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On February 5th, in 1941, singer, pianist, songwriter and one of the first musicians to record for Berry Gordy’s Tamla Records imprint-Barrett Strong was born in West Point, Mississippi. He relocated to Detroit and got immersed in the doo wop scene. In 1959, he made his recording debut on Tamla: Let’s Rock b/w Do the Very Best You Can. It did moderately well. However, later that year, he released one of his biggest hits that’s been covered by many artists: Money (That’s What I Want) b/w Oh I Apologize. Strong was a prolific pianist and singer. He released 4 singles on Tamla from 1960 to 1961: Yes No Maybe So b/w You Knows What to Do (1960); Money and Me b/w You Got What It Takes (1961) and Misery b/w Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right (1961).
He left Motown in 1962 and signed to Atco-a subsidiary of Atlantic, releasing Seven Sins b/w What Went Wrong. He continued to tour and record with assorted labels from 1962 to 1964. In 1965, he decided to hang his microphone up, and returned to Motown as a songwriter with psychedelic soul producer-Norman Whitfield. They wrote several hits for the imprint from 1966 to 1972. Some of these include: War (Edwin Starr), Heard it Through the Grapevine (Marvin & Gladys), Smiling Faces (Undisputed Truth), Ball of Confusion-Cloud Nine-Just My Imagination-Psychedelic Shack and Papa Was a Rolling Stone (The Temptations). He recorded a couple of solo LPs in the mid 70s and one in 1987. Strong is one of those musicians that helped shape the sound of psychedelic soul and Motown. He’s 78 today.
On January 5th, in 1941, singer, guitarist, harmonica player and co-founding member of Three Dog Night-Cory Wells (Emil Lewandowski) was born in Buffalo, New York. He got his musical start during his primary school years, singing and playing guitar. In his early teens, he got interested in blues and started playing harmonica. He enlisted in the US Navy after he graduated high school. While abroad, he formed his first multi-ethnic doo wop group (late 50s). He returned to Buffalo in the early 60s and joined the Vibratos. In the mid 60s, Wells moved the band to LA and changed their name to Cory Wells & the Enemys. They gigged around the west coastal area, and landed a permanent job as the house band at the Whiskey a Go Go.
They appeared on TV shows and were the tour band for Sonny & Cher. In 1967, Wells moved to Phoenix and founded the Cory Wells Blues Band, before moving back to Hollywood and founding Three Dog Night with Danny Hutton. Hutton was friends with Chuck Negron, and the three worked painlessly to perfect their three-part harmonies. They released their first self-titled LP that year on Dunhill Records (subsidiary of ABC). Wells didn’t take on the typical traits of a Rock ‘n’ Roll star. He wasn’t a heavy drinker, stayed clear of drugs and saved most of his money-living humbly on the west coast. He continued to record, write and perform after the band split in 1976. In 1978, he released his only solo LP-Touch Me (A&M Records). Wells was instrumental in the reunion of Three Dog Night in the mid 80s. He was 74 when he passed (October 20th, 2015).
On February 5th, in 1944, singer, pianist, composer, guitarist, songwriter, bassist, arranger, percussionist, producer, mandolin player, session musician and co-founding member of Blood Sweat & Tears-Al Kooper (Roosevelt Gook) was born in Brooklyn, NYC, NY. He grew up in Hollis Queens and started playing guitar as a kid. By 1958, he was doing session work for the Royal Teens. When he was 16, he became a songwriter for Sea-Lark Music Publishing. He penned a few hits, before moving to Greenwich in 1965. He met Bob Dylan there, who hired him to play Hammond at his Newport Folk Festival set, and for his 1965-1966 recording sessions. One of the songs Kooper’s featured on is-Like a Rolling Stone. He also was a member of the Blues Project from 1965-1967. He founded Blood Sweat & Tears later in 1967, but left in 1968 right before their debut LP dropped-Child is the Father of Man.
In 1969, he released an LP called-Kooper Session. It features a 15 year-old Shuggie Otis on guitar (Johnny Otis’ son). During the late 60s and early 70s, he continued to do session work for artists like: The Rolling Stones, Cream, B.B. King, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Alice Cooper and the Who. In 1972, he discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd, producing and playing on their first 3 LPs. He also returned to the Blues Project (1972). The fame generated from his work with Lyndyrd Skynyrd kept him touring, writing and performing from 1972 to 1977. On October 20th, of 1977, 3 members of the band were killed in a plane crash. This halted their momentum. Kooper wrote a heartfelt memoir in 1977 about his music career-Backstage Passes: Rock ‘n’ Roll Life in the Sixties. In the 80s, he started getting into scoring TV series like: Crime Story. He’s 75 today.
On February 5th, in 1969, singer, songwriter, dancer, actor, husband of Whitney Houston, R&B certified Bad boy and original founding member of New Edition-Bobby Brown ( Robert Barisford Brown) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Bobby grew up in the Roxbury Orchard Park Projects. He started signing up for talent shows at a young age. He wouldn’t really sing, he’d get stage fright and just stand there, as documented in the New Edition Story. It wasn’t until some of the future members of New Edition got on stage with Bobby, that his fright subsided and he actually performed. Bobby wanted to be the lead, the center of attention. He co-founded New Edition in 1978 with Ricky Bell, Traivs Pettus, Michael Bivins and Corey Rackley. Eventually, Ralph Tresvant replaced Rackley and Ronnie DeVoe replaced Pettus. They were not mentioned in the film, nor was the fact that New Edition formed before they became professionals.
In 1982, DeVoe’s uncle Brooke Payne became their manager and Maurice Starr got them signed to Arthur Baker’s Streetwise imprint. They released their debut LP in 1983-Candy Girl. Bobby sang co-lead on a few tracks, but Ralph and Ricky got the meat of the LPs. This pattern of Bobby being limited on lead vocals continued, serving as the major reason he left the group. In 1986, he released his debut LP in 1986-King of Stage (MCA Records). This was a messy signing. Let’s backtrack for a moment: Bobby was originally on MCA as a New Edition artist, they somewhat encouraged him to leave New Edition by promising him a solo deal if he did. They wanted to get the most bang for their buck. I can’t fault them there, but someone should’ve hollered at Bobby on a ‘strong one’ like: dude, they’re dividing and conquering, that’s all this is. His debut had a few hits, and set the stage for his sophomore album-Don’t Be Cruel (MCA, 1988). This is undoubtedly Bobby’s best LP front to back. It’s produced by Teddy Riley, with songwriting from L.A. Reid & Babyface. He’s 50 today.
On January 5th, in 2009, we lost a seminal Bluesman, singer, songwriter and one of the few men that inspired James Brown-Piney Brown (Columbus S. Perry). Piney’s career spanned nearly 6 decades. The Birmingham born and Kansas City raised singer got his start in the church. He sang in his family’s gospel group, but secretly performed secular music during his teens. He moved to Baltimore when he was 18 to pursue a secular career (1940), changing his stage (secular) name to Piney Brown. It was taken from the Big Joe Turner song-Piney Brown Blues. Piney’s sound was rooted in the church. He had a uniquely ‘big’ voice that he used to evoke call and response from the crowd, with random screams, shouts and the like to convey his feelings (like James Brown). He gigged around the scene for a few years, making his name with the locals and traveling artists. In 1947, he got signed to Miracle Records and released his debut single-That’s Right Little Girl. It did well enough to yield him a better deal with Apollo Records in NYC.
He recorded Morning Blues b/w Gloomy Monday Blues. He released a few more sides for Apollo, before moving to Sittin’ In With Records in 1952. He met his musical muse at the label-Ed Wiley Jr. They collaborated to make some of Piney’s best songs, even though they didn’t stay at labels long. They recorded for King, Jubilee, Par, Atlas, Mad and Duke Records. In the 50s, he toured with Albert Collins and Billy Brooks. They frequented Chicago and Brown became the preferred Bluesman in the Pittsburgh area. In the early 60s, he moved back to Birmingham and got deal with Sound Stage 7. He put out a couple of sides and co-wrote Popcorn with James Brown who sought the artist out. He also hit the road with Chuck Berry, Ted Taylor & Bo Diddley. He passed away in Dayton, Ohio when he was 87.
HONORABLE MENTION: On February 5th, in 1929, drummer, percussionist and original member of the Wrecking Crew-Hal Blaine (Harold Simon Belsky) was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Hal is the man behind the beat on most of the pop tunes from the 60s and 70s. The Wrecking Crew were a group of studio musicians responsible for Films scores, TV shows and music out of the California area during those two decades. He’s played drums for: Ike & Tina Turner, Sonny & Cher, the 5th Dimension, Nancy Sinatra, The Ronettes, Jan & Dean, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, the Monkees and a slew of others. He’s 90 today.
On February 5th, in 1930, the lesser-known but extremely talented jazz trumpeter-Don Goldie (Donald Elliott Goldfield AKA Billy Franklin) was born in Newark, New Jersey. His mother was Claire St. Claire-the famed pianist & educator with George Gershwin. His father was a trumpeter for Paul Whiteman. He taught Don the trumpet, while his mother taught him the piano. He started playing with bands in the late 40s while he was still a teen. In the 50s, he performed as a sideman with Louis Armstrong, Joe Mooney and Tony Parenti. In the 60s, he released his debut as a bandleader-Brilliant (Argo). He committed suicide in Miami, FL in 1995. He was 65.
On February 5th, in 1971, the birth of grunge was taking place for most likely the first time ever. Black Sabbath entered Island Studios in London, England and started recording their 3rd LP-Master of Reality. Geezer Butler (bassist) and Tommy Iommi (guitarist) decided to down tune their instruments 3 semi-tones so the music would have a darker sound. Music historians state that Iommi down tuned his instrument first and Butler followed suit to be ‘in-tune’. Either way, the LP is considered a blueprint for grunge and is also credited as a the first ‘stoner’ album. It was released in July of 1971.
On February 5th, in 1976, the saxophonist most people know from the hit song-Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & the Comets: Rudy Pompilli (Rudolph Clement Pompilli AKA Rudy Pell-l) passed away in Chester, PA. He played sax and clarinet in jazz bands during his teens. He joined the Comets in 1955 and changed his style from jazz to early rock ‘n’ roll. He also was a showman, playing the sax while lying flat on stage and jumping over Marshall Lytle’s bass. Pompilli stayed with the Comets for the duration of their career. He was 51 when he died.
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