers have seemingly better stood the test of time than the original songs by Peter Wolf and Seth Justman that dominated the second half of that run.

In other words … “First I Look At The Purse,” “Lookin’ For A Love” and “(Ain’t Nothin’ But A) House Party” > “Love Stinks,” “Centerfold” and “Freeze-Frame.”

That said, I do wish them well and certainly would applaud their election.

I do. Yes, I do.

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“I Do,” the J. Geils Band — then billing itself only as “Geils” — from “Monkey Island,” 1977. Also available digitally.

It’s a cover of the Marvelows’ 1965 hit. This is the studio version. They also do it live on “Showtime,” their third live album, which came out in 1982.

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Filed under October 2016

Another comedian in the family

Our son’s news arrived via Facebook earlier this week, among some items billed as “exciting things to announce …”

“I auditioned for and was invited to take the next step in joining the fine folks at ComedyCity.”

That was pretty exciting, especially for his old Pops, the comedy nerd.

I’ve been a student of comedy ever since staying up late and watching Johnny Carson’s monologues with my dad in the late ’60s and early ’70s. My irreverent yet dry sense of humor was shaped by Carson, Carlin, Pryor and Python, with generous servings of Mad and National Lampoon. Long ago, my friend Hose once wondered whether I’d ever considered doing standup. Ah, no.

the-comedians-bookOne of my Christmas gifts last year was “The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy,” the tremendous work by comedian-turned-historian Kliph Nesteroff. Highly recommended.

The only problem for me, the comedy nerd, was that I’d already read much of it in Kliph’s wonderful interviews with old-time comedians on his blog, Classic Television Showbiz.

Anyhow, now there is another student of comedy in the family.

Evan, now 21, is working with our local improv comedy troupe. Several of his friends are already among its performers. Not sure when Evan will take the stage with them, but when he does, we’ll be there.

However, his old Pops, the comedy nerd, will have to keep his head full of comedy knowledge to himself. Evan will learn improv comedy the way ComedyCity wants him to learn it, which is the way it must be.

But should he ask, his old Pops will dive deep, past Carson and Carlin, past Pryor and Python.

You’ve never heard of Victor Buono, his old Pops will say, but you should hear him. He used to wedge himself into the chair next to Carson, wield an elegant cadence and slay him with comic poetry like this …

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“I’m Fat,” Victor Buono, from “Heavy!” 1971. Also available digitally.

You’ve never heard of Hudson and Landry, his old Pops will say, but you should hear them. They were a couple of Los Angeles DJs who slayed their pals at the golf course with comic bits like this …

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“Ajax Liquor Store,” Hudson and Landry, from “Losing Their Heads,” 1972. It’s out of print, but this cut is available digitally.

 

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Filed under September 2016, Sounds