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On January 31st, in 2015, singer, songwriter and producer-Don Covay (Donald James Randolph) passed away in Franklin Square, New York. Covay is an artist that’s penned hits for others, and had many of his own songs covered. He gave Aretha Franklin a 15 year old song he’d written for himself that she turned into a number #1 hit resulting in a Grammy award-Chain of Fools. Otis Redding, Chubby Checker, the Rolling Stones, Solomon Burke and Gladys Knight & the Pips have all covered previous releases by Covay which they also turned into hits. His musical career started when he was a teen after his mother moved the family to Washington, DC. During the early 50s he sang gospel with his family’s gospel group called the Cherry Keys. They were a vocal quartet. He moved to secular music shortly after, joining the doo wop group called the Rainbows.
He made his recording debut with the group in 1956. A year later, Rock ‘n’ Roll innovator Little Richard hired him as a solo opening act and driver for his tour. Covay was billed under the name Pretty Boy and released a Richard penned song-Bip Bop Bip. He rounded out the 50s by putting out several singles on local imprints that kept his name in the streets, but failed to chart. In the early 60s, he signed to Columbia Records and released Pony Time, his first big hit. He started songwriting for Roosevelt Music and moved to Atlantic. They sent him to Stax studios in Memphis, TN to record. He collaborated with Steve Cropper, David Porter, and the rest of the MGs, all of which acted as co-writers on his projects. He was 78 when he died.
On January 31st, in 2014, one of the behind the scenes people that was responsible for bringing the greater public quality, timeless popular music-Anna Gordy Gaye (Anna Ruby Gordy) passed away in Los Angeles, California. She’s the older sister of Berry Gordy, first-former wife of Marvin Gaye, songwriter, record distributor and label exec. She got her start in the entertainment biz when she worked at the Flame Show Bar in Detroit (mid 50s). Her brother Berry and sister Gwen started getting interested in the music scene, songwriting and attempting to found their own label. Meanwhile, Anna started working as a distributor for Checker Records-essentially going to various record shops in hopes of them liking the song and buying copies at wholesale to retail in their stores (1956).
In 1957, she was a distributor for Gone Records and then in 1968, Berry & Gwen founded Anna Records (named after their older sister). This is where she met Marvin Gaye, the only man she’d marry. He was a session musician for the label. In 1961, Motown ended the subsidiary-Anna Records and consolidated all of their artists to Motown. Anna started working as a songwriter and Marvin started working as a performer. They started dating in 1960, and married in 1963 (divorced 1977). Gaye wrote Pride & Joy for Anna, and they co-wrote God is Love and Flying High in the Friendly Sky off his What’s Going on LP. Gaye also wrote an entire LP for Anna-Here My Dear (1978). It was in response to the divorce settlement she got. Anna left the music scene entirely shortly after their marriage ended. She was 92 when she died.
On January 31st, in 1970, we lost a seminal Bluesman, singer, harmonica player, songwriter, guitarist, producer and arranger-Slim Harpo (James Isaac Moore). TOV covered the artist’s birthday on the January 11th post. Please refer to it for more information. He was born in Lobdell, LA and started performing in the Baton Rouge area under the name-Harmonica Slim. His brother-in-law was Lightnin’ Slim, and they performed together. Harpo was an innovator of Swamp Blues-a Louisiana style of blues that uses the jump blues boogie style of Jimmy Reed, with zydeco, Cajun and soul music. It originated during the 50s and 60s. The major recording and distribution place for Swamp Blues was at Excello Records in Nashville, TN. Harpo was a unique musician in that he never pursued it full-time.
He worked several jobs over the years, and his music became a part of him-his way of living, something he did daily. He changed his name from Harmonica Slim to Slim Harpo when he started recording. There was already a person using the moniker and he didn’t want to be confused with them. His name is a toast to his instrument of choice-the harp (harmonica) and his stature (slim). He saw his greatest success in the mid to late 60s when he recorded-Tip On In (1968) with an early version of the Hi-Rhythm Section in Nashville. He also had an instrumental single that was a top 20 R&B hit-Baby Scratch My Back (1966). Slim credits this song as his take on Rock ‘n’ Roll. He died from a heart attack, which is strange being that he didn’t drink or do drugs. He was 46 when he died.
On January 31st, in 1964, seminal music video director and visual artist-Spohie Muller was born in Paddington, London, England. Sophie moved between London and Isle of Man as a child. She got interested in visual arts as child. She went to Central St. Martins and earned a diploma in Art. Her love of motion pictures and music came together when she enrolled in the masters program at Royal College of Art (Film & Television). She started developing her style here, and directed two shorts: In Excelsis Deo (won a J. Walter Thompson Prize for creativity) and Interlude (early 80s). In 1984, she worked on the film-Company of Wolves (horror). Muller’s professional career started to gain momentum in the mid 80s during the rise of MTV and the New Wave music movement. She befriended John Stewart who was Dave Stewart’s brother (the Eurhythmics). Both were interested in starting a film company and added Billy Poveda to the mix.
She began shooting videos for the Eurythmics that were surreal and visually innovative. Sophie won a Grammy for her work with Annie Lennox on the Diva video LP (1987). Her style of having a band in a small dark or damp room, caught on with viewers and musicians alike. The latter requested her services, which led to her directing 100s of videos. Some of her reoccurring customers are: No Doubt, Beyonce, Garbage, Sade, Coldplay, Bjork, Radiohead, The Killers, Leona Lewis, Pink, Shakira, Shakespears Sister, Rihanna, Kings of Leon, Sarah McLachlan and Sugababes. She directed 11 videos for Sophie Ellis Bextor and 9 for Gwen Stefani. Her influence on other music video directors and in the film industry, can be seen in shots where small spaces depend on innovative lighting with attention to detail in set construction. She’s 57 today.
On January 31st, in 1956, punk pioneer, singer, saxophonist, actor, guitarist, songwriter, bassist, keyboardist, violinist, producer, composer, arranger and co-founding member of the Sex Pistols-Johnny Rotten (John Joseph Lydon) was born in Holloway, London, England. Johnny grew up in the working-class community of North London which was predominantly Irish & Jamaican immigrants. Reggae, ska, dub and rocksteady all had an inspirational effect on his musical style. He was the oldest of 4 brothers and ran the streets getting into mischief as a youth. He had spinal meningitis (diagnosed at age 7), which he states is the birthplace of Johnny Rotten. His symptoms like nausea, hallucinations, headaches and memory loss, coupled with the pain of the treatments, helped create a ‘Rotten’ way of seeing things.
In the mid 70s, while Johnny was a teen, he frequented Malcolm McLaren’s fetish store called SEX. McLaren had returned from the states after he’d toured with The New York Dolls. He was inspired to start a band that had an original edge like the Dolls. He spotted Johnny’s look, persona and asked him to audition for the lead spot of a new band-The Sex Pistols. They remained together from 1975 to 1978. The music Johnny sang during this time was inspired by Dub, Progressive Rock and Experimental music. In 1978, he co-founded Public Image Ltd with Clash guitarist Keith Levine and Jah Wobble on bass. They had a few hits in the early 80s. He also started working as an actor. In 1983, he appeared in Cop Killer with Harvey Keitel. Johnny is one of the first vocalists to use a rap/rock style, which influenced several bands in the 80s and 90s. He’s 63 today.
HONORABLE MENTION: On January 31st, in 1932, record producer, arranger, publisher, studio owner, label exec, songwriter, singer, guitarist and the man associated with the Muscle Shoals Sound-Rick Hall (Roe Erister Hall) was born in Forest Grove, Tishomingo County, Mississippi. TOV covered his death on the January 2nd post. Please refer to it for more information. Hall was the owner of Fame Studios & Fame Records, which is the place where Atlantic artists during the 60s recorded (if they weren’t at Atlantic’s other southern spot-Stax). Aretha, Etta ad Otis all recorded there. He was 85 when he died.
January 31st proved to be a good day for the Jackson 5 in 1970 and 1971. In 1970, Their single-I Want You Back went to number 1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. Interesting fact: Gladys Knight & the Pips were supposed to sing the song originally. In 1971, the Jackson 5 were honored in their hometown of Gary, Indiana. They received the Key to the City. Then mayor Robert Pastrick wanted to pay homage to the successful Motown group. By this time, they had several top 20 hits.
On January 31st, in 1977, activist, stage, film and television actress-Kerry (Marisa) Washington was born in The Bronx, NYC, NY. She’s appeared in over 30 films since her start in 2000. She’s most known for her lead role on Scandal. She got into theater as a teen and stuck with it through college. She also learned dance from J-Lo before she moved to LA to do In Living Colour. She started acting on TV in the mid ‘90s and had a lead role in 2004’s-She Hate Me (Spike Lee). Washington is 42 today.
On January 31st, in 2015, D’Angelo and his new band-The Vanguard made their debut appearance on NBC’s sketch comedy show-Saturday Night Live. He performed two songs from his new LP-Black Messiah (2014): The Charade and Really Love. The performance was dope, but what made it even more special was their outfits. Vanguard band members wore t-shirts with I Can’t Breathe & Black Lives Matter on them, while D’Angelo wore a hoodie as a tribute to Trayvon Martin.
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