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On January 17th, in 2016, we lost a seminal Funk & Jazz artist, fluegelhorn player, tromobonist, session musician, trumpeter and member of Tower of Power-Mic Gillette (seated-r). He passed away in Concord, California. Gillette was considered a child prodigy. His father was a trombonist that played for Stan Kenton and Tommy Dorsey. He had other brass instruments in the house, and Mic got a hold of one of his trumpets and started playing. He was reading music by the time he was 4. In the mid 60s, he joined an early version of Tower of Power called the Motowns (he was 15). They were a Jazz, Soul, Funk outfit with an impressive horn section that came out of the San Francisco Bay area (East Bay).
Their music was a merge between the sounds of Sly Stone (area native) and the hippie counterculture music-Psychedelic & Blues based Rock. In 1968, he doubled between Tower of Power & Cold Blood, which was another area band featuring Lydia Pense on, lead vocals. They also had a similar sound to Tower of Power, but with a female on lead, and more Rock in their sound. He got his recording debut with Cold Blood in 1969 on their self-titled debut. He was first trumpet in the Tower of Power horn section for their debut: East Bay Grease (Fillmore Records, 1970). He toured and recorded with both bands throughout the 70s, and did session work for others. In 1984, he called it quits for 11 years. In 1995, he released a solo LP-Newvo Kids and joined the Sons of Champlin in 1998. He was 64 when he passed.
On January 17th, in 1970, we lost a Soul & Blues pianist, singer, songwriter, drummer, session musician and bandleader-Billy Stewart (William Larry Stewart II). He passed away in Smithfield, North Carolina. If you’re a fan of Gospel, Soul & Blues from the mid 50s to the late 60s, then Stewart is one of those musicians that you’ve heard, but may not have known who he was. He either is playing drums, piano, singing or doing any combination of those three on a song from that era. He got his professional start when he was 12. He played piano and sang gospel in the DC area with his brothers-James, Frank & Johnny: The Four Stewart Brothers. They had a reoccurring live program every Sunday on WUST-AM.
In his teens, he started doing secular music and would sit-in with the Rainbows-a vocal group featuring Don Convey as lead singer (early to mid 50s). He met some prominent artists while he was with the Rainbows: a young Marvin Gaye and Bo Diddley. In fact, Stewart was discovered by Bo Diddley in 1955, who also invited him to be the pianist in his band. Diddley got him a deal with Chess records and played guitar on his first secular single-Billy’s Blues (1956). In the late 50s, he signed with Okeh Records and released Billy’s Heartache which featured the Marquees on backup vocals (with Marvin Gaye). He returned to Chess in the 60s and had some success with them. Most notably, his 1966 LP-Unbelievable produced a top 10 single-Summertime (cover of George Gershwin’s song). He was 32 when he passed.
On January 17th, in 1945, singer, songwriter and founding member of the Delfonics-William ‘Poogie’ Hart (inset-l, below-c) was born in Washington, D.C. Poogie’s family moved to Philadelphia when he was young. He attended Overbrook High School and started a few doo wop groups with his classmates: The Veltones, The Four Guys, Little Hart & the Everglows and the Four Gents. In his late teens, he founded the Orphonics (1964): Donald Cannon, William Hart (lead), Stanley Lathan & Randy Cain (below-l). Lathan and Cannon left, so Hart added is his brother Wilbert Hart (below-r) to the group making them a trio. William was different in that he didn’t do many covers when he performed, most of his songs were originals. A year later in 1965, he met producer Thom Bell who changed their name to the Delfonics, and got them a record deal with Moon Shot Records.
They released William’s original song in 1966: He Don’t Really Love You b/w Without You. They released two more singles on Calla & Cameo Records in 1967, before the latter closed it’s doors for good. They joined Stan Watson’s Philly Groove Records and released La La (Means I Love You) in 1968 (recorded at Cameo-Parkway). It was a smash, selling over a million copies. They released a ‘hurry-up’ debut LP later that year-La La Means I Love You. It did moderately well. They rounded out the 60s, but the changes in sound and personnel (Randy Cain-inset l-formed Blue Magic in 1971), caused them fully disband by the mid 70s. It wasn’t all bad, their 60s hits allowed Hart to continue to perform throughout the 80s to the current date. He’s 74 today.
On January 17th, in 1942, sports icon, humanitarian, actor, activist, Olympic gold medalist and former heavyweight champion of the world-Muhammad Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali wasn’t necessarily a born fighter as much as he was born into circumstances that made him want to fight..inside and outside of the ring. His bike was stolen when he was 12. Ali found a policeman, reported the incident and expressed is disgust and what he’d do to the bike thief if he found him. The officer, Joe Martin, told Ali to learn to box first before running up on the bike thief. A few weeks later, Ali was in the gym getting trained by Fred Stoner. He credits Stoner with giving him the foundation of his style and stamina. He also was trained by Chuck Bodak during the later years of his amateur career. In 1960, when Ali was 18, he went to the Olympics and won the gold. He went pro right after this, and started fighting with the top contenders.
His professional debut occurred on October 29th, 1960. He won a 6 round decision over Tunney Hunsaker. It wasn’t an easy road for Ali, even though he’d achieved a 19-0 record leading up to the Liston fight. For instance, Doug Jones, Sonny Banks and Henry Cooper all scored knockdowns on Ali. In 1963, he moved to Miami and started training with Angelo Dundee. Angelo made Ali become a student of the sport, and he studied Sugar Ray Robinson heavily. So much so that he patterned his style off of him, transferring it to heavyweight and even asked Ray to be his trainer. He shook up the world when he defeated Sonny Liston for the title in 1964. As with all of his wins in fights where he was underrated or doubted, Ali did it big, and made sure to call out the naysayers, and the rounds the probable winners would fall. He was 74 when he passed.
On January 17, in 1934, pianist, composer, producer, sideman, arranger, bandleader and Hard Bop innovator-Cedar (Anthony) Walton Jr. was born in Dallas, Texas. His mother was a concert pianist and taught him the family trade early on. She often took him to jazz concerts, and played his major influences on vinyl around the house: Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Nat King Cole, Art Tatum. He played piano throughout high school and went to Dillard University to major in music composition. He transferred to the University of Denver and switched his major to music education. This allowed him to learn how to arrange and compose for other instruments. He also frequented jazz events around Denver and got a chance to sit-in and meet John Coltrane, Richie Powell ad Charlie Parker. They all spoke highly of NYC and the jazz scene there, urging Walton to move.
He obliged them in 1955, but got drafted into the Army shortly after. While enlisted he played with Eddie Harris and Don Ellis. Once out, he returned to New York and started performing and recording with Coltrane, JJ Johnson, Benny Golson, Art Farmer and Gigi Gyrce. He joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the early 60s. Blakey’s lineup changed often and served as the ‘training’ camp for jazz artists. At the time that Walton joined, other members included: Wayne Shorter (sax), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet). Walton used his time in the Jazz Messengers to hone his composing and arranging skills. He left them in 1964 and started working as a solo artist, sideman with others and as the house pianist at Prestige. He released his first solo LP on the label in 1967-Cedar!. He recorded over 20 LPs from 1967 to 1979, and over 40 from 1980 to 2011. The NEA Jazz Master was 79 when he passed.
HONORABLE MENTION: On January 17th, in 1928, actress, dancer, singer, songwriter, activist and author-Eartha Mae Kitt was born in (North) Saint Matthews, SC. TOV covered her death on the December 25th post. Please refer to it for more information. Ironic enough, the woman sang Santa Baby-passed away on Christmas day. She’s the infamous actress behind Cat Woman's mask on Batman. Kitt started acting in 1950, but was a stage singer and dancer before that. She’s released LPs, been in numerous films and has a lengthy history of speaking her mind. She was 81 when she died.
On January 17th, in 1953, Born on this day, signer, songwriter, musician and co-founding member of the Emotions-Sheila Hutchinson was born in Chicago, Illinois. Shelia was the youngest, and the lead vocalist for the trio who got their start singing gospel with their father (the Hutchinson Sunbeams). In 1969, they turned secular, signed with Stax Records, and released their Isaac Hayes & David Porter produced debut-Untouched. They went on to work with Maurice White & Earth Wind & Fire from the mid 70s to the early 80s. She’s 66 today.
On January 17th, in 1956, singer, guitarist, songwriter, bassist and blue-eyed soul innovator-Paul Young was born in Luton, England. He played bass with a lot of cover bands early on, and began signing lead with Kat Kool & the Kool Kats in the mid 70s. He joined Streetband in the late 70s, and sang lead on their 1979 UK hit-Toast. Young lost and added some members to the Streetband, which evolved into the Q-Tips. He’s most known for his 1985 hit-Every Time You Go Away, and has a distinct soulful voice. Young is 63 today.
On January 17th, in 1996, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame hosted its 11th annual induction ceremony. This class included some prominent artists that have truly influenced the sound of modern music. In no particular order, the following musicians were inducted: David Bowie, Little Willie John, The Shirelles, Jefferson Airplane, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Pete Seeger, The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd and Tom Donahue. Blues, Blues Rock, Soul, Psychedelic Rock, Pop and Prog Rock were all represented well in this class.
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