Country music singer Patsy Cline was born 91 years ago today
Patsy Cline was born 91 years ago today.
The country music singer was part of the early 1960s Nashville sound and successfully "crossed over" to pop music. At age 30, she died at the height of her career in a private plane crash. Cline was one of the most influential, successful and acclaimed female vocalists of the 20th century.
She was best known for her rich tone, emotionally expressive and bold contralto voice and her role as a country music industry pioneer. She helped pave the way for women as headline performers.
Books, movies, documentaries, articles and stage plays document her life and career. Her hits began in 1957 with Donn Hecht's "Walkin' After Midnight,” Harlan Howard's "I Fall to Pieces,” Hank Cochran's "She's Got You,” Willie Nelson's "Crazy" and ended in 1963 with Don Gibson's, "Sweet Dreams.”
Millions of her records have sold since her death. She won awards and accolades, leading some fans to view her as an icon at the level of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Ten years after her death, in 1973, she became the first female solo artist inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Friends Dottie West, June Carter Cash and Loretta Lynn recalled Cline telling them during the early 1960s that she felt a sense of impending doom and did not expect to live much longer. Cline, known for her generosity, had begun giving away personal items to friends, writing her will on Delta Air Lines stationery and asking close friends to care for her children should anything happen to her.
She told Jordanaires back-up singer Ray Walker as she exited the Grand Ole Opry the week before her death: "Honey, I've had two bad ones (accidents). The third one will either be a charm or it'll kill me."
On March 5, 1963, Cline's flight encountered inclement weather and crashed. Her recovered wristwatch had stopped at approximately 6:20 p.m. The plane’s wreckage was located approximately 90 miles from its Nashville destination in a forest outside Camden, Tennessee.
Early the following morning, Roger Miller and his friend went searching for survivors: "As fast as I could, I ran through the woods screaming their names — through the brush and the trees, and I came up over this little rise, oh, my God, there they were. It was ghastly. The plane had crashed nose down.”
Shortly after the bodies were removed, looters scavenged the area. Some of the items which were recovered were eventually donated to The Country Music Hall of Fame. Included in those donations were Cline's wrist watch, Confederate flag cigarette lighter, studded belt and three pairs of gold lamé slippers.
Here, Cline performs “I Fall to Pieces” in February, 1963, a month before her death.
Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, was born 126 years ago today.
A country singer in the early 20th century known most widely for his rhythmic yodeling, Rodgers was among the first country music superstars and pioneers. He was also known as "The Singing Brakeman" and "The Blue Yodeler.”
Rodgers was born just north of Meridian, Mississippi. His mother died when he was about six or seven years old, and Rodgers, the youngest of three sons, spent the next few years living with various relatives in southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama.
Rodgers' affinity for entertaining came at an early age, and the lure of the road was irresistible to him. By 13, he had twice organized and begun traveling shows, only to be brought home by his father. His father found Rodgers his first job working on the railroad as a water boy.
Here he was taught to pick and strum by rail workers and hobos. A few years later, he became a brakeman on the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, a position formerly secured by his oldest brother, Walter, a conductor on the line running between Meridian and New Orleans.
In 1924, at the age 27, Rodgers contracted TB. The disease temporarily ended his railroad career, but at the same time gave him the chance to get back to the entertainment industry. He organized a traveling road show and performed across the Southeastern United States until, once again, he was forced home after a cyclone destroyed his tent.
Rodgers decided to travel to Asheville, North Carolina later that same year. On April 18, at 9:30 p.m., Jimmie and Otis Kuykendall performed for the first time on WWNC, Asheville’s first radio station.
A few months later Rodgers recruited a group from Bristol, Tennessee called the Tenneva Ramblers and secured a weekly slot on the station listed as "The Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers."
In July, 1927, Rodgers' bandmates learned that Ralph Peer, a representative of the Victor Talking Machine Company, was coming to Bristol to hold an audition for local musicians. Rodgers and the group arrived in Bristol on August 3, 1927, and auditioned for Peer in an empty warehouse. Peer agreed to record them the next day.
That night, as the band discussed how they would be billed on the record, an argument ensued, the band broke up and Rodgers arrived at the recording session the next morning alone.
However, in a videotaped interview, Claude Grant of the Tenneva Ramblers gave a totally different reason for the band's breakup. Rodgers, Grant recalled, had taken some guitars on consignment. He sold them but did not pay back the music stores which supplied the guitars. Grant said that the band broke up because they did not agree with that.
On Wednesday, August 4, Jimmie Rodgers completed his first session for Victor. It lasted from 2:00 p.m. to 4:20 p.m. and yielded two songs: "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep.” For the test recordings, Rodgers received $100.
The recordings were released on October 7 earning modest success. In November, Rodgers — determined more than ever to make it in entertainment — headed to New York City in an effort to arrange another session with Peer. After agreeing to record him again, Peer met Rogers in Philadelphia before traveling to Camden, New Jersey, to the Victor studios.
Four songs made it out of this session, including "Blue Yodel,” better known as "T for Texas." In the next two years, this recording sold nearly half a million copies, rocketing Rodgers into stardom. After this, he got to determine when Peer and Victor would record him, and he sold out shows whenever and wherever he played.
Over the next few years, Rodgers was very busy. He did a movie short for Columbia Pictures, The Singing Brakeman, and made various recordings across the country. He toured with humorist Will Rogers as part of a Red Cross tour across the Midwest.
On July 16, 1930, he recorded "Blue Yodel No. 9," with Louis Armstrong on trumpet and his wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, on piano.
During his last recording session in New York City on May 24, 1933, after years of fighting the tuberculosis, Rodgers was so weakened that he needed to rest on a cot between songs. He died two days later on May 26, 1933 from a pulmonary hemorrhage while staying at the Taft Hotel. He was 35 years old.
Here, Rodgers performs “Blue Yodel No. 1” (T for Texas).
Ronald "Pigpen" McKernan was born 78 years ago today.
A founding member of the Grateful Dead, McKernan’s contributions to the band included vocals, Hammond organ, harmonica, percussion and occasionally guitar.
McKernan was born in San Bruno, California, the son of an R&B and blues disc jockey. He grew up with many African-American friends and felt very strongly connected to black music and culture.
As a youth, McKernan taught himself blues piano and developed a biker image. In his early teens, McKernan left Palo Alto High School by mutual agreement with the school's principal. He also began using alcohol in his adolescence.
McKernan began spending time around coffeehouses and music stores, where he met Jerry Garcia. One night Garcia invited McKernan onstage to play harmonica and sing the blues. Garcia was impressed and McKernan became the blues singer in local jam sessions.
A high-school friend named Roger gave him his nickname based on his "funky" approach to life. However, in an essay included with the Grateful Dead box-set The Golden Road (1965-1973) it is claimed that a girlfriend of McKernan's gave him the nickname, owing to his similarity to the permanently dirty character in the comic-strip, Peanuts.
McKernan was a participant in the predecessor groups leading to the formation of the Grateful Dead, beginning with the Zodiacs and Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann were added and the band evolved into The Warlocks. Around 1965, McKernan urged the rest of the Warlocks to switch to electric instruments. When Phil Lesh joined, and they became the Grateful Dead.
McKernan played blues organ as well as harmonica and vocals. While his friends were experimenting with LSD and other psychedelics, McKernan stuck to Thunderbird wine and Southern Comfort.
He steadily added more signature tunes to the Dead's repertoire, including some that lasted for the remainder of their live performance career such as "Turn on Your Lovelight" and "In the Midnight Hour."
In 1970, McKernan began experiencing symptoms of congenital biliary cirrhosis. After an August, 1971 hospitalization, doctors requested that he stop touring indefinitely.
Pianist Keith Godchaux was subsequently hired and remained a permanent member of the band until 1979. Ever restless, the ailing McKernan rejoined the band in December, 1971 to supplement Godchaux on harmonica, percussion and organ.
After their Europe '72 tour, his health had degenerated to the point where he could no longer continue on the road. He made his final concert appearance on June 17, 1972 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
He died at age 27.
Sid Caesar was born 101 years old today.
Caesar was an Emmy-winning comic actor and writer best known for the 1950s television series, “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar's Hour.”
Born in Yonkers, New York, he was the youngest son of Max Caesar and his wife, Ida. They were Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire who ran a restaurant.
Caesar would wait on tables and learned to mimic the accents, something he would use throughout his career. He first tried his double-talk with a group of Italians, his head barely reaching above the table.
They enjoyed it so much that they sent him over to a group of Poles to repeat it in Polish, and so on with Russians, Hungarians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Lithuanians and Bulgarians. Despite his apparent fluency in many languages, Caesar can actually speak only English and Yiddish.
Sid's older brother, David, was his comic mentor and "one-man cheering section." They created their earliest family sketches from then current movies including Test Pilot and Wings.
At 14, Caesar went to the Catskills as a saxophonist with Mike Cifichello's Swingtime Six and would also occasionally perform in sketches in the Borscht Belt. When he graduated from high school, he left home, intent on a musical career. He arrived in New York City penniless and tried to join the musician's union. He later attended classes at the Juilliard School of Music.
He found work at the Vacationland Hotel in Swan Lake in the Catskills. Under the tutelage of Don Appel, the resort's social director, Caesar played in the band and learned to perform comedy, doing three shows a week.
In 1939, when World War II was just starting, he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard, and was assigned to play in military revues and shows in Brooklyn.
Caesar began his television career when he made an appearance on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater.
In early 1949, Sid and Max met with Pat Weaver, vice president of television at NBC (and father of Sigourney Weaver), which led to Caesar's appearance in his first series, The Admiral Broadway Revue, with Imogene Coca.
The Friday show was simultaneously broadcast on NBC and the DuMont network. This simulcast was done in order for Caesar’s show to be carried on the only TV station then operating in Pittsburgh — DuMont's WDTV. The show was an immediate success.
However, its sponsor, Admiral, an appliance company, could not keep up with the demand for its new television sets, so the show was cancelled after 26 weeks on account of its runaway success. According to Caesar, an Admiral executive later told him the company had the choice of building a new factory or continuing their sponsorship of Revue for another season.
On February 23, 1950, Caesar appeared in the first episode of Your Show of Shows, a 90 minute Saturday night variety program produced by Max Liebman, who had previously produced The Admiral Broadway Revue. The premiere featured Burgess Meredith as guest host, and other musical guests Gertrude Lawrence, Lily Pons and Robert Merrill.
The show launched Caesar into instant stardom and was a mix of scripted and improvised comedy, movie and television satires. Caesar specialized in inimitable double-talk monologues, top musical guests and large production numbers.
The show was responsible for bringing together one of the best comedy teams in television history. It included Caesar, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris and Imogene Coca.
Many prominent writers, denizens of the “Writer's Room,” got their break creating the show's madcap sketches. The writers included Lucille Kallen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Michael Stewart, Mel Tolkin, Sheldon Keller and Larry Gelbart.
Sid Caesar won his first Emmy in 1952. In 1951 and 1952, he was voted the United States' Best Comedian by Motion Picture Daily's TV poll.
The show ended after 160 episodes on June 5, 1954. The movie, My Favorite Year, was a fictional comedic account of a show similar to Your Show of Shows — and the favorite year was 1954.
Caesar died on February 12, 2014 at age 91.
Here is Caesar as "The German General."
Will Lee performs at the Blues Revue, B.B. Kings, Sept. 6, 2017
Photo by Frank Beacham
Will Lee is 71 years old today.
Lee is a musician and bassist, and a former member of the CBS Orchestra on the Late Show with David Letterman.
Born in San Antonio, Lee has recorded or toured with many artists. He was present on the Mark & Clark Bands hit record, Worn Down Piano. Lee performs with his Beatles tribute band, The Fab Faux, which he co-founded in 1998.
Lee was greatly influenced to pursue music because of his parents. His father, William Franklin Lee III played piano, trumpet and the bass violin professionally. Lee's mother sang with big bands. He took up drums after seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and by the time he was 12, had formed his first band in Miami.
The band members each earned $9 a night playing the popular surfing tunes characteristic of the 60s. With the great numbers of drummers in Miami, Lee shifted to bass, an instrument that offered more opportunities. Lee was part of a succession of bands including Top 40 bands with names like "Chances R" "The Loving Kind" and "Green Cloud."
Lee had a formal musical education at the University of Miami and studied French horn for a year. He then switched to bass. After classes, he worked on bass fundamentals listening to not only the Beatles, but Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Miller, The Rascals, Motown and Sly & the Family Stone. He practiced six sets each night playing with various local bands, including a horn band called, "Goldrush."
Lee then went to New York City, where trumpeter, Randy Brecker, called him out of a class one day and invited him to audition for Dreams. In New York, Lee's career flourished. He played in the New York 24th Street Band which had great success in Japan, giving him a solo artist career that yielded him a Top 5 single.
His solo CD, OH!, reached the #1 position on the "Jazz Beyond" chart there.
In 1982, Lee became one of the original members of The World's Most Dangerous Band, the house band on NBC's Late Night with David Letterman. He holds the distinction of playing with Paul Shaffer, on both Late Night and the Late Show, longer than any other member of the CBS Orchestra.
Before the Late Show began taping, he often tossed out guitar picks to the audience as souvenirs.
In 2014, he was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.
Lee currently uses the Sadowsky Will Lee model, a four string jazz bass with a narrower nut width of 1.45-inches instead of the usual 1.5-inches, 22 frets and a Hipshot D-tuner. The bass was built for him by Roger Sadowsky and has now become a production model within the line of Sadowsky basses.
Here Lee performs lead vocals with Jimmy Webb, Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra on MacArthur Park in 2014.
Aimee Mann is 63 years old today.
A rock singer-songwriter, guitarist and bassist, Mann grew up in Bon Air, Virginia, graduated from Open High School (Richmond, Virginia) in 1978 and attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
She dropped out to sing with her first punk rock band, the Young Snakes. The band released, Bark Along with the Young Snakes, an EP, in 1982. A compilation album was issued in 2004.
In 1983, she co-founded with Berklee classmate and boyfriend, Michael Hausman, the new wave band, 'Til Tuesday, which achieved success in 1985 with its first album, Voices Carry. The title song is said to be inspired by Hausman and Mann's breakup. The video became an MTV staple.
Mann was featured on the Rush song, "Time Stand Still," (from Hold Your Fire, 1987) which hit #3 on the U.S. rock charts. She sang backup vocals and appeared in the music video.
Disillusioned with both the ineffectual promotion and artistic meddling by her record label, an experience documented in songs such as "Calling It Quits" and "Nothing Is Good Enough,” Mann struck out on her own and founded SuperEgo Records in 1999.
Mann self-released, Bachelor No. 2, in 2000, having negotiated a contract release from David Geffen. Though initially only sold at concerts and via her website, the album became successful, allowing her to secure retail distribution through SuperEgo.
The album, which included some songs from Magnolia and new material, was widely admired and Mann's "more indie than indie" success was carefully noted by other musicians.
Mann took her experience with SuperEgo to found the independent music collective United Musicians, which is based on the principle that every artist should be able to retain copyright ownership of the work he or she has created, in contrast to normal music industry contracts.
Here, Mann performs “Wise Up.”
Photo by Rick Oliver
David Kearney, blues guitarist better known as Guitar Shorty, was born 89 years ago today.
Guitar Shorty was well known for his explosive guitar style and wild stage antics. Billboard magazine said “his galvanizing guitar work defines modern, top-of-the-line blues-rock. His vocals remain as forceful as ever. Righteous shuffles...blistering, sinuous guitar solos.”
Shorty was born in Houston, but grew up mainly in Kissimmee, Florida where he began playing the guitar at an early age and began leading a band not long after.
During his time in Tampa Bay, at 16, he received his nickname — Guitar Shorty — when it mysteriously showed up on the marquee of the club he was playing as “The Walter Johnson Band featuring Guitar Shorty.” He steadily began to garner accolades from his peers and, soon after, he joined the Ray Charles Band for a year.
He recorded his first single in 1957, "You Don't Treat Me Right," for the Cobra label under the direction of Willie Dixon after Dixon saw him playing with the Walter Johnson Orchestra.
Eventually, he joined Guitar Slim's band and moved to New Orleans. Slim inspired Shorty to incorporate more showmanship into his live performance style. Before long, Shorty was doing somersaults and flips on stage.
While in New Orleans, Shorty also fronted his own band which played regularly at the Dew Drop Inn, where he was joined by special guests such as T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and Little Richard. Not one to stay in one place long, Shorty next moved to the West Coast at 19 in order to play with Sam Cooke.
He played up and down the west coast and Canada until he met his future wife, Marcia, in Seattle, Washington. Marcia was the half-sister of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi was so enthralled with Shorty’s playing, he attended several of Shorty's gigs in the Seattle area.
As Shorty’s popularity grew, he recorded three singles for the Los Angeles-based Pull Records label in 1959. He gigged steadily through the late 1950s and 1960s. During the 1970s he worked as a mechanic, playing music at nights and on weekends. He again became a full-time musician in 1975, struggling at times to make ends meet.
In 1976, he made an appearance on Chuck Barris' Gong Show, winning first prize for performing the song, "They Call Me Guitar Shorty," while balanced on his head.
In 1985, he released his first album, On the Rampage, on Olive Branch Records. He went on his first tour to the UK in 1991, and there he recorded, “My Way or the Highway,” with Otis Grand. It came out on JSP Records that year.
This won him a W.C. Handy Award and attracted labels in the United States. Shorty soon got a record deal with New Orleans-based, Black Top Records. Topsy Turvy, his first album on Black Top, came out in 1993. The album featured some fresh new songs as well as remakes of three classic numbers from his Pull days back in 1959.
He released two more albums on Black Top in the 1990s. When Black Top folded in 1999, Shorty moved to Evidence Music, and released, I Go Wild!, in 2001. In 2002, he was featured on the Bo Diddley tribute album, Hey Bo Diddley — A Tribute!, performing the song, "Don't Let It Go (Hold On To What You Got)."
He joined Alligator Records in 2004. His album that year, Watch Your Back, and his 2006 album, We the People, both charted on the Billboard Top Blues Albums at #11 and #12, respectively. Billboard said of We The People, "it’s difficult to imagine that he ever tracks a better album than this one."
Bare Knuckles, a new Alligator Records CD, was released in March, 2010. He was then based out of Harlingen, Texas where he met an up and coming guitarist named Sal Gomez. He mentored the guitarist and brought him on with his road band from 2010 until 2012.
Sal left a lasting impression on Guitar Shorty for some of the more modern techniques he applied with the standard playing of blues guitar. "He is a baaaaaaaaaad boy" was frequently said by Guitar Shorty at most of the shows Sal played.
Another blues musician, John Henry Fortescue (1923–1976), on Trix Records was also named Guitar Shorty.
He died on April 20, 2022, in Los Angeles.
Here is Guitar Shorty performing Live at the Dutch Mason Blues Festival in Canada in 2013.
Radio Queen of 1939