I can never quite reconcile yearly migrations: the summer solstice, fall equinox and Mayan predictions of doom and gloom. But I do feel grateful that this year is winding down. I need some renewal. I need hope for the future. Living in Saginaw is like living in Lebanon where sectarian violence between the Sunnis and Shiites has escalated ten-fold.
I'll say it straight - I'm abhorred by the random stupid violence in Saginaw. I'm worried that there is not enough music and poetry in Saginaw. The Arts are not a panacea to the violence that has corrupted our country, even though it does offer a means to soothe our soul. Listen, feel and breathe it in. It is yours, forever.
We've lost so much in the past year. In taking up this assignment to write about the musical forces that we lost in 2012, it seems an injustice to write only about the rock & roll heroes that have passed away. I'd hazard to guess that when they reached the gates of Heaven, our savage rockers might gumption up enough nerve to ask St Peter if there could be a loophole.
Oh well. The list is long and I'm not going to single out anyone who has not touched my life in a personal way. Let's begin with a small list of well-known artists who died in 2012 (there were several hundred): Jon Lord (Deep Purple); Hal David (lyricist); Chris Stamp (Manager of the Who); Dave Brubeck (Jazz pianist/composer); Marvin Hamlisch (composer); Michael Davis (MC5); Earl Scruggs (The Ballad of Jed Clampett): Bob Babbit t(Motown/Funk Brothers bassist); Dick Clark (American Bandstand); Levon Helm (the Band); Adam Yauch (the Beastie Boys); Etta James (I Just Want to Make Love to You); Jim Marshall (Founder of Marshall Amps); Don Cornelius (Soul Train); Duck Dunn (Booker T & the MGs); Robin Gibb (Bee Gees); Joe South (Singer Songwriter/Games People Play).
And then there are four artists with Saginaw ties and that I've met personally - a short sketch of each follows:
Here is an unknown superstar from the heyday of rock & roll. Kathi took over as singer for Big Brother & the Holding Company after Janis Joplin left to forge a brief but illustrious solo career. She released several acclaimed LPs including Sex Not Guaranteed, Above & Beyond and Insane Asylum. She was a sought after session singer and can be heard on the Rolling Stone's masterpiece Tumbling Dice from Exile on Main Street.
She was a tiny person with a big voice and a heart that could cradle so much love. She became close with Keith Richards and they remained friends until the day she died. She told me that Richards was always there for her and that he was kind and caring. McDonald recorded and toured with Long John Baldry for over two decades. In 1980 they had a big hit in Australia with You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'. We had dinner together and I was struck by her self-effacing humility. We agreed to make an effort to get Baldry over to Saginaw, but his health was fragile and it was not to be. He passed away in 2005.
I'll always remember Kenny as the Jumpin' Cowboy because he would - well, jump up and down onstage. He was a spectacular yodeler and had his own Children's television Show on WNEM TV 5. It was essentially a cartoon show. Sue White was just a kid when she got a chance to be part of his show. Sue said that Roberts seemed a bit distant on the set and gave off the impression that he didn't like kids. But when I got to know him about ten years ago he was funny and very down to earth.
Mercy that man could talk. Listening to Kenny phone talking was like sitting through a free presentation on a Time Share. But then again he had a down home charm that was just irresistible. Kenny had several charted hits including Chocolate Ice Cream Cone and I Never See Maggie Alone. Kenny used to perform at Daniel's Theatre (later known as Daniels Den) between features. He would sing a few songs, strum his guitar, yodel his ass off and then take the money and run. Loved him!
Red was a phenomenal blues guitarist and harp player. He moved to Germany in 1980, tired of all the strife and racism. He was very sensitive to discrimination and violence in America. His mother died of pneumonia during childbirth and his father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan when Red was only five years old. He carried these scars with dignity not anger and he was able to sing through his pain and suffering and really connect to his audience.
In the late fifties Red played two years with John Lee Hooker and later in his life he was a guest on albums by Eric Burdon and Albert King. He gifted me his blue bottleneck tube he used to play slide guitar during his gig @ White's Bar. He was a quiet and dignified man who was all business yet had a genuine laugh. He could stand outside his pain and enjoy life. His wife accompanied him on this trip back to Michigan. He was a beautiful man.
Gentleman Johnny Bassett was an underappreciated talent. He was an extraordinary blues singer, guitarist and songwriter. For years he was primarily a session man, providing his tasty licks to songs by Nolan Strong & the Diablos, The Miracles (Get a Job), and Andre Williams. He gigged with Tina Turner, Little Willie John, Dinah Washington and his good friend Alberta Adams.
A few years back Alberta performed at White's Bar backed by RJ Spangler's band. It was a stellar performance. No one but me knew that before the show Johnny called the club and asked for Alberta. They talked for a few minutes and Alberta turned to me and said, “that was Johnnie, he just wanted to pay his respects.”
For a brief moment I saw wistfulness in her eyes. She went back onstage and knocked us out with then real thing. When Johnnie played Whites he dressed in a full suit, immaculate. He played it sweet and righteous and the small crowd ate it up. He performed songs from his current LP Party My Blues Away including Big Boss Man, Johnnies Boogalooand Wonderin' Blues, Hoochie Coochie Man, Raise the Roof, Jumpin' Blues and Born Under a Bad Sign.
Before the show we discussed Johnny's close friend Alberta Adams and his thoughtful call to her at White's just before she took the stage. In wrapping a statement around a question, Johnny said, "Alberta put on a REAL show, didn't she?" But that's the kind of man he was - honorable and unassuming. Johnny Bassett played on to the wee hours long after I left.
You see - he was a man of his word, a man of integrity who has been around long enough to take the bad with the good and still have a twinkle in his eye. In our phone conversations and negotiations for the gig, we addressed each other formally, respectfully - Mr. White and Mr. Bassett. Here's to you Mr. Bassett...it was truly an honor.