The DJ Andrew Weatherall has died in hospital today at the age of 56.
The musician, who produced Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, suffered a pulmonary embolism.
His management announced the tragic news in a statement, writing: “We are deeply sorry to announce that Andrew Weatherall, the noted DJ and musician passed away in the early hours of this morning, Monday 17th February 2020, at Whipps Cross Hospital, London.
The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism. He was being treated in hospital but unfortunately, the blood clot reached his heart. His death was swift and peaceful.
If you came along to one of my quizzes and I asked you which seventies hit was written about Kate Barker, a woman who was, shall we say, was a bit dodgy and bought up four boys who all turned out to be gangsters, would you know? No? Then read on just in case I do ask that question one day.
Well, it was Boney M who sang about her in a song written by the man who produced all and wrote the majority of their hits Frank Farian, and he called it Ma Baker.
Ma Barker was known as Kate Barker although she was born Arizona Donnie Clark in Ash Grove, Missouri on the 9th October 1873. At the age of 19, she married George Barker and together they had four sons who grew up to become notorious gangsters.
The song open with the announcement, ‘Freeze I’m Ma Baker, put your hands in the air and give me all your money’ – those words are actually uttered by Linda Blake although all the Billboard books claim it’s Linda Pollock. Some of the story is true and some is fabricated to fit the song like the title for example. Ma Baker flowed better than Ma Barker. The picture is painted that she was the ‘meanest cat from old Chicago town’ but in reality, it was her sons who were the real criminals and she was there more to assist them. Focusing on a ‘tough’ woman clearly makes for a better story than four sons.
The four sons were called Herman (b: 1893 d: 1927), Lloyd (b: 1897 d: 1949), Arthur (b: 1899 d: 1939) and Fred (b: 1901 d: 1935) and with their parents not at all bothered about their education they never attended school and took up crime at an early age. Her husband, George did not engage in any of his wife and son’s activities, he had a number of low paid jobs. All their crimes involved robbery and murder but none of them were clever enough to avoid being caught. In 1927, Herman was involved in a bungled robbery in Wichita, Kansas which left a police officer dead when Herman shot him in the mouth at point blank range. A short while after Herman crashed his car and to avoid being prosecuted he killed himself. The following year, brothers Lloyd and Fred her jailed in Kansas and Arthur served time in a prison in Oklahoma. George and Kate were last known as a couple in 1928 but it’s unclear as to whether she threw him out or he left, but the stronger evidence indicates he left after being unable to cope being surrounded by a family who indulged in a life of crime. His eldest son’s death and his sibling’s jail sentences was the final straw.
The sons were in prison for around three years so for that time Ma Barker lived alone in poverty with no family around her and gained herself a reputation as a loose woman according to an F.B.I. statement at the time. Fred was released from prison first in 1931, but immediately teamed up with a former prison inmate Alvin Karpis to form the Barker-Karpis gang and continue their crime spree. Following another shooting, Alvin, Fred and Ma moved to Chicago and were eventually tracked down by the police in January 1936. A week later the police surrounded the house where they were hiding but unbeknown to the police, Alvin had disappeared a few days earlier. The police asked them to surrender but Fred began a shooting match which resulted in both Barkers losing their lives. Ma with a single bullet wound, Fred with several.
One verse in the song says, ‘Then came a man she liked, she thought she’d stay with him, when he informed on them, they did away with him’ – this refers to a man named Arthur Dunlop whom Ma had met whilst in poverty but had travelled with them to Chicago, but he had no job and drank a lot. When he was drunk he seemingly was unable to keep his mouth shut and thus the police managed to get some information from him.
The bridge of the song is the spoken announcement, ‘Here is a special bulletin, Ma Baker is the FBI’s most wanted woman. Her photo is hanging on every post office wall. If you have any information about this woman, please contact the nearest police station’, that announcement was the voice of Bill Swisher, an American soldier friend of Frank Farian’s who had served in Germany. Bill was married to Linda Blake.
The last verse states, ‘They didn’t want to hang, they died with blazing guns’ a true statement and the song ends with the lines ‘She never could cry’ and ‘but she knew how to die’ and that she did at the age of 61 – older than all of her sons.
Although the lyrics are original, the tune itself is based on an old Tunisian tune called Sidi Mansour which is named after a small town in Tunisia. An updated version was recorded by Mohamed Hanesh in 1975 and it was his version that Boney M’s was based on.
Ma Baker did well around the world where is made the top five in 20 countries including number one in Belgium, Austria, Germany, France, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. In the UK, it made number two and the b-side was a cover of the Yardbirds’ 1965 hit Still, I’m Sad.
Frank Farian later went on to work with Milli Vanilli and produced their big hits but was not involved with the lip-syncing atrocities in 1988. Their 1988 album All or Nothing contains a version of Ma Baker but who is actually singing it is anyone’s guess.
Since the video age, which began in the early eighties, the record companies try to promote an act not only on their sound, but their image as well. A good image, especially to young teenage girls, will help sell records. Prior to all that records generally sold on what was played on the radio so it didn’t matter too much what you looked like. People like Demis Roussos and Shane MacGowan were/are no oil paintings but they made some really good songs. That also applies to the man behind this week’s choice, Joe Jackson.
Joe is an amazing live performer too, I had the good fortune to see him at Hammersmith Palais in 1984 when he was a double header with Gary Glitter – they both put on good show but Joe, being more of a musician shone through.
He was born David Ian Jackson in August 1954 in Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire but grew up in Portsmouth. At school he learned violin, but soon realised he preferred piano. In his late teens, he joined a local band called Edward Bear who then changed their name to Arms and Legs.
Before he left that band he changed his name to Joe which he chose after people told him he looked like the cartoon character Snoopy in his student guise and known as Joe Cool.
After leaving the band, he toured the cabaret circuit with the hope of making enough money to record a demo. One night a record producer from A&M records saw him and took his demo to the company who them signed him. In 1978, he recorded the song Is She Really Going Out with Him? at Eden studios in London and on its initial release in August 1978 it failed to chart. It was re-issued a year later where it reached number 13. Six months later he followed it with It’s Different for Girls which became his highest charting UK hit when it peaked at number five. Joe’s only other visit to the UK top 10 was exactly three years later when Steppin’ Out reached number six.
Steppin’ Out, a phrase coined in New York City in the 1930s, is more piano led than his previous hits and had more of a jazz-feel. Joe was just coming out of a divorce and headed to New York to record the parent album Night And Day. New York is known as the city that never sleeps and that’s why the album sleeve shows both a light and dark image to represent night and day. It’s essentially a concept album with side one telling us stories of his visit during a taxi ride in Manhattan opening with Another World (his thoughts on the place) and then taking us to Chinatown. Side one closes with Steppin’ Out which described Joe’s anticipation of a night out on the town.
He described how it happened in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “I took a sublet in the East Village and went out to jazz and Latin clubs. One of the first songs I wrote was Steppin’ Out. I was inspired by New York. I envisioned playing a diverse range of keyboards. I wanted them to conjure up the dazzle of neon lights and the feel of cabbing from club to club to take it all in. It would be a romantic ballad set to a disco beat. As soon as I finished the music, I wrote the words. I thought of a couple who had just fought and were making up. They were telling each other, “Let’s forget it and take advantage of the city. Let’s just throw ourselves into the night.”
Joe is very meticulous about his song writing as he explained in that same interview to Marc Myers, “For me, lyrics have always been the hardest part of writing a song. I sweat over words. I don’t want them to sound dumb and clumsy and meaningless. So I did a lot of editing. Except for the first verse, I started each with a different pronoun—me, we, you. I used them as cues for the narratives that followed. The lyrics were intuitive and had nothing to do with my personal life. They just felt right.
The first verse set the scene, ‘Now, the mist across the window hides the lines, But nothing hides the colour of the lights that shine, Electricity so fine, Look and dry your eyes.’ The next verse urged the other person to forget the argument, ‘We, so tired of all the darkness in our lives, with no more angry words to say can come alive, get into a car and drive, to the other side.’
The rest is about heading out and the anticipation of arriving at a club, ‘And in a yellow taxi you turn to me and smile, we’ll be there in just a while, If you follow me.’ Even though the song is set in late ’81, I viewed it as a trip through New York of another era. I imagined the couple going to CBGB or the Village Gate but dressed up, as if in a movie set in 1940s New York.”
MTV was well underway and Joe was advised to make a video which he did but wasn’t happy with it. He said in an interview with Time Out, “Rock ‘n’ roll is degenerating into a big circus, and videos and MTV are very much part of that. People who are seriously interested in making music as an end in itself are going to have to split away and forge a different path.” The video showed a housekeeper dressed as Cinderella and was filmed at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. It also received a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year in 1983 but lost out to Toto’s Rosanna.
After the hit, Joe returned to the UK, but realised he preferred New York so returned there for a while. In an interview in 2019 he said, “I don’t like New York much these days. It’s as if the city and I had a hot love affair and now we’re just friends, but we still have to see each other to remain friends. Today I live in Berlin. I often rework my original arrangement of Steppin’ Out before we go on tour. I’m currently performing the slow version that works really well in concert. I may try a Latin version next.