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On December 17th, 1951, singer, songwriter, and member of the vocal trio The Emotions-Wanda Hutchinson (l) was born in Chicago, Illinois. Wanda was the youngest of three sisters. She sang back up for the group, with her older sister Jeanette (c), while the eldest sister Shelia (r) sang lead. Their father (Joe Hutchinson) taught them how to sing and play music when they were very young. They started singing gospel in the Chicago area, and appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show under the name: Heavenly Sunbeams in 1958. They were only five to seven years old when they made their television debut. For the next 10 years or so, they slightly altered the name of their group to The Hutchinson Sunbeams (late 50s to late 60s).
They were heavily influenced by Mahalia Jackson, who was also singing gospel in the Chicago area during Wanda’s (l) childhood. Right before they moved on to the secular music world, their father renamed the group again to Three Ribbons And A Beau. By 1968, they had recorded with Twin Stacks Records, releasing Somebody New b/w Brushfire. They changed their name to The Emotions and got a referral to record at Stax Records by The Staples Singers, who also had ties to the label. In 1969, they released their first single on the imprint: So I Can Love You b/w Got To Be The Man (produced by Isaac Hayes & David Porter). Their careers were off and running at this point. They appeared in Wattstax, and worked heavily with Earth Wind & Fire during the 70s. A lot of Hip Hop producers have sampled their work. Wanda is 67 years-old today.
On December 17th, 1950, Reggae & Ska drummer, percussionist, singer, songwriter, and session musician-Carlton Carly Barrett AKA Carly The Field Marshall was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Carlton is the younger brother of Aston "Family Man" Barrett (bassist, guitarist, vocalist and keyboardist for Bob Marley And The Wailers). Carlton got his start in his teens playing guitar at first, which he wasn’t very good at, and later drums. He notes one of his major influences was Lloyd Knibb-drummer with the infamous Skatalites. He & his brother started out as a duo calling themselves The Soul Mates, then later The Rhythm Force, and finally The Hippy Boys. The Hippy Boys lineup at one time, included Max Romeo.
They served as a backing band for studios and singers on the island during the late 60s. In 1969, Carlton began working with the original Wailers: Bunny, Peter, and Bob. They were also original members of Lee Scratch Perry’s band The Upsetters. After Peter & Bunny left The Wailers, around 1973, Carlton (r) & Aston (l) stayed-remaining with Bob until his death is 1981. Carlton can be heard playing drums or percussion on every Bob Marley recording dating back to 1969. Other notable artists that Carlton worked with include: Slim Smith, Harry J, Sonia Pottinger, and Delano Stewart. He was 36 years-old when he was murdered, via a set-up orchestrated by his spouse, in 1987.
On December 17th, 1942, singer, songwriter, producer, harmonica player, and founding member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band-Paul (Vaughn) Butterfield was born in Chicago, Illinois. He started off playing classical flute; but fell in love with harmonica after hearing the (authentic) Chicago Blues in the late 50s. Being a Chicago native (Hyde Park Area/South Side resident) allowed him the opportunity to hear and learn from artists like Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter. They’d let Butterfield sit in with them at jam sessions. He also met his musical partner during this time-Nick Gravenites (guitarist, singer, songwriter). Both of them would perform as Nick & Paul on the college circuit (mostly coffee houses and small venues).
He met another person he’d add to his band in the early 60s-Blues guitarist Elvin Bishop. Butterfield paid his dues in The Black community, by living in the area that Blues was being created, by taking part in learning and creating it-and by living the Bluesman lifestyle. Many musicians at the time accepted him as a legitimate artist in their genre. In 1963, He secured a record deal with Elektra after Paul A. Rothchild heard his band perform. By the time 1965 rolled around, Butterfield’s band had been featured on the compilation Folksong ’65 and the follow up What’s Shakin’ in 1966. Both appearances brought the band more notoriety, and helped them have a successful musical career. He was 44 when he died.
On December 17th, 1937, one of the funkiest men on earth was born-Art Neville (Arthur Lanon Neville) in The NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana). Art is a keyboardist, singer, bandleader, songwriter, pianist, producer, and co-founding member of The Meters. His influences include: Professor Longhair, Bill Doggett, James Booker, & Booker T. Jones. He got his start on piano in grade school, performing with his brothers during his early childhood years. While in high school, he started a band called The Hawketts, and recorded Mardi Gras Mambo in 1954 for Chess Records. The song went on to become a Mardi Gras anthem. In the early 60s, Neville co-founded The Neville Sounds featuring his brothers Aaron (vocals/guitar) & Cyril (vocals/percussionist)-plus George Porter (vocals/bass), Leo Nocentelli (lead guitar) and Ziggy Modeliste (drums).
After Aaron and Cyril left the band, Neville renamed them The Meters. Most note them as the band that innovated, created, and embodied NOLA Funk. They acted as the backing band for local and traveling acts; as well as releasing their own sides in the late 60s. They released eight primarily instrumental LPs from 1969 to 1977-with 1971 and 1973 being the only years during that stretch when they didn’t release an album. All of their music from this era has been sampled and interpolated by many. In 1978, Art, with his brothers Aaron, Charles and Cyril formed The Neville Brothers. They released several LPs,between 1978 and 2004. In 1994, while still with The Neville Brothers, Art reunited Batiste, Porter and Nocentelli-calling themselves The Funky Meters. He’s 81 today, and still making music!
On December 17, 1982 Delta Bluesman, vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and producer-Joseph Lee “Big Joe” Williams passed away in Macon, Mississippi. Williams was a traveler, or as they called them back then, a hobo. He got his start very young, and eventually joined The Rabbit Foot Minstrels in the early 20s-the Black performance troupe that ran from the 1900-1950s owned by Pat Chappelle. In 1930, he got his recording debut with The Birmingham Jug Band. They recorded a few sides for Okeh Records. Williams brought a teen-aged Muddy Waters ‘along for the ride’ during the early 30s. Waters would play back up harp, and sing vocals with Big Joe. Williams can be quoted as saying the following about Muddy:
"I picked Muddy up in Rolling Fork when he was about 15. He went all around the Delta playing harmonica behind me. But I had to put him down after awhile. All these women were coming up to me and saying, 'Oh. your young son is so nice!' See, I had to put Muddy down because he was taking away my women." In the mid 30s, he was around the St. Louis area, and got signed to Bluebird Records, after their producer Lester Melrose caught a few of Big Joe’s performances. Big Joe recorded for several labels from the 30s through the 60s (Trumpet, Prestige, Delmark, and Vocalion). He influenced the revival of Folk music in the 60s, which was spearheaded by Dylan & Mitchell. He also recorded over 15 LPs, from 1958 to 1974 (about 1 every year). He was inducted into The Blues Hall of Fame in 1992 (posthumously). Big Joe was 79 when he passed away.
On December 17th, 2010 we lost a legendary Psychedelic-Blues-Rock musician, singer, producer, poet, songwriter, composer, film director, painter, author, multi-instrumentalist: sax, oboe, clarinet-harmonica-shehnai-and brass horn player-Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet). He died in Arcata, California, when he was 69 years-old. Beefheart started out as a graphic artist, painting and sculpting when he was three. By age nine, he was winning children’s sculpting competitions. He was viewed as a child prodigy by many, even lecturing at The Los Angeles Art Institute in the 50s (as a pre-teen). He says his parents discouraged his artistic expressions, especially sculpting, because it was viewed as ‘queer’.
This can’t be entirely true, based on the amount of time and money his parents invested into his art career. Needless to say, by the late 50s, he was dabbling in music-mostly Delta Blues and Jazz. Artists like John Coltrane and Muddy Waters were early influences. He met Frank Zappa by this time; and made some experimental recordings with him. Beefheart had un-diagnosed dyslexia-and because of this, had trouble reading music, cue cards, and writing songs. However, his un-diagnosed reading disability didn’t stop him from recording over a dozen LPs and making #58 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time with his Trout Mask Replica LP (1969). His passing was due to complications with MS.
Honorable Mention: On December 17th, 1939 singer songwriter, and original co-founding member of The Temptations-Eddie Kendricks (Edward James Kendricks) was born in Union Springs, Alabama. TOV covered his death on the October 5th post. He not only sang with The Temptations, but also had a successful solo career with hits like: If You Let Me, My People Hold On, Keep On Trucking, Boogie Down, He’s A Friend, Baby You Need a Change of Mind, Intimate Friends, and Can I-all of which have been sampled by everyone from Ice Cube to Talib Kweli. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame singer’s falsetto is greatly missed!
On December 17th, 1999, actor, songwriter, singer, and the narrative voice in most Spaghetti Westerns and Disney nature documentaries-Rex (Elvie) Allen died from his injuries following a car accident in his own driveway (Tucson, AZ). He’s coined "The Voice Of The West," narrating most Westerns from the 50s to the 70s. He’s also the narrator for Charlotte’s Web (1973). He penned and performed a Top 20 hit with Don’t Go Near The Indians, sticking to his Western traditions. He was 78 years-old when he died.
On December 17th, 1999, saxophonist, flautist, bandleader, sideman, and Fusion Jazz innovator-Grover Washington Jr. passed away from complications with his heart in Manhattan, NYC, NY. TOV covered his birth on the December 12th post. Washington recorded for four labels: Kudu (a subsidiary of CTI), Motown (first Jazz artist to get signed to the label), Elektra, and Columbia. He started playing when he was 8 years-old, after his father gave him his first horn. His professional career started in the late 60s, and continued on to the day of his death (he died in the green room at CBS Studios after recording 4 songs for The Early Show). He was 56 years-old when he passed away.
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!