1997 Musical Obituaries

Compiled by George Graham

(As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/31/97)

And so we come to another of our annual year-end features, the musical obtiuaries for the pasrt twelve months, and 1997 noted the passing of an uncommonly large number of significant figures on the music scene. In the past, we have listed more or less my category, or style. There are enough that we can list them chronolically, starting on January 1 when we lost Townes Van Zandt, one of the great Texas singer-songwriters. The following day marked the death of Randall Wolfe, better known as Randy California of the seminal 60s group Spirit, who was caught in a riptide and drowned in Hawaii while attempting to rescue his 12-year-old son.

Three days later, on January 5, we lost one of the great composers of jazz standards, Burton Lane, who wrote among many other tunes "Old Devil Moon." Also during January came the deaths of Elvis Presley's flamboyant manager Col. Tom Parker; Richard Berry, who wrote "Louie Louie;" and songwriter Gerald Marks, who wrote "All of Me."

During February we lost: Brian Connolly, a founder and lead vocalist for the British band The Sweet; jazz guitarist Zachary Breaux; and jazz drummer extraordinaire Tony Williams, who helped to define and indeed invent "fusion" music with Miles Davis and his own groups.

March marked the passing of rap star Notorious B.I.G.; R&B great, singer Laverne Baker; and soul singer Harold Melvin of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

During April, we lost poet Allen Ginsberg; one of the great singer-songwriters of the 1960s, Laura Nyro; and songwriter Mae Boren Axton who wrote "Heartbreak Hotel," and was the mother of Hoyt Axton.

May was the month when Mel Bay died. Bay wrote the guitar instruction books used by thousands of guitar students over several generations. Also bluesman Eddie "Lovie Lee" Watson; and the remarkable up-and-coming vocalist and songwriter Jeff Buckley, who followed in the innovative vocal footsteps of his father Tim Buckley.

June marked the passing of jazz trumpet great Doc Cheatham at the age of 92, who was performing right up to the night before he died. Also Small Faces founder Ronnie Lane succumbed to the multiple sclerosis which had increasingly afflicted him for several years; jazz trombonist Thurman Green; and blues and jazz vocal great Arthur Prysock.

During July bluesman Johnny Copeland died of complications seven months after receiving a heart transplant.

Passing away during August were classical pianist Svyatoslav Richter; poet William S. Burroughs, who in recent years had been collaborating increasingly with eclectic musicians; Nigerian musical innovator and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; blues great Luther Allison and the innovative Spanish jazz pianist Tete Montoliu.

In September, we lost the great conductor Sir. Georg Solti; the Beatles' publicist Derek Taylor; Swedish record executive Stig Anderson, who helped launch the career and co-wrote some of the songs of Abba; and blues great Jimmy Witherspoon.

October marked the death of legendary jazz radio host Al "Jazzbeau" Collins; big band singer Arthur Tracy who popularized the song "Pennies from Heaven," and died at the age of 98; singer-songwriter John Denver; Henry "The Sunflower" Vestine, one of the founders of Canned Heat; and jazz tenor saxophonist Big Nick Nicholas, who was a big influence on John Coltrane, who dedicated a composition to him.

During November, Jose Santana died. He was the father of Carlos Santana and a latin musician in his own right. Also jazz bassist Carson Smith; ubiquitous studio guitarist and jazzman Tommy Tedesco; INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence; and bluesman Fenton Robinson, who made the original recording of "Loan Me a Dime" made famous by Boz Scaggs.

And December marked the passing of jazz violin great Stephane Grappelli; Audree Neva Wilson, mother of Brian Wilson and his brothers in the Beach Boys; keyboardist and songwriter William "Smitty" Smith who was known for his work with the Pointer Sisters; the very innovative acoustic guitarist Michael Hedges; Simon Jeffes, the founder of the highly eclectic instrumental ensemble The Penguin Cafe Orchestra; a fine pop and country singer, Nicolette Larson; and jazz trumpet man Johnny Coles, of Philadephia.

Other obituaries this year for which I do not have exact dates include the remarkable Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Alice Cooper co-founder Glen Buxton; Nashville acoustic bass great Roy Husky, Jr; versatile bluesman and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Heartsman; Harry Goodman, musical partner to his brother Benny Goodman; and John C. Wolters, drummer and vocalist with the band Dr. Hook.

All shaped the music we hear in their own way, and they will all be missed.

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