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Thursday, 20 September 2018

Sophia Loren born 20 September 1934

Sofia Villani Scicolone (born 20 September 1934), known by her stage name Sophia Loren, Dame of the Grand Cross, O.M.R.I., is an Academy Award-winning Italian actress and singer. A striking beauty, Loren is often listed among the world's all time most attractive women. In a long career spanning six decades, the Italian actress has appeared in at least 60 movies.

Sofia Loren was born in Rome, Italy. Her father, Riccardo Scicolone spent most of his time hanging around the fringes of show business, hoping to romance young actresses. Sophia Loren's mother, Romilda Villani, was one of them. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Greta Garbo, Villani had once been offered a trip to the United States to play Garbo's body double, but her mother refused to let her go.

After Sophia Loren's birth, her mother took her back to her hometown of Pozzuoli on the Bay of Naples, which one travel book described as "perhaps the most squalid city in Italy." Although Riccardo Scicolone fathered another child by Villani, they never married.

A quiet and reserved child, Loren grew up in extreme poverty, living with her mother and many other relatives at her grandparents' home, where she shared a bedroom with eight people. Things got worse when World War II ravaged the already struggling city of Pozzuoli. The resulting famine was so great that Loren's mother occasionally had to siphon off a cup of water from the car radiator to ration between her daughters by the spoonful. During one aerial bombardment, Loren was knocked to the ground and split open her chin, leaving a scar that has remained ever since.

Nicknamed "little stick" by her classmates for her sickly physique, at the age of 14 Loren blossomed, seemingly overnight, from a frail child into a beautiful and voluptuous woman. That same year, Loren won second place in a beauty competition, receiving as her prize a small sum of cash and free wallpaper for her grandparents' living room.

In 1950, when she was 15 years old, Loren and her mother set off for Rome to try to make their living as actresses. Loren landed her first role as an extra in the 1951 Mervyn LeRoy film Quo Vadis. She also landed work as a model for various fumetti, Italian publications that resemble comic books but with real photographs instead of illustrations.

After various bit parts and a small role in the 1952 film La Favorita, the first for which she adopted the stage name "Loren," she delivered her breakthrough performance as the title character in the 1953 film Aida. Another leading role in The Gold of Naples (1954) established Loren as one of the up-and-coming stars of Italian cinema.

In 1957, Loren starred in her first Hollywood film, The Pride and the Passion, filmed in Paris and co-starring Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra. At the same time, she became enmeshed in a love triangle when both Grant and an Italian film producer named Carlo Ponti declared their love for her. Although she had a schoolgirl's crush on Grant, Loren ultimately chose Ponti, a man the media joked was twice her age and half her height.

Even though they married in 1957, complications regarding the annulment of Ponti's first marriage prevented their union from being officially legally recognized in Italy for another decade. Loren and Ponti's marriage nevertheless remains one of the rare, heart-warming success stories among celebrity relationships. They remained happily married until Ponti's death in 2007.

Loren was not naturally a singer or musical star, but Loren followers should recall that she began, in the hungry years, with two 1952-53 films drawn from Italian opera, Favorita and Aida. She began singing custom popster material in 1954 with "Mambo bacan" in River Girl, and over this decade she commuted between Paramount, Cinecitta, Fox and Metro where important film composers and pop songwriters customized the Sophia soundtracks.


Throughout her career, Sophia Loren has recorded more than two dozen songs. A tune she made famous is Bing! Bang! Bong!, which she sang in the 1958 film “Houseboat”, co-starring Cary Grant. In the 1960 film “It Started in Naples”, she famously sings “Tu vuò fa' l’americano”, giving a hilarious performance. And who can forget the novelty songs with Peter Sellers from Millionairess such as “Goodness Gracious Me" which was a top 5 UK single in 1960

Elvis & Sophia 1959
In 1960, Sophia Loren turned in the most acclaimed performance of her career in the Italian World War II film Two Women. In a film with parallels to her own childhood, Loren played a mother desperately trying to provide for her daughter in war-ravaged Rome. The film transformed Loren into an international celebrity, winning her the 1961 Academy Award for Best Lead Actress. She was the first actress ever to win the award for a non-English-language film. Throughout the 1960s, Loren continued to star in Italian, American and French films, cementing her status as one of the great international movie stars of her generation.

Sophia Loren moved back to her native Italy during the 1970s and spent most of the decade making highly popular Italian films. She had given birth to two sons, Carlo Hubert Leone Ponti, Jr. (born December 29, 1968) and Edoardo (born January 6, 1973), and during the 1980s she backed off her intense filming schedule to spend more time raising her teenage children.

Loren also expanded into other business ventures. In 1981 she became the first female celebrity to release her own perfume, following up with a personal eyewear line shortly thereafter. Loren published a book, Women and Beauty, in 1994. She continues to act and appear frequently in public as one of the film industry's greatest living legends. Some of her more popular and acclaimed later films include Prêt-à-Porter (1994), Grumpier Old Men (1995) and Nine (2009).

Loren retains her youthful energy and age-defying hourglass physique. Although now a resident of geneva, Switzerland, she still can be seen strutting down the red carpet into award shows, looking fabulous in high heels and low-cut dresses that women several decades her junior would be happy to pull off. However, after more than 100 films and five decades in the spotlight, Loren remains true to her humble Italian roots.

(Edited mainly from

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Billy Ward born 19 September 1921

Billy Ward (born September 19, 1921 - February 16, 2002) was a vocal coach, pianist, arranger, songwriter who formed The Dominoes in 1950. One of the most successful R&B groups of the early 1950s, the Dominoes helped launch the singing careers of two notable members, Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson.

Billy Ward was born Robert Lloyd Williams in Savannah, Georgia. He moved to Philadelphia as a child and sang in his church choir and eventually became its organist (this isn't surprising, since his father was a preacher and his mother a choir singer). He was a 
musical prodigy as a child, and, when he was 14, won an award from famed composer Walter Damrosch for a piano piece he had written, called "Dejection". In the army during World War 2 (drafted October 30, 1942), he rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant, and supposedly directed the Coast Artillery Choir at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Upon his discharge, Williams spent some time at the Chicago Art Institute, before coming to New York to attend the Julliard School of Music. Once in New York, he became a vocal coach and arranger and also changed his name, for unknown reasons, to "Everett William Ward", then "Billy Ward". While working as a vocal coach and part-time arranger on Broadway, he met talent agent Rose Marks, who became his business and songwriting partner.

The pair set out to form a vocal group from the ranks of his students, hoping to cash in on the new trend of vocal quintets in R&B. The group was at first called the Ques, composed of Clyde McPhatter (lead tenor), whom Ward recruited after McPhatter won "Amateur Night" at the Apollo Theater, Charlie White (tenor), Joe Lamont (baritone), and Bill Brown (bass). Ward acted as their pianist and arranger. After the group made successful appearances on talent shows in the Apollo Theatre and on the Arthur Godfrey show in 1950, Rene Hall recommended them to Ralph Bass of Federal Records, a subsidiary of King, where they were signed to a recording contract and renamed themselves The Dominoes. Their first single release, "Do Something For Me", with McPhatter’s lead vocal, reached the R&B charts in early 1951, climbing to #6.


After a less successful follow-up, the group released "Sixty Minute Man", on which Brown sang lead, and boasted of being able to satisfy his girls with fifteen minutes each of "kissin'" "teasin'" and "squeezin'", before "blowin'" his "top". It reached #1 on the R&B chart in May 1951 and stayed there for 14 weeks, and crossed over to the pop charts, reaching #17 and voted "Song of the Year" for 
1951. It was an important record in several respects—it crossed the boundaries between gospel singing and blues, its lyrics pushed the limits of what was deemed acceptable, and it appealed to many white as well as black listeners. In later years, it became a contender for the title of "the first rock and roll record".

The group toured widely, building up a reputation as one of the top R&B acts of the era, edging out the Five Keys and the Clovers (two of the top R&B groups of the early 1950s) and commanding an audience which crossed racial divides. However, Ward's strict disciplinarian approach, and failure to recompense the singers, caused internal problems. "Billy Ward was not an easy man to work for. He played piano and organ, could arrange, and he was a fine 
director and coach. He knew what he wanted, and you had to give it to him. And he was a strict disciplinarian. You better believe it! You paid a fine if you stepped out of line," according to Jackie Wilson.

The name "The Dominoes" was owned by Ward and Marks, who had the power to hire and fire, and to pay the singers a salary. Allegedly, Ward paid his singers $100 a week, minus deductions for taxes, food and hotel bills. McPhatter often found himself billed as "Clyde Ward" to fool fans into thinking he was Billy Ward's little brother. Others assumed Ward was doing the lead singing.

White and Brown both left in 1951 to form the Checkers, and were replaced by James Van Loan (1922–1976) and David McNeil (1932–2005, previously of the Larks). In March 1952, the Dominoes were chosen to be the only vocal group at Alan Freed's "Moondog Coronation Ball". The hits continued, with "Have Mercy Baby" topping the R&B charts for 10 weeks in 1952. Later records were credited to "Billy Ward and His Dominoes".

In early 1953, McPhatter decided to leave, and soon formed his own group, the Drifters. His replacement in the Dominoes was Jackie Wilson, who had been coached by McPhatter while also singing with the group on tour. Lamont and McNeil also left and were replaced by Milton Merle and Cliff Givens (Givens had been in The Southern Sons Gospel Quartet, and joined the Ink Spots in 1944 upon the death of original bass Orville "Hoppy" Jones). With Wilson singing lead, singles 
such as "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down" continued to be successful, although the Dominoes didn't enjoy quite the same success as they had with McPhatter as lead tenor.

In 1954, Ward moved the group to the Jubilee label and then to Decca, where they enjoyed a #27 pop hit with "St. Therese of the Roses", featuring Wilson on tenor, giving the Dominoes a brief moment in the spotlight again. However, the group was unable to follow that success in the charts, and there were a succession of personnel changes. They increasingly moved away from their R&B roots with appearances in Las Vegas and elsewhere

In late 1957, Wilson left for a solo career and was replaced by Gene Mumford of the Larks. Then, the group got a new contract with Liberty Records. They had a #13 pop hit with "Stardust". Stardust was one of the earliest multitrack recordings in the rock & roll era. It was to be their only million seller. This proved to be their last major success, although various line-ups of the group continued recording and performing up to the late 60’s when the Dominoes began a tour of American military bases in Japan and Vietnam. They were due to spend a couple of months in the Far East before returning for engagements in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Puerto Rico.
Billy Ward, Barry D. Williams & Inga Daniels - April 2001
Ward died 16 February 2002, in Inglewood, California. The Dominoes were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2006.

(Edited mainly from Wikipedia, All Music & Deep Southern Soul)

Monday, 17 September 2018

Al (Doctor Horse) Pittman born 17 September 1917

Al  (“Dr. Horse”)  Pittman (17 September 1917 – 28 April 2003), an American rhythm and blues vocalist and entertainer who performed between the 1930s and 1960s.

I couldn’t find much information concerning Mr. Pittman but here’s all I could muster…also I found two uncredited photos of Al Pittman. (There is supposedly only one…but which one?)

Dr. Horse was the stage name of Alvergous "Al" Pittman Al Pittman, son of Henry and Susan A. Pittman, was born in Vinnia, Georgia. He first performed in New York City in the 1930s as a dancer and a member of Doc Sausage's musical comedy group, the Five Pork Chops.

However, he did not record until 1961, when he released "I'm Tired Of It" on the Fire label owned by Bobby Robinson. His second record, "Jack, That Cat Was Clean", is the one for which he is best known. Produced by Robinson and Marshall Sehorn, Dr. Horse delivered a jive monologue about "a tall handsome guy", Bobo, who "really knows how to dress" and had "two $50,000 rings, and he wore one on each hand... The chicks used to scream when Bobo walked in the door".


The backing musicians included Red Prysock (tenor saxophone) and Billy Butler (guitar). The track has been included on several compilation albums, including Early Rappers: Hipper Than Hop - The Ancestors of Rap. Sadly it would be his only side enumerating the acquisitions and exploits of “Bobo,” who comes across as a sort of moddish Stagger Lee figure. 

Dr. Horse also recorded a straight blues album, Blues Ain't Nothin' But A Good Man Feelin' Bad, with Sammy Price and His Bluesicians, recorded in New York in 1961 and released by Kapp Records in 1962.

He died 28 April 2004 in new York City, at the age of 85.

(Info mainly Wikipedia)

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Roy Acuff born 15 September 1903

Roy Claxton Acuff (September 15, 1903 – November 23, 1992) was an American country music singer, fiddler, and promoter. Known as the "King of Country Music," Acuff is often credited with moving the genre from its early string band and "hoedown" format to the singer-based format that helped make it internationally successful.

Roy Claxton Acuff was born September 15, 1903, in a three-room shack in Maynardville, Tennessee, the son of a Baptist minister. As a child he learnt jew’s harp and harmonica. Following a move to Fountain City, near Knoxville he started playing minor league baseball and was considered for the New York Yankees. However, severe sunstroke put an end to his career, confining him to bed for much of 1929 and 1930. Following his illness, he hung around the house learning fiddle and listening to old-time players. In early 1932 he joined a travelling medicine show, playing small towns in Virginia and Tennessee.

A year later he formed a group, The Tennessee Crackerjacks, in which Clell Sumney played Dobro, providing the distinctive sound that came to be associated with Roy Acuff. He soon gained a regular programme on Knoxville’s WROL. Adopting the name of The Crazy Tennesseans, they moved to the rival Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round show on KNOX. He married Mildred Douglas in 1936, the same year he made his recording debut for ARC (later to become Columbia). Among the first songs he recorded were The Great Speckled Bird and Wabash Cannonball, which would always be associated with him.

He made his first appearance on The Grand Ole Opry in 1938 and soon became a regular. He changed the name of his band to the Smoky Mountain Boys, a name that was to stick, and recruited long time band members Bashful Brother Oswald, Howdy Forrester and Jimmie Riddle. With his Smoky Mountain Boys he did not just perform hillbilly songs, they gave a complete stage show, including vaudeville/minstrel-style skits and slapstick. Over the years he refashioned the band as an old-time string band and added more traditional sounding and religious songs to their repertoire.


He started having unprecedented recording success, his biggest sellers during the early 1940s included Night Train To Memphis, Pins And Needles, Beneath That Lonely Mound of Clay, and The Precious Jewel. He also appeared in several movies including Hi Neighbour, My Darling Clementine, Cowboy Canteen and Sing 
Neighbour, Sing. It was at this time that he printed and published his own songbooks.

Out on the road he soon sold several hundred thousand copies and realised that there was an untapped goldmine in music publishing. He set up Acuff-Rose with Fred Rose, a professional songwriter and pianist working in Chicago, who had enjoyed notable country success with songs like Be Honest With Me and Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain. The publishing company went on to become one of the most famous in the world, publishing songs penned by Hank Williams, Don Gibson, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, 
Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, John D. Loudermilk and many more Nashville-based writers.

In the early 1950s country music was beginning to undergo changes. Electric guitars, drums and smoother vocalists were creeping into the music, and the older traditional styling of Roy Acuff was not selling. Columbia requested that he change his sound. He was having none of that, and instead changed labels, recording for MGM, Decca and Capitol without any chart success. Through Acuff-Rose he set up Hickory Records and made a modest return to the charts in 1958 with Once More.

Though he continued to record prolifically, his record sales were no longer at the peak of the 1940s, though he did score low chart entries with So Many Times, Come and Knock (1959), and Freight Train Blues (1965), and his publishing empire seemed ever-expanding. However, his tremendous contribution to country music was recognised in November 1962 when he became the first living musician to be honoured as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

By the beginning of the 1970s, he decided to cut back on touring,
though he did visit the UK for the Wembley Festivals. He guested on The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s triple album set, “Will the circle be unbroken” in 1972, lending credence to contemporary and country-rock music. He continued to appear on The Grand Ole Opry throughout the 1970s and 1980s, though by the early 1990s his only appearances were infrequent guest spots at Opryland. Roy Acuff died on November 23, 1992, following a short illness, and was buried just four hours later. He had requested a swift service and burial because he did not want his funeral turned into a circus. 

(Compiled and edited mainly from an article by Alan Cackett)

Friday, 14 September 2018

Tom Delaney born 14 September 1889

Tom Delaney (September 14, 1889 – December 16, 1963) was an African-American blues and jazz songwriter, pianist and singer, who wrote a number of popular songs, mainly in the 1920s

Tom Delaney was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1889 and raised at the Jenkins Orphanage. Founded in 1891 by Rev. Daniel Jenkins, it became one of the most successful orphanages for black children in the South. One of the most famous features of the orphanage was the Jenkins Band, which performed military marching music on street corners and “passed-the-hat” for donations. Delaney performed with the band until 1910.

He later toured the East Coast in a song and dance duo billed as Mitchell and Delaney. He then played piano on the vaudeville circuit before finding his voice as a songwriter. At age 21 he was living in New York City, playing piano, writing songs and singing in saloons, gin joints and whorehouses in the seedy sections of Manhattan.

His first big break came when he was thirty-two years old, in 1921. Delaney’s song “Jazz Me Blues” attracted the attention of professional musicians and, more importantly, people who owned recording studios. They were always looking for songs to record, 
especially now that there was money to be made with “black” songs. “ Lucille Hegamin recorded it that year and it went on to become a jazz standard. 

The year before, 1920, Perry Bradford convinced a New York record company to record a “black blues” song. Mamie Smith recorded Bradford’s “Crazy Blues.” It sold more than a million copies in less than a year. Suddenly, “black blues” songs were hot. Delaney had written hundreds of blues songs by then, so he began to peddle them to record companies.

During this time he met a young singer named Ethel Waters. She performed in vaudeville shows for years as a dancer billed as “Sweet Mama Stringbean.” 
Waters, however, preferred singing to dancing, and on March 21, 1921, she recorded two of Delaney’s songs for the Pace & Handy Music Company, “Down Home Blues” and “At The Jump Steady Ball.” A twenty-three year old former chemistry student named Fletcher Henderson played the piano for the session. “Down Home Blues” became a hit. Pace & Handy paired Waters and Delaney together and sent them out on tour, Waters on vocals and Delaney on piano.  

Two months later an act called Lillyn Brown and Her Jazz-Bo Syncopaters recorded “Jazz Me Blues.”  That was followed quickly by an instrumental version of the song by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Both versions sold thousands of copies.


Delaney's own recorded work amounts to two singles, both recorded in New York and released by Columbia Records in 1922: "Bow Legged Mama" backed with "Parson Jones (You Ain't Livin' Right)" and "I'm Leavin' Just to Ease My Worried Mind" backed with "Georgia Stockade Blues".

"Sinful Blues", first published in 1923, was an example of one of the many Delaney titles that fell into control of producer, publisher and record company manager Joe Davis. Davis continued exploiting Delaney material throughout the decade, examples of which include Maggie Jones recording the resigned "If I Lose, Let Me Lose" for Columbia and Clara Smith coming up with an unhassled version of "Troublesome Blues".

Not every song he came up with made it all the way to a recording session or sheet music form, however. "Goopher Dust Blues", which may or may not include a spelling mistake in its title and "Grievin Mama" were Delaney titles that were never recorded for undisclosed reasons

Through the years more than 100 of Delaney’s songs were recorded by the most popular artists of the day. “Jazz Me Blues” became a standard recorded by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Count Basie, Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman

Delaney died of atherosclerosis in December 1963, at the age of 74, in Baltimore, Maryland

(Compiled and edited from Wikipedia, All Music & a Mark.R. Jones article)

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Charles Brown born 13 September 1922

Tony Russell "Charles" Brown (September 13, 1922 – January 21, 1999) was an American blues singer and pianist whose soft-toned, slow-paced blues-club style influenced blues performance in the 1940s and 1950s. He had several hit recordings, including "Driftin' Blues" and "Merry Christmas Baby".

How many blues artists remained at the absolute top of
their game after more than a half-century of performing? One immediately leaps to mind: Charles Brown. His incredible piano skills and laid-back vocal delivery remained every bit as mesmerizing at the end of his life as they were way back in 1945, when his groundbreaking waxing of "Drifting Blues" with guitarist Johnny Moore's Three Blazers invented an entirely new blues genre for sophisticated post-war revellers: an ultra-mellow, jazz-inflected sound perfect for sipping a late-night libation in some hip after-hours joint. Brown's smooth trio format was tremendously influential to a host of high-profile disciples -- Ray Charles, Amos Milburn, and Floyd Dixon, for starters.

Brown was born in Texas City, Texas. As a child he loved music and received classical music training on the piano. He graduated from Central High School in Galveston, Texas, in 1939 and Prairie View A&M College in 1942 with a degree in chemistry. He then became a chemistry teacher at George Washington Carver High School in Baytown, Texas, a mustard gas worker at the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and an apprentice electrician at a shipyard in Richmond, California, before settling in Los Angeles in 1943.


He played with the Bardu Ali band before joining Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, who modelled themselves after Nat "King" Cole's trio but retained a bluesier tone within their ballad-heavy repertoire. With Brown installed as their vocalist and pianist, the Blazers' 

"Drifting Blues" for Philo Records remained on Billboard's R&B charts for 23 weeks, peaking at number two. Follow-ups for Exclusive and Modern (including "Sunny Road," "So Long," "New Orleans Blues," and their immortal 1947 Yuletide classic "Merry Christmas Baby") kept the Blazers around the top of the R&B listings from 1946 through 1948. Irked that he was not receiving the same billing or money as guitarist Moore, who neither wrote nor sang, Brown opted to go solo.

If anything, Brown was even more successful on his own. Signing with Eddie Mesner's Aladdin logo, he visited the R&B Top Ten no less than ten times from 1949 to 1952, retaining his mournful, sparsely arranged sound for the smashes "Get Yourself Another Fool," the chart-topping "Trouble Blues" and "Black Night," and "Hard Times." Brown's style dominated the influential Southern California club scene on Central Avenue, in Los Angeles, during that period. He influenced such performers as Floyd Dixon, Cecil Gant, Ivory Joe Hunter, Percy Mayfield, Johnny Ace and Ray Charles

Despite a 1956 jaunt to New Orleans to record with the Cosimo's studio band, Brown's mellow approach failed to make the transition to rock's brasher rhythms, and he soon faded from national 
prominence (other than when his second holiday perennial, "Please Come Home for Christmas," hit in 1960 on the King label).

Occasionally recording without causing much of a stir during the '60s and '70s, Brown began to regroup by the mid-'80s. One More for the Road, a set cut in 1986 for the short-lived Blue Side logo, announced to anyone within earshot that Brown's talents hadn't diminished at all while he was gone (the set later re-emerged on Alligator). Bonnie Raitt took an encouraging interest in Brown's comeback bid, bringing him on tour with her as her opening act (thus introducing the blues vet to a whole new generation or two of fans). His recording career took off too, with a series of albums for Bullseye Blues (the first entry, 1990's All My Life, is especially pleasing), and more recently, a disc for Verve.

In his last years, Brown finally received at least a portion of the recognition he deserved for so long as a genuine rhythm and blues pioneer. But the suave, elegant Brown was by no means a relic, as anyone who witnessed his thundering boogie piano style will gladly attest; he returned in 1998 with So Goes Love before dying on January 21, 1999 from congestive heart failure in Oakland, California. (Compiled and edited from All Music, Wikipedia &

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

John Martyn born 11 September 1948

Iain David McGeachy, OBE (11 September 1948 – 29 January 2009), known professionally as John Martyn, was a British singer-songwriter and guitarist. Over a 40-year career, he released 22 studio albums, and received frequent critical acclaim. He was one of the most revered and innovative singer-songwriters of his generation; his music – a mix of blues, folk and funk – influenced artists as varied as U2, Portishead and Eric Clapton.

John Martyn was born Ian David McGeachy on September 11 1948
at New Malden, Surrey. His parents, both singers of light opera, divorced when he was five and he spent much of his childhood in Glasgow, where he lived with his grandmother and attended Shawlands Academy.

Having taught himself the guitar at the age of 15, he returned to London on leaving school and appeared regularly at Les Cousins, the Soho folk club which also launched Ralph McTell, Bert Jansch and Al Stewart. He became the first white act to be signed to Chris Blackwell's Island record label, and recorded his debut album, London Conversation, for £158 in 1968. He began to experiment with electronic effects, notably a tape device known as the Echoplex, which provided his signature sound, and which he introduced on his second album Stormbringer! in 1970.


Martyn sealed his reputation with his album, Solid Air, described as the "musical equivalent of a reassuring hug" by Q Magazine, which named it the 67th best British album of all time in 2000. Martyn dedicated the haunting title track to his friend Nick Drake, another singer-songwriter, who died of an overdose at the age of 26 shortly after it was finished.

At this point Martyn seemed on the brink of major international success, but he was derailed by his passion for musical exploration and by an appetite for excess that bordered on self-destruction. Solid Air included his most celebrated song, the beautiful May You Never (subsequently covered by Eric Clapton and many others), and his record company anticipated a big commercial breakthrough. Yet the follow-up LP in 1973, Inside Out, was wilfully inaccessible as his interest in experimental electronics increased, and the jazz-rock fusions gave the album only limited cult appeal.

Over the next few years Martyn slid into alcoholism, his live performances punctuated by moments of incoherent drunkenness. Drugs took a toll on his personal life, and his first marriage broke up in the late 1970s. This darkest period in his life found artistic expression in the despairing, autobiographical Grace and Danger, which was finally released in 1980 after Chris Blackwell had initially blocked it because he thought it was too upsetting and personal. Martyn himself described the record as "cathartic". Yet it yielded a restoration in his fortunes, and subsequent albums – Glorious Fool (1981), produced by Phil Collins, and Well Kept Secret (1982) – were the highest-charting records of his career.

In the late 1990s Martyn began to experiment with electronic dance sounds, and in 2001 he had a top 40 hit as a featured vocalist on Deliver Me, a dance record by Sister Bliss, keyboard player with the group Faithless.

Since losing a leg, Martyn had performed from a wheelchair but did not repine. "If I could control myself more, I think the music would be much less interesting," he told Q Magazine. "I'd probably be a great deal richer, but I'd have had far less fun and I'd be making really dull music."

His cantankerous behaviour was famous, and age did not appear to mellow him or diminish his interest in expanding the horizons of music and making musical boundaries redundant. Early on in his career he proved himself one of the most brilliant acoustic guitarists of his generation, but he was never content to rest on his laurels, taking his guitar-playing into constantly new directions, even at the cost of his commercial appeal.

Martyn hated being pigeonholed by any one musical genre and as a result remained essentially a cult hero. He never became rich, but he was hugely influential and was idolised by his peers.

He was presented with a lifetime achievement award by Phil Collins at the 2008 BBC Folk Awards, when he sang May You Never, backed by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. Eric Clapton sent a message saying he was "so far ahead of everything else it was inconceivable". Martyn joked: "At last I'm a celebrity."

He was appointed OBE in the 2009 New Year Honours. Martyn died on 29 January 2009, in hospital in Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland, after a third bout with pneumonia.

John Martyn's marriage to the blues singer Beverley Kutner in 1969 ended in divorce after 10 years, and his second wife, Annie, predeceased him. (Edited from The Telegraph)