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On December 21st, 1992, we lost a very important figure in music, one of the three Kings Of The Blues, singer, songwriter, drummer, producer, and self-proclaimed half brother of B.B. King-Albert King (Albert Nelson). He was an Indianola, Mississippi native that spent a lot of his time working in the fields near Forrest City, Arkansas. He also sang in church with his family. King came from a large family of 13 kids. His father played guitar and sang as well. The left-hander developed a unique playing style, learning first on a homemade guitar made from a cigar box, broom wire, and a broom stick. He bought his first guitar for less than $2. He was self-taught, stringing his guitar the standard right-hand way; but reversing the way he played (he would strum down/pull down on the strings instead of strumming/plucking upward). His major influences were Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jimmy Reed (whom he played drums for), and Lonnie Johnson.
His half-brother B.B. was already a well-known musician at the time that Albert made his first recording in 1953: Bad Luck Blues b/w Be On Your Merry Way on Parrot Records (b/w=backed with). To add to his notoriety, audience numbers, radio play, and record sales, people would bill Albert as B.B.’s brother-and sometimes as B.B. himself. He developed a nickname during this time: "The Velvet Bulldozer." People attribute the name to him having a job as a bulldozer driver, his singing voice being velvety smooth, and his stature (6’4” over 200 lbs). He recorded and performed all through the 50s in the Midwest & South (Chicago, St. Louis primarily), further refining his skills and stage presence. In 1961, he released the hit Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong (which peaked at #14 on the R&B chart). This led to him getting a recording contract with King Records, and released his debut LP The Big Blues (1962). He toured off the momentum of his 1961 hit and 1962 LP. In the mid 60s, he moved to Memphis, and signed to Stax, releasing the seminal Blues Funk LP-Born Under A Bad Sign (1967). The music he made on the Stax label would define the Blues/Funk star’s sound. He was 69 when he passed away.
On December 21, 1902, a legendary Bluesman was born-and died in 1941. One that helped shape the sound & lyrics of Funk, Soul, Rock, and Hip Hop musicians yet to come-the Spiritual Ancestor of Rap; the one musician that has a Blaxploitation film named after him starring Rudy Ray Moore-Peetie Wheatstraw (William Bunch) was born in Ripley, TN. Peetie Wheatstraw, The Devil’s Son-In-Law aka The High Sheriff From Hell, is said to have been born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas where he’s buried (according to Bluesman Big Joe Williams). The jury is still out on that one though. Limited information exists on Wheatstraw’s childhood; but it’s said that he moved to East St. Louis during the early 1920s. By the late 20s, he had become a skilled musician on the piano and guitar.
He gigged mostly at Club Lovejoy in East Boogie, and other juke joints around the area. He built a strong following throughout the 20s, having a heavy presence in the St. Louis music scene. In 1930, he made his first recording with Document Records. Unlike a lot of musicians, that weren’t afforded the privilege of recording songs during The Great Depression (1929-1940), Wheatstraw continued to record, perform, and create music. A prolific Bluesman, he recorded over 20 songs in two years (1930-1932). He cut 161 sides in all. His discography, for the time period and genre he recorded under (Pre-War Blues) is only surpassed by four other artists: Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Bumble Bee Slim (Amos Easton), & Big Bill Broonzy. A rich ‘Folk’ history exists surrounding his name…TOV will cover this in future posts. He was 39 years old when he died.
SOUTHERN SOUL: On December 21, 1942, The Queen Of Memphis Soul, singer, songwriter and daughter of label mate Rufus Thomas-Carla (Venita) Thomas was born in Memphis, Tennessee. As a child Thomas was surrounded by music, especially from her father Rufus-an aspiring artist, radio DJ, talent scout, and showcase host. By the time she was 10, she was an active member in The Teen Town Singers. The showcases that her father would host at The Palace Theater on Beale Street saw the likes of teen-aged Maurice White, David Porter, Isaac Hayes, and Booker T. Jones. All of these men became prominent forces on the Stax label, and in The Memphis Soul/Funk movement, including the host Rufus Thomas.
Carla continued to sing with the Teen Town singers, making Wed & Fri weekly rehearsal, and Saturday WDIA live radio appearances on her father's show until her senior year (seven years with the band). Before she graduated from Hamilton HS, she made her first recording as a duet with her father-Cause I Love You (1960). Later that same year, after she’d graduated and was attending college at Tennessee State University in Nashville, TN, she released her biggest hit-Gee-Whiz. She wrote the song when she was 15 years old. It was a top 10 single on the R&B (#5) and Pop charts (#10-1961). She had a few other Top 20 singles, duet sides & LPs with Otis Redding; but her self-penned song at 15 years old was the one that did better than all of the other songs written by others…She turns 76 today.
On December 21st, in 1953, singer, songwriter, talent scout & Miami Funk innovator-Betty Wright (Bessie Regina Wright) was born in Miami, Florida. She’s been sampled by several Hip Hop producers, and has the infamous live LP that contains a long version of Tonight Is The Night (DJ Quik). Beyonce used Wright's first hit single Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do (1968). She recorded most of her music on Alston Records, the seminal Funk label…if you see any LPs or 45 RPMs on Alston from the late 60s to mid 70s, buy them. She had at least one hit song, every decade from the 1960s to 1980s, including:
Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do (1968), Clean Up Woman (1975-Blahzy Blah), No Pain No Gain (1988). That’s just a few of her musical accomplishments, considering she started recording gospel songs with her siblings-The Echoes Of Joy-when she was three years old in 1956. The group dissolved in 1965; and Wright started singing R&B. She was discovered at a showcase, and got signed, when she was 12. Her name rang out locally after she released her first single Thank You Baby b/w Paralyzed (1966). In 1967 she brought in George & Gwen McCrae; who both signed to Alston and had successful careers. She released her first LP when she was 14, My First Time Around (1968), which contains the hit single Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do. She went on to record several LPs for Alston from the late 60s through the 70s. She‘s 65 today.
POP: On December 21st, 1970 a very interesting situation took place between Elvis Pressley & Richard Nixon at the White House. Elvis pulls up in his stretch limo, we’ll say it was early afternoon…he has one of his bodyguards give a letter he wrote to the Secret Service on hand. It was for Nixon, urging him to meet with Elvis so they could discuss how 'The King’ could help him fight drugs…but not just ideologically…No. Elvis wanted to be official, and get credentials as a Federal Agent at Large…Elvis waits in his limo for a response…that’s real, like shhhh-I’m Elvis B! Better acknowledge my letter right now…He waited too long I guess, because a couple hours later, he’s out the limo walking into the Oval Office STRAPPED dressed like Elvis in the 70s (huge specs, medallions, colorful gear)...
He hands Nixon the Chrome Plated .45 he was carrying as a gift, a conversation ensues, and then Nixon agrees to give him a NB badge (Narcotics Bureau). WTF?! Elvis hadn’t been trained or anything…It’s Elvis, he can do anything (Mikey Life cereal theory-my real heads know)…Now the thing that brought Elvis to Nixon was that the Chief of The NB had turned him down the day before, and told him that the only person that could override his decision was Nixon…Elvis wanted to keep the whole incident on the Quiet Tip; but The Washington Post aired it out about a year later, (January 27th, 1972).
HONORABLE MENTION: On December 21, 1931, NEA Jazz Master (2000), Down Beat Jazz Hall Of Famer (1994), Grammy winner (1979), Pulitzer Prize nominee (1973), sideman, bandleader, composer, arranger, and former Jazz trombonist-David Nathaniel Baker Jr was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. He had an injury to his jaw early in his career. This left him unable to play, but not unable to compose. He’s written over 2000 songs and is currently a Professor/Chairman of The Jazz Department at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. He’s 87 today.
On December 21st, in 1940, singer, songwriter, author, filmmaker, guitarist, bassist, composer, arranger, producer, and Prog Rock innovator-Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland (The Wire). TOV has covered a lot of information on Zappa and his associations with Prog Rock, Psychedelic Rock, and Fusion Jazz. He’s listed as the 71st out of 100 Greatest Artists Of All Time; and 22nd out of 100 Of The Greatest Guitarists of All Time, by Rolling Stones Magazine. He fused Jazz, Funk, Blues, Ambient and Rock. Zappa died at 52.
Sidebar: the following actor’s role in Django really upset me! On December 21st, 1948, actor, comedian, producer and film producer-Samuel (Leroy) Jackson was born in Washington, D.C. He’s appeared in several movies, plays, TV shows, and commercials during his career. I like him in School Daze (KFC scene), Jungle Fever (Gator), the Star Wars prequels, The Avengers series, and The Negotiator. Jackson battled addiction during the early years of his acting career. I believe this battle contributed to his skills and ability to make his roles more believable. He’s 69 today.
On December 21st, in 2012, we lost the bassist, songwriter, arranger, and original member of Iron Butterfly-(Douglas) Lee Dorman. He passed away in Laguna, California (70). Dorman got his start on bass when he was a teen He moved from The Midwest to San Diego, in the early 60s, and started gigging around the area. By the late 1960s, he was recording with Iron Butterfly-who had a 1968 hit song In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. He also worked with the band Captain Beyond in the early 1970s.
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!