This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
It’s only half way through the year and already too many important musicians have died (a couple because of Covid-19 – it has a lot to answer for).
LITTLE RICHARD Penniman was one of the three or four most important and influential figures in the early days of rock and roll. He, along with the others, took the music to a wider audience, worldwide really, and made it the dominant force in popular music.
Unlike most other rockers, Richard played piano and wrote his own songs. He gave up music and turned to religion at least twice while he was still popular, but always came back to the music.
His songs have been covered by many artists, most appallingly by Pat Boone. No one performed them better, or more outrageously, than Richard himself. The song that kick started his career is Tutti Frutti. (He was 87)
BOBBY LEWIS was a soul singer who had a giant hit in 1960 with Tossin’ and Turnin’. He had a couple more songs that made the charts, and he kept performing until quite recently, which is remarkable when you consider his age. (97)
JIMMY COBB was a jazz drummer best known for playing on the Miles Davis album, “Kind of Blue”, one of the most important albums in history. He played on other Miles’ albums and later teamed up with several others who played on “Blue” to form their own group. Over the years Jimmy played with all the important jazz players. (91)
For much of his life, BARRY TUCKWELL was the world’s foremost French horn player. He initially studied piano, violin and organ but was given a French Horn when he was 13. He took to it right away, such that he was giving concerts within six months.
He was a member of both the Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras while still a teenager. He later was a member of the London and many other renowned Orchestras. He later went out on his own as a soloist, forming his own chamber group and also became a much in demand conductor.
Barry plays the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata for Horn and Piano in F, Op.17. (78)
JULIE FELIX was an American born singer whose biggest successes came in Britain. It was there where she recorded, toured and appeared on TV, most notably hosting her own program that featured many of the sixties biggest acts early in their careers. (81)
ELLIS MARSALIS was a jazz musician from New Orleans who started out playing saxophone but switched to piano which became his main instrument. He was the father to a family of jazz musicians who have become household names. (85)
DAVID OLNEY died with his boots on. He was performing at a festival when he apologised to the crowd and died of a heart attack.
He was a songwriter of great skill and a poetic bent whose songs were recorded by many others, including Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Tim O’Brien and Del McCoury.
He began performing in the band X-Ray that he formed himself. After a couple of records he went out as a solo performer. Besides his songs, he also wrote poems and sonnets, appearing in Shakespeare festivals. He recorded more than 20 albums. From one of those, “Eye of the Storm”, David performs Queen Anne's Lace. (71)
CARL DOBKINS JR was a singer and songwriter best known for his fifties hit My Heart is an Open Book. He appeared on TV frequently and later joined an Oldies tour. (79)
MILLIE SMALL was the first person to bring ska music to the world at large. Indeed, her song, My Boy Lollipop, is still the best selling ska record. She was born in Jamaica but went to live in England as a teenager and remained there for the rest of her life. (72)
BILL WITHERS seemed destined to a career in engineering until he had a chance encounter with famed musician and producer, Booker T Jones (of Booker T and the MGs).
Booker produced Bill’s first album that contained the song, Ain’t No Sunshine. This song became a world number one hit for him. He had several other hits, including Lean on Me, Lovely Day, Just the Two of Us and others.
His music career was brief, only about 10 years as a big record company took over his contract and insisted he make music their way, in spite of his previous success. Bill was one of music’s good guys, maybe the best of the lot. Here is that first hit (with the 26 “I know”s). (81)
STEVE MARTIN CARO was a founding member and singer for the rock group, The Left Banke. He wrote and sang their first and biggest hit, Walk Away Renée, about his brother’s girlfriend on whom he had a crush. (71)
PAUL ENGLISH was Willie Nelson’s long time friend, drummer and bodyguard – he started with Willie in 1955, and was with him until he died. He was the subject of a terrific song Me and Paul, one of Willie’s best. (87)
KENNY ROGERS was a singer, songwriter, actor, record producer and entrepreneur. Although generally considered a country music performer, he had many crossover hits in the pop charts.
He started his career in the New Christy Minstrels. After that, he and some of the other Christys formed their own group, The First Edition. It was, as the lead singer of that group, he had his first hits.
He later performed on his own and occasionally collaborated with other artists, most notably Dolly Parton. Besides that, he acted in films and in TV programs. Instead of one of his famous hits, I’ve decided to include a lesser known, but really good song, Even a Fool Would Let Go. (81)
JOSEPH SHABALALA was the founder and director of the singing group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They achieved worldwide fame when Paul Simon used them on his “Graceland” album and they toured with him to promote that record. Because of that, the group sold a huge number of records of their own music. (78)
MCCOY TYNER was a jazz pianist who initially worked with John Coltrane and later had a long solo career. His piano style was hugely influential and later jazz pianists started out imitating his style. (81)
ROBERT PARKER was yet another fine New Orleans musician. He started out playing saxophone for Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, Irma Thomas and others.
He turned his hand to singing and started making records. Most of these were minor or regional hits, but he had one major success with the song Barefootin’. (89)
PHIL PHILLIPS wrote the song Sea of Love, recorded it and saw that it hit the top of the charts. However, he received a pittance for it due to the nefarious dealings of his record company. The song has been used often on film soundtracks (especially the one with the same name). (94)
PETER SERKIN was a classical pianist most noted for his interpretation of the works of J.S. Bach. (72)
JOHN PRINE was a songwriter who could break your heart with his songs. Then he would make you laugh with others, or even occasionally the same one. He wrote sensitively and movingly about old age while still in his twenties.
He was generally the best interpreter of his songs, but there are several memorable versions by other artists, generally female. John was done in by Covid-19. I like to think he’d find humor in that, although the rest of us wouldn’t.
I’ll play possibly my favorite song of his, Lake Marie. (73)
BONNIE POINTER was a founding member of the singing group The Pointer Sisters. The four of them really were sisters. They were big in the seventies. Bonnie later had a successful solo career. (69)
BOB SHANE was the last of the original members of the Kingston Trio. The group pretty much single-handedly put folk music on the charts in the late fifties. (85)
MIRELLA FRENI was an Italian operatic soprano who started out singing lighter roles. Halfway through her career (of 50 years) she changed tack and started singing meatier parts.
She was born at the same time and lived next to Luciana Pavorotti. They appeared together numerous times. She was best at Mozart, Puccini, Donizetti and Verdi roles. You can hear just a bit of that from her interpretation of Un Bel Di Vedremo (One Fine Day) from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”. (84)
ERIC WEISSBERG was an American multi-instrumentalist who became known as a banjo player after his version of Dueling Banjos was featured in the film “Deliverance”. Otherwise he had a successful career as a session musician and appeared on many artists’ records.(80)
DON BURROWS was Australia’s most important and celebrated jazz musician for the last 70 years. He played flute, clarinet and saxophone. Over the years he’s played with the cream of the world’s jazz players as well as with symphony orchestras. (91)
HAROLD REID was the bass singer for the Statler Brothers, probably the finest harmony singing group in country music. There was no one named Statler in the group, and only two of them were brothers, Harold and lead tenor Don.
Harold was the driving force of the group who achieved their initial success as Johnny Cash’s backing group. Johnny was instrumental in getting them a recording contract of their own. One of their biggest hits was Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott with Harold starting it off. (80)
BETTY WRIGHT was a soul and rhythm and blues singer whose biggest success was in the seventies. She won a Grammy for best soul song and her music was sampled often by lesser performers. (66)
FLOYD LEE was a blues guitarist and singer who performed in New York’s subways and streets for many decades. He later found success as a recording artist and as the subject of an excellent documentary of his life. (86)
LYNN HARRELL was one of the finest cello players of recent times. He had a good start in the classical music biz with a father who was an opera singer at the Met and a mother who was a violinist.
Lynn attended Juilliard but both parents died when he was in his late teens. By that time he had a gig in the Cleveland Orchestra. After that he played with many of the world’s great orchestra and often teamed up with pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy to play cello sonatas, especially those of Beethoven.
Here they are with the first movement of Sonata for Cello and Piano No.5 in D, Op.102 No.2. (76)
DARICK CAMPBELL was one of three brothers in The Campbell Brothers (as well as their nephew). They played “sacred steel” music, religious music with heavily amplified guitars, including the pedal steel. They were often joined by master blues pedal steel player Robert Randolph. The group was much admired by rock and blues musicians. (53)
KEITH TIPPETT was a British jazz pianist who also played prog rock. Although not a member, he played with such groups as King Crimson and the Soft Machine, as well as gigs with his wife, the musician Julie Driscoll. (72)
VERA LYNN was a British singer, songwriter and entertainer who became a huge success with her songs during the Second World War, not just in Britain but around the world as well. She performed for troops in Egypt, Burma and India and elsewhere.
She thought that her singing career would be over when war broke out but that was proved wrong. She kept singing afterwards for several decades and never lost her popularity. I had to play her most famous song, We’ll Meet Again, her signature tune. (103)