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Obituaries

I woke up this morning and found out that legendary Soul singer Bobby Womack had died aged 70. I knew Womack had several health issues over recent years (colon cancer, alzheimer’s and diabetes) but the news still came as a bit of a shock. The main reason for that was the sudden resurgence that his career had over the past 4 years or so.

Like most people, I knew of Bobby Womack from his excellent song “Across 110th Street”. Combining some brilliant string arrangements, sublime soul guitar riffs and oddly hard hitting lyrics about the troubles that could be found in ghetto life, it’s a song worthy of the praise it receives. Above all of that was Womack’s voice, especially the crooning “woo” that he does at the start of the song. The song was actually a part of Womack’s score for a Blaxploitation film the song takes it name from and has also become a popular choice for other films looking to capture the spirit of Blaxploitation.

Along with 110th Street, he’s also known for probably having one of the best covers of Mama’s and Papa’s classic “California Dreamin”. Coincidently, I think the first time I came across it was when I watched the utterly bleak “Fish Tank” a few years ago. He performed an incredibly sparse version on Jools Holland a few years ago that’s worthy of your attention.

His return to music over the past 4 years was remarkable. He had grown older and his voice was a little gruffer, but he hadn’t lost his soul spirit and ferocity. He provided vocals on the Gorillaz songs “Stylo” and “Cloud of Unknowing” from their guest heavy album “Plastic Beach”. His live performances with the band on the tour were some of the highlights as he put so much passion behind his parts. The fact he was such an established and well regarded musician singing his heart out put some of the other guests to shame.

He signed with XL Records and released “The Bravest Man in the Universe” in 2012, his first album of new material in 18 years. The album features Womack’s gruff and world weary voice combined with more contemporary instrumentals and production, much akin to the Gil Scott-Heron album “I’m New Here”. Unlike many of his contemporaries of his time, Bobby Womack strove to remain relevant and didn’t become a pastiche of Soul music, doing the occasional greatest hits tour. He moved with the times and had interesting new music to offer to the masses.

 

Bobby Womack 

1944 – 2014

 

Anyone who’s ever had the opportunity to listen to the 1970 album “Fun House” by The Stooges will never forget it. It’s a raucous album that encapsulates what Rock & Roll should sound like; it’s wild, unwieldy and generally a primal record. What makes it even more astounding is the fact that an album this ballsy and raw was made in 1970 when The Beatles released “Let It Be” and Punk rock was still nothing more than a dream of despondent generation. Iggy Pop does his best Howlin’ Wolf impersonation, Ron Asheton riffs endlessly on his guitars, Dave Alexander plays infectious riffs on the bass keeping the groove going and Scott Asheton pounds the absolute shit out of the drums in the most beautiful way possible. It’s the band’s best album and one that would still baffle most listeners with it’s sheer insanity.

A lot of the memories of when I discovered this album came flooding back to me today when I read the unfortunate news that Scott Asheton had passed away at the criminally young age of 64. He is, in my opinion at least, one of the more underrated Rock drummers of all time. His performance never outshone Iggy or his brother Scott’s more focal parts of a song, but anyone who ever listened a little further into a Stooges song found there to be a super tight rhythm section at the core of the band. His drumming always sounded incredible and pulsating adding a distinct blues feel to the heavily distorted songs the Stooges released. A song like 1969 from their self titled debut album is a great example of this.

But, for what it’s worth, I believe the album where the Asheton/Alexander rhythm section really shone is Fun House. And with the news of his passing today, I think it’s only right to revisit this album and share it with others who maybe have never delved into it’s insanity. Any album that ends with Iggy Pop growling whilst the distortion and tenor sax swell a psychedelic frenzy is good with me. Throw in some maniacal drumming and awe-inspiring guitar riffs and you’ve got a winner.

 

This song is so amazing in nearly any way imaginable. It’s that brilliant strand of Disco that’s so hypnotising and entrancing that all you can’t help but dance along to the glorious repetitive synth and drum pattern. On top of that, you have Donna Summer singing a beautifully upbeat song about feeling love in a way that you genuinely get the sense that this woman is so elated about being in love that she just has to sing about it in the most joyful manner.

It’s a rare breed of hypnotic disco beats and soulful singing blending in a natural and organic way. It’s not forced, nor is it too much of one genre and less of the other. It’s a sound that has never been replicated and a song I hold dear to my heart. If I ever DJ’d somewhere in my life, this would be a definite on my track list. And only the 8 minute version of this track does it true justice. Just a sublime record by a musician who left a tremendous impact on Disco music and who has unfortunately died at a tragically young age.

 

 

Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band. 

– Bruce Springsteen

When I was 17, I came across an album that would change my music fandom forever; Bruce Springsteen’s “Greatest Hits“. I think I had just watched Philadelphia for the first time and, for some reason, really enjoyed the song Streets of Philadelphia to the extent that I wanted to delve further into Springsteen’s back catalogue. The compilation is pretty awful, missing out most of his REALLY good songs, featuring one song from the magnificent Nebraska and omitting anything off of his first two albums. However, it was good enough to inspire me to delve into his greatest album (and possibly one of the best rock albums of all time. FACT) “Born to Run”. BTR is magnificent, it’s an album that is always on my iPod no matter what my music tastes are; Springsteen’s songs were so novelistic and painted such vivid images, but more importantly, the E Street Band were firing all cylinders. None more so than Clarence “Big Man” Clemons.

Clemons is without doubt the most popular member of the E Street Band (Steve Van Zandt is an obvious second) with his bombastic solos playing centre stage to many of Springsteen’s songs, especially on BTR. The immediacy of his playing is astonishing even now, especially on “Night” where his solo just blows everything away, but his most famous solo is on the book-ender of the album and one of Springsteen’s greatest songs, Jungleland. On the near 10 minute song, Clemons’ is allowed centre stage, capturing the emotion of the song perfectly with a deeply mournful performance that is unforgettable. It is without a doubt his finest hour.

Clemons was Bruce’s right hand man and dear friend. Their friendship is seen not only in Springsteen OTT introduction of Clarence onstage but also on the front cover of Born to Run which just encapsulates the closeness of their relationship.

The story of the Boss and the Big Man meeting is true Springsteen folklore which is retold in the song “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. Whilst playing a gig in his early days as a struggling musician, the doors of the bar swung open and flew off the hinges (it was a typically dark n’ stormy night) when Clemons entered. More significantly, he not only went into a predominantly ‘white’ bar, but he had the audacity to ask to partake in the performance. From that point on, the two became close friends, or as Clemons aptly put it, they fell in love with each other.

His latest illness was disheartening; Clemons and the rest of the E Steet Band played such an important part in my appreciation of rock music and to hear that someone that treasured had fallen ill is crushing. The news of his death on Saturday night as a result of complications following on from his stroke left me utterly devastate. On my Tumblr page, I commented on his illness noting that “the world just wouldn’t be as wonderful without your bombastic sax in it…” and I was right. There will be a significant member of the E Street Band missing at future shows and as good as the person playing saxophone in his place will be, they won’t be the Big Man.

Born to Run is my favourite album of all time and Clarence “Big Man” Clemons had a huge part to play in this being the case.

Rest in Peace, Clarence