Category Archives: Gone Gone Gone

Obituaries

Goodbye 2016 (we will not miss you)

I have been dreading having to write a wrap-up piece about the year 2016. The last post that I made was in November when Leonard Cohen died. Since then, it seems to have been difficult to write anything. It has never been my intention to have my blog look like an obituary column but, it quite often feels like that.

In recent years, I have been reminding people that the musicians whose music we have enjoyed since the ’60s and ’70s are now mainly in their 60s and 70s. That means that the inevitable signs of mortality will surely take hold. This has certainly been the case in 2016.

The year seemed to start off on a high note with a brilliant new release (Blackstar) by David Bowie. However, this event seemed to quickly get overshadowed when Bowie died a couple of days after its release.

The death of Bowie seemed to resonate hard and deep within both the music industry and among his long-time fans. As someone who had been a fan for 45 years, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. This seemed to be a shared experience as many people that I talked to or exchanged messages with appeared to be doing their best to hold back a wellspring of tears. Many tried but did not succeed. The last time that I can honestly recall such a reaction was when John Lennon was brutally gunned down.

But, that was just the start of a year that appeared to be voracious in its appetite to take away so many musicians and music related personalities away from us. It didn’t matter which genre of music was your favourite, the losses touched all aspects of music from rock, pop, R&B, jazz, classical and avant-garde.

Bowie, Cohen and Prince were among the biggest or most influential names for most of the year and then word of the death of George Michael slipped in on Christmas day.

I’ve owned records by many of the people who have passed this year. I’ve seen some of them in concert. I’ve even had the pleasure to meet a couple of them. The sad fact is that as time marches on, more of these people will make the headlines as they continue to leave us. So, let’s enjoy their music while they are still here and continue to honour their memory after they are gone.

Music can make us happy. Music can make us sad. Music can make us think. Music can make us feel how great it is to be alive. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like, it just matters that it means something to you. Be grateful for that. It is rare.

Here is a very brief list of some of the musicians and music-related people we lost in 2016:

Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane)

Gato Barbieri

Paul Bley

Pierre Boulez

David Bowie

Leonard Cohen

Tony Conrad

Keith Emerson

Glenn Frey (Eagles)

Dale Griffin (Mott the Hoople)

Merle Haggard

Sharon Jones

Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)

Greg Lake

Neville Marriner

George Martin

George Michael

Scotty Moore

Alphonse Mouzon

Pauline Oliveros

Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)

Prince

Leon Russell

Dave Swarbrick (Fairport Convention)

Rudy Van Gelder

Alan Vega (Suicide)

Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire)

For a much more detailed (and depressing) list of the people that we lost this year, please visit Musicians Who Died in 2016.

Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016

Canadians have a reputation for being rather quiet, polite and certainly not braggarts. It seems to be an inbred part of our culture. We have produced some of the most talented people involved in the arts but, we seem very surprised that their work becomes known outside of our own country. Luckily, the rest of the world has embraced such Canadian artists as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen.

It seemed quite fitting that within hours of his passing, the word that Leonard Cohen was gone appeared to make the news around the globe. His words and music appeared to resonate well beyond our Canadian borders.

Although he was a successful poet and novelist in his early years, Leonard wished to have a career with which he could actually afford to pay the bills. He was in his thirties by the time he began to set his words to music. Judy Collins and others began to cover his works and Cohen soon followed suit to begin his own recording career.

Both his dark voice and even darker lyrics seemed to make for an unlikely path to success. However, he became an unlikely “star” none the less. His worked garnered both love and respect from other artists and his audience.

As with any artists with such a lengthy career, his also included many ups and downs – musically, personally and financially. Through it all, he kept going and created a body of work which would keep his star shining right up until the end.

Those who thought that his music was a doom and gloom have missed the point on many occasions. There was often a great deal of humour hidden among the black thorns.

When I began playing his album Old Ideas upon its release back in 2012, I was soon laughing out loud. The song Going Home pretty well says it all.

Going Home (Leonard Cohen / Patrick Leonard)

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He just doesn’t have the freedom
To refuse

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I need him
To complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
Which is to say what I have told him
To repeat

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without this costume
That I wore

I’m going home
Without the sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without this costume
That I wore

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

Tony Conrad 1940 – 2016

On March 22nd, The Guardian ran an article about musician and filmmaker Tony Conrad which encapsulated his long career and was a lead-up to the April 1st Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. Scarcely a week later, it was reported that Conrad would not be able to make the appearance due to health concerns. On April 9th he succumbed to prostate cancer.

Back in the early 1970s when I first started getting interested in avant-garde and minimalist music, the name Tony Conrad crept into the text of many books that I read. I knew that he was associated with La Monte Young and his Theatre of Eternal Music (AKA The Dream Syndicate) but, was not able to source any recordings. At that point in time, the only photo that I’d seen of him was simply a shadow of a figure playing a violin projected on a curtain.

I knew that he recorded and LP with the German group Faust but, even though I could find the Faust albums, that certain record always seemed to elude me. It wasn’t until the days of CD re-issues that I finally managed to obtain a copy.

I was also aware of Tony Conrad’s film/video work which I was finally able to view courtesy of youtube. His main area of focus for many years was film.

Fast forward to 2010 and I find myself (as half of the duo Transmorphous Sound Ensemble with Richard Moule) booked to play at the LOLA Festival on the same bill as Tony Conrad.

For his performance, Conrad used his Long String Instrument to create a wonderful cloud of sound. After his performance, Richard and I were lucky enough to get to hang out with Tony and chat. It was a quite surreal moment for me as we listened to this iconic musical figure who had once only existed to me as a photograph of a shadow.

To discover more about Tony Conrad’s work, I recommend doing a search on youtube. There are several clips there including some very interesting interviews.

There is also a book which Tony himself recommends entitled Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage by Branden W. Joseph.

Here are a few photos which I took of Tony performing at the 2010 LOLA Festival here in London, Ontario.

Keith Emerson 1944 – 2016

When the news hit that legendary keyboardist Keith Emerson had died, it was bad enough. However, when it was later reported that his death was an apparent suicide, it was all the more sad.

Back when the sounds of “underground FM radio” began on the airwaves out of Detroit in 1968, a whole new world of music was on offer to me. In the midst of all of the interesting new music there was a group from England called The Nice.

Keith Emerson was the keyboardist from this group along with Lee Jackson (bass, vocals), Brian Davison (drums) and initially Davy O’List (guitar). Emerson had already built up a reputation someone who was extremely accomplished at his craft but, also someone with a distinctive stage presence. As such, he was known to rock, kick, punch and inevitably stab his Hammond organ keyboard.

The sounds of The Nice were a staple of the FM airwaves and that continued when they broke up and he formed the trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

While their debut single – Lucky Man – was getting airplay on AM radio, other more adventurous tracks from their first LP were being aired on the FM dial. The band progressed with side-long concept works like Tarkus and also re-arranged classical composer Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

It was “progressive rock” at its zenith. It certainly wasn’t suited to everybody’s taste.

Keith Emerson was a masterful musician and one of the guiding lights transitioning from the ’60s to the ’70s. Many of his post-ELP projects involved music for films.

He will long be remembered by his fans as someone who helped fuse rock music with a classical attitude.

Keith Emerson with Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. 

George Martin 1926 – 2016

Producer George Martin began his career at EMI Records in 1950 as the assistant to the boss of the Parlophone Records imprint. Initially, he recorded classical and soundtrack music. Towards the end of the 1950s, he worked on a number of novelty records which included people like Peter Sellers and Flanders & Swann. He would also work with the likes of British crooner Matt Munro.

Of course, Martin will always be remembered foremost as the producer of The Beatles. It was his work in the studio which helped the group to attain a crisp, clear vision of their sound… and to make it a hit.

As the ideas of the group began to blossom in the coming years, Martin was also able to help the group realize a much larger vision. This was a vision which regarded the studio itself as an instrument.

This was the concept that created the other-worldly sounds first heard on The Beatles’ 1966 LP Revolver is the shape of the song Tomorrow Never Knows. This hypnotic Indian influenced track featured backwards sounds along with tape loops of manipulated recordings. It marked a time when an abstract sound in the heads of the group could become a reality.

This work continued along to their 1967 classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band where Martin was able to guide them though the monumental orchestration of A Day in the Life.

As a producer, George Martin was a part of a musical revolution that began in the mid-’60s. After the break-up of The Beatles, Martin continued to work with some of the group members as well as other new groups on the music scene such as America.

George Martin will ultimately go down in history as one of the most successful producers of all time but, he should also be remembered as a sonic innovator, as well.

 

David Bowie – Stardust, Diamonds, Heroes and Ashes

DavidBowie-Is-catalogue-cover-front

The clock radio went off at 5:30 AM and the lead-off new story is about David Bowie. His latest album – Blackstar – was released just three days ago and the news reveals that Bowie’s voice is now silenced. Apparently, a well kept secret regarding 18 months of suffering from cancer has now become public.

While I may have initially been exposed to Space Oddity or some tracks from The Man Who Sold the World, my first real exposure to Bowie came with the album Hunky Dory in 1971. Many tunes from that album were constantly on the FM airwaves in the Windsor / Detroit area at the time. It wasn’t just Changes and Life on Mars. It was also Queen Bitch, Andy Warhol and Oh You Pretty Things.

And then there was Ziggy. He was seemingly the man who fell to earth and changed the face of music and style. A flaming red-haired alien who rocked like nobody else at the time.

Bowie seemed like a person who could single-handedly  both start and end an era. He had a vision that seemed unstoppable in an era of ever changing fads and fashions. Since nobody seemed to know what he would do next, there was an endless curiosity as to what would be his next revelation.

In the beginning, he played in short-lived bands who played R&B. By the time of his debut LP, he was planted firmly in a mode reflecting his admiration for popular singer Anthony Newley. But, it was his subsequent release of Space Oddity which would gain him more attention.

That led to his joining forces with guitarist Mick Ronson on the Tony Visconti produced The Man Who Sold the World. From there it was on to Hunky Dory and then the creation of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

After the “retirement” of Ziggy, Aladdin Sane took the stage. The dystopian world  of Diamond Dogs morphed into the plastic soul of Young Americans and then the Thin White Duke of Station to Station (and his appearance in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth).

It was his 1977 project with Brian Eno which changed the game once again. The album Low presented one side of rocking tunes with another side of spacey, avant-garde electronic explorations which would develop into what would become known as The Berlin Trilogy (along with “Heroes” and Lodger).

From there, Bowie jumped around into dance music, more rock and roll and drum & bass excursions. His restless creativity pushed and pulled him into whatever direction he considered interesting for many more years.

After a silence of nearly ten years, Bowie proved that he could still surprise and suddenly announced a new single and LP back in 2013. The Next Day was a stunning new effort which was kept under wraps until the last moment.

With the release of Blackstar last week, Bowie seemed to be aware of the fact that this would be his farewell gesture to his long-time fans. At least he lived to see its release.

I only got to see Bowie in concert one time. It was to become his final concert tour. The show on May 14, 2004 at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario featured some 26 songs spanning his long career.

One other Bowie event that I was pleased to attend was the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013. Over the course of a two hour trek through this show, one could get a close look at everything from stage costumes to hand-written lyrics to abandoned album cover designs.

David Bowie may no longer be with us but, his legacy will certainly continue for years to come. His life and work will become one of the benchmarks by which others in the performing arts will be measured.

David Bowie 1947 – 2016 

DavidBowie-Is-catalogue-SpaceOddity-lyrics

Dieter Moebius (Cluster): 1944 – 2015

Dieter Moebius was one of the founding members of the avant-garde experimental trio known as Kluster who formed in Berlin in the late ’60s. Along side fellow artists Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler, they produced a trio of records which were abstract sound collages.

After the departure of Schnitzler (who was also a founding member of Tangerine Dream), the remaining duo re-branded themselves as Cluster. In this incarnation, the duo produced several recordings of wonderful minimalist electronic soundscapes.

In the early 1970s, new music from German began filtering into the UK. The sounds of Cluster along with Can, Amon Duul II, Tangerine Dream, Neu! and Kraftwerk began to make inroads outside of their native land.

One person whose ears were opened to these sounds was Brian Eno. He subsequently recorded albums in collaboration with the Cluster duo.

Both Moebius and Roedelius recorded many solo albums over the years. They also continued to work together as well as joining Neu! guitarist Michael Rother as a trio called Harmonia.

The sounds made by Moebius and Roedelius not only made an impact on a new generation of electronic music artists in the 1970s but, continue to be felt to this day.

In the early 1980s, I was half of an electronic music duo called M104 along with Werner Albert. The greatest compliment that we received about our music was that we were the Canadian version of Cluster. Enough said.

Obituary at The Guardian website.

 

Chris Squire 1948 – 2015

Bassist Chris Squire was a founding member of the band Yes. He passed away in Phoenix, AZ after recently being diagnosed with acute erythroid leukemia.

Yes have been a part of my musical listening experiences for close to 45 years. While I likely heard some music from their first couple of albums on Detroit and Windsor FM radio stations back in the day, it was their third LP – The Yes Album – that really grabbed my attention. Of course, I was not alone.

Squire’s contributions to the sound of the band can not be overstated. His rippling, rhythmic and melodic bass work not only grounded the music but, wove a unique sonic texture throughout the songs. I could never image their music with another bassist in his place.

In addition to his work with the band, he also released the solo album Fish Out of Water at the tail end of 1975. For me, this was the finest solo album to come out of the Yes camp. It’s an LP that I still spin on a regular basis. It still sounds as fresh to me today as it did forty years ago.

Here is a link to his obituary at Ultimate Classic Rock.

Chris Squire - A Fish Out of Water (Atlantic, CAnada)

 

 

Remembering Ornette Coleman 1930 – 2015

Ornette Coleman passed away on June 11th at the age of 85. He was a jazz legend who ranks among the greats such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. While he probably sold less records than those two other artists, his influence on music certainly rivaled them.

Coleman’s 1958 debut album called Something Else!!!! in 1958 caused a stir in the jazz world that would continue to divide listeners and critics for years to come. His approach to melody, harmony and rhythm was part of his own view of what he called “harmolodics”.

His music was unique, inspired and inspiring. As with Davis and Coltrane, his sidemen over the years reads like a Who’s Who of jazz innovators. People like Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins all traveled though his groups.

I first heard Coleman’s music at some point in the 1970s. It wasn’t until some years later that I started adding his music to my collection. The advent of the CD era seemed to make it easier to find his recordings. These often included extra tracks recorded at the same sessions.

I also tried to track down copies of his albums on vinyl whenever possible. In the end, I managed to amass quite a large selection of his work in both formats (sometimes with duplication).

As my friend David Lee (jazz writer and former editor of Coda magazine) has mentioned, Coleman’s death is not a time for sadness. He was around producing his own personal style of music for decades. So, it is more a time to celebrate the work that he left us over so many years.

Luckily for us, Ornette Coleman did not die at an early age like Jimi Hendrix. In the latter’s case, we can only be left to speculate on what he would have done had he lived beyond the age of 27. In Coleman’s case, we were truly blessed to have heard his world of sound evolve over many years.

Ornette Coleman’s obituary from The Guardian

Bernard Stollman (1929 – 2015)

ESP-Disk'

Bernard Stollman passed away on April 20 at the age of 85. He was the founder of one of the most eclectic record labels that ever existed – ESP-disk.

The roster of artists who recorded for ESP in the 1960s reads like an encyclopedia of the avant-garde musical world. Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Patty Waters, Paul Bley, Burton Greene, Alan Silva, Don Cherry, The Fugs, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders… The list seems endless.

For me personally, if they had only released the Patty Waters album, I would have been more than happy. But, they released so many more interesting and influential records over the course of the years.

Here is a link to Bernard Stollman’s obituary in the New York Times.

ESP-disk website

John Renbourn (1944 – 2015)

JohnRenbourn-Guardian-pic01

In 2015, we lost another one of my favourite musicians. John Renbourn was probably best known as one of the founding members of the band Pentangle (along with Bert Jansh, Danny Thompson, Jacqui McShee and Terry Cox). Together, they created a wonderful addition to the growing folk-rock genre happening in England in the late ’60s into the ’70s.

I saw John Renbourn in concert three times over the years. The first two times were as a solo artist but, the last time (2005) he brought along the wonderful Jacqui McShee to sing. It was a magical night as they performed many familiar numbers (many of which are included on the live LP in the double album set Sweet Child).

After that concert, I was lucky enough to chat with both John and Jacqui. They also signed a few Pentangle LPs for me.

Here is a link to his obituary in The Guardian.

Pentangle-CruelSister

 

 

Daevid Allen (1938 – 2015)

DaevidAllen-Guardian-pic01

Daevid Allen passed away on March 15, 2015. I first heard his music with the group Gong over 40 years ago and acquired many of the albums over the years.

Allen was also a founding member of the band Soft Machine but, left the group early on. Luckily, the early recordings featuring him were recorded for posterity and are still available today.

I never thought that I would have the opportunity to see Gong but, I did manage to finally catch them at a small club in Liverpool called The Lomax in 1997. It was a magical night with the band playing two long sets which included a great deal of the music from their classic era of the early 1970s.

Here is a link to the obituary which appeared on the website of The Guardian.

Gong-handbill-Liverpool-1997