January 15 – Was A Time Everybody Was Talkin’ About Harry

One of several men sometimes referred to as the “fifth Beatle” died this day in 1994. Harry Nilsson passed away at age 52 after succumbing to his second major heart attack in a year.

Nilsson had an outstanding, expressive voice that spanned over three octaves and was a solid song-writer, writing hits for the likes of Three Dog Night (their hit “One”) and the Monkees besides himself but is best-remembered for a couple of hits he sang covers of : “Without You” (a Badfinger song) and “Everybody’s Talking”, a Fred Neil song Nilsson made popular when it made it onto The Graduate soundtrack. Both songs won Harry Grammys and were top 10 hits in the U.S., but  oddly enough the New Yorker had his greatest success in Canada where he managed ten top 10s and “Without You” hit #1. John Lennon and Paul McCartney both named him as their favorite American artist, but an attempted collaboration with Lennon in ’75 resulted in much partying but little music.

His heavy drinking and partying in the ’70s, his dislike of playing live shows caused his career to dive by the mid-’70s, and the death of Elvis Presley nearly destroyed what was left of it. That’s a confusing point, but in 1977, he’d recorded his 14th studio album, Knnillssonn, which he considered his personal best. He’d also damaged his vocal chords making him uncertain as to being able to sing much more in the future. RCA had high hopes for the LP, but through a bad coincidence of timing, it came out right about when Presley died. RCA also had the Elvis catalog and suddenly shifted most of its marketing money and record production capabilities to churning out vast quantities of the back catalog for “The King”. Nilsson’s album took a back seat and didn’t make the top 100; RCA dropped him after that. However, his legacy lives on. Rolling Stone ranked him as the 61st greatest songwriter of all-time and just after his death there was a tribute album. The 1995 For the Love of Harry had artists covering his work including Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Marc Cohn, Jimmy Webb and Fred Schneider of the B52s who did the suitably quirky 1972 hit “Coconut.” The 1998 Tom Hanks romcom You’ve Got Mail kept his name in the public’s mind, using several of his songs including the “Puppy Song. and a Sinead O’Connor cover of his “The Lord Must Be In New York City”, his first chart hit from 30 years prior.

Fifth Beatle? Probably not, if anyone should come close to really meriting that title it would be George Martin or Billy Preston. But First Harry? That’s not Schmilsson, Nilsson.

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January 4 – It’s Elementary… Raff Was The Reluctant Superstar

We remember a talented singer/songwriter who passed 12 years ago today – Gerry Rafferty. He died of liver failure on this day in 2011 at age 63. Rafferty is a talent who’s been compared to Paul McCartney more than once, and had he been a little more outgoing, perhaps might have come closer to the success the latter had. Although with two of the biggest, and most enduring hits of the ’70s to his credit, he didn’t do badly for himself.

Raff was born in Paisley, Scotland to a working class family which loved to sing Celtic folk songs around the table. That, and the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan when he was a youth set the course for his life. He left school early, and although he worked briefly as a shoe salesman and in a butcher’s shop, “there was never anything else for me but music,” he said.

By the mid-’60s, he was busking in London and joined a folk group, followed by the moderately successful (locally) The Humblebums, a folk trio which also featured Billy Connolly – the comedian. Connolly and Rafferty parted ways commercially by 1971, with them wanting different things. Connolly recalls “I wanted success and fame; Gerry wanted respect.” As well, although according to the “comedian”, Rafferty was hilarious and had a great sense of humor, on stage he wanted to be all-business, all-music, while Billy liked to joke around and tell stories between songs (hence little surprise his career would end up going the way it did.) the pair remained close friends throughout the rest of gerry’s life though.

From The Humblebums, Rafferty started Stealer’s Wheel with his friend Joe Egan; that folk-tinged group put out three albums and surprisingly, had 3 top 40 hits in Canada and the UK in 1973; the memorable one being “Stuck in the Middle” which was a top 10 in most markets and rebounded to popularity with the use in Reservoir Dogs. He then went solo, putting out a total of 9 studio albums, with the greatest output and acclaim coming for the first couple of albums after Stealer’s Wheel, City to City and Night Owl. the former includes one of the finest singles of the decade, “Baker Street”, a semi-autobiographical tune that he says UA (his label) didn’t want to release as a single! “They actually said it was too good for the public,” he later noted. Good thing for everyone concerned they relented – the single was a #1 hit in Canada and Australia, hit #2 in the U.S. and by 2010 was one of a limited number of songs confirmed by BMI as being played over 5 million times on radio! Which set Gerry for life. In 2003, he admitted he got about 80 000 pounds a year (close to $200 000 in today’s cash) in royalties from that one song alone.

The success didn’t last that long however. Although he’d score a couple more critically-acclaimed and big-selling singles, like “Right Down the Line”, Rafferty was not a fan of the “industry”, and disliked touring. A very private person, he more or less quit the music business as a recording star by 1982, working now and again through the ’80s with Mark Knopfler on the Local Hero soundtrack and producing records for The Proclaimers (who were among a number of celebrities who showed up for his funeral) and Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson. Mainly though he lived a quiet life with his wife and daughter on a farm in England, beginning an unfortunate spiral downwards.

His dad had been an alcoholic; Gerry always liked his drink but by the late-’80s, it was becoming a major problem for him, which was putting a big strain on his marriage, which in turn increased his self-destructiveness and over-drinking. She says it eventually looked hopeless to her. “I would never have left him if there’d been a glimmer of a chance of him recovering,” she later said.

Raff had a brief return to form around the turn of the century, being an early embracer of the internet for music (he put out tunes on his own website as early as 2000 and said “I don’t want to be talking to 23 year-old record executives who are just trying to sell their product to 19 year-olds”) . However, while his 2000 Another World garnered good reviews, lacking a big label deal, very few ever heard it.

He was hospitalized with multiple organ failures in late 2010, and passed away from total liver failure weeks later. Among those at his funeral was Alex Solmond, the First Minister (top politician) of Scotland and John Byrne who delivered the eulogy. Byrne is a noted Scottish playwright who also dabbles quite well in art. He’d done the pictures for the covers of City to city and Night Owl for his friend. A year later, his hometown of Paisley named a street after him.

In summing up Rafferty in a full page obituary, London’s The Times said he was “A consummate songwriter blessed with sensitivity and an enviable melodic flair that at its best recalled Paul McCartney.” And he did it on his own terms. Not a bad way to be remembered.

January 3 – Thom Bell, And All The Others For Whom The Bell Tolled

Bat Out of Hell. Rumours. Grease. Not only three of the most iconic and popular albums of the late-’70s, but among the biggest ever. No wonder so many Gen X and Baby Boomers felt a tinge of sadness on this past New Year’s Eve, as they looked back and remembered huge parts of all of those albums passed away during 2022.

It seems a bit gloomy to ruminate over death, especially when we are full of hope for the new year, but it seems appropriate to have a bit of a glance back and remember some of the great musical talent that went on to, as the Righteous Brothers put it years back, “Rock & Roll Heaven.” That “hell of a band” has expanded greatly since the days of Jimi, Janis and Otis they recalled.

Big old Meat Loaf didn’t look like a rock star, but he sure could sing like one as the world found out in ’77 with Bat Out of Hell. He follows his songwriter extraordinaire, Jim Steinman, into the Great Beyond; Steinman died in 2021.

Christine McVie wasn’t as flashy as Stevie Nicks, and all things considered, might have been the most low-key member of Fleetwood Mac, but she certainly created some excellent songs for them through the years – after, it should be noted, a successful career in Britain as a member of Chicken Shack. She passed away on November 30; ironically barely two weeks later Canadian Shirley Eikhart did as well. Eikhart made a name for herself in the Great White North with a cover of McVie’s Fleetwood Mac hit “Say That You Love Me”, then went on to bigger success writing tunes for the likes of Bonnie Raitt.

And of course, anyone who had a heart and lived in the ’70s was probably saddened to say the very least in August when the lovely Olivia Newton John finally succumbed to cancer which she’d been trying to keep at bay for two decades. Sadly, as planes get safer, now it seems cancer is the primary reaper of musicians, but that’s probably not that different than the rest of society. From country to pop to disco, ONJ was the biggest of the big when it came to female singers of the ’70s and early-’80s, scoring 21 top 20 singles in the States and helping make “grease” much more than just a kitchen nuisance.

Just as Olivia had success singing in Hollywood musicals, so too did Irene Cara, who also is on the sad list. Cara actually did that twice, with Fame and again with Flashdance.

If Olivia was the “queen of pop”, country had a queen that passed away too – Loretta Lynn. The great had a 57 year career touring and is recognized as the most awarded female country singer ever. And Naomi Judd and Mickey Gilley added to the losses in the country music world.

We remember Alan White, a drummer in Yes for 50 years who also was with John Lennon for his first concert with the Plastic Ono Band. And another friend of Lennon’s, Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins, a redneck country-rocker who grew up in Canada, where he was immensely popular as a live performer in the ’60s and ’70s…and happened to have a pretty good backing band. Most of The Hawks went on to work behind Bob Dylan, before going it alone as The Band. And the other member of the Hawks in that era, David Clayton Thomas, went on to sing with Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Even rowdier and more controversial than Hawkins was one of rock’s first real “bad boys”, Jerry Lee Lewis, who passed away in October.

And alas, the list seems endless. We might not know all the names but we remember the music by the likes of drummer Taylor Hawkins– no relation to Ronnie – (along with Nate Mendel, Taylor was the longest-standing member of the Foo Fighters besides Mr Foo himself, Dave Grohl), Andy Fletcher, one of the Depeche Mode constants, and Terry Hall, singer in Fun Boy Three and co-writer of “Our Lips Are Sealed” with his then girlfriend Jane Wiedlin. And Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the music of Jules Bass, who wrote lyrics to many of the great specials of the ’60s like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

R&B and soul losses were plenty too. Thom Bell helped make the “Philadelphia Sound”, co-starting Philadelphia Intl, Records, producing The Spinners, and writing many songs including most of the Stylistics hits like “Stone In Love With You.” Anita Pointer joined her two sisters that formed the original trio the Pointer Sisters. And one of the great songwriters of any age, Lamont Dozier, who helped pen a good chunk of Motown’s 1960s hit catalog as well.

Ronnie Spector, the “first bad girl of rock and roll”. Sister Janet Mead, who actually had a gold single with an upbeat version of “The Lord’s Prayer” in 1974 (she donated all her income from it to charity.) Bill Pitman lived to a ripe old age of 102; he was a popular session man who among other things played ukulele on “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” Dan McCafferty, singer from Nazareth. Movie score great Vangelis. Keith Levene, basically the lesser-known half of John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. Canadian alt rocker Dallas Good from the Sadies, whom I never met but shared a couple of mutual friends with. Barry Bailey, long-time guitarist for the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Jim Seals, half of Seals & Crofts. 

The list doesn’t end there, in fact it could seem endless. But rather than be sad, let’s listen to some of the great music they left us with and feel blessed. And perhaps be sure to appreciate some of the older artists still putting out records and playing gigs for us just a little bit more.

January 2 – Dragon Was The Captain Of Mid-’70s Charts

A sad day for fans of soft rock and muskrats everywhere; we remember “Captain” Daryl Dragon who died on this day in 2019 at age 76. Dragon was the male half of ’70s easy-listening sensations the Captain & Tennille.

Dragon was born into a musical L.A. family. His dad was a well-respected conductor and composer who knew big people in the entertainment field – Danny Thomas was Daryl’s godfather. The lad learned piano early on and became a more than competent keyboardist in a number of short-lived rock bands in the City of Angels in the first half of the ’60s. Although none of them took off, they did attract the attention of Dennis Wilson, who brought him on board with the Beach Boys as a backing musician for their concerts from 1967 into the ’70s. It was Dennis who coined the phrase “Captain Keyboard” for Daryl and he took the name and ran with it. Soon he was wearing the familiar nautical garb including the captain’s hat which became his trademark. By 1972, so respected by the Boys was he that he actually co-wrote one of their tunes (“Make it Good”) and worked as a session musician on their Carl & The Passions album.

Around that time, he took in a play in California which starred Toni Tennille. They met, became friends and, finding she was a decent keyboardist as well as a good voice, recommended her to his Beach Boys friends who in turn added her to their touring lineup as well, the only female ever to be an onstage member of that band. Before long they were spending the downtime from the Boys playing shows together in the L.A. area, which got them signed to A&M Records. The rest is showbiz magic and history.

They took an obscure Neil Sedaka tune and put it out as their first single. Of course, “Love Will Keep Us Together” rocketed to the top of the charts in much of the English-speaking world and became one of the biggest hits of the decade. It even won them the Grammy for Record of the Year. Fittingly, they got married while the song’s run on the chart was winding down. A hard act to follow, but they did their best and actually added five more gold singles to their collection in the States with a total of seven top 10 singles by decade’s end, including another #1 hit, “Do It To Me One More Time” and the…memorable… “Muskrat Love” , certainly one of the most popular songs written about rodents in the 1970s. So adored were they by the public they even got their own ABC variety show in 1976-77.

Changing tastes kept them from enjoying similar success in the 1980s, and from 1982 on they didn’t record until they put together a Christmas album in 2007. By that time, Dragon’s health issues – a neurological condition which caused tremors – were appearing and curtailing his ability to play. He passed away from kidney failure. Although Toni had divorced him a few years earlier, she was by his side through his final days. In some way, love did keep them together. She said upon his passing, “he was a brilliant musician with many friends who loved him greatly. I was at my most creative in my life when I was with him.”

December 26 – ’60s Alto Star Was A Bass

Remembering one of the great voices of the ’60s: Fontella Bass passed away this day in 2012. Bass is largely considered a “one hit wonder” for her great 1965 hit “Rescue Me”, but there’s more to her story than just one song.

Bass was born in 1940 St. Louis. She was something of a child prodigy on piano and was playing that and singing in church by six or seven. By nine she was singing professionally with her mother and grandmother, both of whom were gospel singers of some renown in the Midwest. By the early-’50s, she was making $10 a day singing (largely at funerals!), which wasn’t bad for the day. “I was sort of like, an income person in the home,” she said years later.

After signing to Ike Turner’s record label briefly in the latter part of the ’50s, to little notice, she was signed by the famous Chess label, at one time the home of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. At first she was just an in-house session player and backup singer but by 1964, she had the chance to record on her own (with among others drummer Maurice White – soon to found Earth, Wind & Fire – and backing vocalist Minnie Ripperton in the studio with her.)

After minor success on the R&B charts with one of the singles (“You’ll Miss Me”) scratching its way onto the mainstream charts, her career took flight with the song she was synonymous with. “Rescue Me” topped the R&B charts for weeks and made #4 on the singles chart. It was a hit in the UK and Canada as well. Journalist Dave Marsh calls it the “best non-Aretha, Aretha song ever.” And it came a year before Aretha began to be known and garner “Respect.”

Bass says it came about when entering the studio she heard blind pianist Ray Miner playing the basic melody and she came up with the lyrics together with him – and God. “He (God) is the only person I can give thanks to,” she’d say.

The single went gold in the U.S. and was the first massive hit for Chess Records in a decade. However, people looking at the 7” single saw the writing credits going to Miner and Carl Smith, who’d also co-written “You’re Love Keeps Taking Me Higher”. Due to that and an iffy contract with Chess, Bass got very little money. “Things were riding high for them, but when it came time to collect my royalty cheque, I looked at it, saw how little it was for and tore it up and threw it back across the table.”

She fought for what she figured was her due (and eventually would reach a settlement with them decades later) but that “side-stepped” her out of the business because she gained a “reputation of being a trouble maker.” That cloud probably never stopped hanging over her as in 1990 she famously – and successfully – sued American Express who’d been using her recording of “Rescue Me” in commercials without permission.

By the decade’s end, she’d moved to Paris, met a trumpeter she’d marry (Lester Bowie, no relation to David) and put out one unsuccessful album there before essentially retiring to become a homemaker and mother. She did a little movie soundtrack work in Europe briefly and had a short return to Gospel music in the ’90s before being sidtetracked again by poor health.

She fought cancer and a stroke in the 2000s but succumbed to a heart attack at age 72. St. Louis honored her with a star on their Walk of Fame. A great one hit wonder, but one wonders if she wouldn’t have been a great deal more if fates had aligned better for her with Chess Records.

December 7 – Prog Rock’s Great Lake

Remembering Greg Lake, six years after he passed away from cancer at age 69. Lake was something close to royalty among Prog Rock fans, being a founding member of both King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Although he played bass and sang with the latter, he was a multi-instrumentalist, playing keyboards and guitar as well. He actually met Robert Fripp as a youth when both had the same guitar instructor; years later they created King Crimson. He left that band in 1970 to create EL&P, being a part of nine studio albums (plus some very well received live ones) with them as well as working with the ’80s version of the group, Emerson, Lake & Powell. While they were widely labeled as “progressive rock”, he didn’t like the label and said “we were just trying to be different.” Being different to them, as the New York Times would say in its obituary for him meant “being a seminal figure in the movement to Europeanize rock’n’roll by blending it with classical music.”

Although he’s played in some 46 albums between his bands and solo work, he’s largely remembered in the mainstream for two songs: “Lucky Man”, an Emerson, Lake & Palmer song, and his Christmas classic “(I Believe In)Father Christmas.” The former, from 1970 which was a top 30 hit in Canada and Germany and was one he wrote while just 12 years old and filed it away until he had a chance to record it. The Christmas song was his first solo venture, in 1975 and hit #2 in the UK and has since become standard Christmas fare on North American radio come December. Ironically, the song arguably deploring crass commercialism is his biggest retail hit song, The Guardian said it was a terrific vision of “how Christmas had deteriorated and was in danger of becoming yet another victim of crass corporate exploitation.”

He died in 2016 just shy of his 70th Christmas, leaving his wife Regina and a daughter behind.

November 25 – Shy Drake Ducked Spotlight

Remembering moody singer/songwriter Nick Drake who passed away on this day in 1974 at age 26, long before VW had introduced his moody music to most of us.

Drake was born in Burma in 1948, but his parents moved to the UK when the youth was only two. He loved poetry and studied English lit at college, learned to play piano and sax at school and guitar shortly thereafter. By 20 he’d got a recording contract with Island Records and had released his first (of only three) album, Five Leaves Left. His shy, awkward demeanour made him a less than rivoting live performer however, and his meandering melodies and downbeat lyrics didn’t seem catchy enough to grab the folk crowds of the day. By the time Pink Moonthe title track of which eventually became his “signature tune” – was released in 1972 (to sales of fewer than 5000 at the time, although all three of his studio albums have since gone gold in Britain), he’d stopped touring, withdrawn to his parents house and was smoking massive amounts of pot. He died of an overdose of anti-depressant pills, the coroner never ruled on whether it was accidental or suicide.

Like quite a few other acts (Velvet Underground comes to mind), the few fans he did have really liked his stuff and cite him as an inspiration; Robert Smith of The Cure and Peter Buck of R.E.M. being two noteworthy examples of those influenced by Drake. A Volkswagen commercial using “Pink Moon” introduced him to a wider audience at the beginning of this century, and since then his work has been heard in a number of movies including Serendipity (“Northern Sky”), Me Without You (“Cello Song”) and The Lake House (“Pink Moon”). Definitely a pre-MTV artist, there is no known video footage of Nick performing.

September 27 – Balin Was Sober Pilot For Psychedelic Starship

Remembering a musical square in a field of paisley holes. Marty Balin passed away four years ago in Florida at the age of 76. The musical square comment, mind you, isn’t meant as an insult, but rather an acknowledgment that although he’s synonymous with the psychedelic-’60s and their erstwhile capital of San Francisco, he was always a bit different and more traditional than many of his contemporaries.

Part of that might be because he grew up as a child in Cincinnati, although he’d moved to the West Coast by high school. A bigger part of it might be that he was autistic; he was one of the first celebrities to have been identified as such and in his latter years he’d do a great deal of fund-raising for autism charities.

Balin started his solo career around the start of the ’60s, playing folk music in clubs in the Bay Area, and putting out two solo singles by 1962. A few years he co-founded the seminal hippie band Jefferson Airplane, and he wrote about half of their famous Surrealistic Pillow album, played guitar and shared the mic with the more famous Grace Slick. While the band veered towards the weird and wonderful of psychedelia, he always seemed to prefer a more conventional, folk-based sound, like the country-rocker “Volunteers” he wrote. He was with them at their famous Monterey Pop and Woodstock concert appearances, and also at the Altamont show, in which he was knocked out by a Hell’s Angel “security guard” while on stage. Not long after that, he quit the band. “After Janis’ death,” he says, referring to Janis Joplin and why he quit, “that just struck me. It was dark times. Everybody was doing so much drugs, I couldn’t even talk to the band. I was into yoga at the time…cocaine was a big deal and I wasn’t a cokie.”

After a few years and changes, he rejoined them when they became Jefferson Starship, and he shone on the big hits of that incarnation – “Miracles”, which he wrote and sang, and “For Your Love” which he also sang. However, ongoing tension between him and Grace caused both of them to quit about the same time in the late-’70s. Balin went on to write an obscure rock opera, Rock Justice, then put out a hit solo album, Balin, which contained two top 20 hits, “Hearts” and “Atlanta Lady,” both written by his friend Jesse Barish. He joined ex-Airplane mates Jack Cassady and Paul Kantner in the band KBC in the mid-’80s, but that didn’t result in much gold or platinum hardware for them. Not that he seemed to mind that much, he had by then made a comfortable living and enjoyed a family life and time painting. Painting was always a passion for him, and he was noted for portraits of other musicians.

He had heart problems in his last years and a botched surgery in 2016 left him with a myriad of health problems. No cause of death was listed for his demise en route to a hospital, but one has to expect it was somehow related to that event. Upon his death, Jorma Kaukonen of the Airplane wrote “had it not been for him, my life would have taken an alternate path I cannot imagine…it was a moment of powerful synchronicity. I was a part of it to be sure, but I was not a prime mover. Marty always reached for the stars and took us along with him.”

September 26 – The Stones Keep Rolling On

Well, their nickname is the “Glimmer Twins” not the “Glimmer Triplets”…the Rolling Stones began a new chapter in their lengthy history a year ago today. For the first time, they played a concert without longtime drummer Charlie Watts, who of course had passed away a month earlier.

It was a continuation of their “No Filter Tour”, which had begun, incredibly enough, in Hamburg, Germany over four years earlier. The first leg ended in Miami in August, 2019 but the planned resuming in early-’20 was scuttled by the pandemic. By the time they took the stage again, over two years had transpired and their beloved drummer had succumbed to cancer.

The tour itself resumed this night in 2021 in St. Louis, although they had done a bit of an unannounced, impromptu rehearsal in Massachusetts the previous week. 38 000 or so fans showed up to the America’s Center in the Gateway City (which actually was the smallest crowd of the regular concerts for this leg of the tour) and weren’t disappointed. As had been the case earlier in the tour, it was something of a greatest hits show, with many of the shows running over three hours and being heavy on the hits.

According to St. Louis Today, the show began “with images of Jagger, Richards, Wood and Watts flashing on video screens. The final image, a photo of a smiling Watts cued the band’s entrance to the stage for ‘Street Fighting Man.’” Needless to say, they paid homage to their drummer of 50+ years, with Jagger saying “this is our first tour we’ve ever done without him. We all miss Charlie so much on the stage and off the stage and we’d like to dedicate this tour to Charlie.” They then kicked into “Tumblin’ Dice” and ran through a good selection of hits including “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Sympathy for the Devil”, “Honky Tonk Women” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, the final song of the main set. New for the show was the song “Living in A Ghost Town” which they’d recorded the year before during the pandemic lockdown. They jumped on back to do an encore of “Gimme Shelter” and “Satisfaction.”

Filling Watts big shoes was Steve Jordan, appropriate enough since Keith Richards said Watts had once said if he couldn’t play anymore, “Steve Jordan’s your man.” The Stones were pretty familiar with Jordan, even though he was only five years old when the band began! Jordan had played in Richards’ side-project, the X-spensive Winos in the ’80s. And kept busy on a host of other projects including being in the Saturday Night Live house band (which led to him being with the Blues Brothers when they were active), then David Letterman’s on his Late Night show for four years and doing session work for a who’s who of ’80s and ’90s stars including Stevie Nicks, Don Henley, John Mellencamp, Bonnie Tyler and Bob Dylan as well as being Eric Clapton’s touring drummer.

The tour carried on to huge box offices and good reviews through November, wrapping up with a small show at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood November 23.

September 16 – Bolan’s ’70s Image Was No Dinosaur

Britain lost its’ favorite “20th Century Boy” 45 years ago today – Marc Bolan. The singer died at age 29 in a car crash in London this day in 1977.

The T-Rex frontman was a passenger in his girlfriend Gloria Jones’ car when it ran off the road and hit a tree. Jones was a singer herself, being the singer who first recorded “Tainted Love”, the huge ’80s Soft Cell hit. Bolan was born Mark Feld but took his stage-name in the 60s with “Bolan” being short form for BOb dyLAN, whom he idolized and emulated at one time. However, by the end of the decade he’d started the band T-Rex, which was  far removed from the blue-jeans-and-politics delivery of Dylan. Bolan would soon become one of the originators of the sound and glitzy style that became “glam rock.” David Bowie’s longtime producer Tony Visconti remembers “What I saw…Marc Bolan was raw talent. I saw genius…I saw a potential rock star in Marc, right from the minute I met him.” Over here, the band was little known besides for the single “Bang a Gong, Get it On.” In the UK though, they were one of the dominant acts for years, with four #1 singles: that one plus “Metal Guru”, “Hot Love” and “Telegram Sam”, plus four more which hit #2… all between 1970-72! . They went on to be a significant influence on the likes of Morrissey and Johnny Marr of the Smiths, R.E.M., Bauhaus/Love & Rockets and even their elders, The Who. Morrissey was a particularly big fan. “”What kind of kids love T Rex?” he mused, “School-hating anarchists.” “20th Century Boy”, covered by the likes of the Replacements and Chalk Circle in the ’80s, had a second chart-life in Europe in 1991 when Brad Pitt appeared in a Levis ad using the song. Columnist Stephen Patience pointed out the irony in that as Bolan “himself was more of a satin-flares man” than blue jeans enthusiast !

After his death, T Rex tunes were covered by bands as varied as Def Leppard, Guns N Roses, Bauhaus and Adam Ant, plus of course Robert Palmer’s Power Station, which had a hit with “Bang A Gong, Get it On.” London placed a statue and commemorative plaque in his honor near where he had the fatal accident, on what would have been his 60th birthday.