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On January 30th, 1982, pioneering Bluesman, singer, guitarist, songwriter, pianist, composer, arranger, and one of the creators of Texas Blues-Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins passed away in Houston, Texas. Hopkins was born into a blues and gospel-oriented family. He was introduced to, and inspired to play the blues when he was eight years old by Blind Lemon Jefferson. He also had two cousins that played blues-Alger Texas Alexander and Frankie Lee Sims. Alexander taught him guitar, and Sims would become a recording partner in later years. Hopkins played in churches and at other secular events with Jefferson. Musical historians claim that he was the only person Jefferson let accompany him during performances in the 1920s. In the mid 1930s, Hopkins got into some legal trouble and was an inmate at The Houston County Prison Farm for a few years.
After his release, he moved to Houston and hooked up with his cousin Alger Texas Alexander. They gigged and recorded around the area, but were unable to secure a hit. By the mid 1940s Hopkins had become a staple musician in The Third Ward area of Houston, as a regular performer on Dowling Street in the Black Entertainment and Business District. When Aladdin Records executive Lola Anne Cullum heard Hopkins, she convinced him to come to LA to record for her imprint. She was responsible for giving him the stage name Lightnin’ for the way he played guitar. Hopkins recorded a dozen tracks with pianist Wilson Thunder Smith-thus coining the duo Lightnin’ & Thunder. He recorded and performed throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, following the Folk & Blues revival sparked from the British rock movement. He was 69 when he died.
On January 30th, 1959, singer, former Soul Train dancer, member of Shalamar, songwriter, pianist and producer-Jody Watley was born in Chicago, Illinois. Jody has been tied to the Black music scene in Chicago since her birth with her godfather being the seminal Soul performer-Jackie Wilson. Matter of fact, her first performance was with Wilson when she was 8. She started dancing on Soul Train during it’s 3rd season in 1973 (14 at the time). She quickly became one of the more recognizable dancers on the show-known for her fashion sense and dance floor moves. One of her frequent dance partners and friends was Jeffrey Daniel. The duo would come up with new moves and tight routines which kept the camera on them more than other dancers. Don Cornelius and Dick Griffey took note and decided to sign Watley, Daniel and newcomer Gary Mumford to their SOLAR Records imprint, calling the group Shalamar. Mumford was replaced by Gerald Brown and Brown by Hewett. Their debut LP-Uptown Festival (1977) had a B-side hit called-High on Life that was written by Don Cornelius.
The Sylvers family produced most of their 2nd LP-Disco Gardens (1978). Take that to the Bank and Stay Close to Love are two notable cuts that were produced by Leon Sylvers III. The lineup changed and with Brown being replaced by Howard Hewett in 1979. Their Big Fun LP, released later that year also contained a Leon Sylvers III hit-The Second Time Around. Watley recorded 4 more LPs with the group from 1980 to 1983, before leaving for a solo career in 1983. She moved to England and acted as a session vocalist and musician for Musical Youth and Art of Noise. In 1987, she returned to the states, got signed to MCA Records and released her self-titled debut which contained her hit song-Looking for a New Love. She won a Grammy, 3 Soul Train Awards and an MTV Video Music Award. In the late 90s-Watley got into the broken beat sound with 4Hero and made tracks for the British house, acid jazz and soul scene. She’s 60 today.
On January 30th, in 1951, drummer, singer, composer, bagpipes player, actor, bassist, producer, keyboardist, guitarist, songwriter and former member of Genesis-Phil Collins (Phillip David Charles Collins) was born in Chiswick, Middlesex, England. He started playing drums when he was 5 after his parents got him a toy kit for Christmas. He continued to play, attaining real sets as he got older. In his teens, he started receiving training as an actor which he used later in his career for his stage shows. He learned drum rudiments-small patterns that are coupled together to make a larger more complex pattern, from Frank King and Lloyd Ryan. However, Collins had difficulty with reading conventional music which kept him from a lot of opportunities. He devised his own system of writing and used it instead.
His major influences were the session musicians on Stax & Motown records and the Beatles’ Ringo Starr. Collins acted in local plays and was the drummer for Flaming Youth during his teen years (early to late 60s) He made his recording debut with the band in 1969-Ark 2, Uni Records. In 1970, he played drums on George Harrison’s song-Art of Dying on the All Things Must Pass LP. Later that year, he answered an ad for a drummer with Genesis. He got the job, and drummed and sang occasional lead from 1970 to 1975. In 1975, after Peter Gabriel left to pursue a solo career, the band couldn’t find a lead singer so Collins stepped in and they released the LP-A Trick of the Tail (Charisma, Atco, 1976). Collins’ career took off quickly after this release, setting the foundation for a successful solo career in the 80s. He’s 68 today.
On January 30th, in 1942, singer, songwriter, producer, composer, arranger, guitarist and founding member of Jefferson Airplane-Martyn Balin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He moved to San Francisco when he was a child. He started playing guitar around this time and got involved in the music scene. He built a local following, and in 1962, his playing and singing secured him a deal with Challenge Records. He released a single-Nobody but You b/w I Specialize in Love. It did moderately well and shrrtly after Balin formed the folk music quartet-The Town Criers. In 1965, he started Jefferson Airplane at the infamous Matrix nightclub which produced the Sound of San Francisco from ’65 to ’72. He was the major figure, or bandleader if you will, and had the vision for what type of music and imagery they would release to the public.
Their first 2 LPs were mainly written, composed and produced by Balin-Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966) & Surrealistic Pillow (1967). At first, their lrical content was folk based with a pop tinge. However, after the rise in popularity of the hippie counterculture and psychedelia, coupled with the maturation of Slick, Kantner and Kaukonen as songwriters and composers, Balin played a smaller role in the creation of their later music. Not to mention, the ills of fame, egos and an ever changing society to more socially-conscious issues, further alienated Blain from the group. He left the band in 1970 after he was knocked out by a Hells Angel at the Gimme Shelter concert (Altamont, CA). Janis Joplin's death also affected his part from the group. He stated it was a dark time in rock, egos were inflated and drugs were rampant. He returned in 1975 for their revamp, renamed Jefferson Starship. He passed away on September 27th, 2018 when he was 76.
On January 30th, in 1911, seminal jazz trumpeter, sideman, pianist, drummer, bandleader and swing jazz innovator-(David) Roy Eldridge AKA Little Jazz was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Roy started learning piano from his mother when he was 5. She was self-taught and played by ear. She passed this skill on to her son. His older brother-Joe could play cornet, violin and sax. He’s responsible for getting Roy to play the trumpet. Roy played drums and piano for a church band in his early teens, and then later played drums for his brother Joe’s band. He branched out and began forming his own bands that toured the Midwest. Roy had trouble reading music but could duplicate melodies once he heard them. This had an adverse affect on his musical career, but it also made him unique and innovative as a composer. In the late 20s, he started playing with Count Basie, he was 16. In the early 30s, he acted as bandleader for-Roy Elliott and his Palais Royal Orchestra.
They disbanded and he joined the Fletcher Henderson Stompers. In the early 30s, Eldridge moved to NYC and got his nickname-Little Jazz. He was working with Duke Ellington’s big band and their saxophonist Otto Hardwick coined Eldridge-Little Jazz because he played so fiercely but was so small in stature. In the mid 30s, he recorded with Billie Holiday and Fletcher Henderson, having numerous featured solos with the latter. In the early 40s, he started playing with Gene Krupa, transforming his sound from orchestral to jazz. He also recorded with jazz vocalist Anita O’Day, accentuating her singing with his trumpet playing. In the 50s he played with Benny Goodman, and in the 60s he worked with Migus, Dolphy and Max Roach. He was one of the few Black jazz artists that had a permanent role and major input in all-White big bands. The DownBeat Hall of Famer and NEA Jazz Master was 78 when he passed.
HONORABLE MENTION: On January 30th, in 2015, Death Row Records executive/owner-(Marion) Suge Knight was in police custody. Knight was the primary suspect in a hit-and-run accident that occurred the day before. One person was killed-Terry Carter and another was critically injured-Cle Denyale Sloan. Knight was on the scene for the N.W.A. movie Straight Outta Compton. He got into an argument with the two men and then followed them to a fast food restaurant. He ran over them with his truck in the parking lot, and then backed up, and rolled over them again. He claimed he was fleeing because he feared for his safety.
On January 30th, in 1980, NOLA Funk, Jazz, Blues and Soul innovator, singer, songwriter, producer, pianist, composer, arranger and producer-Professor Longhair (Heny Roeland Byrd) passed away in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. TOV covered his birthday on the December 9th post. Please refer to it for additional information. Longhair is most known for shaping the sound of New Orleans piano from the late 40s to the late 70s. He inspired musicians from several genres and left a lasting legacy of music with 100s of recordings as a sideman and the 2 solo LPs he released during the 70s. He was 61 when he passed.
On January 30th, in 1949, choreographer, trumpeter, keyboardist, percussionist, guitarist, flautist and founding member of the Commodores-William King AKA Wak (2nd r) was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He was a prolific tennis player that could’ve went pro, but his passion for music was greater and he stayed with the Commodores. He did some songwriting, and acted as an anchor for the band. His multi-instrument skills were well utilized for studio session and tour dates. He’s 70 today.
On January 30th, in 1921, jazz pianist, sideman and US Army veteran-Bernie Leighton was born in West Haven, Connecticut. He played with several notable big band musicians: Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, James Moody, Duke Ellington, Bob Wilder and Bud Freeman. He also played with vocalists like Billie Holiday and Tony Bennett. He’s recorded for Columbia, Colpix, Capitol, Mercury, Disneyland and Brunswick Records. He was 72 when he died.
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