All posts by Woodstock Whisperer

Attended the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969, became an educator for 35 years after graduation from college, and am retired now and often volunteer at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts which is on the site of that 1969 festival.

Bassist Richard Davis

Bassist Richard Davis

Bassist Richard DavisApril 15, 1930 – September 6, 2023

The older we get the more we realize that there’s so much we just didn’t know. Or so much we thought we knew, but wasn’t quite the whole story.

If pressed to answer the question, “What is your favorite album?” I will likely respond that there are a few, but Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is up toward the top if not at the top. It’s as much a nostalgic reason–I was away at school and homesick and the album just was the right thing at the right time–as it’s just great music.

That was in 1969 when my college station’s late night DJ played lots of it.

It was sadly only on September 6, 2023, 54 years later, when I heard two things, that the bassist on Astral Weeks had died and that his name was Richard Davis. I had a name to attach to that beautiful playing.

Astral Weeks influence

And then while listening to, Episode 170 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs–the best rock music podcast anywhere [a New Yorker article headline called Andrew Hickey‘s show “A Music Podcast Unlike Any Other”) I discovered that not only was Davis the bassist on that amazing album, he was everywhere and our musical paths had crossed regularly over the decades.

An example? Bruce Springsteen loved Morrison’s Astral Weeks and that love influenced his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. How? Davis played double bass on “The Angel.”

He also played with Bonnie Raitt, The Rascals, Spanky & Our Gang, Ruth Brown, Garland Jefferies, Laura Nyro, Biff Rose, Sha Na Na, Loudon Wainwright III, Paul Simon, Van Eaton brothers, Janis Ian, Carly Simon, Melissa Manchester, Elliott Murphy, Billy Cobham, Jaco Patoriouis (!), Essra Mohawk, Judy Collins, Lew Soloff, The Manhattan Transfer, well, you get the idea and that’s just performers that my demographic might be most familiar with.

There are dozens of equally famous (in many cases, more famous) jazz musicians he played with.

Let simply quote his site’s statement: He…recorded a dozen albums as a leader and 3000 recordings and jingles as a sideman.

Or go to the AllMusic site for his very very long list of credits.


Davis was born Chicago but is mother died in childbirth. His NYT obituary stated: …he was adopted by Robert and Elmora Johnson. …exposed to music through the records his mother had collected in her native New Orleans and the hymns Mr. Johnson would sing around the house.

He attended DuSable High School in Chicago, where he studied music under Walter Dyett, who mentored many future jazz stars, and he started playing the bass at 15. As he recalled in a 2013 interview published in the American Federation of Musicians magazine Allegro: “I was just enthralled by the sound. The bass was always in the background and I was a shy kid. So I thought maybe I’d like to be in the background.”

I wonder how often the shy kid becomes the bass player?

While he attended VanderCook College of Music Davis continued to play and make connections. One of those was pianist Don Shirley (think the movie “Green Book)

New York City

In 1954, he and Shirley moved to New York City and performed together until 1956, when Davis began playing with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra. In 1957, he became part of Sarah Vaughan’s rhythm section, touring and recording with her until 1960


Davis left New York in 1977 to take a position as a professor of music and music history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In 2011, Davis told OnWisconsin, the university’s alumni magazine,  “I got a call offering me a job at the university in Madison because they didn’t have a bass teacher on campus,”. “I said, ‘Where’s Madison?’ I asked around if anyone had heard of the place because this school kept calling me. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about the importance of teaching others, and I had always wanted to teach young people. I thought maybe it was time.”

He retired from teaching in 2016.

Legacy of Activism

Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists

In 1993 Davis established the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists. It states it purpose this way:

The string instrument family has many members, but it is typically the violin, viola and cello that are most familiar to many people. The melodic beauty of these three instruments is often heard thanks to the significant solo repertoire that exists. However, the double (or ‘string’) bass has traditionally been thought of as an accompaniment instrument. As a result its development as a melodic or ‘solo’ instrument has been slow. The instrument, unique is all its features, has an incredibly versatile in range, virtuoso artistry and lyricism, with spectacular visual excitement. Pedagogically and soloistically, the bass has undergone rapid advancement in the last century, however progress for pre college students is still behind due to a number of limiting factors:

As the bass relates to children and their musical development, there are two major inter-related problems limiting their opportunity to explore this instrument and its melodic beauty, thus its virtuosity: Instrument size, availability and cost and availability of training.

Retention Action Project

In 1998 he began the Retention Action Project (RAP) at the University to improve graduation rates for students of color.

Center for the Healing of Racism

Bassist Richard Davis

And in 2000 Davis established the Madison chapter of the Center for the Healing of Racism. The Center was founded in 1989 by an ethnically diverse group of individuals who met in Houston, Texas, to discuss the impact of racism. The emphasis was on personal growth, healing, and the exploration of ways to heal racism.

In Conclusion

Perhaps, there is no better way to recognize the talent and legacy of Richard Davis than by quoting  Neil Heinen, editorial director of Madison magazine’s Spectrum:

“As one of the world’s premier bass players, Davis’s music…touched the lives of countless fans, and his teaching…inspired generations of students in the classroom as well as with the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, Inc., which provides musical instruction for financially challenged youth. While the jazz master and professor could’ve ended his renowned biography there, his passion for social justice, for the healing of racism, …changed the lives of those who have accepted his invitation to open their hearts, minds and spirits to the history and pathology of racism within.”

Guardian obituary, Rolling Stone obituary

Bassist Richard Davis, Bassist Richard Davis, Bassist Richard Davis, Bassist Richard Davis, Bassist Richard Davis, Bassist Richard Davis, Bassist Richard Davis, Bassist Richard Davis, 

Remembering Bert Berns

Remembering Bert Berns

November 8, 1929December 30, 1967

When Santana played at Woodstock, the hundreds of thousands of young white kids there were blown away. They’d never heard music like this before! An earthshaking standing ovation following “Soul Sacrifice” demonstrated their affirmation. That day for those in attendance, Afro-Caribbean Rock was born.

Or was it?

Bronx, NY

Remembering Bert BernsBertrand Russell Berns was born in the Bronx and the son of Russian Jewish parents who owned Berns Dress Shop on the Bronx’s Grand Concourse.

As a teenager he had rheumatic fever which permanently damaged his heart at a time when there were no surgical treatments. He couldn’t go out to play, so he took up the piano. Music became a vital part of his life. His was influenced by and fell in love with the mabo music that surrounded him in the Bronx. He loved visiting the nearby clubs that featured such Cuban music.

His early attempts at songwriting and performing were unsuccessful.

His parents didn’t understand his lack of direction and didn’t approve of his musical intentions.

Remembering Bert Berns


With no commitments and still in love with the mambo, he traveled to Cuba just before Castro’s successful revolution. Though only there for a short time, the visit cemented his love of Afro-Cuban music.

Remembering Bert Berns

Back in the USA

After a long search, Berns eventually got a job with Bobby Mellin at Robert Mellin Music for $50 a week. He tried everything, even singing, which proved to be a dead end given his lack of singing ability.

For example, Hitch Hike, Part 1 as Russell Byrd

In 1961, Writing under the name Bert Russell, he finally had a hit with someone else singing: A Little Bit of Soap by the Jarmels. It reached #7 on the R & B charts. Note the Cuban influence.

Remembering Bert Berns

Twist and Shout

Co-written with Phil Medley, Berns offered Atlantic Records their song Twist and Shout. Atlantic liked it and had their 19-year-old phenom producer the song. That was Phil Spector and Berns didn’t like what Spector did with the song.

It failed to chart and Berns learned something: the record producer, not the writer, make the sounds.

Remembering Bert Berns


Berns wrote Cry to Me and he produced Soloman Burkes’s recording.  It was one of the first songs to combine country, gospel, and R & B in one approach. It peaked at #4 on the R & B charts.

And the next year when he returned to Twist and Shout as the producer with the Isley Brothers, the song became the classic hit we all know today.

And in 1963 when the Beatles covered the song, using the same approach as Berns’s with the Isley Brothers, the hit became international.

Remembering Bert Berns


Now he was in demand and the performers loved his involved intense approach

Tell Him by the Exciters (1963).

Cry Baby by Garnett Mimms (1963).

And this was just the beginning.

Remembering Bert Berns

Leiber and Stoller

Though working for Atlantic Records, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were independent record producers.  Despite the many hits Leiber and Stoller had made for Atlantic, Atlantic saw a chance to just have Bern and in 1963 joined Atlantic as staff producer.


With the Beatles’ success of his Twist and Shout, Berns visited England to produce there for Decca Records as well.  He produced Them’s  Here Comes the Night (witten by Berns and sung by an increasingly frustrated Van Morrison). He also worked with Lulu.

Back in the USA, 2

He produced the Drifters’ Under the Boardwalk in May 1964 which the Rolling Stones covered shortly later.

Others: Everybody Needs Somebody to Love by Solomon Burke also later covered by the Stones.

Dark Outside by Betty Harris.

Animals Baby Let Me Take You Home by Berns.

WEB IV Music/BANG Records

Berns reached the pinnacle of his success with the start of WEB IV Music and BANG Records (B-Berns, A-Ahmet Ertegun, N-Nesuhi Ertegun, and G-Gerald “Jerry” Wexler.

Finally able to have free reign, At Bang he had an immediate string of hit records, including “I Want Candy” by the Strangeloves, “Hang On Sloopy” by the McCoys, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison and “Solitary Man” and “Kentucky Woman” by Neil Diamond.

The Strangeloves were Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Richard Gottehrer, writers and producers who accidentally had a hit that took them on tour. While in Daton, OH their back up band was the local Rick and the Raiders.

The writers were so impressed with lead guitarist Rick Zerringer that they offered him and the band a chance to record back in New York.

The band argued so much on the way back that the writers compared them to the historic feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

The band became the McCoys and the writers offered them a song: “My Girl Sloopy” written by Berns and originally sung by the Vibrations in 1964.

The McCoy version with guitarist later better known as Rick Derringer, was called Hang On Sloopy and is today Ohio’s official rock song.

And of course, another British band has covered another Berns hit.

Shout Label


In 1966, Berns began Shout Records. Among the many successes Berns had there was his Piece of My Heart by Aretha Franklin’s sister, Erma.

I’m sure you’ll recognize the song title and know that someone else also had a hit with it.

“Piece of My Heart,” which was climbing up the charts when Berns died of heart failure on December 30th, 1967.

Bang! The Bert Berns Story

In 2016, Bang! The Bert Berns Story was released. A wonderful telling of Berns’ huge successes and huge influence especially his own love of Afro-Cuban music and how without realizing it, that music became a part of many young white Americans (and Brits) throught his hits long Santana’s own huge contribution to the genre.

Bert Berns was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016 – the recipient of the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Beatles 23 August

Beatles 23 August

Based in Dublin, Ireland Nothing is Real is an outstanding podcast done by Steven Cockcroft and Jason Carty. They asked the question: Is there a single date in Beatle history, that is more significant than any other day?

Their conclusion? August 23.

Here’s why.

Beatles 23 August

Tuesday 23 August 1960

Beatles 23 August

August 1960 will be a month of tremendous growth as a band.  The Beatles are: John Lennon (19), George Harrison(17), Pete Best (18), Paul McCartney (18), and Stuart Sutcliffe (20).

Pete Best was the band’s fourth following Colin Hanton, Tommy Moore, and Norman Chapman. The four Beatles knew Best already and he had a new drum kit. And that was enough.

They’d arrived on August 16, played their first gig on the 17th, and so on August 23, The Beatles are one week into their gig at the Indra Club, Hamburg, Germany. Their seventh of 48 consecutive nights performing there.

Accommodations are horrible. In a room behind a movie theatre screen the place has no heat, no wallpaper, two bunk beds, and is next to a bathroom. Movies began at 4 PM, a time when they likely were trying to sleep before their long nights.

Club manager Bruno Koschmider had contracted them to perform for four and a half hours each weekday night, from 8-9.30pm, 10-11pm, 11:30pm-12:30am and 1-2am.

They also had to play for six hours on Saturdays, from 7-8:30pm, 9-10pm, 10:30-11:30 pm, 12-1am, and 1:30-3am. Sunday hours were 5-6pm, 6:30-7:30pm, 8-9pm, 9:30-10:30 pm, 11-12 midnight and 12:30-1:30 am.

They’ve decided not to repeat songs and so have to learn dozens and also meaning that they probably were practicing live during their shifts. They listen to albums by Elvis, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, and others and learn those songs on the fly as well as elongating songs they already knew.

Beatles 23 August

Wednesday 23 August 1961

Beatles 23 AugustAugust 23, 1961 is a Wednesday and the Beatles are in the midst of  their Cavern  as well as their leather days.

From the Beatles Bible site for August 23, 1961: This was the fifth occasion on which The Beatles performed both lunchtime and evening shows in the same day at Liverpool’s Cavern Club.

The group’s lunchtime shows typically lasted from 12 – 2pm. This was their 28th lunchtime show, and their 38th appearance overall at the underground venue on Mathew Street.

They will play at least 155 lunchtime performances and 125 evening shows between 9 February 1961 and 3 August 1963.

Stuart Sutcliffe had remained in Hamburg (and will die there in less than eight months), so the Beatles are four.

Mona Best, Pete’s mom, is running the business side of things for the band. Neal Aspinall, a friend of Paul and George, is their  road manager/van driver. He will eventually go on to head the Beatles Apple Corps.

His NY Times obituary stated that: When the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1988, George Harrison made a point of saying that Mr. Aspinall should be considered the fifth Beatle.

The claustrophobia quarters of the Cavern [from earcandy:  “the cellar, 11 feet below street level, is 58 feet by 39 feet with a stage at one end. The only means of access is a doorway from Mathew Street, then along a passage 3ft 6in wide, through another door 2ft 6 in wide and then down 17 steps”] gave listeners (5 to 6 hundred at night) gave fans an obviously close stance to the band which helped develop an enthusiastic base that in less than two years evolved into Beatlemania.

Yet at the moment, the Beatles were frustrated that broader success wasn’t happening. At the same time they didn’t have a specific plan how.  That plan will come with Brian Epstein in November.

Beatles 23 August

Thursday 23 August 1962

Some Other Guy

On August 22, 1962, the Beatles’s growing fame took a big step forward when Granada TV filmed the band at the Cavern singing “Some Other Guy,” but it was August 23 that was a big day as well.

John & Cynthia
Beatles 23 August
“There were no photos of my wedding to John on August 23, 1962, so I drew the scene in the register office — complete with pneumatic drill outside the window.” Cynthia Lennon

John Lennon and Cynthia Powell had been dating for five years when in July 1962 she became pregnant.  On 23 August 1962 John Lennon married Cynthia Powell at the Mount Pleasant register office in Liverpool. Brian Epstein was the best man, and George Harrison and Paul McCartney were also in attendance. Absent was John’s aunt Mimi, who had just found out about John’s plans the day before disapproved of the union, although Cynthia’s half brother and his wife were there.

Manager Brian Epstein brought Cynthia to the office, but overnight his car had had paint stripper poured over it. No reason was ever determined, but some feel it was due to a fan disgruntled with the recent dismissal of Pete Best or homophobia regarding Epstein’s closeted life.

There was a small luncheon afterwards (Cynthia’s brother and wife absent) at the Reece’s Ballroom in Liverpool. It did not have a liquor licence so the toast was water, apparently bad luck.

No gifts. It was apparently a Beatle “thing” to not give gifts between themselves.

John described being married as “walking around with odd socks or with my fly open.”

On their wedding night the Beatles, including John, played a show  at the Riverpark Ballroom in Chester, but with their latest drummer, Ringo, who hadn’t attended John and Cynthia’s wedding.

Epstein had sacked Best the week before at the request of the other three Beatles worried that Parlophone Record producer George Martin’s comment that Best was too weak a drummer for recording, always a goal of any band.

So, enter Ringo Starr who had first played with the band on August 18 following a two-hour rehearsal at the Hulme Hall in Port Sunlight from 10 pm. The occasion was the local horticultural society’s 17th annual dance.

The Remo Four were a Liverpool band and had been voted Number Three Group in a 1961 Mersey Beat poll,  They were on the same bill that night. During their set, John was upset with the Beatle songs the Remo Four were playing. John reportedly jumped up on the stage during a song and yelled, “How many more of our fuckin’ songs are you going to play.”

Happy anniversary John.

Beatles 23 August

Friday 23 August 1963

She Loves You & Happy 1st Anniversary John and Linda

Beatles 23 August

It’s John and Cynthia’s first wedding anniversary and this is the day that Parlophone released “She Loves You,” the Beatles’ fifth UK single, following My Bonnie (5 January 1962), Love Me Do (4 September 1962),  Please Please Me (11 January 1963),  and From Me To You (11 April 1963). The B-side is I’ll Get You.

They’d recorded the songs on 1 July 1963 and would become the Beatles’ first single to sell more than a million copies in Britain. This it did on 27 November.

The single entered the charts on 31 August and remained there for 31 consecutive weeks. It reached number one on 14 September, remained there for a month, and returned for a second time on 30 November.

It set and surpassed several sales records in the United Kingdom and  it remains the band’s best-selling single in the United Kingdom and the top-selling single of the 1960s there by any artist. The songwriting credit on the label was switched to “Lennon–McCartney” for this release – a switch from the “McCartney–Lennon” order of nearly all previous Beatles releases – and remained that way.

The number one UK album on that date was their Please Please Me album which Parlophone had released on 22 March 1963, reached the #1 spot in May and remained there for 30 weeks.

For Americans, I Want to Hold Your Hand is typically associated with the first Beatle single success, but it is She Loves You that blasts open the door to their phenomenal following successes.

The song also included a number of falsetto “wooooo”s, which John Lennon acknowledged as being inspired by the Isley Brothers’ recording of “Twist and Shout.

Humble Origins

Lennon and McCartney had started composing “She Loves You” on 26 June 1963 after a concert at the Majestic Ballroom in Newcastle upon Tyne during their tour with Roy Orbison and Gerry and the Pacemakers. They began writing the song on the tour bus, and continued later that night at their hotel in Newcastle eventually completing it the following day at McCartney’s family home.

Allan W Pollack‘s amazingly thorough Beatle site has this description:

  • The phrasing throughout is totally four-square; the verse is four times four, and the refrain is a true middle eight.
  • The harmonic rhythm is fairly regular throughout with no extremes. The chords generally change every two measures. The few places where this pattern is broken by chord changes every measure would seem to be carefully staged, however subconsciously.
  • The harmonic scheme, in spite of a few localized touches of color, is rather static; the song is firmly in G throughout.

Follow the link above for much much more.

That night is the

This was the fourth of The Beatles’ six consecutive dates in the English seaside town of Bournemouth. They played two houses on each night. Also on the bill were Tommy Quickly [ basically known for two things: he was managed by Brian Epstein, and managed to record a Lennon-McCartney composition, “Tip of My Tongue,” that the Beatles never got around to releasing themselves.] and Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas.

The Beatles stayed at the Palace Court hotel on each night of the residency.

Sunday 23 August 1964

Hollywood Bowl

And what a difference a year makes. From Bournemouth to Hollywood and the Hollywood Bowl. Keep in mind that a year earlier, the band, despite huge success in the UK, was having trouble getting a single released in the US.

This was the fifth stop on their 1964 tour.  Following the Cow Palace in San Francisco, the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Seattle Center Coliseum, and the Empire Stadium in Vancouver, the Beatles’ first Canadian concert .

Fearful of fan vandalism, the Ambassador Hotel cancelled Beatles reservations. Instead, they rented the home of British actor Reginald Owen.  The neighbors weren’t too happy as those fans who might have vandalized the hotel ended up crushing the landscaping of their nearby home.

18,700 sell-out. 12 songs.