Obituaries, Oct. 20, 2022

Ronnie (Ronald Edward) Cuber, a baritone saxophonist with a wide and versatile range on his instrument, died on Oct. 8 at his studio in New York City. He was 80.

As well as working in jazz, he played on Latin, pop, rock, and blues sessions. In addition to his primary instrument, baritone sax, he played tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet, and flute, the latter on an album by Eddie Palmieri as well as on his own recordings.

As a leader, Cuber was known for hard bop and Latin jazz. As a side man, he had played with B. B. King, Paul Simon, and Eric Clapton. Cuber can be heard on Freeze Frame by the J. Geils Band, and on Dr. Lonnie Smith's 1970 Blue Note album Drives. He was also a member of the Saturday Night Live Band.

Cuber's first notable work was with Slide Hampton (1962) and Maynard Ferguson (1963–1965). Then from 1966 to 1967, Cuber worked with George Benson. He was also a member of the Lee Konitz nonet from 1977 to 1979.

Cuber can be heard playing in Frank Zappa's group in the mid-1970s, including the album Zappa in New York. He was a member of the Mingus Big Band from its inception in early 1990 until his death. Source: Wikipedia

Noel Duggan, a founding member of the Irish folk group Clannad, died on Oct. 15, aged 73. The band shared the news on its Twitter account, adding that Duggan had died “suddenly in Donegal." “Noel will be for ever remembered for his outstanding guitar solos, his love of music and his dedication to the band,” they said.

Duggan formed Clannad in 1970 alongside his brother Pádraig and nieces and nephews Ciarán, Pól and Moya Brennan. Pádraig died in 2016.

In 1973, they competed for Ireland in the heat stages of the Eurovision song contest. Between 1980 and 1982, the Brennans’ younger sister, Enya, was also a member of the group, having been invited to join to help the band expand their sound. Following her departure she became the biggest-selling Irish solo artist of all time.

The band broke through internationally when they recorded the theme for the 1982 ITV series Harry’s Game, set during the Troubles. That year, they also became the first act to sing in Irish on Top of the Pops after the Theme From Harry’s Game reached No 5 in the UK singles chart. It is the only British chart hit sung entirely in Irish and won the band an Ivor Novello award for songwriting.

During that decade they would expand their sound with the influences of new age and pop. They had one more UK Top 40 hit in 1986 with In a Lifetime, a collaboration with Bono, which peaked at No 17. Their influence endured: Theme From Harry’s Game is considered to have birthed the broad concept of Celtic music that would remain a chart proposition into the 1990s with acts such as the Corrs, and US composer James Horner based the soundtrack of the 1997 film Titanic on their sound.

Catherine Martin, the Irish Green party minister for tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht, sport and media, praised the role that Duggan and Clannad played in raising the profile of Irish music. “With Clannad, he created a sound infused with the music of his native Donegal and brought it to a national and international audience, winning awards and thrilling music lovers around the world.”

Their 1997 album Landmarks won the Grammy award for best new age album. The band then went on hiatus and Noel and Pádraig performed as the Duggans, releasing one album, Rubicon, in 2005. The band reformed in 2007 and released their 16th and final album, Nádúr, in 2013. Following the death of Pádraig, the surviving members planned a farewell tour in 2020, managing a few dates before lockdown restrictions ended live music performances. Source: The Guardian

Robert Gordon, one of rockabilly’s leading revivalists for the last five decades, died on Oct. 18 at the age of 75. He had been battling acute myeloid leukemia.

Gordon’s final album, Hellafied, which again teams him with British guitarist Chris Spedding, is being released by Cleopatra on Nov. 25.

In its obituary, Variety noted that "with his swept-up D.A. haircut and predilection for 1950s clothing, it would have been easy in the 1970s to consider Gordon a “Happy Days”-style throwback. But with a deeply resonant and romantic voice, curatorial precision and excellent taste in guitarist collaborators such as Chris Spedding, Link Wray and Danny Gatton, Gordon was unique among neo-rockabilly revivalists."

Born in Bethesda, Maryland, Gordon was a voracious radio listener and record aficionado with a taste for Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and, of course, Elvis Presley. After singing in various local bands such as the Confidentials and the Newports in his teens, Gordon joined the National Guard to avoid the Vietnam draft, got married when he was 19 and had two children.

By 1970, Gordon and his family moved to New York City to open a clothing boutique but changed his focus to that city’s bourgeoning punk scene when the likes of Blondie, Television and the Ramones began to storm CBGB. Gordon became part of the NYC pop-punk act Tuff Darts, and recorded part of 1976’s Atlantic label compilation Live at CBGB with that band,

When Richard Gottehrer - a producer/songwriter from the celebrated Brill Building - heard Tuff Darts do a cover of Presley’s “One Night,” he convinced Gordon to go back to his roots and make a rock & roll album. Gordon split Tuff Darts, hooked up with Gottehrer and convinced original rockabilly legend Link Wray to record with them. The team debuted with 1977’s Robert Gordon with Link Wray and quickly followed with Fresh Fish Special, an album that not only featured Elvis Presley’s background vocalists, the Jordanaires but Bruce Springsteen, who contributed the song Fire to the sessions (later a hit for the Pointer Sisters) along with playing keyboards on the track.

Not long after the critically-acclaimed Fresh Fish Special, Gordon got signed to Presley’s precious RCA label, and made his debut with Rock Billy Boogie in 1979, followed by Bad Boy.

With firebrand guitarist Danny Gatton and for RCA, Gordon shifted some of his emphasis away from rockabilly and toward pop, R&B and country for 1981’s Are You Gonna Be the One and its MTV-favored hit single Someday, Someway penned by Marshall Crenshaw. Not long after the release of that album, Gordon contributed songs to the soundtrack of the low-budget movie, “The Loveless,” the first directorial effort from Kathryn Bigelow.

After parting ways with RCA, Gordon continued to record accomplished rockabilly and blues-based albums for labels such as Viceroy (1994’s All for The Love of Rock ‘N’ Roll), Jungle (2004’s Satisfied Mind), Rykodisc (2007’s Elvis Presley tribute It’s Now or Never with Spedding), Lanark (2014’s I’m Coming Home) and Cleopatra for his most recent studio recording, 2020’s Rockabilly for Life.

Gordon’s upcoming album Hellafied with Spedding and longtime collaborator Albert Bouchard, former drummer for Blue Oyster Cult, features new original songs from the singer alone (One Day Left), along with several others co-penned with Bouchard and Mark Barkan.

Robert Gordon regularly played shows in Toronto and Hamilton, developing close relationships with indie promoters Lou Molinaro (This Ain't Hollywood) and Sam Grosso (Cadillac Lounge) along the way. In a Facebook post, Grosso recalled that "Robert was the first big artist I promoted back in 1999. Robert took a chance on an unknown promoter and we sold out the Horseshoe Tavern." Gross believes Gordon played Toronto's Cadillac Lounge more than any other venue, and always sold it out.

Molinaro posted this on Facebook: "Heartbreaking news about Robert Gordon passing away. He was like family to This Ain’t Hollywood. I will miss his ”check one one. Uh-huh”. During soundchecks. Gordie [Lewis of Teenage Head, a big Gordon fan] and I LOVED those moments. Wish I had one last chance to bring him back to Hamilton. Goodbye Robert."

He had a real impact on the region's musicians, including blues guitar ace Jack de Keyzer, a member of his band for a spell. On Facebook, the Kensington Hillbillies recalled that "Over 20 years we were the support act for Robert Gordon at The Generator in Toronto. Robert caught the last few songs of our set and later that night asked us to be his backing band the next time he was booked in Toronto. Months later we got the call to back the Rockabilly legend at Rancho Relaxo. Steve & Mikey on guitars, Sean Dignan on drums, and Mike Ryan on double bass. What a couple of wild & crazy nights!" Sources: Billboard, Variety, Facebook

Anita Kerr (born Anita Jean Grilli), an American singer, arranger, composer, conductor, pianist, and music producer, died on Oct. 10, age 94.

She recorded and performed with her vocal harmony groups in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Europe.

Kerr was born in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1947, she married Al Kerr, and they moved to Nashville the following year so that he could take a job as a dee-jay on WKDA. The performances of a vocal quintet she organized attracted the attention of a WSM radio program director. The group's first recording session was with Red Foley, and their collaboration resulted in a No. 16 hit on Billboard's Pop chart in 1950: Our Lady of Fatima. 

The following year, producer Owen Bradley signed them to record for Decca Records. Their talents in demand, Kerr's group continued to sing backup for other country artists in Nashville, including Eddy Arnold, Burl Ives, and Ernest Tubb. The group's recording sessions increased to eight per week by 1955.

In 1956, Anita Kerr's singers won a contest on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts' national television program. As a quartet, the group travelled to New York City two weeks out of every six to appear with Godfrey on his daily television and radio broadcasts. The group contributed backup vocals on Patsy Cline's first studio album.

A few years later, Kerr and her singers performed five times a week with Jim Reeves on his national radio program at WSM. Having previously backed Faron Young, Chet Atkins, and Webb Pierce on SESAC radio transcription sessions, the Anita Kerr Singers were invited to record their own songs for SESAC. Between 1959 and 1963, the group waxed sixty SESAC tracks. In 1960, as "The Little Dippers," the group recorded a hit single, "Forever", for the university label.

The Anita Kerr Singers signed with RCA Victor in 1961. Their first album for the label was From Nashville...The Hit Sound. Subsequent RCA Victor LPs extended the quartet's repertoire as they explored the soul songs of Ray Charles and the compositions of Henry Mancini.

The group's 1965 album We Dig Mancini won a Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group. Using Kerr's arrangements, they can be heard on songs by Hank Snow, Brenda Lee, Perry Como, Pat Boone, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Vinton, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Floyd Cramer, Al Hirt, Ann-Margret, and many other artists. In 1964, together with Chet Atkins, Bobby Bare and Jim Reeves, the Anita Kerr Singers toured Europe.

In the 1960s, Kerr composed and recorded numerous jingles for use by various American radio stations.

The Anita Kerr Singers or The Jordanaires sang background on just about every Nashville hit in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1965, Kerr got a contract with Warner Bros. Records and formed a Los Angeles version of the Anita Kerr Singers. The new group won another Grammy Award for their recording of A Man and a Woman, released as a single on Warner Bros. Records.

Kerr moved to Switzerland in 1970. In her recording sessions held in London, she launched the Anita Kerr Singers anew with UK talent. In 1974, Kerr began a five-year professional relationship with Word Records, and she received Grammy nominations twice for her Word inspirational recordings.

In 1975, Kerr received a special ASCAP Award saluting "[a] lady of class and a first-class musician for her significant contributions to the birth and development of the Nashville sound." In 1992, Kerr received a NARAS Governors Award "[in] recognition of [her] outstanding contribution to American Music."

Sources: Wikipedia, 

Andy McKaie, a multi-Grammy Award-winning Universal Music SVP of catalogue A&R, died Oct. 15, following a 17-year struggle with Parkinson's disease. He was 76.

Hits Daily Double reports that "A former music critic/writer and publicist, McKaie took over the MCA Records reissue program in 1986, overseeing reissues and boxed sets of music originally released on multiple labels, among them Motown, Mercury, Island and, most significantly, Chess and other blues labels.

He conceived and produced a series of boxed sets and 50th-anniversary releases from the Chess catalogue that included Complete collections by the likes of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters.

In 2004 he was a key player in the development of the audio releases for PBS' Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues series. Besides producing the Grammy-winning boxed set, he produced the TV package Martin Scorsese Presents the Best of the Blues. He was also an executive producer and A&R rep for B.B. King's Grammy-winning late-career duets albums, 80 and Blues Summit.

While overseeing 200 reissues and compilations per year, McKaie conceived and executed catalogue overhauls for The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, among scores of others.

He won four Grammy Awards in the Historical Recordings category, for Chuck Berry’s The Chess Box, Billie Holiday’s The Complete Decca RecordingsMartin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey and Little Walter’s The Complete Chess Masters (1950 to 1967).

Living Blues magazine named him Reissue Producer of the Year four times, and in 2010, the Blues Foundation gave him the Keeping the Blues Alive award in the producer category.

He also co-created and developed the highly successful midline 20th Century Masters/Millennium Collection and helped initiate and develop the Gold and Definitive Collection lines for Universal. After 28 years at Universal, McKaie retired in 2012 as senior vice president, A&R, for Universal Music Enterprise

On FB, colleague Cary Baker posted this tribute: "In so many ways, Andy was my role model: A music publicist with a deep knowledge of music history and a creative spirit who later found (and in every sense owned) his most rewarding career incarnation. On top of being a music guy, a fellow blues freak, and one who knew how to play the corporate world, he was a mensch. A really good guy. I think about him often. Safe transition, my friend. We'll compare Little Walter B-sides yet again, down the dusty road." Sources: Hits Daily Double, Cary Baker

Dick Stacey, whose Country Jamboree was an early cable cult hit, died on Oct. 10 in Bangor at the age of 85.

CBC News reports that "The Maine businessman's 1970s TV show was a fan favourite in Atlantic Canada Stacey's Country Jamboree was videotaped in the lounge at Dick Stacey's Brewer, Maine, motel. Its wide array of amateur musicians included many who had dubious musical talent."

Stacey said his association with the Jamboree started in 1973 when he received a call from a salesman at WVII-TV in Bangor asking him if he'd like to buy advertising time on the station's country music revue. "I'd rather buy the whole show," Stacey replied and was surprised when the station took him up on his offer.

So the show became Stacey's Country Jamboree and was videotaped weekly in the lounge at Stacey's Brewer motel. There was almost no budget for the show, the performers were amateurs, and Stacey had two standard rules — no auditions and no rehearsals.

The audience never knew what they might see each Saturday night. Nervous singers froze on air, they forgot lyrics or sang the wrong words, and it was not uncommon to see singers lose the melody entirely, as the backup musicians tried desperately to nudge them back on track.

By 1983, Stacey had grown tired of the business. He stopped the show, sold his businesses and retired to West Palm Beach, Florida.

But, the Country Jamboree still lived in people's memories, and in 2006 Stacey realized there was an appetite for more. He began selling "best of" DVDs and took reunion shows out on tour, with a focus on Atlantic Canadian fans. He was later inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame. Read more here.

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