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German band leader James Last dies at 86.

If you’re ever asked the pop trivia question, which act has had the most hit albums but not one top 40 hit single, you’d be hard pushed to come up with the right answer, but if you ever are, just reply with James Last and you’ll impress the person asking.

Hans Last was born in Bremen in Germany in 1929 and began studying piano at the age of 10 but his first piano teacher thought he lacked a natural talent so he changed tutors. His second one was much better and after a few years he decided to study the double bass. During the Second World War he assisted the air defence command posts by delivering messages and also took up learning the tuba too.

At the age of 14 he decided to put his talents to the test at a music academy and towards the end of the war he got gigs in American GI clubs, which exposed him to new styles. His favourite instrument was double bass and he soon found a job in Radio Bremen’s newly-founded dance orchestra. In the early fifties he became the leader of the Last-Becker Ensemble and when they disbanded he joined Polydor Records in Germany as their in-house arranger and worked closely with Helmut Zacharias and Caterina Valente.

He began releasing albums with his own orchestra in 1959, the first being Tricks in Rhythm. His breakthrough only came when he found his so-called ‘happy sound’ and began performing with his own orchestra under the stage name James Last. Almost no song could escape the James Last treatment; he proved this in 1972 when he converted Hawkwind’s Silver Machine into a masterpiece by replacing Lemmy’s vocals with a brass instrument.

In the UK he charted 66 albums between 1967 and 2011 with five of them making the top 10. His only hit single came in 1980 when he recorded Georgio Moroder’s tune The Seduction as the theme for the film American Gigolo. It was beautiful, moody and seductive but only reached number 48.

Like Max Bygraves huge amounts of his albums ended up in charity shops, but that’s just an indication of how many people bought them in the first place, but perhaps grew out of them, after all he did spend 435 weeks on the UK album chart. By 1973, James Last had already racked up 100 gold discs and sold 80 million LPs.

As a writer, three songs he penned made it into the UK singles chart courtesy of other singers, Donald Peers was the first in 1966 with Games That Lovers Play followed three years later by Andy Williams who took Happy Heart to number 47 and the final one was Elvis Presley who took Last’s tune No Words and asked Carl Sigman to add lyrics which then became Fool and made number 15 in 1973.

By the 1970s his trademark became big band arrangements of pop songs and he toured relentlessly across the whole of Europe. In 2007 he published his autobiography which he simply called My Autobiography and at the time was quoted as saying, “I tend to think more about what’s coming tomorrow than what happened yesterday.”

In the summer of 2014 he became ill which he stated took a “life-threatening” turn last September. It forced him to face the fact that, “A man full of plans, needs to not just slow down but give up his life on tour altogether. This final tour would give me the opportunity to bid farewell to my fans.” The tour kicked off in February this year and he said, “The main thing is that my fans have the best concerts of their lives and we will make this our ‘happiest’ concert yet,” He said in a BBC interview following his concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, “I can’t talk about goodbye – it’s a terrible feeling,”

Last had two homes, one in Hamburg and one in Florida and whilst at home in Florida on 9th June he died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by his family.

One of his best loved and infectious tunes was called Happy Music which many radio DJs have used as their theme tune. Have a listen.

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60s pop starlet Twinkle has died

She was called the poshest rebel of them all, the sixties starlet. Twinkle, has died.

Twinkle, who was born Lynn Annette Ripley in 1948, was different from her counterparts, namely Dusty, Sandie and Cilla, because she wrote her own material. She was born into a well-to-do family and had a private education where she attended Kensington’s Queen’s Gate School at the same time as Camilla Parker Bowles. She recalled, “I was protected as a child and any boyfriend I had to be from Harrow or Eton. But I’d see motorbikes flashing by on the Dorking by-pass near where I lived and I longed to go around with people like that which is where Terry came in.”

Her discovery of pop probably coincided with her disillusionment of school, Twinkle recalled one particular event, “We didn’t have uniform, most of the girls were really Sloane Rangers but I wore the latest fashion. My mother was brilliant like that and one day I wore a dress that nipped under the bust and then flowed out. The headmistress called me into her study and said to me, ‘You look six months pregnant’, so I smacked her and walked out and phoned dad and told him I couldn’t take it anymore. Dad made me stay until the end of term because he didn’t want to see ‘expelled’ written on my report.”

Twinkle’s elder sister, Dawn, was a budding journalist and following columns she’d contributed to Mirabelle and Jackie magazines she began to mix with various pop stars. One day Dawn was going to a party and invited Twinkle to join her. There, Twinkle acquired an admirer in the shape of Dec Clusky from the Bachelors. One night, not long after, Dec and the other two Bachelors had arranged a meal with Twinkle, her sister and their father and it was there that Mr Ripley presented Dec with a tape of his daughter singing Terry who, in turn, played it to his managers who were the husband and wife couple Dorothy and Philip Solomon. Philip then paid a visit to the Ripley household and after initially mistaking Twinkle for once of the servants’ children she was offered the chance to record the song professionally and her dad made her promise that if the record failed she had to complete her next term at school.

Her name was resurrected again in 1986 when The Smiths covered Golden Lights and issued it on the cassette single of Ask in 1986. By the nineties she’d effectively disappeared only occasionally popping up on various oldies shows and last toured properly in 1994 when she was on the road with the Four Pennies and former Searchers’ singer Tony Jackson, but basically admitted she hasn’t been interested in the pop world for decades.

In 1972 she married Graham Rogers who will be best remembered for being the daredevil stuntman in the Milk Tray advert and the sheikh in the Fry’s Turkish Delight advert. She died on 21st May after a five-year battle with cancer.

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Blues guitar legend B .B. King dies

The last of the influential blues legends B.B. King has died.

Just two weeks ago, B.B., or Riley to use his real name, announced on his website that he had officially retired and was entering into hospice care in his home city of Las Vegas. B.B. has, for years, toured relentlessly and was still regularly performing over 100 shows a year right into old age. It cost him two marriages in the end.

He was born in September 1925 in Mississippi and after his mother left his father for another man he was brought up by his grandmother. As a kid he was made to work in cotton and corn fields where he milked 20 cows a day from 10 in the morning till 10 at night.

He joined a local gospel choir until he was 11 years old when he became fascinated by the guitar buying his first one a year later. In 1947 he got a job as a DJ on radio station WDIA where he also sang and within weeks earned the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy. That was soon shortened to Blues boy and then to just B.B.

Two years later he moved to Los Angeles and signed a record deal with RPM records and many of his first singles were produced by Sam Phillips who went on to launch Sun Records in Tennessee.

His first US hit, 3 O’Clock Blues, made the Billboard R&B chart at the end of 1951 and reached number one. He went on to have a further 74 R&B hits and became arguably the most influential guitarists of all time who, in the sixties and seventies, was embraced by rock ‘n’ roll fans alike. He influenced hundreds of budding guitarists including, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. He defined the genre for nearly seven decades with his unique style of electric guitar playing and earned himself the nickname the ‘King of the Blues.’

In 1968 he performed at the Fillmore West in San Francisco and considered it to have been his moment of his commercial breakthrough which he admitted in a 2003 television interview. When he saw long-haired white people lining up outside the Fillmore, he claimed, he told his road manager, “I think they booked us in the wrong place.” Then the promoter Bill Graham introduced him to the sold-out crowd: Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the chairman of the board, B. B. King. “Everybody stood up, and I cried,” he said, “and that was the beginning of it.”

 

In 1989, at the age of 64, he reached a brand new audience when he teamed up with U2 for the top 10 hit When Loves Comes to Town which gave him his first UK hit. His only other foray into the singles chart was in collaboration with Gary Moore on the track Since I Met You Baby in 1992. In 2000 he teamed up with Eric Clapton and recorded the album Riding with the King which made number 15 on the album chart.

 

He launched a number of Blues clubs, the first one being on Beale Street in Memphis in 1991. His second was in 1994 at Universal City Walk in Los Angeles then Times Square (New York 2000), Foxwoods Casino (Connecticut 2002), 2nd Avenue (Nashville 2003), West Palm Beach (Florida 2009) and the final one at the Mirage Hotel (Las Vegas 2009).

 

During his career he released 50 albums and won 15 Grammy awards the first being in 1970 for his song The Thrill Is Gone. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 followed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 – the same year he won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004 he received the international Polar Music Prize which is an award given to artists who are recognised for exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music.

 

In the mid-50s, he was performing at a dance in Arkansas, when a couple of fans became unruly and started a fire. King ran out but forgot his guitar and risked his life to go back and get it. He later found out that the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille and one of them knocked over a kerosene heater which started the fire. He named the guitar Lucille, which he said, “It was to remind myself never to do anything that foolish.”

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Errol Brown dies

Errol Brown, the man known as the singing Malteser, has died at the age of 71.

Errol was born Lester Errol Brown in Kingston, Jamaica and moved, with his family, to the UK when he was nearly 12 and settled in Brixton. In 1968, at the age of 25, Errol assembled a band which comprised Tony Connor, Larry Ferguson, Harvey Hinsley, Patrick Olive and Tony Wilson.

The first song they recorded was a cover of the Plastic Ono Band’s Give Peace A Chance which was done in a reggae style and where Errol slightly changed some of the lyrics. He was told that he was not allowed do this without John Lennon’s permission, so a copy of the demo was sent to the Beatles Apple record label to see what they thought of it. “Amazingly, a week later I got a call to say John Lennon approved it and wanted to sign the band to the Apple record label – and that’s how we began,” Errol explained. The band didn’t have a name at this point and so it was the Apple label’s secretary Mavis Smith who gave them the name The Hot Chocolate Band.

Towards the end of 1969 Mickie Most signed Errol and the co-founder of the group Tony Wilson as writers and recorded their songs with Mary Hopkins, Julie Felix and Herman’s Hermits before encouraging them to come up with a song for themselves. In 1970 they released their first record entitled Love Is Life which reached number six in the charts and was the start of a 15 year career for the group who amassed a total of 33 hits and also became the only group in the UK to have a hit for 15 consecutive years. They were also only one of three acts to have had a UK hit in every year in the seventies alongside Elvis Presley and Diana Ross.

In 1981 Hot Chocolate had the honour of being invited by Prince Charles and Lady Diana at their pre-wedding reception at Buckingham Palace which was attended by heads of Government and many members of European Royalty.

In 1986 Errol left the band and they temporarily broke up, but reformed in 1992, with Greg Bannis being Errol’s replacement, but the success was not forthcoming.

Errol had a brief solo career which indlued the minor hit singles Personal Touch which reached number 25 and body Rockin’ which stalled at number 51. He also owned a racehorse called Gainsay. He was recognised for his career in music, being awarded the MBE in 2003 and an Ivor Novello award for his contribution to music in 2004.

He died on 6th May after losing his battle with liver cancer.

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Soul singer Ben E. King dies

The former Drifters lead singer and soul legend Ben E. King has died at the age of 76.

Benjamin Earl King was born in Henderson, North Carolina in September 1938. In 1958 he joined a local soul group called The Five Crowns. The group was short-lived because later the same year George Treadwell, the Drifters’ manager fire all the original members and replaced them with all the members of the Five Crowns. They then signed to the Atlantic and their first hit was the Ben E. King co written song There Goes My Baby. The most well-known Drifters song with King on lead vocals was Save the Last Dance for Me which reached number two in the UK in December 1960.

Following a dispute between the Drifters’ manager and King’s manager about a pay increased whilst in the group, Ben was told that he could no longer perform in television not on tour but would remain as lead singer until a suitable replacement was found. That happened in 1960 when Rudy Lewis was brought in.

King instantly launched a solo career and remained with Atlantic records where his first single, Spanish Harlem make the top 10 in the US but failed to chart in the UK. His next song, First Taste of Love gave him his first taste of UK success reaching number 27 and featured backing vocals from Elise Bretton, Lillian Clark and Myriam Workman who were all members of the Ray Charles Singers.

Then came the big one! Stand By Me, which made number four in the States and the same position as its predecessor on these shores. It was inspired by the Soul Stirrers song Stand By Me Father which was first recorded in 1959.

Although his career went quiet in the UK, he charted 29 further hits on Billboard, including his original version of I (Who Have nothing) which was covered in the UK by both Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones. King made a spectacular and unexpected comeback when Stand By Me was featured as the theme to the 1986 film of the same name and rocketed the song to number one. The two weeks it spent at the top in February and March 1987 there was another soul legend at number two who was enjoying a re-issue of his 1966 hit When A Man Loves A Woman and that was Percy sledge who died just a fortnight ago. Continuing the soul revival in that chart, the week King dropped to number two, Jackie Wilson went up to number three which his re-issue of I Get The Sweetest Feeling.

Many tributes have been paid to King who died of natural causes, none lovelier than his friend Gary U.S. Bonds who posted this on has Facebook page: With an extremely heavy heart, I must say goodbye to one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 years – Mr. Ben E. King. Thank you Ben E. for your friendship and the wonderful legacy you leave behind.

 

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