Category Archives: Music

Engelbert Humperdinck

 

(Engelbert Humperdinck (born Arnold George Dorsey; 2 May 1936) is an English pop singer. Humperdinck has been described as “one of the finest middle-of-the-road balladeers around.” His singles “Release Me” and “The Last Waltz” both topped the UK music charts in 1967, and sold more than a million copies each. In North America, he also had chart successes with “After the Lovin’” (1976) and “This Moment in Time” (1979). He has sold more than 150 million records worldwide.

 

Early life

Arnold George Dorsey was born in Madras, British India (present-day Chennai, India) in 1936, one of ten children to British Army NCO Mervyn Dorsey, who was of Welsh descent, and his wife Olive, who was of German descent. His family moved to Leicester, England, when he was ten. He soon showed an interest in music and began learning the saxophone. By the early 1950s, he was playing saxophone in nightclubs, but he is believed not to have tried singing until he was seventeen, when friends coaxed him into entering a pub contest. His impression of Jerry Lewis prompted friends to begin calling him “Gerry Dorsey,” a name that he worked under for almost a decade.

Dorsey’s music career was interrupted by his national service in the British Army Royal Corps of Signals during the mid-1950s. He got his first chance to record in 1958 with Decca Records after his discharge. His first single “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” was not a hit, but Dorsey recorded for the same company almost a decade later with very different results. He continued working the nightclubs until 1961, when he was stricken with tuberculosis. He regained his health and returned to nightclub work, but with little success. Dorsey spent the early 1960s living in a house with Johnny “Sambuca” Todd in Jersey where he honed his talent.

 

Career

In 1965, Dorsey teamed up with Gordon Mills, his former roommate in the Bayswater area of London, who had become a music impresario and the manager of Tom Jones. Mills, aware that Dorsey had been struggling for several years to become successful in the music industry, suggested a name-change to the more arresting Engelbert Humperdinck, borrowed from the German 19th-century composer of operas such as Hansel and Gretel. Dorsey adopted the name professionally but not legally. Mills arranged a new deal for him with Decca Records, and Dorsey has been performing under this name ever since.

Humperdinck enjoyed his first real success during July 1966 in Belgium, where he and four others represented England in the annual Knokke song contest. Three months later in October 1966, he was on stage in Mechelen. He made a mark on the Belgian charts with “Dommage, Dommage,” and an early music video was filmed with him in the harbour of Zeebrugge.

In the mid-1960s, Humperdinck visited German songwriter Bert Kaempfert at his house in Spain and was offered arrangements of three songs: “Spanish Eyes“; “Strangers in the Night“; and “Wonderland by Night.” He returned to England where he recorded all three songs. He recognized the potential of “Strangers in the Night” and asked manager Gordon Mills whether it could be released as a single—but his request was refused, since the song had already been requested by Frank Sinatra.

In early 1967, the changes paid off when Humperdinck’s version of “Release Me” made the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic and number one in Britain, recorded in a smooth ballad style with a full chorus joining him on the third refrain, and keeping The Beatles‘ “Strawberry Fields Forever“/”Penny Lane” from the top slot in the UK. Another groundbreaking video showed Engelbert tied up with a lasso. “Release Me” spent 56 weeks in the Top 50 in a single chart run. “Release Me” was believed to have sold 85,000 copies a day at the height of its popularity, and it was the best known of his songs for years.

Humperdinck’s easygoing style and good looks earned him a large following, particularly among women. His hardcore female fans called themselves “Humperdinckers.” “Release Me” was succeeded by two more hit ballads: “There Goes My Everything” and “The Last Waltz,” earning him a reputation as a crooner, a description which he disputed. “If you are not a crooner,” he told The Hollywood Reporter writer Rick Sherwood, “it’s something you don’t want to be called. No crooner has the range I have. I can hit notes a bank could not cash. What I am is a contemporary singer, a stylized performer.”

In 1968, the single “A Man Without Love” reached number two in the UK Singles Chart, and the album of the same name reached number three. Another single, Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, was a top 10 hit in the UK and reached the top 40 in the United States. By the end of the decade, Humperdinck’s expanding roster of songs also included “Am I That Easy to Forget,” “The Way It Used To Be,” “I’m A Better Man (For Having Loved You)” (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David), and “Winter World of Love.” He supplemented these big-selling singles with a number of equally successful albums. These albums formed the bedrock of his fame, and include Release Me, The Last Waltz, A Man Without Love, and Engelbert Humperdinck.

For six months in 1969–1970, Humperdinck fronted his own television series The Engelbert Humperdinck Show for ATV in the UK, and ABC in the US.] In this musical variety show, the singer was joined by some of the most popular and legendary figures then active in entertainment, including Paul Anka, Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Ray Charles, Four Tops, Lena Horne, Liberace, Lulu, Carmen McRae Dusty Springfield, Jack Jones, Tom Jones and Dionne Warwick.

 

1960s and 1970s

By the start of the 1970s, Humperdinck had settled into a busy schedule of recordings, and a number of signature songs emerged from this period, often written by noted musicians and songwriters; among them, “We Made It Happen” (written by Paul Anka), “Sweetheart” (written by Barry Gibb and Maurice Gibb), “Another Time, Another Place,” and “Too Beautiful to Last” (theme from the motion picture Nicholas and Alexandra). In 1972, he starred in his own BBC Television series Engelbert with The Young Generation on BBC1 which ran for thirteen weeks, featuring the dance troupe and regular guests The Goodies and Marlene Charell, as well as international guests. By the middle of the decade, Humperdinck concentrated on selling albums and on live performances, with his style of balladry less popular on the singles charts, developing lavish stage productions that made him a natural for Las Vegas and similar venues. He performed regularly at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas through the early and middle years of the decade, recording a live album at the venue with The Three Degrees as backing singers.

In 1976, Humperdinck’s commercial credentials were buoyed by “After the Lovin,’” a ballad produced by Joel Diamond and released by CBS subsidiary Epic. The song was a top ten hit in the US and was nominated for a Grammy Award, went Gold, and won the “most played juke box record of the year” award. The album of the same name reached the top twenty on the US charts, and was a Double Platinum hit for the singer. Three of the album tracks were produced by Bobby Eli and recorded at the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. As critics point out, the singer’s unexpected foray into the “Philadelphia Sound” was successful, adding to the overall strength of the work. Rounding off the year, Humperdinck made his first appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson with a live performance of the hit single. Joel Diamond went on to produce a series of albums recorded by Humperdinck for Epic, including This Moment in Time from 1979 (the title song topped the US adult contemporary charts) and two Christmas albums. The two men have remained good friends. In 1979, following his late-decade chart successes stateside, Humperdinck took his stage show to Broadway with appearances at the Minskoff Theatre.

 

1980s and 1990s

In the 1980s, Humperdinck consolidated his discography, recording regularly and performing as many as 200 concerts a year while continuing with headlining appearances in Las Vegas at the Hilton Hotel (Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino). In the early and mid 1980s, he made a number of special appearances as an actor on popular television dramas of the time, including The Love Boat, Hotel, and Fantasy Island.

Following his stint as a recording artist with Epic, he released what William Ruhlmann has called an “ambitious double album” titled A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening (1985). Ruhlmann commends Humperdinck for recording this album of standards from the American Songbook; he notes that the work “was a long time coming,” while acknowledging that “the album deserved a broader distribution than it received.” The album was released in the UK as Getting Sentimental and reached the UK Top-40 album charts in the summer of 1985.

In the following years, Humperdinck continued with studio recordings, including a duet with Gloria Gaynor for his 1987 album Remember, I Love You In 1989, he recorded Step into My Life (released as Ich Denk An Dich in Germany). Songs on the album were written by songwriters and musicians such as Dieter Bohlen and Barry Mason. It spawned several singles: “Red Roses for My Lady,” “I Wanna Rock You in My Wildest Dreams,” and a version of Dieter Bohlen‘s first hit from the album Modern Talking, “You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul.”

Humperdinck was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989 and won a Golden Globe Award as entertainer of the year, while also beginning major involvement in charitable causes such as the Leukemia Research Fund, the American Red Cross, the American Lung Association, and several AIDS relief organizations. He wrote a song for one charity-group titled “Reach Out” (released in 1992, on his studio album Hello Out There]).

Musical appraisals of Humperdinck’s career in the 1990s point to him earning “a new hip cachet” during the Lounge Revival, and note the success of new artistic ventures such as his recording of Lesbian Seagull for the soundtrack of the 1996 film Beavis and Butt-head Do America, and his dance album from 1998. 1995’s Love Unchained, produced by Bebu Silvetti, peaked in the UK Top-20 album charts, marking a return to form in his home country. He retained a public profile during these years, making numerous appearances on radio and television, including the Late Show with David Letterman and The Howard Stern Show, and at events such as the 1996 Daytona 500, where he performed The Star-Spangled Banner.

In 1988, Humperdinck filed a libel suit against the National Enquirer. The origin of the libelous statements was said to be Kathy Jetter, the mother of Humperdinck’s illegitimate child, and were made in an affidavit filed by Jetter in New York Family Court in an effort to increase child support payments from Humperdinck. Jetter lost the action. Jetter had successfully brought a paternity suit against Humperdinck following the birth of her daughter Jennifer in 1977.

 

21st century

Humperdinck’s recording career has continued into the new century, with new albums and a range of musical collaborations. In 2000, he hit the top five of the British album charts with Engelbert at His Very Best, and returned to the top five four years later, after he appeared in a John Smith’s TV-advertisement. In the spring of 2003, Humperdinck collaborated with Grammy Award-winning artist-producer Art Greenhaw to record the roots gospel album Always Hear the Harmony: The Gospel Sessions; joining Humperdinck on the album were The Light Crust Doughboys, The Jordanaires and The Blackwood Brothers. The critically acclaimed album was nominated for a Grammy for “Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album of the Year,” while Humperdinck was photographed with generations of fans at the 2004 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. He was back in the studio soon after, releasing Let There Be Love in 2005. Music critics have remarked on the historical span of material in the album, from songs first made popular in the 1920s to more recent ones from the 1990s, and point especially to Humperdinck’s version of Nick Lowe‘s “You Inspire Me” as a noteworthy cut. In 2007, Humperdinck released The Winding Road. In a conversation with Larry King, Humperdinck discussed the genesis of the album; he pointed out that The Winding Road featured songs exclusively by British composers, as a “tribute to [his] home country,” released as it was to mark 40 years since his first international hit recording.

During the recording of the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, Humperdinck was asked by Damon Albarn to contribute to the album as a guest artist. However, after listening to the proposed selection, the singer’s management of the time declined the offer without Humperdinck’s knowledge. Describing the event, Humperdinck stated that the missed opportunity was, “the most grievous sin ever committed”, and that he would have gladly collaborated with the Gorillaz. He added that he had since parted ways with his then-management, handing over duties to his son, Scott Dorsey. At the end of the interview, Humperdinck observed: “I’d really like to rekindle that suggestion again and bring it back. Hopefully they will ask me again. My son Scott will definitely say yes.”

On 1 March 2012, the BBC announced that Humperdinck would represent the United Kingdom in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, to be staged in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 26 May. The song, “Love Will Set You Free” was unveiled on 19 March 2012, produced by Grammy award-winning music producer Martin Terefe and co-written by Sacha Skarbek. The song was recorded in London, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tennessee, and was mixed by Thomas Juth in London. When Humperdinck’s participation was announced, he was set to become the oldest singer to ever participate in the contest at the age of 76. During the final allocation draw, the United Kingdom was drawn to perform first. Humperdinck eventually finished in 25th place out of 26, coming in second to last in the voting, with 12 points.

In 2013, he collaborated with Australian surf-rock band The Break (composed in part by former members of Midnight Oil) by providing the vocals to the song, “Ten Guitars,” for the album, Space Farm.

Well into his fifth decade as a successful entertainer, Humperdinck enjoys an annual schedule of international concert dates. He has performed in a range of venues and events. In 2009, Humperdinck performed at Carols in the Domain, a popular Christmas event held in Sydney, Australia. The following year found him in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the prestigious Orchestra Hall, in a performance on October 2010. In November 2010 he returned to Australia for a number of concerts, while adding a new studio album, Released, to his discography. Despite international tours, Humperdinck frequently returns for concerts in the United Kingdom; in May 2015, Humperdinck returned for three concerts in his home country, at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and the Royal Albert Hall.

A double-CD of duets, Engelbert Calling, was released in the UK on 17 March 2014 by Conehead Records, and charted in the UK Top-40. The album finds the singer in the studio with musicians like Charles Aznavour, Elton John, Il Divo, Johnny Mathis, Lulu, Willie Nelson, Olivia Newton-John, Cliff Richard, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Neil Sedaka, Ron Sexsmith, Gene Simmons, and Dionne Warwick. The album was released in North America by OK! Good Records on 30 September 2014, with Humperdinck making a number of promotional appearances on radio and television, including an extended conversation with Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani on HuffPost Live. A Special Edition Vinyl EP with four tracks from the album was released in May 2015. According to OK! Good Records, the EP is Humperdinck’s first vinyl release after a gap of twenty-five years, and “will be a limited edition 7″ vinyl record with a first pressing of 1,000 copies on transparent cloudy clear vinyl.”

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Humperdinck’s first international chart success, and two major celebratory disc sets are slated for a release in the early summer. The first, Engelbert Humperdinck 50, is a two-disc album bringing together Humperdinck’s charting singles for Decca, other songs from different points in his career, two new studio recordings, and a new remix of “Release Me.” The second is an extended box set of the singer’s first eleven albums, reissued by Decca Records, complete with original album artwork and supplemented by new notes on the works.

Personal life

In 1964, Humperdinck married Patricia Healey. They have four children. Through the years, Humperdinck has maintained a strong family life, even as the family alternated between homes in England and in southern California. He was raised and remains a practicing Catholic. Daughter-in-law, Jo Dorsey, has remarked that the singer “tries to visit a cathedral in every town or city he tours globally.”

Humperdinck is a successful real-estate entrepreneur and businessman. He invested in prime real estate properties in Hawaii, Mexico and United States. In the 1970s he bought the Pink Palace, which had been owned by Jayne Mansfield, in Los Angeles. He sold it in 2002 for $4 million to developers. In the 1980s he bought a hotel property in La Paz, Mexico and renamed it La Posada de Englebert. The hotel flourished for a time, acquiring a reputation as an off-the-beaten-track gem. In later years, however, his ownership to the property was successfully challenged. The hotel was demolished in 2012, and was replaced by the Posada Hotel Beach Club.

Humperdinck retains firm ties with Leicestershire, where he spent much of his youth. In August 2005, he auctioned one of his Harley-Davidson motorcycles on eBay to raise money for the County Air Ambulance in Leicestershire. In 2006, the University of Leicester awarded Humperdinck with an Honorary Doctorate of Music. On 25 February 2009, Leicester City Council announced that Humperdinck would be given the Honorary Freedom of Leicester alongside author Sue Townsend and former professional footballer Alan Birchenall. In 2010, Humperdinck was one of the first nine people to be honored with a plaque on the Leicester Walk of Fame.

Gary Busey

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William Gary Busey (born June 29, 1944) is an American actor. A prolific character actor, Busey has appeared in over 150 films, including Lethal Weapon (1987), Predator 2 (1990), Point Break (1991), Under Siege (1992), The Firm (1993), Carried Away (1996), Black Sheep (1996), Lost Highway (1997), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), The Gingerdead Man (2005) and Piranha 3DD (2012). Busey has also made guest appearances on television shows such as Gunsmoke, Walker, Texas Ranger, Law & Order, Scrubs, and Entourage.

For portraying Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story (1978), Busey was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor. In 2014, he lampooned his public image through a series of advertisements for Amazon Fire TV.

 

Early life

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Busey was born in Goose Creek, Texas, the son of Sadie Virginia (née Arnett), a homemaker, and Delmer Lloyd Busey, a construction design manager. He graduated from Nathan Hale High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1962. While attending Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, on a football scholarship, he became interested in acting. He then transferred to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he quit school just one class short of graduation.

 

Career

Early career

Busey began his show business career as a drummer in The Rubber Band. He appears on several Leon Russell recordings, credited as playing drums under the names “Teddy Jack Eddy” and “Sprunk,” a character he created when he was a cast member of a local television comedy show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting on station KTUL (which starred fellow Tulsan Gailard Sartain as “Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi”). For his skits on Uncanny Film Festival, Busey drew on his American Hero, belligerent, know-it-all character. When he told Gailard Sartain his character needed a name, Sartain replied, “Take three: Teddy, Jack ,and Eddy.”

He played in a band called Carp, which released one album on Epic Records in 1969. Busey continued to play several small roles in both film and television during the 1970s. In 1975, as the character “Harvey Daley,” he was the last person killed on the series Gunsmoke (in the third-to-last episode, No. 633 – “The Busters”).

 

Rise to prominence

In 1974, Busey made his major film debut with a supporting role in Michael Cimino‘s buddy action caper Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges.

In 1976, he was hired by Barbra Streisand and her producer-boyfriend Jon Peters to play Bobby Ritchie, road manager to Kris Kristofferson‘s character in the remake film A Star is Born. On the DVD commentary of the film, Streisand says Busey was great and that she had seen him on a TV series and thought he had the right qualities to play the role.

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In 1978, he starred as rock legend Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story with Sartain as The Big Bopper. For his performance, Busey received the greatest critical acclaim of his career and the movie earned Busey an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and the National Society of Film CriticsBest Actor award.

screenshot-2017-03-03-12-03-51In the same year he also starred in the small yet acclaimed drama Straight Time and the surfing movie Big Wednesday, which is now a minor cult classic.

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screenshot-2017-03-03-12-06-10In the 1980s, Busey’s roles included the critically acclaimed western Barbarosa, the comedies D.C. Cab and Insignificance, and the Stephen King adaptation Silver Bullet. He played one of the primary antagonists opposite Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the action comedy Lethal Weapon.

In the 1990s, he had prominent supporting roles in successful action films such as Predator 2, Point Break and Under Siege. He also appeared in Rookie of the Year, The Firm, Black Sheep, Lost Highway, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Busey sang the song “Stay All Night” on Saturday Night Live in March 1979 (season 4, episode 14), and on the Late Show with David Letterman in the 1990s.

 

2000s–present

screenshot-2017-03-03-12-04-44In 2003, Busey starred in a Comedy Central reality show, I’m with Busey. In 2005, he also voiced himself in an episode of The Simpsons and appeared in the popular miniseries Into the West. Busey controversially appeared in the 2006 Turkish nationalist film Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, (Kurtlar Vadisi: Irak, in Turkish), which was accused of fascism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Semitism.

In 2007, he appeared as himself in a prominent recurring role on HBO‘s Entourage, in which he parodied his eccentric image, ultimately appearing on three episodes of the show.

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In 2008, he joined the second season of the reality show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Busey returned to reality television in Celebrity Apprentice 4, which premiered in March 2011, and appeared again in Celebrity Apprentice 6. There, he briefly reprised his role as Buddy Holly by performing “Not Fade Away”.

In a series of 2010 YouTube advertisements for Vitamin Water, Busey appeared as Norman Tugwater, a lawyer who defends professional athletes’ entitlements to a cut from Fantasy Football team owners.

In 2014, he became a celebrity spokesperson for Amazon Fire TV. That August, he appeared in, and became the first American winner of the fourteenth series of the UK version of Celebrity Big Brother.

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On September 1, 2015, it was announced that he would be competing on the 21st season of Dancing with the Stars. He was paired with professional dancer Anna Trebunskaya. Busey and Trebunskaya made it to Week 4 of competition but were then eliminated and finished in 10th place.

 

Personal life

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In 1971, Busey’s wife Judy Helkenberg gave birth to their son, William Jacob “Jake” Busey. Busey and Helkenberg divorced when Jake was 19 years old. Busey has a daughter named Alectra from a previous relationship. In February 2010, Busey’s fiancee Steffanie Sampson gave birth to their son, Luke Sampson Busey.

On December 4, 1988, Busey was severely injured in a motorcycle accident in which he was not wearing a helmet. His skull was fractured, and doctors feared he suffered permanent brain damage. During the filming of the second season of Celebrity Rehab in 2008, Busey was referred to psychiatrist Dr. Charles Sophy. Sophy suspected that Busey’s brain injury has had a greater effect on him than realized. He described it as essentially weakening his mental “filters” and causing him to speak and act impulsively. Sophy recommended Busey take valproic acid (Depakote), with which Busey agreed.

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In 1996, Busey publicly announced that he was a Christian, saying: “I am proud to tell Hollywood I am a Christian. For the first time I am now free to be myself.” This return to Christianity occurred as a result of his motorcycle accident, as well as a 1995 cocaine overdose.

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In 2011, Busey supported Donald Trump‘s 2012 presidential bid saying, “For the American people, vote for Donald Trump come election night.” In 2015, he again endorsed Trump for president.

Shelly Manne

 

 

 

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.20.50Sheldon “Shelly” Manne (June 11, 1920 – September 26, 1984), was an American jazz drummer. Most frequently associated with West Coast jazz, he was known for his versatility and also played in a number of other styles, including Dixieland, swing, bebop, avant-garde jazz and fusion, as well as contributing to the musical background of hundreds of Hollywood films and television programs.

Manne’s father and uncles were drummers. In his youth he admired many of the leading swing drummers of the day, especially Jo Jones and Dave Tough. Billy Gladstone, a colleague of Manne’s father and the most admired percussionist on the New York theatrical scene, offered the teenage Shelly tips and encouragement. From that time, Manne rapidly developed his style in the clubs of 52nd Street in New York in the late 1930s and 1940s. His first professional job with a known big band was with the Bobby Byrne Orchestra in 1940. In those years, as he became known, he recorded with jazz stars like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Shavers, and Don Byas. He also worked with a number of musicians mainly associated with Duke Ellington, like Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Lawrence Brown, and Rex Stewart.

In 1943, Manne married a Rockette, Florence Butterfield (known affectionately to family and friends as “Flip”). The marriage would last 41 years, until the end of Manne’s life.

When the bebop movement began to change jazz in the 1940s, Manne loved it and adapted to the style rapidly, performing with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Around this time he also worked with rising stars like Flip Phillips, Charlie Ventura, Lennie Tristano, and Lee Konitz.

Manne rose to stardom when he became part of the working bands of Woody Herman and, especially, Stan Kenton in the late 1940s and early 1950s, winning awards and developing a following at a time when jazz was the most popular music in the United States. Joining the hard-swinging Herman outfit allowed Manne to play the bebop he loved. The controversial Kenton band, on the other hand, with its “progressive jazz,” presented obstacles, and many of the complex, overwrought arrangements made it harder to swing. But Manne appreciated the musical freedom that Kenton gave him and saw it as an opportunity to experiment along with what was still a highly innovative band. He rose to the challenge, finding new colors and rhythms, and developing his ability to provide support in a variety of musical situations.

In the early 1950s, Manne left New York and settled permanently on a ranch in an outlying part of Los Angeles, where he and his wife raised horses. From this point on, he played an important role in the West Coast school of jazz, performing on the Los Angeles jazz scene with Shorty Rogers, Hampton Hawes, Red Mitchell, Art Pepper, Russ Freeman, Frank Rosolino, Chet Baker, Leroy Vinnegar, Pete Jolly, Howard McGhee, Bob Gordon, Conte Candoli, Sonny Criss, and numerous others. Many of his recordings around this time were for Lester Koenig’s Contemporary Records, where for a period Manne had a contract as an “exclusive” artist (meaning that he could not record for other labels without permission).

Manne led a number of small groups that recorded under his name and leadership. One consisting of Manne on drums, trumpeter Joe Gordon, saxophonist Richie Kamuca, bassist Monty Budwig, and pianist Victor Feldman performed for three days in 1959 at the famous Black Hawk club in San Francisco. Their music was recorded on the spot, and four LPs were issued. Highly regarded as an innovative example of a “live” jazz recording, the Black Hawk sessions were reissued on CD in augmented form years later.

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Manne is often associated with the once frequently criticized West Coast school of jazz. He has been considered “the quintessential” drummer in what was seen as a West Coast movement, though Manne himself did not care to be so pigeonholed. In the 1950s, much of what he did could be seen as in the West Coast style: performing in tightly arranged compositions in what was a cool style, as in his 1953 album named The West Coast Sound, for which he commissioned several original compositions. Some of West Coast jazz was experimental, avant-garde music several years before the more mainstream avant-garde playing of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman (Manne also recorded with Coleman in 1959); a good deal of Manne’s work with Jimmy Giuffre was of this kind. Critics would condemn much of this music as overly cerebral.

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Another side of West Coast jazz that also came under critical fire was music in a lighter style, intended for popular consumption. Manne made contributions here too. Best known is the series of albums he recorded with pianist André Previn and with members of his groups, based on music from popular Broadway shows, movies, and television programs. (The first and most famous of these was the one based on My Fair Lady, recorded by Previn, Manne, and bassist Leroy Vinnegar in 1956. See My Fair Lady (Shelly Manne album).) The music—with each album devoted to a single show—was improvised in the manner of jazz, but always in a light, immediately appealing style aimed at popular taste, which did not always go over well with aficionados of “serious” jazz music — a possible reason why Manne has been frequently overlooked in accounts of major jazz drummers of the 20th century. Much of the music produced on the West Coast in those years, as Robert Gordon concedes, was in fact imitative and “lacked the fire and intensity associated with the best jazz performances.” But Gordon also points out that there is a level of musical sophistication, as well as an intensity and “swing” in the music recorded by Manne with Previn and Vinnegar (and later Red Mitchell) that is missing in the many lackluster albums of this type produced by others in that period.

West Coast jazz, however, represented only a small part of Manne’s playing. In Los Angeles and occasionally returning to New York and elsewhere, Manne recorded with musicians of all schools and styles, ranging from those of the swing era through bebop to later developments in modern jazz, including hard bop, usually seen as the antithesis to the cool jazz frequently associated with West Coast playing.

From the 78-rpm recordings of the 1940s to the LPs of the 1950s and later, to the hundreds of film soundtracks he appeared on, Manne’s recorded output was enormous and often hard to pin down. According to the jazz writer Leonard Feather, Manne’s drumming had been heard on well “over a thousand LPs”—a statement that Feather made in 1960, when Manne had not reached even the midpoint of his 45-year-long career.

An extremely selective list of those with whom Manne performed includes Benny Carter, Earl Hines, Clifford Brown, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Maynard Ferguson, Wardell Gray, Lionel Hampton, Junior Mance, Jimmy Giuffre, and Stan Getz. In the 1950s, he recorded two solid albums with Sonny RollinsWay Out West (Contemporary, 1957) received particular acclaim and helped dispel the notion that West Coast jazz was always different from jazz made on the East Coast—and, in the 1960s, two with Bill Evans. Around the same time in 1959, Manne recorded with the traditional Benny Goodman and the iconoclastic Ornette Coleman, a striking example of his versatility.

One of Manne’s most adventurous 1960s collaborations was with Jack Marshall, the guitarist and arranger celebrated for composing the theme and incidental music for The Munsters TV show in that period. Two duet albums (Sounds Unheard Of!, 1962, and Sounds!, 1966) feature Marshall on guitar, accompanied by Manne playing drums and a wide variety of percussion instruments unusual in jazz, from “Hawaiian slit bamboo sticks,” to a Chinese gong, to castanets, to piccolo Boo-Bam.

Another example of Manne’s ability to transcend the narrow borders of any particular school is the series of trio albums he recorded with guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Brown as “The Poll Winners.” (They had all won numerous polls conducted by the popular publications of the day; the polls are now forgotten, but the albums endure, now reissued on CD.) Manne even dabbled in Dixieland and fusion, as well as “Third Stream” music. He participated in the revival of that jazz precursor ragtime (he appears on several albums devoted to the music of Scott Joplin), and sometimes recorded with musicians best associated with European classical music. He always, however, returned to the straight-ahead jazz he loved best.

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In addition to Dave Tough and Jo Jones, Manne admired and learned from contemporaries like Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, and later from younger drummers like Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Consciously or unconsciously, he borrowed a little from all of them, always searching to extend his playing into new territory.

Despite these and numerous other influences, however, Shelly Manne’s style of drumming was always his own—personal, precise, clear, and at the same time multilayered, using a very broad range of colors. Manne was often experimental, and had participated in such musically exploratory groups of the early 1950s as those of Jimmy Giuffre and Teddy Charles. Yet his playing never became overly cerebral, and he never neglected that element usually considered fundamental to all jazz: time.

Whether playing Dixieland, bebop, or avant-garde jazz, in big bands or in small groups, Manne’s self-professed goal was to make the music swing. His fellow musicians attested to his listening appreciatively to those around him and being ultra-sensitive to the needs and the nuances of the music played by the others in the band, his goal being to make them—and the music as a whole—sound better, rather than calling attention to himself with overbearing solos.

Manne refused to play in a powerhouse style, but his understated drumming was appreciated for its own strengths. In 1957, critic Nat Hentoff called Manne one of the most “musical” and “illuminatively imaginative” drummers. Composer and multi-instrumentalist Bob Cooper called him “the most imaginative drummer I’ve worked with.” In later years this kind of appreciation for what Manne could do was echoed by jazz notables like Louie Bellson, John Lewis, Ray Brown, Harry “Sweets” Edison, and numerous others who had worked with him at various times. Composer, arranger, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter was “a great admirer of his work.” “He could read anything, get any sort of effect,” said Carter, who worked closely with Manne over many decades.

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Though he always insisted on the importance of time and “swing”, Manne’s concept of his own drumming style typically pointed to his melody-based approach. He contrasted his style with that of Max Roach: “Max plays melodically from the rhythms he plays. I play rhythms from thinking melodically.”

Manne had strong preferences in his choice of drum set. Those preferences, however, changed several times over his career. He began with Gretsch drums. In 1957, intrigued by the sound of a kind of drum made by Leedy (then owned by Slingerland), he had a line made for him that also became popular with other drummers. In the 1970s, after trying and abandoning many others for reasons of sound or maintainability, he settled on the Japanese-made Pearl Drums.

Manne was also acclaimed by singers. Jackie Cain, of the vocal team of Jackie and Roy (“Roy” being Roy Kral), claimed that she had “never heard a drummer play so beautifully behind a singer.” Jackie and Roy were only two of the many singers he played behind, recording several albums with that husband-and-wife team, with their contemporary June Christy, and with Helen Humes, originally made famous by her singing with the Count Basie orchestra.

Over decades, Manne recorded additional albums, or sometimes just sat in on drums here and there, with renowned vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Ernestine Anderson, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Blossom Dearie, and Nancy Wilson. Not all the singers Manne accompanied were even primarily jazz artists. Performers as diverse as Teresa Brewer, Leontyne Price, Tom Waits, and Barry Manilow included Manne in their recording sessions.

At first, jazz was heard in film soundtracks only as jazz bands performed in the story. Early in his career, Manne was occasionally seen and heard in the movies, for example in the 1942 film Seven Days Leave, as the drummer in the highly popular Les Brown orchestra (soon to be known as “Les Brown and His Band of Renown”).

In the 1950s, however, jazz began to be used for all or parts of film soundtracks, and Manne pioneered in these efforts, beginning with The Wild One (1953). As jazz quickly assumed a major role in the musical background of films, so did Manne assume a major role as a drummer and percussionist on those soundtracks. A notable early example was 1955’s The Man with the Golden Arm; Manne not only played drums throughout but functioned as a personal assistant to director Otto Preminger and tutored star Frank Sinatra. The Decca soundtrack LP credits him prominently for the “Drumming Sequences.”

From then on, as jazz became more prominent in the movies, Manne became the go-to percussion man in the film industry; he even appeared on screen in some minor roles. A major example is Johnny Mandel‘s jazz score for I Want to Live! in 1958.

Soon, Manne began to contribute to film music in a broader way, often combining jazz, pop, and classical music. Henry Mancini in particular found plenty of work for him; the two shared an interest in experimenting with tone colors, and Mancini came to rely on Manne to shape the percussive effects in his music. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Hatari! (1962) and The Pink Panther (1963) are only a few of Mancini’s films where Manne’s drums and special percussive effects could be heard.

Manne frequently collaborated with Mancini in television as well, such as in the series Peter Gunn (1958–1961) and Mr. Lucky (1959–1960). Although Mancini developed such a close partnership with Manne that he was using him for practically all his scores and other music at this time, the drummer still found time to perform on movie soundtracks and in TV shows with music by others, including the series Richard Diamond (music by Pete Rugolo, 1959–1960), and Checkmate (music by John Williams, 1959–1962), and the film version of Leonard Bernstein‘s West Side Story (1961).

In the late 1950s, Manne began to compose his own film scores, such as that for The Proper Time (1959), with the music also played by his own group, Shelly Manne and His Men, and issued on a Contemporary LP. In later years, Manne divided his time playing the drums on, adding special percussive effects to, and sometimes writing complete scores for both film and television. He even provided a musical setting for a recording of the Dr. Seuss children’s classic Green Eggs and Ham (1960) and later performed in and sometimes wrote music for the backgrounds of numerous animated cartoons. For example, he joined other notable jazz musicians (including Ray Brown and Jimmy Rowles) in playing Doug Goodwin‘s music for the cartoon series The Ant and the Aardvark (1969–1971). Notable examples of later scores that Manne wrote himself and also performed in are, for the movies, Young Billy Young (1969) and Trader Horn (1973), and, for television, Daktari, 1966–1969. With these and other contributions to cartoons, children’s stories, movies, television programs (and even commercials), Manne’s drumming became woven into the popular culture of several decades.

A star in Stan Kenton’s famous orchestra in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as that of Woody Herman, also in the 1940s, and winner of numerous awards, Manne slipped from public view as jazz became less central in popular music. In the 1960s and early 1970s, however, he helped keep jazz alive on the Los Angeles scene as part owner of the nightclub Shelly’s Manne-Hole on North Cahuenga Boulevard. There, the house band was Shelly Manne and His Men, which featured some of his favorite sidemen, such as Russ Freeman, Monty Budwig, Richie Kamuca, Conte Candoli, and later Frank Strozier and Mike Wofford, among many other notable West Coast jazz musicians. Also appearing was a roster of jazz stars from different eras and all regions, including Ben Webster, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Thelonious Monk, Michel Legrand, Carmen McRae, Milt Jackson, Teddy Edwards, Monty Alexander, Lenny Breau, Miles Davis, and many, many others. Stan Getz was the last to be featured (at a briefly occupied second location at Tetou’s restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard), when, late in 1973, Manne was forced to close the club for financial reasons.

From that point, Manne refocused his attention on his own drumming. It might be argued that he never played with more taste, refinement, and soulful swing than in the 1970s, when he recorded numerous albums with musicians like trumpeter Red Rodney, pianist Hank Jones, saxophonists Art Pepper and Lew Tabackin, and composer-arranger-saxophonist Oliver Nelson.

From 1974 to 1977 he joined guitarist Laurindo Almeida, saxophonist and flutist Bud Shank, and bassist Ray Brown to perform as the group The L.A. Four, which recorded four albums before Manne left the ensemble.

In the 1980s, Manne recorded with such stars as trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, saxophonist Zoot Sims, guitarists Joe Pass and Herb Ellis, and pianist John Lewis (famous as the musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet).

Meanwhile, he continued to record with various small groups of his own. Just one representative example of his work in this period is a live concert recorded at the Los Angeles club “Carmelo’s” in 1980 with pianists Bill Mays and Alan Broadbent and bassist Chuck Domanico. With their enthusiasm and spontaneity, and the sense that the audience in the intimate ambience of the club is participating in the music, these performances share the characteristics that had been celebrated more than two decades before in the better-known Black Hawk performances.

Although this phase of his career has frequently been overlooked, Manne, by this time, had greatly refined his ability to back other musicians sympathetically, yet make his own musical thoughts clearly heard.

Manne’s heavy load of Hollywood studio work sometimes shifted his attention from his mainstream jazz playing. Even in lackluster films, however, he nevertheless often succeeded in making art of what might be called hackwork. Still, for all his tireless work in the studios, Manne’s labor of love was his contribution to jazz as an American art form, to which he had dedicated himself since his youth and continued to work at almost to the last day of his life.

Manne died somewhat before the popular revival of interest in jazz had gained momentum. But in his last few years, his immense contribution to the music regained at least some local recognition, and the role Manne had played in the culture of his adopted city began to draw public appreciation. Two weeks before his sudden death of a heart attack, he was honored by the City of Los Angeles in conjunction with the Hollywood Arts Council when September 9, 1984 was declared “Shelly Manne Day.”

 

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The Black Hawk was a San Francisco nightclub which featured live jazz performances during its period of operation from 1949 to 1963. It was located on the corner of Turk Street and Hyde Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Guido Caccienti owned the club along with Johnny and Helen Noga.

The Black Hawk’s intimate atmosphere was ideal for small jazz groups and the club was a very popular hangout. In 1959, the fees that the club was able to pay jazz acts rose from less than $300 to more than $3,000 a week. A number of musicians recorded albums at the club, including Miles Davis, Cal Tjader, Thelonious Monk, Shelly Manne and Mongo Santamaría.

Other notable musicians who appeared there include the Dave Brubeck Quartet, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Vince Guaraldi, Stan Getz, Mary Stallings, Johnny Mathis, Art Blakey, Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, Art Farmer, Gerry Mulligan, Horace Parlan and Russ Freeman. Art Tatum mainly did concert work in the last 18 months of his life; he played the Black Hawk in 1955.

Sunday afternoon sessions at the Black Hawk offered blowing time to young musicians. After a young sextet working at the Black Hawk brought Johnny Mathis in for a Sunday afternoon session, Helen Noga, co-owner of the club, decided that she wanted to manage his career. In early September 1955, Mathis gained a job singing at weekends for Ann Dee’s 440 Club. After repeated attempts, Noga convinced George Avakian, then head of Popular Music A&R at Columbia, to see him. Avakian came to the club, heard Mathis sing and sent the now famous telegram to his record company: “Have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way.”

Billie Holiday and Lester Young played their last West Coast club dates here and the Modern Jazz Quartet played its first. When Charlie Parker was supposed to be opening across town at the Say When Club, he could be found instead jamming at the Hawk. For several months each year, Brubeck, who got his real start at the Black Hawk, returned for extended series of appearances with his quartet, playing for consecutive weekends, sometimes for three months at a time.

Nick Esposito and his Sextet appeared many times at the Black Hawk during the 1950s. Esposito was known for his guitar jazz stylings. He had hit records such as “Empty Ballroom Blues”, “Penny”, “Fat Cat Boogie” and others. He always enjoyed coming home to San Francisco where he resided and the Black Hawk Nightclub.

The site of the Blackhawk is now a parking lot. Still standing is the adjacent building on Hyde Street (now housing the 222 Club) where tape recorders were set up to record the Miles Davis album.

Johnnie Ray

Screenshot 2015-10-05 11.34.42John Alvin “Johnnie” Ray (January 10, 1927 – February 24, 1990) was an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Extremely popular for most of the 1950s, Ray has been cited by critics as a major precursor of what would become rock and roll, for his jazz and blues-influenced music and his animated stage personality. Tony Bennett credits Ray as being the true father of rock and roll.

British Hit Singles & Albums noted that Ray was “a sensation in the 1950s, the heart-wrenching vocal delivery of ‘Cry’ … influenced many acts including Elvis and was the prime target for teen hysteria in the pre-Presley days.”

In 1952, Ray rose very quickly from obscurity to stardom in the United States. He became a major star in the United Kingdom by performing and releasing recordings there in 1953 and was supported by many acts including Frank Holder. He matched these achievements in Australia the following year. His career in his native United States began to decline in the late 1950s, and his American record label dropped him in 1960. He never regained a strong following there and very rarely appeared on American television after 1973. His fan base in other countries, however, remained strong until his last year of performing, which was 1989. His recordings never stopped selling outside the United States.

Early life

Johnnie Ray was born January 10, 1927, in Dallas, Oregon, to parents Elmer and Hazel (Simkins) Ray. Along with older sister Elma, Ray spent part of his childhood on a farm in Dallas and attended grade school there. The family later moved toPortland, Oregon, where Ray attended high school.

At age 13, Ray became deaf in his left ear following a mishap that occurred during a Boy Scout “blanket toss.” In later years, Ray performed wearing a hearing aid. Surgery performed in 1958 left him almost completely deaf in both ears, although hearing aids helped his condition.

Career

Inspired by rhythm singers like Kay Starr, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter, Ray developed a unique rhythm-based singing style, described as alternating between pre-rock R&B and a more conventional classic pop approach. He began singing professionally on a Portland, Oregon, radio station at age 15.

Ray first attracted the attention of Bernie Lang, a song plugger, who was taken to the Flame Showbar nightclub in Detroit, Michigan by local DJ, Robin Seymour of WKMH. Lang went to New York to sell the singer to Danny Kessler of the Okeh label, a subsidiary of Columbia Records. Kessler came over from New York, and he, Lang and Seymour went to the Flame. According to Seymour, Kessler’s reaction was, “Well, I don’t know. This kid looks well on the stand, but he will never go on records.”

It was Seymour and Lowell Worley of the local office of Columbia who persuaded Kessler to have a test record made of Ray. Worley arranged for a record to be cut at the United Sound Studios in Detroit. Seymour told reporter Dick Osgood that there was a verbal agreement that he would be cut in on the three-way deal in the management of Ray. But the deal mysteriously evaporated, and so did Seymour’s friendship with Kessler.

Screenshot 2015-10-05 11.38.02Ray’s first record, the self-penned R&B number for OKeh Records, “Whiskey and Gin,” was a minor hit in 1951. The following year he dominated the charts with the double-sided hit single of “Cry” and “The Little White Cloud That Cried“. Selling over two million copies of the 78rpm single, Ray’s delivery struck a chord with teenagers and he quickly became a teen idol. When OKeh parent Columbia Records realized that Ray had developed a fan base of white listeners, he was moved over to the Columbia label.

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 20th Century Fox capitalized on his stardom by including him in the ensemble cast of the movie There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) alongside Ethel Merman as his mother, Dan Dailey as his father, Donald O’Connor as his brother and Marilyn Monroe as his sister-in-law. Ray’s performing style included theatrics later associated with rock and roll, including tearing at his hair, falling to the floor, and crying. Ray quickly earned the nicknames “Mr. Emotion”, “The Nabob of Sob”, and “The Prince of Wails” among others.

More hits followed, including “Please Mr. Sun,” “Such a Night,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” “A Sinner Am I.” and “Yes Tonight Josephine.” He had a United Kingdom number 1 hit with “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” (which Ray initially disliked) during the Christmas season in 1956. He hit again in 1957 with “You Don’t Owe Me a Thing,” which reached number 10 on the Billboard chart. Though his American popularity was declining in 1957, he remained popular in the United Kingdom, breaking the record at the London Palladium formerly set by fellow Columbia Records artist Frankie Laine. In later years, he retained a loyal fan base overseas, particularly in Australia.

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Later career

Ray had a close relationship with journalist and television game show panelist Dorothy Kilgallen. They became acquainted soon after his sudden rise to stardom in the United States. They remained close as his American career declined. Two months before Kilgallen’s death in 1965, her newspaper column plugged Ray’s engagements at the Latin Quarter in New York and the Tropicana Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. He began his engagement at the Latin Quarter immediately after an eight-month vacation in Spain during which he and new manager Bill Franklin had extricated themselves from contracts with Bernie Lang, who had managed Ray from 1951 to 1963. Ray and Franklin believed that a dishonest Lang had been responsible for the end of Ray’s stardom in the United States and for large debts that he owed the Internal Revenue Service.

Screenshot 2015-10-05 11.35.21In early 1969, Ray befriended Judy Garland, performing as her opening act during her last concerts in Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden. Ray was also the best man during Garland’s wedding to nightclub manager Mickey Deans in London.

In the early 1970s, Ray’s American career revived to a limited extent, as he had not released a record album or single for more than ten years. He made network television appearances on The Andy Williams Show in 1970 and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson three times during 1972 and 1973. His personal manager Bill Franklin resigned in 1976 and cut off contact with the singer a few years later. His American revival turned out to be short-lived as Ray’s career had already begun to decline as the 1980s approached. Speculation why has been attributed to booking agents and songwriters not knowing who he was or what his “sound” was like, thus ignoring him as a commercial talent.

In 1981, Ray hired Alan Eichler as his manager and resumed performing with an instrumental quartet rather than with the large orchestras he and his audiences had been accustomed to for the first 25 years of his career. When Ray and the quartet performed at a New York club called Marty’s on Third Avenue and East 73rd Street in 1981, The New York Times stated, “The fact that Mr. Ray, in the years since his first blush of success, has been seen and heard so infrequently in the United States is somewhat ironic because it was his rhythm and blues style of singing that help lay the groundwork for the rock-and-roll that turned Mr. Ray’s entertainment world around. Recently, Ringo Starr of the Beatles pointed out that the three singers the Beatles listened to in their fledgling days were Chuck Berry, Little Richard. and Johnnie Ray.”

In 1986, Ray appeared as a Los Angeles taxicab driver in Billy Idol‘s “Don’t Need a Gun” video and is name-checked in the lyrics of the song. During this time period, Ray was generally playing small venues in the United States such as Citrus College in Los Angeles County, California. He performed there in 1987 “with a big-band group,” according to a Los Angeles Times profile of him during that year.

While his popularity continued to wane in the United States, Australian, English and Scottish promoters booked him for large venues as late as 1989, his last year of performing.

Personal life

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In 1951, when Ray was obscure and not yet signed to a record label, he was arrested in Detroit for accosting and soliciting an undercover vice squad police officer in the restroom of the Stone Theatre, a burlesque house. When he appeared in court, he pleaded guilty. He paid a fine and was released. Because of his obscurity at the time, the Detroit newspapers did not report the story. After his sudden rise to fame the following year, rumors about his sexuality began to spread.

Despite her knowledge of the solicitation arrest, Marilyn Morrison, daughter of the owner of West Hollywood’s Mocambo nightclub, married Ray on May 25, 1952. The wedding ceremony took place in New York a short time after he gave his first New York concert at the Copacabana. Aware of the singer’s sexuality, Morrison told a friend she would “straighten it out.” The couple separated in January 1953 and divorced in 1954. Several writers have noted that the Ray-Morrison marriage occurred under false pretenses, and that Ray had a long-term relationship with his manager, Bill Franklin. Ray later blamed rumors about his sexuality for the breakup of his marriage to Morrison.

In 1959, Ray was arrested again in Detroit for soliciting an undercover officer at the Brass Rail, a bar that was described many years later by one biographer as a haven for musicians and by another biographer as a gay bar. Ray went to trial following this second arrest and was found not guilty.

Ray, along with some of his friends, denied publicly throughout his life that he was gay. Two years after his death, several friends shared with biographer Jonny Whiteside their knowledge of Ray’s homosexuality.

Later years and death

Screenshot 2015-10-05 11.36.43In 1960, Ray was hospitalized after contracting tuberculosis. In 1965, he was 38 years old when he was emotionally devastated by the death of close friend Dorothy Kilgallen. Biographer Jonny Whiteside claimed that Ray managed to stay sober despite his grief. He began to regain his health. Shortly after he returned to the United States from a European concert tour that he headlined with Judy Garland, an American doctor informed him that he was well enough to drink an occasional glass of wine. Ray resumed drinking heavily and his health quickly began to decline. He continued touring until he gave his final concert, a benefit for the Grand Theater in Salem, Oregon, on October 6, 1989. In early 1990, poor health forced him to check into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. On February 24, 1990, he died of liver failure at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. He is buried at Hopewell Cemetery near Hopewell, Oregon.

For his contribution to the recording industry, Johnnie Ray has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6201 Hollywood Boulevard.

In 1999, Bear Family Records issued two five CD sets of his entire body of work, each containing an 84-page book on his career. Companies like Sony and Collectables have kept his large catalogue of recordings in continual release worldwide.

Here’s a Ray clip from There’s No Business Like Show Business….

Studio albums

Live albums

Compilations

 

 

Mario Lanza

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Mario Lanza (born Alfred Arnold Cocozza; January 31, 1921 – October 7, 1959) was an American tenor, actor and Hollywood film star of the late 1940s and the 1950s.

Lanza began studying to be a professional singer at the age of 16. After appearing at the Hollywood Bowl in 1947, Lanza signed a seven-year film contract with Louis B. Mayer, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who saw his performance and was impressed by his singing. Prior to this, the adult Lanza had sung only two performances of an opera. The following year (1948), however, he would sing the role of Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in New Orleans.

His film debut was in That Midnight Kiss (1949) with Kathryn Grayson and Ethel Barrymore. The following year, in The Toast of New Orleans, his featured popular song “Be My Love” became his first million-selling hit. In 1951, he played the role of Enrico Caruso (1873–1921), his tenor idol, in the biopic, The Great Caruso, which produced another million-seller with “The Loveliest Night of the Year” (a song which used the melody of Sobre las Olas). The Great Caruso was the top-grossing film that year.

The title song of his next film, Because You’re Mine, was his final million-selling hit song. The song went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. After recording the soundtrack for his next film, The Student Prince, he embarked upon a protracted battle with Studio Head Dore Schary arising from artistic differences with director Curtis Bernhardt, and was eventually dismissed by MGM.

Lanza was known to be “rebellious, tough, and ambitious,” and during most of his film career, he suffered from addictions to overeating and alcohol that had a serious effect on his health and his relationships with directors, producers and, occasionally, other cast members. Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper wrote, “his smile, which was as big as his voice, was matched with the habits of a tiger cub, impossible to housebreak.” She adds that he was the “last of the great romantic performers.” He made three more films before dying of an apparent pulmonary embolism at the age of 38. At the time of his death in 1959 he was still “the most famous tenor in the world.” Author Eleonora Kimmel concludes that Lanza “blazed like a meteor whose light lasts a brief moment in time.”

 

Early years

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Born Alfred Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he was exposed to classical singing at an early age by his Abruzzese-Molisan Italian parents. His mother, Maria Lanza, was from Tocco da Casauria a province of Pescara in the region of Abruzzo. His father, Antonio Cocozza, was from the town of Filignano a province of Isernia in the region of Molise. By age 16, his vocal talent had become apparent. Starting out in local operatic productions in Philadelphia for the YMCA Opera Company while still in his teens, he later came to the attention of longtime (1924–49) principal Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky. In 1942, Koussevitzky provided young Cocozza with a full student scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts. Reportedly, Koussevitzky would later tell him, “Yours is a voice such as is heard once in a hundred years.”

 

Opera career

His opera debut, as Fenton in Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (in English), came at the Berkshire Music Festival in Tanglewood on August 7, 1942, after a period of study with conductors Boris Goldovsky and Leonard Bernstein. This was when Cocozza adopted the stage name Mario Lanza, for its similarity to his mother’s maiden name, Maria Lanza.

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His performances at Tanglewood won him critical acclaim, with Noel Straus of The New York Times hailing the 21-year-old tenor as having “few equals among tenors of the day in terms of quality, warmth and power”. Herbert Graf subsequently wrote in Opera News (October 5, 1942), “A real find of the season was Mario Lanza […] He would have no difficulty one day being asked to join the Metropolitan Opera.” Lanza sang Nicolai’s Fenton twice at Tanglewood, in addition to appearing there in a one-off presentation of Act III of Puccini’s La Bohème with the noted Mexican soprano Irma González, baritone James Pease and mezzo-soprano Laura Castellano. Music critic Jay C. Rosenfeld wrote in The New York Times of August 9, 1942, “Irma González as Mimì and Mario Lanza as Rodolfo were conspicuous by the beauty of their voices and the vividness of their characterizations.” In an interview shortly before her own death in 2008, González recalled that Lanza was “very correct, likeable, with a powerful and beautiful voice.”

 

Lanza as Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello

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His budding operatic career was interrupted by World War II, when he was assigned to Special Services in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He appeared in the wartime shows On the Beam and Winged Victory. He also appeared in the film version of the latter (albeit as an unrecognizable member of the chorus). He resumed his singing career with a concert in Atlantic City with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in September 1945 under Peter Herman Adler, subsequently his mentor. The following month, he replaced tenor Jan Peerce on the live CBS radio program Great Moments in Music on which he made six appearances in four months, singing extracts from various operas and other works.

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He studied with Enrico Rosati for fifteen months, and then embarked on an 86-concert tour of the United States, Canada and Mexico between July 1947 and May 1948 with bass George London and soprano Frances Yeend. Reviewing his second appearance at Chicago’s Grant Park in July 1947 in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, Claudia Cassidy praised Lanza’s “superbly natural tenor” and observed that “though a multitude of fine points evade him, he possesses the things almost impossible to learn. He knows the accent that makes a lyric line reach its audience, and he knows why opera is music drama.”

In April 1948, Lanza sang two performances as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for the New Orleans Opera Association conducted by Walter Herbert with stage director Armando Agnini. Reviewing the opening-night performance in the St. Louis News (April 9, 1948), Laurence Oden wrote, “Mario Lanza performed … Lieutenant Pinkerton with considerable verve and dash. Rarely have we seen a more superbly romantic leading tenor. His exceptionally beautiful voice helps immeasurably.” Following the success of these performances, he was invited to return to New Orleans in 1949 as Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata. But, as biographer Armando Cesari wrote, Lanza by 1949 “was already deeply engulfed in the Hollywood machinery and consequently never learned [that key mid-Verdi tenor] role.”

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At the time of his death, Lanza was preparing to return to the operatic stage. Conductor Peter Herman Adler, with whom Lanza had previously worked both in concert and on the soundtrack of The Great Caruso, visited the tenor in Rome during the summer of 1959 and later recalled that, “[Lanza] was working two hours a day with an operatic coach, and intended to go back to opera, his only true love.” Adler promised the tenor “all possible help” in his “planning for his operatic future.” In the October 14, 1959, edition of Variety, it was reported that Lanza had planned to make his return to opera in the role of Canio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci during the Rome Opera’s 1960–61 season. This was subsequently confirmed by Riccardo Vitale, Artistic Director of the Rome Opera. Variety also noted that preparations had been underway at the time of Lanza’s death for him to participate in recording a series of complete operas for RCA Italiana.

 

Film career

 

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A concert at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1947 had brought Lanza to the attention of Louis B. Mayer, who promptly signed Lanza to a seven-year film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The contract required him to commit to the studio for six months, and at first Lanza believed he would be able to combine his film career with his operatic and concert one. In May 1949, he made his first commercial recordings with RCA Victor. His rendition of the aria “Che gelida manina” (from La Bohème) from that session was subsequently awarded the prize of Operatic Recording of the Year by the (United States) National Record Critics Association.

 

The Toast of New Orleans

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Lanza’s first two starring films, That Midnight Kiss and The Toast of New Orleans, both opposite top-billed Kathryn Grayson, were commercial successes, and in 1950 his recording of “Be My Love” from the latter became the first of three million-selling singles for the young singer, earning him enormous fame in the process. While at MGM, Lanza worked closely with the Academy Award-winning conductor, composer, and arranger Johnny Green.

In a 1977 interview with Lanza biographer Armando Cesari, Green recalled that the tenor was insecure about the manner in which he had become successful, and was keenly aware of the fact that he had become a Hollywood star before first having established himself on the operatic stage.

“Had [Lanza] been already a leading tenor, if not the leading tenor at the Metropolitan Opera House], and come to Hollywood in between seasons to make a picture, he would have had [the security of having] the Met as his home,” Green remarked. According to Green, Lanza possessed “the voice of the next Caruso. [Lanza] had an unusual, very unusual quality…a tenor with a baritone color in the middle and lower registers, and a great feeling for the making of music. A great musicality. I found it fascinating, musically, to work with [him].”

 

The Great Caruso

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In 1951, Lanza portrayed Enrico Caruso in The Great Caruso, which proved a success. At the same time, Lanza’s increasing popularity exposed him to intense criticism by some music critics, including those who had praised his work years earlier. His performance earned him compliments from the subject’s son, Enrico Caruso Jr., a tenor in his own right. Shortly before his own death in 1987, Enrico Jr. wrote in Enrico Caruso: My Father and My Family (posthumously published by Amadeus in 1990) that:

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“I can think of no other tenor, before or since Mario Lanza, who could have risen with comparable success to the challenge of playing Caruso in a screen biography… Lanza was born with one of the dozen or so great tenor voices of the century, with a natural voice placement, an unmistakable and very pleasing timbre, and a nearly infallible musical instinct.”

 

The Student Prince

In 1952, Lanza was dismissed by MGM after he had pre-recorded the songs for The Student Prince. The reason most frequently cited in the tabloid press at the time was that his recurring weight problem had made it impossible for him to fit into the costumes of the Prince. However, as his biographers Cesari and Mannering have established, Lanza was not overweight at the beginning of the production, and it was, in fact, a disagreement with director Curtis Bernhardt over Lanza’s singing of one of the songs in the film that led to Lanza walking off the set. MGM refused to replace Bernhardt, and the film was subsequently made with English actor Edmund Purdom, who was dubbed to Lanza’s recorded voice.

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Depressed by his dismissal, and with his self-confidence severely undermined, Lanza became a virtual recluse for more than a year, frequently seeking refuge in alcoholic binges. During this period, Lanza also came very close to bankruptcy as a result of poor investment decisions by his former manager, and his lavish spending habits left him owing about $250,000 in back taxes to the IRS.

 

Serenade

Lanza returned to an active film career in 1955 in Serenade, released by Warner Bros. However the film was not as successful as his previous films, despite its strong musical content, including arias from Der Rosenkavalier, Fedora, L’arlesiana, and Otello, as well as the Act III duet from Otello with soprano Licia Albanese. Ms. Albanese said of Lanza in 1980: I had heard all sorts of stories about Mario [Lanza]. That his voice was too small for the stage, that he couldn’t learn a score, that he couldn’t sustain a full opera; in fact, that he couldn’t even sing a full aria, that his recordings were made by splicing together various portions of an aria. None of it is true! He had the most beautiful lirico spinto voice. It was a gorgeous, beautiful, powerful voice. I should know because I sang with so many tenors. He had everything that one needs. The voice, the temperament, perfect diction. . . . Vocally he was very secure. All he needed was coaching. Everything was so easy for him. He was fantastic!
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He then moved to Rome, Italy in May 1957, where he worked on the film Seven Hills of Rome, and returned to live performing in November of that year, singing for Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium. From January to April 1958, Lanza gave a concert tour of the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany. He gave a total of 22 concerts on this tour, receiving mostly positive reviews for his singing. Despite a number of cancellations, which resulted from his failing health during this period, Lanza continued to receive offers for operatic appearances, concerts, and films.

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In September 1958, he made a number of operatic recordings at the Rome Opera House for the soundtrack of what would turn out to be his final film, For the First Time. It was then that he came to the attention of that opera house’s artistic director, Riccardo Vitale, who promptly offered the tenor carte blanche in his choice of operatic roles. Lanza also received offers to sing in any opera of his choosing from the San Carlo in Naples. At the same time, however, his health continued to decline, with the tenor suffering from a variety of ailments, including phlebitis and acute high blood pressure. His old habits of overeating and crash dieting, coupled with binge drinking, compounded his problems.

 

Death

In April 1959, Lanza reportedly suffered a minor heart attack followed in August by double pneumonia. On September 25, 1959, he entered Rome’s Valle Giulia clinic for the purpose of losing weight for an upcoming film. While in the clinic, he underwent a controversial weight loss program colloquially known as “the twilight sleep treatment,” which required its patients to be kept immobile and sedated for prolonged periods. On October 7, a day before his scheduled discharge, he died at the age of 38. No autopsy was performed. He was buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Maria Caniglia, Franco Fabrizi and Enzo Fiermonte attended the funeral. Frank Sinatra sent his condolences by telegram.

 

Legacy

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Lanza was the first RCA Victor Red Seal artist to win a gold disc and the first artist to sell 2 1/2 million albums. Lanza was referred to by some sources as the “new Caruso” after his “instant success” in Hollywood films, while MGM hoped he would become the movie studio’s “singing Clark Gable” for his good looks and powerful voice.

In 1994, outstanding tenor José Carreras paid tribute to Lanza during a worldwide concert tour, saying of him, “If I’m an opera singer, it’s thanks to Mario Lanza.” His equally outstanding colleague Plácido Domingo echoed these comments in a 2009 CBS interview with, “Lanza’s passion and the way his voice sounds are what made me sing opera. I actually owe my love for opera … to a kid from Philadelphia.”

Even today “the magnitude of his contribution to popular music is still hotly debated,” and because he appeared on the operatic stage only twice, many critics feel that he needed to have had more “operatic quality time” in major theaters before he could be considered a star of that art form. His films, especially The Great Caruso, influenced numerous future opera stars, including Joseph Calleja, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. According to opera historian Clyde McCants, “Of all the Hollywood singers who performed operatic music… the one who made the greatest impact was Mario Lanza.” Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper concluded “there had never been anyone like Mario, and I doubt whether we shall ever see his like again.”

In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him. Mario Lanza has been awarded two Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: a Star for Recording at 1751 Vine Street, and a Star at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard for Motion Pictures.

 

Portrayal on stage

In October 2007, Charles Messina directed the big budget musical Be My Love: The Mario Lanza Story, written by Richard Vetere, about Lanza’s life, which was produced by Sonny Grosso and Phil Ramone, and which premiered at The Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Greenvale, New York.

 

Filmography

•    Winged Victory, Twentieth Century-Fox 1944 (un-credited chorus member)

•    That Midnight Kiss, MGM 1949

•    The Toast of New Orleans, MGM 1950

•    The Great Caruso, MGM 1951

•    Because You’re Mine, MGM 1952

•    The Student Prince, MGM 1954 (voice only)

•    Serenade, Warner Bros. 1956

•    Seven Hills of Rome, MGM 1958

•    For the First Time, MGM 1959

 

 

Carl Perkins

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Carl Lee Perkins (April 9, 1932 – January 19, 1998) was an Americanrockabilly musician who recorded most notably at Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, beginning in 1954. His best-known song is “Blue Suede Shoes“. According to Charlie Daniels, “Carl Perkins’ songs personified the rockabilly era, and Carl Perkins’ sound personifies the rockabilly sound more so than anybody involved in it, because he never changed.” Perkins’ songs were recorded by artists (and friends) as influential as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Johnny Cash, which further cemented his place in the history of popular music. Paul McCartney even claimed that “if there were no Carl Perkins, there would be no Beatles.” Called “the King of Rockabilly”, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll, the Rockabilly, and the Nashville Songwriters Halls of Fame; and was a Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipient.

Perkins was the son of poor sharecroppers, Buck and Louise Perkins (misspelled on his birth certificate as “Perkings”) near Tiptonville, Tennessee. He grew up hearing Southern gospel music sung by whites in church, and by African American field workers when he started working in the cotton fields at age six. During spring and autumn, the school day would be followed by several hours of work in the fields. During the summer, workdays were 12–14 hours, “from can to can’t.” Carl and his brother Jay together would earn 50 cents a day. With all family members working and not having any credit, there was enough money for beans and potatoes, some tobacco for Carl’s father Buck, and occasionally the luxury of a five-cent bag of hard candy.

During Saturday nights Carl would listen to the radio with his father and hear the Grand Ole Opry, and Roy Acuff‘s broadcasts on the Opry inspired him to ask his parents for a guitar. Because they could not afford a real guitar, Carl’s father fashioned one from a cigar box and a broomstick. When a neighbor in tough straits offered to sell his dented and scratched Gene Autry model guitar with worn-out strings, Buck purchased it for a couple of dollars.

For the next year Carl taught himself parts of Acuff’s “Great Speckled Bird” and “The Wabash Cannonball“, which he had heard on the Opry. He also cited the fast playing and vocals of Bill Monroe as an early influence. Carl began learning more about playing his guitar from a fellow field worker named John Westbrook who befriended him. “Uncle John,” as Carl called him, was an African American in his sixties who played blues and gospel on his battered acoustic guitar. Most famously, “Uncle John” advised Carl when playing the guitar to “Get down close to it. You can feel it travel down the strangs, come through your head and down to your soul where you live. You can feel it. Let it vib-a-rate.” Because Carl could not afford new strings when they broke, he retied them. The knots would cut into his fingers when he tried to slide to another note, so he began bending the notes, stumbling onto a type of “blue note.”

Carl was recruited to be a member of the Lake County Fourth Grade Marching Band, and because of the Perkins’s limited finances, was given a new white shirt, cotton pants, white band cap and red cape by Miss Lee McCutcheon, who was in charge of the band. In January 1947, Buck Perkins moved his family from Lake County, Tennessee to Madison County, Tennessee. A new radio that ran on house current rather than a battery and the proximity of Memphis made it possible for Carl to hear a greater variety of music. At age fourteen years, using the I IV V chord progression common to country songs of the day, he wrote what came to be known around Jackson as “Let Me Take You To the Movie, Magg” (the song would convince Sam Phillips to sign Perkins to his Sun Records label).

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Perkins and his brother Jay had their first paying job (in tips) as entertainers at the Cotton Boll tavern on Highway 45 some twelve miles south of Jackson, starting on Wednesday nights during late 1946. Carl was only 14 years old. One of the songs they played was an uptempo, country blues shuffle version of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky“. Free drinks were one of the perks of playing in a tavern, and Carl drank four beers that first night. Within a month Carl and Jay began playing Friday and Saturday nights at the Sand Ditch tavern near the western boundary of Jackson. Both places were the scene of occasional fights, and both of the Perkins Brothers gained a reputation as fighters.

During the next couple of years the Perkins Brothers began playing other taverns, including El Rancho, the Roadside Inn, and the Hilltop around Bemis and Jackson as they became well known. Carl persuaded his brother Clayton to play the bass fiddle to complete the sound of the band. Perkins began performing regularly on WTJS-AM in Jackson during the late 1940s as a sometime member of the Tennessee Ramblers. He also appeared on Hayloft Frolic where he performed two songs, sometimes including “Talking Blues” as done by Robert Lunn on the Grand Ole Opry. Perkins and then his brothers began appearing on The Early Morning Farm and Home Hour. Overwhelmingly positive listener response resulted in a 15-minute segment sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour. By the end of the 1940s, the Perkins Brothers were the best-known band in the Jackson area.

Perkins had day jobs during most of these early years, working first at picking cotton, then at Day’s Dairy in Malesus, then at a mattress factory and in a battery plant. He then worked as a pan greaser for the Colonial Baking Company from 1951 through 1952. During January 1953, Perkins married a woman he had known for a number of years, Valda Crider. When his job at the bakery was reduced to part-time, Valda, who had her own job, encouraged Carl to begin working the taverns full-time. He began playing six nights a week. Late the same year he added W.S. “Fluke” Holland to the band as a drummer, who had not any previous experience as a musician but had a good sense of rhythm.

Malcolm Yelvington remembered the Perkins brothers from 1953 when they played in Covington, Tennessee. He noted that Carl had a very unusual blues-like style all his own. By 1955 Carl had made tapes of his material with a borrowed tape recorder, and had sent them to companies such as Columbia and RCA with addresses such as “Columbia Records, New York City.” “I had sent tapes to RCA and Columbia and had never heard a thing from ’em.”

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During July 1954, Perkins and his wife heard a new release of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black on the radio, and Valda told Carl that someone in Memphis understood what he was doing and he should go see him. Later, Presley told Perkins that he had traveled to Jackson and seen Perkins and his group playing at El Rancho. As “Blue Moon of Kentucky faded out, Carl said, “There’s a man in Memphis who understands what we’re doing. I need to go see him.”

Years later fellow musician Gene Vincent told an interviewer that, rather than “Blue Moon of Kentucky” being a “new sound”, “a lot of people were doing it before that, especially Carl Perkins.”

Perkins successfully auditioned for Sam Phillips at Sun Records during early October 1954. “Movie Magg” and “Turn Around” were released on the Phillips-owned Flip label (151) March 19, 1955, with “Turn Around” becoming a regional success. With the song getting airplay across the South and Southwest, Perkins was booked to appear along with Elvis Presley at theaters in Marianna and West Memphis, Arkansas. Commenting on the audience reaction to both Presley and himself Perkins said, “When I’d jump around they’d scream some, but they were gettin’ ready for him. It was like TNT, man, it just exploded. All of a sudden the world was wrapped up in rock.”

Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two were the next musicians to be added to the performances by Sun musicians. During the summer of 1955 there were junkets to Little Rock, Forrest City, Arkansas, Corinth and Tupelo, Mississippi. Again performing at El Rancho, the Perkins brothers were involved in an automobile accident. A friend, who had been driving, was pinned by the steering wheel. Perkins managed to drag him from the car, which had begun burning. Clayton had been thrown from the car, but was not injured seriously.

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Another Perkins tune, “Gone Gone Gone”, released in October 1955 by Sun, was also a regional success. It was a “bounce blues in flavorsome combined country and r.&b. idioms”. It was backed by the more traditional “Let the Jukebox Keep On Playing,” complete with fiddle, “Western Boogie” bass line, steel guitar and weepy vocal. Commenting on Perkins’s playing, Sam Phillips has been quoted as saying that, “I knew that Carl could rock and in fact he told me right from the start that he had been playing that music before Elvis came out on record … I wanted to see whether this was someone who could revolutionize the country end of the business.

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That same autumn, Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” after seeing a dancer get angry with his date for scuffing up his shoes. Several weeks later, on December 19, 1955, Perkins and his band recorded the song during a session at Sun Studio in Memphis. Phillips suggested changes to the lyrics (“Go, cat, go”) and the band changed the end of the song to a “boogie vamp.” Presley left Sun for a larger opportunity with RCA in November, and on December 19, 1955, Phillips, who had begun recording Perkins in late 1954, told Perkins, “Carl Perkins, you’re my rockabilly cat now.” Released on January 1, 1956, “Blue Suede Shoes” was a massive chart success. In the United States, it scored No. 1 on Billboard magazine’scountry music charts (the only No. 1 success he would have) and No. 2 on Billboard’s Best Sellers popular music chart. On March 17, Perkins became the first country artist to score No. 3 on the rhythm & blues charts. That night, Perkins performed the song during his television debut on ABC-TV’s Ozark Jubilee (Presley performed it for the second time that same night on CBS-TV’s Stage Show; he’d first sung it on the program on February 11).

In the United Kingdom, the song became a Top Ten success, scoring No. 10 on the British charts. It was the first record by a Sun label artist to sell a million copies. The B side, “Honey Don’t,” was covered by the Beatles, Wanda Jackson and (in the 1970s) T. Rex. John Lennon sang lead on the song when the Beatles performed it before it was given to Ringo Starr to sing. Lennon also performed the song on the Lost Lennon Tapes.

After playing a show in Norfolk, Virginia on March 21, 1956, the Perkins Brothers Band headed to New York City for a March 24 appearance on NBC-TV’sPerry Como Show. Shortly before sunrise on March 22 on Route 13 between Dover and Woodside in Dover, Delaware, Stuart Pinkham (a.k.a. Richard Stuart and Poor Richard) assumed duties as driver. After hitting the back of a pickup truck, their car went into a ditch of water about a foot deep, and Perkins was lying face down in the water. Drummer Holland rolled Perkins over, saving him from drowning. He had suffered three fractured vertebrae in his neck, a severe concussion, a broken collar bone, and lacerations all over his body in the crash. Perkins remained unconscious for an entire day. The driver of the pickup truck, Thomas Phillips, a 40-year old farmer, died when he was thrown into the steering wheel. Carl’s brother Jay had a fractured neck along with severe internal injuries, later dying from these complications.

On March 23, Bill Black, Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana visited Perkins on their way to New York to appear with Presley the next day. D.J. Fontana recalled Perkins saying, “Of all the people, I looked up and there you guys are. You looked like a bunch of angels coming to see me.” Black told him, “Hey man, Elvis sends his love,” and lit a cigarette for him, even though the patient in the next bed was in an oxygen tent. A week later, Perkins was given a telegram from Presley (which had arrived on March 23), wishing him a speedy recovery.

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Sam Philips had planned to surprise Perkins with a gold record on The Perry Como Show. “Blue Suede Shoes” had already sold more than 500,000 copies by March 22. Now, while Carl recuperated from the accident, “Blue Suede Shoes” scored No. 1 on most popular, R&B, and country regional music charts. It also scored No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and country charts. Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” scored number one on the pop and country charts, while “Blue Suede Shoes” did better than “Heartbreak” on the R&B charts. By mid-April, more than one million copies of “Blue Suede Shoes” had been sold.

On April 3, while still recuperating in Jackson, Perkins would see Presley perform “Blue Suede Shoes” on his first appearance on The Milton Berle Show appearance, which was his third performance of the song on national television. He also made references to it twice during an appearance on The Steve Allen Show. Although his version became more famous than Perkins’s, it only scored No. 20 on Billboard’s popular music chart.

Perkins returned to live performances on April 21, 1956, beginning with an appearance in Beaumont, Texas, with the “Big D Jamboree” tour. Before resuming touring, Sam Phillips arranged a recording session at Sun with Ed Cisco filling in for the still- recuperating Jay. By mid-April, “Dixie Fried,” “Put Your Cat Clothes On,” “Right String, Wrong Yo-Yo,” “You Can’t Make Love to Somebody,” “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby,” and “That Don’t Move Me” had been recorded.

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Beginning during early summer, Perkins was paid $1,000 to play just two songs a night on the extended tour of “Top Stars of ’56.” Other performers on the tour were Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. When Perkins and the group entered the stage in Columbia, South Carolina, he was appalled to see a teenager with a bleeding chin pressed against the stage by the crowd. During the first guitar intermission of “Honey Don’t” they were waved offstage and into a vacant dressing room behind a double line of police officers. Perkins was quoted as saying, “It was dangerous. Lot of kids got hurt. There was a lot of rioting going on, just crazy, man! The music drove ’em insane.” Appalled by what he had seen and experienced, Perkins left the tour. Appearing with Gene Vincent and Lillian Briggs in a “rock ‘n’ roll show”, he helped pull 39,872 people to the Reading Fair in Pennsylvania on a Tuesday night in late September. A full grandstand and one thousand people stood in a heavy rain to hear Perkins and Briggs at the Brockton Fair in Mass.

Sun issued more Perkins songs in 1956: “Boppin’ the Blues“/”All Mama’s Children” (Sun 243), the B side co-written with Johnny Cash, “Dixie Fried“/”I’m Sorry, I’m Not Sorry” (Sun 249). “Matchbox“/”Your True Love” (Sun 261) came out in February 1957. “Boppin’ the Blues” reached No. 47 on the Cashbox pop singles chart, No. 9 on the Billboard country and western chart, and No. 70 on the Billboard Top 100 chart.

“Matchbox” is considered a rockabilly classic. The day it was recorded, Elvis Presley visited the studio. Along with Johnny Cash (who left early), Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Presley spent more than an hour singing gospel, country and rhythm-and-blues songs while a tape rolled.[5] The casual session was called The Million Dollar Quartet by a local newspaper the next day, and it was eventually released on CD in 1990. On February 2, 1957, Perkins again appeared on Ozark Jubilee, singing “Matchbox” and “Blue Suede Shoes”. He also made at least two appearances on Town Hall Party in Compton, California in 1957 singing both songs. Those performances were included in the Western Ranch Dance Party series filmed and distributed by Screen Gems.

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He released “That’s Right,” co-written with Johnny Cash, backed with the ballad “Forever Yours,” as Sun single 274 in August, 1957. Both sides failed to chart. The 1957 film Jamboree included a Perkins performance of “Glad All Over” (not to be confused with the Dave Clark Five song of the same name), that ran 1:55. “Glad All Over,” written by Aaron Schroeder, Sid Tepper, and Roy Bennett, was released by Sun in January 1958.

During 1958, Perkins moved to Columbia Records where he recorded songs such as “Jive After Five”, “Rockin’ Record Hop,” “Levi Jacket (And a Long Tail Shirt),” “Pop, Let Me Have the Car,” “Pink Pedal Pushers,” “Any Way the Wind Blows,” “Hambone,” “Pointed Toe Shoes,” “Sister Twister,” and “L-O-V-E-V-I-L-L-E.” In 1959, he wrote the country and western song “The Ballad of Boot Hill” for Johnny Cash who released the song as part of an EP on Columbia Records.

He performed often in the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas during 1962 and 1963, and also in nine Midwestern states and a tour of Germany.

During May 1964, Perkins toured Britain along with Chuck Berry. Perkins had been reluctant at first to undertake the tour, convinced that as forgotten as he was in America, he would be even more obscure in the U.K., and he was afraid of being humiliated by drawing meager audiences to the performances. It was Berry who convinced him that they had remained much more popular in Britain since the 1950s than they had in the United States, and that there would be large crowds of fans at every show. The Animals backed the two performers. On the last night of the tour, Perkins attended a party that turned out to be for him, and ended up sitting on the floor sharing stories, playing guitar, and singing songs while surrounded by the Beatles. Ringo Starr asked if he could record “Honey Don’t”. Perkins answered, “Man, go ahead, have at it.” The Beatles would cover “Matchbox,” “Honey Don’t” and “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” recorded by Perkins but adapted from a song originally recorded by Rex Griffin during 1936 with new music composed by Carl Perkins, a song with the same title also recorded by Roy Newman in 1938. The Beatles recorded two versions of “Glad All Over” in 1963. Another tour to Germany followed in the autumn. He released “Big Bad Blues” backed with “Lonely Heart” as a single on Brunswick Records with the Nashville Teens in June 1964.

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Although he had been trying to rehabilitate himself during 1968 by drinking only beer (but large amounts of it), while on tour with the Johnny Cash troupe, Perkins began a four-day bender in Tulsa, Oklahoma, starting with a bottle of Early Times. Nevertheless, with the urging of Cash, he opened a show in San Diego, California, by playing four songs after seeing “four or five of me in the mirror,” and while being able to see “nothin’ but a blur.” After drinking yet another pint of Early Times, he passed out on the tour bus. By morning he started hallucinating “big spiders, and dinosaurs, huge, and they were gonna step on me.” The bus was parked on a beach at the ocean. He was tempted by yet another pint of whiskey that he had hidden. He took the bottle with him onto the beach and fell on his knees and said, “Lord … I’m gonna throw this bottle. I’m gonna show You that I believe in You. I sailed it into the Pacific … I got up, I knew I had done the right thing.” Perkins and Cash, who had his own problems with drugs, then gave each other support to refrain from their drug of choice.

During 1968, Cash recorded the Perkins-written “Daddy Sang Bass” (which incorporates parts of the American standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken“) and scored No. 1 on the country music charts for six weeks. Glen Campbell also covered the song, as did the Statler Brothers and Carl Story. “Daddy Sang Bass” was also a Country Music Association nominee for Song of the Year. Perkins also played lead guitar on the Cash smash single “A Boy Named Sue” which was No. 1 for five weeks on the country chart and No. 2 on the popular music chart. Perkins spent a decade in Cash’s touring revue and appeared on The Johnny Cash Show. He played “Matchbox” with Cash and Derek and the Dominoes. Cash also featured Perkins in rehearsal jamming with José Feliciano and Merle Travis.

A Kraft Music Hall episode hosted by Cash on April 16, 1969 had Perkins singing his song “Restless.” Country music fans may recognize The Statler Brothers’ song, “Flowers on the Wall,” which was also featured on the show. During February 1969, Perkins joined with Bob Dylan to write “Champaign, Illinois.” Dylan was recording in Nashville from February 12 to February 21 for an album that would be titled Nashville Skyline, and met Perkins when he appeared on The Johnny Cash Show on June 7. Dylan had written one verse of a song, but was stuck. After Perkins worked out a loping rhythm and improvised a verse ending lyric, Dylan said, “Your song. Take it. Finish it.” The co-authored song was included in Perkins’s 1969 album On Top.

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Perkins was also united in 1969 by Columbia’s Murray Krugman with a rockabilly group based in New York’s Hudson Valley, the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet. Carl and NRBQ recorded “Boppin’ the Blues” which featured the group backing him on songs like his staples “Turn Around” and “Boppin’ the Blues” and included songs recorded separately by Perkins and NRBQ. One of his TV appearances with Cash was on the popular country series Hee Haw on February 16, 1974.

Johnny Cash’s brother Tommy Cash had a Top Ten country gospel hit in 1970 with a recording of the song “Rise and Shine” which was written by Carl Perkins. Tommy Cash reached no. 9 on the Billboard country chart and no. 8 on the Canadian country chart with his version of the song. Arlene Harden had a Top 40 country hit in 1971 with the Carl Perkins composition “True Love is Greater Than Friendship” from the film Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1971) which reached no. 22 on the Billboard country chart and no. 33 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for Al Martino that same year.

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After a long legal struggle with Sam Phillips over royalties, Perkins gained ownership of his songs during the 1970s. During 1981 Perkins recorded the song “Get It” with Paul McCartney, providing vocals and playing guitar with the former Beatle. This recording was included on the chart-topping album Tug Of War released in 1982. This track also comprised the B-side of the title track single in a slightly edited form. One source states that Perkins “wrote the song with Paul McCartney.” The song ends with a fade-out of Perkins’s impromptu laughter.

The rockabilly revival of the 1980s helped bring Perkins back into the limelight. During 1985, he re-recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” with Lee Rocker and Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats, as part of the soundtrack for the film, Porky’s Revenge.

In October 1985, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds, Lee Rocker, Rosanne Cash and Ringo Starr appeared with him on stage for a television special that was taped live at the Limehouse Studios in London called Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session. The show was later shown on Channel 4 on 1 January 1986. Perkins performed 16 songs with 2 encores in an extraordinary performance. Perkins and his friends ended the session by singing his most famous song, 30 years after its writing, which brought Perkins to tears. The concert special was a memorable highlight of Perkins’s later career and has been highly praised by fans for the spirited performances delivered by Perkins and his famous guests. The concert was released for DVD by Snapper Music in 2006.

Also during 1985, Perkins was inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 1987, wider recognition of his contribution to music came with his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition, “Blue Suede Shoes” was chosen as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and as a Grammy Hall of Fame Award recipient. His pioneering contribution to the genre was also recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Perkins’s only notable film performance as an actor was in John Landis‘ 1985 film Into the Night, a cameo-laden film that includes a scene where characters played by Perkins and David Bowie die at each other’s hand.

As a guitarist Perkins used finger picking, imitations of the pedal steel guitar, right-handed damping (muffling strings near the bridge with the palm), arpeggios, advantageous use of open strings, single and double string bending (pushing strings across the neck to raise their pitch), chromaticism (using notes outside of the scale), country and blue licks, and tritone and other tonality clashing licks (short phrases that include notes from other keys and move in logical, often symmetric patterns). A rich vocabulary of chords including sixth and thirteenth chords, ninth and add nine chords, and suspensions, show up in rhythm parts and solos. Free use of syncopations, chord anticipations (arriving at a chord change before the other players, often by a 1/8 note) and crosspicking (repeating a three 1/8 note pattern so that an accent falls variously on the upbeat or downbeat) are also in his bag of tricks.

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During 1986, he returned to the Sun Studio in Memphis, joining Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison on the album Class of ’55. The record was a tribute to their early years at Sun and, specifically, the Million Dollar Quartet jam session involving Perkins, Presley, Cash, and Lewis in 1956. During 1989, Perkins co-wrote and played guitar on the Judds‘ No. 1 country success, “Let Me Tell You About Love.” During 1989, Perkins also signed a record deal with Platinum Records LTD for an album with the title Friends, Family, and Legends, featuring performances by Chet Atkins, Travis Tritt, Steve Wariner, Joan Jett and Charlie Daniels, along with Paul Shaffer and Will Lee. During 1992, during the production of this CD, Perkins developed throat cancer.

He returned to Sun Studios to record with Scotty Moore, Presley’s first guitar player. The CD was called 706 ReUNION, released on Belle Meade Records, and featured D.J. Fontana, Marcus Van Storey and the Jordanaires. During 1993, Perkins performed with the Kentucky Headhunters in a music video remake, filmed in Glasgow, Kentucky, of his song “Dixie Fried.” In 1994, Perkins teamed up with Duane Eddy and the Mavericks to contribute “Matchbox” to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country produced by the Red Hot Organization.

Perkins’ last album, Go Cat Go!, was released during 1996, and featured new collaborations with many of the above artists, as well as George Harrison, Paul Simon, John Fogerty, Tom Petty, and Bono. It was released by the independent label Dinosaur Records and distributed by BMG.His last major concert performance was the Music for Montserrat all-star charity concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall on September 15, 1997.

Perkins died four months later, on January 19, 1998 at the age of 65 at Jackson-Madison County Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee from throat cancer after suffering several strokes. Among mourners at the funeral at Lambuth University were George Harrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wynonna Judd, Garth Brooks, Nashville Agent Jim Dallas Crouch, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Perkins was interred at Ridgecrest Cemetery in Jackson.

A strong advocate for the prevention of child abuse, Carl Perkins worked with the Jackson Exchange Club to establish the first center for the prevention of child abuse in Tennessee and the fourth in the nation. Proceeds from a concert planned by Perkins were combined with a grant from the National Exchange Club to establish the Prevention of Child Abuse in October 1981. For years its annual Circle of Hope Telethon generated one quarter of the center’s annual operating budget.

Carl Perkins had one daughter, Debbie, and three sons, Stan, Greg, and Steve. His first-born son, Stan Perkins, is a recording artist as well. In 2010, Stan joined forces with Jerry Naylor to record a duet tribute to Carl, “To Carl; Let it Vibrate.” Stan Perkins has been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Perkins’ widow, Valda deVere Perkins, died November 15, 2005 in Jackson.

Perkins collaborated on a 1996 biography, Go, Cat, Go, with New York–based music writer David McGee. Plans for a biographical film were announced by Santa Monica-based production company Fastlane Entertainment was slated for release in 2009. During 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Perkins number 99 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. His version of “Blue Suede Shoes” was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of CongressNational Recording Registry in 2006.

The Perkins family still owns his songs, which are administered by former Beatle Paul McCartney‘s company MPL Communications.

 

Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee Peggy Lee (May 26, 1920 – January 21, 2002) was an American jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, composer and actress, in a career spanning six decades. From her beginning as a vocalist on local radio to singing with Benny Goodman’s big band, she forged a sophisticated persona, evolving into a multi-faceted artist and performer. She wrote music for films, acted, and created conceptual record albums—encompassing poetry, jazz, chamber pop, and art songs.

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Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, the seventh of eight children of Marvin Olof Egstrom, a station agent for the Midland Continental Railroad, and his wife Selma Amelia (Anderson) Egstrom. She and her family were Lutherans. Her father was Swedish American and her mother was Norwegian American. Her mother died when Lee was just four years old. Afterward, her father married Min Schaumber, who treated her with great cruelty while her alcoholic father did little to stop it. As a result, she developed her musical talent and took several part-time jobs so that she could be away from home.

Lee first sang professionally over KOVC radio in Valley City, North Dakota. She later had her own series on a radio show sponsored by a local restaurant that paid her a salary in food. Both during and after her high school years, Lee sang for small sums on local radio stations. Radio personality Ken Kennedy, of WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota (the most widely heard station in North Dakota), changed her name to Peggy Lee. Miss Lee moved to Los Angeles at the age of 17.

She returned to North Dakota for a tonsillectomy, and was noticed by hotel owner Frank Beringin while working at the Doll House in Palm Springs, California. It was here that she developed her trademark sultry purr – having decided to compete with the noisy crowd with subtlety rather than volume. Beringin offered her a gig at The Buttery Room, a nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel East in Chicago. There, she was noticed by bandleader Benny Goodman. According to Lee, “Benny’s then-fiancée, Lady Alice Duckworth, came into The Buttery, and she was very impressed. So the next evening she brought Benny in, because they were looking for a replacement for Helen Forrest. And although I didn’t know, I was it. He was looking at me strangely, I thought, but it was just his preoccupied way of looking. I thought that he didn’t like me at first, but it just was that he was preoccupied with what he was hearing.” She joined his band in 1941 and stayed for two years.

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In 1942 Lee had her first No. 1 hit, “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place”, followed by 1943’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?” (Originally sung by Lil Green). It sold over a million copies and made her famous. She sang with Goodman’s orchestra in two 1943 films, Stage Door Canteen and The Powers Girl.

In March 1943 Lee married Dave Barbour, a guitarist in Goodman’s band. Peggy said, “David joined Benny’s band and there was a ruling that no one should fraternize with the girl singer. But I fell in love with David the first time I heard him play, and so I married him. Benny then fired David, so I quit, too. Benny and I made up, although David didn’t play with him anymore. Benny stuck to his rule. I think that’s not too bad a rule, but you can’t help falling in love with somebody.”

When Lee and Barbour left the band, the idea was that he would work in the studios and she would keep house and raise their daughter, Nicki. But she drifted back to songwriting and occasional recording sessions for the fledgling Capitol Records in 1947, for whom she produced a long string of hits, many of them with lyrics and music by Lee and Barbour, including “I Don’t Know Enough About You” (1946) and “It’s a Good Day” (1947). With the release of the US No. 1-selling record of 1948, “Mañana,” her “retirement” was over. In 1948 Lee joined Perry Como and Jo Stafford as a rotating host of the NBC Radio musical program The Chesterfield Supper Club. She was also a regular on NBC’s Jimmy Durante Show and appeared frequently on Bing Crosby’s radio shows throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.

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She left Capitol for Decca Records in 1952, but returned to Capitol in 1957. She is most famous for her cover version of the Little Willie John hit “Fever” written by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport, to which she added her own, un-copyrighted lyrics (“Romeo loved Juliet,” “Captain Smith and Pocahontas”) and her rendition of Leiber and Stoller’s “Is That All There Is?”. Her relationship with the Capitol label spanned almost three decades, aside from her brief but artistically rich detour (1952–1956) at Decca Records, where in 1953 she recorded one of her most acclaimed albums, Black Coffee. While recording for Decca, Lee had hit singles with the songs Lover and Mister Wonderful.

In her 60-year-long career, Peggy was the recipient of three Grammy Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement Award), an Academy Award nomination, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Award, the President’s Award, the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Living Legacy Award from the Women’s International Center. In 1999 Lee was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

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Lee was a successful songwriter, with songs from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp, for which she also supplied the singing and speaking voices of four characters. Her collaborators included Laurindo Almeida, Harold Arlen, Sonny Burke, Cy Coleman, Duke Ellington, Dave Grusin, Quincy Jones, Francis Lai, Jack Marshall, Johnny Mandel, Marian McPartland, Willard Robison, Lalo Schifrin and Victor Young. She wrote the lyrics for popular songs that include, “It’s A Good Day,” “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter,” “Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me),” and “The Shining Sea.” Her first published song was in 1941, “Little Fool.” “What More Can a Woman Do?” was recorded by Sarah Vaughan with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. “Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)” was No.1 for 9 weeks on the Billboard singles chart in 1948, from the week of March 13 to May 8.

 

Lee was a mainstay of Capitol Records when rock and roll came onto the American music scene. She was among the first of the “old guard” to recognize this new genre, as seen by her recording music from The Beatles, Randy Newman, Carole King, James Taylor, and other up-and-coming songwriters. From 1957 until her final disc for the company in 1972, she produced a steady stream of two or three albums per year that usually included standards (often arranged quite differently from the original), her own compositions, and material from young artists.

In 1952 Lee starred opposite Danny Thomas in The Jazz Singer (1952), a Technicolor remake of the early Al Jolson part-talkie film The Jazz Singer (1927 film). In 1955, she played an alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955 film), for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. In 1955 Lee did the speaking and singing voices for several characters in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. In 1957, Lee guest starred on the short-lived ABC variety program, The Guy Mitchell Show.

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Lee continued to perform into the 1990s, sometimes in a wheelchair. After years of poor health, she died of complications from diabetes and a heart attack at age 81. She was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles’ Westwood, Los Angeles, California neighborhood. On her marker in a garden setting is inscribed, “Music is my life’s breath.”

Duke Ellington

 

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Duke Ellington influenced millions of people, around the world and at home. He gave American music its own sound for the first time. In his fifty year career, he played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia.

Ellington’s legacy transcends boundaries and fills the world with a treasure trove of music that renews itself through every generation of fans and music-lovers. His work continues to live on, and will endure for generations to come. Winton Marsalis put it best when he said, “His music sounds like America.” Because of the unmatched artistic heights to which he soared, no one deserved the phrase “beyond category” more than Ellington, for it aptly describes his life as well. He was most certainly one of a kind, a man who led a life with universal appeal and a style that transcended countless boundaries.

Duke Ellington is best remembered for the over 3,000 songs  he composed during his lifetime. His best known titles include, “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mood Indigo,” “Solitude,” “In a Mellotone,” and “Satin Doll.” As a musician, he was most creative while on the road. It was during this time when he wrote his most famous piece, “Mood Indigo”which brought him world wide fame.

When asked what inspired him to write, Ellington replied, “My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people.”

Duke Ellington’s popular compositions set the bar for generations of brilliant jazz, pop, theatre, and soundtrack composers to come. While these compositions guarantee his greatness, what made Duke an iconoclastic genius, and an unparalleled visionary, what has granted him immortality, are his extended suites. From 1943’s “Black, Brown and Beige,” to 1972’s “The Uwis Suite,” Duke used the suite format to give his jazz songs a far more empowering meaning, with enhanced resonance and purpose. They exalt, mythologize, and re-contextualize the African-American experience on a grand scale.

Duke Ellington was partial to giving brief verbal accounts of the moods his songs captured. Reading those accounts is like looking deep into the background of an old photo of New York, and noticing the lost and almost unaccountable details that gave the city its character during Ellington’s heyday, which began in 1927 when his band made the Cotton Club its home. ”The memory of things gone,” Ellington once said, ”is important to a jazz musician,” and the stories he sometimes told about his songs are the record of those bygone days. But what is gone returns, its pulse kicking, anytime Ellington’s music is played — the music still carries us forward today.

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Duke Ellington was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966. He was later awarded several other prizes, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, and the French Legion of Honor in 1973, the highest civilian honors in each country. He died of lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974, a month after his 75th birthday, and is buried in the Bronx, in New York City. At his funeral, attended by over 12,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion, “It’s a very sad day…A genius has passed.”

Lester Young

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Lester Young

Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959), nicknamed “Pres” or “Prez”, was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and sometime clarinetist.

Coming to prominence while a member of Count Basie’s orchestra, Young was one of the most influential players on his instrument. In contrast to many of his hard-driving peers, Young played with a relaxed, cool tone and used sophisticated harmonies, using “a free-floating style, wheeling and diving like a gull, banking with low, funky riffs that pleased dancers and listeners alike.”

Famous for his hip, introverted style, he invented or popularized much of the hipster jargon which came to be associated with the music.

Lester Young was born in Woodville, Mississippi, and grew up in a musical family. His father, Willis Handy Young, was a respected teacher, his brother Lee Young was a drummer, and several other relatives played music professionally. His family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, when Lester was an infant and later to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Although at a very young age Young did not initially know his father, he learned that his father was a musician. Later Willis taught his son to play the trumpet, violin, and drums in addition to the saxophone.

Young played in his family’s band, known as the Young Family Band, in both the vaudeville and carnival circuits. He left the family band in 1927 at the age of 18 because he refused to tour in the Southern United States, where Jim Crow laws were in effect and racial segregation was required in public facilities.

In 1933 Young settled in Kansas City, where after playing briefly in several bands, he rose to prominence with Count Basie. His playing in the Basie band was characterized by a relaxed style which contrasted sharply with the more forceful approach of Coleman Hawkins, the dominant tenor sax player of the day.

He left the Basie band to replace Hawkins in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. He soon left Henderson to play in the Andy Kirk band (for six months) before returning to Basie. While with Basie, Young made small-group recordings for Milt Gabler’s Commodore Records, The Kansas City Sessions. Although they were recorded in New York (in 1938, with a reunion in 1944), they are named after the group, the Kansas City Seven, and comprised Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Basie, Young, Freddie Green, Rodney Richardson, and Jo Jones. Young played clarinet as well as tenor in these sessions. He was a master of the clarinet, and there too his style was entirely his own. As well as the Kansas City Sessions, his clarinet work from 1938–39 is documented on recordings with Basie, Billie Holiday, Basie small groups, and the organist Glenn Hardman.

After Young’s clarinet was stolen in 1939, he abandoned the instrument until about 1957. That year Norman Granz gave him one and urged him to play it (with far different results at that stage in Young’s life—see below).

Young left the Basie band in late 1940. He is rumored to have refused to play with the band on Friday, December 13 of that year for superstitious reasons, spurring his dismissal. Lester left the band around that time and subsequently led a number of small groups that often included his brother, noted drummer Lee Young, for the next couple of years; live and broadcast recordings from this period exist.

During this period Young accompanied the singer Billie Holiday in a couple of studio sessions in 1940 and 1941 and also made a small set of recordings with Nat “King” Cole (their first of several collaborations) in June 1942. His studio recordings are relatively sparse during the 1942 to 1943 period, largely due to the American Federation of Musicians’ recording ban. It was Holiday who gave Young the nickname “Pres”, short for President.

In December 1943 Lester Young returned to the Count Basie fold for a 10-month stint, cut short by his being drafted into the army during World War II.

In September 1944 Young and Jo Jones were in Los Angeles with the Basie Band when they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits such as the ones led by Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw, Young was assigned to the regular army where he was not allowed to play his saxophone. Based in Ft. McClellan, Alabama, Young was found with marijuana and alcohol among his possessions. He was soon court-martialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945. His experience inspired his composition “D.B. Blues” (with D.B. standing for detention barracks).

Some jazz historians have argued that Young’s playing power declined in the years following his army experience, though critics such as Scott Yanow disagree with this entirely. Recordings show that his playing began to change before he was drafted. Some argue that Young’s playing had an increasingly emotional slant to it, and the post-war period featured some of his greatest renditions of ballads.

Recordings made during this and subsequent periods suggest Young was beginning to make much greater use of a plastic reed, which tended to give his playing a somewhat heavier, breathier tone (although still quite smooth compared to that of many other players). While he never abandoned the wooden reed, he used the plastic reed a significant share of the time from 1943 until the end of his life. Another cause for the thickening of his tone around this time was a change in saxophone mouthpiece from a metal Otto Link to an ebonite Brilhart. In August 1944 Young appeared alongside drummer Jo Jones, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, and fellow tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet in Gjon Mili’s short film Jammin’ the Blues.

In September 1944 Young and Jo Jones were in Los Angeles with the Basie Band when they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits such as the ones led by Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw, Young was assigned to the regular army where he was not allowed to play his saxophone. Based in Ft. McClellan, Alabama, Young was found with marijuana and alcohol among his possessions. He was soon court-martialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945. His experience inspired his composition “D.B. Blues” (with D.B. standing for detention barracks).

Some jazz historians have argued that Young’s playing power declined in the years following his army experience, though critics such as Scott Yanow disagree with this entirely. Recordings show that his playing began to change before he was drafted. Some argue that Young’s playing had an increasingly emotional slant to it, and the post-war period featured some of his greatest renditions of ballads.

Young’s career after World War II was far more prolific and lucrative than in the pre-war years in terms of recordings made, live performances, and annual income. Young joined Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) troupe in 1946, touring regularly with them over the next 12 years. He made a significant number of studio recordings under Granz’s supervision for his Verve Records label as well, including more trio recordings with Nat King Cole. Young also recorded extensively in the late 1940s for Aladdin Records (1946-7, where he had made the Cole recordings in 1942) and for Savoy (1944, ’49 and ’50), some sessions of which included Basie on piano.

While the quality and consistency of his playing ebbed gradually in the latter half of the 1940s and into the early 1950s, he also gave some brilliant performances during this stretch. Especially noteworthy are his performances with JATP in 1946, 1949, and 1950.[citation needed] With Young at the 1949 JATP concert at Carnegie Hall were Charlie Parker and Roy Eldridge, and Young’s solo on “Lester Leaps In” at that concert is a particular standout among his performances in the latter half of his career.

While the quality and consistency of his playing ebbed gradually in the latter half of the 1940s and into the early 1950s, he also gave some brilliant performances during this stretch. Especially noteworthy are his performances with JATP in 1946, 1949, and 1950. With Young at the 1949 JATP concert at Carnegie Hall were Charlie Parker and Roy Eldridge, and Young’s solo on “Lester Leaps In” at that concert is a particular standout among his performances in the latter half of his career.

From around 1951, Young’s level of playing declined more precipitously, as he began to drink more and more heavily. His playing showed reliance on a small number of clichéd phrases and reduced creativity and originality, despite his claims that he did not want to be a “repeater pencil” (Young coined this phrase to describe the act of repeating one’s own past ideas). A comparison of his studio recordings from 1952, such as the session with pianist Oscar Peterson, and those from 1953–1954 (all available on the Verve label) also demonstrates a declining command of his instrument and sense of timing, possibly due to both mental and physical factors. Young’s playing and health went into a crisis, culminating in a November 1955 hospital admission following a nervous breakdown.

He emerged from this treatment improved. In January 1956 he recorded two Granz-produced sessions featuring pianist Teddy Wilson (who had led the Billie Holiday recordings with Young in the 1930s), trumpet player Roy Eldridge, trombonist Vic Dickenson, bassist Gene Ramey, and drummer Jo Jones – available on the Jazz Giants ’56 and Prez and Teddy albums. 1956 was a relatively good year for Lester Young, including a tour of Europe with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet and a successful stint at Olivia’s Patio Lounge in Washington, DC.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Lester Young had sat in on Count Basie Orchestra gigs from time to time. The best-known of these is their July 1957 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, the line-up including many of Lester’s old buddies: Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, Illinois Jacquet and Jimmy Rushing. His playing was in better shape, and he produced some of the old, smooth-toned flow of the 1930s. Among other tunes he played a moving “Polkadots and Moonbeams,” which was a favorite of his at that time.

In September 1944 Young and Jo Jones were in Los Angeles with the Basie Band when they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits such as the ones led by Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw, Young was assigned to the regular army where he was not allowed to play his saxophone. Based in Ft. McClellan, Alabama, Young was found with marijuana and alcohol among his possessions. He was soon courtmartialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945. His experience inspired his composition “D.B. Blues” (with D.B. standing for detention barracks).

Some jazz historians have argued that Young’s playing power declined in the years following his army experience, though critics such as Scott Yanow disagree with this entirely. Recordings show that his playing began to change before he was drafted. Some argue that Young’s playing had an increasingly emotional slant to it, and the post-war period featured some of his greatest renditions of ballads. Like Change My Plan; I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (1956 version); Gigantic Blues;This Year’s Kisses;You Can Depend on Me; and, I Guess I’ll Have.

On December 8, 1957, Young appeared with Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, and Gerry Mulligan in the CBS television special The Sound of Jazz, performing Holiday’s tunes “Lady Sings The Blues” and “Fine and Mellow.” It was a reunion with Holiday, with whom he had lost contact for years. She was also in decline at the end of her career, and they both gave moving performances. Young’s solo was brilliant, considered by many jazz musicians an unparalleled marvel of economy, phrasing and extraordinarily moving emotion. But Young seemed gravely ill, and was the only horn player who was seated (except during his solo) during the performance. By this time his alcoholism had cumulative effect. He was eating significantly less, drinking more and more, and suffering from liver disease and malnutrition. Young’s sharply diminished physical strength in the final two years of his life yielded some recordings with a frail tone, shortened phrases, and, on rare occasions, a difficulty in getting any sound to come out of his horn at all.

Lester Young made his final studio recordings and live performances in Paris in March 1959 with drummer Kenny Clarke at the tail end of an abbreviated European tour during which he ate next to nothing and virtually drank himself to death. He died in the early morning hours of March 15, 1959, only hours after arriving back in New York, at the age of 49. He was buried at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn. According to jazz critic Leonard Feather, who rode with Holiday in a taxi to Young’s funeral, she said after the services, “I’ll be the next one to go.” Billie Holiday died four months later at age 44.

Charles Mingus dedicated an elegy, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” for Young only a few months after his death. Wayne Shorter, then of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, composed a tribute, called “Lester Left Town.”

Young’s playing style influenced many other tenor saxophonists. Perhaps the most famous and successful of these were Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, but he also influenced many in the cool movement such as Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, and Gerry Mulligan. Paul Quinichette modeled his style so closely on Young’s that he was sometimes referred to as the “Vice Prez” (sic). Sonny Stitt began to incorporate elements from Lester Young’s approach when he made the transition to tenor saxophone. Lester Young also had a direct influence on young Charlie Parker (“Bird”), and thus the entire be-bop movement. Indeed, recordings of Parker on tenor sax are similar in style to that of Young. Lesser-known saxophonists, such as Warne Marsh, were strongly influenced by Young.

Don Byron recorded the album Ivey-Divey in gratitude for what he learned from studying Lester Young’s work, modeled after a 1946 trio date with Buddy Rich and Nat King Cole. “Ivey-Divey” was one of Lester Young’s common eccentric phrases.

Young is a major character in English writer Geoff Dyer’s 1991 fictional book about jazz, But Beautiful.

The Resurrection of Lady Lester by OyamO (Charles F. Gordon) is a play and published book depicting Young’s life, subtitled “A Poetic Mood Song Based on the Legend of Lester Young.”

In the 1986 film Round Midnight, the fictional main character Dale Turner, played by Dexter Gordon, was partly based on Young – incorporating flashback references to his army experiences, and loosely depicting his time in Paris and his return to New York just before his death.

Acid Jazz/boogaloo band the Greyboy Allstars song “Tenor Man” is a tribute to Young. On their 1999 album “Live,” saxophonist Karl Denson introduces the song by saying, “…now some folks may have told you that Lester Young is out of style, but we’re here to tell you that the Prez is happenin’ right now.” Those were literally the lyrics Rahsaan Roland Kirk wrote and sang to the melody of the Charles Mingus elegy, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”

Peter Straub’s short story collection Magic Terror (2000) contains a story called “Pork Pie Hat,” a fictionalized account of the life of Lester Young. Straub was inspired by Young’s appearance on the 1957 CBS-TV show The Sound of Jazz, which he watched repeatedly, wondering how such a genius could have ended up such a human wreck.

Lester Young is said to have popularized use of the term “cool” to mean something fashionable. Another slang term he coined was the term “bread” for money. He would ask, “How does the bread smell?” when asking how much a gig was going to pay.