Jazziversaries September 28th

Ben E. King (vocalist) 1938-2015 :: Benjamin Earl King, better known as Ben E. King, was an American soul singer. He was perhaps best known as the singer and co-composer of “Stand by Me”, a US Top 10 hit in both 1961 and later in 1986 (when it was used as the theme to the film of the same name) and a number one hit in the UK in 1987, and as one of the principal lead singers of the R&B vocal group The Drifters.

In 1958, King (still using his birth name) joined a doo wop group called The Five Crowns. Later in 1958, The Drifters’ manager George Treadwell fired the members of the original Drifters, and replaced them with The Five Crowns. King had a string of R&B hits with the group on Atlantic Records. He co-wrote and sang lead on the first Atlantic hit by the new version of the Drifters, “There Goes My Baby” (1959). He also sang lead on a succession of hits by the team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, including “Save the Last Dance for Me”, “This Magic Moment”, and “I Count the Tears”. King only recorded thirteen songs with The Drifters— two backing other lead singers and eleven lead vocal performances —including a non-single called “Temptation” (later redone by Drifters vocalist Johnny Moore).

Due to a contract dispute with Treadwell in which King and his manager, Lover Patterson, demanded that King be given a salary increase and a fair share of royalties, King never again performed with the Drifters on tour or on television; he would only record with the group until a suitable replacement could be found. On television, fellow Drifters member Charlie Thomas usually lip synched the songs that King had recorded with the Drifters. This end gave rise to a new beginning.

In May 1960, King left the Drifters, assuming the more memorable stage name Ben E. King in preparation for a successful solo career. Remaining on Atlantic Records on its Atco imprint, King scored his first solo hit with the ballad “Spanish Harlem” (1961). His next single, “Stand by Me”, written with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, ultimately would be voted as one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. “Stand by Me”, “There Goes My Baby”, and “Spanish Harlem” were named as three of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll; and each of those records plus “Save The Last Dance For Me” has earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. King’s other well-known songs include “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)”, “Amor”, “Seven Letters”, “How Can I Forget”, “On the Horizon”, “Young Boy Blues”, “First Taste of Love”, “Here Comes the Night”, “Ecstasy”, and “That’s When It Hurts”. In the summer of 1963, King had a Top 30 hit with “I (Who Have Nothing)”, which reached the Top 10 on New York’s radio station, WMCA.

King’s records continued to place well on the Billboard Hot 100 chart until 1965. British pop bands began to dominate the pop music scene, but King still continued to make R&B hits, including “What is Soul?” (1966), “Tears, Tears, Tears” (1967), and “Supernatural Thing" (1975). A 1986 re-issue of “Stand by Me” followed the song’s use as the theme song to the movie Stand By Me and re-entered the Billboard Top Ten after a 25-year absence.

As a Drifter and as a solo artist, King had achieved five number one hits: “There Goes My Baby”, “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “Stand By Me”, “Supernatural Thing”, and the 1986 re-issue of “Stand By Me”. He also earned 12 Top 10 hits and 25 Top 40 hits from 1959 to 1986. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Drifter; he has also been nominated as a solo artist.

Houston Stackhouse (guitar) 1910 -1980 :: Houston Stackhouse was an American Delta blues guitarist and singer. He is best known for his association and work with Robert Nighthawk. Although Stackhouse was not especially noted as a guitarist nor singer, Nighthawk showed gratitude for being taught to play by Stackhouse, by backing him on a number of recordings in the late 1960s. Apart from a tour to Europe, Stackhouse confined his performing around the Mississippi Delta.

By the late 1930s, Stackhouse had played guitar around the Delta states and worked with members of the Mississippi Sheiks, plus Robert Johnson, Charlie McCoy and Walter Vinson. He also teamed up with his distant cousin, Robert Nighthawk, whom he taught how to play guitar. Originally a fan of Tommy Johnson, Stackhouse often covered his songs. In 1946, Stackhouse moved to Helena, Arkansas to live near to Nighthawk, and for a time was a member of Nighthawk’s band, playing on KFFA radio.

He split from Nighthawk in 1947 and alongside the drummer James “Peck” Curtis, appeared on KFFA’s “King Biscuit Time” programme, with the guitar player Joe Willie Wilkins plus pianists Pinetop Perkins and Robert Traylor. Sonny Boy Williamson II then rejoined the show, and that combo performed across the Delta, using their radio presence to advertise their concert performances.

Stackhouse tutored both Jimmy Rogers and Sammy Lawhorn on guitar techniques. Between 1948 and 1954, Stackhouse worked during the day at the Chrysler plant in West Helena, Arkansas, and played the blues in his leisure time. He did not move from the South, unlike many of his contemporaries, and continued to perform locally into the 1960s with Frank Frost, Boyd Gilmore and Baby Face Turner. In May 1965, Sonny Boy Williamson II, who was by then back on “King Biscuit Time”, utilised Stackhouse when he was recorded in concert by Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records. The recording was issued under Williamson’s name, titled King Biscuit Time. Shortly afterwards, Williamson died, but Stackhouse continued briefly on the radio program, back in tandem with Nighthawk.

In 1967, George Mitchell recorded Stackhouse in Dundee, Mississippi. Named the Blues Rhythm Boys, Stackhouse was joined by both Curtis and Nighthawk, although the latter died shortly after the recording was made. Another field researcher, David Evans, recorded Stackhouse in Crystal Springs, but by 1970 following the deaths of both Curtis and Mason, Stackhouse had moved on to Memphis, Tennessee. There he resided with his old friend Joe Willie Wilkins and his wife Carrie. At the height of the blues revival Stackhouse toured with Wilkins, and the Memphis Blues Caravan, and appeared at various music festivals. His lone trip overseas saw Stackhouse play in 1976 in Vienna, Austria.

Earlier in February 1972, Stackhouse recorded an album titled Cryin’ Won’t Help You. It was released on CD in 1994.

Kenny Kirkland (piano) 1955-1998 :: Kenneth David “Kenny” Kirkland  was an American pianist/keyboardist. He is most often associated with Sting, Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, and Kenny Garrett.

One of his closest friends on the New York jazz scene was Chinese-Jamaican documentary filmmaker Lee Lew-Lee (now a tech industry CEO). Between 1973 and 1980, Lew-Lee, then a music industry manager/documentary photographer, introduced Kirkland to several musicians whom Kenny ended up befriending personally or professionally. These included: Al Anderson (Bob Marley & The Wailers), Bob Berg, South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, Ron Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Mark Gray, Art Gore, Herbie Hancock, Carter Jefferson, Kraig Kilby (The Whispers, Etta James), Geoff Lee, Raphe Malik, Rene McLean, Bob Mintzer, Nobuku Miyamoto, Jaco Pastorius, Sun Ra, Dewey Redman, Sam Rivers, Lady Jane Robertson, Glenn Spearman, Cecil Taylor, Harry Whitaker, Benny Yee; as well as New York-based Japanese expatriates, acoustic double bassist and Rising Sun group leader Teruo Nakamura, pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, drummer Keiji Kishida, electric jazz guitarist Shiro Mori, trumpeter Shunzo Ono, percussionist Nobu Urushiyama, electric guitarist Masuo Yoshiyaki, and trumpeter Terumasa Hino.

In 1980, while Kirkland was on tour in Japan with Terumasa Hino, he met Wynton Marsalis, which began their long association. On Marsalis’s self-titled debut album, Kirkland shared the piano duties with one of his musical influences, Herbie Hancock, but was the sole pianist on Marsalis’s subsequent releases Think Of One, Hothouse Flowers and Black Codes (From the Underground). After his association with Wynton Marsalis, Kirkland joined Branford Marsalis’s band. He is featured on the albums Royal Garden Blues, Renaissance, Random Abstract, Crazy People Music, I Heard You Twice The First Time and the eponymously titled album from Marsalis’s funk band Buckshot Lefonque. When Branford Marsalis assumed the high-visibility role of bandleader for NBC TV’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Kirkland became the band’s pianist. But his time on the Los Angeles-based The Tonight Show would be short-lived, for while he finally received well desereved fame and publicity, he felt he was not making “real music”, and thus returned to the East Coast and more creative work after two years as The Tonight Show’s pianist.

As opposed to many piano “purists”, Kirkland was never shy of electric keyboards and synthesizers, although he is considered one of the finest, classically trained, jazz pianists of his era.

He also ran contrary to jazz orthodoxy when he left Wynton Marsalis’s acoustic traditional jazz combo to join Branford Marsalis accompanying ex-Police pop star Sting. Kirkland appears on Sting albums The Dream of the Blue Turtles, Bring On the Night (and in Michael Apted’s 1985 documentary film by the same name), …Nothing Like the Sun, The Soul Cages and Mercury Falling.

In 1991, he released his debut as a leader, Kenny Kirkland, on GRP Records. An album on Sunnyside Records, Thunder And Rainbows/J.F.K., is also credited to him.

Koko Taylor (vocalist) 1935-2009  :: Koko Taylor sometimes spelled KoKo Taylor  was an American Chicago blues singer, popularly known as the “Queen of the Blues.” She was known primarily for her rough, powerful vocals and traditional blues stylings.

In the late 1950s she began singing in Chicago blues clubs. She was spotted by Willie Dixon in 1962, and this led to wider performances and her first recording contract. In 1965, Taylor was signed by Chess Records subsidiary Checker Records where she recorded “Wang Dang Doodle,” a song written by Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf five years earlier. The song became a hit, reaching number four on the R&B charts and number 58 on the pop charts in 1966, and selling a million copies. Taylor recorded several versions of “Wang Dang Doodle” over the years, including a live version at the 1967 American Folk Blues Festival with harmonica player Little Walter and guitarist Hound Dog Taylor. Taylor subsequently recorded more material, both original and covers, but never repeated that initial chart success.

National touring in the late 1960s and early 1970s improved her fan base, and she became accessible to a wider record-buying public when she signed with Alligator Records in 1975. She recorded nine albums for Alligator, 8 of which were Grammy-nominated, and came to dominate the female blues singer ranks, winning twenty five W. C. Handy Awards (more than any other artist). After her recovery from a near-fatal car crash in 1989, the 1990s found Taylor in films such as Blues Brothers 2000 and Wild at Heart, and she opened a blues club on Division Street in Chicago in 1994, which relocated to Wabash Ave in Chicago’s South Loop in 2000. (The club is now closed.)

Taylor influenced musicians such as Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia Copeland, Janis Joplin, Shannon Curfman, and Susan Tedeschi. In the years prior to her death, she performed over 70 concerts a year and resided just south of Chicago in Country Club Hills, Illinois.

Little Buster (guitar) 1942 –2006  Edward ‘Little Buster’ Forehand was an American soul and blues musician. He was born sighted, but developed glaucoma at age of three. By the time his vision was completely gone, he was fluent on six instruments, including the guitar.

His first professional gig was at the Brooklyn Paramount, where he was a back-up guitarist for Alan Freed’s Rock and Roll shows. He also became a regular at Long Island clubs.

In 1961, Buster composed his first original song “Looking For a Home” while living in Glen Cove. First recorded on Josie/Jubilee after winning a talent contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in 1964, Buster released “Looking For a Home”. He recorded a series of singles there, including his biggest hit in 1968, Doc Pomus’ “Young Boy Blues”. Buster’s last single with Josie was “City of Blues” / “Cry Me a River”. His singles and several new compositions were compiled for the 1970 album, Looking For a Home that was finally by the UK label Sequel in 1997.

Buster changed his focus, concentrating on live blues with his band, The Soul Brothers. Buster married his wife, Mary, in 1969.

In 1995, Buster recorded his Bullseye release, Right On Time. This release brought him worldwide exposure, with a W.C. Handy Award nomination, and a runner-up award for Living Blues magazine’s Critics’ Award. His 2000 CD Work Your Show opened up mass media exposure via CBS This Morning, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Late Show with David Letterman, on Dan Aykroyd’s House of Blues Hour, international music festivals, and articles in Juke Blues, Backyard Blues and 20th Century Guitar magazines.

In 2000, Buster began his own label with friends Steve Kleinberg and Ayanna Hobson, where he released his final CD, Little Buster and the Soul Brothers, Live Volume One. His band consisted of himself on guitar and vocals, Jerry Harshaw on saxophone, Frank Anstiss on drums, Alan Levy on bass and Robert Schlesinger on keyboards. As Andy Breslau said in the liner notes for Right On Time,

“Edward ‘Little Buster’ Forehand is a sublimely talented soul singer, a tough blues guitarist and a sure-handed songwriter with a knack for making rhythm and blues songs that evoke the classic 1960s sound. As one of New York’s great undiscovered treasures, Buster has played the Long Island club circuit for over four decades.”

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