Discover more from Frank Beacham's Journal
Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan was born 69 years ago today
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1981
Photo by Don Hunstein
Stevie Ray Vaughan, blues guitarist, was born 69 years ago today.
A guitarist, singer-songwriter and record producer, Vaughan was often referred to by his initials SRV. He is best known as a founding member and leader of Double Trouble.
Together with drummer, Chris Layton, and bassist, Tommy Shannon, they ignited the blues revival of the 1980s. With a career spanning seven years, Vaughan and Double Trouble consistently sold out concerts while their albums frequently went gold.
Born and raised in Dallas as the younger brother of Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan started playing the guitar at age seven and formed several bands that occasionally performed in local nightclubs.
At age 17, he dropped out of high school and moved to Austin to further pursue his musical career, joining groups such as Krackerjack, the Nightcrawlers and the Cobras. In 1977, he formed Triple Threat Revue, a band that eventually evolved into Double Trouble and regularly performed around Austin.
In 1982, Vaughan and Double Trouble performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, catching the attention of musicians David Bowie and Jackson Browne. Bowie asked Vaughan to play on his upcoming studio album, Let's Dance, while Browne offered the band free use of his personal studio in Los Angeles to record an album.
In March, 1983, Vaughan and Double Trouble were signed to Epic Records by veteran record producer, Gregg Geller, and released their debut album, Texas Flood in June of that year. After successful touring, the group released the albums, Couldn't Stand the Weather (1984) and Soul to Soul (1985), the latter of which featured new keyboardist, Reese Wynans.
Although his career had progressed successfully, Vaughan checked into a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta to give up a cocaine and alcohol habit and returned to touring with the band.
On August 27, 1990, Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash following a performance in East Troy, Wisconsin. He was 35.
Vaughan's uniquely eclectic yet intense style was derived from a variety of musical genres. He was influenced by blues musicians including Albert King, Otis Rush and Muddy Waters, and rock guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Lonnie Mack, along with jazz instrumentalist, Kenny Burrell.
Here, Vaughn and Double Trouble perform “Texas Flood,” which was released in 1985.
Keb' Mo', New York City, 2010
Photo by Frank Beacham
Keb' Mo' — blues singer, guitarist and songwriter — is 72 years old today.
Currently living in Nashville, Mo’ has been described as "a living link to the seminal Delta blues that traveled up the Mississippi River and across the expanse of America.” His post-modern blues style is influenced by many eras and genres, including folk, rock, jazz and pop.
From early on, he had an appreciation for the blues and gospel music. By adolescence, he was already an accomplished guitarist.
Keb' Mo' started his musical career playing the steel drums and upright bass in a calypso band. He moved on to play in a variety of blues and backup bands throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
He first started recording in the early 1970s with Jefferson Airplane’s violinist, Papa John Creach, through an R&B group. Creach hired him when Mo’ was just 21 years old. He appeared on four of Creach's albums, Filthy!, Playing My Fiddle for You, I'm the Fiddle Man and Rock Father.
Keb' Mo's early debut, Rainmaker, was released on Chocolate City Records, a subsidiary of Casablanca Records, in 1980. He was further immersed in the blues with his long stint in the Whodunit Band, headed by Bobby "Blue" Bland producer, Monk Higgins.
Mo’ jammed with Albert Collins and Big Joe Turner and emerged as an inheritor of a guarded tradition and as a genuine original. In 1994, Keb' Mo' released his self-titled debut album, Keb' Mo', which featured two Robert Johnson covers, "Come On In My Kitchen" and "Kind Hearted Woman Blues.”
Here, Mo’ performs “The Whole Enchilada” in 2011.
George Wein, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Pete Seeger at the Newport Folk Festival, 2009
Photo by Douglas Mason
George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, was born 98 years ago today.
Wein was a jazz promoter and producer who has been called "the most famous jazz impresario" and "the most important non-player... in jazz history." He also co-founded the Newport Folk Festival with Pete Seeger and Theodore Bikel.
Wein was born in Boston in 1925, the son of Dr. and Mrs. Barnet M. Wein, both his parents were ethnically Jewish.
A graduate of Newton High School, Wein was a jazz pianist in his youth and while studying at Boston University led a small group which played professionally around the Boston area. After serving in the Army during World War II, he graduated from Boston University's College of Liberal Arts in 1950.
That same year, he opened a jazz club called Storyville and established a Storyville record label. He also began to teach a course at Boston University on the history of jazz.
In 1954, Newport residents Louis and Elaine Lorillard invited him to organize a festival in their hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, with funding to be provided by them. The subsequent festival was the first outdoor jazz festival in the United States, and became an annual tradition in Newport.
Wein went on to start a number of festivals in other cities, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles. In the 60s, Wein set up Festival Productions, a company dedicated to promoting large-scale jazz events.
Wein pioneered the idea of corporate sponsorship for his events, and his "Schlitz Salute to Jazz" and "Kool Jazz Festival" were the first jazz events to feature title sponsors, Schlitz beer and Kool cigarettes.
Festival Productions' feature event is now called "the JVC Jazz Festival at Newport," and the company runs JVC Jazz Festivals in cities around including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, Warsaw and Tokyo.
Wein has received a wide array of honors for his work with jazz concerts. He received the Patron of the Arts Award from the Studio Museum of Harlem in 1995, and in 2004 was recognized with an Impact Award from the AARP.
He was decorated with France's Légion d'honneur and appointed a Commandeur de L'Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Commander of the Order of Arts and Literature) by the French government.
He was been honored at the White House by two American presidents, Jimmy Carter in 1978 and Bill Clinton in 1993. In 2005, he was named a "Jazz Master" by the National Endowment for the Arts.
His autobiography, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music, was singled out as 2004's best book about jazz by the Jazz Journalists Association.
Wein has received honorary degrees from the Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island College of Music and is a lifetime Honorary Trustee of Carnegie Hall.
Wein died at his home in Manhattan on September 13, 2021 at age 95.
Chubby Checker is 82 years old today.
Born Ernest Evans, Checker is a singer-songwriter known for popularizing the Twist dance style with his 1960 hit cover of Hank Ballard's R&B hit, "The Twist.”
In September, 2008, "The Twist" topped Billboard's list of the most popular singles to have appeared in the Hot 100 since its debut in 1958.
Ernest Evans was born in Spring Gulley, South Carolina. He was raised in the projects of South Philadelphia, where he lived with his parents and two brothers. By eight, Evans formed a street-corner harmony group, and by the time he entered high school, learned to play the piano.
He would entertain his classmates by performing vocal impressions of popular entertainers of the day, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Fats Domino. One of his classmates and friends at South Philadelphia High School was Fabiano Forte, who would become a popular performer of the late 1950s and early 1960s as Fabian.
After school Evans would entertain customers at his various jobs, including Fresh Farm Poultry on Ninth Street and at the Produce Market with songs and jokes. It was his boss at the Produce Market, Tony A., who gave Evans the nickname, "Chubby.”
The store owner of Fresh Farm Poultry, Henry Colt, was so impressed by Ernest's performances for the customers that he, along with his colleague and friend, Karl Mann, who worked as a songwriter for Cameo-Parkway Records, arranged for young Chubby to do a private recording for American Bandstand host, Dick Clark.
It was at this recording session that Evans got his stage name from Clark's wife, who asked Evans what his name was. "Well," he replied, "my friends call me 'Chubby’.” As he had just completed a Fats Domino impression, she smiled and said, "As in Checker?" That little play on words ('chubby' meaning 'fat', and 'checkers,' like 'dominoes,' being a game) got an instant laugh and stuck, and from then on, Evans would use the name, "Chubby Checker.”
Checker privately recorded a novelty single for Clark in which the singer portrayed a school teacher with an unruly classroom of musical performers. The premise allowed Checker to imitate such acts as Fats Domino, The Coasters, Elvis Presley, Cozy Cole, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon and Fabian as The Chipmunks, each singing, "Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Clark sent the song out as his Christmas greeting, and it received such good response that Cameo-Parkway signed Checker to a recording contract. Titled "The Class,” the single became Checker's first release, charting at #38 in the spring of 1959.
Checker introduced his version of "The Twist" at the age of 18 in July, 1960 in Wildwood, New Jersey at the Rainbow Club. "The Twist" went on to become the only single to top the Billboard Hot 100 twice, in two separate chart runs. (Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" had done so on Billboard's earlier chart.)
"The Twist" had previously peaked at #16 on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart, in the 1959 version recorded by its author, Hank Ballard, whose band The Midnighters first performed the dance on stage.
Checker's "Twist," however, was a nationwide smash, aided by his many appearances on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, the Top 10 American Bandstand ranking of the song, and the teenagers on the show who enjoyed dancing the Twist.
In 2008, Chubby Checker's "The Twist" was named the biggest chart hit of all time by Billboard magazine.
Here, Checker talks about the Twist.
Lindsey Buckingham is 74 years old today.
A guitarist, singer, composer and producer, Buckingham is most notable for being the guitarist and male lead singer of Fleetwood Mac from 1975 to 1987, and 1997 to 2018.
Aside from his tenure with Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham has also released six solo albums and two live albums.
In Fleetwood Mac's heyday, Buckingham was known for his finger picking guitar style and wide vocal range as well as the famous (sometimes tense) chemistry between himself and former girlfriend and bandmate, Stevie Nicks.
Here, Buckingham performs “Big Love” and “Go Insane” on acoustic guitar in 2008.
Gore Vidal was born 98 years ago today.
Vidal was a writer known for his essays, novels, screenplays and Broadway plays. As a public intellectual, he was known for his patrician manner and witty aphorisms.
Vidal's grandfather was the U.S. Senator Thomas Gore of Oklahoma. He was a lifelong Democrat and ran for political office twice. He was also a longtime political commentator.
Well known for his essays as his novels, Vidal also wrote for The Nation, New Statesman, the New York Review of Books and Esquire.
Vidal's major subject was America, and through his essays and media appearances he was a longtime critic of American foreign policy. He developed this into a portrayal of the United States as a decaying empire from the 1980s onwards.
He was also known for his well-publicized spats with such figures as Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Truman Capote.
His most widely regarded social novel was Myra Breckinridge. His best known historical novels included Julian, Burr and Lincoln. His third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), outraged conservative critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality.
Vidal rejected the terms of "homosexual" and "heterosexual" as inherently false, claiming that the vast majority of individuals had the potential to be pansexual.
His screenwriting credits included the epic historical drama, Ben-Hur (1959), which he claimed to have added a "gay subplot." Ben-Hur won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
At the time of his death at age 86 in 2012, Vidal was the last of a generation of American writers who had served during World War II. They included J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller.
Perhaps best remembered for his caustic wit, Vidal has been described as the 20th century's answer to Oscar Wilde.
Photo by Lester Balog
Woody Guthrie, godfather is the 1950s folk movement, died 56 years ago today.
In 1963, Bob Dylan was asked by the authors of a forthcoming book on Woody Guthrie to contribute a 25-word comment summarizing his thoughts on the man who had probably been his greatest formative influence.
Dylan responded instead with a 194-line poem called, "Thoughts on Woody Guthrie," which took as its theme the eternal human search for hope.
"And where do you look for this hope that yer seekin'?" Dylan asks in the poem, before proceeding to a kind of answer:
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You'll find God in the church of your choice
You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, whom Dylan would later call "the true voice of the American spirit," was a native of Okemah, Oklahoma. He was born in 1912 and entered adulthood just as America entered the Great Depression.
Already an accomplished, self-taught musician, Guthrie began writing music in earnest following his experiences traveling west to California with other Dust Bowl refugees in the 1930s.
His first public exposure came during the latter part of that decade as a regular on radio station KFVD Los Angeles, but his most important work took place following a move to New York City in 1939.
In his first two years in New York, Guthrie made a series of landmark recordings for Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress as well as the album, Dust Bowl Ballads, which served as the first introduction for many to a form that Guthrie helped pioneer: protest folk.
Most famously in "This Land Is Your Land" — written in 1940 and first recorded in 1944 — Guthrie fused long-established American musical traditions with a populist, left-wing political sensibility to create an entirely new template for contemporary folk.
In so doing, of course, he laid the groundwork not only for the great folk revival of the 1950s and 60s, but also for such iconoclastic heirs to that movement as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
In his late 30s, Woody Guthrie began to fall ill, displaying the ambiguous physical and psychological symptoms of what would eventually be diagnosed as Huntington's chorea, a genetic disorder that had probably killed his mother in 1930.
In the 1950s, treatment for Huntington's generally meant institutionalization in a psychiatric hospital, and Woody Guthrie spent his final 12 years in such facilities.
In fact, it was in New Jersey's Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital that a young Bob Dylan first encountered the man he'd traveled all the way from Minnesota to see.
Woody Guthrie was moved to Brooklyn State Hospital in 1961 and again in 1966 to Creedmore Psychiatric Center in the borough of Queens.
He died at Creedmore on this day in 1967 — at the age of 55.
John Patrick Shanley, playwright and screenwriter, is 73 years old today.
Shanley is a Pulitzer Prize–winning American playwright, an Oscar winning screenwriter and a theatre and film director.
Born in The Bronx, New York City, Shanley’s mother worked as a telephone operator and his father was a meat-packer. The neighborhood Shanley grew up in was considered very rough.
His academic career did not begin well, but ultimately he graduated from New York University with honors.
In his program bio for the Broadway production of Doubt: A Parable, he mentions that he was "thrown out of St. Helene’s kindergarten, banned from St. Anthony’s hot lunch program and expelled from Cardinal Spellman High School."
Shanley is the author of more than 23 plays, which have been translated and performed around the world, including 80 productions a year in North America. He has often directed his own productions.
He has also written for film. His second film, Moonstruck (1987), stars Nicolas Cage and Cher. It won three Academy Awards, including one for his screenplay.
Eddie Cochran was born 85 years ago.
Cochran, a rock and roll pioneer, had a small but lasting influence on rock music through playing his guitar. His rockabilly songs, such as "C'mon Everybody,” "Somethin' Else” and "Summertime Blues,” captured teenage frustration and desire in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Loretta Young, 1930s