Who was the “Godmother of Rock & Roll?”

In recent months, a video has gone viral depicting a robust, middle-aged woman in grainy black and white ripping one of the meanest guitar solos you’ve ever seen:

 

The woman featured is none other than Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the “Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” who has one of the more enviable legacies in music. Her musical disciples and descendants read like a whose-who of legendary ‘50s and ‘60s figures, her personal history bears the earmarks of a classic outlaw, and her music is richly powerful and evocative—soul-stirring in the truest sense of the term. What a legacy that is—but that legacy has long been obscured.

For decades, fans and critics tended to gloss over pre-1955 music as compared to the music of the late 20th century, and the fact that she was a gospel star likely places her in a certain niche in the minds of the general public. While names like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis became etched into the culture’s collective consciousness, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was rarely mentioned in the same breath—or even as an obvious forbear—to her rock ‘n’ roll offspring who would carry the genre into the mainstream.

Born Rosetta Nubin in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, her mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was a singer, preacher, and mandolin player for the Church of God In Christ (COGIC) who encouraged little Rosetta to play and sing for services. A clear prodigy, it was through her association with COGIC that Rosetta would evolve into one of the most amazing gospel performers of her time. It was a church that believed in musical expression and was progressive in its view of gender roles within the church, encouraging women ministers and musicians. After moving to Chicago, little Rosetta and her mother became fixtures within the city’s gospel music scene.

At 19 years old, she would marry a minister named Thomas A. Thorpe in 1934, but the union would be short-lived. Though they divorced, Rosetta would keep his last name as her stage name—slightly altering “Thorpe” to “Tharpe.”

Upon signing with Decca Records, Tharpe issued singles that are instant smashes. Her versions of Thomas Dorsey tunes like “This Train” made her a household name—in particular, her reworked version of “Hide Me in Thy Bosom” (retitled “This Train”) was a breakthrough for her as a recording artist. Backed by Lucky Millender’s jazz orchestra, the song raised her visibility with secular and white audiences and set the stage for a remarkable run that saw her perform at Carnegie Hall (as part of John Hammond’s “Spirituals to Swing” showcase) and record music with Cab Calloway and the Jordanaires. She also made recordings for U.S. troops stationed overseas; Tharpe was one of only two black gospel artists included on these “V Discs”—along with the Dixie Hummingbirds. But it was her song “Strange Things Happening Every Day” that proved a major leap forward for both her career and gospel music; it was the first gospel hit on the Billboard R&B charts, peaking at #2.

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She would team up with gospel singer Marie Knight, whom she’d seen perform in Harlem with Mahalia Jackson, and the two would tour together throughout the 1940s as “The Saint (Knight) and the Sinner (Tharpe).” By 1951, she’d become so popular that 25,000 people paid to watch her wedding to her third husband, Russell Morrison, in Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. That same year, Tharpe and Knight would make an ill-fated attempt to forge a career in straight-ahead blues.

Tharpe’s forays into the mainstream and secular worlds had been a delicate balancing act up to that point; they’d earned her some scorn but also notoriety. But the early ‘50s blues records hurt her gospel standing and the partnership she’d enjoyed with Knight. In 1951, Knight left to pursue a solo career in secular music while Tharpe tried to return to gospel. But her attempted move into blues totally alienated fans and by the late 1950s, she’d been dropped by Decca as her popularity waned. She continued to perform as a major draw in overseas markets throughout the 1960s, sparked by the decade’s resurgent interest in blues music. She would tour Europe with bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Otis Spann and remained a consistent performer until a stroke slowed her down in 1970. Tharpe subsequently died in Philadelphia in 1973. She was 58.

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She lived her life boldly, daring to play guitar aggressively at a time when female guitarists of any discipline were rare. She chose to embrace secular artists and audiences at a time when the black gospel community was loud in its condemnation of crossing over. And her own sexual identity has been the subject of much candor. Her attempts at marriage have been called a facade by some who’ve claimed that Tharpe was bisexual, and only considered marriage for appearances and to pander to gospel’s conservative audience. Her biographer, Gayle Wald, wrote that one fellow musician claimed to have walked in on Tharpe and two other women in bed during her “honeymoon tour” right after her third wedding in 1951.

“The circulation of this and other lore indicated that the gospel world had its own legends of outlaw identities and behaviors: of sissy men and bulldagger women, of philandering evangelists and pilfering prophets, of hypocrites who boozed up backstage before singing in front of the curtain about the virtues of holy living,” wrote Wald. “For homosexuals in her audiences, rumors about Rosetta’s sexuality might have been liberating, an invitation to look for tell-tale signs of affirmation of their own veiled existence.”

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Her status as an important figure in music has largely been muted due to both rock’s whitewashing and the tendency to elevate the male rock star mythos while treating the genre’s most significant women like footnotes. To be certain, Sis. Rosetta Tharpe paved the way for countless musical women in general and in rock ‘n’ roll specifically—but make no mistake, she also paved the way for men who wanted to play this style of music, black and white men who decided to incorporate her sure-fingered guitar style and swingin’ grooves into the template of what would become a world-changing genre.

Later performers like Little Richard, Tina Turner, and Johnny Cash cited Tharpe as a major influence; and her intricate electric guitar style set the template for what would be considered “lead guitar” in Chicago blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. In the past few years, there have been documentaries and articles that celebrate Tharpe as an important figure in 20th century music who helped set the stage for many of the sounds that would come to define rock ‘n’ roll and R&B. But it’s just as important to remember how great she was on her own merit as an artist and musical force—not just who she influenced.

The term “pioneer” can sometimes be a pejorative. Contemporary music fans toss it off in a way that suggests a certain artists’ significance only exists as a trailblazer, that they only matter because they “paved the way” for the music you actually care about that came afterward. That shouldn’t happen with Sis. Rosetta Tharpe. One listen to songs like “Rock Me,” “That’s All,” and “Jericho” and it’s obvious that the spirit and fire of gospel music, along with the swing and sincerity of the blues, came crashing into each other and bursting out in this woman’s amazing songs.

 

 

Which British Musician Extraordinaire Took His Name from an American Naval Hero?

John Paul Jones, born John Baldwin,  will forever be remembered as the other musical genius who helped propel Led Zeppelin to some of the greatest heights that any rock band has ever reached. From the iconic bass line on “Dazed and Confused,” the spine-tingling organ solo on “No Quarter” and the iconic recorder intro to “Stairway to Heaven,” his contributions to the band’s sound were as critical as they were varied.  Not such a bad way to be remembered, but Jones has always been a more multi-faceted figure than even his time in Led Zeppelin would suggest.

Beginning early on as a teenager in the 1960s, Jones has quietly led one of the more fascinating and unusual careers in popular music history. As a musician, arranger and a producer, he’s worked in a shockingly wide range of genres and with a surprisingly odd and brilliant assortment of artists.

I’ve included many video links to give you an idea of how versatile and talented John paul Jones Really is.

Here are 20 things you may not have known that Led Zeppelin’s secret weapon did:

Released a 1964 solo single, “Baja,” written by Lee Hazlewood and produced by Andrew Loog Oldham.
One of the major trends among popular artists in England in the early 1960s was to change one’s name to something a little bit more eye-grabbing. Thus, Richard Starkey became Ringo Starr and Alan Caldwell became Rory Storm. In 1964, John Baldwin entered the studio with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham to cut his first single, “Baja,” a song penned by country/pop singer Lee Hazlewood. The song itself is a pretty nondescript instrumental propelled by woody-sounding guitar, but the session’s implications were enormous. Going to market, Oldham was convinced his young charge’s birth name just wasn’t going to cut it, and thus rechristened him John Paul Jones. As Jones remembered Oldham got the name from a “movie poster for John Paul Jones the American.” The rest is history.

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Played in an R&B band named Herbie Goins and the Nightimers with future Mahavishnu Orchestra leader John McLaughlin in the early Sixties.
As influential as the early British blues scene turned out to be — with bands like the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones and the Animals all breaking out of it — in London in the 1960s, that community was actually quite small. Lots of future stars frequently jammed together at scene maker Alexis Korner’s residency at the Marquee Club downtown and formed upstart bands that typically folded within months of their inception. One such group was an outfit called Herbie Goins, named after the Florida-born blues singer of the same name, which featured Jones on bass and John McLaughlin on guitar. As McLaughlin later recalled, “John Paul Jones and I were very good friends. … I gave [him] harmony lessons, believe it or not.”

Nearly joined up with the Shadows as a full-time member at age 16 in 1963.
Before the Beatles exploded onto the scene in England in 1964, the hottest pop group around was the all-instrumental outfit the Shadows. Originally started as the backing band for the singer Cliff Richards, the group broke out in 1960 with its Number One single “Apache.” Two years later, bassist Jet Harris and Tony Meehan struck out on their own and recorded another Number One record titled “Diamonds” with Jones’ future Led Zeppelin band mate Jimmy Page on guitar. Looking to capitalize on that success, Meehan and Harris took Jones out on the road for a short tour and almost tendered an offer for him to join up with the Shadows a year later, but went with another bass player named John Rostill instead.

Was a frequent collaborator with Donovan and played on the songs “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow.”
Beginning in 1963, Jones established a reputation among many of the producers and engineers at the major studios that dotted London as one of the most reliable, creative bass players and arrangers on the scene. Though he performed on countless sessions in his pre-Zeppelin years, his work with the singer-songwriter Donovan might be the most indelible. Not only did Jones play bass on the singer’s biggest hits, including “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Sunshine Superman,” he actually saved the latter number from the scrap heap.

mickie-most  Mickie Most

“The first Donovan session was a shambles — it was awful,” he recalled. “It was ‘Sunshine Superman’ and the arranger had got it all wrong so I thought, being the opportunist that I was, ‘I can do better than that’ and actually went up to the producer.” Jones managed to rework the track and was eventually hired by the producer Mickie Most to work on many of his future sessions, including those with Nico, Tom Jones and Wayne Fontana.

Arranged music for Jimmy Page’s lone solo Yardbirds studio album, Little Games, in 1967.
Jimmy Page quit the full-time session life once and for all in the summer of 1966 to join up with his childhood friend Jeff Beck as the second guitarist in the Yardbirds. The duo only recorded a handful of tracks together before Beck jumped ship, leaving Page the sole remaining guitarist in the band. When it came time for the group to work on their next Beck-less album, Little Games, producer Mickie Most called in his ace in the hole John Paul Jones to lay down a bit of bass and put together some cello arrangements. Jones contributions weren’t small either: He performed on the tracks “Ten Little Indians,” “No Excess Baggage” and “Goodnight Sweet Josephine” in place of the Yardbirds’ nominal bassist Chris Dreja, who switched over from rhythm guitar when Page originally joined up.This record truly epitomizes that pop-psychedelic sound of the British scene at the time.

Recorded with Jeff Beck multiple times, including on the session for “Beck’s Bolero,” which birthed the name and concept for Led Zeppelin.
While still an official member of the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck decided to test the waters of a solo career and entered IBC Studios in London on May 16th, 1966, to cut his first single. His friend and bandmate Jimmy Page served as the producer that day — though Mickie Most ended up with the credit — while also playing 12-string backing guitar. For the rhythm section, Page enlisted the best in the business: Keith Moon of the Who on drums and John Paul Jones on bass. The resulting song, “Beck’s Bolero,” is one of the most exhilarating instrumentals in rock history, but as good as the song was, the very existence of the session proved to have far larger implications than anyone could have realized. An oft-repeated tale was that at some point while in the studio, someone suggested that the players assembled should form a band. Moon was said to have quipped, “That would go over like a lead balloon,” an offhand comment sparked the genesis of Led Zeppelin.

Created the string arrangement for the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow.”
There aren’t too many bright spots on the Stones’ 1967 foray into psychedelia, Their Satanic Majesties Request, but “She’s a Rainbow” is unquestionably the brightest — thanks in large part to John Paul Jones. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the track is one of the most adventurous and touching in the entire Stones catalog, highlighted by a tender solo piano section from frequent collaborator Nicky Hopkins. Jones was brought in by Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham to arrange the avant-garde string section that acts as the song’s coda.

Worked with Cat Stevens on his debut album, Matthew and Son, in 1967.
In 1966, Cat Stevens was just another folkie trying to make a name for himself around the club and coffeehouse scene in London. Then one day he met manager/producer Mike Hurst and impressed him enough with his songwriting that Hurst signed him up as his next client. Stevens entered the recording studio to work on his first album, Matthew and Son, in July 1967, and John Paul Jones was brought in by Hurst to play bass on all of the record’s 14 tracks.

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Worked with Dusty Springfield on Dusty … Definitely in 1968.
Just before she took off to work with Jerry Wexler and Atlantic Records in the United States to create her breakthrough album, Dusty in Memphis, in the fall of 1968, the British soul singer still had one album left on her original contract with Philips. When it came time to record Dusty … Definitely, Jones was brought in by producer Johnny Franz to lay down some bass and conduct the orchestra. This ended up being a more fortuitous assignment for Jones than he could have realized: When it came time for Led Zeppelin to sign with Atlantic Records later that year, Springfield made sure to put in a good word in to Wexler on Jones’ behalf, paving the way for one of the most lucrative signings in rock history up to that point.

Created the signature riff to “Black Dog.”

Jimmy Page is widely renowned as one of the greatest riff-smiths in rock history, a fact that often overshadows some of the more impressive musical contributions of his Zeppelin bandmates. Case in point: It was Jones, not Page, who came up with the unique 5/4 riff for one of Led Zeppelin’s most recognizable songs, “Black Dog.” As Jones told Cameron Crowe in the liner notes to the Led Zeppelin box set Light and Shade, “I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn’t be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until [John] Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turn-around. That was the secret.”

jpj-jb John Bonham & John Paul Jones

Considered quitting Led Zeppelin in 1973.
By 1973, after recording five albums and touring almost nonstop, Jones was apparently fed up with life in Led Zeppelin and wanted out. According to band lore, he was thinking about leaving the band to take up a position as the choirmaster of Winchester Cathedral, a claim that he has repeatedly rebuked. “It was a joke,” he explained. “Somebody said, ‘Do you like being on the road?’ I said, ‘No … I saw this advert for a job for the organist out by the cathedral, I’m gonna bid for that. I’m gonna take that. I’m gonna apply for that.’ It was one of those things.” Ultimately, Jones opted to stay in the band and stuck it out for another seven years until the untimely death of John Bonham brought the whole enterprise crashing down.

Played bass on Paul McCartney’s 1984 album, Give My Regards to Broad Street.
Following the demise of Led Zeppelin, while Robert Plant launched a successful solo career and Jimmy Page hooked up with Paul Rodgers to form the supergroup the Firm, Jones essentially picked up right where he left off before he joined the band, working the session scene. One of his first high-profile jobs of the 1980s was his work with Paul McCartney on the soundtrack to the former Beatle’s film Give My Regards to Broad Street. While the film flopped, the album did quite well, taking the Number One spot on the British charts. Lead single “No More Lonely Nights” earned both a Golden Globe and a BAFTA nomination.

Contributed a track to Brian Eno’s 1988 ambient record, Music for Films III.
In 1988, electronic music pioneer Brian Eno was plotting the third installment of his ambient music series Music for Films when he decided to bring in Jones to work with him on the track that ended up being named “4-Minute Warning.” While the album isn’t one of Eno’s greatest works — it’s a bit of a stylistic mishmash — it’s hard to argue against the brilliance of that song in particular. Credited solely to Jones, it’s a musically adventurous passage of music that sounds as disturbing as it does alluring, building to an almost unholy crescendo. It’s another marker of Jones being perhaps the most “out there” of his Zeppelin cohorts.

Produced the Butthole Surfers’ 1993 album, Independent Worm Saloon.
Of all the bands in the world that you’d imagine a former Seventies-rock giant collaborating with, the Butthole Surfers would probably be very low on the list. Nevertheless, when it came time for the freaky Texas rockers to record their sixth record and first with a major label, Independent Worm Saloon, they reached out Jones, who surprisingly agreed. As Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes remembered of those sessions, “We spent so much money on that record! We basically spent a fortune to hang out with some guy from Led Zeppelin!”

Worked on the orchestral arrangements for R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People.
If Automatic for the People isn’t R.E.M.’s best record, then at the very least it’s their most popular, with more than 18 million copies sold. While the Georgia alt-rockers were clearly hitting their stride by this point and writing some of their best material in years, it was a stroke of genius to bring in Jones to help put together some of the orchestral arrangements on the album. As Jones recalled, “They sent me the demos of their songs, and we went into a studio in Atlanta, with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. They were great songs, something you can really get your teeth into as an arranger. And I’ve been good friends with them ever since.”

Recorded an album with outré singer Diamada Galàs (Yoko Ono  Redux)  in 1994.
During the Nineties, while his former Led Zeppelin bandmates Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were reuniting for an MTV Unplugged album, Jones was off taking yet another creative left turn, linking up with avant-garde singer-composer Diamanda Galàs to create the album The Sporting Life. “We met once in London for an evening and talked about music and our backgrounds and what we liked,” Jones said. “Diamanda went back on tour and then to New York, and I went back home and started thinking about this. And I put down some riffs with a drum machine and sent them to Diamanda, who by that time was working at a studio, SIR, with a Hammond organ. … We got together for the recording period, just the two of us for two weeks and put it all down.”

Signed with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp’s DGM label in 1999 and released two solo albums.
After waiting for a number of years to see if Page or Plant might call him up and ask him whether he would like to join them out on the road, Jones decided to move on and try his hand as a solo artist. When it came time to find a label, however, the options appeared limited, so he reached out to King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, who had just started his own company: Discipline Global Mobile or DGM. “Robert and I shared managers at one point,” Jones recalled. “I asked what Robert was doing. He said that Robert had this record company and it had this great ethic, you know, where the artist had total artistic control … and they retained ownership of their music, which is pretty rare in the music industry, and there were no contracts, which is also nice. I just liked the whole idea — it’s very artist friendly, not artist-hostile or even artist-dangerous, like some places!” Ultimately, Jones put out two albums under the Discipline umbrella, Zooma in 1999 and The Thunderchief in 2002. The former actually featured Jones’ boss Fripp playing guitar on the song “Leafy Meadows.”

Played on two tracks on the Foo Fighters’ 2005 album, In Your Honor. 
Dave Grohl is a vocal Led Zeppelin fan — the first tattoo he ever got was of John Bonham’s interconnected-circles symbol that appears on the band’s fourth album — so when it came time to record the Foo Fighters’ 2005 album, In Your Honor, the singer/drummer/guitarist threw up a Hail Mary and put in a phone call to Jones to see if he’d be interested in coming into the studio to add a bit of instrumentation. Ever the game collaborator, Jones agreed and played mandolin on the song “Another Round” and piano on “Miracle.” Jones would collaborate with Grohl once again four years later along with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme in the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures.

In 2009, Jones linked up with Sonic Youth for a one-of-a-kind performance with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Brooklyn. The happening was avant-garde to the extreme, with Jones joining the band’s guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, and swapping frantically between bass and keyboard passages. As the hour-long performance progressed, Jones kept his foot pressed almost constantly on a pedal that controlled the pitch, tone and volume of his bass sound. Needless to say, the entire endeavor was one of the more intense performances of his long and storied career.

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Is currently busy writing an opera.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Jones has apparently spent the past few years working on a completely original opera production. As he stated in 2014, “It’s unlike anything else. It’s the emotion, the passion.” Apparently, Jones opera is based partly on August Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata, and at the time he gave that interview, he was about halfway through the work’s first act. While Jones hasn’t given many updates on the project since that point, it’s safe to assume, given his track record, that if he ever does complete the piece, it won’t meet anyone’s expectations of what a traditional opera sounds like.

Which “Sweet-Band” Leader Was a Speed Boat Champion?

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Like most of you, my parents and their friends generally went to house parties on New Year’s Eve. Guy Lombardo’s broadcast on ABC was either playing in the background or turned on a few minutes before Midnight to hear his Orchestra’s rendition of Auld Lang Syne as the clock strikes 12:00 AM. The required list of supplies for the celebration in those days, were a couple of noisemakers, a glass of bubbly, and someone to kiss. For almost 50 years music on New Year’s Eve meant Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

Although I am a musician and try to appreciate most forms of music, his group’s sickeningly sweet sound did me in. The saxes with that heavy vibrato, swooping strings, cascading pianos, along with the tuba often providing the bass line in lieu of a bass fiddle could cause cavities with excessive listening. Also, let’s not forget Guy himself with his 30” baton waving in the air,  conducting no one.

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Guy Lombardo owned New Year’s Eve. In fact, the live broadcast of his show on December 31st was so popular that he was known as “Mr. New Year’s Eve.” Guy and the band cultivated a trademark sound early on that seemingly only white people loved. It was considered revolutionary at the time: the soft, mellow saxophones, muted trumpets, slow tempos, symphonic style always presented with top-notch musicianship. His concerts were elegant affairs. Imagine grand ballrooms filled with guests dressed to the nines, a fine suit or maybe even a tuxedo, or stylish frock. If you weren’t sitting at your table enjoying a cocktail, you might be swaying across the dance floor to the sweet sounds of the band. And on stage, the band in red tuxes with Guy Lombardo in black, baton in hand and gently swaying and dancing as he conducted.

From humble beginnings in London, Ontario, a move to the U.S. and first recordings in the 1920s, the band’s popularity soared. By 1954 Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians had sold over 100 million records and played at the inaugural balls of every U.S. president from Franklin Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower and again in 1985 for Ronald Reagan.

Although Lombardo achieved great success in the United States and became an American citizen in 1938, he maintained close ties with Canada and came back frequently to visit. Lombardo appeared regularly on CBC Radio over the years. In 1973 he talked to Peter Gzwoski on his program This Country in the Morning. Lombardo was a household name. They talked about the early years of the band when he and his band mates were teenagers living in London.

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By the time the band had grown to a 9 piece outfit they figured they were ready for the big time and decided to head south. Their first stop was Cleveland, Ohio. Guy reminisced about the surprise of learning that Cleveland was stuffed to the gills with big bands. They were definitely not the only game in town. But lucky for the Royal Canadians, it seemed that the other bands were reluctant to perform on radio. They thought it was too much bother to come all the way to a radio station for each appearance when instead they could fill a concert hall. Lombardo jumped at the chance and made their name. It was radio that helped catapult The Royal Canadians to fame and their name was made.

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Bandleader Guy Lombardo, right, poses in 1943 with his brothers, from left, Victor, Carmen and Lebert.

In the mid-1970s, Guy appeared on the local CBC Radio weekend morning show Fresh Air. Interviewing him were Bill McNeil and Cy Strange. Guy was always quick to give credit, especially to his brother Carmen. Carmen played sax in the band and he was entirely self-taught. He also wrote some of the band’s greatest hits, like their most famous, Boo Hoo. In fact, the band was a family affair, with brothers Lebert and Victor also part of it, and for a time sister Rose Marie.

guy-speedboatOne thing you might not know about Guy Lombardo is that he was a champion boat racer, specializing in hydroplane boats. Between 1946 and 1949 he was the reigning U.S. national champion of the sport. The name of his beloved race boat? Tempo, of course.

 

guy-and-whiskers

Although I didn’t like the vast majority of their music, here’s one I really do like. Perhaps it is that I agree with the sentiment so much. Enjoy Yourself!

Over their long career, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians had over 500 hit songs. In fact by the early 1970s total sales exceeded 300 million, making it the most popular dance band ever. Their recording of Auld Lang Syne still plays as the first song of the New Year of Times Square in New York.

Happy New Year Everyone! Thanks to all of you for reading & writing my humble blog.

 

 

Which R&B Star Boxed Under the Name “Little Chocolate”?

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Lee Dorsey epitomized the loose, easygoing charm of New Orleans R&B perhaps more than any other artist of the ’60s. Working with legendary Crescent City producer/writer Allen Toussaint, Dorsey typically offered good-time party tunes with a playful sense of humor and a loping, funky backbeat. Even if he’s remembered chiefly for the signature hit “Working in a Coalmine,” it was a remarkably consistent and winning combination for the vast majority of his recording career.

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Dorsey was born in New Orleans on December 24, 1924 (although some sources list 1926), and was a childhood friend of Fats Domino before moving to Portland, Oregon when he was ten years old.  After serving in the Navy during WWII, Dorsey returned to Portland and became a successful light heavyweight boxer, fighting under the name “Kid Chocolate.” He retired from boxing in 1955 and returned to his birthplace, where he eventually opened a successful auto-body shop.

His first recording was “Rock Pretty Baby/Lonely Evening” on Cosimo Mattasa’s Rex label, in 1958. This was followed by the Allen Toussaint-produced “Lottie Mo/Lover of Love”, for the small Valiant label in late 1960 (picked up by ABC-Paramount in 1961). He pursued a singing career by night and wound up recording singles for several different labels, most of which made little noise. after meeting songwriter and record producer Allen Toussaint at a party, he recorded “Ya Ya“, a song inspired by a group of children chanting nursery rhymes. In 1961, he signed with Bobby Robinson’s Fury label,  ‘Ya Ya” became his first national hit that year.  It went to number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold reaching the pop Top Ten and hitting number one on the R&B charts. Despite its popularity, following it up turned out to be difficult, and with a large family to support, Dorsey returned to his auto repair business after a few more singles flopped.

Still, Allen Toussaint loved Dorsey’s voice, and kept him in mind for future sessions. Toussaint’s hunch paid off in 1965 when, signed to the Amy label, Dorsey turned “Ride Your Pony” into a Top Ten R&B hit. The accompanying album of the same name sold respectably as well, and Dorsey began cutting a multitude of Toussaint compositions, often with the legendary New Orleans funk ensemble the Meters as his studio backing band. The New Lee Dorsey was released later in 1966, and supplied Dorsey’s best-known song, the irresistible “Working in a Coalmine” (which he co-wrote with Toussaint). With its clanking sound effects and Dorsey’s comic exclamations, “Working in a Coalmine” became his second Top Ten pop hit and signature song, and Dorsey toured internationally with the Meters backing him up. A few follow-ups, particularly “Holy Cow” and “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On),” met with some success, but Dorsey was once again hard pressed to duplicate his big hit, and once again left music for the practical concern of running his business. 1970’s Yes We Can (on Polydor) was his last album for some time, with the title track becoming his last chart single.

After guesting on the Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes cut “How Come You Treat Me So Bad?,” Dorsey attempted a comeback in 1977 with the ABC album Night People, which wasn’t a commercial success despite mostly positive reviews. Still, it was enough to land him supporting slots on tours by the likes of James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, and even the Clash, whose 1980 tour was his last major concert jaunt. In the meantime, other artists mined his back catalog for covers: “Working in a Coalmine” was redone by robotic new wavers Devo and country duo the Judds; “Ya Ya” by Ike & Tina Turner, John Lennon, and Buckwheat Zydeco; “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On)” by jazzman Lou Donaldson; and “Yes We Can” by the Pointer Sisters (under the new title “Yes We Can Can“). Dorsey continued to perform sporadically, as opportunities presented themselves, until he contracted emphysema; he died in New Orleans on December 1, 1986.

Get Out of My Life, Woman” was performed often by the Jerry Garcia Band, and Robert Palmer had a hit with “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley“. His version of the Allen Toussaint song “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)” is referenced in the Beastie Boys‘ song “Sure Shot“, with the lyric “Everything I do is funky like Lee Dorsey.” “Ya Ya” was spoken by Cheech Marin in Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, as he was waiting for his girlfriend.

Dorsey continued to perform sporadically, as opportunities presented themselves until he contracted emphysema; he died in New Orleans on December 1, 1986.

 

What Legendary Cornet Virtuoso Often Had to Be Awoken in Time to Play His Solos During a Number?

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Cornetist Bix Beiderbecke was one of the most sought after cornetists in the 1920s, although he only became famous many years after his death in 1931. Today he is considered one of the early jazz musicians skilled enough to be compared to the great Louis Armstrong, and his innovative approach helped direct later jazz styles. His life, on the other hand, was one riddled by self-destructive behavior, marked by uncontrollable and fatal alcoholism.

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Raised in Davenport, Iowa by a comfortable middle-class family, Beiderbecke developed skill at the piano at an early age. His knack for learning pieces by ear allowed him to forego intensive training, which would have required him to learn to read music.

He began to play the cornet at 16, inspired by Nick LaRocca of the Original Dixieland Jass Band.

His poor grades in school resulted from a lack of interest in everything but music, but in an effort to remedy this, his parents sent him to Lake Forest Academy, a boarding school in Illinois. There he continued to ignore his studies in favor of sneaking off to Chicago to hear jazz in speakeasies. He began to perform more and more in Chicago, and when he was expelled from the academy in 1922, he decided to pursue a career in music. He soaked up the early jazz sounds of Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Freddie Keppard, as well as the music of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.

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Beiderbecke joined a band known as the Wolverines in 1923, expanding his exposure to audiences outside of Chicago, and most importantly, in New York. Around this time began his association with C-melody saxophone player Frankie Trumbauer.

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Beiderbecke and Trumbauer were similar in terms of their virtuosity and their refined, dulcet approach, contrasting from the boisterous sounds of hot jazz. Their playing is thought to have contributed to the development of “cool” jazz, a style made popular by Miles Davis and others in later decades.

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Beiderbecke played and recorded with a number of groups in the mid-1920s, and also developed a taste for Prohibition-era alcohol, which was often filled with poisonous contaminants. But while his addiction thrived, so did his career. Apparently, he was able to improve his poor reading ability because, in 1927, he and Trumbauer joined the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, and then the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Both were high-paid professional ensembles with large popular followings. Tellingly, reminders were found written in the 2nd trumpet chart,  to “Wake Up Bix” before it was time for him to solo.

During the late 1920s, Beiderbecke made several recordings on cornet with small groups that often included Trumbauer. The two famously recorded the tune “Singin’ the Blues,” on which their mellifluous tones and melodic sophistication signaled a departure from traditional styles. Beiderbecke also composed works for solo piano, including “In A Mist,” an elaborate piece that injects early jazz with elements of French impressionism.

Despite his successes, his heavy drinking stood in the way of his career, and in 1929, after a nervous breakdown, Beiderbecke was asked to take a leave of absence from the Whiteman Orchestra to recuperate. He never got clean, and two years later, on August 6th, 1931, after a binge on toxic liquor, Beiderbecke died at the age of 28.

What alluded Bix his entire life, was achieving any measure of success in his parent’s eyes, when he desperately craved. A famous anecdote speaks of a visit back home after a number of his recordings became popular around the world. Bix opened the closet to hang his coat, and say there was a pile of his records that he had sent them that were never opened.

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Although not fully recognized during his short life, Beiderbecke’s talent is hailed today. His restrained and reflective style has served as a model for countless followers, as has his melding of jazz and classical music influences. He died young, but his musical legacy endures.

A Recording That is Guaranteed to Have Your Lover Melt in Your Arms

 

If you and your lover are sitting by the fire on Christmas Eve anticipating the madness of the next day or on Christmas Evening decompressing from all the fun, pour a glass of brandy for both of you. Then let this music wash all over you – The results will be gorgeous…

At the time of his death in 1983, Johnny Hartman was already a ghost. A supreme interpreter of ballads with a lush, velvety baritone, Hartman combated indifference for nearly forty years, his one moment in the sun a 1963 collaboration with saxophonist John Coltrane’s classic quartet. That album, the superb John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, is Hartman’s definitive statement and remains, along with a glass of white wine and a crackling fire, an essential aid to seduction. For all that, Hartman’s post-Coltrane efforts, on the Impulse! label and otherwise failed to earn him the fame he deserved. His passing was a murmur; a whimper rather than a bang. The anonymity he struggled against claimed him, and the world was none the wiser.

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In 1961, jazz writer John Tynan scathingly referred to John Coltrane’s recent recordings as “anti-jazz,” “horrifying” and “gobbledegook.” Taking umbrage at this criticism and others similar in tone, Impulse Records producer and chief executive Bob Thiele steered Coltrane toward making a series of albums featuring ballads and standard tunes. As described in his autobiography, What a Wonderful World, Thiele said, “We decided to straighten these guys out once and for all by showing them that John was as great and complete a jazz artist as we already knew, and it was one of the few times he accepted a producer’s concept.” The first offering, Ballads, featured instrumentals performed by Coltrane’s classic quartet consisting of pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. The second album paired the seemingly disparate styles of Coltrane and Duke Ellington. It was during the sessions with Ellington that Coltrane became comfortable recording only one or two takes of a song. According to Thiele, this was an important step in Coltrane’s development, because previously, “[He] would ask for one take after another, with each subsequent take inevitably less exciting and genuine than the previous attempt.”

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After the success of these two albums, Coltrane described why he felt a follow-up was necessary: “And these ballads that came out were definitely ones which I felt at this time. I chose them; it seemed to be something that was laying around in my mind—from my youth, or somewhere—and I just had to do them. They came at this time when the confidence in what I was doing on the horn had flagged; it seemed to be the time to clean that out.” To further this act of cleansing, Coltrane and Thiele began considering another album of ballads but this time with a vocalist, something Coltrane had never done on recordings under his own name (and would never do again). According to one account, all of Thiele’s early vocalist suggestions, including Sarah Vaughan, were declined by the saxophonist. Coltrane later described how he came to decide on the right singer: “Johnny Hartman—a man that I had stuck up in my mind somewhere—I just felt something about him, I don’t know what it was. I liked his sound, I thought there was something there I had to hear.” On another occasion, Coltrane offered simple but heartfelt reasoning for seeking out Hartman: “He’s a fine singer, and I wanted him to make a comeback.”

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Thiele gave his own recollections of the circumstances: “We had both agreed on some singers, but one night, John says, ‘There’s a guy that I think is great,’ and he described the background—where he heard him and why he liked him. So I contacted Johnny and that was the Hartman-Coltrane album.” Thiele provided further details in his autobiography: “Trane, who always wanted to record with a singer, chose as his collaborator an old comrade who was experiencing some hard times, the veteran balladeer Johnny Hartman.” Referring to both personal and musical reasons for the choice, Thiele continued, “Aside from the generous friendly gesture, Coltrane considered Hartman’s rich baritone and musicianly phrasing of lyrics to be the closest approximation of his saxophone sound.” As record producer and friend of Coltrane, Thiele’s comments must be seriously considered, but he was certainly incorrect on one point—Hartman and Coltrane were not old comrades. The myth that the two performed together in Dizzy’s orchestra perpetuated over the years, in no small part because of Thiele, but Hartman had left the group several months before Coltrane joined. Although they would have had the opportunity to hear each other perform at the Apollo Theater in March 1950, according to Hartman’s 1978 interview with Frank Kofsky (the only man to interview the two principals and producer of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman), he and Coltrane had never met or performed together before the 1963 album project.

Today, Johnny Hartman ‘ while still a relatively obscure figure ‘ is better known than at any time during his life. The CD era resurrected him, and his records are heard by jazz fans the world over. He is still best known for John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, but several other albums ( I Just Stopped By To Say Hello, And I Thought About You  (The Voice That Is ) have joined that classic in the pantheon of great vocal jazz recordings.

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Hartman is considered an acquired taste by some. His romantic sound isn’t to everyone’s taste, yet the best of his work lives on in boudoirs everywhere. One might call Hartman the thinking person’s Barry White. I can tell from personal experience that the first two bars of ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’ are enough to melt any woman. Still, there is more to the Hartman revival than superb mood music. This music endures because Hartman was an artist of the highest order. His elegant phrasing enlivens any tune.

Take, for example, Fats Waller’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin”, which Hartman recorded twice (once for Bethlehem on Songs from the Heart and again for ABC/Paramount on The Unforgettable Johnny Hartman ). As recorded by Waller on RCA in 1943, ‘Ain’t Misbehavin” is a transparent lie. One imagines Waller’s fingers crossed behind is back as he tells his love that he’s ‘got no place to go’ and that he is ‘home about eight, just [him] and [his] radio.’ ‘Of course, I’m faithful, sugar!’ Waller’s classic tune declares with a wink, ‘Don’t you believe me?’ By contrast, Hartman’s rendition is jaded, yet sincere. It is a declaration of fidelity from a world-weary playboy. ‘Your kisses are worth waiting for,’ he sings, ‘Why don’t you believe me?’ The real difference lies in the way Waller and Hartman pronounce the word ‘believe’ in their recordings. Waller razzes the word, blubbering his lips over the initial ‘b’. Hartman caresses the word, extending it over three beats. The singer in Hartman’s version is wounded when his beloved doesn’t buy his story. Waller is a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

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In the decades that followed Hartman’s collaboration with Coltrane, hemade a number of albums designed to capitalize on that success. The best were the ones that immediately followed it on the Impulse! label. I Just Dropped By To Say Hello follows the formula of the Coltrane album, and does so with considerable success. The Voice That Is is marred by trendy arrangements on the second side, but succeeds overall despite this, thanks largely to the strength of the material. After a string of disappointing attempts to lend his sound to contemporary pop tunes (a strategy that worked for very few of Hartman’s generation) and a few strong collaborations with Japanese musicians (although never a household name in the United States, Hartman was ‘ in the immortal words of Tom Waits ‘ big in Japan), Hartman had receded from the public’s ear. The man who had once seemed the natural heir apparent to Billy Eckstine was fast becoming an invisible man.

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n August of 1980, three years before his death, Johnny Hartman entered a New York City recording studio to create one of his last great albums. Once In Every Life is a recording that delivers what even the best of Hartman’s post-Coltrane albums only promised. Fronting a small jazz combo, the context that best captured his unique sound, Hartman is completely at his ease. He is a little older, perhaps, but certainly wiser. The musicians on the date, particularly the great Billy Taylor on piano, compliment Hartman’s maturity. Their playing displays great artistry and great taste. These are gentlemen of the old school, completely at home in one another’s company. The atmosphere is one of romance, but not that of a schoolboy crush. It is the sound of something more adult; something that only comes from years of experience. The ballads, particularly “Wave”, “I See Your Face Before Me”, and “Moonlight In Vermont”, display Hartman’s mellow vocals to perfection. His duet with Al Gafa’s guitar on the aforementioned “Moonlight In Vermont” stands as one of the album’s most beautiful and satisfying moments. Once In Every Life will never displace John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman for most listeners, yet it stands among Hartman’s best and most consistent work. His voice is deeper and richer than before. His readings of familiar material (Hartman had recorded ‘I See Your Face Before Me‘ and ‘Moonlight In Vermont‘ while on Bethlehem nearly thirty years before) become definitive.

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Sadly, Once In Every Life has been out of print in the United States for years and has never been released on CD in its original form. Fortunately, the entire album is available spread out over two CDs: The 1995 soundtrack album to Clint Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County and a second collection titled Remembering Madison County. While the two soundtrack discs can be enjoyed in their own right (the first disc features, in addition to the Hartman numbers, three recordings by Dinah Washington while the second includes two gems from Ahmad Jamal), the enterprising Hartman fan can, with the aid of a CD burner, reconstruct the album in its original sequence. Once In Every Life can then be enjoyed as nature intended. It is a fine addition to Hartman’s discography, and we can only hope that it will be reissued under its own title in the near future.

Hartman’s legacy will always be one of artistic triumph balanced against commercial disappointment. Thankfully, there are plenty of excellent recordings for future generations to discover and enjoy. So long as they do, Hartman’s ghost will never completely fade.

Which Blues Guitarist Was Known As the “Iceman”?

With our recent below freezing temperatures, I felt that this would be a good time to look at the life and career of the performer who earned the nickname the “Iceman”.

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There has never been and may never be again a bluesman quite like Albert Collins, “The Master of the Telecaster.” Although he went largely unrecognized by the general public during most of his career, the Texas-born musician Albert Collins eventually was acknowledged as one of the most talented and distinctive blues guitarists of his era. He established his fame by creating a unique sound with his Fender Telecaster guitar that was based on unusual tunings and scorching solos. His nickname “Iceman” was bestowed on him because his guitar sounds were piercing and could scorch the ears, just as icicles were sharp and could burn.

Peter Watrous wrote in the New York Times that “Mr. Collins made his reputation by combining savage, unpredictable improvisations with an immediately identifiable tone, cold and pure.” “In the Iceman’s powerful hands,” said Jas Obrecht in Guitar Player, “that battered Tele could sass and scold like Shakespeare’s fire, jab harder than Joe Louis, squawk like a scared chicken, or raise a graveyard howl.”

Musicians ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Canned Heat to Robert Cray have cited Collins as having a major influence on their styles. He was especially known for his frenzied live performances, during which he would often stroll into the audience and dance with the fans, his playing arena extended by a 100-foot extension cord attached to his electric guitar. Often he would start talking a blue streak, regaling his fans with hilarious and lewd remarks.

While his crowd-pleasing improvisations made him an extremely popular performer over the years, his recordings sold erratically until late in his career. His ultimate fame was also delayed by the long-time domination of Chicago blues over the Texas-based version. While the Chicago blues of performers such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf emphasized group jam sessions, the Texas variety was more of a showcase for individual talent where guitarists tried to outplay each other. Few could compete with Collins in these “bouts,” but his talent didn’t bring him widespread fame until he was brought to the attention of rock fans in the late 1960s.

A pianist in his church, his idol when he was a teen was Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy McGriff, but his interest in that instrument waned after his organ was stolen.

Later, he learned about playing guitar from his cousins, blues guitarists Willow Young and Lightnin’ Hopkins. His cousins turned out to be major influences on Collins’s trademark style. He emulated Young’s style of playing without a pick and learned to tune the guitar in a minor key from Hopkins. By using his fingers rather than a pick, his playing developed a more percussive sound.

Collins claimed in Guitar Player that he made his first guitar out of a cigar box, using hay-baling wire for strings. This seems questionable, considering his cousins were successful guitarists and he had somehow managed to get an organ easy enough!

While Collins said that his greatest influence was Detroit’s John Lee Hooker, he spent much of his youth listening to the big band music of artists such as Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, and Tommy Dorsey. At one time he considered becoming a jazz guitarist, and his playing often shifted between blues and the horn-driven sound of a jazz big band.

After Collins switched from acoustic to electric guitar, he began listening to T-Bone Walker, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and B.B. King to refine his talent. Brown was a key influence due to his horn-driven sound that Collins found especially exciting. Collins emulated Brown by starting to play with a capo and a Fender guitar, an instrument that would become inextricably linked to him. Since he couldn’t afford to buy the guitar at that time, he started by having a Fender Telecaster neck put on another guitar. Throughout this time, he absorbed the sounds of Mississippi, Chicago, and especially Texas.

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By age 15 Collins was playing at local blues club with Brown. Then he formed his own group, the Rhythm Rockers, in 1952, with which he performed at honky tonks in Houston’s all-black Third Ward on weekends while working during the week as a ranch hand and truck driver. Next on his career path was three years of touring with singer Piney Brown’s band.

In the early 1950s, Collins’s talent earned him positions as session players with performers such as Big Mama Thornton. He later replaced future guitar great Jimi Hendrix in Little Richard’s band. By this time Collins had established himself as a great eclectic who could produce unusual sounds with his guitar playing. As David Gates wrote in Newsweek, Collins “tore at the string with his bare hands instead of the ostensibly speedier pick, used unorthodox minor tunings instead of the more versatile standard ones and unashamedly clamped on a capo (a bar across the fingerboard, which raises the pitch of the strings), making the already stinging Telecaster sound even more bright and piercing.”

Collins cashed in on the popularity of instrumentals ushered in by performers such Booker T., Duane Eddy, and Link Wray in the late 1950s. His first recording, an instrumental called “The Freeze,” featured extended notes played in a high register. Collins told Guitar Player that the record sold about 150,000 copies in a mere three weeks.

Albert lost a chance to play with soul music star James Brown in the late 1950s because he couldn’t read music.

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Then he hit the blues big time with his recording of “Frosty,” released in 1962, that sold over a million copies and became a popular blues standard. Teenagers Janis Joplin and Johnny Winter, both raised in Beaumont, supposedly, were in the studio when he recorded the song. According to Albert, Janis correctly predicted that the single would become a hit.

This song confirmed his reputation as a player of “cold blues,” and his producer urged him to continue this theme in his song and album titles. He even named his backup band The Icebreakers.

With just his fingers and his capo that he would move up and down the neck of his guitar, Collins produced a wide range of effects ranging from the sound of car horns to footsteps in the snow. He released a series of singles for small record labels such as Kangaroo, Great Scott, Hall, Fox, Imperial, and Tumbleweed that had moderate success at the regional level. Meanwhile, he still didn’t feel that he could make his living entirely from guitar playing and continued working as a truck driver and as a mixer of paint for automobiles.  He continued playing through the 1960s, but recording very sporadically and was unable to tour because of his day job.

According to Peter Watrous in the New York Times, Collins’ first significant album was Truckin with Albert Collins in 1965. The album featured what would become famous blues recording of his previously released “Frosty,” “Sno-Cone,” and other songs. Following the release of his compilation album, The Cool Sound of Albert Collins, he quit his paint job and moved to Kansas City in 1966. While there he met his future wife, Gwendolyn, who would become an important motivator for him as well the composer of some of his best-known songs. Among her compositions for Collins were “There’s Gotta Be a Change” and “Mastercharge.”

Blues music gained popularity in the late 1960s due to various rock performers such as Jimi Hendrix and Canned Heat stressing the importance of blues as inspiration for their work.  A major boost to Collins’ career came as the result of interest in him by Bob Hite. Hite recommended Collins to the Imperial, which was affiliated with Canned Heat’s label, Liberty/USA. His understated singing style showed up on a recording for the first time on Love Can Be Found Anywhere Even in a Guitar, the first of three albums that he recorded for Imperial. Later he recorded albums for Blue Thumb, then Bill Szymczyk’s Tumbleweed label in Chicago in 1972.

In 1968 and 1969, the ’60s blues revival was still going on, and Albert got wider exposure opening for groups like the Allman Brothers at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival and at Fillmore West in 1969 gained Collins more exposure and acceptance with young rock audiences. He also appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1975.

As late as 1971, when he was 39 years old, Collins found it necessary to work in construction because he couldn’t make a sufficient living from his music.

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But Albert’s greatest success came after he signed with Alligator in 1978 and cut Ice Pickin’. It won the Best Blues Album of the Year Award from the Montreux Jazz Festival and was nominated for a Grammy. His following Alligator albums helped earn Collins every award the blues world had to offer. And, along with Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray (who decided on a career as a bluesman after seeing Collins play his high school prom) Collins cut the Grammy-winning Showdown!

More comfortable playing for small audiences than mass gatherings, Collins nevertheless agreed to perform in the 1985 Live Aid Concert with George Thurogood which was aired to an estimated 1.8 billion viewers. Right into his fifties, he maintained his flamboyant stage presence. Eventually, Collins was well established as the leading blues celebrity second only to guitarist B.B. King.

Albert Collins was the subject of television documentary on PBS, Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues, 1980s.

Even after he was firmly established as a major modern bluesman, Collins never got too big for his fans and friends, and never took things easy. And he never relinquished the wheel of his battered tour bus that he loved to drive so much. Along with his band, The Icebreakers, Collins’ live shows — driven by his kinetic stage presence — were legendary testaments to the power of the blues.

Although he’d spent far too much time in the 1970s without recording, Collins could sense that the blues were coming back stronger in the mid-’80s, with interest in Stevie Ray Vaughn at an all-time high. He enjoyed some media celebrity in the last few years of his life, via concert appearances at Carnegie Hall, on Late Night with David Letterman, in the Touchstone film, Adventures in Babysitting, and in a classy Seagram’s Wine Cooler commercial with the actor Bruce Willis. The blues revival that Collins, Vaughan, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds helped bring about in the mid-’80s continued into the mid-’90s. But sadly, Albert was not able to take part in the ongoing evolution of the music.

 Check out the young, thin Bruce Willis!

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“The Master of the Telecaster,” “The Iceman,” and “The Razor Blade” was robbed of his best years as a blues performer by a bout with liver cancer that ended with his premature death on November 24, 1993. He was just 61 years old. The highly influential, totally original Albert Collins was on the cusp of a much wider worldwide following via his deal with Virgin Records’ Pointblank subsidiary.

Albert left behind a blues legacy that continues to amaze and delight blues fans all over the world.