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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Willie Dixon born 1 July 1915

Willie Dixon (July 1, 1915 – January 29, 1992) was a well-known American blues bassist, singer, songwriter, and record producer.

He was born as William James Dixon, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was a producer for Chess and Checker Records in Chicago and is considered one of the key figures in the creation of Chicago blues. He worked with Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Led Zeppelin, Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Koko Taylor, Little Milton, Eddie Boyd, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lowell Fulson, Willie Mabon, Memphis Slim, Washboard Sam, Jimmy Rogers, and others.

He had a colourful life. In his teens he had many scrapes with the law, and decided to hitchhike his way to Chicago. A giant of a man, he took up boxing, and was so successful as to win the Golden Gloves heavyweight title in 1936. In 1940, after several disputes with his boxing managers, Willie turns his attention to music. The group he has formed with singer/guitarist Leonard 'Baby Doo' Caston, the Five Breezes, records eight numbers for the Bluebird record label.
Shortly after the USA's entry into World War II in 1941, Willie is arrested for ignoring his enlistment papers. Willie is spared enlistment after being classified as unfit for military service. In 1942 he forms a new group, the Four Jumps of Jive.
Now 1945 Willie is the founder member of the Big Three Trio, again with Baby Doo Caston and two years later the Trio obtain a recording contract with Columbia Records. On the road, they are a huge success on a circuit that takes in the Mid-West and the northern states.
Dixon subsequently signed for Chess Records as a recording artist, but by 1951 he was a full time employee of the label. His relationship with them was sometimes strained, although his spell there covered the years from 1948 to the early 1960s. During this time his output and influence was prodigious. Indeed, he once claimed "I am the blues." This may seem a little arrogant, but there is no doubt that he was one of the major influences on the genre, through his original and varied song writing, live performances, recording, and copious production work.
His double bass playing was of a high standard. He appears on many of Chuck Berry's early recordings, further proving his linkage between the blues and the birth of rock 'n' roll.
He records his first LP in 1959, Willie's Blues, for the Bluesville Record label and in 1960 he provides Howlin' Wolf with the songs 'Wang Dang Doodle', Back Door Man', 'Spoonful' and 'The Red Rooster'.
Dixon's genius as a songwriter lay in refurbishing archaic Southern motifs, in contemporary arrangements. This produced songs with the backbone of the blues, and the agility of pop music. British R&B bands of the 1960s constantly drew on the Dixon songbook for inspiration.
In addition, as his song writing and production work started to take a backseat, his organisational ability was utilised, putting together all-star, Chicago based blues ensembles for work in Europe.

     Here's "Little Red Rooster" from above 1969 album.

His health deteriorated in the 1970s and 1980s, due to long-term diabetes, and eventually his leg had to be amputated. In 1982 Willie sets up the Blues Heaven Foundation to aid young musicians.

He had bypass surgery in 1987. But, in 1988, he released of Hidden Charms, which won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Recording. Dixon died at the age of seventy-six of heart failure at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, California on Jan. 29, 1992. He was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.

He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. His work was covered by a varied range of artists, from the blues, to modern day rock music practitioners.
 (Info various sources, mainly edited from Wikipedia) 

Monday, 29 June 2015

Flo Sandon's born 29 June 1924

Mammola Sandon, known by the stage name of Flo Sandon's (29 June 1924 – 17 November 2006), was an Italian singer who was popular in the post-World War II years. She won the Sanremo Music Festival in 1953 with the song "Viale d'autunno".
Sandon was born in Vicenza, in the Veneto. Her musical career began in 1944 when she debuted in a Red Cross charity show. Her stage name Sandon's came by chance - it was an oversight by the illustrator who prepared her first record cover. Her first big break as a professional vocalist came in 1947, when she sang in The Hot Club of France with two jazz legends: guitarist Django Reinhardt, and violinist Stéphane Grappelli.
Celebrity came in 1952 thanks to the movie Anna directed by Alberto Lattuada and starring Silvana Mangano, Vittorio Gassman and Raf Vallone. Flo Sandon's did not appear in the movie itself, but she performed two songs on the movie soundtrack, "T'ho voluto ben" and "El Negro Zumbón". Both were great hits. Nat King Cole liked "T'ho voluto ben" so much that a few years later he recorded it with the new title "Non Dimenticar".

   Here's "Viale d'autunno" from above compilation album.

In 1953 Flo Sandon's took part in the Sanremo Music Festival for the first time, and won. The song was "Viale d'autunno" and it was also performed by another singer, Carla Boni. Both winners were at their first appearance at the popular song contest, and succeeded ahead of the great favourite Nilla Pizzi. The press speculated about a possible plot against Pizzi: allegedly she had been originally chosen to perform "Viale d'autunno" but was then dismissed, possibly out of spite or jealousy, and the song offered to Sandon's and Boni.
In 1955 Flo Sandon's married Natalino Otto, also an Italian singer. They toured together in Italy and abroad for several years.
They are credited with the discovery of one of Italy's greatest singers of all times - Mina. In the night of 24 September 1958, the Happy Boys, a band of teen-age students was playing in the Rivarolo del Re dance hall, Cremona. Otto and his wife were present, and were greatly impressed by the singer of that group. They went to meet her at the end of the concert and proposed her a trial recording session. One month later, Mina's first single was out.
Flo Sandon's competed five more times at the Sanremo Music Festival, but never won again. She however won another song contest, the Festival of Naples in 1960 with "Serenata a Mergellina".

Other hits from her repertoire include "Vorrei volare", "Kiss Me", "I Love Paris", "Passa il tempo", "Concerto d'autunno", "Verde luna", "Domani", "Que sera sera" and "Bevi con me".
Flo Sandon's died in Rome at the age of 82. (Info Wikipedia)

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Renato Pagliari born 28 June 1940

Renato Pagliari (28 June 1940 – 29 July 2009) was an Italian singer, probably most notable for being lead vocalist it the short-lived 1980s pop group Renée and Renato.

Pagliari was born into a large, impoverished family in the village of Blera, outside Rome. He exhibited musical aptitude from an early age, and his parents encouraged him to join the local church choir. When he was 17, he won a place in a school for professional waiters, which equipped him for a career in five-star restaurants in several countries (he also learned four languages). He combined his talents to become renowned as a singing waiter, happy to burst forth into Neapolitan songs and operatic arias in the great tradition of Enrico Caruso. Restaurateurs began to appreciate his knack for pulling in customers.
By the early 1970s he had emigrated to Britain and was working in the West Midlands, where he was permitted to entertain diners with operatic arias. While he lacked formal training, delighted responses to his efforts prompted him to seek semi-professional club engagements, and, in 1975, he entered a regional heat for the ITV talent contest New Faces, a forerunner of Britain's Got Talent, seizing the ultimate prize of a winning appearance on the show.

The songwriter Johnny Edward was watching the show and was impressed with Pagliari's tenor voice. He felt sure that it would work perfectly with his song Save Your Love. Though the process was held up by various business problems, Pagliari eventually recorded the song in 1982. Teaming up with Renée (real name Hilary Lester) proved a shrewd commercial move, and having made a sluggish start with a chart entry at 54 in October 1982, the song gathered its second wind and galloped ahead. It also charted strongly in the Netherlands and Norway.
However, Renée was at pains to stress that they were never "an item", and indeed, she never appeared in the celebrated video of the song but was replaced by a stand-in. By the time the song had reached No 1, she had already joined another band and therefore could not perform live until later.
Renée and Renato attempted follow-up hits with Just One More Kiss and Jesus Loves Us All, to little effect. Nonetheless, Save Your Love was an effective enough calling card to launch the duo on a prolonged stint of international touring, while Renato had amassed further popular kudos for his rendition of Just One Cornetto – adapted from the Neapolitan song O Sole Mio – in the celebrated Wall's ice-cream commercial (although this is claimed not to be the case by Pagliari's son, Remo). After four years, Renée returned to civilian life.

Meanwhile Pagliari continued to work as a solo artist, and found regular employment as a cruise-ship singer with operators including Royal Caribbean International, Cunard and Costa Cruise Lines. He also recorded six solo albums. In the last few years, he made regular singing appearances at his son Remo's restaurant, Renato's, in Tamworth, Staffordshire. When he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, he was prone to breaking into song on the wards during recent stays in hospital. (Photo of Renato with Sir Norman Wisdom at a Celebrity Golf Challenge, Northern Ireland 2005) 
After battling the tumour for several months Renato died from complications following surgery at Good Hope Hospital, Sutton Coldfield, on 29 July 2009, aged 69.
"He had two great passions, his family and performing," Remo said. "He was never happier than when he was on stage."
Pagliari had become a close friend of the former football manager Ron Atkinson, who once asked him to sing Puccini's Nessun Dorma to inspire his Aston Villa players after a lacklustre first-half performance. On finishing, Pagliari made a chin-up speech to the players, who went on to win that year's League Cup.
Ron Atkinson and singer Tony Christie joined 700 others for his funeral at Holy Trinity Church in Sutton Coldfield.  (Info various, mainly from the Guardian)

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Ersel Hickey born 27 June 1934

Ersel Hickey (June 27, 1934 in Brighton, New York - July 12, 2004 in New York City) was a rockabilly singer best known for "Bluebirds over the Mountain."
He was born Ersel O'Hickey, named after the family doctor, Dr. Ersel. His mother was from Kingston, Ontario; his father, who was Irish, died when Hickey was four. He was one of eight children. His mother had a nervous breakdown and was put into a mental hospital, while he was put into foster homes. He would frequently run away, living in different parts of New York State.
When Hickey was 15, he started traveling with his sister Chicky Evans, an exotic dancer. She was very popular in the carnival circuits and together they traveled for about a year. He decided to go on his own and travel with the carnival, then left and then began living in Columbus, Ohio. From there he was sent to a "tough kids" home, where he became familiar with the main rhythm and blues groups and started singing with the gospel group there.

In 1954, Hickey heard Elvis Presley's "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine" and became a devoted fan of rock and roll. He was playing a few places in Rochester, New York that his brother booked him in; he was drawing very well. 

It was around this time that he made his first record on Fine Records. One side was "Then I'll Be Happy", an old song; the other side was "Baby You're No Good", a song he had written. The single was released locally, but not much happened with it.

While visiting Rochester in 1957, Phil Everly told Hickey he should write his own material. That night Hickey wrote "Bluebirds Over the Mountain", which he subsequently recorded and charted at #75 in the United States.

The song was later recorded by Ritchie Valens in 1958 and was a top 100 hit for The Beach Boys in the United States and the United Kingdom in 1968.
Making ends meet as a songwriter, in 1964 he did pen the Serendipity Singers' hit "Don't Let the Rain Come Down." The Toot label issued his 1967 comeback single, "Blue Skies," with "(Play On) Strings of Gitarro" appearing a year later.

He recorded intermittently in the decades to follow, cutting "Oh Lord, Look What They've Done to Your Garden" for Black Circle in 1971, "Waitin' for Baby" for Rameses III in 1975, and "Let Me Be Your Radio" for Parkway in 1982.

Later the subject of Bluebirds Over the Mountain, a typically excellent and comprehensive Bear Family retrospective, Hickey died from infection following bladder removal surgery on July 12, 2004. He was 70 years old.

Ersel Hickey's contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. (info maily from Wikipedia)

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Judy Holliday born 21 June 1921

 Judy Holliday (June 21, 1921 – June 7, 1965) was an American actress and singer, whose life was tragically cut short due breast cancer at the age of 43.  
Born Judith Tuvim ("Tuvim" approximates the Yiddish word for "Holiday") in New York City, she was the only child of Abe and Helen Tuvim, Jewish immigrants from Russia. She attended elementary school at PS 150, a school in Sunnyside, Queens, New York. Her first job was as an assistant switchboard operator at the Mercury Theatre run by Orson Welles and John Houseman. 
Holliday began her show business career in December 1938 as part of a nightclub act called "The Revuers." The other four members of the group were Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Alvin Hammer and John Frank; one of their accompanists was Leonard Bernstein. The Revuers were a staple of the New York nightlife scene until they disbanded in early 1944.  

Holliday made her Broadway debut on March 20, 1945, at the Belasco Theatre in Kiss Them for Me and was one of the recipients that year of the Clarence Derwent Award. In 1946, she was back on Broadway, as the scatterbrained Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Author Garson Kanin had written the play for his friend, Jean Arthur. Arthur played the role of Billie out-of-town, but after many complaints and illnesses, she resigned. Kanin chose Holliday as her replacement. 

Garson Kanin's book on Tracy and Hepburn mentions that when Columbia bought the rights to film Born Yesterday, studio boss Harry Cohn wouldn't consider casting the unknown (outside of Broadway) Holliday. Kanin, together with George Cukor, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, conspired to promote Holliday by offering her a key part in the 1949 film Adam's Rib. She got rave reviews and Cohn offered her the chance to repeat her role for the film version of Born Yesterday, but only after she did a screen test. She won the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actress, beating out such formidable competitors as Gloria Swanson, who was nominated for Sunset Boulevard, and Bette Davis for All About Eve.  

In 1952, Holliday was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to answer claims that she was associated with communism. Although not blacklisted from films, she was blacklisted from radio and television for almost three years.  

Here's "Am I Blue" from the 1958 album "Trouble Is a Man."

Judy Holliday gained renown as an actress, not as a singer; yet she had a sweet, true, musical singing voice, an extension of her speaking one, as this newly-discovered recording, made late in her relatively short career, so poignantly reveals. Of course, her singing had been heard earlier, both in the stage and screen versions of the musical comedy Bells Are Ringing, but it seemed secondary to her persona as an actress, that of an endearingly dizzy blonde who, when pressed hard enough, showed her mettle. And, as a matter of fact, her role as an actress, once she achieved stardom on Broadway in Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday (she replaced the unpredictable Jean Arthur as Billie Dawn on short notice), continued to be that of a comedienne.  

Hollywood immediately claimed her. Taking leave of Born Yesterday for a spell, she accepted a subsidiary part in the Tracy-Hepburn picture Adam's Rib, making a big impression in it, and then returned to the West Coast, following the Broadway run of Born Yesterday, to play Billie Dawn again before the cameras. This was succeeded by several similar film characterizations until she came back to Broadway to do Bells Are ringing. Her last show was the short-lived 1963 musical Hot Spot.  

Her first bout with cancer came during the out-of-town tryout, in 1960 of Laurette, a play about the actress Laurette Taylor, when the loss of her voice led to her hospitalization and a mastectomy at 37. She died two years after Hot Spot, just two weeks short of her 42nd birthday. (info mainly edited from Wikipedia & gerrymulliganinfo)

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Lewis Lymon born 20 June 1944

Lewis Lymon (June 20, 1944 Harlem, NY - Jul. 9, 2013 Las Vegas) was the lead singer and founder member of the group The Teenchords.
Though he has always been remembered primarily as Frankie Lymon's brother, Louie Lymon attained some notoriety on his own. He fronted his own ensemble Lewis Lymon and the Teenchords.
Born in Harlem, New York, Lewis (or sometimes called Louie) was exposed to music at an early age.
Lewis was the third of the Lymon brothers (Howie and Frankie were older; Timmy was the youngest) Lewis and Frankie were part of a musical family that grew up in the world of gospel. Their father, Howard, was part of the Harlemaires and both boys, along with brother Howard, Jr., were part of Harlemaires Juniors.
When Frankie and his group the Teenagers struck it big with Why Do Fools Fall in Love in 1956, brother Lewis got the itch to try and duplicate the success.  He formed the group the Teenchords with Ralph Vaughan, Rossilio Rocca, Lyndon Harold and David Little who were soon signed to Bobby Robinson's new Fury label on the strength of the Lymon name.

The group's first single, I'm So Happy, was also their biggest. While it didn't make the national charts, it did have good sales on the east coast and has gone on to become a Doo Wop favourite.

The Teenchords were soon touring with such major acts as Jerry Butler and The Impressions, Jessie Belvin, and Mickey and Sylvia. The following year (1957) at the height of their popularity, they were a featured act at the Apollo Theatre and had a performance in the motion picture "Jamboree!" (1957). They issued two more singles on Fury. They later recorded for George Goldner's End label in New York where they released two singles, neither of which caught on with the public.
When two of the Teenchords, Little and Harold, were discovered in a stolen automobile, the fate of the group was all but sealed. Mrs. Lymon would not allow her son to continue singing with the contingent. Some personnel changes were made, but shortly thereafter the group had disbanded. As the group's swan song, Goldner released a single on his Juanita label. "Dance Girl" backed with "Them There Eyes" came out in 1958 with little fanfare.
The Teenchords' last appearance at the Apollo was the week of October 31, 1958. By this time, Lewis was the only original member left. The rest of the roster consisted of Jimmy Castor (second tenor), Eddie Pellegrino (baritone), and Johnny Pruitt (bass).
Following the breakup of the Teenchords, Lewis Lymon went on to record one more record as part of the Townsmen. Issued in 1961 on the PJ label, "I Can't Go On" had Lewis on lead.  The record became an instant obscurity. A tour of duty in the armed forces in the mid-'60s removed Lewis from the music scene. By the time of his return, America had experienced the British Invasion and the shape of teenage rock & roll had changed dramatically from the heyday of doo wop.
In 1971, when another "oldies" revival was sweeping the Northeast, Lewis re-formed the Teenchords with Ralph Ramos, Louis Vasquez, Velmont Miller, and Frank San Pietro.
Lymon tried with another edition of The Teenchords in 1983, and they recorded a version of the Teenagers' "I Want You to Be My Girl" in 1984 for Starlight. They cut "Dance Girl" for the same label in 1985. This line-up included John O'Keefe, Mike Nicoletti, Thomas Camuti, and Andre Gains, along with Lymon. Lewis subsequently left and co-wrote a book about his experiences that was never published.
In 2003, he performed as a member of Frankie Lymon's Teenagers with original members Jimmy Merchant and Herman Santiago.
He also performed with The Drifters revival group. Although he had been suffering from prostate cancer, he still continued to perform until the early part of 2013.
He died at his home in Las Vegas on July 9, 2013. He was 69. (Info edited from various sources, especially All Music and Find a Grave and obits.)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Johnny Pearson born 18 June 1925

John Valmore Pearson (18 June 1925 – 20 March 2011), known as Johnny Pearson, was a British composer, orchestra leader and pianist. He led the Top of the Pops orchestra for sixteen years, wrote a catalogue of library music, and had many of his pieces used as the theme music to television series.
He was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and as a teenager played classical and jazz piano. After national service, he played in the Malcolm Mitchell Trio, touring on the variety circuit, and accompanied visiting Americans such as Hoagy Carmichael and Maxine Sullivan. Pearson co-wrote novelty numbers such as Man Or Mouse that were recorded by the trio for Parlophone.
He left the trio in 1954 and turned to work in radio in an era when every light entertainment show had its resident musicians. He also played with the Peter Yorke Concert Orchestra, which performed a wide range of light music pieces for the BBC Light Programme.
Pearson's career took off in the 1960s as his talents were sought as an arranger, composer, recording artist and television bandleader. In 1964 Parlophone's George Martin asked him to create an orchestral arrangement for Anyone Who Had a Heart, the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song, which Martin had chosen to record with Cilla Black. The result was a No 1 hit, as was Black's single You're My World, also arranged by Pearson. 
These successes showed that he had the skills to bridge the gap between the genteel light music of the post-second world war years and the brash new pop of the 1960s. In 1966 he was appointed director of the resident orchestra for Top of the Pops, remaining there for 15 years. Pearson's arrangement for the Top of the Pops Orchestra of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" was the theme tune to Top of the Pops for most of the 1970s.
He had also developed a recording career of his own. A 1962 instrumental album, Piano Sweet – Piano Wild, for the small Oriole label had been followed by the single Cast Your Fate to the Wind, a version of a US hit by Vince Guaraldi. The version of the song recorded by Pearson and other members of the studio group Sounds Orchestral for the Piccadilly label was a top 10 hit in 1965.

More television work followed as Pearson conducted orchestras for programmes starring the Carpenters and Dusty Springfield. The Carpenters' 1973 album Now and Then included the song Heather, which had originated as an instrumental called Autumn Reverie, written by Pearson in 1968 as a piece of library music, made for TV, film and commercial producers looking for low-cost, ready-made background music. 
Pearson composed prolifically for the library music publisher KPM, where his ability to invoke moods through melodic and rhythmic ideas led to perhaps the most well-known aspect of his career, the creation of original themes for television series. His piece entitled The Awakening was used as the opening title music for ITV's News at Ten. He was commissioned in 1978 to provide the title music for All Creatures Great and Small, the highly successful adaptation of James Herriot's best-selling books about a vet's life in Yorkshire. In direct contrast to the rural idyll conjured by that music were the themes Pearson provided for the Ted Rogers gameshow 3-2-1 and for the BBC sports show Superstars. 

In 1971 another television theme, for Owen MD, had become Pearson's second hit single under the title Sleepy Shores. This led to a series of albums by the Johnny Pearson Orchestra, for the most part consisting of versions of film themes and recent hits in a relaxed, easy-listening style. Pearson also made more than a dozen LPs in a similar vein under the Sounds Orchestral name. When easy listening, or "lounge-core" music, enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1990s, he was feted as one of the genre's key figures, and the Sounds Orchestral version of the Los Bravos hit Black Is Black was a favourite on the Northern Soul club scene. 

From 1987 Pearson was also part-owner of the CTS recording studios at Wembley, north-west London, where many film soundtracks were recorded. After the 1980s, he was less active as a composer, although he occasionally performed with his quartet and recorded more library music as a soloist. Johnny Pearson died at the age of 85, on 20 March 2011. (Info mainly from the obit)