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Blues: On December 5th, in 1899, Bluesman, songwriter, sessions Blues Harpist and singer-Sonny Boy Williamson II (Alex-Aleck Ford, changed later to Aleck Miller) was born in Tutwiler, Mississippi. The II in his name comes from him being the second man to call himself Sonny Boy Williamson-both were recording and performing around the same time. He started off performing under the stage name Rice Miller (he loved rice and milk-southern dish like grits), then he went to Little Boy Blue, and after that Little Willie. I’m sure he decided on going with Sonny Boy Williamson because the original one had made a name for himself before II got on. However, Miller claimed that he was the first to use the name, but the last to get the fame. The former sharecropper started singing the Blues and playing harmonica around the 1930s.
He performed in West Arkansas and Northern Mississippi with artists like Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Big Joe Williams and Robert Junior Lockwood. In 1941, he got an opportunity to make a jingle for King Biscuit Flour Company on KFFA radio in Arkansas. The disc jockey Max Moore introduced Miller as Sonny Boy Williamson to build his listening base. The name stuck after that. In the late 40s, he moved to West Memphis and linked with Howlin’ Wolf. While there he taught Wolf how to play harp and married his half-sister (Mae). He made his first solo recording in 1951 (Jackson, MS-Trumpet Records). In the mid-50s, he moved to Chicago and started recording for Chess. Some of the musicians he’s worked with, or that have covered his songs are: The Moody Blues, The Who, The Yardbirds, Van Morrison and the Animals. He was 65 when he died (1965).
Jazz: On December 5th, in 1977 we lost an important, daring and extremely creative multi-woodwind instrumentalist-Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Ronald Theodore Kirk). He got the Roland in his name by transposing the n and l in Ronald. The Columbus native lost his vision when he was two years-old. He attended the Ohio State School for the Blind and started experimenting with playing two saxophones at the same time during his early teens. Hank Crawford got a chance to see the feat when he caught Kirk on tour with Boyd Moore’s band. Astonishingly, Kirk was just 14 years-old. Although he’s categorized as a Jazz musician, he didn’t consider his music to be Jazz, and questioned if Jazz really existed.
He preferred his music to be called Black Classical Music. Although he disliked being a 'sideman', he did record with Quincy, Mingus The Jazz Corp and Roy Haynes. He was known among the Black Power and Civil Rights activists as one of the few ‘popular’ musicians that made music for the struggle (Nina Simone, Odetta, Gil Scott-Heron, The Staple Singers, Les McCann and James Brown did this as well). He would speak about Black Historical facts and injustices occurring in the world during his live sets. His musical influences were: Blues, Pop, Stride Piano songs, early Jazz and Classical pieces. He played several instruments at once, sometimes four or more. He’d tape them together and have modified mouth pieces. It was very original. Add in that he was blind and it becomes extraordinary. He was inducted into DownBeat’s Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978 (about a year after his death). He was 42 when he died.
On December 5th, in 2012, we lost a Jazz great, composer, pianist, arranger, Cool Jazz innovator, producer Jazz historian, world music student, Westcoast Jazz musician and bandleader-Dave Brubeck (David Warren Brubeck). He passed away in Norwalk, Connecticut. He’s the man responsible for composing, arranging and producing the Jazz standard Take 5 (with his quartet). Paul Desmond, his saxophonist has an infamous Sax solo on the song, that’s the best solo on the track, and most of Brubeck's tracks. I used to think Brubeck was a saxophonist because Desmond’s solo were so good. It wasn’t until I discovered that Brubeck was the Phil Jackson for Desmond-the Michael Jordan of the quartet.
I discovered this tidbit from the Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary. I've developed a new level of respect for Brubeck’s unselfishness when he composes his songs. Instead of holding back his prized saxophonist so that he could have a bigger ‘voice’ on songs while possibly sacrificing the quality of the music, Brubeck utilized, composed and arranged his songs with his musicians in mind, showcasing their skills to elevate the quality of his music, even if it meant him taking a ‘backseat’ on his songs. That’s a person who respects quality over ego and quantity (how long or how much Brubeck would solo vs others in the band). The Quartet that recorded Take 5 were: Paul Desmond on alto, Joe Morello on drums, Dave on the ivory and Eugene Wright on bass. Brubeck was 92 years-old when he died (exactly 1 day before his 93rd birthday).
On December 5th, in 1987, we lost a seminal Breakbeat maker, session drummer and founder of Fat Larry’s Band-(Fat) Larry James. He started drumming when he was a child, forming various bands with neighborhood friends. During his teens he started doing session work as a drummer for local acts and well-known artists that would roll through on tour. He started his own band in his mid-20s-Fat Larry’s Band (1976). It was a nine-member outfit with a sound like early-pre disco Earth Wind & Fire meets the Fat Back Band. Erskine Williams was on keys, Doug Jones on sax, Tony Middleton & Ted Cohen on guitar, Larry La Bes on bass, Art Capehart on trumpet and flute, Jimmy Lee on sax and bone, Freddie Campbell on lead vocals and Larry on the drums.
They released their first LP in 1976 on WMOT Records-Feel It. It contains the seminal drum break intro on the track-Down on the Avenue. Mad Hip Hop producers have sampled this break. Most notably: P.E., Cypress Hill, Ice T, Run DMC, NWA, Beastie Boys and the Jungle Brothers. They had another joint that’s tight on Stax in 1977-Off the Wall. It’s funky. De La Soul introduced their song Act Like You Know to the Native Tongue admirers when they sampled it for Ring Ring Ring. Like a lot of bands, the leadership acts as the glue that holds the group together. With 9 members, you'd think they would have continued after Larry's death-as personnel was a non-factor. However, the band dissolved. He was 38 when he died.
On December 5th, in 2013, we lost an irreplaceable figure that represented Peace, Respect, Perseverance, Revolution and the proper way to govern-Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Mandela was born in Mvezo, South Africa. Growing up in Apartheid, he decided early on that he deplored its systemic racists policies. He educated and trained himself with hopes of combating it. His involvement with a boycott against Fort Hart University's policies got him expelled (late 30s). He got his Bachelor’s & Law Degree in the 1942, and began dabbling in politics. By the early 50s, he was an active Member of the ApC and Congress of the People. In 1961, after undergoing military style training with members of the ANC, Mandela became the leader of their militia.
They implemented plans to counteract the suppressive government. The C.I.A. & South African government would arrest Mandela for this and other alleged crimes against the state in 1962. He remained in prison for 27 years. He was released in 1990, rejoining his members in the ANC as if he never left. In 1994, he became the first Black President of South Africa, a feat most thought would never occur. He helped break down the walls of apartheid through his diligent work with the South African Parliament, President, people worldwide that sided with his cause and the ANC. Not enough can be said about the things Mandela did for people all over the world. The inspiration he’s given those that see little hope in overcoming their oppressors has helped keep hi fighting spirit alive. He’s greatly missed.
Honorable Mention: On December 5th, in 1931, reverend, infamous singer, Gospel songwriter, pianist, arranger, choir director, composer, producer, and the Father of the Modern Gospel Sound-Reverend (Dr.) James (Edward) Cleveland was born in Chicago, Illinois. Cleveland is credited with using elements of Jazz, Soul, Blues, and Pop in his Gospel compositions. He is a class of 1984 Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee, and he's won 4 Grammy’s for his music.
On December 5th, in 1932, the infamous self-titled King of Rock ‘n’ Roll-Little Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman) was born in Macon, Georgia (Home of James Brown). Richard is credited as one of many that innovated and created Rock ‘n’ Roll. Not sure I’d call him the King of it, but he definitely made some dope music. He managed to chart in four genres: Soul, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Gospel & R&B. He’s been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll & Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and is a member of the National Recording Registry, Rhythm & Blues Foundation and Recording Academy. He’s very flamboyant in demeanor and dress, and he still performs to this day (86 years-old).
On December 5th, in 1993, bassist, songwriter, guitarist and co-founder of the Gin Blossoms-Doug Hopkins (Douglas Owen Hopkins) shot himself with a .38. He was held up in St Luke’s Hospital in Phoenix, occupying a bed in the detox ward. He managed to sneak out and bought a .38. He killed himself shortly after the purchase. Hopkins was a prolific musician that suffered from depression. He had a few hits with the Blossoms, and started a band after he left them called The Chimeras. He was 32 years-old when he died.
A Monument to Ziggy Stardust: On December 5th, in 2016, the citizens of the town of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire felt compelled to raise over $100,000 pounds to be able to immortalize the birthplace of Ziggy Stardust. The town serves as the locale where David Bowie originally introduced Ziggy to the public at a show. They had 19 short hours to raise the money and pulled it off with some change to spare...It was vandalized in less than 24...
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!