In a year in which we lost David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, two thirds of ELP, Paul Kantner, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Maurice White, George Martin, Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones, and Mose Allison, to name just a very few (most of whom are still available as subjects for this theme, hint, hint), it is not surprising that some deaths during 2016 were overshadowed by bigger names. Here are a few that you may have missed:
Fred Tomlinson: Tomlinson wrote much of the music that added to the lunacy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and other British shows, and as leader of the Fred Tomlinson singers, performed a good deal of it. If he did nothing else but write the music for “The Lumberjack Song” and lead the Vikings in singing “Spam,” he’d deserve lionization, but he did much more.
[purchase the complete Monty Python series]
Dave Swarbrick and Pete Zorn: I was introduced to both of these musicians due to their connection to Richard Thompson. Swarbrick was best known as a fiddler, and was a member of Fairport Convention, remaining as a member after Thompson left, playing numerous instruments, singing and writing songs. He also contributed to many albums by Thompson and other members of the extended Fairport circle and performed as a solo artist and in various combinations. Check out this footage of him wailing on the fiddle, and singing, with Fairport Convention live in 1970.
Pete Zorn was an American multi-instrumentalist who played with Thompson live and on record, as well as other bands, often in the same English folk world as Swarbrick, and it does seem that they crossed paths. Zorn was Gerry Rafferty’s first choice to play the sax solo in “Baker Street,” but was unavailable; instead Raphael Ravenscroft got the gig. I remember seeing Zorn play with Thompson and handling many stringed and woodwind instruments, including the bass flute. Here he is, singing and playing sax on Thompson’s “Tear Stained Letter.”
[purchase Richard Thompson’s Hand of Kindness, featuring Zorn]
[purchase Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief]
Gilli Smyth: The co-founder of Gong, with her partner and collaborator Daevid Allen (who died last year), Smyth was a musician, poet, writer and activist. Her contributions to Gong (where she was sometimes billed as Shakti Yoni), and the spin off collections that sprung up over the years, were eccentric, provocative and always interesting. You can get a sense of her "space whispering" performing style, and that of Gong, in this performance from 1973 of “Witch's Song, I Am Your Pussy.”
[purchase Gong’s Flying Teapot]
Bernie Worrell: O.K., enough with the Brits. Worrell, a New Jersey native, was a classically trained pianist who gained fame (and entry to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) playing funk with Parliament/Funkadelic in the 1970s. I really began to appreciate Worrell when he joined the expanded Talking Heads. After that, he continued to play with a wide variety of musicians, and as a leader of his own group. Here he is, featured in the introduction and throughout the live performance of “Life During Wartime” from Stop Making Sense.
[purchase the DVD of Stop Making Sense]