Guitarist James Burton is 84 years old today
James Burton plays it at the roots concert at Lincoln Center, August 10, 2013
Photo by Frank Beacham
(Burton’s primary guitar has always been a Fender Telecaster, beginning with an early blonde model his parents bought for him around 1952.
His 1969 Paisley Red (better known as Pink Paisley) Telecaster became the basis for his James Burton Telecaster model in 1991, with Lace Sensor pickups and a TBX tone circuit.
Five years later, his 1953 Candy Apple Red Telecaster was the inspiration for a standard version Artist Signature model featuring two Fender Texas Special Tele single coil pickups and a vintage-style, six-saddle bridge.
In 2006, the Signature Paisley model was redesigned with a red paisley flame design over a black body, plus three specially designed blade pickups, a no-load tone control and S-1 switching system.)
Photo by Frank Beacham
James Burton, master guitarist, is 84 years old today.
Known as the "Master of the (Fender) Telecaster,” Burton has recorded and performed since the 1950s with with an array of notable singers.
They include Elvis Presley, Rick Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell, John Denver, Bob Luman, Dale Hawkins, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Lee Lewis, Claude King, Elvis Costello, Joe Osborn, Roy Orbison, Joni Mitchell, Vince Gill, Suzi Quatro and Allen "Puddler" Harris.
A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2001 (his induction speech was given by longtime fan, Keith Richards), Burton has also been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Critic Mark Demming writes that "Burton has a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest guitar pickers in either country or rock ... [Burton is] one of the best guitar players to ever touch a fretboard."
Born in Dubberly in south Webster Parish near Minden, Louisiana, Burton is self-taught and began playing guitar in childhood. By the time he was thirteen, he was playing semi-professionally. A year later, he was hired to be part of the staff band for the popular Louisiana Hayride radio show in Shreveport.
While he was still a teenager, Burton left Shreveport for Los Angeles, where he joined Ricky Nelson's band. There, he made numerous recordings as a session musician. Burton created and played the guitar solo on Dale Hawkins 1957 hit song, "Susie Q.” Burton played lead guitar on all of Rick Nelson's recordings between 1958 and 1967.
In 1965, he started working on the television program, Shindig!, and eventually left Nelson's band two years later. The television exposure led to continuous recording session work with a huge variety of artists, mostly as an unattributed sideman.
Due to the volume of work, Burton turned down an offer to join Bob Dylan's first touring band, and another offer to play on Elvis Presley's 1968 comeback TV special, Elvis.
In 1969, Presley again asked Burton to join his show in Las Vegas, and this time Burton agreed. Burton formed the TCB Band and backed Presley from 1969 until Presley's death in 1977. A hallmark of Elvis' live shows in this period was his exhortation, "Play it, James," as a cue for the guitarist's solos. For the first season in Vegas in 1969, Burton played his red standard telecaster.
He shortly after purchased the now familiar pink paisley custom telecaster. Burton was not sure that Elvis would like it — but since he did, James used it in every show.
Since 1998, Burton has played lead guitar in, Elvis: The Concert, which reunited some of Elvis' former TCB bandmates, background singers and Elvis' orchestral conductor (mostly from the "concert years" 1969-1977) live on stage.
During 1975 and 1976, while still touring with Presley, Burton was one of the first members to join and tour with Emmylou Harris as part of her backing band, the "Hot Band,” after the death of Gram Parsons. He was joined by a cast of talented musicians which included his bandmate with Presley, Glen D. Hardin, and newer musicians which included Rodney Crowell.
However, once Presley was ready to return to the road, Burton returned to perform with him, although the others, including Hardin, elected to continue with Harris. Just before Presley died in 1977, Burton was called to play on a John Denver television special. During the taping, Denver asked if Burton would consider going on a European tour.
Burton said he was working with Elvis, but if scheduling permitted, he would be glad to go. Shortly after Elvis' death, Burton began a regular collaboration with Denver. The first album they recorded was I Want to Live.
During the sessions, Burton and Denver talked about forming a band. Glen Hardin and Jerry Scheff, from Presley's band, joined the new band. Burton remained a member of Denver's band until 1994, but often toured in parallel with other artists, including Jerry Lee Lewis. In the 16 years Burton worked with Denver, they recorded 12 albums and toured the world.
While touring with Denver, Burton carried several instruments, including backup Dobros and a spare 1969 Pink Paisley Fender Telecaster he had used as a touring guitarist with Elvis Presley during the 1970s. He rejoined Denver in 1995 for the Wildlife Concert. When Denver died in 1997, Burton spoke at his memorial service in Aspen, Colorado.
In 2007, he was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville as a member of the L.A. session player group known as The Wrecking Crew.
Here, Burton joins Bruce Springsteen on guitar with Roy Orbison in the concert, A Black and White Night, at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles in 1987.
Melvin Van Peebles performs in New York City, 2009
Photo by Frank Beacham
Melvin Van Peebles was born 91 years ago today.
An actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, novelist and composer, Van Peebles was most famous for creating the acclaimed film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which heralded a new era of African-American focused films.
He was the father of actor and director, Mario Van Peebles.
Born in Chicago, Van Peebles joined the Air Force in 1954, thirteen days after graduating (B.A., 1953) from Ohio Wesleyan University, staying for three and a half years. He married a German woman, Maria Marx. They lived in Mexico for a brief period, where he painted portraits, before coming back to the United States, where he started driving cable cars in San Francisco.
Peebles' 1971 film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, received acclaim from black rights groups for its political resonance with the black struggle and grossed $10 million.
Van Peebles began writing about his experiences as a cable car driver. What evolved from an initially small article and a series of photographs was Van Peebles' first book, The Big Heart. One day, a passenger suggested that Van Peebles should become a filmmaker. He shot his first short film, Pickup Men for Herrick, in 1957. After he completed his first short films, he took them with him to Hollywood to try to find work, but was unable to find anyone who wanted to hire him as a director.
In New York City, Van Peebles met a man who saw his films and wanted to screen them in France. In 1959 the family went to the Netherlands, where he worked for the Dutch National Theater.
The marriage dissolved, his wife and children went back to America, and Peebles was invited to Paris by Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinémathèque Française, on the strength of his short films. He learned French, and was hired to translate Mad magazine into French.
He began to write plays in French, utilizing the sprechgesang form of songwriting, where the lyrics were spoken over the music. This style carried over to Van Peebles' debut album, Brer Soul.
He published four novels and one story collection in French and made another short film, Cinq cent balles (1965). It was here that he made his first feature length film, The Story of a Three-Day Pass (La Permission) (1968), which caught the attention of Hollywood producers who mistook him for a French auteur.
His first Hollywood film was the 1970 Columbia Pictures comedy, Watermelon Man, written by Herman Raucher. The movie told the story of a casually racist white man who suddenly wakes up black and finds himself alienated from his friends, family and job.
In 1970, Van Peebles was also to direct filming of the Powder Ridge Rock Festival, which was banned by court injunction. It was after the resulting bad experience directing Watermelon Man that Van Peebles became determined to have complete control over his next production, which became the groundbreaking Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), privately funded with his own money, and in part by a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby.
Van Peebles not only directed, scripted and edited the film, but wrote the score and directed the marketing campaign. The film, which in the end grossed $10 million, was, among many others, acclaimed by the Black Panthers for its political resonance with the black struggle.
His son Mario's 2003 film, BAADASSSSS!, tells the story behind the making of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.
In 2005, Van Peebles was the subject of a documentary entitled, How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It).
In 2008, Van Peebles completed the film, Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha (yours truly has a short part in this film), and appeared on All My Children as Melvin Woods, the father of Samuel Woods, a character portrayed by his son, Mario.
In 2013, Van Peebles made his public debut as a visual artist, as a part of a gallery featured called “eMerge 2.0: Melvin Van Peebles & Artists on the Cusp."
In 2017, a short film directed by Alain Rimbert entitled Methane Momma featured Van Peeples and his narration of poetic work with accompaniment of music by The Heliocentrics.
Van Peebles died on September 21, 2021, at his home in Manhattan at the age of 89.
It was April 2, 2006, when I answered the call from Melvin Van Peebles to be in his movie, Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha.
Yes, that’s the title and the spaces are as they are meant to be.
To say I didn’t know what I was getting into is a gross understatement. I was to play a redneck truck driver who gets shot. Melvin did not give me an advance script. He said the lines would be easy to learn on location.
We shot the film during the night at a private wooded estate in Rye, New York. The only thing that would end it was the rising sun many hours later. A makeup artist reddened my beard and I was handed a script. The lines were much more extensive than I had anticipated.
I’m no actor, so it was a big challenge, especially when I learned that Melvin wanted me to say the words with a poetic beat. I struggled to get it right. I guess he either gave up or found my performance acceptable. I’m still not sure.
But the really hard part was ahead. The getting shot part, I mean. The red dot on my head and shirt in the photo are where the guns were aimed. That was a T-shirt, by the way, and the night was very cold.
We did 16 takes altogether. I was surrounded by gunmen in dark woods. Each time I was shot, I had to fall down hard, hitting what felt like frozen earth.
Finally, it was over. When I got home, showered and got into bed, I was sore. So sore and bruised I would find, I stayed in bed for two days.
In 2008, when the film was released, I saw it at the New York Film Festival. The pain came racing back again.
So much for my “acting” career.
Jackie DeShannon is 82 years old today.
A singer-songwriter with a string of hit song credits from the 1960s onwards, DeShannon was one of the first female singer-songwriters of the rock 'n' roll period.
DeShannon began to record under various names such as Sherry Lee, Jackie Dee, and Jackie Shannon, but had little success. However, her interpretations of country songs "Buddy" and "Trouble" gained the attention of Eddie Cochran, who arranged for her to travel to California to meet his girlfriend, singer-songwriter Sharon Sheeley, who formed a writing partnership with DeShannon in 1960. The partnership produced hits such as "Dum Dum" for Brenda Lee.
In 1960, DeShannon signed with Liberty Records, adopting the name Jackie DeShannon, believed to be the name of an Irish ancestor, after executives at Liberty thought the name Sharon Myers would not help sell records. In a Fresh Air interview on June 14, 2010, DeShannon said that she chose "Jackie" as a cross-gender name. Since she had a low singing voice, she could be heard as either male or female.
If thought of as male, she was more likely to sell to female record-buyers, who dominated the market. When she found that "Jackie Dee" was too similar to Brenda Lee, Sandra Dee, et al., she changed it to Jackie Dee Shannon, which people heard as DeShannon. The name stuck.
Armed with her new name, she made the WLS Chicago radio survey with the single, "Lonely Girl," in late 1960. A string of mostly flop singles followed, although "The Prince" bubbled under at #108 in the United States in early 1962, and "Faded Love" became her first U.S. Billboard Top 100 entry, squeaking in at #97 in February, 1963.
She fared better with the Sonny Bono-Jack Nitzsche song, "Needles and Pins," and the self-penned "When You Walk in the Room" later in 1963. Both reached the lower rungs of the U.S. pop charts, but were Top 40 hits in Canada, where "Needles and Pins" made it all the way to #1.
"Needles and Pins" and "When You Walk in the Room" later became U.S. and UK hits for The Searchers.
DeShannon recorded many other singles that encompassed teen pop, country ballads, rockabilly, gospel and Ray Charles-style soul that didn't fare as well on the charts. During these years, it was her songwriting and public profile rather than her recording career that kept her contracted to Liberty.
DeShannon dated Elvis Presley and formed friendships with The Everly Brothers and Ricky Nelson. She also co-starred and sang with Bobby Vinton in the teen surf movie, Surf Party. Her biggest break came in February, 1964 when she supported The Beatles on their first U.S. tour, and formed a touring band with guitarist Ry Cooder.
DeShannon also wrote "Don't Doubt Yourself Babe" for the debut album of The Byrds. Her music at this stage was heavily influenced by the American West Coast sounds and folk music. Staying briefly in England in 1965, DeShannon formed a songwriting partnership with Jimmy Page, which resulted in the hit singles "Dream Boy" and "Don't Turn Your Back on Me.”
Page and DeShannon also wrote material for singer Marianne Faithfull, including her Top Ten UK and U.S. hit, "Come and Stay With Me.” Moving to New York, DeShannon co-wrote with Randy Newman, producing such songs as "She Don't Understand Him" and "Did He Call Today Mama?,” as well as writing "You Have No Choice" for Delaney Bramlett.
In March, 1965, DeShannon recorded Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "What the World Needs Now Is Love,” which led to club tours and regular appearances on television and went to #7 on the U.S. charts and #1 in Canada. DeShannon's recording of the song was subsequently used in the 1969 film, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
She appeared in the 1967 film, C'mon Let's Live a Little, with Bobby Vee as a folk singer.
DeShannon continued writing and recording, but it was not until 1969 that she scored her next smash single and album, both entitled, "Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” The self-penned single sold over a million copies.
Switching to Atlantic Records in 1970 and moving to Los Angeles, DeShannon recorded the critically acclaimed albums, Jackie, and Your Baby Is A Lady, but they failed to produce the same commercial success as previous releases.
In 1973, she was invited by Van Morrison to sing on his Hard Nose the Highway album.
On June 17, 2010, DeShannon was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Here, DeShannon performs the Band’s “The Weight.” Barry White sings in the chorus. Robbie Robertson is credited with writing “The Weight.” DeShannon’s version appeared on the Hot 100 one week before The Band's.
Kenny Rogers, New York City, 2010
Photo by Frank Beacham
Kenny Rogers was born 85 years ago today.
A singer-songwriter, photographer, record producer, actor and entrepreneur, Rogers was most successful with country audiences, charting more than 120 hit singles across various music genres and topping the country and pop album charts for more than 200 individual weeks in the United States alone.
The Gambler and Kenny are two of his most influential albums. Later success includes the 2006 album release, Water & Bridges, an across the board hit, that peaked at #5 in the Billboard Country Albums sales charts, also charting high in the Billboard 200. The first single from the album, "I Can't Unlove You," was also a chart hit.
On September 25, 2015, Rogers announced that he was retiring from show business after a final tour to spend more time with his wife and twin boys. The tour, titled "The Gambler's Last Deal," included dates in the United States, Ireland, The Philippines, Thailand and the UK. On April 5, 2018, it was announced that Rogers canceled his remaining tour as advised by doctors due to a series of health challenges.
Rogers' final concert in Nashville took place on October 25 at the Bridgestone Arena where he was joined by an array of guest artists including Linda Davis, Elle King, Little Big Town, Lionel Richie, Billy Currington, Lee Greenwood, The Flaming Lips, The Oak Ridge Boys, Justin Moore, Travis Tritt, The Judds, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton, Lady Antebellum, Idina Menzel, Crystal Gayle, Reba McEntire and Jamey Johnson.
The concert also included a special appearance by long-time friend Dolly Parton, who performed "You Can't Make Old Friends" and "Islands in the Stream" with Rogers for the final time.
On March 20, 2020, Rogers, 81, died from natural causes under hospice care at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
John Henry Faulk was born 110 years ago today.
From Austin, Texas, Faulk was a storyteller and radio show host who filed a successful lawsuit that helped to bring an end to the Hollywood blacklist in the entertainment industry.
Faulk enrolled in the University of Texas in 1932. He became a protégé of J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb and Roy Bedichek, enabling Faulk to hone his skills as a folklorist. He earned a Master's degree in Folklore, with his thesis, "Ten Negro Sermons.”
He further began to craft his oratory style as a part-time English teacher at the University 1940–1942, relating Texas folk tales peppered with his gift of character impersonations.
Faulk enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1944, serving at Camp Swift, Texas as a medic. It was during this period that Faulk joined the American Civil Liberties Union. While a soldier at Camp Swift, Faulk began writing his own radio scripts. An acquaintance got an interview for him at WCBS in New York City. The network executives were sufficiently impressed to offer him his own radio show.
Upon his 1946 discharge from the Army, Faulk began his Johnny's Front Porch radio show for WCBS. The show featured Faulk's characterizations that he had been developing since his university years. Faulk's radio career at CBS ended in 1957, a victim of the Cold War and the blacklisting of the 1950s.
AWARE, Inc., a for-profit corporation inspired by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, offered a "clearance" service to major media advertisers and radio and television networks. For a fee, AWARE would investigate the backgrounds of entertainers for signs of Communist sympathy or affiliation.
In 1955, Faulk earned the ill will of the blacklisting organization when he and other members wrested control of their union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, from officers under the backing of AWARE.
In reprisal, AWARE labeled Faulk a Communist. When he discovered that AWARE was actively keeping radio stations from offering him employment, Faulk sought compensation. Several prominent radio personalities, along with CBS News vice president Edward R. Murrow, supported Faulk's earnest attempt to put an end to blacklisting.
With financial backing from Murrow, Faulk engaged New York attorney Louis Nizer. Attorneys for AWARE, including McCarthy-committee counsel, Roy Cohn, managed to stall the suit — filed in 1957 — for five years. When the trial finally concluded in a New York courtroom, the jury determined that Faulk should receive more compensation than he sought in his original petition.
On June 28, 1962, the jury awarded him the largest libel judgment in history to that date — $3.5 million. An appeals court later lowered the amount to $500,000. Legal fees and accumulated debts erased most of the balance of the award.
Faulk's book, Fear on Trial, published in 1963, tells the story of the experience. The book was remade into an Emmy award-winning TV movie in 1975 by CBS Television with William Devane portraying Faulk and George C. Scott playing Faulk's lawyer, Louis Nizer.
Other supporters in the blacklist struggle included radio pioneer and Wimberley, Texas native, Parks Johnson, and reporter and CBS television news anchor, Walter Cronkite.
John Henry Faulk died in Austin of cancer on April 9, 1990.
Wind From the Sea, 1947
Painting by Andrew Wyeth