Waylon Jennings, country musician, was born 86 years ago today
Waylon Jennings was born 86 years ago today.
A country music singer, songwriter and musician, Jennings began playing guitar at eight and began performing at age 12 on KVOW radio. He formed a band, The Texas Longhorns, and also worked as a D.J. on KVOW, KDAV, KYTI and KLLL Radio.
In 1958, Buddy Holly arranged Jennings's first recording session of “Jole Blon” and “When Sin Stops (Love Begins).” Holly also hired him to play bass.
During the “Winter Dance Party Tour,” in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a plane to arrive at the next venue. Jennings gave up his seat in the plane to J. P. Richardson, who was suffering from a cold. The flight that carried Holly, Richardson and Ritchie Valens crashed, on the day later known as “The Day the Music Died.”
Following the accident, Jennings worked as a D.J. in Coolidge, Arizona, and Phoenix. He formed a rockabilly club band, The Waylors. He recorded for the independent label, Trend Records, and A&M Records before succeeding with RCA Victor after achieving creative control of his records.
During the 1970s, Jennings joined the Outlaw movement. He released the critically acclaimed albums, Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes. These were followed by the hit albums, Dreaming My Dreams and Are You Ready for the Country.
In 1976, he released the album, Wanted! The Outlaws, with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and Jessi Colter. It became his first platinum country music album. The success of the album was followed by Ol' Waylon, and the hit song, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).”
By the early 1980s, Jennings was struggling with a cocaine addiction, which he quit in 1984. Later he joined the country supergroup, The Highwaymen, with Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash.
During that period, Jennings released the successful album, Will the Wolf Survive. He toured less after 1997 to spend more time with his family. Between 1999 and 2001, his appearances were limited by health problems. On February 13, 2002, Jennings died from complications of diabetes at age 64.
Between 1966 and 1995, 54 Jennings albums charted, with 11 reaching #1. Meanwhile between 1965 and 1991, 96 singles charted, with 16 at #1.
In October, 2001, Jennings was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In one final act of defiance, he did not attend the ceremony and opted instead to send son, Buddy Dean Jennings.
Here, Jennings performs “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”
Erroll Garner was born 100 years ago today.
A jazz pianist and composer known for his swing playing and ballads, Garner’s best-known composition, "Misty," has become a jazz standard.
Born in Pittsburgh to an African American family in 1923, Erroll began playing piano at the age of three. He attended George Westinghouse High School, as did fellow pianists Billy Strayhorn and Ahmad Jamal. Garner was self-taught and remained an "ear player" all his life — he never learned to read music.
At the age of seven, he began appearing on the radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh with a group called the Candy Kids. By 11, he was playing on the Allegheny riverboats. At 14 in 1937, he joined the local saxophonist, Leroy Brown. He played locally in the shadow of his older pianist brother, Linton Garner, and moved to New York in 1944.
He briefly worked with the bassist Slam Stewart, and though not as a bebop musician per se. In 1947, he played with Charlie Parker on the famous "Cool Blues" session.
Although his admission to the Pittsburgh music union was initially refused because of his inability to read music, they eventually relented in 1956 and made him an honorary member. Garner is credited with having a superb memory of music. After attending a concert by the Russian classical pianist, Emil Gilels, Garner returned to his apartment and was able to play a large portion of the performed music by recall.
Called "one of the most distinctive of all pianists" by jazz writer Scott Yanow, Garner showed that a "creative jazz musician can be very popular without watering down his music" or changing his personal style. He is referred to as a "brilliant virtuoso who sounded unlike anyone else," using an "orchestral approach straight from the swing era but …open to the innovations of bop."
Garner died from a cardiac arrest on January 2, 1977.
Here, Garner plays his famous ballad, “Misty,” in Belgium
Harry Nilsson was born 82 years ago today.
Nilsson was a singer-songwriter who achieved the peak of his commercial success in the early 1970s. On all but his earliest recordings, he is credited as Nilsson. He is known for the hit singles "Everybody's Talkin'" (1969), "Without You" (1971) and "Coconut" (1972). Nilsson also wrote, “One,” made famous by Three Dog Night.
His career is notable for the fact that he was one of the few major pop-rock recording artists of his era to achieve significant commercial success without ever performing major public concerts or undertaking regular tours.
Born in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, Nilsson’s paternal grandparents were Swedish circus performers and dancers, especially known for their "aerial ballet" (which is the title of one of Nilsson's albums). His father, Harry Edward Nilsson, Jr., abandoned the family when young Harry was three. Nilsson grew up with his mother, Bette, and his younger half-sister.
His Uncle John, a mechanic in San Bernardino, California, helped Nilsson improve his vocal and musical abilities. Because of the poor financial situation of his family, Nilsson worked from an early age, including a job at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles.
When the Paramount closed in 1960, Nilsson applied for a job at a bank, falsely stating he was a high school graduate on his application (he only completed ninth grade). He had an aptitude for computers, which were beginning to be employed by banks at the time. He performed so well that the bank retained him after discovering the lie about his education. He worked on bank computers at night, and in the daytime pursued his songwriting and singing career.
As early as 1958, Nilsson was intrigued by emerging forms of popular music, especially rhythm and blues artists like Ray Charles. He had made early attempts at performing while he was working at the Paramount, forming a vocal duo with his friend, Jerry Smith, and singing close harmonies in the style of the Everly Brothers.
The manager at a favorite hangout gave Nilsson a plastic ukulele, which he learned to play. He later learned to play the guitar and piano.
In the 2010 documentary — Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)? — Nilsson recalled that when he could not remember lyrics or parts of the melodies to popular songs, he created his own. This led to his writing original songs.
Uncle John's singing lessons, along with Nilsson's natural talent, helped when he got a job singing demos in 1962 for Scott Turner, a songwriter. Turner paid Nilsson five dollars for each track they recorded.
When Nilsson became famous, Turner decided to release these early recordings, and contacted Nilsson to work out a fair payment. Nilsson replied that he had already been paid — five dollars a track. In 1963, Nilsson began to have some early success as a songwriter, working with John Marascalco on a song for Little Richard.
Upon hearing Nilsson sing, Little Richard reportedly remarked: "My! You sing good for a white boy!" In 1964, Nilsson worked with Phil Spector, writing three songs with him. He also established a relationship with songwriter and publisher Perry Botkin, Jr., who began to find a market for Nilsson's songs. Botkin also gave Nilsson a key to his office, providing another place to write after hours.
Through his association with Botkin, Nilsson met and became friends with the musician, composer and arranger, George Tipton, who was at the time working for Botkin as a music copyist.
During 1964, Tipton invested his life savings — $2,500 — to finance the recording of four Nilsson songs, which he arranged. They were able to sell the completed recordings to the Tower label, a recently-established subsidiary of Capitol Records, and the tracks were subsequently included on Nilsson's debut album.
The fruitful association between Nilsson and Tipton continued after Nilsson signed with RCA Records. Tipton went on to create the arrangements for nearly all of Nilsson's RCA recordings between 1967 and 1971, but their association ended in the 1970s when the two fell out for unknown reasons.
Whatever the cause, it was evidently a source of lingering resentment for Tipton, who was one of the few significant collaborators who refused to participate in the 2010 documentary on Nilsson's life and career.
Nilsson's recording contract was picked up by Tower Records, which in 1966 released the first singles actually credited to him by name, as well as the debut album, Spotlight on Nilsson.
None of Nilsson's Tower releases charted or gained much critical attention, although his songs were being recorded by Glen Campbell, Fred Astaire, The Shangri-Las, The Yardbirds and others. Despite his growing success, Nilsson remained on the night shift at the bank.
Nilsson signed with RCA Victor in 1966 and released an album the following year, Pandemonium Shadow Show, which was a critical (if not commercial) success. Music industry insiders were impressed both with the songwriting and with Nilsson's pure-toned, multi-octave vocals. One such insider was Beatles press officer, Derek Taylor, who bought an entire box of copies of the album to share this new sound with others.
With a major-label release, and continued songwriting success (most notably with The Monkees, who had a hit with Nilsson's "Cuddly Toy" after meeting him through their producer Chip Douglas), Nilsson finally felt secure enough in the music business to quit his job with the bank.
Monkees member Micky Dolenz maintained a close friendship until Nilsson's death in 1994. Some of the albums from Derek Taylor's box eventually ended up with the Beatles themselves, who quickly became Nilsson fans.
This may have been helped by the track "You Can't Do That," in which Nilsson covered one Beatles song, but added 22 others in the multi-tracked background vocals. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney held a press conference in 1968 to announce the formation of Apple Corps, John was asked to name his favorite American artist. He replied "Nilsson." Paul was then asked to name his favorite American group. He replied "Nilsson."
Aided by the Beatles' praise, "You Can't Do That," became a minor hit in the U.S., and a Top 10 hit in Canada. When RCA had asked if there was anything special he wanted as a signing premium, Nilsson asked for his own office at RCA — being used to working out of one.
In the weeks after the Apple press conference, Nilsson's office phone began ringing constantly, with offers and requests for interviews and inquiries about his performing schedule. Nilsson usually answered the calls himself, surprising the callers and answered questions candidly.
He recalled years later the flow of a typical conversation: "When did you play last?" "I didn't." "Where have you played before?" "I haven't." "When will you be playing next?" "I don't." Nilsson acquired a manager, who steered him into a handful of TV guest appearances, and a brief run of stage performances in Europe set up by RCA. He disliked the experiences he had, though, and decided to stick to the recording studio. He later admitted this was a huge mistake on his part.
Once John Lennon called and praised Pandemonium Shadow Show, which he had listened to in a 36-hour marathon. Paul McCartney called the following day, also expressing his admiration. Eventually a message came, inviting him to London to meet the Beatles, watch them at work and possibly sign with Apple Corps.
Pandemonium Shadow Show was followed in 1968 by Aerial Ballet, an album that included Nilsson's rendition of Fred Neil's song, "Everybody's Talkin'." A minor U.S. hit at the time of release (and a Top 40 hit in Canada), the song would become extremely popular a year later when it was featured in the film Midnight Cowboy. The song would also become Nilsson's first U.S. Top 10 hit, reaching #6, and his first Canadian #1.
Nilsson suffered a massive heart attack on February 14, 1993 and died of heart failure on January 15, 1994 in his home in Agoura Hills, California.
Here, Nilsson performs “Everybody’s Talkin’” in 1968
John Lennon and Harry Nilsson inhaling oxygen
Neon confederate flag sign for the “Troubled Waters” portfolio, 1971-73.
Photo by William Eggleston
“You know, I had a meeting with [Henri Cartier-Bresson], one in particular, it was at this party in Lyon. Big event, you know. I was seated with him and a couple of women. You’ll never guess what he said to me.
“‘William, color is bullshit.’ End of conversation. Not another word. And I didn’t say anything back. What can one say? I mean, I felt like saying I’ve wasted a lot of time.
“As this happened, I’ll tell you, I noticed across the room this really beautiful young lady, who turned out to be crazy. So I just got up, left the table, introduced myself, and I spent the rest of the evening talking to her, and she never told me color was bullshit.
— William Eggleston in an interview
U.S. 90 on route to Del Rio, Texas, 1955-56
Photo by Robert Frank