The Sad Death of Kirsty MacColl

The death of Kirsty MacColl at 41 made world headlines. She was at a peak in her career, following the release of an acclaimed new album, and tributes poured in from showbusiness colleagues, friends and fans; obituaries stressed not only her unusually wide-ranging gifts as a singer and lyricist, but also her warm, unpretentious, outspoken nature, which made her a controversial and much-loved figure in the music business. At the time of the accident James Knight had been relaxing at their rented villa, so he was able to give Newlove little information.

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Kirsty MacColl had been working 18 months straight and was looking forward to the trip. She planned to introduce her sons to scuba diving in the beautiful diving environment at Cozumel. Her mother dropped by the night before they left the U.K. for supper, and they made plans for Christmas. Kirsty was killed at age 41 in a boat propeller accident that made world headlines. Her funeral was held in Mortlake Crematorium in London.

Kirsty MacColl, well known female British recording artist, was scuba diving in Mexico off Cozumel Island with a friend (James Knight) and a dive master (Ivan Diaz) on the afternoon of 18 December 2000. As they surfaced from a dive she saw a large powerboat was bearing down on her and her two sons (13 and 15 years of age). According to reports, she swam to one, moved him out of the way, then grabbed her other son to protect him. She was struck by the propeller, “killed instantly, her body nearly sliced in half by the propeller” according to a report published by her mother, Jean Newlove / Jean MacColl. The son she first pushed out of the way was also struck, but not severely. The boat belonged to a wealthy, influential Mexican businessman. He claims the boat was operated by an employee, but Jean MacColl suspects it was driven by the wealthy businessman. Kirsty MacColl’s mother and those who assisted her, were unable to penetrate the protection, challenges, and roadblocks surrounding the event to positively discern the truth. The investigation was officially dropped in December 2009.

A 31 foot boat, The Percalito, was owned by then 67 year old, Guillermo Gonzalex Novo, owner of a large Mexican supermarket chain, Comercial Mexicana (known as La Comercial or La Corner, and many other businesses. Mr.Nova was on the boat along with his family, a baby granddaughter, and a hired deck hand, Jose Cen Yam, age 26. Jose claimed to be driving the boat and only going about 1 knot per hour at the time of the accident. He did not possess a license to operate a craft this large. Nova was the only licensed individual on board.Jean MacColl, and many others, suspect Mr. Nova was actually at the helm. Many eye witnesses claim the boat was going much faster in the restricted zone.

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McColl’s sons returned to London almost immediately after the accident, and over Christmas, although Jamie was unable to discuss the accident, Louis, Newlove’s youngest grandson, filled in more of the horrific details. “We were going to do two dives,” Louis recalled. “On the first, about 2pm, we all went down together. There were wonderful things there. I came up to the surface first, Mummy was next to me. I said, ‘Wow!’ She smiled and said, ‘Great!’ Then she suddenly screamed, ‘Look out!’ and tried to push us out of the way. The boat was already over us — I could see the propellers.” Swimming fast in the direction in which his mother had pushed him, he noticed the sea becoming tinged with red. “I was swimming in Mummy’s blood. I heard Jamie shout, “Where’s Mummy?” I screamed that she’d been hit, and to swim the other way and not look back.


Cen Yam was found guilty, sentenced two two years and ten months, but allowed to pay about $90 U.S. in lieu of his serving his sentence. He also paid about $2,150 U.S. to the MacColl family in restitution. Some reports claim he was paid to take the blame.

Two Kirsty MacColl autopsy reports were produced. The first autopsy was performed in Mexico, the second autopsy was performed by Dr. Richard Shepherd, St. Georges Hospital Medical School, London, England.

The autopsy reports she was sliced open from the back of her neck to her waist, part of her chest and her left leg were almost severed, Dr. Richard Shepherd thought she might have had a mastectomy due to all the missing parts.

Kirsty MacColl’s mother, Jean MacColl, launched a Justice for Kirsty campaign, and was aided by many of Kirsty’s followers. They generally felt Mr. Novo was at the helm and should be called to justice for his actions.They went about their efforts by raising funds and trying to get the Mexican government to reopen the case. Jean & Kirsty

In 2005, the BBC released a documentary, “Who Killed Kirsty MacColl”.

In February 2006 with some encouragement from the  U2 band frontman, Bono, the Mexican government said they would take actionThe group applied to the the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. IN May 2006 a Mexican federal prosecutor was found liable for breach of authority in his handling of the Kirsty MacColl case.

December 2009, Justice for Kirsty disbanded saying “it was unlikely than any more could be achieved”. Their remaining funds were split between two charities.

Kirsty married a music producer, Steve Lillywhite, in 1985 and focused on raising their two sons. Divorced in 1995, she later fell in love with musician James Knight. With Steve Lillywhite and her two sons

Her whole life was spent in the entertainment world, her father a folk singer, her mother a dancer, her ex-husband a producer, herself a singer and song writer, her current boyfriend a musician. Her friends were entertainers. She probably had an interesting perspective on the life of an entertainer.

English songwriter and singer Kristy MacColl had hits with such albums as “Kite” (1989), “Titanic Days” (1994) and “Tropical Brainstorm” (2000). Her first hit as a songwriter was “They Don’t Know” for Tracey Ullman in 1983. Her trademark style is a sharp wit allied to strong melodies. Her work combines these with Cuban and Brazilian rhythms, creating her most upbeat collection yet. She has written and performed theme songs for three British TV series. Surprisingly for such a gifted writer, her biggest single hits have been cover versions, notably “Days” by Ray Davies, Billy Bragg‘s “New England” and of course “Fairytale of New York” with The Pogues. Kirsty MacColl was beloved by many and still has a strong following.

Kristy had a beautiful voice and a wonderfully plaful attitude. I have certainly not listened to all her recordings, but personally, I like her version of  “Days”. It demonstrates her lovely voice.  I would also suggest listening to her 2000 album “Tropical Brainstorm” which displays brilliant songwriting, a catchy Calypso beat, and rather naughty lyrics.





The Ballad of the Green Berets

Like many of us who grew up in 1960’s, this song played a big part in understanding the role of the Army, in general, and the Green Berets, in particular,

during this difficult time. I can remember singing it with my fellow third graders at the Cove Montserrat School in Beverly, MA during the Memorial Day commemoration. I remember finding it very moving.

“The Ballad of the Green Berets” is a patriotic song in the ballad style about the Green Berets, an elite force in the U.S. Army. It is one of the very few songs of the 1960s to cast the military in a positive light and in 1966 it became a major hit, reaching No. 1 for five weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and four weeks on Cashbox. Ultimately, the song was named Billboard’s #1 single for the year 1966. It was also a crossover smash, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart and No. 2 on Billboard’s Country survey. It has sold over nine million copies on singles and albums.

The song was written by Robin Moore and Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, while the latter was recuperating from a leg wound suffered as a medic in the Vietnam War. Moore also wrote a book, The Green Berets, about the force. The tune itself is borrowed from the traditional American folk song “The Butcher Boy”.

Lyrics include:

“Back at home a young wife waits

Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her this last request

Put silver wings on my son’s chest
Make him one of America’s best
He’ll be a man they’ll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret”

The lyrics were written in honor of Green Beret US Army Specialist 5 James Gabriel, Jr., the first native Hawaiian to die in Vietnam, who was killed by Viet Cong gunfire while on a training mission on April 8, 1962. One verse mentioned Gabriel by name, but it wasn’t included in the recorded version.

Sadler introduced the song on television on January 30, 1966 on The Ed Sullivan Show.

“Green Berets” is currently used as one of the four primary marching tunes of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band

The song is heard in a choral rendition by Ken Darby in the 1968 John Wayne film, The Green Berets, based on Moore’s book. The score of the movie was never released as an album until Film Score Monthly released it in 2005. A film tie-in featuring artwork from the film and a cover version by Ennio Morricone was released in Europe, though the other tracks on the album were soundtracks from A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More.

The song appears in the films More American Graffiti and Canadian Bacon. It can be heard in the gun show scene from the 2002 film Showtime, and in the film Jesus, in a scene that features a hitch-hiking Jack Black.

Though its usage here is not a parody, in an episode of Cheers, Cliff aborts his plans to immigrate to Canada with his love interest when Sam, Woody, and Frasier appeal to his patriotic side by singing this song.

A vinyl copy of “The Ballad of the Green Berets” makes a brief appearance in “The Simpsons” episode “Homer’s Phobia”, from the show’s eighth season. Guest star and filmmaker John Waters is seen, near the five-minute mark, flipping through Homer and Marge’s record collection; Sadler’s hit is amongst them.

In the film Caddyshack, Carl Spackler, played by Bill Murray, mumbles the song under his breath while he is connecting the wires to the plunger as he prepares for his final battle with his gopher nemesis.



Which Entertainer was “Uninvited” to JFK’s Inaugural Ball?

His nickname was Mr. Show Business, but Sammy Davis Jr. fondly called himself “the only black, Puerto Rican, one-eyed, Jewish entertainer in the world.” Although he stood at a mere 5’6” and weighed only 120 pounds, Davis’ 60-year-long-career left a massive impression on the entertainment world. He starred in seven Broadway shows, appeared in 23 films including Ocean’s Eleven, regularly landed television roles and recorded dozens of albums. Although he died of throat cancer at the age of 64, his memory lives on as one of the greatest pop culture icons of the 20th century.

Samuel George Davis Jr. was born on December 8, 1925, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, with the infant initially raised by his paternal grandmother. Davis’s parents split up when he was 3 and he went to live with his father, who was working as an entertainer in a dance troupe. When his father and adopted uncle went on tour, Davis was brought along, and after learning to tap the three began performing together. They would eventually be dubbed the Will Mastin Trio.   Image result for image of sammy davis junior

Because of the group’s itinerant lifestyle, Davis never received a formal education, though his father did occasionally hire tutors while they were on the road. During their travels in the 1930s, the young Davis not only became an accomplished dancer but also a skilled singer, multi-instrumentalist and comedian and was soon the star of the show. Davis also made his first appearance in film during this time, dancing in the 1933 short Rufus Jones for President.

In 1943, at the height of World War II, Davis’s career was interrupted when he was drafted into the Army. Sammy was a slight man he directly experienced horrendous racial prejudice that his father had previously protected him from. He was constantly harassed and physically abused by white soldiers, with his fellow servicemen breaking his nose. He was also given the dirtiest and most dangerous assignments because he was a “Negro”. But Davis eventually found refuge in an entertainment regiment, where he discovered that performing allowed him a certain measure of safety and a desire to earn even a hateful audience member’s love.

During his teens, Sammy Davis Jr. first met Old Blue Eyes, when he helped open for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra — and Frank. The two became lifelong friends, enjoying a palpable chemistry both on and off stage. In fact, Sinatra was like a big brother to Sammy. In one instance, Sinatra tore up his contract when a theater barred Sammy Davis Jr. because of his race.      Image result for images of sammy davis jr. with sinatra

After the war, Davis resumed his showbiz career. He continued to perform with the Will Mastin Trio as the star of the act and also struck out on his own, singing in nightclubs and recording records. His career began to rise to new heights in 1947 when the trio opened for Frank Sinatra (with whom Davis would remain a lifelong friend and collaborator) at the Capitol Theatre in New York. A tour with Mickey Rooney followed, as did a performance after the Academy Awards that caught the ear of Decca Records, who signed Davis to a recording contract in 1954.

On November 19, 1954, Sammy Davis Jr. was driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to record a soundtrack for the film Six Bridges to Cross. He never made it to the studio. Early that morning, his Cadillac collided with an automobile that backed out in front of him. He sustained massive injuries to his face, including a broken nose and damage to his left eye so severe that it had to be replaced with a plastic one. Life was different after Sammy Davis Jr.’s car accident. He believed that surviving the crash was a miracle and spent much of his recovery reflecting on his existence. While at San Bernardino hospital, he met a Jewish Chaplain and asked “a million questions about the miracle” of coming out of the accident alive. Although his parents were Christians, Sammy Davis Jr. was not deeply religious. But after learning about Judaism, he felt Jews and Blacks shared a similar history of oppression. Over the years, he studied more about the religion and eventually converted.

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After SDJ had his car accident, Frank paid the medical bills. For Sammy, the admiration was mutual: “I wanted to be like him, I wanted to dress like him, I wanted to look like him, I took my hair and had it all done up, Sinatra style, with the little curl here and all.”

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Davis’s injury did not slow his ascent. In 1955 his first two albums, Starring Sammy Davis Jr. and Sammy Davis Jr. Sings Just for Lovers, were released to both critical acclaim and commercial success, which in turn led to headlining performances in Las Vegas and New York as well as further appearances in films and on television shows, including Anna Lucasta (1958, with Eartha Kitt), Porgy and Bess (1959, with Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier) and The Frank Sinatra Show (1958). Around this time Davis made his Broadway debut as well, starring in the 1956 hit musical Mr. Wonderful alongside members of his family and another legendary dancer, Chita Rivera.

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By 1960, Davis was a star in his own right. But he was also a member of the legendary Rat Pack, comprised of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey, the hard-partying superstars of the Las Vegas and Los Angeles nightclub scenes. He was a regular performer at The Frontier Casino in Las Vegas, but even his popularity could not save him from racial discrimination; he was not allowed to stay there because he was black. Hurt by such insensitivity, he refused to perform at venues which practiced racism.

Davis appeared with members of the pack in the films Ocean’s 11 (1960), Sergeants 3 (1962) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). Davis was also a featured player in films outside of the pack, including A Man Called Adam (1966), having the titular role opposite Louis Armstrong.  he was unforgettable in Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity (1969, with Shirley MacLaine), in which Davis appeared as the charismatic, singing and strutting guru Big Daddy.

He was a regular performer at The Frontier Casino in Las Vegas, but even his popularity could The iconic performer also released a steady stream of albums on Decca and Reprise. (Davis was the first artist to be signed on the latter label, which was launched by Sinatra.) Davis was nominated for a Record of the Year Grammy for the song “What Kind of Fool Am I?” which reached the Top 20 of the Billboard pop charts as well. And Davis’s live stage work continued to earn him honors, as seen with his Tony Award–nominated performance in the 1964 musical Golden Boy.

In 1966, the entertainer hosted his own short-lived variety series, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Years later, he played host again on the syndicated talk show Sammy and Company, from 1975-77.

Despite what appeared to be a free-swinging playboy lifestyle, a lifetime of enduring racial prejudice led Davis to use his fame for political means. During the 1960s he became active in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in the 1963 March on Washington and refusing to perform at racially segregated nightclubs, for which he is credited with helping integrate in Las Vegas and Miami Beach.

Davis also challenged the bigotry of the era by marrying Swedish actress May Britt at a time when interracial marriages were forbidden by law in 31 states. According to Davis’ 1989 biography, John F. Kennedy asked the entertainer not to participate in the 1961 Presidential inauguration, because the sight of the black entertainer alongside his wife, May Britt (who was white), would potentially anger Southerners. Being shunned by the president was a sore spot for SDJ, but those feelings were smoothed somewhat in 1987 when he was honored by the Kennedy Center.  

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, the multitalented Davis continued his prolific output. He maintained his musical career, releasing albums well into the late ’70s and getting his first #1 chart hit with 1972’s “Candy Man.” Davis appeared in films such as 1981’s The Cannonball Run, with Burt Reynolds and Roger Moore, and 1989’s Tap, with Gregory Hines. He was also a guest on a wide variety of television shows, including the Tonight ShowThe Carol Burnett ShowAll in the Family and The Jeffersons as well as the soap operas General Hospital and One Life to Live. In 1972, the Rat Packer helped create one of TV’s most legendary moments — an on-screen kiss that appeared on the highly popular show All in the Family. The episode featured Sammy (as himself) visiting the Bunker household in order to retrieve a briefcase he left in Archie’s taxi. Although Archie makes several racist remarks throughout the show, Sammy keeps his cool and famously plants a smooch on Archie’s cheek before heading for the door. It was one of the show’s most famous episodes and went on to be nominated for two Emmys

Davis made another turn on Broadway during the summer of 1978 in Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, though overall some critics were turned off by what they perceived as hammed up appearances.    Image result for images of sammy davis jr. with kim novak

Davis was seriously involved with bombshell actress Kim Novak in the 1950s, though their union faced much harassment due to the racial climate of the day. Davis was ultimately married three times, first briefly to singer Loray White, then to Mae Britt in 1960, with the two having a biological daughter and two adopted sons. The couple divorced by the end of the decade and Davis remarried in 1970 to dancer Altovise Gore, who remained with him until his passing. They adopted another son as well.

A few years ago, reports surfaced that one of Sammy Davis Jr.’s adopted sons was actually his biological son. Fifty-five year-old Mark Davis said he first learned he was adopted after reading a Life magazine article in the 1960s that said the entertainer had adopted Mark around the age of two. But in 2013, Mark found his original birth certificate which listed Sammy Davis Jr. as his biological father. Much to his disappointment, however, a DNA test showed that Sammy Davis wasn’t his biological father. Maybe the distinction didn’t matter to Sammy. According to Mark, his father’s last words to him from his deathbed were: “You are my son.”

It’s no surprise that the world’s greatest entertainer had a passion for his work, but that passion often strained his relationship with his family. In a memoir about her father, his daughter, Tracy Davis, said her famous dad missed her fifth birthday party, and then tried to make it up to her by handing over a $100 bill. She also revealed that he skipped her college graduation and routinely lost track of her phone number. Although the two grew closer together later in life, for Tracy Davis, the scars remained. “I am not saying that he didn’t love us, but work was his driving force,” she said.    Image result for images of sammy davis jr. with his daughter tracy

With the harshness of his early years not to be underestimated, Davis struggled throughout much of his life with addictions, succumbing to alcohol and drug abuse after his split with Britt and having a major gambling problem that ate up millions of dollars.

The entertainer published the well-known 1965 autobiography Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis Jr. followed by Why Me? in 1980. Another autobiography, Sammy, was released posthumously in 2000, while the comprehensive Wil Haygood biography In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis Jr. was published in 2003.

But while his career continued, with the performer embarking on a lauded tour with Sinatra and Liza Minnelli during the late ’80s, Davis’s health began to fade. Davis was a heavy smoker, and in 1989 doctors discovered a tumor in his throat. The fall of that year he gave what would be his final performance, at the Harrah’s casino in Lake Tahoe. Shortly thereafter, Davis underwent radiation therapy. Though the disease appeared to be in remission, it was later discovered to have returned. On May 16, 1990, Sammy Davis Jr. passed away at his home in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 64. Before his death he was honored by an array of his peers at a February television tribute.  To pay for his funeral, most of his memorabilia was sold off.  Image result for images of sammy davis jr. with sinatra

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What Was the First Band to Have “Play It Loud” on Their LP?

They came roaring out of Chicago, playing electric blues that seemed plugged into the cosmos. Grounded by the music of their South Side heroes – Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Elmore James, and others – the Paul Butterfield Blues Band changed rock and roll as surely as any band in mid 60s America. They did it with a combination of street-smart swagger, an endless well of feeling and, maybe most strikingly, an impossibly energetic attack on the soul.   Image result for images of paul butterfield

The group, originally composed of Paul Butterfield, Michael Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, Sam Lay (later replaced by Billy Davenport), Mark Naftalin and Jerome Arnold, made true blues accessible to the growing youth counterculture, and in the process opened up the possibilities for what rock and roll could really be. Theirs was one of the greatest gifts the music ever received.

Until the group’s debut, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was released in 1965, blues mainly had been the domain of older African-Americans. While people of all races and ages could appreciate that most timeless of music, not everyone could aspire to being a bluesman. Paul Butterfield changed that once and for all – now there was a role model for musicians of any age, and the freedom the Chicago singer-harp player personified would open the doors for many a musician. One look and listen to Butterfield’s first album made the blues seem immediately available to everyone. On the cover, the group was lined up against a South Side storefront, with drummer Sam Lay sporting gold Beatle boots. The rest of the band members made it clear they did not come for a fashion shoot. They came to burn down the house and anything else in their path. This was serious business, and anyone who heard the album could feel it.

As word on the Paul Butterfield Blues Band spread across America and England, musicians of various styles – from San Francisco’s psychedelic crowd to the U.K. blues bunch – looked to the group as standard bearers of a new sound. Butterfield and company were one of the first groups to play the Bay Area’s nascent ballroom scene, and once they performed in front of the area’s developing bands, the ante got upped to the ceiling for what was possible. Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop’s guitar excursions on songs like “East-West” would sometimes last half an hour, and include the entire history of American music and then some.

When Bill Graham introduced Paul Butterfield onstage, he said, “Without Paul, I don’t know if a lot of us would be here tonight.” The same was true in England. On the band’s first U.K. tour, Paul Butterfield recorded with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, setting a new standard for authenticity overseas. In 1965, when Bob Dylan decided to play electric rock songs at the Newport Folk Festival, he did it with members of the Butterfield Blues Band, and changed the course of rock and roll forever. In so many ways, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band walked right into the rock explosion of the mid 60s and lit the fuse for what was about to happen.   Image result for images of bob dylan with the Paul Butterfield Band

Michael Bloomfield became one of the era’s first electric-guitar heroes, right there with Eric Clapton in terms of taking blues guitar to a new level. The gunpowder in the band’s equation, Bloomfield was a musician who saw no boundaries, only possibilities, and approached songs like they were vessels to be filled with his hugely impressionistic soundscapes. Joining the group for its first recording sessions, Bloomfield fit seamlessly with original guitarist Elvin Bishop, and together they built a sound perfect for Butterfield’s vocals and harmonica.

Butterfield Band at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 >

Paul Butterfield, born in Chicago in 1942, grew up in that city’s Hyde Park, close to blues clubs like Pepper’s and Theresa’s – where urban blues had taken hold in one of the largest black neighborhoods in the country. And while Butterfield might have started his musical pursuits on classical flute and then guitar, the young man found his lifetime calling when he first picked up a Hohner harmonica.

The musician’s good fortune was that he lived right next to the ghetto, and once he found his way into the clubs, the world of blues became his second home. Butterfield carried himself with enthusiasm, and was there to learn. Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Little Walter, James Cotton, and others offered living lessons on how the blues should be played and how a bluesman should behave. Butterfield drew on those early teachings for the rest of his life.

If listeners were overwhelmed by Butterfield’s blues harp ability, once he started singing, he attained even further liftoff. As he grew older, his vocals deepened and became as much part of his calling card as his harmonica. In the early 1970s, he formed Better Days, and following that he made three solo albums. When he died in 1987 in North Hollywood, it signaled for many the end of an era.

Michael Bloomfield was the son of a wealthy family on Chicago’s North Side. But he too rebelled against the life he’d been born into. Venturing into South Side and West Side clubs, Bloomfield became a first-class blues player almost instantaneously. Early recordings before he joined the Butterfield Blues Band reveal a man on a mission, with the fire of a true believer. Though Bloomfield stayed in the Butterfield band for only two albums, they were two of the most influential releases of the 60s. The second, East-West, is still credited for introducing improvisatory elements of Eastern music and mysticism into the rock palette, not to mention taking Nat Adderley’s jazz standard “Work Song” and showing how guitars and harmonica could make that song into a new anthem. After Bloomfield left the Butterfield band, he formed the Electric Flag. But after a promising start, he retreated into a life of near obscurity, dying in 1981 in San Francisco. Like Butterfield, his legend continues to grow as listeners discover just what an original approach Bloomfield always had.

Elvin Bishop spent most of his young years in Oklahoma. After becoming a National Merit Scholar in high school, the budding guitarist chose to attend the University of Chicago to be close to the blues. On his first day there, “I was walking around the neighborhood of the college, just checking it out,” he said. “And sitting on some steps in front of an apartment building was a white guy playing blues on the guitar and drinking a quart of beer. It was Butterfield. We fell right together. For the first six months I knew him, he was more of a guitar player. But he picked up the harmonica and went straight to the stratosphere. He became as good as he was ever going to be in six months. Just a natural genius on the harmonica. And the beautiful thing about Butterfield was he was so strong and so dynamic, but he didn’t play anybody’s licks. Butterfield was just himself, right from the get-go.”

Bishop added a strong sense of rhythm guitar on the early albums, but also could go toe to toe with Bloomfield on solos. In addition, he contributed vocals and a distinctly Southern vibe, staying with the band for four albums and earning the unforgettable nickname Pigboy Crabshaw. His lead vocals on “Never Say No” and “Drunk Again” remain classics, along with a slashing lead style on the post-Bloomfield recordings. Once he became a solo artist, he helped invent the burgeoning Southern-rock genre and never looked back.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s rhythm section was always its secret weapon, a take-no-prisoners pair seasoned in the hardest-core blues bands in Chicago, including that of Howlin’ Wolf. Drummer Sam Lay and bassist Jerome Arnold walked away from those slots to join Butterfield. Lay’s muscular drumming always announced that the A-team was on the bandstand, and his vocal on the debut album’s “Got My Mojo Working” took them into extraterrestrial territory. Arnold was the kind of bassist whose talent came in providing the rock-solid bottom that isn’t always noticed but is always felt. He helped carry the other players to new heights without ever showboating. The fact that both men were African-Americans meant they were one of the very first integrated blues bands to gain national attention, and they helped integrate the bandstand for all who followed. At the time the Paul Butterfield Blues Band formed in 1964, that was no small achievement.

When drummer Billy Davenport (1931–1999) joined for the second album, he brought a new sound, favoring jazz leanings for the group’s long, often complicated forays. Bassist Bugsy Maugh came onboard for the third and fourth albums, singing “Drivin’ Wheel,” “Morning Blues,” “Mine to Love” and “Get Yourself Together.” Keyboard player Mark Naftalin joined Butterfield, Bishop, Arnold and Lay shortly before recording the band’s debut, and brought sophistication to their sound.

Born in Minneapolis in 1944, Naftalin attended the University of Chicago and quickly immersed himself in the live music landscape. Once he took his organ and piano skills to Butterfield, he’d found a home, helping the other players add a different slant on their blues songs. Naftalin cowrote the signature instrumental “Thank You Mr. Poobah” on the first LP, and stayed with the aggregation for four albums, though he used the pseudonym Naffy Markham on his last group effort, 1968’s In My Own Dream. By then, the band had added a full horn section and expanded its range into different areas. In later years, Ted Harris took over the keyboard position, allowing Butterfield to continue to feature those musically advanced arrangements.

The Butterfield Blues Band would continue into the early 1970s, always moving forward and finding new and innovative ways to play blues. Horn players like Gene Dinwiddie, David Sanborn, Keith Johnson, Steve Madaio and Trevor Lawrence, among others, helped audiences appreciate a whole other area of musical heights, and with guitarists like Buzzy Feiten and Ralph Wash, the group stayed true to their early groundbreaking stature. Drummers Phillip Wilson, George Davidson, Dennis Whitted and bassist Rod Hicks made sure the band’s glow stayed strong and bright. It is in the unique makeup of the group that the players found their fire, and in all the musicians’ dedication and talent that they succeeded in inventing a new and unforgettable sound.

On the sleeve of their debut album, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band were the very first to include the admonition Play It Loud. Now we can add “play it long.”

Paul Butterfield’s early ally in playing the blues probably says it best. When someone asked Michael Bloomfield to describe Butterfield, he said: “You can quote me on this, man. Butterfield’s something else. He feels it, he’s in there all the way. Butterfield is a blues singer. There’s no white bullshit with Butterfield, white-colored thing with him. He’s there. And if he was green, it wouldn’t make any difference. If he was a planaria, a tuna fish sandwich, Butterfield would be into the blues.”

Butterfield himself continued to record and appear after the breakup of his premier bands, but he’d fallen more or less completely out of the limelight by the time he passed away on May 4, 1987, at the age of 44 — the victim of a painkiller habit he’d picked up as the result of a long battle with peritonitis and subsequent complications.

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Even after his death, Paul Butterfield’s music didn’t receive the accolades that were so deserved. Outputting styles adopted from Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters among other blues greats, Butterfield became one of the first white singers to rekindle blues music through the course of the mid-’60s.  The result was a wonderfully messy and boisterous display of American-styled blues, with intensity and pure passion derived from every bent note. In front of all The Butterfield’s  instruments is his marvelously dexterous and soulful  harmonica, beautifully dictating a mood and a genuine feel that is no longer existent, even in today’s blues music.

Who is Really Just a Walking Pair of Ears?


Stevie Wonder is a much-beloved American icon and an indisputable genius not only of R&B but popular music in general. Blind virtually since birth, Wonder’s heightened awareness of sound helped him create vibrant, colorful music teeming with life and ambition. Nearly everything he recorded bore the stamp of his sunny, joyous positivity; even when he addressed serious racial, social, and spiritual issues (which he did quite often in his prime), or sang about heartbreak and romantic uncertainty, an underlying sense of optimism and hope always seemed to emerge. Much like his inspiration,Ray Charles, Wonder had a voracious appetite for many different kinds of music, and refused to confine himself to any one sound or style. His best records were a richly eclectic brew of soul, funk, rock & roll, sophisticated Broadway/Tin Pan Alley-style pop, jazz, reggae, and African elements — and they weren’t just stylistic exercises; Wonder took it all and forged it into his own personal form of expression. His range helped account for his broad-based appeal, but so did his unique, elastic voice, his peerless melodic facility, his gift for complex arrangements, and his taste for lovely, often sentimental ballads. Additionally, Wonder’s pioneering use of synthesizers during the ’70s changed the face of R&B; he employed a kaleidoscope of contrasting textures and voices that made him a virtual one-man band, all the while evoking a surprisingly organic warmth. Along with Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes, Wonder brought R&B into the album age, crafting his LPs as cohesive, consistent statements with compositions that often took time to make their point. All of this made Wonder perhaps R&B’s greatest individual auteur, rivaled only by Gaye or, in later days, Prince. Originally, Wonder was a child prodigy who started out in the general Motown mold, but he took control of his vision in the ’70s, spinning off a series of incredible albums that were as popular as they were acclaimed; most of his reputation rests on these works, which most prominently include Talking Book, Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life. His output since then has been inconsistent, marred by excesses of sentimentality and less of the progressive imagination of his best work, but it’s hardly lessened the reverence in which he’s long been held.
Tribute to Uncle Ray
.So much has been written about Stevie over the years, it seemed redundant to tread across that same bridge. Instead, what follows are some, hopefully, interesting facts about this true American Wonder.

1. In his 53-year career, he has recorded for only one record label: Tamla, one of the Motown imprints.

2. When he plays keyboards, he doesn’t use his right thumb. 

3. He and Bob Dylan both released their debut albums in 1962. Dylan was 21, Wonder 12.

4. In 1966, his version of Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” reached No. 9 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart.

5. Stevland Morris (his legal name) graduated from the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing.

6. At age 13, he became the youngest person to top Billboard’s Hot 100, with “Fingertips” in 1963, recorded live in concert from the Motown Revue  not only sailed up the Billboard charts, it became the first live track to top the Stateside countdown. On drums? A young Marvin Gaye.

7. He has won 25 Grammys. Only three people have more: conductor Georg Solti (31) and producer Quincy Jones and bluegrass queen Alison Krauss (27 each).

8. He is the only artist to win the Grammy for album of the year for three consecutive albums — 1973’s “Innervisions,” 1974’s, “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and 1976’s “Songs in the Key of Life.”

9. On 1976’s “Songs in the Key of Life,” Wonder wrote “Isn’t She Lovely” to celebrate the birth of his daughter Aisha. Now Aisha Morris is a backup singer, accompanying her father on a tour in which he’s performing that album in its entirety.

10. In the late 1960s, he once performed in three locations in one night: the Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Washington, D.C.; the Lincoln Memorial (for a show hosted by First Lady Pat Nixon), and in Baltimore, filling in for an ill Marvin Gaye after an hour-long, high-speed limousine ride.

11. His harmonica can be heard on 2015 albums by Mark Ronson, Donny Osmond ,  Melissa Manchester, Chaka Khan, Elton John, Eurythmics and Sting.

12. Hits he’s written for other artists include “Tears of a Clown” for Smokey Robinson, “It’s a Shame” for the Spinners, “Tell Me Something Good” for Rufus and “Let’s Get Serious” for Jermaine Jackson.

13. He has scored 10 No. 1 pop songs and 20 No. 1 R&B songs, but only three of his albums topped Billboard’s chart.

14. During a rehearsal for “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the late ‘60s, a 30-piece orchestra was playing the song Wonder was going to perform that night. He stopped the musicians and told his conductor that one saxophonist had the wrong arrangement. Indeed, the sax man was half a tone lower than everyone else. The conductor hadn’t heard it.

15. He won an Oscar for best song for “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from “The Woman in Red” in 1985. The tune landed at the top of both the pop and R&B charts.

16. He opened for the Rolling Stones STP Tour in 1972.

17. “Music of My Mind,” released in 1972, was an artistic turning point. His songs were longer and more musically ambitious and stylistically diverse. His lyrics were topical, an approach established on 1971’s “Where I’m Coming From,” which was filled with social commentary. On “Music,” for the first time, he played all the instruments except guitar and trombone.

18. He has performed at funerals for friends: Michael Jackson in 2009, Etta James in 2012 and Whitney Houston a month later.

19. In 1973, he was in a serious auto accident while on tour in North Carolina. His car hit the back of a truck. The singer was in a coma for four days and suffered a partial loss of his sense of smell.

20. While on tour, he goes through two to three harmonicas a week. The Hohner Chromonica 280/64 Harmonica is the one played by Stevie Wonder and the standard by which all chromatic harps are judged. Although his primary harmonica is a chromatic rather than the diatonic harmonica typically heard in blues, he occasionally plays diatonic, such as on 1974’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman”). Chromatic has up to 16 holes compared to the 10 holes on diatonic harmonica, so it offers a wider ranger of sounds. But chromatic harmonica is also significantly harder to play. The Chromatic has a scale set up like a piano keyboard, where regular harmonica is on a diatonic scale, so is a totally different monster, a lot more difficult to play. It takes a lot more oxygen. You really have to learn circular breathing. Circular breathing involves breathing in through the nose and storing air in the cheeks to blow through the mouth. Once you have that down, you can start working on the particulars of the Wonder sound — which owes more to jazz than blues and is almost impossible for mere mortals to duplicate. One of Stevie’s big characteristics is to jab the slide forcibly. He’s also basically singing, but using a harmonica to sing with, putting vibrato on it. If you do that and bend the note at the same time, you get a shifting effect. I think the last thing is he gets a sort of fluttering effect with his tongue.

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21. In the late 1960s in Los Angeles, he played at Marty’s on the Hill, which was both a club and a motel. One of the motel rooms served as dressing room. Walking to the stage, he stepped into the deep end of the motel’s swimming pool. He was dressed in a tuxedo.

22. His 1981 song “Happy Birthday” helped establish Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday.

23. His harmonica can be heard on such hits as Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You,” Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and Sting’s “Brand New Day.”

24. Among the other stars with whom Wonder has recorded are Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, Tony Bennett, John Denver, Snoop Dogg, Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. Image result for

25. In 2009 he became the second recipient of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for pop music, honored by President Barack Obama.

26. A vegan, he travels with his own chef.

27. He has released only one album of new music in this century, 2005’s “A Time to Love,” but he delivered 12 albums in the 1960s and 10 in the ‘70s. He released just four in the ‘80s and three in the ‘90s (one studio, one soundtrack, one live).

28. Matching global hits with a growing interest in studio technology, Stevie recorded an album of instrumentals in 1968. Using the name ‘Rednow Eivets’ – ‘Stevie Wonder’ backwards – the record slipped out under the radar. An important stepping-stone, it came just a few months after Stevie Wonder jammed with Jimi Hendrix during downtime at the BBC. Uniting two titanic black American talents, the moment was to have a profound impact on Wonder’s career.

29.    In 1973, Stevie was riding along with his cousin at the wheel heading to a benefit performance in Durham, NC. He had his headphones on and was heavy into listening to his big hit album at the time, “Innervisions.” The car plowed into a flatbed truck shattering the windshield and giving him a glancing blow to his head. He  would permanently lose his sense of smell, and temporarily lose his sense of taste.  For a year after the accident, he was really just a walking pair of ears.

Stevie Wonder Accident in 1973

30. An early adopter of the Moog synthesiser, Stevie would go on to own the first ever E-mu Emulator – effectively, the first easy-to-afford sampler. Later a staple of the emerging house and techno scenes, Stevie Wonder got there first.

31. Stevie Wonder has met several United States Presidents. Given a special award by Nixon, he was later to blast the Republican on the track ‘You Ain’t Done Nuthin’. However the Motown star was to enjoy more cordial relationships with Barack Obama, who named Stevie Wonder as his favourite artist of all time.  

32.He was born six weeks premature, which, along with the oxygen-rich atmosphere in the hospital incubator, resulted in retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a condition in which the growth of the eyes is aborted and causes the retinas to detach; so he became blind

33. Stevie was married twice, including a 2 year marriage to his song writing partner, the beautiful Syreeta Wright. He produced and performed on her album “Stevie Wonder Introduces Syreeta Wright.” She died of cancer in 2004.

34. This past December, Stevie Wonder’s ninth child was born. He has had children with five different mothers, and they all bear his original last name, Morris. He’s a grandfather, too.

35. His very first child was his daughter Aisha, born in February of 1975. The world celebrated along with Wonder when he released his beautiful song about her, “Isn’t She Lovely,” on his landmark “Songs In The Key Of Life” album. It’s a beautiful father-daughter song, and you can hear baby Aisha playing and gurgling on the track. Now 40 years old, Aisha’s on tour with her dad, singing backing vocals as he tours the country performing the album her song first debuted on.  Image result for images of stevie wonder's daughter

36. Keith Richards once called him something so nasty that I have omitted it from this item. Why? One day, Wonder’s drummer quit the band, and he didn’t feel comfortable performing without him. He let the Stones know he wouldn’t make that night’s gig, and Keith got mad. That’s when the anger erupted, and the name calling went to its fullest expression.

37. Wonder and producer Hank Cosby  once wrote write an instrumental track together, but Wonder couldn’t come up with lyrics that did it justice. He brought the track to the Motown Christmas party and played it for Smokey Robinson, who said it sounded like a circus, and took just a few days to come up with the lyrics. Thus, “The Tracks Of My Tears” was born, and went on to become an international multi-million seller.

38. Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back To Me” is a Stevie Wonder song (co-written with Morris Broadnax and Clarence Paul). He started writing it when he was 13 years old, and when he finally recorded it in the 1960s, it didn’t really go anywhere. In 1977, he called Franklin up late one night to say he had a song for her. “I’ll take it,” she told him. “Send somebody down to get it!” he said back. That’s the story Aretha Franklin told on stage when she and Wonder did the song together at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards in 2005. Image result for images of stevie wonder with aretha franklin

39.  Has sold over 100 million albums and singles, making him one of the top 60 best-selling music artists.

40. He has recorded more than 30 U.S. top ten hits and received 25 Grammy Awards, the most ever awarded to a male solo artist.

41. Rolling Stone named him the ninth greatest singer of all time.

42. Wonder was introduced to Transcendental Meditation through his marriage to Syreeta Wright.

43. Because of Wonder’s age, the Berry Gordy drew up a rolling five-year contract in which royalties would be held in trust until Wonder was 21He and his mother would be paid a weekly stipend to cover their expenses: Wonder received $2.50 a week, and a private tutor was provided for when Wonder was on tour.






Which Singer Once Stole her Own Band’s Equipment to Buy Heroin?

Born in Los Angeles, California, on January 25, 1938, Etta James was a gospel prodigy. In 1954, she moved to Los Angeles to record “The Wallflower.” Her career had begun to soar by 1960, due in no small part to songs like “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “At Last.” Despite her continued drug problems, she earned a Grammy Award nomination for her 1973 eponymous album. In 2006, she released the album All the Way. James died in Riverside, California, on January 20, 2012, and continues to be is considered one of the most dynamic singers of all time.

Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938, in Los Angeles, California, to a 14-year-old mother, Dorothy Hawkins, who encouraged her daughter’s singing career. James would later say, “My mother always told me, even if a song has been done a thousand times, you can still bring something of your own to it. I’d like to think I did that.” James never knew her father but she believed her was legendary pool player, Rudolf “Minnesota Fats” Wanderone, seeking him out at a Nashville, Tennessee, hotel in 1987. She was unable to confirm he was her father but told an interviewer, “When he passed, he sent me a beautiful golden watch that hung on his clothes that had his name on it. And he sent me a letter and told me that he wanted me to write a song about him and stuff.”

By the age of 5, James was known as a gospel prodigy, gaining fame by singing in her church choir and on the radio.  Etta James suffered some abuse as a child. The choir leader was a violent man and he would hit Etta to make her sing. The abuse she suffered made ‘singing on demand’ very difficult for her as she became older.

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At age 12, she moved north to San Francisco, where she formed a trio and was soon working for bandleader Johnny Otis. Four years later, in 1954, she moved to Los Angeles to record “The Wallflower” (a tamer title for the then-risqué “Roll with Me Henry”) with the Otis band. It was that year that the young singer became Etta James (a shortened version of her first name) and her vocal group was dubbed “the Peaches” (also Etta’s nickname). Soon after, James launched her solo career with such hits as “Good Rockin’ Daddy” in 1955.   Image result for images of etta james

After signing with Chicago’s Chess Records in 1960, James’s career began to soar. Chart toppers included duets with then-boyfriend Harvey Fuqua, the heart-breaking ballad “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “At Last” and “Trust in Me.” But James’s talents weren’t reserved for powerful ballads. She knew how to rock a house, and did so with such gospel-charged tunes as “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” in 1962, “In The Basement” in 1966 and “I’d Rather Go Blind” in 1968.

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James continued to work with Chess throughout the 1960s and early ’70s. Sadly, heroin addiction affected both her personal and professional life. James fought a long battle with heroin addiction. In her 1995 autobiography, “Rage to Survive,” she wrote that at one point she and an accomplice stole the musical instruments of her own band and pawned them in order to buy drug money.  But despite her continued drug problems she persisted in making new albums. In 1967, James recorded with the Muscle Shoals house band in the Fame studios, and the collaboration resulted in the triumphant Tell Mama album.

James’s work gained positive attention from critics as well as fans, and her 1973 album Etta James earned a Grammy nomination, in part for its creative combination of rock and funk sounds. After completing her contract with Chess in 1977, James signed on with Warner Brothers Records. A renewed public profile followed her appearance at the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Subsequent albums, including Deep In The Night and Seven Year Itch, received high critical acclaim.

Etta James was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993, prior to her signing a new recording contract with Private Records. n 1994, James won her first Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her tribute album Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday.

She received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 and the following year, Rolling Stone named James to its list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

With suggestive stage antics and a sassy attitude, James continued to perform and record well into the 1990s. Always soulful, her extraordinary voice was showcased to great effect on her recent private releases, including Blue Gardenia, which rose to the top of the Billboard jazz chart. In 2003, James underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost over 200 pounds. The dramatic weight loss had an impact on her voice, as she told Ebony magazine that year. “I can sing lower, higher and louder,” James explained.

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Before Surgery                                               After Surgery

That same year, Etta James released Let’s Roll, which won the Grammy Award for best contemporary blues album. Her sons, Donto and Sametto James, served as producers on the recording, along with Josh Sklair. This team regrouped for her next effort, Blues to the Bone (2004), which brought James her third Grammy Award—this time for best traditional blues album.

In 2006, James released the album All the Way, which featured cover versions of songs by Prince, Marvin Gaye and James Brown. She participated in a tribute album the following year for jazz great Ella Fitzgerald, called We Love Ella.

The story of the early days of Chess Records was brought to the big screen as Cadillac Records in 2008, with singer Beyoncé Knowles playing Etta James in the film. Beyoncè also recorded her own version of James’s signature song, “At Last” for the soundtrack.

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While James publicly supported the film, she was reportedly miffed when Beyoncé sang the song at President Barack Obama’s inaugural ball in January 2009. James allegedly told concert-goers in Seattle in February that Beyoncè “had no business … singing my song that I been singing forever.” Despite some media attention over her comments, James was unfazed by the incident, and pressed on with her busy performing schedule.

As she entered her 70s, Etta James began struggling with health issues. She was hospitalized in 2010 for a blood infection, along with other ailments. It was later revealed that the legendary singer suffered from dementia, and was receiving treatment for leukemia. Her medical problems came to light in court papers filed by her husband, Artis Mills. Mills sought to gain control over $1 million of James’s money, but he was challenged by James’s two sons, Donto and Sametto. The two parties later worked out an agreement.

James released her latest studio album, The Dreamer, in November 2011, which received warm reviews. A few weeks later, James’s doctor announced that the singer was terminally ill. “She’s in the final stages of leukemia. She has also been diagnosed with dementia and Hepatitis C,” Dr. Elaine James (not related to the singer) told a local newspaper. James’s sons also acknowledged that Etta’s health was declining and was receiving care at her Riverside, California, home.

Etta James died at her home in Riverside, California, on January 20, 2012. Today, she continues to be is considered one of music’s most dynamic singers.  Stevie Wonder and Christina Aguilera both performed tributes to her at her funeral. The Rev. Al Sharpton presided over the service and read a note from President Obama, who said that Etta would be remembered for her music and music that transcended genres.


What is Hip? I REALLY Got to Know!

For close to 50 years, Tower of Power has been creating their own kind of soul music. Since 1968, Tower of Power has delivered their unique brand of music to their fans, appearing before sold out crowds as they tour the world each year. Tower’s sound can be hard to categorize, but the band’s leader and founding member, Emilio Castillo, has labeled their sound as “Urban Soul Music.”

Tower’s rhythm section lays down a groove like no other band. The band’s horn driven sound is unique, and the way they approach everything, from writing and arranging to mixing and performing, is totally their own. Combine all of that with an outstanding lead vocalist and you have one of the most dynamic groups of musicians to ever hit the stage.

The renowned horn-driven funk outfit Tower of Power have been issuing albums and touring the world steadily since the early ’70s, in addition to backing up countless other musicians. The group’s leader since the beginning has always been tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo, who was born in Detroit but opted to pursue his musical dreams in Oakland, California. It was in Oakland that Castillo put together a group called the Motowns, which, as their name suggested, specialized in ’60s-era soul. In 1967, Castillo teamed up with baritone sax player Stephen “Doc” Kupka, and soon the Motowns were transformed into Tower of Power.  Tower’s musical odyssey actually began in 1968 when Emilio Castillo met Stephen “Doc” Kupka in July of that year. When Doc auditioned during a band rehearsal at Emilio’s house, Emilio’s father called him into the kitchen and offered the following advice: “Hire that guy, he’s got something.” Doc and his signature baritone sax sound were now in the band, and on August 13, 1968, Tower of Power, as we know them today, began playing gigs, and soon became very well known in the area.(One of the first tunes the duo penned together was “You’re Still a Young Man,” which would eventually go on to be one of Tower of Power’s signature compositions.)

East Bay Grease

Tower of Power played regularly in the Bay Area throughout the late ’60s, as their lineup often swelled up to ten members, including such other mainstays as Greg Adams on trumpet and vocals, Lenny Pickett on sax, and Rocco Prestia on bass. By 1970, the funk outfit had inked a recording contract with Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records, resulting in the group’s debut the same year, East Bay Grease, which failed to make an impression on the charts as Tower of Power were still trying to find their own sound.

Bump City

But it soon came together for the group, as 1972’s Bump City would touch off a string of classic hit albums, including 1973’s self-titled release (which introduced vocalist Lenny Williams and included another of the group’s most enduring tunes, “What Is Hip?“), 1974’s Back to Oakland, and 1975’s Urban Renewal and In the Slot. In 1976 they released their classic live album, “Live in Living Color”. While Tower of Power remained a must-see live act, as disco became the new trend in R&B the group’s original funk-laden style fell out of favor, and disco-oriented albums like 1978’s We Came to Play and 1979’s Back on the Streets didn’t please critics or fans, and the band would go nine years without releasing an album.


Despite it all, Tower of Power — in particular their horn section — remained a much in-demand backing group for some of pop/rock’s biggest names, including Elton John,Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Huey Lewis, Little Feat, David Sanborn, Michelle Shocked, Paula Abdul, Aaron Neville,Aerosmith, Public Image Ltd., and many others. In 1988,Tower of Power returned to the studio for the album Power, and in 1991 they signed with Epic Records, where they released five albums by the end of the decade.

Great American Soulbook

Into the new millennium, Tower of Power kept up their reputation as a strong live band, maintaining a steady touring schedule, and in 2009 they launched their own TOP Records label with The Great American Soulbook, in which they covered a dozen soul and R&B classics in the trademark Tower of Power style.  The Tower celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2008 at a very special reunion show at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. In addition to the ten current members of the band, another 20 musicians and vocalists that at one time held a position with the band appeared with them. The show was filmed and is available on DVD. Of the ten current members, Emilio Castillo, Rocco Prestia, Stephen Kupka, and David Garibaldi are four of the band’s founding members. Their dedication to the music, their creative writing, and their original vision still guides Tower of Power In 2013, Tower of Power took a look back with the release of Hipper Than Hip: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, which documented a live radio broadcast from 1974 (absolutely killer!)

They continue to tour relentlessly and are often in the NYC and Boston areas. Go catch them when you can – They really put the Unk in the Funk.