February 8 – Turpin Adds The Rhythm To The Soul

Happy birthday to one of the younger and nicer guys in Gen X rock, Will Turpin. Will hits 52 today.

Not many famous musicians come from Alaska (besides Will, who’s only a household name with his band , the only other one who comes to mind is Jewel) , fewer still go on to add rhythm to a “southern rock” band but Turpin does both. The Fairbanks-born bassist is best known for his work in Collective Soul.

Thankfully for music-loving Will, his dad loved music too. He moved the family to metro Atlanta when Will was young, and enroled him in piano lessons by age 8. Meanwhile, dad was playing in a bluegrass band and had bought and run Real 2 Reel Studios, a well-regarded recording studio. Will switched to drums as a teen, and hung out at his dad’s studios where he met Ed Roland, who recorded some of the demos for soon-to-be Collective Soul there. Ed invited Will to join the band, and the rest is history. Improbable history mind you, as they already had a drummer in Shane Evans. Somehow, Will became the bassist, even though he’d never played the instrument until age 22. He quickly picked it up from playing along with records and “watching AC/DC videos.” His background in music helped him become decent enough; he describes his playing cryptically as “funky rhythmically.” He helped the band become one of modern rock’s biggest through the ’90s, with their first four albums all going platinum or better in the U.S. and Canada, with seven top 10 hits in the latter and seven  #1 hits on the “mainstream rock” charts in the former, including “December” , “World I Know” and “Listen” (although their top-ranking single on Billboard was “Shine” getting to #11 in ’94.)

Along the way, Turpin’s been busy with side projects. He had a “solo” EP in 2011, the Lighthouse, with lots of help from Roland, and a full album, Serengeti Drivers five years back. He put that out on his own indie record label, Gooey Music. In 2012, he recorded a version of “What Child is This?” for a Christmas compilation album and the next year began “an Atlanta tradition”, “Rock the Cradle” an annual concert combining regular rock, Christmas music, “video, scripture and theatrics” with proceeds going to children’s charities. Meanwhile, he’s still with Roland and Collective Soul, who put out their 11th studio album, Vibrating, last fall.


December 24 – From Accordion To Bass, T-bone Wolk-ed The Walk

Remembering one of the best musicians you’ve never heard of…unless you really pay attention to the liner notes of albums or were a part of the New York City studio recording scene of the ’80s and ’90s. Tom Wolk, better known as “T-bone” was born on this day in 1951, in Yonkers, New York.

Wolk apparently was a musical talent from a young age. By the time he was 12, he was the New York state champion accordion player! But that was also the year the Beatles showed up on Ed Sullivan, and like with so many other kids, his trajectory was changed. He was especially taken by Paul McCartney, and decided to take up the bass right then. He did just that, and got good quickly. During his high school years, he was playing in bar bands, becoming friends with G.E. Smith at the time. The pair would work together extensively years later.

By 1980 he’d gotten to be a well-liked session player, and his lucky break occurred. He came to the attention of Daryl Hall & John Oates, who brought him onboard to play bass for their 1982 H2O album, with its hits like “One on One” and “Maneater”. Apparently they liked him and his skills, so they brought him back for the single “Adult Education” that they were tacking onto a compilation album. He played guitar as well as bass on that. From there on in, he was a regular with them, playing more and more instruments as they worked on, at times playing his accordion, as well as keyboards from piano to synthesizers and even co-producing their Ooh Yeah album. He was their touring bassist as well, playing the famous Apollo Theater show when they were joined by David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations. By the late-’80s G.E. Smith was working with Hall & Oates frequently as well; when Saturday Night Live were looking for a new house band, both of them got the call and stayed on that show for six years. Remarkably, despite all those jobs, he also toured with Billy Joel and Carly Simon when not busy with Hall & Oates, and worked on albums by artists ranging from Squeeze to Elvis Costello to Bernie Williams. Baseball fans might recognize that name more than music fans – Williams was a star player for the New York Yankees!

When not playing music, which likely was not often, he lived in rural Vermont with his wife. Sadly though he died at age 58 from a heart attack. He was working on a record with Daryl Hall at the time. Many musicians expressed their sadness at his passing but none more so than John Oates. Oates wrote “his musical sensibility was peerless; any instrument that he touched resonated with a sensitivity and skill level that I have never experienced while playing with any other musician…he made everyone he played with better.”

Which makes us wish T-bone had been a more widely recognized part of the musical menu.

November 30 – Deep Purple Just One Color In Roger’s Rainbow

I’m a simple bassist. I’m not the virtuoso bass player people expect.” Well, perhaps Roger Glover is being a bit modest… you generally don’t get in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and have a 60-year career in music by being ordinary. And, speaking of Glover, we wish him a happy 77th birthday today.

It’d probably be hard to think of British hard rock and not think of Glover, one of the main men in Deep Purple, as well as a member of Rainbow and producer to many of his colleagues through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s…and for that we may need to thank his friend Ian Gillan.

The pair knew each other from boys’ school in the ’50s. Glover was born in Wales but grew up largely in London, and met Gillan at the school there. They formed their own rock band but went their own ways after graduating. They’d eventually have another band, Episode Six, but they failed to achieve anything more than a decent following in the city’s bars. However, Deep Purple, liked Gillan’s voice, and wanted him as their new singer by 1969. Gillan agreed…with a caveat. He’d only join if his buddy could join and play bass too. Richie Blackmore wasn’t keen on that, but after talking to his bandmates, they decided to OK it, since they were having some personality clashes with their original bassist, Nick Simper, whom they felt was a bit lacking and stuck in the past with his playing. Glover joined in time to take part in the recording of Deep Purple in Rock in 1970, and would stay around for their next four albums, including their massively successful Machine Head, playing bass and having co-writing credits on all the tracks. It’s said that he was the one who came up with the title and basic concept for “Smoke on the Water” in fact.

Nonetheless, exhaustion from constant touring wore on the band, and he and Gillan left after a major Japanese tour in ’73. Roger put out his first solo album, a concept rock opera entitled The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, apparently based on a children’s poem. He got to expand his skill set a bit, playing guitar and keyboards as well as his bass, but despite having some help from the likes of Ronnie James Dio and Eddie Jobson, with its 20 tracks (some sporting names like “Sir Maximus Mouse” and “The Saffron Doormouse and Lizzy Bee”) wasn’t a massive success. What was however, was his production of numerous rock albums of the era by Nazareth, Elf, Judas Priest and David Coverdale. When he joined Rainbow in 1979, he ran off a series of five albums he produced, including the breakthrough Straight Between the Eyes and the hit “Stone Cold” which he co-wrote.

He rejoined Deep Purple in 1984, and produced their comeback album Perfect Strangers, and has been with them since. They put out their latest album, Whoosh! In 2020. At the time he told Guitar World “this may be our last album.” However, he also said “everything’s working” and Deep Purple are set for a Japanese tour next spring after a handful of U.S. dates in February.

How will Roger spend his 77th? Well, there’s a good chance it will be in Switzerland with his wife and two daughters. “I feel very lucky,” he said recently, “I live in the countryside with lots of fresh air.” Outside of music, like so many other artists, he’s turned his attention towards photography and painting as a hobby of late, having recently had a showing and at times auctioning off his work for charities.

November 24 – Donald ‘Duck’s Career Hardly Mickey Mouse!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers – may your day be full of good food and good people to share it with. And hopefully, a bit of good music to boot!

If you like soul music, you might be thankful for a man who was born this day in 1941Donald “Duck” Dunn. As careers as a session player go, Donald Duck’s was anything but Mickey Mouse! So much so in fact that Peter Frampton suggested “Duck” “wrote the book on R&B bass playing.”

Dunn was nicknamed “Donald Duck” by his dad when they’d watch cartoons together early on in his life. He was born and raised in Memphis, being friends with Steve Cropper since he was a child. Both would later go on to be part of the “house band” and that city’s Stax Records and part of Booker T & the MGgs. He taught himself bass as a young teen, which is why Cropper says “that’s why Duck Dunn’s basslines are very unique. They’re not locked into somebody’s schoolbook somewhere.”

His parents were OK with music…”as a hobby, not a profession,” Dunn would remember. But to their chagrin, he was soon playing in bands around West Tennessee and had a hit as early as 1961 with “Last Night” as a member of the Bar-Kays, along with his friend. Soon they both got hired on as session musicians for Stax, with him joining the MGs a little after Cropper had, in 1965. They were a talented lot made all the more remarkable by their bi-racial nature. Dunn and Cropper were both White, Booker T and the rest of the MGs, Black. That sort of thing didn’t happen as a rule in bands from the South in the ’60s.

Stax kept him busy through the second-half of the ’60s. “Man, we were recording almost a hit a day while there,” he’s said. Among the greats he worked on were “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave’s “Hold On I’m Coming” , and Stax’s shining star, Otis Redding’s records including “Repect” and “Dock of the Bay.” For awhile it seemed almost any time an artist was recording in Memphis, Duck was there. He did the bass on Bill Withers’ remarkable debut (including “Ain’t No Sunshine”) and Elvis Presley’s ’73 record Raised on Rock.

When Stax failed, closing down in 1975, Dunn kept on, being one busy bassist through the rest of the decade and the ’80s. Among the artists whose records he appeared on were Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (their duet with Stevie Nicks, “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” being one of the songs), Leon Russell, Rod Stewart and Neil Young. As well as John Fogerty, who apparently had almost asked him to join CCR when Tom Fogerty quit. He backed Eric Clapton at Live Aid. And was a part of the Blues Brothers, records and films alike.

Things seemed to slow down a bit for him in the ’90s, but he still recorded some sessions and would tour periodically; in fact he passed away in his sleep in Tokyo after a 2012 concert. By then he was already enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the MGs.

Among the accolades for him is Rolling Stone, which has ranked him as the 15th greatest bassist ever. They suggest “he anchored a dextrous, versatile rhythm section alongside drummer Al Jackson, mastering urban pop balladry, country-sould shuffles and gospel-infused soul” equally. Clearly, the Duck’s memory still flies high!

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.

June 24 – Smith’s Day Something To ‘Shout’ About

Recently it’s seemed like rather a “Mad World”, so let’s wish a happy birthday to the man who sang that nearly four decades back. Curt Smith is 61 today, and is the more vocal half of Tears for Fears.

Smith grew up in middle-class Bath, England being a fan of various forms of pop and rock, and as a teen taught himself to play bass. Later, he’d learn keyboards. He met and became friends with Roland Orzabel in school, and by 1980, they’d formed a band called Graduate that leaned towards ska, as was the trend in the UK then. After a little-noticed indie release that included the single “Elvis Should Play Ska”, they split and joined Neon, a band featuring Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher. After a year or two, Neon turned off its “open” sign, with Byrne and Fisher becoming Naked Eyes, and Smith heading off with Orzabel to start Tears for Fears.

With a keen interest in the new wave of the era – Orchestral Manouevres, Depeche Mode etc – as well as in the artsy styles of Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads, plus a slice of classic rock, ala Led Zeppelin, thrown in they had a good chance of sounding unusual and memorable. Even if they’d sung about dancing or girls like most acts. But they delved deeper into their psyche, went to counseling (including the primal scream type that John Lennon once championed) and wrote songs far deeper than the typical 20 year olds…something Smith said was a little arrogant perhaps (fans would disagree) and won them some harsh criticism. “We came from an era when young men should be seen and not heard,” he told the Guardian recently, saying people would sneer “Who are you to be talking about these subjects?”

Speaking to a generation, one might think. Their 1983 debut The Hurting was one of the biggest debuts of the decade in Britain, going to #1, but that was only a mere hint of the success the next one, Songs from the Big Chair would have. It topped North American charts as well, sold in the range of ten million copies, won critical praise far and wide and launched four hit singles, including the bombastic “Shout”, the stellar love song “Head Over Heels” and the one they’d forever be synonymous with, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.”

The latter was one Curt sang lead on; although he and Roland both sang, Smith was the lead vocalist on the majority of their better-known songs including “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Advice for the Young At Heart.” Curiously he didn’t sing lead on “Head Over Heels”, which was one of the few songs he got co-writing credit for. Generally, writing was Orzabel’s task, Smith sang and played bass and added keyboards when needed (which in the early days was infrequent as even though normally considered a duo, and photographed that way, keyboardist Ian Stanley was a member through the ’80s.)

A combination of diminished sales for the third album, The Seeds of Love, differing opinions as to the group’s direction and personality conflicts led them to part ways in 1990 (generally being referred to as “breaking up” although Orzabel technically retained the band name and suggested Smith quit) . They’d briefly reunite around the decade’s end, put out a new record in 2004 and tour sporadically for a number of years after, but Smith says they avoided “80s All Over Again” style tours with other artists of the same “genre” because “we don’t consider ourselves from a (specific) decade.” He added “I can’t put my heart into it…unless we have something fresh to say, do or play.”

So, along the way he married for a second time (his first marriage during the band’s heyday didn’t last long) , moved to the States, had two daughters and became primarily a “stay at home dad.” He said he recalled hearing a teacher asked students what their parents did and his daughter replied “mommy goes to work in an office and daddy goes to the gym.” So low-profile was he in fact, that he once went to a karaoke bar in Vancouver, while filming a show, and sang “Everybody Wants To Rule the World”… “and no one paid a blind bit of attention! They didn’t realize it was me.” Not that he did nothing; he has put out four solo albums, tried his hand at a little acting (having a semi-regular role in the cable show Pscyh) and in 2010, being a bit ahead of his time, started a series of online shows from his home, where he’d invite artists who’d play “unplugged” style acoustic versions of their songs and answer questions in between, all while being streamed in real time.

Of course, now Smith has something fresh to say. He and Orzabel patched things up recently (Orzabel says his own second wife has shown him how to be “polite and kind and not hostile all the time”) and they put out a new album, The Tipping Point, this spring. They’ll be celebrating his day tonight with a concert at the PNC Bank Center in New Jersey and a show in Wantagh, NY tomorrow before heading over to tour the UK in July.

May 28 – Leland, 60 Years Of Beards And Bass

Too busy playing bass to shave? Happy birthday to that old guy who you see everywhere on live concert videos, Leland Sklar. “The Beard” turns 75 today. With credits on over 2000 albums and about five decades of touring with stars, his phone might be busy today!

Sklar was born in Milwaukee, but luckily for him it would seem, his family moved to southern California just in time for him to start school. He liked Liberace as a child, and learned piano young, but got bored with it quickly. In a school orchestra, there was a need for a bassist, so the leader taught him a few basics on a standup bass, and he was off and away.

He got some session work in the ’60s in L.A., largely playing his 1962 Fender Jazz bass (which was his mainstay for decades though now he often uses a namesake Warwick Star one which he endorses), but things really took off when he met James Taylor. They became friends and when Taylor got an offer to play the famous Troubadour club, he called Leland to play bass behind him. “Biggest moment in my career,” Sklar told For Bass Players Only in 2010, “we thought it would be a show, then ‘see ya,’ but it turned into 20 years” (now longer than that). That in turn got him a gig playing bass on Taylor’s first album…and 13 more in total for Sweet Baby James. And it got him so much attention he soon became part of the unofficial house band with Asylum Records, along with drummer Russ Kunkel, guitarist Danny Kortchmar and early on, Carole King on piano…until her own career took off, often with Leland on the bass.

Through the ’70s, he was one of the busiest session players anywhere. A look at the discography he’s contributed to is a long read and includes artists like America, Hoyt Axton, Jackson Browne (including his great Running on Empty), David Cassidy, Thomas Dolby, the Doors (their final Full Circle album), Andrew Gold, Don Henley (his first solo album, I Can’t Stand Still), Lisa Loeb, Reba McEntyre, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton (including her pop breakthrough “9 to 5”), TV-theme guy Mike Post, Bonnie Raitt, Leo Sayer, Neil Sedaka, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Webb, Andy Williams, Deniece Williams, Robbie Williams… you get the idea. He fit into recordings of almost any genre. His association with Mike Post helped him work on TV themes for shows like Hill Street Blues, the Rockford Files and Golden Girls.

And let’s not forget Phil Collins and Toto. He worked on Collins’ ’85 No Jacket Required and subsequently toured with Phil for it, and on four more world tours since. Which perhaps gave him the travel bug, with him spending more time on the road and less in studio in the late-’80s through 2000s, for two years being a part of Toto. He says of them, “I was proud to do it. They are one of the best bands one could ever want to play with and hang out with.” But nowhere does he seem as at home as on stage with James Taylor and Carole King, with whom he toured again in 2010.

Why’s he keep so busy? “I get a buzz every time the phone rings and I get a work call,” he says. “a new adventure awaits!”

On the rare occasions he’s not playing bass, he likes working on hot rods and gardening, and if online photos are accurate, spending time with his wife and their hound dogs. But not shaving. “I’m an old hippie, sort of. Never got high, drank, smoked, or anything but just looked freaky,” he says when asked about his famous beard, adding that while he has trimmed it infrequently, he hasn’t shaved really since high school. Over fifty years working on a beard…that’s dedication. Over 2000 record albums worked on, that too is dedication.

April 24 – Debbie Stopped Making Plans For Nigel

Blondie were perhaps the ultimate New York band of the late-’70s, but their sound seemed to draw as much from the happening London scene of the time – Elvis Costello, early Joe Jackson etc. – as it did from the American East Coast sounds. Perhaps the reason for that is Nigel Harrison, the only British member of the band. We wish him a happy 71st birthday today.

Harrison grew up near Manchester and like many young men at the time, was drawn to rock because he loved the Beatles. Or else, loved the way they were swarmed by cute girls! He joined a local band, playing bass because none of his friends had one, so it was an instant invitation to join. To this day, he still can’t read music. But it hasn’t stopped him from becoming a highly-talented and respected four-stringer For Bass Players Only laud for “nimbly intuitive playing” incorporating “elements of funk, country, disco, metal and reggae” (which sounds somewhat like a description of Blondie at the height of their popularity.) He learned to play by ear, copying greats like Jack Bruce, Carol Kaye and “early Motown” – presumably James Jamerson.

His first big break came in 1971, when just out of his teens, he joined a British band called Silverhead. Deep Purple signed them to their label and got them to open a number of shows, but their record never took off. Nonetheless, there he made a bit of a reputation for himself, and met singer Michael Des Barres, whom he’s worked with off and on again to the present day. After Silverhead came an anonymous run with The Runaways. He played bass on their first album when the rest of the band decided that their “real” bassist, Jackie Fox, couldn’t play well enough.

From there came a low-profile band called Nite City. They didn’t do much…except catch the ear of Blondie, who in 1978 were looking for a new bassist after their first two albums. They recruited Harrison just in time for the work on their massive hit Parallel Lines to begin. Harrison played bass and co-wrote the album’s second hit, “One Way or Another”. He’d later co-write “Union City Blue” and a few other songs of theirs. However, the band were at each other’s throats in the studio and Harrison in particular didn’t like producer Mike Chapman, even though he now credits Chapman with producing well. Harrison played more or less ad lib, and Chapman wanted structure, asking for re-takes which Harrison seemingly refused to play the same way twice.

He stayed with them through their brief but very hot career peak, working on Eat to The Beat and Autoamerican (with hits like “Dreaming” and “Rapture”) and continuing on into 1982, with The Hunter. However, that album didn’t come close to matching the success of the past three and their tour ended up playing in venues far too big for the low demand for tickets. That coupled with Harry getting sick, and unspecified drug problems within the group, caused them to quit by year’s end.

Harrison and drummer Clem Burke teamed up with a couple of other musicians including ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones and Des Barres again to form Chequered Past. They put out one album allmusic gave a “meh” to, calling it “flawed fun”. “’A World Gone Wild’ rocks out nicely”, it said, but soon the songs all came to “sound a bit the same-ish.”

Harrison kept somewhat busy after that short-lived band, doing some record producing and getting into the business end of music. He’s worked as an A&R man for Capitol Records, then Interscope where he rose to the executive level.

As for Blondie… well, they got together again in 1997. They called Nigel who played on some demos for a comeback album, but they quickly fired him. This started a round of lawsuits, which continued for some time. When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted them in 2006, they listed Nigel Harrison as one of the members, logically enough and he and guitarist Frank Infante “were definitely ready to go” but Debbie Harry wouldn’t allow them to join them on stage “and it just got ugly really quickly.” The pair sued the rest of the band again, unsuccessfully. Harrison calls it “kind of sad” and adds “”the strange thing is we’re all in business together. We still have a corporation together.”

Complicated history with that band, but simple way of making his sound. Harrison says he goes for “a Fender bass and Marshall amp. That’s it. That’s the sound of the ’70s. It’s the sound of Motown.” And as it turned out, it was the sound of the once ground-breaking Blondie.

February 21 – Bassman Burnel Britpunk’s Last Man Standing

Happy birthday to the much under-rated bassist J.J. Burnel of The Stranglers. Burnel is 70 today…but you might not want to point that out to the now white-haired karate enthusiast who’s posting a pretty strong case to be considered the last man standing from Britain’s original punk heyday.

Other punk acts have racked up more critical acclaim than “The Men In Black” but few have sold as many records (to date, they’ve notched 11 top 20 albums and 22 top 40 singles in their homeland, spanning a range of genres from the snarling “Something Better Change” to the sillky-smooth “European Female” ) and none have outlived Burnel’s band. Along with guitarist Hugh Cornwell and keyboardist Dave Greenfield, J.J. started The Stranglers (with drummer Jet Black, the owner of a bar they played at in the earliest days, added in soon) way back in 1974 and they’re still going to this day, although only Burnel now remains after Greenfield’s death from Covid two years back. Burnel’s inventive and thundering basslines have always been distinctive (check out their early hit “Peaches” for example) and set the band apart from most of their contemporaries; since Cornwell’s departure in 1990 J.J.’ also become the “face” of the group and frequent lead vocalist.

Burnel was born in London and studied history at university there, but his parents were from France (hence the name Jean-Jacques) so he’s proficient in French and one of his two solo albums was in that language, as was the languid Stranglers single “La Folie” that he penned. Burnel was influenced by John Entwistle (“’My Generation’ – that bassline! I thought that was bloody cool!” he recalls) and Jack Bruce of Cream as a young bassist. In turn, his style and sound – in part created by rips in the cones of his Marshall speakers that creates a bit of distortion- have influenced a number of post-punk acts and artists like Peter Hook of New Order. While he’s not had the accolades of Entwistle, or the more widely-known Sting or Paul McCartney, his talent is undeniable and Music Radar said he can “only be rivalled by The Jam’s Bruce Foxton as the new wave bass hero.” Burnel notes “we’re starting to get (credit) when we’re in the autumn of our careers.” He calls the band a “bunch of old farts” who are “not selling anything, just a good time I hope.” Fans obviously agree. Their 2014 Giants tour was the most successful of any British tour that year and their most recent album, last fall’s Dark Matters entered the UK charts in the top 10.

Burnel had the reputation of being a rather hot-headed, mean character when he was young but now comes across as rather easy-going and humorous. Which is a good thing, because you can also refer to him as “Kyoshi”- an honorary term for advanced Black Belt students of karate. He’s the head of Shidokan UK and considered one of Europe’s top practicioners of the discipline, but of late has resided in the south of France, keeping himself busy enjoying local wine and taking his dog for walks in the hills. The Stranglers are once again on tour in Britain this winter, with Burnel scheduled to celebrate his 70th with fans in Bristol tonight.

February 13 – Bassist Butler Put Little Scotland On Map In Big Way

It’s a big day for a Big Country guy ! Happy 65th birthday to Tony Butler, the longtime bassist for that Scottish band. Curiously, although the band was based in Scotland and were as Scottish-sounding as pretty much any ’80s band, none of the four members on their first record were actually born in the land of bagpipes and kilts.

Butler’s music career seems to have begun around the end of the ’70s when he played bass for a band called On The Air. They didn’t do much, career-wise, but did open for the Skids on tour. There Tony (and drummer Mark Brzezicki) met Stuart Adamson, so when he started his own band – Big Country – they both were in. Butler’s reputation might have also been helped out by another famous music family – the Townshends. On The Air also included Simon Townshend, brother of The Who’s Pete. When Pete decided to do some solo work, Tony was the go-to guy for playing the bass. Butler appeared on Pete’s solo records Empty Glass and All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. And when Pete Farndon died, Chrissie Hynde asked Tony to join The Pretenders. He didn’t, on a full-time basis, but did do a few shows with them and appeared on (as well as co-wrote) their singles “My City Was Gone” and “Back on the Chain Gang.”

Butler kept on as an integral part of Big Country through 2012, although the band went on hiatus for some time after the suicide of singer Adamson. Briefly he took over the reins as lead singer, but the band brought in Mike Peters of the Alarm to do so when they decided to make another record, which turned into The Journey. At that point, Butler quit after co-writing one song for it, “Home of the Brave.” He said that “losing Stuart was a seismic ordeal that I don’t think any of us knew how to deal with.” And that their new album, to his ears wasn’t going to live up to the band’s past standards. “”I didn’t want to be involved in something that…was not creative, or forward-thinking,” he told Loudersound. He then put out his third solo album; although the Big Country record got good reviews, neither it nor Butler’s sold in significant numbers.

Butler perhaps is now helping others be musically creative and forward-thinking; at last report he was teaching music in England.