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On January 29th, in 1992, singer, poet, writer, bassist, boxer, songwriter, Bluesman, Rock ‘n’ Roll innovator, arranger, producer, guitarist and one of the original Chicago Bluesman-Willie Dixon (William James Dixon) passed away in Burbank, California. The Vicksburg, VA native got his start as a poet from his mother while he was a toddler. She would often reply to Dixon’s statements with rhyming words, a skill he developed and applied later to his poetry and songwriting. He started signing when he was 4, and was inspired by the legendary pianist Little Brother Montgomery when he was 7. He moved to Mississippi in his early teens and got into trouble with the law (early 1930s). He was introduced to the Blues firsthand in a literal and figurative sense while serving time.
Fellow inmates on the chain gangs and in the bunks would sing, play guitar and harmonica. In 1936, he moved to Chicago and started boxing. He became Golden Gloves Heavyweight champ in Illinois. He fought 4 fights as a professional, and sparred with Joe Louis. In 1939, he formed his first band-the Five Breezes. He refused to fight in WWII and was imprisoned. Dixon said he wasn’t going to fight for others’ freedom while the Black man wasn’t free in America. He served 10 months, got out and founded the Four Jumps of Jive and then the Big Three Trio. They got a recording deal with Columbia. He then got signed to Chess in 1951 as a artist, but the more time he spent at the label, the more he did administrative work. He worked as a session musician, producer, arranger and songwriter for Chess, penning a lot of solid songs for their roster. He was 76 when he passed.
On January 29th, in 2014, we lost a seminal producer, pianist, funk and soul arranger-Johnny Allen. Johnny Allen (2nd l) passed away in Detroit, Michigan. The Uchee, Alabama native migrated to Chicago in the early 20s. He started playing piano for the church when he was 9 or 10. Johnny’s major influence was Earl Hines, but he taught himself how to play. When he was 18, he moved to Detroit (1936). He played for local churches, nightclubs, dances and started forming his 12-piece band. In the early 40s, he acted as musical director for the Club Congo and his band backed the likes of Billie Holiday and other popular artists on tour in the Motor City. He started working at Motown in the late 50s, penning arrangements for The Supremes, the Temptations and Stevie Wonder. When Motown started their move to LA in the late 60s, Allen traveled south to Memphis and got a gig as an arranger and session musician at Stax Records.
He worked with various artists on the label like the Staple Singers, the Emotions, The Mad Lads, David Porter, the Dramatics and their label powerhouse-Isaac Hayes. He helped Hayes arrange the Theme from Shaft, which Allen won a Grammy for in 1972 (Best Instrumental Arrangement). He also did the horn and string arrangements on Isaac’s Hot Buttered Soul (Stax, 1969). After Stax went under in the mid 70s, Allen went back to Detroit and continued to do what he always had done: perform, create and arrange music. He played with much smaller bands from the late 70s to the early 2000s. The style of jazz changed from big band to hard bop and fusion. Allen played a blend of both until he passed. His musical career spanned over 70 years (1930-2014). He died from pneumonia at Henry Ford Hospital when he was 94.
On January 29th, in 1936, bassist, session musician, double bassist and member of the Funk Brothers-James (Lee) Jamerson was born on Edisto Island, South Carolina. It’s a small, rural, coastal community, not a touristy spot. TOV covered his birth on the August 2nd post. Please refer to it for more information. Jamerson got interested in jazz, gospel and blues music as a child. He was intrigued by the double bass and started playing it right before his teens. He moved to Detroit, Michigan when he was 18 and started gigging around town. He played with several jazz outfits and built a solid reputation quickly. As a result, he got picked up by smaller imprints to be a session musician (mid to late 50s). In 1959, Berry Gordy hired him as a house band musician at Hitsville USA. Thus, becoming the double bassist for the Funk Brothers.
In the early 60s, he electrified his approach, changing his double bass to a six string Fender. The basslines he made after this switch are what led him to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction 27 years after his passing (inducted 2000, passed ‘83). He played on several hits on Motown from the 60s-70s: What’s Going On, Shotgun, I was Made to Lover Her, Reach Out I’ll Be There, You Can’t Hurry Love, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, For Once in My Life and Dancing in the Streets. Jamerson didn’t limit his Jazz bass style to Motown, he also played bass for The Sylvers, The Reflections, The Hues Corporation, and John Lee Hooker (branching out into his love for blues). His influence goes without saying, just turn on the radio or drop any popular tune from 1965 on. He helped birth the Funk by using his syncopated-ghost note style to the fullest. He was 47 when he died.
On January 29th, in 1952, Born on this day, drummer, vocalist, songwriter, guitarist, producer, mandolin player, percussionist, Punk Rock innovator and co-founding member of the Ramones-Tommy Ramone (Tamas Erdelyi) was born in Budapest, Hungary. He was a product of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. His family migrated to the US in ’57. They settled in Forest Hill Queens, NY. He changed the spelling of his name from Tamas to Thomas shortly after he started going to school. In his early teens, he started playing guitar in a garage band called the Tangerine Puppets (mid 60s). Johnny Ramone (John Cummings) was a member. After he graduated, Tamas started working at the Record Plant Studio in NYC.
He’s credited as assistant audio engineer on The Band of Gypsys LP (Jimi Hendrix, Billy Cox, Buddy Miles, 1970). In the mid 70s, he decided to try his hand as a manager of a budding punk band-The Ramones. Instead of managing, he became the drummer. He played with the band from 1974 to 1978, co-producing 4 of their LPs: Ramones, Rocket to Russia, Leave Home and It’s Alive. Once he stopped playing with them he took over as manager. He also acted as producer on their 1978 Road to Ruin LP, as well as 1984’s Too Tough to Die. His songwriting skills are showcased well on-I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend. He’s worked with others in the industry: Redd Kross, The Womack Family Band and the Replacements. The Ramones were pioneers of the punk movement and helped make CBGBs infamous. He was 65 when he died (2014).
On January 29th, in 2001, the music retail business industry was in full swing with the aid of SoundScan which came about in the late 70s. SoundScan is the ‘barcode’ and serial number on the back of LPs, cassettes, and CDs. It came about as a more efficient (honest) way to keep track of record sales. They scan it and it goes into a database for various music charts as a sale. Top 40 LPs from any week, month or year can be determined quickly and relayed to the greater public as a ‘hot’ album. SoundScan played an important role in creating the following pole: A trend began to develop around conversations between radio listeners and station DJs during the late 90s following the influx of posthumous Biggie & Tupac LPs. Both parties wanted to know the top selling artists.
SoundScan founder-Mike Shalett accommodated the public call, but had trouble coming up with an ‘appropriate’ name for the chart. The top five artists were: 1-Tupac, 2-Bob Marley, 3-Jimi Hendrix, 4-Eva Cassidy and 5-The Doors. The data was analyzed by an ‘undisclosed’ company out of NYC. They also determined that CDs sales for all 5 of these artists also outsold their records sales while they were alive…which says a lot about how much death determines the popularity of an artist. It also illustrates how exploited artists are after they’re dead. The data company claims that they accounted for the number of LPs pressed pre-SoundScan and population differences. Tupac and Bob Marley are most likely the top two most bootlegged artists posthumously as well.
HONORABLE MENTION: On January 29th, in 1983, singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and former member of Fleetwood Mac-Stevie Nicks got married to Kim Anderson. It was shortly after the tragic death of Kim’s wife Robin. They divorced later that year. When asked about the marriage, she stated that it was a terrible mistake, but doesn’t go much further than that. Nicks was in the top 10 on the Billboard LP charts for her June release of-The Wild Heart. She toured from June to November off the success of that LP. Point being, ’83 didn’t end badly for Ms. Nicks.
On January 29th, in 1994 vocalist, songwriter and former member of the Supremes-Mary Wilson had a accident that was very costly. Wilson was driving on the freeway in Los Angeles, California with her 14 year-old son. She lost control of the vehicle and swerved into the median. The speed of the car, coupled with the force of the impact, caused the vehicle to flip. When the dust cleared, she was severely injured, and her son was killed...
On January 29th, in 2012, we lost the first Black opera singer to have a contract with a major American opera company-The New York City Opera: Camilla Ella Williams (1954). She sang the national anthem at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. She also has a park named after her in her hometown of Danville, VA. The Virginia State graduated played a major role in the Vienna State Opera Company in Europe. She was inspired by, and a good friend of Marian Anderson. The two collaborated often and opened the doors for generations yet to come. She was 92 when she passed.
On January 29th, in 2012, Elton John was a bit perturbed with Madonna’s singing skills, or lack thereof. As the story goes, Madonna was elected to perform at Super Bowl 46 which was scheduled for February 5th. Elton John was being interviewed and was asked if he had any advice for Madonna about her performance during the halftime show. He responded: Make sure you lip-sync good. Of course you have to play live, but I don't think you can…Harsh, to say the least. Her performance went on to be the most watched Super Bowl halftime show of all-time (pre-2012).
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