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On February 3rd, 1999, singer, pianist, songwriter, and The First Lady Of The Paradise Garage-Gwen Guthrie (Gwendolyn Guthrie) passed away in Newark, New Jersey. Guthrie got her start in music at the age of eight, learning piano from her father and classical music in school. She continued to sing and play throughout her teens and into college. In the late 1960s she joined the vocal outfit The Matchmakers, and later The Ebonettes. In the early 70s, while she working as a school teacher, Guthrie continued singing and built a reputation quickly. She was offered session jobs singing backup, and sang commercial jingles with her close friend Valerie Simpson. One of her first songwriting partner’s were Simpson’s boyfriend (and future husband) Nick Ashford & Haras Fyre aka Patrick Grant.
Guthrie wrote several songs with Haras, including almost every song on the Circle Of Love LP by Sister Sledge (1975), Angela Bofill’s This Time It’ll Be Sweeter, and Roberta Flack’s God Don’t Like Ugly. In the late 1970s, Guthrie began working with Sly & Robbie. They made some Deep House classics, that earned her a spot on the budding club scene in NYC during the 1980s, and she continued to bang out hits, write songs, and perform. She sang backup on Madonna’s 1982 debut and became a staple dance music artist in NYC. The Paradise Garage's house dee jay, DJ Larry Levan, used to have Guthrie perform live at the club. He also spun her tracks often, and produced one of her biggest hits-Padlock (1983). In 1986, she released the well-known track Ain’t Nothing Goin’ On But The Rent. She was 48 years old at the time of her death.
On February 3rd, 2018, we lost seminal drummer, percussionist, sideman, bandleader, and jazz/funk/blues/rock/pop musician Leon Ndugu Chancler was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. He came from a large family, being the youngest of seven siblings. They moved to Los Angeles, California, when he was in elementary school; and he started playing drums in middle school. He got his professional start in his early teens, and claims that his teachers used to get onto him for beating on the desks. Chancler played with high school classmates Willie Bobo and members of The Harold Johnson Sextet. The latter being one of the more slept on hard bop west coast outifts of the mid to late 60s. He continued to play with the both during his college years at California State University, and branched out playing with other musicians like:
Herbie Hancock, Gerlad Wilson, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, and Bobby Hutcherson. He graduated with a BA in Music and started playing with fusion jazz bands, blues musicians, pop vocalists, and rock artists of the 70s including: Frank Sinatra, The Temptations, Lionel Richie, Patrice Rushen, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, George Benson, Donna Summer, John Lee Hooker, Tina Turner, Weather Report, Thelonius Monk, Santana, and Hubert Laws to name a few. His drum expertise can be heard on Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, and The Dazz Band’s Let It Whip. In the 90s he continued to tour, and work mostly as a session musician. In 2006, he became a professor in the College Of Music at USC. He also taught at The Stanford Jazz Workshops in the summer. He was 65 when he died.
On February 3rd, 1935, singer, songwriter, producer, guitarist, composer, pianist. arranger, drummer, session musician, Bluesman, and 70s funk music icon-Johnny Guitar Watson (John Watson Jr) was born in Houston, Texas. He started playing piano as a young child. His father was proficient on the instrument and taught him the ins and outs. Johnny practiced often, and became skilled quickly. He was inspired to play the guitar through his grandfather, who was a preacher that sang and played guitar in the church. When he was 11, his grandfather gave him his first guitar under one condition-that he didn’t play secular music with it. Johnny himself stated that the blues was probably the first thing he played on it.
Even though his household was a bit conservative on a religious level, he was able to hear early blues guitar influences like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and T-Bone Walker. In his teens, he played piano, guitar, and drums with Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins. Due to his level of skill on different instruments, a lot of the locals, fans, and music historians consider him a musical prodigy. His parent’s split in 1950, and he moved to LA. While there he played jump blues with notables like Amos Milburn and The Mellotones. His first recording came two years later, on the Federal Records imprint, under the name Young John Watson. He changed his name to "Johnny Guitar" after seeing Joan Crawford’s 1954 movie of the same name. He cut a single called Space Guitar in 1954, which set the stage for many hits to follow. He was 61 when he died, while performing in Yokahoma, Japan. Concert attendees claim his last words were "Ain’ that a B..."
On February 3rd, 1939, singer, songwriter, producer, session musician, and solo artist-Johnny Bristol (John William Bristol) was born in Morganton, North Carolina. Bristol grew up in the south during the Jim Crow era. He sought an escape when he reached his teens, and enlisted in the US Navy. While in The Navy, he met singer, songwriter, guitarist, preacher, and activist Jackey Beavers. Beavers and Bristol later linked up to form the singing duo Johnny & Jackey. The pair co-wrote Some Day We’ll Be Together, which went on to become a hit for The Supremes. In the late 1950s they recorded a couple sides on Anna Records, which was the label owned by Gwen & Berry Gordy. Gwen also had partial ownership of Tri-Phi Records with Harvey Fuqua. Around 1965, Motown consolidated & bought out all of its splinter labels to form the future machine we now know it to have grown into.
Bristol & Beavers penned several hits for David Ruffin, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Edwin Starr, Jr Walker & The All Stars, and the pairing of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (Your Precious Love & Ain’t No Mountain High Enough). After Motown moved from Detroit to LA in 1972, Bristol got picked up as a producer for CBS in 1973. He wrote songs for Marlena Shaw, Boz Scaggs, and Randy Crawford. He signed a deal with MGM in 1974, and released his debut LP Hang On In There Baby. The album did well, making it to #7 on the R&B chart. He followed up with 1975’s Feeling The Magic, which didn’t fair as well as his first LP; but peaked at #29 on the R&B chart. He continued to produce for others (like The Jackson Sisters, Tavares, and Margie Joseph), left MGM in 1975, and signed to Atlantic Records. Bristol released his third LP, Bristol’s Crème in 1976; and followed this up with 1978’s Strangers. Both LPs are decent, but weren’t as popular with the public. He was 65 years old when he died.
On February 3rd, 1943, singer, songwriter, and former lead vocalist for The Temptations-Dennis Edwards (Jr) was born in Fairfield, Alabama (Birmingham Area). His father was a pastor, and had Dennis singing in the choir as young as two years old. They moved to Detroit in the early 1950s, where Edwards continued to hone his craft & was also introduced to the local Doo Wop scene. As a teen, he became the choir director at his father’s church, was a student at Detroit’s Conservatory Of Music, and a member of The Mighty Clouds Of Joy gospel vocal group. Like Johnny Guitar Watson, Edwards grew up in a strict household that forbid secular music. He would have to sneak out to participate in the local scene. But by the time he had turned 18, in 1961, he decided to come clean (much to his parents’ dismay) and started his own band called Dennis Edwards & The Fireballs.
They released their first recording, I Didn’t Have To (But I Did) b/w Johnnie On The Spot, later that year on International Soulville Records. Edwards was drafted into the military and didn’t return to the states until 1965. In 1966, he auditioned at Motown and was signed on retainer. When The Contours lead Billy Gordon got sick, Edwards stepped in. The Contours, with Edwards now as front-man, were the opening act for The Temptations. And when problems arose from David Ruffin not showing, or being late, or making the group all about him, Edwards was in the cut watching and waiting. Things came to head in 1968-Edwards was in and Ruffin was out. If you’re a movie buff and wondering, Yes! Dennis Edwards is indeed ‘Flash’ in the movie The Five Heartbeats. David Ruffin is ‘Eddie Kane Jr’… Edwards had a successful solo career in the 80s, after he left The Temptations. He was 74 when he passed away.
EXTRA: On February 3rd, 2004, the man that’s been stirring up much controversy over the past few years, R&B icon, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer-R. Kelly was in The Cook County Criminal Courthouse facing 21 charges of child pornography. He pleaded not guilty, and didn’t talk much during the hearing. There was a party outside of the courthouse, where fans had made signs, wore tees, marched, chanted, played his music and danced in a show of support for the artist…Boondock’s style… SMH.
February 3rd proved to be a pretty bad day for popular artists from the 90s. On the same day that R. Kelly was in court for child porn, Puffy Daddy, aka P. Diddy, aka Sean Combs was settling his case out of court. In 1999, Puffy had his then-driver Wardell Fenderson drive him and J-Lo away from the club where Shyne shot at a person they were beefing with. Wardell said that Puffy made him evade police, with guns in the car which resulted in him being ‘traumatized...' He got $3 million from Puffy.
On February 3rd, in 1959, "The Day The Music Died" occurred. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the deaths of some prominent Rock ‘n’ Roll musicians that were just starting their careers: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. They were flying from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Fargo, North Dakota, for The Winter Dance Party Tour. The tour was set for 24 cities, over a three week span. Holly had coordinated the tour to recoup funds lost from his band The Crickets splitting up in 1958. The 17 year old Valens, and 22 year old Holly were charting artists at the time of their deaths.
On February 3rd, in 1969, songwriter, session musician, pianist, producer, and keyboardist for Jamiroquai-Matt Johnson was born in Bournemouth, England. He started playing piano when he was about 18 months old; and joined Jamiroquai in 2002, to replace founding member and keyboardist Toby Smith. Matt has songwriting credits with the band, and often collaborates on the arrangements with Rob Harris (guitar). They also do production work for others. His playing style is inspired by fusion jazz, funk, reggae, and alternative rock. He turns 50 today.
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