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On December 20th, 2012, we lost a very talented singer, songwriter, composer, pianist, and Jump Blues innovator-Jimmy McCracklin (James David Walker Jr). He passed away in San Pablo, California. The Elaine, Arkansas native (some say he was born in St. Louis) had several prominent musical accomplishments before he died. McCracklin’s musical career spanned nearly seven decades (1945-2012), he recorded over 30 LPs (about one every two years or so-four of them went gold), and wrote about 1000 songs for himself and others. Limited information exists on his childhood, when he was around 16, he joined the US Navy (1938), and moved to Richmond, California (sandwiched between San Francisco & Oakland-the bay area).
During the early 40s, he honed his chops playing in the house band at the Club Savoy. He’d back traveling acts, performing covers and original music when there were no headliners. His sister-in-law, Willie Mae Johnson aka Granny, owned the club. He paid homage to it when he recorded a song about it in 1963. He got his recording debut in 1945, with Miss Mattie Left Me, released on Globe Records. He recorded for most of the local imprints in the area, and signed to Modern Records later (he also did some dope stuff on Stax during the 70s). Throughout the 50s, and up to his death, he recorded and performed all over the nation. He was inducted into The Blues Hall Of Fame in 2008. He was 91 years-old when he died.
On December 20th, in 2009, guitarist, bassist, singer, songwriter, producer, former member of Big Brother And The Holding Company, and beau of Janis Joplin-James Gurley passed away two days before his 70th birthday. He had a heart attack in Palm Desert, California. Several interesting facts exist about Gurley. He taught himself how to play guitar by ear, using Lightinin’ Hopkins recordings and John Coltrane’s Free Jazz sax solos as his template. He once studied to be a Catholic priest before pursuing his music career. He was an original musician on the coffee-house circuit in the Bay area and played mostly Bluegrass.
He married young; and was charged with murdering his first wife due to her overdose on heroine that he injected. He walked away with probation. He had an affair on his first wife, with Janis in the late 60s, while she was fronting the band. Gurley’s guitar playing style pushed Big Brother into the Psychedelic/Acid Rock world. He remarried in the early 70s, and had a second child with guitarist and singer Robin Reed (Red). They rehashed Big Brother And The Holding Company with Reed on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jim Holt on sax and lead vocals, and Gurley on lead guitar and bass. They performed and recorded during the 70s. Gurley continued to make music and record up to his death. He was 69 years-old when he died.
On December 20th, 2004 we lost a seminal Blues innovator, guitarist, drummer, songwriter, singer, banjo player and Blues Hall Of Fame member-(Frank) Son Seals. He was born in Osceola, Arkansas; and much like Gurley, Seals has some interesting facts that surround his musical career. First, he came from a musical family. His father Jim ‘Son’ Seals owned the local juke joint, and he played there during his early teens. Son’s brother-in-law was Little Walter (Jefferson). He backed him and Robert Nighthawk at various clubs, as a drummer, guitarist, and sparse vocalist. He would continue to perform with various Bluesmen throughout the mid 50s and 60s.
In the early 70s, he moved to Chicago and got into The Blues scene there. The scene was experiencing a rebirth from the Psychedelic Rock and British Invasion movements. He signed to Alligator Records and released his debut LP in 1973, The Son Seals Blue Band. He recorded several LPs from 1973 to 2002-many of them live. He’s also a three-time W.C. Handy Award winner (1985, 1987, 2001). During his career, he managed to stay with the same label the entire time, excluding the 2000 release of Lettin’ Go on Telarc Records. Few musicians can say they were able to stick the same label they signed with their entire recording career. Acts like this show a symbiotic loyalty between the label and the musician. Seals is one of the unsung heroes of The Chicago Blues Sound, and has contributed heavily to the music that’s being made today. He was 62 when he died.
On December 20th, 1948, multi-instrumentalist: keyboards, flute, bass, guitar; singer, songwriter, audio engineer, producer, composer, and arranger-Alan Parsons was born in London, England. Parsons is probably one of the most important figures that established a standard sound for Prog Rock during its infancy in the late 60s. As a studio engineer, he mixed The Beatles’ Abbey Road in 1969 (his first engineering project), Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon in 1973 (he won a Grammy for this LP), The Hollies self-titled album in 1974, Ambrosia's self-titled album in 1975, and Al Stewart’s Year Of The Cat in 1976.
He continued to engineer, and later that same year (1976) he released his debut LP as a bandleader, producer and engineer-Tales Of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project (20th Century Fox & Charisma Records). Parsons and his Abbey Road Studio co-producer, singer/songwriting friend Eric Woolfson founded The Alan Parsons Project. They used a lot of session musicians, and some regulars, composing and arranging the music themselves. They used a lot of the musicians in the bands Ambrosia and Pilot to make this unique music. It’s synth-based, pre-New Wave Rock with elements of electronic music and ambient sounds, great for sampling. His influence on music overall can be heard in all the genres that utilized his techniques after he set the standard: EDM, House, Hip Hop, New Wave, Punk, and Dubstep to name a few. He’s 70 years-old today.
On December 20th, 1944, the drummer and co-founder of the 1960s innovating Jazz/Prog Rock band-Blood Sweat & Tears: Bobby Colomby was born in NYC, NY. Bobby got his inspirations on drums from the artists he’d have direct contact with during the height of The Jazz Bop Era of the late 50s. Drummers like Elvin Jones and Max Roach were in regular contact with his older brother Harry, who was the manager for Thelonious Monk. His jazzy style of playing can be heard on BS&T tunes like Spinning Wheel. Mitch Mitchell (Jimi’s drummer), Ginger Baker (Cream & Fela Kuti’s 1st drummer) and John Densmore (The Doors’ drummer) were Jazz drummers that used their style to create a new Rock sound. Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s drummer on the Funky Drummer) also was a Jazz based drummer that used his rhythms to create a new Soul sound called Funk.
The point being that all of these drummers derived their styles from Jazz, and incorporated them into a different genre thus, spawning a new sub-genre (Jazz/Prog Rock, Psychedelic Rock and Funk). Colomby is featured on Blood Sweat & Tears’ 1968 debut Child Is Father To The Man. Their self-titled second LP (1969) contained three of their biggest hits: You Make Me So Very Happy, Spinning Wheel, and When I Die. The original eight-member band (considered huge for a Rock based outfit) were: Colomby on drums, Al Kooper on keyboards and vocals, Dick Halligan on keys-bone-flute and vocals, Steve Katz on guitar and harp, Fred Lipsius on sax and keys, Jerry Weiss on trumpet and fugelhorn, Jim Fielder on bass, and Randy Brecker on trumpet and fugelhorn. Colomby remains the owner and musical director for Blood, Sweat & Tears. He’s 74 today.
HONORABLE MENTION: On December 20th, 1957, the woman that brought us the dance hit You Can Ring My Bell, vocalist and educator-Anita Ward was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Her hit song Ring My Bell was written by Frederick Knight for Stacy Lattisaw. It was supposed to be a teen Disco rendition of talking of the phone. Lattisaw didn’t want to record the song, nor did Ward. She wasn’t a fan of disco. However, Knight convinced her to capitalize on the trend and they spiced up the lyrics to make it more adult with Ring My Bell, implying…well, you know, or should. She’s 61 today.
On December 20th, in 1995, we lost Jamaican actress-Madge Sinclair (Madge Dorita Walters Sinclair). The former Jamaican teacher-turned actress is most known for her roles in Roots (as Bell Reynolds), Cornbread Earl & Me (as Leona Hamilton), Coming To America (as Queen Aoleon-Eddie’s Mom) & Trapper John MD (as Ernestine Shoop). Sinclair's film, stage, and television career spanned over 20 years (1972-1995), with over 50 appearances. She also was an art dealer and chairperson for her clothing company Madge Sinclair Inc. She was 57 years old when she passed away.
On December 20th, 2013, studio engineer and producer-David Richards passed away. Richards worked with several great artists during the 80s and 90s, either engineering and/or producing their LPs. He worked with Iggy Pop on Blah Blah Blah, with Yes on Going For The One, Duran Duran's The Wedding Album, Brian May on Back To The Light, with Queen on Kind Of Magic, David Bowie on Never Let Me Down, and The Cross on Shove It-to name a few. He continued to produce and engineer up to his death. He was 57 when he passed away.
On December 20th, in 2014, the ‘rarest’ record in the world sold for over $20K at an auction in London. Soul singer and songwriter Darrell Banks’ (Darrell Eubanks) single Open The Door To Your Heart on London Records (1966) was thought to be the only copy in circulation. It peaked at #2 on the R&B chart. He recorded 2 LPs for Stax in 1969 and 1970. Neither charted and he was gunned down by an off duty-police officer in 1970 (he was having an affair with his wife). I bet his estate would like a portion of that selling price.
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!