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Soul legend Percy Sledge has died

The legendary would singer Percy Sledge has died.

You mentioned the name Percy Sledge to anyone in the street and most will only know him for his international hit When a Man Loves a Woman, but there was more to Percy than that.

He was born in Leighton, Alabama and had a number of jobs working on local farms near his home. He then began singing gospel music with his cousin, the R&B singer Jimmy Hughes who used to record at the Muscle Shoals studio in the early sixties. In 1964 Jimmy took his band, The Esquires, on the road and Percy often tagged along. He occasionally sang some backing vocals and eventually took over as lead singer but he had no desire at that time to turn professional, as he recalled years later, “It was all natural talent, I had no training at all. We all loved music and played at the weekends for some extra cash.”

One Friday night in 1965, two members of the Esquires, bassist Calvin Lewis and organist Andrew Wright came up with a tune. Andrew started playing the changes, the chord progression,” recalled Lewis, “We all liked what he came out with but assumed he wouldn’t remember it after that night, but the next day he began playing it again so Calvin started writing some lyrics and gave it the working title Why Did You Leave Me,” and began including it in their live sets.

When Percy heard it he added some lyrics based on a real life experience of a girl called Lizz King who left him for a modelling job. Now interestingly Percy’s name does not appear on the writing credits. According to Sledge, he claimed he co-wrote the song with his bandmates Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, but let them have sole composer credits, since they gave him the opportunity to sing his heart out. Whether Sledge was acting out of the goodness of his heart or didn’t realise what it meant to get a writing credit is a matter of debate, but it had huge implications, resulting in a windfall for Lewis and Wright, who get the royalties every time it is played.

Professional and sharp-eared musicians may well have noticed that the horns on the track are out of tune and when the original track was sent to the head of Atlantic Records, Jerry Wexler he spotted it too and sent it back to be ‘fixed’ but the ‘fixed’ version never got released. David Hood, the bass player in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section explained to Song Facts, “Wexler thought the horns on the original version were out of tune – and they were – and he wanted them to change the horns. They went back in the studio and changed the horns, got different horn players to play on it. But then the tapes got mixed up and Atlantic put out their original version. So that’s the hit.”

The song reached number one in the USA and number four in the UK but in 1987, following its use in a Levi’s TV commercial the song was re-issued and zoomed to number two behind another re-issued Atlantic classic Stand By Me by Ben E. King.

Michael Bolton covered the song in 1991 and again it reached the UK top 10.

In 1994 released an album called Blue Night and 10 years later released Shining Through the Rain which led to him being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

In 2014 Sledge contracted liver cancer and died at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the age of 74. Many sources will say he was 73 but he was born in November 1940.

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Eurovision star Ronnie Carroll dies

The first man to represent the UK twice at Eurovision has died at the age of 80.

Ronnie Carroll, who was born Ronald Cleghorn, was born in Belfast in 1934 and, as a young man, worked in variety theatre which is where he met the future wife, That Was The Week That Was host, Millicent Martin whom he married in 1959.

In the mid-fifties he changed his name and was signed to Philips records by producer Johnny Franz who had seen him performing at the Metropolitan Hotel on London’s Edgware Road. He had his first UK hit with Walk Hand In Hand, a song first recorded earlier the same year by Denny Vaughan and later covered by Tony Martin, Andy Williams and Australian singer Jimmy Parkinson. Gerry & the Pacemakers also attempted it and reached number 29 in 1965.

In 1960 he was given the song Girl With A Curl which he recorded and entered the Song For Europe selection but lost out to Teddy Johnson’s brother Bryan who went on to represent us with Looking High High High which came second.

Two years later he went a stage further and represented the UK proper with the song Ring-A-Ding Girl which came fourth and the following year he did it again with Say Wonderful Things which, again, came fourth. Ring-A-Ding Girl stalled at number 46 on the UK singles chart, but the follow up, the Paul Evans-penned Roses Are Red (My Love) gave him his biggest hit reaching number three. His final chart appearance was with Say Wonderful Things which peaked at number six. Johnny Logan may have won Eurovision twice but Ronnie is the only person to represent the UK in two consecutive years.

It was the lack of decent material and the arrival of the Beatles that halted his career. He made a brief appearance in the 1965 film Man In The Dark in which he played a musician called Ronnie and then moved on to playing the cruise ships including the QE2. He was also friends with Princess Margaret and made fairly regular trips to Buckingham Palace. He used to host parties at his pad in London which were often attended by Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark and Alma Cogan. He also got the pick of the girls. He recalled in the interview with The Guardian in 2008, “It might seem hard to believe but in the old days screaming girls would climb onto trains as I was pulling into stations and they’d come in droves for me backstage. I had as much sex as any man could wish for. When I shared a flat with a mate in Gower Street we sometimes had whole chorus lines sleeping round. I remember a woman in St Helens – she wasn’t the prettiest of things, but you don’t have much choice in St Helens – and I was asking and asking to make love with her and she just kept saying, ‘No, I might get pregnant. No, I might catch something.’ Then eventually she said, ‘Oh, all right then. On one condition – that you sing A Blossom Fell first.”

He divorced Millicent in 1965 and not long after married the Olympic Sprinter June Paul. In 1972, the pair emigrated with their children to Grenada and opened a nightclub, but a political revolution scuppered their plans, and they returned to Britain in deep financial trouble. To make ends meet he occasionally performed in clubs and holiday camps, sometimes in far-east countries but eventually abandoned singing and launched a hot sausage stall in London’s Camden Market. In the eighties he helped run the Everyman Cinema and Jazz Club in Hampstead.

In later years he moved into the world of politics which, with his great sense of humour, seemed to send up politics rather than seriously challenge it. Being a Hampstead resident for years, in 1997 he decided to stand for Parliament on a ‘Home Rule for Hampstead’ ticket at the General Election. As it turned out he posed little threat to the existing member, another showbiz star, Glenda Jackson. He returned to politics in 2004 as the public face of the obscure Rainbow Connection party.

With his political career having little impact he returned to singing and in 2005 he released a new album of covers called Back on Song backed by a little known band called Lebab. That made little impact too and so, yet again returned to politics and in 2015 was due to stand as an independent in the election in the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency.

In 2014 Ronnie learned that he had cancer and moved into a London hospice. He passed away on Monday 13th April surrounded by family and friends after a nine-month battle with the disease.

His friend George Weiss, who, in 2004, made headlines himself when it was revealed in the Daily Telegraph that he had been granted the freehold of a three-storey mews house in Hampstead after squatting there for 20 years, said last night: “It was very peaceful at the end and Ronnie’s own music was playing in the room.”

George had put the house on the market for £850,000 and said he would use the money to set up an independent record label and promote a single he has recorded with Carroll, but sadly came to nothing. To read the George Weiss story click here.

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Free’s Andy Fraser dies

Andy Fraser, bass player with Free has died, but there was more to him than just a member of Free.

He was born in Paddington in London and started to learn piano when he was five. He studied hard and trained to a classical level until he was 12 when he then decided to leave the keyboard and pick up a guitar. He was expelled from school when he was 15 and began busking around the east end of London eventually playing in a West Indian club near Whitechapel.

He briefly attended Hammersmith College where Alexis Korner’s daughter befriended him and introduced him to her father. Korner recommended him to John Mayall who called him and invited him to join his Bluesbreakers, which he did, albeit very briefly. Korner then pointed him in the direction of the newly formed band, Free for whom he became a permanent member.

Their best known song is All Right Now which reached number two in 1970, and in a 2012 interview with Mojo magazine Andy recalled how it came about, “We’d started work on our third album, Fire and Water and things were going well. The idea for All Right Now came about on a rainy Tuesday night in some godsforsaken minor city – I can’t remember where – in England.” (actually it was Durham) “We were playing a college that could have held 2,000 but had something like 30 people out of their heads on Mandrax bumping into each other in front of us. They didn’t notice when we came on or when we went off. Afterwards there was that horrible silence in the dressing room. To break the intensity, I started singing, ‘All right now…come on baby, all right now.’ As if to say, Hey, tomorrow’s another day. Everyone else started tapping along. That riff was me trying to do my Pete Townshend. We listened to everything, though: The Beatles, Stax and Motown, Gladys Knight and the Pips were one of our main influences then. Paul (Rodgers) said he wrote the lyrics while he was waiting for us to pick him up for another gig. We used to have a dressing room amp, so every night we’d do the song and add a bit, until we tested it live.”

In the liner notes of the Anthology CD, Tom Mautner clarified, “When we got into the dressing room, it was obvious that we needed an uptempo number, a rocker to close our shows. All of sudden, the Inspiration struck and Andy started bopping around singing all right now… He sat down and wrote it right there in the dressing room. It couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes.”

Andy left the band in 1972 and launched a solo career and concentrated on writing. Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart have covered his songs and Frankie Miller charted in 1977 with Be Good to Yourself and his beat known track, outside of Free, was Every Kinda People which has been a UK hit for Robert Palmer and the Mint Juleps.

In the 1980s he was diagnosed with HIV and a form of cancer called Kaposi’s Sarcoma, in recent years, he had been involved with the Rock Against Trafficking charity. He survived both of those and became a strong social activist and defender of individual human rights.

In 2008, Fraser wrote and recorded a track called Obama (Yes We Can), which the President used in his campaign for election.

In March 2014, Andy passed away, but the cause is still under investigation. He leaves behind two daughters, Hannah and Jasmine Fraser, and their mother Ri, his sister Gail, brothers Gavin and Alex, and many friends and associates in the industry.

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Jackie Trent Dies

Legendary singer and songwriter Jackie Trent has died at the age of 74.

The news of Jackie’s death comes just a week after it was announced that there are plans to launch a musical of her life in May.

Jackie was born Yvonne Burgess in 1940 in Newcastle-Under Lyme and showed early potential when he appeared on stage, at the age of 10, in a local pantomime Babes In The Wood. She loved singing and released her first single in 1962 called Pick up the Pieces. As a teenager she moved to Stoke.

In late 1964 she signed to Pye records and met the man who would later become her husband, Tony Hatch. Together they wrote her first hit called Where Are You Now (My Love) which was featured in the TV series It’s Dark Outside. It went to number one in the UK and gave Jackie the honour of being the first female to write her own number one hit.

The pair wrote many songs together including the Petula Clark hit I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love which was inspired by Hatch and Trent’s affair prior to their marriage. They wrote many songs for Petula and for other artists including for Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Des O’Connor, Dean Martin Sue Nicholls and Scott Walker especially my favourite sixties hit, Joanna.

It has appeared in some obituaries that both Jackie and Tony penned the theme to the massively successful soap Crossroads which became engrained in the public mind, but it was in fact all Tony’s work for which I thank Tony for pointing out to me. In 1978 Jackie appeared on the BBC show Seaside Special and then her and Hatch moved to Ireland to host their own TV shows Words and Music and It’s A Musical World. The pair then moved again, this time to Australia in 1982 and ended up writing an even bigger TV theme, Neighbours.

The pair separated in 1995 and eventually divorced in 2002. Tony returned to the UK and Jackie went to live in Menorca which is where I interviewed her for my 1000 UK Number One Hits Book in 2004.

In 2014 she teamed up with Tim Wedgwood and Jonathan Fernyhough, two local writers and the three of them began work on new musical about her life called Jackie – The Jackie Trent Story. Jonathan Fernihough, director at the Staffordshire-based amateur theatre company The Porthill Players, said: “She was just determined to make a star of herself and that’s exactly what she did.”

Looking back on her career in the 1960s, Trent said recently, “British music arrived. Everybody wanted The Beatles. Everybody wanted Petula Clark. It was going to be my life and fortunately the face fits and I was there at the right time and the right place.

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Lesley Gore Dies

Lesley Sue Goldstein, as she was born, may have only had two UK hit singles, but she was a force to be reckoned with and popular, talented and much-loved singer.

She was born in Brooklyn, New York but raised in New Jersey, she was discovered at the age of 16 by producer Quincy Jones who signed her to Mercury Records. He also producer her first and biggest international hit, It’s My Party.

That song was first recorded as a demo by the Blossoms but Helen Shapiro cut the first proper version. Helen didn’t like her own version and didn’t want it released, so it was given to Lesley and she made number one in America and number nine in the UK in 1963.

Her follow-up in the UK was Maybe I Know which reached number 20, but in her homeland she had much more success with the sequel to It’s My Party, Judy’s Turn to Cry and then She’s a Fool, Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows and the wonderful woman’s point-of-view anthem, and million-selling, You Don’t Own Me.

Singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka paid tribute by saying, “She was a great person and a phenomenal talent, who had opened for me on many occasions. She recorded a few of my songs (Magic Colors and Summer Symphony) and was a great songwriter in her own right. I’m glad I had the chance of knowing her.”

She was openly gay but officially came out in the early noughties when she hosted several episodes of the series, In the Life, which dealt with gay and lesbian issues in America. Her partner of 33 years, Lois Sasson said, “She was a wonderful human being — caring, giving, a great feminist, great woman, great human being, great humanitarian,”

She moved onto to writing music for films alongside her brother Michael and the pair penned the Academy Award-nominated Out Here On My Own from the film 1980 Fame, before co-penning My Secret Love for Allison Anders’ 1996 film Grace of My Heart. She then turned to acting and appeared as Catwoman’s sidekick in the cult TV comedy Batman. In 1998, she appeared in Smokey Joe’s Cafe on Broadway.

In 2012 she got a tad involved in politics when, during the presidential campaign, she turned her hit You Don’t Own Me into an online video public service announcement demanding reproductive rights which starred Girls writer Lena Dunham and Tavi blogger Gevinson, among others.

One of her last live appearances was in 2012 when she headlined the She’s Got the Power concert outdoors at Lincoln Center alongside Ronnie Spector and LaLa Brooks.

Lesley died of lung cancer on Monday February 16th in the same city where she was born. New York.

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