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Pete Burns is dead at 57

When Culture Club first appeared on Top of the Pops in 1982, all the teenagers’ parents were saying, ‘Is it a boy or a girl’, much the same was said of Pete Burns in later years. Pete had a penchant for plastic surgery and is completely unrecognisable from his early days in pop.

Pete was born in Cheshire in 1959 to a German-born Jewish mother who, to escape the anti-Semitic jibes from the Nazi’s, moved to Vienna where she met a Liverpudlian Soldier Francis Burns and a Soldier’s tea dance.

Pete, whose middle name is Jozzeppi, grew up in Liverpool and got a job working in record shop called Probe where a lot of local musicians gathered. He didn’t have the job long as it was well documented that he treated many customers poorly, especially if he didn’t approve of the music they were buying. After the shop he formed a Goth group called the Nightmares in Wax in 1979, the following year he renamed them Dead or Alive.

By the mid-eighties Dead Or Alive’s line up featured Stephen Coy (drums), Tim Lever (keyboards) and Michael Percy (bass). Their song, You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), which they wrote together, was inspired by Pete’s days of selling vinyl and it became the first number one record by the production team of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman. In a very revealing interview for BBC Music Magazine in 2002, Pete Waterman told Adam Sweeting, “That had Ride of the Valkyries all over it. I’ve stolen from Wagner about 20 times and what I take from him is pathos, string runs and harmonies. My job is to make sure you don’t spot it. We changed a few things around, but if you listen to You Spin Me Round, the strings are straight off Valkyries – they do all the glissandos and the wind-ups.”

His appearance attracted much press and Pete once said, in an interview with The Sun, “When you’re young, self-conscious and standing in front of a camera and the photographers are whispering, ‘Can we turn his head to the left?’ you think, I’ll do something about it,” and he did, on a massive scale. Pete forked out £750 to get his nose fixed but when he woke up from surgery he knew something was terribly wrong. More than anything, it’s his lips that are always the talking point and he has had over 200 reconstructive operations on them.

Dead Or Alive had other Top 20 records; Lover Come Back to Me, In Too Deep and Something in My House and they are one group who can genuinely boast of being big in Japan.

In 2006 he appeared on Celebrity Big Brother and at one point had to apologise over comments he made about Michael Jackson, but as his co-contestants all said, ‘his had a heart of gold’. His chosen Celebrity Big Brother charity was Mermaids, a support group for teens with gender identity issues. He obviously got a taste for reality TV as he later appeared on Celebrity Wife Swap and The Body Shocking Show.

He never publicly revealed his sexuality; in 1980 he married Lynne Corlett whom he’d met in a hair salon they had both worked in and soon after they separated in 2006 he married Michael Simpson in a civil ceremony. Whenever he’s asked his regular answer is, “Forget all that. There’s got to be a completely different terminology and I’m not aware if it’s been invented yet. I’m just Pete.”

Either way, he was content, in a recent interview he said, “I can honestly say since 1976 I have lived solely off music and TV, and I’ve had a very nice life, a lot nicer than some of my peers who’ve gone broke. I’ve had a very nice life. Very.” Pete died on Sunday following a suddenly cardiac arrest, he was just 57.

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Teen idol Bobby Vee dies

In recent times Glen Campbell publically admitted he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and even wrote and sang the very moving and emotional song, I’m Not Gonna Miss You, about it, not too many people make it known and Bobby Vee was one of them. He’d been suffering with it for five years and lost his battle last Monday.

Bobby, who was born Robert Velline in Fargo, North Dakota in 1943, was only 15 when he got his big break albeit under tragic circumstances. He took to the stage in Moorhead, Minnesota to stand in for Buddy Holly following the February 3rd plane crash in Iowa that killed Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in 1959.

A call went out for any local acts who could step in to replace Holly at his scheduled show at the Moorhead National Guard Armory. Bobby and his band volunteered. They’d only been together for a couple of weeks and didn’t even have a name. The show’s host, Charlie Boone, turned to Bobby and asked him the name of his band. Vee turned around and saw the shadows of his bandmates on the floor and answered, “The Shadows.”

“I didn’t have any fear right then,” Bobby recalled in a 1999 interview with The Associated Press. “The fear didn’t hit me until the spotlight came on, and then I was just shattered by it. I didn’t think that I’d be able to sing. If I opened my mouth, I wasn’t sure anything would come out.” He later said that his debut was a milestone in his life, and “the start of a wonderful career.” As a tribute he recorded the album Bobby Vee Meets the Crickets with Holly’s backing group in 1962 and it reached number two in the UK album chart.

Bobby’s own career took off in 1960 with the US hit Devil or Angel which reached number six and followed that with the international hit Rubber Ball which made number four in the UK. He charted 10 UK hits but an astounding 45 Billboard singles in America including the top three singles Take Good Care of my Baby, Run To Him and The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.

Bobby married his wife Karen in December 1963 and they were married for over 50 years until her death of kidney failure in 2015 aged 71. The couple had four children, including two sons who, in later years, would perform with Bobby.

In the early sixties one of his touring entourage included a musician who called himself Elston Gunnn (with three ‘n’s), his real name was Robert Zimmerman a young man who later became known as Bob Dylan.

Bobby kept recording and touring right into the 2000s but he had trouble remembering lyrics during performances, and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011. He performed his last show that year which was billed as his retirement, during an annual community fundraiser that his family hold near their home in Minnesota. He made a public announcement about his diagnosis the following year.

In a 2013 interview with The Associated Press, Vee said he knew his abilities were diminishing and he didn’t want to put his family through a public decline, “It’s not getting any better, I can tell you that, But I’m doing the best I can.”

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Rodney Temperton dies

In 1897 H. G. Wells published his science-fiction novel called The Invisible Man which was also serialised in a magazine called Pearson’s Weekly. In 1993 Universal made it into a movie where we saw (or didn’t more like) Claude Rains portraying Dr. Jack Griffin aka The Invisible Man. In the music world there was another man known as the invisible man and that man passed away at the beginning of October, his name was Rod Tempterton.

Rod was born in Cleethorps in 1949 and learned to play drums while playing truant from school and would play along to the test card on the television. He also taught himself to play the piano and then began his career as the keyboard player and songwriter with the disco band Heatwave in the 1970s. He played on all their hits up until the 1979 track Razzle Dazzle and solely wrote all their hits with the exception of Mind Blowing Decisions which was written by another band member, Johnnie Wilder.

It was their big disco songs like Boogie Nights, The Groove Line and the beautiful ballad Always and Forever that caught the ear of Quincy Jones who invited him to come and write songs for his artists. Rod jumped at the chance as he was publicity shy and hated being on stage, “he was never comfortable with it hence his nickname” his cousin told me. Rod recalled of their first meeting, “I’m from Cleethorpes and he’s from Seattle, where’s the meeting of minds there? But as soon as we met it was like I’d known him all my life. I love him to death.”

His first hit as a writer, outside of Heatwave was Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and Rock With You which both featured on the album Off The Wall. Rock With You was originally offered to Karen Carpenter for her fist solo album but she turned it down. He had three further his in 1980; Stomp by The Brothers Johnson and George Benson took two of them into the top 10 in the shape of Give Me The Night and Love X Love. In 1982 he charted as the writer of Donna Summer’s Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger) and six months later was in the chart again with Baby, Come to Me courtesy of Patti Austin and James Ingram.

He didn’t only contribute music, when it came to writing Thriller, the title track for the world’s biggest selling album he came up with a multitude of suggestions, he originally wanted to call the song something else but felt it needed something more commercial. “I went back to the hotel,” he once recalled, “wrote two or three hundred titles and came up with Midnight Man. The next morning I woke up and I just said this word. Something in my head just said: ‘This is the title’. You could visualise it at the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as Thriller.” It was also Rod’s idea to have a classic voice doing the ‘rap’ and so he brought in Vincent Price and wrote Price’s lines in a taxi on the way to the studio.

Life after Thriller continued with him writing hits like Spice of Life for Manhattan Transfer, Yah Mo Be There for James Ingram and Michael McDonald and a solo hit for the latter in 1986 – Sweet Freedom. Later the same year he was nominated for the best original song Oscar for Miss Celie’s Blues, a song he co-wrote with Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie for the film The Color Purple.

Rod once said, “Songwriting was a very personal experience: You have to please yourself first. Once you feel the hairs stand up on the back of your hand – you can go for the world. Writing a song is the biggest moment of all. Yesterday it didn’t exist. Today it does.”

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John D. Loudermilk dies

Another unsung songwriter hero has passed away. Very much like Albert Hammond, he wrote many songs that became hits for other artists and only had one solitary UK hit in their own right. His hits for other include the top 10 hits, Angela Jones (Michael Cox), Ebony Eyes (Everly Brothers), Stayin’ In (Bobby Vee), Tobacco Road and Google Eye (Nashville Teens), This Little Bird (Marianna Faithful) and Indian Reservation (Don Fardon). His name is John D. Loudermilk and his only solo hit was Language of Love which reached number 13 in 1962.

He was born in March 1934 and was one of those singer/songwriters you couldn’t easily pigeonhole. He wrote folk, country and pop hits. His mother was a missionary, and his dad was a carpenter who was a key figure in the building of Duke University, as well as several tobacco factories, which is probably what inspired Tobacco Road. When he was seven years old, his mother taught him ukulele his father had made out of a cigar box. At the age of 13 he changed his name to Johnny Dee and began performing on local radio stations which is where he met the husband and wife songwriting duo Boudleaux and Felice Bryant who encouraged him to write songs.

Over the next 60 years his songs were covered by artists as diverse as Glen Campbell, James Brown, The Barron Knights, Tracy Ullman, Sandy Posey, Linda Ronstadt and 999.

He explained his writing in an interview with the Tennessean in magazine in 1961, “I’m looking for the most different thing I can find. Everybody’s writing ‘I love you truly.’ You’ve got to find something new. I talk to drunks at the bus station, browse through kiddie books at the public library (and) get phrases from college kids and our babysitter. You’ve got to be looking all the time.”

John was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976 and was also made a member of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. In 1968, he won a Grammy Award for Best Album Notes for the liner notes he wrote in his 1967 album Suburban Attitudes in Country Verse.

One of his first successes was The Pale Faced Indian as originally recorded by Marvin Rainwater in 1959 – this song became a US number one hit for Paul Revere and the Raiders in 1971 and a UK number three for Don Fardon.

He changed his name to John D. Loudermilk, but, like Billy J Kramer, the middle initial didn’t stand for anything at all.

Loudermilk was also celebrated earlier in 2016 at the Franklin Theatre outside Nashville with a tribute show from Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and his friend and fellow songwriter Bobby Braddock, the man who broke the news via Facebook. Loudermilk’s son, Mike, confirmed that the cause of death was a heart attack.

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Soul legend Billy Paul dies at 81.

One of the greatest soul voices of the Philly era has died, Mrs Jones says goodnight to Billy Paul?

Billy was born Paul Williams in Philadelphia in 1934 and grew up listening to jazz as his mother loved all the jazz singers of the day. He once recalled, “I always liked Nat King Cole. I always wanted to go my own way, but I always favoured other singers like Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. There are so many of them, Nina Simone was also one of my favourites.” He favoured those singers because he had a high range and could reach the notes they did.

Paul’s singing career began when he was just 11 years ago when he appeared on his local radio station, WPEN. His first recording came when he moved to New York in 1952 and recorded Why Am I.

He was drafted into the Germany Army when he was 22 and served on the same base as Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby’s son, Gary. Paul recalled in an interview with Blues & Soul.com in 2015, “We said we’re going to start a band, so we didn’t have to do any hard work in the service. We tried to get Elvis to join but he wanted to be a Jeep driver, so me and Gary, we started it and called ourselves the Jazz Blues Symphony Band.”

During the 1960s, the Beatles’ sound inspired Paul to change his sound to be more R&B which he did successfully. His manager then suggested he change his name to Billy Paul so as not to get confused with his name sake who was the lead singer with the Temptations.

His first UK hit was, by far, his biggest and most enduring, when Me and Mrs Jones reached number 12 in the UK in 1973 and number one in the States. The song, which was written by the Philly songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, tells the story of an extramarital confession between him and Mrs Jones who meet at the same cafe at the same time – 6.30 – every day. The song is told by the people doing the cheating which itself is quite rare, and to enhance the song’s elicit nature, listen carefully to the saxophone part of the intro and you’ll hear the refrain of Doris Day’s 1954 hit Secret Love.

Kenny explained the origin of the song in an interview with National Public Radio in 2008, “I used to take trips to a little bar downstairs in the Schubert Building and one day this guy used to come into the bar every day – little guy that looked like a judge. We’re songwriters, so we’re always thinking about a song. The next day he came in again, and every day after he’d come in, this girl would come in 10-15 minutes after he’d get there, and they’d sit in the same booth, then go to the jukebox and play the same songs. We said, ‘That’s me and Mrs. Jones.’ Then, when they’d get ready to leave, he would go his way and she would go hers. It could have been his daughter, his niece, anybody, but we created a story that there was some kind of romantic connection between these people, so we went upstairs to our office and wrote the song.”

He had further UK hit with Thank For Saving My Life in 1974, His 1976 hit, Let’s Make A Baby was a modest hit here reaching number 30, but ran into trouble in the States where many criticised the content, and even the Rev. Jesse Jackson objected to its explicit nature. In 1977 he tried some cover versions, namely Elton John’s Your Song, Wings’ Let ‘Em In and Jerry Butler’s Only the Strong Survive and all made the top 40.

By the end of 1970s the hits dried up but continued to record some albums before announcing his retirement in 1989. Even during retirement, he couldn’t resisted playing some live shows.

In 2003 he learned that a lot of money he should have made hadn’t been received and so he sued Gamble and Huff and other personnel at the Philadelphia International label over unpaid royalties and was awarded $500,000 by a Los Angeles jury.

Billy was only recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but was still booking in live dates, ironically one of the most popular songs he does live is a cover of Prince’s Purple Rain.

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