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Infamous Session Musicians: This post is dedicated to all of the cats that made the backing music for the songs we love...the SESSION MUSICIAN...On November 10th, in 1946, session musician, vocalist, Goodtimes theme song male singer and former member of Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove backing band-James (Earl) Gilstrap was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He got his professional singing start when he returned from the Navy in the late 60s, early 70s after serving during the Vietnam War. He was a member of The Cultures & the Doodletown Pipers (vocal groups). Gilstrap joined Wonderlove in the early 70s. His vocals are featured on Stevie’s Talking Book & Innervisions LPs. He sings the first two lines from You Are the Sunshine of My Life.
He’s recorded session vocals for Roy Ayers, Anita Baker, George Benson, the BlackByrds, Brainstorm, DeBarge, the Jacksons, Michael Jackson, The Brothers Johnson, Quincy Jones, Bobby Lyle, Harvey Mason, Les McCann, David Oliver, Minnie Riperton, Joe Cocker, Patrice Rushen, Kieth Moon, Candi Staton, David T. Walker, Starship, Syreeta Wright, Leon Haywood, and Yarbrough & Peoples to name a few. He put out his debut solo LP on Roxbury Records in 1975 (Swing Your Daddy). A year later he released Love Talk on the same imprint. The latter LP being the better of the two in my opinion, even though the former one charted while the ’76 LP didn’t. Gilstrap is most known for his work as a session singer rather than his solo efforts. He’s 72 today.
On November 10th, in 1997, we lost one of the most recorded guitarists in American Music History. The Wrecking Crew member, sometimes actor, music instructor, mandolin player, composer, sitar player, arranger, songwriter, ukulele player and musician-Tommy J. Tedesco died from complications with lung cancer in Northridge, California. Tedesco was part of the Wrecking Crew which was a Phil Spector backing band for several acts during the 60s through the 80s. Some notables that he worked with include: Sam Cooke, 5th Dimension, Kenny Loggins, Minnie Riperton, Deep Purple, Frank Zappa, Ella Fitzgerald, The Association, Elvis, Cher, Frank Sinatra, The Ronettes, Nancy Sinatra and the Mamas & the Papas.
`He also was heavily used as a TV musician, appearing on shows like: Bonanza, Batman, MASH, the Twilight Zone and Green Acres to name a few. Guitar Player Magazine listed him as the ‘most recorded guitarist in recording history’. He’s also featured on numerous soundtracks from the time: The Godfather, Gloria, The Deer Hunter, Jaws, Rio Lobo and Field of Dreams. Tedesco also released several solo LPs in the Jazz guitar format (9 LPs from 1964 to 1992). He was 67 when he died.
On November 9th, in 2002, we lost a seminal session musician, keyboardist and member of Motown’s Funk Brothers-Johnny Griffith (John Ellis Griffith Jr.). He passed away in Detroit, Michigan from complications with his heart. Griffith was the resident piano and keyboard player for the Funk Brothers which was the backing band for Motown from 1959 when the label first started recording and releasing music, to 1972 when several of the acts signed to the label began to want to play their own music. Griffith was a multi-instrumentalist for the label and the band the Funk Brothers.
He’s a prolific keys player, using the Steinway grand, Wulitzer organ, Celeste, Hammond B-3 organ, Harpsichord and Fender Rhodes (most of which were used on Motown cuts). He can be heard playing on several songs from the imprint during that 13-year span. Singles like: I Heard it Through the Grapevine (Marvin Gaye), Shotgun (Jr. Walker & the All-Stars), Stop! In the Name of Love (The Supremes), I Can’t Hep Myself (Four Tops) and Papa Was a Rolling Stone (Temptations). The Funk Brothers had a unique style that combined Soul with Pop arrangements. Their music was coined: The Sound of Young America.
On November 10th, in 1994, the music world lost an excellent Jazz vocalist, pop singer, pianist, and sometimes actress-Carmen McRae (Carmen Mercedes McRae). She had a stroke a month or so before, her death. Four days prior to her passing, she slid into a coma of sorts. She was 72 years-old when she died. McRae recorded over 50 albums from 1954’s self-titled debut on Bethlehem Records, to 1991’s-Sarah: Dedicated to You LP (on Novus Records). She was nominated for 7 Grammys in the Best Jazz Vocal Performance category (Female, Duo or Group-1971 to 1990).
McRae appeared in 4 films as well, mainly playing herself: Jo Jo Dancer (Richard Pryor’s Grandmother), Hotel (1967-Christine), The Subterraneans (1960-self) and The Square Jungle (1956-herself). From 1976-1982, she made 8 TV appearances. Most notably: Soul (1976), Roots the Next Generation (1979), Carmen McRae in Concert (1979) & Billie Holiday: A Tribute (1981). McRae also recorded for several labels: Atlantic, Blue Note, Novus, Mainstream, Kapp, Decca, Concord and Columbia. She got her start in her late teens playing piano and singing at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem (early 40s). The Harlem native has worked with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Dave Brubeck. Her unique vocals will be missed.
On November 10th, in 2015, we lost an excellent super-producer-Allen Toussaint in Madrid, Spain. The NOLA native (New Orleans, Louisiana) was a seminal producer, pianist, songwriter, singer, composer, arranger and solo artist. He started learning piano around age 5 via his father (trumpeter) and mother’s friends that were musicians, specifically Ernest Pinn. Toussaint was heavily influenced by the music in the area (Soul, Jazz, Blues) and his piano style was based off Pinn’s teachings and Professor Longhair’s second-line style. His first recording was a sit-in for Fats Domino on his I Want You to Know single.
Dave Bartheolomew’s band is where Toussaint stayed as the pianist, while producing, recording and working with others. A year later, he recorded his first LP, all instrumentals-The Wild Sound of New Orleans in 1958. He kept putting out solo joint up to 2009 (The Bright Mississippi). He’s also produced, played piano, written songs for or had them covered by: Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Etta James, Irma Thomas, Merry Clayton, Dr. John, The Meters, LaBelle, John Mayall, Bonnie Raitt, Lee Dorsey, Robert Palmer and Rosemary Butler. He’s recorded for several labels as well: Elektra, Scepter, Reprise, Rounder, Minit, Nonesuch and Instant. He’s one of the people responsible for the New Orleans Funk movement.
Honorable Mention: On November 10th, in 1956, clean comedian, actor, former U of Denver basketball letterman, Funk music promoter and icon-Sinbad (David Adkins) was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The USAF (United States Air Force) boom operator that was constantly going AWOL won a USAF talent contest in 1981. In the early 80s, he appeared on star search as a stand-up and defeated Dennis Miller. In 1987, he got a roll on A Different World as the basketball coach and husband of Jeleesa (Dawn Lewis)-Coach Walter Oakes. He then had the Sindbad Show in the early ‘90s and movie appearances. He put on many concerts with 70s Funk bands called: Sinbad’s Summer Jam. He’s 62 today.
On November 10th, in 1978, Rough Rider Female Emcee, actress, songwriter and singer-Eve (Jihan Jeffers) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She originally was a singer, performing in choirs and the DGP (Dope Girl Posse). They covered R&B songs of the time. She also was a stripper that got convinced by Mase to stop (Late 90s). She got signed by Ruff Ryders Entertainment and put out her solo debut in 1999-Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady. She blew up, for real. She got a TV sit-com deal for three seasons in 2003, appeared in over 10 movies from 2002 to 2016 (Barbershop with Cube), and her voice is featured on the 2003 XIII video game as Major Jones. She’s 40 today.
On November 10th, in 1984, singer, songwriter, drummer, and former Rufus lead singer-Chaka Khan had a number one single debut on the UK singles chart-I Feel for You. The song was produced by the infamous Arif Mardin. It featured Prince’s writing, Stevie Wonder’s harmonica and vocal sample (say yeeeeeahhhh!) and Grandmaster Melle Mel on the rhymes. Interesting fact: The repetitive ‘Chaka Khan’ spoken by Melle Mel at the beginning o the song was a 'sampling' mistake that Madrin made in the studio during the mixing process. He decided to keep it…adds truth to the saying that most great inventions were mistakes…
On November 10th, in 2006, we lost the son of the O’Jay, one of the R&B crooners of LSG, former Levert vocal group lead singer-Gerald Levert. The Philly native, producer, actor, songwriter and son of Eddie Levert was a 80s-90s R&B innovator. His voice can be easily detected amongst a choir of singers. He worked with many artists: Miki Howard, Johnny Gill, Keith Sweat, The Rude Boys, Patti LaBelle, Men at Large and Teddy Pendergrass to name a few. He was 40 years old when he passed at his home in Cleveland, Ohio.
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 Plethora of information, covering several topics exists on this site going back to 2013 when it was created. PEACE!