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Monday, January 11, 2010

Farewells in 2009

We are into the second week of 2010, and I wanted to say my good-byes to ten of the great blues and jazz musicians that shuffled off this mortal coil in 2009.

First and foremost, farewell Koko Taylor, Queen of the blues! She left us on June 3; her gravelly, powerful voice is sorely missed. She performed up to a month before her death and her funeral was on the first day of the 2009 Chicago Blues Festival. She was 80 years old when she died.

He wasn't a blues artist, but Les Paul still had a major impact on blues music - so many blues players used the solid-body electric guitar that he invented. He was a fabulous jazz player; he also played country music under the name of "Rhubarb Red" Les departed on August 12; he was 94 years old.

It was a shock to lose Norton Buffalo so quickly last fall. This fantastic harmonica player bridged many musical worlds, from rock and pop to blues and jazz. Cancer took him on October 30; he was only 58 years old.

New Orleans lost a treasured musician when Snooks Eaglin (born Fird Eaglin, Jr.) died on February 18. Snooks was blind and he could play almost anything on the guitar. His vocal style evoked Ray Charles. Folks used to call him "the human jukebox" because he knew thousands of songs. He was 72 when he died of a heart attack.

John Cephas, one of the foremost practioners of the Piedmont finger-picking acoustic blues guitar, passed on March 4. He was 78 years old. For the past 30 years, John Cephas played and sang in a duo with harmonica player Phil Wiggins. Phil is only 55 years old and now he has lost his partner.

Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni, better known as Louie Bellson, was a fabulous Italian American jazz drummer. He pioneered the use of the double bass drum kit. He played with the legends - Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughn, Louie Armstrong; even James Brown! He was married to Pearl Bailey, the African American singer and Republican, until her death in 1990. (I had the honor of playing with Louie back in my days as a young trombonist with the UC Berkeley Jazz Ensembles - what a wonderful guy he was!) Louie left us on February 14; he was 83 years old.

Edwin Joseph Bocage, better known as Eddie Bo, was a New Orleans jazz pianist who switched to rhythm and blues in the 1950's. He wrote several minor hit tunes ("Check Mr. Popeye," "My Dearest Darling," "Pass the Hatchet," etc.). and he recorded for more than 40 different record labels. He produced many records for artists such as Irma Thomas and Art Neville. Eddie Bo died on March 18, 2009 of a heart attack.

Samuel Lee McCollum, aka Sam Carr, was one of the top blues drummers of all time. His father was the influential blues guitarist and vocalist Robert Lee McCollum, who recorded under the names Robert Lee McCoy and Robert Nighthawk. Sam played with a long list of great bluesmen, including Sonny boy Williamson I, (John Lee Williamson) Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller), Big Joe Williams, Big Jack Johnson, Frank Frost, T-Model Ford and Buddy Guy. Sam died on September 21 at the age of 83.

The great blues guitarist/vocalist and political activist, Willie King, died after a massive heart attack on March 8; he was almost 66 years old. He was an old-school juke joint player that specialized in playing and singing what he called the "struggling blues" - tunes that reflected the realities of his life as a social activist.

Mark Sallings was an Arkansas-based blues harmonica player and vocalist. He didn't achieve much fame and little fortune, but he could really play the harp. He was a skilled saxophonist and pianist, too. Mark was one of those dedicated and hard-working journeymen that make up the bulk of blues artists in the world. He died at the tender age of 56 on February 25, in a car accident on the way to a casino gig in Tunica, Mississippi.

This is an arbitrary list of 10 great folks; we lost many other wonderful artists in 2009 - Mighty Joe Young Jr., Jesse Fortune, Al Harris, Tim Lamb, James Gurley and many others. We are lucky to have shared the planet with these musicians.......

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