September 21 – Davis Had All The Right Friends…And A Few Wrong Ones

Remembering one of the greatest guitarists you’ve never heard of on what would have been his 78th birthday. If you have heard of Jesse Ed Davis, you’re in the minority. But you’d also be in the minority if you’re a fan of ’70s music and hadn’t heard his work. After all, he was one of the most in-demand session players, worked with three of the four Beatles and rubbed shoulders with Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones.

Davis was an Oklahoma-born Native, the son of a respected painter. He became a great guitarist at a young age, and by his teens was playing in clubs in Oklahoma City. He was talented in other ways too; he got a degree in literature there. But in the ’60s he turned to music full-time, first taking a job being Conway Twitty’s touring guitarist. Eventually he moved to L.A. and became friends with fellow-Oklahoman Leon Russell as well as Levon Helm. Russell sold Davis on the idea of session work, and soon the calls came rolling in for Jesse…when he wasn’t working with Taj Mahal, whom he joined for four albums.

One of the first jobs he got as a session player was probably his best-known as well – the guitar solo on Jackson Browne’s lead-off single, “Doctor My Eyes.” Browne spoke glowingly about Davis in the movie Rumble – The Indians Who Rocked, saying he basically walked into the studio, heard the song demo and improvised the solo we hear on the spot, in one take.

Around the same time, he came to George Harrison’s attention and was invited to be a part of his Concert for Bangladesh. Harrison called him back about three years later to work on his Extra Texture album, Davis co-writing “This Guitar” with George. He got to play on Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna and two John Lennon albums (Rock & Roll, Walls and Bridges) as well in the first half of the ’70s. The work kept coming in for him, doing session work with Bryan Ferry, Leonard Cohen, Cher, even Willie Nelson. Rod Stewart as well, being on his Atlantic Crossing , co-writing “Alright for an Hour” with Rod the Mod.

Unfortunately, Rod was still the hard-partying Rod The Mod at the time, and Davis’ work with him, as well as Faces (whom he toured with in 1975) and the Rolling Stones (being a part of Taj Mahal when they opened for Mick and the lads in England) exposed him to the excesses of rock, and Davis dove in with excessive gusto. Heroin addiction limited the amount of work he could do in the late-’70s and ’80s despite several attempts to quit and stints in rehab.

Sadly, it seemed to most who knew him he was getting his act together and he was actually working as an Addictions Counselor at the American Indian Free Clinic in California in 1988 when he overdosed and died. Among his final works was the album AKA Grafitti Man, with Native poet John Trudell in 1987, an album Bob Dylan picked as the best of the year.

September 14 – One Band, Two Guitars, One Birthday

Talk about strange coincidences. Ed King was born on this day in 1949, a guitarist/songwriter who’d worked with the wildly differing Strawberry Alarm Clock and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He grew tired of the latter’s in-fighting and seemingly aggressive nature so he quit in the latter part of 1975, just as the band’s star was really on the rise. Skynyrd needed a replacement guitarist and multi-talented replacement. The guy they found was Steve Gaines…who also happened to be born on this day in 1949. Sadly neither is around today to mark what would have been their 73rd birthday.

Gaines was one of many rock stars whose path was set in motion by the Beatles. For Steve, it was actually getting to see them in 1964 in Kansas City. He “pestered his father to buy him his first guitar” all the way back to their home in Oklahoma, and apparently dad gave in.

Gaines played in several bands in the Midwest in the early-’70s including with Rusty Day of the Detroit Wheels and an act called Ilmo Smokehouse (in some sources listed as Rio Smokehouse.). In 1975, he formed a band called Crawdad, which went to the legendary Capricorn Studios in Macon to record their first record. The album didn’t amount to much commercially – in fact it took over a decade for it to ever be released – but working in the studio that was the home to the Allman Bros. and used by the likes of Elvin Bishop and Marshall Tucker Band no doubt helped him make some important contacts in the world of Southern Rock. But his most important contact was probably closer to home – his sister, Cassie.

Cassie had just become a backing singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd. When she heard they needed a replacement for King, she suggested her brother. She apparently used that Gaines family pestering until Ronnie Van Zant of the band gave in, letting her brother play one song with them. Their soundman was amazed by his talent and convinced the band this was their guy.

The soundman was probably right. Gaines joined them for the tour which resulted in the live album One More From The Road. He then went to work with them on the Street Survivors album, which went double-platinum in the States. He co-wrote several songs on it with leader Ronnie Van Zant and actually did two all by himself, “You Got That Right” and “Ain’t No Good Life”, a song he sang lead on – a rarity for anyone but Van Zant back then. Apparently Van Zant was so impressed he once said the rest of the band “would all be in his shadow one day.”

Alas, that didn’t get to happen as three days after the album came out, the mid-sized CV240 plane they’d chartered for the tour crashed in Mississippi while they were en route to Baton Rouge from South Carolina. Both Gaines and his sister, as well as Van Zant died in the crash, as did their manager and the pilot and co-pilot. The rest of the band and entourage survived, albeit with some severe injuries.

He apparently had a fan in the Drive-by Truckers also; their song “Cassie’s Brother” was about him.

September 12 – A Diverse Range Of Art Folds Into Ben’s Career

On this day in 1966 (the same day the Monkees debuted on TV ) in North Carolina, the Folds family welcomed their newest member, Ben! So happy 56th birthday Ben Folds.

Rather like Warren Zevon, Ben is a “musician’s musician.” A highly talented keyboardist who learned to play Billy Joel and Elton John tunes by ear when a young lad, and smart writer, he’s earned a lot of respect from the music community, but not a whole lot of hits. The one exception is his platinum Whatever and Ever, Amen 1997 album with his trio Ben Folds Five which yielded the melancholy, North American top 20 hit “Brick.” Folds calls his music “punk rock for sissies” and among his interesting projects are William Shatner and Nick Hornby. He produced Shatner’s surprisingly good Has Been album and co-wrote parts of it and put out an album, Lonely Avenue, for which he wrote the tunes and novelist Hornby (High Fidelity) penned the lyrics. Critics assailed that one, but oddly the trite lyrics were the objects of derision, not Ben’s musicianship. In all, Folds has a trio of solo albums and four with Ben Folds Five, and while he hasn’t put one out for a few years, he’s not been inactive. His most recent work was a new single, “2020” about life in the age of Covid, but his main gig seems to be an artistic director… for the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington! The only two concerts he has booked presently, in Florida and Ohio next spring, are both with orchestras as well.

Outside of music, he’s kept busy of late. In 2019, he wrote a memoir, A Dream About Lightning Bugs, A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons As well, he’s devoted a lot of his spare time to photography, becoming talented enough to have some of his shots used in National Geographic.

September 11 – Shaw Was Styx’s Renegade

Happy 69th birthday to a “renegade” rocker – Tommy Shaw of Styx.

Shaw was born in Alabama (despite Styx being so closely associated with Chicago, Shaw’s been inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame) and picked up the guitar early. He used to sing with his grandpa on the front porch when a small child and by 13 was playing guitar in clubs. In fact he says he’s never had any other job – “I always just made money playing guitar.” He found opportunities limited in Montgomery so as soon as he finished high school he headed out in his van to Nashville, and soon after to Chicago where he came into luck. Styx needed a new guitarist just as he arrived in town and he was quickly hired, in 1975, just as the band was starting to make a name for itself (“Lorelai” had been a hit just prior.) He joined them for their 1976 Crystal Ball and after that went on to greater success with The Grand Illusion. His first gig with them was actually in Montreal and he says that city has been a longtime favorite of his and the first to really warm to Styx. He’s so fond of the city that his own website is bilingual with French for his Quebec fans! Shaw stayed with the band through their period of greatest success in the late-’70s and early-’80s. He was the main guitarist and vocalist on a few songs including “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Renegade”, one of the ones he wrote. He eventually fell out with singer Dennis DeYoung who favored a more AOR, less rock sound. Shaw clearly didn’t like their 1983 album Kilroy Was Here, calling it “a disappointment” that left him “not very pleased.”

He quit right after that, and put out three solo albums in the ’80s, then formed Damn Yankees with Ted Nugent in 1990 and wrote songs for Aerosmith, Cher and Ozzy Osbourne and backed Alice Cooper briefly before rejoining a DeYoung-less, reunited Styx in ’96. He’s still with them, writing a dozen of 15 songs on their most recent album, last year’s Crash of The Crown and sharing the lead vocal duties with Larry Gowan . However, perhaps his roots in the Deep South made more of an impact on young Tommy than he realized – in 2011, he put out an album of bluegrass music and performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

Needless to say, having a birthday on Sep. 11th took on a different tone in 2001 (even more so for Moby and the Grateful Dead’s Micky Hart, New Yorkers both who also share the birthday) and Shaw felt the need to do something to honor the first responders that year, so he organized two benefit concerts for the police and “with the help of scores of friends” presented a cheque for $500 000 to the benevolent fund for New York and Port Authority police before Christmas, 2001.

September 10 – When Classical Guitars Meet Acid Rock Good Things Happened

Happy birthday to a man who’s a household name in a lot of households in many different countries. And why not since, as his website puts it he’s “synonymous with a presence that has bridged musical styles in a way that has never been equaled.” Jose Feliciano is 77 today.

There were lots of popular folkie singer/songwriter types around in the late-’60s but Jose stood out. One, he was a better guitarist than most. Two, he was multi-lingual and often sang in Spanish. And three, he did all that while being blind, often with his trusty guide dog by his side! That’s the type of thing that makes people remember your name.

Feliciano was born, blind, in Puerto Rico, but his family moved to New York City – Spanish Harlem more specifically – when he was about five. He seemingly had a musical family and by age seven he’d taught himself to play accordion, but his future was really set when he was given a guitar at age nine. He practiced incessantly, while listening to classical, jazz, early rock as well as Ray Charles and Sam Cooke records. He taught himself to play quite well, then was sent for formal classical guitar lessons as a young teen. By 18, he was beginning to become popular playing coffee houses at home and in Vancouver, and RCA took note and signed him in 1964. He recorded his first album, in English, in 1965, but when he went to do an appearance in Argentina, singing in Spanish, the following year, RCA suggested he do an album in that language. He did, and since then he’s become one of the biggest Latin artists with a huge following in places such as there, Spain and even Portuguese-speaking Brazil. He’s had a series of hits in those markets on and off since, including a Spanish #1 hit , “Para Decir Adios” in ’82 and an Italian hit to boot, “Che Sara.” Little wonder he won Billboard‘s El Premio Award – a Latin music lifetime award – in 1996.

All that would not likely make his name known through much of the States, Canada or Britain though were it not for a few noteworthy records and TV appearances. And perhaps a bit of a scandal for good measure.

The big break for him was his total reimagining of The Doors hit “Light My Fire.” Originally it was the b-side to another cover of a popular hit of the day, “California Dreaming,” but many DJs liked “Light My Fire” better and began playing it. Good thing for Jose, in retrospect. The song went to #3…and actually was a #1 hit in Canada, one of three countries (along with Brazil and Britain) where it got him a gold record. That helped him win a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1968 as well as Best Male Pop Performance…and win the ear of famous baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell. Harwell apparently loved it and got Feliciano invited to sing the national anthem at a World Series game in Detroit that year.

He took liberties with the song, if you will, as he did with the Doors song, playing it considerably slower and with a Latin flavor. Unlike his hit single, the reworking wasn’t wildly popular. Many protested, accusing him of being unpatriotic and disrespectful (this was the pre-Roseanne Barr era after all!) whereas he figured he was only adding his personal touch to the sound and trying to get people to actually listen and pay attention to it for once. In the long run, he was probably right. Baseball has actually included his rendition of the anthem in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame and for the 50th anniversary of the event, he was invited to be a keynote speaker at a swearing in for new citizens in Washington. An added bonus for Jose about the baseball appearance – he met his future wife! She was a friend of Harwell’s family and he introduced them to one another there.

He also got attention for creating the theme song to the TV sitcom Chico & The Man, which he had a walk-on role in one episode. Yet still, for all that, Jose usually brings to mind one thing to most people – Ho Ho Ho. His cheery Christmas song “Felix Navidad” has entered the realm of a true cultural cornerstone of the season. Mixing Spanish and English makes it unusual, and its upbeat nature seems to strike a chord with millions every December. The song has been a top 10 on Billboard’s Holiday Chart since they began publishing the seasonal list in 2011, and last year actually hit the overall top 10 singles chart for the first time…over 50 years after its release.

Feliciano lives with his wife Susan in Connecticut these days. He’s the subject of a new documentary which premiered last month, Jose Feliciano Behind the Guitar, with another Latin-mainstream crossover success, Santana, among its producers.

September 9 – Respect Still There For Mr. ‘Dock Of The Bay’

Remembering one of the great voices of soul – Otis Redding. The great Georgian singer would’ve turned 81 today, had he not sadly died at a young 26 in a plane crash.

Otis honed his musical skills as a child in his Dad’s Macon-area Baptist church and won numerous talent contests as a teen. After dropping out of school at 15 to help pay his family bills, he soon started playing piano for bar bands and won a radio talent contest which led to him getting a contract with Memphis’ famous Stax label. After concerts at the Apollo Theater in 1963 with the likes of Ben E. King and the Coasters he became a significant soul star, with eight R&B chart top 10s prior to his death, including “Try a Little Tenderness” and a cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction”, but none had major mainstream impact. His 1967 appearance at Monterrey Pop exposed him to a much wider, and Whiter, audience. Apparently he was quite impressed and influenced by Sgt. Pepper that year and on Dock of the Bay he tried to expand his sound. The result was a success; the album was a #1 hit in the UK – the first ever posthumous one there – and led to his biggest single “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” That tune was his only #1 hit at home and is currently ranked among Rolling Stone’s 30 greatest songs of all-time… although below “Respect”, Aretha Franklin’s hit that was written by Otis.

Otis’ reputation has grown through the years, being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. They note “some singers had his power, some had a bigger range. No one had Otis Redding’s emotion.” He’s also honored with a statue of him playing a guitar in Macon.

September 5 – The ‘Other’ Famous Scottish Stewart Storyteller

Maybe we’ll hear a song on the radio by this guy today. After all, it’s the day of the year of the cat…happy birthday Al Stewart! The literate Scottish folkie turns 77 today.

Last week we mentioned how there were two fine bands – the Proclaimers and Jesus & Mary Chain – that were built around a pair of Scottish brothers with the name “Reid.” Well, turns out there were also two highly successful Scottish singer/songwriters named “Stewart” who came into their own in the ’70s – Rod and Al. Rod sold more records and likely had more women swooning over him, but Stewart may have been the one who won critic’s hearts. He’s put out 19 studio albums from 1967 through 2008 but is best known for the album and single “Year of the Cat.” That album and its follow-up, Time Passages, both went platinum in the U.S. and gave him top 10 hits in the States and Canada with the title tracks. Stewart developed his musical chops as part of the London folk scene of the late-’60s along with Van Morrison and Cat Stevens, Andy Summers (who was in the Police years later) as well as briefly being Paul Simon’s roommate when the New Yorker moved to England. Along the way he played the first Glastonbury Festival, and met Alan Parsons, who produced a trio of his records including the two smash hit ones. Perhaps not uncoincidentally, when he switched producers in ’80 for 24 Carrots, sales dropped significantly.

Stewart’s singles seldom sound like conventional pop hits. He’s said “I don’t like repetition” when it comes to music and while others are singing about love and old Chevys, Stewart has written songs about things like travel (his two best known songs, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages” both refer to travel and being in exotic places) World War I battles, the Spanish Basque separation movement, Lord Mountbatten, Kurt Vonnegut novels and the French Revolution. As he puts it, “making a leap forward often entails taking a step backward.”

77 or not, he’s currently on the road, playing shows in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois later this month and in Britain in October.

August 23 – Hudson A Man Of Many Talents…And Beard Colors

Happy birthday to a teenie-bopper idol who turns out to be a lot more than just that. Mark Hudson is a singer, songwriter, producer, artist, actor, radio DJ…but still relatively anonymous. And he turns 71 today.

Hudson was the middle boy in the Hudson Brothers, a trio of entertainment-oriented lads from Portland, Oregon who had a brief moment in the spotlight in the mid-’70s. They had started out as a garage rock band in the ’60s, initially using the name The New Yorkers. They took that name from a Chrysler car after they got a gig singing a jingle for that motor company. Mark played drums and keyboards and at time sang for the band which became locally-popular in the Pacific Northwest. By 1972 they’d gotten signed to Playboy Records, and put out their first album. They’d put out five more through the decade, on four more record companies including Elton John’s Rocket label. Bernie Taupin was a fan and got them signed, producing one of their albums. With photogenic looks and acting aspirations, somehow the brothers got their own TV variety show in the summer of ’74 on CBS (replacing Sonny & Cher temporarily) which led to a Saturday morning, youth-oriented variety show the next year …one which lives on in legend largely due to its remarkably long introduction. All the publicity led them to have a couple of hit singles, most notably the Beatlesque “So You’re A Star” which rose to #21 at home and #5 in Canada.

Despite their goofy TV demeanor, they still fancied themselves a real rock band, albeit one which was a little hard to peg down. After the New Yorkers they’d gone by the name Everyday Hudson, then simply Hudson, then the Hudson Brothers. Allmusic figure they were a decent-enough outfit but one which owed “heavy debts to the Beatles and Beach Boys, and occasionally…the Kinks.” The New York Times reviewed one of their shows at the height of their popularity and wrote “they make a hard rock sound (and) try to project a raunchier image than television might lead one to expect.”

Whether the difficulty in defining who they were or what they wanted to sound like, bad luck or just lack of enough memorable material did them in, by 1980 they’d called it quits. That after they’d all just appeared on the Love Boat. But all went on to some later success. Eldest brother Bill went into acting full-time, and married Goldie Hawn…and later, Cindy Williams. (Technically Mark is Kate Hudson’s uncle, but it would seem she has little to do with the Hudson family). Youngest Brett found some success as a TV producer.

Mark went into distributing artwork, and stayed in music largely as a producer. He co-wrote Aerosmith’s hit “Livin’ on the Edge”. That caught their attention and he was called back to work with them frequently after that, most significantly on their Just Push Play album, which he co-produced with them and helped write six songs on. He also became friends with Ringo Starr and co-produced five albums from the ex-Beatle who at one time said “Mark puts the fun back in recording…he’s a great musician, has a lot of energy.” However their relationship was strained in 2006 when he pulled out of a Ringo tour with no notice, or when he did a job of producing that Ringo really disliked, depending on which source you look at. Around the same time, his friend Sharon Osbourne recruited him to be a coach on the show The X-factor and he became known for dying his beard in rainbow colors. He and Osbourne apparently met while working on a 2005 charity single, a remake of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” that he produced.

So there you have it – more razzle dazzle than you might expect from a third of a “one hit wonder.”

August 19 – John The Yin To Freddie’s Yang

Happy birthday to the quiet piece of one of rock’s biggest and most flamboyant bands. John Deacon, the former bassist for Queen turns 71 today.

Deacon grew up in Leicester, England and was in his first band by age 14, playing guitars at first then bass. Unlike some rock stars though, his music never became his sole passion or purpose, and he went to college, getting a degree in electronics by 21. Around that time Freddie Mercury had his band together with Brian May and Roger Taylor, but lacked a regular bassist. Enter John Deacon.

Deacon wasn’t instantly overwhelmed with the idea. He grew up liking soul music and though he’d grown interested in prog rock and even some classical music by the early-’70s, he wasn’t sure Queen was his calling. The other three thought it was though and won him over.

We were so over the top,” Taylor says, “we thought because he was so quiet, he would fit in with us without too much upheaval.” Brian May had another reason to like him too; Deacon built him his own amp with his electronics knowledge.

Although mainly just a bass player in the shadow of the flamboyant singer and flashy guitarist, beginning in 1974, he began writing at least one song on every Queen album, including a couple of their best known ones – “Another One Bites The Dust” and one he wrote for his new wife, Veronica, “You’re my Best Friend.” He also played electric piano on that one; besides bass he could play keyboards and guitars and now and again did so with the band.

Curiously, his low-profile extended even towards the critics it seemed. Rolling Stone was lambasted by fans when they failed to include him in a list of rock’s great bassists. Journalist Troy Smith from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame put him at #16 on his own list, stating “had all John Deacon ever done was ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, he might still have made the list. It’s arguably the most iconic bassline in rock (but) his basslines were the key ingredient on Queen classics.”

Over time he and Freddie became very close so Deacon was especially hard-hit by Freddie’s death. After playing the Tribute concert for Mercury with the band, he said “as far as we are concerned, this is it. There is no point carrying on (the band.) It is impossible to replace Freddie.”

After a few years, Brian and Roger disagreed that Queen had to bite the dust and reformed the group (initially with Paul Rodgers) but Deacon retired. It’s not entirely clear what his opinion of Queen with Adam Lambert is, but Brian May says “John Deacon is still John Deacon. We don’t undertake anything financial without talking to him,” while Roger Taylor says less diplomatically “John’s a sociopath…he’s given us his blessing to do whatever Brian and I might do with the brand. And we’ve done rather a lot.” Tellingly, Deacon didn’t join Taylor and May when Queen got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Sociopath or just a musician who felt his band had done all it could do, Deacon lives a fairly quiet life with Veronica and some of his six kids in southern England these days. Brian May recently said he would like to see Deacon in a social setting but had no hope for ever working with him again.

August 17 – Maria Was Once ‘Lone’ Voice In Alt-country

Happy birthday to an artist who’s shown for over 30 years it’s possible to have a pretty nice, well-respected career without being a household name. Maria McKee turns 58 today. People who listened to college radio, or perhaps were big U2 fans, in the ’80s might remember her as the singer for Lone Justice…the band which seemed the “next big thing” but never quite got there. But Maria’s done quite a bit more than just that.

She grew up in what she terms a “bohemian family” in L.A., with Love guitarist Bryan MacLean being her older half-brother. Whether because of him or not, she learned to play guitar and unlike many soft-strumming females, her guitar-work has been described by Mojo as “feral.” Around 1982, while still a teen, she founded the country-rock band Lone Justice, with her being the singer, one of two guitarists and one of its chief songwriters. Oddly, her biggest success in songwriting during the ’80s wasn’t for them though, but Feargal Sharkey : “A Good Heart.

Lone Justice were signed by Geffen, got to open for U2 on their Unforgettable Fire tour of North America and seemed poised to be big…but never really got there. Perhaps their alt-country sound was ahead of its time, and would have gone over bigger a decade later when Steve Earle and Wilco had found success (not to mention Blue Rodeo in Canada.) Or, perhaps Trouser Press was right when they summed up the band’s debut as disappointing because “the ballyhoo that preceded the L.A. Quartet’s debut raised expectations that these frisky, countrified rock tunes couldn’t possibly satisfy.” There’s a lot of pressure on those deemed “the next big thing” if they turn out to merely be the next pretty good thing. The closest they came to a real hit was the song “Shelter” which got to #26 on U.S. rock charts in 1986 and was a minor hit in Australia.

However, her earthy voice and writing capabilities didn’t go unnoticed, and she added backing vocals to Robbie Robertson’s self-titled album, even appearing in his “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” video. The following decade she’d sing in the background on Counting Crows smash debut album, after doing a duet with Dwight Yoakam. In the midst, Lone Justice had broken up but she’d signed as a solo artist to Geffen and she had one big international hit. “Show Me Heaven” was used in the Days of Thunder soundtrack and was a massive #1 hit in 1990 in the UK, and also topped Scandinavian charts. It hit #3 in Australia, but was almost ignored here in North America oddly enough. Quentin Tarentino also came calling, putting her song “If Love Is A Red Dress” on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.

Although by the mid-’90s Geffen had dropped her, she’s continued recording on and off as an indie artist and she co-runs a small movie company, Shootist films, with her husband Jim Akin. She co-produced and acted in their initial offering, The Triumph of Your Birth.

Despite being married to Jim, Maria is a strong advocate for LGBT rights and describes herself as a “dyke.” Besides that, she leads a pretty private life and her website hasn’t been updated since 2015. Whatever she’s upto, here’s hoping her day is a triumph.