May 22 – Voice Of Marshall Not Tucker-ed Out Yet

Wonder how many people call him “Marshall”? Happy 74th birthday to Doug Gray – the voice of, and sole original member of the Marshall Tucker Band.

Doug, and his band, came from Spartanburg, SC. He and his friend, bassist Tommy Caldwell were in bands together as early as high school, with Gray being the singer and periodically playing keyboards. Both were sent to Vietnam, disrupting their musical paths obviously, but they regrouped upon their return home, forming a band called Toy Factory. After a few personnel changes, they changed their name, to the one we know. Strangely, Marshall Tucker was a real person but he had nothing to do with the band! He was apparently a blind piano tuner whose name was inscribed on a key they found in the rehearsal space they were using. They liked the name and adopted it, which might well have surprised Tucker.

They signed to Georgia’s Capricorn Records, which in the ’70s was a Southern Rock powerhouse, having a much in-demand studio in Macon and being the home to the Allman Brothers among other artists. They put out their first album, a self-titled one, in 1973 which had the single “Can’t You See,” a commercial failure at the time but since one which has become a staple of Classic Rock radio stations. It was a rarity among their tunes though since Gray didn’t sing lead on it, unlike almost all the other songs people know by them.

With their blend of “country, rock’n’roll and blues” they didn’t always fit radio formats that well, but their albums sold – two (1977’s Carolina Dreams and a greatest hits one) went platinum in the U.S. and five more gold. They did score a couple of hits mind you, “Fire on the Mountain” and their biggest, 1977’s “Heard it in a Love Song”, which got to #14 (and #5 in Canada.) Their popularity was helped immensely by their touring, averaging 300 shows a year through the second-half of the ’70s. Quite often they were accompanied by the Charlie Daniels Band; Charlie played fiddle on several of their records and as Gray remembered, “he’d go headline, then we’d swap.” Daniels death in 2020 was “devestating” to Gray who says they were planning yet another tour together just before he passed away.

Another death which hit Gray hard was Tommy Caldwell’s in 1980, which is said to have made the band lose direction somewhat, and momentum. They put out nine albums of new material in the ’70s, just a dozen more over the next 30 years.

By now, there have been 30 members of the Marshall Tucker Band besides their current lineup, with Gray being the only constant. Not much seems to be written about his personal life, but it is known he looks at the band as “extended family – the entire band and the road crew.” He says the “50 year thing is a good feeling. It really is, we’re getting a lot more respect (than early on)”. And to celebrate their doing a 50th Anniversary tour this summer and fall, covering all corners of the country including a triumphant hometown free concert in Spartanburg June 7. If you’re a northerner who’s a southerner at heart, you might want to see them in sunnier climes next winter…in February they star on a Royal Caribbean Rock Legends tropical cruise!

May 17 – The Face Of Faceless Music?

New Age music is easy listening at its drowsiest. Defined vaguely as ambient, often acoustic music designed to promote relaxation and stress relief, it’s usually rather forgettable…and faceless. Today we look at one of the few exceptions to that, perhaps the single most successful artist in the field – and one we know from a couple of mainstream hits – Enya. Happy birthday to the lady who’s second to only U2 in terms of international success among Irish artists. She turns 61 today.

Enya was born Eithne Bhraonein, a hint at her Gaelic background, but Anglicized it to Enya Brennan. She’s grew up in Ulster, at the northern tip of the Republic of Ireland, right next door to the British-controlled Northern Ireland. Her dad was a band leader and her mom a music teacher, so there’s little surprise in Enya being musical. She sang in local competitions and church from a young age and learned piano readily. English also in school, she quickly became bilingual. She was most a fan of classical and church music, but didn’t mind some of the jigs her dad apparently would play. However, even as she was completing high school, she dreamed of following her mother’s footsteps… a career in music but teaching, rather than performing.

Her family had some other ideas and when two of her brothers and a sister joined the Celtic band Clannad, they talked her into joining as a keyboardist and backing vocalist. Her fine Mezzo-soprano voice and skill on the keyboards (primarily though she seems to be able to play a number of other instruments including bagpipes!) got noticed and the BBC commissioned her to do some music for a miniseries they were doing in 1985; so impressed were they that they ended up turning over the entire project’s music to her then signing her to a record deal. That helped her get signed to Atlantic Records in North America simultaneously.

Her self-titled debut album came out in 1987, consisting largely of the music she’d done for the TV show The Celts. No one knew exactly what to make of it – allmusic summed it up as “a combination of Celtic traditionalism and distinctly modern approach (which) finds lush flower here”; others called it “new folk.” Either way, it was different but popular. Eventually it would top her homeland’s charts and make the top 10 in the UK and Canada but that was only a hint of the popularity she’d soon achieve.

In 1988, the lead single off her second album, “Orinoco Flow” became one of the decade’s most surprising, and unique-sounding hits, finding a spot on pop and college radio as well as just about every office and grocery store in the Western World, it would seem. It was a #1 hit in both Ireland and Britain and got to #4 in Canada, #2 in Germany and even broke into the American top 30.

Her reputation among New Age fans kept growing but it was the last most pop or rock listeners heard of her until the tragic aftermath of the Sep. 11 attacks in 2001. For reasons unknown several TV stations began playing her ethereal and somber “Only Time” as a theme to coverage of the terrorism. It soon became a sort of pseudo-anthem of mourning and Enya decided to donate the earnings of it (the single had been released nearly a year earlier ) to the families of New York firefighters who had died in the attack. The song catapulted up the charts to #1 in Canada and much of Europe and #10 in the States, and perhaps feeling in need of relaxation, helped the album it was from, A Day Without Rain, begin to sell wildly. It ended up at 7X platinum in the U.S. and with at least 16 million sold worldwide, it’s considered the genre’s biggest-ever record.

Since then, Enya’s worked sporadically, putting out new albums in 2005, ’08 and ’15 but she says she spent a lot of the pandemic renovating a home studio and is going to have new new age music soon.

For all the millions of records sold, Grammys won (including Best New Age Record four times) and fame – scientists even named a species of fish found in the Orinoco River after her – not a great deal is known about her personal life. She admits to being a “private” person and says “I derive from religion what I enjoy.” She’s said she’s hesitant to get into serious relationships because she’s both worried men would want her more for her money and fame than herself. Not to mention she’s had bad luck, attracting a couple of stalkers along the way and having her home in Ireland broken into twice in short order, with one of the burglars attacking her housekeeper. Sounds like she might need to listen to her own music more than most people.

May 14 – At Times Staton’s Heart Ran Too Free

Happy birthday to a lady who’s been dubbed “the Queen of Southern Soul”, a disco superstar and a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. And at 82 and still active, Candi Staton‘s a survivor, which she says is the one title she’s proudest of.

She’s come through numerous changes to the music scene, being molested as a child, several abusive marriages and breast cancer…which she told NPR was her hardest fight. “Fighting a human is one thing, fighting something you can’t see is another.”

She was born in rural northern Alabama, but her family moved to Nashville while she was still quite young, and sent her to a Christian school where her great voice got noticed. By the early ’50s, she, her sister and another young woman had formed the Jewell Gospel Trio and toured churches and revivals in the South with the likes of Mahalia Jackson, beginning to cut records by 1953 – when Candi (born Canzetta) was just 13. They were quite popular, but by the mid-’60s, she’d transitioned more to mainstream R&B or soul music, eventually compiling a dozen top 20s on U.S. R&B charts, usually covers like “In the Ghetto” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man”, which was her first regular chart hit, getting to #24 in 1970.

Her big break was the disco hit “Young Hearts Run Free”, a catchy song of independence. She said it was rather a companion piece to her friend Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Staton said Gaynor broke the “glass ceiling” with that one. Before it, she figured DJs wanted songs by females to be “baby, please don’t leave me…I’m your slave.” “I Will Survive” and her hit made it OK for women to be headstrong. The song took her career several steps ahead quickly. Before it, she says “I was playing what they called the ‘Chitlin Circuit’…backwoods, R&B, juke joint clubs with women painted on the walls. Most nights you’d have to chase the promoter down to get paid.”

She says she recorded it in one take – “the hurt in my voice is real…I was singing my life.” She took her own advice, and “was smart enough to …get rid” of an abusive husband she said was a drug-abuser and pimp “and run to my Mom’s house.” Soon she could probably afford better accommodations for herself (and maybe her mother too!) with the single hitting the U.S. top 20, and #21 to the north in Canada. But it was Britain where it really made a mark, getting to #2, going platinum …and re-charting again in both the ’80s and ’90s. It helped set her up as a star over there, with her recording four more top 40 hits in the decade that followed, including a cover of “Suspicious Minds.”

In the ’80s she became friends with Jim and Tammy Bakker and they helped her set up a ministry in Atlanta with her new husband; at that time she switched to mostly gospel music which has been well-received in that circuit and represents about half of her 30 studio album discography, although her most recent album, 2018’s Unstoppable is described more as “retro R&B”.

As smart as she is, she’s not had the best of luck picking mates. She’s been married six times, including to R&B star “Strokin’” Clarence Carter and even baseball player Otis Nixon. They haven’t always gone well, prompting her to begin a charity called A Veil of Silence, dedicated to helping women escape violent relationships and educating authorities about the issue….helping “Young Hearts Run Free.”

May 12 – Good Thing Kris Didn’t Give Him A Toaster

In Nashville? Making a record? Maybe you should give Billy Swan a call – he can help…even if he is 80 today! Happy birthday to the multi-talented musician forever remembered for his 1974 hit “I Can Help.” Turns out there’s more to him than just that one song which was credited as the one most played in jukeboxes in 1975.

Billy was born in Missouri and showed early musical talent. As a child he loved country music, but as a teen he was drawn to the emerging sound of rock – Elvis particularly.

He made his way down the Mississippi to Memphis, then Nashville, doing odd jobs and writing songs along the way. He may or may not have worked as a security guard at Graceland for a spell (various accounts seem adamant that he was one , while others are equally adamant that he wasn’t), and was a roadie for Mel Tillis (for whom he wrote several songs). In 1962 he wrote a song called “Lover Please,” which was a top 10 hit for Clyde McPhatter. And soon he fell in as a popular session player Nashville, something he was good at since he learned piano, guitar and drums as a kid and could play bass…and probably virtually any other instrument too. Around the end of the decade, he got a chance to produce a few records, the first he attempted was Tony Joe White’s hit “Polk Salad Annie.”

Around the same time, he became friends with Kris Kristofferson, and joined his backing band, primarily as the bassist. When he got married, Kris and Rita Coolidge gave Swan an organ as a wedding gift. Which he soon put to good use, creating his own first single on it after Kristofferson helped him get signed to the same label he was on, Monument Records.

The whole thing just came out of the air, including the words,” Swan would later say about “I Can Help.” He went to the studio, and with three backing guitars (two acoustic and one electric), a bass and drums, they recorded it live in just two takes. That, maybe 15 minutes work ended up giving him a #1 song in the U.S., France, Australia, Germany and several other countries. In Canada it got to #2, and #6 over in the UK. The country-ish tune topped country music charts everywhere and it really struck a chord in Norway, where it stayed on their charts for 37 weeks and is still ranked among the top 10 sellers ever. Later on, artists ranging from his teen idol Elvis Presley to Ringo Starr would cover it.

However, it turned out to be a bit of “beginner’s luck” for Swan. Although he kept recording for years, he never again had a mainstream hit song and although he had a few minor country hits he never became a prominent solo star. Nonetheless, he kept working with Kristofferson’s band for years, and stayed busy as a session musician, as well as working with Randy Meisner now and then in a band called Black Tie. But he has a long portfolio to look back on, and some big fans within the business including usually bitter critic Robert Christgau. He wrote about Swan “a guy who doesn’t sing very well…made more good albums than Three Dog Night” citing how “his well-meaning optimism and insecure persona mesh perfectly.” High praise, given the source.

Swan’s wife of three decades, Marlu, passed away over a decade back but their daughter Sierra is a singer in a band called Dollshead. No word on whether she’s called dad for help.

May 10 – Jay And The Spirit Of Classic Rock?

Happy 75th birthday to a so-called “one hit wonder” who might have had a finger in one of the biggest rock hits of all-time. But that wasn’t his one hit. Which frustrated some people more than it did American Jay Ferguson…not to be confused with Canadian Jay Ferguson of the band Sloan.

Ferguson grew up in Burbank, California, in a family which loved music. His parents put him in piano lessons by age 12, but at the time, his love was country and bluegrass. At 16, he joined a bluegrass band, the Oak Hill Stump Straddlers, playing banjo with his older brother. He began giving piano lessons himself as a part-time job. However, it seems like his musical tastes changed rapidly when he heard the Beatles and he was determined to be a rock star.

He and his friend Randy California joined a new band called Spirit, Jay being the lead singer and a percussionist, California the lead guitarist and primary songwriter. They were described by allmusic as “an ambitious…psychedelic band that fused hard rock to jazz, blues, Country and folk.” Which might sound a wee bit like a big British band that emerged a few years after them. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

By 1971, he’d grown tired of the band and likely of its relative lack of success and he and the bassist quit to form a new group, Jo Jo Gunne. They didn’t pan out that well either, so in the mid-’70s he went solo, signing with Asylum Records. He had the good fortune of hooking up with producer Bill Szymczyk, who’d worked extensively with the J.Geils Band and Joe Walsh at that point, and went on to bigger and better doing The Eagles Hotel California. Bill produced a couple of Jay’s records, including his second album, 1977’s Thunder Island. He brought along Walsh to play guitar for Ferguson. The earworm-waiting-to-happen title track was a top 10 hit in North America, his only really significant hit single (though he did scratch into the U.S. top 40 one more time with “Shakedown Cruise” in 1979.

Although he put out six solo albums, bigtime superstardom eluded him and sometime in the ’80s, he decided to go to work in Hollywood, making music for movies and TV. He did well at that, making several movie scores (largely for horror movies) and famously creating the theme song for the show The Office. He even had a bit role in the show, being in Kevin’s band. More recently he’s put together the music for the show NCIS-L.A.

So what were we saying about that huge rock hit he was a wee bit involved with? Well, there’s a good chance you haven’t really heard of Spirit, the band he was in, or much of their music. But they were in the news a lot this past decade, because someone, probably Randy California, noticed that “Stairway to Heaven” opened quite a bit like their earlier song “Taurus.” Lawsuits were filed, and it was tied up in court for about seven years. Rumors suggest California’s estate (he passed away years before it hit the courts) were asking for not only his name to go on the Zeppelin records as a songwriter but for about $40M in writing royalties for the all-time rock classic. Zep won, lost an appeal and finally prevailed again in a third hearing, so it would seem legally “Stairway” is all Zeppelin. But this doesn’t diminish an obvious similarity in guitar work and the fact that Spirit had opened for Led Zeppelin early in the supergroup’s career, making it probable that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had heard “Taurus,” something they denied.

Ferguson, not being a songwriter on “Taurus” never said a great deal about it but has noted Robert Plant had asked for a “meet and greet” with Spirit (long before Led Zeppelin IV) and that at the time he was “flattered” the superstar would want to meet them. As for the song, he said “Taurus” “it was a palette cleanser. It was beautiful. It was a different style of music than anything else we played.” Which in the end is probably the right “Spirit” to look at the piece.

May 3 – Still A Top Jersey Boy, 60 Years Later

Swearin’ to God,” we wish a happy 88th birthday to one of the great voices of the rock era… and the chief “Jersey Boy”- Frankie Valli!

His musical path was set early when he was taken at age 7 to see another Italian-American icon from New Jersey- Frank Sinatra. By the early-’50s he was in a band which in time would become the Four Seasons, a band he still tours with from time to time. They scored their first chart hit back in 1956, and by the time the ’60s ended, they’d notched 21 top 20 hits in the U.S. With songs like “Rag Doll” and “Sherry”, his falsetto (which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes as a “once-in-a-lifetime {voice} with a three octave range”) became one of the defining sounds of the decade. If his blue-eyed soul sounded quite Motown-like it should come as no surprise that Berry Gordy played Valli’s records to his writers telling them it was what they “should be aiming for.”

His career enjoyed a resurgence (both with his band and solo) in the mid-’70s with more #1 hits like “My Eyes Adored You”, “December 1963” and “Grease”, the latter written by Barry Gibb. Gibb later noted, “he created a style we all (Bee Gees) strive to emulate.” Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, writing about the Rock Hall in their city commented that the Four Seasons “with the Beach Boys were the only American groups to maintain their level of popularity during the first onslaught of the British invasion.”

And then some. As you probably know, the musical and at times turbulent life and times of the Four Seasons was made into the Tony Award-winning play, and later movie, Jersey Boys. Valli and the Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Remarkably, he’s still active. He toured with the Four Tops as recently as 2019 and last year put out a new album, A Touch of Jazz, which as the name suggests, contains his take on various  standards and several originals.

Among his many fans is another blue-collar singer from that general area- Billy Joel. Although Joel’s inspiration for his smash “Uptown Girl” may have been Elle McPherson, he wrote the music and sang it in a style meant as an “homage” to Valli.

April 29 – 89? No Reason For Ol’ Willie To Slow Down

Activist, country music hero, namesake of a boulevard in Austin, where he also was the guest on the first Austin City Limits… what more is there to say about Willie Nelson other than Happy Birthday, Ol’ Willie!? Quite a lot more actually, enough to fill books about the iconic pony-tailed musician who turns a smokin’  89 today!

Nelson had an eventful enough life before becoming a star musician… raised in a musical church family, he learned guitar by  age six and sang in church. He went to Waco, Texas’s Baptist Baylor University for agriculture briefly and worked selling Bibles door to door, making saddles, as a bar bouncer and a host of other jobs before turning to songwriting for a living, writing hits for the likes of Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline (including “Crazy”, her signature piece and a song NPR reported in 1996 to have been the most played song ever in jukeboxes!) . But when he started recording his own work his star really began to climb.

To date he’s recorded over 70 studio albums over the past five+ decades, including four already this decade! A dozen of them have reached the top of the Country charts, including his 1978 Stardust, which went 5X platinum. Solo songs like “Georgia on My Mind”, “Blue Skies,” and “On The Road Again” are part of the canon of 20th-Century Americana and the hit “Always on My Mind” was not only a top 10 hit for him but covered as a dancy #1 UK and Canadian hit by the Pet Shop Boys (whose version was picked by BBC listeners as the best cover song by anyone, ever, in 2014). Then there are the duets, including ones with B.B. King, the Beach Boys, Merle Haggard and Julio Iglesias with whom he recorded the easy-listening smash “To All The Girls I’ve Loved.” He joked on one TV appearance that the song came about when his wife mentioned Iglesias and Willie asked who he was; she replied he was one of the most famous singers in the world. Willie deadpanned “how can that be- I’ve never done a duet with him!”

Despite his I.R.S. problems with overdue taxes and periodic legal troubles from his love of marijuana, the U.S. Library of Congress still thought enough of him to award him the prestigious Gershwin Prize, their highest honor, back in 2015 As such he’s the only country artist to have that on his resume; other recipients have included Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

Arguably the only thing that can top that is an award from Nobel Prize winners…and Willie has that too! He was given a Nobility Award from that elite group for his charity and activism. Not only does he own a biofuel company and live in a solar-powered house, he also co-founded Farm Aid with John Mellencamp and Neil Young back in 1985 and is still its president. That group, as we know, holds concerts to raise funds for struggling farmers and environmental issues concerning our food chain.

We hope Willie will be rollin’ for a long time to come, and with his recent output, maybe he will be. Besides working closely with Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke on the campaign trail in Texas  a couple of years ago, he streamed live concerts in 2020 to raise funds for those who lost jobs due to the pandemic and last year recorded a new song, “I’ll Be Seeing You” which he allowed to be used in ads promoting Covid vaccination, and did a cover of “Under Pressure” with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In fall he took center stage again at Farm Aid and not one to let the , err , grass grow under his feet, he kept busy through the winter too. The result – a birthday gift to his fans. He’s putting out a brand new album today, A Beautiful Time. It’s received decent advance reviews and includes a number of originals he wrote with producer Buddy Cannon, and a few covers of songs by the likes of Leonard Cohen and the Beatles. One might guess Willie will be busy today planning what he’s going to do for his 90th birthday!

April 27 – Kate’s Wild Cosmic Ride

OK, let’s all feel old now- old but shiny and happy! But not before wishing Kate Pierson a very happy 74th birthday! The lovely beehived voice (as well as at times keyboardist and bassist) of the B-52s was born in New Jersey way back in 1948 but of course is best known for her part in the great Athens, Georgia scene of the late-20th Century.

Kate was friends with Cindy and Ricky Wilson down in Athens in the ’70s, and much like fellow Athenians, R.E.M., their band (the B-52s) came together rather spontaneously, playing an impromptu show for a friend’s party on Valentine’s Day, 1977. Their quirky, humorous lyrics and unique sound, as well as their passion for retro clothing (not to mention the over-the-top beehives hairdos on the gals) got them noticed and soon, a record deal. The 1979 debut album went platinum in the U.S. and gave us the memorable single (which was a surprise #1 hit in Canada),”Rock Lobster”. The band endured the death of Ricky Wilson from AIDS and actually had their greatest success after his passing, with 1989’s Cosmic Thing – an album where Kate shone doing the lead vocals on “Roam”, their last top 10 single in North America, although they got to #3 in the UK in ’94 with the suitably jovial “Flintstones” theme.

Kate made friends with R.E.M. along the way and is front and center in their single (and video) “Shiny Happy People.” She’s worked with other Athens’ musicians like Matthew Sweet as well as non-Georgians like David Byrne and Iggy Pop (with whom she had the major alt rock hit with “Candy” in 1990). Pierson’s not showing signs of slowing down, putting out a solo album, Guitars and Microphones in 2015, an album produced by current sensation Sia. The record didn’t sell much but got decent enough reviews, such as Rolling Stone‘s which pointed out she didn’t veer much off the B-52s formula but liked “the feisty Jersey girl (and her) private Idaho … a collection of brassy manifestations about independence and naturally, outer space!” the next year she put her take on the ’60s & ’80s hit, “Venus”, which is about the last new material we’ve heard from her.

Kate’s a well-known LGBT advocate and finally in 2015 she got to marry her girlfriend Monica Coleman. Together the pair run a B&B in upstate New York these days. We hope they’re having a terrific party by the fireplace there today! And getting ready for an even bigger party… or parties.

The B-52s are back in the news with word of a tour this fall – “the final tour ever of planet Earth!”. It is set to kick off in Seattle in August. Pierson says of it “it’s going to be one hell of a farewell party at these concerts…who knew what started out as a way to have some fun and play music for our friends in house parties in Athens in 1977 would evolve into over 45 years of making music and touring the world? It’s been cosmic.”

April 27 – Pirroni, Prince Charming’s Right-hand Man

Happy birthday to a rocker whose career came from Sex – Marco Pirroni, who turns 63 today. And by Sex, we mean the London clothing shop in the ’70s that was run by Malcolm McLaren. It was the place to be for the young, burgeoning British punk crowd in the mid-’70s, the place where Malcolm put together the Sex Pistols, and a regular hangout for people like Chrissie Hynde, Siouxsie Sioux, Adam Ant and Pirroni. His green hair back then fit in better there than it did at school apparently.

He’d bought himself a guitar at age 13 (“a terrible nylon-string acoustic”) and learned to play. By 17, he’d graduated to an electric and was part of Siouxsie and the Banshees for their very first concert. He didn’t last long with them, and bounced around a couple of other punk groups that didn’t amount to very much before he – and Adam Ant – had a lucky break. It might not have seemed so to Ant at the time; his backup band The Ants were persuaded by McLaren to quit his group and work on the shopkeep/businessman’s newest band, Bow Wow Wow. Ant recruited Pirroni to be one of the new Ants.

The pair hit it off and collaborated extensively on Adam & the Ants next two albums, Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming. In fact, not only did Marco play guitar on all the songs, he co-wrote all the original ones with Ant himself. Ant’s career jumped to the stars, with both albums going platinum in the UK and the songs “Prince Charming” and “Stand and Deliver” both going to #1 there. The duo won an Ivor Novello Award for writing the latter. By 1982, Adam decided he didn’t need backing Ants, but kept Pirroni by his side to work on his first “solo” album, Friend or Foe, which contained his North American breakthrough hit “Goody Two Shoes.” He took on the additional role of co-producer for Adam on that one and did the same for the follow-up, Strip.

From there, Adam seemingly took a few steps back from music, so Marco moved on, finding another unusual but at times difficult artist to work with, Sinead O’Connor. He played guitar on her excellent debut The Lion & the Cobra, and the single “Emperor’s New Clothes” from her multi-million selling I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Andy Rourke, ex-of the Smiths played bass on that track by the way.

Since then, Marco’s faded somewhat into the shadows although he’s popped up a few times in short-lived punk bands, played with the Slits when they reunited briefly and has worked on compiling and being overall producer of some punk compilation discs. One, Sex: Too Fast To Live, Too Young to Die, was songs he picked that the crowd listened to at the Sex store, including some surprises like the Troggs and even Loretta Lynn!

Two groups he apparently never worked with were Bananarama and Shakespears Sister. That is perhaps a little surprising for only one reason. Although he seems a very private person, one thing known about his personal life is that he’s been a longtime close friend of Siobhan Fahey of both those acts. She says of him “we’re from the same generation and have loads of mutual friends…the moment we met, I knew we were kindred spirits.” She adds “he’s a great friend to have during times of emotional trauma. He always makes me laugh” and musically, “he’s a great guitarist. The hooks just pour out of him.” She does say he suffers from extreme stage fright, which perhaps explains his near-absence from the scene of late.

April 26 – Taylor Tailored Drumming After Thompson & Thompson

What’s more coincidental than being a famous drummer with the same name as another famous drummer? Maybe having the same last name as two of your bandmates but not being related to either of them. Both apply to Duran Duran’s “quiet one”, Roger Taylor, whom we wish a happy 62nd birthday to today.

Roger was born near Birmingham, and like many other British lads of the ’60s, growing up he had two big loves -”football” (which is soccer to us North Americans) and rock music. His early ambition was to be a professional footballer for his favorite club, Aston Villa, but when that became increasingly unlikely, he turned his attention to music. He saved up his allowance for months to buy himself a drum kit at age 13, and then taught himself to play, practicing relentlessly, copying the drums on records he loved. “I had very good neighbors,” he joked in a recent interview. “I used to come home from school every day at 4:00 and practice until 6:00.”

One could imagine that with his name, he’d have been a big fan of the other Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer. But he gives no indication of that being the case. Instead he said the main influences on him were Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, Paul Thompson, Roxy Music’s main drummer in the ’70s, and Tony Thompson of Chic. He also liked one more drummer. “Ringo was doing exactly what was required for the Beatles. I’ve always gone towards more song-oriented players.”

He joined a local punk band called Scents Organs in the late-’70s, but they didn’t last long. But it was long enough to get invited to join Duran Duran (along with unrelated Andy Taylor and John Taylor.) His influences worked out well since Duran Duran drew heavily on both Roxy Music and Chic for inspiration. Soon after beginning their career, they went to New York and met Thompson, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. “They were like gods to us…they taught us so much about playing and production.”

As we know, Duran Duran took off quickly, becoming bigger than Roxy Music or Chic for several years in the early-’80s. Which Taylor enjoyed…for awhile. But soon, “we had people camping outside our front doors…it was very difficult to live a normal life.” So, after playing in front of hundreds of thousands of fans at Live Aid, on the same day their single “A View To A Kill” hit #1 in the U.S., he quit the band and “retired” to a 150 acre farm. But not before helping out a little on side-projects. Even the others were seeing “the fame and celebrity of Duran Duran kind of overtook the music,” he recalls, and they decided to take a break. He joined Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon of the group on the new band Arcadia, and also played drums on one song for the other spin-off band – Power Station with the two other Taylors. In so doing he was the only person to work with both.

After that, it was to the farm. The UK’s Sun dubbed him a “hermit” but he says “I needed to get some space. It sounds like a cliché, but I needed to get to know myself.” After a few years he did so, it seems, married and got back into music in a small way, joining a band called Freebase which had a European dance hit with their take on Sweet’s “Love is Like Oxygen.” He did a couple of tracks for Duran Duran and one TV appearance with them in ’94 and finally rejoined them again in 2001, staying with them since and no doubt enjoying their more relaxed work schedule.

As well as new technology. Surprisingly perhaps for a “new wave” band, Roger was pretty conventional when it came to his instruments. Back in the day he used a normal drum kit and they used to record his drumming in real time. “We even used to record our 12” dance mixes live…it the track was ten minutes long, you had to play the whole thing (in one take).” Now he mixes old with new, saying he uses a conventional Tama acoustic drum kit with a V-drum TD20 drum machine to his left, and adds in a sampler. Duran Duran put out their 15th studio album, Future Past, late last year.