Tag Archives: Birthdays

Motown Mary Wells

Motown Mary Wells

May 13, 1943 — July 26, 1992

Motown Mary Wells

Beatles Go Viral

Using today’s language, in 1964 the Beatles had gone viral. They had blown up. Trending. Their singles and albums dominated the charts, but that didn’t mean that other great music couldn’t find its way to the top of the charts. That’s exactly what happened on May 16, 1964. “My Guy” by Mary Wells hit the Billboard #1 spot.

Motown Mary Wells

Spinal Meningitis

To say that it had not been an easy climb to the top for Mary Wells would describe almost any artist’s rise to fame, but it was literally true for Wells. As a child she contracted spinal meningitis. Afterwards she was partially paralyzed and lost some hearing and sight.

Her mother was a house cleaner and as a teenager Mary worked with her mother. Mary also sang in her church choir and as others before and since, that early training provided a path toward the music business.

Motown Mary Wells

Tamla Barry Gordy

Her plan was to write music and she approached Tamla Records’ Barry Gordy with a song. She hoped that Jackie Wilson, one of Gordy’s stars, would record it. Gordy asked Wells to sing the song to him and he decided that Wells was the one for the song and signed her to his new label: Motown.

Motown Mary Wells

 

Motown Mary Wells

Bye Bye Baby

It peaked at No 8 on the R&B chart in 1961. She began to work with the young Smokey Robinson and she had three consecutive hits with his  “The One Who Really Loves You” (1962), “You Beat Me to the Punch” (1962) and “Two Lovers” (1962).

Motown Mary Wells

My Guy

In 1964, Wells’ career reached its peak when her song, “My Guy” also written by Robinson, made it to No. 1. It became her signature song.

Unfortunately, Well’s relationship with Motown went poorly around this time. She felt that she wasn’t being fairly compensated for her music and that other Motown artists were benefiting from her profits.

Motown Mary Wells

20th Century Fox

Whatever the case, Wells left Motown and signed with  20th Century Fox. Her career never attained Motown successes. She left 20th century after only a year. Later she signed with Atco and Jubilee.  Though not as well know, All Music described her later work as “solid pop-soul on which her vocal talents remained undiminished.” 

Motown Mary Wells

Cancer of the larynx

Mary Wells contracted cancer of the larynx in 1990. And “Despite her health condition, Wells was always upbeat and courageous. She began taking long trips, including one to New York in which she was the focus of a “Joan Rivers Show.” Her tribute on the show included a warm and generous phone call from Little Richard and a loving video dedication from Stevie Wonder, who, in her honor, sang “My Guy” rewritten as “My Girl.”  [Official site]

According to her New York Times obituary“After the operation, Ms. Wells had chemotherapy. In June 1991, doctors found the cancer was spreading, and she began an experimental drug regimen. She resumed chemotherapy late in 1991.”

In debt and without insurance, she lost her home. Several prominent musicians helped raise money for her or provided funds outright.

Wells died on July 26, 1992 and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

Motown Mary Wells
photo by A.J. Marik

“My Guy” had remained #1 for two weeks. Who had the next #1? The Beatles, of course: “Love Me Do.”

Motown Mary Wells
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Animal Eric Burdon

Animal Eric Burdon

The music I love was created by the sons and daughters of slaves. My life’s work has always been about honoring those people who suffered and thus, created a language of peace and salvation through music. 

Everything we believed in during the ’60s, everything people fought and died for, is being jeopardized today. [Eric Burdon]

May 11…Happy birthday and many more!
Animal Eric Burdon
photo from Eric Burdon site

In 1966, friend Rob who attended Fordham Prep in the Bronx, NY asked me if I’d like to go to a concert there. The Animals were playing.

1964’s British Invasion did far more than introduce the Beatles to the Boomers.  On September 5, 1964 The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” became Billboard’s #1 single. It was likely the first time we’d heard of these Animals (what a great name!).

Sadly, most of us young Americans thought it was the Animals’ song.

Animal Eric Burdon
source: YouTube

We didn’t realize it may have had roots centuries deep–or at least decades deep in our own American history. And as few of us realized (as I assume few radio stations realized) that the song was about a whore house.

Animal Eric Burdon

Eric Burdon

Animal Eric Burdon

In any case, the voice of Eric Burdon became part of the 1960s soundtrack. For me, their Best of the Animals album was my introduction. I didn’t realize that they had produced the album because of personnel changes. I did notice that it seemed every time I bought a new Animal album, there seemed to be a replacement. Eric was there though. That was the main thing.

Animal Eric Burdon

Even the 1967 Eric is Here album with its departure from rock and blues was OK. New way to hear stuff.

Burdon, like any rock musician, could read the Beatle writings on the wall, and when they went psychedelic, he did, too. He made politically-influenced music, well, that was OK, too. And there was that “New York 1963 — America 1968,” an 18-minute l track featuring vocals not by a group member, but a black engineer named Cliff, who recalls his experience as a fighter pilot during World War II.

Patience James. Patience.

Animal Eric Burdon

Drifted apart

Eric and I slowly drifted apart. More because of new responsibilities on my part than any disenchantment.

Eric forged ahead and continues to perform. To list the dozens of albums and songs and groups he’s been with for 50+ years is for Wikipedia or AllMusic.

He and the other original Animals (Chas Chandler, Alan Price , John Steel, and Hilton Valentine) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Eric had a gig in Dusseldorf, Germany. Jancee Dunn in Rolling Stone asked “Artist of principle or crazy man?”

Suffice to say that Eric Burdon is still going, still singing, and we can still enjoy his presence.

Oh, yea. That concert at Fordham. It was pretty good. I think I remember that the Lovin’ Spoonful opened for them.

Animal Eric Burdon
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Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

Arranger/composer/producer
April 22, 1937 — August 25, 2000

Jack Nitzsche

Jack Nitzsche – “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (Opening Theme)” 
Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

Jack Nitzsche

Jack Nitzsche. Where have we heard that name? Album cover readers know that they saw the name regularly on the album credits. As my father sometimes joked, “He’s like horseshit. He’s everywhere.”

What I gradually realized was that Jack Nitzsche was associated with many of my favorite albums.

Born Bernard Alfred Nitzsche in Chicago, he grew up in Michigan, and moved to California as a teenager. Like many people who have moved to California, Nitzcshe hoped to become an entertainer. A saxophonist specifically.

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

Needles and Pins

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

His story is familiar. When the saxophone school didn’t worked out, he found a job at Specialty Records copying music scores. While doing that he met Sonny Bono who was chief of A & R there. Their friendship led to songwriting. You’ll likely recognize an early hit:

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

The Lonely Surfer

He had a minor hit on his own with “The Lonely Surfer” in 1963. It’s a pretty good song!

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

Phil Spector

In the meantime, Nitzsche met and started working with Phil Spector and eventually helped create the Wall of Sound while working with session musicians famously known as the Wrecking Crew.

If you’ve ever heard  “River Deep, Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner you’ve heard Nitzshe. Bob Lind’s “Elusive Butterfly”? Nitzshe.  Darlene Love? May have been Nitzsche.

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

Rolling Stones and more

In 1964, he met the Rolling Stones. When you hear “Paint It, Black” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together” or “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”? Nitzsche.

Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly”? Nitzsche.

Do you like Lesley Gore? Jackie DeShannon? The Righteous Brothers? Beach Boys? Searchers? Rip Cords? Bobby Vee?  Tim Buckley? Gary Lewis and the Playboys? The Monkeys? The Ventures? James Gang? Graham Parker? Willy DeVille?

It may have been Jack Nitzsche’s handiwork. Sometimes producing. Sometimes keyboards.

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

You say you want more?

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, solo or together.

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

Performance

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche


And that’s just some of the music. He also worked on movie music. Here is a partial list:

  • He won an Oscar for Best Song with “Up Where We Belong” co-written with his wife Buffy St Marie and Will Jennings from Officer and a Gentleman.
  • Performance which stared Mick Jagger
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Hardcore
  • The Razor’s Edge
  • Starman
  • The Exorcist
  • Breathless
  • 9 1/2 Weeks
Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche

Poor Health

His health deteriorated in the mid-90s and his career followed.  He died on August 25, 2000.

REM wrote “2JN” in his memory.

Bernard Alfred Jack Nitzsche
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