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Alison Krauss, who brings sophistication to blue grass music, is 52 years old today
Alison Krauss is 52 years old today.
A bluegrass-country singer-songwriter and musician, Krauss entered the music industry at an early age, winning local contests by the age of ten and recording for the first time at fourteen. She signed with Rounder Records in 1985 and released her first solo album in 1987.
Krauss was invited to join the band with which she still performs, Alison Krauss and Union Station (AKUS), and later released her first album with them as a group in 1989. In addition to more than a dozen albums, Krauss has appeared on numerous soundtracks and helped renew interest in bluegrass music in the United States.
Her soundtrack performances have led to further popularity, including the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, an album also credited with raising American interest in bluegrass, and the Cold Mountain soundtrack, which led to her performance at the 2004 Academy Awards.
Born in Decatur, Illinois, Krauss is the daughter of Fred and Louise Krauss. Her father was a German immigrant who came to the United States in 1952 and taught his native language. Her mother, of German and Italian descent, is the daughter of artists.
Krauss grew up in the college town of Champaign, home to the University of Illinois. She began studying classical violin at age five, but soon switched to bluegrass. She first became involved with music because "[my] mother tried to find interesting things for me to do" and "wanted to get me involved in music, in addition to art and sports.”
At the age of eight, she started entering local talent contests, and at ten had her own band. At 13, she won the Walnut Valley Festival Fiddle Championship, and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass in America named her the "Most Promising Fiddler in the Midwest.”
Krauss first met Dan Tyminski around 1984 at a festival held by the Society. Every current member of her band, Union Station, first met her at these festivals.
Krauss's earliest musical experience was as an instrumentalist, though her style has grown to focus more on her vocals with a band providing most of the instrumentation. Musicians she enjoys include vocalists Lou Gramm of Foreigner and Paul Rodgers of Bad Company.
Krauss' family listened to "folk records" while she was growing up, but she had friends, who exposed her to groups such as AC/DC, Carly Simon, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ELO. She cites Dolly Parton, with whom she has since collaborated a number of times, as a major influence.
Despite being together for nearly two decades and winning numerous awards, she said the group was "just beginning right now" (in 2002) because "in spite of all the great things that have happened for the band, [she] feel[s] musically it's just really beginning."
Her work has been compared to that of The Cox Family, Bill Monroe and Del McCoury and has, in turn, been credited with influencing various "Newgrass" artists including Nickel Creek, for which she acted as record producer on two of their albums. In addition to her work with Nickel Creek, she has acted as producer to the Cox Family, Reba McEntire and Alan Jackson.
Two years ago, Krauss was placed on vocal rest following a diagnosis of a vocal condition called dysphonia. She has since resumed performing.
As of 2016, Krauss has won 27 Grammy Awards from 42 nominations, tying her with Quincy Jones as the most awarded living recipient, second only to classical conductor Georg Solti, who holds the record for most wins with 31.
She is the most awarded singer and the most awarded female artist in Grammy history. At the time of her first, the 1991 Grammy Awards, she was the second-youngest winner (currently tied as the ninth-youngest).
Krauss was married to musician Pat Bergeson from 1997 to 2001. Their son, Sam, was born in July 1999.
Here, Krauss and Union Station meet at a crossroads to perform “Goodbye Is All We Have.”
Ronny Cox, character actor, singer-songwriter and guitarist, is 85 years old today.
Cox, the third of five children, was born in Cloudcroft, New Mexico and grew up in Portales, New Mexico. He graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in 1963 with a double major in Theater and Speech Correction.
Cox now tours regularly with a band, performing at theatres and folk music festivals.
As an actor, he made his debut in the acclaimed 1972 film, Deliverance. In a now famous scene, he played the instrumental, "Dueling Banjos," on his guitar with a banjo-playing mountain boy, played by child actor Billy Redden. Cox was hired for the role because he could play the guitar. He wrote a book which recounts his experiences making the film in 2012.
In the period 1974-1975, Cox starred in the short-lived CBS family-oriented dramatic series, Apple's Way, created by Earl Hamner, who created The Waltons. He also appeared as Mr. Webb in a television production, Our Town.
Despite having a successful acting career, Cox said that music now comes first in his life. He turns down about 90 percent of the acting jobs he is offered in order to play over 100 shows at festivals and theaters each year.
He is regularly accompanied by Radoslav Lorković (piano, accordion) and Chojo Jacques (fiddle, mandolin.) Cox also leads a musical tour to Ireland each year.
Here, Cox performs the screen version of Dueling Banjos in the 1972 film, Deliverance.
Steve Mandel and Eric Weissberg clown around in Washington Square Park, 2009
Photo by Frank Beacham
Though Ronny Cox is closely associated with “Dueling Banjos” in the 1972 film, Deliverance, there is far more to the story than the scene on screen.
"Dueling Banjos" was an instrumental composition by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith. It was composed in 1955 by Smith as a banjo instrumental he called "Feudin' Banjos," which contained riffs from "Yankee Doodle."
Smith recorded it playing a four-string plectrum banjo and accompanied by five-string bluegrass banjo player, Don Reno. The composition's first wide scale airing was on a 1963 television episode of The Andy Griffith Show called "Briscoe Declares for Aunt Bee," in which it is played by the visiting musical family, the Darlings, performed by The Dillards, a bluegrass group.
The song was made famous by the 1972 film, Deliverance, which also led to a successful lawsuit by the song's composer, as it was used in the film without his permission.
The film version, arranged and recorded by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell and subsequently issued as a single, went to #2 for four weeks on the Hot 100 in 1973, all four weeks behind Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song," and topped the adult contemporary chart for two weeks the same year.
It reached #1 for one week on both the Cashbox and Record World pop charts. The song also reached #5 on the Hot Country Singles chart at the same time it was on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary Singles charts.
Weissberg, who was hired to record the song, had no idea it was hit until he heard it on his car radio while driving.
Roger Sprung and Paul “Presto” Prestopino play together the same day in Washington Square Park in 2017.
Photos by Frank Beacham
Two legends of folk music died this week….within days of each other.
Roger Sprung, a legendary banjo player, died at age 92, while Paul “Presto” Prestopino, guitarist, banjoist and percussionist died at age 84.
Sprung was best known for introducing authentic bluegrass banjo picking styles to the folk music community in the north and for the eclectic manner in which he has adapted bluegrass banjo techniques to music of other genres.
Sprung was introduced to folk music as a teenager in 1947 when his older brother took him to hear musicians perform in New York's Washington Square. After taking up the guitar Roger soon took up the banjo, teaching himself to play by ear with the aid of 78 rpm records by Earl Scruggs.
He was also influenced by Pete Seeger, Paul Cadwell and also Tom Paley from whom he took a few banjo lessons. In 1950, Sprung made the first of many trips to bluegrass country, accompanying mandolinist Harry West to Asheville, North Carolina. There he had his first exposure to such traditional country musicians as Bascom Lamar Lunsford and Samantha Bumgarner.
These trips became a regular part of Sprung's musical life, and he passed along the styles and techniques he absorbed during them to his fellow musicians in the north.
As bluegrass historian and performer Ralph Lee Smith wrote, "Banjo player Roger Sprung almost single-handedly introduced Southern bluegrass music to New York through his playing in Washington Square."
In 1953, Sprung joined Erik Darling and Bob Carey to form the Folksay Trio. The group recorded four tracks on an anthology album that also included performances by Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie.
One of the trio's songs, "Tom Dooley," would later be popularized by the Kingston Trio and become one of the best-selling folk song recordings of all time. Carey and Darling later joined Alan Arkin, who would go on to achieve fame as an actor, to form the highly successful folk group The Tarriers.
Sprung was also a familiar face in the mid-1950s Washington Square gatherings of folk musicians in Greenwich Village. He played in the park with Woody Guthrie.
Paul Prestopino, a renowned multi-instrument sideman and recording engineer at the Record Plant, had with long experience in bluegrass, old-time, folk and contra dance music.
One of two sons of acclaimed American artist Gregorio Prestopino and his wife Elizabeth (Dauber) Prestopino, Paul became a mainstay of the vibrant 1960s folk revival scene in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
He played mandolin in the pathbreaking “citybilly” bluegrass band, The Greenbriar Boys (between the tenures of Eric Weissberg and Ralph Rinzler). He soon toured and recorded as a backup musician with the nationally-successful folk act, The Chad Mitchell Trio, and later toured extensively with the now-legendary group Peter, Paul & Mary.
His studio work included sessions with Pete Seeger, John Denver, Tom Paxton, Graham Parker, Christine Lavin, and Judy Collins. He also brought the sounds of bluegrass banjo, mandolin, and dobro to hit records by such rock stars as Aerosmith, Rick Derringer, and Alice Cooper.
Tony Joe White, New York City, 2006
Photo by Frank Beacham
Tony Joe White was born 80 years ago today.
White was a songwriter and guitarist, best known for his 1969 hit "Polk Salad Annie,” recorded by Elvis Presley and Tom Jones, and "Rainy Night in Georgia," which he wrote but was first made popular by Brook Benton in 1970. White also wrote "Steamy Windows," a hit for Tina Turner in 1989.
Born one of seven children and raised on a cotton farm near the small town of Oak Grove, Louisiana, when White was 16, Charles, the oldest of the White children, brought home a Lightnin' Hopkins album and started teaching his younger brother, Tony, the blues guitar.
As a child, White listened to not only local bluesmen and country singers, but also to the distinctive cajun music of Louisiana. Cajun is a hybrid of traditional musical styles introduced by French-Canadian settlers at the turn of the 19th Century.
White began performing at school dances, and after graduating, started playing in nightclubs in Louisiana and Texas. He formed his first band, Tony White & his Combo, while still in his teens.
The three young men (White, 20, bassist Robert McGuffie, 19, and Jim Griffith, 22) played a nightclub in Kingsville, Texas for an uninterrupted engagement of eight months (six nights a week) in 1964. That band was followed by Tony Joe and the Mojos and Tony's Twilights, and for the next seven years White worked the small clubs of the South before deciding to embark on a solo career singing his own compositions.
In 1967, White signed with Monument Records, which operated from a recording studio in the Nashville suburb of Hendersonville. There, with Billy Swan, his producer, he created a variety of sounds, including rock, country and R&B.
Over the next three years, White released four singles with no commercial success stateside, although "Soul Francisco" was a hit in France.
"Polk Salad Annie" had been released for nine months and written off as a failure by his record label when it finally entered the U.S. charts in July, 1969. It climbed into the Top Ten by early August, eventually reaching #8, becoming White's biggest hit.
White's first album, 1969's Black and White, was recorded with Muscle Shoals/Nashville musicians David Briggs, Norbert Putnam and Jerry Carrigan, and featured "Willie and Laura Mae Jones" and "Polk Salad Annie," along with covers of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman."
Three more singles quickly followed, all minor hits, and White toured with Steppenwolf, Sly & the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival and other major rock acts of the 1970s, playing in France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and England.
In 1973, White appeared in the film, Catch My Soul, a rock-opera adaption of Shakespeare's Othello. It was directed by Patrick McGoohan and produced in the UK by Richard Rosenbloom and Jack Good. The cast included Richie Havens, Season Hubley, Susan Tyrrell, Bonnie Bramlett, Lance LeGault, Delaney Bramlett and Family Lotus. White played and sang four and composed seven songs for the musical.
In late September, 1973, White was recruited by record producer Huey Meaux to sit in on the legendary Memphis sessions that became a landmark album —Southern Roots — for Jerry Lee Lewis. By all accounts, these sessions were a three-day, around-the-clock party.
It reunited the original MGs (Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr. of Booker T. and the MGs fame) for the first time in three years. It also featured Carl Perkins, Mark Lindsay (of Paul Revere & the Raiders) and Wayne Jackson plus The Memphis Horns.
White died of a heart attack on October 24, 2018, at the age of 75. "He wasn't ill at all. He just had a heart attack...there was no pain or suffering,” said his son, Jody White. He died at his home in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee.
Here, White performs his song, “Rainy Night in Georgia,” in Amsterdam, 2008.
Raymond Chandler, creator of detective Philip Marlowe, was born 135 years ago today.
Born in Chicago and raised in England, Chandler went to college and worked as a freelance journalist for several newspapers. During World War I, he served in the Royal Flying Corps.
After the war, he moved to California, where he eventually became the director of several independent oil companies. He lost his job during the Depression, and he turned to writing to support himself at the age of 45.
He published his first stories in the early 1930s in the pulp magazine, Black Mask, and published his first novel, The Big Sleep, in 1939.
Chandler published only seven novels, among them Farewell My Lovely (1946) and The Long Goodbye (1953), all featuring tough, cynical Detective Philip Marlowe.
William Faulkner wrote the screen version of The Big Sleep, which starred Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe.
Chandler also wrote Hollywood screenplays in the 1940s and early 1950s, including Double Indemnity (1949) and Strangers on a Train (1951).
He died in 1959.
Bob Dylan tries on a new mask, the Rolling Thunder Review tour
Photo by Ken Regan