Say what you will, I love Katy Perry. Let's warm up for the 4th of July weekend with this one. From the album "Teenage Dream".
It's 180 degrees in the shade and that can only mean one thing. We're now officially closer to next Christmas than we are to last Christmas. In a lot of circles, that demarkation is celebrated as Christmas-and-a-Half.
Now, not to disappoint, I've never been very big on Christmas-and-a-Half, myself, though I am a fan of Christmas In July. Neither event is likely to make a ripple here at Stubby's House, I suspect. But you can celebrate by checking out a few of our Festive Friends to the right. Most especially, I would direct your attention to our good friend Ernie (Not Bert), who never met a holiday he couldn't find a Christmas song for. And NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY, throws a bigger Christmas In July party than Ernie (Not Bert). Do yourself a favor and check in, early and often, wish the man a Happy Birthday, and wonder at the awesome and stunning photography (and the occasional doodle) that you'll only find at Ernie's. Additionally, I know you'll find some interesting treats at Santas Working Overtime, Merry & Bright, MYPWHAE, and The Sounds Of Christmas--even if they're not all Christmas-and-a-Half related.
For our part, I've posted a handful of new freebies for y'all and I'll continue to do my best to keep up with the rumors, rumblings, and true facts of this coming season's holiday releases.
It's a good time, too, for me to remind artists and labels planning Christmas releases this year (or Chanukah, New Years, Solstice, Winter, whatever releases), that we appreciate being kept in the loop. There's an address and an email over there to your right, if you'd like us to help spread the word for you.
If you've scanned The List, lately (not that there's much there, just yet), you might have noticed that we have an official album title and release date for the upcoming Carole King seasonal effort. It's called "Holiday Carole" and it's tentatively slated for release on October 25. So that's kind of exciting--that actual release dates are coming in. More details as we get them. Oh and, hey, check it out! Via a German music site, we have what purports to be the possible cover art of Scott Weiland's holiday album, postponed from last year to this. Might be real; might not be real. We bring it to you regardless.
My relentless searches have revealed a few more coming Christmas projects. There's nothing else (yet) on the order of a Gaga, but the superstar releases aren't always the highlights of the season.
No sooner was it posted on the band's Facebook page than fellow Christmas music maniac Patrick posted the news on Imwan (and now I'm bringing it here. See how that works? It's our own little cycle of life). And that news is that Country music's Little Big Town is getting in the holiday spirit. To quote the band precisely: "Santa hats are out & about in the studio today. We're getting in the Christmas spirit."
Little Big Town's eponymous debut was released in 2002 but it wasn't until 2005's "The Road To Here" that the band struck Nashville gold. In 2006, as I recall, they released their version of "Go Tell It On The Mountain"--originally as a "fan only" download. Around that time, the group was asked in an interview if they'd be interested in doing a full Christmas album. Karen Fairchild said they'd love to do a Christmas album, but that that would come "down the road". 5 years later and perhaps we've traveled far enough down that road, now, although the Facebook posting doesn't tell us for sure whether they're recording a whole album of Christmas music or just a song. We'll take what we can get, though. And fans will tell you that Little Big Town is more than happy to toss gorgeous renditions of "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night" into their live performances at Christmas time. So hopefully they're working on the kind of timeless holiday album they've said they'd like to record some day.
Mindy Gledhill began recording her Christmas album Monday and discovered what many an artist has learned before her: it's really strange recording Christmas songs in the summer heat. Oh, and did we mention Mindy is 7 months pregnant? She'll charge forward, regardless, and plans are to have the full album pretty much tracked by the end of the week--giving the album, she hopes, the feel of simplicity, spontaneity and fun--and you can follow along at Mindy's blog. Gledhill is an interesting up and coming artist. Her 2005 debut was an award winning Contemporary Christian effort but her work since has been less "devotional" if no less inspirational--highly accessible Indie Pop featuring simple, positive messages. Mindy's most recent album, last year's "Anchor", features the song "Whole Wide World". It's an awesome song of female empowerment--the video for which I thought was really cool--and it should give you an idea of Mindy's sound and style.
The a cappella group Tonic Sol-Fa is no stranger to Christmas music, having turned in several sterling efforts in years past (plus the occasional PBS special and DVD). The new holiday record, "March of the Kings", is expected out in the fall. So far, the group has 5 songs lined up for the album:
It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
O Christmas Tree
Carol Of The Bells
Angels We Have Heard On High
And there seems to be some internal dispute over whether to include a holiday parody of "Single Ladies" the group has borrowed from Minnesota's Plastic Santa. In any case, if you like a cappella holiday fun, they don't get much better than Tonic Sol-Fa.
Keri Noble is no stranger to Christmas music, either. And, from our friends at Santas Working Overtime comes word of Kerri's latest--a Kickstarter funded full-length Christmas album tentatively titled "More Than Santa". The former EMI recording artist (whose music has been featured on Grey's Anatomy) is more or less thought of as an Indie Pop vocalist, but I've always thought she brought more than a hint of Jazz and Blues to the table, and its those textures and colors that distinguish her from a very crowded field. Fans of a folkier Pop (Lucinda Williams, Brandi Carlisle, et. al.) might well be better served elsewhere (but, hey, could be they'd take to her like ducks to water, too). Keri's been working toward a full-length holiday album for some time. In 2004, she issued the single "This Christmas Time". A few years later, in 2008, Keri turned in an excellent Yuletide EP, "Winter Comes Again", featuring the very affecting "Santa, You Owe Me". Now, finding that it's tough to stretch 6 or 7 songs into an entire holiday tour, Noble is back in the studio working on a full set of seasonal magic. The Kickstarter project is already fully funded--no worries--but you can still stop by and read all about it and you may even have a few hours left to drop a coin in the pot and enjoy the ride. Meantime, here's a preview of one of Keri's more recent Christmas compositions, "Kiss Me".
Here's an early Christmas present. Young Rachel Holder (still in her teens), who turned in a wonderful Christmas single last year, is currently working on a full Christmas album. She's also working on a full-length album of the non-holiday variety and she promises that both albums will be released this fall. Rachel seems right at home with the Country genre and Country is happy to have her. You can still pick up "Christmas Eve" at Amazon MP3 and you can head over to Rachel's web site to listen to one of her more popular songs to date, "Chocolate".
A few more odds and sods to toss your way. Savannah Robinson, who turns 13 this year, is recording her first Christmas record. If you're a regular viewer of Ellen, you know Savannah's got a set of pipes on her. Even Jennifer Hudson was blown away.
California's Dixieland Jazz troupe, Dixie Dominus is in the studio working on a Christmas themed album as we speak.
Ditto the Swedish a cappella group Vocal Six (that's them on your left--in the weeds, in the buff, and sporting orange Santa hats--something they've proposed as a potential album cover). We'll keep an eye open for that one for the International page later this year.
And, finally for this entry... Every summer, I seem to stumble upon at least one record label I've never heard of that is working to assemble a holiday compilation for the Christmas season. This year, that label is HillTop Records, who have titled their coming CD "The Great Songs Of Christmas". I'm happy to have the folks at HillTop tell me all about themselves and their label but, from the outside, it looks like a label that caters to songwriters (of all genres) in sort of a variation on the old song poem concept. Not nearly as DIY as TuneCore and not entirely the same concept as song poems, but it seems to be somewhere in that mix. It's something to keep an eye on, though; these obscure projects don't always blow you away, but sometimes they can be pretty good. And I certainly invite HillTop to keep me in the loop; the more information they give me, the more I can pass along to you.
Well, that's all for today, cats and kittens. Class dismissed.
Auld Lang Syne/Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (unreleased live recording)
King of the World, Master of Disaster...Clarence Clemons had many identities. But he was best known as The Big Man--an apt moniker for the 6 foot 5 inch 270 pound behemoth who found his place in the world as a sideman for one of history's most legendary rockers--Bruce Springsteen. His sound on the saxophone was every bit as big as he was and, helping define (as it did) the sound of the Jersey Shore, perhaps even bigger. Clarence Clemons passed away Saturday, June 18, following a stroke suffered a week earlier. He was 69 years old.
Clarence Clemons was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1942, the first of three children born to the owner of a fish market. At the age of 9, Clarence asked his parents for a set of electric trains for Christmas. Instead, his father presented him with a saxophone. Clarence was expected to practice every day in the back room of the market, where he helped his father, while the other kids were playing outside and he pretty much hated it. That changed when, at age 18, Clarence first heard King Curtis.
Clarence was recruited by a New Jersey band known as Tyrone Ashley's Funky Music Machine for a few recording sessions and, while attending Maryland State College, worked with the Vibrations, a James Brown cover band. One day, Clarence got a flat tire in front of a New Jersey club and needed to use the phone. Playing the club was a rock band, Norman Seldin & The Joyful Noyze. Clarence, who had long been more interested in playing rock than R&B, asked if he could sit in and, after playing with the Big Man, Seldin hired him on the spot. It's worth mentioning that the music scene was still largely segregated in the late 60s and early 70s. And Seldin lost a lot of work for having a black man in his band but refused to succumb.
The story of how Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons first met has become the stuff of legends, but both men swear it happened pretty much as advertised. The Joyful Noyze was playing a matinee at an Asbury Park club, The Wonder Bar, early in September 1971. Vocalist Karen Cassidy was friends with Bruce Springsteen who, on this night, was playing three blocks away at The Student Prince, and she told Clarence he "had to" go hear him play.
It was a stormy night in Asbury Park. A strong nor'easter was blowing in. Heavy winds, vertical rain, vivid lightning. Clarence opened the door to The Student Prince and the wind literally ripped the door off its hinges and sent it blowing off down the street. Springsteen saw a huge silhouette of a man carrying a saxophone in the doorway, lightning flashing behind him; it was like a panel from a graphic novel. Clemons walked up to Bruce and said, "I want to play with you." Springsteen said, "Hey, you can do anything you want. Take a couple of background singers, anything." The two said they knew instantly that this was rock and roll magic, a pairing that was meant to be. Clarence stayed on with Seldin for another year, but also was recording with Springsteen as Bruce put together his Columbia debut, "Greetings From Asbury Park". Then, deciding this was definitely it, Clarence left his day job and Seldin's band to work full time with Springsteen, earning about $15 a week at the start.
In all, Clarence played on more than 20 albums with Springsteen. He also turned in several solo efforts and scored a Top Twenty single with Jackson Browne in 1985-86, "You're A Friend of Mine". During Bruce's nearly decade long break from the E Street Band, Clarence played with Ringo Starr & His All Star Band, did a few TV spots and turned up in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. In addition to Jackson Browne and Ringo Starr, Clarence appeared on records from a wide range of artists, most notably Aretha Franklin, Narada Michael Walden, Todd Rundgren, and Roy Orbison. Most recently, Clemons brought his distinctive saxophone to a pair of tracks for Lady Gaga's new album, including the latest single "The Edge of Glory". Clarence has a prominent role in the song's video and appeared with Gaga on the "American Idol" season finale last month. As for Christmas music, who isn't already familiar with Springsteen's renditions of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (wherein Clarence gets to play that other Big Man) and "Merry Christmas Baby". And last year's "The Promise" DVD included a video of "Blue Christmas". Additionally, there are tons of live Christmas performances from Bruce and the E Street Band that have turned up on equally countless bootlegs. (Surely, Sony Records, there's an album's worth within your vaults. Just sayin'.)
Clarence Clemons had gone through a number of health issues over the years, as many big men do. He experienced chronic back pains and both of his knees were replaced in 2009. But he never let his health issues keep him off the stage. "It's amazing what the stage can do for you," Clemons told PopDose in 2009, near the end of a long tour with Bruce. "It heals me, that time up on the stage."
Upon news of the Big Man's death, Bruce Springsteen released the following statement: "Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable..."
In 1981, Clarence opened a club in Red Bank, New Jersey called Big Man's West. The club only lasted about a year and a half. I never saw either Bruce or Clarence play there, on the three or four nights I was at Big Man's West. But I did meet Clemons on one occasion when he was doing the meet and greet thing. Just a handshake and smile is all. But the man radiated warmth and sincerity. Clarence made everyone at his club that night feel special and important; that's a gift. Among the online tributes, I saw one comment from someone who claimed to be a sax player saying Clarence was pretentious and not a very good sax player. Anyone who says Clarence was pretentious clearly never met the man. Anyone who says Clarence wasn't a very good sax player either never heard "Born To Run", "Tenth Avenue Freezeout", "Jungleland", etc. or doesn't understand the first thing about great rock and roll.
Perhaps the best epitaph for Clarence Clemons came from the Big Man himself. Speaking to the Associated Press last year, Clarence said, "Somebody said to me, 'Whenever somebody says your name, a smile comes to their face.' That's a great accolade. I strive to keep it that way."
LARRY "WILD MAN" FISCHER (1944 - 2011)
Intending no offense to anyone, I can't help but offer the transitional "from the sublime to the ridiculous" here.
The godfather of DIY/outsider music, a favorite of Doctor Demento, certified paranoid schizophrenic and acid casualty, prolific songwriter and street singer, and the first artist to record for Rhino Records--just some of the credits of Larry "Wild Man" Fischer, who passed away of heart failure at the age of 66 on June 15.
Born in Los Angeles, California in 1944, Lawrence Wayne Fischer began singing and writing his, er, unique songs in his mid-teens. His mother had him committed to Camarillo State Hospital, a mental institution, after he allegedly attacked her with a knife. Once released, Fischer wandered the streets of LA singing whatever tunes came out of his head. On occasion, Fischer would turn up at talent shows.
Solomon Burke was the first to take Larry seriously. It was Burke who dubbed Fischer "Wild Man" and he took his discovery on tour with him. Later on, after another involuntary commitment to Camarillo, it was Frank Zappa who took an interest. Zappa produced the 2 record set "An Evening With Wild Man Fischer", still unavailable on CD. Fischer's relationship with Zappa ended poorly and Larry once again found himself on the streets of LA, offering to sing a "different kind of song" to anyone who would give him ten cents.
Larry took up a regular "residence" in front of the Rhino Records store in 1975 and the shop owners thought it might be worthwhile to have the Wild Man record a theme song for their shop. "Go To Rhino Records" proved to be so popular, it ultimately led to the launch of the Rhino label. For their first album release, Rhino naturally turned to Fischer again, who recorded "Wildmania". In its initial release, "Wildmania" sold 5,000 copies..."which", Rhino's Richard Foos recalls, "gave us enough money to release the next album." Fischer recorded two more albums for Rhino and, save the odd track here and there, that was the extent of his recording career.
In 1999, Rhino Handmade released a box set containing all of Wild Man's Rhino recordings, including his duet with Rosemary Clooney, "It's A Hard Business". From time to time, Wild Man would resurface for a performance or two. Fischer appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2004 and, in 2005, the documentary Derailroaded was released. An album of "rarities", "Lost And Found Pep", was independently released in 2008.
Wild Man's contribution to the holiday season was a 25 second ditty that is virtually impossible to dislodge from your brain once you've heard it. "I'm A Christmas Tree" appears on the 1981 album, "Pronounced Normal". A slightly longer version (1:13)--a duet with Doctor Demento--was included on the Doctor's "Christmas Novelty" CD and is also included on "Lost And Found Pep".
This video from Chase Rice features photos submitted by his fans of their fathers, which is kinda neat and touching. If you like the song, you can download it through iTunes or Amazon MP3, or you can buy the hard copy CD direct from the man himself.
A little Father's Day love, in the form of a free download from the always brilliant John Anealio, for all the Geek Dads out there. Head to Bandcamp to get yer freebie on. John's got a blog, too, not to mention a full download album of Sci-Fi songs for sale through Amazon and CDBaby, and the "name your price" holiday EP we told you about in December.
I've again been neglecting our tributes to the fallen. Apologies all around. By the way, you'll note (scrolling down) that I've gone through and properly tagged all of our front page posts. So if you ever feel the need to call up all of our posts on singles or all of our obituaries, for example, it should be much easier now. Without further ado...
GIL SCOTT HERON (1949 - 2011)
If legendary Blues man Robert Johnson had been born in 1949, he’d have sounded a whole lot like Gil Scott-Heron. Gil Scott-Heron died Friday, May 27, at the age of 62, “but the bitter truth lives on”.
Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1949, but was sent by his parents to Tennessee to be raised by his maternal grandmother. When Lillie Scott passed away, the 13 year old Gil moved to New York City with his mother. Even at this age, Scott-Heron’s writings were impressive enough to earn him a full scholarship to the private Fieldstone School. Gil then attended Lincoln University, though he left after two years to focus on writing. After a pair of beat novels and a book of poetry, Gil teamed with Brian Jackson, whom he’d met at Lincoln, to put some of his poetry to music.
It was late 1969, early 1970. A turbulent time, both exciting and tragic. The Civil Rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King. The Viet Nam War, The Sexual Revolution, Woodstock and the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Man on the Moon and Nixon in the White House. “Small Talk At 125th and Lenox”, Scott-Heron’s debut album, captured all of this brilliantly. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, “Evolution (And Flashback)”, “Whitey On The Moon”, and “Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul?" were just some of the unforgettable tracks on that first album.
“Pieces Of A Man” followed in 1971, featuring Scott-Heron classics “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”, “I Think I’ll Call It Morning” and the title track, “Pieces Of A Man”.
I saw my daddy greet the mailman
And I heard the mailman say
“Now don’t you take this letter to heart now Jimmy
Cause they’ve laid off nine others today”
He didn’t know what he was saying
He could hardly understand
That he was only talking to
Pieces of a man
I saw the thunder and heard the lightning
And felt the burden of his shame
And for some unknown reason
He never turned my way
In spite of a reprise of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, “Pieces Of A Man” was a far less political album than its predecessor, focusing instead on very personal reflections on every day living—both the good and the bad. As the years have passed, “Pieces Of A Man” has been recognized as one of the most "essential" albums of all time and a foundation for what would become Rap and Hip Hop. The album has been sampled by everyone from Salt-N-Pepa to Kanye West.
1972 saw the release of “Free Will”, which returned to political and societal themes with pieces like “The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues” and “No Knock”. There were two Scott-Heron releases in 1974, a compilation album and the incredible “Winter In America”. Considered by many to be Scott-Heron’s best and most cohesive effort, "Winter In America" featured a Top 15 R&B single, “The Bottle”, and an ode to the most famous scandal of the day, “H2Ogate Blues”. The song "Winter In America", however, would not appear until Scott-Heron's next album "The First Minute Of A New Day". As Scott-Heron tells the story, Peggy Harris had created the gatefold collage. "Every time we saw her she said the same thing: 'There just ought to be a song called 'Winter In America'.' Even after the album was out and we were working on another one she said the same thing. 'There ought to be...' She was right. So I wrote the song 'Winter In America' that shows up on an album called The First Minute Of A New Day. Some folks believed we did that on purpose. Nope. Mrs. Harris made us do it."
"The First Minute Of A New Day" was Scott-Heron's first for a major label (Arista), featured The Midnight Band, and became a must-own piece of vinyl on college campuses across America. With pieces ranging from "Guerilla", "Ain't No Such Thing As Superman", and "Pardon Our Analysis", the album became not only a tremendous critical success but also a strong seller, charting on the R&B and Pop album charts and rising to number 5 on the Jazz album charts.
The song "Johnannesburg" led off and carried Scott-Heron's next album, "From South Africa To South Carolina" and the double-LP "It's Your World" (featuring "Bicentennial Blues" and a 13 minute live jam on "The Bottle") kept Gil high on critic's lists, though sales for the artist were leveling off. 1977's "Bridges" was a huge favorite among fans and featured the now iconic anti-nuke anthem "We Almost Lost Detroit", but failed to find a wider audience. A couple of my favorites, "Secrets" and "1980", were also modest sellers and the critics were unimpressed. After three more albums, Arista dropped Scott-Heron. He continued touring, for a while, and then became something of a recluse. There would be only 2 more studio albums from Gil Scott-Heron from 1985 to his death this year, but they are two well worth the journey. 1994's "Spirits" is a jazz tour de force, while "I'm New Here", released in 2010, is a powerful epitaph for a giant of a man. An interview with Gil, featuring intimate performances of his music, was filmed in 2010 and is expected to be released some time later this year.
Often credited as "The Godfather of Rap", Gil Scott-Heron said bluntly, "I don't know if I can take the blame for it." Scott-Heron did admit to listening to rap music, because "I have kids... But I would not say its aimed at me. I listen to the jazz station."
Gil Scott-Heron never recorded a Christmas or holiday effort, though some of his pieces work very well in the proper context and I have used "Winter In America" in a mix, here and there. He was a major influence on my musical taste and I dig the man's life philosophy as well. "If someone comes to you and asks for help and you can help them, you're supposed to help them. Why wouldn't you?"
CARL GARDNER (1928-2011)
Following a long battle with dementia, the last original member of the Coasters died of congestive heart failure on June 12. Carl Gardner was 83.
Born in Tyler, Texas in 1928, Gardner's family was poor and Texas, in those days, was largely segregated. Gardner remembered Tyler as "its own special kind of hell." Singing from the age of 5, Gardner couldn't wait to leave that Texas town. Gardner believed he was destined to be a singer. Following a short stint in the Army, Carl traveled to California in search of his dream, leaving a wife and baby daughter behind.
In California, Gardner joined up with Bobby Nunn to form the heart of the R&B group The Robins. The Robins recorded for Spark Records, a label founded by the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. For the Robins, Leiber & Stoller wrote such classics as "Riot In Cellblock #9", "Framed" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe". "Smokey Joe's Cafe" sold well enough to get Leiber & Stoller a deal with Atlantic records and they convinced Gardner and Nunn to come with them. Gardner and Nunn officially formed The Coasters in 1955.
The witty and gritty lyrics of Leiber and Stoller and the talent and showmanship of Gardner and Dunn was a match made in rock and roll heaven. Though Nunn left the group when Leiber, Stoller and Gardner relocated to New York, the Coasters (with Gardner as lead vocalist) had a string of hits as memorable today as when they were originally released--"Yakety Yak", "Youngblood", "Poison Ivy", "Along Came Jones" and the iconic "Charlie Brown" to name a few. Dubbed "The Clown Princes of Rock and Roll", the Coasters were equally adept when they put their talents behind more standard fare such as "Besame Mucho" and "Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart". When the hits stopped coming and Leiber & Stoller left Atlantic/Atco in the mid-60s, the Coasters went right on singing. Through every membership change, Carl Gardner remained the group's lead vocalist until 2005 when illness forced his retirement. Gardner was replaced in the group by his son, Carl Gardner, Jr.
The Coasters were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Gardner became a strong advocate for legislation protecting groups from having their identities appropriated by bogus copy cat outfits; at one time, there were several groups performing under the name of "The Coasters" even though Gardner owned the rights. "I started the group," said Gardner, "I'll be damned if I'm gonna let someone steal it from me."
The Coasters finally recorded a Christmas song in 1993. Their version of "Frosty The Snowman" appeared on the out-of-print CD "Rock & Roll Christmas" on the I-Spirit label that year and is currently available as a download through Amazon MP3 and other digital outlets. The Robins 1950 Christmas record (released as by the Nic Nacs), "Gonna Have A Merry Christmas", was recorded before Gardner joined that group.
ANDREW GOLD (1951 - 2011)
Composer, performer and producer Andrew Gold died of a heart attack on June 3 at the age of 59. The son of singer Marni Nixon and Oscar winning composer Ernest Gold, Andrew will likely best be remembered for his Top Ten smash "Lonely Boy" from 1977. Gold also charted with "Thank You For Being A Friend" and "Never Let Her Go" and did well internationally with "Bridge To Your Heart", a song written and recorded with Graham Gouldman.
Gold was an accomplished player of multiple instruments and is featured on the records of Linda Ronstadt, Art Garfunkle, Eric Carmen, 10 cc, and Jackson Browne, among others. Gold wrote hits for Trisha Yearwood, Leo Sayer, Wynonna Judd and Celine Dion, to name a few. Gold was also a successful producer, arranger and engineer. He frequently worked with Stephen Bishop as well and managed to record with all of the former Beatles except George Harrison.
Gold's music of holiday interest begins with the 1996 album "Halloween Howls". It's said to be a favorite of Doctor Demento and, though it clearly caters to the children's market, it's spooky holiday fun for kids of all ages. In 2001, Gold produced a children's Christmas album, "Sugar Beats Christmas". And, in 2008, Gold finally got around to recording a pair of Christmas tracks as a digital single, John Lennon's "Happy Xmas" and the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick". "Happy Xmas" found its way to hard copy CD that same year as part of "Santa's Rock N Roll Christmas Party".
RAY BRYANT (1931 - 2011)
A giant of Jazz piano, Ray Bryant passed away on June 2 following a long illness. Bryant was 79.
Ray Bryant was born in Philadelphia and, as a young man, played the jazz clubs with his brother Tommy on bass. The Bryant brothers became regulars at Philly's Blue Note, a stopping point for all the top jazz names of the era. Bryant impressed visiting artists sufficiently that he soon had plenty of work as a sideman with artists like Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Milt Jackson. By 1955, his name shared billing with a legendary singer on the album "Meet Betty Carter and Ray Bryant". After that, Bryant fronted his own unit, The Ray Bryant Trio, which recorded brilliant jazz for decades. Hardcore jazz fans favor Ray's solo piano work.
Bryant was noted for bringing sophistication to be-bop and simmering liberally in blues and gospel. Songs such as "Blues Changes" have been tremendously influential in the genre and beyond. Many of his best tracks were completely improvised, with no sheet music or lead sheet to follow. Ray scored a Top 40 hit in 1960 with the novelty "The Madison Time" and his version of "Ode To Billie Joe" also charted in 1967.
Bryant performed several Christmas songs for NPR's long running Jazz Piano Christmas series, two of which ("God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine") were included on the out-of-print album of the same name. Ray's solo take on "Greensleeves" from the album "Alone At Montreaux" is readily available as a download through Amazon MP3.
BUDDY GASK (1948 - 2011)
William Buddy Gask died June 7, following an extended illness. Gask was an original member and vocalist with the British pop group Showaddywaddy who scored a Christmas smash in 1974 with "Hey Mr. Christmas". Formed in 1973, Showaddywaddy was a large sprawling band, a bit like ShaNaNa and, while Buddy handled vocals for the band's first hit record, "Hey Rock And Roll", it was Dave Bartram fronting the Christmas single. Gask was known for his Elvis Presley vocal delivery, flashy style, and sense of humor. He was also known for his hard drinking and his personality clashes with the rest of the group.
Buddy Gask left Showaddywaddy in 1987. He was "fired" when his drinking and clashes with the other members became too much for the rest of the band. Guitarist Russ Fields was also tossed for similar reasons. Gask's ongoing difficulties with alcohol took a substantial toll on his health and, in 2005, he retired to Spain where he lived the rest of his days in poor health.
ALYS ROBI (1923 - 2011)
Born Alice Robitaille in Quebec City, Canada, Alys Robi passed away May 28 at the age of 88.
The actress and singer performed in the theatrical cabaret style I most associate with Edith Piaf. Robi built her stardom in the forties by bringing Latin rhythms to North America and translating the songs to French. Robi wrote two autobiographies and the biographical film Bittersweet Memories was released in 2004.
I'm completely unfamiliar with the music of Alys Robi, but a simple search on Amazon did turn up one Christmas track, "C'est Noel Dans Mon Village".
DAVID "FRANKIE" TOLER (1951 - 2011)
59 year old David "Frankie" Toler died on Saturday, June 4, following a lengthy illness after a pair of liver transplants in 2009. Toler provided the back beat for bands like The Allman Brothers, Gregg Allman, and the Marshall Tucker Band and those who played with him unabashedly call Toler "one of the best rock n roll drummers in the world".
Toler's health had been in decline for a number of years, which kept him from performing or recording extensively in recent times. He does not appear on any holiday records that I'm aware of, but played a pivotal role in shaping the sound of one of rock's greatest eras.
Other notable deaths during the last few weeks include the following:
Legendary R&B singer Benny Spellman passed away on June 3, following a long illness. He was 79. Spellman, who was a member of Huey Piano Smith's famous Clowns, is best known for his classic solo sides "Lipstick Traces" and "Fortune Teller" (both written by Allen Toussaint).
Steve Popovich died on June 8 at his Nashville home at the age of 68. A long time Record Executive with Columbia, Steve founded Cleveland International Records in 1976 when he was unable to find another label willing to release Meat Loaf's "Bat Out Of Hell", an album that has since sold over 43 million copies.
Alan Rubin, a trumpet player with the original Blues Brothers band, died of lung cancer on June 8. The 68 year old, who backed artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Yoko Ono, was plucked for the Blues Brothers role of "Mr. Fabulous" from the Saturday Night Live band that backed Belushi and Aykroyd during their musical skits on the show.
British producer Martin Rushent passed away on June 4 at the age of 62. Rushent's credits include Fleetwood Mac, The Go-Gos, The Human League, The Stranglers, The Buzzcocks, T-Rex, Yes, Shirley Bassey, XTC, ELP, and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 2010, Rushent produced "Santa's On His Way" for The Pipettes, which is still available as a free download from the group's website.
Finally, I thought it worth mentioning the passing of English songwriter and producer Gordon Lorenz, who died June 5 after a short illness. Lorenz worked with a number of big name stars during his career, from Shirley Bassey to Cliff Richard (a Christmas album, no less) to David Soul to Gloria Gaynor. But most in the UK will remember Lorenz most for the song he wrote that bumped John Lennon out of the top spot on the British charts in 1980, becoming Christmas Number One that year, "There's No One Quite Like Grandma". Before Simon Cowell came along, Christmas Number One was a pretty big deal in the UK. So, even though its not really a Christmas song, we'll close with a video of Gordon Lorenz' biggest hit.
So, hey. When I was doing the update yesterday, I totally forgot that Milkshake had a single and video last year that we may or may not have mentioned at the time. You can hear, in this song, what the group means when they say they do rock music for kids. Anyway, I think so. "Christmas In Baltimore" will, indeed, be on the forthcoming holiday album. If it's just this single you be wantin', you'll find it at Amazon MP3 or iTunes.
I was just alerted (by poster Noma Lights at The Fa) to the fact that Carole King is working on a Christmas record. This really shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, though, as King was rumored to be working on such a project as far back as November. The album is apparently being produced by Niko Bolas, the guiding hand behind such efforts as Neil Young's "This Note's For You", Warren Zevon's "Sentimental Hygiene", and Melissa Etheridge's eponymous debut. Carole King, of course, is most famous for the album "Tapestry", which held a chart position for an amazing 305 consecutive weeks in the seventies. Prior to that, her song writing credits included a host of hits and standards, such as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?", "One Fine Day", "The Loco-Motion", "Pleasant Valley Sunday", and "Up On The Roof".
Carole's long career and previous associations suggest we may get a guest artist or two (James Taylor, perhaps?), but that's just me spitballing. The November rumors did indicate that the album would include at least one Hanukkah song. Several years back, King released the single "Love For Christmas", which can currently be found on the 2-CD set "Love Makes The World".
Grammy Award winning Country singer David Ball is also planning a holiday album. Ball, whose 1994 debut "Thinkin' Problem" was certified platinum, won the Grammy for his recording of "Old Folks At Home (Swanee River)", included on "Beautiful Dreamer", a various artists tribute album to the songs of Stephen Foster. The Christmas album will feature a good deal of original material and a few holiday favorites and is expected to be released in November.
Josh Caterer, the lead singer for Chicago's legendary Smoking Popes, says he is working on a solo Christmas album which he expects to release later this year. The Popes, whose heyday was back in the nineties, have just released the new CD, "This Is Only A Test". The Popes music is generally described as punk-influenced pop. The Smoking Popes issued a promotional holiday single in 1997, "Egg Nog", which featured their version of "O Holy Night". Josh Caterer also lead the Christian rock band Duvall on their 2004 CD "O Holy Night", an excellent and too frequently overlooked Christmas album. No word on whether Caterer's solo effort will include "O Holy Night", but you have to think it just might.
The rock group Milkshake, whose music is targeted mostly to kids, show up on the release schedule with a holiday album slated for late fall. Milkshake was formed by Lisa Mathews and Mikel Gehl of the group Love Riot after they both became parents. They wanted to make music that their kids would enjoy but couldn't help but bring their rock music roots to the project. With 4 albums released to date and at least one Grammy nomination, Milkshake has been a tremendous hit with kids and parents alike. It'll be interesting to see what they can come up with on a holiday themed outing.
Finally, today, here's another chance to be a big time patron of the arts and you can get in on the action for as little as a dollar. Folk pop singers Keri Taylor and James Beauregard are hoping to put out a Christmas album and they're raising money through Kickstarter. The songs Keri & Beau have started with are originals based on passages from the book of Luke. And you'll find a demo version of "Merry Christmas" here, and another demo for the song "Mary" here. The visitors to Stubby's Christmas were very helpful to Sam Billen last year with his Kickstarter Christmas album (you can still get Sam and Josh Atkinson's "A Word Of Encouragement" free at Bandcamp and we'll check in with him later to see what he's planning for 2011) and there's no reason we can't kick in a few bucks for Keri & Beau, right? They've got a little over a month to go and a lot of money to raise. And there are, as usual, plenty of incentives for the backers.
I love Christmas, music, and cats. What more do you need to know?