Prog rock guitarist Greg Lake has died

I can’t recalled an occasion when two members of a trio both died in the same year. In March this year Keith Emerson died after battling depression and a degenerative nerve issue and just nine months later his band mate, guitarist, bass player and vocalist with the prog-rock trio Emerson Lake and Palmer, Greg Lake has died from cancer.

He was born in Poole, Dorset in 1947 and was at school with guitarist Robert Fripp who went on to become founding member of King Crimson. Fripp invited him to join Crimson originally as guitarist but then Fripp requested Lake to take over on bass which he duly agreed. Pete Sinfield was Crimson’s primary songwriter, but Lake did contribute some songs to their debut album In the Court of the Crimson King.

In 1970 he left and got together with former Nice keyboard player Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer who had been the drummer with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster and formed Emerson Lake and Palmer. They remained together until 1979 although there was gaps when each did their own thing. Emerson charted one solo hit – Honky Tonk Train Blues which reached number 21 in April 1976 just four months after Greg Lake’s only solo hit, I Believe in Father Christmas, reached number two – one of four songs that were unable to unseat Bohemian Rhapsody.

In 1986 he then was reacquainted with Keith Emerson and then brought in Cozy Powell to formed Emerson, Lake and Powell who stuck it out for just a year.

Since then he has periodically toured on his own and, on occasions, getting together with Keith Emerson but in July 2010 the original trio reformed for a one-off concert at the High Voltage rock festival in London.

He had been battling what the ELP Facebook page called “a long and stubborn battle with cancer” and died on 7th December aged 69.

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Canadian poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen dies

Leonard Cohen’s music was often referred to as being totally dull and dreary and, as Mark Radcliffe stated “He was misunderstood and it was only the uneducated who would have thought that”.

Montreal-born Cohen was the grandson of a well-respected Rabbi and in his early years showed a passion for country music and in his teen years formed a country and western band called the Buckskin Boys, this was all whilst studying English at McGill University. He showed a natural talent for poetry and a literary career was looking promising. He began writing professionally in the mid-fifties and his first published collection was Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956. His second was The Spice-Box of Earth five years later and then in 1964 came the provocatively titled Flowers for Hitler which won him the Quebec literary award.

He served a brief spell at Columbia University, New York before setting off for Europe where he landed on the Greek island of Hydra which is where he met a lady called Marianne Jensen with whom he became romantically linked and she was the inspiration for his song So Long, Marianne. In the mid-sixties he headed for Nashville via New York where he met Judy Collins, he played some of his songs to her and Judy was instantly taken with Suzanne. Leonard gave her the song and she recorded it first. You can read more about this song in the Single of the Week archive which I wrote back in August. He and Collins became lifelong friends, she even helped him when, at an anti-Vietnam war benefit concert in 1967, he panicked and fled the stage, it was Judy who calmed him and coaxed him back to the stage.

He began touring in 1970 across the USA and his native Canada and even appeared at the Isle of Wight festival later the same year. He released a number of albums at regular intervals – Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971), New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974), Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977), Recent Songs (1979), Various Positions (1984) and I’m Your Man (1988). Arguably his best known song, Hallelujah, which came from the 84 album Various Positions, has been cover by a number of artists including Jeff Buckley and Alexandra Burke.

In the early 2000s Cohen was running into financial trouble and it was revealed that he fired his manager, Kelley Lynch, in 2004 amidst allegations she had stolen all of his money, leaving him on the brink of bankruptcy, and forcing him to begin touring again to raise funds. Lynch initially denied everything and insisted on a jury trial which she got. It didn’t go her way, she was found guilty and served 18 months of her five year sentence. Cohen issued this statement after the verdict was announced, “I want to thank the defendant, Ms Kelley Lynch, for insisting on a jury trial, thus exposing to the light of day her massive depletion of my retirement savings and yearly earnings, and allowing the court to observe her profoundly unwholesome, obscene and relentless strategies to escape the consequences of her wrongdoing”.

In 2008 Leonard’s friend, Simon Cowell, whose company, Syco, owns the rights to the song introduced it into the X-Factor. The song was chosen for Alexandra Burke who won the series. On the back of Burke’s win both Cohen and Buckley’s versions were all released and the Christmas chart of 2008 had Burke at number one, Buckley at number two and Cohen at number 36. The Daily Mail reported that Syco was earning £250,000 a day in royalties. Cohen must have a happy man as, not only did he earn a stack of royalties, he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He only recorded one album in the nineties but then was back on form in the 2000 releasing Ten New Songs (2001), Dear Heather (2004), Old Ideas (2012), Popular Problems (2014) and his most recent album, You Want It Darker, which was produced by his son Adam, which was completed just five weeks before his death.

This year there have been a few surprising celebrity deaths, surprising in as much as the details of their illnesses were kept secret, David Bowie, Prince, Terry Wogan to name three and one has to wonder if the signs for Leonard were there because in a recent interview in the New Yorker magazine which he gave to tie-in with the album release, he declared his determination to keep working at his craft until the end. He said, “I’ve got some work to do, take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”

Not only did Leonard pass away on the same date as the legendary broadcaster Jimmy Young, he was born on the same date too (21st September) albeit 13 years apart. Cohen was 82 and Young wasn’t – he was 95.

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50’s singer Kay Starr dies

Kay Starr, the lady they called the Hillybilly singer with the crossover appeal has died at the age of 94.

She was born Katherine Laverne Starks in Oklahoma and became known also as the Jukebox Queen because so many of her songs were on endless play on thousands of jukeboxes across America. Having served with Bob Crosby and his Orchestra in 1939 she was then briefly hired by Glenn Miller to temporarily replace his regular singer Marion Hutton but then she launched her solo career in 1946 and was soon described by the blues legend Billie Holliday as “the only white woman who could sing the blues”. In an interview in 1981 Kay said, “People who haven’t seen me either think I’m a 260-pound peroxide blonde or a 260-pound black woman. Whites sing one-two-three-four. I sing between the beat, in the cracks, any old way.”

She had a number of million-selling singles including her biggest hit, Wheel of Fortune which spent 10 weeks at the top of the US chart in February 1952. It sold very well in the UK but only on the sheet music chart as the UK hit parade didn’t begin until November of that year. She had two UK number ones, Comes A-Long A-Love in 1953 and Rock And Roll Waltz in 1956. She was the first act to chart using the words Rock and Roll in the title even though it was a waltz. She was also the first act to have her first and last UK hits being number ones.

In the mid-fifties when Rock and Roll swept in to washed away many performers she took to the road and spent the next three decades touring. She recorded a few albums in the sixties and in 1988 she performed with Helen O’Connell and Margaret Whiting in the show 3 Girls. Four years later she came to the UK to tour with Pat Boone on his April Love tour. In 2001 she appeared with Tony Bennett singing Blue and Sentimental on his album Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues.

In recent years, she devoted herself to Native American affairs and was married six times. She died on 3rd November after suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.

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Veteran broadcaster Jimmy Young dies at 95

Back in the 1970s and 80s the morning shows on Radio’s 1 and 2 commanded some of the highest listening figures ever recorded. On Radio 1 over 25 million people tuned in to hear Simon Bates reading ‘Our Tune’ and around 9.30 on Radio 2 is when Terry Wogan handed over to Jimmy Young, the their banter and quips became legendary. In January this year we lost Sir Terry to cancer at the age of 77 and now we’ve lost Sir Jimmy at the age of 95.

Jimmy was born Leslie Ronald Young in 1921 in Cinderford, in Gloucestershire. His career began in 1950 when he was signed to Polygon records which was owned by Petula Clark’s father. His first hit in 1951, a million-seller, was Too Young, a cover of Nat King Cole’s American hit. He recorded two duets with Petula, Mariandl and Broken Heart. In 1952 he changed labels to Decca and charted 10 hits, most with Bob Sharples and his Orchestra, and included the two 1955 number ones Unchained Melody from the B-movie Unchained and the title track from the film The Man from Laramie. The ladies loved his voice.

He once claimed that Elvis’ success had killed his singing career and so turned to broadcasting where, in 1955 he became the presenter of Housewives’ Choice and had other shows called The Night is Young and Keep Young. By the end of 1960 he was presenting seven shows a week on Radio Luxembourg. In 1967 he was invited to be one of the original DJs at Radio 1 when it launched and was given a morning show even though certain bosses at the BBC thought he was too old (he was 46 at the time) for a young audience and was given a temporary three-month contract. He stayed with Radio1 for six years before moving to Radio 2 in 1973 to present the mid-morning ‘JY Prog’ show where he remained until he retired in 2002.

He interview numerous guests over the years including various Prime Ministers. He liked Margaret Thatcher and she appeared on his show 14 times. He had a very relaxed and informal interviewing style but could be fairly forceful when he wanted to be, but always polite with it. You can tell that Jeremy Paxman was not a listener.

He also had a number of catchphrases like ‘What’s the recipe today, Jim?’ and ‘Off we jolly well go’, he also signed off every day with Bye for now or TTFN (ta ta for now). His theme tune, Town Talk by Ken Woodman, was instantly recognisable.

He was awarded an OBE in 1979 and knighted in 2002. After 28 years in that slot he announced his retirement from Radio 2 at the end of 2002 but took over a weekend slot from 2003. After his retirement from weekdays he was offered a job as a columnist by the Sunday Express.

I last saw Jimmy Young at a Radio 1 reunion in 2009 and was in good shape with a full head of white hair, more than he had when I working with him in the late seventies. My friend, DJ Mick Brown tweeted: “Legendary DJ Jimmy Young has sadly died… what a poxy year! Radio heaven gets another top ock!”

Jimmy passed away peacefully at home on Monday 7th November with his third wife Alicia at his bedside.


Jimmy’s Radio 2 theme tune


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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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