Obituaries

Dave Brubeck, the jazz pioneer/pianist who was most famous for leading the Dave Brubeck Quartet with the 1961 instrumental hit, “Take Five,” died on Wednesday, December 5, 2012. He was a day away from turning 92.

 
 
 
 
 

By ROCKIN’ ROBIN

 
Dave Brubeck, the jazz pioneer/pianist who was most famous for leading the Dave Brubeck Quartet with the 1961 instrumental hit, “Take Five,” died on Wednesday, December 5, 2012. He was a day away from turning 92.
 
According to writers Hoard Reich and Amy Hubbard as well as the Associated Press, Brubeck died of heart failure at a Norwalk, Connecticut, hospital. He’d reportedly suffered a heart attack while traveling from his Wilton, Connecticut, home to his heart doctor.
 
“Take Five” only reached #23 on the Cash Box pop chart in the fall of 1961 but set standards jazz musicians and fans still covet today.
For instance, “Take Five” was the first million-selling single who’s tempo was in the unusual 5-4 musical time. In fact, “Take Five” to this day is believed to still be the only Top 40 hit song done in 5-4 time.
 
The late Paul Desmond, Brubeck’s alto saxophonist, wrote “Take Five” based on his experiences with a Las Vegas slot machine. Desmond was trying to recoup his financial losses after pulling the arm of a one-armed bandit too many times. Plus, it was the sound of that slot machine that inspired Desmond to write “Take Five” in 5-4 time.
 
Coming up with weird musical time frames was nothing new for Brubeck. According to Wikipedia, Brubeck also had songs done in 6-4, 7-4, 9-8 and even 13-4 time.
 
And he backed his music to the hilt. When one disc jockey accused him of “selling out” with “Take Five,” Brubeck responded with a live- on-the-air challenge. He recalled, “So I said to him, ‘OK, let’s play the ‘Take Five’ record and you follow along and count it.’ The DJ then had this huge blank. When I asked him, ‘Well, why don’t you do it?’…he didn’t say anything. Had this huge blank and didn’t answer. At that time, hardly any musicians could play ‘Take Five.’ Now, a grammar school kid can play it.”
 
Brubeck and Desmond formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951. The other two main members of the group would eventually be drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright. In 1954, Brubeck became the second jazz musician to grace the cover of Time Magazine. The first was Louie Armstrong.
 
The group’s 1959 LP, “Time Out,” became the first jazz album to sell a million copies. Perhaps the best of Brubeck’s numerous awards was a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
 
The accolades poured in after the news of Brubeck’s passing broke. Professor David Baker of Indiana University noted, “Dave Brubeck was one of the giants of music. He changed the way people listened to music.”
 
Ramsey Lewis observed, “Dave could swing in any time signature. It seemed like forward motion was born in his blood.”
 
As a tribute to Dave Brubeck, I invite you to “Take Five” to listen to “Take Five”…
 
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Mickey “Guitar” Baker (“Love Is Strange”) — 1925-2012

By ROCKIN’ ROBIN

“Sylvia!!!”

“Yes, Mickey.”

“HOW do you call your Loverboy?”

“COME HERE, loverboy!”

“And if he doesn’t answer…”

“(with a very seductive voice) Oh loverboy.”

“And if he STILL doesn’t answer…”

“I simply say, (singing now) Baby….”

That was the famous bridge and banter on the song, “Love Is Strange” by Mickey And Sylvia from 1957. It added up to a #7 hit on the Cash Box pop chart and a million selling single.
Mickey “Guitar” Baker, the guitarist who was best known as the Mickey half of the duo Mickey and Sylvia, died on or about Tuesday, November 27, 2012. Details are sketchy regarding his passing. He was 87 but the cause of death and where he died are unknown as of this writing. It’s believed that word of Baker’s passing first surfaced via a French newspaper. His most famous song, “Love Is Strange,” sounded like this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpEA5QGYJFQ

According to Wikipedia, Mickey “Guitar” Baker was born October 15, 1925, in Louisville. He was put into an orphanage in 1936 at the age of 11. However, he ran away so many times that eventually the orphanage stopped looking for him. After unsuccessful stints as a pool shark and dishwasher, he decided to give jazz music a try. He wanted to play a trumpet but couldn’t afford one with the $14 he’d saved up. He instead bought a guitar.

Around 1949, Pee Wee Clayton, a jazz guitarist, especially inspired Baker, who at the time was in California. Mickey recalled, “I asked Pee Wee, ‘You mean you can make money playing that stuff on guitar?’ Here he was driving a big white El Dorado and had a huge bus for his band. So I started bending strings. I was starving to death, and the blues was just a financial thing for me then.”

In all, Baker recorded for at least seven labels… Savoy, Atlantic, King, Groove, Vik, RCA and Willow. Early in his career, he worked with R&B pioneers like Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles and Ivory Joe Hunter. He’s listed alongside Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Ike Turner among the key black performers who helped bridge the gap between R&B music and pop music. As of 2003, he was ranked #53 among Rolling Stone magazine’s top 100 guitarists of all time.

The late Sylvia (nee Vanderpool) Robinson, Mickey’s partner in the duet, was one Baker’s guitar students when they decided to become a singing duo in 1956. Mickey and Sylvia couldn’t match the success of “Love Is Strange,” though. Their followup, “Dearest,” barely made the Top 40 at #39 and four other chart singles missed the 40 altogether. The duo had broken up by 1962.

Much later, in 1973, Sylvia would sing what she thought was a demo of a song intended for Al Green. But she did so well with her sultry seductive voice that her label’s higher-ups decided the song belonged to her. The result was “Pillow Talk,” a comeback #2 pop hit. About six years later in 1979, she was the engineer-producer on the first Top 40 rap record, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang.

The Everly Brothers, the duo of Caesar and Cleo and still another duo, Peaches and Herb, all had hits with “Love Is Strange.” So did legendary rocker Buddy Holly, whose very soft version of “Love Is Strange” sounded like this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlu32SOtLgU

EARL “SPEEDO” CARROLL — 1937-2012

By ROCKIN’ ROBIN

 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (RTDP) 11/26/12 — It’s not often where a hit record starts with the lead singer introducing himself. In 1968, to start the #1 hit “Tighten Up,” we hear “Hi everybody, I’m Archie Bell of the Drells from Houston, Texas…” And then about a dozen years earlier in 1956, we heard the opening line of the pop, R&B and doo-wop hit, “Speedo” by the Cadillacs which went like this…

“Well now they often call me ‘Speedo’ but my real name is Mr. Earl.”

Sadly, Earl “Speedo” Carroll died Sunday at a New York City nursing home. He had turned 75 on November 2. According to writer David Hinckley of the New York Daily News, Carroll had been suffering from declining health in the past year, suffering from a stroke and diabetes. He will always be remembered for “Speedo,” which sounded like this…
 

According to Joel Whitburn’s Record Research, Carroll joined Charles Brooks, Robert Phillips, Papa Clark and Earl Wade to form the Carnations in 1953. When they got a record deal with Josie Records, they found out there was already a group called the Carnations, so they went with the car name the Cadillacs. They were one of the earliest rock and roll era (1955-present) groups to do choreography on stage while wearing flashy outfits.

The Cadillacs formed at P.S. 139 in Harlem, which serves as a bit of irony. That’s because Carroll would work as a janitor as a similarly named Big Apple school, P.S. 87, from roughly 1982 to 2005. He’d work his custodian job weekdays, then sing with the Cadillacs on weekends. He was known as “the guy with the mop in the daytime and the star on stage at night.”

In the photo to the right of the one of the lineups of the Coasters, Carroll is second from the right. The others are, from left to right, Thomas Gardner, Carl Gardner and Ronnie Bright. You might remember Bright as the bass man singing in the 1963 Johnny Cymbal hit, “Mr. Bass Man.” Carroll joined a new lineup of the Coasters in 1961 and stayed with them for about 20 years. He would reform the Cadillacs around 1979.

Another of the Cadillacs recordings was 1954′s “Gloria,” which sounded like this…


Dion DiMucci once remarked, “Back in New York in the 50′s, one of the tests for any street-corner group was whether you could sing ‘Gloria.’ If you could, you had a chance.”

Here’s another Cadillacs’ hit, “Peek-A-Boo” from 1958…


Finally, the Cadillacs’ rousing rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”…


MAJOR HARRIS (“LOVE WON’T LET ME WAIT”) — 1947-2012

By ROCKIN’ ROBIN


RICHMOND, VIRGINIA (RTDP) 11/9/12 — Major Harris, who was best known for the pop and R&B hit “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” in 1975, died Friday (November 9, 2012). He was 65. According to Harris’ sister, Catherine Thomas, and the Associated Press, Harris died of congestive heart and lung failure.

“Love Won’t Let Me Wait” was a #3 Cash Box pop chart hit and #1 R&B chart hit in the summer of 1975. The song sounded like this…


According to writer Wayne Jancik and Wikipedia, Major Harris III was born February 9, 1947 in Richmond. His dad was a guitarist, his mom the leader of the local church choir and his grandparents were into Vaudeville.

Harris was a member of Frankie Lymon’s Teenagers, the Jarmels and the Delfonics. In all three cases, though, Harris joined those groups after they’d scored with their major hits. He last sang last year at a reunion show with the Delfonics. At the height of his career, Harris hired an unknown number of personal bodyguards in order to keep admiring women fans a safe distance away.

Harris had two other largely forgotten pop chart hits, both in 1976–”I Got Over Love” (#86) and”Jealousy” (#77).

Major Harris was part of a unique list of singing acts that had a military rank in their name. SSgt. Barry Sadler of “Ballad Of The Green Berets” fame in 1966, really was a Green Beret in the Army. Likewise, Tony Dawson Harrison, who performed as Captain Hollywood Project, was a U.S. Army captain when he had a #14 hit in 1993 entitled “More And More.”

We’ve also had Major Lance, the Captain and Tennille and the highest military ranked performer, General Johnson of two groups, the Showmen and the Chairmen Of The Board.

CLEVELAND DUNCAN OF THE PENGUINS (“EARTH ANGEL”) — 1935-2012

By ROCKIN ‘ROBIN

Cleveland (a/k/a Cleve) Duncan of the group the Penguins, the one-hit wonder group who scored in 1955 with “Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine),” died Wednesday (November 7, 2012) in the Los Angeles area. He was 77. At press time, the cause of death was unknown. According to Wikipedia, tenor Dexter Tisby, also 77, is the only surviving original Penguin member.

The Penguins followed the lead of many of their fellow all-African-American vocal groups of rock and roll music’s early years in the 1950′s by naming themselves after a species of a bird. Among them, for instance, we had Sonny Til and the Orioles, the Robins, the Crows, the Flamingos and the Falcons.

A brand of cigarettes became a “cool” idea for the name of Duncan’s group. According to writer Wayne Jancik, Cleve once told Steve Flam and Sal Mondrone of “Bim Bam Boom” magazine, “We just couldn’t come up with a name. It was comical. One of us just happened to be smoking a pack of Kools. We happened to be kidding each other about the picture of ‘Willie The Penguin’ on it (the pack). That’s how we came up with the name.” Duncan, Tisby, Curtis Williams and Bruce Tate formed the original Penguins’ lineup that formed in 1953. The group would eventually have as many as 13 members.

“Earth Angel” was released after a previous single, “Ain’t No News Today / When I Am Gone” bombed. “Hey Señorita” was supposed to be the A side when the single was released in late 1954. However, disc jockeys quickly decided to instead play the flip side as “Earth Angel” became a #3 hit in early 1955. The Canadian group the Crew-Cuts of “Sh-Boom” fame also recorded “Earth Angel” and admittedly also reached #3 on the Cash Box pop chart. But, over the years, the Penguins’ version would get the airplay on the nation’s oldies stations.

Sources disagree as to who sang lead for the Penguins on “Earth Angel.” Some day it was Duncan while others claim it was Williams. This writer believes the lead singer was Duncan.

The Penguins are remembered not just for “Earth Angel,” but also for one of the most important record deals of the mid-1950′s. When Dootsie Williams, the owner of the Penguins’ original label, DooTone, refused to give the Penguins any advance money, Duncan and his group hooked up with songwriter-producer Buck Ram. Ram would in turn get the Penguins a major record label but under one key condition. The only way Mercury Records could land the Penguins would be provided the label also took on another then-unknown Buck Ram group. Mercury agreed….and the next eight Penguins releases on the label all bombed. A re-issue of “Earth Angel” would bubble under one pop chart but that was it.

Oh, that other throw-in group that Mercury felt it had to take on? It only became the biggest group of the entire decade of the 1950′s, the Platters.

The Penguins had broken up by 1963. That was the year, though, that Frank Zappa recorded a song entitled “Memories of El Monte,” where Duncan would break into “Earth Angel” as one of the songs remembered from the past in the medley recording.

On Casey Kasem’s favorite “American Top 40″ special show, The Top 40 Disappearing Acts of All Time, the Penguins would rank #15 on the first of two shows in July, 1973. On the second show in April, 1975, the Penguins inexplicably slipped to #18.

Pinpointing the exact writer or writers of “Earth Angel” has been next to impossible. Gaynel Hodge has been mentioned. Two others have been mentioned, Curtis Williams and Jesse Belvin. According to writers Fred L. North and Steve D.Tamerius, Williams and Belvin were the same person who went by two names. North and Tamerius co-wrote the book “Elvis: His Life From A To Z.” In that book, it’s mentioned that Elvis Presley recorded “Earth Angel” privately while on Army assignment in West Germany between 1958 and 1960. That rare recording would surface on Elvis’ 1984 album, “A Golden Celebration.”

Several other versions of “Earth Angel” have been recorded over the years. Gloria Mann of “Teenage Prayer” fame hit with it along with the Penguins and Crew-Cuts in 1955. A group called Barry Frank and the Four Bells also recorded the song in ’55. In 1960, Johnny Tillotson reached #61. And in 1986, New Edition’s version of the song from the soundtrack of “Karate Kid Part II” peaked at #37. Others to have recorded “Earth Angel” include the Crests, the Fleetwoods, the Vogues, Tiny Tim, Bobby Vinton, Blink-182, Bella Morte, Aaron Neville, Slapstick and Death Cab For Cutie. Green Day has incorporated the song in a medley done in concerts. “Earth Angel” has also been heard sung on the soundtracks of movies like “Back To The Future,” “Superman III” and a movie of the same name, “Earth Angel.”

Radio friend and oldies buff Ronnie Allen shared this story about Cleve Duncan with this writer: “I had the pleasure of meeting Cleveland Duncan when the Penguins performed as part of an oldies show in the Detroit area back in 2003. I was the guest of the Murmaids, who also performed on that show. I mentioned to Cleve that I thought it was humorous that Buchanan and Goodman had referred to his group as “The Pelicans” on their “Flying Saucer” break-in recording. Cleve, who I am sure totally knew that it was NOT the case, started going around the room in mock anger pointed at me and saying ‘HE called us the PELICANS!’ He was a very nice man.”

Here’s how “Earth Angel” sounded…