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On December 5th, in 1947, bassist/double bassist, composer, pianist, bandleader, songwriter and co-founding member of the Fusion Jazz band Weather Report-Miroslav (Ladislav) Vitous was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Vitous started playing violin when he was six, he got into piano at 10 and was playing bass by the time he was 14. He formed his first group called the Junior Trio with his brother Alan Vitous on drums and Jan Hammer on keys. He got his music credentials from the Prague Conservatory, and won a contest in Vienna that got him a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Once on the east coast, during the height of post-bop and cool jazz, Miroslav started jamming around different nightclubs with notables like Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter and Roy Haynes.
He got a gig playing with Clark Terry and Miles Davis caught him playing one night in 1967. Davis invited Vitous to play with him at the Village Gate in NYC. One thing that makes Miroslav unique is his use of the double bass. You can hear him playing it on the 1968 track-Now He Sings-Now He Sobs featuring Corea on keys and Haynes on drums. His first solo project was released in 1970 on Embryo Records-Infinite Search. It was re-released as Mountain in the Cloud and featured some different mixes of the original tracks plus a bonus cut. Jack DeJohnette is on drums, Herbie Hancock on keys, Joe Henderson on sax and John McLaughlin on guitar. Miroslav also helped found Weather Report with Joe Zawinul & Wayne Shorter, staying with the band from 1970-1973. He’s 71 today.
On December 6th, in 1949, innovative Bluesman, singer, songwriter, pianist, violinist, windjammer-harmonica-and mandolin player, steel-12-and 6 string guitar player and, Folk singer-Lead Belly (Huddie William Ledbetter) was born in Mooringsport, Louisiana. I always dug his stage name: Lead Belly, that’s largely how I got turned onto his music. I found several conflicting stories surrounding the origins of his nickname. Some say it’s a Southern drawl mispronunciation of his last name Ledbetter. Others say it was his ability to drink moonshine like water as if to have a Lead Belly. Some people say it came from him getting shot in the stomach. Former inmates say it started in prison because Ledbetter was big and strong-calling him Leadbelly as a play on his last name. Bluesman Big Bill Broonzy states Lead Belly is what they called him on the chain gangs because he laid around instead of working (like he had lead in his belly).
Whether some of these or none of them are true, the fact remains that the Blues Folklore on the history of artists’ original stage names are infinite, plus his name is pretty dope. Lead Belly is most known for his 12-string guitar playing and songwriting skills. The guitar is bigger than a 6-string and has a longer and wider fret. His songwriting was original in that no subject was forbidden. He wrote songs about any and everything from the sinking of the Titanic to working on the Chain Gangs. No single musician has a more recognizable singing voice in Blues than Lead Belly. Even Howlin’ Wolf patterned his singing style off the artist, and Wolf’s voice is very recognizable, up that some for Lead Belly…He performed for nearly half a century (1903-1949), until he passed away in 1949 (61 years-old).
…‘Shiny, happy people...holding hands’…On December 6th, in 1956, songwriter, producer and guitarist for R.E.M.-Peter (Lawrence) Buck was born in Berkeley, California. The 62 year-old guitarist is the primary string man and co-songwriter for the infamous band R.E.M. However, he’s no one band man. Buck has played with or produced over a dozen other acts: Filthy Friends, The Minus 5, Tired Pony, The Decemberists, Mark Eitzel, Saint John & the Revelations, The Venus 3, Hindu Love Gods, Corin Tucker, The Replacements, Tuatara, Eels and the Baseball Projects.
He got his start playing guitar in the early 80s. He moved from Cali to Athens, Georgia to attend UGA. While there he worked at Wuxtry Record store, met Michael Stipe (R.E.M. lead singer) and Bertis Downs (future manager). I assume up to the point of meeting Stipe through the record store, Buck was content with playing, be it with bands or solo. Stipe’s vocals and their shared vibe with music made it a had-to-do situation. The cards were pretty much all there. Bono from U2 says that Buck has a sense of F&ck off when he plays…it’s as if he’s in the band because he likes what they do, but that’s it, no other interaction beyond the music.
On December 6th, in 1963 contralto singer, Civil Rights activist and pioneering Black woman-Marian Anderson was at the White House for a celebration in her honor. She was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor in the US. Then POTUS Lyndon B. Johnson presented her with the award. Anderson was born in 1897 in Philadelphia During that time, racism was much like the South, Blacks were not allowed opportunities to participate in society like Whites. With Marian wanting to become a professional trained singer that could perform with orchestras and for operas, she was met with a lot of resistance and closed doors. She preserved anyway, and beat the system at their own game against all odds.
She was refused the right to sing on several occasions because of her ethnicity. One significant incident happened with the Daughters of the American Revolution at an integrated event refusing to allow her to perform (Constitution Hall, 1939). Then POTUS Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the urging of his wife, arranged for Anderson to sing a concert that same year at the Lincoln Memorial. Over 75,000 people attended, and there were several million radio listeners. She was a first for just about any concert hall in the Northeast that Blacks had previously been unable to perform in. This triumph over racial obstacles started when she was young. When she was refused admittance to schools for singers and she found ways to link with educators outside of the school day so they could teach her. She’s a fighter that has paved the way for many. Respect.
On December 6th, in 2011, singer, actor, songwriter and producer-Dobie Gray (Lawrence Darrow Brown) passed away in Nashville, Tennessee. The Simonton, Texas native got into gospel as a child through his grandfather who was a Baptist preacher. He came from humble beginnings-his family were sharecroppers. He had dreams of becoming an actor and moved to LA in the early 60s. To supplement his income, he sang and recorded to make money. Some of the aliases he recorded under are: Larry Curtis, Leonard Ainsworth & Larry Dennis. Sonny Bono from Sonny & Cher got wind of some of his sides on local imprints.
He got in touch with Gray and told him to go to Stripe Records. When he got there, the executives thought it would easier to sell the singer if he changed his name to Dobie Gray as a play on then popular sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The name stuck. He had his first top 100 in 1963 (Look At Me). His first LP LOOK! didn’t chart, but his 1965 The In Crowd single peaked at #13. He had several people that covered this song with similar success (Ramsey Lewis, Petula Clark). Interesting fact: Billy Page, brother of Gene Page wrote the song-The In Crowd and Gene arranged it. Gene worked with Barry White closely and did the soundtrack for Blacula. He was 71 when he passed.
Honorable Mention: On December 6th, in 1877, scientist, inventor and the man responsible for paving the way for vinyl record players-Thomas A. Edison completed his initial design of the Original Sampler-the phonograph. It was a sketch that he gave to John Kruesi-Edison’s invention designer and clock maker. Kruesi constructed it in less than two days time, and when he gave it back, he told Edison he didn’t think it would work. Edison sang Mary Had a Little Lamb into the mouthpiece. Then he played it back, and it worked! Sampling was born.
On December 6th, in 1879, accountant, Civil Rights Activist, Professor, Businessman and Radio executive-Jesse B. Blayton Sr. was born in Fallis, Oklahoma. He was the first Black man to own a radio station when he founded WERD-AM in Atlanta, Georgia (1949). The station cost him $50,000. Most of his programming was Jazz, gospel, Soul, community news, interviews and educational shows. He kept the entire staff all Black stating that keeping it that way would make sure the money stayed in the Black community.
On December 6th, in 1920 the legendary Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, was born in Concord, California (San Francisco Bay Area). TOV spoke on Brubeck yesterday with Rahsaan Roland Kirk in the Jazz section. I wanted to mention him again today because of the irony of him passing away the day before his 92nd birthday on December 5th, 2012. His innovations with time and composing are still as fresh as the days when he invented them.
On December 6th, in 1975, some bible thumpers were going mad about this music they call Rock ‘n’ Roll…As the story goes, The good Reverend Doctor Charles Boykin from Tallahassee, Florida was called by a higher to power to try and save the sinners. He’d read the results of a survey that said over 98% of 1000 unwed mothers that participated claimed that they had sexual intercourse while listening to Rock music. He organized a mass burning of Rolling Stones and Eton John records…
For more information on any musician or event reviewed in posts, or for additional information on the Wandering Eyes Blog overall, use the search bar and search the artist or event using keywords. It’s like a Google search for the site. A myriad of information, covering several topics exists on this site going back to 2013 when it was created. PEACE!