Great, well-loved performers passed on in 2011
Some — but not all — boomer-age musicians and fans are sharing delicious outrage about younger artists outselling their elders . . . or betters.
They point out that Creed has sold more records in the U.S. than Jimi Hendrix; that Led Zeppelin, REM, and Depeche Mode have never had a No. 1 single, but Rihanna has 10; that Ke$ha’s “Tik-Tok” sold more copies than any Beatles single; that Flo Rida’s “Low” has sold 8 million copies, the same as The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”
They lament that the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” is more popular than any Elvis or Simon & Garfunkel song; that Celine Dion’s “Falling Into You” and Shania Twain’s “Come on Over” both sold more copies than any Queen, Nirvana or Bruce Springsteen record.
They bemoan the fact that Katy Perry tied Michael Jackson’s record for most No. 1 singles from an album; that the cast of “Glee” has had more songs chart than the Beatles; and finally — last boomer-demo lament — that Justin Bieber exists.
Tyranny of elitism
Not everybody considers this a bad thing. “Elitist crapola,” snarls a certain Albany-based (boomer age) pundit/producer. “Creed, Katy Perry and Rihanna may not be my cup of chai, but at least it’s music of its time and generation,” he continues. “I’ve long prayed for the moment that the tyranny of boomer music elitism finally ran out of steam, and it looks like that’s finally happening. I hope pop music, in all its silly, disposable glory, will always remain a mirror of its times, rather than a fly frozen in prehistoric amber.”
Now, that’s an unusually far-sighted, articulate and cranky boomer. But nobody is cranky enough to suggest he’s getting his wish for a passing of the torch, or jukebox, by boomer-age musicians dying off. In other words, I suppose this is good or bad a rationale as any to note the passing of those who won’t be making any more music for us, except by back-catalog discoveries.
The older ones died of cancer, heart attacks or strokes. Some of the younger ones died of drug or alcohol problems, gunfire or suicide. DJ Mehdi died when the roof where he was working a party collapsed. Amy Winehouse, 27, and Bill Morrissey, 59, died the same day — both from the effects of alcohol.
No more morbid meditation on how they died; but let’s remember them here, starting with some older ones who supplied the boomers’ coming-of-age soundtrack.
Bluesman Hubert Sumlin, guitarist with Howlin’ Wolf, No. 43 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list and the sound behind “Spoonful,” “Smokestack Lightning,” “The Red Rooster” and many more, died recently. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones are paying for his funeral.
Dobie Gray, singer of “Drift Away” and “The In Crowd” and a two-year cast member of “Hair” in L.A. when the hits stopped, and Howard Tate, soulman, whose “Get it While You Can” was later a hit for Big Brother and the Holding Company and its scorching vocalist Janis Joplin, both passed this year. So did Clarence Clemons, “the Big Man,” saxophonist and singer who honked alongside Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band and made the Boss’ tunes soul music, at least at the start.
Gene McDaniels, the soul man whose “Tower of Strength” smash signified strength and vulnerability, and Nick Ashford, the soul-pop songwriter, singer, producer and devoted musical and life partner of singer Valerie Simpson in a much-honored duo, were tops among the other recently departed veteran soul artists.
Among the other influential musicians who left the building in 2011 were “Wild Man” Fischer, a Frank Zappa discovery and, yes, a wild man of a rock singer, possibly the first aggressively strange would-be star.
Gil Scott-Heron, the street poet soulman whose verbal style and angry-progressive political viewpoint predated and shaped hip-hop, died this year; so did British folk-rock guitar god Bert Jansch, leader of Pentangle and opening act at the Palace last year for Neil Young.
Bluesmen Eddie Kirkland, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Pinetop Perkins, Big Jack Johnson and Melvin Sparks (Price Chopper’s House of Barbecue TV spots) died this year. So did Doyle Bramhall, Texas rock and blues drummer who played with Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan and others and was the father of blues-rock guitarist Doyle Bramhall II.
Some other clusters: Both Bob Burnett and Gil Robbins (father of actor Tim) of the Highwaymen folk group died this year; so did both Tom Crain and Taz DiGregorio of the Charlie Daniels Band; and both Rob Grill and Rick Coonce of the Grass Roots (“Let’s Live for Today,” “Midnight Confession”). This was a bad year for bassists: Dan “Bee” Spears (Willie Nelson’s band), Mikey Welsh (Weezer), Mike Starr (Alice in Chains) and Taiji Sawada (X) died this year.
British pop-ster Gerry Rafferty, the “Baker Street” singer-songwriter, also passed; as did John Walker, an American transplant to Britain and the main voice of the hit-making Walker Brothers: “Make it Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” (None of the band’s three singers was actually named Walker: John Walker was born John Maus.)
Jazz lost some giants, notably the influential drummer Paul Motian and the ageless lyrical-jazz pianist George Shearing; so did Nashville: bluegrass singer Charlie Louvin and country singer Ferlin Husky (aka Terry Preston and Simon Crum).
Several classic-rock songwriters left us this year: Tom King of the Outsiders (“Time Won’t Let Me”) and Michael “Cub” Koda (“Smokin’ in the Boys Room.”)
The sweet-voiced singers Phoebe Snow (“Poetry Man”) and Isshi of the Japanese band Nagrra died in 2011, so did Dan Peak, former member of America (“A Horse With No Name,” “Tin Man”).
Two disco divas died this year: Andrea True, the porn star turned singer whose biggest musical hit was “More, More, More” (I’m not making this up!); and Loleatta Holloway, sometime member of Cappella and GTS and hitmaker with “Hit and Run,” “Love Sensation” and “Only You.”
Some prominent record producers died in 2011: Jim Dickson (the Byrds), Wardell Quezerque (Dr. John, Professor Longhair), Martin Rushent (the Human League, the Buzzcocks), Roger Nichols (Steely Dan) and Philip Fatis Burrell (Sugar Minott, Gregory Isaacs, Beres Hammond).
Gerard Smith, bassist with the great Brooklyn rock band TV on the Radio, and rappers Heavy D., M-Bone and Nate Dogg were among the youngest musicians who died this year, and 103-year-old Hawaiian ukulele master Bill Tapia was probably the oldest.
And don’t forget guitarist Cory Smoot — “Flattus Maximus” — of Gwar.
A big adios, and thanks for all the tunes.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at firstname.lastname@example.org.