Musings On Music History: The Loss Of Lady Day, The King’s First Recordings, and A Plethora (!) Of Birthdays
07.17: On this day in 1959, at the age of 44, the amazing and influential Lady Day, Billie Holiday, died in a New York hospital from cirrhosis of the liver. The jazz singer’s deteriorating health was brought on by years of drug and alcohol abuse. At the time of her death, she had only $0.70 in the bank, had been arrested in her hospital bed for narcotics possession, was due to be arraigned on drug charges, and was surrounded by a police presence for the last three weeks of her life, gaining a respite only hours before she died, when a judge ordered the police out of her hospital room. That she died in such an egregious way does nothing, however, to diminish her star, to take away from the legend she left behind. Her singular singing style moved jazz and pop in directions no one could have envisioned, introducing emotion to a genre that had previously only carried that with instrumentation. As well, her particular phrasing of certain lyrics showed that singing didn’t have to be a 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 progression, following a certain rhyme and meter, that lyrics can be interpreted many different ways, enunciated in unexpected variations. A humongous leap forward, her style influenced not only other jazz singers, but singers from the ’30s onward. Seriously, just listen to her version of “Strange Fruit” (one of the first anti-racism songs in the U.S.) and you will know what we’re babbling about.
07.18: This day in 1953 saw one of the greatest performers of all time record his first songs, which he paid for himself ($3.98, thank you very much), when an 18-year-old Elvis Presley walked through the doors of Sun Records (née Memphis Recording Service) and laid down the tracks for two songs, “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” and “My Happiness,” that were, supposedly, recorded for his beloved mom. Sam Phillips’ assistant took note of the young singer, suggesting to her boss that Elvis might be the voice of the new sound Sam was looking to foist upon white teens. That is, rock and roll, an entirely new genre back then, up to that time only performed by African-American musicians and singers. It took a good year from the time Elvis recorded that first vanity record until he quit his job as a truck driver to pursue singing full-time, but that first record began a ride that wouldn’t end until his death in 1977. Long live the King!
07.19: Former Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler filed a lawsuit against the band on this day in 1991, claiming the other members of the group forced him to use heroin and made him quit the band when he tried to quit the smack. The lawsuit was settled out of court the following year for a reported $2.5 million. Really? They forced him to use heroin? They sat on him, strapped him down, held him as they tied up his arm, found a vein, and inserted the needle? Now, we know those boys were pretty crazy back in the day, we’ve watched VH1’s Behind The Music, but this is just too crazy. All the guys in the band had habits, for sure, but maybe Steve’s was just a little bit beyond what they were used to, went a little too far and left no room for him to stop when the other guys decided to stop. Or maybe the other guys forced drugs on him, so that they could have a reason to fire him. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, especially when you see Steven these days, pimping his drug-addled life on Celebrity Rehab.
07.20: July 20th has turned out quite a few famous musicians over the years. Carlos Santana joined us on this day in 1947, beginning a journey that would take him from Mexico to San Francisco to Woodstock (where he absolutely tore up both the stage and every dirty hippy who dared open their eyes and ears while he shredded) to the world. On this day in 1955, Michael Anthony joined us, bass guitar in hand, ready to reinvigorate rock and roll in the ’70s with a little band called Van Halen (from which he has been subsequently scrubbed from their history, 1984-style). Chris Cornell tested his lungs for the first time on this day in 1964, prepping for his work in both Soundgarden and Audioslave. Another Seattle scene alum, Stone Gossard, future lead guitar for Pearl Jam (who are, believe it, still going strong), rocked his way into the doctor’s hands on this day in 1966.
07.21: On this day in 1973, Jim Croce’s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” hit the top of the charts, the first of two #1 songs he had that year. Alas, the second of those came after his death in September 1973 in a plane crash, at the ripe old age of 30. Like so many musicians/artists before and since, Croce’s death came during his ascendency, just when he was about to break into the big-time.
07.21: Cat Stevens, heretofore known as Yusef Islam, entered the wild world on this day in 1948. From “Wild World” to “Moonshadow”, from his conversion to Islam to his re-emergence onto the worldwide music scene in the new millennium, Cat/Yusef’s story doesn’t follow, by any means, the usual trajectory of the ’70s pop superstar, instead veering off on tangents and down roads that many thought confoundingly odd and others found thoughtfully sincere. Whatever you may think of the man, his ’70s music survives and his voice continues to sing in the now, which is a very good thing.
07.22: It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone. It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone. And, for Tom Jones, it’s not unusual to pay for it later. On this day in 1989, Jones was ordered to pay $200 a week in child support to then 27-year old Katherine Berkery. Jones claimed the child wasn’t his, but the DNA evidence suggested otherwise. $800/month?! Really? That lady musta had a horrible lawyer because we know that Jones could afford much more than that, especially for a kid that carries his own DNA.
07.22: The outer space Funkadelic master, George Clinton, crashed-landed on Earth on this day in 1940. Seven years later, on this very same day, Don Henley, future bird of prey, jumped head first into the fast lane of life.