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Tag: obituary

In Memoriam – John Prine

John Prine, the ruggedly individualistic, fiercely populist songwriter and early pioneer in what would become the Americana music movement, died of coronavirus this past Tuesday in a Nashville hospital. He was 73.

Vital to the end, Prine had a tour planned for this year. One of the first artists to successfully break from a big record label to play live and record independently, Prine’s influence over several generations of songwriters was vast. A brilliant lyricist, nimble guitarist and wryly laconic raconteur, Prine chronicled the struggles of working-class Americans with sardonic humor and empathy as they confronted the ugly unattainability of the American Dream. Esteemed by his peers, artists as diverse as Elvis Costello and Steve Earle cited Prine as a formative influence.

Prine got his start in Chicago in the late 1960s while working there as a mailman. During one particular harsh winter, he would take shelter inside mailboxes, where he wrote several of his most popular songs. With the surrealism of Dylan, the aphoristic, down-home sensibility of honkytonk and a defiant workingman’s politics, he had a soft spot for old people and spoke out articulately against the Vietnam War. He could spot a hypocrite a mile away.

Many of his songs – the antiwar anthem Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, the Vietnam veteran chronicle Sam Stone, and Hello in There, the hardscrabble tale of an old couple in the heartland becoming more and more atomized – have become iconic in Americana circles. Among songwriters, simply knowing who Prine is gives you instant cred; being able to cover his songs is even better. Not many did: the most famous one was Bonnie Raitt’s version of Angel From Montgomery, the closest thing Prine ever had to a radio hit.

As the years went by, Prine’s drawling baritone became more weathered: he always sounded twenty years older than he was. And his songwriting never diminished, as he shifted toward rock in the 90s and then a return to his original acoustic sound in this century. Two key albums from his deep catalog include the pseudo-greatest-hits collection Prime Prine, from 1976 and the 2011 archival release The Singing Mailman Delivers, a collection of many of his best-known songs made on the fly at a Chicago radio station.

Prine could be hilarious: give a listen to Illegal Smile, a sly weedhead tale from his 1973 album Sweet Revenge, where the record label tried to recast him as an outlaw country singer, with mixed results: no wonder Prine would go independent. He could also be very, very dark, as you can hear in Down By the Side of the Road, a chilling highway tale from his 1978 Bruised Orange album.

He is greatly missed. Deepest condolences to the Prine family and his many friends.

In Memoriam – Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson

Funny how the Jefferson Airplane became the psychedelic band most imitated on film, but not by other musicians. Because they couldn’t. Jack Casady had done time with James Brown, and he brought that funk with him. And Paul Kantner was the rare rock guitarist who could fling dancing figures into the air and not sound cliched. And now he’s gone.

With the Airplane, Kantner quickly grew into one of the 60s’ most distinctive and interesting guitarists. He loved noise and feedback and was a prime mover experimenting with them. He didn’t waste notes and was content to fire off two or three notes where another guitarist would have automatically reached for a full chord. He didn’t invent psychedelia by himself, but he was one of the originators of the style. He swung like crazy. And now he’s gone.

Listen to what might be his finest moment on vinyl, Young Girl Sunday Blues, from the 1968 After Bathing at Baxter’s album. Without Kantner’s stinging rhythm, Jorma Kaukonen’s acidic leads would just evaporate. And as much as the 60s contained Kantner’s finest moments, when the Airplane reunited in the late 80s to tour, he reaffirmed that a starship hadn’t swooped down, loaded with cash, and stolen his edge.

In a creepy coincidence, the Airplane’s first frontwoman, Signe Anderson, died along with Kantner, many miles away, also on the 28th of this past month. When she was in the band, Grace Slick, then fronting garage band the Great Society, took notice and was significantly influenced by Anderson’s elegant, precisely articulated folk-rock style. That influence would cut through in the Airplane’s quieter moments after Slick took over on vocals.

What a horrible year it’s been for rock legends!

Pushing Through the Market Square, So Many People Dying

David Bowie played all the guitars, and also all the saxophones, on his landmark 1974 album Diamond Dogs. That mean slide guitar lick that opens the title track? That’s not Mick Ronson. Much ink has been spilled over Bowie’s towering influence across decades of music, his charisma and many self-reinventions, but more than anything else, he was a consummate musician.

The erstwhile David Jones didn’t find his niche until he was almost thirty, but the fifteen years after Space Oddity topped the charts around the world were as productive, and astonishingly eclectic, as any artist in the history of recorded music has ever spent. David Bowie’s adventures in Dylanesque, folky pop music lasted barely two albums. After that, he danced his life away through menacing proto-metal and then gritty, Stonesy rock, in the process pretty much inventing glam all by himself. After that it was surrealist art-rock, blue-eyed soul, ambient music, krautrock, then back to the art-rock. He wrote and recorded with and played keyboards for Iggy Pop, doing his best to rescue his pal from the scrap heap after the Stooges self-destructed. Even after Bowie’s career had peaked, the stylistic shapeshifting didn’t stop, first with dance-rock and eventually a strange detour into industrial metal. That path took a lot of twists and turns, and like his alter ego Ziggy, went through a lot of rises and falls. But Bowie never stayed in one place long enough to get stale.

Beyond the personas – as you might expect from someone who got his start in the theatre – he was second to none as a crooner. He was a visionary lyricist who spoke for generations of alienated kids who’d given up on this world and pondered if life on Mars might be any kind of improvement. “Give me your hands,” he entreated. “You’re not alone!” Both men and women idolized him, wanted to be him.

For those new to the Bowie canon, Ziggy Stardust is the iconic album. But both The Man Who Sold the World and Diamond Dogs are more musically interesting and ambitious. And the best, and most musically stunning of all of them, is 1980’s Scary Monsters.

This blog, founded in 2011, never covered David Bowie. There was no need to. He was an icon long before New York Music Daily’s future owner made the trek from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn to see Bowie play a rare Manhattan club gig at Roseland way back in the 90s. It was a bucket-list show. They had the dive-bomb guy from Tin Machine on guitar. Mike Garson was on piano; supposedly, this was the first time he’d played with the Thin White Duke since the Ziggy Stardust days. They encored with All the Young Dudes. What an irony that it took another band covering one of Bowie’s least memorable songs to put hin on the map here.

In Memoriam – Lemmy

Lemmy turned 70 on December 15, and the crowd at Duff’s Bar in South Williamsburg – not to mention the rest of the world – was in shock. That someone who’d consumed so much amphetamine had managed to make it that far gives us all hope, right? Less than two weeks later, he was gone. Karla Rose & the Thorns, a somewhat quieter yet more menacing band than Motorhead, played that night at Grand Victory, a few blocks north, at around midnight. Their frontwoman related how the last time she spent a New Year’s Eve doing anything other than working or playing a gig, she’d spent part of it drinking champagne with Lemmy and Rev. Horton Heat at a show in San Diego. And said that it was the most fun she’d ever had ringing in the new year. There must be thousands of other stories like that, probably most of them true.

Who knew that Lemmy had a last name – Kilmister – or was in a band before Motorhead (Hawkwind, an early 70s psychedelic group who sounded absolutely nothing like them)? Or that his given name was Ian?

And as much as Lemmy is remembered, rightfully, for his indulgences and reputation as one of the alltime great rock and roll party animals, it’s his bass playing that will keep his memory alive. Relatively few of his four-string peers play like him because his style was so unorthodox, and distinctive – and punishingly difficult. Lemmy made it look easy. He played bass like a rhythm guitarist, punching out those chords like the freight train from hell, giving Motorhead a low register that put to shame just about any other group on the planet. In Motorhead, he was Keith Richards, and just as important to his band as Richards in the Stones. For those who aren’t fans, before you write off Motorhead as just another lunkhead metal act, give a listen to their youtube channel, which will be livestreaming Lemmy’s graveside memorial service on January 9 at 5:30 PM EST.

New York Music Daily never covered a Motorhead show because blogs didn’t exist back in 1999, when the blog’s founder was lucky enough to catch them kicking ass, and eardrum – as Lemmy put it – at a rare Manhattan club gig. But if the New York Music Daily Museum ever expands to a real public space beyond very small, by-invite-only confines, the world will get to see a Motorhead box set high above the other artifacts.

Thanks to loudwire for spreading the word about the memorial.

In Memoriam – Paul Adam Triff: December 10, 1960 – October 5, 2015

Paul Triff, one of New York’s most distinctive and sought-after drummers, died this past October 5 of a heart attack. He was 54. He is survived by his father, Ralph Triff of West Palm Beach, Florida; sister Tina Sheetz, of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania and Alexandria, Virginia; a niece, Samantha Sheetz of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and nephew, Adam Sheetz of State College, Pennsylvania; and his longtime partner, Jodi Miller, of Charlotte, North Carolina as well as many friends and bandmates.

Triff’s earliest inspirations were his grandfather, a vaudeville musician, as well as his jazz-loving father and his sister, who introduced him to the Beatles at age four. Trained at Berklee College of Music, Triff was the rare rock drummer who could swing, hard. His Charlie Watts-informed groove and flair for a wryly placed flurry or flourish took the four-on-the-floor rock that he was best known for to a higher level.

Triff chose his spots. He was more interested in adding color with a rattle or a roll, building a suspenseful intro, or throwing a tongue-in-cheek riff at one of his bandmates, than he was in taking centerstage. His attention to detail and sense for a song’s inner content earned him a long list of tours and club gigs. If there were musicians in the crowd when he played, they always wanted to know if he was available – and Triff ended up turning down many more gigs than he took. His touring and recording credits covered a wide range of styles, from the Shirelles, to high-voltage dark rockers Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons, popular festival band Mike Rocket & the Stars, parlor pop pianist Julian Velard, reggae-rock pioneers Pacific Orchestra, Americana bands Chris Berardo & the Desberardos and Ten Ton Man.

When not on the road or in the studio, Triff was a homebody who loved cats, a sharp-witted raconteur and a man whose businesslike public persona couldn’t hide a warmhearted and compassionate soul. A talented cook and devotee of classic American diner food, his photos of entrees from every spot on the menu were a constant source of amusement for his many friends. A proficient athlete and tennis player, he was a fan of Roger Federer, and followed hometown teams the Yankees, Giants and Rangers. As a longtime resident of City Island, he devoured the culture and history of his beloved New York City.

A private memorial service will be held on October 29. His family has created Paulie’s Pets, a charity in his honor to benefit animals at the New Rochelle Animal Shelter. Deepest condolences to everyone who was lucky enough to know this talented and soulful player.

In Memoriam: John Scott

[reprinted with great sadness from Lucid Culture]

John Scott, one of this era’s most extraordinary and beloved talents in both classical and sacred music, died suddenly on August 12 in Manhattan after suffering a heart attack. He was 59. The iconic organist and choirmaster had just completed a six-week concert tour of Europe and Scandinavia. He leaves behind his wife Lily and her unborn child, as well as two children from a previous marriage.

Scott was the rare artist whose virtuosity was matched by an intuitive, almost supernatural ability to channel a piece of music’s emotional content. If you want to understand Mendelssohn’s relentless drive, Messiaen’s awestruck mysticism or Bach’s neuron-expanding wit, listen to a recording by John Scott. It’s impossible to imagine a better or more emotionally attuned interpretation of Mendelssohn’s organ sonatas than Scott’s 1992 double-cd collection.

A humble, soft-spoken man with a very subtle, distinctly British sense of humor, Scott was happiest when he could share his erudition and insight into the many centuries’ worth of music that he had immersed himself in since childhood. He worked tirelessly and vigorously despite what was often a herculean workload, first at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and from 2004 until his death at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where he was organist, music director and led the world-famous choir of men and boys.

Scott’s legacy as a recording artist is vast: he both played and recorded most of the standard repertoire for organ including the major symphonic works of Vierne, Messiaen, Widor and Durufle. He toured and performed tirelessly: his Buxtehude and Messiaen concert cycles are legendary. While gifted with dazzling technique, Scott was not a flamboyant player per se: though he could fire off torrential cascades and volleys of thunderous pedal notes as nimbly as anyone alive, he made those pyrotechnics all the more effective through his meticulous attention to dynamics, and, especially when playing Bach, his imaginative and thoughtful registrations. And every now and then, he’d throw caution to the wind, drop his guard and play entertainer: one of his final recitals at St. Thomas featured a droll Jean Guillou arrangement of the march from Prokofiev’s Love For the Three Oranges (better known to a generation of Americans as the FBI Theme).

Scott’s knowledge of and passion for choral music matched his skill as an organist, beginning in his childhood years as a chorister in Yorkshire. A noted scholar and arranger of plainchant, he served as mentor and inspiration for literally hundreds of singers who passed through St. Thomas’ choir.

A memorial service will be held at 11 AM on September 12, 2015 at St. Thomas Church at Fifth Avenue and 53rd St. A memorial service in the UK will follow.

In Memoriam: Bob Belden

Visionary saxophonist, composer, Miles Davis scholar and videographer Bob Belden died suddenly on Tuesday night after suffering a heart attack in his Upper West Side apartment. He was 58.

Belden’s often turbulent career encompassed just about everything an individual can do in music. He was a distinctive composer, a talented saxophonist, arranger, conductor, producer and music executive. His brief tenure as head of A&R at Blue Note Records in the late 90s ended after less than a year in a disagreement over the direction of the label: Belden wanted to promote new music while his corporate colleagues wanted to focus on easy-listening and more retro styles. Since then, he had led the cinematic instrumental band Animation, with whom he had just played earlier this year in Iran, the first American musician to perform there since the 1970s.

Born in Illinois, raised in South Carolina and educated in Texas, Belden came to New York in the late 70s and quickly found a home on the Upper West Side. The diverse, multi-ethnic character of the neighborhood – and the dangers lurking there after dark – had a profound impact on his worldview and his music. Belden’s vividly cinematic compositions are rich with history and political overtones, global in scope, often imbued with a noir sensibility. Much of his work draws heavily on classical and Indian music. While his best-known album is the 2001 orchestral jazz suite The Black Dahlia – a moody, 1950s style crime jazz score inspired by the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short – his most powerful album was his final one, Animation’s sweeping, anguished 2012 release Transparent Heart, a bitter look back at the aftermath of 9/11 in New York

Belden was also one of the world’s foremost Miles Davis scholars. He found considerable irony in winning three Grammies, but not for his music: those were for liner notes and post-production work on Miles Davis compilations and reissues. An acerbic writer with a sardonic sense of humor, Belden didn’t suffer fools gladly. As he saw it, other musicians failed to address contemporary concerns and were unable to put their work in the context of our times, something that Belden himself never failed to do.

His progressive politics mirrored the qualities in his music. He was always looking to draw attention to injustice, especially as it affected his adopted New York home. Although he could be cynical and blunt to the point of confrontation – something he relished – he tempered that with a self-effacing sense of humor. And he dedicated himself to passing his legacy to the next generation of musicians: his bandmates in the final edition of Animation were all about half his age.

Beyond music, Belden had considerable talent as a photographer and videographer, inspired by the film noir that he loved so much. This blog reviewed Belden’s final New York concert – at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center last month, he and Animation reinvented a suite of Miles Davis songs to the point of unrecognizability, giving them a persistent, propulsive, restlessly enveloping sweep reminiscent of Ennio Morricone’s 1970s film scores. The concert was performed to projections of Belden’s own symbolically-charged, Sam Fuller-inspired black-and-white video, which he’d taken on a blustery night last summer, from Times Square to the lower reaches of Harlem.

In an interview onstage before the show, Belden reveled in reliving his experiences in Iran and was looking forward to returning there: he leaves a wealth of plans unfinished along with a deep body of work. Sincerest sympathies to his family and many, many friends.

In Memoriam: B.B. King

B.B. King, the beloved “King of the Blues” and worldwide ambassador for the music he played through parts of nine decades, died last night at his Las Vegas home. He was 89. Born into near-slavery in Mississippi, abandoned by his parents at age four to spend a winter alone in a plantation shotgun shack, Riley B. King rose to become the world’s best-known electric bluesman, and arguably the greatest singer and guitarist the style has ever known.

King got his start in music walking miles into town from the plantation on Saturday nights to busk. Bulding a repertoire of originals and covers that would reach over one thousand songs, King managed to connect with the second Sonny Bon Williamson, Rice Miller, who doubled as a Memphis radio disc jockey when not on the road. King earned his nicknane – it stands for Blues Boy – as Miler’s dj protege. Using the radio gig as a springboard for his own career, King started with a small band and by the mid-50s was touring in his own custom-made bus with a full orchestra, playing upwards of 300 shows a year, a pace he maintained for most of his life. In his career, he played well over ten thousand concerts.

King described his vocals as “raw,” and although his gritty baritone could be plaintive and anguished, his singing was nuanced, sophisticated and eclectic. He could sing gospel fervently or raptly, or croon a ballad, as evocatively as he could rasp and wail his way through a bitter blues lament. He credited not fast fingers but fast wrists for enabling him to deveop fearsome guitar technique, his blazing speed on the fretboard coupled with a remarkably economical approach. And King was just as versatile a blues guitarist as he was a singer: in concert, he could bounce his way through a two-minute, thirty-second hit and then follow that with a ten-minute epic full of guitar pyrotechnics and not waste a note: his mind was as fast as his fingers. And he could channel any emotion he wanted: mystical rapture, buffoonish exuberance, fullscale angst or, when he was feeling it, unreptentant rage.

A scholar of the blues, King built a massive record collection that he ended up donating to Stony Brook University. Largely self-educated, King was a humble but proud man, pollitically aware but diplomatic to the point where Presidents from everywhere on the spectrum felt comfortable inviting him to the White House. As a result, King was the first American blues artist to tour behind the Iron Curtain during the Soviet regime.

Virtually every rock lead guitarist from the 60s through the 80s cited King as an inspiration, or their main inspiration. Many imitated him; none could quite match his tersely incisive attack, which he’d sometimes cap off with a joyous little slide from the highest strings.

By his own count, King officially released just under a hundred albums, hundreds of singles and two rather enigmatic autobiographies. Hundreds, maybe thousands of his shows were also recorded: there’s enough live B.B. King on the web to keep a listener in new material for possibly years. Conventional wisdom is that King’s most defining album is Live at the Regal, a 1964 recording that King disavowed, citing that he’d played thousands of shows better than that one. And he was right: of all the official releases, perhaps the most essential one is Live in Cook County Jail, from 1971. Like his fellow Americana icon Johnny Cash, King was populist to the core and frequently performed behind bars: this particular set features a particularly scorching, dynamically intesne version of How Blue Can You Get as well as versions of many of his biggest hits, including 3 O’Clock Blues, The Thrill Is Gone and Please Accept My Love.

In recent years, as King’s fingers slowed, he went for depth rather than adrenaline. Onstage, his lines became more spare, resonant and mystical, Although the big, robust frame that had shouted and sweated and fired off dizzying volleys of notes for so long was now confined to a chair, King had lost none of his ability to tease and cajole and entertain a crowd. At his last large-scale New York show, outdoors on the water behind the World Financial Center in July of 2013, he transcended a dodgy sound system to deliver a brief set of familiar hits that still found him searching, and exploring, and finding ways to make old material that he’d played hundreds of times sound fresh. Which wss no surprise: transcendence defined B.B. King.

In Memoriam: George Porfiris

Plenty of guys would have sold their souls to be George Porfiris. A founding member of infamous noiserock band the Heroine Sheiks, Porfiris toured nationally with that group: a tough gig, to say the least. But Porfiris was tough. Queens Greek tough. As a performer, menace was his stock in trade. the sneer, the effortlessly slinky snakecharmer basslines and the gritty don’t-mess-with-me expression. Offstage, he was anything but menacing. In a demimonde filled with snakes and damaged personalities, Porfiris was a genuinely warmhearted, solid guy, beloved across the Lower East Side even as it shrank and turned into a tourist trap. And now he’s gone. The funeral was this evening.

Porfiris was perennially curious, skeptical to the nth degree, well read, historically and politically knowledgeable. He took pride in his Greek heritage and his ancestry in the underground there, battling tyrants. For Porfiris, socialism wasn’t a tag he wore to fit in with his punk rock friends: it was a lifestyle. If he had much of anything – and there were periods where he pretty much didn’t – he would share it if he thought you needed it. His generosity extended to his schemes: he was always cooking up something, and was always glad to cut a friend in, whether or not it might lead to something profitable. If it didn’t, he’d move on: there was always a gig to book, a show to play, a shift to work. Energy was something Porfiris always had in reserve when everybody else was done for the night. When closing time rolled around at Lotus, or Max Fish, or Bar B, Porfiris was just getting started.

His passion for life drew people to him. And he worked that too. Porfiris loved women and women couldn’t resist the cat-ate-the-canary persona…and the unselfconscious warmth that came out when he knew that somebody was having a hard time or couldn’t cope. And he was honest to the core: even if everybody was half in the bag, himself included, when a deal was made, Porfiris would remember what the terms were, and would honor them, even when other people didn’t. And that happened a lot.

Porifirs’ greatest achievements weren’t with the Heroine Sheiks. He’s best represented by his own band, Porfirio, an underrated, sardonic late zeros project that blended the best of the early 90s New York gutter rock scene with a surprisingly artsy circus rock edge amd a noisy side that echoed the punk rock he grew up with. He also played with Five Dollar Priest and the Black Furs.

As Willie Nelson put it, the night life is a hard life, and George Porfiris lived harder in his four-plus decades than most people would in a thousand years. He joked about his high blood pressure. There was a health scare last year, but that didn’t stop him. He’d still be found in the wee hours outside the club, having a smoke, firing off machinegun one-liners and observations on whatever injustice he’d just witnessed, from close up or further away. Maybe that defiance and refusal to back down to anything is what kept him going as far as he did, a true New York original who’ll never be replaced. Condolences to his family and many, many friends.

In Memoriam – Marianne McCarty

Marianne McCarty died this past May 28 at a hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts after collapsing at her home there four days previously. She was 48.

While not a performing musician, Marianne was a familiar presence in New York’s Lower East Side rock scene in the 90s and early zeros. Although Marianne’s own work was primarily in the film industry, she was a devotee of the arts, embracing photography, literature, visual art and theatre as well.

With her cool, conspiratorial voice and what seemed to be a bottomless joie de vivre, Marianne had a presence that could be as comforting as it was electric. When Marianne pulled you aside at Max Fish and whispered into your ear, you were suddenly the most important person in the room. As engaging a raconteur as she typically was, she was an even better listener. That keenly perceptive sensibility underscored her worldview, an esthete and also a streetwise New Yorker to the core.

Things exploded around Marianne – literally. Her energy could be otherworldly, something that people sometimes found hard to deal with. Marianne would swim further out than anyone else, in both the literal and figurative sense of the phrase. And she was generous to a fault, when she could afford it, which wasn’t always.

A tall, lithe, exotic Asian-American beauty with a tart sense of humor, she had many admirers. There was a torrid affair with actor Matt Dillon back in the 90s. A more stable relationship with filmmaker Jim Spring offered hope that she’d found the security that had continually eluded her.

What a lot of people didn’t know about Marianne was that all the partying masked a dark secret. The inner trauma that she was trying to repair ran deep. Transcendence was what she was after, and what she didn’t always get, especially as the years went on. In the early 70s on the Upper East Side where she grew up, child abuse was not a topic of discussion. That Marianne was able to rise above what she’d suffered to the extent that she did was a remarkable achievement by any standard.

So in memory of Marianne, if you see something, say something. And let’s remember her not for the long spiral of her later years but for the joy and surprise that she shared with so many of us.