Blues pioneer Sonny Boy Williamson II died 58 years ago today
Sonny Boy Williamson II, the great blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, died 58 years ago today.
Upon his return to the United States from a European tour, Williamson resumed playing the King Biscuit Time show on KFFA, and performed in the Helena, Arkansas area.
As fellow musicians Houston Stackhouse and Peck Curtis waited at the KFFA studios for Williamson on May 25, 1965, the 12:15 broadcast time was closing in and Sonny Boy was nowhere in sight. Curtis left the radio station to locate Williamson, and discovered his body in bed at the rooming house where he had been staying — dead of an apparent heart attack suffered in his sleep.
Williams is acknowledged as one of the most charismatic and influential blues musicians, with considerable prowess on the harmonica and highly creative songwriting skills. He recorded successfully in the 1950s and 1960s, and had a direct influence on later blues and rock performers.
Some of his better known songs include "Don't Start Me To Talkin'" (his only major hit, it reached the #3 position on the national Billboard R&B charts in 1955),"Fattenin' Frogs for Snakes," "Keep It To Yourself," "Your Funeral and My Trial," "Bye Bye Bird," "Nine Below Zero," "Help Me," "Checkin' Up on My Baby" and the infamous, "Little Village," with Leonard Chess.
In interviews in The Last Waltz, roots-rockers The Band recount jamming with Miller prior to their initial fame as Bob Dylan's electric backing band, and making never-realized plans to become his backing band.
Many of his most famous recordings appeared on The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson and His Best. Williamson had an influence on modern day blues and blues rock artists. Here, Robbie Robertson of the Band remembers Williams.
1964 British tour group including Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Sunnyland Slim, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Hubert Sumlin
Jessi Colter with Waylon Jennings
Jessi Colter is 80 years old today.
Colter is country music artist who is best known for her collaboration with her late husband, Waylon Jennings, the country singer and songwriter. She was one of the few female artists to emerge from the mid-1970s “outlaw” movement.
After meeting her future husband, Colter pursued a career in country music, releasing her first studio LP in 1970, A Country Star Is Born. In 1975, Colter was signed with Capitol Records. On the label, she released her debut single, “I'm Not Lisa.”
The song was Colter’s breakthrough single, reaching #1 on the country chart and also peaked at #4 on the pop chart, becoming a crossover hit in 1975. Her second album, “I'm Jessi Colter,” was also released that year and debuted at #1 on the country albums chart and #50 on the Billboard 200.
The follow-up single from her album, “What's Happened to Blue Eyes,” was also very successful, peaking at #5 on the country chart and #57 on the pop chart. The single’s B-side, “You Ain't Never Been Loved (Like I'm Gonna Love You),” charted among the Top Pop 100 also in 1975.
In 1976, Colter released her second and third Capitol studio albums, “Jessi,” and “Diamond in the Rough.” Both albums were as successful as Colter's 1975 album, both debuting at #4 on the country albums chart. The lead single from her Jessi album, "It's Morning (And I Still Love You)" was a Top 15 country hit in 1976.
In 1976, she was also featured on the collaboration, LP Wanted: The Outlaws, which became a Platinum album, and helped her become one of the few female outlaw country stars.
Colter was born Miriam Johnson and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, in a strict Pentecostal home. Her mother was a Pentecostal preacher and her father was a race car driver. At age 11, Colter became the pianist at her church. After high school (Mesa High, Arizona, 1961), she began singing in local clubs in Phoenix.
In 1970, Jennings and Colter sang duet on two Top 40 country chart hits that also helped Colter gain a recording contract with RCA Records the same year. She released her debut album, A Country Star is Born, on RCA, with Jennings and Chet Atkins co-producing. The album was not successful and it was Colter’s only album for RCA.
In 1981, Colter and her husband returned to release a duet album, “Leather and Lace.” The album's first single, “Storms Never Last,” was written by Colter, and the second single, “The Wild Side of Life”/“It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” was also a major hit in 1981 — peaking at #10 on the country chart.
Stevie Nicks wrote the title track of the album. However, after receiving word that Colter and Jennings might divorce, Nicks released her own version of the song as a duet with Don Henley. It peaked at #6 on pop chart, also in 1981.
Colter released her final studio album on Capitol records in 1981, “Ridin' Shotgun,” which also spawned her last charting single on the country charts, “Holdin’ on.” As the decade progressed, Colter’s decided to let her recording career decline in order to help take care of and nurse her husband through his drug abuse and various medical problems. She remained active during this time.
In 2000, Colter performed on Jennings’s live album, “Never Say Die,” released two years before his death in 2002. Jennings was 64 when he died. In 2006, Colter returned to recording with a new studio album — Out of the Ashes — which was released on the Shout! Factory label.
Out of the Ashes was Colter’s first studio album in over 20 years. The album was produced by Don Was and reflected on Jennings’s passing away. Her late husband, Waylon Jennings, had an unused vocal, “Out of the Rain,” which was featured on the track.
Colter and Jennings had one son, Waylon Albright “Shooter” Jennings, who was born May 19, 1979.
On April 11, 2017, Colter released a tell-all memoir titled, "An Outlaw and a Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life with Waylon, and the Faith That Brought Me Home."
Here, Colter performs “I’m Not Lisa”
Ralph Waldo Emerson was born 220 years ago today.
Emerson was an essayist, lecturer and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society.
Emerson disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States. He gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of Transcendentalism in his 1836 essay, Nature.
Following this ground-breaking work, he gave a speech — "The American Scholar" — in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. considered to be America's "Intellectual Declaration of Independence.” Emerson wrote most of his important essays as lectures first, then revised them for print.
His first two collections of essays – Essays: First Series and Essays: Second Series, published respectively in 1841 and 1844 – represent the core of his thinking. They include such well-known essays as Self-Reliance, The Over-Soul, Circles, The Poet and Experience.
Together with Nature, these essays made the decade from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s Emerson's most fertile period. He wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenets, but developing certain ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for humankind to realize almost anything and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world.
Emerson's "nature" was more philosophical than naturalistic: "Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul." His essays remain among the linchpins of American thinking, and his work has greatly influenced the thinkers, writers and poets that have followed him.
When asked to sum up his work, he said his central doctrine was "the infinitude of the private man."
Emerson is also well known as a mentor and friend of fellow Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau.
Tom T. Hall at his Franklin, Tennessee homestead
Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins
Tom T. Hall was born 87 years ago today.
Born in Olive Hill, Kentucky, Hall was a retired country music singer-songwriter. He wrote 11 #1 hit songs, with 26 more that reached the Top 10, including the #1 international pop crossover, "Harper Valley PTA" and "I Love," which reached #12 on the Hot 100.
Hall became known to fans as "The Storyteller," thanks to his storytelling skills in his songwriting. As a teenager, he organized a band called the Kentucky Travelers that performed before movies for a traveling theater. During a stint in the Army, he performed over the Armed Forces Radio Network and wrote comic songs about his Army experiences.
His early career included being a radio announcer at WRON, a local radio station in Ronceverte, West Virginia. Hall was also an announcer at WSPZ, which later became WVRC Radio in Spencer, West Virginia in the 1960s.
Hall's big songwriting break came in 1963, when country singer Jimmy C. Newman recorded his song, "DJ For a Day." Soon, Hall moved to Nashville, and within months, he had songs climbing the charts. He has written songs for dozens of country stars, including Johnny Cash, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, Alan Jackson and Bobby Bare.
One of his earliest successful songwriting ventures, "Harper Valley PTA," was recorded in 1968 by Jeannie C. Riley. It hit #1 on the pop and country charts at the same time and sold over six million copies. The song would go on to inspire a motion picture and television program of the same name.
Hall himself recorded this song, on his album The Definitive Collection (as track #23).
Hall's recording career took off after Ms. Riley's rendition of the song, and he had such hits as "A Week in a Country Jail," "(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine," "I Love," "Country Is," "The Year Clayton Delaney Died," "I Like Beer" and "Faster Horses (the Cowboy and the Poet)."
Hall died at his home in Franklin, Tennessee, on August 20, 2021 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head; the cause of death went unreleased and had been presumed to be natural until the Williamson County medical examiner released his findings in November.
Hall left no suicide note, had chlordiazepoxide (used to treat anxiety and alcohol withdrawal) in his system at the time of his death and was rumored to have been suffering from numerous old age-related illnesses at the time.
Here, Hall performs a medley of his hits with Johnny Cash
Raymond Carver, 1984
Photo by Bob Adelman
Raymond Carver was born 85 years ago today.
Carver was an American short story writer and poet, and contributed to the revitalization of the American short story in literature during the 1980s.
Born in Clatskanie, Oregon, a mill town on the Columbia River, Carver grew up in Yakima, Washington, the son of Elta Beatrice (Casey) and Clevie Raymond Carver. His father, a skilled sawmill worker from Arkansas, was a fisherman and heavy drinker. Carver's mother worked on and off as a waitress and a retail clerk. He had one brother.
Carver was educated at local schools in Yakima, Washington. In his spare time, he read mostly novels by Mickey Spillane or publications such as Sports Afield and Outdoor Life, and hunted and fished with friends and family.
After graduating from Yakima High School in 1956, Carver worked with his father at a sawmill in California. In June, 1957, at age 19, he married 16-year-old Maryann Burk, who had just graduated from a private Episcopal school for girls. Their daughter, Christine La Rae, was born in December, 1957. Their second child, a boy named Vance Lindsay, was born the next year when Carver was 20.
He supported his family by working as a delivery man, janitor, library assistant and sawmill laborer. During their marriage, Maryann also supported the family by working as an administrative assistant and a high school English teacher, salesperson and waitress.
Carver became interested in writing in California, where he had moved with his family because his mother-in-law had a home in Paradise. He attended a creative writing course taught by the novelist, John Gardner, who became a mentor and had a major influence on Carver's life and career.
His first published story, The Furious Seasons, appeared in 1961. More florid than his later work, the story strongly bore the influence of William Faulkner. Furious Seasons was later used as a title for a collection of stories published by Capra Press, and can now be found in the recent collections, No Heroics, Please and Call If You Need Me.
Carver’s first short story collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, was published in 1976. The collection itself was shortlisted for the National Book Award, though it sold fewer than 5,000 copies that year. During his years of working different jobs, rearing children and trying to write, Carver started to drink heavily.
By his own admission, eventually he more or less gave up writing and took to full-time drinking. In the fall semester of 1973, Carver was a visiting lecturer in the Iowa Writers' Workshop with John Cheever, but Carver stated that they did less teaching than drinking and almost no writing.
The next year, after leaving Iowa City, Carver went to a treatment center to attempt to overcome his alcoholism. However, he continued drinking for three years. After being hospitalized three times (between June, 1976 and February or March, 1977), Carver began his "second life" and stopped drinking on June 2, 1977, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Carver — who continued to smoke marijuana and experimented with cocaine at the behest of Jay McInerney during a 1980 visit to New York City — believed he would have died of alcoholism at the age of 40 if he hadn't found a way to stop drinking.
On August 2, 1988, Carver died from lung cancer at the age of 50.
A lazy day at Governor’s Island, New York City, 2007
Photo by Frank Beacham