Here in the third part of tributes to those departed I focus on the people who controlled the radios and soundtracks of our lives. I have linked to music videos or tracks posted on Youtube and other links where possible.
Joseph Brooks (73- suicide by suffocation): Was he possibly evil? Sure…I mean the dude was accused of using his prestige as a musician and producer to rape over 13 girls. He was arrested and had a good case against him, but he was not yet convicted. According to a suicide note he says he killed himself cause his health sucked , so he took the easy way out and killed himself. The Gothamist has pretty good articles about the whole torrid ordeal that you can google. At the same time, artistically he was amazing and for alone creating the Oscar Award winning “Light Up My Life” he gets recognized in my obits.
Clarence Clemons (69- complications from stroke): I had the pleasure and privilege to hear this talented saxophonist, most famous for being a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, at a Book Expo America event a few years ago. He was there promoting his upcoming autobiography. He was also meant to be an opening act for Steven Tyler, who came out with Mark Hudson. Clarence was interviewed by Chuck Klosterman and he was an insightful, endearing, wonderful man who even indulged Chuck and the audience by playing some sax. I have great memories of that time which will stay with me forever. Here is video I shot of the event itself.
Dan Peek (60, unknown/unrevealed causes): A member of the excellent rock band America, Peek, he was with the group for during it’s heyday of 1970-1978, writing and recording for their first seven albums. His most notable songwriting would have to be considered “Lonely People”, while not the best song he wrote while in the group, it is the most famous one he wrote. Their other most famous songs “Ventura Highway” and “Sister Golden Hair” were written by Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Buckley respectively.
Carl Gardner (83- complications of congestive heart failure and vascular dementia): The leader of The Coasters, the band that did the original recordings of many of the Lieber/Stoller songs including “Yakety Yak”, “Searchin'” and “Charlie Brown”.
Andrew Gold (59- cause unknown): The writer of one of the greatest songs of all time “Thank You For Being a Friend”, he created something that has brought a smile to not only me, but millions. Could you imagine Golden Girls without its theme song, which was also a hit without the show? I don’t think you could and for that song alone I shall be eternally grateful to Andrew Gold.
Heavy D (44- pulmonary embolism): My Hip-Hop knowledge is sorely lacking, with only minimum knowledge. Enough to get by when it matters, but not enough to really state much on Heavy D. I never listened to his songs, but I know who he was and I would recognize him when he appeared in a TV show. I also know he was extremely successful as a businessman and music mogul at a certain point, definitely leaving his mark on the industry as a whole and that his death was a shock to many, especially being so young and supposedly as healthy as a man called Heavy D could be.
Gil-Scot Heron (62- undisclosed illness, probably attributed to HIV complications): Truly an amazing poet, writer and visionary, he also had a compelling voice and straight forward presentation. He was the movement, the machine propelling aginst the machine, the person not letting the man get him down, bu working with the man. All you have to do is read his works or listen to them and you’ll understand how great he was. His best known work is of course “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” but alongside Brian Jackson he came up with amazing songs like “Hello Sunday, Hello Road” as well.
Don Kirshner (76- heart failure): Influential music producer and manager. As head of Aldon Music he has ties to many of the other people lost this year including Lieber, Gardner and Schneider. Lieber wrote the music that Don owned and made sure got out to the public, Bert approached Don to develop the early sound of The Monkees, which was mostly helped by Neil Diamond who Don sort of discovered. Monumentally he changed the music landscape and as the head of several labels was definitely a force in his time.
Jani Lane (47-alcohol poisoning): Undoubtedly Warrant was one of my favorite groups growing up. I was with them from day 1 with “Down Boys” and “Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich” and I stayed with them and Jani all the way through “Indian Giver”. When Warrant gave up on Jani though, I gave up on Warrant. While the members of the band were all talented musicians, Jani Lane was the driving force. I would listen to songs like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” on repeat as a teen along with “April 2031”. His voice and lyrics really resonated with me in ways that I can barely understand and I wish there style of music was still prominent and had a place in everyone’s world, not just those of us who lived through it and keep it alive. Some of my other favorite songs are “I Saw Red” off of Cherry Pie, “Hollywood” off Dog Eat Dog, and what seems a perfect way to say a final goodbye to Jani, “Stronger Now” off of Ultraphobic.
Jerry Leiber (78- cardio-pulmonary failure,): One half of the duo of Leiber and Stoller, Jerry wrote the words to such songs as “Yakety Yak”, “Hound Dog”, “Stand By Me”, “On Broadway”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Charlie Brown”, “Love Potion No. 9”and many more.
Gerard Smith (36- lung cancer): A superb musician, he was the bassist for rock band “TV on the Radio” and would also play keyboards, help compose and create visual conceptions, TVOTR happen to be one of my favorite groups of recent times and the announcement of Gerard’s lung cancer and subsequent passing was very hard to bear, especially for a man so young.
Lee Pockriss (87 – illness): I don’t have anything to say about this song writer, but he co-wrote “Itsy Bitsy Teene Weene Yellow Polkadot Bikini”, one of the silliest songs ever, that was yet super popular at its time and “Catch A Falling Star”, a hit for Perry Como.
Gerry Rafferty (63- liver failure): A successful singer, songwriter, musician, best known for Stealers Wheel “Stuck in the Middle With You” and his solo work “Baker Street” which features one of the greatest sax pieces ever.
Mike Starr (45- prescription drug overdose): Mike Starr unfortunately became more famous in the last year as the EX bassist of Alice in Chains appearing on Celebrity Rehab. On that show it was revealed that instead of dragging him out of drugs, Layne Staley’s accidental overdose pulled him further in, feeling guilt as he blames himself for Layne’s death. Before all that though he provided the bass line to AiC for their first three albums, Fallout, Sap and Dirt. It’s that pounding bass seen and heard in the songs and videos for “Man in a Box”, “Them Bones” and “Rooster” among others. I had hoped somehow Mike would end up in some kind Celeb Rehab supergroup with Binzer and find success and sobriety, but this would not be.
Taiji (45- complications of suicide by hanging): Bass player, song writer, musician of the awesome Japanese rock groups, X, X Japan, Taiji with Heaven’s and more. A very tragic end came to Taiji where after an airplane situation he was subdued. In Japan his crime is considered a capitol offense and he sadly chose to take his life than go to prison. Here’s a good selection of him.
Joe Yamanaka (64- lung cancer): A Japanese actor and musician who was the lead for Flower Travellin’ Band and a solo career. Internationally he is known for appearances in a few Takashi Miike films and as Bob Marley’s replacement as the lead of The Wailers, recording three albums with them. For the super cult, he also plays himself and had three songs in the martial arts flick Ulterior Motives, a vehicle for Karate Kid Part 3’s Thomas Ian Griffith to try and be up there with Seagal, Van Damme and Norris, it was the first production from Direct-To-Video Indie Auteur James Becket. In Japan, Joe had some serious success by the way.