Grim Reporter – July 2003

Phast Phreddie Patterson on those gone but not forgotten

British record producer Mickie Most (64) died of cancer in London on May 30. Starting around 1964, he was one of England’s most successful makers of pop records for about 20 years.

Michael Peter Hayes was born on June 20, 1938 in Aldershot, England. He dropped out of school when he was 15 and was a member of The Most Brothers, a ’50s UK rock’n’roll act. He married a South African woman and, in 1959, they moved to her homeland, where he fronted The Playboys and scored several hits by covering American songs. He returned to England in 1962, but his lack of success as a singer forced him to turn his energies elsewhere.

In 1964, he became the producer of a group from Newcastle, a city in northern England previously known for its coal, called The Animals (right). He cut ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ a remake of an old American folk/blues song that topped the charts in both England (on EMI) and the US (on MGM Records).

From there, Most produced Herman’s Hermits, The Nashville Teens, Donovan, Lulu, Jeff Beck, Terry Reid, The Yardbirds and a host of other acts. As rock music changed to a heavier sound, Most preferred more pop-oriented music.

From 1969 on, Most concentrated on running his RAK Records. The label had hits with Suzi Quatro and Mud produced by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. CCS, Smokie, Chris Spedding and Kim Wilde also cut for RAK. Hot Chocolate had major international hits with ‘Brother Louie’ and ‘You Sexy Thing’ for RAK in England (Big Tree in the US).

Last year, the London Sunday Times estimated Most to be worth about £50 million. He was also a highly regarded chef and he collected vintage motorcycles and automobiles.*

Animals keyboard player Dave Rowberry (62) was found dead in his apartment in Hackney, east London, England on June 6. He was not as well remembered as his predecessor, Alan Price–indeed, he was neglected when The Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame–but Rowberry played on some great records, including ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place,’ ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Don’t Bring Me Down.’

David Eric Rowberry was born on July 7, 1940 in Newcastle, England. In 1962, he joined the Mike Cotton Jazzmen, a Dixieland/skiffle-type group that was popular before The Beatles made that sound obsolete. By 1964, the group had changed with the times–now called The Mike Cotton Sound–and issued an eponymous album on which Rowberry was featured. The group was very active during this time and was often employed as a backing band for such visiting American stars as Solomon Burke and Gene Pitney.

When Price left The Animals in May 1965, homeboy Rowberry was the obvious replacement. By the end of the month, Rowberry was an Animal, touring America and playing on the Ed Sullivan Show. By the following year, the group was in tatters–drummer John Steel left due to exhaustion and was replaced by Barry Jenkins of The Nashville Teens; bassist Chas Chandler left to manage Jimi Hendrix; and the group’s new billing as Eric Burdon and the Animals caused resentment within. Plus, the group was pulled asunder via recreational chemicals of choice: some liked alcohol and preferred the group’s R&B direction, others were ingesting LSD and they leaned toward psychedelic music.

Rowberry performed mostly in studios during the ’70s and ’80s. During the ’90s he backed blues vocalist Dana Gillespie. He also joined Animals II with ex-bandmates guitarist Hilton Valentine and Steel. For the last three years the group was known as Animals and Friends. The group had just played a gig a few days before Rowberry’s death, and had a tour of Poland planned for the following week.*

Producer, engineer, musician Ethan James died on June 20 of liver cancer in San Francisco. During the ’80s, he helped nourish a thriving Los Angeles rock scene–especially the so-called Paisley Underground–by providing a recording studio and a sympathetic ear.

James was born in Pasadena, California in the late ’40s. In the late ’60s, under the name Ralph Burns Kellog, he was a member of Blue Cheer and Mint Tatoo.

During the ’80s, James owned and operated Radio Tokyo, a recording studio located in Venice, California. The studio was affordable, as was James’ services as a recording engineer. Black Flag, The Descendents, Dos, Firehose, Lawndale, The Rain Parade, Saccharine Trust, The Treacherous Jaywalkers and Trotsky Icepick all made fine records there. Double Nickles on the Dime, The Minutemen’s magnum opus, was recorded there.

In 1983, James initiated the Radio Tokyo Tapes series of compilations. Artists that appear on these albums include The Last, The Long Ryders, The Bangles, the Three O’Clock, Savage Republic, Wednesday Week, 100 Flowers, The Knitters, Balancing Act, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Sandy Bull, Henry Rollins, the Beef Sisters, Carmaig de Forest and Phranc.

Harvey Kubernik, a producer of spoken word albums that documented Los Angeles during this period, recorded extensively at Radio Tokyo.

By 1990, Radio Tokyo was sold and James was onto making his own music. He was very interested in early music styles and learned to play such archaic instruments as the hurdy-gurdy and the harmonium. His original music was a cross between the Medieval and the moderne. As a hurdy-gurdy player he was enlisted to play on film scores and on commercials.

In 1995, he released What Rough Beast, an album of his own material. The next year, Ancient Music of Christmas was released on Hannibal. At the turn of this century, James recorded and toured with The Terra Nova Consort, a group that specializes in music from the Middle Ages.*

Jazz saxophonist Allen Eager (76) died of liver cancer on April 13 in Daytona Beach, Florida. He was, along with other white sax players Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, Al Cohn and Brew Moore, a disciple of the great Lester Young, who came to prominence in the Count Basie Orchestra during the ’30s and ’40s.

Eager was born on January 10, 1927 to a wealthy family in New York City. As a boy, he heard Benny Goodman on the radio and took up clarinet. By 1938, he was playing saxophone. At first, Eager developed a style of playing much like that of the Duke Ellington tenor player of the early ’40s, Ben Webster. But Eager fell under the spell of Lester Young around 1944. Eager changed his playing method to be more like that of the Basie sideman–soft and breathy.

Eager played with many of the big orchestras of the day, including Hal McIntyre, Woody Herman and Tommy Dorsey. During the ’40s he worked on ‘Swing Street’ – any of a number of clubs located on 52nd Street in New York City during that time.. Among the musicians he worked with were Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Pete Bown, Al Haig, Stan Levey, and Red Rodney. He worked in Shelly Manne’s band in 1945. The next year he formed his own band with J.J. Johnson, Max Roach and Bud Powell–three of Bebop’s brightest lights–and some of their recordings were issued on Savoy.

On November 30, 1946, Eager recorded with Wynonie ‘Mr. Blues’ Harris and His All-Stars in New York for the Aladdin label. Eager’s playing is especially noteworthy on the jump number ‘Mr. Blues Jumped the Rabbit.’

Eager recorded with Fats Navarro (together, right) and Wardell Gray on September 13, 1948 for a session led by the composer and pianist Tadd Dameron. The results are fine examples of pure Bebop.

During the ’50s, Eager worked with Gerry Mulligan. Terry Gibbs and Buddy Rich. He led a band at the Open Door Club in New York in 1954 and 1955.

As was the case with many jazzbos of the era, Eager became addicted to heroin. In 1956, he moved to Paris in order to kick the habit. His work in jazz became less fruitful and by 1972, he was living in Florida, semi-retired. His last recordings under his name were issued in an album called Renaissance for the Uptown label in 1982.*

Wrestler Freddie Blassie (85) died of heart failure on June 2 in Hartsdale, NY. He recorded several novelty records that were popularized on Dr. Demento’s syndicated radio show.

Born Fred Blassman in St. Louis in 1918, and played several sports while in high school. After Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy and started wrestling, using the name Sailor Fred Blassie, while stationed at Port Hueneme, California. After the war, he pursued professional wrestling full time, and, after adapting villain characteristics, he became one of the most popular wrestlers of his time. During the late ’70s, he retired from wrestling and began managing younger wrestlers, Hulk Hogan being one of them.

Blassie’s over-the-top braggadocio style, much like Little Richard’s, was admired by some punk rockers, including The Dictators (when singer Handsome Dick Manitoba opened his East Village bar he made sure that Blassie was there on opening night, January 14, 1999).

Blassie’s first record release was a 1976 EP called Blassie, King of Men on Raunchy Tonk. It included ‘Pencil Neck Geek.’ The EP was re-released by Rhino as a 12′ the next year. In 1983, Rhino issued I Bite the Songs, a full-length picture disc with ‘Geek’ and ‘Blassie, King of Men’ from the EP along with interviews, rants, a few new songs and a couple songs by others. The 12′ EP was again released in 1985 as Nothin’ But a Pencil Neck Geek on red vinyl. There is also a 45 on Geekbeat–’Hey Fred!’/’Pencil Neck Geek’–from 1982.

Special thanks goes to Barry Hansen for this discographical information.*

Jazz and blues saxophonist Harold Ashby (78) died at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City on June 13. The cause of death was not announced, but he entered the hospital after a heart attack at the end of May. He is mostly remembered as having been in the Duke Ellington Orchestra during its final years.

Ashby was born on March 27, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri and began his career there in the late ’40s. In the ’50s he made his way to Chicago, where he played and recorded with several blues acts, including Jimmy Witherspoon, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Willie Mabon. Harold Burrage and Jody Williams. He’s on most of Otis Rush’s Cobra recordings.

By the end of the ’50s, Ashby was in New York as tenor saxophonist-for-hire. Among the bands he played with was that of Mercer Elllington, the son of Duke. Ashby recorded with Mercer that spring and subsequently played of several Ellington associated dates–including at least one led by Johnny Hodges.

Asby became a permanent member of Ellington’s Famous Orchestra around the summer of 1968 when he took the place of saxophonist and clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton. His first major gig was at the Newport Jazz Festival. Asbhy stayed with the Ellington orchestra until the bandleader’s death in 1974–and continued for a year longer with the group under the direction of Mercer Ellington.

Fort the rest of his career, Ashby freelanced and led his own quartets. He recorded a few albums under his own name and always included at least one Ellington associated composition in any set he played.*

Jazz trombonist Jimmy Knepper (75) died on June 14 at the home of his daughter in Triadelphia, West Virginia of Parkinson’s disease. Although he worked with countless musicians, he is closely associated with Charles Mingus.

James Minter Knepper was born in Los Angeles on November 22, 1927. As a boy he learned to play the trombone and took it more seriously as he grew older. He started his professional career playing in local Southern California dance bands and small jazz combos during the early ’40s. He progressed to name bands later that decade–Freddie Slack, Charlie Barnet, Woody Herman, and Claude Thornhill. On January 19 and February 23, 1949, Knepper was a member of drummer Roy Porter’s 17 Bebopers–a fabulous, modernist group that included Art Farmer, Eric Dolphy and Clilfford Solomon.

Knepper first recorded with Mingus for the latter’s legendary The Clown for Atlantic in February and March of 1957. Later that year, Knepper led a group that included Mingus in the studio for an album that was issued on Mingus’ Debut label. Knepper was aboard when Mingus cut Tia Juana Moods for RCA Victor, East Coasting for Bethlehem, Blues ‘n’ Roots for Atlantic and Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty for Columbia–the recordings that put Charles Mingus firmly in the foreground as a jazz composer equal to Duke Ellington and a bass soloist better than all. Knepper’s contribution on trombone is apparent with one listen to each of these recordings.

Mingus was a complicated, emotional person–to say the least. On October 12, 1962, Mingus led a 30-plus-piece orchestra in concert at Town Hall in New York City. Knepper was enlisted as music copyist and it is in this capacity as such that Mingus took issue. He hit Knepper in the mouth and broke a tooth–the musicians subsequently went their separate ways.

Once he could play his instrument again, Knepper became a member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra for the rest of the ’60s. During the ’70s Knepper worked with Lee Konitz’s nine-piece band and, in 1977, returned to the Mingus fold for the under-appreciated Cumbia & Jazz Fusion LP.

After Mingus died in January 1979, Knepper played in Mingus Dynasty–a group of Mingus sidemen who had the pleasure of playing Mingus’ music, without the displeasure of his company.*

Cuban composer and pianist René Touzet (86) died on June 15 in his West Miami, Florida home from complications of a heart condition. He wrote more than 500 songs in the mambo, merengue and cha cha styles.

He was born in 1917 in Havana, Cuba and grew up in the fishing village of Cojímar nearby. He graduated from music school when he was 14 and two years later he led a 16-piece orchestra at the Grand Nacional Casino in Havana In 1946, he moved to California to join Enirc Madriguera’s band. Touzet also played with Desi Arnaz, Stan Kenton and Xavier Cugat, then started his own Cha Cha Rhythm Boys.

By the mid-’50s, Touzet was in Hollywood and hooked up with radio disc jockey Gene Norman. Touzet recorded for Norman’s label, GNP Crescendo, and played piano at his club, The Crescendo on the Sunset Strip. He released more than two dozen albums for the label and some of them were issued as by Mr. Cha Cha Cha, René Touzet, His Piano and Orchestra. One of his songs, a cha cha called ‘El Loco,’ became the basis of Richard Berry’s ‘Louie Louie.’ Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby cut Touzet’s ‘Let Me Love You Tonight’. Such stars of Latin percussion as Willie Bobo, Jack Costanzo and Mongo Santamaria passed through his band.

After the cha cha and mambo craze of the ’50s and early ’60s waned, Touzet moved to Florida to be near his beloved Cuba. He continued to perform until he died.*

Traditional jazz clarinetist ‘Peanuts’ Hucko (85) died on June 20 in Fort Worth, Texas after a long illness. Michael Andrew Hucko was born in Syracuse, NY on April 7, 1918. He learned how to play the saxophone and played in the Blodgett Vocational High School band. Two taller members of this band gave him his nickname and it stuck.

Hucko moved to New York City in the ’30s, where he played with several bands and eventually joined the ABC Studio orchestra. He joined the Army Air Force at the beginning of World War II and soon joined its band, which was led by Glenn Miller. He switched to the clarinet in order to protect his tenor saxophone during a period of desert training in the sand. Also, the clarinet was easier to march with.

While based in London, Hucko played the Feldman Club on Oxford Street. On December 15, 1944, Hucko was awaiting word from Miller with other members of the Army Air Force Band when Miller’s plane went down in the English Channel. The band stayed together until the end of the war.

After his discharge from the Army, Hucko played with Jack Teagarden, Eddie Condon, Louis Armstrong’s All Stars, Benny Goodman and he briefly led the Glenn Miller Orchestra. In the ’60s he was employed as a studio musician and during the ’70s he worked with Lawrence Welk. Hucko remained active into the ’90s.

© Phast Phreddie Patterson, July 2003

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