So soon after David Bowie and Glenn Frey we hear of another pop star’s death. Less than a week ago we heard that Colin Vearncombe, aka Black, was injured in a serious car crash in Ireland and the next day the Irish Examiner ran the headline ‘Singer Colin Vearncombe ‘needs a miracle’ to pull out of coma after crash’, sadly that miracle next happened.
Colin was born in Liverpool in May 1962 and learned guitar as a child. His pop career began back in 1981 when he formed a group with two school friends and used the moniker Black and released their first single Human Features on the local Rox record label.
In 1982 he supported the Mighty Wah! and the Thompson Twins on their respective tours. By 1984 Black was now just Vearncombe on his own and in 1985 he wrote the song Wonderful Life which, with its minor key, seemingly appealed to radio stations when it was released on the minor independent label Ugly Man. Despite airplay it spent just one solitary week on the chart at number 72. But thankfully the A&R department at A&M records noticed him and immediately signed hit to their label. The first song they released was Sweetest Smile in the summer of ’87 and it brought Colin international success when it reached number eight in the UK. Not a month after Sweetest Smile dropped out of the chart, Colin re-recorded Wonderful Life for re-issue and that also peaked at number eight.
Over the next three years Black charted five more singles the highest being Paradise which peaked at number 38. In the late eighties Colin married the Swedish former One 2 Many vocalist Camilla Griehsel. He became disillusioned with the record industry and formed his own Nero Schwarz label – Nero being black in Italian and Schwarz being black in German and released one album, Are We Having Fun Yet? in 1993.
After a six year absence, Colin returned and dropped the name Black and so released a number of singles and albums under his own name. In 2005 he reinstated the Black moniker and released the 2011 album Any Colour You Like exclusively through his own website.
He moved to Ireland living in a small village near Cork, he hated London calling it, “such a bad-tempered, miserable city.” He had taken up art painting women, or as he called it “wobbly women.” He held a few exhibitions which also included poetry-writing and enjoys his family life. He said, “Conversations are never a problem and can inspire a song. Songs basically get written. In Ireland you’re never short of someone willing to talk. Shutting them up is more of a problem.”
On Sunday 10th January 2016 he was involved in a serious car crash and had a swelling on his brain after sustaining a serious head injury in the crash near Cork Airport. Camilla and their three son were by his bedside constantly. His management issued a statement which read, ‘Scans have revealed that the injuries to his brain are worse than we feared and that he has only a slim chance of pulling through.” Sadly he didn’t and Colin passed away on 26th January aged just 53.
So often now, we learn of the death of a major pop star via website or social media, it was no exception for Glenn Frey, one of the founding members of the one of the biggest selling rock bands of all time, the Eagles. The band posted a statement on their website which read, ‘Glenn fought a courageous battle for the past several weeks but, sadly, succumbed to complications from Rheumatoid Arthritis, Acute Ulcerative Colitis and Pneumonia. Words can neither describe our sorrow, nor our love and respect for all that he has given to us, his family, the music community & millions of fans worldwide’
The band formed in 1971 with the four original members being Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon. It began when Linda Ronstadt and her then-manager John Boylan interviewed two local musicians – Frey and Henley – to be in Linda’s backing band. They passed the audition and they then brought in Meisner, who had been a member of Ricky Nelson’s Stone Canyon band and Leadon who had been with The Flying Burrito Brothers.
David Geffen had just formed his new Asylum Records and Henley asked Linda if she minded if they all formed a band on their own to which she gave her blessing and they were first band signed to Geffen’s new Label – the first artist had been Jackson Browne.
Over the next nine years they had a varying line which included, at different times, Joe Walsh, Don Felder and Timothy B. Schmit and they recorded half a dozen albums; Eagles (1972), Desperado (1973), On the Border (1974), One of These Nights (1975), Hotel California (1976) and The Long Run (1979). All sold in their hundreds of thousands except Hotel California which did 32 million, but their two biggest seller was the Greatest Hits 1971-1975 which has, to date sold 42 million copies.
drummer Henley and guitarist Frey shared lead vocals duties with Frey taking the lead on Take It Easy, Tequila Sunrise, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Lyin’ Eyes, New Kid in Town and Heartache Tonight. Frey, as a member of the group had won six Grammy Awards and the band they inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
In 1980, tempers were flying too high and Frey left the band after a big falling out with Felder. They were still contracted to the record company so they released a live album which producer, Bill Szymczyk recalled, “We were fixing three-part harmonies courtesy of Federal Express across opposite coasts.” Each member pursued solo career, some more successful than other.
Henley and Frey had good solo careers, Henley’s biggest achievement was the hit The Boys of Summer which reached number 12 twice in the UK and Frey’s biggest successes were the song that featured in films; The Heat Is On from the Beverly Hills Cop, You Belong to the City and Smuggler’s Blues from the Miami Vice soundtrack, Flip City to the Ghostbusters II and Part of Me, Part of You to the soundtrack for Thelma & Louise.
Throughout the eighties the member were regularly asked if and when the Eagles would be getting back together and all denied they would with Henley often issuing the statement, ‘When Hell freezes over’, but in 1994 the country singer Travis Tritt did a cover of Take It Easy and approached the band to appear, as the Eagles, in the video in a 1979 line-up, they agreed and so Frey, Henley, Walsh, Felder, and Schmit and reformed and at their first live show, Frey announced to an excited crowd, “For the record, we never broke up, we just took a 14-year vacation.” Their come-back album was called Hell Freezes Over.
Felder was fired in the early 2000s and various lawsuits ensued between Felder, Henley and Frey with Felder seeking $50 million in damages for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract. Meanwhile Felder wrote the book Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974–2001) in which he gave a warts ‘n’ all account. Henley countersued Felder breach of contract and the entire print run was recalled for Henley to get involved with amendments.
The band won a huge amount of awards over the year and the latest was to be in December 2015 when the group was picked the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors which were meant to be held on 6th December but were postponed due to Frey’s poor health. Frey will never receive that awards as he died on 18th January 2016.
Don Henley paid an amazing tribute which read; “He was like a brother to me; we were family, and like most families, there was some dysfunction. But, the bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken, even during the 14 years that the Eagles were dissolved. We were two young men who made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles with the same dream: to make our mark in the music industry — and with perseverance, a deep love of music, our alliance with other great musicians and our manager, Irving Azoff, we built something that has lasted longer than anyone could have dreamed. But, Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. He was funny, bull-headed, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven. He loved is wife and kids more than anything. We are all in a state of shock, disbelief and profound sorrow. We brought our two-year ‘History of the Eagles Tour’ to a triumphant close at the end of July and now he is gone. I’m not sure I believe in fate, but I know that crossing paths with Glenn Lewis Frey in 1970 changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet. It will be very strange going forward in a world without him in it. But, I will be grateful, every day that he was in my life. Rest in peace, my brother. You did what you set out to do, and then some.”
When I awoke on the morning of the 11th January to the sad news that David Bowie had died, not only was I, like most of the world, shocked, but I turned to Twitter to read what people have written because there is nothing more up to date and the majority of tweets said things like ‘No words’ and ‘Shocked’. Very often you need more than that to express the enormity of the news but not today. The Prime Minister, David Cameron’s tweet was profound, he wrote “I grew up listening to and watching the pop genius David Bowie. He was a master of re-invention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss.”
Bowie, like Madonna and Kylie Minogue, was constantly re-inventing himself to keep himself at the top of his game. So few other pop stars could be described as a fashion and music icon at the same time.
David Robert Jones was born in Brixton and grew up in Bromley and at school his voice was considered ‘adequate’ but clearly disproved that over the years. He studied art, music and design but it was his half-brother, Terry Burns, who introduced him to jazz and John Coltrane became one of his favourites, so much so that, in 1961, his mother bought him a plastic saxophone which David exchanged the following year for a real one and formed his first band, The Konrads, playing local youth clubs and the occasional wedding. Within a couple of years he left the Konrads and joined the King Bees and later were credited to Davie Jones and the King Bees. Because of confusion with the Monkees member, David renamed himself Bowie after Jim Bowie who designed the fighting fixed-blade knife.
In 1967 he recorded a song modelled on another hero of his, Anthony Newley. The song was the Laughing Gnome which used speeded up high-pitched vocals recorded by David to make it sound like he was having a conversation with the gnome. It initially failed to chart and it’s well documented that David hated the song, however, it did belatedly chart in 1973 reaching number six.
His first success came in 1969 when Space Oddity became his debut single and arrived, co-incidentally, just three weeks after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.
His eponymous first album was released in 1967 and was followed by Space Oddity in 1969 and then The Man Who Sold the World in spring 1971. Three months later his then wife Angie gave birth to their son, Duncan Zowie Haywood Bowie.
From then on he became a huge innovator in glam rock, art rock and disco and in 1972 changed the face of music when he introduced the world to his new alter ego Ziggy Stardust and the amazing album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars which went on to spend a total of 179 weeks on the UK album chart. His album sleeves were all unique and tens of thousands of fans went out, bought the album and then went out to acquire the costume he adorned so they could copy him.
Millions-selling albums followed throughout the seventies; Aladdin Sane (1973), Pins-Ups (1973), Diamond Dogs (1974), Young Americans (1975), Station To Station (1976), Low and Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979). Although he continued to chart albums in the eighties beginning with the chart-topping Scary Monsters and Super Creeps (1980) he dropped out of the public eye a little while he concentrated on film projects which saw him play the lead role, John Blaylock, in The Hunger (1982), Major Jack Celliers in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), Vendice Partners in Absolute Beginners (1986) and the Goblin King Jareth in Labyrinth (1986).
Throughout his career, David released 26 studio albums, nine live albums, 46 compilation albums, 5 EPs and 111 singles, five of which were number ones.
He was constantly wanting to be innovative, in 1996 he became the first artist to release a song that was distributed only on the internet. It was called Telling Lies and was downloaded 350,000 times by fans in America.
In 1997 he celebrated his 50th birthday with a star-studded performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden which included, by personal invitation Lou Reed, Robert Smith, Sonic Youth, Billy Corgan and the Foo Fighters.
He kept a relatively low profile in the 2000s and following heart surgery in 2004 he made just a couple of performances, one in Central Park in 2005 and the other at New York’s Radio City Hall in 2006 which became his last live appearance.
In 2013, an exhibition of his life, career and influences began a tour at London’s Victoria and Albert museum. It contained 300 costumes, some handwritten lyrics, hundreds of photographs, set designs and performance material from his career. It is currently showing in the Netherlands.
On 8 January 2013, the day of his 66th birthday, he announced on his website that a new album, his first in a decade, called The Next Day was going to be released on different dates in March (Australia 8th March. United States 12th March and the rest of the world 11th March. Exactly three years later, the day he celebrated his 69th birthday he released what was to be his final album, Blackstar. Bowie’s producer said, “The entire album, which the singer recorded while battling the terminal illness, was the singer’s ‘parting gift’ and that he had made his death – as he did his life – ‘a work of art’. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it.”
David always did what he wanted to do and his death was as spectacular as his life because he wanted to do it perfectly. The fact that he had cancer for 18 months and virtually nobody knew was astounding. The last time the world was this moved and shocked was 35 years earlier when he learned of the death of John Lennon.
When you listen back to so many of David’s songs, the lyrics are so much more poignant. If he’s up in heaven then then Space Oddity’s line ‘Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do’. On the day of his death, millions cried and there was a Twitter campaign for every radio station in the world to play at least one David Bowie song that day. Let’s hope that happened and if so, the line from Young Americans should have said it all, ‘ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?!
This is probably the song that had the most impact when it was first released in 1972.
In 2015 there was a shocking amount of celebrity music deaths and when I heard the news of Natalie Cole on New Year’s Day I hoped it wasn’t going to be another year like the one before, but it turns out that Natalie passed away late on New Year’s Eve.
Natalie never wanted to be famous in the wake of her father, she wanted to make it on her own merit and did just that.
She was born in February 1950 in Los Angeles, her father needs no introduction, but her mother was Maria Hawkins Ellington a former singer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. After she graduated she educated herself musically on Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin which disappointed club owners when she made her first appearances because they were hoping she’d sing like her father, however, a local Chicago producer, Chuck Jackson spotted her and agreed to record some songs with her. once recorded they touted her around to various record label who all turned her down with the exception of one, Capitol records, the same label her father had been signed to.
Her first success came in 1975 when her debut album, Inseparable was release and was boosted by the lead single, This Will Be, a song co-written by Chuck Jackson and turned down by Aretha Franklin. It reached number six in the States and only 32 over here despite much radio play. Over the next 12 years she released 21 singles, most of which made the Billboard singles chart, but nothing in the UK. Even her cover of Elton John’s Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds failed to make any chart.
In the UK she really made her name in the late eighties with hit singles like Jump Start, I Miss You Like Crazy, a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Pink Cadillac and the delightful 1988 hit I Live for Your Love. With the aid of modern technology, in 1991 David Foster recorded Natalie doing a version her father’s 1950 hit Unforgettable and paired it with his original vocal to make it sound like a newly recorded duet. ‘They’ were rewarded with a number 19 hit. Her final UK hit came the following year with a cover of Ray Noble’s The Very Thought of You.
Natalie married and divorced three times and over the years had done, what she called recreational drugs beginning in 1975 whilst attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was arrested in Ontario, Canada later the same year. The recreational became serious and in her 2000 autobiography, Angel on My Shoulder, she revealed much about her battle which eventually included heroin and crack cocaine.
In 2008 she gave in interview to People magazine and revealed a little of her past, “I was a heroin addict, sharing needles with the crowd I was with. At the time, I was having fun. I didn’t know. Then, 25 years later after a routine blood test, my doctor tells me, ‘You have hepatitis C’ my life crumbled before my eyes. I never had symptoms. I didn’t know anything about it. Would I still have a career? Was I going to die? How long did I have? I was devastated. I had to let it sink in for six weeks while they ran more tests.”
Throughout the 2000s she continued to tour and make many TV appearance including, in 2009, an appearance on American Idol singing Something’s Gotta Give. In December 2015 her health took a turn for the worst and she cancelled a number of dates and ended up in a Los Angeles hospital where she died on New Year’s Eve. The cause of death was given as congestive heart failure.
Natalie was nominated for numerous Grammy Awards over the years and won her first in 1976 for Best New Artist and Best R&B Vocal Performance.
A question that cropped up on my online quiz a few leagues back was; true or false, Lemmy’s real name was Ian Kilminster and over 80% of people put true. Admittedly, for years I thought that too, but there really is no ‘n’, it’s Kilmister.
The world learned of the death of Lemmy when, on 28th December, the band posted the announcement of Motörhead’s own Facebook page. They requested fans to ‘play Lemmy’s music LOUD. Have a drink or few. Share stories. Celebrate the LIFE this lovely, wonderful man celebrated so vibrantly himself.’
Ian Fraser Kilmister was born on Christmas Eve 1945 and died just four days after his 70th birthday. He was born in Stoke-On-Trent but his father, an ex-Royal Air Force chaplain, and his mother separated when Ian was just three months old. After a few moves the family moved to where Ian grew up in Anglesey, North Wales.
When he left school he took a few small jobs to earn some money to buy a guitar, one of the jobs was working at a local Hotpoint factory. He saw the Beatles perform at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and that inspired him to concentrate on the guitar and perfected it enough to play along to the whole of the Beatles debut album, Please Please Me.
During the sixties he joined a few different bands including the Rainmakers and The Rockin’ Vickers who actually signed a deal with CBS records. He left the band in 1967 and moved to London and ended up sharing a flat Noel Redding who was the bass player with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which, in turn, led him to become their roadie for a year. After a brief spell with a psychedelic rock bands called Sam Gopal and Opal Butterfly, he joined London band Hawkwind, not only as singer but as bass player as well, something he had no experience with, but was persuaded into by band member Dik Mik. His bass playing became a trademark of the band and Lemmy also sang lead vocals on Hawkwind’s most successful single Silver Machine in 1972.
In 1975 Lemmy was arrested in Ontario, Canada on drug possession, spent five days in prison and then sacked from the band. Wasting no time, he immediately formed a new band and brought in musicians he knew. Lemmy named themselves Bastard but it was when their manager advised him that they would never have an appearance on Top of the Pops, he changed the name and decided on the title of the last song he ever wrote whilst with Hawkwind and that was Motörhead.
Their debut hit in 1978 was a cover of Richard Berry & the Pharaohs’’ sing Louie Louie which scraped into the chart at number 75. This was followed six months later by Overkill which just made the top 40. Their first top hit may surprise you, it was an EP called The Golden Years Live with the lead track being a Holland Dozier Holland song called Leaving Here. Then came their most well-known song, Ace of Spades which only peaked at number 15. In 1981 they teamed up with the all-girl group Girlschool and recorded a cover of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates 1959 hit Please Don’t Touch as Headgirl – it reached number five and became their highest charting UK hit.
Lemmy wrote a song called R.A.M.O.N.E.S for the Ramones, he also made a cameo appearance in the 1990 film Hardware. In 1987 they recorded the soundtrack to the film Eat the Rich of which Lemmy also appeared in.
In 2005, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary called Motörhead: Live Fast, Die Old during which they claim that Lemmy had slept with over 2000 women. Lemmy in a different interview when asked if that was true said, “I said more than a thousand, they made two thousand of it.”
He was well known as a Jack Daniels man but, again, according to the documentary they stated that he drank a bottle a day and had done since he was thirty. No doubt Lemmy said a glass a day!
In later life he suffered from diabetes and so decided to cut down on his alcohol and drug intake. He died at home in Los Angeles on 28th December with the cause of death being given as extremely aggressive cancer.
In an interview with The Guardian earlier in 2015 Lemmy said, “I didn’t really want to be in the lifestyle without the music, and I didn’t want to be in the music without the lifestyle.”
The front page of the band’s website was changed to read: The band signed off: Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, 1945 – 2015. Born to lose, lived to win.