There are only a handful of true pioneers that had a huge influence on the birth and growth of Rock and Roll. Bill Haley Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Gene Vincent all made their unique contributions. They are all gone, but their influence will live on forever.
Now we have lost another major influencer. Don Everly died on Saturday August 21 at age 84. Together with his late brother Phil, they drew up the blueprint for harmonizing that was used by every Rocker from The Beatles to Crosby Stills & Nash to The Byrds to The Eagles to, well just about everyone who sings harmony.
One of the very first voices I heard when I came to Philadelphia for college was that of Bill Wright, Sr. He was nothing like I had ever heard before on Rock ‘n’ Roll radio. Instead of the usual rapid-fire approach, Bill was a lot more laid back and even “folksy”.
The Rebel Wright is what he proudly proclaimed. He never forgot his Alabama roots. His career started there, but he became a radio legend only after getting his big break at WIBG. It was at WIBG that he broke radio ratings history.
Dusty Hill, the man who provided the thunderous bottom for Z Z Top, died peacefully in his sleep at age 72. The cause is unknown, but just last week Dusty was on tour with “the little ol’ band from Texas” so it was totally unexpected.
Apparently, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had not been feeling well and was taking some time off at the time of his death. It was thought that he would return after some rest. The official Z Z Top website called it a “short detour” on July 23.
Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard issued a brief statement. “We are saddened by the news that our compadre Dusty Hill has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, Texas. We along with the legend of Z Z Top fans around the world will miss your steadfast presence, your good nature and enduring commitment to providing that monumental bottom to the top. We will forever be connected to that ‘Blues Shuffle in C’. You will be missed greatly amigo”.
When the band first formed, Hill was not the original bass player. By the time the group recorded their first record, he replaced the original member, and the group has remained the same since 1971. This is very rare in the music business.
Z Z Top was not an overnight success. They spent a couple years building an audience with their exciting live shows. In 1973 they finally connected on their third album called TRES HOMBRES. It also provided for their first hit single “LaGrange”.
At the time of the release of the album they were the opening act for The Rolling Stones. It was Keith Richards who did the induction speech for the group at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony.
Along with the growth of their success came the growth of the beards on both leader Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill. Ironically the drummer Frank Beard didn’t grow a beard. It became their trademark.
Fame and fortune weren’t something Dusty sought. In fact, when the group took a three year break in the late 70’s, he took a job at the Ft Worth/Dallas airport. Why?
“I just wanted to feel normal,’ Hill said in 2019. “I did not want people to think I was full of myself, but the main thing is that I didn’t want to start feeling full of myself. So I did it to ground myself”.
Dusty always remained humble and tried to stay in the background. He always deferred to Billy Gibbons for interviews. Rarely did he talk about himself and much preferred a private life.
Z Z Top had been touring a lot prior to the pandemic. They had just started up again when Dusty had an issue with his hip. This was nothing new. He had already had a hip replacement that forced the band off the road for bit.
On many of those recent shows they shared the stage with John Fogerty. John issued his own statement.
“We are devastated to hear about Dusty’s passing. We were so blessed to share the stage with the great Dusty and ZZ Top many times, and if that wasn’t rock & roll heaven, I don’t know what is. The show we did together just last week would be his last. So heartbreaking.”
The name Ethel Gabriel probably means very little to the average Rock fan. She was a true pioneer in the record business and should be remembered.
Ethel was born and raised in the Philadelphia area. As a young, accomplished musician she started her own band at age 13. Her instrument was the Trombone and the music her band played was that of the great big band bands of her youth like Glenn Miller. That led to playing in the Philadelphia Women’s Symphony Orchestra at a very early age.
Trying to create anything that has never been done before usually ends up in failure. No one remembers the names of the people who tried to invent the first radio or record player and failed. Even if they were successful and didn’t get the credit because someone simply beat them to the patent office, they didn’t get any reward for their work.
Creating something from a mere idea takes painstaking hard work. You have to be prepared to fail over and over. Read the life story of some famous inventors and you will get a better understanding. They are driven by an inner passion that most people just don’t understand. Most of the time their drive doesn’t come from a desire to make money. It is just as well, since most often the pioneers in any field rarely get rich from their ideas.
When Spencer Davis appeared at the Main Point years ago it was long past the time of the famed Spencer Davis Group days. One might have thought that he wanted to leave all of that behind him, but when I spoke with him in the basement of the legendary club, he didn’t mind dragging up the past. In fact, he seemed rather proud of the fact that Steve Winwood was doing so well.
At the time I didn’t think to ask him if the stories of him being Steve’s German teacher in high school were true. It was a rumor that prevailed for some time. While Spencer was very fluent in German and did teach it while performing in clubs at night, in looking at his bios there’s nothing about him ever teaching the subject to Steve or his brother Muff.
From the very first time you heard Eddie Van Halen play his explosive guitar on “Eruption” was a lead in to the group’s cover version of The Kinks tune “You Really got Me” you knew that you were listening to one of the all- time great guitarists. It almost jumped out of the speakers at you. The 1:45 guitar effort was one of the most intense solos ever recorded.
On October 6, 2020 it was Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolf who broke the news to the world that his father had lost his two year long battle with Cancer. In his statement Wolf said “He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss.”
All of us have been impacted by this horrible Covid-19, but none more so than those in the music business. Venues have been shut down with no idea of when they may be able to open again. This has affected so many lives whose income depends on live music. Not only venues, but the performers as well are on the verge on going bankrupt.
If music means something to you, there’s a couple of ways that you can help. First there are concerts you can enjoy online. It may not be the same as actually being there, but you can enjoy some great music in the comfort of your own home.
To many, especially younger fans, Fleetwood Mac started when they moved to the US with a new line-up. If that is your starting point, you missed out on one of the most exciting Blues Rock bands ever assembled. They certainly were the best that the early British blues scene had to offer.
The founder of the band, Peter Green, died on Saturday July 25, 2020. If you never had a chance to see Peter play guitar, you missed out on an experience of a lifetime. He did things to a guitar that were unequaled by many.
Among those who greatly admired him were B B King who said of Green “he has the sweetest tone I ever heard. He was the only one who gave me the cold sweats”. Frank Zappa said in the 60’s that the original Fleetwood Mac with Peter green in the lead was the only music he really liked coming out of England.
A huge chapter in the history of the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll closed on Saturday night May 9. 2020. Little Richard was such a groundbreaker in so many ways. In so many other ways he was also a mystery.
Even the date of his birth is not known for sure. What is known is that he went from being a dishwasher in his hometown of Macon, Georgia to one of the most influential stars in all of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Upon Hearing about the death of Little Richard Bob Dylan was quoted as saying “He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I do”.
You are indeed a fortunate person if you have someone like Gene Shay as a friend or co-worker. He was the kind of individual who can change your life. Often, he did it by simply being himself. We all lost a real genuinely special person when Gene lost his battle with COVID 19.
When I first came to Philadelphia Gene was working at WHAT-FM. Before I had the chance to hear him, he was doing a Jazz show. His life and the of many performers changed when he started a new folk show on Sunday nights in 1962.
Shorty after his return from a tour of Europe, it was announced that John Prine has contracted the Corvid 19 virus and was taken to the hospital. Our hopes that he would pull through were dashed on April 7, 2020 when it was announced that he did not survive.
The world has lost not only a great songwriter, but a man who never forgot who he was while he wrote his songs. The days of delivering mail and driving a truck gave him a unique insight into life. His flat voice fit nicely with his songs that ranged from the sad to the funny.
Critics and fans alike were divided in their feelings for the Canadian band called Rush. But one thing that everyone agreed on was that their drummer was nothing short of sensational.
From the early age of 12 when he had his first drum lesson, it was apparent that Neil was gifted. He was also driven to be as good as his idol, Keith Moon. As a teen living in suburban Toronto, he was punished for pounding out rhythms on his desk in school. The teacher gave him what was thought to be a punishment. He was forced to stay in detention for an hour after school. Not a problem. He used the time to pound out the beats that Keith Moon used in the Rock Opera TOMMY.
It wasn't long before Peart was considered to be as wild in his drumming approach as Moon, but even more precise. He certainly wasn’t as wild in his private life. Neil spent most of his free time when he wasn’t drumming reading tons of books. He was very much influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand and loved science fiction. Both were major factors in the lyrics that he created for Rush.