Friday, April 26, 2013

The 'King of Country' is dead, long live ...

George Jones was all over the place when I was growing up.  My mother -- a huge fan -- had a decent selection of country music albums in our house ... Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings before they grew their hair out and became outlaws, Tammy Wynette singing about "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," Hank Snow, Porter Wagoner with a young lady named Dolly Parton, on and on.

George Jones
Among all those albums, there was George Jones staring out with his crew cut hair style.  If it wasn't my mother listening to him on a regular basis, it would be some other relation, you could hear him on the radio on a daily basis.

While Elvis was the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," George Jones was the king of country.  You'd be hard-pressed to find many people who would dispute that.

I paid tribute to George last June in another blog of mine when the news broke that he was in poor health and had to cancel some shows.  I wished him well, hoping he could recover and go on.  Less than a year later, we're mourning the news today of his death at 81.  An official cause has yet to be determined, but he had been hospitalized since April 18 at a Nashville hospital with fever and irregular blood pressure.

The country music world and its fans are deeply saddened.  A long-reigning king -- honored by other country superstars as such -- is gone.  Who's gonna fill that possum's shoes?

George didn't just sing country songs, he lived them.  He was notorious when it came to his drinking.  A legendary story out of that habit had to do with an ex-wife who grew tired of his boozing, to the point that she hid the keys to every vehicle they had so he couldn't go to the liquor store several miles away.  But she forgot about the keys to one thing -- a riding lawn mower.  It took him a few hours to do it, but George took those keys and drove that mower at a top speed of four miles an hour to get what he was after.

In later years, he didn't speak of that time with pride.  He knew it was wrong, but he also knew you can't change history.

He never did stop pouring his heart out in a country song.

The "King" is dead.  And still, again, we're left to ask ourselves who's gonna fill those shoes the way George Jones did?  They're mighty big shoes to fill.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Richie Havens passes away on Earth Day

As sad as the news is to those who've loved his music for many years, it seems fitting that if Richie Havens were to pass away that news of it would come on Earth Day.

Richie Havens
According to, Havens -- a leading voice in the folk rock movement who gained his greatest fame as the opening act at the Woodstock festival in 1969 -- died today at age 72 of a heart attack.

Havens had a powerful voice that identified not only him but an era as well.  It rang out with the opening tunes of Woodstock, and in venues ranging in size from Max Yasgur's farm to concert halls to coffeehouses, he performed music with the edge of protest, wanting wrongs to be righted.  His music was punctuated by the way he'd play an acoustic guitar.  His rhythmic style was as powerful on guitar as the force that came through in his voice.

See Richie Havens' biography at Wikipedia

He cracked the charts with covers of Beatles tunes such as "Here Comes The Sun," but his impact on the music world will be felt for a very long time beyond those charts.  It was timeless music, reaching beyond any "hits."  His impact will come from the emotion he poured out behind a microphone, a guitar propped on his lap, giving everyone who watched him performing on a stage or listened to him through a stereo a strong taste of ... freedom.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A tribute to Storm Thorgerson

The blog you're reading right now wasn't meant to be "just" a place for obituaries.  But lately, it seems, there have been too many deaths involving too many key figures in music -- both performers and those behind the scenes -- to ignore.

Storm Thorgerson is among the great names in the music world.  Again -- just like with the recent death of producer/engineer Andy Johns -- you might not know the name unless you're a die-hard audiophile who's spent a lot of time looking at album covers, checking out the credits, and you see certain names repeatedly.

Thorgerson -- a part of the graphic design studio Hipgnosis -- died Thursday at age 69 of complications from cancer.  He had been battling health issues since suffering a stroke in 2003.

Thorgerson was a unique artist, which helped him to fit in well at Hipgnosis.  Photographers (like me) have greatly appreciated his work through many years of looking at album covers and jackets.  It didn't involve "typical" photography.  It was work that you could sit in front of and examine for the entire time it would take to listen to the music that went along with it.  It was mind-bending ... just like a lot of the music that went along with it.

Thorgerson and music.  It was a perfect match.

Thorgerson himself said it best.

"I like photography because it is a reality medium, unlike drawing which is unreal. I like to mess with reality ... to bend reality. Some of my works beg the question of is it real or not?"
 Now's a good time to remember just some of Thorgerson's art, and some of the music that went with it.  What a legacy he's leaving behind.  Wish he was here.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Time to remember the hands in the studio

Andy Johns died Sunday at the age of 61.  An official cause of death hasn't been released yet, but it's been reported that he was hospitalized last week with liver problems.

Andy Johns
Any music fans who've spent a considerable amount of time reading through the credits while listening to some of the greatest tunes in rock history will know the name Andy Johns.  He engineered and produced some of the classic songs and albums to have ever been recorded in popular music by some of the giants -- The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Humble Pie, Free, Van Halen, Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull, Steve Miller, on and on.

"Exile On Main Street."  "Sticky Fingers."  Led Zeppelin IV.  "Houses of the Holy."  "Physical Graffiti."  "Shadows and Light."  "Stand Up."  The list of albums boasting Andy Johns' name as an engineer or producer is long, as it's been with his brother Glyn.  These are the names that rock music fans remember, especially among the hard-core audiophiles.  They're the ones parked between the speakers or with headphones slapped on their ears, digging not just the quality of the music being played but the quality of the sound being brought out from their musical heroes -- coming from the producer who's a "jack of all trades" and who knows how to coax the best out of the musicians, and the engineer who knows how to record it all in pristine condition.

That's the kind of thing Andy Johns did.  He may not have had the face or the name that so many people would recognize.  Nevertheless, music fans owe him a big "thank you."

 His work is worth remembering.  It's too bad we can't go through it all, but it would take too long.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

April 4 isn't just any typical day

Put on your thinking caps, folks.  How many songs mention specific dates in history, and put the full impact of that date into the message behind the song?

One song immediately comes to my mind whenever April 4 rolls around.

“Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride …”