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Carly Simon, singer-songwriter, is 78 years old today
Photo by Lynn Goldsmith
Carly Simon is 78 years old today.
A singer-songwriter, musician and children's author, Simon rose to fame in the 1970s with a string of hit records including "Anticipation," "You're So Vain," "Nobody Does It Better" and "Coming Around Again."
Her 1988 hit, "Let the River Run" was the first song in history to win a Grammy Award, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for a song both written and performed by a single artist. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994.
Simon is the former wife of another notable singer-songwriter, James Taylor. They have two children together, Sarah "Sally" Maria Taylor and Ben Taylor, who are also musicians.
Born in New York City, Simon’s father was Richard L. Simon (co-founder of Simon & Schuster), a pianist who often played Chopin and Beethoven at home. Her mother was Andrea Louise Simon, a civil rights activist and singer.
Simon's career began with a short-lived music group with her sister, Lucy, as The Simon Sisters. They had a minor hit in 1964 — "Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod" — and made three albums together before Lucy left to get married and start a family.
Later, Carly collaborated with eclectic New York rockers, Elephant's Memory, for about six months. She also appeared in the 1971 Milos Forman movie, Taking Off, playing an auditioning singer. She also sang "Long Term Physical Effects," which was included in the 1971 soundtrack for the movie.
Her solo music career began in 1971, with the self-titled, Carly Simon, on Elektra Records. The album contained her breakthrough Top 10 hit "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be." It was followed quickly by a second album, Anticipation.
The title song from that album, written about a romance between Simon and Cat Stevens, was a significant hit, reaching #3 at Easy Listening radio and #13 on Billboard's Hot 100.
It was perhaps even more famous for its use in a variety of international commercials to market the legendary "slow" (i.e., thick) ketchup of the H. J. Heinz Company, one of the largest food producers in the world. The next single release — also reportedly written about Stevens — was "Legend In Your Own Time," which made a more modest impact on the charts, peaking at #50 on the Hot 100.
After their brief liaison during 1970–1971 ended amicably, Stevens wrote his song "Sweet Scarlet" about Simon, who also had highly publicized relationships with Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson and James Taylor during this period.
In 1972-1973, Simon scored the biggest success of her career with the classic global smash, "You're So Vain." It hit #1 on the U.S. Pop and Adult Contemporary charts, and sold over a million copies in the United States alone.
It was one of the decade's biggest hits and propelled Simon's breakthrough album, No Secrets, to #1 on the U.S. album charts, where it stayed for six consecutive weeks. No Secrets achieved Gold status that year, but by the album's 25th anniversary in 1997, it had been certified Platinum.
The subject of the song itself has become one of the biggest enigmas in popular music, as this track also carries one of the most famous lyrics: "You're so vain/I bet you think this song is about you." Simon has never publicly admitted who the song is about.
She hinted that it could be a composite of several people, and for many people the most likely "suspects" have always been Beatty or Jagger, who sings backup vocals on this recording.
Simon has given vague hints over the decades to a variety of talk shows and publications, saying that riddles wouldn't be interesting if everyone knew the answers to them.
On August 5, 2003, she did finally auction off the information to the winner of a charity function for a grand total of $50,000, with the condition that the winner (a television executive, Dick Ebersol on NBC's Today Show) not reveal who it is.
Finally, in November, 2015, Simon, promoting her about-to-be-published memoir, said, "I have confirmed that the second verse is Warren," and added that while "Warren thinks the whole thing is about him," he is the subject only of that verse, with the remainder of the song referring to two other, still-unnamed men.
Here, Simon performs “You’re So Vain” in 1987 at Martha’s Vineyard
Clifton Chenier and Lightnin’ Hopkins
Clifton Chenier was born 98 years ago today.
Chenier was a Creole French-speaking native of Opelousas, Louisiana and an eminent performer and recording artist of Zydeco, which arose from Cajun and Creole music, with R&B, jazz and blues influences. He was known as the “King of Zydeco,” and also billed as the “King of the South.”
Chenier began his recording career in 1954, when he signed with Elko Records and released Clifton's Blues, a regional success. His first hit record was soon followed by "Ay 'Tite Fille (Hey, Little Girl)" (a cover of Professor Longhair's song). This received some mainstream success.
With the Zydeco Ramblers, Chenier toured extensively. He also toured in the early days with Clarence Garlow, billed as the “Two Crazy Frenchmen.”
In April, 1966, Chenier appeared at the Berkeley Blues Festival on the University of California campus and was subsequently described by Ralph J. Gleason, Jazz critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, as "... one of the most surprising musicians I have heard in some time, with a marvelously moving style of playing the accordion .. blues accordion, that's right, blues accordion."
Chenier was the first act to play at Antone's, a blues club on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. Later in 1976, he reached a national audience when he appeared on the premiere season of the PBS music program, Austin City Limits. Three years later in 1979, he returned to the show with his Red Hot Louisiana Band.
Chenier is credited with redesigning the wood and crimped tin washboard into the frottoir, an instrument that would easily hang from the shoulders.
Chenier suffered from diabetes which eventually forced him to have a foot amputated and required dialysis because of associated kidney problems. He died of diabetes-related kidney disease in December, 1987 in Lafayette, Louisiana at age 62.
Paul Simon mentioned Chenier in his song "That Was Your Mother," from his 1986 album, Graceland. John Mellencamp refers to "Clifton" in his song "Lafayette," about the Louisiana city where Chenier often performed. The song is on Mellencamp's 2003 album Trouble No More. The jam band, Phish, often covers Chenier's song, "My Soul," in live performances.
Chenier is the subject of Les Blank's 1973 documentary film, Hot Pepper.
Eddie Floyd is 86 years old today.
A soul/R&B singer and songwriter, Floyd is best known for his work on the Stax record label in the 1960s and 1970s and the song, "Knock on Wood."
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Floyd grew up in Detroit. He founded The Falcons, which also featured Mack Rice. They were forerunners to future Detroit vocal groups such as The Temptations and The Four Tops. Their most successful songs included "You're So Fine" and later, when Wilson Pickett was recruited into the group as the lead singer, "I Found a Love."
Pickett then embarked on a solo career and The Falcons disbanded. Floyd signed on with the Memphis-based Stax Records as a songwriter in 1965. He wrote a hit song, "Comfort Me," recorded by Carla Thomas. He then teamed with Stax's guitarist, Steve Cropper, to write songs for Wilson Pickett, now signed to Atlantic Records.
Atlantic distributed Stax and Jerry Wexler brought Pickett down from New York to work with Booker T. & the MGs. The Pickett sessions were successful, yielding several pop and R&B hits, including the Floyd co-written "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)" and "634-5789 (Soulsville USA)."
In 1966, Floyd recorded a song intended for Otis Redding. Wexler convinced Stax president Jim Stewart to release Floyd's version. The Steve Cropper/Eddie Floyd "Knock On Wood" launched Floyd's solo career, and has been cut by over a hundred different artists from David Bowie to Count Basie.
Floyd was one of Stax's most consistent and versatile artists. He scored several more hits on his own, including "I Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)" and "Raise Your Hand,” which was covered by both Janis Joplin and Bruce Springsteen.
The song "Big Bird" (featuring Booker T. Jones on organ and guitar, Al Jackson, Jr. on drums and Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass) was written while Floyd waited in a London airport for a plane back to the United States for Otis Redding's funeral.
Although not a U.S. hit, it became an underground favorite in the UK, was later covered by The Jam, and was featured on the video game, Test Drive Unlimited.
Floyd's career did not keep him from being one of the label's most productive writers. Virtually every Stax artist recorded Floyd material, often co-written with either Cropper or Jones. These songs included Sam & Dave ("You Don't Know What You Mean to Me"), Rufus Thomas ("The Breakdown"), Otis Redding ("I Love You More Than Words Can Say") and Johnnie Taylor's "Just the One (I've Been Looking For)."
The latter played during the opening credits of director Harold Ramis's film, Bedazzled.
Floyd, in 1980, also released material on the UK record label, I-Spy Records, owned and created by the UK band, Secret Affair. He joined old Stax collaborators Cropper and Dunn, and fronted The Blues Brothers Band on a series of world tours. In 1998, Floyd and former Falcon Wilson Pickett appeared on screen dueting on "634-5789" in Blues Brothers 2000.
As well as singing with The Blues Brothers Band, Floyd has been the special guest with former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings on several dates in the U.S. and the UK. In 2008, Floyd returned to Stax Records, which is now owned by Concord Music Group. His first new album in six years, Eddie Loves You So, was released in July, 2008.
In December, 2012, Floyd released a new album, At Christmas Time. He was named to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and received a brass note on the Beale Street Brass Notes Walk of Fame in 2016. He also has a son, Anthony Floyd, that also sings with him. In July, 2013, Floyd released, Down By The Sea.
Here, Floyd performs “Knock on Wood”
George Orwell, English novelist and journalist, was born 120 years ago today.
Orwell’s work is marked by clarity, intelligence and wit, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism and commitment to democratic socialism. He was ahead of his time and reflected the themes in the news headlines to this very day.
Considered one of the best chroniclers of English culture, Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction and polemical journalism. He is best known for the dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and the allegorical novella, Animal Farm (1945), which together have sold more copies than any two books by any other 20th century author.
His book, Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, is widely acclaimed, as are his numerous essays on politics, literature, language and culture.
Orwell's work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian — descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices — has entered the language together with several of his neologisms, including Cold War, Big Brother, thought police, doublethink and thoughtcrime. All his themes are as contemporary today as when Orwell wrote them.
On anarchism, Orwell wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier: "I worked out an anarchistic theory that all government is evil, that the punishment always does more harm than the crime and the people can be trusted to behave decently if you will only let them alone."
Orwell died in 1950 of tuberculosis at age 46.
Here, Orwell discusses his masterpiece, “1984,” with this final warning
Johnny Smith was born 101 years ago today.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Smith was a cool jazz and mainstream jazz guitarist. He wrote the song "Walk, Don't Run" in 1954.
During the Great Depression, Smith's family moved from Birmingham through several cities, ending up in Portland, Maine. Smith taught himself to play guitar in pawnshops, which let him play in exchange for keeping the guitars in tune.
At thirteen years of age, he was teaching others to play the guitar. One of Smith's students bought a new guitar and gave him his old guitar, which became the first guitar Smith owned.
Smith joined Uncle Lem and the Mountain Boys, a local hillbilly band that travelled around Maine, performing at dances, fairs and similar venues. He earned four dollars a night and dropped out of high school to play music.
After becoming interested in the jazz bands he heard on the radio, Smith practiced playing jazz. He left The Mountain Boys when he was eighteen years old to form a jazz trio, The Airport Boys.
An extremely diverse musician, Smith was equally at home playing in the famous Birdland jazz club or sight reading scores in the orchestral pit of the New York Philharmonic. From Schoenberg to Gershwin to originals, he became one of the most versatile guitarists of the 1950s.
Smith's playing is characterized by closed-position chord voicings and rapidly ascending lines (reminiscent of Django, but more diatonic than chromatically-based).
From those famous 1952 sides and into the 1960s, he recorded for the Roost label, on whose releases his reputation mainly rests. Mosaic Records has issued the majority of them in an eight CD set.
Smith’s most critically acclaimed album was Moonlight in Vermont, one of Down Beat magazine's top two jazz records for 1952. It featured saxophonist Stan Getz.
His most famous musical composition, "Walk Don't Run," written for a 1954 recording session as counter-melody to the chord changes of "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise." Another major guitarist, Chet Atkins, covered the song.
Some musicians who became The Ventures heard the Atkins version, simplified it, sped it up and recorded it in 1960. The Ventures' version went to #2 on the Billboard Top 100 for a week in September, 1960.
Johnny Smith stepped out of the public eye in the 1960s, having moved to Colorado in 1958 to teach and run a music store and to raise his daughter after the death of his second wife. Guild, Gibson and Heritage have all made guitar models designed and endorsed by Johnny Smith. In each case, the guitar was designed wholly or in part by Smith. Each design was a full-bodied archtop guitar with a top carved from solid spruce and a back and sides made of solid maple.
All the on-board electronics for the guitars, from the small pickup in the neck position through the volume knob to the output jack, were mounted on the pickguard. Smith claims to have learned about guitar design by observing master luthier, John D'Angelico, who was his friend and guitar supplier when he lived in New York.
In 1961, Ted McCarty, then president of Gibson, went to meet the retired Smith at his home in Colorado Springs. McCarty spent several days with Smith, during which time Smith designed the guitar he wanted built. The design was accepted by Gibson with a few minor cosmetic changes which were acceptable to Smith.
Gibson began production of the resulting Gibson Johnny Smith model that year. Guild continued to produce their Johnny Smith guitar under the model name Guild Artist Award.
When Gibson moved its manufacturing facilities from Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nashville, Tennessee, several of their managers and artisans chose to stay behind. Many of these ex-employees formed Heritage Guitars and bought the old Kalamazoo factory from Gibson.
Given a choice between Gibson and Heritage building the guitar that bore his name, Smith chose to stay with the old artisans at the old location under new ownership. The Heritage Johnny Smith model was introduced in 1989. Like Guild before them, Gibson continued to manufacture their version of the Johnny Smith design with a new name: the Gibson LeGrand.
William Schultz, chairman of Fender Musical Instruments Corp., of which Guild Guitars was a subsidiary, asked Smith if he would be willing to return his endorsement to the Guild Artist Award. Familiar with Schultz's management, and knowing that the construction would be supervised by master luthier, Bob Benedetto, Smith agreed. The Guild Johnny Smith Award by Benedetto was available through Guild dealers until early 2006 when Benedetto left Fender.
Unlike Guild and Gibson, Heritage Guitars discontinued manufacture of their Smith-designed guitar after Smith withdrew his endorsement.
Smith died on June 11, 2013 at age 90.
Here, Smith performs “Walk Don’t Run”
Harold Melvin, leader of the Blue Notes, was born on this day in 1939 — 84 years ago.
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes were one of the most popular Philadelphia soul groups of the 1970s. The group's repertoire included soul, R&B, doo-wop and disco.
Founded in Philadelphia in the early 1950s as The Charlemagnes, the group is most noted for several hits on Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International label between 1972 and 1976, although they performed and recorded until Melvin's death in 1997.
In 1970, the group recruited Teddy Pendergrass as the drummer for their backing band. Pendergrass had been a former member of Philadelphia R&B group, The Cadillacs (not the New York group that had hits in the late 1950s), and was promoted to lead singer when John Atkins quit the same year. This line-up of the group featured Melvin, Pendergrass, Bernard Wilson, Lawrence Brown and Lloyd Parks.
Probably the most-covered Philly soul group in history, many of their hits have been re-recorded by other artists, including Simply Red, David Ruffin, Jimmy Somerville, Sybil and John Legend.
Melvin did on March 24, 1997 at age 57. A stroke the previous summer had left him bedridden and unable to speak. The cause of death was probably another stroke, said his doctor.
Here, Melvin and the Blue Notes perform “The Love I Lost,” 1973
Sidney Lumet directing on the set of That Kind Of Woman with Sophia Loren, 1959
Sidney Lumet, director, producer and screenwriter with over 50 films to his credit, was born 99 years ago today.
Lumet was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Director for 12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976) and The Verdict (1982).
He did not win an individual Academy Award, but he did receive an Academy Honorary Award and 14 of his films were nominated for various Oscars, such as Network, which was nominated for ten, winning four.
The Encyclopedia of Hollywood cites Lumet as one of the most prolific directors of the modern era, making more than one movie per year on average since his directorial debut in 1957. He was noted by Turner Classic Movies for his "strong direction of actors," "vigorous storytelling" and the "social realism" in his best work. Film critic Roger Ebert described him as having been "one of the finest craftsmen and warmest humanitarians among all film directors."
Lumet was also known as an "actor's director," having worked with the best of them during his career, probably more than "any other director." Sean Connery, who acted in five of his films, considered him one of his favorite directors, and a director who had that "vision thing."
A founding member of New York's Actors Studio, Lumet began his directorial career in Off-Broadway productions, then became a highly efficient TV director. His first movie, 12 Angry Men, was typical of Lumet’s best work. The 1957 film was a well-acted, tightly written, deeply considered "problem picture."
From that point on Lumet divided his energies among other idealistic problem pictures along with literate adaptations of plays and novels, big stylish pictures, New York-based black comedies and realistic crime dramas, including Serpico and Prince of the City.
As a result of directing 12 Angry Men, he was also responsible for leading the first wave of directors who made a successful transition from television to cinema.
In 2005, Lumet received an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement for his "brilliant services to screenwriters, performers and the art of the motion picture." Two years later, he concluded his career with the acclaimed drama, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007).
A few months after Lumet's death in April, 2011, a retrospective celebration of his work was held at New York's Lincoln Center with the appearance of numerous speakers and film stars.
Bass in car, Havanna, Cuba