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On December 16th, 1951, songwriter, multi-genre performer, multi-instrumentalist (sax, guitar) session musician, and former member of L.A. Express-Robben Ford was born in Woodlake, California. He started playing sax when he was 10, guitar when he was 14, and started his own band (with his brothers) when he was 18. The Charles Ford Blues Band recorded a couple LPs, and played with others like Jimmy Witherspoon and Charlie Musselwhite. In the early 70s, Ford provided backing support for former Beatle George Harrison on his American Tour. In the mid 70s he became a member of Fusion Jazz band L.A. Express, that was led by Tom Scott. Their debut LP was with Joni Mitchell (Miles Of Aisles 1974 on Asylum Records).
They made their second LP, with Tom Scott, on Ode Records that same year-1974. This LP contains the breakbeat classic Sneakin’ In The Back, that’s featured on the the Ultimate Breaks & Beats series. They released another LP with Scott in 1975 (Tom Cat), and two in 1976: (L.A. Express and Shadow Play). Later that year Ford released a solo LP Schizophonic; and another in 1979, The Inside Story. He released several LPs with Jimmy Witherspoon throughout the 80s and 90s. Ford has worked with everyone from Miles Davis to Dizzy Gillespie. He’s the husband of cabaret singer Anne Kerry; and the uncle of Little Feat drummer Gabe Ford. He turns 67 years old today.
On December 16th, 1966, The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Jimi Hendrix-lead guitar & vocals-c, Mitch Mitchell-drums-r, Noel Redding-bass-l) released their first single in the UK-Hey Joe. The power trio had the single rejected by Decca Records; so it was released on Polydor, and climbed to Number Six on the UK singles chart. It did not chart in America, but would go on to become one of the band’s staple tunes. Hey Joe, or as it is commonly named, Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go? is considered a Rock Standard. There are some musical historians that debate who the original songwriter is; but most settle on Billy Roberts as the author (1962).
The first band to record it, and make it a minor hit was The Leaves. They originally recorded it in 1965; but re-released it in 1966. Hendrix’s manager Chas Chandler encouraged him to record the song after he heard the song being sung by Folk singer Tim Rose. Rose was performing at Café Wha? in NYC. Hendrix had also performed there. Rose’s version of the song intro used a more slowed down bluesy version, which is the same style Hendrix used when he recorded it. However, the garage bands of the mid-60s are responsible for popularizing the song and bringing it to the attention of the general public.
On December 16th, 1971, Prog Rock innovator and original member of Mothers of Invention-Frank Zappa had his film debut in the UK. Zappa’s 200 Motels premiered at The Piccadilly Classic Cinema in London. The movie’s plot is based on a Rock musician’s life on the road and the crazy things that can happen while visiting foreign cities. Centerville is the name of the fictional town with the slogan "A Real Nice Place To Raise Your Kids Up." The cast is full of musicians like Keith Moon (who plays a hot nun), George Duke as himself, and Dick Barber as Chunga-the vacuum cleaner. The London Philharmonic Orchestra plays a bewildered role; Theodore Bikel acts as the narrator (Rance Muhammitz), Ringo Starr is Larry the Dwarf (dressed like Zappa), and Zappa’s new bassist-Martin Lickert plays the chauffeur for Ringo.
It’s directed by Zappa & Tony Palmer. They use special effects that were groundbreaking for the time: false color, double and triple exposures, solarization, speed changes and animation mixed with live action footage. Most film and rock critics consider the movie to be a surrealistic documentary. Centerville is full of mysterious places like Redneck Eats, the cowboy bar. The film had a budget of $679K; and was produced by Zappa's Bizarre Productions and Murakami-Wolf-Swenson. It was distributed by United Aritsts, scored by Zappa, was 1 hour and 28 minutes long, and is the first film that was shot on videotape and later transferred to 35mm film.
On December 16th, 1988, we lost an important singer, songwriter, Disco & Deep House innovator-Sylvester James (Jr). Sylvester got into music via a good friend of his-R&B singer Etta James. During the late 60s, Sylvester started The Disquotays in South Central, L.A. The crew would throw parties at James’ house. After the Watts Riots in 1965, Sylvester graduated from high school and moved to San Francisco to pursue a singing career. He joined The Chocolate Cockettes in 1970, and stayed with them until 1972. They were mostly a vaudeville-meets-burlesque-meets-psychedelia drag queen troupe, that performed regularly in The Bay Area. He got his professional recording start earlyon, gigging around the liberal San Francisco music scene with The Hot Band featuring Travis Fullerton on drums, Kerry Hatch-bass, James Smith on guitar, Chris Mostert on sax, and Bobby Blood on trumpet.
The Hot Band recorded a couple singles for the San Francisco based compilation LP Lights Out San Francisco (1972). In 1973 they hired The Pointer Sisters, as backing vocalists, and released Sylvester And The Hot Band: Bazaar (1973 Blue Thumb-ABC). The original name of the LP as coined by Sylvester was Scratch My Flower. They toured for a while, but their success was limited, and by the mid 70s, Sylvester formed a new band with The Weather Girls (Izora Rhodes & Martha Wash) as backup singers. They paid their dues finding their sound through gigging in small and big clubs from 1974 to 1977. This is when Harvey Fuqua signed the artist to Fantasy Records. His career pretty much took off after this, releasing his first self-titled and Fuqua-produced LP in 1977. He followed it up with the Step II LP in 1978. Sylvester was 41 when he passed away.
On December 16th, 1993, MTV aired Nirvana’s Unplugged set. It was recorded at Sony Music Studios in NYC a month prior (November 18th, 1993). There were 14 songs on Nirvana’s playlist, with six of them being covers. My favorite song out of the set was Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night. If you’re not familiar with the original version, then listen to it below. Cobain does a great job of making this song his own, while paying homage to the Blues Great that penned it-claiming that Lead Belly is his favorite performer ever. This turned a lot of people onto The Blues, that otherwise would not have given it the time of day.
This showed Cobain, like his British invading predecessors, reaching back to the roots of Rock, Grunge and Punk-The Blues-and gave a strong S.O. to those that paved the way for Rock ‘n’ Roll and other genres/sub-genres that came about as a result of the world’s exposure to The Blues. They also covered David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World, Eugene Kelly & Frances McKee’s Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam, and three Curt Kirkwood (The Meat Puppets) songs (Plateau, Oh Me & Lake of Fire). MTV execs were a little perturbed that Nirvana didn’t perform their biggest hits, like the rest of the Unplugged crew had done previously. Nirvana did their set acoustically, and all in one take, unlike like any other artists that had done Unplugged before them…or after.
Honorable Mention: On December 16th, 1962, NFL Defensive Lineman, Defensive Tackle, Fullback, former Chicago Bear, and former Clemson Tiger-William "The Refrigerator" Perry (William Anthony Perry) was born in Aiken, South Carolina. The 6’3”, 350 pound, 1985 Superbowl Champion is one of the more recognizable players from that star-studded team. He is most known for his size, and ability to play both sides of the ball. He also isn’t a bad lyricist as documented by the bars he spit on the song The Superbowl Shuffle. Perry is 56 today.
On December 16, 1987 we lost seminal Folk Artist, and sketcher, Minnie Evans. Evans was born in Pender County, NC; and was raised in Wilmington. She declared herself a full-time artist in 1935, after she heard a voice ask her the rhetorical question "Why don’t you draw or die?" She had her first major exhibition in 1961, followed by a NYC exhibition in 1966, and a 1975 Cameron Art Museum exhibit in 1975. She has over 400 pieces in The Cameron Art Museum. She was honored posthumously with her own day, in 1994, in Greenville, NC (Minnie Evans Day). She was 95 when she passed away.
On December 16th, 2001, guitarist, singer, bassist, songwriter, keyboardist, producer, and original member of the Punk Rock outfit The Skids: (William) Stuart Adamson took his own life at The Best Western Plaza Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was found hanging in his room. Many attribute the cause of his suicide to his long-time battle with alcoholism. The performer founded The Skids in 1977, and formed the Country-Alternative Rock hybrid bands Big Country & The Raphaels in the 90s. He’s credited with being a Punk, New Wave, and Celtic Rock innovator. He died at the age of 43.
On December 16th, 2014 we lost an iconic radio personality in music; and the man that brought us the weekly American Top 40 hits: Casey Kasem (Kemal Amin Casey Kasem). For nearly 40 years (1970-2009), Kasem hosted the nationally syndicated American Top 40 show. Being a co-founder of the program, he helped keep the masses in tune to what was hip from a musical perspective every week. He also was the voice of Scooby Doo’s sidekick, Shaggy from 1969 to 1997. He was 82 when he passed away.
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