The heart-tugging story of Eva Cassidy reads almost like the plot of a Movie of the Week tearjerker. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, the painfully shy Cassidy earned a local reputation as a masterful interpreter of standards from virtually any genre, blessed with technical agility and a searching passion that cut straight to the emotional core of her material. Despite the evocative instrument that was Cassidy's voice, record companies shied away from her, unsure of how to market her eclectic repertoire; for her part, Cassidy adamantly refused to allow herself to be pigeonholed, prizing the music above any potential fame.
In 1996, just when she had begun to record more frequently on a small, local basis, Cassidy was diagnosed with cancer, which had already spread throughout her body and rapidly claimed her life. But her story didn't end there; her music was posthumously championed by a BBC disc jockey, and amazingly, the anthology Songbird became a number one million-selling smash in England.
Cassidy was born February 2, 1963, in Oxon Hill, MD, and grew up (from age nine on) in Bowie, MD. She loved music from an early age, particularly folk and jazz (as a girl, her favorite singer was Buffy Sainte-Marie), and learned guitar from her father Hugh. At one point, Hugh put together a family folk act featuring himself on bass, Eva on guitar and vocals, and her brother Danny on fiddle; Eva and Danny also played country music at a local amusement park, but Eva's sensitivity eventually made performances too difficult on her. Something of a loner during her teens, Cassidy sang with a pop/rock band called Stonehenge while in high school. After graduating, she studied art for a short time, but soon grew dissatisfied with what she was being taught, and dropped out to work at a plant nursery.
She sang occasional backing vocals for friends' rock bands around Bowie and Annapolis, but was never comfortable trying to overpower the amplification. In 1986, longtime friend Dave Lourim persuaded Cassidy to lay down some vocals at a recording session for his soft pop/rock group Method Actor. (The results were eventually reissued in 2002.) At the studio, Cassidy met D.C.-area producer Chris Biondo, who was immediately struck by her voice and agreed to help her put together a demo tape she hoped would get her more backup-singing work.
Cassidy became a regular presence at Biondo's studio, where he recorded a wide variety of music; incongruously enough, Cassidy performed backing vocals on D.C. go-go funksters E.U.'s Livin' Large album (singing all of her own harmony parts to give the illusion of a choir) and, later, on gangsta rapper E-40's "I Wanna Thank You." At Biondo's urging, Cassidy formed a backing band to play local clubs, where her singing began to win a following in spite of her discomfort. In 1991, Biondo played Cassidy's demos for Chuck Brown, the originator of D.C.'s swinging go-go funk sound (which never really broke out to a national audience). Brown had been wanting to record an album of jazz and blues standards, and found his ideal duet partner in the sophisticated yet soulful Cassidy.
Their collaborative album, The Other Side, was released in late 1992, and in 1993, the two began performing around the D.C. area together; helped by Brown's outgoing showmanship, Cassidy finally began to lose some of the insecurity and intense fear that usually kept her away from live performance. Several record labels showed interest in signing Cassidy, but her recorded submissions always covered too much ground -- folk, jazz, blues, gospel, R&B, pop/rock -- for the marketing departments' taste (or limited imaginations), and the labels always wound up passing.
In September 1993, Cassidy had a malignant mole removed from below her neck, and neglected her subsequent checkup appointments. Shortly thereafter, she broke up with Biondo, who'd been her boyfriend for several years; however, they did continue their professional relationship. In early 1994, the Blue Note label showed some interest in teaming Cassidy with a jazz-pop outfit from Philadelphia called Pieces of a Dream; they recorded the single "Goodbye Manhattan" together, and Cassidy toured with them that summer, but didn't really care for their style. She returned to D.C. and began playing more gigs on her own, though she still made the occasional appearance with Brown; at the end of the year, she won a local music award for traditional jazz vocals.
Cassidy remained unable to secure a record deal, and Biondo and her frustrated manager decided to put out an album themselves. In January 1996, Cassidy played two gigs at the D.C. club Blues Alley; despite her dissatisfaction with the quality of her performance, the album Live at Blues Alley was compiled from the recordings and released that year to much acclaim in the D.C. area. Sadly, it would be the only solo album to appear during Cassidy's lifetime. She moved to Annapolis and took a job painting murals at elementary schools; during the summer, she began experiencing problems with her hip, which she assumed was related to her frequent use of stepladders at work. However, X-rays revealed that her hip was broken, and further tests showed that the melanoma from several years before had spread to her lungs and bones. Cassidy started chemotherapy, but it was simply too late. A benefit show in her honor was staged in September, and Cassidy found the strength to give her last performance there, singing "What a Wonderful World." She died on November 2, 1996. Cassidy virtually swept that year's Washington Area Music Awards, and the album she'd been working on with Biondo prior to her death, Eva by Heart, was released by Liason in 1997.
D.C.-based Celtic folk singer Grace Griffith finally found some interest in releasing Cassidy's music at the label she recorded for, Blix Street. 1998's Songbird was a compilation culled from Cassidy's three previous releases, and when BBC Radio 2 disc jockey Terry Wogan started playing the version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Songbird started to sell in the U.K. The British TV show Top of the Pops aired a home-video clip of Cassidy performing the song, quite intensely, at the Blues Alley, and were deluged with requests for further broadcasts. Thanks to all the exposure, Songbird steadily grew into a major hit, climbing all the way to the top of the British album charts and selling over a million copies. In 2000, Blix Street followed Songbird with Time After Time, a set of 12 previously unreleased tracks (eight studio, four live) that proved an important addition to Cassidy's slim recorded legacy. The same year saw the appearance of No Boundaries, an unrepresentative set of adult contemporary pop released by the Renata label over strenuous objections from Cassidy's family. Profiles of Cassidy began to appear in American media, including pieces on NPR's Morning Edition and ABC's Nightline. In the summer of 2002, Blix Street compiled Imagine, another set of live recordings and studio demos. ~ All Music Guide
For the Record . . .
Born on February 2, 1963, in Oxon Hill, MD; died on November 2, 1996, of melanoma; daughter of Hugh (a special education teacher, sculptor, cellist, and bassist) and Barbara Cassidy. Began drawing at age two and studying music at age nine; formed the Eva Cassidy Band, 1990; released The Other Side with Chuck Brown, 1992; released Live at Blues Alley, 1996; four albums, including Songbird, Eva by Heart, Time After Time, and No Boundaries released posthumously. Albums: The Other Side, Liaison, 1992. Live at Blues Alley, Eva Music, 1996. Eva by Heart, Blix Street, 1997. Songbird, Blix Street, 1998. Time After Time, Blix Street, 2000. Imagine, Blix Street, 2000. American Tune, Blix Street, 2003. Wonderful World, Blix Street, 2004. Somewhere, Blix Street, 2008. Simply Eva, Blix Street, 2011. The Best of Eva Cassidy, Blix Street, 2012. Sources: Steve Huey
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Donna Summer's title as the "Queen of Disco" wasn't mere hype -- she was one of the very few disco performers to enjoy a measure of career longevity, and her consistent chart success was rivaled in the disco world only by the Bee Gees. Summer was certainly a talented vocalist, trained as a powerful gospel belter, but then again, so were many of her contemporaries. Of major importance in setting Summer apart were her songwriting abilities and her choice of talented collaborators in producers/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, which resulted in a steady supply of high-quality (and, often, high-concept) material. But what was more, few vocalists could match the sultry, unfettered eroticism Summer brought to many of her best recordings, which seemed to embody the spirit of the disco era perfectly. The total package made Summer the ultimate disco diva, one of the few whose star power was even bigger than the music.
Summer was born LaDonna Andre Gaines on December 31, 1948, and grew up in Boston's Mission Hill section. Part of a religious family, she first sang in her church's gospel choir, and as a teenager performed with a rock group called the Crow. After high school, she moved to New York to sing and act in stage productions, and soon landed a role in a German production of +Hair. She moved to Europe around 1968-1969, and spent a year in the German cast, after which she became part of the +Hair company in Vienna.
She joined the Viennese Folk Opera, and later returned to Germany, where she settled in Munich and met and married Helmut Sommer, adopting an Anglicized version of his last name. Summer performed in various stage musicals and worked as a studio vocalist in Munich, recording demos and background vocals. Her first solo recording was 1971's "Sally Go 'Round the Roses," but success would not come until 1974, when she met producers/songwriters Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte while working on a Three Dog Night record. The three teamed up for the single "The Hostage," which became a hit around Western Europe, and Summer released her first album, Lady of the Night, in Europe only. In 1975, the trio recorded "Love to Love You Baby," a disco-fied reimagining of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's lush, heavy-breathing opus "Je T'aime...Moi Non Plus." Powered by Summer's graphic moans, "Love to Love You Baby" became a massive hit in Europe, and drew the attention of Casablanca Records, which put the track out in America. It climbed to number two on the singles charts, and became a dance-club sensation when Moroder remixed the track into a 17-minute, side-long epic on the LP of the same name.
In the wake of "Love to Love You Baby," albums (as opposed to just singles) became an important forum for Summer and her producers. The 1976 follow-up Love Trilogy contained another side-long suite in "Try Me (I Know We Can Make It Work)," and demonstrated Moroder and Bellotte's growing sophistication as arrangers with its lush, sweeping strings. Four Seasons of Love, released later in the year, was a concept album with one track dedicated to each season, and 1977's I Remember Yesterday featured a variety of genre exercises. Despite the album's title, it produced the most forward-looking single in Summer and Moroder's catalog, the monumental "I Feel Love." Eschewing the strings and typical disco excess, "I Feel Love" was the first major pop hit recorded with an entirely synthesized backing track; its lean, sleek arrangement and driving, hypnotic pulse laid the groundwork not only for countless Euro-dance imitators, but also for the techno revolution of the '80s and '90s. It became Summer's second Top Ten hit in the U.S., and she followed it with Once Upon a Time, another concept album, this one retelling the story of Cinderella for the disco era.
Summer's albums were selling well, bolstered by her popularity in the dance clubs, and she was poised to become a major pop hitmaker as well. Her acting turn in the 1978 disco-themed comedy Thank God It's Friday produced another hit in "Last Dance," which won her a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal (as well as an Oscar for songwriter Paul Jabara). Doubtlessly benefiting from the added exposure, the double-LP set Live and More became Summer's first number one album later that year. It featured one side of new studio material, including a disco cover of the psychedelic pop epic "MacArthur Park" that became her first number one pop single early the next year. Her 1979 double-LP Bad Girls featured more of her songwriting contributions than ever, and went straight to number one, as did the lusty singles "Bad Girls" and the rock-oriented "Hot Stuff," which made Summer the first female artist ever to score three number one singles in the same calendar year. Her greatest-hits package On the Radio also topped the charts, the first time any artist had ever hit number one with three consecutive double LPs; the newly recorded title track became another hit, and Summer's duet with Barbra Streisand, "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," became her fourth number one single.
At the peak of her success, Summer decided to leave Casablanca, and became the first artist signed to the new Geffen label. Sensing that the disco era was coming to a close, Summer attempted to modify her style to include more R&B and pop/rock on her first Geffen album, 1980's The Wanderer; the album and its title track were both hits. Not wanting to alienate her core audience, Summer returned to pure dance music on an attempted follow-up; however, Geffen deemed I'm a Rainbow not worthy of release (it was finally issued in 1996). Instead, Summer ended her collaboration with Moroder and Bellotte and teamed up with Quincy Jones for 1982's Donna Summer. "Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)" was a significant hit, but none of its follow-ups did very well. With producer Michael Omartian, Summer moved back into post-disco dance music and urban R&B with 1983's She Works Hard for the Money; its title track was a smash and became a feminist anthem of sorts. However, with her career momentum slowing, it also marked the end of Summer's prime. Despite winning a gospel Grammy for "Forgive Me," Summer's 1984 follow-up Cats Without Claws flopped, as did the 1987 comeback effort All Systems Go. Hiring the British production team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman, Summer scored her last major success with the 1989 Top Ten single "This Time I Know It's for Real," from the album Another Place & Time; around the same time, she began denouncing her earlier, "sinful" disco material. 1991's lackluster, urban-styled Mistaken Identity effectively killed her career momentum, and none of her new '90s albums produced that elusive hit.
However, she did make some noise on the dance charts with "Melody of Love," from the excellent 1994 retrospective Endless Summer, and reunited with Moroder for the 1997 non-LP single "Carry On," which won the inaugural Grammy for Best Dance Recording. Summer subsequently signed a deal with Sony, which primed her for re-establishment with the 1999 greatest-hits live album VH1 Presents: Live and More Encore!; it featured the new song "I Will Go With You (Con Te Partiro)," which had some success on the dance charts. The energetic and eclectic Crayons, her first proper studio album since Mistaken Identity, was released on the Burgundy label in 2008. ~ All Music Guide
Lady of the Night, Groovy, 1974.
Love to Love You Baby, Casablanca, 1975.
A Love Trilogy, Casablanca, 1976.
Four Seasons of Love, Casablanca, 1976.
I Remember Yesterday, Casablanca, 1977.
Once Upon a Time, Casablanca, 1977.
Bad Girls, Casablanca, 1979.
The Wanderer, Geffen, 1980.
I'm a Rainbow, Geffen, 1981.
Donna Summer, Geffen, 1982.
She Works Hard for the Money, Mercury, 1983.
Cats Without Claws, Geffen, 1984.
All Systems Go, Geffen, 1987.
Another Place and Time, Atlantic, 1989.
Mistaken Identity, Atlantic, 1991.
Christmas Spirit, Mercury, 1994.
Crayons, Burgundy, 2008.
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A mix of polished pop/rock and neo-soul sex appeal made Maroon 5 one of the most popular bands of the 2000s, with such radio-ready songs as "This Love," "She Will Be Loved," and "Makes Me Wonder" all topping the charts worldwide . Previously, bandmates Adam Levine (vocals/guitar), Jesse Carmichael (keyboards), Mickey Madden (bass), and Ryan Dusick (drums) had spent the latter half of the '90s playing in the modern rock outfit Kara's Flowers, releasing their debut album for Reprise Records while still attending high school. The record tanked, however, and Kara's Flowers found themselves dropped from the Reprise roster. After briefly attending college, the bandmates regrouped as Maroon 5, added former Square guitarist James Valentine to the lineup, and embraced a more R&B-influenced sound. Several years later, the quintet had officially risen to the forefront of popular music with the multi-platinum releases of Songs About Jane and It Won't Be Soon Before Long.
Songs About Jane propelled the band into the mainstream, but the album was not an immediate hit. Octone Records had signed the newly christened Maroon 5 in 2001, and the debut album Jane received a lukewarm response upon its in June 2002. "Harder to Breathe" became a radio staple 17 months later and was soon followed by the omnipresent "This Love," whose steamy video (featuring frontman Levine and a barely clothed girlfriend) effectively wooed the TV-watching crowds at MTV. Songs About Jane finally entered the Billboard Top Ten in August 2004, more than two years after the album's release, and subsequent singles like "She Will Be Loved" and "Sunday Morning" helped the album move over 2.7 million copies by year's end.
Maroon 5 toured exhaustively in support of Jane's slow-developing success, issuing two stopgap recordings -- 2004's 1.22.03.Acoustic and 2005's Live Friday the 13th -- while canvassing the world alongside the Rolling Stones and John Mayer. Their schedule was especially trying on percussionist Dusick, who sustained wrist and shoulder injuries and was often unable to play. By fall 2006, Dusick had been officially replaced by Matt Flynn (the former drummer for Gavin DeGraw), and the revised band released its sophomore effort in May 2007. It Won't Be Soon Before Long proved to be less popular than its predecessor (which had sold more than four million copies in the U.S. alone), but it still enjoyed double-platinum certification while spinning off the chart-topping single "Makes Me Wonder." Maroon 5 had cemented their status as pop/rock heavyweights, and they now had the powerful connections to prove it. Released in late 2008, Call and Response: The Remix Album reinterpreted the band's catalog with remixes by such influential figures as Mary J. Blige, Mark Ronson, and Pharrell Williams.
Source: Andrew Leahey, All Music Guide
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As a solo artist, Diana Ross is one of the most successful female singers of the rock era. If you factor in her work as the lead singer of the Supremes in the 1960s, she may be the most successful. With her friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Barbara Martin, Ross formed the Primettes vocal quartet in 1959. In 1960, they were signed to local Motown Records, changing their name to the Supremes in 1961. Martin then left, and the group continued as a trio. Over the next eight years, the Supremes (renamed "Diana Ross and the Supremes" in 1967, when Cindy Birdsong replaced Ballard) scored 12 number one pop hits. After the last one, "Someday We'll Be Together" (October 1969), Ross launched a solo career.
Motown initially paired her with writer/producers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who gave her four Top 40 pop hits, including the number one "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (July 1970). Ross branched out into acting, starring in a film biography of Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues (November 1972). The soundtrack went to number one, and Ross was nominated for an Academy Award.
She returned to record-making with the Top Ten album Touch Me in the Morning (June 1973) and its chart-topping title song. This was followed by a duet album with Marvin Gaye, Diana & Marvin (October 1973), that produced three chart hits. Ross acted in her second movie, Mahogany (October 1975), and it brought her another chart-topping single in the theme song, "Do You Know Where You're Going To." That and her next number one, the disco-oriented "Love Hangover" (March 1976), were featured on her second album to be titled simply Diana Ross (February 1976), which rose into the Top Ten.
Ross' third film role came in The Wiz (October 1978). The Boss (May 1979) was a gold-selling album, followed by the platinum-selling Diana (May 1980) (the second of her solo albums with that name, though the other, a 1971 TV soundtrack, had an exclamation mark). It featured the number one single "Upside Down" and the Top Ten hit "I'm Coming Out."
Ross scored a third Top Ten hit in 1980 singing the title theme from the movie It's My Turn. She then scored the biggest hit of her career with another movie theme, duetting with Lionel Richie on "Endless Love" (June 1981). It was her last big hit on Motown; after more than 20 years, she decamped for RCA. She was rewarded immediately with a million-selling album, titled after her remake of the old Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers hit, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," which became her next Top Ten hit. The album also included the Top Ten hit "Mirror, Mirror."
Silk Electric (October 1982) was a gold-seller, featuring the Top Ten hit "Muscles," written and produced by Michael Jackson, and Swept Away (September 1984) was another successful album, containing the hit "Missing You," but Ross had trouble selling records in the second half of the 1980s. By 1989, she had returned to Motown, and by 1993 was turning more to pop standards, notably on the concert album Diana Ross Live: The Lady Sings...Jazz & Blues, Stolen Moments (April 1993).
Motown released a four-CD/cassette box set retrospective, Forever Diana, in October 1993, and the singer published her autobiography in 1994. Take Me Higher followed a year later, and in 1999 she returned with Every Day Is a New Day. 2000's Gift of Love was promoted by a concert tour featuring the Supremes, although neither Mary Wilson nor Cindy Birdsong appeared -- their roles were instead assumed by singers Lynda Laurence and Scherrie Payne, neither of whom had ever performed with Ross during the group's glory days. In 2006 Motown finally released Ross' lost album Blue, a collection of standards originally intended as the follow-up to Lady Sings the Blues. The album I Love You from 2007 featured new interpretations of familiar love songs. That same year the cable television network BET honored Ross with their Lifetime Achievement Award. ~ All Music Guide
For the Record...
Born Diane Ernestine Earle Ross on March 26, 1944, in Detroit, MI; daughter of Fred and Ernestine Ross; married Robert Ellis Silberstein, 1971 (divorced, 1976); married Arne Naess, Jr., 1985 (divorced, 2000); children: Rhonda, Suzanne, Tracee Joy, Chudney, Ross Arne, Evan.
Began singing as part of quartet with The Primettes, 1959; signed to Motown Records (group's name was changed to The Supremes), 1960; released first single with Supremes for Motown, 1961; left Supremes to pursue solo career, 1968; appeared on Broadway with one-woman show An Evening with Diana Ross, 1976; signed contract with RCA, 1980; returned to Motown, 1989; wrote the first volume of her autobiography Diana Ross: Secret of a Sparrow for Headline Books, 1993; with Roseanne Shelnutt co-authored the career scrapbook Diana Ross: Going Back for Universe Books, 2002; released the second volume of her autobiography Wrong Turns, Right Turns, and the Road Ahead for Reagan Books, 2004.
Awards: NAACP Image Award, Female Entertainer of the year, 1970; Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award, 1972; Golden Globe Award, Most Promising Newcomer, 1972; American Music Awards, Favorite Pop/Rock Album, 1974; Favorite Female Artist, Soul/R&B, and Favorite Single, Soul R&B, 1981; Favorite Female Artist, Pop/Rock, Favorite Single, Soul R&B, 1982; Favorite Female Artist, Soul/R&B, and Special Award of Merit, 1983; Inducted into Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame as member of Supremes, 1988; Guinness Book of World Records, Most Successful Female Singer of All Time, 1993; Soul Train Music Awards, Heritage Award for Career Achievement, 1995; inducted into Soul Train Hall of Fame, 1995; World Music Awards, Lifetime Achievement Award, 1996; National Academy of Popular Music, Songwriters Hall of Fame Hitmaker Award, 1998; BET Walk of Fame Award, 1999; National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), Heroes Award, 2000.
Addresses: Record company Motown Records, 825 Eighth Ave., 28th Fl., New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.motown.com. Agent/i>Rogers & Cowan PR, 1888 Century Park E., Ste. 500, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Website/i>Diana Ross Official Website: http://www.dianaross.com.
Albums (produced by Motown unless otherwise noted):
Diana Ross, 1970.
Everything is Everything, 1970.
Touch Me in the Morning, 1973.
Diana & Marvin (with Marvin Gaye), 1973.
Last Time I Saw Him, 1973.
Diana Ross, 1976.
Baby It's Me, 1977.
The Boss, 1979.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love, RCA, 1981.
Silk Electric, RCA, 1982.
Ross, RCA, 1983.
Swept Away, RCA, 1984.
Eaten Alive, RCA, 1985.
Red Hot Rhythm & Blues, RCA, 1987.
Workin' Overtime, 1989.
The Force Behind the Power, 1991.
A Very Special Season, EMI, 1994.
Take Me Higher, 1995.
Every Day Is a New Day, 1999.
I Love You, EMI/Manhattan, 2006.
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According to Billboard chart statistics, Chicago is second only to the Beach Boys as the most successful American rock band of all time, in terms of both albums and singles. Judged by album sales, as certified by the R.I.A.A., the band does not rank quite so high, but it is still among the Top Ten best-selling U.S. groups ever. If such statements of fact surprise, that's because Chicago has been singularly underrated since the beginning of its long career, both because of its musical ambitions (to the musicians, rock is only one of several styles of music to be used and blended, along with classical, jazz, R&B, and pop) and because of its refusal to emphasize celebrity over the music. The result has been that fundamentalist rock critics have consistently failed to appreciate its music and that its media profile has always been low. At the same time, however, Chicago has succeeded in the ways it intended to. From the beginning of its emergence as a national act, it has been able to fill arenas with satisfied fans. And beyond the impressive sales and chart statistics, its music has endured, played constantly on the radio and instantly familiar to tens of millions. When, in 2002, Chicago's biggest hits were assembled together on the two-disc set The Very Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning and the album debuted in the Top 50, giving the band the distinction of having had chart albums in five consecutive decades, the music industry and some music journalists may have been startled. But the fans who had been supporting Chicago for over 30 years were not.
Chicago marked the confluence of two distinct, but intermingling musical strains in Chicago, IL, in the mid-'60s: an academic approach and one coming from the streets. Reed player Walter Parazaider (born March 14, 1945, in Chicago, IL), trumpeter Lee Loughnane (born October 21, 1946, in Chicago, IL), and trombonist James Pankow (born August 20, 1947, in St. Louis, MO) were all music students at DePaul University. But they moonlighted in the city's clubs, playing everything from R&B to Irish music, and there they encountered less formally educated but no less talented players like guitarist Terry Kath (born January 31, 1946, in Chicago, IL; died January 23, 1978, in Los Angeles, CA) and drummer Danny Seraphine (born August 28, 1948, in Chicago, IL). In the mid-'60s, most rock groups followed the instrumentation of the Beatles -- two guitars, bass, and drums -- and horn sections were heard only in R&B. But in the summer of 1966, the Beatles used horns on "Got to Get You into My Life" on their Revolver album and, as usual, pop music began to follow their lead. At the end of the year, the Buckinghams, a Chicago band guided by a friend of Parazaider's, James William Guercio, scored a national hit with the horn-filled "Kind of a Drag," which went on to hit number one in February 1967.
That was all the encouragement Parazaider and his friends needed. Parazaider called a meeting of the band-to-be at his apartment on February 15, 1967, inviting along a talented organist and singer he had run across, Robert Lamm (born October 13, 1944, in New York, NY [Brooklyn]). Lamm agreed to join and also said he could supply the missing bass sounds to the ensemble using the organ's foot pedals (a skill he had not actually acquired at the time).
Developing a repertoire of James Brown and Wilson Pickett material, the new band rehearsed in Parazaider's parents' basement before beginning to get gigs around town under the name the Big Thing. Soon, they were playing around the Midwest. By this time, Guercio had become a staff producer at Columbia Records, and he encouraged the band to begin developing original songs. Kath, and especially Lamm, took up the suggestion. (Soon, Pankow also became a major writer for the band.) Meanwhile, the sextet became a septet when Peter Cetera (born September 13, 1944, in Chicago, IL), singer and bassist for a rival Midwest band, the Exceptions, agreed to defect and join the Big Thing. This gave the group the unusual versatility of having three lead singers, the smooth baritone Lamm, the gruff baritone Kath, and Cetera, who was an elastic tenor. When Guercio came back to see the group in the late winter of 1968, he deemed them ready for the next step. In June 1968, he financed their move to Los Angeles.
Guercio exerted a powerful influence on the band as its manager and producer, which would become a problem over time. At first, the bandmembers were willing to live together in a two-bedroom house, practice all the time, and change the group's name to one of Guercio's choosing, Chicago Transit Authority. Guercio's growing power at Columbia Records enabled him to get the band signed there and to set in place the unusual image the band would have. He convinced the label to let this neophyte band release a double album as its debut (that is, when they agreed to a cut in their royalties), and he decided the group would be represented on the cover by a logo instead of a photograph.
Chicago Transit Authority, released in April 1969, debuted on the charts in May as the band began touring nationally. By July, the album had reached the Top 20, without benefit of a hit single. It had been taken up by the free-form FM rock stations and become an underground hit. It was certified gold by the end of the year and eventually went on to sell more than two million copies. (In September 1969, the band played the Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Festival, and somehow the promoter obtained the right to tape the show. That same low-fidelity tape has turned up in an endless series of albums ever since. Examples include: Anthology, Beat the Bootleggers: Live 1967, Beginnings, Beginnings Live, Chicago [Classic World], Chicago Live, Chicago Transit Authority: Live in Concert [Magnum], Chicago Transit Authority: Live in Concert [Onyx], Great Chicago in Concert, I'm a Man, In Concert [Digmode], In Concert [Pilz], Live! [Columbia River], Live [LaserLight], Live Chicago, Live in Concert, Live in Toronto, Live '69, Live 25 or 6 to 4, The Masters, Rock in Toronto, and Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival.) To Guercio's surprise, he was contacted by the real Chicago Transit Authority, which objected to the band's use of the name; he responded by shortening the name to simply "Chicago." When he and the group finished the second album (another double) for release at the start of 1970, it was called Chicago, though it has since become known as Chicago II.
Chicago II vaulted into the Top Ten in its second week on the Billboard chart, even before its first single, "Make Me Smile," hit the Hot 100. The single was an excerpt from a musical suite, and the band at first objected to the editing considered necessary to prepare it for AM radio play. But it went on to reach the Top Ten, as did its successor, "25 or 6 to 4." The album quickly went gold and eventually platinum. In the fall of 1970, Columbia Records released "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," drawn from the group's first album, as its next single; it gave them their third consecutive Top Ten hit.
Chicago III, another double album, was ready for release at the start of 1971, and it just missed hitting number one while giving the band a third gold (and later platinum) LP. Its singles did not reach the Top Ten, however, and Columbia again reached back, releasing "Beginnings" (from the first album) backed with "Colour My World" (from the second) to give Chicago its fourth Top Ten single. Next up was a live album, the four-disc box set Chicago at Carnegie Hall, which, despite its size, crested in the Top Five and sold over a million copies. (The band itself preferred Live in Japan, an album recorded in February 1972 and initially released only in Japan.) Chicago V, a one-LP set, released in July 1972, spent nine weeks at number one on its way to selling over two million copies, spurred by its gold-selling Top Ten hit "Saturday in the Park." Chicago VI followed a year later and repeated the same success, launching the Top Ten singles "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and "Just You 'n' Me."
The next Top Ten hit, "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long," was released in advance of Chicago VII in the late winter of 1974. The album was the band's third consecutive chart-topper and another million-seller. "Call on Me" became its second Top Ten single. Chicago VIII, which marked the promotion of sideman percussionist Laudir de Oliveira as a full-fledged bandmember, appeared in the spring of 1975, spawned the Top Ten hit "Old Days," and became the band's fourth consecutive number one LP. After the profit-taking Chicago IX: Chicago's Greatest Hits in the fall of 1975 came Chicago X, which missed hitting number one but eventually sold over two million copies, in part because of the inclusion of the Grammy-winning number one single "If You Leave Me Now." Chicago XI, released in the late summer of 1977, continued the seemingly endless string of success, reaching the Top Ten, selling a million copies, and generating the Top Five hit "Baby, What a Big Surprise."
But there was trouble beneath the surface. The band's big hits were starting to be solely ballads sung by Cetera, which frustrated the musicians' musical ambitions. They had failed to attract critical notice, and what press attention they were given often alluded to Guercio's Svengali-like control as manager and producer. Chicago determined to fire Guercio and demonstrate that they could succeed without him. Shortly afterward, they were struck by a crushing blow. Kath, a gun enthusiast, accidentally shot and killed himself on January 23, 1978. Though he, like most of the other members of the band, was not readily recognizable outside the group, he had actually had a large say in its direction, and his loss was incalculable. Nevertheless, the band closed ranks and went on.
Guitarist Donnie Dacus was chosen from auditions and joined the band in time for its 12th LP release, which was given a non-numerical title, Hot Streets, and which put prominent pictures of the bandmembers on the cover for the first time. The sound, as indicated by the first single, the Top 20 hit "Alive Again," was harder rock, and the band's core following responded, but Hot Streets was Chicago's first album since 1969 to miss the Top Ten. Chicago 13 then missed the Top 20. (At this point, Dacus left the band, and Chicago hired guitarist Chris Pinnick as a sideman, eventually upping him to full-fledged group-member status.) Released in 1980, Chicago XIV, the last album to feature de Oliveira, didn't go gold. By 1981, with the release of the 15th album, the poor-selling Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, the band parted ways with Columbia Records and began looking for a new approach.
They found it in writer/producer David Foster, who returned to an emphasis on the band's talent for power ballads as sung by Cetera. They also brought in one of Foster's favorite session musicians, Bill Champlin (born May 21, 1947, in Oakland, CA), as a full-fledged bandmember. Champlin, formerly the leader of the Sons of Champlin, was a multi-instrumentalist with a gruff voice that allowed him to sing the parts previously taken by Kath. With these additions, the band signed with Full Moon Records, an imprint of Warner Bros., and released Chicago 16 in the spring of 1982, prefaced by the single "Hard to Say I'm Sorry," which topped the charts, leading to a major comeback. The album returned Chicago to million-selling, Top Ten status. Chicago 17, released in the spring of 1984, was even more successful -- in fact, the biggest-selling album of the band's career, with platinum certifications for six million copies as of 1997. It spawned two Top Five hits, "Hard Habit to Break" and "You're the Inspiration."
The renewed success, however, changed the long-established group dynamics, thrusting Cetera out as a star. He left the band for a solo career in 1985. (Pinnick also left at about this time, and the band did not immediately bring in a new guitarist.) As Cetera's replacement, Chicago found Jason Scheff, the 23-year-old bass-playing son of famed bassist Jerry Scheff, a longtime sideman with Elvis Presley. Scheff boasted a tenor voice that allowed him to re-create Cetera's singing on many Chicago hits. The split with Cetera had a negative commercial impact, however. Despite boasting a Top Five hit single in "Will You Still Love Me?," 1986's Chicago 18 only went gold. The band recovered, however, with Chicago 19, released in the spring of 1988. Among its singles, "I Don't Want to Live Without Your Love" made the Top Five, "Look Away" topped the charts, and "You're Not Alone" made the Top Ten as the album went platinum. Another single, "What Kind of Man Would I Be?," originally found on the album, was included as part of the 1989 compilation Greatest Hits 1982-1989 (which counted as the 20th album) and became a Top Five hit, while the album sold five million copies by 1997.
At the turn of the decade, Chicago underwent two more personnel changes, with guitarist DaWayne Bailey joining and original drummer Danny Seraphine departing, to be replaced by Tris Imboden. Chicago Twenty 1, released at the start of 1991, sold disappointingly, and Warner rejected the band's next offering (though tracks from it did turn up on compilations). Chicago, however, maintained a loyal following that enabled them to tour successfully every summer. In 1995, Keith Howland replaced Bailey as Chicago's guitarist. The same year, the band regained rights to its Columbia Records catalog and established its own Chicago Records label to reissue the albums. They also signed to Giant Records, another Warner imprint, to release their 22nd album, Night & Day, a collection of big-band standards that made the Top 100. They were now able to combine hits from their Columbia and Warner years, resulting in the release of the gold-selling The Heart of Chicago 1967-1997 and its follow-up, The Heart of Chicago, Vol. 2 1967-1998 (their 23rd and 24th albums, respectively). In 1998, they released Chicago 25: The Christmas Album on Chicago Records, and they followed it in 1999 with Chicago XXVI: The Live Album. In 2002, Chicago began leasing its early albums to Rhino Records for deluxe repackagings, often with bonus tracks. And the success of The Very Best of Chicago: Only the Beginning demonstrated that their music continued to appeal to fans. Feeding off the renewed interest, the band reappeared in 2006 with the new album Chicago XXX on Rhino. The rejected Warner album from 1993 was finally released by Rhino in 2008 as Stone of Sisyphus: XXXII.
Source: William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide
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With their distinctive style of music—perhaps best described as power doo-wop—The Four Seasons have enjoyed a long and extremely successful career in popular music. Coming together in the mid-1950s, they had their first major hit "Sherry" in 1962. It was followed by a string of other hit songs including "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," and "Let's Hang On to What We've Got." Along with The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons were the only American group to survive the "British Invasion" of the pop charts in the mid-1960s. Their hit songs have become pop standards and their concert tours continue to attract enthusiastic audiences made up of longtime fans and younger people whose acquaintance with the group comes from "oldies" format radio stations.
The Four Seasons have undergone numerous personnel changes over the years but the essence of the group has remained with lead vocalist Frankie Valli and songwriter/manager Bob Gaudio. Valli and Gaudio own the master tapes of all the group's recordings, the right to use the musical group name "The Four Seasons," and also own the rights to the music and lyrics of all the Four Seasons' songs. These properties have generated millions of dollars in revenue for Valli and Gaudio's joint enterprise, called the Four Seasons Partnership.
The roots of the Four Seasons can be traced to the working class neighborhoods of Newark, New Jersey in the mid-1950s when Frankie Valli (born Francis Stephen Castelluccio) joined the Variety Trio, avocai group made up of Hank Majewski, and brothers Nick and Tommy Devito. The addition of a fourth member made the trio a quartet and so the group's name was changed to the Variatones. Though still a teenager, Valli was an experienced singer. In 1953, under the name Frankie Valley, he had recorded a few songs for Corona Records. The son of a barber, Valli had decided to be a singer at age seven. "I was always singing, as far back as I can remember. In those days, big bands would come and play in theaters like the Paramount (in New York) or the Adams Theater in Newark. My mom used to take me once a week to the Adams, so I saw every major big band at the tail end of that era," Valli recalled to Steve North of the TwoRiver Times. Receiving no formal vocal training, Valli honed his voice by listening to records of favorite performers, such as the Four Freshmen, the Hi-Lo's and the Modemaires. He sharpened his falsetto by imitating female singers including Dinah Washington and Rose Murphy.
The Variatones played at clubs in New Jersey and the surrounding area. In 1956, they were signed by RCA records and renamed the Four Lovers. Their RCA recording of "Apple of My Eye" was a minor hit which earned them three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Despite this notoriety, the group had trouble garnering many fans. "When we went out of town, we used to lie and tell everybody we were playing at the big resorts. Only we were really performing in a bowling alley in Philly, " Valli told John Anderson of SmartMoney. Changes came to the Four Lovers in 1960 when Hank Majewski left the group and was replaced by Nick Massi. In the same year, the Four Lovers were taken under the wing of Bob Crewe, a New York-based record producer. In 1961, Nick Devito resigned from the group and Bob Gaudio joined it. In addition to being a keyboard player and vocalist, Gaudio was a talented songwriter able to supply the group with original material. As member of the Royal Teens, Gaudio had written and recorded the novelty hit "Short Shorts" in 1958. After retitling themselves The Four Seasons, taking the name from a bowling alley lounge which had refused to give them a booking, the group was set with the moniker and personnel—Valli, Gaudio, Massi, and Tommy Devito—that would take them to the top.
It was at this point, just before stardom, that Valli, who had day job as barber, and Gaudio, who worked at a printing plant, decided to form a partnership. The deal was made while they sat in Valli's parents's apartment in a low-income housing project in Newark. "We said, 'Neither of us know where we're going to wind up, but maybe we should hedge our bets. You get 50 percent of me, and I get 50 percent of you,'" Gaudio recalled to Charles P. Alexander of Time. The deal, which has never been based on anything more official than a handshake, has endured. Despite ups and downs in their relationship over the decades, neither Valli nor Gaudio has seriously considered breaking the arrangement. "That would be like telling your brother that he couldn't come todinner anymore. We're family," Gaudio explained to Alexander.
Major success came to the Four Seasons in September of 1962, when their recording "Sherry" for Vee-Jay Records went to the top of the charts. Originally called "Terry," the song had been written by Gaudio in 15 minutes. The lyrics were concocted merely as a way for Gaudio to remember the tune but producer Crewe and the other group members thought they should be retained. Only change was the girl's name in the title. "Sherry was a non-existent person.... It was just a song and the name made it easier to sing, "Sherrrrry Sherry Baby." It was impossible to do that with the name Linda or Laurie. See, we were creating a sound," Valli told Tim Ryan of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
The success of "Sherry" was quickly followed by another number one hit, "Big Girls Don't Cry," another Gaudio composition. The title phrase was taken from an old movie in which the leading man (sometimes identified as Clark Gable, sometimes as John Payne), slaps the leading lady, then taunts her by saying "Big girls don't cry." Over the next five years, The Four Seasons enjoyed a string of top ten hits, most written by Gaudio. Combining simple lyrics about young romance with a driving, infectious beat, Four Seasons material appealed to that part of the audience which continued to be drawn to the East Coast street corner harmonies of the 1950s and early 1960s. Their hits include "Walk Like a Man," "Candy Girl," "Dawn," "Ronnie," "Rag Doll," "Save It for Me," "Let's Hang On," "Working My Way," "Tell It to the Rain," and "C'Mon Marianne." One non-Gaudio hit was a version of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin," which Valli told Ryan was "the most sophisticated song we ever recorded." In 1965, the Four Seasons, billing themselves as The Wonder Who?, released a rendition of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright," with Valli singing in his highest pitched falsetto. The song went to number 12 on the Billboard chart. Valli abandoned the falsetto in favor of a rich baritone on his solo recording of the romantic ballad "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," which was a hit in the summer of 1967.
For the Record . . .
Members in the 1960s include Tommy Devito (born June 19, 1935), vocals, guitar; Bob Gaudio (born November 17, 1942 in Bronx, NY), vocals, keyboard, and principal songwriter; Nick Massi (born September 19, 1935), vocals, bass; Frankie Valli, (born May 3, 1937 in Newark, NJ), lead vocals. Earlier members included Nick Devito and Hank Majewski. Later members include Don Ciccone, bass; John Pavia, guitar; Gerry Polci, vocals, drums; Lee Shapiro, keyboard.
Began as the Variatones in early 1950s; became the Four Lovers and signed with RCA records in 1956. Recorded a minor hit, "Apple of My Eye," for RCA in 1956. Appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show; teamed with independent record producer Bob Crewe in 1960; songwriter and keyboardist Bob Gaudio joined in 1961; The Four Seasons, had first major hit with the Gaudio composition "Sherry," for Vee-Jay Records in 1962; other hits for Vee-Jay include "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," and "Candy Girl;" signed with Philips Records, 1964; released "Dawn," "Ronnie," "Rag Doll," "Save It for Me," "Let's Hang On!," "Working My Way Back to You," "I've Got You Under My Skin," and "C'Mon Marianne;" as the Wonder Who?; had a hit with "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" in 1965; signed with Motown and released unsuccess ful album Chameleon in 1972; signed with Warner-Curb Records, 1975; released "Who Loves You?" and "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night);" rereleased "December, 1963," 1994. Frankie Valli solo hits include "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," 1967; "My Eyes Adored You" and "Swearin' to God," 1975, and "Grease,"1978. Popular nightclub and touring act in the 1980s and 1990s.
Awards: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1995.
Addresses: Management company—International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.
It took some time for success to sink into the minds of the Four Seasons. Valli, for example, continued living with his parents in a Newark housing project. "I don't think I really believed the success until about 1964. I drove an old car until that year; I was afraid to buy a new one.... Ithought someone would pinch me and I'd wake up from this wonderful dream I was having," Valli told North.
Though the Four Seasons had withstood the British Invasion of American pop music led by the Beatles in 1964, by the late 1960s their popularity began to wane. In response to this drop in public favor, the group made some false moves, most notably a socially conscious concept album called The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Released in 1968, the album featured an eight-page newspaper insert. The experimental album received a good deal of publicity but sold poorly. By the early 1970s, the Four Seasons were at a low ebb with Valli as the only original member still performing with the group. Gaudio, who had taken over management of the group in the late 1960s, stopped performing in 1971. Gaudio's retreat from the stage annoyed Valli. "Frankie felt like I'd deserted him. It was our toughest time," Gaudio told Anderson. In 1972, the Four Seasons signed with Motown Records' California-based subsidiary MoWest and released the album Chameleon which drew little attention.
In 1975, their contract with MoWest having expired, Valli and Gaudio took Valli's solo recording of the song "My Eyes Adored You," to Private Stock Records. Written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan, the low key romantic tune put Valli back at the top of the charts. It was quickly followed by another Valli solo hit, the disco-influenced "Swearin' to God." Meanwhile, Gaudio recruited new personnel for the Four Seasons, including John Pavia, Lee Shapiro, Don Ciccone, and Gerry Polci, and signed a contract with Warner-Curb Records. In the autumn of 1975, the revised group had a major hit with "Who Loves You?" In the spring of 1976, the Four Seasons enjoyed an even bigger success with "December '63 (Oh, What a Night)." Written by Gaudio and his future wife Judy Parker, the song was a bouncy coming of age ditty that played on the nostalgic view many people in the 1970s had developed towards the 1950s and early 1960s. In an unusual turn, lead vocals on the recording were done by Gerry Polci, instead of Valli.
As a solo artist, Valli had the biggest hit of his career with the title song from the movie Grease in 1978. Written by Barry Gibb of Bee Gees fame, the disco-style song detracted from the early 1960s setting of the film and was not a part of the stage musical on which the film was based. Nevertheless, the Grease title song was a tremendous success in the summer of 1978, as was the movie itself. Although Gaudio had nothing to do with the Grease recording, Valli kept to their agreement and split the profits from the song with him. Similarly, Gaudio shared his earnings from outside projects with Valli.
Notable among Gaudio's other projects is the soundtrack to Neil Diamond's movie The Jazz Singer in 1981.
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons are a popular attraction in nightclubs and other live entertainment venues. Though he likes the challenge of new material, Valli understands that audiences come out to hear the hits. "If I went to see someone I had admired all my life, I'd feel disappointed if I didn't hear certain songs ... a lot of people come to our shows to forget about what's going on. It's kind of like therapy," Valli told Winnie Bonelli of the Passaic Herald & News. Reissues of Four Seasons recordings enjoy steady sales with many purchases being made by people who weren't alive during the group's heyday.
4 Seasons Greetings, 1962.
Sherry & 11 Others, Curb, 1962.
Ain't That a Shame and 11 Other Hits, Curb, 1963.
Big Girls Don't Cry and Twelve Others..., Curb, 1963.
Born to Wander, 1964.
Dawn (Go Away) and 11 Other Great Songs, Curb, 1964.
Rag Doll, Curb 1964.
4 Seasons Entertain You, 1965.
4 Seasons Sing Big Hits by Burt Bacharach...Hal David...Bob Dylan, Rhino, 1965.
Let's Hang On and More Great New Hits, Curb, 1966.
Live on Stage, Vee-Jay, 1966.
Working My Way Back to You and More Great New Hits, Rhino, 1966.
Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, Rhino, 1969.
Half & Half, Ace, 1970.
Who Loves You, Curb, 1975.
Helicon, Warner Bros., 1977.
Reunited Live, Collectors' Choice Music, 1981.
Streetfighter, Curb/MCA, 1985.
Hope + Glory, Curb, 1992.
Source: Mary Kalfatovic
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Earth, Wind & Fire were one of the most musically accomplished, critically acclaimed, and commercially popular funk bands of the '70s. Conceived by drummer, bandleader, songwriter, kalimba player, and occasional vocalist Maurice White, EWF's all-encompassing musical vision used funk as its foundation, but also incorporated jazz, smooth soul, gospel, pop, rock & roll, psychedelia, blues, folk, African music, and, later on, disco. Lead singer Philip Bailey gave EWF an extra dimension with his talent for crooning sentimental ballads in addition to funk workouts; behind him, the band could harmonize like a smooth Motown group, work a simmering groove like the J.B.'s, or improvise like a jazz fusion outfit. Plus, their stage shows were often just as elaborate and dynamic as George Clinton's P-Funk empire. More than just versatility for its own sake, EWF's eclecticism was part of a broader concept informed by a cosmic, mystical spirituality and an uplifting positivity the likes of which hadn't been seen since the early days of Sly & the Family Stone. Tying it all together was the accomplished songwriting of Maurice White, whose intricate, unpredictable arrangements and firm grasp of hooks and structure made EWF one of the tightest bands in funk when they wanted to be. Not everything they tried worked, but at their best, Earth, Wind & Fire seemingly took all that came before them and wrapped it up into one dizzying, spectacular package.
White founded Earth, Wind & Fire in Chicago in 1969. He had previously honed his chops as a session drummer for Chess Records, where he played on songs by the likes of Fontella Bass, Billy Stewart, and Etta James, among others. In 1967, he'd replaced Redd Holt in the popular jazz group the Ramsey Lewis Trio, where he was introduced to the kalimba, an African thumb piano he would use extensively in future projects. In 1969, he left Lewis' group to form a songwriting partnership with keyboardist Don Whitehead and singer Wade Flemons. This quickly evolved into a band dubbed the Salty Peppers, which signed with Capitol and scored a regional hit with "La La Time." When a follow-up flopped, White decided to move to Los Angeles, and took most of the band with him; he also renamed them Earth, Wind & Fire, after the three elements in his astrological charts. By the time White convinced his brother, bassist Verdine White, to join him on the West Coast in 1970, the lineup also consisted of Whitehead, Flemons, female singer Sherry Scott, guitarist Michael Beal, tenor saxophonist Chet Washington, trombonist Alex Thomas, and percussionist Yackov Ben Israel. This aggregate signed a new deal with Warner Bros. and issued its self-titled debut album in late 1970. Many critics found it intriguing and ambitious, much like the 1971 follow-up, The Need of Love, but neither attracted much commercial attention, despite a growing following on college campuses and a high-profile gig performing the soundtrack to Melvin Van Peebles' groundbreaking black independent film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.
Dissatisfied with the results, White dismantled the first version of EWF in 1972, retaining only brother Verdine. He built a new lineup with female vocalist Jessica Cleaves, flute/sax player Ronnie Laws, guitarist Roland Bautista, keyboardist Larry Dunn, and percussionist Ralph Johnson; the most important new addition, however, was singer Philip Bailey, recruited from a Denver R&B band called Friends & Love. After seeing the group open for John Sebastian in New York, Clive Davis signed them to CBS, where they debuted in 1972 with Last Days and Time. Further personnel changes ensued; Laws and Bautista were all gone by year's end, replaced by reedman Andrew Woolfolk and guitarists Al McKay and Johnny Graham. It was then that EWF truly began to hit their stride. 1973's Head to the Sky (Cleaves' last album with the group) significantly broadened their cult following, and the 1974 follow-up, Open Our Eyes, was their first genuine hit. It marked their first collaboration with producer, arranger, and sometime songwriting collaborator Charles Stepney, who helped streamline their sound for wider acceptance; it also featured another White brother, Fred, brought in as a second drummer. The single "Mighty Mighty" became EWF's first Top Ten hit on the R&B charts, although pop radio shied away from its black-pride subtext, and the minor hit "Kalimba Story" brought Maurice White's infatuation with African sounds to the airwaves. Open Our Eyes went gold, setting the stage for the band's blockbuster breakthrough.
In 1975, EWF completed work on another movie soundtrack, this time to a music-biz drama called That's the Way of the World. Not optimistic about the film's commercial prospects, the group rushed out their soundtrack album of the same name (unlike Sweet Sweetback, they composed all the music themselves) in advance. The film flopped, but the album took off; its lead single, the love-and-encouragement anthem "Shining Star," shot to the top of both the R&B and pop charts, making Earth, Wind & Fire mainstream stars; it later won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group. The album also hit number one on both the pop and R&B charts, and went double platinum; its title track went Top Five on the R&B side, and it also contained Bailey's signature ballad in the album cut "Reasons." White used the new income to develop EWF's live show into a lavish, effects-filled extravaganza, which eventually grew to include stunts designed by magician Doug Henning. The band was also augmented by a regular horn section, the Phoenix Horns, headed by saxophonist Don Myrick. Their emerging concert experience was chronicled later that year on the double-LP set Gratitude, which became their second straight number one album and featured one side of new studio tracks. Of those, "Sing a Song" reached the pop Top Ten and the R&B Top Five, and the ballad "Can't Hide Love" and the title track were also successful.
Sadly, during the 1976 sessions for EWF's next studio album, Spirit, Charles Stepney died suddenly of a heart attack. Maurice White took over the arranging chores, but the Stepney-produced "Getaway" managed to top the R&B charts posthumously. Spirit naturally performed well on the charts, topping out at number two. In the meantime, White was taking a hand in producing other acts; in addition to working with his old boss Ramsey Lewis, he helped kick start the careers of the Emotions and Deniece Williams. 1977's All n' All was another strong effort that charted at number three and spawned the R&B smashes "Fantasy" and the chart-topping "Serpentine Fire"; meanwhile, the Emotions topped the pop charts with the White-helmed smash "Best of My Love." The following year, White founded his own label, ARC, and EWF appeared in the mostly disastrous film version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, turning in a fine cover of the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life" that became their first Top Ten pop hit since "Sing a Song." Released before year's end, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1 produced another Top Ten hit (and R&B number one) in the newly recorded "September."
1979's I Am contained EWF's most explicit nod to disco, a smash collaboration with the Emotions called "Boogie Wonderland" that climbed into the Top Ten. The ballad "After the Love Has Gone" did even better, falling one spot short of the top. Although I Am became EWF's sixth straight multi-platinum album, there were signs that the group's explosion of creativity over the past few years was beginning to wane. 1980's Faces broke that string, after which guitarist McKay departed. While 1981's Raise brought them a Top Five hit and R&B chart-topper in "Let's Groove," an overall decline in consistency was becoming apparent. By the time EWF issued its next album, 1983's Powerlight, ARC had folded, and the Phoenix Horns had been cut loose to save money. After the lackluster Electric Universe appeared at the end of the year, White disbanded the group to simply take a break. In the meantime, Verdine White became a producer and video director, while Philip Bailey embarked on a solo career and scored a pop smash with the Phil Collins duet "Easy Lover." Collins also made frequent use of the Phoenix Horns on his '80s records, both solo and with Genesis.
Bailey reunited with the White brothers, plus Andrew Woolfolk, Ralph Johnson, and new guitarist Sheldon Reynolds, in 1987 for the album Touch the World. It was surprisingly successful, producing two R&B smashes in "Thinking of You" and the number one "System of Survival." Released in 1990, Heritage was a forced attempt to contemporize the group's sound, with guest appearances from Sly Stone and MC Hammer; its failure led to the end of the group's relationship with Columbia. They returned on Reprise with the more traditional-sounding Millennium in 1993, but were dropped when the record failed to recapture their commercial standing despite a Grammy nomination for "Sunday Morning"; tragedy struck that year when onetime horn leader Don Myrick was murdered in Los Angeles. Bailey and the White brothers returned once again in 1997 on the small Pyramid label with In the Name of Love. After 2003's The Promise, the group realigned itself with several top-shelf adult contemporary artists and released 2005's Illumination, which featured a much-publicized collaboration with smooth jazz juggernaut Kenny G.
For The Record
Original members include Michael Beale, guitar; Leslie Drayton, horns; Wade Flemons,electric piano; Sherry Scott, vocals; Alex Thomas, horns; Chester Washington, horns;Maurice White (born December 19, 1941, in Chicago, IL), vocals, drums, kalimba; Verdine White (born July 25, 1951), bass; Donald Whitehead, keyboards; and Phillard Williams,percussion.
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The Shirelles were the first major female vocal group of the rock era, defining the so-called girl group sound with their soft, sweet harmonies and yearning innocence. Their music was a blend of pop/rock and R&B -- especially doo wop and smooth uptown soul -- that appealed to listeners across the board, before Motown ever became a crossover phenomenon with white audiences. Even if the Shirelles were not technically the first of their kind, their success was unprecedented, paving the way for legions of imitators; their inviting musical blueprint had an enduring influence not just on their immediate followers, but on future generations of female pop singers, who often updated the style with a more modern sensibility. What was more, they provided some of the earliest hits for important Brill Building songwriters like Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Burt Bacharach & Hal David, and Van McCoy.
The Shirelles were originally formed in 1958 in Passaic, NJ, by four high school friends: Doris Coley (later Doris Kenner-Jackson), Addie "Micki" Harris, Shirley Owens (later Shirley Alston), and Beverly Lee. Christening themselves the Poquellos, the girls wrote a song called "I Met Him on a Sunday" and entered their school talent show with it. A school friend had them audition for her mother, Florence Greenberg, who ran a small record label; she was impressed enough to become the group's manager, and changed their name to the Shirelles by combining frequent lead singer Owens' first name with doo woppers the Chantels. The Shirelles' recording of "I Met Him on a Sunday" was licensed by Decca and climbed into the national Top 50 in 1958. Two more singles flopped, however, and Decca passed on further releases. Greenberg instead signed them to her new label, Scepter Records, and brought in producer Luther Dixon, whose imaginative, sometimes string-heavy arrangements would help shape the group's signature sound.
"Dedicated to the One I Love" (1959) and "Tonight's the Night" (1960) both failed to make much of an impact on the pop charts, although the latter was a Top 20 R&B hit. However, they broke big time with the Goffin-King composition "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"; released in late 1960, it went all the way to number one pop, making them the first all-female group of the rock era to accomplish that feat; it also peaked at number two R&B. Its success helped send a re-release of "Dedicated to the One I Love" into the Top Five on both the pop and R&B charts in 1961, and "Mama Said" did the same; a more R&B-flavored outing, "Big John," also went to number two that year. 1962 continued their run of success, most notably with "Soldier Boy," a Luther Dixon/Florence Greenberg tune that became their second pop number one; they also had a Top Ten pop and R&B hit with "Baby It's You." Unfortunately, Dixon subsequently left the label; the Shirelles managed to score one more pop/R&B Top Ten with 1963's "Foolish Little Girl," but found it difficult to maintain their previous level of success.
The group went on to record material for the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, headlined the first integrated concert show in Alabama, and helped a young Dionne Warwick get some of her first exposure (subbing for Owens and Coley when each took a leave of absence to get married). A money dispute with Scepter tied up their recording schedule for a while in 1964, and although it was eventually settled, the Shirelles were still bound to a label where their run was essentially over. Of course, this was also because of the British Invasion, whose bands were among the first to cover their songs; not only their hits, but lesser-known items like "Boys" (the Beatles) and "Sha La La" (a hit for Manfred Mann). The Shirelles scraped the lower reaches of the charts a few more times, making their last appearance, ironically, with 1967's "Last Minute Miracle."Doris Kenner left the group the following year to concentrate on raising her family, and the remaining Shirelles continued as a trio, cutting singles for Bell, United Artists, and RCA through 1971. The group continued to tour the oldies circuit, however, and appeared in the 1973 documentary Let the Good Times Roll. Shirley Alston left for a solo career in 1975, upon which point Doris Kenner-Jackson returned. Micki Harris died of a heart attack during a performance in Atlanta on June 10, 1982, upon which point the group went into what turned out to be a temporary retirement; the three remaining charter members recorded together for the last time on a 1983 Dionne Warwick record. Different Shirelles lineups toured the oldies circuit in the '90s, though Beverly Lee eventually secured the official trademark. They were officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Doris Kenner-Jackson passed away after a bout with breast cancer in Sacramento on February 4, 2000.
For The Record
Members include Shirley Alston (born June 10, 1941); Addle "MBcId" Harris (born January 22, 1940; died of a heart attack, June 10, 1982, in Los Angeles); Doris Kenner (born August 2, 1941); and Beverly Lee (born August 3, 1941).
Group formed as the Poquellos for school talent shows, Passaic, NJ; "discovered" by Florence Greenberg and signed with her Tiara label, 1958; recorded "I Met Him on a Sunday"; signed with Greenberg's Scepter Records, 1959, and recorded "Dedicated to the One 1 Love" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" ; scored last chart entry, 1967; recorded and toured on nostalgia circuit; surviving members formed and led separate versions of the Shirelles.
Awards: Three gold records; awards from performance rights society Broadcast Music Inc., U.S.O., Vietnam Veterans of America, and U.S. Army; named best female group in Billboard and Cash Box for five consecutive years; citation in Congressional Record, 1983, in honor of the group's 25th anniversary.
Addresses: Management—Bevi Corp., P.O. Box 100, Clifton, NJ 07011-0100.
In 1968, Kenner left the group, and Alston, Lee, and Harris carried on as a trio, occasionally making new recordings and performing their old hits on the nostalgia circuit. Then, in the mid-1970s, Kenner returned and the group toured again as a quartet, until Harris's untimely death from a heart attack—suffered during a performance—in June of 1982. But even the loss of one of the original members did not bring an end to the Shirelles; by 1990 there were three separate groups touring under the name, each led by one of the surviving members.
Baby It's You, Scepter, 1962, reissued, Sundazed, 1993.
(With Curtis "King Curtis" Ousley) The Shirelles & King Curtis Give a Twist Party, Scepter, 1962, reissued, Sundazed, 1993.
Anthology, 1959-1965, Rhino, 1986.
Greatest Hits, Impact, 1987.
Lost and Found, Impact, 1987.
Greatest Hits, Special, 1991.
Dedicated to You, Pair, 1991.
Golden Classics, Collectables, 1992.
The Scepter Records Story, Capricorn, 1992.
Million Sellers, Laurie, 1993.
Foolish Little Girl, reissued, Sundazed, 1993.
Sing to Trumpets and Strings, Sundazed, 1993.
They weren't British, they weren't brothers, and their real names weren't Walker, but Californians Scott Engel, John Maus, and Gary Leeds were briefly huge stars in England (and small ones in their native land) at the peak of the British Invasion. Engel and Maus were playing together in Hollywood when drummer Leeds suggested they form a trio and try to make it in England. And they did -- with surprising swiftness, they hit the top of the British charts with "Make It Easy on Yourself" in 1965. "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" repeated the feat the following year, and the group also had U.K. hits with "My Ship Is Coming In," "(Baby) You Don't Have to Tell Me," "Another Tear Falls," and others. For a few months they experienced frenzied adulation almost on the level of the Beatles and the Stones, though in the U.S. (where they rarely performed) only "Make It Easy on Yourself" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" entered the Top 20.
While the Walkers looked the part of British Invaders with their shaggy mop-top hairstyles, they were far more pop than rock. Nor did they play on most of their records. With producer Johnny Franz and veteran British arrangers like Ivor Raymonde (who also worked with Dusty Springfield) and Reg Guest, they favored orchestrated ballads that were a studied attempt to emulate the success of another brother act who weren't really brothers: the Righteous Brothers. Not as soulful as the Righteous Brothers, lead singer Scott Walker's deep croon betrayed strong debts to non-rock vocalists like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. While their biggest hits were covers of songs by American pop songwriting teams like Bacharach-David and Mann-Weil, Scott (and occasionally John Walker) could write brooding originals in a more personal, less overblown style when given the chance.
In the intensely competitive days of 1967, the Walkers' brand of pop suddenly become passé, and the group disbanded in the face of diminishing success and Scott's increasingly fruitful solo career. Scott ran off a series of Top Ten British solo albums in the late '60s, which have attracted a sizable cult with their idiosyncratic marriage of Scott's brooding, insular songs and ornate orchestral arrangements. Gary Walker released a few singles and an album with his group the Rain in a much harder-rocking guitar-oriented format. The Walkers reunited for a while in the mid-'70s, which produced a final British hit ("No Regrets"). Much of the Walkers' story is retold in the biography -Scott Walker: A Deep Shade of Blue, published only in Britain.
Source: Richie Unterberger
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One of the most enigmatic figures in rock history, Scott Walker was known as Scotty Engel when he cut obscure flop records in the late '50s and early '60s in the teen idol vein. He then hooked up with John Maus and Gary Leeds to form the Walker Brothers. They weren't named Walker, they weren't brothers, and they weren't English, but they nevertheless became a part of the British Invasion after moving to the U.K. in 1965. They enjoyed a couple of years of massive success there (and a couple of hits in the U.S.) in a Righteous Brothers vein. As their full-throated lead singer and principal songwriter, Walker was the dominant artistic force in the group, who split in 1967.
Source: Richie Unterberger