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Rock ‘N’ Roll legend Chuck Berry dies

Elvis may have been the first rock ‘n’ roll heart throb and Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston may be accepted as the first rock ‘n’ roll record, but Chuck Berry was the master and the first true pioneer that so many musicians, to this day, hold in the highest regard.

The thousands of Tweets accurately say it all; Sting said, “Without Chuck Berry, there’s no Rolling Stones, there’s no Beatles, there’s no me. He was an incredibly influential musician and amazing lyricist,” Bruce Springsteen said, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived,” Rod Stewart concurred, “It started with Chuck Berry. He inspired us all,” and John Lennon once said, “If you try to give rock and roll another name you might call it Chuck Berry.”

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born in October 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri into middle-class African-American family. His first ‘public’ performance came in 1941 at Sumner High school. He also found himself in trouble with the law at an early age too because in 1944 he was arrested for armed robbery when he tried to rob three stores in Kansas City and then stole a car at gunpoint. He served three years at the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men at Algoa. Whilst inside he took up boxing and formed a singing quartet that became so competent that the centre allowed them out to play the occasional gig. He was released on his 21st birthday in 1947.

After his release he began playing local clubs in St. Louis and his guitar riffs are ‘borrowed’ from his friend and fellow musician T-Bone Walker. He also copied a technique which involved bending two strings at once giving it a rough sound that became the Chuck Berry lick. By the mid-fifties, when he 30, Chuck was beginning to write his own songs, but it was accepted which was strange because Bill Haley was the same age when (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock came out and before long he was considered too old, but Chuck’s song were lively, exciting and appealed to the teenagers at the time. His first hit was Maybelline, a song that evolved out of Ida Red, a hillbilly song that was first recorded by Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. Berry had heard it on a local radio station and reworked it with some new lyrics about his hobby, fast cars and changed the title to Ida Mae to stop anyone claiming copyright. In early 1955 Berry went to New Orleans to see his friend Muddy Waters, whilst there he went to see Leonard Chess, the owner of Chess records who listened to some of his songs and chose Ida Mae, but then changed the title to Maybelline. Some copies of the record were send to DJ Alan Freed and he liked it. Chess agreed to add Freed’s name as a co-writer so he got a share of the publishing royalties. He was also given some cash as an incentive to play the song on his radio programme. It was deals like this that led to the payola scandal of the early sixties.

Roll Over Beethoven (1956), School Day (Ring Ring Goes the Bell) and Rock & Roll Music (1957) and Sweet Little Sixteen and Johnny B. Goode (1958) were all top 10 hits in America. School Day and Sweet Little Sixteen were Berry’s first two UK hits reaching 24 and 16 respectively. Arguably his best known song, Johnny B. Goode failed to chart in this country, however, Jimi Hendrix (1972), Peter Tosh (1983) and Judas Priest (1988) all did chart with it, but none reached the top 30. Other well-known Chuck Berry songs that charted for other artists in the UK are; Brown Eyed Handsome Man (Buddy Holly), Come On (Rolling Stones), Memphis Tennessee (Dave Berry), Reelin’ And Rockin’ (Dave Clark Five), Hey Good Lookin’ (Bo Diddley), Promised Land (Elvis Presley), Roll Over Beethoven (E.L.O) and Tulane (Steve Gibbons Band).

Throughout the fifties, Berry toured regularly and showcased his famous duck-walk which involved kicking one leg forward and hopping on the other in a crouched position which thrusting the guitar forward at the same time, audiences were stunned, just like they were when Michael Jackson showcased his moonwalk in 1983.

In 1957, Berry bought 30 acres of land in Wentzville, Missouri where he built an amusement park and called it Berry Park which house his own restaurant called the Southern Air. The following year he opened Club Bandstand in the theater district of St. Louis.

In 1959 Berry was arrested again, this time for transporting a teenage girl, who had worked in his Club Bandstand, across state lines for sexual purposes. He was tried twice and found guilty both times, but the first verdict was overturned due to a racist remark made by the judge. There was a third trial and a couple of appeals and he was eventually released in October 1963. On the upside, within six months of his release he made the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic with No Particular Place to Go. Three months later he was back in the chart with You Never Can Tell.

Probably the biggest surprise of his career came in 1972 when a cover of Dave Bartholomew’s 1952 song Little Girl Sing Ding-a-Ling which Chuck claimed he toned down and called it My Ding-A-Ling. It was recorded live at the Coventry Lanchester Polytechnic, now known as Coventry University, as part of the Lanchester Arts Festival. The song was full of sexual innuendoes and all about a boy discovering his penis. It was recorded for a live album, inexplicably called The London Sessions and Berry used Roy Young’s band for the concert who included Owen McIntyre and Robbie McIntosh, later of the Average White Band. The album version was over 12 minutes long but it was edited into a four minute single and it is unlikely that it would have done so well if Mary Whitehouse and her Festival Of Light had not objected to it so vehemently. As Chuck says, “There’s nothing wrong with sex. It’s just the way you handle it.” Mind you, the concert nearly did not happen as Chuck Berry turned up an hour and half late in a rather inebriated state. Although you’d never be able to hear her, one of the audience members was Lene Lovich.

In 1979, he appeared as himself in the film American Hot Wax, and a couple of months later performed for President Jimmy Carter at the White House. Three days later he was in trouble again when he was sentenced to 120 days in federal prison and four years’ probation for income tax evasion.

That wasn’t the end of his trouble, in 1990 the police raided his home and found over 60 grams of marijuana as well as videotapes from a secret camera he installed in the women’s toilet in his restaurant. He was spared jail after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour count of marijuana possession, with a suspended jail sentence and two years’ probation.

In 1995, he performed at an inaugural concert at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened in Cleveland and was backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Between 1996 and 2014, Berry played 209 monthly concerts in the Duck Room of the Blueberry Hill restaurant in St. Louis.

In the 2000s Berry continued to tour and it became well-known that he insisted on cash for each gig and paid upon his arrival or he didn’t perform. In 18 October 2016, the day of 90th birthday he announced that he was planning to release his first studio album in almost 40 years. The album, will be called Chuck and scheduled for release in June this year and comprises mainly new compositions.

Unlike Vera Lynn who has just turned 100 and lived to see her new album, Vera Lynn 100, make the chart, Chuck won’t be around to see if his career was to get a new lease of life because he died of natural causes on 18th March. He knows he wasn’t always a good boy as he noted in his memoir “Every 15 years, in fact, it seems I make a big mistake.”

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Jazz legend Al Jarreau dies

Al Jarreau, like George Benson, is a jazz musician through and through, but both only really became well known and much more successful when they turned to soul / pop music.

Al was born Alwin Lopez Jarreau on 12th March 1940 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the 1960s, as well as playing in small jazz clubs, he worked as a rehabilitation counsellor in San Francisco and it was there he met another jazz giant, George Duke and the two were two thirds of a jazz trio. By 1968 he quit to concentrate on a full-time music career and headed to Los Angeles. There he got a regular slot at Dino’s and The Troubadour – two well-known night clubs which then led to TV exposure as a guess on shows like Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore and David Frost.

In 1975 he was finally spotted by a talent scout from Warner Brothers who gave him a recording contract. He sang in a scat style which earned him the nickname Acrobat of Scat. That year, at the age of 35, he released his first album which was well received and within two years he had won the first of his seven Grammy Awards.

His 1981 album Breakin’ Away was much more commercial and won him a much wider audience and won him two Grammy’s in the jazz and pop vocal categories. His 1983 eponymous album contained the hit singles Mornin’ and Boogie Down with both received reasonable airplay. In 1987 he wrote the lyrics and recorded the theme tune to the American TV show Moonlighting which starred Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis and surprisingly only peaked at number 23 in America, in the UK, however, it went to number eight.

In 2001 he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2007, he won two further Grammys for the album Givin’ it Up which he recorded with George Benson.

First and foremost he considered himself a jazz musician as he explained in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1989, “Jazz, whatever we think its purest form is, is a dynamic and changing form. It will never be the jazz of the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s, because it’s changing and responding to its environment. That environment includes the influences of Michael Jackson, Sting and hip-hop just as much as Charlie Parker or bebop.”

His agent broke the news explaining that he’d been treated for exhaustion and was also suffering from pneumonia, but the exact cause of death is not yet know. Al died on 12th February exactly one month shy of his 77th birthday.

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Chart-topping singer Peter Starstedt dies

Cliff Richard and Engelbert Humperdinck are probably the two most well-known English chart-topping musicians to be born in India, but the first real musical celebrity death is another, as we say goodbye to Peter Sarstedt.

Peter was born in Delhi to parents who were both classically trained musicians. The family moved in 1954 to the UK and settled in south London where Peter finished his education and learned to play bass guitar. His brother, Richard, who was born some 20 months earlier also became a musician and decided to change his name to Eden Kane and notched up five UK top 10 hits between 1961 and 1964 including the number one Well I Ask You.

Peter Sarstedt played bass for his brother, Eden Kane, but when Eden emigrated to Australia in 1965, he was without a job. He went to Copenhagen and started writing songs. He says, “The message I got from Bob Dylan was to be as unlike him as possible. A Dylan imitator is nothing like Bob Dylan because he would never imitate.” In so doing, Sarstedt came up with a highly original debut single, I Am a Cathedral. This cryptic song was arranged by Ian Green and produced by Ray Singer, who worked on Peter’s first two albums.

The talents of Sarstedt, Green and Singer were best heard on the atmospheric, accordion-based Where Do You Go to (My Lovely), a five minute track on the first album which was not intended as a single. Peter comments, “I wanted to write a long, extended piece because I was working in folk clubs and universities, and Al Stewart had something that was half an hour long and Bob Dylan’s ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ took a whole side of an album. ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?’ was my first attempt at writing something longer than my normal three minutes. It was amazingly easy to write, but I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted to say something about this particular person, although it wasn’t about anyone specific.”

At first, United Artists did not think it was a single: “They said it has no drums, it is too long and there are only three instruments.” The label relented and the song became a standard topping the UK singles chart for four weeks in February 1969. It went on to be a chart topper in numerous countries and won the Ivor Novello award for best song composition.

His only other hit was the follow up, Frozen Orange Juice which reached the top ten four months later. During the 1970s he effectively retired and moved back to Copenhagen, but he got the bug again and in the early 80s he returned to the UK and toured the south of England as part of the Solid Sixties Shows. He continued to record and his last album in 2013 was called Restless Heart.

There is a third brother, Clive, who used the first name Robin, who charted one hit in 1976 with a cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s My Resistance Is Love. In doing so it was the first that three members of the same family had individually claimed a top 10 hit. In the later 90s and early 2000s when Peter wasn’t on an oldies tour he would perform with his brother, Clive, around Europe.

On Sunday 8th January the family released a statement stating the Peter had died peacefully after a six-year battle with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.

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Superstar George Michael dead at 53

When news broke that George Michael had died on Christmas Day morning, it came as much as a shock as it did when we first heard about Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Michael Jackson and David Bowie, another major iconic pop star had gone.

George, like many pop stars, had their share of ups and down as well as bad publicity, in the mid-1990s, he lost both his mother and his lover, he unsuccessfully tried to sue his record company Sony claiming that their requirements were treating him as a ‘professional slave’ because his contract stated that he should produce music and cede the copyright to the company for many years. In April 1998 he was arrested in Beverley Hills for ‘engaging in a lewd act’ in a public restroom. The Sun actually came out with an amusing headline the next day which read ‘Zip me up before you go-go’. Up until that point George had never publicly declared his sexuality, but then it’s his own business so why should he, but in a 2007 interview he said, “hiding my sexuality made me feel fraudulent, and my eventual outing, when I was arrested was a subconsciously deliberate act.” but with all that aside, the public, as well as his adoring fans, both gay and straight, quickly forgot those things and he remained a superstar. His legacy will always be his music.

George was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in north London on 25th June 1963, soon after he was born the family moved to Kingsbury, then to Radlett and then onto Bushey. He attended Bushey Meads School where he met Andrew Ridgeley and realised they both wanted to be musicians. George briefly busked on the London Underground before he and Andrew formed a short-lived ska band called The Executive which also featured Andrew’s brother Paul, David Mortimer (who later became David Austin and had one minor hit in 1984 called Turn to Gold) and Andrew Leaver. In 1981 they disbanded and George and Andrew formed Wham! and signed a contract with Innervision records.

I first met the pair in the summer of 1982 when their music publishers, Brian Morrison and Dick Leahy (as Morrison Leahy Music), held a launch party for their debut single, Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do), in a marquee at Brian’s home in Buckinghamshire and I was the DJ. From what I remember it was a fantastic event with a number of famous people in attendance, but I think I was too busy trying to fathom out why one of my turntables had broken.

Wham Rap initially failed to make an impact, but was re-issued after their next single, Young Guns (Go for It), became their first hit and reached number three. Their third single, Bad Boys, went to number two and Club Tropicana stopped at number four. In May 84 Wake Me up Before you Go Go gave them their first of four chart toppers, the other three were Freedom, I’m Your Man and The Edge of Heaven. Christmas that year saw George at number two with Last Christmas / Everything She Wants, the UK’s biggest selling single not to make number one, and at number one as part of Bob Geldof’s Band Aid project Do They Know It’s Christmas. All the money from Band Aid was going to Famine in Ethiopia and so George decided to donate all the profits from Last Christmas to a different charity.

All the tributes that have been paid all cite George as a selfless and kind man, he sang backing vocals on Elton John’s hits Nikita and Wrap Her Up, Boogie Box High’s top 10 cover on Jive Talkin’ and on Deon Estus’s minor hit Heaven Help Me, Deon had played bass on George’s first two solo hits. He also added backing to Lisa Moorish’s cover of I’m Your Man which reached number 24 in 1995.

George launched a solo career in 1984, two years before Wham! finally split, his first hit was the million-selling international number one Careless Whisper which George had written in 1979 whilst working as an usher in a cinema. As he travelled on the bus, he worked out a lyric about one of his relationships – note the reference to the silver screen in the first verse. He has said since, “I wasn’t secure enough to write something that would expose my feelings, so it’s very clichéd in a lot of its terms. He completed the song a few years later with Andrew Ridgeley. In the UK hit was credited to George but in America it was billed as Wham! featuring George Michael. George dedicated the song to his mum and dad saying it was “five minutes in return for 21 years”. His first solo album, Faith, sold over 25m copies.

In 1985 Wham! toured China and were the first Western act to do so, his manager said, “Their Government had famously issued an edict that said ‘you can look but don’t learn’, and George heard about that just before the first concert began and that made him work all the harder to encourage the audience to get up on their feet.”

George had become good friends with Freddie Mercury and the year after Freddie died, George was one of the highlights at the tribute concert in 1992. He performed 39, a track from Queen’s A Night at the Opera album and a song he regularly sang in his busking days, Somebody to Love and These are the Day of Our Lives, a duet with Lisa Stansfield, the latter two appeared on the Five Live EP which topped the UK singles chart in 1993.

After his toilet activity arrest in 1998 George came straight back with the single Outside which poked fun at the situation and came with a humorous video, but in 1999, the officer, Marcelo Rodriguez, tried to sue George for $10m claiming he has been emotionally and mentally damaged by public remarks and the video which featured men dancing in tight black leather uniforms and included scenes with two policemen kissing. The case was dismissed.

In 2010 George was driving back from a Gay Pride parade when he crashed his car into the window of a Snappy Snaps shop in Hampstead, he was arrested and charged with possession of cannabis and driving while unfit through drink or drugs, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to an eight week prison sentence and a five-year ban from driving, he served four weeks. In 2013 he was involved in another bizarre motor-related incident when he fell from a moving car on the M1 near St Albans.

George had moved to Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire in 2007 with his lover Fadi Fawaz and threw a party just for his neighbours so they could all be introduced he claimed. It was here that Fadi found George’s body when he went to wake him up on Christmas Day morning. His manager intimated that it was heart failure but a post mortem carried out on 29th December proved inconclusive stating that further tests had to be carried out. Eventually, 11 weeks after his death, on 7th March, the coroner’s verdict was announced as natural causes, he said “The precise causes of death were dialated cardiomyopathy which is a heart muscle disease which stretches the muscles and thins them so blood flow in the body is restricted.”

At the time of writing, two memorial services were being planned one in the UK and one in America and it’s believed that he will be buried next to his mother Lesley in Highgate Cemetery. Elton John will sing at his funeral and later in the year a tribute concert is being staged with provisional planned appearances by Elton, Bob Geldof, Mariah Carey, Andrew Ridgeley and one of George’s hero’s Aretha Franklin with whom he had an international chart topper with I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) in 1987.

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Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds dies

Just a few weeks ago, Carrie Fisher was in London publicising her new book, The Princess Diarist, and was a guest on Graham Norton’s chat show, she’d also been spending a lot of time in London and had just bought a flat in Chelsea to live when she came to the UK. A couple of week’s later news broke that she’d suffered a cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles, four days later she was dead. A film documentary, Bright Lights, about Carrie and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, was premiered in Cannes last May and was due to be aired in early 2017. The content about life for the Fisher and how Carrie was caring for her mother who was still performing at the age of 84. The day after Carrie passed, her brother, Todd, announced that his mother had suffered a severe stroke and died the following day.

Debbie was born Mary Frances Reynolds on 1st April 1932 in El Paso, Texas and was discovered in 1948 by talent scouts from both Warner Brothers and MGM at the Miss Burbank contest, four years later she got her first starring role when, still only 19, burst out of a cake in Singin’ in the Rain. The film starred Gene who also directed the moved and it was him and co-director Stanley Donen took a gamble on the inexperienced actress and it paid off. Debbie said, “I learned a lot from Gene. He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian – the most exacting director I’ve ever worked for. Every so often, he would yell at me and make me cry. But it took a lot of patience for him to work with someone who had never danced before.”

In 1955 she’d married singer Eddie Fisher and were the parents to Carrie and Todd, they divorced four years later. In 1960 she married millionaire businessman Harry Karl which ended in 1973 and then between 1984 and 1996 she was married to real estate developer Richard Hamlett.

Her first movie role was in 1948 as an uncredited girlfriend in June Bride and went on to star in over 85 films including; Susan Slept Here (1954), The Tender Trap (1955), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), The Mating Game (1959), Goodbye Charlie (1964), Charlotte’s Web (1973), a cameo role in The Bodyguard (1992) and her last film was Behind the Candelabra in 2013.

It was the song Tammy, named after her character in Tammy and the Bachelor in 1957 that gave her her only UK hit single which reached number two in the UK behind The Cricket’ That’ll Be The Day, but in the States it spent five weeks at the top. A couple of years later the song’s title inspired a young Berry Gordy to name his newly launched record label after it, but Tammy was already taken, so he initially called his label Tamla.

In 1991, she bought a hotel and casino in Las Vegas and in it she displayed many items from her extensive range of Hollywood costumes and in her later years she a relentless fund-raiser for The Thalians, a charity that provides mental health services for all ages.

In 2015 she received a Governors Award and an SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Life Achievement Award but was unable to attend following a small stroke. The screen Actors Guild award was presented to her on stage by Carrie.

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