Blues Musicians Who Died in 2019
Honouring Those Musicians We Lost In 2019
By Paul T Forrest
A number of music artists passed away in 2019. Here, we pay tribute to some of those who were associated with the Blues.
19 August 1939 – 6 October 2019
Ginger Baker rose to prominence with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce in the rock group, The Cream. The three musicians were broadly influenced by the Blues, as demonstrated in their covers of Blues standards, such as “Crossroads Blues” (Robert Johnson DOCD-5682 ‘Mississippi Country Blues – Vol. 4 (1935 – 1955) and “Born Under A Bad Sign”.
Drummer, Baker and bass guitarist, Bruce, originally worked together in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated; joining fellow member Graham Bond, in 1962, to form the Graham Bond Quartet (later to be dubbed Organisation).
At the beginning of 1966, The Graham Bond Organisation (GBO) were performing in High Wycombe. Following the gig, the band’s Bedford van was stuck in the mud; step in one Mick Turner who helped to extricate the forlorn vehicle. Ginger was so impressed with Turner’s cheerful demeanour that he hired him on the spot to replace the band’s recently departed road manager.
Turner went on to become Cream’s roadie and unwittingly provided the title of the band’s album, “Disraeli Gears”.
Baker recalled in his biography, “Hellraiser”, ‘the sorry end’ of Graham Bond’s iconic Mellotron electronic keyboard, following a road accident, en route to a gig at Southend. The delicate instrument began to ‘vibrate strangely’ before ‘dying and gushing its insides all over the stage’. The band subsequently discovered that the Mellotron had not been given to Bond, free of charge, as he had earlier maintained, and that the GBO were in debt to Mellotron for several thousand pounds.
The GBO were playing a university gig with The Yardbirds and John Myall’s Bluesbreakers when Ginger was introduced to future Cream guitarist, Eric Clapton; thus a friendship was formed that was to bring incredible success over the next few years.
At a later gig at Soho’s Flamingo Club, Clapton walked in with his guitar and asked if he could sit in and play. Baker was impressed with how well Clapton could play.
Ginger drove to a Bluesbreakers’ gig in Oxford; afterwards giving Clapton a lift back to London. Baker asked Clapton if he would like to form a new band. Clapton agreed and suggested Jack Bruce should join them. Baker was so astonished he almost crashed his recently acquired Rover. Despite having played together in both Blues Incorporated and the Graham Bond Organisation, there was no love lost between Baker and Bruce. Some of their well documented clashes were downright violent.
Baker and Bruce agreed to put their differences aside and thus the world’s first acknowledged ‘Supergroup’ was born. When Cream folded in 1968, Clapton and Baker joined with Steve Winwood and Rick Grech to form the short lived supergroup Blind Faith who released just one eponymous album.
Baker then formed his own jazz-fusion big band, Ginger Baker’s Airforce. In 1971, in order to be more involved in the African music scene that he admired immensely, Baker built a studio in Lagos, Nigeria.
26 August 1949 – 30 May 2019
While researching this article, your author discovered a puzzling incongruity. There were artists more easily identified with the Blues than Leon Redbone but with little of merit to write about, other than a glorified discography. Redbone, on the other hand, was certainly an enigma; one a writer can really get to grips with.
The enigma was mostly self-generated. Although constantly asked by interviewers about his past, his origin and his family, he didn’t so much as refuse to answer as respond with obtusity. Even his closest family appeared to know little about Redbone’s early life.
My initial recollection of Leon Redbone was being presented with a CD of Redbone’s backing songs to a series of British Rail TV commercials in the early ‘90s. I envisaged the artist as an elderly, previously unknown, Blues singer who’s the songs were probably originally recorded in the 1940s.
To discover that the man behind those songs was a white artist whose style draws from multiple genres was indeed a surprise. That he was a widely celebrated entertainer, a favourite of US TV audiences with his appearances on Saturday Night Live, revealed that there was more to the man than this scribe was aware of.
Redbone’s repertoire consisted mainly of songs from a bygone age, generally the early 20th Century. He sang Ragtime, Blues and Folk songs, usually accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar. His first album, On The Track was released in 1975, containing such standards as “Sweet Mama Hurry Home Or I’ll Be Gone”; “Ain’t Misbehavin’”; “My Walking Stick”; “Lazy Bones” and Lulu’s Back In Town”,
Further albums included “Double Time” (1977); “Champagne Charlie” (1978); “Strings And Jokes (Live In Bremen 1977) and “From Branch To Branch” (1981).
Leon Redbone’s deep gravelly vocals, offset with his trademark panama hat and white suit, placed him right in the vaudeville era. He appeared at many folk festivals back in the 1970s; Bob Dylan discovered Redbone at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1972.
Dylan later stated in a Rolling Stone magazine interview that if he ever owned a record label he would want Leon Redbone to be the first artist to record for him. Redbone became more widely known, following his appearances on the Saturday Night Live TV show; the first being in 1976.
In addition to the above mentioned commercials for British Rail, Redbone, managed by his wife, Beryl Handler, also advertised Budweiser, as well as other products. In fact, Handler was a very astute manager and convinced Redbone of the importance of getting TV work.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, there was a lot of mystery about Redbone’s past. It is not even known where his stage name came from. It is generally agreed that he was born Dickran Gobalian, in Cyprus, and moved to Canada in the 1960s. Despite the efforts of many interviewers and reporters to exact the truth of Redbone’s origin, he stalwartly refused to confirm or deny this.
What cannot be denied is that the world is a duller place without Leon Redbone.
7 October 1939 – 29 May 2019
Tony Glover was probably best known as a Blues harmonica player and tutor, his most famous student being Mick Jagger. Glover wrote several Blues harp songbooks; in addition he also co-wrote a biography of Little Walter, renowned Chess Records harmonica player and vocalist.
Glover was also a contributor to Rolling Stone magazine and an underground radio disc jockey.
Glover first came into prominence with John Koerner and Dave Ray in the early sixties as Blues and Folk trio Koerner, Ray and Glover. Glover hailed from Minneapolis, Minnesota and was personally acquainted with a young Bob Dylan.
Glover wrote the sleeve notes for Dylan’s LP “Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The Royal Albert Hall Concert”. Dylan had previously played in Glover’s home back in 1963. He later noted, in his 2004 memoir, Chronicles, Volume One, “I couldn’t play like Glover or anything and I didn’t try to.I played mostly like Woody Guthrie and that was about it. Glover’s playing was well known and talked about around town, but nobody commented on mine.”
Self-designated as “Little Sun”, a pun on other Blues harpists, Glover was inspired by the likes of Leadbelly (Lead Belly Private Party Minneapolis Minnesota 1948 DOCD-5664 and others) and Muddy Waters (Muddy Waters Library of Congress Recordings (1941-1942) Early Commercial Recordings (1946-1950) DOCD 5146). Indeed, Koerner, Ray and Glover were called “the finest white blues group in the entire folk revival of the era” by Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh, in 1979.
From 1968 until 1973 Glover himself wrote prolifically for Rolling Stone. He was also a contributor to other publications such as Crawdaddy and Cream. In addition, Glover wrote several liner notes for artists, including John Lee Hooker and John Hammond.
26 June 1942 – 19 August 2019
Larry Taylor was a Blues musician; equally at home on the upright bass and bass guitar. He rose to fame with Canned Heat in the 1960s. Prior to this, he was an accomplished session musician, having played with Buddy Guy, JJ Cale, Albert King, Charlie Musselwhite, Solomon Burke, Ry Cooder among others. Taylor also played bass on many of The Monkees’ recordings.
He joined Canned Heat in 1967, two years after their inception. The band took their name from “Canned Heat Blues” which was recorded by Bluesman Tommy Johnson (Tommy Johnson (1928 – 1929) CD Album – DOCD-5001) in the 1920s.
Johnson’s song describes how he would drink Sterno, a brand of jellied alcohol meant to be burned directly in its can. The newspaper adverts promoted the product as ‘Canned Heat’. Its primary uses were in food service for buffet heating and in the home for fondue and as a chafing fuel for heating chafing dishes. Johnson claimed he drank it when he could not get conventional booze.
Canned Heat’s first album was released in 1967, with Taylor playing bass. It included covers of Blues standards by Muddy Waters; Willie Dixon; Robert Johnson (Mississippi Blues Volume 4 DOCD-5682); Elmore James; Sonny Boy Williamson ll (Sonny Boy Williamson Vol. 5 (1945-1947) DOCD-5059) and the aforementioned Tommy Johnson.
Taylor, who was known as ‘The Mole’, played with Canned Heat until 1970, during which time the band played at both the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock, two years later. In addition to recording Blues standards, Canned Heat enjoyed chart success with their singles, particularly “On The Road Again”; “Going Up The Country” and “Let’s Work Together”.
The last album that Taylor featured on in his initial tenure with Canned Heat was “Future Blues”, released in August 1970. Featured on this album was “Shake It And Break It”, written and recorded by Charlie Patton in 1929 (Charley Patton Vol. 1 (1929) DOCD-5009). This track was also released as the ‘B’ side to “Sugar Bee”, a single that failed to chart in the US and only reached number 40 in the UK.
Prior to playing at Woodstock, a falling out between Taylor and band founder member, guitarist Henry Vestine led to Vestine leaving and being replaced by Harvey Mandel. A year later, both Taylor and Mandel quit Canned Heat to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
Mac Rebennack A.K.A. Dr. John
20 November 1941 – 6 June 2019
Mac Rebennack was thirteen or fourteen when he first met legendary New Orleans pianist, Professor Longhair. Rebennack instantly knew he wanted to be a musician. At the age of sixteen he was playing neighbourhood bars.
The fathers at Jesuit High School presented the young Rebennack with an ultimatum: choose high school or music; he chose music and went on to find work, producing sessions for Ace Records. He played on sessions for Art Neville, Allen Toussaint, Frankie Ford and Joe Tex.
In 1959, Mac Rebennack recorded a local hit single, “Storm Warning” on Rex Records. By this time he was recording and producing records on a regular basis for various Southern labels.
While playing a gig in Jackson Mississippi Rebennack was shot in the finger while trying to stop one of his band members being pistol whipped. This had a lasting effect on his ability to continue playing guitar, so he focused his musical abilities on the piano.
During the late 1960s Rebennack began to preoccupy himself with the folklore of New Orleans voodoo. He devised the persona of a voodoo medicine man, Dr. John Creax, The Night Tripper and this character featured in a collection of songs that that he wrote.
Dr. John made his public debut as a recording artist with his 1968 released album, Gris-Gris; Harold Battiste’s influence helping Rebennack to get a record deal with the Atco label.
Having established a cult following, Mac took Dr. John on tour, appearing at psychedelic venues adorned in vivid headdresses, cloaks and feathers.
In 1973, Dr. John hit chart success with the release of In The Right Place with the album spending 33 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart; peaking at number 24. The single, Right Place, Wrong Time, charted at number 9. Allen Toussaint produced the album, which featured backing by The Meters.
In the same year, Dr. John collaborated with Mike Bloomfield and John Hammond, to produce an album entitled Triumvirate.
In 1989, a new recording deal was agreed with Warner Brothers. The first fruits from this relationship being a highly acclaimed collection of standards given the Dr. John treatment, In A Sentimental Mood. The duet with Ricky Lee Jones, Makin’ Whoopee, won them a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Duo or Group.
A second album for Warner Brothers, Goin’ Back To New Orleans, released in 1992, featured guest appearances by Pete Fountain, The Neville Brothers and Al Hirt. This album won Rebennack his second Grammy, Best Traditional Blues Album. Dr. John continued to record on many albums during his latter years, including a fundraising EP following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
After taking part in many tribute recordings and concerts to other artists, Don Was, producer, musician and President of Blue Note Records, rewarded Dr. John with an all-star concert in 2014. Featured guests included Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, Allen Toussaint and Bruce Springsteen, among others.
During his extensive career Dr. John released over thirty albums. His music has inspired generations of artists and fans. He has left a substantial legacy for us to all enjoy.
16 November 1945 – 13 April 2019
Paul Raymond was a British Blues / Rock musician who was best known for his time with rock band UFO. He first came to prominence as Christine Perfect’s replacement in Chicken Shack, before joining Savoy Brown.
Raymond began his music career in 1964 as a Jazz keyboard player. He would play with musicians such as Dave Green (bass) and John Heisman (drums) and was invited to join the Ian Bird Quintet with Hesman and Tony Reeves on bass. Heisman and Reeves went on to join the late Gary Moore to form Coliseum.
In 1967 Raymond formed The Plastic Penny, a pop / rock band with Brian Keith (vocals), Mick Graham (guitar), Tony Murray (bass) and Nigel Olson (drums). They charted with a cover of The Box Tops’ “Everything I Am” as well as recording two albums; “Two Sides Of A Penny” and “Currency”. Plastic Penny played at the Isle Of Wight Festival in August 1968 but split up later that year.
Raymond was a keen scanner of band vacancies in the music press, so when he read in Melody Maker that Chicken Shack were advertising to replace the recently departed Christine Perfect he immediately applied.
With assistance from Nigel Olson, Raymond transported his Hammond organ to the audition and was hired. Raymond appeared on two albums, “100 Ton Chicken” and “Accept”. When the Blue Horizon record label dropped the band, Raymond left to join Savoy Brown, soon to be followed by Andy Silvester and Dave Bidwell.
Raymond recorded seven albums with Savoy Brown between 1971 and 1976. His first album with the band, “Street Corner Talking”, included the songs “Tell Mama” and “Street Corner Talking”. The next album, “Hellbound Train”, made the Top 40 Albums Chart in the US.
While still with Savoy Brown, Raymond also played with former Fleetwood Mac vocalist and guitarist Danny Kirwan, when the latter recorded his debut solo album, “Second Chapter”. Raymond left Savoy Brown after the release of their “Skin And Bone” album to join hard rock band UFO in 1977.
11 August 1926 – 18 April 2019
Born in Macon, Georgia, Eddie Tigner’s first musical influence was his mother, who played barrelhouse blues on the piano. His father was killed by mustard gas poisoning that he had suffered during World War 1.
Eddie’s mother married a coal miner and when Eddie was six years old his family moved to Kentucky where, as well as the Blues, a young Eddie Tigner was exposed to Bluegrass and Country music. Despite listening to his mother playing piano, Eddie’s first instrument was a guitar. As a youngster, Eddie longed to play Bluegrass but could never get the hang of it.
He was fourteen when his family once again relocated, returning to Georgia, this time to the State Capitol, Atlanta. He used to accompany his mother, as she entertained at various house parties, fish fries and barbecues.
Eddie joined the army in 1945, where he finally learned to play piano. During his service in the military Eddie got to know a number of fine musicians, such as Les Paul. He had the job of booking artists to entertain the troops at their base. One of his tasks was to transport Bill Kenny, of the famous group The Inkspots, between Baltimore and a Military base in Aberdeen, Maryland.
On his discharge in 1947 Eddie moved back to Atlanta, where he formed his own group, The Maroon Notes, playing vibes. He also accompanied comedian, Spencer “Snake” Anthony, on the piano. Eddie remembered witnessing a 14 year old kid by the name of James Brown, who impressed everyone with his slick dancing.
Following the death of their original bass player in 1947, The Ink Spots split up and entrepreneurial agent I.D. Kemp formulated a number of different Inkspots bands to tour across the country. Kemp remembered Eddie from his time of booking acts for the army. Eddie’s bass-style piano playing was a perfect fit and he joined and toured with The Inkspots until 1987.
During his time with The Inkspots, Eddie also met and worked with Elmore James for a couple of years. While working at the Lithonia Country Club in Atlanta, he also rubbed shoulders with the likes of T. Bone Walker and Gate Miles Brown. The pressure of touring caught up with Eddie and after a heart attack he quit The Inkspots in 1987.
Settling in Atlanta, he took a job in a school cafeteria but continued playing in local venues. Through another Atlanta-based Blues musician, Daniel ‘Mudcat’ Dudeck, Eddie was introduced to Tim Duffy, founder of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Duffy helped provide him with a passport and gave him a keyboardEddie cut two albums through the Foundation and toured Europe and Australia.
He continued to perform at The Northside Tavern, with Uncle Sugar on a regular Sunday evening slot; and held a weekly gig at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack into his nineties until shortly before his passing.
Beverly ‘Guitar’ Watkins
6 April 1939 – 1 October 2019
Beverly Watkins was born in Atlanta Georgia; her mother passed away when Beverly was just three months old. Raised by her sharecropper grandparents, Beverly lived in Commerce, Georgia as a child.
Her grandfather, Luke Terrell played banjo; Beverly would accompany her grandaddy on her small guitar, a gift from her aunt Margaret, at nine years old. Margaret and her two sisters would sing, as the Hayes sisters, in various churches in Commerce.
While Beverly was in her fourth grade at school, her beloved grandfather passed away; Margaret took her young niece under her wing and brought her to live in Atlanta. Having been used to country living, the move to the big city was something of a shock to young Beverly.
Beverly’s first guitar somehow got left behind or lost in the move to Atlanta. In an interview with Living Blues Magazine she reveals how she swapped her bicycle for a guitar from her cousin. Her Aunt Bee bought her a trumpet when she started Washington High School. Because the school was overcrowded Beverly was transferred to Samuel Howard Archer High School.
The transfer to S. H. Archer High turned out to be a fortuitous move for Beverly. Her trumpet playing was good enough for her to play in the school band, coached by Clark Terry, the prolific Jazz trumpeter. Terry had played with the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. He mentored a number of musicians, including Miles Davis, Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock among others. Terry also taught Beverly how to play the guitar properly. She even played in his trio, up until she graduated from high school. Beverly then joined a local Doo Wop group, Billy West and the Downbeat Combo, backing them on guitar.
Beverly’s big break came when an acquaintance suggested she call Piano Red, who was putting a band together. Red’s real name was Willie Lee Perryman and he was the brother of Speckled Red (Speckled Red 1929–1938 DOCD-5205). The Band, known as Piano Red & The Meter-Tones, performed around Atlanta until they broke nationally with the singles “Dr. Feelgood” and “Right String But The Wrong Yo-Yo”.
Beverly supplemented her band work by working in car washes and cleaning offices, while living with her Aunt Bee during the sixties and seventies. After Red’s band broke up in the early seventies, Beverly backed Red as a solo act until he passed away in 1985. She then joined up with fellow Atlanta Stalwart, Eddie Tigner, playing the Holiday Inn lounges.
After leaving Tigner, Beverly’s son joined his band, playing bass. Beverly found a new opportunity in Atlanta Underground, a multi-storey retail and entertainment complex. Having auditioned, she was given a spot to play to the crowds. Various musicians would accompany her. Tips were particularly good at holiday times.
Atlanta Underground was where Beverly truly honed her craft as a singer and guitarist. Beverly met Blues guitarist Daniel ‘Mudcat’ Dudeck in Atlanta. Mudcat introduced Beverly to Tim Duffy, founder of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Duffy arranged for Beverly to cut her first recording in New York. Later she toured Europe with the Foundation’s assistance.
Beverly Watkins never forgot her roots and on the first Sunday of every month she would return to Commerce, Georgia to play in her childhood church.