Friday, January 1, 2016

In Memoriam: Curtis Lee

This is the obit from The Dead Rock Stars Club website, which is oddly, very poorly written. Seems like maybe they ought to be a little more reverential when talking about the dearly departed:

Curtis Lee- Died 1-8-2015 in Yuma, Arizona, U.S. - Cancer ( Pop ) Born 10-28-1939 in Yuma, Arizona, U.S. - Singer - (He did, "Pretty Little Angel Eyes" and "Under The Moon Of Love").

I chose Curtis Lee for this month’s post not because I know a lot about him, but more so for his biggest song, “Pretty Little Angel Eyes”. This track has been part of my personal playlist of years. I don’t know when I first heard it, but I do know that tripping, percussive vocal intro,

‘pretty little, pretty little, pretty little angel eyeeeeeeeessssssss…”

was always oddly appealing to me. I loved Curtis’ deep baritone, loved that ‘doo wopp ditty’ delivery. I thought that was what early rock vox was all about… And I will forever measure up all vocals from the golden era of American pop to Lee’s silly, rhythmic didy diddy bop… a little silly, a lot of rhythm, a whole lot of that ineffable sense of gotta go go go that made rock and rock what it was, what it still is… 

Top 10 Posts of 2015

We briefly interrupt our annual In Memoriam theme to start a new tradition—highlighting the 10 most viewed posts of 2015.

The variety of music discussed on this site is broad, and our international roster of writers brings different perspectives to their pieces. One of the great things about Star Maker Machine is that it gives our writers a forum to write about anything they want, as long as they can relate it, in some way, to our bi-weekly theme. In our top 10, there are personal memories, political and social discussions, remembrances of those who have passed, brushes with celebrity, and even just posts about songs, music and musicians. This list includes discussions of folk, rock, old-time pop, klezmer, and spoken word.

So, in case you missed them, here are the most viewed posts from the last calendar year. But they are only a small sampling of what you will find in our archives, which we invite you to explore.

1. Where I Live—Tarrytown
2. Self-Reflection—Wilco (The Song) 
3. LightDarkness—From Light to Darkness with Richard & Linda Thompson
4. Songs South—The Southern Thing/The Three Great Alabama Icons 
5. The Future—Somewhere Down The Road 
6. Brush With Celebrity—Jean Shepherd
7. Self-Reflection—You Turn Me On I’m A Radio 
8. Light—Harbor Lights
9. Non-Christmas Holiday Songs—Happy Joyous Hanukkah
10. Water/Wet—California, The Beach Boys

And there is more to come in 2016.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

In Memoriam: Demis Roussos

Demis Roussos (died 25 January, 2015, aged 68)

The things you learn bloggin for SMM!

The category “Famous Greek Rock Bands” is slim pickings. I’m sure if you live there or had similar interest, you might name a few, but none gained international fame like Aphrodite’s Child.

Having grown up in (more or less) Europe, I certainly heard my fair share of Aphrodite’s Child. I suspect (and confirm via Wikipedia) that the band didn’t make much of a dent on the ears of US audiences, but they were pretty big stuff in Europe. Their hit "Rain and Tears" was at the top of the charts in the late 60s. But - to me - the band was simply Aphrodite’s Child.

I flatter myself in thinking that with my currently-more-inquisitive mind, the name should have had me thinking a little deeper: Aphrodite... Greek... Hmm. Then again, in among bands with equally who-knows-where-this-name-came-from references, it would have taken more than casual interest to delve deeper and note that not only was Demis Roussos a member, but that the band also included Vangelis (who likely needs no further intro?).

All of which I only learned just for this piece. Extra points if you recognize the classical source of the "composition".


3 score years and ten seems the yardstick of allotted life, and has seemed to be, as long as I recall, irrespective of the fact that, at least in the first world, longevity seems to still be getting higher and higher.  Add this to another truism, rock stars die young, and, by rights, the man I am writing about should have died years, decades ago. That he didn't remains a conundrum, but it was only today that I learnt of the fact that, at his allotted span, Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister has finally kicked his hell out of this mortal coil. Somehow there's something altogether admirable about that, proving his right to be an exception to most peoples rules, right to his very end. Surely only Keith Richards has defied the reaper so long and so contemptuously. Now, I should add here my disclaimer, as, in my real world I practise as a family Dr, spending my days countering against the lifestyle choices assumed by the Motorhead monolith. Very few can copy his alleged intake of alcohol and amphetamine without consequence, and I despair over those who might try, failing and faltering prematurely into soggy oblivion. But occasionally, just occasionally, I come across those who continue to spit in the eye of received wisdoms, and lurch vaingloriously into every deluge, bobbing back up, time and time again, protected by the mysteries of their mutant genes. Of course, maybe 70 is no age for an Englishman to leave his castle, and he might have lived until his 100 had he been more abstemious. But the non-smoking teetotalers, eschewing all drugs and other excursions off the road straight and true, can die of cancers at half his age, and it was one of that scabrous breed that bit him, not liver failure, not emphysema, not HIV. And for that we should be grateful. And maybe sympathetic to his new stomping ground?

I am not going to rewrite any of the obituaries I have read, instead leading a link to this obituary , the best I have read and remarkable in many ways, most of which would be unthinkable even a decade ago. I should explain that the Telegraph, or 'Tory'graph, as it is known to many, has always seemed the pinstriped paper of the establishment, exuding comfortable income stream conservatism to its readership, way grander than the Times could ever pretend. That it could even acknowledge that there was even anyone called a Lemmy, let alone celebrate his life seems bizarre, but a celebration it undoubtedly is, perhaps displaying how far entrenched into this islands establishment is the business of rock and roll. OK, he hadn't been knighted like Sir Mick, Sir Paul and Sir Elton, but, once you reach a certain stage of notoriety and excess, suddenly there becomes an acceptance. Hence the attraction of Lemmy and his ilk to advertising companies, playing upon a national treasure iconography. Whether crisps or lager (chips and beer, that is, colonial friends), he was a reliable hook, and I'm sure the money always came in handy. And this film was an unlikely hit on the arthouse circuit, displaying the even greater incongruity of this gritty archetypal leatherclad warrior, authenticity hued from a heavier metal, ending up in the false and tacky glamour of L.A.

I never saw Motorhead play live and I don't own any album. I can't say I was a fan, even, beyond the obvious and inevitable Ace of Spades, above in it's original version. But I did see his old band, Hawkwind. 18 years old and my first festival, Reading. I've mentioned this before, but it's worthy of the memory, if I had any, blinded by cheap and potent alcoholic cider. Buoyed by their chart hit, penned and sung by the soon to be sacked Lemmy, they headed the friday night bill. The sore ears, sore head and upset tummy of saturday morning are all I recall, and maybe that's enough. Rest noisy, big man!

Remember him this way.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

In Memoriam: Stephen R. Johnson

Anyone who reads my stuff would probably have bet on an In Memoriam post about the late Daevid Allen, of Soft Machine and Gong, who died on March 13, 2015. But I’ve already written about him here, and decided to look in a different direction--Stephen R. Johnson, one of the most important people in music history that you have never heard of, who died back on January 26, 2015.

If you are a person who came of age watching MTV when it still played music videos, and someone asked you what the most memorable video was, there’s a pretty good chance that you would say, “Sledgehammer,” by Peter Gabriel. And, considering that the video won a still unsurpassed 9 MTV Video Awards, and was the most played video on the channel, it is fair to say that it changed people’s perceptions of what a music video could be. The song is great and moved Peter Gabriel’s solo career from a prog-rock niche into mass popularity, but the video was what made it stick in our minds. It was directed by Stephen R. Johnson.

The animation was done, in part, by Aardman Animations, which went on to create Wallace and Gromit, and the production of the clip required that Gabriel remain under a glass sheet for 16 hours. I’m really not a huge fan of music videos, but this one was special, and still holds up. Johnson also directed similarly wild videos for Gabriel’s “Big Time” and “Steam,” which won a Grammy. He also directed the video for Talking Heads’ “Road To Nowhere,” and Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” (which, at Mark Knopfler's direction, included sports footage and no shots of his large-nosed profile), received an Emmy nomination for directing the first season of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and did work for Amnesty International.

Johnson was born July 12, 1952, in Paola, Kansas and attended college at Kansas University and the University of Southern California, where he created an award-winning movie using the stop-motion technique that he would use in many of his music videos. His first music video was an awful one for an awful 80’s band called Combonation, redeemed only by an appearance by a pre-stardom Robin Wright, and the fact that a guy in the video is wearing a Mets hat. From that humble beginning, his career went on a rapid upswing to the heights of “Sledgehammer.”

Unfortunately, Johnson passed away, too young, on January 26, 2015, of what was described as “cardiac complications.”